Tuesday, 14 November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, 11 November 2017

Review: The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

It's hard to write a review for The Perfect Stranger without giving away some of the excellent twists. This is one of those mysteries where the clues come thick and fast. At first I wasn't sure about the flipping between timelines during the opening chapters, revealing what happened in the character's past and how she got to where she is now. I felt as though I couldn't connect with what was happening in the present. But then everything slotted into place and by 30% I had really got into the story. By 50% I was completely gripped!

Leah Stevens has to leave Boston in a hurry - resigning from the newspaper where she works before she's fired, and with a restraining order snapping at her heels. Why? What did she do? Uh uh, no spoilers!

Leah's old friend Emmy offers her a place to stay at her lake house in rural Pennsylvania, while she takes a job at the local school and attempts to blend in. Then a girl resembling Leah is found with head injuries and Emmy goes missing, leaving only a broken locket behind. Have the demons from Leah's past finally caught up with her? And why won't the police take Emmy's disappearance seriously? It's almost as though they think Emmy never existed...

I am a huge fan of Megan's writing style. I love that Leah is a flawed heroine who has made mistakes - and looks likely to make the same ones all over again. I love that there are so many twists and turns, that even when the denouement was right there in front of me I could hardly believe it. And I love that there was a bit of romance in there too - Hello, Detective Kyle Donovan!

Recommended if you love your psychological suspense extremely twisty, with a bit of a romance, and if you enjoy reading books such as Lisa Jewell's I Found You

One of my favourite books this year!

Thank you to Megan Miranda, Corvus, and Netgalley for a copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review - although I loved it so much I've since bought my own copy too!

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Saturday, 4 November 2017

Review: The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins (Thomas Hawkins #2) by Antonia Hodgson

I was attracted to this book because of the gorgeous cover (Georgian gentleman walking into the mist). I did realise before buying that it's actually #2 in a series, but I downloaded it anyway because I liked the sound of the story. And, as it turned out, it works as a stand alone too.

The story opens with Thomas Hawkins on his way to the gallows, charged with murder. But whose murder? And is he innocent or guilty? The story then backtracks to show how the son of a country vicar got himself into such a mess. Of course it doesn't help that Thomas is a lovable rogue with a fondness for drinking and gambling, who's living in sin above a pornographic print shop at the dodgy end of Russell Street. And he's somehow found himself working for both London's biggest crime lord AND the Queen of England. And he's not sure which is the most ruthless, or who he fears most.

I adored this historical murder mystery, which moves at a cracking pace. The grinding poverty of St Giles is horribly authentic, contrasting with the descriptions of St James Palace (despite the rats). I loved the characters - Thomas, obviously, but particularly Kitty Sparks: "Her Majesty can kiss my rain-soaked arse!" She refuses to marry Thomas in case he gambles away her inheritance - that rather dubious print shop. And I particularly liked that part of the plot is based on actual historical events - the author details the real-life stories of some of the characters at the end of the book.

I never thought I'd ever have the occasion to use the word 'rollicking', but this IS a rollicking good read and I thoroughly recommend it! 

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Review: Wilde in Love (Wildes of Lindow Castle #1) by Eloisa James

It is 1778. Lord Alaric Wilde, the third son of the Duke of Lindow, has spent the past five years travelling around the world and writing books about it. It never occurs to him that those books could make him famous - or rather, infamous - until he arrives home to a rapturous welcome from a mob of infatuated women. In his absence there have been prints circulated about his exploits, merchandise with his image sold, even a sell-out London play. Mortified, he heads back to the family home (Lindow Castle), only to find a house party in progress - and all the female guests really keen to make his acquaintance...except one.

Wilhelmina (Willa) Ffynche is the success of the London Season, mainly due to her ability to keep to the rules and behave in the way that is expected of a society lady. Attending the house party at Lindow Castle, she finds it amusing that so many women are prepared to make fools of themselves over Lord Alaric...until she realises he's not quite the idiot portrayed in that notorious play.

Wilde in Love is a sweet, subtle historical romance, in which the main characters meet, become friends and slowly fall in love, despite their initial feelings that their personalities are polar opposite. And that's about it, which makes the story sound really dull - and it isn't! It's lovely and warm, and so nice to read a book where the characters actually like each other and come across as real people, along with all the associated quirks and flaws.

I particularly loved Sweetpea, the 'American sable' (which reminded me of Manuel's 'Siberian hamster' in Fawlty Towers), and Hannibal the battle-scarred cat! There are also Shakespearean references, and an entertaining villain who prevents the course of true love from running too smoothly. The last chapter of the book is, in effect, the first chapter of the next book.

Recommended to readers who like their historical romance to have a slight fairy tale tone (although there are some sex scenes). I really enjoyed it - and I loved the (Piatkus) cover, featuring a very modern-looking heroine. 

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Review: Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Review: The Last Hours by Minette Walters

It is 1348, and the summer heat is 'sucking the life' from Develish. Sir Richard leaves his demesne to visit a neighbouring lord, hoping to find a husband for his spoilt fourteen year old daughter. But he's having far too much fun drinking and whoring to notice his host might have something to hide - that his people are rapidly dropping dead from some mysterious new illness.

Left in charge of Develish is the new steward, who is about to find out that Sir Richard's wife, Lady Anne, has been secretly running his estate for years. She's made changes to improve the health and welfare of the 200 serfs, and even taught them to read. Consequently, Develish is far more profitable than its neighbours. It's Lady Anne who realises the only way to survive this plague is to bring all the villagers inside the castle walls and close the gates on the world - including her husband. With everyone forced to work together for survival, regardless of status, this soon causes resentment, jealousy - and murder. And then the food store begins to run low.

The Last Hours is like one of those apocalypse stories where the few survivors are constantly at risk from attack or starvation. I know very little about this period in history and hadn't appreciated that most serfs never left their village. So when a small group of serfs are forced to go in search of food and news of the outside world, they have no idea how to find their way in what is now dangerous and hostile territory.

I loved The Last Hours and thought it was absolutely brilliant. I really cared about the characters and became completely engrossed in their lives. I loved Lady Anne and the way she used cool logic to outsmart her enemies. Another favourite was Thaddeus, a serf who was determined to get more out of life than a lifetime of slavery. I even loved the villain, who I won't mention because I don't want to spoil it for you! My only niggle is that although the story doesn't end on a cliffhanger, I will have to wait until autumn 2018 to read the next instalment. Argh!

Thank you to Minette Walters, Allen & Unwin (Atlantic Books), and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Review: The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

Do you believe in fairies?

This is the premise of this enchanting novel from Hazel Gaynor, which draws part of the plot from the real-life story of the Cottingley Fairies. When I heard about this book I was intrigued as to the direction Hazel Gaynor would take it. And I wasn't disappointed!

In present-day Ireland, Olivia Kavanagh inherits her grandfather's secondhand bookshop. Olivia is at a crossroads in her life. She's engaged to be married, the date is hurtling towards her, and she's inundated with emails from her wedding planner. She certainly doesn't have time to revitalise a failing bookshop. But amongst the clutter she discovers a manuscript written by Frances Griffiths, about her life in Yorkshire, England, at the beginning of the 20th century.

I found it hard to decide which timeline I liked the best, and in the end I couldn't! I loved hearing about Frances's life, and how she and her cousin inadvertently became involved in what was to be known as one of the greatest hoaxes of the 20th century, and why it was so important for the people of that time to believe in magic. I also enjoyed how Olivia, in the present-day, rediscovered her true self and realised what was really important to her. I particularly loved the description of the bookshop (it reminded me a bit of You've Got Mail), and the characters of Ross and Iris.

The Cottingley Secret is a truly enchanting story and I absolutely loved it! I would recommend it to anyone who loves reading historical stories with a little bit of a mystery, or quirky tales with engaging characters and more than a sprinkling of magic! One of my favourites this year. It's like a hug in a book, and made me feel all warm and fuzzy!

At the time of writing, the ebook is available as a 99p download on Kindle.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Review: The Painted Chamber by Katherine Clements

The Painted Chamber consists of two short stories and a sample from one of the author's full-length novels, The Crimson Ribbon. The short stories take about ten minutes each to read, and the sample of the novel starts at 35%. At the time of writing it was 99p to download but I did feel it was worth it because the stories were a beautiful read.

Too much detail and we head into spoiler territory, so I'll just say that the first story, The Painted Chamber, is a beautiful tale of first love between a yeoman's daughter and an artist. The second story, How to Roast a Pig with the Hair on, is about a farmer and his wife. Both stories are historical, although the exact time period is not mentioned. Both stories are exquisitely written, but very dark. Any scenes of sex or violence are implied rather than detailed.

I enjoyed both stories, which had a slight fairy tale quality to them, although I think my favourite was The Painted ChamberRecommended!