Category: Review

TBR Challenge Theme “Animals” and Marion Lennox’s MISTY AND THE SINGLE DAD

Misty_Single_DadMeh, I wish I could have loved this. Lennox writes good banter, employs light, wry humour, usually has a wonderfully atmospheric setting and characters who are fundamentally good, but not flat. Certainly Misty has those elements, but there was a problem in the execution that, sadly, coming in the second half, left yours truly with reader-disappointment. First, to the back-cover blurb:

Teacher Misty Lawrence has lived her whole life in Banksia Bay, cherishing a secret list of faraway dreams. Just as she’s finally about to take flight, Nicholas Holt; tall, dark and deliciously bronzed turns up in her classroom with his little son Bailey and an injured stray spaniel in tow.

Misty soon falls head over heels for all three but her scrapbook of wishes keeps calling. Misty must decide: follow her dreams, or her heart? Because a girl can’t have it all or can she?

I do confess I chose Misty and the Single Dad out of the TBR because the cover screamed Wendy’s “animals” theme and it’s true “Ketchup”, the dog pictured, brings these two together and offers cute gamboling-dog scenes. He’s joined by another pooch, “Took,” and the two provide even more of those. So: animals, favourite category romance author, school-marm heroine, handsome single dad, and adorable plot moppet. What could go wrong? (more…)

REVIEW: Deanna Raybourn’s KILLERS OF A CERTAIN AGE

Killers_Of_A_Certain_AgeI’m a Deanna-Raybourn fan-girl and would read her napkin doodles, but I wasn’t sure about Killers of a Certain Age. I do love me older-women-kick-ass heroines and in this case, there are four, but I’ve never been able to stomach making heroes out of assassins, or heroines for that matter; as the narrator quips, “It was the Wild West with no law but natural justice”. Um, no, vigilante justice is problematic whether men or women exact it. In the end, Killers of a Certain Age entertained me, but wasn’t powerful enough to dispel my niggling ugh-assassins conscience. But a premise is a premise is a premise and it’s Raybourn’s, so I can’t fault her for it. If this were to be a series, I’d not follow Raybourn to the next book, but it looks, at least to me, it’s a standalone (I’d still argue the ending had a whiff of sequel-bait to it, though). But onwards to the merits and demerits of Killers. First, a bit of a synopsis courtesy of the publisher’s back-cover copy:

Older women often feel invisible, but sometimes that’s their secret weapon.

They’ve spent their lives as the deadliest assassins in a clandestine international organization, but now that they’re sixty years old, four women friends can’t just retire – it’s kill or be killed in this action-packed thriller.

Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie have worked for the Museum, an elite network of assassins, for forty years. Now their talents are considered old-school and no one appreciates what they have to offer in an age that relies more on technology than people skills. When the foursome is sent on an all-expenses paid vacation to mark their retirement, they are targeted by one of their own. Only the Board, the top-level members of the Museum, can order the termination of field agents, and the women realize they’ve been marked for death. Now to get out alive they have to turn against their own organization, relying on experience and each other to get the job done, knowing that working together is the secret to their survival. They’re about to teach the Board what it really means to be a woman–and a killer–of a certain age. (more…)

Review: Andrea Penrose’s MURDER AT THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS (Wrexford & Sloane Mystery #5)

Murder_Royal_Botanic_GardensContinuing my journey to reader-recovery (see my previous two posts), I read the latest in another favourite historical mystery series, Penrose’s Regency-set Wrexford and Sloane, Murder At the Royal Botanic Gardens. I read it steadily over the past two days (yet one more way to stave off the reality of returning to work after a gloriously idle summer; with major de-cluttering, but still). I love this series for the same reason I read others: the characters, the characters, the characters…and their relationships.

Set in a time of rigid class divisions, Penrose’s series is a wonderful fantasy of cross-class found family. At its heart are the Earl of Wrexford, dark, brooding, powerful, volatile at the series start and Lady Charlotte Sloane (aka skewering cartoonist A. J. Quill), disinherited, disgraced, and thus free of social convention; this, she and Lord Wrexford have in common, which is why their growing love is as much built on a shared upholding of justice, defending the underdog, and prizing people’s worth on merit, not birth as attraction, compatibility, shared purpose, and companionship. Along the way, they have picked up and created their found family, as Charlotte notes in the present volume “love was the true bond that tied all of her odd little family together”: valet and co-sleuth Gideon Tyler; formidable “housekeeper” McClellan; two adopted “guttersnipes”, “Weasels” Raven and Hawk; brilliant mathematician Lady Cordelia Mansfield; “coroner” Basil Henning; Bow Street Runner Griffin; Wrexford’s friend and Cordelia’s business partner, Christopher “Kit” Sheffield; and my favourite, Charlotte’s Aunt Alison, the dowager Countess of Peake. Together they band to expose baddies, putting themselves in mortal danger and always coming through for each other.

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Sneaks Back Into Wendy’s TBR Challenge with Betty Neels’ BRITANNIA ALL AT SEA (Betty #41)

Britannia_All_At_SeaAfter enduring heavy, not-so-enjoyable books (see previous post), I needed a comfort read. Who better than Betty to give me the feels, the laughs, the elaborate menus, the endless cuppas, and send me down the rabbit-hole of gazing at Jean Allen frocks and Gucci headscarves!?

This month’s Wendy’s TBR challenge “theme” is blue collar. Let’s face it, there isn’t anything “blue collar” about Betty Neels. And yet, dear friends, Betty is about class and the ultimate fantasy of cross-class fulfillment. I twisted Wendy’s theme to fit my reading mood and devoured Britannia in two sittings. Ahem, Britannia is now one of my favourite Betties!

I found a Betty with a definite class theme because the eponymous Britannia (with a last name like Smith, she tells the hero, her parents had to “compensate her”) refuses to marry Dr. Jake Luitingh van Thien because she can’t see herself fitting into his wealthy, privileged, read “aristocratic” life…which makes Britannia sound pathetic. She’s anything but. Britannia is the definition of feisty heroine, at least until her determination to marry Jake becomes reality in the last quarter and the obstacles of what she perceives as cross-class impediments to a “marriage of true minds” make a nasty appearance.  (more…)

Recent Reading Odds and Ends

Fallow_OrchidAfter some brilliant, pleasurable books, Jenkins’ The Tortoise and the Hare, Kennedy’s The Feast, Baker’s Longbourn, and the surprising delight of a great romance in Devon’s Bend Toward the Sun, a dry spell. Of mediocrity, boredom, and failure; in other cases, respect and admiration, but short on the joy in enjoyment. Lately my reading has been like the image of my fallow orchid: potential for blossom, the promise of green, but of the flowers, nil.

The weather has been beautiful and I have found myself walking, baking, cooking, and not reading as much as I usually do. There is nothing more off-putting than reading a spate of books you don’t want to hug to yourself. For what it’s worth, a few comments on my recent reading, edited from my GR impressions…and left to settle, hoping time would change my mind and heart. It did, books I initially admired diminished in my estimation…and the ones I disliked I disliked even more. (more…)

Audiobook Review: Jen Devon’s BEND TOWARD THE SUN

Bend_Toward_SunWell, it looks like the only way I can now “read” romance is via audiobook. Roni Loren’s For You and No One Else worked this way for me and so did Jen Devon’s Bend Toward the Sun. While Loren is one of my tried-and-true authors, I would not have considered reading, or listening to Devon’s début without Tree at Words About Words’s review (check it out). I’m glad I did: it was thoroughly enjoyable and a dose of romance that I didn’t think I’d be able to enjoy again. Before getting into the details, here’s the Netgalley blurb:

Rowan McKinnon doesn’t believe in love. With a botany PhD, two best friends who embrace her social quirkiness, and some occasional no-strings sex, she has everything she needs. But she hides deep wounds from the past—from a negligent mother, and a fiancé who treated her like a pawn in a game. When an academic setback leads Rowan to take on the restoration of an abandoned vineyard, she relishes the opportunity to restore the grapes to their former glory.

She does not expect to meet a man like Harrison Brady.

An obstetrician profoundly struggling after losing a patient, Harry no longer believes he is capable of keeping people safe. Reeling, Harry leaves Los Angeles to emotionally recover at his parents’ new vineyard in Pennsylvania.

He does not expect to meet a woman like Rowan McKinnon.

As their combative banter gives way to a simmering tension, sunlight begins to crack through the darkness smothering Harry’s soul. He’s compelled to explore the undeniable pull between them. And after a lifetime of protecting herself from feeling anything, for anyone, Rowan tries to keep things casual.

But even she can’t ignore their explosive connection. (more…)

Review: Jennifer Ashley’s THE SECRET OF BOW LANE (Below Stairs Mystery #6)

Secret_Bow_LaneHmmm, it looks like my favourite Below Stairs mystery, Death In Kew Gardens, has a rival in The Secret of Bow Lane. While I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy the “ensemble cast” of characters, especially the butler Mr. Davies and assistant cook, Tess, The Secret of Bow Lane gave us more of Kat Holloway’s and Daniel McAdam’s backstories and brought them closer together. It was most pleasurable to read. In contrast to A Death at the Crystal Palace, the mystery held together, with a consistent, cohesive sequence of revelations leading to the resolution.

The Secret of Bow Lane refers to Kat’s childhood home, as well as where she was bamboozled by her bigamist husband and where she had her lovely baby, Grace, now baby no longer, but a perspicacious lady of eleven. She and Daniel McAdam call on Kat’s closely-held heartstrings and, at least in this latest volume and to the reader’s great delight, loosen them. But first, the back-cover blurb for clarity:

In Victorian-era London, amateur sleuth and cook Kat Holloway must solve a murder to claim an inheritance she didn’t know she had (more…)

Once more: audiobook review of Audrey Magee’s THE COLONY

ColonySince Magee was nominated for the Booker Prize, I thought I’d re-post this audiobook review of the nominated title.

I didn’t know what I was getting when I started listening to Audrey Magee’s The Colony and, to be honest, I was leery, having read “somewhere” that her prose is lyrical and breaks down, in a good way I assume was suggested, from the weight of her weighty themes. What I listened to, however, was less experimental, more compelling and thought-provoking. Because listening doesn’t come as easily as silent reading, I workd hard to follow the events and understand the characters. Stephen Hogan’s narration was excellent, clear, articulated, and with a particularly engaging gruffness to Magee’s Englishman painter, known only as Mr. Lloyd. (more…)

Mini-Review: Jennifer Ashley’s DEATH AT THE CRYSTAL PALACE (Below Stairs Mystery #5)

Death_at_the_Crystal_PalaceI’m glad to be caught up with Ashley’s Below Stairs mysteries with Death At the Crystal Palace in anticipation of #6, The Secret Of Bow Lane, whose premise sounds most intriguing and is set to be out next week. As always, Ashley’s amateur-sleuth-below-stairs-cook, Kat Holloway, is a wonderful heroine, but as with most mystery series I follow, it’s also the ensemble of characters around the central figure I love. This is no less true of Kat and her crew of sleuthing “aides”.

In this latest volume, there are two mysteries, tenuously connected, and somewhat half-baked, both of them. In Death at the Crystal Palace, Kat is tasked with discovering who is poisoning Lady Covington, the Bywaters’ neighbour where Kat is cook, all the while becoming embroiled in Daniel McAdam’s “police work” trying to bring to light who is bankrolling Irish rebel assassins. But it’s the friendships and potential love interests that see me love and follow the series, and especially because Kat’s “crew” are all infused with goodness, care, and the desire to bring justice (Kat, who never sees a wrong she doesn’t want to redress, address, or redeem). (They’re also quite funny.) Kat always finds the good in others, even when they’ve committed evil deeds and, were is just for that, Ashley has penned a wonderful heroine. (more…)

Review: Allison Montclair’s THE UNKEPT WOMAN (Sparks and Bainbridge Mystery #4)

Unkept_Woman…and possibly my favourite of the series (#1 is marvellous too). Montclair takes the narrative threads set up in book one, The Right Sort of Man, and brings them to some resolution. In The Unkept Woman, Iris Sparks finally reckons with her past and Gwen Bainbridge gains in strength and resolve, which go a long way to bring her closer to regaining custody of her finances and son (as we learn from book one, Gwen had what would be deemed in post-war England a “nervous breakdown” and was declared “incompetent” [legal term] losing custody of her son, Ronnie, and finances, given over to her conservative, draconian in-laws. Gwen’s emotional collapse came at the death of her husband, Ronald Bainbridge, in WWII). But in the latest volume, Sparks’ past returns: she is the eponymous “unkept woman”, having broken off from the married man she’d been having an affair with, on and off, during and post war-time intelligence training and action. But things are more complicated than what I’ve described so far. (more…)