Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Dark Enquiry, by Deanna Raybourn

It's always a good day when a Lady Julia book lands on my front porch.  When author Deanna Raybourn caught my attention with Silent in the Grave, I hadn't expected to discover a series where each book is just as good as the last, if not better, and the storyline of Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane constantly evolves into something more and more exciting.  Now that we are at Lady Julia book #5, I've been thinking back to the previous novels and analyzing my reactions to each.  The first 3 were filled with such intensity between Lady Julia and Brisbane, and you were hanging on the edge for them to get together.  My sigh of relief at the end of Silent on the Moor could probably be heard for miles!  Dark Road to Darjeeling began the journey into the married life of Lady Julia and Brisbane, and therefore an additional mystery.  I've spoken to several readers about Dark Road to Darjeeling, and their reactions to the way Raybourn wrote the now married detectives.  I'll admit in my review of the book, I never touched on this aspect of the story, as I was drawn into the suspenseful plot and didn't give much thought to their marriage.  Other more astute readers did not, however, and I've heard some relate they were not happy with the way the couple treated each other, and that it wasn't what they thought the marriage would be.  I've given it some thought since my last discussion with dear friend and fellow reviewer KristinH, and I've come to the realization that I expected more from their marriage.  The Dark Enquiry is what I was looking for.

Lady Julia and Brisbane have taken up residence in London, and we get a glimpse into what life is like for residents as Lady Julia is working on yet another recipe for black powder, after several failed batches.  Aquinas cannot keep staff because of the strange comings and goings, and Lady Julia is still trying to work her way into Brisbane's life by being his partner in investigations.  Lady Julia's enthusiasm for all things related to Brisbane's business leads her to worm her way into cases by means of not telling her husband until she is need of rescue.  In fact, the entire book is full of Brisbane trying to keep Lady Julia out of harms way while she is assisting him with a case involving a medium with possible links to espionage.  As the novel unravels, you see a different side of the Brisbane's; the side that shows just how devoted they truly are to each other.  Brisbane cannot live without Lady Julia, and his visions begin early on with a sensation of being suffocated, which comes to shocking reality towards the end.  His visions are connected to his emotions towards his wife, and these visions he is unable to fight and numb with medicines.  Lady Julia is just as devoted, and her entrance into her husband's investigation stems from her worry that he is in trouble.  All this not love, however, as Brisbane shows his anger more than once at Lady Julia's actions and puts his foot down.  There is still the tug of war about Lady Julia's place in his investigations and her safety, but the passion they have for each other is proudly displayed even if it's not written in detail.  Their love for each other can be felt.

The story itself involves espionage and a cast of secondary characters that as always in a Raybourn novel, have interesting back stories and complete the plot.  I was very happy to have more Plum in this book, for he is my favorite brother, and of course, Lady Portia and her new addition are present.  This book will lead you through a roller coaster of emotions, and I went from sitting on the edge of my seat, to laughing, to having to set the book down and cry my eyes out. (you'll know when you get to that part)  If you are a fan of mystery/suspense, and like it with a dose of Victorianism, you will want to pick up this book regardless if you've read the entire series.  Oh, and it's a must have for fans.  Brisbane only gets more swoon worthy as the series goes on, and this book is no exception.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Brief Encounters, by Phillipa Ashley, Nell Dixon, and Elizabeth Hanbury

What a great way to get back into the swing of things!  I've been bombarded with reading all things homework related since January, so for such a perfect combination of short stories to fall on us here at Bookishly right as I am getting set to read what I want to read makes me very happy!

Brief Encounters is a collection of stories by the above named authors.  There is mix of modern and historical, so all should love these witty works.  The collection starts off with a modern and fun story called Plus One Guest by Nell Dixon.  Lucy is invited to her ex's wedding, and it's the day before and she has not found her "plus one guest".  Not willing to attend the wedding alone, she is somewhat tricked by her coworker Diana into allowing her boss, Harry of the fraying cuffs, to escort her.  The more time Lucy and Harry are together, the more Lucy realizes she rather likes her boss, and he is more than fond of her.  A sweet and funny story that made me smile with every word.  Dixon's next contribution, A Weekend in Venice, is the rather sad story of Kay and her attempt to regain a little of her life back after a tragic accident that took the life of her fiancé.  After becoming lost, she enters a shop where she meets Roberto, a rather gorgeous Italian, and she learns she can heal and live again.  A sad, yet sweet tale that makes you believe in happy endings.  

Author Elizabeth Hanbury is no stranger to Bookishly, and she is a favorite of mine.  Hanbury's first contribution to Brief Encounters is the historical Miss Pattingham Requests, the story of Gyles Beaufort, a leader in the ton, and his brief engagement to Miss Merryn Ward.  After a whirlwind romance, Gyles receives a letter one day, indicating Miss Ward has left for parts unknown and without giving a reason.  Despite his search, Gyles cannot find his fiancée and is devastated.  When a letter from his former governess arrives with a request to visit her, he resists going, but in the end relents.  Imagine his surprise when he enters and sees Miss Ward is a guest as well!  A lovely short about love gone awry, only to come back again.  Hanbury's second contribution is The Virtuous Courtesan, A Midsummer Eve at Rookery End story.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Rookery End stories please see my review here.  This is the story of Leonora and Marcus, the gracious hosts of the previous stories.  The story begins with Leonora breaking into Rookery End, the seat of the Earl of Allingham, to steal a portrait her father sold.  A portrait that was not an original, but a copy.  She is caught, not by a servant, but by the Earl himself- a much younger version than what she expected!  Sparks fly in this sweet tail about housebreaking, and love at first sight.

The final works in this delightful collection are by author Phillipa Ashley, another favorite of mine. (do you see a pattern here?)  Ashley contributes two sweet stories to this collection, starting off with the Feast of Stefan.  And before I go on, you will want to feast on Stefan before you come to the conclusion of this tale!  Nick has had his eyes on Sarah for awhile, but was afraid to ask her out because of the death of her husband.  Then along comes Stefan from Slovakia, tall, handsome, and witty to boot.  Stefan is there for work, which just so happens to be the same place Nick works, and they get to know each other over time.  Everyone in the village loves Stefan, especially after his first gesture is buying the entire pub a round!  Nick’s feelings for Sarah are strong, but he wonders of Stefan and they way they talk to each other.  Sure that Sarah has eyes for Stefan; he slowly resigns himself to losing Sarah.  It’s only after a freak snowstorm and hitting his head do these two come together in what is a very sweet story.  The final story of the collection is A Bolt From the Blue, the story of Lisa and her quest to get over the betrayal of her fiancé.  A weekend of camping and hiking with a friend turns into a mountain rescue as her friend is injured, and Lisa is led back down the mountain by Hagar as they jokingly call him.  Lisa comes face to face with a Viking God or the equivalent in this case, which will set your heart pounding.  After packing up their equipment, Lisa sets off to thank the rescue team and meets up with Hagar again, and this time sparks fly.  We never do learn his name, but it’s not really necessary, and I’m sure you will agree.  I do always love Phillipa’s leading men.

Brief Encounters is a must read, and its size makes it the perfect evening getaway.  Be sure to download this as quickly as you can!  It can be found at all online bookstores, and according to author blogs, the print version will be out in September.  Well done, ladies!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Just Like Heaven, by Julia Quinn

If you are familiar with Julia Quinn's series on the alphabetically named Bridgerton offspring, you are familiar with the infamous and dreaded Smythe-Smith musicales.  I always wondered at the women who comprised the Smythe-Smith quartet. Why would they subject themselves and their audience to those dreaded performances?  We get our answers in this new series.

The first is the story of Honoria Smythe-Smith, a daughter of the Earl of Winstead, a member of the quartet and most definitely not a virtuoso on the violin. She and her brother, Daniel, (now the Earl of Winstead after the passing of his father) have been life-long friends of Marcus Holroyd, the Earl of Chatteris. Marcus grew up motherless and alone, with an absent parent for a father.  Shy and friendless, Marcus is sent to Eton and, with no family to call his own, starts to spend holidays with the Smythe-Smiths, and Daniel, his new best friend. Honoria, the youngest sibling of the prolific Smythe-Smith family, tags along on all their adventures to Daniel's embarrassment and Marcus' amusement. As the trio grows older,  they each go their separate ways.  Marcus and Honoria's paths cross in London numerous times and when Daniel is forced to leave the country, he asks Marcus to watch over Honoria.

Honoria is entering her second year on the marriage mart and is desperate to get married and leave the quartet behind her. When she sets up a situation for a Bridgerton to notice her, what she gets is Marcus instead. And when his life is threatened by her actions, they both realize that they are far more to each other than life-long friends.

It was nice to revisit with some of my favorite characters from the Bridgerton series. We also get an explanation for how the musicales started and why the girls in the quartet stick with it, even though they know they should give it up for the good of the ton.

With no real purpose in mind except the enjoyment of the reader, Just Like Heaven fits the bill for a fun historical romance romp. Unlike the Smythe-Smith musicales, this book is by no means a hardship to get through.