The Truant Blogger/Reviewer

I must confess, it’s always been a bit of a struggle to get books read and reviewed while working massive overtime for the regular job and cultivating my own writing and publishing goals. Two books published this year with attendant editing and promotion. Two of my small press publishers decided to close their doors, and the line for the novel I was writing in a multiauthor universe was cancelled.  I had already been teetering on the edge of not writing romance anymore–the kick just isn’t there–and those events helped push me over.  So it’s a return to my true love, writing historical mysteries. But my job situation is changing again and 2018 might be a bridging year to something better–I’d have to work two jobs to get there for now.

I’m very fond of this blog, and I wanted to step up reviews, going beyond Net Galley, but that might not be possible now. I say “might” because I’m feeling optimistic today; likely that’s a “I won’t be able to keep up reviewing in 2018.” I just don’t want to admit it.

If I have to choose between the blog and writing, writing has to take precedence, because only writing keeps me sane and whole, and I did give myself the deadline of Pitchwars (though that might not be possible until 2019).

I’ll keep reading your book blogs, however, because I need to keep in touch with all of you–authors and reviewers– who kept me inspired through 2017.

It’s not much, but it’s my patch. 😀

Book Review: I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon

Title: I Was Anastasia

Author: Ariel Lawhon

Publisher: Doubleday

Release Date: March 20, 2018

From GoodReads:  

I Was Anastasia

Ariel Lawhon, a rising star in historical suspense, has set her sights on one of history’s most beguiling mysteries: Did Anastasia Romanov survive the Russian Revolution, or was Anna Anderson, the woman who notoriously claimed her identity, an impostor?
Russia, July 17, 1918 Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along wi
Ariel Lawhon, a rising star in historical suspense, has set her sights on one of history’s most beguiling mysteries: Did Anastasia Romanov survive the Russian Revolution, or was Anna Anderson, the woman who notoriously claimed her identity, an impostor?
Russia, July 17, 1918 Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.
Germany, February 17, 1920 A young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov is pulled shivering and senseless from a canal. Refusing to explain her presence in the freezing water or even acknowledge her rescuers, she is taken to the hospital where an examination reveals that her body is riddled with countless, horrific scars. When she finally does speak, this frightened, mysterious young woman claims to be the Russian Grand Duchess.
As rumors begin to circulate through European society that the youngest Romanov daughter has survived the massacre at Ekaterinburg, old enemies and new threats are awakened. The question of who this woman is and what actually happened to Anastasia creates a saga that spans fifty years and three continents. This thrilling page-turner is every bit as moving and momentous as it is harrowing and twisted.”

Review: I love, love, love this book.  So well done with the masterful handling of the complicated plot structure. Very well researched and beautifully written—the characters are vivid and alive, and I just could not put it down, even knowing how it ended for the Romanov family. This is one of those stories that resonates and is still following me around long after I’ve finished it. It brought me to tears more than once. The icing on the cake is the author’s afterword—the best I’ve ever read, even better than Stephen King’s! 😉 I’ll be reading more Ariel Lawhon, too.

Thank you NetGalley and Doubleday 🙂

 

WWW Wednesday at coffee and ink #14

Sam at Taking on a World of Words is the host of WWW Wednesday.  To participate, all you have to do is answer the three W questions and post in the comments section at Sam’s blog:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

GoodReads: Only fifteen years of age, Charity Fowler has lost too much; her mother in childbirth and her illusions about love to a young man who broke her heart. Her stern Puritan father has withdrawn from his family; and her aunt, Susannah Morrow, who has just arrived from London, is struggling to find her place in the family.

But it quickly becomes clear that Susannah has chosen the wrong time to be a part of this rigidly religious community. Her beauty, independence and obvious sensuality challenge its established ways. As the suspicions against her mount, the fanaticism, repressed emotions and sexual guilt in Salem explode into a form of hysteria that will make its name infamous and touch everyone she loves.

Charity will have to come to grips with or be controlled by her deepest fears. Charity’s father will have to choose between his terror of temptation and his feelings for the woman who questions the beliefs at the core of his life. And Susannah herself must face condemnation and the horror of the witch trials.

Peopled by real-life figures including Elizabeth Proctor, Judge Danforth, and the spell-casting West Indian slave Tituba; and expertly capturing the rhythms and cadences of seventeenth-century colonial life, Susannah Morrow is both a timeless parable on good and evil and a luminous love story.

What did you recently finish reading?

This was Very VERY good and at #22 in the series, it was easy to drop into the lives of the characters. The mystery was primary, told in many different but not overwhelming points of view–absorbing and hard to put down. I like his style 🙂

GoodReads:  One of the world’s greatest suspense writers returns with this gripping, powerful new novel featuring Inspector Alan Banks, hailed by Michael Connelly as “a man for all seasons.”

Life. Death.
Good. Evil.
Innocence. Guilt.

All can be found IN THE DARK PLACES.

It’s a double mystery: two young men have vanished, and the investigation leads to two troubling clues in two different locations.

As Inspector Banks and his team scramble for answers, the inquiry takes an even darker turn when a truck careens off an icy road in a freak hailstorm. In the wreckage, rescuers find the driver, who was killed on impact, as well as another corpse . . . that of someone who was dead well before the crash.

Snow falls. The body count rises. And Banks, perceptive and curious as ever, feels himself being drawn deeper into a web of crime . . . and at its center something—or someone—dark and dangerous lying in wait.

Vibrating with tension, ingeniously plotted, and filled with soul and poignancy, In the Dark Places is a remarkable achievement from this masterful talent. For readers of Michael Connelly, Louise Penny, and Tess Gerritsen, this is a novel to be read with white knuckles and a fast-beating heart.

What do you think you’ll read next?

At the age of ten, Lily is forcefully torn from her mother’s arms and sold at a Negro auction by her master, a man that Lily learns that day is her very own father. Seeking solace from such devastation, Lily secretly begins teaching herself to play her new master’s piano: an instrument that she is forbidden from touching. Lily becomes an extraordinary pianist and gets away with secretly playing for fourteen years until the master’s son, James, discovers her deceit. The “punishment” that James gives Lily starts her on an unprecedented journey that dramatically alters her life and influences the lives of thousands, including a man with great power. Lily’s groundbreaking journey also unveils the secret altruistic love of a particular man who has been forbidden from expressing his love to her for years. But the question remains whether or not the strength of his love will be powerful enough to free Lily from the shackles of slavery and protect her dreams and her life while on her turbulent Journey to Winter Garden.

 

Book Review: Strangers in Budapest by Jessica Keener

Title: Strangers in Budapest

Author: Jessica Keener

Publisher: Algonquin Books

Release Date: November 14, 2017

Genre: General, Literary 

GoodReads: “Jessica Keener has written a gorgeous, lyrical, and sweeping novel about the tangled web of past and present. Suspenseful, perceptive, fast-paced, and ultimately restorative.” —Susan Henderson, author of Up from the Blue

Budapest: gorgeous city of secrets, with ties to a shadowy, bloody past.  It is to this enigmatic European capital that a young American couple, Annie and Will, move from Boston with their infant son shortly after the fall of the Communist regime. For Annie, it is an effort to escape the ghosts that haunt her past, and Will wants simply to seize the chance to build a new future for his family.

Eight months after their move, their efforts to assimilate are thrown into turmoil when they receive a message from friends in the US asking that they check up on an elderly man, a fiercely independent Jewish American WWII veteran who helped free Hungarian Jews from a Nazi prison camp. They soon learn that the man, Edward Weiss, has come to Hungary to exact revenge on someone he is convinced seduced, married, and then murdered his daughter.

Annie, unable to resist anyone’s call for help, recklessly joins in the old man’s plan to track down his former son-in-law and confront him, while Will, pragmatic and cautious by nature, insists they have nothing to do with Weiss and his vendetta. What Annie does not anticipate is that in helping Edward she will become enmeshed in a dark and deadly conflict that will end in tragedy and a stunning loss of innocence.

Review: What a great premise and setting but, sadly, so badly done.  There was nothing literary about this, either. The main character was dense and overwrought and the prose repetitious enough that I nearly didn’t finish it.  My own stubbornness and the question of how the author was going to tie everything up were the only things that keep me going but again I was disappointed in the mishandling of an interesting concept. A lot of the writing felt like filler and felt distant, though conversely the husband was one of the most one-dimensional characters I’ve read this year.  I wish the author had invested as much in her characters as she did in the setting.

thanks NetGalley and Algonquin Books

 

Monday Book Review: The Lost Season of Love and Snow by Jennifer Laam

Title:  The Lost Season of Love and Snow

Author:  Jennifer Laam

Publisher: St Martin’s

Release Date: January 2, 2018

Genre:  Historical Romance

The unforgettable story of Alexander Pushkin’s beautiful wife, Natalya, a woman much admired at Court, and how she became reviled as the villain of St. Petersburg.

At the age of sixteen, Natalya Goncharova is stunningly beautiful and intellectually curious. But while she finds joy in French translations and a history of Russian poetry, her family is more concerned with her marriage prospects. It is only fitting that during the Christmas of 1828 at her first public ball in her hometown of Moscow she attracts the romantic attention of Russia’s most lauded rebel poet: Alexander Pushkin.

Enchanted at first sight, Natalya is already a devoted reader of Alexander’s serialized novel in verse, Evgeny Onegin. The most recently published chapter ends in a duel, and she is dying to learn what happens next. Finding herself deeply attracted to Alexander’s intensity and joie de vivre, Natalya hopes to see him again as soon as possible.

What follows is a courtship and later marriage full of equal parts passion and domestic bliss but also destructive jealousies. When vicious court gossip leads to Alexander dying from injuries earned defending his honor as well as Natalya’s in a duel, Natalya finds herself reviled for her alleged role in his death.

With beautiful writing and understanding, Jennifer Laam, and her compelling new novel, The Lost Season of Love and Snow, help Natalya tell her side of the story—the story of her greatest love and her inner struggle to create a fulfilling life despite the dangerous intrigues of a glamorous imperial Court.

Review: This isn’t my usual story to read, but I loved the title and the premise was on a bit of a theme because I had “I Was Anastasia” in my queue, two completely different books but both about Russia, with roughly one hundred years between them.  Neither is Pushkin on my radar, but the author’s premise that his wife had likely been painted by a tainted brush by history, was appealing.  Very well researched and flawlessly written with a tragic ending that ripped at my heartstrings—but…and this is me and not the author, but the bugaboo of females in nearly every century is being forced into this submissive role where her marriage, at first, was only about changing houses and the view from the window. Gradually she learns how to be Mrs. Pushkin and survive in her role with revolution whispering around the edges of society…who wouldn’t go mad? The endless rounds of parties and costume making and setting up the marriageable sisters made my eyes cross after awhile, but that’s me. The story couldn’t be told otherwise, and I thought this was a great slice of historical fiction very well told.

Thanks NetGalley and St. Martin’s 🙂

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Sunday Book Review: A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

Title: A Treacherous Curse

Author:  Deanna Raybourn

Publisher: Doubleday

Release Date: January 16, 2018

Genre:  Historical Mystery

From GoodReads:  Members of an Egyptian expedition fall victim to an ancient mummy’s curse in a thrilling Veronica Speedwell novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries.
 
London, 1888. As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker. His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.

But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything. . . .

Review:  The third installment in the Veronica Speedwell series is just the way I love it.  A cheeky, no-holds-barred heroine to both cheer on and roll my eyes at and a sexy, broody, damaged hero.  The plot is centered around Stoker’s ex-wife Carolyn (whose name he murmured to Veronica during their one and only sexual encounter) and the man she ran off with, abandoning Stoker in South America when he was near death.  This is the story I was ready to hear…with the author’s usual excellent writing and voice creating another intriguing mystery with just a touch of romance.  Victorian Egyptologist themes have been done to death, but I felt the author gave it a fresh feel.

I’d love to read a short story or a whole novel from Stoker’s point of view 😀

Thanks Net Galley and Doubleday…

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Thursday Book Review: Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

Title:  Mr. Dickens and His Carol

Author:  Samantha Silva

Publisher:  Flatiron Books

Release Date: October 31, 2017

From Good Reads:   Shakespeare in Love meets A Christmas Carol in this transporting debut novel set during the whirlwind period in which Dickens wrote his beloved classic, as he embarks on a Scrooge-like journey of his own.

For Charles Dickens, each Christmas has been better than the last. His novels are literary blockbusters, and he is famous on the streets of London, where avid fans sneak up on him to snip off pieces of his hair. He and his wife have five happy children, a sixth on the way, and a home filled with every comfort they could imagine. But when Dickens’ newest book is a flop, the glorious life he has built for himself threatens to collapse around him. His publishers offer an ultimatum: either he writes a Christmas book in a month, or they will call in his debts, and he could lose everything. Grudgingly, he accepts, but with relatives hounding him for loans, his wife and children planning an excessively lavish holiday party, and jealous critics going in for the kill, he is hardly feeling the Christmas spirit.

Increasingly frazzled and filled with self-doubt, Dickens seeks solace and inspiration in London itself, his great palace of thinking. And on one of his long walks, in a once-beloved square, he meets a young woman in a purple cloak, who might be just the muse he needs. Eleanor Lovejoy and her young son, Timothy, propel Dickens on a Scrooge-like journey through his Christmases past and present—but with time running out, will he find the perfect new story to save him?

In prose laced with humor, sumptuous Victorian detail, and charming winks to A Christmas Carol, Samantha Silva breathes new life into an adored classic. Perfect for fans of Dickens, for readers of immersive historical fiction, and for anyone looking for a dose of Christmas cheer, Mr. Dickens and His Carol is destined to become a perennial holiday favorite.

My Review:  This is a novel deeply steeped in Dickens’s lore and Victorian London, but probably not for the purists.  That being said, I really enjoyed this bounce through the life of the creator of “A Christmas Carol.” I wish I had read it closer to Christmas—though I’ll likely give it a re-read.   I loved the characters who inspired him, the origins of the names, Dickens’s fictional “process.”

I loved the gang of urchins following him and their motives, and the return to his roots, as it were, when he moves into the Boz museum that is actually the room he and his wife had first lived in at the start of his career, and their marriage, to cure his writer’s block.  

The author does an excellent job—you can feel his panic when his audience begins to turn away from him, how the love for his family begins to strangle him creatively. Sounds depressing, but it’s not—the prose is a joy, and this is a genuinely heartwarming story.

Thank you Net Galley and Flatiron Books

WWW Wednesday at coffee and ink #13

Sam at Taking on a World of Words is the host of WWW Wednesday.  To participate, all you have to do is answer the three W questions and post in the comments section at Sam’s blog:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

From Good Reads:  Members of an Egyptian expedition fall victim to an ancient mummy’s curse in a thrilling Veronica Speedwell novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries.
 
London, 1888. As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker. His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.

But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything. . . .

From Good Reads: In this wholly absorbing historical novel, Mrs. Lucy Carelton, who comes from one of the wealthiest and most prominent families in 1880s New York City, has been completely undone by her nerves. Her ambitious husband, a nouveau riche stockbroker, drags her from one doctor to another in search of a cure that will allow her to fulfill her many social obligations without giving in to hysteria. They think they have found the solution in charismatic neurologist Victor Seth, a champion of a relatively new procedure called hypnotism. Seth sets about freeing Lucy from the social constraints that have made her so unhappy, encouraging her to pursue her artistic talents and explore her sexuality. Seth convinces himself that his techniques, including his handy way with an electrotherapy wand, are all in the name of science, but even he is unprepared for the new Lucy who emerges–a passionate, calculating, amoral creature of large appetites. Chance’s straightforward prose and over-the-top plotting effectively combine in this diabolically clever, thoroughly entertaining take on women’s liberation.

What did you recently finish reading?

I have read quite a few Megan Chance books, and she never lets me down.

Description: Chicago socialite Geneva Langley is a woman used to pushing boundaries. When she inadvertently pushes too far, she finds herself banished, along with her husband, to Seattle, Washington Territory. In 1888, Seattle is a city on the cusp of greatness, but there Ginny feels stifled and alone, suffocated by her husband’s forgiveness, always cognizant of her need to atone.

Beatrice Wilkes is an actress who has lived by her wits since she first set out on her own at the age of fifteen. She has learned not to trust, that in the theater friends rarely stay friends for long. She longs for a career as a leading lady on the stage, although that dream seems to grow less possible with every passing hour. When she meets Geneva Langley, Bea pegs her correctly as the kind of woman who has had everything handed to her, who understands nothing of real life.

Fate—and the great Seattle fire of 1889—will bind these two different women together in a dark and perilous alliance. Neither suspects that their relationship will challenge everything they know about themselves, or that it will set them on a path that must lead to either redemption or damnation. 

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m working on nonfiction American history right now, doing research for the novel 😀

Tuesday Book Review: No Safe Anchorage by Liz MacRae Shaw

Title: No Safe Anchorage

Author: Liz MacRae Shaw

Publisher: Top Hat Books

Release Date: October 27, 2017

From Good Reads: Tom Masters, a nineteenth century naval officer, is a round peg in a square hole. A tantalizing glimpse of a stranger leads him to jump ship on a quest to find her. His adventures, interwoven with the life of a young Robert Louis Stevenson, take Tom from the Isle of Skye to Canada. There he encounters others who have been jettisoned by society, including Silent Owl, a Native American who becomes his soulmate. But, danger and exposure threaten Tom’s every move as he is forced to continue on his journey…

My Review: I resisted the story, at first—the disparate points of view in the beginning threw me off.  Then, finally, came Tom and the story took off.  Well written and well researched. I find that I liked the type of narrative, though it was a little more like “telling” than I prefer, but for some reason it works for the scope of the novel. It was hard to put down once I got used to the style.

 

Monday Book Review: An Unsuitable Heir by KJ Charles (Sins of the City #3)

Publisher: Loveswept/Penguin Random House

Release Date: October 3, 2017

Genre: Romance

Setting: Victorian London

Series: Sins of the City #3

From Good Reads:  A private detective finds passion, danger, and the love of a lifetime when he hunts down a lost earl in Victorian London.

On the trail of an aristocrat’s secret son, enquiry agent Mark Braglewicz finds his quarry in a music hall, performing as a trapeze artist with his twin sister. Graceful, beautiful, elusive, and strong, Pen Starling is like nobody Mark’s ever met—and everything he’s ever wanted. But the long-haired acrobat has an earldom and a fortune to claim.

Pen doesn’t want to live as any sort of man, least of all a nobleman. The thought of being wealthy, titled, and always in the public eye is horrifying. He likes his life now—his days on the trapeze, his nights with Mark. And he won’t be pushed into taking a title that would destroy his soul.

But there’s a killer stalking London’s foggy streets, and more lives than just Pen’s are at risk. Mark decides he must force the reluctant heir from music hall to manor house, to save Pen’s neck. Betrayed by the one man he thought he could trust, Pen never wants to see his lover again. But when the killer comes after him, Pen must find a way to forgive—or he might not live long enough for Mark to make amends.

My Review: I love the novels of KJ Charles, from Magpie Lords to Green Men. I’ve read everything but the last book released and Last Stop Tokyo.  The author knows her history, and her writing style is crisp and clear.

This third novel is the conclusion to the ensemble series, the characters passing the spotlight on as their involvement in the over-reaching story, a murder mystery that evolves into the frantic search for a missing heir.

The first novel, An Unseen Attraction, involves Clem and Rowley, who are friends whose passion for each other remains locked under their skin as they share tea and conversation in Clem’s quiet boarding house. Until a murdered lodger is dumped on the doorstep…Not only is this a gay romance, but Clem is half East Indian (long story) and has an invisible disability, which always made him a target of his bullying family. Rowley, too, enjoys a quiet life as a taxidermist—his own history reveals another reason why these two have such a lovely affinity between them. A slow burn romance.

The second novel, An Unnatural Vice, is completely opposite, pitting Justin, the Seer of London, and Nathaniel, an investigative journalist, against each other.  Enemies to lovers, opposites attract—I think KJ really shines the more complicated the sexual and emotional tangles are (re: “Wednesday to Wednesday”). Justin and Nathaniel have picked up the next thread of the murder and the search for the missing heir.

These men are of a small group of friends who often meet at tavern that caters to men like them, a safe refuge where they can be themselves, and where they share this story.

In the third novel, Mark, a private inquiry agent, is on the trail of the missing heir, who is also related to Clem. The existence in the heir has Clem’s aristocratic family in an uproar, and has put Clem and his friends in danger. Pen and his sister are completely happy working as acrobats. Pen is nonbinary and the inner workings of his heart and identity are fascinating as they are revealed to both himself and to Mark through the days of a thick London fog and working out the tangles of the mystery.

Seriously satisfying resolutions to the romances and the murder mystery.  Top-notch writing and plotting.  Charles always leaves me hungry for more, in a good way.

Thank you NetGalley and Loveswept 😀