Unlocked by Courtney Milan

Courtney Milan

This is a 99 cent eBook that was for a brief time over the end of last year, free, so I pounced on the chance to try this new-to-me Romance author.

The Premise: Ten years ago, Evan Carlton, Earl of Westfield realized that the cutting remarks he used to cover up his huge crush on Lady Elaine Warren was actually turning the vibrant girl he liked into a subdued social pariah. Ashamed of himself, Evan left England. Now he’s back, and he finds Lady Elaine unmarried and still the object of mockery, and she does not like him. Evan wants to apologize, but Elaine does not trust him, nor can a mere apology erase what he had done. This is a bitter thing, but Evan has to try, because now that he is older and wiser, he knows that he’s head over heels in love with her.
Read an excerpt of Unlocked here
My Thoughts: This story begins at a ballroom. Evan Carlton is back from abroad and can see firsthand what he has done to Lady Elaine. While his cousin still snickers and pokes fun, Evan has gained a lot of maturity in his ten years away, and watching Lady Elaine, he bitterly regrets his past and her current exclusion from society. For her part, Lady Elaine thinks that Evan’s return is a personal nightmare and wonders what other games he has planned for her. He was the worst tormentor of them all, and she had made herself sick because of him.
This is a story where the hero has clearly wronged the heroine, but the excitement of reading it is all the raw emotion that the past stirs in both characters when they meet again in the present. The narrative hints at the person Evan was as Elaine reacts and his cousin Diana gleefully resumes their old habits, and the person he is, as he tries to tell them both that he is different. At the same time, we also glimpse Elaine’s state of mind – her worrying over the guest list at the party, her shock that it is not as “safe” as she wanted because Evan and his cousin are there, and her determination to laugh her awful laugh to show that they have not won. I adored the tension of the first few pages as Evan tries to apologize, and Elaine suspects everything he does is a trick. Of course, running through all their interactions is an undercurrent of attraction that Evan is only too aware of, and Elaine interprets as something else.  Evan has to make a dramatic gesture in order to get any trust.
I loved the first half of this story, which dealt with Evan’s return and his first attempts with Lady Elaine. I found their every interaction charged with Evan’s longing and Elaine’s wariness, and it was delicious reading to see what Evan does to try to get past Elaine’s walls. I’m one of those people who loves the slow build-up of a relationship over time. Evan and Elaine’s interactions were just charged with unresolved emotions and I was eager to see them gradually understand one another. Unfortunately, in a novella, there is no time for gradual relational development and this story takes a short-cut. It novella skips ahead in time after the premise has been laid out. The second half of the book has these two in a new, better phase in their relationship, although Evan secretly holds hope for more. The story continues from their in the way you would expect.
Overall: If you are a fan of unrequited love and heroes who have to prove themselves, this novella fits the bill. It showcases the juiciest parts of the romance (first meeting, a bit of drama, and a happy ending) and a lot of people will love Unlocked for it. But… the relationship journey is my favorite part, and I wish that part in the story wasn’t fast-forwarded, especially after the emotional undercurrents at the beginning. I didn’t take to the second half of this novella the way I took to the first after that. On the other hand, a novella is only so long. 99 cents is a bargain for what you get here.
Courtney Milan has published books through HQN, and Unlocked looks to be her first self-published effort (although I see a couple more since).
Buy: Amazon (kindle) | B&N (eBook)
Other reviews:
Dear Author – A
Smexy Books – A
Cheeky Reads – “an amazing story”
Book Girl of Mur y Castell – “Wonderful”
Pearl’s World of Romance – 8.6 (Great)
One Good Book Deserves Another – 5 stars (out of 5)
Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books – “I wouldn’t say it’s the best thing I’ve ever read, but it is a nice romantic escape”
Genrereviews – 4 pints of blood (out of 5)

The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn

The Dark Enquiry
Deanna Raybourn

I don’t know what it is but I was in the mood for a mystery, and the perfect choice was right on my TBR – an ARC copy of The Dark Enquiry picked up at BEA. This is one of my favorite series and I’m happy that I got a chance to meet the author two years running to get a signed copy. One of the highlights of BEA.
This is a series where relationships are built upon from book to book, and I strongly encourage you to start at the beginning if you haven’t started already. Here’s the lineup until now:
Book 1 – Silent in the Grave https://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 2 – Silent in the Sanctuary https://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 3 – Silent on the Moor https://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 4 – Dark Road to Darjeeling  https://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
**** This review has spoilers for earlier books, so if you haven’t read up to book 4, you read it at your own peril ****
The Premise: Back in London after their travels overseas, Lady Julia Grey and Nicolas Brisbane are settling into a new, combined household and a new partnership. This is not without its growing pains – finding new housekeeping staff and a cook that will stay is proving to be difficult, and Brisbane has trouble balancing his protectiveness of Julia with his promise to let her work with him. In fact, Brisbane tries to keep Julia out of his newest case, forcing her to engage in trickery to learn about it. She’s shocked to see her brother Bellmont leave Brisbane’s offices. Julia’s oldest and most conservative sibling is in trouble and has turned to her husband for help. He’s being blackmailed, but it is not a simple blackmailing – if Bellmont’s secret gets out, it could topple the government. Tracking the blackmailer leads Brisbane and Julia into the deadly intrigue surrounding The Spirit Club, where the wealthy consult the dead.
Read an excerpt of The Dark Enquiry here
My Thoughts: The Dark Enquiry starts off with our characters, Julia and Brisbane settling into London. Julia is eager to learn what she can so she can become a productive member of Brisbane’s business, so we find her mixing powders and causing minor explosions in her fervor to become a firearms expert. Plum is moving in, and is engaged in what looks to be a simple case of a missing Emerald necklace for Lord Mortlake. Brisbane looks to be resigned to letting his wife help, and has made the business more high tech with the installation of a telephone and buying Julia some expensive photography equipment. He’s even letting her join Plum on his trip to the Mortlakes. That is until Julia realizes that Brisbane is a little too eager to get her out into the country and away from London, and she schemes to stay and see what Brisbane is up to. This is when she finds her oldest brother, Bellmont visiting her husband.
I felt like the story doesn’t really start until Julia disguises herself and arrives at The Spirit House to aid Brisbane in whatever he’s doing for Bellmont. Then the story goes into real Mystery mode, with a murder and blackmail and Julia and Brisbane having no idea who is behind it. Things become more intense when there are indications that the culprit is aware of the investigation and has designs on Julia in particular.
Unfortunately,  for me, this was the weakest Julia Grey mystery in the series. In the past, every mystery has been very personal, with Julia trying to protect either herself or her family with a strength tinged with desperation. In The Dark Enquiry, I didn’t feel the same vested interest in solving the case, even though Julia’s brother Bellmont was directly involved. The threat that Parliament could topple because of Bellmont’s indiscretion was, in my opinion, a far-fetched one, and I didn’t feel like I cared very much if they found out who Bellmont’s blackmailer was. Maybe it was because Julia barely sees Bellmont, and when she does, he acts like a general ass. Maybe I feel this lack of connection because the stable of beloved secondary characters merely make brief, cameo appearances (the most connection we get is with Madam Fleur and with a new character introduced as a Grey relative). Maybe when the story tries to make the threat more immediate (when there’s a implied threat to Julia), it felt like a case of too little, too late. Or maybe, the mystery itself takes it a step too far, and is too ambitious or left-field in its scope.
What I think should have balanced this was the relationship growing pains Brisbane and Julia are going through. This could be why we see little of the secondary characters, but what there is of Julia and Brisbane’s relationship was.. awkward. It starts off well with a clash between the two when Julia discovers her brother is in trouble and Brisbane discovers that Julia has been sneaking around and putting herself in danger. There is some lovely relationship discussion about love and respect and obedience, which looked like it would move these two forward as proper partners. Yet, they both do things after this that suggest that they still don’t understand one another! It felt like the story I was reading the same argument over again, with the same “acceptance” at the end, only for the same argument to come back but from a different angle – now we’re not talking about love, we’re talking about “protectiveness”. I feel like throwing my hands up but I’m cautiously optimistic. I will allow that they are talking and there does seem like some sort of forward momentum because of these talks, but I am sick of the same talk over and over again. It reminds me of I Love Lucy where Lucy keeps asking to be in Ricky’s show. Ricky, just put her in the damn show!
What frustrated me further was that Julia is uncharacteristically idiotic this whole book.  I would have liked her to be described as someone doing well in her efforts to help Brisbane instead of someone constantly bungling and getting caught. Things literally explode in her face, and it frustrated me to have a female character that I like becoming a sort of bumbling fluffy-headed woman. Even after discussions about the danger and how Brisbane feels about her, and how she will be honest with him about what she’s doing, she turns around and does the very thing she said she would not do – go investigating on her own without telling him! Wow. WHY?!  Was this so that Brisbane could be right about his side of the argument? I really hope that some of these frustrating things I’m running into are in the ARC and not the finished copy. To make matters worse the climax involves a sort of thrown-in-there tragedy and the wrap up glossed over it in a strange way, so the last impression I have of the book was a sense of confusion.
Overall: I ended up putting this down in the same category as most books I have lately – in the good range. I thought it was OK. But writing the review, I find myself more frustrated by it than I thought I was when I read it. I guess I was disappointed in this one because I’ve been extremely impressed by the books before it. This one had a weaker mystery, the relationship drama felt somewhat of a rehash even if it does look like things are progressing, and the characterization of Julia in particular felt off.  I really hope Julia and Brisbane find their footing in the the next one.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews (I am in the minority in my reaction to this one!):
Book Harbinger – positive (read this one for a much less frustrated viewpoint on this installment)
Angieville – positive (ditto to the above)
Dear Author – B-

When Beauty Tamed The Beast by Eloisa James

Eloisa James is an author I’ve never tried before, and I have to be in a certain mood to read a historical romance, but when I heard that When Beauty Tamed the Beast was a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and the hero is a nod to Gregory House, I had to get it. This was a book picked up at BEA.
The Premise: Linnet Berry Thrynne is incredibly beautiful but rather unlucky of late. After being caught kissing a prince, she’s shunned by high society and rumors fly that she’s pregnant. The prince who was once so attentive doesn’t stick around to dispel the nasty whispering, so to regain some control of the situation, her father and aunt devise a scheme for Linnet to regain her reputation by marrying Piers Yeverton, the Earl of Marchant. Piers’ father, the Duke of Windebank is desperate for an heir, and a woman pregnant (by a prince no less), would be the perfect thing for his son. All that needs to be done is for Linnet to charm Piers into marrying her, so she goes off to his castle in Wales, but when the man is known as Beast because of his vile temper, of course he’s going to be a challenge.
Read an excerpt of the first 3 chapters here
My Thoughts: So I was in the mood for a plain ol’ fun romance without too many complications and this fit the bill. I noticed that there was a blurb from Julia Quinn in the front inset cover and I think this is was a good choice. Both authors inject enjoyable humor into their historical romances that is sort of in the same type of vein (though I find James’ a bit more situational and Quinn’s more about the dialogue).
With Piers, as the Beast, modeled after House, I was expecting a lot of angst, but surprisingly, there was less than there could have been. Yes, he walks with a painful limp (caused the same way House’s was), has issues with his father, and he is very moody and abrupt, but I didn’t feel like Piers was truly beastly in the way the Beast was in the original fairytale. He’s a doctor and his anger is mostly for ineptness and fools who kill their patients. I didn’t feel like he really needed redemption (although, perhaps his father did). When Linnet first meets Piers, she thinks him a bully, but moments later, they’re getting along quite well:

They reached the stairs leading down to the main floor. “If you want to keep holding onto me, you’ll have to move to my left side,” Marchant said. “Though, of course, there’s always the possibility that you could descend the stairs all by yourself.”
Linnet moved to his left side, just to irritate him. She curled her fingers under his arm this time. She rather liked all that muscle under her hand. It felt as if she were taming a wild beast.
“I suppose you think I’ll fall in love with you,” he said.
“Quite likely.”
“How long to you give yourself?” He sounded genuinely curious.
“Two weeks at the outside.” And then she did give him the smile–dimples, charm, sensuality and all.
He didn’t even blink. “Was that the best you’ve got?”
Despite herself, a giggle escaped, and then another. “Generally, that’s more than enough.”

Linnet herself is used to men falling for her very quickly based on her looks, but she has the brains to go along with it. This means she usually finds herself with men who are smitten but unable to keep up. With Piers being rather impervious to her charms and rather tetchy about it, I think Linnet is actually delighted to find someone with which she doesn’t have to hold herself back.
Since Pier’s is not so easily beguiled by Linnet’s beauty, she figures that that’s the end her scheme to get him to marry her. On Piers’ side, he isn’t willing to marry a woman his father picked out, no matter how lovely she is. The two settle into what they think is an amicable relationship based on that, and even start a daily routine. Piers begins to give Linnet swimming lessons in the morning, and Linnet begins to take an interest in the hospital that Piers runs at his castle. While there are parts that strain credibility (Linnet getting into this situation in the first place, the swimming lessons), I was able to overlook these and just enjoy the story.
The romance kind of grows of it’s own accord as the days pass. There are subplots that have to do with Piers’ family history (when his mother arrives at the castle, that ignites some drama with his father), and with Linnet’s improvements to the hospital (I could have done without these, but I guess she had to have something to do all day). The real drama happens towards the end of the book, and it is not your typical Big Misunderstanding or Bad Guy suspense plot. I liked the unique way this one brought up the suspense and added difficulties to the romance before the HEA.
As Beauty and the Beast retellings go, this was very loosely based. If I were pressed about it, I could make arguments that “her father sent her to the beast in his stead” sort of happened, and that the traditional ending sort of happened (with a twist), but mostly the biggest similarity was that Linnet is a Beauty and Piers is the Beast. I thought that the similarities with House where much greater, with Piers stomping around with his cane, brilliantly diagnosing patients with his team of doctor-students.
Overall: Good. There was nothing that I actively disliked about it, and there were was plenty to like – humor, unique characters, plot, and setting (I particularly loved the seaside pool). Logically, I would call this a fun book, but viscerally, I feel strangely neutral about this story. I am not sure if this reaction is due to my mood, or because I’m not usually a historical romance kind of girl, or if it’s something else. I can’t put my finger on it. I do recommend it for historical romance fans though.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
Giraffe Days – positive
The Good, The Bad, and the Unread – A-
Dear Author – A-
Babbling about Books, And More – A-

Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn

Dark Road to Darjeeling
Deanna Raybourn

This is a review of an eARC I received from the publisher.

Dark Road to Darjeeling
is the fourth book in one of my favorite series. Here are my reviews of the first three books:

Book 1: Silent in the Gravehttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 2: Silent in the Sanctuaryhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 3: Silent on the Moorhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg


***** There are minor spoilers for earlier books in this review ****

The Premise: Lady Julia Grey and her now-husband Nicolas Brisbane have been honeymooning for 8 months, when her sister Portia and brother Plum cross paths with them in Cairo. Portia’s former lover Jane has written from India with the news that she’s pregnant and now a widow. She doesn’t explicitly say it, but Portia senses that there is something wrong in her letters and suspects foul play in the death of Jane’s husband Freddie Cavendish. So of course, Julia and Brisbane, Portia and Plum journey to India, to give Jane support during the last few months of her pregnancy and to secretly investigate the possibility of Cavendish’s murder.

Read an excerpt of Dark Road to Darjeeling here

My Thoughts: As with the earlier books, the writing beautifully describes a setting that’s in a different place and time, in this case a valley isolated from the world where Jane now resides in a tea estate: “The Peacocks is the name of the estate, a tea garden on the border of Sikkim, outside of Darjeeling, right up in the foothills of the Himalayas.”

Here, a small English community lives – the Cavendishs who own the plantation (Harry is the late Freddie’s younger brother, and Camellia Cavendish is their aunt and runs the household), the White Rajah (a mysterious older man who lives in a ruined monastery above the valley), the Pennyfeathers (a clergyman, his free-spirited artist wife Cassandra and two children Primrose and Robin), Dr Llewellyn (a grieving man who lost his wife after a tiger attack), and finally Lucy and Emma Phipps, cousins to the Marches (last seen in the second book of the series). Surrounding these are their numerous servants, including twins sisters Lalita, a cook, and Miss Thorne, governess to the Pennyfeather children.

As Julia and the others make acquaintances with those around them, it becomes clear that the mystery of Freddie’s death is going to be a tough one. Almost everyone could have had a reason or the means to have killed him, if in fact he was murdered. Officially he died of an infection after being bitten by a small, usually harmless snake, not something that would typically kill a healthy man, but India is a place where such things happen. In fact, as I kept reading this book, it began to feel like the valley is not kind at all to those who settle there.  One tragedy or another seems to have befallen everyone there, particularly the English.

In the meantime, the honeymoon is over for Brisbane and Julia, and the two are trying to figure out the compromises that make up married life, without being the one who actually makes the compromise! These two are as as in love as ever, but they’re clearly human. Julia wants to be a partner in Brisbane’s investigations, while Brisbane wants his wife to stay away from danger. This is probably the first book where I really thought about the problems in both of their perspectives, and I felt like neither was truly right or wrong. I think before this book, I was with Julia in expecting that she should be able to investigate, but now I see where Brisbane comes from. On the other hand, both characters also do things that probably aren’t best for their marriage when they try to exert their will over the other. Brisbane continues with his mind games to keep Julia out of trouble, while Julia hides things from Brisbane in order to “win” the race to figure out the mystery and prove she’s an equal. Clearly these characters are imperfect and I like that they have a lot of room to grow, but I the previous books didn’t leave me as frustrated with Brisbane and Julia as much as Dark Road to Darjeeling did. It left me with a generally perturbed feeling to uncover their shortcomings the way they were presented here.

Overall: As I’ve come to expect, I liked the book: it has all the Raybourn hallmarks (lovely writing, unique characters, beautiful setting), but I didn’t close the pages with the same feeling of happy satisfaction as the earlier books, so it’s not my favorite of the series. Conflict and the overall tragic events put this volume into a “bittersweet” category. Compared to the earlier books I felt unsettled after reading this one, but I still love and recommend this series, and I am looking forward to what happens next.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
See Michelle Read – positive review
Tempting Persephone – positive review
Monkey Bear Reviews – B- (I’m surprised by how similar I feel to this review – read it after writing mine)
Book Harbinger – positive
Babbling about Books, and More – B

Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn

Silent on the Moor
Deanna Raybourn

I’ve been meaning to read this, the third installment of one of my favorite series for a while but I’ve been gated by the fact that there are no mass market paperback copies. More on that side rant later.
Book 1: Silent in the Gravehttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 2: Silent in the Sanctuaryhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg

**** Minor spoilers for the earlier books in this review ****

The Premise: In the last book, Brisbane disappears, as usual, leaving Lady Julia Grey again with the sense of unfinished business regarding their relationship, so when her sister Portia is invited to Brisbane’s new home on the northern moors, Julia decides to take matters into her own hands and come along, uninvited or not. Julia doesn’t expect a warm welcome by a man who is clearly hiding something, but she’s surprised to find the previous tenants of Grimsgrave, the Lady Allensby and her two daughters, Ailith and Hilda, still in residence, while Brisbane acts as slippery as ever.

Read an excerpt of Silent on the Moor here

My Thoughts: Julia gets more and more impetuous in each book. I think the first impression she made on me has stayed in my mind (a woman who knows the societal rules of her time and abides by them despite feeling the constraints), so whenever Julia does or says things that are distinctly unladylike, I feel a little surprised. I wasn’t sure how to feel about Julia’s decision to just show up at Brisbane’s house, despite her sister Portia and brother Valerius coming along, because there are members of her family (including her father) who call it what it is – throwing herself at a man who of late has shown an insulting lack of interest.  I did cringe a little, wondering what Brisbane’s reaction would be.

When Julia gets to Grimsgrave, the sparring with Brisbane begins again, and their interactions highlight how much Julia’s character has evolved. Do not fear though – this is the best thing ever. I find their relationship even more delicious because Julia is comfortable with who she is. Brisbane is a dark horse; he manages to stymie Julia even when she thinks she has the upper hand, but Julia isn’t afraid to keep pushing.  I understand her character (it helps that she’s the first person narrator), but Brisbane holds his cards very close to his chest. I know he loves her, but he has strange ideas about honor, relationships, and protecting people. If Julia hadn’t changed into who she is now, I don’t think their relationship would work because she’d be too afraid to break down his barriers. This Julia gives as good as she gets, and I was cheering for her every time she managed to chip his armor.

Every book in this series involves a mystery.  In Silent on the Moor, the biggest mystery is Brisbane himself. He clearly has a past that is tied to Grimsgrave, and Julia learns as much about him as she does about the strange Allensbys. At first, it’s Julia’s nosiness that prompts her questions about the Allensby family. Is there something between the beautiful Ailith and Brisbane? Then there is the question of Redwall Allenby, Ailith’s brother, recently passed. Was there more to his death and his disgrace in Egyptology circles? These are things Julia is curious about, but it’s only when she makes a macabre discovery that the sleuthing begins in earnest. Julia knows that this is the window for her chance at happiness, and if she doesn’t figure out what’s going on, she’ll lose Brisbane forever.  Although the mystery feels somewhat secondary to the relationship troubles, I found it rather satisfying that the focus was where it was. I wanted what Julia does when she goes to Grimsgrave: to settle the thing between her and Brisbane once and for all.

It’s all very atmospheric. The Allenbys sit proud, closed off in their broken down home, remembering glory of generations long past, while the nearby villagers bear them no good will. Julia and her family stumble awkwardly into this situation, not exactly wanted but tolerated nonetheless, while Brisbane stomps in and out, dark and broody as ever. Brisbane perfectly suits the crumbling Grimsgrave and the wild and dangerous moor. I loved the setting, particularly at this time of year, when things get wet and gloomy, and dark clouds hang above.  With Brisbane’s gypsy past and the moor setting, it’s clear that there’s a nod here to Wuthering Heights, but in this case there’s a happier outcome.

Oh man, the ending. The story took it’s time getting there (my trade paperback is 465 pages), but it was well worth reading because the final pages are sigh-worthy.  For those of you who are peekers – just believe me that it ends well and try not to skip ahead.

Overall: This may be my favorite Lady Julia Grey installment yet. Wholly for the ending, although the dramatic setting on the moors, the strange Allenbys and the broody Brisbane aren’t too shabby in making this a lovely story. The mix of romance, mystery and the Victorian setting are perfect. I love this series. So good.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Side rant!
OK, I must say that I’ve been waiting for this book to be published in Mass Market because my copies of the earlier books are MMPBs. But, although this book was published in trade paperback in March, 2009 (as of this post 1 year and 8 months ago), there seems to be no plan to release this book in mass market? What’s up with that?

Other reviews:
See Michelle Readpositive review
Aneca’s World – 4/5
The Good, the Bad, and the Unread – B
Angieville – positive review

The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber

I liked The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker so much that I made sure to ask about the second book, and Dorchester sent me a copy for review. I also have an extra copy that I’m going to be giving away later.

My review of Strangely Beautiful can be found here: https://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpghttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/vox.png

The Premise: This is the second book in the series which begins with white haired and pale skinned orphan Persephone Parker, a strange girl who can talk to ghosts, arriving at Athens Academy and discovering that she’s an integral part to a long awaited Prophecy. The Guard of London, six remarkable people who protect the city from the forces of Darkness, take Persephone into their fold, but after a very brief respite, the war continues. This is the conclusion of the story.

Read an Excerpt of The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker

****** There are MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST BOOK from this point on *******

My Thoughts:
As in the previous installment, The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker has a lovely but dense writing style. It’s definitely not a book I’d say you could pick up and read cover to cover without stopping. I had to read this book piece by piece. I’d call this a rich chocolate cake: to be enjoyed at a sedate pace with time to digest the material in between. Both books have a very Gothic, theatrical element to it, and when I found out Strangely Beautiful was optioned for a Broadway musical, it made sense – it’s a good fit because the people in the book do make grand gestures and seem larger than life. The exception would probably be Percy, but she has a presence too – with her stark albino coloring and her long white hair.  I could see her dancing across the stage with her dark and broody partner, Professor Alexi Rychman.

The language is very Victorian and embellished, and the best way for me to show that is an excerpt:

“Their kiss was of such fusion that they felt the ground tremble. The slight sound of angels grew into bursting chorus. Rising from the candles and met by an aura of light from their bodies, white flame began to pool, merge and expand into a hazy, egglike form that grew as their kiss sustained.  As it ended, the form burst into a great, bird-shaped sun. The avian form threw open expansive wings, and a wave of heat and deafening music blew…”

There is a lot of set up in the first 100 pages Strangely Beautiful, but while that was okay to me because it was the first book in a series, and the world had to be drawn and it’s characters introduced. In Darkly Luminous however, it slows down the pacing especially coupled with the Gothic and embellished language. While I thought that the language in the book was probably even better than the first one, the war between London and the Whisper World did not come to the forefront for a long time. This meant there was very little action until the last part of the book. Instead the book focuses on the romance of Alexi and Persephone, and the final battle is shrouded in mystery and talk of “fate”. The spirits of the old Guard know more about what’s going on that that of the new, and they withhold information for fear of jeopardizing the outcome. I’m never a fan of one character keeping information back from another character in books, and I wish this wasn’t a plot device used here.

In the meantime, lovers of romance will probably be happy with the way Alexi and Percy’s relationship is portrayed. We really get to see their intimate moments and it’s written in a very poetic way. Again, there is a sense of drama about their love and it does include a lot of sweeping gestures (Alexi actually does make them to light candles during their private getaways). While in the first book Alexi is a grumpy and aloof professor, his character is different in this one. Now that he has Percy, I found that Alexi’s previous self-confidence became more overbearing, and in contrast, Percy’s giggling and swooning made her look really young. Their age-difference and Alexi’s bossy, forceful personality, is saved only because Percy begins to show some backbone and corrects Alexi when he misdirects his anger towards her. The danger to Percy is ongoing (the Guard is fighting for her), and Alexi does not do well in those circumstances. There was one particular scene where the result of Alexi’s forcefulness is conveyed which made me dislike him quite a bit, despite his regret for his actions.

Other relationships within the Guard, which were hinted at in the first book are further cultivated here. Percy as the perceptive newcomer urges Elijah, Jane, Rebecca, Michael and Josephine to be open about their feelings before they either ruin the group dynamic or something happens in the battle with Darkness. I’ve been particularly interested in Rebecca, who has loved Alexi for years but that isn’t returned. She instead sees Alexi very happy with Percy and dispairs, oblivious to the fact that Michael has been in love with her.  The story seems to concludes satisfactorily in this second volume, although it looks like there will be a short story that focuses on one pairing in the guard in A Midwinter Fantasy (October 2010). I am not sure if there will be a continuation after this book, although I’m sure there could be.

Overall: The lovely, dense language is why I like this series, although it’s Gothic tone and embellishments mean that the book is something to be slowly savored, and some readers may chafe at the pacing. I thought the language in this installment was even more lovely than the first book, but I had some minor reservations in this one compared to the first.

Buy: Amazon | Powells | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Smokin Hot Books – 4 smooches
Lurv a la mode – 4 and a half scoops (out of 5)
Brooke Reviews – positive
Smexy Books – 4.5 out of 5
Babbling about Books – B
A Buckeye Girl Reads – positive
Anna’s Book Blog – 5 (out of 5)

Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn

This is the second book in the Lady Julia Gray mysteries. I found a used copy of this book for sale at Savers in Phoenix, AZ.  Getting the second book actually prompted me to start the first one. The review for Silent in the Grave (book 1)  if you missed it, is here – https://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg

The Premise: After the events of the first book and a trip overseas, Lady Julia and her brothers are called back to the family home for Christmas. Julia’s father, Lord March, has a few family and assorted guests over at the March home, Belmont Abbey. Amid the usual family drama, odd occurrences start to happen and (of course, this is a murder mystery series after all), things culminate in a murder.

My Thoughts: I read this over my Holiday vacation, and it’s a book that goes with that season. It’s got snow, and family coming together, and holiday traditions. It is a good book to read curled up in a chair during winter and read for hours. The book is not a short one, but with so much going on, it entertains quite well.

Compared to the first book, Silent in the Sanctuary had more story threads and twists. Which is not entirely surprising because there are a lot more characters, and they’re all staying in the same house, which makes things ripe for conflict and mystery. Along with Julia and her immediate family (Julia’s sister Portia, her father, her two brothers Plum and Lysander, and Lysander’s wife Violante), there are several guests – Alessandro, Madame Hortense de Bellefleur, Lucian Snow (the local curate), Julia’s two cousins Lucy and Emma, Lucy’s fiance Sir Cedric and his clerk Henry Ludlow, Julia’s aunt Dorcas, Nicolas Brisbane, and Charlotte King. It’s a long list, and I may be forgetting someone!

The story is like a game of Clue, full of possible suspects in one house, and plenty of hints at odd things afoot. There were missing items and people, and sneaking about in the middle of the night. In the end we don’t have just one mystery to solve, and there are a few surprising twists I never saw coming. I think I was more surprised at the twists in this one than the first.

And then there is the romance between Julia and Nicolas. Brisbane. His presence is a surprise for Julia,  thanks to her meddling father.  At the end of Silent in the Grave, she thought that they had romantic possibilities, but he never writes her while she is away. Julia is even more annoyed to find out that he got engaged in the meantime. Delicious I say! It’s a little different now that Julia has gotten used to being an independent widow. Julia is a lot more assertive, in a very March family way. She holds her own in solving the mysteries and even discovers some things Brisbane has missed. It also means she doesn’t worry as much about societal rules, and if she thinks Brisbane is in the wrong, she lets him know it.  It’s an engrossing dance between Julia and Brisbane, but but both parties have their baggage, and this affects how they see the other person. I had the feeling this was especially true of Brisbane. Julia was so different from when we first met her that it sometimes surprised me. I think I may have read this second book so close to the first that wisps of the Old Julia stayed in my brain so there was a clash with the new one, but that was a minor issue that I think only I had.

Overall: Loved the first one and the second one is again a strong book – I think I liked the twists in the mystery in this one more than the first book, but I’m undecided on which book I liked more for the romance. I really need to read book 3, Silent on the Moor! This series is shaping up to be one of my favorites, and if you are even considering reading these books, I strongly urge you to try them.

Mom’s verdict: She liked this one too. I think it took her longer to read than Silent in the Grave, but she agreed that the mystery had multiple surprises. She wants me to get book 3 so she can borrow it.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews:
Historical Tapestry – 4.5 out of 5
Angieville – “I went in with the highest of expectations and Silent in the Sanctuary more than lived up to them”
Dear Author – B+
Tempting Persephone – also positive

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Heiber

I’ve been eying this book ever since I saw the title; it just WINS. And after seeing the cover (which I really like – simple and atmospheric) and learning that the story was a little steampunk, my little book-I-must-get radar was beeping like mad. If you look around, this book is getting a lot of buzz, so I wasn’t the only one. I asked for this book right away when Dorchester asked me if there was anything I was interested in reading. I mean, really. This review is for the ARC copy that Dorchester sent me.

The Premise: The heroine, Miss Percy Parker, is an albino who can talk to ghosts. Proficient in many languages, and aware that she’s very strange looking to others, timid Percy has just enrolled in Athens Academy in London. Meanwhile, her Headmistress Rebecca Thompson and mathematics teacher Professor Alexi Rychman belong to a group of six who have been battling supernatural creatures in the streets of Victorian London. They’ve long awaited for the seventh, a woman that Professor Rychman believes is destined to be his true love, but Prophecy urges them to be cautious. Could Miss Percy be the seventh?

My Thoughts: When I first started reading this book, I was struck by the Gothic atmosphere. The worldbuilding seemed interwoven with the way the book was written. There’s an old fashioned formality to the language and dialogue which goes with the tale of ghosts and demons in Victorian London. I could see things taking place in dark, somber colors like blues and blacks, with Percy as a pale exception. Against this backdrop, the supernatural aspects – the ghosts, the frightening Ripper, and the Guard battling creatures on the cobblestone streets, had a perfect home. The way Greek myth was also added to the story was cherry on top of a lovely pie.

The first people that we meet are the Guard. The six people, three men, three women, who were each chosen by otherworldly spirits to defend the world against Hell. Their first meeting is as young teens, when they are each summoned together. Besides Rebecca and Alexi who become faculty as Athens Academy, there’s Michael, Elijah,Josephine, and Jane. Each has their own set of skills, which Alexi as their leader.
Because this is primarily a romance, the focus was mostly on Percy and Professor Rychman. The characters of each of the Guard are quickly, but deftly sketched. While there is a lot of good natured camaraderie in the group, there are tensions such as unrequited love and differences in interpreting the Prophecy that add depth to the relationships.

Of the main two characters, Percy is the timid schoolgirl, a nineteen year old who haunts the halls of Athena Academy, unsure of herself because of people’s reactions to her looks. In contrast the dark, tall (and somewhat cranky) Professor Rychman is an imposing and confident figure. I loved Professor Rychman’s character, but then I’ve always been fond of slightly acerbic people. I’ve read that the author modeled him on Alan Rickman, and I could see the similarities. It was easy for me to see Percy’s attraction to her Professor, less easy for me to see what the Professor saw in Percy – she was so meek, and in comparison to the Professor, her feelings made her seem very young. In that regard, the romance felt off for me, but otherwise I did enjoy the way it slowly unfolded and the problems it hit along the way.

The language is often very dramatic, which seems to go along with the Gothic aspect. At times the grand gestures made me aware I was reading fiction – I often could imagine certain scenes as if they were being played out in a theater, but it matched the Gothic Romance feel of the book.

Overall: Very good. The story is unique: a mix of historical, steampunk, paranormal and gothic romance. It’s the originality that really had me and made it a keeper, with clever twists on Greek mythology and Jack the Ripper. The only quibbles I had were with things in keeping with the sense of gothic romance and drama throughout the book.

Buy: Amazon | B&N

Other reviews:

Lurv a la Mode (four and a half scoops out of five)
Smexy Books (rating was a 9 )
Fantasy Dreamers Ramblings (positive review)
Tempting Persephone (positive review)

The Book Butterfly – I liked this one – talks about research and inspiration that went into the book, including bits about ghosts and Victorian London. (with contest ending Sept 10th)
Literary Escapism (with a contest ending Aug 25th)

The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever by Julia Quinn

This book is the prequel to What Happens to London and was being signed by Julia Quinn at BEA instead of her newest  (What Happens In London ). A card with a code to download an electronic ARC of What Happens in London was included in the book. I am reading that one soon too. Lots of romance reads from me this week.

The Premise: Miranda Cheever has always been in love with Turner (aka Nigel Bevelstoke, Viscount Turner), since she was 10 when they first met. Turner was nice to Miranda when she was feeling unsure of herself and she always remembered this. Now, 8 years later, Miranda is starting her first season with Olivia, her best friend and Turner’s sister. While Miranda has finally grown into herself,Turner has become bitter and jaded after his marriage to a woman who cheated on him.

My Thoughts: At first when I read this book, I thought it was going to be a bit cheesy. There was a prologue. I always read prologues, but this one had Miranda’s first meeting with Turner, and her 10-year old adoration was making me think “Oh dear, is she going to adore the hero in this mushy way the whole book?” and I put it down. Yeah.. if I’d picked this up in a bookstore and read the prologue I would not have bought it. Luckily positive reviews online had me trying again. A week and a half later and started from Chapter one, and I found that I really liked the writing and liked Miranda. Phew!

This book has two of my favorite romantic tropes in it:

1) The Long Time, Secret Crush: This could go badly if the person with the crush acts ridiculous because of it. Sometimes you wince when you read some particularly awkward conversations with the object of the crush. I hate that! I was a little afraid this book would have some painful moments where the heroine acts like an idiot, but thankfully Miranda doesn’t. She’s always practical and quick witted and doesn’t let Turner get away with things even though she loves him. And she thinks before speaking, which made me like her.

2) Beauty and the Beast – Not so much that Miranda is a beauty and Turner looks like a beast, but Miranda does affect his “beastly” attributes over the course of the book. The relationship between Miranda and Turner evolves slowly in the first half of the book, and their verbal banter was great. Turner kisses Miranda early in the book when he was drunk and he does other big jerk things which Miranda makes him feel ashamed about. He was an imperfect hero, but his redemption via Miranda made me like the book.

Now to the peeve I had reading this. The last quarter of the book had me thinking to myself that it could have ended earlier. This is because it involves the good ol’ romantic cliche “He has never said those three words to me”. The writing was still pretty great, but while I do believe Turner had his issues because of his first wife, his inability to say the words for so long coupled with Miranda’s insistence he say them started to annoy me, particularly since he acted like he did love her?! So..  Argh, *shakes fist*. In any case I can see the ending being satisfying to others who are less irritable over this type of thing.

Overall: Despite annoyance with the ending (which others may or may not share depending on their level of tolerance), I liked this one. I will be reading more from this author if she writes more characters with dialog like this.

Other reviews

A note about these other reviews. I found it very interesting they both had complaints that didn’t really bother me. They both liked it less than I did because of this. Anyway, worth reading these reviews for another POV, and they also describe the plot in more detail than I did. 🙂
The Book Binge (gave it a 2.5, did not like the second half of the book and inconsistent characters)
Dear Author (gave it a C+, had same complaint I did about the ending)