Article

The Thirteenth Earl by Evelyn Pryce

The Thirteenth EarlThe Thirteenth Earl by Evelyn Pryce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have never read a romance with a hero less defined than Jonathan. He acted one way, but was described in another. There were hints about his behaviour or his disposition that pointed into a certain direction, but he never actually showed the described state of mind.

Example: According to what was being said to or about him, he must have been almost starving himself. However, at one occasion he raided the breakfast buffet (not intended for him, so it might have been just a one time thing to annoy the others) like there was no tomorrow. Would someone who can’t eat properly because of inner turmoil be able to stuff his face like that?

Another one: It was given the impression he was a pale, skinny guy, never leaving the house and being practically a recluse. But in a love scene later on he was the embodiment of physical male beauty. Large, strong hands and muscles.

I just don’t expect from a socially awkward, shunned individual who thinks he is going mad and evades company whenever possible to act like the superior, sophisticated, witty, sometimes even cheeky, ever so in charge of a situation hero. The few occcasions when he didn’t have everything under control (like the scene with the raven) it felt as if this was just put in in order to establish that he indeed was troubled, and not because it was a real side of him. Somehow the underlying problem of the whole situation was only told, but what was shown was a completely different matter.

That being said, I absolutely adored what was being shown. The relationship between Jonathan and Cassandra was delightful. The way he talked to her was how you talk to a real partner and companion, not just some “petite” that needs rescuing (as so often in romance). They worked together to solve the mystery and his advances were refreshing and original. As a couple they were maybe a bit too forward, especially given the time setting, but I am no stickler for that sort of thing. Cassandra misunderstood a few things (when does that ever stop?), but at least those problems were removed rather quickly and the couple just continued carrying on as before.

I am not sure if the whole madness business was ever resolved properly. The father was a bit of a loose end as far as I was concerned. Was he mad now or not? I never got that. The final solution to the problem, to all problems in fact, was brought about by the women working together in spite of their previous differences which I also found was a nice change to the usual male saving the day.

If you judge the hero solely by his actions he is exemplary as to how a romance hero should be. Honest about his emotions when called for, witty, funny, original, he treats his partner as an equal (not that this is something that should even be neccessary to mention, but it is) – I loved him. Cassandra was an equally pleasing heroine. Not some damsel in distress that needs help getting away from the clutches of her fiancé, but quite self sufficient, down to earth and resolved to help Jonathan out.

I even found a redeeming quality (well, not quite, but I did appreciate it) in Miles who, when catching Jonathan and Cassandra, didn’t even pretend to give a damn about the ruination of his fiancée. As long as she has money what does he care whether she is sullied. He is honest and at least no hypocrite with a double standard. You have to give him that.

This was very enjoyable and entertaining. If you like a slight mystery, a little gothic feel and a solid romance between two likeable characters, go for it.

View all my reviews

Article

The untamed earl by Valerie Bowman

The Untamed Earl (Playful Brides, #5)The Untamed Earl by Valerie Bowman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Short synopsis: Alex who is in love with Owen pretends to help him woo her shrewish sister in order to win him for herself.

I loved the first half which was funny, witty and totally enjoyable. The second half turned into a generic romance with the usual misunderstandings and overreactions. It felt like I had switched books which I found disappointing. If I could I would give 4 stars / 2 stars, so settled for 3 in the end.

The first half was mostly interaction between Alex and Owen during their “lessons” – him teaching her how to become an accomplished debutante, her teaching him about her sister’s supposed likes and dislikes – and between Alex or Owen and Lavinia. I very much enjoyed this part.

All of a sudden the atmosphere changed. Alex and a few friends plotted to get Owen to acknowledge his feelings for her and unfortunately the usual romance storyline began. When Owen – as a result of the plot – acts rather foolishly at one point Alex got mad and turned away from him. This goes back and forth a bit until eventually they make up. After that their love seems established but Lavinia, a right bitch, throws a spanner in the works, Alex believes the lie and again wants nothing to do with Owen. How about talking to him properly like they did in the beginning instead of jumping to idiotic conclusions?

All these situations in the second half of the book were so unnatural and out of character that I got seriously annoyed and even started skimming pages. There is a sex scene that came unexpected and that was unnecessary, therefore not very enjoyable. Believe me, for me to complain about a love scene it really has to be against the rhythm.

I enjoyed the writing and the initial story idea but the decline into the typical romance behaviour later on eventually ruined the book for me. Pity!

On a sidenote: According to the author this is a re-telling of The Taming of the Shrew, only the shrew being a rogue. I cannot see that at all. Why Owen would be considered a “shrew” is beyond me. The shrew is Lavinia – and she is in desperate need of taming indeed.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

View all my reviews

Article

Scent of Scotland: Lord of Moray #1 by Mac Flynn

Scent of Scotland: Lord of Moray #1 (Lord of Moray, #1)Scent of Scotland: Lord of Moray #1 by Mac Flynn
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This was a free read from All Romance and the cover looked exceptionally good, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

I think I can say that I am a very forgiving reader. As long as there is chemistry between the characters I accept a lot of crap. But there is really nothing about this story that appealed to me.

What’s wrong with it?

OK, first a short synopsis: Abigail, a very poor seamstress notices a carriage which emanates an enticing scent she can’t resist, follows it and eventually meets her lover/mate/master who fucks her senseless.

* Way too short. Considering that this is obviously the first part of an ongoing project there is way too much stuff packed into 35 pages. Abigail’s miserable life is described, she follows the carriage, gets kidnapped, stays overnight in an inn after an attempt to escape, arrives in Sctoland, meets the laird, has dinner and conversation, ends up in a dungeon, witnesses the transformation of the handsome laird to a horrrible beast and has sex with said beast. All this on 35 pages. Needless to say with all that action going on the characters themselves stay a bit in the dark.

* There is no, and I repeat, no chemistry between Abigail and the laird (I forget his name if it ever was given). Not surprisingly I didn’t feel a thing. There was not nearly enough time to develop any emotional bond between hero and heroine. The reason the sex was so overwhelming, mind blowing and generally awesome was the scent that indicates Abigail is the laird’s mate. You see, she cannot resist the scent.

* Strangely enough she could just five minutes ago. The bloke gives off the scent like there’s no tomorrow and Abigail resists it just fine. Once he turns into a beast with a snout the same scent is just irresistible.

* Sex with the beast. I get the whole shifter thing and have read my fair share of shifter romance. But under normal circumstances (if you can call it that) the sex usually takes place in human shape. Not saying that sometimes afterwards the shifter doesn’t turn into a cuddly wolf and whatnot, but the physical act itself is pretty much always between humans. Sex with a furry animal? Might be out there in shifter romance, but I don’t want to read about it.

* The laird asks her to lock him into a dungeon cell to protect her from the beast. He also warns her. She must not move a muscle or make a sound once he is in beast form, because the beast wants her and once it notices her the laird (who IS the beast) cannot control it any longer. God knows what the beast is going to do to her. About one minute later we know what that is because, well, what can I say, as soon as Abigail sees (and smells) the beast she moves, she screams and then she opens the cell door. And then she has the best sex ever – and I can only repeat, with an animal whose face obligingly transforms into something more human during the act, probably because kissing with a snout is a bit diffcult.

* After that scene the story comes to an abrupt end. From some comments on Goodreads I take it people see it as a cliffhanger, but after this there is really nothing I want to know about Abigail’s story anymore.

* The story needs serious editing. Apart from the odd word that doesn’t fit and needs to be removed there are some orthographic mistakes that I can’t overlook. A bell is not the same as a belle and even though a hansom might be a pretty sight it is certainly not handsome.

I liked the story idea, but the execution was just lacking in every aspect.

View all my reviews

Article

Hardly a stranger by Heather Boyd

Hardly a Stranger (Hunt Club #3)Hardly a Stranger by Heather Boyd
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This might have been a really good story, but one of the first scenes totally ruined it for me.

When Ambrose got shot and thought he might die, he took the plunge and decided to tell Francis about his feelings despite his fear of rejection. Totally believable! But then, what does he say? Nothing about love and passion, but instead that he wants to put his cock in Francis’ arse (pardon my French). Is this what you say to the man of your dreams, when you are shot, need surgery and think you won’t make it? I sat there expecting a heartfelt emotional scene and got verbal porn. I didn’t recover from that for the rest of the book.

I liked the main characters, Mariani (I’wanted to know more about her), the idea of the club for the Regency libertines and even Rupert who was not as stuffy as he would seem.

If you are not as picky as I am when it comes to the emotional bond (or lack of it) between the protagonsists, you will probably like this.

View all my reviews

Article

Masquerade by Victoria Vale

Masquerade (Scandalous Ballroom Encounters, #1)Masquerade by Victoria Vale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brilliant erotic short story with two very likeable characters. There aren’t a lot of romance books where I like the heroine, but this is one of them.

There are quite a few sex scenes considering the shortness of the story, very entertaining and not repetitive at all. The characters TALKED to each other as well and developed a relationship. I didn’t care for the first fantasizing scene because I just don’t like that sort of stuff, but once the two met, it was perfect.

A delectable read in every way, and free to boot. Get it!

View all my reviews

Article

Meet me in the garden

Meet Me in the GardenMeet Me in the Garden by Rosa Sophia
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was an unusual story. Not only because of the topic which dealt with past lives and people meeting again after centuries, but also because the story had a dreamlike quality. Dreamlike in the sense that people’s character changed from one minute to the next in the eyes of Amalie, which I found strange as I could not see Amalie’s reasoning.

On one page she was kissing and let Artie fondle her (even though she wanted to say no she never actually did say it) and a little later she “always thought” he was a dark and brooding alcoholic (where the alcoholic idea came from I have no idea. There was NO indication previously). On one page he was sneering and sounding mean and spiteful and a few minutes later she thought he looked lonely and hurt. He was more or less stalking her and sent notes threatening Ian, but Amalie defended him as only being persistent and kept making excuses, even though she felt uncomfortable. Really odd! Not to mention Ian changing from boyfriend with almost angelic patience to verbally abusive drinker back to supportive lover.

Somehow I didn’t understand what was going on. No, that’s wrong. I understood what was going on but didn’t understand the why. At one point one of the supporting characters said that being with your soulmate does not necessarily mean everything is going smooth. Well, being with an alcoholic who insults me when talking to his friends and accepting that simply hoping this phase will pass, then considering drinking myself (if you can’t beat them, join them) is not only not smooth in my book, but rather disastrous. Why did she stay with him?

I can’t say that I liked either Amalie or Ian very much. She was a doormat, and he a jealous drinker. When Amalie met Artie (who sounded perfectly ok to me until all of a sudden he turned out to be a crazy stalker who then disappeared without a trace) she didn’t tell Ian about him – and that was before there was anything going on between them – because Ian would not tolerate that. I cannot understand, let alone support, such a concept. As a woman I cannot have male friends? This is wrong on a number of levels. What sort of relationship between Amalie and Ian is this?

All these misgivings on my part and the underlying theme of a common past history that I could not relate to made this a mystical story that might have made sense in itself, but was way too outré for me.

View all my reviews

I received a copy of Meet me in the garden from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Article

From afar by Ava March

From AfarFrom Afar by Ava March
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I was thoroughly disappointed with this.

The opening scene turned me off. I knew there was some m/f and voyeurism involved, but the picture of Raphael sitting in a tree wanking away was something I could have done without. Where did this obsession with Aleric come from? He has never even talked to the guy; just from seeing him, he got so obsessed with him? I find that rather unhealthy, it makes me uncomfortable with the character.

Then, within a few pages, Aleric was turned and was perfectly ok with his new lifestyle. It seems due to some chemical reaction which was triggered by the turning (no other explanation was given) he all of a sudden was just as needy with Raphael as the other vampire was with him. It’s not that they had spent ANY time together that did not involve frantic sex. Is that supposed to be romance? Not in my book. In fact this is not even porn, because even porn needs some sort of normality in order for the sex to stand out (I am paraphrasing Umberto Eco here).

The story possibilities were all wasted. Katerina (of course, a Russian vampire queen) and her clan sounded quite interesting – apart from the obession with sex again -, but those characters fizzled out and were not followed up at all. Btw, anyone else found the names Katerina and Aleric reminiscent of the Vampire Diaries?

Because there was no emotional bond to speak of (at least I didn’t see any) between Aleric and Raphael, I found myself skimming the sex scenes, i.e. large parts of the book. Finally a conflict was in the offing, i.e. Aleric’s understandable anger and distress over the stalkerish behavior of Raphael, but even that ended with sex almost immediately. Instead of running away from that weirdo who observed him in secret for years, Aleric forgives Raphael within minutes.This couple did not get me involved or attracted me in any way.

Abrupt does not even begin to describe the ending. We go from sex to a half baked plan to leave and that’s it. I had 17% to go with the story and thought there was something more substantial still coming up, and then – wham – the end within a paragraph. The remaining 17% of the book were excerpts and ads for other books, which annoyed me a lot.

I am not saying that this story couldn’t have been good on a mere 85 pages, but given the fact that most of those pages were about sex, it just didn’t work. No explanations, no development, a lacklustre “romance” at best, this wasn’t satisfying. At all.

View all my reviews

Article

Hannah and the Highlander by Sabrina York

Hannah and the Highlander (Untamed Highlanders, #1)Hannah and the Highlander by Sabrina York
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had thought that the highlander theme was dead. You would think that by now every possible angle of the Scots has been throughly explored, but it seems, there is still a demand for them.
Hannah and the Highlander ist the first book in the series and I got it because of the more than enthusiastic reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. It was supposed to be completely different from other books, made people happy and what not. I was intrigued.

To cut it short, the hype is a bit over the top. How Hannah, who is a down to earth and sensible girl could take a speech impediment for a lack of attraction – even though clearly Alexander was attracted to her like there is no tomorrow – is beyond me. I would imagine that even the least observant person would notice the difference between not WANTING to talk and NOT BEING ABLE TO. Again, as so often, the misunderstanding device failed for me.

The “desperate secret, one that could destroy them both” I could not even identify. But that doesn’t matter, as I hate those things anyway.

There was an interesting secondary romantic couple that will get its own book in the series. Hannah’s little sister and Alexander’s overlord, the duke, were quite appealing (once he had changed out of his dandy outfit and into a kilt, that is). As the romance has been almost established already, maybe their book will be more of a mix between a romance and a quest to remove Lachlan’s curse. That would be a change.

The love scenes were quite nice – sorry for the lacklustre word, but as the first love scene was done in the wrong spirit (at least for me. I hate love scenes where there needs to be talking first and there is none, leaving the love scene taking place under the wrong star.). There are other books that pull that off, but this is not one of them. Again, this is just my personal bugbear, other readers thought that they were steamy and perfect.

I am definitely giving the next book a miss. It is about the middle sister and Alexander’s younger brother. He suffers from the second son syndrome and was neither fleshed out nor appealing to me. A kissing contest? Give me a break! I might do him an injustice, but I am not interested. However, the third book I will pick up immediately as Lachlan and Lana sounded like they will make an interesting couple, more interesting than this one here.

View all my reviews

Article

Highland Sorcerer by Clover Autrey

Highland Sorcerer (Highland Sorcery, #1)Highland Sorcerer by Clover Autrey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

OK, next time I really must not forget to have a look at the heat index of books. I had automatically assumed there would be at least some love scenes, but no. Towards the end when there were only about 30 pages left and finally H and h were together again after an exciting rescue mission, I figured now would be a good time – and was disappointed. They had such a good connection, and a love scene would have just been the icing on the cake. I’m sure Clover Autrey would have done a brilliant job, too. Then again, how can there be a love scene when Col has been dragged into a time rift, Shaw has been abducted by Aldreth and Edeen is in a sort of coma? At least there is good reason for not having sex there and then.

Anyway, once I got over that, I was quite pleased with this story. It was a free book from All Romance and turned out to be 130 pages on my Sony, not too shabby. The plot was quite good, evil witch trying to take over the world with the help of a powerful sorcerer who would not have any of it. A spunky healer who stops at nothing to help her (future) lover. Perfect! Time travel, magic, Highlands, very nice. Thank God the oh so popular Scottish accent was kept to a minimum.

The story ended with a huge cliffhanger and will be continued with “The Vampire and the Highland Empath” (what a title!), which has a higher heat index. Just saying. However, reading the synopsis of the following titles I am not drawn to them. Shaw’s storyline featuring monsters that ate humankind to extinction (?) doesn’t do it for me, I am afraid.

View all my reviews

Article

Tribune of Rome by Robert Fabbri

Tribune of Rome (Vespasian, #1)Tribune of Rome by Robert Fabbri

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For lovers of historical fiction set in ancient Rome this is a must read.
The book covers only a very short period of Vespasian’s life, starting with an omen after his birth and then jumping to him when he is about 16 years old and soon going to Rome to make his career. It describes how he becomes involved in a conspiracy against conspirators, how he then joins the army and the following events.

This is nothing for the faint at heart. If you thought the crucifixions and decimation in "Fortunes’ Favourites" by Colleen McCullough were bad, be prepared for worse. Robert Fabbri doesn’t gloss over anything. His decriptions are vivid and brutal, gruesome and bloody. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Nevertheless, even I – and I am quite a sissy – made it through and loved it. I wasn’t even done with this book yet, when I ordered the next book in the series, so I can continue reading right away.

View all my reviews

Article

The Beast by Alianne Donnelly

The Beast (The Beast, #2)The Beast by Alianne Donnelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a great twist on the common Beauty & the Beast. This is sort of an inverted werewolf story, just that it’s not a werewolf but some unspecified beast. On three days a month the nice and friendly beast turns into a human who is a real monster, just without the claws.

Of course, you come to quite like the monster pretty quickly, even though he is a bit mean at first, but that is only defense machanism, isn’t it? Plus, I would be pissed off as well if they chained me to the wall on the few days a month I could actually go out and party like I used to before I got cursed.

From what I read Bastien must have been a right bastard before the curse, but I can’t see much of that here. I suppose 300 years of being cursed beats it out of you.

Anyway, this is a really good and entertaining read. And it is free to boot (available on Smashwords). I recommend it to everybody who likes a beauty and the beast theme, tortured heroes and fairy tales. The only problem I have with it is that is too short. Way too short!

View all my reviews

Article

Oscar Wilde and the dead man’s smile by Gyles Brandreth

inanutshell 

I read it in:  English

I liked it:    Yes


Oscar Wilde And The Dead Man's SmileOscar Wilde And The Dead Man’s Smile by Gyles Brandreth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another very entertaining book in the series. I loved the theater atmosphere in Paris and Oscar’s excursion to the US.

There are several great scenes which allude to Oscar Wilde’s later life (or death) like his visit to Reading gaol, his statement that he hopes his children will never feel the need to change their family name or the talk about Molière’s grave.

Favourite quote:

“Isn’t Molière buried at Père Lachaise?” I said.

“Oh, now he is, yes, beneath a mighty monument. Now, pilgrims come to kiss his tomb.” My friend chuckled softly and took a sip of wine. “There is no logic to hypocrisy.”

This is a delightful mystery with interesting characters and an intriguing plot.

View all my reviews


Product info and buy link :

Title Oscar Wilde and the dead man’s smile
Author Gyles Brandreth
Publisher John Murray Publishers
ISBN 9780719569906
I got this book from I bought it
Buy link Buy Oscar Wilde and the dead man’s smile
More Info The Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book Depository.co.uk. If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

Article

Oscar Wilde and the ring of death by Gyles Brandreth

 inanutshell 

I read it in: English

I liked it: Yes

Oscar Wilde and the Ring of DeathOscar Wilde and the Ring of Death by Gyles Brandreth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good sequel to the candlelight murders. I particularly enjoyed that there are more “celebrities” turning up in this one, for example Bram Stoker and Walter Sickert, who at one point was a suspect for being Jack the Ripper (Particia Cornwell maintains that theory still today).

Again the book is full of quotes and bonmots either by Oscar Wilde or by the author who did a great job “faking” them.

A very enjoyable read.

View all my reviews


Product info and buy link :

Title Oscar Wilde and the ring of death
Author Gyles Brandreth
Publisher John Murray Publishers
ISBN 9780719569609
I got this book from I bought it
Buy link Buy Oscar Wilde and the ring of death
More info The Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book Depository.co.uk. If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

Article

The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Warren Adams

 Cover The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Warren Adams

In a nutshell:

Short synopsis:

Insurance investigator tries to prove a murder (or three)

Language I read the book in: English

Did I like it? Absolutely. I loved it.

For people who: old fashioned like detective novels, modern detective novels, epistolary novels


My thoughts: 

The Notting Hill Mystery is said to be the first detective novel (published 1862-1863), even though some claim otherwise. Whether it is or not is irrelevant. I was so mesmerized by it I couldn’t put it down. Even though the crime and the perpetrator are clear from the start the suspense comes from finding out how the murderer did it and how the detective finds evidence. Not that we ever accompany the detective on his investigations, the whole book is a presentation of evidence in the form of floor plans, letters, statements and testimonials from witnesses and I can only begin to imagine how much time and effort it cost poor Henderson to track down people and get them to cooperate. There are dubious circus managers, insurance clerks, maids fired for petty theft, there is no end to the list of people who have something to contribute.

Things that nowadays take 5 minutes to find out with the help of an email to Australia, must have taken months then, but Henderson perseveres. A word of caution: In order to go with the flow and accept the solution to the mystery you need to be open to rather esoteric (or mumbo jumbo, depending on your point of view) topics,  but, really, the story is so well told and from so many different perspectives that it hardly matters whether you believe in animal magnetism or not.

Baron R** deserves a place among the top fiends in detective fiction.  He achieves the results he wants in such a casual way that people who do his bidding actually do not even realize this and rather think he wanted them to do the opposite. Very admirable, when you come to think of it. Even at the end of the book it is more than questionable whether his crimes can ever be proven and whether he can be prosecuted (let alone convicted). It is obvious he did it, but nailing him down is another matter. Brilliant!

Right from the start The Notting Hill Mystery reminded me of another favourite detective novel by Dorothy L. Sayers and Robert Eustace which came much later (1930) called “The documents in the case”. In that book the whole case is presented in the form of documents (letters, witness reports etc.) without any detective work as we know it going on.

Absolutely loved this one. I highly recommend it.


Product info and buy link :

Title The Notting Hill Mystery
Author Charles Warren Adams
Publisher The British Library Publishing Division
ISBN 9780712358590
I got this book from John
Buy link Buy The Notting Hill Mystery
More info Read about The Notting Hill Mystery in The Guardian
And some more info Find The Notting Hilly Mystery at the Internet Archive (Links at the bottom of the Wikipedia article)

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book Depository.co.uk. If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

Article

Duke of Scandal by Adele Ashworth

I realized I can copy my Goodreads reviews into a blog post. How convenient for some short bits, especially if it is a DNF.

inanutshell 

I read it in: English

I liked it:      Not particularly

Duke of Scandal (Duke Trilogy, #2)Duke of Scandal by Adele Ashworth

DNF
I didn’t particularly like the heroine and was not interested in what became of her.
Skipped about three fourths of the book to read the last chapter. Why did she leave him and then come back without giving any explanation for her stupid behaviour? Why did he accept his reputation as a sexual deviant? To protect his brother? Made no sense under the circumstances.

View all my reviews


Product info and buy link :

Title Duke of Scandal
Author Adele Ashworth
Publisher Avon Books
ISBN 9780060528416
I got this book from I bought it
Buy link Buy Duke of Scandal

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book Depository.co.uk. If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

Article

The Borgias–The hidden history by G J. Meyer

Cover The Borgias by G. J. Meyer

 

In a nutshell:

Short synopsis:

An unbiased (or maybe not quite, rather a little pro-Borgia) look at the Borgias from pope Calixtus III. to Cesare and Lucrezia.

Language I read the book in: English

Did I like it? Very much

For people who: like European history, the Renaissance


My thoughts: 

When I started reading this I knew next to nothing about the Borgias. I only knew that they are said to have been an infamous family, poisoning people to the left and right, power greedy as nobody else before or after, you know what I mean. Other than that I was clueless.

G.J. Meyer set out to write a book to rehabilitate that family and he does an excellent job. He starts at a time when the first member of the Borgias, Alonso de Borja, who later became pope Calixtus III., begins his career. We then are taken on a mind spinning journey through the next 80 years or so, learning about the rise of this incredible family, their drawbacks, the ramifications of their actions as well as all the political goings on in Renaissance Italy. And there is a lot to tell.

Alliances were formed one day and withdrawn the next, warlords were usurping cities all over the place, condottieri sold their services to one baron this moment and to another one the next, foreign kings were meddling nonstop. The intermarriages between families and the various relationships were mind-boggling; this is not a book that you can read without concentrating on it. The author, however, has a writing style that just flows and he explains everything so well that it is a pleasure to follow otherwise confusing events.

After every chapter he inserts a background chapter where he explains one specific aspect of the time, for example a short history of Venice and how come it was the only city state reigned over by a council of men, what condottieri were, great discoveries of the time etc. Those chapters were breaks where one could learn about a subject in more detail before the eventful family story was taken up again.

While being pro-Borgia the author still does not sugarcoat what the Borgias did. He tells facts and does not gossip. He interprets events for which there is no evidence in the Borgias’ favour, but always mentions other points of view as well. However, his interpretations make sense.

I feel that I can hold up a conversation about the Borgias now and know what I am talking about. Next time someone mentions Lucrezia Borgia being the ultimate venefica of the last millennium, I will be able to defend her with ease. What more can you ask for?

If you even have a faint interest in history and the Renaissance and/or the Borgias, you have to read this book.


Movie tip

I could recommend the TV series from 2011 “The Borgias”, but somehow I have the feeling it won’t do justice to the Borgias, so better stay away from it.


Product info and buy link :

Title The Borgias – The hidden history
Author G. J. Meyer
Publisher Bantam
ISBN 9780345526915
I got this book from the publisher via Netgalley
Buy link Buy The Borgias – The hidden history

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book Depository.co.uk. If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

This isn't Fiction Reading Challenge Button

This post is part of the This isn’t Fiction Reading Challenge which is hosted by The Book Garden.

Article

The Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen

 Cover The Chinese orange mystery by Ellery Queen

In a nutshell:

Short synopsis:

Ellery Queens once more helps his father to solve a baffling mystery.

Language I read the book in: English

Did I like it? Yes

For people who: love whodunnits, locked room mysteries


My thoughts: 

I always liked Ellery Queen mysteries. They are the perfect whodunnits with a clever detective, a father/police officer sidekick and a nice atmosphere. The plots are always elaborate and puzzling.

This one is no exception. A body is found in an anteroom and the murderer has left curious clues behind. The dead man has all his clothes on backwards, all furniture, clocks, paintings are turned to the wall, even the fruit bowl is turned upside down. All people involved seem to have a past or a secret to cover up or – at the very least – an obnoxious attitude. 

As usual, Ellery solves the mystery in his own style and leaves everybody speechless. I completely failed the challenge to the reader that you will find in every Ellery Queen mystery. It tells the reader that now he has all the clues and he should be able to figure it out. I didn’t. This mystery is so tied to the time it is set in that no modern reader would deduct the solution from what he knows. Times have changed and what was common and obvious back then is now so extraordinary that it would not come to mind immediately. Once explained it makes sense, though.

A very quick and enjoyable mystery. If you like whodunnits you will love this.

Beware! Spoilers follow:

There are various  things I want to mention for people who don’t mind spoilers. If you do, do not read on!

The story first doesn’t appear to be a locked room mystery, however, when we get the solution it turns out to have been one all along. Unusual!

How the murderer was supposed to have done the crime is unfeasible. Yes, Ellery explains the how and that is plausible, but there was just not the opportunity. The situation is almost a little bit like in Agatha Christie’s “The murder of Roger Ackroyd” where the murderer is the narrator. Here the story is not told from the killer’s point of view but we accompany him during the hour in which the murder takes place and there is just no evidence that he had time to commit the crime. He works in his office and during that time four people come in to talk to him. Are we to believe that he is supposed to have gone next door, bludgeon a man, discover something unexpected, think of a ruse to cover that up, execute it (which includes rearranging all the furniture) and then process with his original complicated plan of bolting the door inside from the outside? Um, no!

The title of the book, by the way, is a MacGuffin. All the time Ellery goes on about the tangerines, aka Chinese oranges, which were available in the anteroom and of which one was eaten, either by the victim or murderer. In reality the tangerines are of no importance at all, the orange refers to something completely different.

Still, a very good mystery and baffling to the extreme.


Movie tip

The Mandarin Mystery (downloadable for free as it is in the public domain). However, I would only watch it for scientific reasons, it is absolute bollocks and does not resemble the book in the least. I am not kidding.


Product info and buy link :

Title The Chinese Orange Mystery
Author Ellery Queen
Publisher Open Road Media
ISBN ASIN: B00B1MSILY
I got this book from the publisher via Netgalley
Buy link Buy The Chinese Orange Mystery from various sources

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

Article

Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders by Gyles Brandreth

Cover Oscar Wilde and the candlelight murders by Gyles Brandreth

In a nutshell:

Short synopsis: Oscar Wilde as Sherlock Holmes.

Language I read the book in: English

Did I like it? Yes

For people who: like cozy/historical mysteries, Oscar Wilde


My thoughts: 

I like Oscar Wilde and I like historical mysteries, so “Oscar Wilde and the candlelight murders” was an obvious choice for me. I was not disappointed.

The story is told from Robert Sherard’s first person point of view. He was a close friend of Oscar Wilde’s and his first biographer, but a rather dull Watson to Wilde’s Sherlock Holmes. The comparison to the Sherlock Holmes suggests itself naturally because Wilde displays extraordinary powers of deduction, a bit too extraordinary for my taste, he might give Holmes a run for his money. On top of that Arthur Conan Doyle is a key figure as a friend of Oscar Wilde and – according to this book – based the character of Mycroft Holmes on him. Be that as it may, Wilde and Sherard are the typical sleuth/sidekick pair with Wilde being quite in the know while Sherard has no clue as to what is going on.

Oscar Wilde is shown as a character with a lot of facets, amiable, the perfect gentleman with impeccable manners, a bit of sloth like, but at the same time extremely moody and unpredictable. His homosexuality is only hinted at by making him "worship" pretty young boys a bit too much to be just a lover of aesthetics. Sherard seems oblivious to this or chooses to ignore it. Strange, because towards the end he becomes outraged when he witnesses some "musical" activities ("musical" being the euphemism used at the time).

The mystery is quite puzzling, even though the reader gets an inkling rather early of who might be involved. It develops very slowly, the investigations are taking place over a long period of time and are not really the main focus of the book. The book lives from the atmosphere and the characters, most of all Oscar Wilde himself. You will find a lot of very familiar quotes interspersed throughout the book and and some that COULD be by Wilde but are Gyles Brandreth’s own.

The end is in the nice and cozy Poirot manner. Everybody is gathered in a room and the sleuth presents the solution, gives his reasoning to a stunned audience and presents the murderer.

This is a lovely, super quick and entertaining read and I am looking forward to the next books in the series already. If you are not familiar with Oscar Wilde at all it might be helpful if you read a little about and/or by him first, but even without this knowledge, cozy mystery lovers will enjoy this book a lot.


Product info and buy link :

Title Oscar Wilde and the candlelight murders
Author Gyles Brandreth
Publisher John Murray Publishers
ISBN 9780719569302
I got this book from a friend
Buy link Buy Oscar Wilde and the candlelight murders
More info The Oscar Wilde murder mysteries

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book Depository.co.uk. If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

Article

The Grass Crown by Colleen McCullough

Cover The Grass Crown by Colleen McCullough 

In a nutshell:

Language I read the book in: English

Did I like it? YES

For people who: like ancient history, historical fiction, ancient Rome, political scheming, power struggles, warfare


My thoughts: 

It took me almost a year from buying this book to finishing it, exactly as I predicted in May 2012. But this is in no way a reflection on the quality of it. If you are watching my Goodreads feed then you might have noticed that reading sped up considerably a couple of weeks ago, the point when I managed to get this book as an e-book. Usually I prefer paper to e-book, but in this case reading the e-book is so much better. Carrying 900 pages around is no fun – at all.

It is impossible to talk about the plot of this novel as so many people’s lives are explored and so many things happen that, once you reach the end of this book, you are just stunned!

To mention a few of the occurrences: the book covers the efforts of Marcus Livius Drusus to enfranchise the Italian allies, the subsequent so-called Social War, the start of the war against Mithridates, the rise of Sulla and his march on Rome, the fall of Gaius Marius, his seventh consulship and the short reign of terror the follows it. And by covering I mean  covering in detail. Even though sometimes a lot of time elapses between events, everything  is told and explained carefully, what caused it, who was on whose side, what were the consequences. Once more the amount of research that went into this book just astounded me.

After you read this book you think you know all those Romans. You might not completely understand them, as their mindset is a different one, but to a certain extent you can follow their reasoning and realize why they could not have acted differently – except for Marius at the end, but then, he was as mad as a hatter.

The book ends with Gaius Marius’ death, and I am already looking forward to the sequel. A lot of the people playing a major part in the first two books are dead now, but new ones are coming up on the horizon, Pompey (whose father Pompey Strabo here dies from an illness instead of from lightning, which I found a bit strange), Gaius Julius Caesar (who received a most unwelcome appointment at the end of this book ), Cicero – and of course, Sulla has yet to fight his Pontic war and return to Rome. Exciting times are lying ahead of us!


Product info and buy link :

Title The Grass Crown
Author Colleen McCullough
Publisher Arrow Books
ISBN 9780099462491
I got this book from I bought it
Buy link Buy The Grass Crown
More info Masters of Rome series
Still more info Gaius Marius and Sulla

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book Depository.co.uk. If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

Tea & Books Reading Challenge Button

This post is part of the Tea & Books Reading Challenge which is hosted by The Book Garden.

Article

Top ten historical fiction books

Top Ten Tuesday

Today it is Top Ten Tuesday freebie and we can choose any topic we want, so I will go for my top ten historical fiction books.

I like historical fiction that has at least some sort of realistic connection to the time it is talking about, maybe a real event that the story builds upon, or real people whose story is told in a fictional way. So, here we go…

Top Ten Historical Fiction Books


What are your Top Ten Historical Fiction books?

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. You will find tons of more Top Ten Tuesday participants there.

Article

Never seduce a Scot by Maya Banks

Cover Never seduce a Scot by Maya BanksAnother Highland romance with a little twist.

In a nutshell:

Short synopsis:

Clan chieftain is forced to marry enemy clan’s daft daughter, but not everything is at it seems.

Language I read the book in: English

Did I like it? Yes, rather.

For people who: like Highland romance and the standard romance components 


My thoughts: 

After the absolute disaster with 50 Shades of Grey I needed another romance to get that book out of my system. After reading a Random House newsletter and looking on Netgalley I got a historical romance by Maya Banks. Can it be a more sure thing than Scotsmen and Maya Banks? I don’t think so.

I have read books by her before, but they were contemporary ménage stories, and I somehow must have expected some happy threesome with a fair maiden, a fierce chieftain and a gentle healer or something because I was surprised to find a rather standard Highland romance. In fact it reminded me a lot of two books by Julie Garwood combined, “The Secret” (bride comes from an enemy clan, just that in The Secret it is kept, well, a secret) and “Saving Grace” (brutal ex husband comes for “his” woman again). But I suppose all components of a Highland romance are so formulaic that you take them from a pool and combine them at will and they will always make a nice romance read.

In this story we have an additional twist with the bride/wife being deaf , and it takes some time for her man to find out. How her family has not noticed this in years and just thought her daft is a mystery to me, but I will let that slide, as it is mandatory to the plot.

The whole story is a really enjoyable read, not as hot as other Banks books, but rather sweet and cosy. I just saw on Goodreads that is is book 1 in a series and that makes perfect sense. Both clans have a couple of brothers to find brides for and it is only reasonable to give them their own books.

Why the book is called “Never seduce a Scot” I have no idea. So far I haven’t come across one Highland romance where the  Scot in question isn’t a prefect specimen of his kind. In fact, seducing a Scot (or alternatively being seduced by one) should be a top priority on every girl’s bucket list.


Product info and buy link :

Title Never seduce a Scot
Author Maya Banks
Publisher Ballantine Books
ISBN 9780345533234
I got this book from Netgalley
Buy link Buy Never seduce a Scot

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book Depository.co.uk. If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

Article

History locations: Moat festival

We often have medieval festivals  in our area. There are tons of medieval castles around and most of them organize some annual festival or other. This time is was the Moat Festival in our local moat which is a park in daily life.

Moat Festival

There were lots of stalls with medieval goods, food and drink and performances. Knights fighting, musicians playing (I LOVE bagpipers, especially when they are half naked and tattooed) and acrobats doing their tricks, it was a lot of fun.

The vegetarian food selection was rather, um, limited, but if you are a carnivore you were all set. Quite educational for the children who all of a sudden realize that the yummy “Schnitzel” was a cute little piglet once.

Article

Discovering Georgette Heyer

Georgette HeyerNo, I am not really discovering her for the first time, my mom was a huge fan and she had tons of Heyer’s books in German. When I was younger I read quite a few but that is about 25 years ago.

Discover a new love has a Georgette Heyer feature and sale starting on August 14 with a lot of info about all her books, synopis, excerpts etc. So I was thinking about maybe starting to read some of her books again. I remember there was a Heyer readalong or something some time ago and am hoping some of you might be able to recommend something to me.

I checked on my swap site (book buying ban!) and they have one in English, “Sprig Muslin”, which seems to be quite good. So I might get that for a start.

 

Has anyone recommendations? What is your favourite Georgette Heyer book?

Article

In my mailbox: The long journey

With my book buying ban still in place there is not much to report. However, I did receive one book this week that went around the globe on a long journey indeed. I “mooched” it from Bookmooch and it was posted in Australia on April 19. It took almost three months to get here, but eventually it made its way into my mailbox this week.

 

I swapped

  • A Night to Remember by Walter Lord, about the last night of the Titanic. It will not come as a surprise that I wanted it when the Titanic hype was at its high this year. Now I will probably have to wait for another fifty years before I feel like reading it. Just kidding!

Sea mailA night to remember by Walter Lord

 

What was in YOUR mailbox recently? 

Article

The first man in Rome by Colleen McCullough

firstman

If you think Colleen McCullough only wrote tear jerkers like “The Thorn Birds”, you better think again.

In a nutshell:

Short synopsis:

Gaius Marius is climbing up the career ladder and becomes consul six times in a row. Sulla evolves from a debauched pauper to a military man occupying his rightful place in the Roman society.

Language I read the book in: English

Did I like it? VERY much so.

For people who: like ancient history, historical fiction, ancient Rome, political scheming, power struggles, warfare


My thoughts: 

Starting to read:

I really like the beginning with Marius bearing a grudge because his chances of being consul are diminishing, and Sulla bemoaning his plight of being a pauper in spite of being a true Patrician. I sympathize with both of them. But, oh, this is going to be a long read. Tons of names and situations to remember (in Rome, Numidia, Numantia etc.) and a lot of back history.

Later on:

The story is picking up a bit of speed. Well, not really, but things are happening. Marius’ marriage, Sulla’s coming into fortune (which happens in a very strange way – it is his doing, but it all starts with something that looks like fate – the grass crown working for him?). Sulla is such a cunning devil – but very ingenious, I like him. Of course this is historical fiction and I don’t remember much about his biography I once read, so it might all be a complete fabrication; I need to re-read that biography afterwards to check.

The war against Jugurtha is in full swing now and Marius is getting his future told by Martha. I am enjoying how Colleen McCullough is setting things up, alternating between the political/military world of Marius and the  civilian and rather debauched life that Sulla is leading until now. You know that those two figures will meet soon and the anticipation is great!

The number of people in the book is mind boggling. The fact that father and son often are called the same (if you are lucky one is “the elder”, one “the younger” or they have a different cognomen) doesn’t make it any easier. So you have to be on your toes every minute in order to know who talks to whom about whom,
At times when I interrupted reading the book for a few days and came back I had to get back into all the names again even though I am not completely unfamiliar with them.

There is no point in talking about the plot of this book any further, so I will only mention a few snippets. It is the first book in a series dealing with real people and the number of events and historical facts mentioned and embellished is just too enormous.  The war against Jugurtha, Aurelia’s marriage to Gaius Julius Caesar, Livia Drusa’s marriage to Caepio and her infatuation with her unknown “Ulysses”, the siege of Burdigala, armies annihilated because one arrogant patrician won’t merge his army with a new man’s, the defeat of the Germans, Sulla’s German family and so on and on…

Towards the end:

We go back in time a bit again to hear about Aurelia’s life in her insula while Gaius Julius Caesar is away in Gaul. Oh, how interesting this is! We all know what an insula is, but here we learn how it is set up, how many and what kinds of people used to live in  that particular one, about the management of it and about the problems a landlady encounters. Aurelia is a tough woman and understands how things are done in the Subura very quickly. We learn about the extortion business in the area with the crossroads tavern as the headquarter and how Aurelia even tames the local assassin until he becomes her humble servant.

The book ends with another bang. A terrible murder has been committed and as a result there is a short, effective, yet unbloody, war inside the pomerium. The last few pages indicate that for once a few quiet months lie ahead. I am sure this is what everybody needs after the last six years.

All in all:

What I liked most is that these are all historical facts which are told in a fictional way. I don’t know how many of those situations are true and how many are invented, but they throw a colorful life on a period about which most of us know just dates and parentage and wars.
We all know that Gaius Julius Caesar’s parents were Aurelia and Gaius Julius Caesar. This might be good enough, but here we read about how Aurelia’s uncle not only suggests to her parents to let her choose her own husband, which is very unconventional to say the least, if not scandalous, and how he plays matchmaker. We all know that Livia Drusa is the mother of Servilia who will later become Caesar’s lover. But here we read about how she was forced by her brother to marry Caepio in a way that makes every modern woman shudder.
It gives life to people that we normally only know as names.

Even if you are only vaguely interested in ancient Rome, this book is an absolute must read. If you have never read anything about ancient Rome before and don’t care for it either, read this as any other fictional novel and you will have tasted blood.

At the end of the book there is a huge glossary as interesting as the novel itself. It explains not only  decisions Colleen McCullough made (e.g. Julia’s sister Julilla marrying Sulla, which would account for a few things that will happen later on and for which we have no explanation), but also certain Roman customs, names, relations and so on. On top of that the book comes with a number of maps and floor plans that the author drew herself. I can’t get over the amount of research that went into this book, let alone the whole series. I can’t wait to continue with The Grass Crown.


Location: Ancient Rome, around 100BC

Bust of Gaius MariusBust of Lucius Cornelius SullaRuins of the forum by Canaletto, 1742

Images from Wikipedia


Movie tip

Julius Caesar mini series

 

 


Product info and buy link :

Title The first man in Rome
Author Colleen McCullough
Publisher Arrow Books
ISBN 9780099462484
I got this book from I swapped it
Buy link Buy The first man in Rome
More info Masters of Rome series
still more info Gaius Marius and Sulla

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book Depository.co.uk. If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

This post is part of

Tea & Books Reading Challenge

The Tea & Books Reading Challenge is hosted by The Book Garden.