Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Tasha Alexander

Dear Author

REVIEW: A Poisoned Season by Tasha Alexander

Dear Ms Alexander,

A Poisoned SeasonI was delighted with my impulse buy of your first novel “And Only to Deceive.” Luckily for me I didn’t have to wait too long before book two in the series was released. Now all I can say is write quickly so I don’t have to mope too long before getting to read more about Lady Emily Ashton and her beau Colin Hargreaves.

London’s social season is in full swing, and the Victorian aristocracy can’t stop whispering about a certain gentleman who claims to be the direct descendant of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. But he’s not the only topic of wagging tongues. Drawing rooms, boudoirs, and ballrooms are abuzz with the latest news of an audacious cat burglar who has been making off with precious items that once belonged to the ill-fated queen.

Light gossip turns serious when the owner of one of the pilfered treasures is found murdered, and the mysterious thief develops a twisted obsession with Emily. But the strong-minded and fiercely independent Emily will not be shaken. It will take all of her considerable wit and perseverance to unmask her stalker and ferret out the murderer, even as a brewing scandal threatens both her reputation and her romance with her late husband’s best friend, the dashing Colin Hargreaves.

It makes sense to me that Emily would still stumble a little in her investigation, have trouble fitting pieces together, would need some assistance with code breaking and yet I can see that she’s learned from her previous adventures. She still needs Colin to look over her shoulder every now and then but she’s progressing nicely.

How did the mysterious admirer always manage to get away? There are police around Em’s house, her loyal servants are on the watch yet this man waltzes up to her in public, approaches her carriage and gets inside her house many times yet he’s never caught until the plot needs it. That got more than a little hard to believe. And how did he know of her dead husband’s pet name for her?

Colin’s courtship is so understated yet powerful. Deep waters and all. I love his final enticement to get Em to agree to marriage. Only someone who knows, loves and appreciates her could come up with that approach. Oh, and the engagement ring too. The way he proves his love — by rushing straight to her house after break-in, searching the house then standing guard over her the rest of the night — seems more Real Man to me than a lot of what we see in Romance books.

The book progresses slowly, as seems fitting for the setting, yet I couldn’t stop reading and was glued to it for last 50 odd pages. I felt that it seemed realistic that Em will face some public censure for her eccentric actions yet also makes sense that her dragon of a mother can tip the scales in Em’s favor — tea with the Queen ought to be enough to silence any busybodies. And though sad, it makes sense that her pursuit of her studies and growing dissatisfaction with restrictions of Victorian life would cause some rifts with Ivy who is trying to make her own way as a young matron and wife of a man with political ambitions.

At the end of two books, I feel that Em is ready to move on in her romantic life as she realizes that a husband can compliment and enhance her as a person, not just society-wise. After her more or less arranged first marriage of convenience, I think she needed to know this as I doubt she would settle for what she had in her first marriage. I look forward to reading more about Lady Emily and Colin and seeing what lovely cover you’ll have next. Dare I hope a wedding trip to Greece is in the cards?

~Jayne

REVIEW:  And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

REVIEW: And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

Dear Ms Alexander,

11549053.gifVictorian era books are just not my favorites. I freely admit that is due to shallow reasons such as the ugly way most men wore their facial hair and the drabness of their clothes, ghastly women’s hairstyles (all slicked down with sugar water) and the image that I have of a repressed society. Yeah, very shallow. Yet something about the blurb of your first book caught my interest. Young woman with hidden depths, mystery, lost love and a neat cover (you already know I’m shallow).

Emily has almost finished her two years of obligatory mourning for her husband. She’s endured months of condolences and withdrawal from society as it otherwise ignores the young widow, as is only proper. Society deems that she must at least pretend to be prostrate with grief no matter if she really isn’t. After all, she barely knew the man and she only married him because a) she’s the daughter of an earl and therefore must make a good society marriage and b) she desperately wanted to escape her overbearing mother. She’s spent her mourning period doing precisely what she wants and enjoying her new found freedom. Now that she’s been married and become mistress of her own household, mummy can’t really make Emily do anything. Such bliss.

A visit from one of her husband’s lifelong friends and his mention of a villa Philip owned in Greece sparks Emily’s curiosity. She begins to thumb through several books about Grecian art in her husband’s library then, on impulse, decides to visit the originals in the British Museum. Once there, she’s astounded to learn how many of their priceless works of art her husband donated and how well thought of he was as a scholar. Clearly there was more to him than the African big game hunter Emily barely knew. She starts to read his journals and discovers a complex man, a man of wit and intelligence who apparently loved her deeply. A man whom she now wishes she had had more time to know and a man whom she begins to truly mourn. Intrigued by his interests, she begins to study ancient Greek, read Homer and follow the trail of his acquisition of ancient artifacts. But then, at Philip’s country estate, she discovers what appear to be the originals of some of the art now in the Museum. Horrified at the implications, Emily knows she has to uncover the truth. Was her husband a generous benefactor or a gentleman forger? And which, if any, of the two men now courting her helped Philip with his deception or his donations?

Despite the notation on the cover, I’d say this is more of a mystery than a suspense novel and I’d call it historical fiction with a romantic element rather than a romance. The pace is more leisurely and it’s a novel to be slowly savored rather than rushed through. I got a great feel for the period and it’s obvious that you checked your historical facts. I did have one question about how Philip’s sister’s son would be Philip’s heir. He might be heir to land and house but he couldn’t be heir to Viscountancy. I agree with your reasoning that historically, a young woman in Emily’s place would almost never have rebelled openly against the restrictions and strictures of her level in society. The freedoms allowed women are still curtailed and the ones Emily tries in public are mere baby steps towards what we would consider true freedoms to be and do as she really wants. Had she still been married, it would have been her husband who decreed the level of her freedom, as shown in the marriage of Emily’s friend Ivy. I also agree that society would never have allowed Emily to remain unmarried at that age. They’d have thought her as much of a freak as they did her unwed American heiress friend, Margaret.

I like how Emily learns more about herself as she tries to learn more about Philip’s interests. She admits to herself that she ends up going past what she would likely have been allowed by him and that her tastes and likes are different from his. But she truly mourns the discussions and debates they might have had. Maybe she’ll have them with Colin instead. Her mind is broadened by her studies, she begins to travel and ends up discovering the delights of Paris then dancing with Greek villagers above a wine dark sea.

The book left me pondering the big question: would she have ever fallen in love with Philip if he hadn’t died and she started to look into his life? Would they have ended with the kind of conventional marriage all her friends had? I think her correct in her belief that it would probably not have been as rosy as she daydreamed if might have been. I like that she ends up not wanting to give up the freedoms that she gained by Philip’s death though she might possibly if Colin woos her well enough but only because he seems like he’ll allow her more freedoms than most Victorian husbands would.

I also wonder about Philip. What made him fall in love with Emily since as she admits herself, she didn’t pay much attention to him beyond as a means to escape her mother. Did he really know her or did he love the image he created of her? I think Colin is the one who gets to know the real Emily and I like that Emily seems willing to demand that he spend even more time wooing and getting to know her before there might be any chance of marriage

Emily’s pursuit of the criminals is realistic for what a woman of that age and level in society might be able to accomplish but as one critic states, her wealth and position in society did protect and insulate her from real risk of harm. I think it very believable that at first Emily has trouble discerning who might be lying to her. After all, she’s not a trained investigator and would have no reason to doubt the word of a gentleman. One niggle is that she comes across as maybe more mature than what I’m guessing her age to be (21? 22?).

So I admit that you’ve sucked me into reading further about the adventures of a Victorian Lady. Perhaps I’ll overcome my distaste of muttonchop sideburns. But then probably not. B for “And only to Deceive.”

~Jayne