Thursday, December 29, 2016

Study in Scarlet Women


















A Study in Scarlet Women- Sherry Thomas
Berkley
Release Date: October 18, 2016

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London. 
 
When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her.

But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

_____________________________

Just when you think there can be no possible new take on Sherlock Holmes, along comes Sherry Thomas with her Lady Sherlock series to prove you wrong.  The first in a promised series, A Study in Scarlet Women follows Charlotte Holmes, youngest daughter of a Society family and a young woman who doesn't fit in society or the confined role for women of the day.  When her dream of becoming headmistress to a school (and therefore relatively independent) falls apart, Charlotte takes steps to ensure she isn't "marriage material".  The ensuing scandal ends with Charlotte running away from home to try to make her own way in a world that doesn't make it easy.  She proves to be stronger and more resourceful in the face of adversity than she (or anyone else) expected, and a twist of seemingly good fate lands her the position as companion to Mrs. Watson.  Not entirely conventional herself, Mrs. Watson sees Charlotte's ability to notice details and deduce facts not as something to be stifled, but as a way for Charlotte to become fully herself.  On discovering that Charlotte has created the identity of "Sherlock" Holmes to help a police inspector through occasional correspondence, Mrs Watson encourages "Sherlock" to set up as a private detective.

"Sherlock" makes his name by declaring that the seemingly natural and unrelated deaths of Lady Amelia, Lady Shrewsbury, and Mr. Sackville are, in fact, premeditated murder.  Both Charlotte's father and older sister Livia are under suspicion and it's up to Charlotte, Mrs Watson, police inspector Treadles and Lord Ingram (with help from his shadowy and mysterious older brother Bancroft) to solve the murders.

Study does an excellent job of weaving together nods to the traditional Sherlock Holmes stories with wholly original, fresh characters and mystery.  Thomas doesn't hide any of the facts from readers but allows them to work alongside the characters to try and piece together motives, red herrings, and relevant facts.  The writing is lovely: descriptive and absorbing.  Characters are intricate and also often more likable than the originals.  Charlotte may be socially awkward but is not the abrupt, aloof, and (let's face it) obnoxious Sherlock that we are used to.  Mrs Watson is open, friendly, colorful, and supportive.  In many ways she becomes the mother figure Charlotte always needed: encouraging Charlotte's interests  and abilities, teaching her to learn to value herself as an individual, and understanding her need for independence.  The two are more kindred spirits than you would first assume.  Inspector Treadles is not relegated to playing second fiddle but is an active investigator.  Instead of relying on "Sherlock" for all the answers he is out talking to people, testing and experimenting to separate lies and truths, motives and simple jealousies.  The help he needs generally comes from not being connected to the world of Society that the victims moved in and not having knowledge of the scandals of their pasts.

The writing and mystery of Study is subtle and I think it will take several rereads to discover all the hidden gems within.  The growth of characters like Charlotte and Livia make me eager for the next book in the series to see how they continue to gain confidence and independence under difficult situations.  The intricacy of the mystery make me excited to see what Thomas has in store for Holmes' next big case.

Not only an excellent and unique take on Sherlock Holmes, but also just an all around great historical mystery!  Full of twists and surprises, A Study in Scarlet Women keeps you on your toes until the very end.  A must read for mystery lovers!







Saturday, December 24, 2016

Apprentice in Death



















Apprentice in Death - J.D. Robb
Berkley
Release Date: September 6, 2016

Rating (out of 5):
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Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Synopsis: The shots came quickly, silently, and with deadly accuracy. Within seconds, three people were dead at Central Park’s ice-skating rink. The victims: a talented young skater, a doctor, and a teacher. As random as random can be.

Eve Dallas has seen a lot of killers during her time with the NYPSD but never one like this. A review of the security videos reveals that the victims were killed with a tactical laser rifle fired by a sniper, who could have been miles away when the trigger was pulled. And though the list of locations where the shooter could have set up seems endless, the number of people with that particular skill set is finite: police, military, professional killer.

Eve’s husband, Roarke, has unlimited resources—and genius—at his disposal. And when his computer program leads Eve to the location of the sniper, she learns a shocking fact: There were two—one older, one younger. Someone is being trained by an expert in the science of killing, and they have an agenda. Central Park was just a warm-up. And as another sniper attack shakes the city to its core, Eve realizes that though we’re all shaped by the people around us, there are those who are just born evil...

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What begins as an apparently random set of long distance murders at a skating rink turns into a race against time, a former cop gone bad, and his psychopathic but skilled teenage daughter.  Lt. Eve Dallas is presented with murders not only extremely difficult to have carried out, but the haunting question: is this a random killing or the beginning of something more?  Of course the answer is choice B.  While that's bad news for the victims it's good news for Eve because a pattern emerges behind the seemingly random  targets.  

As the last several In Death books have shown, just because you know the why and the who doesn't necessarily make for an easy arrest.  The twist in this case being that Dallas thinks she's looking for one killer, and discovers she has two. The next twist comes after the second attack, which claims the life of a NYPSD cop among the victims, when they learn that one of the killers was himself a cop.  The other killer? His 15 year old daughter.

In Apprentice Eve wrestles with questions of nature vs nurture and finds herself comparing who she was as a child to the shooter, Willow.  Could Eve have become the same person?  What makes a killer?  Roarke (as always!) is standing ready to convince Eve, as forcefully or tenderly as possible that she could never be that killer.  The other main theme in Apprentice is justice. When the system fails you, do you have the right to take justice into your own hands?  What's the difference between justice and revenge?  It's interesting that from the outside as a reader we might clearly see things one way, Robb does an excellent job of showing us the minds of the killers and their way of thinking.  Mackie was a cop who stood to help people but when he loses his wife his version of justice changes.  Why should other people get to be happy when he isn't, why does someone else have the right to a happy marriage when his wife is dead?   

The characters we've grown to know and love continue to shine.  With the growing cast of characters, not all can get equal time and some people may be disappointed by not seeing much of McNab, Feeney or Mira.  But there are some great scenes between Eve and Nadine, and some brilliantly played Interviews with Dallas, Peabody, and Reo- all of whom really seemed to enjoy playing roles against the killers.  Robb has a talent for combining the best and the worst of humanity in truly horrifying and gritty crime scenes and this shows best after a shooting scene where Eve checks in on Mavis, Leonardo, Nadine and even the terrifying Trina, as well as a perfectly pitched interaction between Eve and Summerset.  Robb also gives us another stunningly creepy child killer in Willow Mackie.    

At book 43 in the In Death series J. D. Robb is still going strong.  Where other authors might have grown stale or run out of things to do, Robb continues to bring not only excellent mysteries but also added layers and twists to the very human characters at the heart of the series.  Fast paced, witty, and edge of your seat action, Apprentice in Death does not disappoint!  





Tuesday, December 20, 2016

When All the Girls Have Gone

When All The Girls Have Gone by [Krentz, Jayne Ann]
















When All the Girls Have Gone - Jayne Ann Krentz
Berkley 
Release Date: November 29, 2016

Rating (out of 5):
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Warning: Possible spoilers ahead!

Synopsis: When Charlotte Sawyer is unable to contact her stepsister, Jocelyn, to tell her that one of her closest friends was found dead, she discovers that Jocelyn has vanished.  
 
Beautiful, brilliant—and reckless—Jocelyn has gone off the grid before, but never like this. In a desperate effort to find her, Charlotte joins forces with Max Cutler, a struggling PI who recently moved to Seattle after his previous career as a criminal profiler went down in flames—literally. Burned out, divorced and almost broke, Max needs the job.   
 
After surviving a near-fatal attack, Charlotte and Max turn to Jocelyn’s closest friends, women in a Seattle-based online investment club, for answers. But what they find is chilling...
 
When her uneasy alliance with Max turns into a full-blown affair, Charlotte has no choice but to trust him with her life. For the shadows of Jocelyn’s past are threatening to consume her—and anyone else who gets in their way...

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The newest Jayne Ann Krentz book When All the Girls Have Gone continues in the romantic suspense style of Secret Sisters: edgy, thrilling, and fascinating.  The theme of family echoes throughout the book- the family you're born to, the family you make, and what you are willing to do to protect those families.  For Charlotte Sawyer, family has always been her stepsister Jocelyn.  When Jocelyn disappears and her best friend winds up dead under questionable circumstances, Charlotte teams up with PI Max Cutler to find answers.  Max begins to piece together a pattern that began when Jocelyn was assaulted in college and reaches to her closest friends today.  Charlotte discovers that Jocelyn is keeping a lot of secrets and some of them are proving fatal.

When All the Girls Have Gone is fast-paced and full of twists and turns, surprises and secrets.  Max and Charlotte are well matched and while they describe themselves as "one foot in front of the other" types, neither is the boring, plodding type they think they are.  Burned in the past, they may be cautious, but the connection and chemistry are there from the start and only get stronger as they get to know each other.  Both are the type of person you feel you know, can relate to, see yourself as, or wish you were. And it was very satisfying at the end when Max comes to the rescue only to find that Charlotte hasn't waited around for him, but saved herself.  By the end, it seems clear that her optimistic approach to life (seen as naive and weak by everyone else) has also saved Max. 

Once again, Krentz successfully weaves together suspense, mystery, romance and humor; connects the past and the present; and a couple of strong lead characters into an excellent book that will keep you guessing until the end.  Who is betraying who? Who is protecting who? It all comes to a happily successful conclusion with no loose threads while at the same time leaving open the chance that we might get the visit at least some of these people again in future books (Max does have 2 brothers we haven't gotten to meet yet . . .). 

Jayne Ann Krentz fans will cheer this newest addition to their collection and newcomers will become instant addicts.  A captivating and clever new book for romantic suspense fans!
  



 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Glass Universe


















The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars- Dava Sobel
Viking 
Release Date: December 6, 2016

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: In the mid-nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or “human computers,” to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night. At the outset this group included the wives, sisters, and daughters of the resident astronomers, but soon the female corps included graduates of the new women's colleges—Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith. As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned from computation to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates. 

The “glass universe” of half a million plates that Harvard amassed over the ensuing decades—through the generous support of Mrs. Anna Palmer Draper, the widow of a pioneer in stellar photography—enabled the women to make extraordinary discoveries that attracted worldwide acclaim. They helped discern what stars were made of, divided the stars into meaningful categories for further research, and found a way to measure distances across space by starlight. Their ranks included Williamina Fleming, a Scottish woman originally hired as a maid who went on to identify ten novae and more than three hundred variable stars; Annie Jump Cannon, who designed a stellar classification system that was adopted by astronomers the world over and is still in use; and Dr. Cecilia Helena Payne, who in 1956 became the first ever woman professor of astronomy at Harvard—and Harvard’s first female department chair. 

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The Glass Universe is a new look behind the scenes of some of the most influential, ground breaking discoveries of the Harvard College Observatory and the women who helped make them.  Beginning in the late nineteenth century, Harvard University began hiring women to assist with astronomical computing.  Thanks to Harvard's Professor Pickering and donors Mrs Anna Palmer Draper and Catherine Wolfe Bruce, women received job opportunities considered unusual at the time.  Astronomy enthusiasts and mathematicians, amateurs and college graduates, they were paid less than their male counterparts but generally treated as equals in the workplace- even publishing work under their own names before women in America had the right to vote.  

I have virtually no knowledge of astronomy, Harvard, or the history associated with either, but I found The Glass Universe to be both easily understandable and very interesting.  It is the story of the development of astronomy in the late nineteenth-early twentieth century as much as it is the women of Harvard.  The story of one cannot be told without the other, and without following the advancements in photography that made so many of the discoveries possible.  I loved learning about Harvard's "glass universe" of glass negatives- photographs taken by telescopes to track stars and their movement.  Before electronic computers there were "human computers"- in Harvard's case largely women- who measured distances and movements, light and speed, of various stars in what I would imagine were mind-boggling calculations.  Eventually they began using the plates for their own research and their work helped to define the universe as we know it today.

This is not a book filled with equations and charts.  It is the human story behind the science. The Glass Universe is a perfect example of how all history can be told through the stories of people and how these stories can make any subject both interesting and relatable.  It is also the story of how Harvard's glass universe helped (perhaps accidentally) break many of the glass ceilings faced by women at the turn of the century.  

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, December 5, 2016

How to Train Your Highlander

How to Tra


How to Train Your Highlander (Broadswords and Ballrooms Book 3) by [English, Christy]















How to Train Your Highlander (Broadswords & Ballrooms #3)- Christy English
Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date: December 6, 2016

Rating (out of 5):
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Warning: Possible spoilers!

Synopsis:   Wild Highlander Mary Elizabeth Waters is living on borrowed time. She's managed to dodge the marriage banns up to now, but even Englishmen can only be put off for so long...and there's one in particular who has her in his sights.

Harold Percy, Duke of Northumberland, is enchanted by the beautiful hellion who outrides every man on his estate and dances Scottish reels while the ton looks on in horror. The more he sees Mary, the more he knows he has to have her, tradition and good sense be damned. But what's a powerful man to do when the Highland spitfire of his dreams has no desire to be tamed...
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How to Train Your Highlander's Highland heroine Mary Elizabeth Waters a character not often found in Regency romances.  While we read about plenty of women who see only the downsides of marriage, who are intelligent, possibly stubborn and headstrong, and don't fawn over money or titles we rarely see all of these qualities armed and dangerous.  Mary's rule is to never have less than three knives on her at any time.  And she knows how to use them.  Refusing to be anyone but herself has scared off all the fine men of Edinburgh and London, so her mother has sent her to Nothumberland to see if Mary can catch a duke.  Mary isn't impressed by dukes, but she rather likes the look of the stableboy Harry.  

Harold Charles Percy, Duke of Northumberland, isn't a fan of the mindless fawning of people impressed by his title.  When his mother's guest mistakes him for a stablehand (eventually upgrading him poor relation of the family) he loves it.  Mary treats him like an equal, like a friend- even if he is English.  No one has ever talked to him the way she does and he wants it to go on as long as possible.  Harry bribes the servants and his mother to go along with the idea and puts off telling Mary for as long as he possibly can.  It only takes a few days for him to fall in love with her- knife throwing, sword wielding, bareback riding and all.  But can he ask Mary to give up her freedom and her Highlands to be a duchess?  And would Mary agree to give up everything she loves if he does ask?

One of the things I really liked about Highlander was that from the beginning, Mary knew who she was and had no intention of changing.  She liked herself, was comfortable with her tomboyish ways, and proud that she could ride rings around any Englishman she needed to.  Her mother wants her to be someone she isn't: a classic, demure debutante. But despite the pressure Mary never considers changing herself to make others happy.

It also drove home some of the difficulties and decisions a woman had when she considered marriage in this time.  Often marriage was the only way of ensuring a future, but when it isn't? Mary has a family who loves her, a home she loves, and can't imagine living anywhere else.  She doesn't fit in with the Ton and has no wish to try.  When she falls in love with Harry she has to weigh that love against leaving Scotland, taking up the responsibilities of a duchess, dealing with the aristocratic English she doesn't care for. 

I wasn't as happy with the fact that, haven't not read the two previous books in the series (How to Seduce a Scot, & How to Wed a Warrior), I always felt like I was playing catch up.  I assumed some things mentioned briefly in this book happened in one of the others in the series.  But even though some (like drawing a sword on someone in the park) have serious repercussions for Mary and might have even started of what brought her and Harry together, the reader doesn't get any kind of explanation.  No quick summary or memory. No backstory, or character introduction.  Until almost the end of the book I didn't feel like I knew anything about Mary's family or even her own story.  While what you see is what you get with her, I kept waiting for the hints of her past that showed why she was the way she was.  As open and honest as she is, I didn't feel like I knew her.  Harry gets an equally brief touch of his past so you have to pretty much fill in your own ideas on why he is the way he is. Nor did I understand Mary's relationship with her mother and why her mother was so insistent on Mary marrying the way she was.  Was there some hidden reason? Fear? Money troubles? Did her mother just want to get rid of Mary?  And at the end, when Mary does something that is actually quite intelligent and logical, she does it in an uncharacteristically secretive way that may be a classic bit of non-communication to increase drama, but was totally out of character.

Overall I found How to Train You Highlander a mix of fun and aggravating. Mary and Harry are fun, witty, and have great chemistry, but this is clearly a series that doesn't work well if you read it out of order.  Having started with book 3, I was frustrated enough with the sometimes awkward descriptions and writing style, with the brief mentions of important things that tied to other books that should have been significant (apparently nobody cared other family and friends running off to get into trouble and/or married?) that I wouldn't go back and start the series over. 

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Mistletoe, Mischief, & the Marquis













Mistletoe, Mischief, and the Marquis (The Heirs' Club) by [Grey, Amelia]





Mistletoe, Mischief, & the Marquis- Amelia Grey
Swerve
Release Date: November 29, 2016

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis:  The Marquis of Wythebury, is expecting an ordinary Christmastide at Hurst—until he is set upon by a beautiful miss who takes him to task for not allowing his young nephews to play outside. In his mind, a five and seven year old needn’t get chilled in the snow; better to plop them in front of the fire with a book. Few people have ever been brave enough to challenge him over anything, much less the rearing of his wards. The cheeky Miss Prim has no such compunction. No matter how fetching he finds her, he can’t give in to his attraction…for she is the sister of his best friend.

Growing up the middle child of five rambunctious girls, Lillian Prim doesn’t understand why two young boys visiting Hurst don’t know how to play until she meets their dashing guardian. The Marquis of Wythebury is commanding and intensely serious-minded. To her surprise, she’s captivated by him. It’s all she can do not to give into her feminine fantasies about her kissing him. Lillian has no intention of falling in love with the Marquis, but she will create Christmastide mischief and teach the boys and the handsome Marquis how to play.

__________________________

Mistletoe, Mischief, and the Marquis  is a fun and quick short story of Regency England, Christmastide, families, and love.  Seth Wythebury, Marquis of Wythebury, has brought his two young nephews with him to a friend's home for the Christmas holidays.  His nephews are recently orphaned and now under his guardianship, but Seth knows nothing about children and isn't quite sure what to do with them.  He believes they'd be better studying all the time indoors.  Miss Lillian Prim, sister-in-law to Seth's best friend (and host) has other ideas.  Snow ball fights, sleigh rides, and not studying all the time are what she recommends.  Can opposites attract in time for a Christmas engagement?

A fast paced novella that still manages to include high jinks, humor, challenges, and chemistry is a rare thing, but Mistletoe manages all of that and more.  Lillian and Seth battle back and forth, matching wits and stubbornness while enjoying themselves enough to fall in love.  I'm not fond of books including small children, so I was glad that the nephews acted more as a way for Seth and Lillian to discover their differences in approaching life, while also being what draws them together, than being main characters themselves.  Both characters know themselves, but also begin to discover where they can compromise to make the other happy.  I enjoyed Seth's big declaration at the end, where he proves himself above the average suitor in imagination and memory.  Perhaps one of the most touching, and memorable, moments for me was at the very end, when Lillian worries that eventually they will become unhappy because of their differences- how can they be sure their love will last?  Not a question that often comes up- and Seth's answer is one that applies to couples today as well as it applies to him and Lillian: that's part of the challenge of love, and when differences start to push you apart, remind each other of the love and special memories that brought you together in the first place.

A lovely and fun story for the holidays- and all the year through!

I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley for an honest review.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Victoria



















Victoria The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman who Ruled an Empire- Julia Baird
Random House
Release Date: November 22, 2016

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: When Victoria was born, in 1819, the world was a very different place. Revolution would threaten many of Europe’s monarchies in the coming decades. In Britain, a generation of royals had indulged their whims at the public’s expense, and republican sentiment was growing. The Industrial Revolution was transforming the landscape, and the British Empire was commanding ever larger tracts of the globe. In a world where women were often powerless, during a century roiling with change, Victoria went on to rule the most powerful country on earth with a decisive hand.
 
Fifth in line to the throne at the time of her birth, Victoria was an ordinary woman thrust into an extraordinary role. As a girl, she defied her mother’s meddling and an adviser’s bullying, forging an iron will of her own. As a teenage queen, she eagerly grasped the crown and relished the freedom it brought her. At twenty, she fell passionately in love with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, eventually giving birth to nine children. She loved sex and delighted in power. She was outspoken with her ministers, overstepping conventional boundaries and asserting her opinions. After the death of her adored Albert, she began a controversial, intimate relationship with her servant John Brown. She survived eight assassination attempts over the course of her lifetime. And as science, technology, and democracy were dramatically reshaping the world, Victoria was a symbol of steadfastness and security—queen of a quarter of the world’s population at the height of the British Empire’s reach.
 
Drawing on sources that include fresh revelations about Victoria’s relationship with John Brown, Julia Baird brings vividly to life the fascinating story of a woman who struggled with so many of the things we do today: balancing work and family, raising children, navigating marital strife, losing parents, combating anxiety and self-doubt, finding an identity, searching for meaning.

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The newest biography on Queen Victoria, Julia Baird's Victoria is a well researched and well written exploration of one of the most famous women who has ever lived- and who is probably known more by the mythology surrounding her and her reign than the reality.

Through Baird's research, including newly available papers on John Brown (Victoria's servant and close confidante after Albert's death) and from Dr. Reid (Victoria's physician in her final years), we see Victoria in new ways.  Baird shows us a complicated and complex woman. A woman both incredibly strong and incredibly in need of emotional connections.  A woman who ruled an empire but believed that women could not rule.  Victoria disagreed with the developing women's suffrage movements, but after her death was held up by suffragists as an example of women's strength.

 Perhaps one of the biggest take aways from Victoria is not actually about Victoria but about what we know about history itself.  Throughout Victoria Baird mentions known occasions of editing or destroying information- whether on Victoria, Albert, John Brown, or others- in an attempt to create an image rather than preserve impartial history.  Her daughter Beatrice is known to have not only heavily edited Victoria's personal diaries, but to have burned the originals after doing so in what Baird (rightly, I think) calls "one of the greatest acts of historical censorship of the century".  Beatrice wrote to her great-nephew King George VI saying that letters between her parents were so intimate (apparently relating to personal arguments), and Victoria's ransom jottings about daily life, could have no value "historical or biographical value whatever".  Beatrice focused on protecting her parents' memory as she wanted them to be seen, and was in the unique position of being able to permanently remove much that conflicted with what she wanted that memory to be.  Baird does an excellent job of reminding those who have never really thought about it that the agendas and prejudices of the historian can greatly alter a biography- whether on purpose on not.  Meanwhile, every history lover reading Victoria will mourn for the letters and diaries that we we never read and what light they might have shed on both people and the world at that time in general.  

Readers who felt Victoria had no "modern" appeal or connection will hopefully be surprised to find how relevant Baird has made Victoria through today's eyes.  Although sometimes slightly repetitive and suffering from the problem I have with many biographies of dramatically forecasting the future (ending of chapters with "if only they knew then what was to happen" approach that seems common, but I find very annoying every time), Victoria is a well researched and captivating book that shines new light on one of the longest reigning and influential English monarchs ever.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.   



Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Ravished


Ravished- Amanda Quick
















Ravished- Amanda Quick
Bantam
Release Date: June 1, 1992 Reissued: December 23, 2009

Rating (Our of 5):
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Synopsis:From the cozy confines of a tiny seaside village to the glittering crush of the a fashionable London soiree comes an enthralling tale of a thoroughly mismatched couple . . . poised to discover the rapture of love.

There was no doubt about it. What Miss Harriet Pomeroy needed was a man. Someone powerful and clever who could help her rout the unscrupulous thieves who were using her beloved caves to hide their loot. But when Harriet summoned Gideon Westbrook, Viscount St. Justin, to her aid, she could not know that she was summoning the devil himself. . . . 

Dubbed the Beast of Blackthorne Hall for his scarred face and lecherous past, Gideon was strong and fierce and notoriously menacing. Yet Harriet could not find it in her heart to fear him. For in his tawny gaze she sensed a savage pain she longed to soothe . . . and a searing passion she yearned to answer. Now, caught up in the Beast’s clutches, Harriet must find a way to win his heart–and evade the deadly trap of a scheming villain who would see them parted for all time.

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One of Quick's older books, Ravished was reissued a few years ago and is still very much worth the read- despite the rather dramatic synopsis it's been given. It's the story of Harrier Pomeroy, an avid fossil collector who discovers that the caves she's been fossil hunting in are being used to store stolen goods.  Deciding it's the landholder's job to clear up the problem she summons Gideon Westbrook, Viscount St. Justin, to deal with it.  Gideon hasn't been back to his lands in Upper Biddleton in six years- not since his fiancΓ© killed herself and he was blamed for it.  Harriet, new to the area, hasn't heard the story and after meeting Gideon, doesn't believe it.  Gideon is as surprised in her trust as he is that she isn't trying to trick him for money or his title.  But discovering that Harriet is exactly who she says she is doesn't help when the two of them are trapped in a compromising position and marriage is the only way out. Now the question is- can they get to the alter before the thieves (and Gideon's own enemies) kill them?

Ravished contains the classic wry humor of all Amanda Quick's books. Gideon especially, a man who no-one would expect to have a sense of humor, often gets some of the best lines- like the first time he sees Harriet's workroom with fossilized bones everywhere and thinks of it as "the cheerful little ante-room of hell".  He is a man who is beyond jaded.  Everyone, including his own parents, believe he raped and then abandoned his fiancΓ© six years ago and since no one was interested in listening to his side of things, he stopped explaining.  Over time he stopped explaining anything and helped others to believe the absolute worst of him.  He cut himself off from family, Society, and as much of life as he could get away with and still manage his estates.  Harriet comes as a complete surprise to him: she isn't overawed by his rank, appalled by his facial scars, or afraid of his reputation.  She sees a man with a sense of honor, who can be trusted to do the right thing by people and his lands, and Gideon finds himself trying not to disappoint her.

Harriet is a wonderful, strong, and intelligent woman who is sure of herself and not afraid to assert her independence.  While at first she and Gideon seem like polar opposites, the more we get to know them the easier it is to see that they are perfect for each other.  They almost instantly respect each other and (usually) treat each other as equals.  The only real times that changes are when they are trying to protect each other- whether from thieves and smugglers or Society's harsh criticism. 

At its center, Ravished is a story about how sometimes finding out that another person believes the best in us allows us to see it in ourselves.  But it's also a story of how everyone, no matter how independent, needs other people.  And that other people- friends, and family, not just lovers, can make us stronger, and happier, than by standing alone.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Butter



















Butter: A Rich History- Elaine Khosrova
Algonquin Books
Release Date: November 15, 2016

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: From its humble agrarian origins to its present-day artisanal glory, butter has a fascinating story to tell, and Khosrova is the perfect person to tell it. With tales about the ancient butter bogs of Ireland, the pleasure dairies of France, and the sacred butter sculptures of Tibet, Khosrova details butter’s role in history, politics, economics, nutrition, and even spirituality and art. Readers will also find the essential collection of core butter recipes, including beurre maniΓ©, croissants, pΓ’te brisΓ©e, and the only buttercream frosting anyone will ever need, as well as practical how-tos for making various types of butter at home--or shopping for the best.

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One of my favorite kinds of non-fiction book to read is the book that explores the history of a particular thing: from clothes to chairs, customs to countries.  Food history has begun to get its due with books like Mark Kurlansky's Salt, and now Elaine Khosrova's Butter: A Rich History.  A what a history it has!  This seemingly simple and ubiquitous kitchen staple has a complex and fascinating story to tell, and Khosrova tells it in a well-researched and engaging style.

Butter explores early domesticated animals across the world from cows to yaks and how different cultures across the globe see milk and butter. If you've ever wondered how an animal can eat green grass and its' white milk produce yellow butter this is the place to go for an answer.  Butter sculpting didn't start with county fairs in Iowa and Ohio, but with ancient Tibetan Buddhism.  How many other foods can claim the mystical, artistic, symbolic, and economic importance that butter can? 

I was especially interested in reading about the cultural history of butter in terms of its economics and gender roles.  Apparently for centuries butter was a divisive topic across much of Europe: Greeks and Italians used olive oil where others used butter and when they wanted to insult someone they called them a "butter-eater" (a barbarian). Khosrova explores the importance of butter and other dairy products for women (the iconic dairymaids) as a way to have a measure of respect and financial independence.  

A fun addition to the book is an appendix listing the word "butter" in languages across the globe.  And, as an added bonus, Butter includes a section with some "greatest hits" recipes centering around butter.  I'm a terrible cook, but even I am inspired to try out some of these tasty sounding treats: Buttermilk Scones, Butterscotch Pudding, Easy Buttercream Frosting, Best-Ever Crumb Cake- the recipes alone should make you want to pick up this book!  Everyone will enjoy the rich history and lore, physics and chemistry, past and present that is the fascinating story of Butter.  


I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Monday, November 7, 2016

Victoria



















Victoria- Daisy Goodwin
St. Martin's Press
Release Date: November 22, 2016

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: Drawing on Queen Victoria’s diaries, which she first started reading when she was a student at Cambridge University, Daisy Goodwin―creator and writer of the new PBS/Masterpiece drama Victoria and author of the bestselling novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter―brings the young nineteenth-century monarch, who would go on to reign for 63 years, richly to life in this magnificent novel.

Early one morning, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria is roused from bed with the news that her uncle William IV has died and she is now Queen of England. The men who run the country have doubts about whether this sheltered young woman, who stands less than five feet tall, can rule the greatest nation in the world. 
Despite her age, however, the young queen is no puppet. She has very definite ideas about the kind of queen she wants to be, and the first thing is to choose her name.
“I do not like the name Alexandrina,” she proclaims. “From now on I wish to be known only by my second name, Victoria.”
Next, people say she must choose a husband. Everyone keeps telling her she’s destined to marry her first cousin, Prince Albert, but Victoria found him dull and priggish when they met three years ago. She is quite happy being queen with the help of her prime minister, Lord Melbourne, who may be old enough to be her father but is the first person to take her seriously.
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Victoria is a novel that draws you in from the very beginning and, on reaching the end, leaves you wanting more.  Most of the major characters, especially Victoria and Melbourne, are written as complicated and multi-faceted people, Victoria in particular. She lived all her young life with her smothering mother, the Duchess of Kent, and her mother's controlling "personal secretary" Sir John Conroy.  Kept from interacting with people her own age, and indeed people in general, kept from learning the details of government and protocol that she should have learned in detail, Victoria becomes both an adult and a monarch at the same time.  Probably because of this, she often seems to act out against those trying to guide her as queen, with sometimes very unhappy consequences.  It makes her often seem a spoiled and slightly unlikeable girl, but also highlights her very human struggles.

Challenged at every turn by the men who should be supporting her, she is suspicious of every attempt at guidance except that of Lord Melbourne.  Melbourne, the former husband to the infamous Caro Lamb, seems many similarities between his late wife and his new queen.  How much of Victoria's appeal to Melbourne is him trying to recapture his youth and bright view of the world?  I get the impression that, for this novel at least, even Melbourne didn't quite know the answer.  

The emotional bonds between Victoria and Melbourne show very much a young girl's first infatuation.  But Melbourne is also the only person Victoria believes sees her as an equal and not as a pawn to be controlled.  When Prince Albert comes onto the scene I was disappointed to not be able to see something similar.  Albert seems to disapprove of much of what Victoria enjoys most- from music and dancing to her dog Dash.  They are thrown together with the expectation of marrying by their family, but why does Victoria choose Albert in the end?  There seems to be some chemistry between them, but the respect and friendship she has with Melbourne never appear with Albert.  I don't know how much of this was based on fact and how much was dramatic license.  Did Victoria marry Albert because it was expected, because she couldn't have Melbourne, and grow to love him? Was it Goodwin's choice in order to keep the relationship between Victoria and Melbourne the center of the reader's focus, since it is certainly the center of the book?  I had hoped for a brief Author's note or Historical Note at the end that might have answered this question, or said anything about where Goodwin stayed strictly to the facts vs when she fictionalized aspects, but the advanced copy I read did not have one. I don't know if the final printing will, but if so it would be very interesting.  The book definitely made me want to read more on Victoria and some of the other players in her early reign.

Daisy Goodwin's Victoria is an enthralling, well-researched and well-written novel based on Queen Victoria's own diaries and brings new and dramatic life to a fascinating historical period.  It is a coming of age story as Victoria grows from the sheltered girl of Kensington Palace to Buckingham Palace's Queen of England.  Readers- whether already familiar with Victoria or not- will enjoy this fast-paced look at the life and times of one of the most famous women in history.  

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Baron



Baron (The Knickerbocker Club) by [Shupe, Joanna]

















Baron (The Knickerbocker Club #2)- Joanna Shupe
Zebra Books, Kensington Publishing 
Release Date: October 25, 2016

Rating (Out of 5):
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Synopsis: Born into one of New York's most respected families, William Sloane is a railroad baron who has all the right friends in all the right places. But no matter how much success he achieves, he always wants more. Having secured his place atop the city's highest echelons of society, he's now setting his sights on a political run. Nothing can distract him from his next pursuit--except, perhaps, the enchanting con artist he never saw coming . . .
 
Ava Jones has eked out a living the only way she knows how. As "Madam Zolikoff," she hoodwinks gullible audiences into believing she can communicate with the spirit world. But her carefully crafted persona is nearly destroyed when Will Sloane walks into her life--and lays bare her latest scheme. The charlatan is certain she can seduce the handsome millionaire into keeping her secret and using her skills for his campaign--unless he's the one who's already put a spell on her . . .

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Baron continues Joanna Shupe's Knickerbocker Club series and draws readers into 1888 New York City: its Gilded Age splendor and rich railroad barons, its slum tenements and hardworking residents just trying to get by, its politics and its plots.  The series follows the rich and powerful men of the Knickerbocker Club, you don't need to have read Magnate, the first in the series, to enjoy Baron, although several of the same characters appear in both books. Baron follows William Sloane (Elizabeth's older brother from Magnate) as he runs for Lieutenant Governor of New York.  Already the head of one of the biggest railroad companies in the country and one of the richest men in New York, Will continues to push himself harder and higher.  

Will first meets Ava as "Madam Zolikoff", a medium performing in small theaters and doing private seances.  He wants her to back away from one of her clients, who happens to be his running mate on the election ticket.  But Ava is the only person he's ever met willing to stand up to him, and to tell him "no" at every turn.  Naturally, Will can't resist a challenge and Ava challenges him  constantly.  Ava has worked hard all of her life to create better opportunities for her younger brothers and sister, wanting to make sure they don't have to work dangerous factory jobs or steal just to put food on the table.  She's close to having enough money saved up for them to leave New York for a country life when Will charges in and complicates her already complicated life.

I was skeptical of both Will and Ava before I started reading.  The only redeeming quality I saw in Will from Magnate was that he loved his sister. How was he going to make a likable male lead? What reasons could Ava have for her cons that would make what she was doing 'ok'? I ended up really liking Ava from the very beginning.  She was strong and never backed down from all the challenges life threw at her.  Everything she did was to try and give her younger siblings a better life.  She recognized that her work was morally questionable, but kept to her own code- providing entertainment in the theater, recognizing that usually private seance participants wanted more to be listened to than find where grandma hid the silver, and when she had to give advice she made sure it was as common sense and as close to her client's leanings as possible. Will was a bit tougher for me.  He was so used to getting his own way through money, forceful personality, and blackmail that he railroaded anyone who got in his way.  Qualities that will make you rich and powerful, but not good romantic material.  Through a good portion of the book I kept debating whether I thought Will actually loved Ava and just hadn't figured it out yet, or she was just another case of him selfishly getting his own way. It was definitely a mix for awhile.  By the end I was convinced that he had changed enough that he was capable of loving her, putting aside some of the driving forces that just made him want 'more' and instead wanting to be happy.  His grand gesture for Ava at the end was a great, very Will-like way, of proving it.

 Baron is an excellent addition to this lovely new series. Well-written, well-researched, fast-paced, and detailed, the characters were fully three-dimensional, the challenges were real and nothing was easily overcome.  Even those who know nothing of New York politics during this time will come away with a pretty good idea of what Will was up against.  I very much look forward to Mogul, coming out in the spring!

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.