Sunday, September 7, 2014

Adventure and Romance in The Great Syrian Desert

Deanna Raybourn
Sept. 30, 2014

Deanna Raybourn has been one of my favorite authors since the first sentence of her first book, Silent in the Grave:" To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it must be noted, was still twitching upon the floor". I am more sorry than I can say that the Lady Julia series of Victorian era mysteries is coming to an end with a final e-novella due in November.Thankfully, I will be able to reread them as many times as I like and the Brisbanes are still being heard from in the Raybourn's three stand-alone novels set in the 1920s.

Night of a Thousand Stars follows the adventures of Poppy Hammond, who we first meet climbing out the church window in her wedding dress on the day of her wedding to a Viscount. She is interrupted mid-escape by a handsome gentleman in clerical garb, Sebastian Cantrip, who is more than willing to aid her. Poppy's parents were divorced when she was only a toddler and her father lives in Devon. Sebastian drives her down and we find that Poppy's father is none other than Eglamour "Plum" March, brother to Lady Julia. So Poppy Hammond is really Poppy March, one of the "Mad Marches". Poppy's step-father, mother, fiance and new lady's maid, Masterman are in hot pursuit and a heated confrontation results in the final breaking of the engagement. Sebastian makes his exit but Masterman insists on remaining in Poppy's employ. Masterman proves to be both mysterious and remarkably resourceful.

Poppy feels duty bound to find her rescuer and thank him for his help but finds that there is no clergyman named Sebastian Cantrip. What follows is a great adventure involving a retired colonel, his handsome valet, a sinister contessa, her creepy son, spies and a search for ancient treasure in the great Syrian Desert. Sebastian (whose real name is Fox) and Poppy team up to elude their pursuers and find the treasure, as well as what has happened to the missing members of the "Vespiary", a group of espionage agents put together by none other than the Brisbanes. Sebastian includes Poppy reluctantly but she proves up to the challenges they meet. It is very clear however that someone unknown is operating in the background and Masterman is not quite who she appears to be.

Night of a Thousand Stars is a fast-paced and most enjoyable read. The verbal sparring and undeniable attraction between Sebastian and Poppy makes for an often hilarious adventure, part screw-ball comedy, part old-fashioned adventure story. I highly recommend all of Deanna Raybourn's books for readers of historical fiction, mystery and romance.

Thanks to  and Harlequin/Mira for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

 Rating 4.5 stars.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

TABULA RASA (Gaius Petreius Ruso #6)
Ruth Downie, narrator Simon Vance
Bloomsbury USA, Tantor Audio
August 2014

Tabula Rasa, #6 in Ruth Downie's Gaius Petreius Ruso series set in Roman Britain is equally as enjoyable as all that have come before it. Ruso, a Medicus in the Roman Legions and his British wife, Tilla, are stationed in the borderlands building Hadrian's Wall. Tilla is plying her trade as a midwife and Ruso is wondering where his new clerk, Candidus, has disappeared to. Since Candidus is the nephew of Ruso's friend and former clerk he feels responsible for him. Meanwhile rumors are flying about a body being hidden in a newly built section of wall. When Branan, the youngest son of a local family that Tilla has formed a tentative relationship with also goes missing Ruso feels he must act. Action, as always, comes very reluctantly for Ruso. He would much rather keep his head down and do his job. There is little chance of that with Tilla around.

Downie tells her Ruso stories with a wealth of period detail and a wry humor that I really appreciate. Having visited a Roman encampment site in Northumberland in the depths of winter, I have a very good idea of how challenging the Legion life was. Tabula Rasa is packed with richly realized characters, both old and new. I am struck by how similar these characters are to us, with failings and foibles that the modern reader can recognize and relate to. Once again, Simon Vance narrates Tabula Rasa with his customary excellence. I highly recommend  the Gaius Petreis Ruso series for readers of mystery and historical fiction.

RATING-4.5 Stars

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Another Winner from the Bootlegger's Daughter

Margaret Maron
Grand Central Publishing
August 2014

As a "born and raised" North Carolinian who has lived for a long time away from my home state, the Bootlegger's Daughter series is a must read for me. As I have watched NC race itself to the bottom in terms of education, environmental issues, voter restrictions and women's rights, it is always good to be reminded of the things that still exist from my childhood. Things like family love and concern for one's neighbor. Not to mention BBQ, warm spring nights and the Southern Man's attachment to his truck and tools!

Just about all the extended Knott clan makes an appearance in Designated Daughters. Deborah's Aunt Rachel has been taken off life support, but suddenly wakes up and begins talking in a very disjointed way about things that happened years ago. Since it was never expected that she would speak again the whole family and many old friends gather at her bedside to listen. She has a lot of mysterious things to say but someone is worried enough about it to later smother her. Who would do such a thing and why? Deborah's husband Dwight is in charge of the investigation and discovers many old secrets. There is also a secondary story line about scams perpetrated on old people, something entirely too prevalent everywhere.

Designated Daughters is a treat for long-time readers, but I would never recommend it as a place to start. The series has been so well-developed over the years (this is #19) and the Knott family is huge. Please start with Bootlegger's Daughter and enjoy the rest!

RATING-4 Stars

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Thrilling and Satisfying End to the Shadowfell Trilogy

THE CALLER (Shadowfell # 3)
Juliet Marillier
Knopf Books for Young Readers
September 9, 2014

The Caller brings to a close the Shadowfell Trilogy (Shadowfell, Raven Flight) by Juliet Marillier. The rebels of Shadowfell are nearly ready to challenge the evil King Keldec in a last ditch attempt take back the land of Alban and return to it's earlier peace and plenty. Under the rule of King Keldec both the fey beings called the "good folk" and human beings with any magical abilities have been persecuted and slain. The entire rebel plot hinges on Neryn, a young woman who is a Caller. She can summon all fey beings and enlist their aid in defeating Keldec. Neryn has spent the last few years training for the day she will challenge Keldec. The plan is thrown into disarray when the rebels learn that Keldec has at last found a Caller of his own; one he plans to use to build an unbeatable army. In order to stop him, Neryn has to infiltrate the King's stronghold. She is also afraid for the safety of her lover, Flint, who has spent years as an Enforcer for the King while spying for the Shadowfell rebels. Flint seems to be succumbing to his anguish over acts committed as a spy and Neryn is afraid he will betray himself.

The Shadowfell Trilogy is an epic coming-of-age story wrapped in the folklore and fantasy Juliet Marillier is known for. Neryn matures from a frightened and distrustful girl into a confident young woman who is equal to the task set before her and does not shrink from it's cost. The Caller is a very satisfactory ending and I would recommend it to both Young Adult and Adult readers. Thanks to and Knopf for a digital advance copy.

RATING-4 Stars