Book Review: In the Garden of Temptation by Cynthia Wicklund

HONOR – Adam Stanford, Earl of Ashworth, has always done the right thing.
DESIRE – Lady Catherine Bourgeault, lonely and rejected, longs to experience passion, to love just once in her life.
TREACHERY – The Baron Bourgeault, to what extremes will an obsessive, unstable man go to achieve his own dark ends? 
SEDUCTION – In the face of a love that will not be denied, Adam and Catherine risk everything to be together.
BETRAYAL – What price must Catherine and Adam pay for a forbidden love in a time when honor meant everything?

When I came to write this review, I went searching for where I had picked it up – I got it for free from Amazon back in 2014 and in a way I was glad I hadn’t spent any money on it.

From the beginning, it is clear that Baron Bourgeault is more than a little odd – much older than his young, pretty wife Catherine, he has a dubious reputation in town and is rarely invited to polite society. He therefore stays in his run down residence, rarely inviting people to stay, and therefore restricting Catherine’s social circle. He does have one thing on his side: a pair of identical grey stallions, that he occasionally invites young men down to inspect, with the prospect of buying.  He invites Adam Stanford down, but generally acts appallingly, ensuring that Catherine and Adam end up in each other’s arms.

 

It’s only when Catherine becomes pregnant, and the Baron bans her from seeing Adam again (and allowing him to claim the child as his own) does the whole sordid plan come out: the Baron needs an heir, but has a fear of being touched. He had married Catherine in an attempt to overcome this phobia, but it proved to not be the case. Therefore he has spent the last 7 years inviting men to the estate in the hope that they will squire Catherine in order to get her with child, and give him the male heir that he wants.

Catherine gives birth to a girl, which sends the Baron into even deeper depths of madness, effectively pimping his wide out mere days after giving birth, in order to get pregnant again. It turns out that the man she has been told to seduce is a friend of Adam’s and she is able to tell her tale and enable a confrontation between Adam and the Baron, resulting in a successful resolution of the situation.

Overall, I found the whole premise just down right creepy……after 7 years of being humiliated and pimped out, was Catherine really that unaware of what her husband’s motives were?  All the staff were well aware of what was going on, and how badly she was being treated, and none offered any kind of help or support (even gossiping with other servants in the local area).  By the time that Adam and Catherine get to have their first meal together, the Baron has been so, well, weird, that it was hard to see the connection between the two soon to be lovers, and the apparent disconnect between the two continued for the rest of the book. I didnt get any sense of believable “burning passion”, or “true love”.

None of the servants were particularly well developed and generally remained one dimensional. Willie, as the Baron’s henchman, had the potential to be more rounded, but just came across as a leering degenerate (I’ve seen others describe him as an “Igor” character), with no apparent motivation apart from being able to spy on pretty girls and creep them out.

During and after reading this book, I did have a distinct feeling of “why did I bother?”

 

 

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Book Review: Pompeii by Robert Harris

All along the Mediterranean coast, the Roman empire’s richest citizens are relaxing in their luxurious villas, enjoying the last days of summer. The world’s largest navy lies peacefully at anchor in Misenum. The tourists are spending their money in the seaside resorts of Baiae, Herculaneum, and Pompeii.

But the carefree lifestyle and gorgeous weather belie an impending cataclysm, and only one man is worried. The young engineer Marcus Attilius Primus has just taken charge of the Aqua Augusta, the enormous aqueduct that brings fresh water to a quarter of a million people in nine towns around the Bay of Naples. His predecessor has disappeared. Springs are failing for the first time in generations. And now there is a crisis on the Augusta’s sixty-mile main line—somewhere to the north of Pompeii, on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.

Attilius—decent, practical, and incorruptible—promises Pliny, the famous scholar who commands the navy, that he can repair the aqueduct before the reservoir runs dry. His plan is to travel to Pompeii and put together an expedition, then head out to the place where he believes the fault lies. But Pompeii proves to be a corrupt and violent town, and Attilius soon discovers that there are powerful forces at work—both natural and man-made—threatening to destroy him.

This was the first non-ebook of the year, and had been on my reading wishlist for a while, so it was good to finally get my hands on a copy. I’ve always had “a thing” for volcanoes and I visited Pompeii a few years ago, so it seemed natural to want to read this.  I’ve read several of Harris’ books before (e.g. Fatherland) and quite like his style.

The story starts 4 days before the eruption of Vesuvius, where Attilius has recently arrived in Misenum to look after the aqueduct. He finds that the previous engineer (Exomnius) disappeared several weeks before and no one is admitting to knowing, or caring, what happened to him. The first sign that something is wrong with the water is the death of a pool full of fish – expensive and mainly decorative, the loss of face is made worse by the fact that it is the feast of Vulcan, where tradition states that live fish are sacrificed onto hot coals. It is whilst the slave responsible for looking after the fish is being fed alive to the pool of eels that Attilius interrupts the “show” and determines that the fish died through poisoning – the water from the aqueduct has been tainted with sulphur.

From then it’s a race to find out where the problem with the aqueduct is (Attilius makes an educated guess that it’s somewhere around Pompeii and Vesuvius) and fix it before the water in the Bay of Naples dries up. Therefore he manages to get to Pompeii and persuades Pliny to grant him permission to investigate further.  In doing so, Attilius comes up against the worst of society: the ex-slave who has become one of the richest men in the area due to corruption and brutality (he’s also the father of Attilius’ love interest); the weak and feeble local council members who are too scared to make a decision, or stand up to the man they despise the most; the work-gang leader who resents Attilius’ presence. He also comes upon Pliny, who is still well known (in some circles) for his extensive volumes of works, including a real time description of the eruption.   Attilius also gets to find out what happened to Exomnius and what he knew, both as an Engineer and a Sicilian (where they had paid attention to when Etna erupted).

Some parts of the book are stronger than others……..Attilius’s belief in Roman Engineering, understanding that a failure in the water supply would undermine most of the confidence in the Empire; Pliny (a known narrator of Vesuvius’s explosion) and his logical and factual belief in reporting what *is*;  the understanding of some as to the effect of a lack of water would have on the “mob” etc. There are things that are a little less strong – the love interest (which was too short and shallow); the local council members were lightly sketched, and it was difficult to see how they had got to the position whereby they could be dominated so completely by an ex-slave.

On the whole, a reasonable thriller, set against a known historical fact, that had a couple of things that could have been tightened up a little, but I’m glad to have read it.

 

 

Book Review: Better than Byron by Judy Carpenter

What do you do when someone rips your life apart? You pick up the pieces and put them back together.

And sometimes you discover the pieces form a new pattern better than the original. When Hermione Newburn steps through the door at her first ball her expectations go no further than a pleasant evening with a few dances with some friendly gentlemen. What she gets instead is betrothed to a man who only holds her in contempt.

Over the next year she is married, abandoned, disrespected, redeemed, and her marriage annulled. Then she is reacquainted with her former husband and against all odds the feelings of the former adversaries have changed significantly. It seems their previous animus has dissolved.

What’s left are possibilities. And possibilities can lead to more than one could ever imagine.​ 

From Librarything and one of their Early Reviewers batches.

I’m beginning to see a change in some of the Romance Novels that come across my e-reader – there are a lot more “quirks” to the love story, presumably to keep the genre interesting. At 29, Hermione is unfashionably old when attending her first ball in her first season – a side effect of her mother dying whilst young and her father preferring to use Hermione as an unofficial housekeeper, thereby denying her her season. There are plenty of eligible young women looking for husbands, and unmarried men trying to avoid getting landed with an unwanted marriage. However, one of these unmarried women – Brianna – overhears Lord Luke Dorchester talking to his friend Gregory whilst the two are taking a break in the garden, disparaging the women in the room, and Brianna in particular.  In the desire to get revenge for the snub, Brianna manufactures a situation that finds Hermione and Luke alone together in the library, only to be found together in apparently compromising situation.

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Book Review: Twisted Genius by Patricia Rice

 

All Ana Devlin has ever wanted was a home for her younger half-siblings. Now she has half a mansion plus half a fortune to go with it. But what good is sanctuary when her family insists on creating chaos and endangering lives in their relentless pursuit of justice? 

Bent on revenging old debts, Ana’s mother, Magda, is back in town, making a mockery of a powerful presidential candidate. Ana’s brother Nick has found a boyfriend—who nearly gets them both killed for blowing the whistle on a pharmaceutical company’s dangerous painkiller. Ana’s lover, Graham, is out to destroy a Russian hacker who dared attack his secret servers. Her sister Patra is breaking the news story of the century—connecting drug lords and politicians and dangerously wealthy industrialists. 

And Ana is the one who is in jeopardy. Can a family of geniuses really be worth the effort? 

From LibbraryThing as part of their Early Reviewers monthly batch.

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Book Review: The Heritage by DJ Presson

Nick and his sister Anne know well the cruel justice of King Charles I and the dangers of speaking out against the Crown. Burning with righteous passion for the cause of political and religious freedoms, hotheaded Nick fights against royalist forces with Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army while his talented sister, Anne, works with their father to print illegal pamphlets in a tiny shed hidden on Lord Owen’s land. The fruits of their rebellion are realized when they are witnesses to the historic trial and execution of the bloodthirsty monarch, but their hopeful outlook for peace in the Commonwealth and Anne’s wedding day is shattered by the tragic death of their five-year-old sister. The arrest of Lord Owen’s wicked son Rupert for the crime begins a chain of events that entwine their lives, leading to a night of violence that irrevocably seals their fates, and they must embark on a dangerous voyage across the sea to a new beginning in the English colony of Virginia. With brilliant descriptions and lyrical prose, novelist D J Presson conjures the vibrant world of 17th century England in her stunning new novel of love and heartbreak set against the drama of political rebellion.

From the Publishers via Netgalley.

It starts with Anne’s family print a broadsheet on their illegal press, and then Anne goes to 17th Century London, to deliver the papers to their customers for distribution. The first few chapters of the book therefore are used to demonstrate the fervent anti-Monarchy sentiment (focused on Charles I) swirling around the city immediately before Charles’ trial.   Interesting technique, with an appearance of John Milton the poet in an early chapter, but which could have got very heavy handed had it gone on much longer.

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Book Review: The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse

Nina McCarrick lives the perfect life, until her husband, Finn, is killed in a car accident and everything Nina thought she could rely on unravels.

Alone, bereft and faced with a mountain of debt, Nina quickly loses her life of luxury and she begins to question whether she ever really knew the man she married. Forced to move out of her family home, Nina returns to the rundown Southampton council estate—and the sister—she thought she had left far behind.

But Nina can’t let herself be overwhelmed—her boys need her. To save them, and herself, she will have to do what her husband discouraged for so long: pursue a career of her own. Torn between the life she thought she knew and the reality she now faces, Nina finally must learn what it means to take control of her life.

Bestselling author Amanda Prowse once again plumbs the depths of human experience in this stirring and empowering tale of one woman’s loss and love.

Received from the Lake Union Publishing via Netgalley.  This is the first book of Prowse’s that I’ve read, but it seems that there she has written others, such as My Husband’s Wife.

Anyway, in The Art of Hiding, Nina is watching her son Connor playing rugby for the prestigious Rugby Team at his expensive, private school. Both she and her two sons are waiting for her husband Finn to turn up to the game, but as usual it seems he is running late. Whilst his job pays for the big house and for both boys to go to their expensive school, Nina is disappointed that once again, Finn has not turned up to something he committed to do with his family.   Nina finds out that Finn hasn’t turned up because he has been killed in a car crash, driving too fast in the opposite direction he should have been going in to get to the match. It is then that everything begins to unravel.

The nice upper-middle class lifestyle that Nina has settled into was all a lie (one that she told herself, and that Finn fed her). The big house, with the pool, the nice food, the private school for both the boys – is no more. Finn has mortgaged the house to the hilt, but died with the business being £8 million in debt and bankrupt. The “yummy mummies” from the school soon desert her when they find she has no money, and are not willing to even put them up in the garage, never mind loan them any money.  The bailiffs are at the door (in perhaps the only  slightly unbelievable plot point, but used for a reason).

So left with 2 children, no house, no friends, virtually no money and no work experience, Nina is left with the only option of returning to the run down estate in her home town where a relative has her old house available to rent. There she returns with Connor and Declan, who are culture shocked about the people on the estate and in their new school. It is for Nina to try and get a job, only to find that she is fit for little – but it is a chance encounter that allows her to start getting income and some self confidence back. She also reconnects with her sister Tiggy, who tells her some home truths about how she treated both herself and those around her during the social isolation and perfect life wanted by Finn (Including the fact that it is only Tiggy and none of her other “posh” friends who have stuck around when Nina needed help).

There are a mix of emotions that have to be dealt with, including grief, disappointment, shock, having to deal with the feelings of her sons who are going through similar feelings, and having to not give up, even when she wants to, because of two boys.

The secondary characters are relatively well developed – Connor as the teenager is suitably bratty at his change in circumstances and Declan (being younger) is a little more adaptable. Tiggy isn’t always around, but shows Nina that she *used* to be able to do this stuff until she married Finn and she left herself give in. The tertiary characters, such as Vera from the launderette across the road, are barely sketched but that’s ok.

Overall this book shows that you can be happy, no matter the circumstances if you are true to yourself, and that money isn’t always everything. It was well written and not my usual fare, though I may well read another book by this author in the future.

 

About this author

Amanda Prowse was a management consultant for ten years before realising that she was born to write. Amanda lives in the West Country with her husband and their two teenage sons.

Book Review: The Devil in Beauty by Heidi Ashworth

“Stab the body and it heals, but injure the heart and the wound lasts a lifetime.”

Julian “Trev” Silvester, the Marquis of Trevelin, once had everything a gentleman could want–fortune, good looks, and enough charm to seduce the beautiful young ladies of the ton.But after a duel with a jealous duke leaves him disfigured, Trev is ostracized by those who once celebrated him. Though his life is irrevocably changed, Trev is still loyal to his friends. When Willy Gilbert is accused of murder and Lady Vawdrey’s diamond necklace is stolen, he jumps at the chance to help them.

As the two cases merge, however, Trev finds an unlikely ally in Miss Desdemona Woodmansey. She’s the only young lady who doesn’t seem put off by his scar and the scandal of the duel. But as their investigation into the murder reveals just how treacherous the mask of polite society can be, both Trev and Desdemona are placed in grave danger. Trev has already lived through the disgrace of a scandal, but can he survive a murderer who will do anything to protect a sinister secret? 

From the publishers, via Netgalley.

I’m finally getting into some more challenging books, after a long time away, and this is certainly more challenging than many of my recent reads! The Devil In Beauty is a mystery set in London in 1811. Lord Trevelin (Trev) is disfigured and in social disgrace following a duel the previous year over a married woman. We get flashbacks regarding the time immediately surrounding the duel, and how Trev became disfigured and his expulsion from polite society. At the beginning of the book, his friend Willy Gilbert (disabled after a riding accident), has been carted off to Newgate Prison on the assumption that he has killed his younger brother Johnny.  Trev is tasked to find out the truth about the murder and get Willy out of prison, by the very people who have shunned him previously, and still shun him.

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