28 May 2016

New Release- The Making of A Man- Rachel Rossano

A Short Story Anthology: Novels of Rhynan 2.5
26th April 2016 320 Pages, 
Print and Ebook 

"The Earl of Dentin returns. Eight stories ranging from short story to novelette in length give us greater understanding into why Dentin is the complex and enigmatic man he is. It also includes new adventures that happen between Honor and the next Rhynan novel.

Passing the Mantle – An ill-fated hunting trip
Forging Friendships – Recruiting able-bodied men ineligible for knighthood
The Sword of Korma Monroe – A sword made for trouble
Turning Point – A duke and an earl plot treason
The Bittersweet Pear – A marital misunderstanding
Isbeth’s Redemption – Dentin doesn’t make a good first impression
A Squire’s Love – Reginald’s quest
Restoration – A trip to Braulyn produces unexpected company"

I probably was not the intended or ideal audience for this book, as I have not yet read the preceding books in the ‘Novels of Rynan’ series, and I was not familiar with most of the characters. I’m not a huge fan of fantasy, but I prefer it in this form- that is ‘Historical’ fantasy, which does not include mythical creatures or magic etc, but is rather like historical fiction with the exception being set in an invented place.

Rossano has created in Rhynan, and the surrounding states, an interesting and realistic medieval world with cultural mores, customs and laws that reflect historical reality (such as the fosterage of young boys from noble families with other families where they are taught to fight). There is feuding between noble families, and tensions between them and the King, a civil war, and mention of a Charter and expectations which those who rule are supposed to adhere to.

There are a number of things that put me off certain works of ‘Medieval’ fiction and are likely to result in lower rating, or ruin my enjoyment. One is the imposition of attitudes and values that stand out as very obviously modern (modern feminism, liberalism, republican or revolutionary ideals more akin to those of the eighteenth century and after), and without basis in the setting or period. Good fantasy is supposed to be self-contained and credible. A world with its own rules and norms- not modern people in fancy dress.

Thankfully, the author seems to have avoided such details in her work. Only a few beliefs of one or two characters seemed a little on the modern side, and I did notice a fair few modern terms and phrases and Americanisms. The word ‘Okay’ was used once (having its origins in nineteenth century Boston, it does not have a place in Medieval Fiction), but that might have been an oversight. Still I guess that’s to be expected in a book written by an American. There were no potatoes, which is a plus, considering how often these American plants are too often associated with the Medieval European (or European type) past.

The anthology consists of eight self-contained stories of varying length, involving some of the main characters from the full-length novels in which shed light on incidents in their lives, they meet their loves, or have various other adventures. All of them were interesting and I felt well written, despite some being very short. Some of the leading characters (who I suspect only have a role in the novels) were wonderful.
I liked the Earl of Dentin’s formidable cook Gelsey, and reading about some of her exploits.

Altogether, The Making of a Man is well-thought out collection of stories that complement the series well. Those who have already read the others will likely enjoy learning more about their favourite characters (as well being introduced to some new ones) and their imaginative world. Those who have not read anything else by this author might still enjoy these, but the stories probably make more sense in context.

I was given an electronic edition of this book by the author for the purposes of giving a review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.

19 May 2016

New Release- Bride of a Distant Isle- Sandra Byrd

Daughters of Hampshire #2 
384 Pages, March 22nd 2016, Howard Books
Audio, Print and Ebook 

An unforgettable romance set in Victorian England, Bride of A Distant Isle is the engrossing story of Annabel Ashton, who fights to save her family home and her mother's honor while trying to figure out if the man she loves wants her—or just wants to use her to achieve his own ambitions.

Miss Annabel Ashton is a teacher at the Rogers School for Young Ladies in Winchester when she takes a brief visit to her family home, Highcliffe Hall at Milford-on-Sea. She believes her stay will be short but soon learns that she will not be returning to the safety of the school. Instead, she remains at Highcliffe, at the mercy of her cousin, Edward Everedge.

Annabel protests, but as the illegitimate daughter of a woman who died in an insane asylum, she has little say. Edward is running out of money and puts the house up for sale to avoid financial ruin. He insists that Annabel marry, promising her to a sinister, frightening man. But as the house gets packed for sale, it begins to reveal disquieting secrets. Jewelry, artifacts, and portraits mysteriously appear, suggesting that Annabel may be the true heir of Highcliffe.

She has only a few months to prove her legitimacy, perhaps with assistance from the handsome but troubled Maltese Captain Dell’Acqua. But does he have Annabel’s best interests at heart?
And then, a final, most ominous barrier to both her inheritance and her existence appears: a situation neither she nor anyone else could have expected. Will Annabel regain her life and property—and trust her heart—before it’s too late?

I’d heard many good things about Mist of Midnight, the last novel in the Daughters of Hampshire series when I requested this one. I decided to read the prequel first, although it was not really necessary as they are both standalone books and there is no connection in terms of the characters.
I’m more used to Regencies then Victorian gothic thrillers cum Romance, but Mrs Byrd’s series would appeal to all fans of historical fiction set at this time I believe. The setting was immersive, and the story kept my attention pretty much from the outset.
There have been other stories exploring madness and the treatment of those considered mad in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, but I think this one was one of the best. The subject matter was treated sensitively, and was realistic in the context of the tension between the family members. In a way, even the audience and the protagonist aren’t sure if everything was as should have been.

There were similarities between this and the last book, as it has an English heroine with a rather exotic background. In this case she is half Maltese, believing herself to have been the illegitimate product of an affair between and English gentlewoman and a Maltese soldier. Annabel is strong and intelligent, although a little vulnerable, and the details about Maltese culture and customs are well researched and well incorporated into the story. There was also an interesting twist with her being Catholic- and unusual and perhaps daring step in Christian Fiction. It was necessary to make a lot of the detail work, and was never really an issue with me.

There’s and handsome dashing hero who may or may not have honourable intentions (like last time), and a suitably awful antagonist, plenty of mystery and intrigue with original twists and turns and a satisfying conclusion. In a way, it gives seasoned historical romance readers all they would want, without so much of the mushiness and cheesiness one gets in some novels. As last time, I did notice a few Americanisms which stood out, but apart from that, no major complaints. I only wish international reviewers like me could get print copies of books like this more easily. Never mind, I shall strive to buy it at some point.

I received an electronic version of this title from Howard Books for the purposes of review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.

16 May 2016

New Release- The Reluctant Duchess- Roseanna M. White

 Ladies of the Manor #2 
Bethany House, April 4th 2016, 389 Pages

Lady Rowena Kinnaird may be the heiress to a Highland earldom, but she has never felt good enough—not for her father, not for the man she thought she’d marry, not for God. But after a shocking attack, she’s willing to be forever an outcast if it means escaping Loch Morar and the men who have jeopardized her life.

Brice Myerston, the Duke of Nottingham, has suddenly found himself in possession of a rare treasure his enemies are prepared to kill for. While Brice has never been one to shy away from manor-born ladies, the last thing he needs is the distraction of his neighbor, Lady Rowena, who finds herself in a desperate situation. But when the moody Earl of Lochabar tries to trap Brice into marrying Rowena, Brice finds he’s not as opposed to the idea as he expected to be.

Rowena wanted to escape the Highlands, but she’s reluctant to resort to marrying a notorious flirt just to gain his English home. And when she learns that Brice is mixed up in some kind of questionable business with a stolen treasure, she ’fears she’s about to end up directly in the path of everything she was trying to avoid.
I’m something of a new convert to Edwardian Fiction, and have not been a consistent follower of Downton Abbey, so it’s not always my ‘thing’. I did however, very much enjoy the last book in this series The Lost Heiress so I jumped at the chance to read this one.
I loved some of the characters. Brice was just adorable, and the absent-minded but cheery Ella was so endearing. It would indeed be hard to remain depressed for very long in the presence of people like them. I liked how the story carried on the subplot of the last one with the conflict over the diamonds, but in a lot of ways this was in the background. The main theme was Brice and Rowena’s stormy relationship.

In some ways, I commend authors who want to explore such subjects as the impact of emotional and psychological trauma and abuse. Yet I would say it depends on how it’s done. I don’t like to see totally unnecessary rape scenes in books, and I absolutely don’t support the use of such content simply to rank up the drama and tension. I don’t believe the author does this with the protagonists, but some of the themes might be hard to deal with for some readers. The attendant themes of grace, forgiveness and acceptance were also well handled even if some of the character’s behaviour was inconsistent. For instance, Rowena was not meant to be a confident person, and yet threw a hissy fit when she got jealous of her husband and thought he was trying to control her.

My main issues were with the language. I did not feel that the representation of the Scottish characters accent, dialect and some of their attitudes was entirely realistic. It’s all ‘Dinnae fash yerself lass’. Sorry, but as a Brit, who is quite used to hearing Scottish people speak, it just seemed exaggerated and very stereotypical. Dare I say more like how Americans think a person from the Highlands would speak then how they actually do? Seriously, not everyone in the Highlands speaks Gaelic (some actually speak a dialect that is heavily influenced by Old Norse), and not everyone speaks like Sean Connery or Gerard Butler. The present day Duke of Argyll, for instance, does not even have a ‘Scottish accent’ at all.
Also, what many American readers would think of as ‘Scottish’ terms and phrases are also used extensively in Northern England as well. Yes, you could hear people in rural Yorkshire saying things like ‘lass, aye and ye’. Finally, British people do not usually talk about ‘getting new drapes’ or ‘drawing back the drapes’. We call them curtains. Those kind of Americanisms stand out.

I did doubt that a Highland Earl of the early 20th century would have been quite so insular and narrow-minded. Rowena’s family for instance would refer to events like the Jacobite rebellion as recent history, when they had happened like 200 years before. I appreciate that there has always been and always well be a certain degree of friction between Scotland and England which really goes back to Anglo-Saxon times, but to me it did not seem to fit the setting and period. In one place for instance, Brice asked Rowena why she had not had many aristocratic suitors, and she said they were all English. Really? What about Wales and Ireland? Britain consists of three counties, it’s not a synonym of England.

Also, I found it took me a long time to get through this book. In part that was because of other commitments, but I did find it heavy-going in a lot of places. Perhaps it had to do with the depth and scope of the work, but it does not normally take me a month to get through a book like this. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but just noting it. I think I would read it again, but devote more time to doing so, and I am interested in the next and final book in the series due out in September.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley (and also the paperback via their UK distributors) for the purposes of giving a review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.

13 May 2016

New Release- Dawn at Emberwilde- Sarah E. Ladd

Treasures of Surrey #2 
Paperback, Kindle and Audio
320 Pages, Thomas Nelson, May 10 2016

Isabel Creston never dared to dream that love could be hers. Now, at the edge of a forest filled with dark secrets, she faces a fateful choice between love and duty.
For as long as she can remember, beautiful and free-spirited Isabel has strained against the rules and rigidity of the Fellsworth School in the rolling English countryside. No longer a student, Isabel set her sights on a steady role as a teacher at the school, a safe yet stifling establishment that would enable her to care for her younger sister Lizzie, who was left in her care after her father’s death.

The unexpected arrival of a stranger with news of unknown relatives turns Isabel’s small, predictable world upside down, sweeping her and her young charge into a labyrinth of intrigue and hidden motives.
At her new family’s invitation, Isabel and Lizzie relocate to Emberwilde, a sprawling estate adjacent to a vast, mysterious wood rife with rumors and ominous folklore—along with whispers of something far more sinister. Perhaps even more startling, two handsome men begin pursuing Isabel, forcing her to learn the delicate dance between attraction, the intricate rules of courtship, and the hopes of her heart.
At Emberwilde Isabel will discover that the key to unlocking the mystery of her past may also open the door to her future and security. But first she must find it—in the depths of Emberwilde Forest.
I was not hugely impressed with the last book in this series The Curiosity Keeper, which I found a little bit dull. Thankfully Dawn at Emberwilde seemed to mark a return to the style of previous books by Sarah Ladd.
In a way it reminded me a little bit of The Headmistress of Rosemere, the second title in her previous trilogy, which I very much enjoyed, and revolved around some dubious activities centring on a Great House and a local School.
The elements of mystery and intrigue were worked well into the story- even though, as others reviewers have pointed out, they were not central to the plot and a little bit easy to work out.

I think I just appreciated this a steady paced, classic style Regency story with a cast of memorable characters.
The overbearing matriarch, the faithful and sympathetic cousin, the dashing and handsome suitors, who may or may not be quite what they seem.
I felt that I did not really connect with the characters in the last book, and was not really drawn into it, but I was with this one. Nor was it too mushy-gushy on the romance side. The protagonists' feelings begin as more of an admiration and mutual appreciation than anything else. Things got a bit cheesy at the end, but that's forgivable. Even the best stories have some cheese at times.
My only real complaint was a few Americanisms in the characters speech (things like 'closet' instead of 'cupboard' and talking about 'writing' someone instead of 'writing to' them). Aside from that that, I am happy to count this among my Regency favourites.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for the purposes of review. I also purchased the audiobook version of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

5 May 2016

Audiobook Review- The Governess of Highland Hall- Carrie Turansky

Audiobook, January 2013
Narrated by Veida Dehmlow 
Edwardian Brides #1  
Missionary Julia Foster loves working alongside her parents, but when the family must return to England due to illness, she readily accepts the burden for her parents' financial support. Taking on a job at Highland Hall as governess, she quickly finds that teaching her four ill-mannered charges at a grand estate is more challenging than expected. Widowed and left to care for his two young children and his deceased cousin's two teenage girls, William Ramsey is consumed with saving the estate from financial ruin.

 The last thing he needs is any distraction coming from the kindhearted-yet-determined governess who seems to be quietly transforming his household with her persuasive personality.Julia and William are determined to do what it takes to save their families-common ground that proves fertile for unexpected feelings. But will William choose Julia's steadfast heart and faith over the wealth and power he needs to secure Highland Hall's future?
My time for reading is somewhat limited nowadays, so I opt for Audiobooks as much as I can, to read alongside a physical or eBook.
Since I have a review copy of the third book, I thought it was the best idea to start from the beginning.

I'm sort of new to Georgian Fiction, and since I don't know the period very well, I would not really spot any errors easily. A reviewer friend remarked that this was remarkably free of errors and Americanisms that tend to mark out a lot of 'British Fiction' written by Americans, and I generally agree. I did notice one or two ('closet' instead of cupboard or wardrobe), but most were in the narration instead of the speech of the characters.
Since I have not consistently followed Downton Abbey, I cannot make any real comparison, except on a superficial level (the great house, the struggling aristocratic family etc). I felt that the setting was generally pulled off well, as well as the intention of weaving religious elements into the story, which tend to be left out of popular TV series.

That said, I did find Julia to be a little sanctimonious and overbearing at first with her attitudes, and her views of what people should and should not do. Like 'How dare he not let his sister marry a commoner if he's a good Christian- How dare he care about what society will think'?
I guess I don't appreciate stories in which those who care about their families' honour and position in society are regarded as evil enemies of God's will.

That said, there was some resolution in the end, with her realizing it was not such a great idea to impose her opinions on everyone else. Overall, she was a likeable person and a good example, and a lot of the other characters were good too.
I did like that the story was focused on family drama and relationships, instead of some implausible plotline about espionage, murder or political intrigue that are added to some stories to crank up the drama.
I was not too keen on the narrator of the audiobooks though. I think they would have been better with a British person doing them, as she did not always represent the different characters well, and struggled with different regional accents

I've now started on the second book, and I'm glad I started this series. Worth a read, but dont expect another Downton Abbey. The period and setting are the same, but this trilogy should stand out on its own, without having to ape other stories.
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