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

MINI-REVIEW: Lucy Parker’s HEADLINERS (London Celebrities #5)

HeadlinersLucy Parker’s Headliners flows out of the events of London Celebrities #4, The Austen Playbook, and the goodness of the former flows like honey out of the latter’s wonderfulness. (Did I maybe love it because it cleansed the reading palate with joy after my dour Jean Brodie read? I don’t think so.)

Parker cleverly situates the great betrayal, in this case committed by the hero, in Playbook‘s events. Journalist Nick Davenport exposed Sabrina Carlton’s father and grandmother’s deception in a news “scoop”, showing the artistic London world that Sabrina’s grandmother was the plagiarist of a famous play, The Velvet Room, a fact her father kept secret and benefitted from. It’s hard to fault someone for doing their job well, but the innocent hurt parties, journalist Sabrina and her actor-sister, Freddy, were the media circus’s reputation-destroying skills’ sacrifices. Nick isn’t proud and he is apologetic. He too lost something: his best friend, theatre critic “Griff” Ford-Griffin, in love with Freddy and now her fiancé. When Headliners opens, however, it isn’t only Sabrina’s career that has nose-dived; Nick’s night-time serious news program is gone. Sabrina and Nick are given an opportunity for career redemption when they’re asked to co-host a flagging morning show. If they can keep their tempers in check, not hiss and snap at each other, they can revive their careers and return to prime-time fame out of the morass of media notoriety. Two long-time rivals have to cooperate for the sake of their formerly successful careers. Can they do it, can they keep volatility in check?  Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Rosie Curtis’s WE MET IN DECEMBER

We_Met_in_DecI was curious about Rosie Curtis’s We Met In December in what I assumed would be a romance-cum-chicklit à la Bridget Jones (whom I LOVE) way. The words “rom-com” don’t always strike delight in my heart, but in this case, I was in the mood. Hmmmm … what I discovered was almost nothing of the former and a smidgen of the latter. I enjoyed Curtis’s novel, but it didn’t quite fit its touting bill.

We Met In December is structured in alternating heroine-hero-first-person POV. I was certainly engaged by its opening and female voice. Newly-arrived in London from Bournemouth, Jess is thrilled to be embarking on her dream: to live in one of the world’s great cities and work in publishing. She’s especially lucky to have found ideal lodgings with her friend, Becky, whose grandparents have left her a Notting Hill house, NOT something Jess could afford otherwise, not in a million years. Same with the other lodgers, one of whom is Alex, nurse-in-training and the novel’s male POV. Continue reading

REVIEW: Julie Anne Long’s ANGEL IN A DEVIL’S ARMS

Angel_In-Devil's_ArmsI haven’t read a Julie Anne Long histrom in a “long” time, not since I dipped my reading toes into one of the Pennyroyal series and thought “meh”: opaque style, puerile humour, characters I couldn’t bring myself to care much about. Despite the weirdly lacking-in-perspective cover (look at his arm and that bed, how short are his legs?!), I wanted to read this latest series, the Palace of Rogues, thanks to my great enjoyment of her contemporary romance, The First Time At Firelight Falls.

Since the Pennyroyal experience, Long has dropped the overwrought and wrought a wonderful romance. I was skeptical at first, sensing that opacity I didn’t find in the contemporary, evident in Angel. But after the first chapter, this was a lovely read, indeed. Read on, for my full review. 
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MINI-REVIEW: Kate Bateman’s THIS EARL OF MINE

This_Earl_Of_MineIn these days of coronavirus isolation (I’m blessed to be healthy for the time being and hope you, Miss Bates’s readers, are well), a diverting, witty book is the best of companions, offering respite, amusement, and the hope that we will, once more, “embrace one another joyously” (as we chant in my church on Pascha). Such is Kate Bateman’s first in her new series, “Bow Street Bachelors,” This Earl of Mine. It’s light, fresh, engaging, and written with ease and a lovely flow. It is premised on my favourite histrom trope, marriage-of-convenience, which, in truth, if it’s well done, should turn into a marriage-of-inconvenience when those pesky feels come into play for hero and heroine. This Earl of Mine captivated me from the opening scene: wealthy cit-heiress, Georgianna “Georgie” Caversteed, has arranged to marry a Newgate condemned convict to put an end, once and for all, to her cousin Josiah’s, among others, constant, persistent, and unwelcome forays into acquiring her fortune for himself, or as Georgie thinks, “Better a temporary marriage to a murderous, unwashed criminal than a lifetime of misery with Josiah.” A convenient marriage and subsequent widowhood, while Georgie hightails it to her Lincolnshire estate, will ensure her independence of person and fortune. Instead, she marries undercover Bow Street runner and impoverished second son, Bendict “Ben” William Henry Wylde, Etonian and formerly of the “Rifles” during the Napoleonic Wars. It is a most engaging opening scene when Georgie notes, despite the grime and overlong hair, how handsome, strong, and confident her husband is, he of the teasing, twinkling eyes and “broad shoulders, wide chest, and long legs.”      Continue reading

REVIEW: Andrea Penrose’s MURDER AT KENSINGTON PALACE

Murder_At_Kensington_PalaceOy, as if I need another historical mystery with romantic elements to follow, but this cross-genre is appealing to me … so, here I go again with Andrea Penrose’s Wrexford and Sloane Regency-set, slow-burn romance and mystery series. Add this to the pile with Harris’s St. Cyr, Raybourn’s Speedwell, and Ashley’s Holloway.

Murder At Kensington Palace is the series third and I’m sorry I didn’t read the first two. The present volume was so satisfying, however, that it made me an insta-fan and regretful not to have discovered it from the get-go. As with Harris, Raybourn, and Ashley, Penrose creates engaging, easy-to-love protagonists. Like Ashley especially, she fashions an irresistible band-of-sleuths ethos, with a circle of friends, servants, street-people and -children, Bow Street runners, an eagle-eyed, sharp-tongued aged aunt, aiding and abetting the primary protags, compelling, lovable characters in their own right. Wrexford and Sloane are Lord and Lady “statussed,” but their world goes way beyond the ton. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Caroline Linden’s WHEN THE MARQUESS WAS MINE

When_Marquess_Was_MineI was greatly looking forward to Linden’s When the Marquess Was Mine because I loved the previous Wagers of Sin romance, An Earl Like You. The Marquess didn’t capture me as deeply as the Earl did, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. Certainly, the premise intrigued me because AMNESIAC hero narrative!

When the romance opens, our privileged, wealthy, heir-to-a-dukedom hero, Robert Churchill-Gray, Marquess of Westmorland, is celebrating his 29th birthday, with his equally rogue-ish friends, by drinking and gambling at the Vega Club. Foolishly, one of the players, Sir Charles Winston, loses his Derbyshire home, Osbourne House, to Rob. When Rob’s father, the Duke of Rowland, catches wind of the shenanigans, he sends Rob to Winston’s seat to return the deed to his wife, Kitty, there rusticating with her six-month-old, Annabel. Her companion is her bosom friend, Lady Georgianna Lucas, enjoying the country air away from London and the now summer-dwindled season. As Rob nears Osbourne House, he is beset by nasties, beaten about the head, and left for dead. Georgianna, out riding with a groom, finds him injured and unconscious and realizes he is the marquess Charles wrote to Kitty about, out to oust them from their home, and generally make everyone miserable with his arrogant self.  
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MINI-REVIEW: Allison Montclair’s THE RIGHT SORT OF MAN

Right_Sort_ManIt’s too bad I started reading Allison Montclair’s The Right Sort of Man when I returned to work after the holidays because I wanted the luxury of inhaling it in hours instead of days. First, it came recommended by MissB’s reader, Barb, always spot-on; second, it held much tropish goodness: historical, check; mystery, check; women forging paths in post-war-England, check; engaging voice, check; witty, rapid-sharp dialogue, check; glimmers of love interests, check. And, I cannot say this enough: it’s moving without being lugubrious and the characters grow in believable, positive ways. (More than anything, my ugh with litfic is the latter. If you have any recs about this, they’d be welcome.)

Montclair creates a pair of female amateur sleuths who start a marriage bureau agency in post-WWII London. They’re an unlikely, contrapuntal pair whose professional relationship grows into a friendship. If you’re keen on romance tropes, they’re an opposites-attract version of female friendship. Montclair opens her novel, cleverly-like, with the victim, one Tillie LaSalle, seeking a match from Gwen Bainbridge and Iris Sparks’s Mayfair matchmaking establishment, The Right Sort Marriage Bureau. We soon realize Iris and Gwen are as unlike in personality as they are in height. Gwen is the willowy, still-grieving widow of would-have-inherited-a-title Ronald Bainbridge and mother to six-year-old Ronnie. Iris, on the other hand, a former ton-ish wild girl about town, did some secret service work during the war and has derring-do recklessness to Gwen’s methodical care.    Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Beatriz Williams’s THE GOLDEN HOUR

Golden_Hour“I damned well won’t run around Nassau going to parties while my husband rots away in the middle of Nazi Germany.”

Beatriz Williams’s irrepressible heroine declares early in The Golden Hour and sets the tone and theme of a story spanning continents, political interests, and historical whirlwinds, but centering on love for the ages, love of country and of a man for a woman. Through two wars, intrigue, evil, characters buoy above history’s indifferent, raging waters. Williams writes about pre-Great-War Elfriede, a German beauty married to a German baron, who’s sent to a Swiss asylum to recover from what we’d recognize as post-partum depression. There, she meets the love of her life, a recovering British army officer, Wilfred Thorpe. And Lulu, a seemingly amoral American lady-columnist, adrift in 1940s Nassau, embroiled in the goings-on surrounding the cadaverously odious Windsors.

Though work left me only a reader’s lament of two to three pages of reading before nightly-stupor set in, Williams’s tale had me in thrall for weeks, working its magic to carry me, amidst teacherly tasks, to a golden-light-bathed crescendo of an HEA-conclusion.  Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Jennifer Ashley’s DEATH IN KEW GARDENS

Death_Kew-GardensDeath In Kew Gardens, number three in Ashley’s Kat Holloway Below Stairs mysteries and, at least in its first half, the best one yet (I’d still recommend you read the first two, I loved’em). As you know, I don’t read mysteries for the “puzzle-mystery-solution”, or for the criminal’s motive or psychology, but the detecting main character and, in Ashley’s series’ case, her marvelous detecting team of “below stairs” maids, butlers, housekeepers, and mysterious policeman/detective/government agent Daniel McAdam (man of many roles and disguises) and his friends. Of all the mystery series I read, I love Ashley’s for her protagonists and friends, who help Kat Holloway, an inspired cook by profession, solve crimes and bring justice. Kat is talented, smart, beautiful, and kind. In Death In Kew Gardens, Kat’s kindness sets off the novel’s mystery. As Kat shops with her mercurial, temperamental, and hilarious cook’s assistant, Tess (I loved her!), she accidentally knocks over a passerby, Mr. Li, whom she then helps up. That night, Mr. Li knocks on the Rankin house kitchen door, where Kat cooks for the Bywaters and their niece and her friend, Lady Cynthia, and gifts Kat with a box of aromatic tea. Continue reading