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 😀

 

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:

 

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.

 

 

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 #8

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 on the fence about this one.    I love the writing and the characters, and though the plot is a little on the slow side, I want to keep reading. I thought maybe it would be a little Dean Koontz-like but with much better writing. But there are few things that throw me out of the story: Up until I saw this is also in the Christian/Inspirational category, I was there. Also, the various churches and religions in town exist in a harmony that, to me, clashes with the era. I realize it’s part of the supernatural historical fantasy, but it doesn’t go down well.  It felt like modern wishful thinking and the seams are showing. I’m going to keep reading, though.

Description

What did you recently finish reading?

From NetGalley:

Doing what she does best, a haunting story based on an old Appalachian folktale and rendered into a murder mystery.  I haven’t read Sharyn McCrumb in oh so long, and I have a lot to catch up on.  When a new bride dies in an accidental fall, her mother knows who did it and works to get justice for her daughter.  Deceptively simple and haunting prose…I’m halfway through and have trouble putting it down! edit: wonderful! Review to come!

Description

From NetGalley:

Another 5 star winner! Wow, this historical suspense blew me away. I’ll be looking for more from this author.  Review to come!

Description

 

I’m always looking for good vivid Victorian mysteries, and this series is perfect.  I listened to the audiobook on my morning walks around the horsetrack in town and finally finished. I don’t usually listen to audiobooks, but this story got me out of bed and lacing up the sneakers, so I’m definitely moving on to the next audiobook in the series 🙂 Review to come.

Blurb:

An atmospheric debut novel set on the gritty streets of Victorian London, Some Danger Involved introduces detective Cyrus Barker and his apprentice, Thomas Llewelyn, as they work to solve the gruesome murder of a young scholar.

When a student bearing a striking resemblance to artists’ renderings of Jesus Christ is found murdered — by crucifixion — in London’s Jewish ghetto, 19th-century private detective Barker must hire an assistant to help him solve the sinister case. Out of all who answer an ad for a position with “some danger involved,” the eccentric and enigmatic Barker chooses downtrodden Llewelyn, a gutsy young man whose murky past includes recent stints at both an Oxford college and an Oxford prison.
As Llewelyn learns the ropes of his position, he is drawn deeper and deeper into Barker’s peculiar world of vigilante detective work, as well as the dark heart of London’s teeming underworld. Together they pass through chophouses, stables, and clandestine tea rooms, tangling with the early Italian mafia, a mad professor of eugenics, and other shadowy figures, inching ever closer to the shocking truth behind the murder.

Not from NetGalley, either. I love Megan Chance and this was on sale a few days ago, oh look, it still is! https://www.amazon.com/Spiritualist-Novel-Megan-Chance-ebook/dp/B0019O6IXY/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Exactly what I expected and love about Megan Chance!!

Blurb:

Sometimes truth is the greatest illusion of all.

In a cold January morning in 1856, Evelyn Atherton’s husband is found murdered after attending an exclusive séance. Having “married up” into New York society, Evie herself is the immediate suspect. Ostracized and vulnerable, she knows that to clear her name she must retrace her husband’s last steps. And so, joining forces with her husband’s best friend–and the only Manhattan lawyer who will accept her case–Evie dives into the mysterious underworld of the occult.

Before long, the trail brings them to a charismatic medium, Michel Jourdain. Evie’s instincts tell her the smooth-talking Jourdain is a charlatan–and her only hope for exoneration. But getting close to Jourdain means embracing a seductive and hypnotic world where clues to murder come through the voices of the dead.

Caught in a perilous game in which she is equal player and pawn, predator and victim, Evie finds there is no one to trust, perhaps not even herself. As her powerful in-laws build a case against her, and with time running out, Evie must face the real ghosts of her past if she is to have any hope of avoiding the hangman

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m not sure, but these are my choices:

I picked up an Isabel Allende novel Island Beneath the Sea in a Bookbub deal. Another author I’ve lost track of. I loved Fortune’s Daughter, but that was published quite a while ago.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8149392-island-beneath-the-sea

And three gay romances from my favorite authors:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35561986-the-bones-of-our-fathers?from_search=true

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32600210-the-ruin-of-a-rake?from_search=true

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35118935-spectred-isle?ac=1&from_search=true

WWW Wednesday at coffee and ink #7

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 NetGalley:

Doing what she does best, a haunting story based on an old Appalachian folktale and rendered into a murder mystery.  I haven’t read Sharyn McCrumb in oh so long, and I have a lot to catch up on.  When a new bride dies in an accidental fall, her mother knows who did it and works to get justice for her daughter.  Deceptively simple and haunting prose…I’m halfway through and have trouble putting it down!

Description

 

Again for NetGalley and again an author I used to read and lost track of.

Review will post August 13, on next Sunday.

Description

What do you think you’ll read next?

Both from NetGalley:

Description

 

Description

 

WWW Wednesday at coffee and ink #6

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 got this one from Net Galley and holy smokes, it’s so good! I can’t wait to find out what she does with the story, and the prose rocks.

Description

 

I’m still working on this–there’s a lot of information about the connections to the murder victim, and I feel hampered by the page size of my Kindle. Is that weird? I think I’ll find a paperback copy and keep reading that one.  So it won’t show up here again until I actually finish it.

I’m still working on this one, too:

From Net Galley, a nonfiction book about the Amazon.  I read a bunch of books related to some research for a novel about the history of South America and the Amazon–gruesome and gorgeous reading, so when I saw this, I picked it up to continue my queries, as the novel hit a snag and sits in a drawer at this moment. My research made me curious for more.

What did you recently finish reading?

The only book I’ve finished is A Sea of Straw by Julia Sutton, and the review is here: https://coffeeandink.blog/2017/07/23/sunday-book-review-a-sea-of-straw-by-julia-sutton/

What do you think you’ll read next?

So many started and yet to finish.  The trouble with summer is that work in the garden must be done, the job is always busiest in the summer, and we came under malware attack a few weeks ago, which put us behind even further, so much of my extra time is spent there.  Not to mention the time I need to write slipping further and further away (Saturday afternoon on the porch with a beer and letting the words flow–glorious!).  So I’m going to make a pledge to finish what I started and add more reviews to this blog next week. I’m waiting for edits on a novel and that’s going to keep me out of the loop until those get done.

Maybe making yet another list will keep me focused 😉

 

 

 

Sunday Book Review: A Sea of Straw by Julia Sutton

I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Title:  Sea of Straw

Author: Julia Sutton

Publisher: Cheyne Walk

Release Date:  2016

Genre: Literary, Historical, Romance

Setting: Portugal, UK

 Julia Sutton’s debut novel is a gem. The author, also an artist, paints a word portrait with gorgeous yet earthy language, evoking a time and place long past, but still within reach.

 While on holiday in Portugal, a chance encounter with a stranger leads the unhappily married Jody into an affair with the enigmatic painter Ze.  The first half of the novel is Jody’s point of view.  The lovers are recently parted as the story opens, yet Jody had hoped for one last glimpse of Ze before she leaves. She knows he’s afraid, but she’s not sure what of except in the shadow of the civil war with Spain, the secret police are watching everyone.

She returns home to a life that is too tight, too constricted to contain her now.  Her unpleasant husband and their families and friends are watching her carefully, too, a smaller reflection of Ze’s life. She struggles to re-acclimate herself to dark, cold Lancashire after long sun-drenched days with Ze.

Jody’s narrative moves forward in time from the start, broken up by her memories of Ze, his friends and family, and his love of culture and of her.  The stifling morality of the time, before women’s lib got to Lancashire, reveals itself in the behavior of her family ands some of her friends. Jody re-examines her life and what the future will be like if she doesn’t get back to her real life with Ze.

The second half of the novel is Ze’s narrative.  Both lovers conspire to return to the other on the opposite side of the Atlantic, a nearly impossible feat. While Jody is trapped by society’s idea of whom she should be, Ze begins the harrowing and dangerous process of freeing himself to be with her.

 A Sea of Straw is a literary love story filled with adventure in the shadow of fascist Europe.  Unexpected twists and turns keep me turning the pages, as did the author’s portraits of Portugal and Lisbon. I highly recommend this novel.

On a personal note, I love Lisbon and have ambled about the Alfama and wandered through the castle on the hill while a musician played John Dowland on his lute.