…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…)
Gah, this was good; I devoured it in a two days. After the first chapter, I promptly ordered the series. I am a sucker for good writing: clever, adept, no gimmicks, nothing *shudders* lyrical, clean, direct, and sarcastically witty, “noir-ish” dialogue. Herron’s writing is all of these things and equal to it is his deft hand at characterization and pacing, no sagging middles, or info-dumps. Everything unfolds in steady detail, BUT Herron also does something de rigueur in crime/thriller/spook fiction: no matter how seedy, rough, or disreputable his spies are, they have a moral core, battered but apparent “when the chips are down”. (I can see from review-blurbs, Herron is likened to Greene and LeCarré; frankly, I find their books a slog, but didn’t have that response to Herron.)
Speaking of disreputable, the spooks who people Herron’s world are disgraced and exiled, who didn’t cover themselves in glory for “crimes of drugs and drunkenness and lechery; of politics and betrayal; of unhappiness and doubt; and of…unforgivable carelessness” (15). At their head, in the home of the exiles, in Finsbury’s “Slough House”, “an administrative oubliette where, alongside a pre-digital overflow of paperwork, a post-useful crew of misfits can be stored and left to gather dust,” (16) Jackson Lamb reigns, an overweight, lumbering slob with reserves of sly cleverness, sudden bursts of physical prowess, and a sharp, sarcastic tongue. What we learn is that like his “misfits,” at core, he possesses some, if not spark, glowing ember of moral rectitude. Like Diogenes, with similar unsavory personal-hygiene habits, the greatest cynic is the greatest moralist, disappointed in the world, expecting and finding the worst in humanity, but not in himself, and in Lamb’s case, his disgraced team. (more…)
Ah, Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell #7, what a thorough joy I had of it! Its pacing was perfect, my beloved Veronica and Stoker were as larger-than-life as ever, both familiar and exhibiting interesting growth, and containing a mystery less cut-and-dry for them than usual, with all manner of messy feelings along with the resolution. And, ugh and love-it, a cliff-hanger of an ending: mystery solved, but our beloveds’ personal lives…well, let’s just say there needs be way more untangling than mere whodunnit.
Recently returned from their latest adventure in the fictional kingdom of Alpenwald, Stoker and Veronica are barely ensconced in the cataloguing employ of Lord Rosemorran before they’re summoned by Sir Hugo Montgomerie, the head of Special Branch, Scotland Yard, for a personal favour. He asks Stoker and Veronica to travel to a Dartmoor estate, Hathaway Hall, in aid of his god-daughter, Euphemia. The Hathaway heir, RIP Jonathan, died in the Krakatoa explosion years ago and the estate passed to the second-born son, Charles, who, with his nouveau-riche wife, Mary, are running the hall with an iron hand for improvement and return from neglect. Recently, a remarkable development: Jonathan has returned, most definitely undead. But is he Jonathan Hathaway, or an imposter? This is Sir Hugo’s request of Stoker and Veronica, to find out…especially because Veronica knew Jonathan Hathaway from her pre-Stoker adventuring. This appearance out of Veronica’s past precipitates heart-ache and a Veronica-Stoker reckoning. (more…)
I have, of late, like Hamlet, lost all my mirth and romance seems stale and, dare I say it, puerile. I read one of my favourite contemporary romance authors, Lucy Parker, to get my romance-mojo back, her latest and first in a new series, Battle Royal. While there were aspects I loved, and it sustained my interest throughout, by the end, I was left with “meh, it was all right.” I loved the baking-rivals-turned-lovers, Dominic De Vere and Sylvie Fairchild, and it satisfied my great love for the The Great British Bake-Off, but it was 100 pages too long and unravelled in a disappointing way. (more…)
Scarlett Peckham’s The Rakess is an interesting experiment in reversing the rake figure in historical romance. I’m not sure it succeeds. We’re familiar with the rake-“anti”-hero, who remains “anti” until he meets the heroine: dissipated, carousing, given to sin and excess and focussed solely on pleasure, two of my favourites being Hoyt’s Duke of Sin and Balogh’s Notorious Rake. The rake is inevitably confronted by a good woman, a woman of purpose and substance who unearths his deeply-held desire for connection and an abandoning of his soul-destroying dissolute ways. Peckham’s heroine, with the unfortunate name of Seraphina Arden, exhibits the trappings of rakedom: she uses sex as an anodyne, drinks, and gads about town with unsavory characters. When the novel opens, she’s returned to her Cornish childhood home to write her memoirs, a much-anticipated double-volume of salacious deliciousness. There, she meets and has an affair with the upright, hard-working Scot architect, widower, and single father of two, Adam Anderson.
Sabrina Jeffries was among the first romance writers I ever read, so a new book is always welcome. The Bachelor is second in the “Duke Dynasty” series, following Project Duchess. While it isn’t a cross-class romance because both hero Major Joshua Wolfe and heroine Lady Gwyn Drake are aristocratic, Joshua, as a third son, is poverty-stricken compared to Gwyn’s heiress-status. Blue blood, however, throws them together. Joshua, injured and at half-pay from the Royal Marines, acts as the Drakes’ Lincolnshire estate’s, Armitage Hall’s, gameskeeper. They are also connected by marriage: Joshua’s sister, Beatrice, is married to Gwyn’s half-brother, the Duke of Greycourt. When the romance opens, Gwyn is dealing with a blackmailing villain from her past, former-Captain Lionel Malet. Gwyn and Malet had an affair ten years ago, when Malet took advantage of her innocence and made promises he did not intend to keep. Now, he’d like a piece of her dowry in exchange for not ruining her reputation. (more…)
I 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. (more…)
Lucy 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? (more…)
I 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. (more…)
I 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.