Tag Archive | historical romance

A Most Unlikely Duke,  (Diamonds in the Rough 1), Sophie Barnes 

A Most Unlikely Duke,  (Diamonds in the Rough 1), Sophie Barnes 

A Most Unlikely Duke: Diamonds in the Rough by [Barnes, Sophie]

Genre: Historical  romance,

I don’t read much historical romance, but every now and then I have a hankering for that strange past world where lineage rules, and there’s a very defined line for who is acceptable and who isn’t…

It’s a kind of mentally relaxing read, when what hat to wear is a subject for serious decision, a sort of letting go of real issues and delving into a world where for many its a life filled with frivolities.
Of course I’d want to be born on the frivolous side, not the scullery maid getting up at 5am to light fires etc, though that probably would more likely be me 😉

So we meet Raphe and his sisters, abandoned by their parents after debtors prison loomed, and he’s looked after them since. He was only 12 so its been hard, and he’s done some tough things.
The last few years he’s made a name from bare knuckle fighting, certainly not a gentleman’s sport….
Then suddenly in a swift change of fortune he’s the Duke of Huntley, and his sisters are Ladies….

So that was fun, seeing how they could assimilate into Society. They did have that childhood history which helped with the credulity. Rather than the Pygmalion aspect of completely learning from scratch it was more a reminding of what they had learned years ago.
They need to keep the last few years secret though, with a society that is horrified by any taint of scandal. throw in the Lady next door, about to become engaged to another but who Raphe becomes seriously attracted to, and we can see disaster looking.

I really liked Raphe and his sisters, and of course girl next door Gabriella.
She’s a real sweetheart, always been left to herself and her amusements ( insect collecting – though she seems to keep them alive rather than pin them to a board as was more usual back then).
With her sister’s scandalous breaking of her engagement and marrying another Gabriella has to step up, make a good marriage and push the scandal of her sisters behaviour firmly in the past. There’s no room for her to be with the potentialy scandalous person next door…

There were some fun moments here, some great characters, including Raphe’s staff who were such a help to him.
In reality some of the staff in these houses were the worst of snobs, but he’s hit lucky and they take him under their wing!
I wasn’t totally convinced of Gabriella’s parents reactions towards the end given how they started but its reasonable.

Its a sweet story, very light and fluffy, nothing to get too mentally taxed by and sometimes that’s just what I’m looking for. After a few deep, dark reads, some fantasy dramas and murders I just want a pleasant easy read in a bygone world.
This book did all that. Its not one I’d reread, not would this genre be my mainstay by for a one off gentle escape from other books, into a gentile world its perfect.

Stars: 4. a fun, gentle escape into a bygone era.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Author and Publishers

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

Before the Rains, Dinah Jefferies

Before the Rains, Dinah Jefferies

Before the Rains by [Jefferies, Dinah]

Genre:   Women’s Fiction, General Fiction.

I’ve read a few books set in Japan and China but not read one set in India ( that I can recall anyway ) since loving Shadow of the Moon, M. M. Kaye back in the late 70’s ( Expecting our eldest son I wanted to call him Ashok…).
I love stories set in other countries when they give a real look at life for the locals, when we see real nitty-gritty parts of their daily lives, not just a UK/US person’s version of their life there. I want to understand what life is about for them, how they live daily, how things interfere with what they do.
In these countries too Religion often plays a large part of daily life, its not a church on Sunday then forget type of thing, but a belief system that affects every facet of their daily interactions. When I get a story like that AND a romance thrown in I’m in heaven 😉

So we’re back in time, to 1930’s when the British Empire was still around. Nowadays its hard to believe that such a tiny country as Britain could have been such a world force, and reading about it doesn’t stir patriotic pride in me, but sadness that we could ever think we had the right to take over another country.
In this story Eliza keeps asking why did the Indian Princes agree – and that’s something that always puzzled me. A country so vast, with an incredibly massive population – how on earth did tiny Britain persuade them to let go and let us rule?
Part of the answer I think, lays in the fact there were so many Princes, so much infighting and distrust, and a degree of taking the easy route, swayed by UK promises of how life would be as part of the British Empire. Not quite all lies, but a real manipulation of the truth – nothing changes in politics does it * sigh *

I loved the characters, from Eliza, so brave going abroad with her camera at a time when women were still kept “in their place”, Jay the younger son, second in line to rule, his mother who was a wonderful lady, but of course only wanted what was right (in her view) for her sons. Then there’s the ruling prince, Jay’s older brother, who’s a weak man, pushed around by his wife, and his conniving advisor.
There’s a girl, Indira, who features a lot in the book, she’s a very talented artist, and a kind of unofficial sister in a way to the princes. She was sent to the palace as a child when her life was in danger, and she’s kind of worked her way into a position, but not having any official role. I wasn’t sure whether to trust her or not. Like Eliza I tend to take people at face value, believe in the best of them, but it doesn’t always work that way.
I also liked Dottie, part of the British contingent, wife to a doctor, and a lonely lady. There aren’t many British ladies there and she’s desperate to befriend Eliza. She does prove to be a really good friend, and I felt for her in her loneliness, wanted her to be happy.
There wasn’t really a role in India for wives, they couldn’t work, had servants for everything, and were answerable to husbands for their every move. It really was a man’s world there.

Eliza had a difficult background, saw her adored father killed in front of her when she was a child, brought up by a mother who was an angry, bitter woman, an apathetic, alcoholic. They had a strained relationship but she was still very influenced by trying to please her mother.
Part of the reason she married was to escape home, but she jumped from frying pan to fire, and marriage didn’t bring about happiness. Now she’s a widow, her husband having been killed in an accident.
Then there’s the other main player, Jay, and he’s gorgeous. Indian by birth, a younger son but educated in UK at Eton, so he’s Westernised in many ways of thinking. He’s a moderniser, wants to help people, wants to make their lives better, but he’s constrained by money.
He doesn’t want to be prince, he’s happy to leave that to his brother. With the British running so much of their lives though, there isn’t much he can do for the people he wants to help
.
He and Eliza get off on a bad footing, like many others he thinks she’s been sent as a spy.
There’s a degree of naivety about Eliza, she really believes that photographing is the only reason she’s been asked to the palace…but slowly she learns more of life, from both sides. Her UK contact Clifford, quizzes her very subtly and its a while til she spots what he’s doing.
Back at the palace she feels watched, scared of Chataur, the ruling prince’s right hand and advisor.
He makes no secret about disliking Eliza, and tries everything he can to erode her confidence, to shift blame to her for events, to block what she wants to do. He’s a very powerful and influential man in the palace and makes for a bad enemy.

She learns of the little everyday cruelties, of how the palace is gem studded while the greater part of the population live in poverty, struggle for food and water, affected by the drought.
How girls are left to die ( taken by wolves is the usual excuse), how religion and fatalism/destiny plays such a huge part of life.
They’re a very superstitious people, as are most that live like that, people need something to blame, something to believe in that they might get a better life, and for most Indians its a Karmic force, working towards a better next life.
That really comes through here, the time period felt right, I loved seeing those snippets of life, from the dust and poverty, the cruelties ( not that I liked them, but that they gave a solid background to the era) and the contrast of life for those born to the right people.
I was astounded at the British influence, the arrogance, ( and for many that hasn’t changed sadly…) the way they saw themselves as better, more important, more able to rule.
Its breath-taking how blinkered people are, and of course we see just how powerful they are when it comes to getting what they want, and for Clifford that’s Eliza. He makes it clear how much he likes her, how he’d like to marry her and poor Eliza has a difficult path to tread. She needs him as her contact, as the man who set things up, but doesn’t want to be more to him than just a friend.
Like most men in his position though he’s used to getting what he wants.

Eliza is falling for Jay though and he for her. It comes about slowly, from that bad start they spend time together while he takes her to places, and introduces her to people she can photograph. They both learn more about each other, find out there’s more than their first perceptions, and get closer.
Its hard though, they know they can’t have a future. He’s important to his people, next to rule if anything happens to his brother, and his mother is trying to make him a match already, with another influential family, to strengthen the family’s position and force. They know that, know that the country would never accept Eliza, that law prevents any children they have from being in line to rule, that as a widow Eliza is supposed to wear white, bear the blame for her husband’s death and stay in mourning for the rest of her life. Jay’s already warned her not to tell people she’s a widow as they are so superstitious and believe a widow brings bad luck. Many won’t even touch one, and Eliza could be in danger of word gets out.

Its a lovely story, beautiful romance built up carefully, full of decisions, some heart-breaking, dotted with things that bring the time and place to reality such as the Suttee burning of a widow, a practice outlawed by the Brits but something that still goes in in some parts, even if the poor wife doesn’t want to die…
I loved the palace, the twisting turning tunnels, the tiny rooms and then the vast light and richness of other parts.
Loved seeing Jays irrigation project come to fruition, was taken in along with Eliza about some people, and yet others were incredibly kind to her. It was difficult to know who to trust.
Some people and events I thought followed a predictable route, and I could see what was coming, except occasionally it veered off and I was completely wrong.
Great fun, and I love to be taken by surprise about events. There’s times, especially in the latter part of the book, where I just couldn’t see how things could work out, was heartbroken for Eliza, convinced Dinah would do something to make it come right, but where I just couldn’t see how. That’s why I’m a reader not a writer of course!!

Stars: Five, one to keep, to savour rereading, a story to really get lost in, transported to another time and place.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

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

********************************************************************************

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

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