25 Feb 2016

New Release - A Spy's Devotion by Melanie Dickerson

Waterfall Press, 322 Pages 
9th February 2016
In England’s Regency era, manners and elegance reign in public life—but behind closed doors treason and tawdriness thrive. Nicholas Langdon is no stranger to reserved civility or bloody barbarity. After suffering a battlefield injury, the wealthy, well-connected British officer returns home to heal—and to fulfill a dying soldier’s last wish by delivering his coded diary.

At the home of the Wilherns, one of England’s most powerful families, Langdon attends a lavish ball where he meets their beautiful and intelligent ward, Julia Grey. Determined to maintain propriety, he keeps his distance—until the diary is stolen and all clues lead to Julia’s guardian.
As Langdon traces an evil plot that could be the nation’s undoing, he grows ever more intrigued by the lovely young woman. And when Julia realizes that England—and the man she is falling in love with—need her help, she finds herself caught in the fray. Will the two succumb to their attraction while fighting to save their country?
I am still, to some extent in two minds about a lot of Christian Regencies. I do like Melanie Dickerson’s books generally, and so I wanted to read her new book and first foray into Regencies. My main issue with books in this genre is that they can be riddled with Americanisms, really cheesy and unrealistic and don’t do any justice to the classics they are meant to hark back to.

In some ways I was pleasantly surprised by A Spy’s Devotion. I mean there was the occasional slip-up, like using the terms England and Britain interchangeably (this is significant, and not just pedantic-as the army in the Peninsula war was not exclusively ‘English’- there were Irish and Scottish soldiers in it as well), I really don’t think the audience needed to be repeatedly reminded of who Wellington was, and yes there were a few Americanisms in the characters speech. Yet, the book was far from the worst offender in this regard.

For the most part, the characters were quite authentically and believably British, and yes, it had many of the elements we have grown to love in Regency Fiction, balls and mansions, gowns and gallant suitors, lords and ladies. I did feel that the sub-plot about spying and the plot against Wellington could have been more prominent. At times, it seemed very much in the background, and was overshadowed by the romance aspects, and relationship between Julia and Nicholas Langdon, as well as her cousin and some of the minor characters. There was not too much mushy stuff, which puts me off stories like this, until the end at least, and the characters did seem to genuinely grow and develop, with Julia becoming more brave and self-reliant.

So yes, there was plenty of intrigue and romance and plenty to keep the reader interested, but I could not help being troubled by the treatment of certain themes and subjects. It’s quite common in books like this for the social expectations of polite society- especially those which applied to women- to be disparaged as ‘stupid’ and ‘repressive’.
Now, Julia and Nicholas care for the poor and despised in society was entirely commendable- but I cannot say I agree with the depiction of this as somehow exceptional to the ‘goodies’ or Christian characters which one sees in many books. I think even nineteenth century British society was imbued with the idea that charity was a duty, and rich ladies were expected to patronise charities, visit the poor etc.

It seemed absurd to me the way that Julia seemed to blame all her problems on trying to meet social expectations rather than obeying God’s laws. It was her Uncle’s treasonable activities that bought the family down, and put her in danger, not social expectations. I felt there was too emphasis on ‘following the heart’- which just conveniently happened to line up with God’s will for the main characters, whilst conforming to social expectations was claimed to be opposed to it. I for one don’t believe that social expectation were always irreconcilable with Christian teachings, or that anything which does not line up with modern notions of personal freedom is inherently bad. I think authors need to be more mindful in their treatment of this subject, as they could be- inadvertently condoning morally questionable and dubious behaviour.

Overall, A Spy’s Devotion was an enjoyable and satisfying read. Not too cheesy so that it insults the intelligence, but also not too heavy-going or demanding. It’s a solid Regency with plenty of merits, and I think Mrs Dickerson has succeeded in making a name for herself in this genre. I would certainly consider reading any follow-up novels in this series. I just didn’t think it was in the same league as the books by other regency authors such as Julie Klassen. It’s possible that future books might raise the bar higher though.

I received a Kindle Edition of this book free from the Publisher for review, and also purchased an Audiobook version of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions expressed are my own.

19 Feb 2016

New Release- The Batchelor Girl's Guide to Murder- Rachel McMillan

Herringford and Watts Mysteries #1, 
289 Pages, Harvest House, 1st March 2016 

In 1910 Toronto, while other bachelor girls perfect their domestic skills and find husbands, two friends perfect their sleuthing skills and find a murderer.

Inspired by their fascination with all things Sherlock Holmes, best friends and flatmates Merinda and Jem launch a consulting detective business. The deaths of young Irish women lead Merinda and Jem deeper into the mire of the city's underbelly, where the high hopes of those dreaming to make a new life in Canada are met with prejudice and squalor.

While searching for answers, donning disguises, and sneaking around where no proper ladies would ever go, they pair with Jasper Forth, a police constable, and Ray DeLuca, a reporter in whom Jem takes a more than professional interest. Merinda could well be Toronto's premiere consulting detective, and Jem may just find a way to put her bachelor girlhood behind her forever--if they can stay alive long enough to do so.
A good clean, light and enjoyable mystery with featuring two unconventional girls obsessed with Sherlock Holmes who decide to set up thier own detective agency.
The accompanying Novella A Singular and Whimsical Problem is an interesting introduction to the main characters- but readers should be warned that it is not a prequel as is the traditional way with such short stories. I was a little confused that Jemima (Jem) had only just met the journalist Ray de Luca at the beginning of this story, but knew him already in the novella.

Jem Watts and Melinda Herringford were endearing characters- but may come across on occasion as a little bit too feministic for some readers and for the setting (early 20th century Canada). Now don't get me wrong, I go in for women's rights with the rest of them, and yes, I can understand why they dressed as men to investigate thier cases- especially cases involving those on the fringed of society nobody else cared about.

Unconventional and eccentric ladies who don't fit in and are rather socially awkward can be interesting and almost quite endearing (as said above). Yet, I could say that Miss Herringford crossed a line thus put herself in danger of becoming rather annoyingly feministic and conceited by the end of the story.
One of those fictional super-heroines who fecklessly and stupidly puts herself in dangerous situations, and then lambasts men for helping her out of them. I personally hope she does not become 'like that'.

The mystery and process of detection (always important to the genre) were plausible and satisfactory- and I write here a seasoned mystery buff, and lover of classic mysteries. Although I might say that the culprit was a little predictable. A case of stereotyping winning over originality perhaps?

Overall, 'The Batchelor Girl's Guide to Murder' was a great debut, and it was fascinating to the discover that the quotations from women's 'Guidebooks' at the beginning were invented by the author. They seemed very real and convincing, showing a real depth of knowledge. I would certainly like to read the sequel, A Lesson in Love and Murder due out in August to see how the detecting duo will get on together.

I recieved a PDF copy of this book free from the Publisher via Netgalley for the purposes of review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.

6 Feb 2016

Rising To The Challenge- Alicia Willis

Comrades of Honor Series #3 
Seasons of His-Story Publishing 
Kindle Edition, 352 Pages, January 20th 2015 
New difficulties arise for Sir Kenneth Dale in the exciting final installment in The Comrades of Honor Series. As a favorite of the Earl of Birmingham, his life appears tranquil – until the both beautiful Lady Clarissa and a headstrong orphan named Brion arrive in the castle. It is not long before Sir Kenneth finds himself not only in love, but also the master of the most difficult squire Birmingham has ever harbored.

Brion de Lantenac is nothing short of rebellious. Hatred for Sir Kenneth’s strict rules vents itself in constant disobedience, triggering continual clashes between himself and his new lord. But there is a reason behind his self-centered character. The murder of his family has caused heartbreak he may never recover from. Will he ever reveal his true identity to Sir Kenneth? And what about Guthrie, the man who sullied his father’s shire with treacherous hands and now seeks his demise?

Caught between a hopeless romance, a rebellious squire, and the enemies on all sides, Sir Kenneth finds himself challenged. Amidst battles, heartache, and dark mystery, he must somehow rise to meet the difficulties of his life with honor. Will he ever win his squire’s heart? Will he and Clarissa be forever separated?

Join Sir Kenneth, Brion, and all the comrades of honor in a tale of perseverance, chivalry, and unconditional love. Treachery abounds and evil seems insurmountable. Will rising to the challenge preserve honor and win the day?
If you want a sweet, clean, wholesome Medieval adventure series, Alicia Willis' trilogy is a great choice. Emulating the style of the Victorian and early 20th century writers such as Howard Pyle and G.A.Henty, the 'Comrades of Honor' trilogy is full of adventure, courage and heroism- but despite the emphasis on knights and their escapades, is not entirely 'masculine' in tone or emphasis.
There are usually romantic elements involved, and some female leads who can be strong and feisty without being overly militant or espousing modern feminist ideals that would be at odds with the setting (no griping about 'repression' or 'sexism' when they can't do what they want here).

'Rising the to the Challenge' was the last book in the series, and although it pays to read the first two books, each title is a self-contained story that can be read and appreciated by itself. Those who have read the previous titles will be re-united with some beloved characters from the other stories (Sir Kenneth, Sir Brandon and others), as well as some alluring and endearing new ones, with challenges and problems to face, and another dangerous foe to grapple with.

The author is a self-professed historian, and these books are usually rich in authentic details of the age, especially those relating to the ceremonies, expectations and lifestyle of Medieval Knights and knighthood. I only had few problems with the period details- one being the mention of a torture chamber, the other to a knight saying he could force a Lady to marry him without her consent. Seeing as Medieval canon law stated marriage without free consent was illegal, it struck me as a bit inaccurate, as did the former.
Also, I did seem implausible that nobles could go around committing acts like the villains sometimes do in this series, without some kind of intervention from the King or Parliament, who were meant to keep the nobility in check.

However, these did not really detract from the story, or the reader's enjoyment of it, and balancing it out is some solid research and an otherwise good sense of the time.
Overall, 'Rising to the Challenge' is wonderfully pleasurable and satisfying read, with some solid Christian themes that do not come across as preachy or contrived, but fit in well with the period setting.
Suitable for teen-adult (younger children might find the language and writing style a bit obscure, and there is some violence, but nothing graphic).
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