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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 Awakening of Poppy Edwards by Marguerite Kaye

REVIEW: The Awakening of Poppy Edwards by Marguerite Kaye

Awakening-of-Poppy-Edwards

Los Angeles, 1924

Broadway producer Lewis Cartsdyke has come to Hollywood with a business proposition for starlet Poppy Edwards. But as he’s watching her sing in a downtown club, dressed in a man’s suit that skims her lush curves, a much more wicked proposal comes to mind.

Poppy has fame, wealth and an aversion to love. Lewis offers the kind of passion she craves—delicious, sensual heat without complications. Night after night she abandons herself to sensation, promising she won’t lose her heart the way her sister did. But for Lewis, uncomplicated is no longer enough—and soon he won’t be satisfied until he’s claimed all of Poppy in blissful surrender.

Dear Ms. Kaye,

After finishing reading the companion novella to this one,“The Undoing of Daisy Edwards,” I dove straight into this one. Since they’re from the Undone line that wasn’t hard nor did it take long to finish them. Two sisters who’ve sworn not to fall in love – hmmm, what is she going to do differently?

Poppy’s book isn’t initially quite as dark as Daisy’s. Poppy didn’t lose a husband in the killing fields of France nor did Lewis fight there as Dominic had. But in their own ways, they’ve suffered too because of what happened during the Great War. Poppy and Daisy grew up to be so close that when Daisy almost collapsed from grief, Poppy felt it and watched in dismay as her sister shriveled into a shell of who she’d been. When Daisy was no longer able to work in their act, Poppy had to make her own way and chose to leave for Hollywood. Lewis was an ambulance driver and saw things that haunt him still. But he also wrestles with decisions he had to make, things he thinks he might have done wrong and the awful randomness of death.

Both Poppy and Lewis think they’ve found ways to cope with the fallout of the war – for Poppy she’s sworn not to risk the same kind of heartache that wrecked Daisy while Lewis has sworn to make something of the luck of his survival but still hasn’t actually allowed himself to remember and deal with what he lived through. But like Daisy and Dominic, it’s falling for someone and the peace they find from that which will bring them safely home.

I enjoyed the compact, direct, conversational style of the writing. It gives the novella a very immediate “feel.” As Willaful pointed out in Daisy’s novella review, the time and place are delicately hinted at rather being ladled on with a heavy hand. Poppy says how much she enjoys being able to squeeze fresh orange juice then go sit by her pool while she likens something to being lit up with an arc light – very southern Californina/Hollywood premiere-esque. Meanwhile Lewis just knows the bourbon he gets near the night club stage will be awful – due to Prohibition, while if he goes to the bar he’ll quietly get the real stuff.

The sex is hot from the start. Well actually it’s sizzling without having to be described in detail. I have no problems with Poppy being sexually aggressive in a historical as not only is the setting in the flapper 1920s but it’s also in pre-code Hollywood when things were normally wild. But what makes me think these two are truly compatible is that along with the smoking sex, they bond and fall in love in other ways. Both are interested in the technical aspect of making films and the promise on the horizon of talking pictures and Poppy starts to lower her guard when she lets Lewis into the intimate areas of her house – first the kitchen and then only after they’ve admitted their love – into her bedroom. At the point where sex turns into making love.

I was impressed by the fact that both novellas feel complete without seeming rushed. That the emotions are strong and well described and that I finished both feeling good about where the couples are. They make me look forward to the full length book to come. B

~Jayne

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