Fall into a Good Book!

A friend of a friend is a friend.
A friend of a friend who likes books is a good friend.
A friend of a friend who shares books is a great friend.
And a friend of a friend who is also a regency writer, is a friend-in-waiting!?
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Recently, I discovered a new award winning author Jess Russell – and I am delighted to comment on her debut Regency romance novel The Dressmaker’s Duke. Jess Russell has created a fascinating historical romance novel full of London high society, fashion, courtesans, village life, with complex characters. There are also interesting embedded stories which provide depth that include passion for painting, fashion and dressmaking (the author is also an accomplished seamstress!), the use of all our senses so accurately described which contribute to the story. This is not your standard debut novel. It is a well written and crafted combination of historical detail and rollicking romance. It showcases everyday life, primarily of the English aristocracy but has also some steamy intimate details characteristic of the new regency historical novel (now I understand there are even more regency categories: traditional, regency historical, sensual, paranormal (including Victorian steam punk) and Christian regency romance). This is well researched; you will find many familiar people and locations (Jackson’s, Mr Crup’s, Mrs Radcliffe’s novels, Mrs Siddons).

Characters

Mr Rhys Alistair James Merrick, 6th Duke of Royden aka The Monk

Mrs Olivia Weston (née Olivia Jayne Ballard, father Earl of Stokesly, Mr Angus Allen Hartner)

Her companion Egg (Mrs Eglantine Wiggens who has a flirtation with Merrick’s Uncle Betram)

Daria Battersby, courtesan

Lord Oscar Biden, scoundrel

Plot

The story takes place over the year of 1810. It is rather intricate, somewhat convoluted, with the usual melodrama and secrets. They each have past traumas that are slowly revealed, adding both dimension and substance to their relationship, while preventing straightforward courtship. I haven’t recovered fully from the visual of the main character being described as an onion with many layers. But perhaps that was also due to all of the senses so well described in this novel: the gutter smells and intoxicating fragrances, stunning scenery, gorgeous dresses and feel of the materials, champagne bubbles and sensual trysts, with incessant rain, cobblestone street traffic and droning matron voices. The mistress was slightly caricatured. Imagine being a hag at 35? There are no spoilers here, remember this IS a regency romance, with which I automatically have predictable expectations. But it has fun dialogue, interesting back stories, familiar territory with accurate descriptions, and a most satisfactory ending.

It is a pleasant distraction for an autumn afternoon. I have no recollection of the flight from Florida to Vermont as I was engrossed in this tale, marking hysterical comments and notes to share. 4 stars – open the champagne and celebrate this new author.

Received as an e- ARC from the author.

Publisher Wild Rose Press Author Jess Russell lives in New York (and not only loves power tools, but knows how to use them. I have found a kindred spirit who appreciated the gift of a chainsaw!). Her passions include dressmaking and batik.

The Dressmaker’s Duke came in first in the Fool for Love contest, Golden Apple Awards’ Secret Craving contest, the Indiana Golden Opportunity contest, and finaled in the Great Beginnings, Emerald City opener, and Lone Star contests.

Read on: If you like Mary Jo Putney, Mary Balogh, Jo Beverly, Marion Chesney, Georgette Heyer, Lisa Kleypas, Stephanie Laurens, Julia Quinn, Amanda Quick, Christina Dodd or Madeline Hunter.

Favourite Quotes:

“This particular shop was not for the faint of heart. Mr Crup specialised in the macabre.”

“Rhys raised an eyebrow, one of his surest weapons, and gave the man his most ducal look.”

“But the four full suits of armor, Sir Mutton, Sir Haggis, Sir Dunce-a-lot and last but not least, Sir Portly- she had named them all in the last hour- gave up no secrets.”

“Rhys waited and then raised an eyebrow ever so slightly. Wilcove (his secretary) used to reading volumes in the mere quiver of Rhys’s nostril, rushed on.”

“Please don’t resurrect that atrocity (a costume dress). Good lord, we need a patron not an arrest.”

“The ton had called her ruined. Ruined. What an odd word to associate with a human being, as if she were broken and no longer useful, something to be thrown away.”

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Book of the Moment by Helen McIver

dinae fash
June 2013
The Bookmore Cottage

Dear Gentle Reader,
Summer is almost upon us and I am not sure what happened to spring. I somehow didn’t have enough time to read with all the gardening, travelling and packing, to say nothing of shoveling unexpected May snow. But planes are perfect places to read, so I have always loved summer travel. Cars invite audiobooks across miles. And of course, the chaise lounge on the back deck can take you so many places. Last week I ended up in Scotland, alternating between present day, WWI and WWII.

Letters from Skye is the charming debut novel by Jessica Brockmole. Dear Reader, you will love this beautiful portrayal of old fashioned love in the time of war, the nuances of letter writing, the captivating period detail, and the two cultures (American and Scottish) which will stay with you long after you have turned the last page.

Through these letters, I met a new friend that I think you will also adore, the lovely Scottish poet Elspeth Dunn from the island of Skye. Her letters sparkle with her love of countryside, youth, family, her fears and dreams and her compass. I felt the same sea breezes, gazed at the stormy seas, despaired for days and years, questioned my own journey and just so enjoyed her erudite company. The letters of her daughter Margarite, her American friend and lover David Graham, along with various family memebers reveal secrets, friendships, bravery and trials, but as with the very nature of letters leave some experiences to the reader’s imagination. There was a satisfying resolution which celebrated joy, something worth remembering in turbulent times. “I have never stopped loving you.”

I have always been a letter writer, an anomaly/anachronism more so with the passing to the electronic age. The graceful correspondence makes for easy reading and is punctuated with lovely humour, wit and passion. I loved the development of the realistic characters (I have a number of Scottish friends I recognised instantly) over the years but also through the eyes of other family members. I enjoyed being reminded of my Grandmother’s time, and also reminding me of how grateful I am to live in this time. And of course, I want to go back home to Scotland now.

Most Sincerely,

A British Bluestocking

PS Be sure to Read on to:
Yes it has been compared with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows), but it reminds me more of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs, Julia Stuart’s The Tower, The Zoo, The Tortoise, or her Pigeon Pie Mystery and Mr Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons or Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simon (see previous reviews!).

Quotes:
“Like any whose blood runs tartan, I adore W.S…. his poetry really does a fine job of capturing Scotland in all of her changeable moods.”

“ All a person really needs to get them through the vagaries of life are the Bible and W.S. (both of them).”Read as an ARC
4 stars for a delightful summer read
Published July 9th 2013

Book Review – Hopeless

15717943Hopeless
A review by Catherine H. Armstrong

I love Facebook.  Not only does it help you keep in contact with old friends, but it’s also a great source for finding wonderful reading material.  Several of the best books I read last year were brought to my attention through the Facebook posts of my friends or pages that I’ve “liked” (such as the Rochester Public Library, Friends of the Rochester Public Library and Paige Turner).

A couple of weeks ago, author Tracey Garvis Graves posted on Facebook about a book she’d read that she couldn’t put down.  Graves is the author of On the Island, a book I reviewed for this blog some time back and which I thoroughly enjoyed.  When I first read the recommendation, I made a mental note to read it at some point in the future; however, over the next several days, her post kept popping back into my news feed with comment after comment by those who’d read the book and were just raving about it.  The book was Hopeless by Colleen Hoover.

My curiosity had been piqued and I decided to investigate further and went to my two favorite sources for all-things-books:  Amazon and Goodreads.  I was absolutely stunned to find that nearly 2,500 Amazon readers had rated this book a strong 4.5 stars, and more than 15,000 (yes, you read that correctly) Goodreads readers had also read it a full 4.5 stars.  In that moment, I knew this was a book that must be queued up immediately.

Knowing nothing about this book other than that readers seemed to love it, I purchased and downloaded it immediately.  I seriously needed to know what all the hype was about.

I’m not sure whether knowing nothing about this book was a good or a bad thing.  At first, I was terribly disappointed because the first few pages read like a YA novel.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy YA novels, but I really wasn’t in the mood to read a boy-meets-girl and crush ensues novel.  I thought I’d signed up for a really excellent adult novel with a deep plot and the first few pages didn’t give me the warm fuzzies that I was going to get what I’d hoped for.  But I kept reading, and I’m really glad I did.

Hopeless is a beautiful and intense novel about a young woman named Sky who was adopted at the age of 5 and has been sheltered for the remainder of her nearly 18 years by her single mother.  Sky has been home-schooled all of her school years, and her mother doesn’t believe in technology such as computers, telephones and televisions.   As she enters her senior year of school, she convinces her mother to allow her to attend public high school where she meets Dean Holder – a young man who will change her life forever.

As the story unfolds, the reader begins to realize that there’s something just not quite right about Sky.  She’s been sheltered her entire life and has virtually no memories of her life before her adoption.  While she is a seemingly normal teenager, there’s something not quite right about her lack of attraction to other young men her age.  To put it simply, she “tolerates” young men, but has never had the traditional teenage girl crush and has never felt the butterflies in the tummy that most young women her age experience.  Until Dean Holder.  Meeting Holder will turn her world upside down in every way imaginable.

Holder is a wonderful character in every way, but the reader realizes almost immediately that he’s holding something back from Sky.  The only thing we really know about him is that his twin sister committed suicide a year prior and he’s still struggling to deal with his loss.  And  yet the reader immediately begins to feel that there’s so much more to Holder’s story and his attraction to Sky.

The description of this books sounds like a YA Romance novel and, in some ways, it is.  And yet, it is so much more.  Though it does have moments of very explicit intimacy between Sky and Holder, there are so many more layers to this story that makes the genre classification quite murky.  The reader is constantly sitting on the edge of her seat wondering what’s coming next.  Who is Holder?  Why doesn’t Sky have any memories before her adoption?  Why hasn’t she ever had a normal teenage crush before Holder?  What in the world is Holder hiding?

Hopeless is a wonderful, shocking and sometimes painful read.  It’s also one of the few books I’ve read in a single day.  I simply couldn’t put it down.  Above all of that, it’s “real.”

This book is currently not available at the Rochester Public Library; however, I did request that it be added to our collection.  Keep your eyes open to see if it will be added!  In the meantime, this book is available through traditional booksellers in paperback and eBook formats.

Book Review – The Duchess of Love

The Duchess of Love
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

I admit it.  I’m a sucker for a good romance novel.  I don’t read too many of them these days because, to be honest, over the years it began to feel like I was reading the same story over and over again, with just the character names swapped out.  And that’s probably part of the reason so many people enjoy a good romance novel:  you know what to expect.  Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl have conflict, boy and girl make up, and finally boy and girl get married and live happily ever after.  Simple and sweet and – in the right frame of mind – perfect.

I must’ve been in the right frame of mind this week because I picked up a Romance novella entitled The Duchess of Love, and absolutely adored it!  It had all the wonderful elements of a great romance novel, with only about 100 pages.  And I zoomed right through it in about two hours.  It was the perfect poolside read!

The Duchess of Love is the prequel to a series by the same title and written by  Sally MacKenzie.  It tells the story of Venus Collingswood as she  attempts to matchmake her beautiful older sister, Aphrodite, to a young Duke of Greycliffe.  The entire story is one of mistaken identities, misunderstandings, and the blush of first love.  It was simple and sweet, and the characters were completely likeable.  And, as I turned the last page, I did so with a great deal of regret as I hated saying goodbye to the characters.  But, as I mentioned earlier, I’m in luck:  The Duchess of Love is a prequel to a series of books by the same author and (presumably) featuring some of the same characters.

This book is available online through the Rochester Public Library’s e-book collection for e-readers.