#FirstNight #NetGalley


first night


The year is 1802, and Cristabel and Max are headlining a youth performance of Orpheus and Eurydice in Lissenberg’s new opera house. Christabel convinces Max to switch parts to let her sing the male lead only to reveal herself to thunderous applause, and her father’s burning shame, at the opera’s close. Disgraced, Christabel is sent back to England.

Upon hearing of the scandal, American heiress Martha Peabody seeks Cristabel out with an unorthodox proposition: Martha has money and independence but no talent, Christabel has raw talent but no means to support herself. With Martha acting as Cristabel’s manager, the two women could travel autonomously: Cristabel able to pursue her passion for opera and Martha escaping the confines of an unwanted marriage. Taking a leap of faith, Cristabel agrees. When a fortuitous meeting with a young composer leads to a professional opportunity for Cristabel, she soon finds herself back in Lissenberg, keen to discover what has become of Max.

But tensions in Lissenberg are rising: Napolean Bonaparte’s supporters are growing in number and Max’s father, the mad Prince Gustav, is tightening his iron grip on his kingdom. Max’s distant behaviour confuses Cristabel, but the show must go on, and she throws herself into her opera training. Meanwhile, Martha finds herself drawn into a political intrigue destined only for trouble.

As opening night approaches it becomes increasingly clear that the diverging paths of the two women are bound to collide, with momentous consequences.

Thank you Net Galley and Ipso Books 🙂


I wish I loved opera. I mean, there are some songs from different operas that I like, but I find it hard to listen to a whole story being sung through in another language. Like musicals, there’s a weird logic thing I can’t make work. Sure, there are some musicals I adore—Hair, All That Jazz, JCS, Godspell, WSS (four out of five of those are from my childhood) but, yeah–no. I guess I feel guilty because opera was huge in my mother’s family and beloved friends love opera and talk about it…a lot, but opera’s like a Rothko painting—you either get it or you don’t.  

That being said…I loved First Night. I expected something even more over the top than usual with settings like Venice and the fictional Lissenberg, and the author did not disappoint me.  Even as the mystery and suspense overtakes the plot a love of opera thrums through the novel and striving for excellence drives the characters forward. The plot has unexpected twists and turns that kept me reading. The novel was published in 1989, and I think it holds up well.


Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King



I am a very big fan of Laurie R King and especially of the Mary Russell series. For some reason, Venice has figured into much of my reading lately, and I had to laugh (because I didn’t read the Net Galley blurb, just requested the book) when the plot brought Mary and Holmes there. Venice is brilliantly rendered under the author’s pen—I dreamed of gray-green lagoons all night long last night—as is Cole Porter and his wife, the gandolieri, the Bright Young Things, the Blackshirts, and Bedlam, to name a few reasons to love this book. The plot moves along quickly and logically with a wonderful smash-bang superhero scene before the big reveal.

Thank you Net Galley and Bantam 🙂

Release Date: June 12, 2018

Bantam Books


Three Truant Reviews

With apologies to Net Galley, the publishers, and the authors…


Wild Justice by Priscilla Royal #1

I read the first few books in this series and loved them, so when the book came up on Net Galley, I saw this as an opportunity to jump back into the series. Yes, I am very late—I had a heck of an ending to 2017 and into the New Year and didn’t think I would be able to review the books I had received from Net Galley—then I fell and ended up in the hospital and in recovery going on the second month now. So I re-read the book and liked it more the second time.  You’ve got to know by now the 14th book in the series isn’t going to bring any new surprises but the author delivered again a solid mystery against the backdrop of the order of the Hospitaller’s. It was an enjoyable slow burn to the reveal, gaining momentum as I read. It’s also the type of story where you could pick it up in the middle of the series and not be too lost. I’m usually not the biggest fan of medieval religious sleuths—give me Joliffe over Cadfael any time (lol)—but I did find the intricacies of convent life interesting in this context.



No Man Dies Twice by Michael Smith 

I re-read this one to make sure I still felt the same way about it and still couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it at all.


A Mortal Likeness by Laura Joh Rowland

I love Victorian mysteries, but unfortunately found this one disappointing, to say the least. I did want to know whodunit so read to the end despite misgivings. It wasn’t the plot that bothered me as much as the first person present tense and that there weren’t many likable, relatable characters, if any at all. There was something off about the language also. I think I would have liked it more if it was written from Sir Hugh’s point of view (in the past tense) or maybe alternating view points.

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


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 continuing 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: The Library of Light and Shadow by MJ Rose

Publisher:  Atria Publishing

Release date: July 18, 2017

This novel has a long and complex plot that, coupled with the evocative descriptions, kept me reading.  Set in the overindulgent 1920s of New York City and the shadow of the Belle Epoque in southern France, Delphine, a painter who has the magical ability to paint her sitter’s deepest secrets, reveals a secret that ends in tragedy and sends her into a spiraling depression. The back story and subplot are woven in well and flow right along with the major plot which becomes the search for an alchemical book that holds the secret of immortality.

Delphine doesn’t always understand what she sees and paints.  She struggles to resolve her inner turmoil brought on by her secret knowledge because of the consequences—she lost the love of her life because of a vision she had of the future.  If she doesn’t work out what her gift is telling her now, she knows, at least, that the consequences may very well be deadly. 

I really liked this story—though the prose felt a little heavy-handed at times. I wanted to cut out an extra sentence here and there. Overall, entertaining and engrossing, and highly recommended. It’s the third in a series, but I didn’t feel left out of what had already happened.  I’m definitely going to read more MJ Rose.

Hot Topic: Got Manuscript? Pitch Wars is Nigh!

Update:  The new website for Pitch Wars is pitchwars.org but they seem to be having a little trouble with the new site. Check out #pitchwars for more info 😀

I’m not ready for this year’s Pitch War, but it’s given me a goal for next year…I went to Brenda Drake’s site with the intention of cutting and pasting the info here for you all, but the site is undergoing a bit of maintenance at the moment.  Here’s a link to a Writer’s Digest post about why you should find out more if you are looking for an agent/editorial feedback on your finished manuscript, query letters and synopses…I’ll check back later and update the post…


Sunday Book Review–or not….

How can I not have finished a single book this week? I’m halfway through…everything. Maybe I’m overtired and a little overwrought about work issues and my brain just won’t settle. I’m enjoying everything, especially Julia Sutton’s Sea of Straw. I think I’ll finish that one first, anyway, so look for the review next Sunday 😀



The Angels Bridge

We (a couple of history geeks) went to Rome in the spring of 2016 and loved it!

by Alberto Manodori Sagredo


“The Aelian Bridge – known as Ponte Sant’Angelo since the Middle Ages for its connection to the history of the nearby Castel Sant’Angelo – was built between 133 and 134 AD by Emperor Hadrian, to link the left bank of the Tiber with his mausoleum, the monumental and majestic tomb he had built, emulating the mausoleum Augustus had erected along the Via Flaminia (now Via del Corso). It was a bridge fit for an imperial funeral!

During the Middle Ages the bridge became particularly important because it was the only controlled passageway for pilgrims going to Saint Peter’s Basilica – first the one built by Constantine I, and then the current, 16th-century one – to visit the apostle’s grave.

Dante mentions the bridge in his “Inferno” (Canto 18, 25-33), describing the two flows of pilgrims who, on the occasion of the first Jubilee convoked by Pope Boniface VIII in the year 1300, walked in parallel queues, coming and going.

Ponte Sant’Angelo is to this day the most beautiful bridge in the world. Its regularity, symmetry, openness to light, and perfect distance between arches and water surface make it unique… not to mention the precious materials it is made of, and the monumental impact it has altogether. Last but not least, it is the bridge that connects the Eternal City to Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, where the mortal remains of the first Vicar of Christ were laid to rest, and where the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church resides.

The highlight of the structure are the statues of the angels flanking the marble parapets, which seem to frame the river as it flows, visible through the elegant wrought iron grating.

There are ten statues, full of movement and lightness, both in their position and gestures and in the way their clothes are animated by the wind, symbolizing their participation in the Passion of Christ. The ten angels stand on tall bases, which originally supported the wooden columns of the bridge’s roofing.

Some of them look serene, in their certainty that Christ will resurrect; others seem to hardly contain the compassion and pity for his suffering.

Each of the ten, candid white, marble angels holds an instrument of the Passion: they present them to passersby, as if along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, or a Via Crucis like the one on the Sacred Mountain of Varallo.

This was one of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s most insightful ideas: to create a Via Crucis where the instruments of the Passion could be contemplated, to repent, to prepare for the Confession as one walked towards the Vatican Basilica, towards the first of Christ’s disciples, the Holy See, Corpus Domini, and salvation.

In 1667, Clement IX entrusted Bernini with the task of sculpting the angels for Ponte Sant’Angelo, for which the Pope had already purchased ten blocks of marble.

By 1668, Bernini had decided that the angels would forma a “living” Via Crucis – with spectators participating in the suspension of disbelief that makes art become a real part of life, like in theater. He then ordered that eight of the large marble blocks be delivered to some of the sculptors who shared his style and vision. He kept two of them for himself, which he would transform into the angel holding the INRI superscription and the one holding the crown of thorns.

In 1669, before dying in December, Clement IX saw the statues by Bernini and decided they were too magnificent for the bridge: he had them replaced by copies by the master’s collaborators, and the originals were eventually placed in the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte, a stone’s throw from Piazza di Spagna.

By 1670, all the sculptures were completed and placed on the bridge, where to this day the angels with the instruments of the Passion of Christ accompany those directed to Saint Peter’s Basilica along the ancient jubilar road.

At the end of the bridge on the bank opposite the Castle, the statues of Saint Peter holding the keys of heaven (by Il Lorenzetto, 1534) and Saint Paul holding the sward (by Paolo Romano, 1464) stand on bases inscribed with the words “Hinc humilibus venia” and “Hinc retributio superbis”, making the bridge a symbolic passageway where the humble and the proud are reminded of what they respectively deserve.

The bases on which the angels were erected are also inscribed with verses from the Bible, transforming the instruments of the Passion into instances of Christ’s majesty, overturning their material function to the point they become symbols of divine glory. At the same time, each quotation prompts the repentant to consider their sins, and to conform to the teachings of Jesus in the spirit of the famous De imitatione Christi.

The first angel, by Antonio Raggi, holds up the flogging column to which Jesus was tied. The inscription reads: “My throne is upon a column”.

The second angel, by Lazzaro Morelli, contemplates with obvious sadness the whips that wounded the Lord. The inscription reads: “I am ready for the scourge”.

The third angel, sculpted by Paolo Naldini and perfected by Bernini himself, presents the crown of thorns, a symbol of the vane blindness of the men who were unable to recognize Christ’s authority. The inscription reads: “The thorn is fastened upon me”.

The fourth angel, by Cosimo Fancelli, observes with pity the face of Christ impressed in blood on the Veil of Veronica. The inscription reads: “Look upon the face of your Christ”.

The fifth angel, by Paolo Naldini, carries the garment and dice. The inscription reads: “For my clothing they cast lots”.

The sixth angel, by Girolamo Lucenti, holds the nails that pierced the hands and feet of Jesus. The inscription reads: “They will look upon me whom they have pierced”.

The seventh angel, by Ercole Ferrata, holds the cross, as the strongest symbol of the Passion as well as an icon of faith in Him. The inscription reads: “Dominion rests on his shoulders”.

The eight angel – which was officially entrusted to Giulio Cartari, but has recently been established was the work of Bernini himself, replicating the work he had done for the original in Sant’Andrea delle Fratte – uncurls the INRI superscription, casting his gaze to the skies, the Kingdom of Christ. The inscription reads: “God has reigned from the tree” (referencing the wood of the cross).

The ninth angel, by Antonio Giorgetti, observes with an expression of deep sorrow the sponge attached to the end of his stick, so real you expect sour wine to drip from it. The inscription reads: “They gave me vinegar to drink”.

The tenth and last angel, by Domenico Guidi, stares in misery at the point of the lance he carries, lifting it as if to mimic the moment when the spear wounded the heart of Jesus. The inscription reads: “You have ravished my heart”, reminding pilgrims of the pain men’s sins caused Jesus.

All the angels stand, faithful to tradition, on marble clouds of varying degrees of fullness. Let’s not forget that, since the statues are set on high pedestals, passersby see them from below, against the Roman sky.

Thus the devotional, painful journey along the Via Crucis respects and evokes, through the symbology of these instruments, the chronological and narrative succession of the moments in the Passion of Christ.”