Provided for Review: The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

Practical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has done the calculations, and decided that the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor outside of town. Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a pitch-black rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man—one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him.

By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound her safety to. 

This book was provided for review by NetGalley. Thank you!

When I first saw the blurb on NetGalley for The Death of Jane Lawrence, I was intrigued. Especially once I saw it compared to Crimson Peak – a personal favorite in both book and movie. So it leaves little doubt that I had to request it.

The Death of Jane Lawrence on the surface has a basic enough premise. There is a young woman with a potential decision to make and there is a handsome young man with a dark secret. Add in the ubiquitous crumbling manor house and you have the recipe for most any gothic novel. That however is where the comparison ends because this book contains so much more.

I think what I liked best about The Death of Jane Lawrence was how unexpected it was. What I mean is, while reading it I was quite sure I knew the direction in which the story would go. Having read my fair share of gothic novels – both modern and historical – I tend to be able to guess how a story of this kind will end. And while sometimes I am correct there are other times where I am wrong. The Death of Jane Lawrence proved that point to me, that one cannot always guess how a book is going to go.

I quite enjoyed reading this book. Starling does a wonderful job of creating the perfect moody setting with Lindridge Hall and its surroundings. She peoples it with characters that are sympathetic and ones that are insensitive and at times they are the same person.

As a fan of gothic novels, I heartily recommend The Death of Jane Lawrence to my readers. With the colder months soon upon us it the perfect spooky book to settle down with on a dark night.

Tidelands (The Fairmile #1) by Philippa Gregory

Midsummer’s Eve, 1648, England is in the grip of a civil war between renegade king and rebellious parliament. The struggle reaches every corner of the kingdom, even the remote tidelands —the marshy landscape of the south coast.

Alinor, a descendant of wisewomen, trapped in poverty and superstition, waits in the graveyard under the full moon for a ghost who will declare her free from her abusive husband. Instead, she meets James, a young man on the run, and shows him the secret ways across the treacherous marsh, not knowing that she is leading disaster into the heart of her life.

Suspected of possessing dark secrets in superstitious times, Alinor’s ambition and determination mark her out from her neighbors. This is the time of witch mania, and Alinor, a woman without a husband, skilled with herbs, suddenly enriched, arouses envy in her rivals and fear among the villagers, who are ready to take lethal action into their own hands.

It is dangerous for a woman to be different. 

Trigger Warning: mentions of abortion, mentions of childbirth

England, 1648. It is a dangerous time to be a woman. It is an even more dangerous time to be an intelligent woman.

Alinor is one such woman. A skilled midwife and herbalist, she is determined to make a life for herself and her two children. Not knowing if her husband is alive or dead, she lives in a kind of limbo as neither a widow or a wife. Meeting the mysterious James in a graveyard at midnight only complicates matters. He has taken a liking to the lovely young mother and worse still, she has taken a liking to him.

Author Philippa Gregory is well known for her historical novels. Sweeping stories with a variety of characters from all walks of society. Tidelands is her latest novel, the first in a new series. Different in that the main focus is on the “common” man as opposed to royalty with her other books yet alike in showing that while the way of thinking might change and become more modern, the old ways never truly leave.

The romance between Alinor and James is best described as a slow burn. And it is a very slow burn. Any real action between the two characters doesn’t happen until the second half of the book. With the first half being dedicated to mostly describing Alinor’s life and routine in the tidelands it is easy to understand how some readers were unable to finish the book.

While it is obvious Gregory has once again done a great deal of research in to the time period and lays it out for us the reader, it comes at the expense of character development. Especially in regards to the main character, Alinor. The term “one note character” is often used in reviews and this term can also be used here. It is quite understandable that for a woman in Alinor’s circumstances a smart move would be to keep one’s head down and be unobtrusive. But how many times can a person be expected to turn the other cheek and not show some kind of reaction?

I can understand wanting to keep the peace but surely some kind of emotional reaction would have been felt? A grimace, grit teeth, clenched hands hidden in an apron, something? Sadly, on more than one occasion Alinor simply takes what is dished out to her and says nothing.

The ending of the novel felt very rushed and had an abrupt stop. It is obviously meant as a lead in to the next novel in the series but a little more to the story would have been nice. A better explanation of what happened to the characters between one scene and the next would have been most welcome.

As someone who has read and enjoyed other novels by Philippa Gregory, I felt rather let down by Tidelands. It is one of those books that while I cannot readily recommend it, neither can I tell anyone to firmly stay away. All I can say is try it and make your own decision.

Mr. Malcolm’s List by Suzanne Allain

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an arrogant bachelor insistent on a wife who meets the strictest of requirements–deserves his comeuppance.

The Honorable Jeremy Malcolm is searching for a wife, but not just any wife. He’s determined to elude the fortune hunters and find a near-perfect woman, one who will meet the qualifications on his well-crafted list. But after years of searching, he’s beginning to despair of finding this paragon. And then Selina Dalton arrives in town…

Selina, a vicar’s daughter of limited means and a stranger to high society, is thrilled when her friend Julia invites her to London.  Until she learns it’s part of a plot to exact revenge on Mr. Malcolm. Selina is reluctant to participate in Julia’s scheme, especially after meeting the irresistible Mr. Malcolm, who seems very different from the arrogant scoundrel of Julia’s description.

But when Mr. Malcolm begins judging Selina against his unattainable standards, Selina decides that she has qualifications of her own. And if he is to meet them he must reveal the real man behind…Mr. Malcolm’s List. 

Mr. Malcolm’s List is one of those books that I would advertise as a fun and fluffy beach read. It’s one of those books that has a decent enough plot, the characters aren’t the worst, and it’s overall fairly enjoyable.

That is, as long as you’re okay with a Regency romance that isn’t quite Regency era and characters that while they try to be endearing also make one want to slap someone silly.

The actual writing for Mr. Malcolm’s List isn’t too bad but it is a bit basic. As I was reading it I got the feeling that Ms. Allain was going off some kind of checklist as to what a good Regency romance should contain. And all the points are there – riding in a hackney, visiting family/friends in the country, a masquerade ball, at least one misunderstanding between characters. Plus add in that while the story is set during the Regency era, it doesn’t feel like it. The characters speech and mannerisms are far too modern when compared to their actual historical counterparts.

As I said above the characters in Mr. Malcolm’s List aren’t the worst but neither are they very good. Selina is very wishy-washy and only in the final third of the book does she seem to actually grow a spine. Julia, who is supposedly Selina’s friend from school, is an awful brat and is almost unrecognizable by the end of the book. Her falling in love with Henry (and he with her) is so sudden and out of left field that it felt very out of character for both of them. As for the titular Malcolm himself, he had his moments but often came across as a bully. Certainly not the kind of person someone like Selina would fall for.

At roughly 200 pages, Mr. Malcolm’s List is a pretty quick read. Perfect for poolside or on the beach where light fluffy stories are an ideal fit. I can’t readily recommend this book to my readers but neither can I tell them to stay far away. All I can say is that it isn’t a perfect book and for some that is good enough.

The Rest Falls Away (The Gardella Vampire Hunters #1) by Colleen Gleason

Beneath the glitter of dazzling nineteenth century London Society lurks a bloodthirsty evil…

Vampires have always lived among them, quietly attacking unsuspecting debutantes and dandified lords as well as hackney drivers and Bond Street milliners. If not for the vampire slayers of the Gardella family, these immortal creatures would have long ago taken control of the world.

In every generation, a Gardella is called to accept the family legacy, and this time, Victoria Gardella Grantworth is chosen, on the eve of her debut, to carry the stake. But as she moves between the crush of ballrooms and dangerous moonlit streets, Victoria’s heart is torn between London’s most eligible bachelor, the Marquess of Rockley, and her dark, dangerous duty.

And when she comes face-to-face with the most powerful vampire in history, Victoria must ultimately make a choice between duty and love. 

Into every generation a slayer is born… Oops, sorry…wrong universe…

Although to be honest, dear reader, the comparison between Colleen Gleason’s The Rest Falls Away and Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t too far off. Both exist in a universe where vampires and other creatures of the night are real. Where the belief in such things is passed off as foolishness, of fairy tales and stories. Both feature a young woman suddenly having a great destiny thrust upon them. And both follow the young woman as she not only accepts her calling but learns to balance the two halves of her new life.

Yet, just as there are similarities, there are just as many differences. For example, Victoria’s family have been slaying vampires for countless years. The calling to be a Venator (the name for a vampire slayer) is strong in her family and when one is called, they have a choice to either embrace their destiny or to have their memories wiped away. Whereas with Buffy, there is no family legacy of vampire slaying. The duty is simply thrust upon her with almost no warning.

The cast of characters in The Rest Falls Away were an entertaining lot. Because Victoria is the main character we as the reader are supposed to really connect with her and want to know more about her. I personally found Phillip to be a more interesting person and I would have enjoyed having more with him. Sadly, this does not occur and it leaves us with a lot of “What if…?”s.

The writing for Away is decent. There are a few scenes that are quite steamy and as such it does not surprise me to learn that Ms. Gleason is also an erotica author albeit under another name. She does a good job of creating a world and a cast of characters and if it weren’t for some minor details the book could easily be set in modern day.

Overall, I found Away to be fairly entertaining. It wasn’t one of those books that completely blew me away but neither was it one of those books that was completely awful either. It was okay. And I think that in itself is okay.

Provided for Review: A Royal Kiss & Tell (A Royal Wedding #2) by Julia London

Every dashing young man in London’s ton is vying for Lady Caroline Hawke’s hand—except one. Handsome, delectable roué Prince Leopold of Alucia can’t quite remember who Caroline is, and the insult is not to be tolerated. So, Caroline does what any clever, resourceful lady of means would do to make sure a prince remembers her: sees that amusingly risqué morsels about Leo’s reputation are printed in a ladies’ gossip gazette…all the while secretly setting her cap for the rakish royal.

Someone has been painting Leo as a blackguard, but who? Socially, it could ruin him. More important, it jeopardizes his investigation into a contemptible scheme that reaches the highest levels of government in London. Now, Leo needs Lady Caroline’s help to regain access to society. But this charming prince is about to discover that enlisting the deceptively sweet and sexy Lady Caroline might just cost him his heart, his soul and both their reputations…

This book was provided for review by the publisher through NetGalley. Thank you!

It is very rare for me to not actually finish a book. It is even more rare when the book was provided with the intent to read and review it here. It saddens me when this happens, especially when the author is one I have read and enjoyed before.

Sadly, such is the case with A Royal Kiss & Tell by Julia London. I jumped at the opportunity to read and review one of Ms. London’s books as I have enjoyed many of them. Unfortunately, I made a little more than a quarter in to the book before I had to set it aside.

As always, Ms. London’s writing is quite well done. The scenes she sets up pull the reader in and it is easy to picture the action as it is happening. She has an ability to make the words jump from the page and to take the reader along for the ride.

My issue is with the characters themselves, especially Lady Caroline. She is a lady and yet her manners would claim otherwise. While she can be kind to most every one she meets, she often talks without caring if she is welcome or not. She also comes across as quite vain and shallow, taking great offense when those around don’t agree with her opinions of her own beauty.

Prince Leopold is thankfully a little better. While he finds Lady Caroline lovely to look at, he also finds her irritating with her apparent lack of manners. He chides her foolishness and spars with her in words. Being the second son, he is the “spare” to his elder brothers “heir”, a position he seems content with.

From some of the other reviews I have seen of A Royal Kiss & Tell, there are certain plot points that are not dealt with very well. They are supposedly dealt with in a ham-handed manner and often feel forced. I did not make it far enough in to the book to come across these particular sub-plots, so I cannot make any comments on to how they were written.

I have long been a fan of the author, Julia London. Having read numerous books by her, I have enjoyed many of them. While I personally did not enjoy reading A Royal Kiss & Tell, I will encourage other readers to give it a try. Just because it wasn’t for me does not mean it won’t be perfect for someone else.

No Man Can Tame (The Dark-Elves of Nightbloom #1) by Miranda Honfleur

After a failed courtship in an ally kingdom, twenty-one-year-old Princess Alessandra returns home to a land torn apart by mutual hatred between the humans and the dark-elves. The “Beast Princess,” as Aless is known by courtiers, confidently sets her mind to ways of making peace, but her father has already decided for her: she is to marry one of the mysterious and monstrous dark-elves to forge a treaty, and go on a Royal Progress across the kingdom to flaunt their harmonious union. While she intends to preserve the peace, the Beast Princess has plans of her own.

Prince Veron has been raised knowing his life is not his own, but to be bargained away by his mother, the queen of Nozva Rozkveta, to strengthen the dark-elf queendom. When his mother tells him he is to marry a self-absorbed, vile human, he is determined to do his duty regardless of his personal feelings. After arriving at the human capital, he finds the “Beast Princess” rebellious and untamed—and not to be trusted.

Aless and Veron face opposition at every turn, with humans and dark-elves alike opposing the union violently, as well as their own feelings of dissonance toward each other. Can two people from cultures that despise one another fall in love? Can a marriage between them bond two opposing worlds together, or will it tear them apart for good?

The idea behind an arranged marriage to secure peace between two families/countries is one that is not just based in reality but has been used in fiction numerous times. Often times the two individuals who are having to get married come to some kind of agreement. In romance novels the two usually fall in love and live happily ever after. And usually the reader is drawn in to their story and is rooting for them by the end.

I came across No Man Can Tame in an ad on Facebook. There was a small snippet of the book as well as the description above. I was intrigued, especially by the words “Beast Princess”. Would this story be a kind of reversal of Beauty and the Beast? Just what about Aless makes her so beastly?

In the blurb above, Aless is described as “self-centered” and sadly these two words could not be more accurate. She is so completely self absorbed in building a library like her mother wanted that she makes plans to run away after marrying Veron. It doesn’t occur to her that in doing so she would shatter the peace treaty her father and Veron’s mother have agreed to. It doesn’t occur to her that her actions would doom his people to starvation and ruin. All she sees are the things that she wants.

Veron, at least tries. He is not perfect either, but he at least has an understanding of the consequences. He is flexible and willing to change some to make a better impression on the humans. Something Aless has difficulty doing.

The world and backstory of No Man Can Tame is sadly lacking. Very little time is spent on describing events that happened either to certain characters or to certain whole races. Brief mention is made that the Dark Elves and other mythical creates fell in to a kind of sleep for over 2000 years. What caused the sleep? What caused them to wake up?

The same can be said for Aless’ nickname of “Beast Princess”. What garnered this nickname? Again, brief mention is made of her being forced to wear a brace of some kind, but it’s almost treated like a throwaway line. Considering so many know of this nickname, what happened?

As much as I was looking forward to reading No Man Can Tame when I first heard about it, when it came to the actual book I was sadly disappointed. There is so much potential and it could have easily been something excellent. I honestly cannot recommend this one my dear readers; skip it and move on.

Provided for Review: A Different Time by Michael K. Hill

While searching through a pile of old VHS videos, comic book collector Keith Nolan comes across one with a hand written label. With only the number “3” on it, Keith has no idea what is on the tape in his hand.

When he plays the tape he sees Lindsey Hale. Enamored, Keith talks to his television screen. And somehow, despite the tape being from 1989, Lindsey answers back.

This book was provided for review by the author. Thank you!

A Different Time by Michael K. Hill is one of those books that I could easily see being made in to a movie. Either for the big screen a la The Lake House or in to a Hallmark movie; either way I think it would translate to that format quite well.

Switching between the two characters, Lindsey and Keith, we are introduced to them separately and follow the sequence of events that leads one person to make the video tape and the other to find it.

The love story in A Different Time is very sweet. Keith falls hard for Lindsey and she in turn falls hard for him.

Because of the vast time difference between when Lindsey makes her tapes and Keith sees them, there is really only one way for their story to end. Still, when we learn what happens it comes as a shock just as it does for Keith. Knowing how it will end does not make it any easier.

And for any reader, once you reach the end of the book and know what happens with Lindsey and Keith – I advise them to go back and re-read the beginning. And smile.

Many thanks to Michael for contacting me and asking me to read his book. I sincerely enjoyed it and can easily recommend it for any one who enjoys a bittersweet romance.

The Watchmaker's Daughter (Glass and Steele #1) by C.J. Archer

India Steele is desperate. Her father is dead, her fiancé took her inheritance, and no one will employ her, despite years working for her watchmaker father. Indeed, the other London watchmakers seem frightened of her. Alone, poor, and at the end of her tether, India takes employment with the only person who’ll accept her – an enigmatic and mysterious man from America. A man who possesses a strange watch that rejuvenates him when he’s ill.

Matthew Glass must find a particular watchmaker, but he won’t tell India why any old one won’t do. Nor will he tell her what he does back home, and how he can afford to stay in a house in one of London’s best streets. So when she reads about an American outlaw known as the Dark Rider arriving in England, she suspects Mr. Glass is the fugitive. When danger comes to their door, she’s certain of it. But if she notifies the authorities, she’ll find herself unemployed and homeless again – and she will have betrayed the man who saved her life.

The Watchmaker’s Daughter is the first book in C.J. Archer’s Glass and Steele series. Like most first books in a series, it’s primary purpose is to introduce the readers to the characters of the series as well as give them a feeling for the universe they live in. For Glass and Steele, on the surface the characters reside in Victorian era London. But further reading shows that there is more beneath the surface.

Like in her other books, Archer has done a good job in creating a universe that is both familiar and new. As this particular series is to be set in Victorian England, not as much time is spent world building as Victorian England is already a fairly well known time period. What was disappointing though was that while there is supposedly magic in this universe, it is hardly mentioned.

Another thing I found disappointing was how little time was spent on some of the characters. More than enough time is spent on Mr. Glass and Miss Steele; not surprising since these two are the main characters of the series. But as far as the rest of Glass’ crew – these individuals that are his close friends and that he supposedly trusts with his life? Very little is given on them aside from physical descriptions and barely a hint towards any kind of back story. It is my hope that in future books this is rectified and these incredibly interesting characters are given more page time.

For the first book in a series, The Watchmaker’s Daughter does pretty well. It offers enough story to stand alone while hinting at possible future plots. The main characters are interesting without being too cliched and the slow burn romance between them is a nice treat. At current count there are over 10 books in the series and I’ll slowly but surely be making my way through them.

Provided for Review: Postcard from Paris by Holly Willow

When Poppy finds a postcard from Paris, sent by an aunt she didn’t know existed, she books a flight to France to investigate. Just days after arriving in Paris, she accidentally lands herself a job thanks to a case of mistaken identity. To complicate matters further, she soon starts to fall for her new boss. Falling in love with your boss is never a good idea and she knows it. But when he makes her an offer she can’t refuse, her heart just might win the battle against reason and logic.

This book was provided for review by the author. Thank you!

Trigger Warning: Mentions of mental illness, emotional abuse, and suicide. While the actual events happen before the book begins, they are still mentioned.

Poppy Parker is a self confessed workaholic. All of her adult life she has been focused on her career at Belle Cosmetics, working her way up the corporate ladder. Just when she has the position she has been working towards in her sights, it’s snatched away. And when she tries to resign, her boss refuses and instead instructs her to take a small sabbatical.

To add insult to injury, Poppy’s fiance Daniel agrees to take a job in Hong Kong just weeks before their wedding. A job that will have him away for six months. Poppy is sure she can handle things on her end but even that is put in to doubt when she learns that Daniel hasn’t been all that honest with her.

Take all of that, plus a postcard from an aunt that Poppy never knew existed, and she finds herself booking a ticket to Paris, France.

Postcard from Paris is pure fluff. Of the best kind. It’s like cotton candy, ice cream, or any other sweet treat. It’s like a Hallmark movie, complete with dramatic moments and of course a happily ever after.

As I was reading Postcard From Paris, I was reminded of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. In it there too is a large apartment building with an eclectic cast of characters presided over by a loving, larger than life landlady.

The characters themselves are all quite likable, even the ones who are supposedly more gruff. Poppy is immediately relatable and most any reader will see an aspect of themselves in her. The same can be said for the majority of the characters, a reader is likely to identify with at least someone.

The book itself is quite well written. Willow uses language in a wide variety of ways – to evoke the pain of being passed over for a job to the joy of finding oneself in a new city and hopefully on the path to a new life. She also a nice grasp with pacing as the story moved along at a decent clip without ever feeling too laggy.

There was one small plot point that I didn’t particularly like and felt kind of shoehorned in. To go further in to it could be constituted as spoilers so I will only say that if you have read the book, then you likely know what I am talking about. It had no real bearing on the rest of the book and in my opinion, it wasn’t necessary.

Otherwise, I quite enjoyed reading Postcard in Paris. With the summer months fast approaching, I think this would be the perfect poolside read. Or the perfect sunny read on an otherwise dreary day. Many thanks to the author, Holly Willow, for allowing me the opportunity to read and review this book. I urge my readers to go check it out!

The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox

Two centuries after the Salem witch trials, there’s still one witch left in Massachusetts. But she doesn’t even know it.

Take this as a warning: if you are not able or willing to control yourself, it will not only be you who suffers the consequences, but those around you, as well.

New Oldbury, 1821

In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall.

The estate seems sleepy and idyllic. But a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia, and to the youngest, Emeline.

All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, but none more than Lydia, who must draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end…

Trigger Warnings: Incest (mentioned, happens before book starts), Animal Death (mentioned), Human Death, Suicide Attempt

The Witch of Willow Hall is one of those novels that is absolutely perfect for curling up with on a cold winter night. Though it is a novel that was written recently, it’s style is very reminiscent of gothic novels that were so popular once upon a time. Dark and moody, the story takes numerous twists and turns from beginning to end.

I did have a few issues while reading The Witch of Willow Hall. One being the scandal that sends Lydia and her family from Boston to New Oldbury. Lydia makes mention of it several times, stating how terrible it is and how it has brought such shame to the family, but it isn’t until a good halfway through the book do we the reader actually learn what the actual scandal is. I personally think making mention of it earlier in the story would have made it more impactful.

Sadly, I found the plot surrounding witches and how they impact the family to be rather lacking. Very little mention is made aside from a handful of ghost sightings for Lydia until almost the end of the book. And even then the great reveal is lackluster. Like with the aforementioned scandal, if they had been given more attention in the actual narrative I think they could have further enhanced the story.

As a fan of gothic novels, I enjoyed The Witch of Willow Hall. It is hard to believe that this is Ms. Fox’s first novel as it was quite well written. Fans of this kind of moody storytelling would likely enjoy it as well and I urge them to try it out.