Tuesday, February 14, 2017

New Release- A Viscount's Proposal by Melanie Dickerson

Regency Spies of London #2 
February 7th 2017, Waterfall Press,  290 Pages 
Print, ebook and audio 

Leorah Langdon has no patience for Regency society’s shallow hypocrisy and unnecessary rules, especially for women. She’s determined to defy convention by marrying for grand passion instead of settling for a loveless union like her parents—or wedding a stuffy, pompous gentleman like Edward, the Viscount Withinghall. But when a chance meeting in the countryside leads to Leorah and Withinghall being discovered in his overturned carriage—alone and after dark—the ensuing gossip may force them together.

Withinghall has his reasons for clinging to propriety; his father perished in a duel with his mistress’s husband, and Edward must avoid scandal himself if he wants to become prime minister. He certainly has no time for a reckless hoyden like Miss Langdon. But soon the two discover that Withinghall’s coach “accident” was no such thing: the vehicle was sabotaged.

Can the culprit be brought to justice? Strong-willed Leorah and duty-driven Withinghall will have to work together if they have any hope of saving her reputation, his political career—and his life.
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I enjoyed The Viscount’s Proposal more than the last book in this series. It did stand out as something of an oddball in a series entitled Regency Spies of London as there was almost nothing related to espionage. I’m not saying that was a bad thing, but just to warn readers expecting a Spy Story.
It was much more of a Romance, with a backdrop relating to politics and social movements in early 19th century Britain. Many parts were reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice. Leorah’s statement about marrying for passion was very similar to what Lizzie Bennet said in the aforementioned work, for instance.

I did have some reservations about her character. I don’t mind unconventional strong characters, even rebels to a certain extent. Provided it’s in a just cause, but, whilst it was possible to sympathise with her stance against hypocrisy, I did not feel Leorah’s attitude was not entirely commendable. She railed against ‘arbitrary rules’ like not being allowed to gallop her horse through Hyde Park. That’s not an ‘arbitrary rule’- it’s entirely logical.
At another point, Leorah said she should not have to obey any rule that was not in the Bible. On that basis one might as well argue that Christians should not have to adhere to speed limits in residential areas, or pay parking fines. When one starts picking and choosing which rules one want to obey, where does one draw the line?

There were a few elements common to her writing which were not so good, like the characterisation of all marriages of convenience as unhappy. I mean we told about 20 times that Leorah did not want to be stuck in a loveless marriage, and other details were repeated far too often as well. I had originally given this novel a higher rating, but I have now reconsidered this in light of how the character’s behaviour relates to the notion that ‘Love does not insist on its own way'. It seemed to me that Leorah spent much of the book doing just that. Everything had to be her way, her ideal husband had to let her pursue her hobbies and interests. It was all about her wishes and conditions, and in the end the hero Edward had to change to become more like what she wanted.

A passage in the end that was illustrative of this was him apologising for calling out her shortcomings at the beginning. All semblance of humility or acknowledgement of her own faults was quashed, so that Leorah was basically told she had not been in the wrong for her sometimes downright rude and arrogant behaviour. There was a similar incident in the author's last book, when the hero apologised for calling out the heroine's blatant selfishness and recklessness, and she did not have to change at all. Why should the woman never be in the wrong, where is the ‘give and take’ in the relationship?

Otherwise though, this good story in a lot of ways, with a lot of historical detail and a slower development of the relationship between the characters. Plenty of romantic tension, and a few witty exchanges made for some great scenes. One other strong point was that there were less obvious Americanisms in this novel then a lot others like it. There were still some, but they weren’t as blatant. Overall it was a cleverly written and imaginative Romantic story, without too much mush. Readers of the Regency genre will be very satisfied. I had borrowed this on Amazon Prime because it was not on Netgalley, but I would certainly consider purchasing it for myself and I look forward to the next in the series.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill- Julie Klassen

Tales From Ivy Hill #1 
Bethany House, December 6th 2016, 445 Pages
Print, ebook and audio 

On a rise overlooking the Wiltshire countryside stands the village of Ivy Hill. Its coaching inn, The Bell, is its lifeblood--along with the coach lines that stop there daily, bringing news, mail, travelers, and much-needed trade.

Jane Bell lives on the edge of the inn property. She had been a genteel lady until she married the charming innkeeper who promised she would never have to work in his family's inn. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Jane finds herself The Bell's owner, and worse, she has three months to pay a large loan or lose the place.

Feeling reluctant and ill-equipped, Jane is tempted to abandon her husband's legacy and return to her former life of ease. However, she soon realizes there is more at stake than her comfort. But who can she trust to help her? Her resentful mother-in-law? Her husband's brother, who wanted the inn for himself? Or the handsome newcomer with secret plans of his own . . . ?

With pressure mounting from the bank, Jane struggles to win over naysayers and turn the place around. Can Jane bring new life to the inn, and to her heart as well?
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The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill was a little different from some of Julie Klassen’s previous novels (at least the ones I have read), officially, that was because it’s the first novel in what is going to be her first series, set in a fictional Berkshire village. The author states that she was inspired by Historical village and family sagas like Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford and Lark Rise to Candleford as well as other, more recent, literary equivalents.

I’m an established Klassen fan anyway, so I always make a grab for her latest novel (although I have also been catching up on her older titles recently). Some are better that others. Some focus on some central mystery or threat to the characters. Others are more focused on Romance. The Innkeeper has Romance, but it’s based more on the lives of three unattached women in a small village in the 1820s. Another reviewer said that it has a strong emphasis on women in business, and I tend to agree.
There is a strong element of social criticism, with one of the ladies, Rachel, the unmarried daughter of the Lord of the Manor about to lose her home because of an entail. Rachel though is a relatively minor character, the friend of the protagonist, Jane Bell, who struggles to keep the Coaching Inn that had been in her late husband’s family for generations open.

Both she and her mother in law Thora are strong characters with the odds against them (mostly because of their sex). Thora thinks she can do a better job, and does not want to let go of her independence as a widow by accepting the advances of a lifelong friend. Jane learns that he Inn risks closure because of a loan her husband had taken out, and mismanagement. The cast of minor characters proved to be an interesting bunch, including the Scottish coachman (rumoured to have been a former boxer), a gentlemanly hotel magnate who may have a romantic interest in Jane, and a tempestuous, straight talking cook. Oh, and an eccentric Church sexton who claims to talk to the resident mice. All that was lacking was a village gossip of some description, or interfering melodramatic relative who could have added a lot to the story. As a whole though, all the characters created an entertaining sample of everyday Regency life and adding touches of human drama and human interest to the story.

Readers may wish to note that, compared to other novels by this author, this one was rather slow paced. It’s not that nothing happens, it’s just that its more character driven than plot driven, which is true of a lot of the stories which inspired it. I didn’t mind that at all, as I like Elizabeth Gaskell’s stories, among others, but others might find it frustrating. Personally, I really enjoyed it, and look forward to the next two stories, in which I believe some of the neglected characters get more attention.

I requested a copy of this book from the publisher (and their UK distributor). I was not required to review it, and all opinions expressed are my own.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Newton and Polly by Jody Hedlund

September 20th 2016, 400 Pages
Print, Audio and Ebook 
Waterbrook Multnomah 
      Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
         that saved a wretch like me.
           I once was lost, but now am found…

Now remembered as the author of the world’s most famous hymn, in the mid-eighteenth century as England and France stand on the brink of war, John Newton is a young sailor wandering aimlessly through life. His only duty is to report to his ship and avoid disgracing his father—until the night he hears Polly Catlett’s enchanting voice, caroling. He’s immediately smitten and determined to win her affection.

An intense connection quickly forms between the two, but John’s reckless spirit and disregard for the Christian life are concerns for the responsible, devout Polly. When an ill-fated stop at a tavern leaves John imprisoned and bound, Polly must choose to either stand by his side or walk out of his life forever. Will she forfeit her future for the man she loves?

Step back through the pages of history, to uncover the true love story behind a song that continues to stir the hearts and ignite the faith of millions around the globe.
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This novel was a pleasant surprise, as I have been sorely disappointed by other novels by this author, especially her YA series. It had just amount of Romance blended with adventure, intrigue and historical detail. I was grateful that the Romance was not too overdone or mushy.
The friendly banter between Newton and Polly was quite well written, and she did not spend all her time pining when he was away. Unlike in other books I have read by the same author, there is no over-the-top violence, especially against women. I put that down to the fact that there was not so much of an emphasis on 'action' at the expense of storytelling.

Instead, it was a simple old fashioned good story about the love of two young people over the course of several years apart- a love which ultimately led to the salvation of a dissolute, selfish and bitter young man who went on to become author of the world's favourite hymn. Polly Catlitt did not come over as simpering or needy, even though she was deeply in love. She actually seemed like quite a sensible, practical lass most of the time. I knew a little of John Newton's background, but this really bought it to life in a vivid, imaginative way.

The historical detail was well used and accurate. Immersive without being too distracting, and of course there was a sound salvation message, as it’s about the journey to faith of John Newton (and to some extent Polly), presented realistically and sensitively. That said, his religious doubts did not come over as contrived or patronizing, as they do in some stories written by Christians.

If I had any complaints, I would say they were shortcomings common to many books like this- namely stories set in Britain or featuring British characters written by Americans who have never set foot in the British Isles. Sadly, Mrs Hedlund conflates England and Britain throughout the novel- in fact I don’t think the term Britain was ever used to refer to the entire UK which includes England, Scotland and Wales it was just (wrongly) called ‘England’.
Even in the historical note it’s said the slave trade was abolished ‘in England’- when it was Britain and throughout the British Empire. There were also numerous Americanisms like ‘fall’ instead of ‘Autumn’, and certain minor historical details that were incorrect about the Political system.

As much as I would like to see problems like that fixed, it did not detract from my enjoyment of the story. Recommended.

I requested an electronic copy of this book from the Publisher Waterbrook via Blogging for Books and purchased the audiobook of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions expressed are my own.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Blog Tour and Giveaway- The Kill Fee by Fiona Veitch Smith

Poppy Denby Investigates #2 
Novemver 26th 2016, 320 Pages, Lion Fiction
Poppy Denby, Arts and Entertainment Editor at The Daily Globe, covers an exhibition of Russian Art, hosted by White Russian refugees, including members of the surviving exiled Romanov Royal family. 
There is an armed robbery, a guard is shot, and the largest Faberge Egg in the collection is stolen. The egg itself is valuable, but more so are the secrets it contains within - secrets that could threaten major political powers. Suspects are aplenty, including the former keeper of the Faberge Egg, a Russian Princess called Selena Romanova Yusopova.

The interim Bolshevik Russian ambassador, Vasili Safin inserts himself into the investigation, as he believes the egg - and the other treasures - should all be restored to the Russian people. Poppy, her editor Rollo, press photographer Daniel, and the other staff of the Globe are delighted to be once again in the middle of a sensational story. 
But, soon the investigation takes a dark turn when another body is found and an employee of the newspaper becomes a suspect...The race is on to find both the key and the egg - can they be found before the killer strikes again?

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The second and latest instalment in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series was an excellent historical mystery, with many complex interwoven threads. The historical background surrounding exiles of the Romanov royal family, and lost treasure was fascinating and worked very well. Alongside this there was love, drama and intrigue- even a secret tunnel.

However, I must say, I did not enjoy it as much as the last book The Jazz Files. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was- perhaps it was the length of the novel. It just seemed to drag, carrying out plotlines and leads which could have been followed and resolved sooner. Also at times, things got a bit mudded, with so much going on and the timeframe becoming confusing with the switching viewpoints.

Also, whilst the characters were believable, and I did enjoy reading about those like Rollo the editor, Daniel and Ivan Molanov (who gets his own story and a great resolution), the depiction of some of them seemed inconsistent with their behaviour. My main issue was with some of Poppy’s attitudes. She came over in this story as one of those overbearingly militant Feminists one sees too often in fiction, who shoot their mouth off at men for simply wanting to protect them and keep them out of danger. Now, I believe in women’s rights and equality, but I don’t believe women should be stupid and recklessly put themselves in perilous situations just to prove how ‘strong’ they are.
Her attitude to her parents also did not seem consistent, as the last book gave the impression Poppy loved and was close to her parents, rather than resenting them for not being liberal enough.

Personally, I did feel there was certain pro-Bolshevik slant in the story. So maybe Tsar Nicholas II was a despot- but the people who replaced him were far worse. Stalin is estimated to have killed as many as 50 million people. Perhaps in 1920 their more tyrannical tendencies were not yet apparent, but most of the characters seemed to consider Stalin and Lenin to be quite likable, honourable chaps.

I would certainly be interested in the next instalment in this series (maybe Poppy well end up in Egypt after all), I just hope for a little less Political Correctness.

I requested a copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Best Reads of 2016

Thought it was time for me to compile a list of the books I have read this year: that I loved the most and want to gush about or give an extra accolade.  
Please note that not all of these titles were published this year, but are books I read in 2016. Click on the titles for links to more information on each book, and my review.

HISTORICAL FICTION:

Ancient and Medieval:









Regency to Modern:








FANTASY 



CRIME & MYSTERY 






 
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