Update of a general kind.

Despite numerous drafts sitting in a folder on my computer, this blog remains un-attended due to university commitments of an examish nature… we are reaching the end of the school year here in NZ. However, I hope to be back soon.

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Book Review: Death Wears a Mask (Amory Ames #2), by Ashley Weaver

From Goodreads: Following the murderous events at the Brightwell Hotel, Amory Ames is looking forward to a tranquil period of reconnecting with reformed playboy husband Milo. Amory hopes a quiet stay at their London flat will help mend their dysfunctional relationship after their unexpected reconciliation. However, she soon finds herself drawn into another investigation when Serena Barrington asks her to look into the disappearance of valuable jewelry snatched at a dinner party. Amory agrees to help lay a trap to catch the culprit at a lavish masked ball hosted by the notorious Viscount Dunmore. But when one of the illustrious party guests is murdered, Amory is pulled back into the world of detection, enlisted by old ally Detective Inspector Jones. As she works through the suspect list, she struggles to fend off the advances of the very persistent viscount even as rumors swirl about Milo and a French film star.

 

Ashley Weaver follows up on her brilliant debut with another solid piece of detective fiction. In Death Wears a Mask we have the pleasure of watching Amory become confident as a detective and as a woman. In the first book, Murder at the Brightwell, Amory is thrown into things by happenstance, but in the second, Amory takes on her first case by request: always a thrilling time for a fledgling detective although a ‘simple’ case of jewel theft quickly turns deadly. (As if we didn’t see that coming. Ha!)

Milo: love him or hate him? That is the question that plagues readers through this series. In this book Amory and Milo continue to sort out their marriage issues. I think that one issue people have with Milo is that he is too realistic. We all know that person that is dreadfully irritating in that they can get away with murder just by being cute/charming/handsome/pretty. And just when we finally reach snapping point, they do something good that demands amnesty.

Plot wise, this book is quite strong and a fun read, and is, IMHO, better than similar offerings from other authors in the genre such as Deanna Raybourn. However, DWM lacks the sparkle and ingenuity of her first book. One almost gets the feeling that Weaver is playing it safe.

A book for those who wonder why they don’t write them like they used to. 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: The Riddle of the Deplorable Dandy, by Patricia Veryan

Back Cover from Goodreads: Elspeth Clayton’s family has been living in considerably reduced circumstances, and to improve their finances, her brother Vance becomes a soldier of fortune. His assignments take him to France, where he is caught up in political intrigues. Injured in an attempt to escape a troop of dragoons, he is arrested and held in a French gaol for questioning and probable execution.

 

In an effort to save her beloved brother, Elspeth turns first to his best friend and then to her most devoted suitor, but both are prevented from coming to her aid. Meanwhile, she has unintentionally antagonized Gervaise Valerian, a quick-tempered dandy, much admired in Town, but whom she finds far from enchanting. Valerian has devised a daring plan to smuggle his father, a fugitive from justice, out of England. When his accomplice in the scheme is rendered helpless, he blames Elspeth.

 

Despite their mutual antipathy, they are each desperate to aid their loved ones, and with considerable reluctance they eventually decide to work together. Hunted by authorities on both sides of the Channel and pursued by unknown assassins, their efforts are fraught with danger but they persist with their struggle, in the course of which their feelings for each other undergo a marked change.

Who would have thought a kitty’s litter box could be so entertaining? But I get ahead of myself.

As other reviewers have mentioned, the focus on this book is more on the adventure than the romance, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It is just that with the romance taking up less of the plot, there needed to be a little more adventure to fill in the gap. This was not Veryan’s most nail biting novel, but it was far from being a terrible read. I did read it in one sitting.

I found the initial set up to be slightly far fetched, even for a historical swashbuckler, but once they are on board the ship, I found myself settling into the story. While the romance may take a back seat to the mission, Elspeth and Gervaise are nevertheless an endearing couple, their bickering leading to an inevitable conclusion. And who doesn’t like a ship board romance?

One thing that I love about Veryan’s writing is the animal’s she peppers throughout her books. In this case, Pixie is far more than a cute diversion, she is an essential plot element that Veryan uses to maximum advantage. Veryan is a master of planting seemingly inconsequential little details for latter developments. Or to put it in writer’s terminology, she is very good at planting a gun in scene one to be used in scene three. In this case, the litter box. Honestly, when I read that bit, I felt like I had fully got my money’s worth.

The Riddle of the Deplorable Dandy is part of Patricia Veryan’s Riddle saga, but it works very well as a standalone novel.

Notable Quotable: “Oh, how you jabber, sir, and to no purpose for I will not be turned aside! I am waiting to hear what you have done to poor Herbert! And pray do not squander that wistful smile on me! I have noted how you use it to get what you want from gullible folk!”

“No, is it still endearing?” He touched his mouth tentatively. “I feared it might be less effective with a cut lip.” His grey eyes twinkled at her in a way that was very effective indeed, but Elspeth clung to common sense.

If you are in need of a well written, clean, historical adventure, this is a book for you, but not Patricia Veryan’s masterpiece. 3.85 stars out of 5.

Book Review: To Wager Her Heart, by Tamera Alexander

From Amazon: Sylas Rutledge, the new owner of the Northeast Line Railroad, invests everything he has into this venture, partly for the sake of the challenge. But mostly to clear his father’s name. One man holds the key to Sy’s success–General William Giles Harding of Nashville’s Belle Meade Plantation. But Harding is champagne and thoroughbreds, and Sy Rutledge is beer and bullocks. Sy needs someone to help him maneuver his way through Nashville’s society, and when he meets Alexandra Jamison, he quickly decides he’s found his tutor. Only, he soon discovers that the very train accident his father is blamed for causing is what killed Alexandra Jamison’s fiancé–and has shattered her world.

Spurning an arranged marriage by her father, Alexandra instead pursues her passion for teaching at Fisk University, the first freedmen’s university in the United States. But family–and Nashville society–do not approve, and she soon finds herself cast out from both.

Through connections with the Harding family, Alexandra and Sy become unlikely allies. And despite her first impressions, Alexandra gradually finds herself coming to respect, and even care for this man. But how can she, when her heart is still spoken for? And when Sy’s roguish qualities and adventuresome spirit smack more of recklessness than responsibility and honor?

Sylas Rutledge will risk everything to win over the woman he loves. What he doesn’t count on is having to wager her heart to do it.

To be honest, this book was a little disappointing. There were all these marvellous plot lines that could have been expanded upon to great effect, but in the end, none of them were used to their full potential. If Alexander had cut some of the sub-plots and expanded others to dominate the narrative, this would have been a much more memorable read.

Even the main-plots aren’t used to best advantage. The romance sort of just happened with none of the challenges or tension that we have come to appreciate in most of Tamera Alexander’s writing.That is not to say that Sy and Alexandra aren’t a cute couple, but they definitely lacked the impact of some of her other pairings. And the whole railway vs. Sy plot didn’t really get up any steam either.

There were things that I did love about this book. The first was Alexandra’s fight to follow God’s will and leading, even in the face of her PTSD. I have never had PTSD, but I think that everyone who has ever been challenged by God to do something that they are scared to do will appreciate her character arch. Tamera also challenges the all too common tendency of perceived benefactors to be condescending and patronizing. And of course, watching the Jubilee Singers fight and struggle for an education was inspiring and challenged me to change some of my attitudes as I sit here in my warm living room and work on my university work at my leasure.

Notable Quotable: “Something my mother used to tell me, and still does,” whispered Ella, taking a step forward in the queue and pulling Alexandra along with her. “No matter where you’re going, God is already there… There is nowhere we can go … where He is not already there, holding us in the palm of His hand.”

If, like me, you are a huge Tamera Alexander fan, you will probably enjoy it, but it is not her best book, and not the book I would use to introduce someone to her writing. 3.7 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: A Note Yet Unsung, by Tamera Alexander

Back Cover synopsis from Amazon: A master violinist trained in Vienna, Rebekah Carrington manages to wheedle her way into an audition with the new maestro at the Nashville Philharmonic. But women are “far too fragile and frail” for the rigors of an orchestra, and Rebekah’s hopes are swiftly dashed when the conductor–determined to leave his mark on the world of classical music–bows to public opinion. To make matters worse, Adelicia Cheatham, mistress of Belmont Mansion and Rebekah’s new employer, agrees with him.

 

Nationally acclaimed conductor Nathaniel Tate Whitcomb is Nashville’s youngest orchestra leader. And despite a reluctant muse and a strange buzzing and recurring pain in his head, he must finish composing his symphony before the grand opening of the city’s new symphony hall. Even more pressing, he must finish it for the one who first inspired his love of music–his dying father. As Tate’s ailment worsens, he knows Rebekah can help him finish his symphony. But how can he win back her trust when he’s robbed her of her dream?

My family is intensely musical. All three of us girls sing, I play the piano, as does one of my sisters, the other one is a violinist. Choirs, orchestras, composers, conductors and the language they speak are more than familiar. Could Tamera Alexander pull off translating something as elemental as music into word form, was my big question going into this book. The answer is a resounding yes. Alexander is absolutely on point in her depiction of the musical experience and the musical world. The musical society in A Note Yet Unsung wasn’t just well researched and technically correct, it was a world I felt comfortable in because I have been there before, oh so many times.

But this story has much more to it than just music. It is a story of God’s Grace. A story of overcoming impossible odds. A story of cherishing family. A story of recovering from abusive relationships.

Rebekah’s struggles, both with the problems in her home and with the strictures of society, were very relatable. Happily women are now on an equal footing with men in orchestras, but this was not always the case, and it was so frustrating to watch Rebekah’s God given gift be stifled for such petty reasons. And her stepfather… shudder. But even then, in such a horrible and all too common situation, Tamera Alexander illustrates God’s long term planning and how something good can come from something so evil.

As for Tate’s story. It was completely heart wrenching. Just as heart wrenching as Rebekah’s, which is unusual for the genre. I don’t want to give too much away, but knowing that in today’s world there would have been a quick and easy cure makes reading about the tragedies of the past all the more intense.

Don’t get me wrong! This book isn’t all heartache and depression. There is also a healthy dose of humour, triumph, and romance. I highly recommend this book for everyone, but if you are in anyway musical, this is a book that will resonate even more deeply. 5 out of 5 stars.

Notable Quotable: She’d always wondered what it would be like to play for an audience. Not in a recital setting, but a real audience who knew and appreciated music. She’d overheard musicians say that playing before an audience had an almost addictive quality. That once you performed and felt that connection, you wanted to perform again and again. And now that she’d tasted it, she understood.

Book Review: The Wagered Widow, by Patricia Veryan

Fresh out of mourning for her late husband and in dire financial straights, Mrs. Parrish sets out to woo herself a rich husband. Her target is Sir Peter Ward, rich, handsome, and respectable, he has thus far managed to eulde the matrimonial state, but Mrs. Parrish is not easily deterred, not even by Sir Peter’s friend Trevelyan De Villars, who is as dastardly and dashing as Sir Peter is calm and respectable.

The only word to describe this novel is romp. In any other book, the beautiful widow who sets out to systematically ensnare the determined bachelor would be the villainess of the piece, Veryan instead makes us not only sympathise with but cheer on Mrs. Parrish in her pursuit of financial stability.

Veryan’s secondary characters contribute a great deal to this book, even more so than usual. This is partly because so much of the plot revolves around the obstacles to Mrs. Parrish’s scheme; obstacles which come in many shapes and forms. There were scenes, especially during the house party, that reminded me of Wodehouse. And I won’t give anything away but I have to mention The Red Velvet dress. It is a lesson on how to write foreshadowing. Talk about dressing for the occasion! I will say no more.

Of course, the most prominent obstacle in Mrs. Parrish’s way is Trevelyan De Villars. Equally matched in wit, mischief, and stubbornness, they are a delight to watch. The mix up with the duel was particularly hilarious.

There is also the Monahan, a notorious woman who is the sort of character who demonstrates everything that Mrs. Parrish should be according to time honored cliches, but somehow isn’t. As the two women both scheme to the same end, Monahan becomes both an opposite and a parallel to the heroine.

(Spoilers) I am not overly fond of the ever popular “bad boy hero” in historical fiction and by extension what I like to call “Reform School Courting.” However, in this instance Veryan makes the romance with the bad boy work. For one thing, Parrish doesn’t actually give in to her feelings for De Villars until she sees that he is not actually the bad boy, and, secondly Veryan make De Villars go through the wringer to prove his worth! Parrish marries De Villars knowing exactly what she is getting. There is no magical transformation of his innate character, but rather a better understanding of who he truly is. One might also note that Mrs. Parrish is not above a little scheming and ruthlessness herself. In short, they deserve eachother. 😉 (End of Spoilers)

I should also note that if you are one of those people that actually reads a series in order, The Wagered Widow is something of a the prequel to Veryan’s Golden Chronicles: De Villars, shows up quite a bit in the later books.

Notable Quotable: All but Incoherent with frustrated fury, she managed, “oh! If I but had a pistol! You are… vile! Vile!”

“Beyond all doubting. And there is a pistol in the drawer, yonder.”

Running around the desk, Rebecca tore at the top drawer so violently that it flew out, sending the contents over the floor and de Villars into new howls of mirth.

I didn’t like it quite as much as the Tyrant (also by Veryan), but definitely 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Can’t Help Falling, by Kara Isaacs

Back Cover from Amazon: A funny, heartfelt romance about how an antique shop, a wardrobe, and a mysterious tea cup bring two C.S. Lewis fans together in a snowy and picturesque Oxford, England.

 

Emelia Mason has spent her career finding the dirt on the rich and famous. But deep down past this fearless tabloid-reporter façade, there’s a nerdy Narnia-obsessed girl who still can’t resist climbing into wardrobes to check for the magical land on the other side. When a story she writes produces tragic results, she flees to Oxford, England–home to C.S. Lewis–to try and make amends for the damage she has caused.

 

Peter Carlisle was on his way to become one of Great Britain’s best rowers–until he injured his shoulder and lost his chance at glory. He’s determined to fight his way back to the top even if it means risking permanent disability to do so. It’s the only way he can find his way past failing the one person who never stopped believing in his Olympic dream.

 

When Peter and Emelia cross paths on her first night in Oxford, the attraction is instant and they find common ground in their shared love of Narnia. But can the lessons from a fantasyland be enough to hold them together when secrets of the real world threaten to tear them apart? Cobblestone streets, an aristocratic estate, and an antique shop with curious a wardrobe bring the world of Narnia to life in Kara Isaac’s inspiring and romantic story about second chances.

This book is a bit of a sequel to Kara’s debut Close to You (which I haven’t read yet), so it has some spoilers in it, but I did have to appreciate Kara’s little Kiwi joke when it came to naming her characters. As a fellow Kiwi, I cannot say how delighted I am that we finally have authors emerging into the Christian Fiction scene! Go Kara!

This book was simply perfect in so many ways. How Kara presents God working in people’s lives was very authentic; It’s the little things, coincidences that we don’t know about or if we do, we take them for granted, that add up to make big miracles, and we so often miss them because we are looking for large displays of magic. I hugged my Kindle when she made that point. Kara also wove the Narnia theme into the story without getting sappy or to the detriment of her own storyline.

Kara’s writing is a bit edgier in some ways than many Christian fiction fans will be used to. Too often, when the lead character is not a Christian, they still somehow are portrayed as living beautifully clean lives, but Kara captures the inherent difference in thought patterns of the unbeliever. A large part of the plot revolves around a Christian falling for a non-Christian, and Kara does address why this is not a good idea, far more forcefully than most Christian authors. However, there is still an element of playing with fire, and I instantly disconnect from a book a wee bit when that happens.

I was also a bit puzzled by the sudden appearance Victor’s childhood scar towards the end of the book. Maybe I just missed the mention, but he goes from being the most handsome man in London to having a scar that is a major plot element.

Notable Quotable: “Every single band member had a hearing aid. Probably turned off, going by the bumpy first few lines.”

Also the scene where they deal with the troublesome mother-of-the bride. Comic gold.

3.6 out of 5 stars