Tag: London-Set

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…)

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…)

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…)

Mini-Review: Allison Montclair’s A ROGUE’S COMPANY (Sparks and Bainbridge #3)

A_Rogue's_CompanyI read Montclair’s A Rogue’s Company with a relish I did not experience with #2, A Royal Affair, though I obviously loved the series from its début, The Right Sort Of Man. I enjoyed A Rogue’s Company because Montclair (pseudonym for Alan Gordon) returned to giving us more of the characters’ lives and histories. Montclair is not one to write much of his characters’ inner lives, but providing us with more of their motivations and histories made for a better book than his sophomore effort. (Not exactly “sophomore”: let it be said that Gordon wrote tons of mysteries under his real name and A Royal Affair is “sophomore” only for his Montclair persona.)

In A Rogue’s Company, our two match-making amateur detectives, Mrs. Gwen Bainbridge and Miss Iris Sparks, are approached for a match by a Black man. They’re nonplussed because their connections stop at White and English-born, but they’re keen to expand the business and offer services to a diverse clientele. It was a good move on Montclair’s part to create a mystery with some sense of London’s post-WWII diversity, but prejudice and racism are only surface-skimmed. This is crime fiction of the, if not cozy, light variety, well-written, witty, with likeable characters. The back-cover blurb will provide some of the plot details:

In London, 1946, the Right Sort Marriage Bureau is getting on its feet and expanding. Miss Iris Sparks and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge are making a go of it. That is until Lord Bainbridge—the widowed Gwen’s father-in-law and legal guardian—returns from a business trip to Africa and threatens to undo everything important to her, even sending her six-year-old son away to a boarding school.

But there’s more going on than that. A new client shows up at the agency, one whom Sparks and Bainbridge begin to suspect really has a secret agenda, somehow involving the Bainbridge family. A murder and a subsequent kidnapping sends Sparks to seek help from a dangerous quarter—and now their very survival is at stake. (more…)

MINI-REVIEW: Julia Justiss’s THE BLUESTOCKING DUCHESS (Heirs in Waiting #1)

Bluestocking_DuchessThis isn’t my first foray into reading Justiss, but it will be my last. What a slog of a read The Bluestocking Duchess was. But the promise of a premise can deceive, true of Justiss’s late-Georgian? early Victorian? 1834-set romance. The blurb will show how potentially attractive The Bluestocking Duchess appeared:

Her good friend…
Is suddenly a duke’s heir!
Miss Jocelyn Sudderfeld is working at Edge Hall, indulging her love of translating ancient texts with her librarian father—and evading the need to marry! She’s always enjoyed a teasing friendship with estate manager Mr. Alex Cheverton. Until he unexpectedly becomes the duke’s heir. Now his first duty is to marry a suitable debutante, not consort with an earnest bluestocking like her… So where does that leave their friendship?

I do enjoy a friends-to-lovers romance and a translating heroine sounded fresh and compelling. With the exception of a few scenes in the British Museum, this romance never came alive, the hero and heroine moving across the narrative board like wooden chess pieces. (more…)

Mini-Review: Sophie Pembroke’s AWAKENING HIS SHY CINDERELLA

Awakening_His_Shy_CinderellaI wanted to read, not necessarily Awakening His Shy Cinderella, but Sophie Pembroke because Wendy the Superlibrarian loved one of her books. Pembroke’s writing and some scene setting can be lovely, but her “awakening Cinderella” was uneven. It started out great and I was excited to find a new category author to follow. Here is the blurb to set us off:

Can a festive flirtation last…
After the final cracker has been pulled? Damon knows Rachel’s always prioritized her family’s needs above her own. But one close encounter between them changes everything… It’s time for Rachel to step out of her comfort zone! Damon usually steers clear of commitment, but neither can resist indulging in a very temporary affair! Only, when the time comes, can he walk away from the captivating woman he’s discovered?

There are way too many question and exclamation marks in the blurb, offering a tenuous description. Damon Hunter and Rachel Charles have known each other for years. Rachel is Damon’s older sister’s BFF. Their lives have intertwined, but Rachel, who’s carried a torch for Damon, is plain-Jane curvaceous to his player good looks. In the background are Rachel’s family, her step-mother and -sisters, putting her down, giving her the lowliest tasks in the world-famous department store family business, her ineffectual father doing nada to help her. This made Rachel into a hard-working mouse of a woman, toiling but never asserting or asking for anything for herself (hence, the Cinderella title).   (more…)

REVIEW: Susie Steiner’s PERSONS UNKNOWN (Manon Bradshaw #2)

Persons_UnknownAfter a run of great books, Matthews’s Gentleman Jim, Griffiths’s Stone Circle, Bliss’s Redemption, I could not settle for less, so I grabbed Susie Steiner’s Persons Unknown from the night-stand. If it could be half as good as Missing, Presumed, I was in for another winner. It was and wasn’t. I still gave up sleep and human companionship to read non-stop, resisting the pull of obligation and meals. I still loved the characters, though Manon grated in this one, but Davy was as lovable as ever. I still loved how Steiner made her “coppers” pursue justice and even occasionally mercy and manage to have messy, at times pathetic, personal lives. (By the end, Davy’s speed-dating!) But the crime and Manon’s place in it were wrenchingly difficult to read about; Manon was difficult to read, weepy, hugely pregnant, cumbersome emotionally and physically.

Now to the blurb-summary to get the procedural details (my reviewer’s Achilles’ heel, I am rubbish at keeping track and am the reader ever-duped by red herrings):

As dusk falls, a young man staggers through a park, far from home, bleeding from a stab wound. He dies where he falls, cradled by a stranger, a woman’s name on his lips in his last seconds of life.

DI Manon Bradshaw can’t help taking an interest — these days, she handles only cold cases, but the man died just yards from the police station where she works. 

She’s horrified to discover that both victim and prime suspect are more closely linked to her than she could have imagined. And as the Cambridgeshire police force closes ranks against her, she is forced to contemplate the unthinkable: How well does she know her loved ones, and are they capable of murder?   (more…)

REVIEW: Karina Bliss’s REDEMPTION (Rock Solid #5)

RedemptionOne of the first great category romances I ever read was Karina Bliss’s What the Librarian Did, making me a category-convert for life. Bliss’s Special Forces series was also among the best I’ve read and the first and last, Here Comes the Groom and A Prior Engagement, among the best romance I’ve read, category, or otherwise. Reading Redemption brought back their goodness and reminded me what wonderful writers some category authors were. I’m so glad Bliss kept writing and publishing romance (after the sad loss of the Superromance line) because reading her is always a pleasure.

Redemption and its “Rock Solid” predecessors have a connection to that among-the-first category I read: What the Librarian Did‘s hero, Devin Freedman, is Rise‘s and Redemption‘s hero, Zander Freedman’s younger brother, also connected by having experienced the rise and fall of their uber-successful, world-famous rock band, Rage. What was Elizabeth and Zander’s HEA in Rise continues in Redemption. While not a marriage-in-trouble romance, it is a relationship-growing-pains romance. Zander and Elizabeth are not estranged, but trying to be vulnerable, work through their fears, and love and support each other. They make mistakes and, out of self-doubt, don’t always communicate. Bliss’s blurb fills in further details:

Like every woman emphatically in love, academic Elizabeth Winston figured she’d fix her rockstar lover’s emotional problems with her shiny, all-encompassing acceptance. Oh boy. Even though she’d heard her minister father counsel couples throughout her childhood, she forgot the take-away. You can’t force someone to heal before they’re ready. Now she’s five thousand miles from the man she loves and hawking intimate details of their relationship to salvage his iconic legacy. Struggling to keep her own identity, and increasingly unsure whether Zander’s even on board. Can she redeem his reputation while holding onto her career, or is she making things worse on all fronts? And that’s before she makes a mistake that changes everything.

He gave up the world for love. The world isn’t ready to let him go. Fame is a destroyer. Which is why Zander Freedman quit music. These days its moderation in all things, except Elizabeth Winston. But building an ordinary life with an extraordinary woman isn’t easy. For one, she’s deep in the snake pit he left behind. For two, he has a stalker that stops him being by her side. Loving her is easy. Letting her love him is something he works on every day. How hard does Elizabeth’s life have to be before she regrets choosing him? (more…)

REVIEW: Mimi Matthews’s GENTLEMAN JIM

Gentleman_JimI have a hard time finding historical romance to enjoy, most are trite and tired, but not Matthews. She never fails to engage and I easily immerse myself in her fictional world. It was so with The Work of Art and “Fair As a Star,” and it was certainly so with Gentleman Jim. I stayed up late and woke up early to read; groggy as I am, I’m here to praise it. The blurb will launch us by filling in some details of character, plot, and setting:

Wealthy squire’s daughter Margaret Honeywell was always meant to marry her neighbor, Frederick Burton-Smythe, but it’s bastard-born Nicholas Seaton who has her heart. Raised alongside her on her father’s estate, Nicholas is the rumored son of notorious highwayman Gentleman Jim. When Fred frames him for theft, Nicholas escapes into the night, vowing to find his legendary sire. But Nicholas never returns. A decade later, he’s long been presumed dead.

After years spent on the continent, John Beresford, Viscount St. Clare has finally come home to England. Tall, blond, and dangerous, he’s on a mission to restore his family’s honor. If he can mete out a bit of revenge along the way, so much the better. But he hasn’t reckoned for Maggie Honeywell. She’s bold and beautiful–and entirely convinced he’s someone else. 

As danger closes in, St. Clare is torn between love and vengeance. Will he sacrifice one to gain other? Or, with a little daring, will he find a way to have them both?

Hmmm, I’m not sure St. Clare is concerned with restoring his family’s honour so much as his grandfather is. With a scoundrel son, notoriously reputed to be the highwayman Gentleman Jim, the Earl of Allenby has put his energy and vast fortune into ensuring grandson St. Clare inherits. Rumours simmer about John Beresford: who was his mother? Were his parents married? Is he legitimate? To Maggie, after a long illness and years of mourning her father and aunt, her beloved Beasley Park is bound to her marrying her hated neighbour, Frederick Burton-Smythe, the very man who exiled her beloved Nicholas from her love and protection. (more…)

MINI-REVIEW: Lisa Kleypas’s COLD-HEARTED RAKE (Ravenels #1)

Cold-Hearted_RakeIf I can say a few things about Kleypas, they would be: she still writes books that made me fall in love with romance in the first place (Derek Craven!) and she’s only gotten better over time (except for the woo-woo books). It’s sad that I side-eye so much romance these days: afraid I’ll find yet another novel with trite, or formulaic ideas; or another trying so hard to do something new that it fails to come alive. But Kleypas still takes joy in the genre and it comes through in the Ravenel series. Though I’d read and reviewed Chasing Cassandra (back when the pubs most likely to decline a small-time reviewing outfit like Miss Bates went into pandemic-sales panic and granted ARCs right left and centre), I’m glad I went back and started the series from the first volume.

The pub-blurb makes Cold-Hearted Rake sound like any other standard-fare histrom, but the sheer delight and reader-joy I took in it was more than most historical romances I’ve tried to read have offered:

Devon Ravenel, London’s most wickedly charming rake, has just inherited an earldom. But his powerful new rank in society comes with unwanted responsibilities . . . and more than a few surprises. His estate is saddled with debt, and the late earl’s three innocent sisters are still occupying the house . . . along with Kathleen, Lady Trenear, a beautiful young widow whose sharp wit and determination are a match for Devon’s own. Kathleen knows better than to trust a ruthless scoundrel like Devon. But the fiery attraction between them is impossible to deny-and from the first moment Devon holds her in his arms, he vows to do whatever it takes to possess her. (more…)