#FirstNight #NetGalley


first night


The year is 1802, and Cristabel and Max are headlining a youth performance of Orpheus and Eurydice in Lissenberg’s new opera house. Christabel convinces Max to switch parts to let her sing the male lead only to reveal herself to thunderous applause, and her father’s burning shame, at the opera’s close. Disgraced, Christabel is sent back to England.

Upon hearing of the scandal, American heiress Martha Peabody seeks Cristabel out with an unorthodox proposition: Martha has money and independence but no talent, Christabel has raw talent but no means to support herself. With Martha acting as Cristabel’s manager, the two women could travel autonomously: Cristabel able to pursue her passion for opera and Martha escaping the confines of an unwanted marriage. Taking a leap of faith, Cristabel agrees. When a fortuitous meeting with a young composer leads to a professional opportunity for Cristabel, she soon finds herself back in Lissenberg, keen to discover what has become of Max.

But tensions in Lissenberg are rising: Napolean Bonaparte’s supporters are growing in number and Max’s father, the mad Prince Gustav, is tightening his iron grip on his kingdom. Max’s distant behaviour confuses Cristabel, but the show must go on, and she throws herself into her opera training. Meanwhile, Martha finds herself drawn into a political intrigue destined only for trouble.

As opening night approaches it becomes increasingly clear that the diverging paths of the two women are bound to collide, with momentous consequences.

Thank you Net Galley and Ipso Books 🙂


I wish I loved opera. I mean, there are some songs from different operas that I like, but I find it hard to listen to a whole story being sung through in another language. Like musicals, there’s a weird logic thing I can’t make work. Sure, there are some musicals I adore—Hair, All That Jazz, JCS, Godspell, WSS (four out of five of those are from my childhood) but, yeah–no. I guess I feel guilty because opera was huge in my mother’s family and beloved friends love opera and talk about it…a lot, but opera’s like a Rothko painting—you either get it or you don’t.  

That being said…I loved First Night. I expected something even more over the top than usual with settings like Venice and the fictional Lissenberg, and the author did not disappoint me.  Even as the mystery and suspense overtakes the plot a love of opera thrums through the novel and striving for excellence drives the characters forward. The plot has unexpected twists and turns that kept me reading. The novel was published in 1989, and I think it holds up well.



Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King



I am a very big fan of Laurie R King and especially of the Mary Russell series. For some reason, Venice has figured into much of my reading lately, and I had to laugh (because I didn’t read the Net Galley blurb, just requested the book) when the plot brought Mary and Holmes there. Venice is brilliantly rendered under the author’s pen—I dreamed of gray-green lagoons all night long last night—as is Cole Porter and his wife, the gandolieri, the Bright Young Things, the Blackshirts, and Bedlam, to name a few reasons to love this book. The plot moves along quickly and logically with a wonderful smash-bang superhero scene before the big reveal.

Thank you Net Galley and Bantam 🙂

Release Date: June 12, 2018

Bantam Books


Jack Was Here by Christopher Bardsley

watercolour-1833061_1920Jack was herre


This is a brilliant crime novel, and Christopher Bardsley is an author to watch for in the future.

Hugh Fitzgerald is an almost-broken man—served in the Australian army in Afghanistan, wounded and deployed home, his pension is generous enough to allow him to try and drink his way through his PTSD. He’s angry, he has terrible nightmares, and his wife has left him. He’s tough and gritty, though, and always was. When his brother seeks him out to help an old friend find their lost son in Bangkok, all expenses paid plus, Hugh takes on the job, though he’s kind of a wreck, and he knows it. His blatant honesty about himself is the charm here, no subtly, and he has a dark wit. The writing is superb and the plot tight though marred with a few too many typos (I’m looking at you, Thistle). I frankly couldn’t put this down. Hugh’s inner demons soon come crawling out in the excesses of Bangkok, and we learn more about his time in the service and his inner wounds as he hunts for young Jack Kerr. The secondary characters are well drawn, and Hugh’s insights and instinct for evil serve him well. The setting, from Bangkok to the border between Thailand and Cambodia, is so well written I could feel the awful humidity, almost smell the urban and human decay. I am very much looking forward to more from this author.

Three Truant Reviews

With apologies to Net Galley, the publishers, and the authors…


Wild Justice by Priscilla Royal #1

I read the first few books in this series and loved them, so when the book came up on Net Galley, I saw this as an opportunity to jump back into the series. Yes, I am very late—I had a heck of an ending to 2017 and into the New Year and didn’t think I would be able to review the books I had received from Net Galley—then I fell and ended up in the hospital and in recovery going on the second month now. So I re-read the book and liked it more the second time.  You’ve got to know by now the 14th book in the series isn’t going to bring any new surprises but the author delivered again a solid mystery against the backdrop of the order of the Hospitaller’s. It was an enjoyable slow burn to the reveal, gaining momentum as I read. It’s also the type of story where you could pick it up in the middle of the series and not be too lost. I’m usually not the biggest fan of medieval religious sleuths—give me Joliffe over Cadfael any time (lol)—but I did find the intricacies of convent life interesting in this context.



No Man Dies Twice by Michael Smith 

I re-read this one to make sure I still felt the same way about it and still couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it at all.


A Mortal Likeness by Laura Joh Rowland

I love Victorian mysteries, but unfortunately found this one disappointing, to say the least. I did want to know whodunit so read to the end despite misgivings. It wasn’t the plot that bothered me as much as the first person present tense and that there weren’t many likable, relatable characters, if any at all. There was something off about the language also. I think I would have liked it more if it was written from Sir Hugh’s point of view (in the past tense) or maybe alternating view points.

The Truant Blogger/Reviewer

I must confess, it’s always been a bit of a struggle to get books read and reviewed while working massive overtime for the regular job and cultivating my own writing and publishing goals. Two books published this year with attendant editing and promotion. Two of my small press publishers decided to close their doors, and the line for the novel I was writing in a multiauthor universe was cancelled.  I had already been teetering on the edge of not writing romance anymore–the kick just isn’t there–and those events helped push me over.  So it’s a return to my true love, writing historical mysteries. But my job situation is changing again and 2018 might be a bridging year to something better–I’d have to work two jobs to get there for now.

I’m very fond of this blog, and I wanted to step up reviews, going beyond Net Galley, but that might not be possible now. I say “might” because I’m feeling optimistic today; likely that’s a “I won’t be able to keep up reviewing in 2018.” I just don’t want to admit it.

If I have to choose between the blog and writing, writing has to take precedence, because only writing keeps me sane and whole, and I did give myself the deadline of Pitchwars (though that might not be possible until 2019).

I’ll keep reading your book blogs, however, because I need to keep in touch with all of you–authors and reviewers– who kept me inspired through 2017.

It’s not much, but it’s my patch. 😀

Book Review: I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon

Title: I Was Anastasia

Author: Ariel Lawhon

Publisher: Doubleday

Release Date: March 20, 2018

From GoodReads:  

I Was Anastasia

Ariel Lawhon, a rising star in historical suspense, has set her sights on one of history’s most beguiling mysteries: Did Anastasia Romanov survive the Russian Revolution, or was Anna Anderson, the woman who notoriously claimed her identity, an impostor?
Russia, July 17, 1918 Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along wi
Ariel Lawhon, a rising star in historical suspense, has set her sights on one of history’s most beguiling mysteries: Did Anastasia Romanov survive the Russian Revolution, or was Anna Anderson, the woman who notoriously claimed her identity, an impostor?
Russia, July 17, 1918 Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.
Germany, February 17, 1920 A young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov is pulled shivering and senseless from a canal. Refusing to explain her presence in the freezing water or even acknowledge her rescuers, she is taken to the hospital where an examination reveals that her body is riddled with countless, horrific scars. When she finally does speak, this frightened, mysterious young woman claims to be the Russian Grand Duchess.
As rumors begin to circulate through European society that the youngest Romanov daughter has survived the massacre at Ekaterinburg, old enemies and new threats are awakened. The question of who this woman is and what actually happened to Anastasia creates a saga that spans fifty years and three continents. This thrilling page-turner is every bit as moving and momentous as it is harrowing and twisted.”

Review: I love, love, love this book.  So well done with the masterful handling of the complicated plot structure. Very well researched and beautifully written—the characters are vivid and alive, and I just could not put it down, even knowing how it ended for the Romanov family. This is one of those stories that resonates and is still following me around long after I’ve finished it. It brought me to tears more than once. The icing on the cake is the author’s afterword—the best I’ve ever read, even better than Stephen King’s! 😉 I’ll be reading more Ariel Lawhon, too.

Thank you NetGalley and Doubleday 🙂


WWW Wednesday at coffee and ink #14

Sam at Taking on a World of Words is the host of WWW Wednesday.  To participate, all you have to do is answer the three W questions and post in the comments section at Sam’s blog:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

GoodReads: Only fifteen years of age, Charity Fowler has lost too much; her mother in childbirth and her illusions about love to a young man who broke her heart. Her stern Puritan father has withdrawn from his family; and her aunt, Susannah Morrow, who has just arrived from London, is struggling to find her place in the family.

But it quickly becomes clear that Susannah has chosen the wrong time to be a part of this rigidly religious community. Her beauty, independence and obvious sensuality challenge its established ways. As the suspicions against her mount, the fanaticism, repressed emotions and sexual guilt in Salem explode into a form of hysteria that will make its name infamous and touch everyone she loves.

Charity will have to come to grips with or be controlled by her deepest fears. Charity’s father will have to choose between his terror of temptation and his feelings for the woman who questions the beliefs at the core of his life. And Susannah herself must face condemnation and the horror of the witch trials.

Peopled by real-life figures including Elizabeth Proctor, Judge Danforth, and the spell-casting West Indian slave Tituba; and expertly capturing the rhythms and cadences of seventeenth-century colonial life, Susannah Morrow is both a timeless parable on good and evil and a luminous love story.

What did you recently finish reading?

This was Very VERY good and at #22 in the series, it was easy to drop into the lives of the characters. The mystery was primary, told in many different but not overwhelming points of view–absorbing and hard to put down. I like his style 🙂

GoodReads:  One of the world’s greatest suspense writers returns with this gripping, powerful new novel featuring Inspector Alan Banks, hailed by Michael Connelly as “a man for all seasons.”

Life. Death.
Good. Evil.
Innocence. Guilt.

All can be found IN THE DARK PLACES.

It’s a double mystery: two young men have vanished, and the investigation leads to two troubling clues in two different locations.

As Inspector Banks and his team scramble for answers, the inquiry takes an even darker turn when a truck careens off an icy road in a freak hailstorm. In the wreckage, rescuers find the driver, who was killed on impact, as well as another corpse . . . that of someone who was dead well before the crash.

Snow falls. The body count rises. And Banks, perceptive and curious as ever, feels himself being drawn deeper into a web of crime . . . and at its center something—or someone—dark and dangerous lying in wait.

Vibrating with tension, ingeniously plotted, and filled with soul and poignancy, In the Dark Places is a remarkable achievement from this masterful talent. For readers of Michael Connelly, Louise Penny, and Tess Gerritsen, this is a novel to be read with white knuckles and a fast-beating heart.

What do you think you’ll read next?

At the age of ten, Lily is forcefully torn from her mother’s arms and sold at a Negro auction by her master, a man that Lily learns that day is her very own father. Seeking solace from such devastation, Lily secretly begins teaching herself to play her new master’s piano: an instrument that she is forbidden from touching. Lily becomes an extraordinary pianist and gets away with secretly playing for fourteen years until the master’s son, James, discovers her deceit. The “punishment” that James gives Lily starts her on an unprecedented journey that dramatically alters her life and influences the lives of thousands, including a man with great power. Lily’s groundbreaking journey also unveils the secret altruistic love of a particular man who has been forbidden from expressing his love to her for years. But the question remains whether or not the strength of his love will be powerful enough to free Lily from the shackles of slavery and protect her dreams and her life while on her turbulent Journey to Winter Garden.


Book Review: Strangers in Budapest by Jessica Keener

Title: Strangers in Budapest

Author: Jessica Keener

Publisher: Algonquin Books

Release Date: November 14, 2017

Genre: General, Literary 

GoodReads: “Jessica Keener has written a gorgeous, lyrical, and sweeping novel about the tangled web of past and present. Suspenseful, perceptive, fast-paced, and ultimately restorative.” —Susan Henderson, author of Up from the Blue

Budapest: gorgeous city of secrets, with ties to a shadowy, bloody past.  It is to this enigmatic European capital that a young American couple, Annie and Will, move from Boston with their infant son shortly after the fall of the Communist regime. For Annie, it is an effort to escape the ghosts that haunt her past, and Will wants simply to seize the chance to build a new future for his family.

Eight months after their move, their efforts to assimilate are thrown into turmoil when they receive a message from friends in the US asking that they check up on an elderly man, a fiercely independent Jewish American WWII veteran who helped free Hungarian Jews from a Nazi prison camp. They soon learn that the man, Edward Weiss, has come to Hungary to exact revenge on someone he is convinced seduced, married, and then murdered his daughter.

Annie, unable to resist anyone’s call for help, recklessly joins in the old man’s plan to track down his former son-in-law and confront him, while Will, pragmatic and cautious by nature, insists they have nothing to do with Weiss and his vendetta. What Annie does not anticipate is that in helping Edward she will become enmeshed in a dark and deadly conflict that will end in tragedy and a stunning loss of innocence.

Review: What a great premise and setting but, sadly, so badly done.  There was nothing literary about this, either. The main character was dense and overwrought and the prose repetitious enough that I nearly didn’t finish it.  My own stubbornness and the question of how the author was going to tie everything up were the only things that keep me going but again I was disappointed in the mishandling of an interesting concept. A lot of the writing felt like filler and felt distant, though conversely the husband was one of the most one-dimensional characters I’ve read this year.  I wish the author had invested as much in her characters as she did in the setting.

thanks NetGalley and Algonquin Books


Monday Book Review: The Lost Season of Love and Snow by Jennifer Laam

Title:  The Lost Season of Love and Snow

Author:  Jennifer Laam

Publisher: St Martin’s

Release Date: January 2, 2018

Genre:  Historical Romance

The unforgettable story of Alexander Pushkin’s beautiful wife, Natalya, a woman much admired at Court, and how she became reviled as the villain of St. Petersburg.

At the age of sixteen, Natalya Goncharova is stunningly beautiful and intellectually curious. But while she finds joy in French translations and a history of Russian poetry, her family is more concerned with her marriage prospects. It is only fitting that during the Christmas of 1828 at her first public ball in her hometown of Moscow she attracts the romantic attention of Russia’s most lauded rebel poet: Alexander Pushkin.

Enchanted at first sight, Natalya is already a devoted reader of Alexander’s serialized novel in verse, Evgeny Onegin. The most recently published chapter ends in a duel, and she is dying to learn what happens next. Finding herself deeply attracted to Alexander’s intensity and joie de vivre, Natalya hopes to see him again as soon as possible.

What follows is a courtship and later marriage full of equal parts passion and domestic bliss but also destructive jealousies. When vicious court gossip leads to Alexander dying from injuries earned defending his honor as well as Natalya’s in a duel, Natalya finds herself reviled for her alleged role in his death.

With beautiful writing and understanding, Jennifer Laam, and her compelling new novel, The Lost Season of Love and Snow, help Natalya tell her side of the story—the story of her greatest love and her inner struggle to create a fulfilling life despite the dangerous intrigues of a glamorous imperial Court.

Review: This isn’t my usual story to read, but I loved the title and the premise was on a bit of a theme because I had “I Was Anastasia” in my queue, two completely different books but both about Russia, with roughly one hundred years between them.  Neither is Pushkin on my radar, but the author’s premise that his wife had likely been painted by a tainted brush by history, was appealing.  Very well researched and flawlessly written with a tragic ending that ripped at my heartstrings—but…and this is me and not the author, but the bugaboo of females in nearly every century is being forced into this submissive role where her marriage, at first, was only about changing houses and the view from the window. Gradually she learns how to be Mrs. Pushkin and survive in her role with revolution whispering around the edges of society…who wouldn’t go mad? The endless rounds of parties and costume making and setting up the marriageable sisters made my eyes cross after awhile, but that’s me. The story couldn’t be told otherwise, and I thought this was a great slice of historical fiction very well told.

Thanks NetGalley and St. Martin’s 🙂

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Sunday Book Review: A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

Title: A Treacherous Curse

Author:  Deanna Raybourn

Publisher: Doubleday

Release Date: January 16, 2018

Genre:  Historical Mystery

From GoodReads:  Members of an Egyptian expedition fall victim to an ancient mummy’s curse in a thrilling Veronica Speedwell novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries.
London, 1888. As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker. His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.

But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything. . . .

Review:  The third installment in the Veronica Speedwell series is just the way I love it.  A cheeky, no-holds-barred heroine to both cheer on and roll my eyes at and a sexy, broody, damaged hero.  The plot is centered around Stoker’s ex-wife Carolyn (whose name he murmured to Veronica during their one and only sexual encounter) and the man she ran off with, abandoning Stoker in South America when he was near death.  This is the story I was ready to hear…with the author’s usual excellent writing and voice creating another intriguing mystery with just a touch of romance.  Victorian Egyptologist themes have been done to death, but I felt the author gave it a fresh feel.

I’d love to read a short story or a whole novel from Stoker’s point of view 😀

Thanks Net Galley and Doubleday…

Follow my blog with Bloglovin