Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Spotlight: P. B. Ryan's Nell Sweeney series

Recently in one of our frequent emails, Jane asked me, "BTW, who is P. B. Ryan?" Indeed.

P. B. Ryan is Patricia Ryan, author of historical romances and a series of mysteries set in Boston in the late nineteenth century. It is this six-book series about an Irish governess named Nell Sweeney that I recently read and LOVED. Unfortunately, the books are out of print but have recently been released as inexpensive ebooks. Last week, I read the six of them back-to-back, downloading them as I went onto my nook.

It's really too bad that these are out of print because I think the covers are absolutely charming. As I mentioned, Nell Sweeney is an Irish governess living in Irish-hating Boston over a hundred years ago. However, Nell is much more than just a governess, she is a woman made of secrets, a keen intelligence and compassion. At the beginning of Still Life with Murder, she is working as an assistant/apprentice for a doctor in Cape Cod. One night while summoned to attend to a pregnant woman having a difficult birth, she is offered the job of governess to an affluent family. She readily accepts and is swept into life with the Hewitt family, much to her employer's husband's chagrin. Her first case as an amateur detective involves William Hewitt, eldest son of Viola Hewitt and thought dead after being held at a prisoner camp in the South. (These books take place not long after the Civil War.) Nell soon makes friends and allies who help her with her cases, the most interesting being Will, of course, even if Nell's secret past (?) and Will's opium addiction (!) gets in the way of any romantic relationship they may want to start.

This series is clever and so well done that I am heartbroken that there are no more to come. Smartly written and also a bit romantic, I will be rereading this series for years to come.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Review: The Witch's Daughter by Paula Brackston

My name is Elizabeth Anne Hawksmith, and my age is three hundred and eighty-four years. Each new settlement asks for a new journal, and so this Book of Shadows begins…
In the spring of 1628, the Witchfinder of Wessex finds himself a true Witch. As Bess Hawksmith watches her mother swing from the Hanging Tree she knows that only one man can save her from the same fate at the hands of the panicked mob: the Warlock Gideon Masters, and his Book of Shadows. Secluded at his cottage in the woods, Gideon instructs Bess in the Craft, awakening formidable powers she didn’t know she had and making her immortal. She couldn't have foreseen that even now, centuries later, he would be hunting her across time, determined to claim payment for saving her life.
In present-day England, Elizabeth has built a quiet life for herself, tending her garden and selling herbs and oils at the local farmers' market. But her solitude abruptly ends when a teenage girl called Tegan starts hanging around. Against her better judgment, Elizabeth begins teaching Tegan the ways of the Hedge Witch, in the process awakening memories—and demons—long thought forgotten.
Part historical romance, part modern fantasy, The Witch’s Daughter is a fresh, compelling take on the magical, yet dangerous world of Witches. Readers will long remember the fiercely independent heroine who survives plagues, wars, and the heartbreak that comes with immortality; to remain true to herself; and protect the protégé she comes to love.

If ever there was a time on this planet to be a witch, the seventeenth century wasn't it. The Salem Witch Trials went on in America in the latter half of that century as well. How awful it must have been for those people (and their loved ones) who were accused and executed for no other reasons than paranoia and mass hysteria. Everybody knows that there are no such things as witches, right?

In The Witch's Daughter, Bess learns the hard way that there are such things as witches. In the beginning, she lives in the village of Batchcombe, England with her two siblings and parents and fancies herself maybe being a lady someday. But all that changes after the plague rampages through and takes most of her family and many others, leaving distraught mothers wandering the town, mourning their children and hating Bess' mother for being left with a daughter. Soon after, Bess' mother is hanged for being a witch, leaving Bess to turn to a man who she is certain can't be trusted, Gideon Masters. With him, Bess learns that she is a real witch like her mother, and has plenty of power. Gideon wants that power for himself and wants Bess to be his mate/partner/so-called equal but after Bess catches him in the woods one night, doing all those naughty things with demons that evil warlocks like to do, she escapes and tries to put Batchcombe and Gideon behind her. Now immortal, Bess changes her identity and traveling around to Whitechapel, London during Jack the Ripper's terror and the frontlines of WWII, working to help others like a good witch should but knows that trouble is right behind her. Almost four hundred years after her family's tragedy, Bess is comfortable in a small town in England and against her nature, befriends a teenage girl who wants to learn about Bess' craft. Complacency makes Bess worry, however, and when Tegan meets a boy who monopolizes her time and attention and works to poison her relationship with Bess, Bess starts gathering her weapons for a final showdown with Gideon.

The Witch's Daughter seemed daunting to me at first; three hundred pages of (what appears to be) tightly-spaced ten point font is not something you can just rip through in one sitting but that's pretty much what I did: read it all in one evening, right after dinner. It started a bit slowly but once I got to the first flashback about Bess' village, I was hooked. Told mostly through flashbacks in between bits of the present, The Witch's Daughter is a compelling story about what inner strength really is.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Review: The President's Vampire by Christopher Farnsworth

The ultimate secret. The ultimate agent. Nathaniel Cade returns.
For 140 years, Nathaniel Cade has been the President's Vampire, sworn to protect and serve his country. Cade's existence is the most closely guarded of White House secrets: a superhuman covert agent who is the last line of defense against nightmare scenarios that ordinary citizens only dream of.
When a new outbreak of an ancient evil-one that he has seen before-comes to light, Cade and his human handler, Zach Barrows, must track down its source. To "protect and serve" often means settling old scores and confronting new betrayals . . . as only a centuries-old predator can.

What would our world be like if monsters of the supernatural persuasion were real? What if terrorists could use them to strike at their enemies instead of using bombs? Frankly, I think this world is a scary enough place already without dealing with bugaboos like the ones that Zach and Cade deal with on a regular basis. After finishing The President's Vampire, I was more than a bit thankful that this world hasn't reached this level of crazy just yet. At least, not that we know of.

In Blood Oath, Farnsworth showed us what might happen if some evil mastermind used super-zombies made from the bodies of dead American soldiers to try and invade the White House. In The President's Vampire, Zach and Cade come up against something just as deadly but potentially more dangerous: a highly infectious virus that turns humans into reptile killing machines called "snakeheads". Engineered by "The Company", a black government agency that is run and staffed by people who are chosen specifically for their mal-adjusted sociopathic personalities, this virus is spread by biting or scratching and works instantly to transform its host into a ravenous, slavering monster within minutes. Cade has been working since the 1920's to eradicate the snakeheads but they keep popping up periodically all over the globe. Now that The Company has decided to join the game, the snakeheads are even deadlier than before and with certain politicians working in the background to make sure that Zach and Cade fail, underground government installations hosting experiments made of nightmares, and a plot to set the snakehead creatures loose on a shopping mall full of unsuspecting humans, The President's Vampire is a governmental conspiracy run amuck, stuffed between two book covers.

While I liked Blood Oath (click HERE to see my review) just a tad more than The President's Vampire, the charming aspects of the former are still present in the latter, much to my delight. That Farnsworth frames Cade with people and events that exist in the real world make these books feel somewhat plausible; using different names for the current administration is the biggest concession I could see that makes this fiction other than the, you know, supernatural monsters. I had begun to wonder who would be up next with the cameo appearances though. (TPV stars Bin Laden and John Wilkes Booth, and explains how JFK's assassination was an inside job.) All-in-all, The President's Vampire is another great read and I am already wishing for the next one in this entertaining series.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review: The Vampire Dimitri by Colleen Gleason

Regency London loves a society wedding— even if there are vampires on the guest list.

Dimitri, also known as the Earl of Corvindale, should be delighted that the headstrong Maia Woodmore is getting married. His mortal ward and houseguest has annoyed—and bewitched—the Dracule nobleman too long, and denying his animal cravings grows more excruciating by the day.

Miss Woodmore’s family has a rather…complicated history with the immortals and she herself possesses a keen sensibility far beyond mere women’s intuition. Marriage will give her safety, respectability and everything else a proper young lady could wish for. Everything, that is, except passion.

In the looming battle between Dracule factions, all pretenses will shatter as Maia and Dimitri come together in an unholy union of danger, desperation and fiercest desire.

First off, I LOVE the cover. Continuing with the style of the cover of The Vampire Voss, this cover improves upon the first. The rich blue perfectly frames the intense stare of Dimitri, a rather intense man who carries many burdens on those broad shoulders of his. Maia, on the other hand, is a study in contradictions. Her body is reaching for his and her face is facing the same direction as Dimitri's but her eyes are closed. Could she possibly be conflicted? That one word is a good description of The Vampire Dimitri, for everyone wants something they can't (or shouldn't) have.

Dimitri is a lousy vampire. He's been devoting his existence to searching for a way to break his pact with Lucifer because he wants to be free of it in the worst way. He doesn't drink human blood and hasn't for about a century. He's not a man-whore like Voss and rarely succumbs to his unseemly urges. He does have one weakness (other than his Asthenia, a physical object each vampire has as their own version of kryptonite): Maia Woodmore. She drives him crazy with her demands and questions yet makes him want things like love and companionship and to make love. With HER. However, Maia is engaged to be married and her fiance has decided to finally come home from gallivanting across the Continent to fulfill his promise to her. To Dimitri, this is both a relief and a disappointment of the greatest degree, for ever since a night several years before when he saved Maia from ruin, he hasn't been able to forget her.

For her part, Maia is drawn to Dimitri as well, even after she discovers he's a vampire. She's been waiting for too long for her fiance to come home and make her respectable but now with Dimitri in her life, she's finding that she doesn't miss him as much. Maia is the oldest sister of the three and because she's not psychic like her sisters she's made herself into the boss of everybody. With their parents dead and their brother AWOL, somebody had to look out for her younger sisters and make sure they marry well. Now that Angelica is set to marry Voss and her youngest sister is still young and stashed away in Scotland, Maia's future is staring her in the face. So, who will she pick, Dimitri or her fiance?

I think I liked Dimitri's story a bit more than Voss'. No particular reason why but there is just something about a tortured man who is searching for redemption, isn't there? The villain here comes at them from the same angle as in Voss' book but for slightly different reasons even though the effect is the same: forcing Dimitri to deal with his past and to work with Maia. The Vampire Dimitri is a historical paranormal romance that doesn't fail to deliver.

The Vampire Dimitri will be released on April 19, 2011.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Best Book(s) of 2011 (so far)

Wow. I just recently realized that I haven't posted my fave reads for the first three months of this year. Am I a slacker or what?


So. It may be a little lame being so late with some of this but...here's my favorite reads of January, February, and March. This is so exciting, right? *snort* These are going to be short and to the point.

I'm going to have to go with Shadowfever Karen Marie Moning for this month. Yes, I thought it was well done and all (and I'm not forgetting Pale Demon!) but I'm picking it for the emotional impact it made. It finally wrapped up the five-book Fever series and gave me the ending I could live with. I could finally put the subject of Mac and Barrons to bed (heh heh) and get some distance for a little while - I was quite hyped up for Shadowfever and looking back at January, I'm glad I read it. Now, I'm interested to see where Moning goes from there with all the loose ends she left behind. Hmm.

My favorite read in February was another reread of Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas. I read it during my teeth troubles and it made me feel better. I had just listened to the ebook of Secrets of a Summer Night, the first Wallflowers book, and was in the mood to revisit Evie and Sebastian. Good stuff.

I also loved Unveiled by Courtney Milan and Archangel's Consort by Nalini Singh. Fabulous, both of them, which is definitely no surprise.

Last month, I read two truly outstanding and memorable books: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly and Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart. Revolution is powerful. Many times while I read it, I was overwhelmed by Andi's pain. It is one of the best researched novels I have ever read; Andi's study of musical DNA is fascinating and the Alice in Wonderland feel to Andi's trip to the catacombs under Paris and back to the Reign of Terror almost lends a little whimsy (the iPod was a nice touch) to a mostly sad but expertly written book.

Nine Coaches Waiting had been sitting on my shelf for a little while now, ever since Jane sent me a copy. It made the book blogger circuit not that long ago but I wasn't ready to pick it up until last week. Nine Coaches Waiting is a gem of a novel and Mary Stewart definitely knows how to write a mystery that keeps you guessing. There's also a bit of romance thrown in for fun as well. This is definitely a keeper.

Thanks for reading!