Sunday, August 28, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: How to Woo a Wallflower by Virginia Heath

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

How to Woo a Wallflower by Virginia Heath is a sweet, lightly steamy, new Regency Romance. 

Lady Harriet Fitzroy, a duke’s daughter, expects to sit through the London Season as a wallflower and she’s dreading it. Two years earlier, she suffered a terrible riding accident that almost took her life. She recovered, but was left with a deformed leg and a limp. This markedly reduces her value on the marriage mart. Avoiding the usual ton activities, Harriet spends much of her time volunteering at the children’s infirmary where her own life was saved.

Jasper, the Earl of Beaufort, is a friend of Freddie Fitzroy, Harriet’s brother. (Harriet had a crush on him when she was younger.) He’s also the owner of the scandalous gambling hell, The Reprobates’ Club. He started the club after his nearly bankrupt father disowned him, and he’s now a successful businessman. It’s not socially acceptable for a lord to work; moreover, Jasper is a known rake. He’s definitely not the kind of man Freddie wants anywhere near his sister.

Because Harriet has spent two years in recovery, she hasn’t seen Jasper in quite a while. Their paths cross when she is on her way to the infirmary and he’s on his way to his club. Jasper is aware of her accident and is prepared for her to be sensitive about her limp. But he’s not prepared for her sense of humor, her resilience, and her determined self-sufficiency. Not to mention her beauty. He’s smitten. And her old feelings for him return with a vengeance.

To complicate matters, just as they are reacquainting themselves, Jasper receives word that an old friend has died, leaving him charge of her four-year-old daughter. The “old friend” was a courtesan, known to be an old mistress of his, so everyone will naturally draw the conclusion that the child is his daughter. If Jasper was too scandalous for a decent young lady to associate with before, he is definitely out-of-bounds now.

However, Harriet is even more impressed with Jasper after seeing his concern for the child and the readiness he displays to claim her as his own. And Jasper is more impressed with Harriet the more he watches her persevere despite her physical limitations. Their determination to help one another weather the London Season – where Harriet must endure the humiliation of being an object of pity and scorn and Jasper awaits the breaking of the worst scandal of his life -- turns into a passionate, but secret, courtship.

The protagonists are wonderfully drawn, sympathetic characters. The chemistry between them is believable. They face their obstacles bravely and are honest with one another (even if their secret romance requires a good deal of lying to everyone else.)

Now I’ll have to see what happens with Harriet’s twin sister!

Thursday, August 25, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: Elizabeth Finch by Julian Barnes

 I received this audiobook from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

This is my first audiobook.

I thought audiobooks were not right for me, because I was sure my mind would wander if I was not moving my eyes down the page. I enjoy reading. However, I have a knitting project I want to complete and I can’t read and knit. I saw Julian Barnes’ new novel offered on Netgalley as an audiobook, so I decided to try listening and knitting.

I love Julian Barnes’ work and this book, Elizabeth Finch, is no exception. The narrator was easy to listen to and his British accent fit well with the content.

The narrator of the novel, Neil, is a twice-divorced ex-actor who names himself the King of Unfinished Projects. After the failure of his first marriage, he takes an adult education class taught by Elizabeth Finch and she becomes his lifelong obsession.

She teaches history/culture/philosophy and believes in discussion rather than lecturing. She wants to teach students how to think. Neil is hooked, partly by the classroom discussions but more by the woman herself. She is so unlike anyone he has ever known that he can’t stop trying to define her.

The first part of the novel focuses on Elizabeth herself, the class, the discussions, the friendships that developed during the term (and inevitably faded) and the narrator’s impressions of the course content. It’s interesting in the way that all Barnes’ work is interesting. In this novel, not much happens, but a lot is analyzed and the style is beautiful.

When the class ends, Neil tentatively invites Elizabeth Finch to lunch. She accepts. And for many years, the relationship continues as a monthly series of lunches where Ms. Finch continues to act as a mentor to the narrator. He enjoys their conversations but is always frustrated by the wall of complete privacy she has erected. Who is she? Has she ever loved? Does she have family? Etc. He wants to know!

Then, she dies. The narrator discovers she has left him her books and papers. He digs into them hoping for clarity. But instead of learning about Elizabeth Finch, he learns about her obsession: Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate.

Weird? Or ingenious?

The next part of the book is essentially a biography of Julian, an interpretation of his life and the impact it had upon world history. Neil’s thoughts on the matter are shaped by Elizabeth Finch’s teachings though he extends her research and broadens his thoughts beyond what he learned from her.

Who knew that I needed to learn about Julian the Apostate! It was fascinating! I never would have sought out a biography on this guy, but what a bonus to find it inside the novel ostensibly about this mysterious (or at least very private) history professor.

Barnes weaves together his theories about history, biography, memory, and interpersonal relationships in this gentle, somewhat didactic novel. Because the structure rests on Neil telling the story, it flowed well as an audiobook. Would I find it dull to read? Hard to know. Maybe. At any rate, I highly recommend the listening version. (And I’m nearly finished with the sweater I’m knitting!)

Sunday, August 21, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: Blame it on the Earl by Jane Ashford

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

Blame it on the Earl is the next book in Jane Ashford’s Regency Romance series, The Duke’s Estates. It reads well as a standalone. Nevertheless, as always, I recommend reading book one first (The Duke Who Loved Me.)

The Duke (who owns the estates) is the Duke of Tereford from book one. He and Cecelia, the duchess, make an important appearance in this book. In a way, I found the continued progress of their relationship more interesting than the romance highlighted in this book. As for the Earl of the book’s title, it seems it must be the protagonist’s father and I’m not really sure what we’re supposed to blame on him or why. It’s really just a catchy title with a peer in it.

The heroine is Sarah Moran, one of Cecelia’s four young friends. Sarah was not a success in her one London Season. She’s pretty but not beautiful. Her parents are comfortable, but she’s no heiress. And her personality is bookish, not sparkling. Sarah is an interesting, kind, and rather dreamy young woman, whose extensive reading has left her full of information that may seem random to others but is actually all part of a whole. She’s fascinated by the past and a constructed world filled with chivalry and a touch of magic. In her own way, she is charming. She lives near the ruins of Tintagel castle and spends free hours wandering among its cliffs.

It is there that she meets the hero, Kenver Pendrennon, heir to the earldom. He is also exploring the cliffs. There is a moment of inattention and they both topple over the edge to the sand below. The tide is coming in. Sarah saves both their lives. They are forced to spend the night sheltering in a cave. The following morning, they are found by Sarah’s worried parents and gossipy townspeople. Naturally, Sarah is ruined, even though “nothing happened.” Kenver, who has already grown fond of her and who is deeply honorable, proposes. Shortly, they are wed.

The two are well matched in interests and temperament. The problem is Kenver’s parents, both of them, but more particularly his mother. The earl and countess had higher hopes for Kenver, expecting him to wed a titled heiress. (No one in particular. Just someone better than Sarah, sometime in the distant future.) When Kenver moves his new bride into the family home, his parents are frankly insulting, bullying, and also set up obstacles to the consummation of the marriage in order to have it annulled.

The plot of the novel centers around Sarah and Kenver getting to know one another better and dealing with his parents. They are aided in the latter by the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Tereford.

The protagonists are sweet. Sarah is definitely the strong one in the relationship, though Kenver grows in strength in order to support his new wife. Sarah’s goodness wins out over her mother-in-law’s maliciousness. The happily-ever-after ending is a little too pat, with evilness just fizzling out. The countess’ malevolence, manipulativeness, and complete lack of affection for her husband or son seemed to indicate that she was truly mentally unbalanced. It seemed more intervention was needed than just standing up to the bully. However, the romance aspect of the story, the relationship between Sarah and Kenver, was rewarding.

Friday, August 19, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

Our book group’s next pick is The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai. It’s a multi-generational historical saga set in Vietnam from WWII thru the Vietnam war. The two protagonists are Huong and her grandmother, Tran Dieu Lan. During the course of the novel they live in and near Ha Noi, in North Vietnam. Huong is being cared for by her grandmother after her father went to war and then her mother went off to find her father. As Huong struggles with the horrors of living in a war zone and fearing for her family, her grandmother relates her own life story, which includes seeing her parents brutally murdered and her husband poisoned for his more liberal political beliefs. During the widespread “Land Reform,” her home is violently appropriated and she must flee with her five children and make a new start.

The novel is interesting in that it shows what life was like for the North Vietnamese: the violence, the famine, the political upheaval and displacement. Families were torn apart by war, poverty, and politics. As in all war stories, there are examples of kindness and extraordinary generosity interspersed with sadistic cruelty and greed. 

In one way, this book reminded me of Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about the Nigerian-Biafran War of the late 1960s. Both books use fiction to illustrate the nightmare of far-away wars that I didn’t (and still don’t) know enough about.

The book had a rather slow start, but became more interesting as I grew immersed in the grandmother’s story. It shows the enduring power of familial love, despite political dissent and warfare. I’m looking forward to our book group’s discussion.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me & Nearly Broke My Heart by William Alexander

I took French in school from 7th thru 12th grade, then majored in it in college, and then studied in France for a summer. Yet I never could actually speak the language. Still, it’s a dream of mine to learn it properly one day.

With this dream in mind, I was captivated (and disheartened) by William Alexander’s memoir of his experiences while trying to gain fluency in French over the course of a year -- Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me & Nearly Broke My Heart. (At the same time, he was battling atrial fibrillation, going through trials of medication, multiple cardioversions and multiple ablation procedures. For a while, he was convinced the arrhythmias were brought on by the stress of learning French.)

This short, quick-to-read book is clever and entertaining, with anecdotes about his various studying strategies interspersed with tidbits of French culture and with information about the science of learning languages. Most dismaying is how studies confirm the increasing difficulty of learning new languages as a person ages. (You’re much better off learning language as an infant.) While a basic competence is attainable in middle age (enough to navigate the necessities as a tourist), true fluency is extremely unlikely. Frankly, I’d be happy with basic competence and a visit to France.

The author does not become fluent, sad to say. However, he discovers many benefits to the attempt, some expected and some a pleasant surprise. So this lovely book inspired me to keep “learn French” on my to-do list. 

Sunday, August 14, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: Geekerella by Ashley Poston

After reading a couple of YA adventures, I decided to try a YA rom-com and picked Geekerella by Ashley Poston. This is a two-nerds-find-true-love story, a modern retelling of Cinderella, and it’s a lot of fun. 

Elle is the downtrodden stepdaughter of a nightmare of a stepmother, with two evil stepsisters (one worse than the other.) Stepmom is a wedding planner who spends a great deal of their limited family resources on her own image-making. Step-sisters are wannabe beauty influencers who treat Elle horribly. Elle does all the housework and also works full-time at a vegan foodtruck (painted like a large pumpkin!) Her mother died when she was four and her father a few years later. Her memories are full of the love they shared for a sci-fi TV series called Starfinder. Her father was the original organizer of Starfinder-con. Elle blogs about the series which still has a cult following. And now it’s being rebooted as a movie.

Darien is an 18-year-old soap opera star with a huge teen fan-girl base. He has been chosen as the new Commodore, the star of the reboot. He’s also a member of the original Starfinder cult following and possesses an extensive knowledge of Starfinder trivia. This is a dream role for him, but also a terrifying one. He’s worried he’ll screw up.

Both are lonely teens with trust issues and terrible parents. They “meet” via text when Darien is attempting to get out of his celebrity duties at the next convention and locates the number for the original organizer, Elle’s father – she still has his old phone. Completely anonymous to one another, they bond over Starfinder lore. Maybe, each thinks, they might meet at the convention. But would that be wonderful or ruin everything?

This humorous novel is full of nerdy pop-culture references. The characters are sweet and lovable. It’s fast-paced, silly (in a good way) in parts and poignant in others. A very enjoyable read.

Friday, August 12, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: The Sweetest Days by John Hough, Jr.

The Sweetest Days by John Hough, Jr. is one of those novels that straddles the line between contemporary and historical. A large part of the love story takes place in the early 1960s with a civil rights era setting. This is framed by the current day (or early 2000's) consequences.

There are two protagonists, Pete Hatch and his wife, Jackie. Pete was a successful journalist turned speechwriter for a rising congresswoman, now retired and writing novels. His first, a political thriller, has just been released. However, back in his high school days, he was a football player. To some extent, those high school times were his glory days. 

Pete and Jackie met in high school and can legitimately be called high school sweethearts. She was a gorgeous cheerleader, recently moved to New England from Texas. It seemed inevitable that handsome football player and sexy Texas cheerleader would be a couple. It took a little scheming, very little, on both their parts to make it happen. Both saw the “trophy” value of the other and sex played a big role. Then Jackie fell in love. Pete didn’t. He appreciated her as a girlfriend but always felt better than her, smarter than her. He felt destined for better things.

Toward the end of their senior year, on one fateful day, Pete fell in love with another girl. (She was smart, beautiful, sexy, and outspoken. But was she Pete’s soulmate, destined to be the true love of his life? Probably not. Of course, Pete was looking for the greener grass on the other side of the fence, so...) Before their relationship had a chance to develop, tragedy struck. Then, Pete left town abruptly without even saying goodbye to Jackie, leaving her to deal with the fallout. 

Jackie steeled herself to move on. But when they meet again, a decade later, they pick up where they left off and marry fairly quickly.

Now in their sixties, they have a decent marriage to all outward appearances. However, Jackie has always deferred her wishes to those of Pete, whose life choices took and still take precedence. He concluded very early that marrying her was a mistake. Throughout the marriage, he evidently still believed he could have done better. Although he never said so to her face, maybe she has sensed it. He never (I mean NEVER) ceases ogling other women, even in front of Jackie, even shortly after she has been diagnosed with probably terminal breast cancer.

Despite the diagnosis, he drags her back to their hometown to support him while he does a book-signing for his novel. He refuses to discuss any concerns she has about the death sentence she has just been handed; instead, he kindly insists she’ll beat the cancer. In any event, her own worries have to take second place to his concerns that his book signing may flop.

It’s difficult to read about the extraordinary self-centeredness of this man, but it is very cleverly written, rendering Pete in a voice that seems to have no inkling of how very wrong he is. It is appalling to think this is someone perceived to be a nice guy, while watching him treat his wife with condescension and disdain.

The signing does flop. But more importantly, a voice from the past inserts itself into the mix – a bomb dropped into the midst of their marriage. Jackie finally demands honesty from Pete. What did happen on that fateful day?

It takes the events of this long day and night to finally cause Pete to take stock of his life and his marriage, and to finally appreciate the wife that he has. This resolution is bittersweet because of how little time they have left. 

The novel is beautifully written and emotionally complex. Both characters are flawed, Pete more so than Jackie, but since Pete’s narrative is first person and Jackie’s is third person, the reader is forced into feeling some empathy for the husband, despite his horrific self-centeredness. To his credit, he is able to realize that he did love Jackie. Maybe he has to lose something to understand its value. One hopes that the couple’s final days together were the sweetest ones, even if they were bittersweet.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: The Rake's Daughter by Anne Gracie

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

I haven’t read Anne Gracie before, but I just finished The Rake’s Daughter and now I have a new Regency Romance author to add to my must-read list.

Isobelle (Izzy) and Clarissa Studley are half-sisters. Clarissa is quiet, shy, pretty, and an heiress. Izzy is bold, sassy, extraordinarily beautiful, and she is illegitimate. Despite the differences that might have pushed them apart, the two are devoted to one another.

Their father was a rake and a truly awful man who did his best to cast Izzy into an orphanage or out on the streets while he was alive. If not for Clarissa’s determination to keep her hidden from his view, he would have succeeded. When he died, he could not deprive Clarissa of the trust her mother left her, but he could cut Izzy off without a penny. Moreover, his will stipulated that Clarissa’s guardian would be the Earl of Salcott, and he left the earl a deathbed letter warning him against Izzy, a spiteful letter full of lies.

The letter was meant for the previous earl, who is now deceased.

Leo Thorne is the new earl of Salcott, and he’s appalled to find himself suddenly saddled with the girls. He has no choice but to do his duty by Clarissa – taking her in, hiring a chaperone, and introducing her to the ton so that she can find a husband. But he can’t do that with Izzy hanging about. Illegitimate daughters do not come out as debutantes in Society. He can’t understand why the two girls don’t see that Izzy will hurt Clarissa’s chances. It’s his duty to make sure she does not. 

He doesn’t trust Izzy, but he’s fascinated by her.

He has a few things to tend to on his country estate and leaves the young ladies with his reclusive aunt under strict orders to stay put. He hopes a few weeks of boredom will teach them a lesson and convince Izzy to accept a bribe to disappear. Instead, they launch themselves into Society. They are wildly successful, but all three are aware that they are living a lie. When Society discovers that they are hiding Izzy’s illegitimacy, they will all be spurned.

The loyalty and good-heartedness of both sisters and the unfairness of Izzy’s situation makes their scheming understandable and forgivable. Leo’s stodginess stems from betrayals in his past. His ability to admit when he’s in the wrong and apologize make him a strong and likeable protagonist despite his missteps.

Leo and Izzy find their way to one another despite Society’s obstacles. This is a delightful, charming romance. I’m looking forward to Clarissa’s story.

Monday, August 8, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: Daughter of Sparta by Claire M. Andrews

I just finished another YA adventure based on Greek mythology, Daughter of Sparta, by Claire M. Andrews. 

Daphne (and her two brothers) are outsiders in Sparta, brought up by adoptive parents to be warriors but never quite belonging. During a critical Spartan contest, a race which will determine the success or failure of their yearly harvest, Daphne is lured into the woods where she meets the goddess Artemis. The goddess has a task for her. Daphne must retrieve nine items stolen from Olympus by a traitor to the gods. Without these items, the gods’ powers will wane and the Olympians will fall. 

Daphne is to be aided and guided by Artemis’ brother, the god Apollo. Since Artemis has enslaved Daphne’s favorite brother to ensure cooperation, Daphne hasn’t much choice but to do the gods’ bidding.

She (and Apollo) embark upon a series of dark adventures, encountering a plethora of Greek gods and goddesses, legendary heroes and heroines, and mythological creatures/monsters. The Olympians know who their enemy is, but not which of them has betrayed the family to that enemy. It’s Daphne’s job to find out. Daphne has to decide who to trust and who to fight. 

Trained by the Spartans, she has the speed and strength of a warrior. At first, she puts her faith in her training, but slowly learns her powers are superhuman. Unfortunately, no one will explain to her why. Much of the questing is performed on a need-to-know basis, which helps build suspense even though it doesn’t always seem logical.

The adventures come at the team fast and furious. (In addition to Daphne and Apollo, this team includes a friend/boyfriend of Daphne’s who has been turned into a wolf, and, for a period of time, the Greek hero Theseus.) The pace is fairly quick, though at times it feels like too much is crammed in and threads are left hanging, making it apparent there will have to be at least one more book to complete the tale.

Daphne is an admirable character and her supporting cast is entertaining. It’s a fun book to read and held my attention throughout as each new villain or ally entered the picture. The world-building was intricate and credible. However, it is a typical superhero story in that there was never really any doubt that Daphne would succeed in overcoming the increasingly dangerous difficulties thrown at her. For me, the battles tended to blur after a while. Nevertheless, it was a clever way to tie together many Greek myths.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: The Devil and the Viscount by Mary Lancaster

I’m a huge fan of Mary Lancaster’s Regency Romances. Nevertheless, I approached her new series, Gentlemen of Pleasure, with some trepidation. The new novels are in Dragonblade Publishing’s Flame line of steamy romances and come with a warning (or advertisement) of a scorching-hot read with multiple sex scenes.

Steamier romances are not my favorite reads. Still, book one, The Devil and the Viscount, continues to revolve around the Maida Pleasure Gardens and includes many of the characters introduced in that series, so I decided to give it a try. This is a short and rather sweet romance focusing on Rollo Darblay, a viscount and a well-known rake, who has shown his face in previous books. Rollo has recently inherited his title and a mountain of debt. He needs to marry an heiress and is dreading it. The female protagonist is Miss Gina Wallace, an heiress, who is betrothed to another fortune-hunting gent–an earl who is significantly older.

Gina has always been an obedient daughter and she is ready to marry the stuffy old Lord Longton because her father arranged it and has given his word. But it’s the last thing in the world that she wants.

Gina and Rollo meet in the sitting room of the hotel alongside the Maida Gardens. Gina is on her way to London with a respectable chaperone to be introduced to society (and to be evaluated more closely by Lord Longton.) Rollo is at the hotel with a group of friends who are drinking and gambling. He wanders into the sitting room for a respite. They strike up a conversation then sneak out to the gardens for a dance. (The chaperone is in her room with a headache.) They spend the next day together as well and grow enamored of each other. They spend one passionate night together. Then, they must part.

Although they fulfill the requirements of what each other needs in a marriage partner (Rollo has a title and Gina has money), Gina can’t back out of her betrothal to Lord Longton without betraying her father. So when their paths cross again and again at society functions, they have to behave themselves. Until they can’t.

The characters are charming, sympathetic, and respectful of one another. The sex scenes (actually very few) do not overwhelm the story. This looks like it will be a fun series to follow!

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: Game of Strength and Storm by Rachel Menard

It’s been a while since I’ve read a YA novel, so I decided to dip my toe back in with the YA fantasy adventure Game of Strength and Storm by Rachel Menard. 

Borrowing from Greek mythology and infusing the story with modern twists, the author spins a nuanced tale of good versus evil.

Gen (Genevieve) is the daughter of a Mindworker and a Mazon. Mindworkers are able to empathize with/read the minds of other creatures (even other humans to some extent) by feeding them the blood, hair, or saliva of a Mindworker. Mazons (analogous to Amazons) are women with exceptional strength – at least, they were until their whole race was murdered by a race of giants because of a long-standing feud. Gen survived because she was only half Mazon. Her father was then accused of and jailed for the slaughter of a group of these giants using his mind-controlling talents. Gen is certain he is innocent and is willing to do anything to free him and restore his good name.

Castor is the daughter of the Lord of Storms, ruler of Arcadia. The Arcadians are able to control weather. They are also able to bottle and sell small bursts of this power. They are powerful and exceptionally greedy, giving little thought to the havoc caused by the product they sell. One example of the havoc was the slaughter of the Mazons by the giants, who could not have succeeded without utilizing the Arcadian’s weather vials. Castor wants nothing but to take over Arcadia after her father’s death. Her lust for control of the country’s wealth and power has warped her completely. However, the law of the land is that only a male can inherit. So her father’s heir is her twin brother, Pollux, a kindly musician who uses his storm powers for good and for entertainment. Castor views him as weak. She will do anything to force a change in the law so that she will be her father’s heir.

What can these two young women do?

Their world is ruled by the two-headed empresses, who hold a lottery each year to help consolidate their power. The ten lottery “winners” are invited to submit wishes to them. Rarely, the wishes are refused. Usually they are granted but at a cost.

This year, Gen and Castor win places in the lottery. Each submits their wish. The empresses propose a competition. Ten tasks (a.k.a. the labors of Hercules) are set before them. Whichever of them completes the most tasks will win and that wish will be granted.

Gen utilizes her great strength and her ability to recruit animals to aid her. Castor uses ruthlessness and control of the weather. Gen has something else on her side – Castor’s brother Pollux, who is in love with Gen.

The novel pits the two against one another in a desperate race. It’s a fun adventure tale that also explores themes of loyalty, love, and how far one will go to win when the stakes are desperately high.

Monday, August 1, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: The Nurse's Secret by Amanda Skenandore

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

The Nurse’s Secret by Amanda Skenandore is a historical mystery embedded in a rags-to-riches (or if not riches, at least reasonable success) tale set in New York City in 1883.

Born to a poor but respectable Irish family in Five Points, Una lost her mother to a tenement fire (her mother was trying to help others) and her father to drink when she was just a child. She survives by becoming a petty thief and pickpocket. She’s understandably embittered and lives by an every-woman-for-herself creed. She believes everyone else does too.

Una loses even the very weak support system that she has when, while attempting to fence stolen cufflinks, she is caught in the act. Worse, the man to whom she was going to sell the jewelry was murdered in an alley. Una is arrested and charged with theft and murder. She escapes; she has some practice escaping from lawmen. Needing to lie low afterward, she applies for a position at the new nurse training school at Bellevue Hospital.

Nursing had not been a respectable profession before Florence Nightingale made it so. Bellevue Hospital started a program to train young women in the Nightingale tradition. Una lies her way in. However, she quickly discovers her usual blend of defiance and guile will not serve her well. Fearful of being kicked out of the program, she buckles down. Gradually she discovers an aptitude for nursing. She also makes a true friend, her very innocent roommate, who has a passion for the job. Also, she is befriended by a young surgeon, a man trying to live up to the name of his famous surgeon grandfather while also adopting newer surgical practices that his superiors scorn. This friendship soon veers into love.

Una’s transformation proceeds apace, from an angry, cynical young woman who can’t be trusted (and who is not a likeable protagonist) into a competent nurse and reliable friend. However, at the same time, the person who did commit the murder that Una was blamed for strikes again. And again. Una figures out who it is. To expose the killer, she has to risk re-engaging with the criminal underworld, which could lead to her own capture by the police. Or, it could lead to her being the killer’s next victim.

The historical details are well presented and Una ultimately matures into an admirable character. The novel is well worth the read for its glimpse into the seedy criminal world of the times.