Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Review & Giveaway: The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend by Nicole Evelina

The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend
by Nicole Evelina
Release Date: November 21st 2017
2017 Lawson Gartner Publishing
Kindle Edition; 278 pages
ISBN: 978-0996763226
Genre: Non-fiction
Source: Review copy from author via HFVBT

4 / 5 Stars

Literature tells us painfully little about Guinevere, mostly focusing on her sin and betrayal of Arthur and Camelot. As a result, she is often seen as a one-dimensional character. But there is more to her story. By examining popular works of more than 20 authors over the last one thousand years, The Once and Future Queen shows how Guinevere reflects attitudes toward women during the time in which her story was written, changing to suit the expectations of her audience. Beginning in Celtic times and continuing through the present day, this book synthesizes academic criticism and popular opinion into a highly readable, approachable work that fills a gap in Arthurian material available to the general public.

My Thoughts
The Once and Future Queen is a great companion to Nicole Evelina's Daughter of Destiny and Camelot's Queen as she explores the legend of Guinevere from its earliest beginnings to current literature, and how the change in societies has had an impact on her story and on her personality. I am very familiar with the tale of Arthur and Guinevere and have found the various legends and stories to be quite interesting, so I was quite thrilled to read this author's thoughts on the various tales and how they might have developed over time.  

First of all, while this wasn't a real in-depth overview of Guinevere, in the sense of a deep scholarly study, I really enjoyed the lighter touch to her well-researched book as it was easy to read and to follow. I remember reading some more scholarly things about Camelot while taking some history courses and they were not easy to read nor follow, so I definitely appreciated the effort to keep it light but also be very informative.  I don't want to make light of the amount of research that would have gone into this book though, so when I say it's light, it just means that it was written in such a way as to make it easy to understand who the characters were that people Guinevere's world.  You don't have to have a huge background knowledge of Guinevere and her court in order to understand this book. There are no assumptions made that you have read material about Camelot before, so anyone could pick this up and enjoy the discussion about her.  

What I did find fascinating is the trends that took place over the centuries regarding Guinevere and her personality and how it is shaped by the societies in which each story was written.  I am not especially surprised by this, but to have it laid out in a format that discusses each story as they were written makes it easy to follow the historical routes and ideas that conceived each novel. Was Guinevere a saint, a sinner, a martyr, a queen, a feminist, a mother, a slut, or a simply a representation of what should have been like during each time period in which she was written.  Naturally, being born in the modern time period, I prefer her when she is strong and independent, but flawed through bad choices and pressures that were put upon her.  I know when I read Le Morte d'Arthur, I wasn't overly impressed with Guinevere (or Arthur either for that matter), so reading Sharan Newman's Guinevere series (Guinevere, The Chessboard Queen, and Guinevere Evermore) was very enlightening, with a much stronger queen that I liked, even if I had issues with the overall stories.

The Once and Future Queen is an engrossing and detailed rendering of Guinevere through the ages, and is a welcome addition to the works about Guinevere.  As someone with a background in history, I definitely enjoyed the simplicity of what I read, but there is definitely a plethora of research notes that you could check out if you were interested in going deeper and into even more detail.  I definitely like the stories of today whereby Guinevere is from a Celtic descent with overtones towards pagan worship as opposed to Christian worship and the conflicts that must have ensued.  It's evident that every author wants to put their own on her life and I definitely appreciate that, but I really like the fact that her character has grown to be a more trusted and powerful one, almost a warrior queen.  The author makes Guinevere's evolution easy to understand and provides very detailed reasons for why these shifts occurred over the years.  I am glad to know that Mistress of Legend (the third book in the Guinevere's Tale) will be released this year as I highly recommend the other two books in the series, as well as this non-fiction book of Guinevere's development through the ages.  Anyone with an interest in Camelot should pick up this book.


During the Blog Tour we will be giving away two paperback copies of The Once and Future Queen! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

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The Once and Future Queen
Sunday, February 25, 2018

Review: The Gate Keeper by Charles Todd

The Gate Keeper (Inspector Ian Rutledge, Book #20)
by Charles Todd
Release Date: February 6th 2018
2018 William Morrow
Kindle Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062678737
ASIN: B0713W4784
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Hours after his sister’s wedding, a restless Ian Rutledge drives aimlessly, haunted by the past, and narrowly misses a motorcar stopped in the middle of a desolate road. Standing beside the vehicle is a woman with blood on her hands and a dead man at her feet.

She swears she didn’t kill Stephen Wentworth. A stranger stepped out in front of their motorcar, and without warning, fired a single shot before vanishing into the night. But there is no trace of him. And the shaken woman insists it all happened so quickly, she never saw the man’s face.

Wentworth was well-liked, yet his bitter family paint a malevolent portrait, calling him a murderer. But who did Wentworth kill? Is his death retribution? Or has his companion lied? Wolf Pit, his village, has a notorious history: in Medieval times, the last wolf in England was killed there. When a second suspicious death occurs, the evidence suggests that a dangerous predator is on the loose, and that death is closer than Rutledge knows.

My Thoughts
The Gate Keeper is the 20th entry in the Ian Rutledge series, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, although I may be a bit biased as I really like this series, and its inspector and have been reading these books since the debut was published.  The mother-son writing duo certainly know how to keep one's interest despite the longevity of the series; and for those of us who are invested in these characters, I really like how they have developed over the series as well.

I have truly enjoyed watching Rutledge's journey throughout the years as he battles with shell shock and the horror of the Battle of the Somme.  What I really like is how the horror is not glossed over and rears itself over and over again throughout the series, showing the reality of what things were like for the brave men who fought in that war.  The glimpses of the aftermath and people trying to get their lives back together is rather remarkable and I can't but feel empathy for these people and what they have suffered.  To learn more about Rutledge and how he gets through his day despite the ever-present guilt is something I adore; he's definitely not without flaws, being a loner and sometimes working again the wishes of Scotland Yard, but it is his daily routine that I find interesting and how the author helps him transition to another, and then another, day.  He embodies exactly what I think a Scotland Yard Inspector is all about during this time period, and I love that. 

I do have to mention that I took an immediate dislike to Stephen Wentworth's mother. There was nothing truly to like about this woman and I really hoped to see something happen to her. You could look at her situation as someone who probably needed a psychologist/psychiatrist to help her deal with her obvious dislike of Stephen as that behaviour was not normal.  For those reasons, I couldn't come up with a shred of compassion for her, not one bit.  I don't usually react so strongly to a character, and even tend to like difficult characters, but this was definitely not one those times.  Kudos to the authors for exploring that little bit of motherhood, though. I'm sure it was difficult to write.

I really enjoyed the mystery in this one as I had a hard time figuring out who was exactly guilty and those are the mysteries I like.  Having those subtle red herrings thrown at you is quite complicated to do, and I have to admire the authors for being able to do that, especially after so many books when you get to know the writing.   Even if the plot was a bit slow, that didn't really bother me as I know after reading so many of their works, how explosive the endings can be, so I was really patient and paid attention to the clues that were given through interviews. And I love the descriptions of tea time and sweets that were included, so much a part of this book.  And the writing: the authors have an amazing ability to convey a lot through dialogue, rather than just through description, so you have to pay attention to every little detail.  

The Gate Keeper is one of those murder mysteries in which I felt a lot of sadness as the victims seemed to be genuinely nice people who didn't deserve the fate they were dealt.  I haven't always felt sympathetic so it was a nice surprise.   The mystery was a bit slow, but not boring, and the red herrings were quite interesting as I had a hard time figuring out exactly what might have happened. The writing was excellent and there was some good investigative work that I really liked. And while I absolutely recommend this book to others, and it could be read on its own, perhaps starting at the beginning would give readers an insight into Hamish and Rutledge and their relationship with which the authors assume you are already familiar.
Saturday, February 17, 2018

Review: The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes

The Mitford Murders (Mitford Murders #1)
by Jessica Fellowes
Release Date: January 23rd 2018 (First published September 14th 2017)
2018 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 420 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250170781
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

It's 1919, and Louisa Cannon dreams of escaping her life of poverty in London, and most of all her oppressive and dangerous uncle.

Louisa's salvation is a position within the Mitford household at Asthall Manor, in the Oxfordshire countryside. There she will become nurserymaid, chaperone and confidante to the Mitford sisters, especially sixteen-year-old Nancy - an acerbic, bright young woman in love with stories.

But then a nurse - Florence Nightingale Shore, goddaughter of her famous namesake - is killed on a train in broad daylight, and Louisa and Nancy find themselves entangled in the crimes of a murderer who will do anything to hide their secret . . .

My Thoughts
The Mitford Murders is the first book in series featuring the Mitford sisters.  When I first started reading the book I thought one of the Mitford sisters would be the main character and I was looking forward to that. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, and I couldn't help but be disappointed. Luckily, that disappointment only lasted for a couple of chapters as the main character, a nursery maid, was actually quite interesting and I grew to really like her character and personality. 

First of all, I had no idea that this story was based on true events until I reached the end of the book and read some of the historical background to the events. Naturally, I went and looked it up on the Internet and what I discovered was quite interesting. As in the book, the real Nightingale Shore was traveling on the train in broad daylight and to this date, they still have not discovered the murderer's identity. Considering she was the goddaughter the THE Florence Nightingale made it that much more fascinating. 

As I mentioned previously, the main character, Louisa, grew on me throughout the story and I really enjoyed her transition from a scared and timid young girl to one who has discovered her sense of worth and who she can be. When she began working for the Mifords, she was afraid of being discovered by her wayward uncle who only wanted to use her to settle gambling debts. As her friendship with Nancy Mitford developed, she also seemed to develop her own identity and became more determined to discover the truth whether she wanted to hear it or not.  I really enjoyed her friendship with Nancy as they struggled with class differences even as they became quite good friends. I was a bit disappointed by the fact that I didn't really discover all that much about Nancy Mitford, but when I did get glimpses of her personality, it seemed to go in line with what I'd read about her; her stubborness, her jealousies regarding her sisters, her temper. Yet despite all of this, there was kindness and loyalty as well.  Despite the fact that history has portrayed her as quite intelligent and witty, it has also portrayed her as being silly, vain, and extremely jealous of her sister Pamela, and I liked that the book kept faith with that character.  While we did see a lot of the temperament happening, we didn't really get to see her budding wit and how people adored that aspect of her. 

I really enjoyed the friendship that developed between Louisa and Guy Sullivan, an employee of the train company on whose train Nightingale Shore was murdered.  Both Louisa and Guy are flawed characters; one was escaping her home life while the other was trying to learn how to stand up to brothers who tended to bully him, and together, they made a good team.  I enjoyed their interactions with each other, and was glad to discover this book wouldn't be another love story where everything works out in the end. 

What I couldn't get past was the development of the mystery; while it was fascinating, it was still slow and it was definitely easy to figure out where it was heading.  I actually think the author was trying too hard to make the book seem historically authentic which made some of the scenes actually worse as it just didn't always work.  There is also this tendency to view women as weak and in need of saving all of the time, and I quite doubt that all women of this time period were like that.  Just think; the marches and parades and other such things to allow women to vote took place during this time period so I wish more voice was given to them.  Or to the fact that women's place in society was changing.  There was some allusion to this with descriptions of women with short hair and dresses that were inappropriate but not enough.  That being said, the author can definitely write well, and you get a good glimpse of life during this time period, even if some of the things said or events being described, were a bit jarring.  

I thought The Mitford Murders was a good book with a solid mystery, even if the mystery was slow to take off and it was quite easy to figure out the murderer.  For whatever reason, the solution didn't quite ring true to events, and I thought the murderer's character actually changed throughout the novel in a way that didn't quite sit true with me.  I did enjoy Louisa and Guy's characters and liked how they communicated with each other, developing a friendship rather it being forced on the reader. Nancy is quite young in this novel and there must be allowances for that as she would develop and hone her writing skills in France in the years to come as she tried to break away from her father's control to become more independent.  I did like how she tried to assert her independence only to have it broken down by her parents' strict rules and punishments.  They weren't cruel but they were definitely trying to hone down her impulse for adventure and fun.  Would I read the next book in this series?  Oh, yes, definitely, and I hope to see much more of the Mitford sisters as well.  There are definitely some interesting times ahead. And for anyone interested in the Nightingale Shore murder, I recently got this book as I thought it would shed some light on the murder: The Nightingale Shore Murder: Death of a World War 1 Heroine by Rosemary Cook.
Sunday, February 11, 2018

Review & Giveaway: The Swedish Girl by Alex Gray

The Swedish Girl (DCI Lorimer, Book #10)
by Alex Gray
Release Date: January 9th, 2018 (first published January 1st, 2013)
2018 Witness Impulse
Kindle Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062659255
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from Partners in Crime Tours

3 / 5 Stars

Eighteen-year-old Kirsty Wilson can't believe her luck when she lands a room in a luxury Glasgow flat owned by the beautiful Eva Magnusson, a wealthy fellow student from Stockholm. But her initial delight turns to terror when Kirsty finds the Swedish girl lying dead in their home and their male flatmate accused of her murder. Kirsty refuses to accept that he is guilty and, inspired by family friend Detective Superintendent Lorimer, sets out to clear his name.

Meanwhile, Lorimer calls on his trusted colleague, psychologist Solly Brightman, to help unravel the truth behind the enigmatic Eva's life and death. But it is not long until another woman, bearing a marked resemblance to Eva, is brutally murdered in Glasgow. Horrified, Lorimer and his team realise that Kirsty could be right. Is it possible that Glasgow's finest detective has put the wrong man behind bars? And is there a cold-blooded killer out there orchestrating the death of their next innocent victim?

My Thoughts
The Swedish Girl is the tenth entry in the DCI Lorimer series and was originally published in January 2013. Although I had read most of the other books in this series, for whatever reasons that I can't think of at the moment, this one fell through the reading cracks for me, so I was happy to have a chance to review it. It is written in true Alex Gray style which means that it was enjoyable, easy to read, has a few twists and turns that are easy to see through if you are familiar with her work, but with an ending that I wasn't overly crazy about, and characters who were much blander than I remember.

What I really enjoyed about this book are the main characters, except one, as they are comfortable without this drive to be dramatic or overly histrionic.  Don't get me wrong, I do like my characters to be somewhat flawed as it makes the story that much more interesting, but sometimes it's nice to have a msin character, like DCI Lorimier, who is comfortable, happy with his life, and always eager to return home to a loving wife.   In this book, he has been promoted to Detective Superintendent and I do have to admit I kind of miss his major involvement in following up crime incidents rather than just delegating his officers to do what he used to do.  I think he misses it too as he was always looking for an excuse to go out and interview people, sometimes getting involved in things he should have let his detectives do for themselves.  I definitely get it, and it was nice to see him out and about, but I did wonder how that would play out with his team.

I thought the story was interesting, and I really wanted to find out more about Eva Magnusson, as when a person is described as being 'perfect', it really makes you wonder what is going on insider her head. And when other similar murders occurred, there was the question of a deranged serial killer on the loose. There were some entertaining twists and turns, but if you are already familiar with Gray's work, it is easy to spot the red herrings and see what is going on. That being said, I could tell where the story was going with regards to the murderer, and I was really hoping it wouldn't go in that direction, but alas, it did, and I was really disappointed. For all the build-up, it was a bit of a let down. And to be honest, although I really enjoyed Kirsty Wilson as a character and liked the big decision she made in the end (although it was not a surprise), I did question the fact that Kirsty was used to search and discover information for Lorimer. I am not a police officer, but I do question it when a civilian is used to do searches and interviews as I thought it would compromise the evidence.  I just didn't buy her involvement in the case, and I didn't buy Lorimer's instincts to use her as it went completely against character; he seemed a lot more indecisive that the Lorimer that I remember. Who I really didn't like though, was DI Jo Grant, and it's not her fault, it's the author's. She is the stereotypical female cop, arresting people even when the evidence is scarce, and getting upset when her decisions turn out to be wrong.  Haven't we come a lot further than this? To arrest someone because he cried in the interviewing room seems like a lousy excuse, and I was really disappointed by her character. Any good lawyer would have had Colin released ASAP, but for some reason that didn't quite happen. She is also quite insubordinate and bland, and I just couldn't warm up to her.  She is someone I would be happy to see gone from these books.

The Swedish Girl was an okay story, and although I really enjoyed the previous novels in this series, I am wondering if maybe, after reading countless other crime novels, that I may have lost interest in DCI Lorimer and his crew as I found him boring.  I would have to go back and read her first novel to see if there is a difference in the writing, but perhaps I've just outgrown them? Anyways, I would suggest you read it for yourself as you may have a different opinion that I do, and I do think fans of her work will be happy with this one. It just wasn't for me although I am willing to give another book a shot. We'll see!!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Review & Giveaway: Clairvoyant and Present Danger by Lena Gregory

Clairvoyant and Present Danger (Bay Island Psychic Mystery, Book #3)
by Lena Gregory
Release Date: February 6th, 2018
2018 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0425282779
ASIN: B071L5C99M
Genre: Fiction / Cozy / Mystery
Source: Review copy from Great Escape Book Tours

4 / 5 Stars

Whoever said that dead men tell no tales has never met Cass Donnovan...

Cass has always relied on her abilities to guide her, but after communications with a ghost land her in the middle of a murder investigation, she has to wonder if her gifts are really more a curse.

Cass knows she is meant to help track down the killer--much to the chagrin of local law enforcement--when the apparition leads her to a dead body on the beach near her psychic shop, Mystical Musings. But the police are not the only ones who wish Cass would stick to reading palms. Someone is trying to scare her off, and it will take all her powers of premonition to catch the killer before Cass herself becomes the next victim...

My Thoughts
Clairvoyant and Present Danger was a fun cozy mystery, with just the right touch of paranormal for me. And a big bonus: a lovable dog who gets into a lot of trouble, making for some interesting times for the main character and her friends. What's not to love?

First of all, the dog. I am not ashamed to admit that Beast was my favourite 'character' in this book. Although he is supposed to be a big dog, he comes across as lovable, oh so cuddly, and mischievous,  and I certainly enjoyed his antics throughout the story.  He made the story fun and interesting, and I was definitely curious as to what he would be up to next.

Cass and Bee are certainly interesting characters as well. I adore Bee and love how he treats his friends, especially Cass, which makes the book all warm and fuzzy.  I would definitely love to see more of him in future books, and look forward to knowing more about him. He just has that right touch of friendliness and sarcasm that warms my heart, but he's definitely not a pushover; his scenes whenever he thought Cass was interacting with a ghost were endearing and I liked him even more during those scenes.  It's really nice to read a book where the main characters aren't always in conflict with each other.

I really enjoyed the story, even if I thought the plot was a bit predictable.  The writing was good and I certainly enjoyed the vivid portrayal of life by the beach, sitting in my cozy chair as it snowed yet again. It made me feel like I was right there, feeling the breezes on my face. I did enjoy the mystery, but I did think it was a bit slow as there was quite a bit of character development going on.  I really liked the paranormal elements as they weren't overdone, and quite believable.  I really liked that Cass doesn't quite believe in her own abilities, and is always startled and afraid when a ghost does show up at her door.  Running out of her own house because she got spooked made me laugh and like her even more. There are quite a few moments I wasn't expecting which made the book fun to read; I definitely appreciated those twists. I just wish the twists were related more to the mystery than to Cass's life, but they were still fun to read.

Clairvoyant and Present Danger is the third book in the series, and although I haven't read the first two, it certainly didn't matter when it came to the main story line and events.  There is probably some background stuff I didn't fully understand, but I plan to read the others to discover a bit more about Cass and some of the situations in which she's been involved.  I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a lighter, interesting mystery with great and intriguing characters.  And I look forward to seeing more Beast antics in future novels!!!


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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Review: Pretty Girls Dancing by Kylie Brant

Pretty Girls Dancing
by Kylie Brant
Release Date: January 1st, 2018
2018 Thomas & Mercer
Kindle Edition; 370 Pages
ISBN: 978-1542049955
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5/5 Stars


Years ago, in the town of Saxon Falls, young Kelsey Willard disappeared and was presumed dead. The tragedy left her family with a fractured life—a mother out to numb the pain, a father losing a battle with his own private demons, and a sister desperate for closure. But now another teenage girl has gone missing. It’s ripping open old wounds for the Willards, dragging them back into a painful past, and leaving them unprepared for where it will take them next.

Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent Mark Foster has stumbled on uncanny parallels in the lives of the two missing girls that could unlock clues to a serial killer’s identity. That means breaking down the walls of the Willards’ long-guarded secrets and getting to a truth that is darker than he bargained for. Now, to rescue one missing girl, he must first solve the riddles that disappeared with another: Kelsey Willard herself. Dead or alive, she is his last hope.

My Thoughts
Pretty Girls Dancing was actually quite engrossing, and I pretty much read it in one sitting.  It had an interesting plot line, some intriguing characters, and the writing was well done. I think the only issue I really had with it was the ending as it just felt...wrong. No other way to explain it.

First of all, I liked the alternate POV as you got to see the events unwind from a variety of different angles, and it allowed the author to try and develop some characters. From the beginning, I couldn't wait to get to either Janie's, Mark's, and especially, Whitney's point of view as they were the more interesting and developed characters. I especially developed a liking for Whitney's story as you got a great sense of her strength and power as well as the horrible things her captor was willing to do to get her to submit to him; it's pretty scary actually, and I seriously doubt I would have handled it as well as she did.  I rooted for her throughout the book and really hoped her ending would be a good one.

Janie was another interesting character, suffering from selective mutism and extreme social anxiety most of her life, and I really thought her story was fascinating, especially with the focus on mental health out there today. Dealing with students who have severe social anxiety, it gave me an insight as to what those students are dealing with any moment of the day and I appreciated that insight.  I thought Janie was an incredibly powerful character and I was thrilled with her development throughout, without seeming like her anxiety was gone, something I would have been disappointed over as I know it's something you have to live with all your life.  I wasn't particularly fond of Janie's mother Claire, and although I was sympathetic with the crushing blows with which she was dealing, I did find her somewhat selfish at times, as if she was the only one going through anything. I won't pretend to even understand what she was going through, but it was always about her and her issues, kind of neglecting her husband and her child, which is why I understand some of her husband's actions.  The book tried to make Claire more sympathetic in the end, but for me it failed, and I was rooting for Janie's dad, despite his obvious flaws.  And I find it weird that I'd be thinking this way, but the author tried to make Claire so weak and vulnerable that it just turned me off her character.

The plot, except for the ending, I enjoyed tremendously.  I liked Mark as a detective and hope to see more of him in the future in other books.  I thought the mystery was quite compelling and I have to admit that I didn't see the ending coming the way it did. I want to stress that I liked the ending, but it also felt contrived and too pat at the same time.  Does that make sense? Probably not.  I just felt the author was looking for a major, major plot twist and tried a bit too hard.  However, it did leave a bad taste in my mouth and I can't stop thinking about it even now.  Unfortunately, you will just have to read the book to know what I am talking about.

Pretty Girls Dancing was definitely not what I was expecting, and that's a good thing.  With some interesting plot twists, some intriguing characters, the overall story was good; even though I had a problem with the ending and thought the perp was the least interesting character, I think this is one book that you will just have to decide for yourself if you want to read it or not. Like I said, while I found it engrossing, the ending turned me right off and spoiled the overall book for me.