Posts Categorized: Review

Urban fantasy review: ‘Moonborn’ by Marina Finlayson

February 22, 2016 Review 0

Ah, Garth… my favourite werewolf. {Sigh} He was a side character in The Proving trilogy, although an important one, but here he gets to take centre stage. This is a terrific prequel to the series. A few familiar characters pop up from the later story, but it’s not necessary to have read the trilogy first. In fact, it would work very well to read this and then move straight into Twiceborn. Either way works.

This tells the story of how Garth became a werewolf and how he got on in his early years as a shifter (not very well, in case you were wondering). Poor Garth! You’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel sorry for the poor guy, with all his difficulties. Because the trouble is, Garth doesn’t take easily to pack life and for a werewolf, that’s a real problem. Watching Garth struggle to fit in with a pack, or to live alone, and yet fail at both, is heart-rending.

But it’s not all grief and misery. There are some awesome moments in here, too. Garth’s first full moon transformation, followed by his first hunt as a wolf, is riveting. In fact, all the wolf moments are brilliantly written. It’s not easy to convey the almost completely animal nature of a werewolf in wolf form, where even the names of the other pack members are lost, but Finlayson is terrific at getting the reader right under the wolf’s skin.

The story covers quite a lot of ground, fifteen years to be exact, taking Garth from pre-werewolf days right through to the time of the dragon queen wars, the Proving, so it’s episodic rather than a single story. It’s no less compelling for all that, and the dramatic finale is an emotional roller-coaster as each minor triumph is immediately followed by a lurch downhill towards disaster. This is a great read — highly recommended. Five stars.


Georgette Heyer Regency Romance #5: ‘Friday’s Child’

February 20, 2016 Georgette Heyer, Regency romances, Review 0

It’s an odd thing, but whereas The Corinthian was every bit as frivolous as this, and ten times as implausible, it was still very enjoyable to read. This one, however, written in 1944, often felt tediously silly. The reason, at a guess, is in the characters. In The Corinthian, both the main characters are sharply intelligent, although muted by innocence (in the case of the heroine) and a degree of cynicism (in the hero). I can forgive characters a great deal if their actions make some kind of sense.

But Friday’s Child is based on stupidity. Both hero and heroine behave in ridiculous ways, without an ounce of common sense, and that’s really annoying. Viscount Sheringham needs to get married to release his inheritance money, and, rejected by the woman he’s been pursuing all season, he is so annoyed he swears to marry the first woman he sees. This turns out to be Hero Wantage, the ultra-naive girl-next-door. And so they marry, and she gets into scrape after scrape through ignorance (or sheer stupidity) and he carries on behaving exactly as if he were still a batchelor. Cue all sorts of tangles.

There’s a certain charm to the characters, and the collection of male friends who rally round the naive bride and make her an honorary member of their set is very amusing. But, as with The Corinthian, the bride is terribly young, only seventeen, and I disapproved violently of her behaviour in Bath, where she pretends to be single.

This was entertaining, in a frothy and fairly silly way, although I’m not a big fan of all the Regency cant, and the sheer weight of silliness keeps this one at four stars.


Georgette Heyer Regency Romance #4: ‘The Spanish Bride’

February 7, 2016 Georgette Heyer, Regency romances, Review 0

Another one I’m going to pass on. Written in 1940, although this is classified as a Regency romance, and it probably is, it’s also based on real historical characters, and, like An Infamous Army, it’s very focused on the historical setting.


Georgette Heyer Regency Romance #3: ‘The Corinthian’

January 9, 2016 Georgette Heyer, Regency romances, Review 0

After the history-fest of An Infamous Army, written in 1937, which I couldn’t even attempt, this one couldn’t be more different. It’s the most frivolous, silly, light-hearted confection imaginable, but then it was written in 1940, so perhaps frivolity was what was most needed.The plot begins with Sir Richard Wyndham, the Corinthian (dandy) of the title, accepting that at the age of twenty nine, he must make a loveless marriage to please his family. Neither the icily practical lady, nor her debt-riddled family, appeal much, but he feels he must do his duty. But on the evening before making the offer which will tie him, he gets very drunk and on his way home he spots someone climbing out of an upstairs window. This is seventeen-year-old Penelope (Pen) Creed, an heiress escaping the prospect of an unwanted marriage to a cousin, by dressing as a boy and running away. Richard agrees to help her escape, and thereby sets in train a glorious set of ever-more-unlikely events, involving stolen diamonds, an elopement, a Bow Street Runner, even a murder, and a whole array of wonderfully eccentric characters.

The story is delightfully silly, but the real charm is in the two main characters. Pen is a complete innocent, always coming up with outlandish schemes which go horribly wrong, and then require even more outlandish schemes to set things right. Richard is the world-weary cynic, trying very hard to protect her from the worst consequences of her actions. The writing is as light as a feather, with humour in almost every line.

This book was a delight from start to finish. The romance isn’t totally convincing, not least because Pen is so young and innocent, it’s hard to believe that she really knows her own mind. But that’s a very minor quibble. A very enjoyable five stars.


Georgette Heyer Regency Romance #2: ‘An Infamous Army’

January 9, 2016 Georgette Heyer, Regency romances, Review 0

I set out to read all of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances in publication order, and here I am at the second book, written in 1937, and already I’m refusing to jump. The opening is a whole confusion of characters, so, naturally, I turned to the Goodreads reviews for advice. And find that this book is more of a historical treatise on the Battle of Waterloo than fiction. It is, apparently, still required reading for the officer training school at Sandhurst.

Well, it may be picky of me, but I read for entertainment, not to be hit over the head with the author’s depth of research. I’ll take a raincheck on this one, and maybe come back to it later, when I feel stronger. Pass.

Nice cover, though.


Regency romance review: ‘The Impostor Debutante’ by May Burnett

January 6, 2016 Review 0

I enjoyed this one a lot. Too many Regency romances these days have plots that are too silly for words, requiring hero or heroine or both to behave in quite incredible ways. This one felt quite sane, and both main characters behaved like sensible people. Very refreshing.

The plot revolves around the neglected niece of a London socialite mother, who decides to do her duty by bringing the girl down from Yorkshire to be suitably introduced into society and married off. But the niece is almost blind, recently married and pregnant, and has no desire to enter London society. She does, however, want to recover her inheritance money, so she sends her half-sister to London in her place to find out why the solicitor isn’t responding to letters. All this is slightly pedestrian, but there is another, more interesting, sub-plot, focused on the half-sister’s background.

The romance features the hitherto rather useless second son of the socialite mother, who is a pleasant enough chap but doesn’t have much to make him stand out from the crowd. Despite the obstacles seemingly keeping the two apart, they fall in love rather easily, and start lusting after each other in no time. I’m not a big fan of Regencies with added sex, but that’s a matter of personal preference and it was all rather tastefully done.

This isn’t the most historically accurate portrayal of the Regency era I’ve ever seen – the dialogue is more modern colloquial than Jane Austen, and the heroine enjoys afternoon tea at one point (not invented until 1840). But the characters and the leisurely plot have a charm which overcomes such minor quibbles. The ending felt rather awkward, with way too much time taken tying up loose ends, but overall this was a pleasant read. I wavered between three and four stars, but as it’s the first of the series I’ll be generous. Four stars.


Mystery review: The Shadow at Greystone Chase by Clara Benson

December 31, 2015 Review 0

The tenth and final outing in the Angela Marchmont series of murder mysteries set in the twenties. Most of the books of this series can be read independently of each other, but this one is the exception: it follows on almost directly from The Scandal at 23 Mount Street and has many spoilers for that story, so if you haven’t read the ninth book yet, read on at your peril.

After the sombre courtroom drama of the previous book, things are almost back to normal here, with ladylike amateur sleuth Angela and her aristocratic reporter sidekick Freddy investigating a murder from several years ago. But it isn’t quite normal, because the murder in question is the wife of Angela’s love interest, jewel thief Edgar Valencourt. And because she feels guilty about the events of book nine, she agrees to try.

The mystery isn’t particularly complicated. I guessed the identity of the murderer, and most of the reasons, within about five minutes. I also spotted some important clues along the way. That doesn’t make it any less interesting or enjoyable to watch the story unfold, and see Angela and Freddy circle closer and closer to the truth. This is, in many ways, a classic country-house murder mystery, with all sorts of family secrets lurking behind the wealthy exterior.

But to be honest, the murder isn’t the focus of this one, so much as the ramifications of the previous book, the weight of guilt and decisions made and actions taken which can never be undone. So there is a heavier tone than in some of the earlier books, and an all-pervading sadness. So can the author wrap things up and bring not just this mystery but the whole series to a satisfying conclusion? Of course she can!

This was another wonderful read, and although (like the previous book) it suffered a little from the backstory-heavy plot, I can’t in all conscience give it less than five stars. And for anyone wondering about the creator of the Angela Marchmont mysteries, you will find a little more information about the reclusive Clara Benson at the end of the book.

A brief word about the series as a whole. They say that many series take several books to establish themselves, and so it is here. The first book, The Murder at Sissingham Hall, is quite slow, and features Angela only as a side character, an odd stylistic choice. The second book, The Mystery of Underwood House, is much more readable, and I’d almost say you could start the series here without losing anything. By book 3, The Treasure at Poldarrow Point, things are beginning to pick up and the humour is finally showing through. By book 5, The Imbroglio at Villa Pozzi, the writing reaches glorious heights of charm, and this and book 6, The Problem at Two Tithes, are among my favourite reads of the year. The rest of the series is magnificent. Highly recommended for fans of cozies and Agatha Christie-style country-house murders.


Mystery review: The Scandal at 23 Mount Street by Clara Benson

December 31, 2015 Review 0

The ninth and penultimate outing in the Angela Marchmont series of murder mysteries set in the twenties is a complete change of pace. After the light-hearted, almost flippant, tone of the last few books, suddenly life takes a very grave turn for Angela, when her past comes back to haunt her and she has a fight for her very life on her hands.

The mystery this time isn’t so much in whodunit, which is almost incidental, but how on earth Angela is going to get out of the mess she’s in. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler if I say that I never doubted that she would get out of it, but even though I guessed something of how it would go, there was a surprise in store at the end. In fact, there were a lot of revelations about the past, although one of them I’d guessed a while back.

This wasn’t the riotous entertainment of some of the previous books – the tone was too sombre for that. Angela makes some difficult choices in this book, and the very different plot meant that the writing style felt a little denser than usual. However, the courtroom scenes were very well done, Angela’s friends rose to the occasion splendidly, and the biggest reveal of the lot was suitably dramatic. I can’t honestly say I enjoyed this as much as the earlier books – it was too traumatic for that – but the constant tension kept me on the edge of my seat, I tore through it in record time and I very much liked the way it ended [*], so that’s another five stars and straight on to the tenth and final book in the series.

[*] The reported tragedy near the end? Nope. Don’t believe that for one second.


Mystery review: The Trouble at Wakeley Court by Clara Benson

December 31, 2015 Review 0

The eighth outing in the Angela Marchmont series of murder mysteries set in the twenties sees our heroine drawn into her most preposterous case yet, as a foreign princess is threatened with assassination at the private girls’ school attended by Angela’s god-daughter, Barbara. I won’t attempt to describe the plot – let’s just say it’s convoluted, and leave it at that.

I’m pleased to report that I guessed the identity of the villain right from the start here, but it didn’t hamper my enjoyment in the slightest. For those who enjoy boarding school stories, complete with middle-of-the-night chases across the lawn, creeping about with torches in the attic and teachers who are not all they seem, this will be right up your alley. I particularly enjoyed the games mistress’ robust attitude towards dealing with intruders.

Angela solves the case, as usual, and all the loose ends are neatly resolved. This one wasn’t quite as laugh-out-loud funny as the previous outing, but still very enjoyable. Five stars.


Pauline’s self-published gems of 2015

December 31, 2015 Review 3

This is the third year running that I’ve cobbled together a list of self-published gems from my reading over the year. For anyone who’s not tried self-published books before, it can be difficult to find quality reading among the morass of poorly-edited and derivative junk out there. I’ve learned to be very selective about what I spend time on, but even so, there are still a lot of not terribly good books around.

BUT if you look carefully, there are plenty of gems around. The best self-published books bring a freshness and vitality to their genres that make them a delight to read. These are some that I loved wholeheartedly.


The Proving series: Marina Finlayson

Urban fantasy at its best – dragons and a whole panoply of shifters, a heroine who’s a mother of a young son (a refreshing change from the usual teenage kickass protagonist), a setting in Sydney, Australia, and a wonderful line in dry Aussie humour. Oh yes, and non-stop action right the way through the trilogy. All 3 books are now published; start with Twiceborn. My review.


Daughter of the Wildings series: Kyra Halland

This is a Western fantasy romance series, with a pair of charmingly old-fashioned main characters, some intriguing magic and plenty of no-holds-barred wizard-battles. Great fun. 5 parts of the 6-book series published so far; start with Beneath The Canyons. My review.



The Living Throne: H Anthe Davis

I’ve been raving about the War of Memory series ever since I discovered the first in the series, The Light of Kerrindryr. Industrial-strength world-building, compelling characters and a vivid style of story-telling that verges on horror in places, this is epic fantasy in every sense. The Living Throne is the third of the series, with more to come. My review.



White Blood: Angela Holder

An unusual book, in many ways. Firstly, it’s a stand-alone. Then, it’s about a wet-nurse, that unsung heroine of history, who fed and essentially raised the sons and daughters of noble houses. And thirdly, it features an unusual kind of blood magic, intertwined with the religious system. There is a lot of detail about breast-feeding and small babies in general, but if you don’t mind that, you’ll be rewarded with a charming story with solid world-building, plenty of dramatic action in the second half, and a perfectly judged romantic ending. My review.

Echoes of Imara series: Claire Frank

Another series for fans of true epic fantasy, with gloriously detailed world-building, a large cast-list and spectacular wizardy battles. Unusually, the two main protagonists are a happily-married couple, which I found refreshingly different, especially as it’s the husband who gets himself kidnapped and the wife who has to set out to rescue him. Two parts already published, a third due out soon; start with To Whatever End. My review.


Theft and Sorcery series: Erica Dakin

A little bit different: a sexy romance involving half-elves, this series started as a frivolous bonk-a-thon, and ended up as something much more interesting, with the third book of the series, The Coup, having a finely-wrought political plot and some interesting world-building going on in the background. A series that gets better with each book. But be warned: there’s a lot of graphic sex and robust language. My review.


Watersmeet: Rachel Cotterill

A pleasant, if undemanding, read, less action-filled than a lot of fantasy, but with intriguing world-building, some terrific characters and enough surprises in the plot twists and turns to keep me happy. One of those books that’s very satisfying without being ostentatious. The first of a series, but I’m hoping for more to flesh out the details of the setting. My review.




See You: Dawn Lee McKenna

This is an extraordinary book. I cried almost all the way through, yet I couldn’t put it down. Actually, I laughed almost as much as I cried. It’s a love story, and no, that’s not a euphemism for romance, this really is a story about love. And not your conventional couple, either. Jack was raised by his best friend’s mother, Miss Margret, and returned every year to visit her and her granddaughter, Emma Lee. When Miss Margret died, the visits stopped but now Jack’s back, and finds Emma Lee still living in the same house, and raising her own daughter. Jack has some secrets to share, but Emma has a secret of her own – she’s been in love with him since she was a child. And that doesn’t even begin to convey the atmosphere, the depth of the characters and the sheer wonder of this book. Please read it. My review.

The Angela Marchmont series: Clara Benson

A 10-book murder mystery series, set in – or rather, steeped in – the twenties, which brilliantly evokes the atmosphere of the times. The opening story is a little wobbly, but the author soon settles down, the characters come to life and the gentle humour and charm are quite wonderful. Recommended for fans of Agatha Christie. Start with The Murder at Sissingham Hall. My review.