Friday, 23 June 2017

The Lord of the Far Island / Victoria Holt

3.5 out of 5 stars
Lovely Ellen Kellaway was rescued from a bleak future by her newly discovered guardian, Jago Kellaway, Lord of the Far Island, off the wild coast of Cornwall. There, Ellen was drawn deeper and deeper into the secrets of a past as alive and threatening as the present. There Jago offered her the fabled Island Necklace worn by the mistresses of Kellaway Castle. But was it a promise of happiness -- or a dark symbol of death . . .?

  ***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List***

I think this may have been the very first romance novel that I ever read in my life, at around age 11 or 12. I remember how much I loved the book at that age and that is probably influencing my rating today.

Talk about Gothic! A heroine who is an orphan, living with distant family members as a Poor Relation? Check! Beautiful & spunky? Check! Mysterious goings-on? Check! Subtly threatening handsome man with secrets who arrives in the nick of time to save her from the horrid fate of governessing? Check! New family members who maybe aren’t as into her as she is into them? Check and double check! A second handsome and more straightforward man as a foil for the intense, dark one? Checkeroo!

I believe it was my mother who introduced me to Victoria Holt and she & I read our way through many of Holt’s novels. This was very much a nostalgia read—it reminded me of my teenage reading years and reading with Mom. I can definitely see where works like this one set my tastes in romantic fiction, leading to my current affection for paranormal romance.

Death in Cyprus / M.M. Kaye

4 out of 5 stars
Twenty-year-old Amanda Derrington is on an extended cruise with her uncle when she decides to make a short side trip to the sun-washed island of Cyprus. But even before the ship arrives in port, there is a suspicious death. Once the passengers reach the island, it soon becomes clear that the death was in fact an act of murder. What Amanda had meant to be a pleasant excursion quickly takes a turn for the worse.

  ***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List***

I love these older murder mystery/romance mash-ups written by writers like M.M. Kaye and Mary Stewart. Dating from the 1950s, they were written in an era where book heroines were more innocent (and worried about their reputations) and the social classes were more firmly entrenched.

I owned all the Kaye’s Death in … series at one point in my life and read them all multiple times. I wasn’t more than three pages into this one when I realized that I already knew who the murderer was, but I still enjoyed the reading process. The descriptions of Cyprus were beautiful and made me wish I could visit Villa Oleander and picnic in the Cyprean countryside. Kaye spent time in Cyprus as a British army wife, so no doubt was able to describe terrain that she was familiar with and obviously fond of.

Reading this now, as an older person, I realize how excruciating the effects of class are and how much personal income has become the new way to distinguish between classes (rather than whom one is related to). The characters in this novel often marry for money (George Norman and Alastair Blaine both depend on their wives’ money for their comfortable life style) and it was a foregone conclusion by their friends that it was a reasonable choice. Interestingly, it was men marrying for financial advantage, rather than the usual women in this case, perhaps Kaye pointing out that it’s a two way street.

This time around I also noticed how Persis, the American writer, is so very stereotypically American—she is loud, brash, demanding, and not the slightest bit retiring. Plus, she is attracted to British men for the same reason that many North American women are, that enticing accent. Still, she is a good friend to Amanda, our heroine, and courageous when required, so the impression is not at all negative.

An excellent nostalgia read, a great way to spend a lazy summer evening.

The Curse of the Pharaohs / Elizabeth Peters

4 out of 5 stars
Victorian Amelia Peabody continues to journal her Egypt adventures, toddler Ramses left in England. Husband Radcliffe Emerson's old friend Lady Baskerville fears a curse killed her husband Sir Henry, and soon engages the attentions of American Cyrus. The will funds continued excavation. But a lady dressed in white floats, flutters, spreads fear, and more death.

  ***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List***

It’s official—I adore Amelia Peabody-Emerson! Modern feminist sensibilities injected into a Victorian heroine. She loves her husband and her son, but she needs some mental stimulation and some physical labour to keep her occupied.

I loved that Radcliffe and Amelia have nicknamed their precocious son Ramses after the demanding and flamboyant Pharaoh. He takes after both of his parents, needless to say, in his intelligence and his firm opinions! I appreciate Amelia’s (sometimes unwarranted) self-confidence and her delight at being able to escape the boredom of motherhood and running a household. What could possibly be better than returning to Egypt to explore a newly discovered tomb with her beloved husband? Well, achieving that task while still having cooling baths at days end and tea whenever necessary, that’s what!

Peters manages to give us plenty of potential murderers and lots of unusual characters to provide intrigue and comedy. Amelia brandishes her parasol with abandon and barges her way to a solution with panache!

Mr. Rochester / Sarah Shoemaker

3.5 stars out of 5
"Reader, she married me."

For one hundred seventy years, Edward Fairfax Rochester has stood as one of literature's most romantic, most complex, and most mysterious heroes. Sometimes haughty, sometimes tender-professing his love for Jane Eyre in one breath and denying it in the next-Mr. Rochester has for generations mesmerized, beguiled, and, yes, baffled fans of Charlotte Brontë's masterpiece. But his own story has never been told.

Now, out of Sarah Shoemaker's rich and vibrant imagination, springs Edward: a vulnerable, brilliant, complicated man whom we first meet as a motherless, lonely little boy roaming the corridors and stable yards of Thornfield Hall. On the morning of Edward's eighth birthday, his father issues a decree: He is to be sent away to get an education, exiled from Thornfield and all he ever loved. As the determined young Edward begins his journey across England, making friends and enemies along the way, a series of eccentric mentors teach him more than he might have wished about the ways of the men-and women-who will someday be his peers.


 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 because I enjoyed the first half of the book so much. The author remained very true to Brontë’s Jane Eyre and even managed to incorporate aspects of Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. I have to admire that!

The first half of the book, dealing with Edward Fairfax Rochester’s life before he meets his Jane, was the most enjoyable for me. I loved the back-story that Ms. Shoemaker created for him—the vulnerable, sensitive little boy who missed his mother and was ignored by his father. She obviously spent a great deal of time on the question, “What made Mr. Rochester into the man who met Jane Eyre?”

Once Jane appears in this text, however, there are constraints. You don’t mess with the Jane Eyre story, after all. For me, things changed at this point. Instead of the colourful, free painting that Shoemaker began with, she was reduced to paint-by-number. She introduced some interesting ideas that aren’t in Brontë’s original, but then has to wrap them up swiftly and neatly in order to fit into the accepted canon.

In short, very true to the original work and another interesting look at an old favourite.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Hallow Point / Ari Marmell

3.5 stars out of 5
The Spear of Lugh, one of the four Kingly Hallows of Ireland is in Chicago. And everyone, everyone wants it, for it is said that he who carries the spear into battle cannot be defeated. Among those who seek it are an agent of the infamous Wild Hunt; a mobster who knows far more about these things than he should; and of course both the Seelie and Unseelie Courts – the last people PI Mick Oberon would want getting hold of the spear...

Hard-boiled Fae detective Mick Oberon has quite the situation on his hands! The Spear of Lugh is somewhere in 1930s Chicago and every Fae faction (and a few in-the-know wise guys) want to get their meat hooks on it!

Mick uses his brain-box a little more in this mystery (when he isn’t getting pounded by some palooka that is), although he still has problems with his thought processes when he’s around a certain dame. Good action, good complications, excellent title! I am particularly fond of Fast Frankie, the leprechaun.

I still find this series a bit heavy on the Chicago gangland lingo—too many flivvers, floggers, bulls, molls, gats and what have you. But if you can overlook that, it is a fun little series.

Tangled Threads / Jennifer Estep

3.5 stars out of 5
I’d rather face a dozen lethal assassins any night than deal with something as tricky, convoluted, and fragile as my feelings.

But here I am. Gin Blanco, the semi-retired assassin known as the Spider. Hovering outside sexy businessman Owen Grayson’s front door like a nervous teenage girl. One thing I like about Owen: he doesn’t shy away from my past—or my present. And right now I have a bull’s-eye on my forehead.

Cold-blooded Fire elemental Mab Monroe has hired one of the smartest assassins in the business to trap me. Elektra LaFleur is skilled and efficient, with deadly electrical elemental magic as potent as my own Ice and Stone powers. Which means there’s a fifty-fifty chance one of us won’t survive this battle. I intend to kill LaFleur—or die trying—because Mab wants the assassin to take out my baby sister, Detective Bria Coolidge, too.

The only problem is, Bria has no idea I’m her long-lost sibling . . . or that I’m the murderer she’s been chasing through Ashland for weeks. And what Bria doesn’t know just might get us both dead. . . .


3.5 stars out of 5. I’m really looking forward to hearing the author in August at the When Words Collide conference.

Gin is up against another assassin in Tangled Threads and is learning to navigate new abilities that she has finally managed to access. Plus she’s negotiating a new, potentially great relationship with Owen Grayson. Now if only she could find a way to tell her long-lost sister who she is….

Once again, there is plenty of action, I like where the plot is going, we make good progress in every book. So why only 3.5 stars, you ask? Because of several writing ‘ticks’ that get on my nerves—the constant recital of where Gin keeps all of her knives, the obsession over eye colours, repeated references to what everybody’s personal runes look like, the frequent repetition of how Gin got Silverstone embedded in her palms (and ended up an orphan), plus the constant comparisons of the accepting Own to rejecting Donovan. And if I hear about Finn drinking chicory coffee just like his dear old dad one more time…..

This is the fourth book, people. We know all that stuff. A teeny bit of repeat would be acceptable to clue-in folks who skipped the first three, but the amount of repetition is excessive. It’s a good thing that I like the characters, that I enjoy the circle of friends & family that Gin is building around herself—that aspect of Ashland I’m quite attached to.

Not sure how much longer Estep can draw out this confrontation with the evil Mab Monroe, but I want to see how it all turns out!

Shakespeare's Christmas / Charlaine Harris

3.5 stars out of 5
Even in a sleepy Arkansas town, the holidays can be murder.

Lily Bard is going home for the holidays. More comfortable in baggy sweats than bridesmaid's frills, Lily isn't thrilled about attending her estranged sister's wedding. She has moved to Shakespeare, Arkansas, to start a new life, cleaning houses for a living, trying to forget the violence that once nearly destroyed her. Now she's heading back to home and hearth--just in time for murder.

The town's doctor and nurse have been bludgeoned to death at the office. And Lily's detective boyfriend suddenly shows up at her parents' door. Jack Leeds is investigating an eight-year-old kidnapping and the trail leads straight to Lily's hometown. It just might have something to do with the murders...and her sister's widowed fiancé. With only three days before the wedding, Lily must work fast to clean up the messy case before her sister commits...marriage!


In this installment, we change small towns and therefore a lot of the people that Lily Bard is interacting with and it’s a good change. She returns to her home-town and her family’s home for her sister’s wedding right before Christmas. After her traumatic rape & mutilation, Lily fled the town, her family and her friends, to start a new life in Shakespeare, Arkansas. Although she doesn’t regret the change of scene, in this book she learns that she maybe left too soon, not giving anyone (including herself) time to get used to her new normal.

Like many people, Lily is reluctant to return home to face the family. She is not comfortable in her own skin yet, although she’s getting there, and doesn’t have the social skills to deal with those close to her effectively. A very typical introvert, she finds that it doesn’t have to be quite as difficult as she envisioned it—her family will meet her half-way if she makes an effort.

One thing that did improve this book was that Lily was out of her regular routine—so although she takes on some cleaning tasks (as part of her “investigation” of what’s going on in her home-town), the reader isn’t subjected to as many detailed scenes of her cleaning routine. Also, she is away from her gym, so ditto with the karate/strength training that permeates the first two books.

I think this could be a good series for people who care too much about the opinions of others, particularly those not close to them. Lily seems to be far too worried about what the community thinks of her and not worried enough about what she thinks of herself. Lily, if they aren’t paying your bills, their opinions don’t matter!