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 😀

 

Sunday Book Review: Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

Title: Juliet Takes a Breath

Author: Gabby Rivera

Publisher:  Riverdale Avenue Books

Release Date: January 18, 2016

From Good Reads:  Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. She’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff.

Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle?

With more questions than answers, Juliet takes on Portland, Harlowe, and most importantly, herself.

My Review: I shouldn’t have read the other reviews (on GR) because most of them are so good, and  now I’m blocked.  I feel like I should have more to say because I loved this story so much—hanging onto Juliet’s coattails as she negotiates some pretty scary steps to adulthood, but an adulthood on her own terms.

This is Juliet’s story, Gabby Rivera’s #ownvoice.  There’s also a universality to Juliet’s story (I was thinking about Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle when I first started it.)  Coming out and rites of passage, coming of age, finding a mentor and discovering your hero has feet of clay…then the joy of finding your tribe and returning home triumphant.

I’m a well-read, straight, white, older lady living in rural New England—so just had to get that out of the way, because I love to read diverse books (not just gay romance lol). There’s so much meat on this story’s bones, and the prose is phenomenal. Gabby Rivera has a sharp, clear lens, and I couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended.

Thank you NetGalley and Rivendale Avenue Books.

 

WWW Wednesday at coffee and ink #12

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?

I got behind in my NetGalley reading and reviews in order to catch up on other reading and reviews. The good news is that my WWW aren’t overlapping today like they were a few weeks back.

What are you currently reading?

I guess I’ve been in a swashbuckling mood…

Well-written, awesome historical set in colonial tidewater Virginia.  Also written by a fellow Mainer– my local library featured him one day, and I’ve had his books on my mind ever since.

Description: Shortly after Thomas Marlowe’s arrival in Williamsburg, Virginia, all in that newfound capital city are speaking his name. With the bounty from his years as a pirate–a life he intends to renounce and keep forever secret–he purchases a fine plantation from a striking young widow, and soon after kills the favorite son of one of Virginia’s most powerful clans while defending her honor. But it is a daring feat of remarkable cunning that truly sets local tongues wagging: a stunning move that wins Marlowe command of Plymouth Prize, the colony’s decrepit guardship.

But even as the enigmatic Marlowe bravely leads the King’s sailors in bloody pitched battle against the cutthroats who infest the waters off Virginia’s shores, a threat from his illicit past looms on the horizon that could doom Marlowe and his plans. Jean-Pierre LeRois, captain of the Vengeance–a brigand notorious even among other brigands for his violence and debauchery–plots to seize the colony’s wealth, forcing Marlowe to choose between losing all or facing the one man he fears. Only an explosive confrontation on the open sea can determine whether the Chesapeake will be ruled by the crown or the Brethren of the Coast.

I don’t usually read fantasy, but I hoped this would fill the giant black hole while we wait for the next Gentlemen Bastards (Scott Lynch).  It’s pretty good 🙂

Description:  Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.

Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters.

All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…

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 did you recently finish reading?

This is Kendra Donovan #2, and I loved it. The mystery is superb, even though I guessed it, but I love the whole process.

Description: Former FBI agent Kendra Donovan’s attempts to return to the twenty-first century have failed, leaving her stuck at Aldridge Castle in 1815. And her problems have just begun: in London, the Duke of Aldridge’s nephew Alec—Kendra’s confidante and lover—has come under suspicion for murdering his former mistress, Lady Dover, who was found viciously stabbed with a stiletto, her face carved up in a bizarre and brutal way.

Lady Dover had plenty of secrets, and her past wasn’t quite what she’d made it out to be. Nor is it entirely in the past—which becomes frighteningly clear when a crime lord emerges from London’s seamy underbelly to threaten Alec. Joining forces with Bow Street Runner Sam Kelly, Kendra must navigate the treacherous nineteenth century while she picks through the strands of Lady Dover’s life.

As the noose tightens around Alec’s neck, Kendra will do anything to save him, including following every twist and turn through London’s glittering ballrooms, where deception is the norm—and any attempt to uncover the truth will get someone killed.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I have to work on my NetGalley list, so here it is:

 

Wednesday Book Review: The Last Best Friend by George Sims

I am trying to put more book reviews here, so this is an attempt to get beyond one per week 😉

The Last Best Friend by George Sims

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press/British Library

Release date:  Original 1967, rerelease 2017 

Description

“The small man standing on the narrow ledge stared fixedly forward with eyes made wide and blank by terror.”

At 2pm on a Monday in 1966, Ned Balfour wakes in Corsica beside a beautiful woman.

In the same instant, back in London, fellow art dealer and Dachau survivor Sam Weiss falls ten stories to his death.

Ned refuses to believe that Sam’s death was intentional, and his investigation thrusts him into the deceit and fraudulence of the art world, where he unmasks more than one respectable face.

First published in 1967, this thrilling tale of vertigo, suspicion and infidelity is a long-forgotten classic with an intriguing plot twist.

https://poisonedpenpress.com/books/last-best-friend-british-library-classic-thrillers/ 

The introduction by Martin Edwards illuminates further who George Sims was (d. 1999) and perhaps why he isn’t as well known as his contemporaries of the time (the “Swinging Sixties”) like John le Carre and Len Deighton.

Sims’ style is descriptive, literary, revealing a deep knowledge of London. Ned Balfour can’t reconcile that his friend Sam, a concentration camp survivor, has committed suicide. Both Balfour and Sam are antiquarian booksellers (as Sims was until his death), and Ned is driven to find the answer to his friend’s state of mind.  The antique books world is wonderfully depicted as this is Sim’s home turf.

I loved Ned Balfour for his self-analysis, his somewhat jaded view of the world. His descriptions and relationships with women are archaic, but not as problematic as the homophobia that Sims’s prose touches on. It’s the 1960s, however, and I’ve read worse from modern authors. The writing and the plot were too good, and I don’t want to give you the wrong idea.

For an antiquarian bookseller, he’s pretty tough, but both he and Sam are the WWII generation. Ned easily talks women into bed, and he finds himself, as he approaches middle age, kind of creepy. The plot twists and turns as Ned gradually figures out Sam was murdered and drives himself hard to find out who and why. Charming and engaging, I’ll be reading more of George Sims.

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Sunday Book Review: The Cloister by James Carroll

 

The Cloister is a novel of ideas that made me feel as breathless and on edge as I do when reading a thriller. With masterful writing and pacing, the author creates two worlds for the characters to inhabit—1140s Paris and the scholastic sphere of the brilliant Peter Abelard and Heloise, and their inevitable, and separate, retreat from the world.

How this all fits into Nazi occupied Paris, concentration camps, and on to post WWII New York City is an amazing literary feat. Entering this hall of mirrors is the Catholic priest Kavanaugh and the Jewish docent for the Cloisters, Rachel. Rachel’s father is the link back to Abelard and Heloise, as before the war he was a scholar in Paris working on a study of Abelard’s: Dialogue of a Philosopher with a Jew and a Christian (1136-1139).  She carries Abelard’s book History of My Calamities with her everywhere because it was her father’s. When the priest seeks the shelter of the Cloisters during a rainstorm, they fall into conversation, and she spontaneously hands it over to the priest.

The themes of obligation and exploitation, retreat and annihilation, manipulation and survival are golden threads to follow through this labyrinth. A beautifully horrifying and shattering story.

Thank you NetGalley and Doubleday.

Sunday Book Review: The Orphan of Florence by Jeanne Kalogridis

Title:  The Orphan of Florence

Author: Jeanne Kalogridis

Publisher: St. Martin’s

Release Date:  October 3, 2017

Genre: Historical

Setting: Renaissance Florence

I am an absolute sucker for anything set in (Renaissance) Florence, but the author is a bit of a hit or miss for me, and I approached the novel with trepidation…

And fell right into the consuming rabbit hole of the story. Wow! 

My other absolute sucker-ness is for stories with women getting by in the world masquerading as men.

I loved Guilia—she knew from the get-go that her mind was different than the other children and adults around her.  Smart as she is, she struggles to overcome the real talent that keeps her alive—her distrust of all things except for the small family she’s made of a former prostitute and a street urchin.  She supports them by being a pickpocket, until she picks the right pocket, and though her circumstances are much improved after that fateful encounter, her new life is far more dangerous than the life she had led on the streets.

Medici spies versus Roman spies, orphans, codes and ciphers, and best of all, magic.

I loved the descriptions of Florence and the arcana—the author hit all the right notes for me from the moment I started reading. The fight scenes with Niccolo are absorbing and well researched.

BUT—does Guilia really need to say “OK” in this setting? I only laughed and moved on, but some might not. It takes more away from the story than adds to it, and as this is an ARC, I hope they remove “ok” from the finished manuscript.

P.S. Da Vinci, as much as I love him, doesn’t need to appear in every story set in Renaissance Florence, and for anyone who thinks “Da Vinci’s Demons” is history—it’s not, it’s an AU.

 

 

Sunday Book Review: Tale of A Boon’s Wife

Title: Tale of A Boon’s Wife

Author:  Fartumo Kusow

Publisher: Second Story Press

Release Date:  October 10, 2017

Genre: Literary, Multicultural

Setting: Somalia

Idil, a young girl in Somalia, is the daughter of a general and whose family is of the dominant Bliss tribe. Her older brother is a sadistic creep and her younger brother has a heart as big as her own. Her mother does what is expected of her, repeating all the toxic masculinity brainwashing that goes on in patriarchal cultures everywhere.

Oh, this is a beautifully written and terrifying book!

Because of her general father’s numerous affairs, the last one ending in violence, they are moved closer to the capitol.  Thus Idil meets Sidow, and their friendship is fast and immediate.  For both her and her younger brother, Sidow is a healing balm when they can get away from their toxic household. Sidow is sweet, smart and talented, but he’s also of the Boon tribe, who are, historically, of a lower social order to the Bliss.

In a country already torn apart by civil war, the love that grows between Sidow and Idil is strong, strong enough for Idil to defy her parents and marry her soul’s mate, creating their own small resistance in the face of destructive traditions that would tear them apart. 

There is so much more going on than in this brief summary.  The author’s graceful and eloquent yet earthy language creates an immediacy and emotional immersion into Idil’s world, her mind and heart. Heartbreaking, though Idil remains strong and true as her mother, her family, her home, and country break apart.

Highly recommended. I’ll be looking for more from this author.

Thank you NetGalley and Second Story Press 😀

 

 

WWW Wednesday at coffee and ink #10

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?

I’m loving this novel set in Renaissance Florence, love the voice and the mysterious Magician of Florence. Great concept!  I’ve only read two other novels by this author, The Burning Times and The Borgia Bride, and liked them, though Borgias have gotten boring for me.  Like Tudors.

Description

 

I’m listening to this one on my early morning walk around the horsetrack–I love this–I hope to see more from this author.

Karen Odden’s enthralling debut historical mystery transports readers to Victorian England, where a terrifying railway disaster plunges a headstrong young noblewoman into a conspiracy that reaches to the highest corridors of power.

Following a humiliating fourth Season in London, Lady Elizabeth Fraser is on her way back to her ancestral country estate when her train careens off the rails and bursts into flames. Though she is injured, she manages to drag herself and her unconscious mother out of the wreckage, and amid the chaos that ensues, a brilliant young railway surgeon saves her mother’s life. Elizabeth feels an immediate connection with Paul Wilcox—though society would never deem a medical man eligible for the daughter of an earl.

After Paul reveals that the train wreck was no accident, and the inspector who tried to prevent it dies under mysterious circumstances, Elizabeth undertakes a dangerous investigation of her own that leads back to her family’s buried secrets. The more she learns, the more she must risk. Not only are her dowry and her reputation at stake; Paul’s very life hangs in the balance when he is arrested for manslaughter. As the trial draws near, and Parliament prepares for a vote that will change the course of the nation, Elizabeth uncovers a conspiracy that has been years in the making. But time is running out for her to see justice done.

What did you recently finish reading?

I couldn’t put down this novel about a woman and her family caught up in the violence of intertribal warfare in Somalia. Review to come, though I think I might join the Diversity Reader meme on Thursdays. Great, though harrowing, story!

Description

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m never sure. I’ve got four more Net Galley books to get through, and a pile of books that includes Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (since I just watched Gods and Generals and Gettysburg) and some nonfiction 19th century America books.

 

Sunday Book Review: Murder in July by Barbara Hambly

Publisher: Severn House

Release date: 12/01/2017

I’ve always been a big fan of Benjamin January (and Barbara Hambly) so I was more than thrilled when this came up in the Net Galley queue to be reminded of the series.  The last book I read in the series was Die Upon a Kiss, which is #5, so I have a ton of catching up to do, happily, as Murder in July is #15.

In 1839 New Orleans, Benjamin, as ever, is content, living his life with his wife Rose and their growing family. Both a surgeon and a musician, he and Rose are preparing their home to become a boarding school for girls, the children of well-off white men and their mistresses of color.

But along comes Sir John Oldmixton with an offer Benjamin can’t refuse.  Not only is the money much needed, as Rose is also very pregnant, but a friend of Sir John Oldmixton has been found dead, possibly murdered, and his mistress, a free woman of color, has been accused of killing him. Benjamin is often called upon to maneuver between the overlapping of the borders of the whites and people of color. What makes this situation even odder, is that he recognizes the weapon used as to belonging to a woman he knew nine years before in Paris during the second revolution. She, too, was accused of a murder she didn’t commit, and Benjamin is sucked once more into the past as it bleeds into the present.  

The mystery and the history blend seamlessly to recreate this world of the antebellum South and 1830s Paris, totally absorbing.  The characters and their motives are realistically drawn, and the ending very satisfying.

 

WWW Wednesday at coffee and ink #9

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?

Release Date:  October 10, 2017

Publisher: Second Story Press

Description:

A young Somali woman defies convention and clan to marry the man she loves, but must face the consequences.

Despite her family’s threat to disown her, Idil, a young Somali woman, rejects her high Bliss status to marry Sidow, a poor Boon man. Her decision transforms her life, forcing her to face harsh and sometimes even deadly consequences for her defiance of a strict tribal hierarchy. Set in the fifteen-year period before Somalia’s 1991 Civil War, Idil’s journey is almost too hard to bear at times. Her determination to follow her heart and to pursue love over family and convention is a story that has been told across time and across cultures.

NetGalley

What did you recently finish reading?

Review to come!  Loved it! 😀

Description

NetGalley
For me, this was a DNF about halfway through.  I tried. I loved the writing, and I picked it because it came up in my historical queue, but I didn’t see that it was also Christian/Inspirational. About a quarter of the way through I was struggling, but decided the story seemed worth it, but I’ve got to the middle where all the various church leaders are turning vengeful and murderous, and I don’t think I’ll pick the story up again, I loved the writing, the characters, and the setting, but I just can’t go on.
Release date: January 30, 2018
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Description:
In the wake of World War I in the small, Southern town of Bellhaven, South Carolina, the town folk believe they’ve found a little slice of heaven in a mysterious chapel in the woods. But they soon realize that evil can come in the most beautiful of forms.

The people of Bellhaven have always looked to Ellsworth Newberry for guidance, but after losing his wife and his future as a professional pitcher, he is moments away from testing his mortality once and for all. Until he finally takes notice of the changes in his town . . . and the cardinals that have returned.

Upon the discovery of a small chapel deep in the Bellhaven woods, healing seems to fall upon the townspeople, bringing peace after several years of mourning. But as they visit the “healing floor” more frequently, the people begin to turn on one another, and the unusually tolerant town becomes anything but.

The cracks between the natural and supernatural begin to widen, and tensions rise. Before the town crumbles, Ellsworth must pull himself from the brink of suicide, overcome his demons, and face the truth of who he was born to be by leading the town into the woods to face the evil threatening Bellhaven.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I don’t know, at this point, but going to work on my just-approved NetGalley ARCs 🙂