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REVIEW:  Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn

REVIEW: Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn

Night-of-a-Thousand-Stars

On the verge of a stilted life as an aristocrat’s wife, Poppy Hammond does the only sensible thing—she flees the chapel in her wedding gown. Assisted by the handsome curate who calls himself Sebastian Cantrip, she spirits away to her estranged father’s quiet country village, pursued by the family she left in uproar. But when the dust of her broken engagement settles and Sebastian disappears under mysterious circumstances, Poppy discovers there is more to her hero than it seems.

With only her feisty lady’s maid for company, Poppy secures employment and travels incognita—east across the seas, chasing a hunch and the whisper of clues. Danger abounds beneath the canopies of the silken city, and Poppy finds herself in the perilous sights of those who will stop at nothing to recover a fabled ancient treasure. Torn between allegiance to her kindly employer and a dashing, shadowy figure, Poppy will risk it all as she attempts to unravel a much larger plan—one that stretches to the very heart of the British government, and one that could endanger everything, and everyone, that she holds dear.

Dear Ms. Raybourn,

I seem to have a “thing” for brides on the run. Perhaps it’s a leftover from one of my guilty pleasure movies “Smokey and the Bandit,” but regardless it seems to be like ringing a dinner bell for me. The blurb might make one think Poppy is a scatterbrained nitwit but it’s soon obvious that family pressure pushed her into the engagement while her common sense that the marriage would never work out got her out. After all, in this age of “divorce is possible but still scandalous in upper class society” pulling the escape ripcord before the vows makes more sense. And since her own parents went through a divorce, I can see where she’d be skittish.

Who is Masterman? There’s obviously more than meets the eye with Poppy’s masterful lady’s maid. But then it’s pretty obvious that there’s more than meets the eye about a lot of these characters. Some surprised me while others didn’t at all given the clues and vibes about them. That was part of the fun of the story – getting to see if I guessed correctly.

Fans of the Lady Julia series will be happy about Poppy’s family connections though it is a bit sad to see how her father’s marriage turned out. The book is also slightly tied in with “Spear” as well though I think – I hope – that this will be expanded on in a future book. There are enough “deliberately left loose” ends for quite a few more stories in this world.

Poppy is definitely an upper-class Englishwoman and she acts as I would expect one to. The East is mysterious and unknown to her so she buys into some of the stereotypes but at least she’s aware she’s doing it. Is she showing her privilege? Yes but again, with no previous exposure to the countries, customs or people it would seem strange to me if she didn’t. Some of the people around her are more experienced and it’s obvious that many of them love the place and people. Poppy is more than open to learning the beauty that is to be found here as well as seeing the reality of the political turmoil that is roiling just under the surface.

I have meant to read the previous book to this, “City of Jasmine” though after a certain character gets introduced and explains his relationship to Sebastian, I already know the details of that story. It’s right about this time that the book shifts into gear for me. Up til then, it was a lot of setting up the characters, the place, the reasons why Poppy heads out on a lark to find Sebastian. I was also unsure exactly who would be the hero as there’s a plethora of men who enter Poppy’s life.

Once Our Hero arrives back in the story, it’s clear who Poppy will end up with even without the murder. I love the way that the alpha/beta thing gets played with a little. Just which is Sebastian? He can shift depending on what he’s up to being both a quoter of poetry and a man of action when the situation demands. He’s got a realistic grasp on the situation there and what you must be ready to do if you wish to survive.

The opening scene of the book is straight out of a screwball comedy. I love the way he and Poppy can snark at and tease each other. They both just sound so British in how they can enjoy taking the piss out of each other. However the comedy can become a mystery and then a thriller at the drop of a hat before twisting back to comedy again. One minute I’m on the edge of my seat as guns are leveled and shots taken then I’m laughing again as Sebastian deadpans his way through the tight spot.

With the page count dwindling, I did wonder how they’d escape from their captors and if they’d find the you-know-what. It all happened so neatly that I didn’t see it coming until Poppy had proved herself in the field – I loved that she took an active part in saving them – and the cavalry had arrived. But then, things sort of slipped into a lower gear and a lot of explanation occurred that slowed things down to a crawl. I was on an emotional high and giddy at the way Sebastian and Poppy survived only to get bogged down in a Human Resources meeting. It does make sense to me that Poppy needs to think through what she’s just been through but this part got draggy and she seemed to lose some of her agency.

The book does end on a higher note. You’ve left some pieces to be picked up and loose ends to knit into another story. While I don’t doubt that Poppy and Sebastian might pop up at a later time, their story here is complete. I also adore how Poppy turns the tables on Sebastian and regains a bit of control that I’d felt she lost. I had a blast dipping into a 1920s time frame that didn’t involve the usual Downton Abbey plot and that took advantage of the fascinating political situation in the Middle East. I only hope that future books will return here and mine it and the characters even more. B

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig

REVIEW: The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig

manzanilla

In October of 1806, the Little Season is in full swing, and Sally Fitzhugh has had enough of the endless parties and balls. With a rampant vampire craze sparked by the novel The Convent of Orsino, it seems no one can speak of anything else. But when Sally hears a rumor that the reclusive Duke of Belliston is an actual vampire, she cannot resist the challenge of proving such nonsense false. At a ball in Belliston Square, she ventures across the gardens and encounters the mysterious Duke.

Lucien, Duke of Belliston, is well versed in the trouble gossip can bring. He’s returned home to dispel the rumors of scandal surrounding his parents’ deaths, which hint at everything from treason to dark sorcery. While he searches for the truth, he welcomes his fearsome reputation—until a woman is found dead in Richmond. Her blood drained from her throat.

Lucien and Sally join forces to stop the so-called vampire from killing again. Someone managed to get away with killing the last Duke of Belliston. But they won’t kill this duke—not if Sally has anything to say about it.

Dear Ms. Willig,

I always eagerly anticipate a new Pink Carnation novel, partly to see who will be the main characters and partly to see what amazing title it will have. When I saw the vampire element in the description for “The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla,” I thought “How cool. She’s incorporated elements of a popular paranormal genre into a historical story at a point in time when it might actually have happened.” Well done. What wasn’t so well done for me was the way the circular dialog made the action seem like it dragged along.

As the book gets going, I was dismayed at the very cutesy opening and dialog between Sally and Lucien which reminds me a lot of the “around and around and around” stuff I last noticed in ““Night Jasmine.” Especially when they’re talking and arguing over the dead body of the young woman at Lucien’s sister’s coming out ball. They seem to stand there and discuss the situation for a good 15 minutes before doing anything. And unless it’s a very, very small dwelling, The Happy Home Life scene at Turnip’s house seems a bit too cosy for Lucien to be able to overhear what happens in another room parlor, smell the cinnamon from the kitchen and hear jam smeared Parsnip running from the nursery.

Still, the plot and possible reasons for French spies being involved in Lucien’s family’s murder is clever and realistic. I’m all over historical plots that actually use history in them and have it make sense.

But the first 2/3 of the book seemed to be little but Sally and Lucien twittering and nattering at each other and no doing. It’s very bubbly and very sparkly but it got maddening after a while when action got sacrificed for fizz. Forward motion in the plot lumbers along at a stultifying pace all in the name of more dialog that goes nowhere. I know this is a series that takes jabs at the overabundance of historical spies but even with that I have my limit of tolerance.

Yet just as I was wondering if I needed to start skimming, it clicked into place for me. I will admit to feeling exactly about Sally and Lucien as you wanted – namely that Sally is a yappy puppy, busy body and Lucien had been ignoring his ducal duty. How do I know this is what you were aiming for? Because Sally and Lucien call each other on it which leads to them beginning to examine their behavior and improve themselves. At this point, things definitely started looking up.

The way Sally charges to Lucien’s rescue is rather sweet and yay for the fact that she actually manages to do some good while charging. The villain’s identity and reasons for why he does as he does make sense and don’t appear out of the blue. And the stoat – I have to say I love the stoat plus the fact that we get to see lots of Turnip and Arabella.

I’m also getting more into the slow but steady relationship between Colin and Eloise. This little bit of story is crucial for them and I think the book ends in a great place with options and a twinkling future. Eloise might just have a dazzling career vs boring academia.

If this book didn’t totally rock my reading world, I have to say I’m stoked about whose story is next. I’ve been waiting for this one. C+

~Jayne

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