Book Review: Amanda Quick’s The Mystery Woman

mysterywomanTitle: The Mystery Woman
Author: Amanda Quick
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Yes / Book 2
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Advance Reader Copy via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers Program

I’m a fan of Amanda Quick (aka Jayne Ann Krentz) and auto-buy her books. I admit I lost interest in her Arcane series once we reached the conclusion of how Jones & Jones agency came together and she started expanding the Arcane series to include outside associates. I wanted to prep for this review by reading the last 3 books I missed, but decided it would be best to read from a new reader’s perspective without any previous knowledge as most new readers.

Amanda Quick’s The Mystery Woman is the second book in her Ladies of Lantern Street series. If you haven’t read the first book, Crystal Gardens, it’s not necessary to do so. Quick does a good job giving you an overview of what exactly the agency Flint & Marsh specializes in and a brief history of how it was established.

On the night her mentor, Roland Fleming, is found murdered, Beatrice Lockwood is forced to change her identity to hide from the killer. She finds employment at Flint & Marsh, a private agency that specializes in discreet inquiries. Undercover as a paid companion, Beatrice meets Joshua Gage, former messenger to the mysterious Mr. Smith, and helps her foil a kidnapping attempt on her employer. Joshua informs Beatrice that he has been looking for her and needs her assistance in finding his sister’s blackmailer. Little do they know, someone with a more sinister plan is also looking for Beatrice. Will they be able to uncover the identity of the blackmailer or will Beatrice become the killer’s next victim?

The writing is very typical Quick especially with the use of paranormal elements she’s been fond of using these past couple of years. It doesn’t distract a reader and it goes hand in hand with the time period of late Victorian England. The paranormal became popular during the era and there was a demand for people who had the ability to conjure spirits or speak with the dead. It makes sense that she would have a character with some type of extrasensory ability. In this case, Beatrice is a clairvoyant and Ronald Fleming recognized her talent. Joshua doesn’t believe in the paranormal and several times Beatrice reminds him how his intuition has been spot on and therefore is an extension of the psychic realm. Quick once again does thorough research and it shines throughout The Mystery Woman. She incorporates aspects of Egyptology in her plot and again it makes sense, since the Victorians were obsessed with Egypt. As the use of electricity emerged in the 19th century, so did the question of raising the dead. Quick takes advantage of this experimentation and incorporates into the plot. I won’t say exactly what it is, but it goes hand in hand with Egyptian mythology and paranormal ability.

In terms of characterization, one thing that stood out immediately is how much Joshua resembles a previous Quick character. Joshua reminded me of a lot of Tobias March (from the Lake/March series) and both share the same characteristics in terms of an injured leg and having a nephew under his wing. What I really like about Quick is that she gives us strong heroines who aren’t afraid to make a life for themselves. These are no shrinking violets and The Mystery Woman reminded me once again why I’m a fan of Amanda Quick. She also makes you think about the possibilities of science. The whole idea of reviving someone who is dead will leave most readers fascinated and yet horrified. I’m still thinking about it a few weeks later.

If you’re a fan of historical romance mixed with a bit of mystery, I recommend Amanda Quick’s The Mystery Woman. Just be advised, there a few plot holes regarding the mystery, but nothing you’ll lose sleep over.

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Spotlight: The River of No Return

river Title: The River of No Return
Author: Bee Ridgway
Genre: Historical Fiction / Time Travel (Science Fiction)
Publication Date: April 23, 2013
Publisher: Dutton Adult

Synopsis:
“You are now a member of the Guild. There is no return.” Two hundred years after he was about to die on a Napoleonic battlefield, Nick Falcott, soldier and aristocrat, wakes up in a hospital bed in modern London. The Guild, an entity that controls time travel, showers him with life’s advantages. But Nick yearns for home and for one brown-eyed girl, lost now down the centuries. Then the Guild asks him to break its own rule. It needs Nick to go back to 1815 to fight the Guild’s enemies and to find something called the Talisman.

In 1815, Julia Percy mourns the death of her beloved grandfather, an earl who could play with time. On his deathbed he whispers in her ear: “Pretend!” Pretend what? When Nick returns home as if from the dead, older than he should be and battle scarred, Julia begins to suspect that her very life depends upon the secrets Grandfather never told her. Soon enough Julia and Nick are caught up in an adventure that stretches up and down the river of time. As their knowledge of the Guild and their feelings for each other grow, the fate of the future itself is hanging in the balance.

breeAbout Bee
I was raised in Massachusetts, then drifted around from here to there until I finally came to rest in Philadelphia. I teach American literature at Bryn Mawr College, and for fun I read, write, read, cook, read, walk all over my beautiful and dirty city, read . . . THE RIVER OF NO RETURN is my first novel, and the experience of writing it was so overwhelmingly fun that I’m roaring ahead on the sequel.

Connect with Bee
Official Website
Twitter: BeeRidgway
Facebook: Page
Goodreads: Author Page

Book Review: Lauren Willig’s The Ashford Affair

ashfordTitle: The Ashford Affair
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: No
Rating: 5 out of 5
My Copy: Advance Reader Copy courtesy of St. Martin’s Press

If you’re familiar with Lauren Willig’s books, then you know she often combines narratives from the past with the present. The Ashford Affair isn’t any different and incorporates the narratives of both Clementine (in the present) and Addie’s (the past). This is Addie’s story, but in many ways, it’s also Clementine’s. Clementine is on journey to realize what truly matters in life.

Clementine Evans arrives late to her grandmother’s birthday celebration and is surprised when her grandmother calls her Bea. She asks her mother about Bea, but doesn’t get a direct answer. In fact, Clementine asks around and slowly a family secret is unearthed. Bea was a cousin of Granny Addie and through a series of flashbacks we’re told Addie’s story. Addie comes to live with the Earl of Ashford following the death of her parents. On her first night she’s befriended by one of the Earl’s daughters, Beatrice; Bea takes Addie under her wing and both become fast friends. As the narrative progresses, we see Addie grow up and on the night of the Earl’s eldest daughter’s presentation to society, Bea and Addie decide to view the ball in progress. Unfortunately, Bea brings along a pet mouse and accidentally lets go of it and Addie afraid it will be trampled to death goes to rescue Binky. Lucky for Binky she’s saved by a young man and Addie is instantly smitten. The next day, they run into each other and he introduces himself as Fredrick. Addie never forgets him and when she runs into him several years later she’s surprised and happy he remembers her. Fredrick and Addie spend time together attending a series of lectures and musical concerts and she introduces him to Bea. Addie is heartbroken when Frederick marries Bea and she goes on with her life as best she can. Five years later, she’s asked to visit to Kenya and putting her feelings aside for Fredrick she decides to visit. The Ashford Affair is a beautiful story about a love between two people and the heartache that comes with having to live with one’s mistakes.

In terms of characterization, we have rich strong characters, but admit I wish we had more of Fredrick’s perspective. Especially when he’s trying to come to terms with what to do with Addie before he marries Bea. I would have loved to have read something about his thoughts of Addie in Kenya with him and Bea or what he was thinking when her visit was announced. Bea comes off as a spoiled bitch. I realize she’s a woman trapped in a world that is changing around her and she’s unsure of how to proceed. The year she was presented to society, she was the débutante of the year and highly sought after. As a daughter of an earl, she was brought up with the expectation of marrying into the aristocracy and not having to make her own way. I keep thinking about Bea and as much as I want to judge her and hate for what she ends up doing, I can’t because in the end, she made the ultimate sacrifice. Fredrick once accused her of being jealous of Addie and I have to agree with his assessment, but for Bea, the jealously wasn’t that Fredrick was interested in Addie. It was the fact Addie was going to leave her and have a happy life, while Bea remained miserable. As for our present day characters, it’s interesting how much Anna resembled Bea in her personality and her life choices; whereas Marjorie took after Addie. Clementine is a hybrid of the both women; having Bea’s features and Addie’s drive for success.

Fans of historical fiction are in for a real treat as Willig does a great job incorporating life in England before the First World War to how everyone adapts to the changing world afterwards. We go from soirees to the heat in Kenya. Willig gives us rich descriptions and when Addie complains of the heat and her sweat stained dress, you can vividly picture it. The Ashford Affair is well written and the only real complaint I have is that, it ended way too quickly. Then again I read this in less than two days. As for the mystery surrounding the family secret, I do wish Willig would have focused on a few key scenes. That being the photographs Clementine finds, but in the end Addie and Bea are allowed to keep their secrets. It’s because of that, I’ll let the past stay shrouded in mystery.

If you only read a few books a year, this is one book you have to read. If you’re looking into trying a new genre or are in a reading funk, pick up The Ashford Affair. To say I loved it is an understatement because I more than loved it. It’s a beautiful story and I’m not ashamed to say I broke down into tears more than once. This is one book I’ll be rereading more than once.

Book Review: CM Spencer’s Good Intentions

good intentions Title: Good Intentions
Author: CM Spencer
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: No
Rating: 3 out of 5
My Copy: Complimentary copy won via LibraryThing’s Member Giveaway

Victoria Larke vows never to marry a naval officer. She has nothing against them, it’s just that her father was one and was always way from home. Her mother wants her married and settled and her father takes the family to Bath in hopes of her finding a husband. There she meets two gentlemen, David and James. Both are smitten with her, but it’s James that pays the most attention to her; however, business calls him away and he bids Victoria goodbye. Upon his return to Bath he’s shocked to learn Victoria has married his good friend and he proceeds to hide his true feelings from her. Victoria wants James to be happy and makes it her mission to find someone worthy of his love. What ensues is a series of misunderstandings and lets James realize early on what type of woman he’d be happy with.

The writing is good and doesn’t sound too modern. In terms of characterization, it’s well done, but Spencer focused primarily on Victoria and James. At no point could I figure out why David won her heart. David was a patient man especially when a lot of the set ups ended up disastrous. One thing that doesn’t sit well and it is an incident involving Victoria and James. I won’t say what it is because it can be viewed as a spoiler. I did enjoy Victoria’s set ups and remind me a bit of Jane Austen’s Emma where she’s involved in all sorts of matchmaking and yet fails terribly. In each failed incident, I felt bad for James because I thought for sure he’d find his love and when it didn’t quite happen, I felt his disappointment. In this day and age we have the luxury of waiting around and dating until we find our significant other, but in the Regency period you were limited to what you could and couldn’t do. If you were lucky to find someone immediately then good for you and Spencer does a good job detailing the perils of trying to find someone in a period where it was pretty much hit or miss. Often times you could marry someone you thought was a good fit and turns out it isn’t. She did a great job showcasing that and I appreciate it.

In the end, Good Intentions falls flat. I understand the reason to focus primarily on Victoria’s attempt to set up James, but I wanted that “aha” moment. The moment the two protagonists fall in love and live happily ever after and we don’t that get that moment. For a good 60% of the novel, it’s about Victoria and James with Jemma in the background. When we finally get Jemma into the picture, she doesn’t play a major role in her own romance. I still can’t figure out when exactly James fell for her.

If you’re a fan of Jane Austen’s books, you might be interested in reading Good Intentions.

Spotlight: The Ashford Affair

ashford Title: The Ashford Affair
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: April 09, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Synopsis:
As a lawyer in a large Manhattan firm, just shy of making partner, Clementine Evans has finally achieved almost everything she’s been working towards—but now she’s not sure it’s enough. Her long hours have led to a broken engagement and, suddenly single at thirty-four, she feels her messy life crumbling around her. But when the family gathers for her grandmother Addie’s ninety-ninth birthday, a relative lets slip hints about a long-buried family secret, leading Clemmie on a journey into the past that could change everything. . . .

What follows is a potent story that spans generations and continents, bringing an Out of Africa feel to a Downton Abbey cast of unforgettable characters. From the inner circles of WWI-era British society to the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the red-dirt hills of Kenya, the never-told secrets of a woman and a family unfurl.

14469About Lauren
Lauren Willig is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven works of historical fiction. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages, awarded the RITA, Booksellers Best and Golden Leaf awards, and chosen for the American Library Association’s annual list of the best genre fiction. After graduating from Yale University, she embarked on a PhD in English History at Harvard before leaving academia to acquire a JD at Harvard Law while authoring her “Pink Carnation” series of Napoleonic-set novels. She lives in New York City, where she now writes full time

Connect with Lauren
Official Website
Facebook Page
Goodreads: Author Page

Book Review: Aaron Cooley’s Shaken, Not Stirred

15995128Title: Shaken, Not Stirred (The Secret Files of I__ F______, Code Designate 17F)
Author: Aaron Cooley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: Yes / Book 1
Rating: 5 out of 5
My Copy: Complimentary copy won via Melnore Press

Imagine for a moment Ian Fleming writing the opening scene of his first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. Do you ever wonder where he got the inspiration for the world’s most famous spy? Several candidates have been named, but in Aaron Cooley’s Shaken, Not Stirred, the spy who helps a young Fleming is none other than Dušan Popov. Names are changed, Popov becomes Dusan Petrović and Fleming is Ioan Phlegm. Cooley’s Shaken, Not Stirred is a fictionalized account of Ian Fleming’s wartime work, but it’s easy to imagine it really happening.

In Shaken, Not Stirred, a young Ioan is working for the Naval Intelligence and he’s sent to the Congo to find and report back to MI6 the whereabouts of double agent Dusan Petrović. His naiveté is apparent and he stands out like a sore thumb. While Petrović could have easily looked the other way, he takes Ioan under his wing and teaches him how to be a spy. At first Ioan isn’t sure what to make of Petrović and even the reader isn’t sure. Does Petrović have a master plan or does he feel sorry for Ioan? Perhaps this is the nature of a double agent. Together Ioan and Petrović navigate the perils of being agents and Ioan gets a little more than he anticipated. Throughout the novel, we get glimpses of what would eventually become Fleming’s James Bond. Ioan gets a code name and is introduced to gadgets Bond would be happy to use. We’re also introduced to would be Bond Girl, Christine who has a preference for martinis. It’s through Christine, Ioan quickly learns how women play a role in espionage. Petrović tells him, “ ‘ If you take one lesson from me, Phlegm, never forget the number one rule of espionage: Women are a business expense. You allow yourself to expect anything more out of them, you lower your defenses. To a knife in the back.’ ” It’s at this exact moment, a reader can understand Fleming and why women are the “business expense,” in a Bond novel.

I really enjoyed Cooley’s Shaken, Not Stirred. It’s thoroughly researched and well written. It’s a different take on the life of Ian Fleming. Wouldn’t it be awesome if Fleming himself had experienced everything Cooley writes? Fiction mixes with reality and as I stated, Cooley does a superb job with the research. Several events included are based on true events such as the Heisenberg and Diebner rivalry and it goes hand in hand with Hitler’s pursuit of the bomb. Petrović and several other characters bring up the ‘what if’ Hitler gets the bomb, which is a question a lot of people asked themselves at the time. Cooley kept me on the edge of my seat and afterwards all I could think of was, “thank god Hitler didn’t get there first.” It’s something you’ll be thinking as you read. A note on the spelling used: it is British and might throw off the reader and mistake it for spelling mistakes. Keep in mind Cooley is writing as Fleming and hence the reason for the use of British spelling.

Readers will easily recognize aspects of the Bond novels and films. In fact, if you’ve read Casino Royale or seen the film version, the scene where Bond watches Le Chiffre at the card table is familiar in Shaken, Not Stirred. This time it’s with Ioan and Petrović and a set of cards with Skorzeny and a game of Baccarat. Prior to Ioan joining Petrović and Skorzeny, Petrović sends him a suit and Ioan asks why. Petrović says it’s to seduce Christine and here we can see the birth of the immaculate Bond in his tux. It works well enough for Ioan since Christine waits for him in his room and says, “ ‘Why Ioan. I thought spies were meant to be suave. Deboniar.’
‘I was ill that day at spy school.’ ”

Favorite quote:

‘If you fictionalized my character, I could live a bit longer.’

Aaron Cooley’s Shaken, Not Stirred is without a doubt a must read for any James Bond fan. If you’ve wanted to try a spy thriller, this is a good starting point. I eagerly anticipate the next installment.

Book Review: Ashlyn Macnamara’s A Most Scandalous Proposal

prop Title: A Most Scandalous Proposal
Author: Ashlyn Macnamara
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Yes / Book 1
Rating: 3 out of 5
My Copy: Advance Reader Copy via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers Program

Julia St. Claire doesn’t believe in falling in love because nothing good can come of it. She’s witnessed firsthand the heartache and destruction that accompanies unrequited love. Her sister, Sophia, on the other hand, has spent the past five years pining for Earl of Clivesden, but he only has eyes for one of the St. Claire sisters. When Benedict Revelstoke, a long time friend of the St. Claire family, learns of Clivesden’s true intentions towards Julia, Benedict makes every effort to keep her away from Clivesden and in the process discovers that he loves her. Julia rejects Benedict until she’s betrayed by her father and suddenly she makes him an offer he can’t refuse.

The story is interesting, but lacks in depth characterization. Julia is a bit one sided and I was trying to understand her, but couldn’t. Sophia is a bit more interesting and the one I cared about the most. As for the men, Highgate’s personal history was interesting and you could feel the pain of his past. George Upperton, Benedict’s best friend, was personally one of my favorite characters and every time he made an appearance on the page, I smiled. In terms of Benedict, it would have been nice to read his gradual interest in Julia turn into love. Instead it happens overnight and there’s no hint of him having had these feelings prior nor are we given the exact moment he realizes he loves her. That “aha” moment is crucial to any romance plot because readers are on the same journey as our protagonists and if we don’t have it, then I feel we miss out on something that’s expected.

The writing is good and there are some funny moments. I particularly liked the scene between Highgate and Sophia discussing Pride and Prejudice. I loved how both of them were able to describe people they knew as characters. At one point, Sophia tells Highgate his sister, Lady Wexford, resembles Lady Catherine de Bourgh because she looks down on Sophia and her family. My favorite quote describing Highgate’s personal thoughts regarding his sister is: “He’d always thought their father would have made a sound investment in buying her a commission-preferably in India.”

Ultimately what makes this a three and not a solid four, are the different narratives that made my head spin and in the end, we didn’t get the one that really counted, that of Clivesden. What drives him to seek Julia instead of Sophia? While Julia assumes it’s because she’s perceived as a cold fish, I wanted to know more about him. We aren’t given much in terms of his personal history other than how he came into the title and he’s known to sleep around. In hindsight, I can see why he picks Julia because she is not attracted to him. Although Sophia’s heart is engaged, in the end, he would have made her life miserable, I doubt she would have grown to realize this had he showed any interest in her. Knowing Clivesden’s history, I doubt he would have cared for Sophia’s feelings and he’s not the chivalrous sort. Ultimately, Macnamara does a good job handling the shift in narratives, but wish she would have them drawn them out more. In the end, we have two romances taking place and despite the fact Sophia’s is secondary, her romance was the strongest. I wish Macnamara had focused on Sophia and Highgate’s romance primarily because it outshined that of Julia and Benedict.

Ashlyn Macnamara’s A Most Scandalous Proposal is a good debut and despite a few hiccups, I’m looking forward to reading more of her work. If you’re looking to try a new author, I recommend Macnamara.