Monday, September 25, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: And the Crows Took Their Eyes by Vicki Lane

And the Crows Took Their Eyes by Vicki Lane is a powerful historical novel set on the North/South border during the American Civil War. The novel brings to life the tragedy of the conflict, showing how it affected two communities in the Eastern Tennessee/Western North Carolina hills where Confederates and Unionists lived side-by-side. It presents a microcosm of the war as a whole. Even those who thought they hadn’t a dog in the fight found themselves caught up in the violence, deprivation, and depredations.

The novel is told from five viewpoints. Five first person voices. This structure is a superb way to show each side of the conflict. Aside the selfish, self-aggrandizing James Keith, a Confederate officer, the characters are all sympathetic to varying degrees. Readers will gain empathy for people’s suffering even if we don’t like their stances on the issues. 

The intertwining storylines show that there are, indeed, two sides to every story. In And the Crows Took Their Eyes that story is of an execution of thirteen men and boys in Eastern Tennessee, Union sympathizers, by a Confederate troop – what led up to it and what happened in the aftermath. It is a riveting account of an actual historical event.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: Every Duke Has His Day by Suzanne Enoch

I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

Bringing up Baby is one of my favorite screwball comedies (1938 - Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant - a must-see!) So when I saw this Regency Romance was pitched as Bringing up Baby if Jane Austen wrote it, I knew I’d have to read Suzanne Enoch’s latest, Every Duke Has His Day.

Michael Bromley, the Duke of Woritin, uses his wealth and position to support his true passion, chemistry. He has no time for the frivolous pursuits of his peers. He finds the young ladies of his station insipid. He rarely attends social functions and has acquired a reputation (well-deserved) for rudeness. Most people believe he is mad.

Elizabeth (Bitsy) Dockering is one of the most sought-after belles of the ton. She is beautiful, fun-loving, and wealthy. Her most ardent suitor is the superficially charming Lord Peter Cordray. Elizabeth is not particularly fond of Peter, but he is the most persistent and she assumes she will eventually end up with him. The biggest obstacle is her beloved poodle, the poorly behaved Galahad, who has nearly taken a bite of Peter more than once.

Michael is fond of one person: His aunt. When she asks him to watch her poodle, Lancelot, while she visits a friend, he obliges without much protest. The dog is well-trained and not much trouble.

However, when Michael walks Lancelot by a lake, Elizabeth is nearby with Galahad. Galahad runs off and the two dogs get into a tangle. They are pulled apart. Michael is rude about it. And they go their separate ways, not realizing they have each taken the wrong dog.

This might have been quickly sorted, except for the fact that Lancelot is stolen that night from Elizabeth’s bedchamber. A madcap caper ensues as Michael and Elizabeth join forces to find the dog(s), capture the thieves, and fall in love.

This is a delightful novel. Unlike most romances that confine the viewpoints to the two protagonists, Every Duke Has His Day also follows the hapless dog thief, his devoted lady-friend, and the mastermind of the scheme, which quickly devolves into a comedy of errors.

The banter is clever. Michael is charming in spite of himself. And Elizabeth will grow on the reader as she is challenged by Michael to use her intelligence instead of her flighty charm. It’s a squeaky clean romance. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: The Husband Criteria by Catherine Kullman

BLOG TOUR: The Husband Criteria by Catherine Kullman 

London 1817

The primary aim of every young lady embarking on the Spring frenzy that is the Season must be to make a good match. Or must it? And what is a good match? For cousins Cynthia, Chloe and Ann, well aware that the society preux chevalier may prove to be a domestic tyrant, these are vital questions. How can they discover their suitors’ true character when all their encounters must be confined to the highly ritualised round of balls, parties and drives in the park?


As they define and refine their Husband Criteria, Cynthia finds herself unwillingly attracted to aloof Rafe Marfield, heir to an earldom, while Chloe is pleased to find that Thomas Musgrave, the vicar’s son from home, is also in London. And Ann must decide what is more important to her, music or marriage.

 And what of the gentlemen who consider the marriage mart to be their hunting grounds? How will they react if they realise how rigorously they are being assessed?

 A light-hearted, entertaining look behind the scenes of a Season that takes a different course with unexpected consequences for all concerned.



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Author Bio:

 Catherine Kullmann was born and educated in Dublin. Following a three-year courtship conducted mostly by letter, she moved to Germany where she lived for twenty-five years before returning to Ireland. She has worked in the Irish and New Zealand public services and in the private sector. Widowed, she has three adult sons and two grandchildren.


Catherine has always been interested in the extended Regency period, a time when the foundations of our modern world were laid. She loves writing and is particularly interested in what happens after the first happy end—how life goes on for the protagonists and sometimes catches up with them. Her books are set against a background of the offstage, Napoleonic wars and consider in particular the situation of women trapped in a patriarchal society.


She is the author of The Murmur of Masks, Perception & Illusion, A Suggestion of Scandal, The Duke’s Regret, The Potential for Love, A Comfortable Alliance and Lady Loring’s Dilemma.


Catherine also blogs about historical facts and trivia related to this era. You can find out more about her books and read her blog (My Scrap Album) at her website. You can contact her via her Facebook page or on Twitter.



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Saturday, September 9, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: The Woman in the Castello by Kelsey James

I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

The Woman in the Castello by Kelsey James is a newly-released slow-build mystery/horror story set in Italy a generation after WWII.

Silvia Whitford is an Italian-American actress desperately in need of a break. An unwed mother with a two-year-old, she is also supporting her mother who is slowly dying of cancer. In order to allow her mother to die back in Italy, Silvia must make her way in a country she has never really known.

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, her mother has an estranged sister who lives in a crumbling castle. An Italian production company in need of a castle in which to set their horror film hires Silvia to be the star–and to secure permission to use her aunt’s castle.

At first, it seems like a dream come true. Her co-star is a long-admired handsome film star. The supporting actress is eager to be Silvia’s friend. And the show’s “fixer,” a man named Paul, is gorgeous, kind, strong, and interested in a relationship. 

Unfortunately, everything quickly goes wrong. The castle is reputed to be haunted. And strange happenings seem to bear out its reputation. Silvia’s aunt disappears and Silvia fears she has been murdered. The director is a bully. Her co-star is a sexist pig. And even her new friend is not entirely trustworthy. When Silvia starts to doubt Paul, she begins to question if it really is everyone else in the wrong or if she is imagining things.

The stakes rise as accidents threaten the production and no one takes Silvia’s concerns seriously. Is the castle truly haunted? Or is one of her coworkers a murderer?

This atmospheric novel is a bit slow-paced for a thriller and the love story, to me, seemed a bit banal, but I did love the setting. There is also an intergenerational family drama twist. And fascists. Maybe the novel was trying to be too many things at once, but I wasn’t as drawn in as I expected to be. I’d be interested in what fans of gothic horror think, since it mostly seems to be a ghost story in the setting of a horror movie. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: Beloved by Mary Lancaster

Beloved, the final book in Mary Lancaster’s Regency Romance series, The Duel, has recently been released.

Miss Olivia Rainey is the illegitimate daughter of the evil Anthony Severne, the right-hand man of the old Duke of Cuttyngham. The old duke died during a duel, but the mystery at the heart of the first three books is whether or not the duel was the true cause of his death. Olivia was witness to something that suggests it was not. And if it was not, the new Duke of Cuttyngham may be in grave danger. Despite having strong reasons for not wanting to meet the new duke, her conscience propels her to Cuttyngs.

Victor Severne is the new duke. Readers have met him in the previous books. A brooding intellectual, anti-social because of a deformed leg and a lifetime of being bullied and humiliated by his father, Victor has acquired an unjust reputation as a monster. When Olivia appears at his estate with some wild tale of unspecified danger, he doesn’t trust her. Especially not when he learns she is the daughter of his distant cousin Anthony.

Nevertheless, he invites her to stay at his estate. The more time they spend together, the more drawn to one another they become. And when threats to Victor’s life become manifest, he and Olivia join forces to learn who is responsible. The guilty party must be the same man who caused the old duke’s death. Victor and Olivia reunite with relatives from the first three books in Brussels on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo for the conclusion of this wonderful historical romance/mystery series. Start with book 1 - Entangled

Thursday, August 24, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

Back in the day, I had the same reaction as Elaine Benes (from Seinfeld) to the movie The English Patient. Although it isn’t a popular opinion, I was bored throughout. As a consequence, I never read the book by Michael Ondaatje, even though I know novels are almost always better than the movies based upon them.

Well, I finally picked up the book. Bits of it are familiar from the movie, but the book contains so much more.

Revolving around the lives of four characters whose paths cross in a bombed-out Italian villa as World War II is ending, it shows various ways that people are injured by war. The title character, identified through most of the book as simply the English patient, is an unknown. He may not actually be English. Burned beyond recognition, he doesn’t even know himself. However, he retains memories of a tragic love affair and those memories trickle out over the course of the novel.

His caregiver, Hana, is a young nurse struggling with numerous losses. She refused to leave her patient as her colleagues retreated further north. These two are joined by a thief who had been employed by the army as a spy. He had been friends with Hana’s father many years earlier and retains an affection for her. When he heard her name mentioned in a random place, he resolved to find her. He becomes interested in the patient as his suspicions grow that the man was also a spy, but for the Germans. The fourth character is a young Indian sapper, named Kip, skilled at defusing bombs. Their overlapping stories are told in segments that combine memory with ongoing action.

While much of the language is beautiful and the story intricately told, my overall reaction was mixed. In parts, the self-conscious literary style grew plodding and my interest flagged before I could sort out the meaning. My favorite parts were the more straightforward presentations of Kip’s skill at deactivating bombs of increasing complexity. In fact, Kip quickly became my favorite character.

The love story that I remember as central to the movie does not seem compelling in the book. It was a brief adulterous affair with an element of obsession but unconvincing love.

This may have been a book that I would have enjoyed more if I had never seen the movie. Other readers may be interested in comparing the two.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: Match Me If You Can by Michelle Willingham

I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

Match Me If You Can by Michelle Willingham is the delightful third book in the Regency Romance series, The School For Spinsters.

Emma Bartholomew is a low-status gentlewoman who has not succeeded in finding a husband despite five seasons in the marriage mart. Her stepmother is resorting to desperate measures (an auction!) to marry her off. Emma’s failure to attract a husband is due to a lack of self-confidence which is in turn due to the fact that she is almost blind. She has none of the usual female accomplishments. But she does possess an internal strength that has helped her to navigate the world though she is nearly sightless. And she refuses to be auctioned off. She takes herself to Miss Harding’s School for Young Ladies, otherwise known as the School for Spinsters. Miss Harding is a matchmaker.

Cormac Ormond, Earl of Dunmeath, is in desperate need of a wife and, even more importantly, an heir. So desperate, he has an off-putting tendency to propose to women within 10 minutes of meeting them. His desperation stems from the belief that he is dying of the same illness that took his grandfather, father, and older brother. It’s a family curse, affecting only the males. 

Cormac meets Emma at a party where they briefly converse. They meet again at the School, where Miss Harding has invited Cormac and a few other men to dinner so that Emma can practice conversation. Cormac deduces Emma’s secret blindness. But he also understands the strength of her character. Emma is drawn to him, yet when he blurts her secret out in company, making her an object of pity as well as ridicule, she believes he is untrustworthy and wants nothing further to do with him. Until he confides his secret to her.

Emma doesn’t believe in the family curse, although she certainly believes in his illness. She’s determined to save him. This novel highlights the struggles of these unconventional protagonists as they find their way to love.