Monday, June 26, 2017

Profligate Son

The Profligate Son of, a True Story of Family Conflict, Fashionable Vice, and Financial Ruin in Regency England- Nicola Phillips
Oxford University Press
Release Date: June 26, 2014

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis: In Regency England a profligate son was regarded as every parent's worst nightmare: he symbolized the dangerous temptations of a new consumer society and the failure of parents to instil moral, sexual, and financial self-control in their sons. This book tells the dramatic and moving story of one of those 'profligate sons': William Jackson, a charming teenage boy, whose embattled relationship with his father and frustrated attempts to keep up with his wealthy friends, resulted in personal and family tragedy.


During the late eighteenth- early nineteenth century English society began to change from what we today call Georgian society to Regency society.  It was a time of change in many ways: economic, social, sexual, and cultural- and this change often came in the form of a cultural gap between parents and children.  Fortunately, many people kept excellent diaries, journals, as well as all their letters, allowing us today to dig into the emotional turmoil these changing times could produce.  The Profligate Son is a perfect example, allowing readers to follow one father and son during this fascinating time period.

William Jackson came of age in the early 1800s.  His father was an East India Company man who returned to England wealthy and determined to start a respectable and respected family and raise his son a 'gentleman'.  However, Mr Jackson's idea of a 'gentleman' and William's were quite different- both products of their time.  Where Mr. Jackson expected his son to be obedient, quiet, intelligent, and help establish the credit of the family name through prudent financial management, William was determined to be everything a young Regency buck could be.  He gambled, drank, visited prostitutes, and bought endless amounts of clothes, horses, and accessories.  William's view of a gentleman was very much the entitled view held by the aristocracy he tried to emulate. He never quite seemed to understand the idea of debt- young aristocrats lived on their expectations and he went through life assuming (despite being told otherwise) his father would pay for everything while he was under age, then conveniently die so William could inherit a fortune and pay all his creditors.

William quickly learned to play the system, using his appearance as a gentleman and his father's name to get what he wanted.  During what author Phillips calls "the first age of mass consumer credit" society and the legal system were still working out the problem of different ideas towards debt and credit.  As tradesmen banged on the door William went from simple debt to forgery in order to try and continue the lifestyle he wanted to maintain.  Horrified by William's attitude and lack of care for the family name, Mr. Jackson did all he could to set his son straight.  This eventually meant letting William have a taste of debtor's prison and standing trial for forgery.  

The Profligate Son is a fascinating book, well researched and well written, using one family's well documented story as a microcosm to explore the nature of social and economic change during the time period.  Phillips does an excellent job of explaining to a modern audience the 1800 British justice system and the rather fuzzy and changeable lines between crimes and classes.  She immerses the reader into a world of riches and vice, debtors prison and prison ships, as well as the criminal justice systems of England and Australia.  While William is a thoroughly unlikeable and unsympathetic young man (even when you don't agree with how Mr. Jackson handles things, you completely sympathize with his problems) I couldn't wait to find out what happened to him next.  

Even though I knew going in what the end would be (the dust jacket tells you right from the start William's Australia bound) the book was as full of surprises and drama as if it was fiction instead of well documented fact.  An excellent book for those interested in learning more about Regency England.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Pleasure of Passion

The Pleasures of Passion (The Sinful Suitors Book 4) by [Jeffries, Sabrina]

The Pleasure of Passion (Sinful Suitors #4)- Sabrina Jeffries
Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster
Release Date: June 20, 2017

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis: When Niall Lindsey, the Earl of Margrave, is forced to flee after killing a man in a duel, he expects his secret love, Brilliana Trevor, to go with him, or at the very least wait for him. To his shock, she does neither and sends him off with no promise for the future. Seven years and one pardon later, Niall returns to England disillusioned and cynical. And being blackmailed by the government into working with his former love to help catch a counterfeiter connected to her father doesn’t improve his mood any. But as his role as Brilliana’s fake fiancΓ© brings his long-buried feelings to the surface once again, he wonders who is more dangerous—the counterfeiter or the woman rapidly stealing his heart.

Forced to marry another man after Niall was exiled, the now widowed Brilliana wants nothing to do with the reckless rogue who she believes abandoned her to a dreary, loveless life. So having to rely on him to save her father is the last thing she wants, much less trusts him with....But as their scheme strips away the lies and secrets of their shared past, can she let go of the old hurt and put her pride aside? Or will the pleasures of their renewed passion finally enable them both to rediscover love?


Back from years of exile Niall Lindsey, the Earl of Margrave, is still trying to find his footing in England when he is recruited by the government to track down a counterfeiter.  The problem is, the man responsible may be the father of the woman Niall once hoped to marry.  Seven years ago Brilliana couldn't leave her sick mother to run away with Niall and is now a widow who is disillusioned with men and marriage and intends to protect her heart.  Although she hates her father for his gambling, abandoning her and her mother, and then forcing her to marry someone to keep him out of debtor's prison, Bree doesn't want to see her father hanged as a counterfeiter.  She agrees to help Niall get close to her father and discover the truth.  The best way to do that? Pretend they are engaged.  Can they set aside old hurts and pride to discover the counterfeit culprit, and possibly discover love again?

While all the "Sinful Suitors" series can be read as standalone books, having read The Study of Seduction and The Danger of Desire beforehand will help give additional background to The Pleasures of Passion.  Many of the characters are recurring and the story of Niall, Brilliana, the duel that separated them, and Bree's previous marriage get started in these books.  In Pleasure of Passion Niall and Bree quickly end up in an engagement of convenience, although they can't stand each other.  Lies, betrayals, and secrets from seven years ago have colored how they see each other and buried the love they once had.  Being forced to work together means spending time together, and eventually they hash out the misunderstandings of the past, while trying to get to know each other as the people they are now.  Even before really knowing Bree as she is today, Niall decides he wants to marry her, not just pretend an engagement.  But Bree is used to being deceived and abandoned by everyone and is convinced she can't trust, or love, again.  

The mystery of the counterfeiter is more a catalyst for getting Niall and Bree to work together than a major plot point, although it plays a great part at the end of wrapping everything up in a funny yet serious scene that is one of the best in the book.  Bree's Aunt Agatha especially gets to shine and steals the whole scene.

I'm not usually a huge fan of 'second chance' romances and Passion has many of the traits I find frustrating in them:  the two main characters are so sure of their version of events, and so unwilling to talk about things that hurt feelings, misunderstandings and pride get in the way for most of the book.  Both Niall and Bree say some pretty terrible things to each other and I wanted to smack both of them more than once and force them to sit down and talk.  Both (especially Niall in my opinion) forget how young they were the first time around, and make no allowances for youth and inexperience.  Niall quickly decides that even though he could never love her again, he wants to prove there is still passion between them.  I never quite figured out why, except maybe he was trying to prove something to himself.  The sparks between them seem to fluctuate as much as their trust in each other- when they are 'on' they are a great couple, otherwise not so much.  Bree was, for me, the more sympathetic and relatable character- impacted by more bad luck than one person should have to deal with in life and cautious as a result.

The Pleasure of Passion was a bit more uneven than most of Sabrina Jeffries' books.  The main characters didn't consistently grab me as they usually do, always seeming a bit distant and I had a tougher time than usual caring about them.  But it does wrap up nicely the ongoing saga of Niall's duel and all its effects, as well as show us more about Baron Fulkham (who is the next book's hero).  Perhaps not a book to recommend to those new to Jeffries' writing, but a good one for long time series fans to follow.

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Dead Wake

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by [Larson, Erik]

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania- Erik Larson
Broadway Books, Random House
Release Date: March 10, 2015

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis: On May 1, 1915, with World War I entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants.  For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic.  But the Lusitania was one of the era's great transatlantic "greyhounds"- the fastest liner then in service- and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game.  As the Lusitania made her way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small- hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more- all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.  Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster whose intimate details and true meaning have long been obscured by history.


Dead Wake is, from the very beginning, a gripping story surrounding the final crossing of the Lusitania.  The narrative shifts between following the ocean liner and her passengers; the German captain Schwieger and his submarine 'U20' who will sink Lusitania; President Woodrow Wilson as he tries to balance a rocky and emotional personal life with an increasingly challenging American neutrality in the war; and the English code breakers of 'Room 40' who intercepted German U-boat transmissions.   The end result is a well researched, brilliantly woven narrative providing depth, human interest, and historic and social context to a story most people know only vaguely: the sinking of the Lusitania.

One of the greatest transatlantic ocean liners of its era, the Lusitania was fast, richly appointed, and each trip guaranteed to carry some of the most rich and famous people of both America and England, as well as 'regular' people sailing for work or to reunite with families.  With the memory of the Titanic disaster still fresh in people's minds new regulations insisted that life jackets be provided in each cabin and enough life boats were aboard for all passengers and crew.  The crew even regularly practiced handling the life boats.  Despite the ongoing war and a specific message from Germany naming Lusitania as a target, most people put their faith in the ship's speed to outrun a submarine, and their belief that the British navy would escort the ship once they were in the war zone.  The danger seemed more a possible adventure than a real threat.  With the help of diaries and letters Larson brings to life what travel on the Lusitania was like, and follows the trip through several specific individuals in first, second, and third class.   

Equally vividly are the descriptions of the German submarine 'U20' and its captain.  Schwieger is not painted as a one dimensional evil figure, but as a human who liked dogs, treated his crew well, and excelled at commanding a relatively new kind of vessel in a new kind of naval warfare.  Larson's descriptions of life aboard German submarines are so real you can smell it.

Beside the vivid details of daily ship life are the equally fascinating, and sometimes appalling, stories of the politics behind British military decisions which could arguably have contributed greatly to the sinking of the Lusitania.  Thanks to code breakers, transmissions from German U-boats were all read by the British intelligence (who were so obsessed with secrecy that few transmissions were ever acted upon) and boats like 'U20' were tracked closely.  While other merchant or civilian ships had been escorted by warships through the contested zones- and the owner of the Lusitania's line specifically asked for escort- the ship was neither escorted, nor provided the specific details that might have helped her captain avoid submarines on his own, nor was he told about a new and safer passage just opened up to civilian ships.  Due to a disaster early on in the war, military rules forbade any military vessels from coming to the aid of a ship struck by U-boat torpedo.  Thanks to this, the fastest ship nearest Lusitania was forbidden from going to its rescue, an action which would undoubtably have saved numerous lives.  

Larson describes the sinking of Lusitania and the ordeal of the passengers and crew in the water waiting for rescue without dramatics while still being deeply aware of the sensitivity of the human tragedy he is telling.  Whenever possible he uses the words of survivors to describe their ordeal.  It is impossible to read the last part of Dead Wake without being deeply moved by the tragedies and reunions in the final, emotional dramas of the passengers and crew of the Lusitania. Larson is able to describe not only the human impact of this tragedy, but also the cultural one- describing several irreplaceable first edition novels and great paintings by masters being transported by passengers now lost to us forever.  While it is probably humanly impossible to tell the tale of such a tragedy without foreshadowing and seeing 'omens', these are kept to a minimum, allowing the narrative to tell itself without too much of the 'what ifs' and 'if only' that often crop up in books like this.

Dead Wake brings the story of the Lusitania's last voyage to life through a compelling and dramatic narrative.  Emotionally gripping, detailed, and fascinating,  Dead Wake is an instant classic and a must read for both historians and laypeople alike. 


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Silver Silence

Silver Silence (Psy-Changeling Trinity) by [Singh, Nalini]

Silver Silence (Psy-Changeling Trinity)- Nalini Singh
Release Date: June 13, 2017

Rating (out of 5):

Warning! Spoilers Ahead!

Synopsis: Control. Precision. Family. These are the principles that drive Silver Mercant. At a time when the fledgling Trinity Accord seeks to unite a divided world, with Silver playing a crucial role as director of a worldwide emergency response network, wildness and chaos are the last things she needs in her life. But that's exactly what Valentin Nikolaev, alpha of the StoneWater bears, brings with him.
Valentin has never met a more fascinating woman. Though Silver is ruled by Silence--her mind clear of all emotion--Valentin senses a whisper of fire around her. That's what keeps him climbing apartment buildings to be near her. But when a shadow assassin almost succeeds in poisoning Silver, the stakes become deadly serious...and Silver finds herself in the heart of a powerful bear clan.
Her would-be assassin has no idea what their poison has unleashed...


Silver Mercant has gone from being Kaleb Krychek's assistant to the director of EmNet, the new worldwide emergency response network that coordinates human, changeling, and Psy resources when emergencies occur.  With the fall of Silence and the new attempts to unite the three races, Silver is one of the key players in the new Trinity Alliance.  Her new high profile has gained her both enemies and allies- including Valentin Nikolaev, alpha of the StoneWater bear clan.  After saving her life from an attempted poisoning, Valentin is determined to keep Silver close where he can protect her- and maybe convince her to leave Silence behind and learn to play with a certain alpha bear.  But Silver believes she is one of those Psy Silence was originally designed to save.  Can Valentin change her mind before assassins or her own powers kill her?

Silver Silence begins Part 2 of Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling world, a transition that began in Allegiance of Honor.  Fans will remember Silver as Kaleb Krychek's assistant and I for one was beyond thrilled when I first heard she would be getting her own book.  Her persistent suitor is Valentin Nikolaev- not only a new character but our first introduction to bear changelings. Valentin is everything we expect in a powerful predatory changeling alpha: stubborn, smart, stubborn, sneaky, and stubborn.  He also has a great sense of humor and a seemingly limitless amount of patience and love, even for those who claim to reject him.  We can see early on that Silver isn't as Silent as she thinks she is, and watching her take cautious steps into the world of emotion is a delightful journey.  Being dropped into a clan of bears means some of her relaxation of Silence is almost a self-defense mechanism of its own, and once she starts down that path Valentin is only too happy to keep encouraging her.  Silver's strength comes not (only) from her psychic abilities.  She is an organized, efficient, take-no-attitude woman who uses grey silk suits as armor and can bluff so well you'd never want to play poker against her.  She's learned from Ena that sometimes what people think you can/will do is even more powerful than what you actually can/will do- a lesson she puts to good use as new enemies threaten not only her life, but the delicate trust the Trinity Alliance is forging between the races.  

Valentin may be all bear but he works on being "sneaky like a cat" in order to get Silver.  Family and clan is everything to Valentin, meaning he and Silver already start with some things in common.  Even during the height of Silence the Mercant family was a tightly knit unit.  When Silver is poisoned and the culprit seems to be one of the family both she and her grandmother Ena, the Mercant family 'alpha', are rocked by the idea one of their own could betray them.  Ena is a great, strong, scary woman (possibly even a level above Nikita Duncan) and I enjoyed how she, Valentin, and Kaleb interact with each other.  

While Kaleb and a few other familiar faces cameo here, nearly all the characters in Silver Silence are new.  Secondary characters like Nova, Ena and Arwen enrich the book while giving us no hints about who the next book will focus on (I'd say Arwen, but by the end it's pretty obvious he's hooked on a bear as well).  I'm hoping we get to meet more Mercant family and maybe follow some of them as main characters in the future.  Trouble in Valentin's family and in the StoneWater clan as a whole mean there's plenty going on and the antagonists aren't only against Silver.

While Silver Silence begins to explore the new world of Trinity and how three very different races of people can begin to trust each other again, it is, at heart, a story about family, love, and hope.  Love of and loyalty to family drive virtually every decision by both the Mercants, the StoneWater clan, and many of the enemies they face.  How do Psy learn to reconnect not only with their own emotions, but with others?   When nearly every family of humans or changelings knows at least one person who was harmed by a Psy, how can they begin to trust Psy? How do you begin to see individuals instead of painting an entire race with one brush? Even Silver doesn't realize how connected the three races are until the very end, when with one lovely twist Singh gives us something that should have been so obvious you won't believe you didn't think of it yourself.  

Just when you think Nalini Singh can't possibly top her last book, she goes and writes Silver Silence.   While newcomers could start here and not feel lost, having read at least Allegiance of Honor will make Silver Silence even better.  An awesome beginning to the next chapter in Singh's Psy-Changeling world, Silver Silence is a fast-paced, three-dimensional must read full of passion, mystery, love and, above all: hope. Valentin and Silver's story remind us that no matter what is happening in the world around us, we should never stop believing that love and hope can make a difference.

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