Friday, 8 December 2017

Review: Once Upon a Christmas Eve (A Maiden Lane Novella) by Elizabeth Hoyt

I do love Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series, set in Georgian England, and these accompanying novellas are a sweet treat. This one features Adam, Viscount d'Arque, who has had a minor role in several of the full-length novels. The heroine is Sarah St John, the sister of Godric St John - the hero of Lord of Darkness (#5 Maiden Lane series). You don't need to have read any of the series to enjoy this novella though.

The story starts a few days before Christmas. Adam and his grandmother are on their way to a house party when their carriage breaks its axle in a snowstorm. The nearest house turns out to belong to Godric St John, who doesn't much like Adam because he once flirted with Megs - Godric's wife - but Adam is a notorious rake and flirts with every woman. This is unfortunate because the only woman he's ever really been interested in (Sarah St John) really hates rakes...

This novella is quite short - it took me about an hour to read and finishes at 85% with a chapter from Elizabeth Hoyt's next book at the end - but I really enjoyed it. My only complaint was that I wish it could have been longer! I'd always felt Adam deserved a book of his own. I loved the banter between the characters, the lovely Christmassy touches (gathering holly in the snow), and the very romantic ending. *Sighs*. I think I'm going to read it again ... 

If you enjoy this, do try Lord of Darkness, which is one of my favourite Maiden Lane novels. 

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Sunday, 3 December 2017

Review: This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart

I first read Mary Stewart's books when I was a teenager. I sneaked them from my grandmother's bookshelves and felt very grown-up. Re-reading them now, I'm not quite sure why I felt so daring as they have no sex or violence in them. They do, however, have lush descriptions, sexy heroes, feisty heroines and lots of nail-biting suspense.

This one, unfortunately, was a disappointment and I found it quite hard going. It was originally published in 1964 and the dialogue feels dated. The characters spoke with the same 'voice' and as though they'd stepped out of a Famous Five novel. Usually I love Mary Stewart's heroines, but this one was a bit of an idiot - deliberately putting herself in harm's way just to prove a point. 

Lucy Waring goes to visit her sister, who has married into the Italian aristocracy and is currently holidaying at her husband's summer residence on Corfu. There are two other houses on the estate - the original castle, now rented by a famous actor, and another villa on the other side of the bay. But Lucy's plans for a relaxing holiday are shattered when she almost gets shot while trying to protect a dolphin, and then a body is washed up on the beach.

The story is very much of its time, so I would hesitate to recommend it to a modern audience. I loved Julian (the reclusive actor) and hearing about the island's saint, Spyridon, but I did find all the Shakespeare references a bit wearing. Extra points for the dolphin though! If you've never read Mary Stewart, I'd recommend starting with one of her others first, such as Nine Coaches Waiting, which is one of my favourites.

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Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Review: The Coffin Path by Katherine Clements

I love reading gothicky ghost stories, particularly at this time of year, and as soon as I saw the cover and title of this book I was intrigued. 

The story is set on the Yorkshire Moors in 1674, with the country still feeling the effects of the Civil War. The 'coffin path' is the well-worn path across the moor to the local church, passing Scarcross Hall. Once an impressive manor house, Scarcross Hall has now fallen on hard times, along with the fortunes of the people who live there: Bartram Booth, his daughter Mercy, and their housekeeper Agnes. They lead a hand-to-mouth existence, completely dependant on sheep-farming. Mercy has taken over from her father, who is becoming increasingly senile, but working alongside the shepherds mean the villagers no longer respect her as the lady of the manor.

A stranger arriving, seeking work, triggers a series of sinister events. Lambs are ritualistically slaughtered and left in the stone circle at the top of the moor; antique coins disappear, only to re-appear in unlikely places; and noises can be heard coming from a locked, empty room. Has evil arrived at Scarcross Hall? Or has it been there all the time?

This was one of those books where I wavered between four and five stars. It is well-written and incredibly atmospheric, with a brilliant sense of place; the desolate moor is practically a character itself and reminded me of Wuthering Heights. Compelling and chilling, the slow build-up of tension had me completely on edge. There is a scene towards the end, where someone (or something?) throws stones through the glass window, which I read the same time as the postman shoved a parcel through my letter box. I was so involved in the story, I practically hit the ceiling! However, it is very bleak, with the characters suffering set-back after set-back, and there was a little too much detail about sheep-farming, particularly in the opening chapters.

The Coffin Path is a leisurely read, so it won't suit anyone hoping for a quick succession of jump shocks, but I really enjoyed it. And if you love gothicky ghost stories, I'm sure you'll enjoy it too. 

Four and a half stars, rounded up to five.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book, which will be published on 8th February 2018.

Thank you to Katherine Clements, Headline Review, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

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Thursday, 23 November 2017

Review: Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart

I seem to have run out of books to read (she said, valiantly ignoring her enormous TBR pile). When I spotted Mary Stewart's backlist was available on Kindle, (some are only 99p at the moment) I downloaded the ones I read as a teenager. Are they as good as I remember? Well, I enjoyed Nine Coaches Waiting far more than Madam Will You Talk? It's not as dated - it could just about pass for a book written today as a 'historical' - I really loved the hero, and the setting was glamorous and authentic.

Linda Martin is half-French, half-English. Her parents died when she was young, and she grew up in an orphanage in England before taking a job as a teacher at a prep school, which she didn't enjoy at all. (There are lots of Cinderella references). When she is given the opportunity to work as a governess to the nine year old Comte de Valmy in Savoy, she jumps at the chance. But is someone trying to kill him?

Mary Stewart is an excellent writer, who seems to have invented the romantic suspense genre single-handedly. There are lots of thrilling moments when both the Comte's and Linda's life is in jeopardy. The hero is handsome and brooding, there are some great descriptions of the Savoy countryside, and Linda is a sparky heroine. There are no sex scenes or violence; I think my only complaint would be that the kissing scenes were glossed over - but then this was written in 1958.

This would suit readers who love old-school/classic romantic suspense and authors such as Anne Stuart. I've already downloaded four more. I've now just got to try and pace myself! Recommended!

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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Review: All Things Bright and Strange by James Markert

I chose this book because I liked the look of the cover, I thought the title was clever and the story sounded a little bit different.

All Things Bright and Strange opens in 1917. Despite the differences in race and religion, the people of Bellhaven have always got along with each other. But then a group of men wearing white robes and carrying flaming torches track a young black boy, Raphael, to the town and set fire to the town hall. Several people are killed, including Eliza Newberry, the wife of Michael Elsworth Newberry.

Three years later and Elsworth is still grieving for Eliza. He lost his leg during the war, along with his best friend, and is still suffering from PTSD. He's considering suicide when a cardinal (American bird) crashes into his window, distracting him. While he's been holed up at home, strange things have been happening in the town. Trees and flowers are blossoming at the same time, the cardinals are everywhere, and what about that strange old chapel in the woods, where it's rumoured you can speak to the dead...

The strength of this story is definitely in the brilliant characters and I loved the way they interacted with each other, their old friendships shining through. The story is told by Elsworth, who has an entertaining, dry sense of humour, but I also loved Raphael, Gabriel and Anna Belle. The setting is very atmospheric and the mystery surrounding that sinister chapel kept me gripped too - until 1.00 am in the morning!

However, about halfway through the book the viewpoint switches to that of several townspeople, one after the other, revealing the grudges they feel towards their neighbours, and their plans to get their own back. This went on a bit too long and I'm afraid I ended up skipping it. And the shoot-out scene didn't seem to go with the magic realism style. Apart from that, I really did enjoy this unusual story and would give it 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5.

All Things Bright and Strange would appeal to fans of Stephen King (Needful Things) and Neil Gaiman (American Gods). 

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book, which will be published on 30th January 2017.

Thank you to James Markert, Thomas Nelson, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Review: Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart

My grandmother was a huge fan of romantic suspense and I had a lovely time working my way through her bookshelves when I was about 12 or 13. I remember that Mary Stewart was one of my favourites but I couldn't remember anything much about the plots, so I was thrilled to see a selection on Kindle for just 99p. Would they be as good as I remembered? Yes, and no.

Mary Stewart probably invented the romantic suspense genre - more recently reinvented as domestic suspense: independent heroine falls in love with a man who might be a killer. In this particular story, Charity and her friend Louise(!) are on holiday in France. Charity is determined to visit all the historical sites. Louise would rather sit in the shade and drink grape juice. So Charity takes a young boy called David on her sight-seeing trips. David and his stunningly beautiful step-mother are in France hiding from his father - recently on trial for murder. When Charity realises David's father has finally tracked his family down, she tries to lead him away on a false trail. Will she succeed?

Madam, Will You Talk? was written in 1955 and unfortunately it shows, particularly in the way anyone who is not white, British, and middle-class is described. And I really wish someone had thought to edit out the (one occurrence) of the g-word. Having said that, Madam, Will You Talk? is an enjoyable, escapist  'romp' and I did enjoy it. There are lots of lush descriptions of France and thrilling car chases. The romance is glossed over - the hero meets the heroine all of twice before he falls madly in love with her. There are no sex scenes and only very mild violence.

Would suit fans of old-school romantic suspense and authors such as Anne Stuart. Fans of vintage cosy crime, such as Agatha Christie, will probably find there is not enough of a mystery to get their teeth into. 

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Review: Once Upon a Maiden Lane (Maiden Lane #12.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt

Once Upon a Maiden Lane is a standalone novella featuring characters from Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series. Officially it comes in at #12.5 (after the final novel, Duke of Desire) although the only characters to get a proper mention are from #1 (Wicked Intentions) and #10 (Duke of Sin).

The heroine, Mary Whitsun, featured in Wicked Intentions as a child. She was given her unusual surname after being found on the doorstep of an orphanage on Whit Sunday.

The hero, Viscount Blackwell, has been engaged to Lady Johanna Albright since birth. He was previously engaged to her twin sister, who disappeared as a baby. When he meets Mary Whitsun in a bookshop he is convinced she is Lady Johanna's long lost sister. Is Mary about to get a fairy tale 'happily ever after'?

I loved the characters; I found their interaction very engaging. Their romance was sweet and I loved the scene where they met in a bookshop. I wasn't so sure about the 'missing heir' plot, but Elizabeth Hoyt puts her own spin on it. My only complaint was that it ended too soon, almost as though it was missing a chapter. Several plot strands were left unresolved, and the villain's motivation seemed a bit weak. Maybe I'm just being greedy, wanting it to be longer?

But I did enjoy the story and I've already got the final novella in this series on order (Once Upon a Christmas Eve).

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