All posts by flos56

A Dream of Redemption by Bronwen Evans (Book Eight, Disgraced Lords series)

Clarence Homestead was too good looking for his own comfort and he avoided the admiring glances from the females he encountered. Little did he expect to catch the eye of Lady Helen Hawkestone, the sister of his patroness, Marissa Maitland, the Duchess of Lyttleton. Although Clary has considered the beautiful Helen an angel ever since their first meeting five years prior (when he was awaiting news of the fate of the wounded Marisa), he knew that his low born life and past indiscretions nixed any thought of a relationship. His focus was on serving Maitland and his wife who together had rescued him from a sleazy existence in a brothel. In return, he acted as Her Grace’s personal secretary and overseer of the numerous orphanages the couple acquired and “renovated”.

Yet when Lady Helen decides to get involved in this charitable endeavor, Clary balked, not only because of his inner feelings of attraction, but to protect the innocent twenty three year old from the sordidness of life on the other side of aristocracy. His instincts were correct when the newest acquisition revealed a manager who more than dabbled in the human trafficking of children. At Helen’s urging, they not only rescued the most recent abduction but put a stop, at least temporarily, to these nefarious activities.

Helen, as stubborn as her unconventional sister Marissa, refuses to accept Clary’s objections to a future together, despite the revelation of his disreputable upbringing. After placing herself in numerous compromising situations, the two finally succumb to their mutual passion. Despite Helen’s feelings, convincing her over-protective, hot-headed brother Sebastian, the Marquess of Coldhurst, to sanction their relationship is an insurmountable task. A twist of fate necessitating a life or death rescue changes the dynamics leading to a relatively happily ever after for a couple who prefer a quiet life in the country to the scandal mongering attitudes of London and The Ton.

A Dream of Redemption by Bronwen Evans is the eighth book in the Disgraced Lords series. While you don’t need to have read the other seven books dealing with the Libertine Scholars and their romances to enjoy this one, I would recommend reading book four, A Whisper of Desire, to familiarize yourself with Marisa and Maitland’s unlikely marriage as well as the gritty details of the circumstances surrounding their involvement with a den of inquiry and the unfortunate experience which followed. The dark tone begun in this book is continued in book eight, which deals with the seedier side of life instead of focusing on the frivolities of a season in London. Of necessity is the constant reference to marrying the “wrong sort of person” which would lead to ostracism not only by polite society but even ones own family (in fear of their reputations being tarnished by association). Although 1820 is just past the era of the Prince Regent, I would still call this a Regency Romance.

While this action packed plot had such potential, the constant repetitious back and forth between Cary and Helen detracted from the whole. A bit of consolidating/editing would have definitely improved the tale, despite several hot and steamy scenes between the two lovebirds which are sure to entertain. Catching up with some of the Libertine Scholars and their wives was a definite plus for those of us who have been along for the ride from the beginning. Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende explores three individuals whose lives inexplicably intersect via a freak winter storm, a sick cat, and a run to the market for diapers. There’s 60 year old Richard Bowmaster who is living in a fog after tragically losing his Brazilian wife and child. His coworker and tenant, 62 year old Lucia Maraz, has survived her own life of upheavals in Chili, escaping the danger by moving to Canada and emigrating to the United States. Finally there’s 23 year old Evelyn Ortega, an undocumented refugee from Guatemala assisting a disabled boy whose father is involved in questionable business practices.

When Evelyn “borrows” her boss’s Lexus for a quick run to the supermarket, she’s caught in the “wrong place at the wrong time” when Richard’s car skids into the rear of the vehicle. Panicking, she ends up at his home, terrified of the consequences when her temporarily out of town employer returns home. Somehow Louisa and Evelyn end up with Richard in his apartment huddling together through the night while a freak blizzard rages across Brooklyn and into the surrounding regions. It’s not just the minor fender bender, but what’s inside the trunk that has them all in a sweat despite the cold.

Thus begins a bizarre road trip to an isolated location far away from the boundaries of the “incident” to get rid of the evidence. Close quarters and fear create the perfect environment for confidences as the three tell their personal stories and develop an unbreakable bond through this illicit deed. Back in Brooklyn is the “rest of the story” providing closure long after the threesome have resolved their accidental dilemma.

I’d like to highlight Lucia’s tale involving the Military coup d’etat in Chili in 1973 where President Salvador Allende was overthrown by armed forces and the national police. It is not a coincidence that the author’s last name is also Allende since this leader was Isabel’s “uncle” which endangered not only her life, but those of loved ones. I’m sure this particular tale invoked some strong emotions from Isabel’s past when she was actively involved in helping those on the “wanted” list find safe passage, which is inherently reflected in the attitudes and behaviors of the characters in this novel.

There was a lot to take in (almost too much to absorb) as the atrocities in Lucia’s and Evelyn’s childhoods are revealed. It is almost impossible to imagine living a life of terror, waiting for someone you love to be killed, or worse, not knowing whether or not the missing are still alive – not to mention your own dangers in an unstable country. Intertwined is the scenarios of those loved ones who influenced the decisions of the trio.

Without maintaining a specific focus on the immigration issue which is currently stalled in Congress, the reader is still left to ponder the attitude of American society towards undocumented workers who have fled their beloved homeland in order to stay safe, as well as the belligerence towards their children who were brought up in this country and know no other home.

While these timely issues make this a must read book (please note the President mentioned the violent M-13 in his 2018 State of the Union Address), I did have difficulty with the choppiness of the story as the plot flipped back and forth between the three main characters revealing their backgrounds piecemeal. I actually cheated and skipped ahead to read each biography in full (one at a time) which gave me a better understanding of their motivations. Oops, sorry Isabel. Allende had the difficult task of condensing their lives into a relatively brief narrative when each of the characters could have easily filled the pages of their own book (including some of the minor players). The conclusion neatly wraps up the details with a bit of poetic justice and a touch of romance thrown into the mix.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for proving an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Bad Luck Bride by Jane Goodger (The Brides of St Ives, Book 1)

In the Bad Luck Bride, Lady Alice Hubbard, Granddaughter of a Duke and an Earl, is once again left at the altar. Her first husband-to-be died just prior to the nuptials, her second fiancĂ© had to beg off when her father discovered this future son-in-law was a scam artist, and the third? He simply did not show up. Instead of feeling humiliated (well, maybe a little), Alice is almost relieved, despite her new moniker “The Bad Luck Bride”. Truth be told, while she was fond of each of these potential mates, it wasn’t love that led to any of the betrothals. Then, on the carriage ride home, who should hitch a ride but Henderson Southwell, her late brother’s best friend and the true object of her affections. Henderson (Henny) has been gone the past four years, disappearing to India after Joseph’s tragic death. Now he claims to have returned in order to stop the wedding. Everyone laughs, but he is not really joking. Alice has always been in his heart, not realizing the feelings were reciprocal. Ditto for Alice. Via a series of complications, including the return of suitor number three, hat in hand, Alice and Henny somehow find their way to romance. Subplots include a possible murder(s), an attempt to raise funds for famine relief in India, a knitting club of girlfriends, and a budding friendship with an eccentric, neighboring Earl.

Set in a seaside town, this is Book One in the Brides of St Ives series. Jane Goodger throws a lot of story at us, never quite developing the possibilities before picking up another subplot. The profession of love doesn’t occur until the second half the book, necessitating continued repetition of thoughts, as the two main characters wrest with their feelings. Feelings which they then discuss in detail with their friends. Of course, the fact that Henderson has an unknown father and is not part of the nobility is a complication not easy to overcome. With his grandparents funding he was able to attend Eton and thus made friends with Joseph and his buddies. The Hubbards welcomed Henny into their home, with their house being preferable to living with an indifferent, distant mother. Yet, being accepted as a friend is very different than marrying into the family, as Henderson suddenly discovers.

While I’m willing to give some leeway when an author is introducing the characters in a new series, it is still their first obligation to create an intriguing story for the readers. There was so much potential in the various subplots, but their “resolutions” were disappointing. Set in the late 1870’s, this Victorian Romance unsuccessfully explores the distinction between classes and the entitlement of the nobility. The inconsistent attitudes of Alice’s parents towards Henderson is an example of just one of the many question marks I had when completing this novel. Hopefully some of these blanks will be filled in by other books in the series.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

If The Story of Arthur Truluv was a movie, you’d find it on the Hallmark Channel. Elizabeth Berg has created one of those melodramatic, heart wrenching, over the top dramas filled with the angst of loves both lost and found as three disparate characters find comfort as they form an unusual sort of alliance.

You have the teen girl who doesn’t know where her life is headed living with a father who has been disconnected from his daughter since the tragic death of his wife. Maddy doesn’t seem to fit in with anyone at school and even the new boy indicates he is not interested. Since everywhere she goes her peers whisper and mock, she skips school to spend time reflecting at a local cemetery. She’s not the only one who finds the locale soothing. It is here that Maddy meets octogenarian Arthur Moses, an elderly gentleman who every day brings a bag lunch to his wife’s gravesite to enjoy a meal with his long gone mate. Somehow the two form a connection and Arthur lets Maddy know that he’ll be there for her if she ever needs a friend. Then there’s Arthur’s elderly neighbor, Lucille, who spends her days sitting out on her porch keeping track of all the doings, collecting gossip the way some people collect stamps. Her opinionated manner is excused by her skill in the kitchen, freely sharing her creations with Arthur. Arthur, who mostly eats canned beans and franks (which he divvies up with his cat), sympathizes with the lonely woman as he eats her mouth watering butter orange blossom cookies. Somehow, through a series of events, the three end up facing the future together finding comfort and even happiness as they create a unique sort of blended family transcending the usual mother, father, child homelife.

Add in a kind hearted teacher who reaches out to his artistic, though lackluster student, a lost love who finds his way home, and a skeevy boyfriend who just wants a good time without any commitments, and you have a charming little story perfect for a rainy afternoon.

While the simplistic style fits the subject matter and the rotating point of view between the three main characters gives us a decent grasp of their motivations, I had a problem with the use of present tense to tell the story. Very few are able to use this technique successfully, and Berg, unfortunately, is not one of those authors, at least not in this book. Perhaps modifications were made before publication, since my copy was an ARC provided by Netgalley (in exchange for an honest review). I also felt the ending was too abrupt, I would have liked a little more closure, especially considering the book was only 220 or so pages (and give us some dates, not just clues from the headstones). Of note, however, were the sweet little vignettes from the graveyard, where Arthur was able to relate telepathically with the deceased and share bits and pieces of their life and death with the reader. Three and a half stars.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Despite the spate of novels recently published dealing with the topic of WWII, the subject matter never gets boring. There are so many facets to the war that each book can easily tackle a new concept to explore. In Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly the author utilizes the lives of three intersecting characters to explore the Holocaust, two based on real people and one a fictionalized version representing true events.

Caroline Ferriday is a New York socialite devoting her life to helping the orphans in France. Working full time as a volunteer at the French Embassy in New York City, she assisted individuals in securing visas in order to escape France before the war began. In German occupied Lublin, Poland, Kasha Kuzmerick and various friends and family members get swept up as political prisoners. Sent to Ravensbruck, Kashia and her sister Zuzanna, end up the subjects for a medical laboratory experiment involving battle wounds, which leaves Kashia with a permanent limp. The surgery is performed by Herta Oberheuser, one of the few female doctors in Germany, who was recruited to work at this Women’s Concentration Camp and assigned to perform the operations which permanently maimed or killed the Polish “Rabbits”. Her attitude is fascinating as Herta convinces herself that working for the Nazis is a positive position which furthers the aims of the Fatherland. Yet before the Allies take control, she is involved in a plot to hunt down and murder these covertly hidden patients in order to remove the evidence of her actions. Even at the Nuremberg Trials, Dr Oberheuser still refuses to accept blame for her inhumane behaviors and resents her prison sentence.

The Lilac Girls also explores the after effects of WWII, both immediately following the war and ten years later. Unfortunately, society wanted to move forward and forget the atrocities, but luckily there were many philanthropic individuals ready to help the afflicted integrate back into a somewhat normal life. While this was possible in parts of Europe and the United States, the countries taken over by the Soviet Union, including Poland, went from one oppressive state to another. Caroline, with her connections, is able to find a way to coordinate medical treatment for the “Rabbits” in the United States and encourages the bitter Kashia to find closure.

Alternating between the three female characters, Kelly integrates fiction with information from historical documents to create a realistic scenario. It is heartwarming that women such as Caroline and her mother were able to use their influence for the public good with a focus on those suffering abroad. At the same time, one wonders how Herta could reconcile her actions with her conscience. There is evidence that her outward bravado covered a guilty heart when her visit with a psychiatrist revealed a predisposition for self mutilation (cutting her arm). The fictional sisters were an astute representation of the Polish girls who survived the “Rabbit” experience. While it was heart wrenching to read about their treatment in Ravensbruck, it is a reminder that war can bring out the evil in people, especially when dealing with prisoners of war who are viewed as subhuman. This is definitely not a book for those with sensitive stomachs.

I have several confessions to make. First, I did not necessarily read the chapters in order. Kelly often left a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter and then jumped to one of the other women, but I was impatient and skipped over to the continuation of that particular plot point, then went back to pick up the storyline. I also thought the entire book dragged at times. I didn’t mind the fictional romance for Caroline, but for a book close to 500 pages, I thought some of the irrelevant details could have been eliminated. There was plenty of subject matter without adding fluff. The most compelling part of the book was the girls’ daily trials in Ravensbruck which were both difficult to read and, at the same time, hard to put down. While the therapeutic visit to the United States was anticlimactic, the concluding chapters seemed a fitting way to wrap up the loose ends. I appreciated all the specifics in the author’s note which indicated the amount of research (including interviews and traveling to the various locales) necessary to blend real events with her imaginings, although to get further details about the inspiration for this book you need to go to Martha Hall Kelly’s website. Ultimately, the entire reading experience was worthwhile, especially since I learned something new about the Holocaust. Four stars.

A thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

A Perilous Passion by Elizabeth Keysian

After a mishap in the army fighting in the Napoleonic Wars, Rafe Pemeroy, the Earl of Beckport, needs to clear his name. What better way than exposing the head of a smuggling ring who is selling secrets to the French and assisting their attempts to invade England? Posing as a country squire, Mr. “Seaborne” attempts to gain the confidence of the locals. Unfortunately, he suspects they are all somehow involved with the smuggling aspect of the scheme, a practice he frowns upon. Thus he mistrusts everyone in the seaside town of Dorset, including Miss Charlotte Allston, a headstrong miss who seems to be everywhere he looks. Little does he know that the woman who has captured his heart is actually the daughter of Abraham Cutler, the notorious smuggler from the North Sea who was murdered before he could finish giving evidence and receive a Royal Pardon. Despite Rafe’s misgivings about becoming romantically involved, he can’t stop feeling the connection between them, especially since Charlotte is constantly showing up at inconvenient times and places.

To keep them both safe, Charlotte and her mother have changed their names and moved in with Aunt Flora. Mrs. Cutler requires her daughter to be chaperoned, usually by her somewhat lax sister, due to a previous indiscretion where Charlotte attempted to elope with her childhood sweetheart, Justin Jessop. Justin, now serving in the army in Scotland, sends her letters full of complaints about his mistreatment at the hands of his military superiors, so it isn’t a complete surprise when he turns up in Dorset in search of his former love. By this time Charlotte has become infatuated with Lord Beckport (instantly recognized by her Ton savvy mom) and realizes that this previous relationship was just puppy love and not the real thing. Jessop, considered an army deserter, needs her assistance to survive, so she turns to Rafe to provide backup support. Numerous complications could easily mess up Rafe’s plans to stop the enemy from landing on British soil, but by working together the three “patriots” might find a way to rescue each other and their country.

Elizabeth Keysian has presented the reader with some interesting characters in the Pre- Regency Romance, A Perilous Passion, book one in the Wanton in Wessex series. Unfortunately, the majority of the plot centers around the meandering Charlotte and the judgmental Rafe, ignoring the potential of the flighty Aunt and her apothecary “friend”. Told from alternative points of view, we learn the secrets about the two lovers who have a tendency to dwell on their pasts a tad too much. Despite a strong beginning, the middle of the novel sagged a bit while waiting for the next spate of action. The dastardly villain did not disappoint and the resolution of everybody’s troubles made for an acceptable happily ever after, even for the jilted Justin Jessop. The various attempts at humor revolving around sneezing and an allergy to horses did not quite hit the mark, but the romance was more than satisfying.
Romance

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Fowl Language: The Struggle is Real By Brian Gordon

Brian Gordon, excited to be a new dad, wasn’t quite prepared for the reality of children. Realizing that there was a lot of denial going on among other parents of his acquaintance (the term he used was “liar”) and wanting to right this societal equivocation, he decided to create a series of comics expressing his struggles in parenthood sprinkled with a healthy dose of self doubt and anxiety. On his website, Gordon shares his childhood dream of becoming a cartoonist (Plan B was starving to death), which reflects his ironic view of life.

The Fowl Language Comics are basically parenting humor books based on real life experiences. The cartoon characters are Ducks (Dad/drake, children/ducklings) which adds a dimension to the humor. Volume 2 of the series, Fowl Language: The Struggle is Real, the 128 pages explores topics such as making optimal use of free time without the kids, longing for adult conversation, the hassles of bedtime, teething, finicky eaters, baby proofing, etc., often using satire to make us laugh. (Might be Satan, then again, it might be teething).

Gordon, despite the simplistic artwork, is able to effectively convey the emotions of his characters. This is reinforced by some “foul” language which puts these particular cartoons in the adult category. While perhaps the use of swearing could be avoided, it does enhance the humor and, I would presume, accurately reflects his reactions to similar situations.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for providing this temporary ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.