Book Review: A Proposal to Die For by Vivian Conroy

A Proposal to Die For

With her father away in India, Lady Alkmene Callender finds being left to her own devices in London intolerably dull, until the glamorous Broadway star Evelyn Steinbeck arrives in town! Gossip abounds about the New York socialite, but when Ms Steinbeck’s wealthy uncle, Silas Norwhich, is found dead Lady Alkmene finds her interest is piqued. Because this death sounds a lot to her like murder…

Desperate to uncover the truth, Lady Alkmene begins to look into Ms Steinbeck’s past – only to be hampered by the arrival of journalist, Jake Dubois – who believes she is merely an amateur lady-detective meddling in matters she knows nothing about!

But Lady Alkmene refuses to be deterred from the case and together they dig deeper, only to discover that some secrets should never come to light…

I read this a few weeks ago having picked up a prepubbed copy from netgalley, but have only just gotten around to writing a review …. Sorry all!

Anyway Lady Alkmene is at a society event and at a loss of what to do now her father is off on one of his botany jaunts. She overhears a man propsing to an American woman, but both are hidden behind a folding screen and she never gets to find out who the man is.  She finds out who the woman is, when she is introduced to her later at the party. Having recently arrived from the states, Evelynis the niece of Silas Norwhich, a man known for having a priceless collection of art.

Problem is, Silas is dead within days, with the newly found niece about to inherit every thing. However, was the death an accident, or was it murder? Alkmene suspects the latter, and with time on her hands, starts investigating.  Her name and connections get her only so far however, but other doors begin to open when she joins forces with the investigative journalist Jake Dubois. He initially dislikes her meddling, no matter how well interntioned, especially when she tries to deal with issues that she ultimately will only make worse, no matter what she tries.

In the end however, they come to some form of truce, and work together to find out about identity fraud, lost families, deaths…all the things you would want in such a mystery. Whether or not the crime itself is complex, the hard work is on the world-creation for this novel, which is the more enjoyable for all the detail. It allows for further novels to have both the glamour of the “highlife” (diamonds, parties and steam ships) combined with the gutterlife (the slums, the pre-NHS/pre-dole world) for the low paid and sick.

I know there are at least two other books in this series, and there are enough “gaps” to allow for further developments later. Such as: where does the chemistry between the two leads take them? Is London really that progressive (a mere 20 years after the death of Victoria) for a girl to be allowed to run around town without a chaperone? Or is her father living in his own world so much that he doesn’t wonder about the “look of the thing”, and therefore not arrange for Alkmene to have a companion?

 

Book Review: Sonoma Rose (Elm Creek Quilts #19) by Jennifer Chiaverini

As the nation grapples with the strictures of Prohibition, Rosa Diaz Barclay lives on a Southern California rye farm with her volatile husband, John, who has lately found another source of income far outside the Federal purview.
sonoma-rose
Mother to eight children, Rosa mourns the loss of four who succumbed to the mysterious wasting disease currently afflicting young Ana and Miguel. Two daughters born of another father are in perfect health. When an act of violence shatters Rosa’s resolve to maintain her increasingly dangerous existence, she flees with the children and her precious heirloom quilts to the mesa where she last saw her beloved mother alive

Picked up at the 2016 Bookcrossing Unconvention held in Birmingham. This is the 19th in the Elm Creek Quilts series, and this time is set in the US during prohibition.

This is told from the standpoint of Rosa, and shifts across several timeframes – her early life as she grew up with her childhood friend Lars, marrying John who claimed to love her (even though he suspected the first daughter was not his), and having 8 children between the two men. Finally John’s abusive behaviour is too much for her to bear, and she escapes, taking a load of money from the barn (gained as a result of John’s bootlegging).

Lars, Rosa and the remaining children escape to the city, where they find out why some of the children get sick and the others (it’s coelic disease). They then set up new lives – under new names – and start again as if Lars and Rosa had married in the first place. The threat to their new life comes from the prohibition agents who come around the vineyards they now work in.

Whilst this is classed as an “Elm Creek Quilt” book, but there’s very little mention of the “previous heirloom quilts” mentioned in the blurb, and only the occasional reference to Rosa making her own quilts. There’s no tie into Elm Creek at all so I struggled to work out the connection.  Rosa has a certain amount of strength, as shown in standing up to the Prohibition agent, but whilst John was being violent towards her, she still went ahead and got pregnant by Lars (so she has no issue with committing adultery).

The potential threat from John is removed quite quickly, and Lars seems to have no problems with disappearing “off grid” from his family, never to be heard from again – the similarity in his looks to the Prohibition agent only proves to be useful in the end, and there seems to be no issue in deceiving people.

Overall, this wasn’t my favourite in the series and it left me feeling rather disappointed.

Book Review: Lady of the Bridge by Laura Kitchell

lady-of-the-bridge

Saiko, warrior princess under Japan’s first ruling shogun, is tasked with entering the dethroned emperor’s household as a consort. It is her duty. It brings honor to her family. This alliance between the old regime and the new can end rebellious uprisings that keep Japan in upheaval.

Takamori is an elite samurai in service to the first shogun. He is war-weary but loyal in his service under the man who ended the civil wars that threatened to destroy Japan. With no major battles to fight, he faces a peacetime that has all samurai questioning their role and their future.

When Saiko and Takamori meet on a garden bridge, both seeking answers and calm, they stir unexpected desires and create more questions than answers. Each day they meet and each day they fall deeper in love. Duty and honor, however, dictate that Saiko must belong to the emperor, and as her father’s marshal, Takamori must deliver her.

A ronin attack forces them to fight for her life. They race across Japan with armies on the chase and two questions left unanswered. Who organized and directs the ronin army? And how much time do they have together?

In a world where duty is everything, how will she choose between family honor and her heart’s desire?

Received from the publishers via Netgalley. I do have a thing for books set in Asia, and Japan and China in particular, which is what drew me to this story.  It is told from the perspective of Princess Saiko, who is the daughter (and youngest child) of the Shogun.  She has spent several years staying with her brother, and using her time to study martial arts.  She knows that it is her duty to become consort to the dethroned emperor, and also develops the more “womanly” virtues, of poetry, literature, painting and calligraphy.

Takamori has come back from extended fighting, having built up a fearsome reputation as an excellent fighter and leader of troops. Since the fighting has been essentially suppressed (ronin not withstanding!), he’s now at a loss as to what happens next with his career.

The two meet on the covered bridge that Saiko’s father has built for her each year, and at first she is more than a little angry he is invading her space. Not wanting to make a scene – she’s come out without her ladies in waiting – she lets him stay, but doesnt tell him who she is. Over the next few weeks, they meet, fall in love, and there’s plenty of discussions about painting, poetry, nature etc.

Finally, Saiko has to go to the Emperor’s household, and Takamori is to lead her escort. However, they get attacked by a group of Ronin, and they have to separate from the escort.  The pair end up in a protected castle, and it’s here that their relationship becomes more physical. Finally they make it to the Emperor’s household where the Ronin attack again. Saiko defends the emperor, killing a number of soldiers in the process.  As a result, she manages to find a way to leace the emperor and find her true love, with noone losing face, and with her having performed her duty.

It was good to have a female character who was interesting, educated as well as able to hold her own as a warrior (she kills more than a few Ronin along the way, with no subsequent wailing that you might expect from someone not trained as a warrior). Takamori has done well as the Shogun’s Marshal, but is also educated and now searching a different path in life. The occasionally forays into fights are not too often and are decently written, showing that Saiko and Takamori can work well together, whilst showing that Saiko can defend herself (and others) without the need to be “protected by a man” (can you feel the feminism standpoint coming through?)

About this author

Laura Kitchell is a member of Romance Writers of America and Chesapeake Romance Writers. She’s never happier than when she’s spinning a new tale. Hearing from fans is her second favorite activity, though book signings come in a close third. She writes historical, contemporary, and will dabble in romantic suspense and even mermaids when the fancy strikes.

 

#BookReview: Yesternight by Cat Winters

Yesternight by Cat Winters

From the author of The Uninvited comes a haunting historical novel with a compelling mystery at its core. A young child psychologist steps off a train, her destination a foggy seaside town. There, she begins a journey causing her to question everything she believes about life, death, memories, and reincarnation.

In 1925, Alice Lind steps off a train in the rain-soaked coastal hamlet of Gordon Bay, Oregon. There, she expects to do nothing more difficult than administer IQ tests to a group of rural schoolchildren. A trained psychologist, Alice believes mysteries of the mind can be unlocked scientifically, but now her views are about to be challenged by one curious child.

Seven-year-old Janie O’Daire is a mathematical genius, which is surprising. But what is disturbing are the stories she tells: that her name was once Violet, she grew up in Kansas decades earlier, and she drowned at age nineteen. Alice delves into these stories, at first believing they’re no more than the product of the girl’s vast imagination. But, slowly, Alice comes to the realization that Janie might indeed be telling a strange truth.

Alice knows the investigation may endanger her already shaky professional reputation, and as a woman in a field dominated by men she has no room for mistakes. But she is unprepared for the ways it will illuminate terrifying mysteries within her own past, and in the process, irrevocably change her life.

From HarperCollins Via Edelweiss in exchange for a review. This is an uncorrected proof, and not for resale – something I was made (painfully) aware of, since a page repeating this message was inserted in between every single one of the 33 chapters (and the 4 sections). Alright already – I got the message! In between the sections, fine! But between each and every chapter as well….way to go HarperCollins to tell me you don’t trust me enough to remember it’s a proof!

And the word we’re looking for is Anyway….

When the book starts, it’s the mid 1920s and Alice Lind, still trying to find her way in a male dominated work environment, arrives in the Gordon Bay, Oregon. Whilst she’s there to perform tests on the whole school, she is also there at the request of the O’Daire family to concentrate on the daughter Jaine. The parents have split and it’s the father, Michael, who is most interested in the results. He is divorced from Jaine’s mother, and it becomes clear there is a certain level of madness running in the mother’s side of the family, where she could be kindly be described as “on edge” and paranoid, especially in relation to her daughter.  It seems that Jaine believes she is reincarnated and remembers drowning in a lake at the age of 19, being watched by a man on the side of the lake, in a town and state she’s never visited. Apart from these shocking details, she remembers the name of the town she used to live in (though the parents insist she has never been there), and that she had a sister called Eleanor.

Alice finds Jaine exceptionally bright and possibly already a mathematical genius at the age of 7. Trying to navigate a fine line with all the family members, Alice starts to do some digging including talking to her sister, who is a librarian in another state. Alice is also conscious that as a small child of 4, she attacked some family members with a stick as large as she was, causing some extreme damage to her victims, and noone ever understood why.

As an adult, Alice also has to deal with the fact that she is now a modern woman in a time where women rarely work, especially in male dominated industries such as science, and certainly not a society that condones women who enjoy sex, especially outside of marriage. Alice has had several sexual partners since being in college, both of whom have let her down, in particular the one who got her pregnant (she suffered a miscarriage after 4 months).

The second section of the book is Alice at home for Thanksgiving and receiving confirmation that Eleanor does in fact exist, and is welcome to come visit. In fact the whole family goes, as Michael is not trusted by the rest of the family to not kidnap the child. Finally they go visit and Jaine’s story matches up with Eleanor’s too much to be coincidence (though there are things amiss – such as her not recognising the house).  The situation convinces Alice, and the rest of the family, that Janie is not mad, and that reincarnation is a possible event. The family make a decision about what happens next, much to Michael’s  annoyance.

In part three, with the rest of the O’Daires having departed for pastures new, Alice decides to go onwards to find the Hotel Yesternight, and Michael goes with her. Both pretend that they are a married couple, and check into the hotel just before Christmas Day. The Gundersons who now run the hotel, are prepared to tell the story of the hotel, in a tone matching the bad weather outside, and the reduced facilities inside.  Nerves already on edge, Alice finds much of her own story matching that of the original owner who succumbed to “prairie madness” and killed an untold number of people before being shot in the heart by investigators.  The story unnerves her and Michael, which leads to a catastrophic event that evening.

Part Four is a single chapter long – It’s a number of years later, and Alice is slowly coming to terms with what happened. She is still working (full time in a school, rather than the nomadic lifestyle she had before). Whilst she has convinced herself that her believing reincarnation was a foolish stance, something happens that makes her doubt everything – again.

Conclusion

I’ve tried to keep the summary as short as possible and with minimal spoilers, but there is a lot going on, and it is hard to keep it short. It was interesting way of showing how to get information in a relatively technical world (so telegrams and phones were available) but long before the internet and google maps. The delay in getting confirmation of information led to the inevitable build up in tension, especially around Alice not being able to fit things into the boxes she wanted.

 

 

#QuercusSummer #BookReview: Florence Grace by Tracey Rees

Florence Grace

Florrie Buckley is an orphan, living on the wind-blasted moors of Cornwall. It’s a hard existence but Florrie is content; she runs wild in the mysterious landscape. She thinks her destiny is set in stone.

But when Florrie is fourteen, she inherits a never-imagined secret. She is related to a wealthy and notorious London family, the Graces. Overnight, Florrie’s life changes and she moves from country to city, from poverty to wealth.

Cut off from everyone she has ever known, Florrie struggles to learn the rules of this strange new world. And then she must try to fathom her destructive pull towards the enigmatic and troubled Turlington Grace, a man with many dark secrets of his own.

Paper Copy from Quercus Books, in exchange for a review, as part of their #QuercusSummer campaign.

It’s the middle of the 19th Century and Florrie has an enjoyable, if poor, beginning in Cornwall, where she lives with her father and grandmother – at least until her father dies when she is 8. Then she has to drop what schooling she has been getting and start helping her grandmother, skills that put her in good stead for later in life. However, she does get to spend time with Old Rilla, the local wise woman, who brings out her natural affinity with the local environment.

However, she’s not long into her teens when her grand mother dies, and she is sent to live with her mother’s family – the wayward Graces in London, whose Grandfather – Hawker – is trying to pull the family’s finances up by the bootstraps. Florrie, now called Florence, gets on well with two of her cousins (Turlington in particular), but reacts badly with the rest of the family, as they try and make her acceptable to London Society. The majority of the book is Florence trying to strike the middle ground, and deal with her growing feelings for the troubled Turlington, but after a few years realises that she has lost herself, and that should she tie herself to Turlington she will never be happy. Finally she remembers that everything is a circle, and returns home to Cornwall, not quite the same but not totally different.

It is good to see Florrie mature over the 5 or so years that she is away, and learn to use her knowledge and skills – the period after Hawker dying means that the power and situation has been flipped on it’s head, and the hard work that she grew up doing suddenly became vital rather than something to be ashamed of. Her friendship with Rebecca allows her the escape of outside friendship to give her an escape valve and give another outlook on situations. In particular it allows her to come to terms with her Aunt and female cousins (who, after the early part of the book, disappear into the background, rarely to be heard of again).

It was an easy and enjoyable read, with a decent comparison between the open spaces of Cornwall and the tight, dirty space of London where you can barely see the sky. Whilst things move forward, life can also move in a Circle, both on a personal level and a family scale.

#BookReview Whisper of Magic by Patricia Rice

Whisper of Magic by Patricia Rice

The death of Celeste Rochester’s father on the voyage from Jamaica to London leaves her and her young siblings nearly penniless in a foreign country. Forced to battle lawyers for her inheritance and the roof over their heads, Celeste has only one weapon: her mysteriously compelling voice.

Having become a barrister to fight injustice, Lord Erran inexplicably incites a riot with his first impassioned speech. Barred from the courtroom, he acts as solicitor for his brother, the Marquess of Ashford. His first job for Ashford requires moving tenants from his brother’s townhouse—a simple task until Erran meets the uncommon beauty living there and realizes she is under attack.

Erran cannot heave Celeste’s desperate family from their home, even though his blind brother needs the property. Nor can he sit back and watch unseen enemies do the job for him.

Can Celeste trust him to defeat their foe? And if Erran succeeds in saving the lady with the intoxicating voice, can he bear to evict her—when she alone understands the turbulence ruining his life?

Received from LibraryThing via an LTER batch in exchange for a review. This is the second book in the Unexpected Magic series

I have read books by this author before, notably Notorious Atherton and Trouble with Air and Magic. In reading my review of the latter, it seems I had the same issue with that book as I did with Whisper of Magic – coming in on book 2 in the series, there’s a lot of backstory referred to from book 1, but not really explained.  Whist yes, it is a standalone book, there has been the assumption that the reader has read the first book (and recently), which can make the reader a little unsettled.  It turns out that this book is also related to the Trouble with Air and Magic, concerning an earlier and different branch of the same family (in this case, the Ives instead of the Malcolms).

Erran works on behalf of his family as a solicitor – the book has started with him in court, realising that he can use his voice to influence people and essentially cause riots. Celeste has come from Jamaica with her small entourage  – unfortunately her father dies on the trip over, leaving them under the influence of nefarious family members who want to use her estate to pay off their significant debts.  The solicitors magically losing the will, which would make her legitimate, and the main beneficiary of the estate is the start of the problems and it is for Erran and the family to ensure this doesn’t happen.

It turns out that Celeste has a similar skill to Erran, which means that they not only can resist the influence of each other’s voices, but become more in tune with each other as the book progresses.

A side story is the matter of Duncan, a member of Parliament, who has recently become blind (presumably in book 1) and not handling it well. He needs to be closer to Whitehall in order to conduct his business but unfortunately, Celeste has taken a 5 year lease on the house. Some of the book therefore is concerned with working out how to share the house, then making adjustments for a blind man to run his Parliamentary surgery from it.

I have to admit I did struggle with this book, and keeping my interest going, and I think it was mainly due to not having read Book #1. I dont know if I would fare *that* much better, but who knows?

#BookReview: His Perfect Bride by Jenn Langston

His Perfect Bride

Richard Carrack received the title of Marquis of Stonemede upon his father’s death six months ago. Knowing of the duties associated with the title, he decides to marry and spend the remainder of his days tending to the estate. His requirements for his bride are simple; he wishes her to be obedient and calm-spirited. When circumstances place him in the path of Lady Brianna Denton, whose wild ways make her an unsuitable candidate, he lies about his identity to discourage her from pursuing him for his title.

Brianna Denton knows what she wants out of life. She wishes to marry an untitled lord and live the remainder of her days in the country with no obligations. Only then can she spend her free time painting. When she meets Mr. Richard, she decides he would make the perfect husband. Little does she know, her boldness puts her in a position where she must decide between what she always thought she wanted and what her heart is telling her.

I was trawling through my e-reader, looking for my next read, and decided that perhaps I should look at some of the books I’ve had for a while. This has been in the background for a while, and on further digging, seems to be one I picked up in 2013 from Amazon.  Unfortunately, it turned out to be what I believe to be the first DNF of the year.

I have read my fair share of inappropriately forward Regency women (landed/titled or no), who take their lives into their own hands, and end up with equally matched men (frequently titled and landed) who meet or best them at their own game. Neither of the two characters here were up to par however – Brianna thinks she knows what she wants, but see-saws between wanting Richard or not. Richard thinks that by playing a waiting game and marrying Brianna, he can tame her into the bride he thinks he wants.  A couple of sex scenes later (not particularly raunchy by today’s standards), and with practically no post-coital regrets on either side later (she wipes away her lack of virginity with nary a glance backwards), shows she has as little respect for her imagined future husband as he does for his possible future bride.

Anyway, I get to 50% of the way through, and I’m asked “what are you reading? Is it any good?”. The latter question made me put it away with a “nah, it’s awful”. No, it wasn’t awful, but not a book I wanted to finish or rave about. So sorry, no idea how it ends – could be fabulous, though I suspect not