Posts Tagged ‘ recommended reads ’

Review: By Grace Possessed

The second in Jennifer Blake‘s new trilogy about the Three Graces of Graydon, By Grace Possessed is the sequel to By His Majesty’s Grace, which I reviewed earlier this month.  The third book, youngest sister Marguerite’s tale, is due to be published some time this month.By Grace Possessed cover

Lady Catherine Milton is the second of the Three Graces of Graydon, a trio of beautiful sisters believed to be plagued by a curse that kills any man who tries to marry them without love.  Between them, the sisters have lost fifteen suitors to death’s cold embrace, and felt quite secure that few men at court desired them enough to risk his life before the wedding night.  That was, rather, until King Henry VII gave oldest sister Isabel’s hand in marriage to one of his knights; Rand Braesford survived the curse, though whether it was because the marriage was arranged by the King, and not by Rand himself, that is the cause, or whether there are tender feeling involved, is best left to Baron Braesford and his blissfully happy bride.

Now that one Graydon husband has survived the curse, Cate and her younger sister Marguerite are back on the marriage market, whether they will it or not.  Henry is certainly planning to use this to his advantage, as he proves when a hunting accident strands Cate in the forest overnight with Ross Dunbar, the son of a Scottish laird held as a political hostage in London by the king.  With Cate’s reputation in ruins, a temporary betrothal to soothe the court’s gossip and please Henry seems the best solution… until a Yorkist uprising heralds the threat of invasion, and the king decides that Cate’s marriage to Ross will help secure England’s northern border…

Like the previous book, this story takes place in the early Tudor years, shortly after the end of the Wars of the Roses, and the political aftermath of that turmoil definitely lingers.  Once again Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York feature in the tale, and poor Prince Arthur finally makes his appearance.  The addition of Dunbar’s Scottish roots and the politics surrounding Scotland’s James IV and the Yorkist pretender to the throne add to the detailed setting and the intrigue factor.

Most of the drive in this story came from the characters, their reluctance to wed and eventual arranged marriage, rather than external forces.  Neither Ross nor Cate desires to be wed, and certainly not to each other – but the attraction is definitely there, even if neither will admit to anything beyond it.  But that’s not to say the romance was completely free from influence outside of the couple themselves; Henry and the power he wields over them is very present through the story, as is the influence of Cate’s unwanted suitor and the attempts on Ross’ life.

It did seem to me that Ross’ belief that Cate was behind the attacks on his life – or possibly conspiring with the aforementioned unwanted suitor, who Ross knew very well had already attempted to assault Cate – was stretched past the point of credulity.  While there weren’t any over-the-top ridiculous misunderstandings, they definitely suffered from a lack of communication; both of them refused to discuss or explain things that they probably should have, which would have saved them a lot of grief in the long run.  The ‘mystery’ of the attacks on Ross was not so much a mystery as it was his lengthy failure to realise and acknowledge the obvious.  The whole thing got rather tiresome after a while.

I did love the tie-in with the Battle of Stoke, and all of the excellent historical flavour, including the political power that Lady Margaret Beaufort, King Henry’s mother, wielded over her son and his court.  It was nice to see how Isabel and Rand were settling into married life after the events of By His Majesty’s Grace, though it did feel like they were present a little too much.  Cate and Marguerite featured very little in Isabel’s story, so it seemed unfair that Isabel (and Marguerite) got so much screen-time in Cate’s story.

Overall, delightful.  And no talk of murdered babies.  Definitely recommended.

Review: By His Majesty’s Grace

By His Majesty’s Grace by Jennifer Blake is a historical romance set in early Tudor England.  It is the first in a new trilogy, the second of which is currently in my TBR list and will have a review up shortly.

Lady Isabel Milton is the eldest of the Three Graces of Graydon, a trio of lovely sisters plagued by a curse that dooms any man who seeks to bind them to him in a loveless marriage.  A ward of the king following her stepfather’s death and Henry Tudor’s ascent to the throne of England as Henry VII, Isabel’s hand has been given as a favour to Sir Rand of Braesford for services rendered to the crown during Henry’s years of exile and the end of the Wars of the Roses.By His Majesty's Grace cover

Isabel is less than delighted by the prospect of matrimony, and fearful that the king’s flouting of the Graydon Curse will mean her sisters face a similar loveless future.  But she holds some hope that the supposed curse, invented by Isabel herself long ago, will once again works its magic and this betrothed husband will follow his predecessors into the grave before vows are exchanged.

And, indeed, it seems likely to do just that, when unexpected visitors on the eve of the ceremony bring shocking tidings – Braesford has been accused of murdering the king’s newborn illegitimate daughter, last seen with her mother leaving Braesford’s lands, and he and Isabel are summoned to London forthwith.  Whether the king really believes Rand to have killed the child, or whether he seeks to use his former squire as bait, only Henry seems to know.  And in the meanwhile, Sir Rand has every intention of availing himself of his lovely new bride’s charms, whether she thinks him a murderer or not…

I am, I will confess, a bit of a history geek at heart, and the Plantagenets and Tudors (technically the same family, I know, but let’s not get too technical here) are some of my favourite historical figures.  It seems like the Wars of the Roses is currently out of fashion for historical romance, and it was lovely to come across something besides generic pseudo-medieval and the later Georgian/Regency/Victorian periods.  I adored the inclusion of Elizabeth of York, Henry’s queen, and the references to both their chronicled was-it-romance relationship and young (but sadly doomed) Prince Arthur, though the latter is not yet born during this particular time-frame.

The murder-mystery was interesting, though there was no real plot twists or surprises apart from Rand ending up in the tower, which was spoiled in the official blurb, and the identity of the villain(s) was ultimately predictable.  But the setting was gorgeous, the characters endearing, the sex scenes very hot, and I greatly look forward to Catherine and Marguerite’s stories.  Definitely recommended.

Review: To Marry a Prince

You might have noticed by now that I’m not a huge fan of contemporary romance – I read far more historical romance, paranormal romance, and straight-up fantasy – but after reading an interview with author Sophie Page at Word Wenches, the notion of her alternative British history certainly piqued my interest.  Cover of To Marry a PrinceAnd with an Amazon gift card balance still to spend, it didn’t take too much deliberation before this was added to my basket.

This was definitely a cute story, and the ridiculously dramatic beginning captured my attention immediately.  I actually started reading it on my commute to work, and couldn’t wait to pick it up again on my lunch break.  And on the trip home…  I finished it later that evening, but it’s taken me a few days (and the reading of a few more books to review) to ultimately decide what kind of review I would give.

The narrative style of this book reminds me strongly of Kiss Chase by Fiona Walker, which I read and adored so long ago that I’d forgotten both the title and author and had to consult The Google.  The whole thing has a fantastically English tone that was wonderfully familiar and delightful to read after the many North American-written or -styled books that populate the romance genre – I have no idea if Ms. Page is actually British or not, but if not she certainly convinced this Brit otherwise.

There were a few moments that managed to throw me out of the story, such as how on Earth terminally-clumsy Bella managed even a single night as a waitress, let alone in silver service, which requires a lot of precision and dexterity.  Neither of which our heroine seemed to possess.  Prince Richard often seemed to be too good to be true, and his one instance of less-than-princely behaviour struck me as rather ridiculous and out of character.

The sub-plot with ‘loyalsubjek101’ was a half-hearted attempt at the traditional ‘this romance story needs some kind of villain’ trope, and I would have been happier if it had been left out entirely and the relationship had faced other challenges, of which there were pretty much none.

And I’m immensely disappointed that I didn’t get to see Granny Georgia meet Queen Jane.

Overall, this was a delightfully sweet feel-good story with a dashing prince, a whirlwind romance, and a lovely happily-ever-after.  Recommended, but beware of possible sugar overdose.

Review: The Sevenfold Spell

Cover for The Sevenfold SpellGrand adventure and romance always works out so well in fairy tales, but not every girl is a princess…

In an utterly unique and charming turn on the traditional fairy tale, Tia Nevitt takes us “behind the scenes” in the story of Sleeping Beauty, where plain spinster Talia loses her livelihood – and prospective bridegroom – when the kingdom’s spinning wheels are destroyed by royal edict.

The harsh realities of life, disastrous attempts at learning to weave, and an ever-dwindling supply of money soon result in Talia and her mother making the risky decision to try to build their own spinning wheel despite the ban – and with no money to spare, Talia has to find some way to pay in kind for the skills and materials they need…

An extremely enjoyable light read, The Sevenfold Spell appealed to both my love of fairy tales, and my far-too-infrequently-indulged liking for non-traditional romance.  Talia is far from a pure, sheltered maiden, and her knight in shining armour is neither lordly, gallant – or even present for most of the book!

For those who enjoy an alternate take on a traditional tale, or who are just looking for some enjoyable spring reading, The Sevenfold Spell is highly recommended.

Review: Not Your Typical, Scantily-Clad Virgin Sacrifice

Not Your Typical, Scantily-Clad Virgin Sacrifice is a hilariously-named collection of short stories by H. Jonas Rhynedahll.  I picked up an .epub version from an author giveaway after the title attracted my interest.  It contains the following short stories:

  • Not your typical, scantily-clad virgin sacrifice
  • Virtue
  • Causality
  • Personal Space
  • Fred Was a Mutant
  • Science

The stories vary in length and style, from fantasy (Not your typical, scantily-clad virgin sacrifice; Virtue) to science fiction (Causality; Personal Space) and something in between (Fred Was a Mutant; Science).

Hblabanechalatooc repeated the sacred words and rang the sacred bell, which responded with a muted clank.
“Where’s the Sacred Golden Bell of the Moon Goddess, Morton?”
Morton looked apologetic. “Well, sir, the insurance company sent us a memo saying they thought that bringing the Sacred Instruments out of their cases was too risky, so we had to substitute this year.”

The author’s style strongly reminds me of Terry Pratchett in both style and themes, particularly Not your typical, scantily-clad virgin sacrifice, Virtue, and SciencePersonal Space managed to pull off a less in-your-face trying-hard-to-be-funny style without completely sacrificing a sense of humour, and is my favourite piece from the anthology.

While some of the stories, namely Causality and Science, weren’t quite my personal cup of tea, overall I enjoyed this collection.  Not Your Typical, Scantily-Clad Virgin Sacrifice is currently retailing on Amazon.com for the Kindle at $0.99, and is well worth the price.  Recommended.

Review: Unveiled

Courtney Milan‘s Unveiled is the first in a new series about the Turner brothers.  Unveiled is due to be released in January 2011; its sequel, Unclaimed, starring Ash’s youngest brother Mark, is due out in Fall 2011.  I enjoyed Unveiled, and will definitely be keeping an eye out for the next one.Unveiled cover

Mr. Ash Turner is the  perfect stereotype of a self-made man, rising from an impoverished background to the pinnacle of wealth; he went to sea when he was a teenager, made his fortune overseas in India, and paid for his two youngest brothers to have the finest education money could buy.  And now he has his eyes set on a title – specifically the Duke of Parford’s.  Ash has waited decades for a chance to seek revenge on Parford, whose uncaring arrogance years before led to the dead of Ash’s younger sister, Hope.

The old duke is dying, and with both of his sons proved illegitimate, the Parford estate and the title must fall to the nearest male kin – Ash Turner and his brothers.  Satisfying though it was to embarrass Parford and his family in front of London Society and secure an even more advantageous future for his own family, Ash soon finds vengeance to be not nearly as satisfying as he had thought.  Perhaps he can find consolation in the arms of no-nonsense Margaret Lowell, Parford’s very attractive nurse…

I won’t just steal your title and your lands. I will run any bank that holds your funds into the ground. I will bribe your servants to slip nettles into your bed. I will hire trumpets to stand outside your home, every evening, where they will sound notes at irregular intervals. You will never have a solid night’s sleep again.

Unfortunately for his plans, Miss Margaret Lowell is better known as Lady Anna Margaret Dalrymple, Parford’s only daughter, and she has no interest in offering anything other than hatred.  Ash has ruined her family, her inheritance, and her reputation to settle a decades-old quarrel with her father, the Duke of Parford, proving the duke a bigamist and Margaret and her two older brothers illegitimate.  Whilst Richard and Edmund, Margaret’s brothers, attempt to gain support for a Bill of Parliament to grant them legitimacy, Margaret has been left at Parford Manor to pose as a nurse and care for her ailing father.  And to spy on Ash, when he arrives to survey his stolen inheritance…

This was a very interesting story.  The plot – disinheritance because of bigamy and attempted reinstatement by Act of Parliament – is not one that I’ve ever come across before, and I do love new concepts and settings.  The early Victorian era was a nice change from the generic Georgian Regency period that seems to be the historical romance setting of choice.

Ash was an interesting character, very determined to get his own way and have things go the way he planned.  Including having Margaret in his bed, even after he discovered who she was.  Might I just add that he has the best name I have ever seen on a Romance hero.

Margaret felt rather passive at times, and a little overwhelmed by her domineering father and her affection for her brothers versus her growing attraction to Ash.  I very much enjoyed the way she eventually shook off their hold – including Ash’s – and took her future into her own hands.

Both Ash’s brothers and Margaret’s brothers came across as ungrateful, rather spoiled brats.  I’m not sure if that was intentional, or my own prejudice against bratty younger siblings.

Overall, I enjoyed Unveiled a great deal, and will be looking forward to the sequel.  If you enjoy a determined hero, a unique plot and a refreshingly different setting, do make sure to pick this one up.  Recommended.

Review: Hidden Fires

Hidden Fires by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel is a science-fiction tale set in a future where mankind has populated many other solar systems, and inter-system travel taking years or decades is positively common-place thanks to scientific advances.  Hidden Fires is the third book in a series, following Fire Sanctuary and Fires of Nuala, and was re-released as an ebookk in December 2010.Hidden Fires cover

Garth Kristinsson’s parents died long ago, somehow caught in the backlash of a scam gone awry, and he has spent all his time since attempting to to track down the mysterious Silver, his father’s former partner and the one person still living who might be able to give him the answers he seeks.  After over a century of searching and travelling in the technological wonder of Cold Sleep (a form of hibernation that seems to prevent the body from aging during extended space journeys), Garth’s quest takes him to the strange planet of Nuala, a harsh world that is poisonous to those not native or acclimatised to its deadly radiation.

Once he arrives Garth soon locates Silver, who has spent the past decade living on Nuala as Darame Daviddottir, wife of the co-ruler of the Nualan tribe of Atare, far away from the outside galaxy and her former life.  While Darame seems pleased to meet the son of her childhood friend Lisbet, she is ignorant of Lisbet and Kristin’s deaths, and her warm welcome throws Garth off his guard.  Before he can decide whether to pursue his initial plans to make Silver pay, Garth finds himself drawn into the machinons of the young nobles of Atare’s rival clan Dielaan.  A plan intended to make a (relatively) harmless political statement goes badly awry, and Garth soon finds himself fleeing the civilised city of Amura to escape his former co-conspirators.

I’ll admit I wasn’t entirely sure what to think about this book when I started it.  I wasn’t terribly gripped by the opening, and put off reading past the first chapter for a while; the opening line, while obviously intended to grip the reader’s interest, seemed rather ponderous and melodramatic, which combined with the immediate stream-of-consciousness monologue to rather put me off.

I was wrong.

While the first few chapters felt a little slow to me, once the action actually began and we met the mysterious Silver, it quickly changed into an interesting and complex tale of adventure and political intrigue.

I wasn’t fond of Garth to begin with, but he did grow on me as the story progressed, and I liked Lucy and Darame from the start.  Even the ‘villain’ of the piece was more than just a flat cardboard figure, though he fit the ‘selfish megalomaniac’ stereotype a little too neatly for my taste.  Both major and secondary characters seemed to be well-written, and the author resisted the urge to have the token child character talk in ‘baby-talk’, which was very much appreciated.

This is the third book in the world of Nuala, and it definitely shows.  The world’s culture and history is rich in detail and fairly complicated, and a lot of the concepts are explained only briefly; while the world itself is obviously well fleshed-out behind the scenes, it seemed to presume that the reader was already familiar with Nuala through the previous two books and the events they contained, and I felt lost at times without that frame of reference.

Having managed to get past my initial negative impression of Hidden Fires I found that I very much enjoyed this story, and will be adding one of its prequels, Fires of Nuala, to my wish list.  Recommended.

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