28.9.14

THE NEW COUNTESS, by Fay Weldon

3 (final)/series. England, 1903. When Robert, Lord Dilberne, casually invites the King Edward VII for a fall shoot on his estate, he really doesn't expect the monarch to accept. But he does, and throws Lady Isobel into a complete panic. The stately forty-bedroom pile is dilapidated and must be brought up to the standards of the king's long-time mistress, Mrs. Keppel. The Dilberne bank account is a little shaky, but one never shows that one is slowly sliding down the drain, so Isobel flings herself into the high-end world of stately home renewal.  Click below for more. . .

HABITS OF THE HOUSE, by Fay Weldon

1/series. A delightful Edwardian-era tale from the creator of the original Upstairs/Downstairs script. Immerse yourself in the elegant world of the Dibernes, whose reigning Earl - handsome, urbane, middle-aged Robert - has managed to gamble himself into insolvency while gadding about with King Edward VII. Catastrophe comes when his Jewish financial advisor, Baum, arrives to say the gold mines he'd sunk all his money into had been overrun by the Boers. Facing ruin, what does an Earl and his Countess do? Click below for the answer...

LONG LIVE THE KING, by Fay Weldon

2/series. Further adventures of the Dilberne family, post-crash when the family fortune was thought lost. Now Sir Richard is a confidant of the new king and of the senior men in government including Arthur Balfour and Lord Salisbury (as well as that bumptious noisemaker Winston Churchill), and his investments are solid. Lady Isobel is a leader of society, although bedeviled by her fears that the Duchess of Marlboro - born the incomparable Consuelo Vanderbilt - has her eye on handsome Lord Dilberne. Click below for more...

NATURAL BORN CHARMER, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

7/series. Seeking the answers to why his fabulous life has lost its charm, Dean Robillard, NFL superstar and billboard hunk (underwear), is tooling along a deserted stretch of Colorado highway when he spots the five foot tall beaver waddling along the verge. Inside the moldy-smelling costume is enough trouble to make any red-blooded male swear off women forever: Blue Bailey, abandoned by every male in her life but still in there swinging. Particularly if her weasel of an ex-boyfriend is within arm's reach. Click below for more...

THE MIRACLE STRIP, by Nancy Bartholomew

1/series. Sierra Lavotini is not only the star of this new series, but the star exotic dancer at The Tiffany Gentlemen's Club in Panama City, Florida. Think Gypsy Rose Lee meets Philip Marlowe, to use a dated reference. Sierra is all about Queen of Passion as she takes it off and flashes her 38DD's. Feisty, quick-tempered and fiercely able to take care of herself, Sierra still has a close connection with co-worker Denise, the bartender, and her ever-present sidekick, the mutt Arlo. Click below for more...

23.9.14

BEGUILED, by Alice Borchardt

First, I wish to make it clear that I have no beef with the late Alice Borchardt, and I am not looking for one. I know that her sister, Anne (Rice) sometimes takes criticism very personally, and this could be one of those going postal situations. To be honest, despite its many good qualities (which I'll get to shortly, so hang in there), I could not force myself to finish this grueling historic-fantasy book. The book deals with a power struggle - a war - between invading-to-colonize Vikings and the indigenous population of coastal France. Magic abounds, powerful women pit themselves against each other (nice touch), as do powerful, bloodthirsty men. Click below for more...

A POISONED SEASON, by Tasha Alexander

2/series. This is the sort of book you can read more than once: beautifully written, beautifully plotted, a cast of fascinating characters. Of course, they reflect an age (early 1900's) when women were mere chattels and men ran the whole show, an age of lifelong servitude in immensely wealthy homes, of loyal servants giving up their own lives to serve "their betters". Okay, I wouldn't want to live those times, but Tasha Alexander has done a smashing job of recreation, and her primary characters - Lady Emile Ashton and Colin Hargreaves - are one hot couple.Click below for more (but no spoiler)...

THE TAPESTRIES, by Kien Nguyen



We rarely get to read about Viet Nam prior to what is called in that country The American War. For that reason alone, this novel was a pleasure to read. Set in 1916, when the French were solidifying their control of Indo-China, in and around the ancient imperial capital of Hue, the story opens as the unlovely Ven is married – by contract to an unknown male – only to discover her husband is seven years old. She is now merely his nanny, an unpaid drudge to the wealthy family who tricked her. Click below for more...

THE LOVELIEST CHOCOLATE SHOP IN PARIS, by Jennie Colgan

A delightful, heart-tweaking romance for the dedicated chocoholic. In truth, I found the beginning a bit dragged out, could've skipped all that hospital business, but once our girl arrives in Paris things really start to move. Anna Trent, having lost body parts in an industrial accident at a commercial chocolate plant, goes to Paris at the urging of her old high school French teacher. The teacher, Claire, has old connections, and she sends aimless Anna to Thierry, flamboyant owner of France's best chocolate shop on the Ile St-Louis. Click for a bit more, but no spoilers...

17.9.14

BEHIND THE SHATTERED GLASS, by Tasha Alexander

8/series. This charming late-Victorian series starring the unruly Lady Emily will sweep you right in and hold you until the last page. Beautifully plotted, with characters ranging from almost-too-noble to nasty, and a marvelous stately-home setting. Lady Emily's husband, Colin Hargreaves' Tudor pile of Anglemore Park is almost a character itself. The depiction of the classes and attitudes and prejudices that ruled society are almost too real at times, especially concerning young women - servants - who had to rely on the good will of the ruling classes for sometimes-precarious survival. Click below for more...

15.9.14

THE MASQUE OF THE BLACK TULIP, by Lauren Willig

2/ Pink Carnation series. Delightful derring-do with romance in Napoleonic-era France and England, discovered as modern-day historian Eloise Kelly researches old documents in a stately home, with the reluctant permission of owner, handsome but uncooperative Colin Selwick. On the historical side, as Eloise finds, the Black Tulip is a ruthless French spy sent to assassinate a pesky and highly successful English spy known as the Pink Carnation. Click below for more review...

THE DEVIL IN MUSIC, by Kate Ross

3/series. Filled with musical references, this elegant book may not appeal as much as others in this too-short series. But it does take place on Lake Como, so there are compensations. Set in 1820's in a northern-Italy historic villa, the four year old murder of an imperious Italian nobleman has just come to light. Under the tight control of the Austrian Empire, insurgent unrest had prompted the military to keep the murder quiet. Now, the enraged family wants the perpetrator found. They already know who he is: a young English tenor named Orfeo, who was being groomed for stardom by the nobleman. But nobody has ever seen Orfeo. Click below to read on...

INDIA BLACK & THE SHADOW OF ANARCHY, by Carol K. Carr

3/series. This fast-paced Victoria mystery series stars the gorgeous, seductive India Black, abbess of Lotus house, an upscale brothel in Victoria London. If feisty, tell-it-like-it-is heroines who run whorehouses don't appeal, don't bother reading these, and let me tell you India Black wouldn't give a damn. This time the anarchists fleeing Russia and mainland Europe are settling in London, bringing their penchant for social change via violence to the Empire's corridors of power. To read more: click below...

INDIA BLACK & THE GENTLEMAN THIEF, by Carol K. Carr

4/series. Once again our increasingly professional spy India Black, abbess of one of London's up-and-coming brothels (although by the end of the book it isn't clear in which direction the business is actually heading), pulls the empire's chestnuts from the fire. A letter, delivered to India by a sometimes-client, proves to be a bill of lading for tools to India. But India manufactures its own tools, so what's in the boxes. Shortly uncovering the unpalatable truth, India, the dashing, too-proper French, and the never-washed street Arab Vincent are propelled into a hide-and-seek game finish the sentence on the next page...

CHRISTOPHER’S GHOSTS, by Charles McCarry.

10/series. Nazi Berlin, 1930’s: Young Paul Christopher watches uncomprehendingly as his mother is swept into the orbit of the psychopathic Heydrich. At the same time, he is befriended by a girl he comes to love, who turns out to be just enough Jewish to be pressured by Heydrich’s thugs. McCarry’s descriptions of interrogations by the SS officer Franz Stutzel are chillingly real. The hopeful escape of the two young people across the Baltic is pure tragedy. And the grand finale will keep you pinned to this book until the last words. A must-read 5 for lovers of carefully-crafted international thrillers, and all the better if you read the entire compelling series.
The author appears, amazingly, to have no website.
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11.9.14

REV IT UP, by Julie Ann Walker

3/series. The cover says it all. Part of the Black Knight Inc series, this fast-moving plot brings old adversaries and old lovers - and their Harleys - together in a page-turner you can't put down. Jake Sommers - AKA The Snake, his SEAL moniker - returns to his old haunts determined to make a second chance work with the girl he left behind. But Michelle Carter has moved on, and has the adorable baggage to prove it. She's also got a long memory and isn't about to be humiliated a second time by the handsome Jake. Click below for more (but no spoiler)...

INDIA BLACK AND THE WIDOW OF WINDSOR, by Carol K Carr

2/series. Another fun-filled Victorian-era caper starring the abbess of Lotus House, one of London's more upscale brothels. Read these in order if you can, because they do build upon the previous. And, to my mind, they're well worth the reading. India is feisty, sometimes world-weary (as any madam is entitled to be), but indominable. French is handsome, urbane, well-connected (he's the Prime Minister's go-to man when it comes to trouble) risk-taking, loyal...and he may actually like India. Once again, our feisty madam is roped into espionage as Queen Victoria's life is threatened by Scottish separatists (some things never change). Click below for more no-spoiler review...

INDIA BLACK, by Carol K Carr

1/series. You will love India Black. Finally, a Victorian heroine who's never at a loss for either words or action! If you've felt stifled by the propriety thrust upon women (particularly in accurately-depicted historical fiction), India Black's going to be your new favorite fictional character. The abbess (madam) of an upscale brothel in London, India's rarely at a loss for a quip or a solution to a problem. When a client nicknamed Bowser (a senior War Office functionary) keels over dead while dressed as Queen Victoria (rouge and all), India's trusty sidekick Vincent, a never-washed street urchin, helps her dispose of the body. Click below for more no-spoiler review...

8.9.14

THE SECRET LOVERS, by Charles McCarry



3/series. Set in the 60’s at the height of the Cold War, this is another chillingly realistic Paul Christopher novel which sweeps you from Paris to Rome to Madrid as Christopher tries to unravel the story behind a novel smuggled from Russia. A fellow agent Otto Rothchild, now an invalid, wants to run the operation to publish – and embarrass the Soviet Union – the novel, a tour de force by a man he once knew in 30’s war-torn Spain.Click below for more...

TAKEN, by Robert Crais


Part of a series. AP calls Crais one of America's best crime writers; the Huffington Post agrees. Can't argue with that, can you? Well, I certainly won't, I love the rough, tough, totally human world created by the author. A Joe Pike novel, this one pits the unflappable Pike against ruthless gangs of coyotes and bajadores (human smugglers, and those who prey on the smuggled) as his friend Elvis Cole (“World’s Greatest Detective”) tries to rescue a young couple swept into a bajadores’ net. Click below for more on this gripping novel...

THE LADY IN QUESTION, by Victoria Alexander

Twins: one calm and self-possessed, the other raging against the restrictions of Regency society. Miss Delia Effington, the mischevious one, makes a grave mistake and must retire from society. Immured in her own home, independently wealthy due to the untimely death of her husband of less than a week, Delia has assembled a haphazard staff of servants, including the enigmatic and not quite up-to-par butler Gordon. Bored beyond belief by mourning a man she had never loved, click below for more...

7.9.14

CUT TO THE QUICK, by Kate Ross

1/series. London, 1820. Introducing the beguiling Julian Kestrel, man about town, reigning dandy, and inadvertent sleuth. Befriending a befuddled young man in a gambling hell, the Kestrel is invited to the young man's wedding. Once at Bellegarde, the enormous Fontclair family seat, he wonders why he was invited. The family, all convinced of their nobility and superiority, is unusually contentious, no doubt stemming from the bizarre circumstances of the young man's betrothal. Family reaction to the arrangement is varied, from cool acceptance to bristling contempt. Even the bride-to-be isn't ecstatic. Click below for more...

5.9.14

KEEPERS, by Kathy Brennan & Caroline Campion,

I'm long overdue to give you a new cookbook. This fabulous resource is a cookbook for every busy person who's looking for fast, nutritious, doesn't-taste-fast food. Use-tested by a lot of friends, I can attest that the recipes are - while not screamingly original - solid dishes you'll be happy to add to your outa-time-outa-energy repertoire. Loaded with good tips for any cook, the two authors have serious Saveur Magazine chops, so you can rely on their expertise in prep tricks, cooking timing, and just plain good kitchen sense. Click for more, including recipe locations...

THE EXPATS, by Chris Pavone

Pavone has set this intricate little treat in Luxembourg and Paris; when you’re done, you’ll feel as if you have lived there, too, right down to the endlessly gray winters. Kate and Dexter Moore leave their Washington DC home so that Dexter, a computer security expert, can take a high-paying job in Luxembourg, one of the world’s secret-money capitals. For Kate, the move is a relief: she can give up her day job and become mother to their two young sons. The author obviously has gone the father route: the kids are portrayed perfectly, and he never forgets how much parents have to take the little buggers into account. The Moores meet, as expats do, another American couple, Bill and Janet. But, as with every single character except the children, nothing is as it seems. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, Pavone throws in another plot twist. For a first novel, this is outstanding. It’s a 4 plus, a great read.
Find the author at www.chrispavone.com
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YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW, by Lisa Jackson

A twelve-hankie thriller about a bereaved mother imagining her son is still alive. Once on top of the world, Ava Gardner is now drugged, depressed, and bedeviled by the imagined sounds of her two year old son, Noah, weeping. Her partly-estranged husband urges her to forget the child, it's been nearly two years, he's gone, swept into Puget Sound from their own dock. Irrationally, Ava refuses. Surrounded by a contentious family with a myriad of issues, she's constantly having to watch her every move, every word. And then she sees Noah at the end of the dock, and she rushes into the night to save him. Click below for more no-spoiler review...

1.9.14

A BROKEN VESSEL, by Kate Ross

2/series Julian Kestrel. What a charming, enticing, seductive hero. This Regency mystery (and a bit of a romance) doesn't follow the usual stilted will-she-will-he format. Julian Kestrel, dandy about town, is notorious for his finely-tied cravat, his inimitable sense of style. But he's hiding a keen wit and a discerning eye for a good crime. When his valet (ex-pickpocket Dipper) bumps into his streetwalking sister in the notorious Haymarket, Dipper takes Sally back to Kestrel's lodgings to recover from a vicious beating from a flat (client). Kestrel shows up unexpectedly and is quite taken with the still-pretty, very vivacious and cheeky girl.  Sallie collects souvenirs from her flats: handkerchiefs. She's got three, all quite different. One of them contains a letter. But from whom did she take it? The letter is a heart-rending pleas from a woman who has fallen on "hard times". And then...
It's a 5, an engaging, historically sensitive series which, sadly, we will not have any more of. Kate Ross died of cancer at a too-young age.
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