REVIEW: Allison Montclair’s A ROYAL AFFAIR (Sparks and Bainbridge #2)

Royal_AffairI loved Allison Montclair’s first Sparks and Bainbridge mystery, The Right Sort of Man, and anticipated the second. Is there anything better than a summer holiday, with only a modicum of work obligations, to enjoy an anticipated book?

A Royal Affair takes Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge out of their humble business start and into the highest echelons of royal matters, to the possible engagement of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Someone, however, doesn’t want this to take place. A blackmailer, with damning letters involving the prince’s mother, Princess Alice, and intrigues implicating Greek leftists (anti-monarchist, of course) and those who would restore Greece’s ersatz (sorry, my side is showing) royal family, who, where I come from, are neither royal, nor Greek. This lent a moue of disappointment reading the mystery novel, but it is strictly a personal one and I can still heartily recommend the series and this addition to it. To set the scene, Lady Matheson, Gwen’s cousin, arrives at London-based Right Sort Marriage Bureau with a task for Gwen and Iris: to search out the person, or persons, who seek to destroy the union between the handsome Greek prince and the future queen. Continue reading

The Great Betty Read: Esmeralda, #33

EsmeraldaWhen you’re in a pandemic, what can you do but pick up your GREAT BETTY NEELS READ from where you left off, victim of neglect and ennui? Sigh. So glad I’m back on my epic quest to read all 134 of her oeuvre. It was a comfort to return to a world where the tea is good, the sandwiches are better, there’s always a pudding, the hero is enormous and ethical, as is the heroine, and everyone receives rewards commensurate with their qualities. A warning to readers: our eponymous heroine had a childhood accident, which left her disabled in one foot. The novel’s first half is dedicated to her encounter with the hero, Dr. Thimo Bamstra, a renowned Dutch surgeon, who will “fix” her foot. This may be offensive to some, that Esmeralda needs “fixing” in any way and, indeed, I don’t think the hero feels compelled to “fix” her. It’s Esmeralda herself who has crawled into a hole of shame, aided and abetted by a society that sees disabled people as less than (pub. date is 1976). I can’t say I embraced Esmeralda when I started reading because of this. But I can’t help but say how much I ended up enjoying it. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Lisa Kleypas’s CHASING CASSANDRA

Chasing_CassandraLisa Kleypas’s romances were some of the first I ever read upon returning to the genre after 30 years away. Derek Craven remains one of my favourite heroes and Devil In Winter, one of my favourite romances. (On the other hand, there were those Kleypas woo-woo books I’d rather forget.) Kleypas went the way of contemporary romance, I started reading a variety of new, interesting romance writers and somehow, our paths never again converged until the pandemic saw a certain publisher largesse and I scored an e-galley of Chasing Cassandra. I thought I’d encounter the usual Kleypas fare, overprotective hero, heroine in peril, intense love scenes … and, Chasing Cassandra has some of that, but they’re not what stands out. Instead, I found a deeper, funnier, more relaxed Kleypas, a narrative richer in humour and characterization and less inclined to melodrama.   Continue reading

REVIEW/RESPONSE: C. S. Harris’s WHO SLAYS THE WICKED

Who_Slays_WickedI hoard C. S. Harris’s Regency-set St. Cyr mysteries like a squirrel her winter-nut-stash. But every time, when I have time off, I crack one open to enjoy without interruption. Given it’s a pandemic-summer and stay-home is still the best way to go, I’m happy to say I have TWO St. Cyrs to enjoy! Number fourteen sees Sebastian St. Cyr and wife Hero’s sleuthing hit close to home as Sebastian investigates the murder of his beloved niece’s husband, Lord Ashworth, dissipated, privileged, arrogant, and, as Sebastian suspects, a murderer and defiler of women and children. No one will mourn Ashworth, least of all his wife, Stephanie, who suffered at his hands, but his murder becomes personal when Stephanie is suspected. Like all of Harris’s St. Cyr mysteries, it’s a wild ride: a Russian delegation arrives in London to foil the Anglo-Dutch alliance sprung out of Napoléon’s dwindling/defunct powers. Russian and English nobles, London’s poor and destitute, one notch above-impoverishment servant class mix and mingle in Sebastian and wife’s, Hero’s, attempts to discover who killed the vicious Lord Ashworth. The narrative moves towards a confrontation between Sebastian, with his preternatural detecting powers, and evil. There is, in this volume, evil in Biblical proportions and Seb, more than ever, aware of human frailty, as the people he loves are caught in Ashworth’s depraved vortex.  Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Carly Bloom’s COWBOY COME HOME

Cowboy_Come_HomeCarly Bloom’s Big Bad Cowboy was one of my top 2018 reads, so my expectations for Cowboy Come Home were sky-high. The result? Big Bad Cowboy remains perfection from start to finish; Cowboy Come Home is better in parts than sum.

It held tropish-goodness-potential because reunited lovers, second-chance-at-love romance! Heroine Claire Kowalski loves stilettos, marketing, and her parents’ ranch, Rancho Canada Verde. Two years ago, she also loved ranch manager, Ford Jarvis, who loved and left her. Ford’s back, at her father’s behest, and the town of Big Verde has yet to witness a confrontation such as Claire and Ford’s. Claire is rightly in a rage and Ford is humbly contrite. Bloom’s ethos, however, is comic and her writing penchant is for nice people. Claire fumes and glares, but she’s a good-hearted soul who is still in love with Ford. Ford still loves Claire, but possesses internal obstacles to being with her, then and now. Add oodles of funny friends, neighbours, siblings, and parents who recognize how Claire and Ford “really” feel about each other and their reunion and eventual commitment is head-on, like a bull following the cape.    Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Deanna Raybourn’s A MURDEROUS RELATION

Murderous_RelationAnother volume in a beloved series, read in two days, and now I have to wait till next March for the next one … (be warned, if you haven’t read the series, and you ought, there be spoilers ahead).

Lepidopterist Veronica Speedwell and her partner-in-adventure and love-of-her life, Stoker Templeton-Vane, are caught up in another intrigue involving her half-brother, Prince Eddy, a diamond, a brothel, its procuress, and ever more threats to the British royal family. At its opening, comfortably ensconced at their friend’s, Lord Rosemorran’s estate, Bishop’s Folly, in charge of curating his vast collection, Veronica and Stoker enjoy a respite from their adventures in the best way they know, bantering, bickering, and anticipating love-making. Raybourn has introduced a new tenderness in their exchanges, especially on Veronica’s part, the more hard-assed of the two. A new-found peace and rightness are between them. Raybourn doesn’t disappoint us in this volume: Veronica and Stoker, after kidnappings, extortion, villains on their tail, save the day once again and FINALLY, FINALLY achieve their HEA. (The novel is also set against the backdrop of the Whitechapel murders and Raybourn includes one vibrant, creepy, masterful scene with the Ripper.)
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Summer Reading: A Wow Book

Say_NothingDespite a week of family and work obligations, I spent most of it rushing back from an errand, or logging off a Zoom meeting eager to return to Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland. (If you read one nonfiction text this year, make it this one.) It’s remarkable and, rare in nonfiction, written with spare, clear, elegant prose. It is, as the subtitle makes obvious, an account of “the troubles” in Northern Ireland, from the 1970s conflagrations to present-day; vague images of fires and bombs on the television news as I was growing up. Radden Keefe brought things home: I grew up in a society divided along fraught, linguistic lines; one who, like Northern Ireland, stood on the brink of chronic sectarian violence. (In 1970, as I walked to school, Canadian soldiers manned every street corner: the FLQ kidnapped the British Trade Commissioner, James Cross, ironically Irish-born, and deputy premier Pierre Laporte. Unlike Northern Ireland, though Laporte was killed and Westmount mailboxes bombed, Quebec slid into sullen stability: the English fled; the French stayed; allophones endured; language laws passed; separatist referenda, defeated. Quebec continues playing chicken with Canada and Canadians, for the most part, politely tolerate it.) I compare apples with oranges and ignore the matter at hand, Radden Keefe’s amazing book, my digression a testament to how thought-provoking it is. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Ruby Lang’s HOUSE RULES

House_RulesI’ve enjoyed Ruby Lang’s Uptown series and this, the last and third, may be my favourite. The hero and heroine, in keeping with Lang’s urban setting (another kudo for the series), have been around the block. They’re in their forties, were married over fifteen years ago; it ended badly. Now, reunited after a chance meeting, they’re cohabiting thanks to the New Yorker’s ever-present search for a great apartment and reasonable rent. They’re roommates in the Harlem-set building featured in the first two series novellas. Lang has cleverly made setting constant and introduced a new couple into each narrative. By novella three, you’re loving the place, feeling cozy and comfortable with its familiarity, and intrigued by the new couple who becomes its denizen. At 44, Simon Mizrahi has settled into life as a music teacher and choral conductor. He’s achieved professional success. At 42, after travelling the world to learn a unique craft, Lana Kuo returns to NYC as noodle-maker at a Pan-Asian restaurant, hoping, finally, to have a job with health insurance and benefits. She’s content with where she’s brought herself, having learned to ask for what she needs and made her peace with her past: leaving Simon, quitting school.      Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Mia Sosa’s THE WORST BEST MAN

Worst_Best_ManBecause I’m not a great fan of rom-coms, I couldn’t believe how much I liked Mia Sosa’s The Worst Best Man. Though I’m not a fan of first-person romance-narration, especially when it alternates H/H POV, there was so much to like about Mia Sosa’s The Worst Best Man. The humour. The ethos. The secondary characters. You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the romance. I can’t say I loved the premise either, but Sosa made it work for me. Carolina “Lina” Santos is left at the altar by Andrew Hartley, thanks to a heart-to-heart the night before the wedding with his younger brother, Max. Cue three years later. Lina is up for a wedding planner job with the luxury-hotel-chain CEO Rebecca Cartright. Whose firm is assigned to work with her on her pitch? Double-nemeses Max and Andrew. To sweeten the competition, Rebecca assigns Max to work with Lina and Andrew with her competition. In a Top-Wedding-Planner showdown, Max and Lina have five weeks to prep their presentation and score the account. There is much at stake for both, financially, also professional pride and family approval.
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REVIEW: Adriana Anders’s WHITEOUT

WhiteoutIt’s been a hot week, temp-wise, and I highly recommend reading Adriana Anders’s first Survival Instincts, romantic suspense novel, Whiteout, to help you think cool thoughts and see you groggy-eyed from staying up too late to finish reading it. 

Set in the Antarctic, focussed on Dr. Ford Cooper, glaciologist and emotional “Ice Man,” and warm, curvaceous, smiling research station cook, Angel Smith, Whiteout is everything romantic suspense should be. That means romance never gives way to suspense. Oh, there’s heart-in-your-throat scenes, but grumpy-monosyllabic-hero to sunshiny-motor-mouth heroine is everything you’d look for in a we’re-gonna-die-we’re-falling-in-love-let’s-make-love romance narrative. Anders sets her hero and heroine up nicely. Angel has cooked for the “Poley”, the research station team for months and is set to fly back to the States the next day. The night before, she joins the last-night celebrations and shimmies a dance before Mr. Stone-Face himself, Ford. Ford’s attraction has been clinging like a pesky burr-ish ice pellet, but he’s a no-emotions-no-connections-happy-with-my-ice-samples, thank you, ma’am, dude. Except for the part where he can’t get delicious-food, delicious-bod, warm person Angel out of this mind. When the station is attacked and he and Angel are the sole survivors, they set off, grump to her sunshine, on a 300-mile trek to another research station, only a few ski poles ahead of their bad-guy pursuers.  Continue reading