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Beneath the Apple Leaves, Harmony Verna

 

Beneath the Apple Leaves, Harmony Verna

Beneath the Apple Leaves by [Verna, Harmony]

Genre:  Romance, General fiction, Historical

I hadn’t read Daughter of Australia, but liked the sound of this.
Its a terrific read, very packed full of events, characters and incidents that feel so real, and some heartbreaking sorrow. It does have a HEA for the main two characters though 🙂
Its so intense, so heartbreaking at times, that I read this in three installments instead of my usual straight through. Though I desperately wanted to know what came next, some of the events really pulled at me, the story got so real, so emotional that I needed a break.
Its one I would happily reread too, one that will stay with me for a long time.

Its set in US at the beginning of WW1, a time when it seemed like every country was at each others throats, and as still happens the media whip up hatred, minorities get spurned at best, murdered at worst by righteous feeling so-called “patriots”. Yet these people are doing nothing except living their lives, struggling along with everyone else. They didn’t start the war, but they and their families reap the hatred engendered by it. Pretty much as immigrants and Muslims do today in so many countries. I’m ashamed to say the UK is one of them…fake stories, media exaggeration and lies, and people turn into mobs, lose their compassion, do things that many of them wouldn’t have dreamed of before.

Of course in this atmosphere some flourish, fan the flames of hatred, turn things to personal advantage and profit, and Frank Morton is one such man. A dangerous and powerful man to be on the wrong side of, and he’s got there by some evil methods. He’s married to Lily’s sister Claire, a lovely lady but very scared, slightly childlike, simple minded, it seems and Lily does all she can to protect her. They have such a sad story, little good in their life until Andrew and his family come to live there.

Andrew is a solid character, full of strength, morality, fairness and compassion he’s a true Gentleman. I loved him all the way through, he was a wonderful man.
His father hates the mines and vows Andrew will have a different path. Sadly though his plans fail, an underground explosion kills him, and as happened back then the house came with the job, so it was Andrew to the mine or 30 days to move out.
Andrews mother arranges for him to apprentice with her sister’s husband on the railways and she goes back to Holland.

After all those things happening you’d think Andrew might have some luck, but he gets the reverse, is badly injured in an accident leaving him permanently disabled. Wilhelm feels guilty and can’t stand the shame, so he leaves the job he loved, and takes the family to the farm.
He was brought up on one but vowed never to go back, but Eveline has always wanted to raise their children in the country, rather than the smog ridden city. The farm though turns out to be a wreck and the only good thing to come out of the move is Lily.

Its a beautifully written, wonderful love story, but a very rocky road to get there. There’s tragedies, harassment, deliberate vandalism, anti German sentiments when the US gets involved in the war. At times it feels like if it can go wrong it will.
In among that though are the gems, the elderly couple who deliver baked goods, of different races who understand mindless prejudice, the Muellers, another local family who’ve worked hard and now have a prospering farm, the friendship between Andrew and their son Pieter, and of course the very tender, emotional, gentle romance between Lily and Andrew.
Its very much a romance of the time, nothing outward, nothing seen for a long while when they both hide their feelings thinking the other is too good. Even when they do finally let their feelings show its still a few careful glances, subtle touches, and very chaste kisses. Very much what would happen in those days.
Its a rocky path though, with lots of misunderstandings and some outright lies and evil manipulations by Frank, who doesn’t approve. Lily is his, he wants full control over her and uses her love for Claire to keep it. He really is a nasty, vicious  piece of work. Sadly he’s the sort that do well in war-times.

Stars: five, an amazing read, tender and beautiful romance, and played out in a very realistic setting, characters and events that feel very genuine.
Reaching the finish I was sad to see these people go, though very happy at the final ending.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

An Unnatural Vice, KJ Charles

An Unnatural Vice, KJ Charles

An Unnatural Vice (Sins of the Cities) by [Charles, KJ]

Genre:  Romance,

I love KJC’s stories and this is another perfect read. She uses language that fits the time period, and which the kindle look up function proves useful for me when its words I haven’t met before!
I love the English language to be used to the fullest in novels, far too often its kind of dumbed down, almost as if authors feel readers won’t understand their writing. I don’t want a story that’s so literate the plots get lost in flowery overdone prose, but ones that like this give a richness of language to the story really lifts the work.

Its another gentle mystery, very real feeling of the time period, bringing in the feeling of spookiness and damp that the London fogs of the time had.
We meet characters from book one and that was enjoyable, i love it when we see those from earlier books moving on with their stories.
It’s a time when homosexuality was a crime punishable by prison, so these characters have to be very careful in their actions.

Nathaniel and Justin, fiercely on opposing sides, Nathaniel is determined to expose Justin as a fraud, and Justin sees in him all the things he hates, rich privileged upbringing, a person who’s quick to judge, condemn, look down on others less fortunate than themselves.
Neither are quite correct, but its such fun seeing how KJC is going to move them from that adversarial point to lovers. It creeps in carefully, sliding unseen into each others psyche almost the way the London Fog creeps into corners clouding vision.

The description of the seances and how Justin ran them was fascinating, and considering the time and limitations of things that could be used its really believable. I can see how he got the tag of Seer of London, he was very accomplished at what he did.
Its easy like Nathaniel to sneer at how he earned a living, but looking at what else he could do its much harder to judge him. He made many people happy, kept himself, Frankie, Emma and Sukey off the streets, warm, fed and clothed so was it really so bad, did he really deserve Nathaniel’s condemnation?
Its very easy to look down on others from the high road, not so easy if you spend time in their shoes, or even looking at their actions from their POV.

There’s some real danger for them here, the story from book one continues, the murders rack up once more, bringing Justin and Nathaniel into genuine peril, fearing for their lives. And by now they fear as much for each others lives as for their own. It leads them further into the romance, reveals parts of each other so far hidden, and its the perfect story for escape from real time issues for a while.

I loved this book, and like other series from KJC its going into my keeper files for rereading when series is complete. The Magpie/Jackdaw series of hers has been read again a couple of times, and I find things I missed first time round when I’m doing a back-to-back read of the novels.

 

Stars: five, a fabulous dive back into a time when men who liked men had to be incredibly careful, when the police were overstretched and murders abounded, and when Spiritualism was at a peak.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Aqua Follies, Liv Rancourt

Aqua Follies,  Liv Rancourt

Genre:  Romance, LGBTQIA

I loved this story, a great read, bringing in a very real feel of life in the fifties.
I was born at the very tail end of the fifties, but from my parents conversations about what they’d done this tale felt perfectly suited to the era.
Even in the sixties there was an emphasis on going out for entertainment. TV was limited, we didn’t have one like many families until i was maybe 9 or 10, and even then it was limited- no 24 hr TV, only two channels, definitely no daytime TV so we had to do things, not sit indoors. Carnivals, festivals etc all took place in the tiniest of villages even, with everyone turning out for what was a break from the usual work, home, sleep routine. As kids we were involved too so a festival like Aqua Follies which wouldn’t get off the ground now would have been high profile for many people. Liv does a terrific job or bringing that era to light.

Of course that makes it all sound like utopia, sunbeams and rainbows when it was anything but. Some of us lurked outside events, lacking the entry fee, trying to soak up a bit of atmosphere from the distance. There wasn’t parental leave, childcare etc in jobs so we were bundled off to others or left to roam when parents were working. It was work or starve, pay the rent or out, and Human Rights Act was a far off dream…
Life was tough if you were ordinary, toed the line, conformed, but if you dared to want a same sex relationship – woe is you….Still illegal back then. ( I’m not really sure when that changed, need to have a look at that) It was awful and guys like Russel didn’t even want to admit to themsleves they liked other men.
Its so sad, that pressure to conform, to stay safe and legal led to many marrying when there was no way they’d be fully happy. Russel certainly wouldn’t be and poor Susie, having a husband that doesn’t really love her. Sooner or later she’d realise that, and that’s what happened to so many couples, marrying to hide they really wanted a same sex relationship, but brought up to think it was perverted, against the Church, and risking prison if caught.
We’re a weird, judgmental group us humans.

I loved Russel and Skip. Skip’s sure in his desires for men, has found a group and places where he’s reasonably safe, but of course the police were given a pretty free rein then and he’s got one that keeps a close eye on him, never missing a chance to nip, berate, harass him.
Police brutality and harassment wasn’t recognised then so Skip had to just try to keep out of his way.
I loved Skip’s mum, in a sanitorium with TB, as happened to many then. The Fresh Air stance is very true, there was one near where I live and the huts were left open on one side all year round believing that it helped the lungs. Must have been pretty cold in winter!
When Skip is worried about being convicted, even if its a fine and caution he rightly says he’ll find it hard to get work. Who wants someone with a sex caution teaching music to their kids, joining their orchestra, working in their firm and of course without income he wouldn’t have anywhere to live, even if he could get a landlord to rent to someone with that on their record.
The world was a different place then, though some things seem good, there were things like this that made it a hard place for so many.

Russel, he sort of thinks he’s happy with Susie, there’s no grand passion but he has nothing to contrast with how he feels so he think that’s normal.
He knows his mum has been withdrawn after his brother died in Service, and he thinks it will make her happy if he gets married,so he’s planning to ask Susie to marry him – til he sees Skip. One look and he’s hooked, one word and he knows what he has with Susie isn’t Love.

What happens now though? What will they do, can they do living so far apart, when men cannot live openly with, be in a relationship with other men.
Is there a way through or are they a doomed, never to be together couple. And can he settle for Susie if that’s so?

Reading through the blurb I saw this was edited by KJ Charles, one of my favourite M/M authors – actually The favourite, she’s my number one for that genre, and it made me wonder if she had much influence over this book.
At the end reading through Liv’s explanations of how this book came to be she’s had the input of many people and it reminded me of the “it takes a village to raise a child” phrase. Maybe it takes a Team to raise a successful book.
Certainly its worked well this time, and its a great author who listens to critics, and shapes the story while still keeping it essentially the one they had in mind. You can please some readers some of the time and all that….

Stars: five, an enjoyable read, taking me back to a time when homosexuality was still illegal, still seen as perverted.

ARC supplied for review purposes by author

The Shadow Queen, Anne O’Brien

The Shadow Queen,  Anne O’Brien

The Shadow Queen by [O'Brien, Anne]

Genre:  Historical fiction,

What a fabulous read, transported me back to the past.
Its a while since I’ve read any historical fiction, I used to read more, with Elizabeth Chadwick, Phillipa Gregory, Sharon Penryn and Alison Weir being my favourite authors for this type of novel.

Its told from the POV of Joan, and she’s just 12 when we meet her. Looking at many historical novels from today’s POV its horrifying that children were betrothed as babies, went into marriage ceremonies when very young, though often remained with their families until in their mid/late teens. They grew up quickly in those days though, especially in royal households where children were routinely sent off to others, in the pursuit of power for the Family.
When we meet Joan she’s about to be married to Will, another boy her age, from a close family to the royals. Its a match made by the families, and Joan likes Will, but there are reasons she can’t marry, reasons she hasn’t told anyone. When she does, well, both families ensure its swept under the carpet, assuming wrongly that they’ve put an end to any scandal.
Of course things don’t work that way, and it starts a chain of events that dog poor Joan’s life. She’s clever though, ambitious, and ensures she does her best to make things work out how she wants them.

It sounds like she’s an unpleasant manipulative girl, but she’s not, not to me. She’s in love even though Thomas is so much older, she does her best to be a good wife to her husbands, to ensure she does what she can to help them, to make them happy, to get the recognition due to them. She adores her children and is a fierce, protective mother for their futures.
In a time when men ruled all, and women were simply chattels, to be moved around to forge alliances regardless of what they wanted, where they could be cast out easily, where the Royal Family and Parliament were in an uneasy power struggle, she did what she could for her family. I so felt for her, events had me really tearful at times. I didn’t see how blame could attach to her for what she did, but as always women seem to catch more than their fair share.

She was lucky in her friends from childhood, Will, her long time friend, sometime husband, and of course Ned, heir to the throne who’s another childhood friend, Isabella, a cousin I think or maybe second cousin…. Edward, the young king, is her cousin, and his wife Phillipa is a strong but gentle lady, and has brought up Joan since very young as part of the family, as was common in those days. The love between her and Edward has a great impact on Joan’s life.

Its a story of political machinations, the vicious scramble for power, backbiting, double dealing.
No-one could ever be quite certain the bargains they made, the allies they forged would really hold out when needed.
For Joan to have forged a path through that, a woman up against powerful men, at a time when they scarcely had a voice she was a remarkable person.

Its a story I really enjoyed, an author new to me but whose books I’ll certainly look out for in future.

Stars: five, a fabulous dive back into a time when women were almost voiceless so had to use clever ways of getting what they needed.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Beneath a Burning Sky, Jenny Ashcroft. Cask Strength, (Agents Irish and Whiskey), Layla Reyne

Beneath a Burning Sky, Jenny Ashcroft

Review from Jeannie Zelos book reviews

Genre:   Historical Fiction

This read reminded me very much of Dinah Jeffries – Before the Rains, a story I really enjoyed. Jenny writes the same vivid scenes of life in the past, in a searingly hot country, at the time of the British Empire.
Its an era when many of the men posted there from Britain saw themselves as of major importance, thought they were like little kings. So many treated the natives as simply lesser, disposable almost, and every time I read things like this I marvel at the arrogance that allowed this to happen.
But it did, its not fiction, things that happen in these stories really could have occurred then, events played out like this.

I so felt for Olivia, she’s had an awful childhood and now forced into marriage to a cruel and vindictive man. She doesn’t expect to fall in love with Edward, doesn’t expect to get embroiled in a dangerous mystery, a search for her abducted sister that has deep roots and from which the ripples flow out involving more and more people and putting her life in real danger.

Its a fabulous read, I could feel her despair, feel her anger, and the tenderness that grew between her and Edward – oh, I so wanted them to find a way to be together , they were just perfect for each other.

I thought I’d worked out a bit of what happened but it was far more involved and complex, and there’s no way I could have worked it all out. I did find the large cast of characters meant i had to keep checking back on exactly where each fitted in, and how they were placed in relation to others.
There were some parts where the mystery got so complex, involved so many characters, that I had to stop and work it all out. That spoiled the flow a bit but I can’t see any other way of writing it without dumbing it down, and I’d rather take time to recoup that that. So many books seem to be written for simplicity and speed reading 😦  so its a treat to get more convoluted ones that tax the brain, make me work for the story!

Stars: Four, a solid story, beautiful romance and a real feeling of history.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

 

Cask Strength,  Layla Reyne

Cask Strength (Agents Irish and Whiskey) by [Reyne, Layla]

Genre:  romance, LGBTQIA

Well wow – I loved book one, and this second part was another fast moving, sensual read. There’s a couple of things that bothered me, I’ll get them out first, they didn’t affect how I feel about the book overall but need a mention.
Acronyms…Gah, I hate these and yet all books seem to be full of them. I’m not sure there’s a way round them, can’t write everything about each into a book or it’d get too unwiedly and dull, but mabye a glossary?
As a UK reader I’m not familiar with US legal systems and what the various alphabet agencies actually are, who does what, which takes precedence etc. and then dammit more acronyms crop up in the sports part of this book too.  Baseball/basketball/ice hockey all make up a huge part of US romance reads, and seemed to be filled with abbreviations that I’m unfamiliar with and don’t know what they mean.
Its bad enough trying to work out the plots, who’s who in the police dept, how the US college/uni system works, drafts, boosters and then for this read, betting systems. There are so many characters here its not easy to keep track. When everyone and every organisation ( or so it seems) are described with a mix of letters denoting who and what they are and do I tend to get just a wee bit confused 😉 Thankfully the paperwhite look up dictionary function can explain a lot!
Still, none of that stopped me loving this story, I could kind of guess many of them and got enough context to work most of it out. The storyline is strong enough to carry a few confusions without spoiling 😉

Aiden, he made me so angry last time, I understood very well his grief, but dating others, determined to keep Jamie as casual when the tension between them just sizzles off the page, when he’s furious when anyone else looks Jamie’s way. C’mon man, just give in!
Then there’s Jamie and boy, he is one hot man. I love his intellect, his passion, both for his job, for IT and for sport, and we get a good dose of all here. He’s so good at what he does, yet manages to be sort of self effacing so he doesn’t come over as a braggart, except in times of humour.
Its clear he’s head over heels for Aiden, and very hurt by being kept at arms length. He’s been through a bad breakup before, and yet he’s willing to try again. Now he and Aiden are back in his old stomping ground, back in the sport he loves, and there’s a surprise for both of them when an old ex turns up.

There’s a lot of technical stuff here which went over my head for the most part… but which I understood enough to get the essence of what was going on and why.
The plot from book one that was running through as a secondary carries on here, and dammit – that ending! Just when I thought it was safe to stop reading Layla drops in a couple of lines which have me all upside down in my thinking once more.

Terrific storylines, great characters, serious heat (oops, typo spelt out head there at first, real Freudian slip that one!!)  – its a story to love!

Stars: Five, a great suspense, and sensual romance. roll on book three.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Beyond the Wild River, Sarah Maine

Beyond the Wild River, Sarah Maine

Beyond the Wild River by [Maine, Sarah]

Genre:  Historical fiction

I was intrigued by this tale, a young lady didn’t often get the chance for adventure that Evelyn has with the Canada journey.

I really enjoyed the story, its beautifully written, felt very evocative of the time period and the wilderness of the lands. The philosophy that creeps in too, the unfairness of UK laws, where Ballantyre gets taken to task by a poacher of “his” salmon, the dichotomy of whether people can actually own salmon and other creatures just because they’re passing through their land. that could be taken further – who says land belongs to them….interesting points and fitted very well within the story as it unfolds.

I liked the mix of people included, and the descriptions of the journey and the camps.
I felt for James, from a child he’d been placed in an unfair situation, and life then was very much dependent on who you were when you were born.
Corruption, bribery, turning a blind eye all played a part if the perpetrators of a crime were wealthy, titled whereas everyone else caught the full throw of the law for tiny offences.

I loved Evelyn, and poor Clemmy, caught up in a journey she really wasn’t suited for. Evelyn has a spirit of adventure, Clemmy really belongs in a place where she can be indulged, surrounded by luxuries and cosseted hand and foot!
Evelyn chafed against the restrictions placed on a young lady of the time and fell into the adventure whole-heartedly, happy to rough it and live so very differently.

What I did find hard to take though was that the story was very slow, lacked any real drama in the first 2/3 rds.
We’re gradually learning about the mystery of Jacko’s death and the repercussions but the story itself, though so beautifully written didn’t keep me engaged and i did put it aside several times which is unusual for me. I like to read a book in two or preferably one sitting(s).

Stars: four, a lovely read for the time and descriptions of the wilderness but the story itself lacked pace at times for me

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

A Gathering Storm, Porthkennack 2, Joanna Chambers

A Gathering Storm, Porthkennack 2, Joanna Chambers

A Gathering Storm (Porthkennack Book 2) by [Chambers, Joanna]

Genre:  Romance, LGBTQIA

I loved Wake Up Call (Porthkennack 1)  J.L. Merrow, so when I saw there was a second Porthkennack book I wanted to read it. I hadn’t read any of Joanna’s novels before, but Riptide tends to have authors/books that suit my taste and of course I have a weakness for well written m/m historical tales, having found them by way of (for me) the queen of this genre K.J. Charles.
There’s something about the need for secrecy, the huge risks people took in same sex relationships that appeal to the drama side of me. I feel for them, truly, it was an awful time to live, when those caught out lost families, homes, jobs and were imprisoned. Yet as a reading genre I love it. Hypocrite I know 😉

This book brings in all those things, and adds in the touch of Class, Station, the snobbery of how people were so divided according to their backgrounds.

Ward was born to a wealthy family, which left him free to pursue whatever interests he had and more so, relatively immune for the time, of discovery with two very discreet servants who’d become almost family to him, and a home which gave him privacy.
He’s very kind of quiet, introverted though, and I could feel how much Mr Pipp, his mainstay, his servant from childhood, went out of his way to protect him. He almost treated him as a son, and Ward regarded him and his views as many children would a parent. He was lucky in that, with his health issues brought on by childhood illness many in his position were simply ridiculed, scorned, bullied, and his money made him less of a target in public even if he knew the jokes were there behind him.

He’s devastated by his twin’s death, and will, like many grieving people, try anything to contact him once more, and that brings him into his current research.
He’s set everything up but needs volunteers, well, paid ones anyway but after one has an accident some time after assisting him he’s stuck, no-one else will help.

Then Nick comes into his life, reluctantly. Ward is convinced he can help with his research when he learns Nick’s mother was regarded by the locals as a clairvoyant.
Nicks a steward to the Rosscarrock family, a grandson to the current owner of the estate, but illegitimate. His mother was a gypsy, and after she died when Nick was 12 Lord Rosscarrock gave him a job, let him live in a cottage and educated him – after his work was done of course…. so he could become his Steward.
He doesn’t have that same privilege to indulge his inclinations that Ward does, Ward can have an excuse for men that visit, Nick would be hard pressed to explain why someone came to his cottage. Ways of the time 😦 so Nick is stuck with a few hurried risky private-ish publish fumblings.

When something happens that brings him reluctantly to Ward’s assistance they slowly grow closer, grow to respect each other and more, but there is always the barrier of how they met and of course their respective positions.

Its a great story, brings in all the things I love best about this genre, the closeness, the way so much had to be hidden, the risks, and of course like the best stories the characters talk as they would back then, which makes me feel as if I’m really back in time with them.
Its a time too when spiritualism was at a peak, and there were many charlatans, using some clever tricks preying on the need of grieving people. Times were tough then though, and for some it was that or starve. Its easy to be judgmental from a position of security.

Stars: four, a great read, perfectly written to feel set back in time but i did feel the transition between the two kind of slid past the things that had been causing issues a little too conveniently at the end.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

The Witchfinder’s Sister, Beth Underdown

The Witchfinder’s Sister,  Beth Underdown

The Witchfinder's  Sister by [Underdown, Beth]

Genre:  General Fiction, Mystery and Thrillers

I can’t find any info about previous books so I think this must be Beth’s debut novel – and what an intense and complex read for a first story!

Its so well written I was pulled back into that time, back to the seventeenth century. I’m a UK reader, living in Norfolk, so reading about Matthew and Alice living in the Eastern region of UK, I had a mental image of places I know now as they would have been back then. My house was build in 1682 – strange to think of it still standing ( and for a long while yet I hope!!) when it was built such a short time after these events. Mix of the old and the current…

So, Matthew Hopkins- I recall learning about him at school, along with the US Salem witch trials. The Crucible was one of our set text English reads.
He’s cropped up as a side character in a few books since then, but I’ve never really thought much more about him. Here Beth’s given him a fictional sister, though he may have had a real one Alice is purely invented for this story. It works well, she’s a foil to him, shared upbringing, and a way to let us see his actions from someone who loved him as a child but grew scared and confused of the man he became.

He’s a strange person, and as we learn about his upbringing there are elements slowly revealed that could have impacted upon his actions now. Others have had far worse happen though, and don’t turn into people like him, so its part explanation but not as simple as the whole cause.
He really was a enigmatic character, phlegmatic about what he needed to do, unemotional, even when it means tearing apart, condemning to death, people he’s known since childhood. I can’t decide whether he’s just cruel, vindictive, out for revenge, totally mad or whether he really believes in what he’s doing.
From a small start his witch hunt takes on a life of its own and snowballs, and maybe the power pushed him to go further and further, made him feel righteous, invincible? Who knows, and after finishing the story I still don’t know.
Beth offers lots to speculate about but the reality? He was real, he did what we now see as horrific things, but which at the time were backed by other important people, landowners, local politicians – well, what passed for them in those days, the Church even. It was as if nothing could stop him from this path he’s set on, and the longer he was “successful” the more righteous he got. Success bred more of the same methods, even when the causes of it were wrong.
Its a bit like that sink or swim test, he was pushing people to their limits physically and mentally and when they “confessed” through exhaustion, pain, thirst, would say anything to get some tiny relief he seized upon it as evidence his path was right, and went even further.

Alice, poor Alice. Her mother died when she was very young, father remarried and had Matthew, but his birth left his mother frail and Alice really took over his upbringing, loving and looking after him.
Even then the public face, showing the happy family outside, the father who was a priest, a good man, the mother who simply tired easily, was hiding things, secrets that kept slipping quietly out, and building background to the current events.
I so felt for Alice, she’s a good woman, widowed from her beloved Joseph, a servant’s son, whom Matthew did not approve of, she’s still young, in her twenties I think, and forced to come back and live off Matthews charity.
She can see events unfolding, sees at first hand what’s going on but is powerless to stop anything. She tries though, tries to do what she can but Matthew is an unmovable force. Her small brother has grown into a confident and powerful man.
He takes little note of her, and at times seems to really dislike her. she becomes just another tool for him to use in his never ending quest for witches. Too much pressure or intervention and she risks her own place in his home at best, risks getting caught up in the hunt at worst.
Its a tough line, being brought up to help people and then forced to stand aside as those you’ve known since childhood are tested for what seems like petty grievances, revenges, spurious accusations…

Witch hunts, back then not knowing the cause of events, accidents, tragedies, people looked for someone to blame, and it was easy to pick on one person a little on the outside of society, and call witchcraft and the intervention of the Devil the cause.
Now we look back and think how could they really believe that, but its a poor, uneducated society, and its human to want to blame someone or something.
Not every thing has an explanation though, and there are a couple of events here that gave me the shivers, defied rational thinking.

Sometimes I think we haven’t moved on that much, we still look to blame others, though not as witches but in some 21st century way.
In the UK we’ve just voted to leave Europe, mainly because of the hype and untruths certain media factions told about immigration, and it brought up the same kind of feelings as in this book, where people want to blame someone for misfortune. In the UK lack of money for NHS and other public services was blamed on immigration – scaremongering, but a spark that when fanned turned into a fire.
Hitler did that back in the 1940’s with his attempts to stamp out minority groups, terrible things happened as those who could have stopped it turned a blind eye, much as those in power when Matthew Hopkins let him get away with his crimes.
Then there’s the US and the political system there, where another modern witch hunt has let a racist, sexist, xenophobic bigot race to the top place for power. Scary stuff but proves that witch hunts aren’t just confined to history – but have their own modern day version 😦 “The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing” Edmund Burke et al.

A fabulous book, uncomfortable reading at times, which felt so very real, took me back in time, made me understand a little more about the awful events that took place back then.
The characters were wonderful, felt so real, I was scared for and of them, depending on which ones of course.
I loved the way secrets were teased before the reader, parts revealed slowly, hints of what may have been relevant or may be just superstition taunted through, making me second guess my thoughts. In fact its not until writing this that I’ve connected a couple of major points that could have been the catalyst for Matthew’s quest.
Its a fascinating first book, well researched, marrying real events and people with fictional ones to create an amazing story. I’m not sure its one I’d reread but its certainly one I’m glad to have read.

Stars: Five, incredible book, uncomfortable at times but so very, very real feeling.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and publisher

An Unseen Attraction, KJ Charles. Dating Ryan Alback, J.E. Birk

An Unseen Attraction,  KJ Charles

An Unseen Attraction (Sins of the Cities) by [Charles, KJ]

Genre:  romance,LGBTQIA.

I love KJ Charles writing style, very apt for the era she brings to her stories. It feels very much as if one is there in the time period, from the descriptions of characters, what they wear, their occupations, what they do and how they meet, the actual buildings, the London smog.
Even the actual wording used is full of things I have to look up, occupations now unknown or rare but common then, words I’ve never heard of but which seem so apt to the time and are so enriching to the story. (Gamahuching from one of the first novels of hers I read – what a fabulous word).
I hate the trend for dumbed down books, where words all seem to be three syllables or less!

We think of UK history as being mainly white people, and yet when people were so often seen as property they were brought back from other countries as such, and its not uncommon to see people of every race and colour in the cities in UK. KJ often weaves them into her stories.
I loved Clem, half Indian, with a very real backstory, one that happened so very often. He’s an amazing man, and I could see just how his slow and careful nature led to bullying as a child. He needed time to assess, to think, to speak and society both them and now doesn’t like that. People ( me) get bullied of they don’t grasp instantly what’s to be said or done. I don’t have so much difficulty now, but as a child I was very silent, always worried about saying the wrong thing, needed to mull over conversations, think carefully before answering or I’d get flustered just as Clem does. I feel for him.
I sympathised with  Rowley too ( sounds like slowly – I loved that quip!) When he’s talking about his glasses, he describes how someone discovered he needed them, and says how it never occurred to him that he wasn’t seeing what others could. I was ten when a teacher noticed I was very short sighted, until then everyone just thought I wasn’t very bright, was clumsy and slow…so I understood perfectly how Rowley felt without his specs. Mine are a lifeline to the real world. Rowley has had a difficult upbringing too, not uncommon for them time but wich of course affects his personality. He’s so understnading opf Clem, so in tune with what he needs, they make a breat pair. You just want them to be happy, to be left alone.
There’s as usual lots of sex, but not the eternal but dull stuff so often found, where it feels like pages and pages of the same thing.
Clem and Rowely have a varied and intersting way of love making, and again that fits, when sex was something not mentioned in polite society, sex between same sex people forbidden. Even something simple like a quick touch on the hand, a passing clasp of the shoulder could mean so much.
Sometimes I think we miss just how sensual a touch or glance can be, how it can have so much meaning between two people. When things have to be worked at, when they had to find ways round society’s constraints then a simple look could carry a world of meaning.

Once more we’ve some wonderful characters, a careful, slow burn romance, one that simmers, builds very gently, with each wondering about the other. Given the penalties for homosexuality at the time they had to be extraordinarily careful.
I loved the taxidermy descriptions, though they were really interesting I did have to skip the more queasy parts….wimp I know!
You won’t find edge of seat drama here, no histrionics, or death defying stunts, but plots that develop cleverly, lead us around wondering who and why. Though I’d an inkling this time of the Who, I’d no idea of Why, and its a real quest for answers, very much time period apropos.
With a terrific cast and setting, a mystery that weaves all parts of the story together and introduces characters that hopefully we’ll meet in later books, and its another winner. I look forward to more from this group.

Stars: Five, a fabulous start to the trilogy.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

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Dating Ryan Alback,  J.E. Birk

Dating Ryan Alback by [Birk, J.E.]

Genre:  Romance, LGBTQIA

A new-to-me author so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It sounded fun, and was, but I found it a little too sweet, cutesy.
A good read, just not a great one for me. That’s fine though, others love sweet’n’light, cute’n’fluffy.

I liked both characters, there wasn’t anything to dislike. The setting, how they met, was a little stretching credulity to think either would do that when they both value their privacy, but the reasons given helped.
I could see why they’d connect, but though I felt a good friendship between them I didn’t feel the love, sexual tension, must-be-together feeling I need in romances.

When it went wrong, well I could see why Ryan reacted that way, but he was a bit OTT knowing only too well how the media screw things up, print anything regardless of the truth just to make money. I didn’t feel his past excused his antagonistic reaction. He’d been let down badly by a lover – it happens, and it was wrong to still be reactive, rather than proactive and his agent and friends were advising. Then to behave so callously to Jason. #justnoton

Then Jason, he’d also got a difficult past, but I felt he was far too forgiving when Ryan eventually came calling. It just didn’t feel right, I felt he should have held back more, make Ryan realise just how badly his actions hurt.

Family and friends on both sides added to the “cute” feel, they were all supportive, loving, protective, and that part felt detached from real life where sadly so much prejudice goes on, so many people are vicious gossips, always put to knock people down.

It was a sweet story, cute characters, a HEA but too sweet, too nice for me to rate higher than a three, I needed more connection between them and more angst.
Its exactly what some readers want though, look at any book and you’ll see some love it and others hate it for exactly the same reasons. this isn’t one for me to keep but may be just what you’re looking for.

Stars: Three, a happy read, but too nice for me to keep, just a one off read.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Claiming Mister Kemp, Emily Larkin, Guarding Mr. Fine, HelenKay Dimon

Claiming Mister Kemp, Baleful Godmother 4,  Emily Larkin

Claiming Mister Kemp (Baleful Godmother Historical Romance Series ~ Book 4) by [Larkin, Emily]

Genre:  romance, LGBTQIA

Well, I’ve not read any of Emily’s stories, and this is the fourth in a series….but it reads as though each are stand alone though connected, and the description appealed to me 😉
Historical M/M – for me the Queen, the 5* Gold Standard of this genre is K J Charles, I love her works. This stands up pretty well against that for me, and I really enjoyed the story. There are earlier books, which I’d like to read, and in fact book one is free so that’s on my kindle 😉

I loved Tom, so clear about his love for Lucas even at a time when it mean death if it was discovered. Awful isn’t it how we treated anyone in love in a non conventional way back then – and in many places still do 😡  Tom has served his country loyally, risked his life for small reward and yet if he’s caught with a man he faced being hung.
Lucas, he’s so scared to admit his feelings. Its clear to those close to him but he won’t even admit it to himself, and talking to Tom when he forces the issue he’s sticking to the conventional “unnatural” etc. As for anal sex – I have to look up the term they used, was new to me and I’ve forgotten it – there’s no way he’ll consider that. Back door Usher – that’s was it, perfect for the age in which the book is set.
That’s one of the things that makes historical books so real, when the characters speak as they would back then, use terms familiar to that age. When Tom is talking about paint colours I had to look some up, hazarded a guess as an artist myself but they were colours I’ve never heard of, superseded by more modern ones.
I love when an author takes the trouble to do relatively small things like that which have a big impact on how I feel about a novel. Its research many fail to give credit to and just don’t do but can make a massive difference to how real novels feel. Its something that KJ Charles does all the while, and what makes her books feel so special to me.

There were times I wanted to shake Lucas, thought him a coward he was bringing such distress to Tom in his refusal to act on what they both felt. Then I had to remind myself just what they were risking, and it puts his fears into context better.
Even today in the UK many people find it difficult to acknowledge their sexuality, and there are no criminal charges now, just bigots to face,but that’s still tough, especially when they’re sometimes within the family we love.

Holding up this would be/won’t be romance is a great cast of characters, snippets of real history, and events, and plots that fit the story perfectly. Its a fun read, one I thoroughly enjoyed..

Stars: Four and a half, just short of the magic five, maybe if I’d read all the former stories it would have hit that? Who knows?

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

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Guarding Mr. Fine,  HelenKay Dimon

Guarding Mr. Fine (Tough Love) by [Dimon, HelenKay]

Genre:   Romance, LGBTQIA

I didn’t realise I’d read one of Helen’s books back in 2014…not surprising as she’s a prolific author.

This sounded a fun read so I waded in, and got hooked into Seth and Rick’s romance.
I love that they’ve-hooked-up-but-now-its-awkward scenario. Rick and Seth had a quick, steamy interlude in a club back room and that’s it. Or so they think, so imagine the shock when next day Seth finds out Rick is the person he’s bodyguard for.
Rick knows who Seth is via the paperwork, and has his own issues about that, but has no idea what he looks like until he walked in the door!

Well, that visceral attraction that had them hot and sensual in the back room is still there.
Rick’s had relationships before but Seth? Not really. He’s just broken up with the closest he came to one with his ex, Elizabeth. She felt he wasn’t there enough, and when he was, he wasn’t “there” with her anyway.
They can’t keep hands – and other body parts – to themselves though, and what was a one off becomes more and more, until Seth can’t bear the thought of anything happening to Rick.

There’s a lot of danger surrounding this post though, Rick isn’t really the new Consul, but an agent looking into the supposed suicide of the old one.
He and Seth uncover a dangerous plot that could get them killed, and they come very close to it more than once. The suspense part and action of the story worked well for me. I don’t want it too in-depth that I get lost but do need it to feel real.

There’s lots of action here, lots of on-going drama, and some cracking snarky lines that made me smile.
I liked Seth and Rick, they worked well together as colleagues and as lovers. Could they continue after this post was done though? Would Seth even want to or would he do his usual fast exit?
As well as the romance there was a decent storyline – and I’m all about that, a proper balance of sex v story, and here it worked well.
The characters were well thought out, very real feeling though I’d got an inkling of who was the bad guy early on. Makes a change for me to get it right 😉
I loved Nathan too, love the banter he and Seth had, being comrades from other dangerous jobs had led them into a special trust, only found when you rely on the other when you’re risking your lives.

I did enjoy the “why do straight guys always think we’ll hit on them” talk – I was having that chat just recently with son number two. Its something that always puzzles me, straight guys don’t fancy every woman that crosses their path so why do so many of them assume a gay guy will fancy them?

Stars: Four, a fun read, with a good balance of sex and story.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

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