28 February 2013

Lord of Darkness (Maiden Lane #5)

Summary from Goodreads:

When Strangers In The Night

He lives in the shadows. As the mysterious masked avenger known as the Ghost of St. Giles, Godric St. John's only goal is to protect the innocent of London. Until the night he confronts a fearless young lady pointing a pistol at his head—and realizes she is his wife.

Become Lovers...

Lady Margaret Reading has vowed to kill the Ghost of St. Giles—the man who murdered her one true love. Returning to London, and to the man she hasn't seen since their wedding day, Margaret does not recognize the man behind the mask. Fierce, commanding, and dangerous, the notorious Ghost of St. Giles is everything she feared he would be—and so much more.

Desire Is The Ultimate Danger

When passion flares, these two intimate strangers can't keep from revealing more of themselves than they had ever planned. But when Margaret learns the truth—that the Ghost is her husband—the game is up and the players must surrender...to the temptation that could destroy them both.

At the end of Thief of Shadows (though largely off the page) Godric St. John, another Ghost of St. Giles, is given an attractive proposition: marry Lady Margaret Reading, an unmarried lady who found herself “in the family way” by a man now deceased. Godric has no intention of marrying again. His beloved Clara died of a lengthy illness between Wicked Intentions and Notorious Pleasures; the marriage bed holds no allure for him. But Lord Griffin Reading, Lady Margaret’s brother and hero of Notorious Pleasures, makes the offer irresistible. He knows Godric is the Ghost – Godric will marry Lady Margaret or face unmasking. He marries.

It is now two years later and Godric-as-Ghost comes to the rescue of a well-appointed carriage improbably, stupidly parked in the middle of St. Giles and under attack by footpads. A lady steps from the carriage, pulls out a pistol – and fires it at him, not the footpad. Godric dispatches all the footpads but Lady Margaret isn’t terribly grateful. It was reported that the Ghost of St. Giles killed Roger Fraser-Burnsby, her secret fiancee and father of her lost child. She wants revenge. She also wants a baby from her husband. She has returned to London to kill the Ghost of St. Giles and seduce her husband, Godric St. John.

Which is going to be difficult because she doesn't know the Ghost is Godric. He became the Ghost as a way to escape the painful reality of watching his love die slowly, painfully over nearly a decade. Now that Clara is gone he has been living a sort of half-life, using his exploits as the Ghost to feel alive. He does not have room in that life for a wife, no matter how sweet and lovely, no matter how much Megs wants a child. He does not have room to feel. But as Megs slowly insinuates herself, her great-aunt, and his family into his life, he begins to live again. In the same vein, when Godric opens up to Megs she also must let go the ghost of the past she never had.

And that is the crux of this installment in the Maiden Lane series – the coming together of two very wounded people. Hoyt uses a lot of nature imagery in this romance, pairing the flowering between Godric and Megs with that of the overgrown, dormant garden at Saint House, trimming back the dead growth while breathing life into its very heart and soul. Some of those scenes are almost painful: Godric being forced to acknowledge that he has bricked himself into a prison with his grief, Megs must finish grieving for Roger if she hopes to have a future with Godric. They come together slowly, tentatively and it’s very satisfying to read. Even the scene where Megs realizes the Ghost staring at her is her husband ends quite a bit differently than it might have had only fifty pages before. The Hellequin fairy tale told at the beginning of each chapter – a device Hoyt uses in nearly all her books – adds pathos to the story.

In the backround, the Ghost continues his activities. The lassie snatchers from Thief of Shadows are back again, still stealing children and making black-market clocked lace stockings. Although the subplot feels a tiny bit rehashed, I had always thought that there was more to the story than simply Winter Makepeace doing away with the dastardly Seymour. Thankfully, Hoyt weaves that plot together very nicely with Godric’s and Megs’s love story. Almost every other character previously introduced in the series makes a return in this book (barring Silence and Charming Mickey, who I admit would have been hard to shoe-horn in there given the way Scandalous Desires ended). Lazarus, Temperance, Griffin, Hero, Winter, and Isabel all make small contributions to the plot. Hoyt even sets up the sixth book in the series, Duke of Midnight, with a delicious sneek peek at the end of the book, although the mystery of the hero is given away solely by the title if you’ve been paying attention. [Aside: I recently went back and re-read Wicked Intentions and Hoyt drops tiny little hints as to the Ghosts' identities that are almost undetectable on first read. Bravo.]

Lord of Darkness is out now from Grand Central Publishing.

I reviewed all four previous Maiden Lane books on this blog.

21 February 2013

The Duke Diaries (The Royal Entourage #3)

Summary from Goodreads:

Your heart will be set afire with The Duke Diaries, the third book in Sophia Nash’s Royal Entourage series set in Regency England.

After a wild, scandalous night, Rory Lennox, the Duke of Abshire, finds himself in the bed of his sworn enemy’s wholesome sister, Verity Fitzroy. To protect her honor and keep the peace, he agrees to marriage, but it’s an engagement neither is happy about—until unimaginable occurrences make them view the other in a new, passionate light.

RITA Award–winning author Sophia Nash is a master of the historical romance who has created unforgettable, compelling characters with powerful emotions and intense sensuality. Sparkling and smart, The Duke Diaries is a wickedly fun romp that will leave you breathless.

I love the premise of this series - The Hangover Regency-style - and the first two books in the series were great reads, I feel like the forward motion now stalls with The Duke Diaries.  Rory and Verity's elder brother, the Duke of Candover, have some serious bad history with Candover's deceased fiancee and pretty much loathe each other.  Verity doesn't want to get married (there are lots of reasons thrown up why she won't/can't/etc).  And then Verity's diaries - a sort-of tell-all set of volumes where she recorded the exploits of her brother and the other dukes of the Royal Entourage for her own amusement and inexplicably totes them around with her everywhere - are stolen and published in installments in the news-sheets.  It just goes around and around with a brief glimpse at Esme and Norwich from book 2 (the books are running concurrently) but never really goes.

And then there's the odd, unexplained Sussex/Verity's ex-companion plotline....

Well, I still want to read the next book since we are more-or-less guaranteed to see Isabelle, the Duchess of March, matched with His Grumpiness the Duke of Candover (the groom whose bachelor party to end all bachelor parties ended with standing-up his bitchy (according to his sisters) bride and touching off the series).

16 February 2013

The World's Greatest Love Letters (mini-review)

The World's Greatest Love Letters edited by Michael Kelahan was a little(-ish) book I snagged in the bargain bin for Valentine's Day.

It was a quick read.  Only the letters are arranged by subject, which seems really subjective, with no biographical information about the writers or recipients.  Which made the reading difficult (and I consider myself decently well-informed regarding British historical figures but Wikipedia only does so much).  It also seemed really narrow focus - hetero British exchanges.

15 February 2013

When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice

Summary from Goodreads:
Terry Tempest Williams’s mother told her: “I am leaving you all my journals, but you must promise me you won’t look at them until after I’m gone.”

Readers of Williams’s iconic and unconventional memoir, Refuge, well remember that mother. She was one of a large Mormon clan in northern Utah who developed cancer as a result of the nuclear testing in nearby Nevada. It was a shock to Williams to discover that her mother had kept journals. But not as much of a shock as what she found when the time came to read them. 

“They were exactly where she said they would be: three shelves of beautiful cloth-bound books . . . I opened the first journal. It was empty. I opened the second journal. It was empty. I opened the third. It too was empty . . . Shelf after shelf after shelf, all of my mother’s journals were blank.” What did Williams’s mother mean by that? In fifty-four chapters that unfold like a series of yoga poses, each with its own logic and beauty, Williams creates a lyrical and caring meditation of the mystery of her mother's journals. When Women Were Birds is a kaleidoscope that keeps turning around the question “What does it mean to have a voice?”

I honestly can't give a review of When Women Were Birds that is anything but OMIGODYOUMUSTBUYANDREADTHISNOWNOWNOWNOW.  The description on the flap copy gave me goosebumps and I sat down to read this in one sitting.  Then I read it over again. Everyone has to read this.  Every. One.

The actual sentence-level writing is the absolute best I've read in a long time, a master-class in narrative non-fiction.  Some of the variations are biographical (the grandmother who shared her love of birdwatching), some are autobiographical (Williams's remembrance of teaching school or developing conservation efforts), and some really defy definition.  A poetic essay?  Memoir?  Philosophical musings on the choice her mother made to secretly break with the tradition of keeping a diary?  Collected together they create beauty.

When Women Were Birds is a book I will come back to again and again at different points in my life.  The paperback edition, newly released, is my staff rec and I've been chasing customers and booksellers alike, pressing it upon them.  Voice, choice, and memory.  Mind-blowing.

Dear FTC: This is my copy that I bought and love and in an amazing twist of fate sent with a friend to Terry Tempest Williams's reading at Prairie Lights were she inscribed it to me.

13 February 2013

The Language of Bees (Mary Russell #9)/The God of the Hive (Mary Russell #10)

Summary from Goodreads:
For Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, returning to the Sussex coast after seven months abroad was especially sweet. There was even a mystery to solve - the unexplained disappearance of an entire colony of bees from one of Holmes’s beloved hives.
But the anticipated sweetness of their homecoming is quickly tempered by a galling memory from the past. Mary had met Damian Adler only once before, when the surrealist painter had been charged with - and exonerated from - murder. Now the troubled young man is enlisting the Holmeses’ help again, this time in a desperate search for his missing wife and child.

Mary has often observed that there are many kinds of madness, and before this case yields its shattering solution she’ll come into dangerous contact with a fair number of them. From suicides at Stonehenge to the dark secrets of a young woman’s past on the streets of Shanghai, Mary will find herself on the trail of a killer more dangerous than any she’s ever faced - a killer Sherlock Holmes himself may be protecting for reasons near and dear to his heart.

Summary from Goodreads:
In Laurie R. King’s latest Mary Russell–Sherlock Holmes mystery, the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author delivers a thriller of ingenious surprises and unrelenting suspense - as the famous husband and wife sleuths are pursued by a killer immune from the sting of justice.

It began as a problem in one of Holmes’ beloved beehives, led to a murderous cult, and ended - or so they’d hoped - with a daring escape from a sacrificial altar. Instead, Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, have stirred the wrath and the limitless resources of those they’ve thwarted. Now they are separated and on the run, wanted by the police, and pursued across the Continent by a ruthless enemy with powerful connections.

Unstoppable together, Russell and Holmes will have to survive this time apart, maintaining tenuous contact only by means of coded messages and cryptic notes. With Holmes’ young granddaughter in her safekeeping, Russell will have to call on instincts she didn’t know she had. But has the couple already made a fatal mistake by separating, making themselves easier targets for the shadowy government agents sent to silence them?

From hidden rooms in London shops and rustic forest cabins to rickety planes over Scotland and boats on the frozen North Sea, Russell and Holmes work their way back to each other while uncovering answers to a mystery that will take both of them to solve. A hermit with a mysterious past and a beautiful young female doctor with a secret, a cruelly scarred flyer and an obsessed man of the cloth, Holmes’ brother, Mycroft, and an Intelligence agent who knows too much: Everyone Russell and Holmes meet could either speed their safe reunion or betray them to their enemies - in the most complex, shocking, and deeply personal case of their career.

Well, I have to put The Language of Bees and The God of the Hive together because The Language of Bees is the first of the Russell/Holmes books to end with an actual cliff-hanger and I couldn't wait to get back to the library to pick up The God of the Hive.  These two entries in the series are crazy and veer all over England to sort out why and how Damian's wife and daughter have disappeared.  Unfortunately, the separation of Mary and Holmes in The God of the Hive takes away one thing I absolutely love in this series - the interplay between the two characters; keeping them apart for so much of the book actually pulls the plot down but it picks back up when they come together.  There's a strange perspective change to that of a bird in the cemetery that feels really forced.  I did love how disillusioned Mary becomes with Mycroft...and she has grounds, believe me (cf. The Game).

I might be on series burn-out so I'm going to take a break from Mary and Holmes.

Dear FTC: I borrowed these from the library.

12 February 2013

Locked Rooms (Mary Russell #8)

Summary from Goodreads:
Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes are back in Laurie R. King’s highly acclaimed New York Times bestselling mystery series. And this time the first couple of detection pair up to unlock the buried memory of a shocking crime with the power to kill again–lost somewhere in Russell’s own past.

After departing Bombay by ship, Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes are en route to the bustling modern city of San Francisco. There, Mary will settle some legal affairs surrounding the inheritance of her family’s old estate. But the closer they get to port, the more Mary finds herself prey to troubling dreams and irrational behavior–a point not lost on Holmes, much to Russell’s annoyance.

In 1906, when Mary was six, San Francisco was devastated by an earthquake and a raging fire that reduced the city to rubble. For years, Mary has denied any memory of the catastrophe that for days turned the fabled streets into hell on earth. But Holmes suspects that some hidden trauma connected with the “unforgettable” catastrophe may be the real culprit responsible for Mary’s memory lapse. And no sooner do they begin to familiarize themselves with the particulars of the Russell estate than it becomes apparent that whatever unpleasantness Mary has forgotten, it hasn’t forgotten her. Why does her father’s will forbid access to the house except in the presence of immediate family? Why did someone break in, then take nothing of any value? And why is Russell herself targeted for assassination?

The more questions they ask of Mary’s past, the more people from that past turn out to have died violent, unexplained deaths. Now, with the aid of a hard-boiled young detective and crime writer named Hammett, Russell and Holmes find themselves embroiled in a mystery that leads them through the winding streets of Chinatown to the unspoken secrets of a parent’s marriage and the tragic car “accident” that a fourteen-year-old Mary alone survived–an accident that may not have been an accident at all. What Russell is about to discover is that even a forgotten past never dies…and it can kill again.

Going straight on to book eight, we pick up right after The Game left off.  I seriously started to worry about Mary and Holmes's relationship because Mary almost goes off the rails by simply being in San Francisco.  Great plot twists and there's an interesting perspective switch partway through the book.  Loved how Dashiell Hammett was brought in as a character and colleague.

Dear FTC: I borrowed this from the library.

11 February 2013

The Game (Mary Russell #7)

Summary from Goodreads:
It’s only the second day of 1924, but Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, find themselves embroiled in intrigue. It starts with a New Year’s visit from Holmes’s brother Mycroft, who comes bearing a strange package containing the papers of an English spy named Kimball O’Hara—the same Kimball known to the world through Kipling’s famed Kim. Inexplicably, O’Hara withdrew from the “Great Game” of espionage and now he has just as inexplicably disappeared.

When Russell discovers Holmes’s own secret friendship with the spy, she knows the die is cast: she will accompany her husband to India to search for the missing operative. But Russell soon learns that in this faraway and exotic land, it’s often impossible to tell friend from foe—and that some games aren’t played for fun but for the highest stakes of all…life and death.

After the intimacy of the characters in O Jerusalem and Justice Hall this entry in the Russell/Homes series was something of a let-down for me. The characterization of the setting wasn't as rich, parts of the plot felt forced, and Sunny Goodheart's character was really annoying. Maybe if I'd put more space between this and Justice Hall it would have read better for me.

Also: poor Holmes, he does like to brush Mary's hair. 

Dear FTC: I borrowed this from the library.

10 February 2013

A Fatal Waltz (Lady Emily #3)

Summary from Goodreads:
At her friend Ivy's behest, Emily reluctantly agrees to attend a party at the sprawling English country estate of Lord Fortescue, a man she finds as odious as he is powerful. But if Emily is expecting Lord Fortescue to be the greatest of her problems, she is wrong. Her host has also invited Kristiana von Lange, an Austrian countess who was once linked romantically with Emily's fiancé, the debonair Colin Hargreaves. What Emily believes will be a tedious evening turns deadly when Fortescue is found murdered, and his protégé, Robert Brandon—Ivy's husband—is arrested for the crime.

Determined to right this terrible wrong and clear Robert's name, Emily begins to dig for answers, a quest that will lead her from London's glittering ballrooms to Vienna's sordid backstreets. Not until she engages a notorious anarchist in a game of wits does the shocking truth begin to emerge: the price of exonerating Robert can be paid only by placing Colin in deadly peril. To save her fiancé, Emily must do the unthinkable: bargain with her nemesis, the Countess von Lange.

So I wanted to strangle Emily a bit in this book for all her internal quibbling over whether Colin was going to run off with the Countess - it was obvious that Colin was smarter than that and that he was madly in love with Emily.  So that was a sticking point.  Other than making Emily a bit of a ninny of a man (this after she pretty much makes it clear that she was going to stand up to Lord Fortescue - which, in hindsight, did give her a motive that only she knew about), this was a fun mystery with a lovely section set in Vienna.  The Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) is a character and Tasha Alexander renders her beautifully (this takes place after the tragedy of Mayerling).  Going to Vienna had the added bonus of getting Emily away from her crazy mother (even if she did take the annoying Bainbridge with her).

Now, I have to go find the Emily and Colin wedding scene floating around on the Internet before reading book four.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book on my Nook.

09 February 2013

A Poisoned Season (Lady Emily #2)

Summary from Goodreads:
London's social season is in full swing, and Victorian aristocracy is atwitter over a certain gentleman who claims to be the direct descendant of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Adding to their fascination with all things French, an audacious cat burglar is systematically stealing valuable items that once belonged to the ill–fated queen.

But things take a dark turn. The owner of one of the pilfered treasures is found murdered after the theft is reported in the newspapers, and the mysterious thief develops a twisted obsession with Lady Emily Ashton. It takes all of Lady Emily's wit and perseverance to unmask her stalker and ferret out the murderer, while faced with a brewing scandal that threatens both her reputation and her romance with the dashing Colin Hargreaves.

Coming back to Lady Emily, I was delighted to find that her second mystery is more streamlined than the first.  Emily is determined to be her own person - she and Colin Hargreaves seem to be progressing in their romance but she won't be bullied into marriage (by her social-climbing mother) or deterred from intellectual pursuits.  Although Colin is a master spy, Emily doesn't expect him to swoop in and rescue her when her investigations become dangerous.  Very enjoyable.

Dear FTC: I read a copy purchased on my Nook.

06 February 2013

Justice Hall (Mary Russell #6)

Summary from Goodreads:
Hours after Holmes and Russell return from solving the murky riddle of The Moor, a bloodied but oddly familiar stranger pounds desperately on their front door, pleading for their help. When he recovers, he lays before them the story of the enigmatic Marsh Hughenfort, younger brother of the Duke of Beauville, returned to England upon his brother's death, determined to learn the truth about the untimely death of the hall's expected heir - a puzzle he is convinced only Holmes and Russell can solve.

It's a mystery that begins during the Great War of 1918, when young Gabriel Hughenfort, the late Duke's only son, died amidst scandalous rumors that have haunted the family ever since. While Holmes heads to London to uncover the truth of Gabriel's war record, Russell joins an ill-fated shooting party. A missing diary, a purloined bundle of letters, and a trail of ominous clues comprise a mystery that will call for Holmes's cleverest disguises and Russell's most daring journeys into the unknown! from an English hamlet to the city of Paris to the wild prairie of the New World. The trap is set, the game is afoot, but can they catch an elusive villain in the act of murder before they become his next victims?

In my opinion, you can't read Justice Hall without having read O Jerusalem because Marsh and Alistair are none other than Mahmoud and Ali, the men who concealed/aided/befriended Russell and Holmes in O Jerusalem.  A very intricate plot that is wonderful in all of the twists and turns.  Commendable also for subtly introducing a homosexual relationship that wasn't terribly apparent at the outset.

Dear FTC: I borrowed this from the library.

05 February 2013

O Jerusalem (Mary Russell #5)

Summary from Goodreads:
With her bestselling mystery series featuring Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell, Laurie R. King has created "lively adventure in the very best of intellectual company," according to The New York Times Book Review. Now the author of The Beekeeper's Apprentice and The Moor--the first writer since Patricia Cornwell to win both the American Edgar and British Creasey Awards for a debut novel (A Grave Talent)--unfolds a hitherto unknown chapter in the history of Russell's apprenticeship to the great detective.

At the close of the year 1918, forced to flee England's green and pleasant land, Russell and Holmes enter British-occupied Palestine under the auspices of Holmes' enigmatic brother, Mycroft.

"Gentlemen, we are at your service." Thus Holmes greets the two travel-grimed Arab figures who receive them in the orange groves fringing the Holy Land. Whatever role could the volatile Ali and the taciturn Mahmoud play in Mycroft's design for this land the British so recently wrested from the Turks? After passing a series of tests, Holmes and Russell learn their guides are engaged in a mission for His Majesty's Government, and disguise themselves as Bedouins--Russell as the beardless youth "Amir"--to join them in a stealthy reconnaissance through the dusty countryside.

A recent rash of murders seems unrelated to the growing tensions between Jew, Moslem, and Christian, yet Holmes is adamant that he must reconstruct the most recent one in the desert gully where it occurred. His singular findings will lead him and Russell through labyrinthine bazaars, verminous inns, cliff-hung monasteries--and into mortal danger. When her mentor's inquiries jeopardize his life, Russell fearlessly wields a pistol and even assays the arts of seduction to save him. Bruised and bloodied, the pair ascend to the jewellike city of Jerusalem, where they will at last meet their adversary, whose lust for savagery and power could reduce the city's most ancient and sacred place to rubble and ignite this tinderbox of a land....

Classically Holmesian yet enchantingly fresh, sinuously plotted, with colorful characters and a dazzling historic ambience, O Jerusalem sweeps readers ever onward in the thrill of the chase.

Well, there isn't much I can add to the Goodreads summary for O Jerusalem.  Suffice to say, this is the entire section of time that was skipped during The Beekeeper's Apprentice when Holmes and Mary had to flee England to recover and plan.  Of course, being who they are, it certainly isn't a quiet trip through the Holy Land.  I have to really say that I loved, LOVED the care and research taken with respect to the setting, detail, and atmosphere of World War I-era Palestine. I appreciated it very much and loved every word. Interesting plot, too, since it basically underlines issues still present nearly a century later.  This is much better than the previous installment in the series, The Moor.

That said, I had a great deal of trouble jumping back from the Mary and Holmes of A Letter of Mary and The Moor , where they are married and that part of their partnership is addressed/settled, to an eighteen-year-old Mary and not-sure-what-to-do-with-her Holmes who literally skirts the issue of her being female/his attraction to her by dressing her as a boy during their sojurn in Palestine. This might be a book better read right after book #1, The Beekeeper's Apprentice , since no forward-looking allusions to their relationship are made in O Jerusalem, and it must be read before book #6, Justice Hall (see next review).

And I have one series-level complaint: whoever thought up the cover designs with "Mary" on them dressed in a bathrobe and holding Holmes's pipe really needs to actually read the books - far too provocative. I like the new paperback re-issues better.

Dear FTC: I borrowed this from the library.

03 February 2013

The Moor (Mary Russell #4)

Summary from Goodreads:
Though theirs is a marriage of true equals, when Sherlock Holmes summons his wife and partner Mary Russell to the eerie scene of his most celebrated case, she abandons her Oxford studies to aid his investigation. But this time, on Dartmoor, there is more to the matter than a phantom hound. Sightings of a spectral coach carrying a long-dead noblewoman over the moonlit moor have heralded a mysterious death, the corpse surrounded by oversize paw prints. Here on this wild and foreboding moor, Russell and Holmes embark on a quest with few clues save a fanatic anthropologist, an ancestral portrait, a moorland witch, and a lowly - but most revealing- hedgehog. As Holmes and Russell anticipate, a rational explanation lies beneath the supernatural events - but one darker than they could have imagined. And one that could end their lives in this harsh and desolate land.

It was fun to return to Dartmoor - the location of Holmes's adventures in The Hound of the Baskervilles - but this installment of the Russell/Holmes series wasn't quite as good as the previous two.  Although I appreciated the plot twists and "local color" this mystery dragged.  There were also a few too many parallels to Baskervilles (paw prints? a portrait? hmmm....) for my taste.