Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Bletchley Circle Season 2

Image copyright ITV, source: Pinterest

So I am a little behind the times with my Brit TV updates, sorry about that! But better late than never, eh? Season 2 of The Bletchley Circle started on PBS last Sunday and continues this weekend. The first episode was SO GOOD -- it has a very post-war Foyle's vibe to it that I just loved, and the cast and writing are just fantastic. Here's a preview:

You can read more about Season 2 and stream the first episode HERE. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review: Death by the Book by Julianna Deering

Death by the Book (A Drew Farthering Mystery #2)
By: Julianna Deering
Publisher: Bethany House


Just a few short months have passed since murder and mayhem ripped through Drew Farthering's life, earning him a certain measure of local notoriety and allowing him to put into practice his aptitude for investigation and analysis. But when murder leaps from the pages of one's beloved mystery novels to leave its indelible thumbprint on one's life, the murderous and macabre lose their fictional allure -- and now Drew craves nothing more than a quiet life, and an affirmative answer to his proposal of marriage to Madeline Parker, his stepfather's American niece. Just as he begins to hope that normalcy is returning to the sleepy hamlet of Farthering St. John, Drew discovers the body of his solicitor, a cryptic message pinned to his body with a jeweled hatpin. The death strikes uncomfortably close to home, as Drew's efforts to court Madeline are interrupted by the arrival of her formidable Aunt Ruth, determined to whisk away her niece back to America, away from the wiles of wealthy Englishmen such as himself who can't seem to escape association with murder.

When an unexpected scandal erupts surrounding his solicitor's personal life, Drew is drawn into the investigation at the request of the widow. As Drew struggles to balance his amateur investigative efforts with his ongoing romantic suit, the latter becomes complicated by the arrival of a brash young American that Aunt Ruth seems determined to pair with her niece. When a second murder strikes the country club, the victim marked by a cryptic message pinned through the chest, tensions run high as fear of the "Hatpin Murderer" ripples through Farthering St. John. As the death toll continues to mount, drawing ever closer to Drew's home, he begins to wonder -- is he the intended target, or the recipient of a vicious game played by a ruthless killer? Murder used to be a game ensconced safely within the pages of a riveting novel -- but if Drew's to survive this twist, he must master the rules to a game that's become all too real...and deadly.

Julianna Deering's first Drew Farthering mystery, Rules of Murder, was one of my favorite reads of last year. For any mystery set during the "golden age" of detective fiction -- the era that gave birth to authors such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers -- I want lightening-fast pacing, sparkling dialogue, and pitch-perfect historical detail. Deering's debut proved to be an unexpected delight, delivering the rapid-fire dialogue and smartly-paced plotting that I so adore in everything from Christie's novels to the Thin Man films, the latter becoming a gold standard template for smart and sassy romantic detectives.

What sets Deering's novels apart is the subtle thread of faith she weaves throughout the storyline, culminating in Drew's declaration of faith at the conclusion of Rules of Murder. As Death by the Book picks up shortly after that life-changing experience, Drew is still very new to examining life -- and crime -- through the lens of faith. Given the high bar set by the authors of the classic mysteries to which Deering both aspires and pays homage, in lesser hands the introduction of an explicit faith element could easily disrupt the narrative flow and atmosphere of the story. But Deering exhibits a refreshingly delicate touch, as any mention of Drew's newfound faith is organically incorporated into the storyline, if anything enhancing his charm and good humor rather than becoming the sole focal point. In Drew's world, murder mysteries just happen to be solved by Christians, allowing the exercise of one's faith in arguably the most worldly of contexts.

Deering's characters are an absolute joy -- crisply realized, they leap from the page with pitch-perfect dialogue and mannerisms. Drew in particular is a delight. Rarely have I ever found a characterization that does such justice to the speech patterns and manner of those found in the likes of Christie novels or the detective films of the 1930s. Aunt Ruth is a fabulous addition to the cast of players, a formidable force to be reckoned with, bringing to mind the persona of screen giants such as Edith Barrymore, or for a more recent comparison, the incomparable Maggie Smith. My only disappointment -- and it's a slight one -- is how Madeline's character developed, or to be more precise, didn't, over the course of the novel. Given her introduction I'd hope for more of a Myrna Loy-as-Nora Charles. Instead, she's more angst-ridden than Drew -- she won't say yes to his proposal, but she won't 1) stop kissing him or 2) leave in order to consider it with the benefit of distance and perspective, until the end of the novel forces her hand. I have high hopes that she'll play an even more active role in future investigations as a result.

Drew's second outing as aristocratic amateur sleuth is a rare treat for mystery lovers. Smartly plotted, peopled with engaging characters, and peppered with enough red herrings to make Dame Christie's head spin, Death by the Book secures Deering's place as a shining star in the realm of period mystery fiction. While the "conflict" introduced by Aunt Ruth (exacerbated by Madeline's indecisiveness) in an attempt to keep Drew and Madeline apart feels forced, that issue aside this second installment of Drew's sleuthing adventures is a delightful way in which to while away a few hours. Smartly plotted, with effervescent, rapid-fire dialogue and delicious period detail, Death by the Book was well worth the wait, refreshing the tropes of the classic mystery with a carefully spun cord of faith and humor. I can't wait to see where Deering takes Drew & Co. next!

About the book:

When the village of Farthering St. John is stunned by a series of murders, Drew Farthering is drawn again into the sleuthing game.

Drew Farthering wanted nothing more than to end the summer of 1932 with the announcement of his engagement. Instead, he finds himself caught up in another mysterious case  when the family solicitor is found murdered, an antique hatpin with a cryptic message, Advice to Jack, piercing his chest.

Evidence of secret meetings and a young girl's tearful confession point to the victim's double life, but what does the solicitor's murder have to do with the murder of a physician on the local golf course? Nothing, it would seem -- expect for another puzzling note, affixed with a similar-looking bloodied hatpin.

Soon the police make an arrest in connection with the murders, but Drew isn't at all certain they have the right suspect in custody. And why does his investigation seem to be drawing closer and closer to home?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Outlaw Queen

Guys, I am SO stupid invested in shipping Robin and Regina on Once Upon a needless to say this kinda made my day. I can't stop laughing. (via Tumblr)

Review: Gilded Ashes by Rosamund Hodge

Gilded Ashes (A Cruel Beauty Novella)
By: Rosamund Hodge
Publisher: Balzer + Bray


Once a beloved only daughter, following her father's remarriage and subsequent death Maia has remained in her stepmother's household, despite being relegated to the status of a servant, subject to the whims of her stepfamily. Though an outsider in her own home, taken advantage of and abused, Maia remained, for she'd learned the price of her tears was too great for anyone else to pay. For Maia has an avenger, a guardian angel, if you will -- the ghostly spirit of her beloved mother, residing in the tree that they once played under when Maia was a child. If Maia's mother thinks she is anything less than perfectly happy, she unleashes the demons under her thrall to drive any who cross her daughter insane. What was once a love that Maia cherished has now become her prison...and so she bites her tongue and buries her true feelings, until she's forgotten the luxury of speaking the truth.

When Lord Anax, son and heir to the Duke of Sardis, announces that he will finally take a bride, Maia sees a golden opportunity to save her family from the threat of her mother's capricious moods. She agrees to act as her stepsister Kore's proxy, delivering her letters to Anax and securing his agreement to their marriage. But Maia never counted on finding a kindred spirit in the Duke's son, one who has been as burned by love as she. As she delivers a new letter each day, she finds herself leaving a little piece of her heart with Anax, until she realizes she's stumbled into the greatest danger of all -- for if she cannot sever her fledgling bond with Lord Anax, she may lose more than her stepfamily to her mother's wrath -- she might lose the hope Anax has given her for a future free from fear.

Since falling in love with Rosamund Hodge's debut novel, Cruel Beauty -- a heady mix of fairy tale and Greek mythology -- I've been eagerly anticipating her take on the Cinderella story. Set within the same world as Cruel Beauty -- Arcadia, ruled by the deal-making Gentle Lord, prince of demons -- Gilded Ashes reinvents the Cinderella story, blending her world of demons and dangerous bargains with the Brothers Grimm story of Aschenputtel.

In a world where Disney's take on classic fairy tales has become accepted as a societal norm, it's easy to forget that that the original stories were bloody and violent, pulling no punches, refusing to deliver a romanticized version of the world in which these timeless characters lived. Reconciling Aschenputtel with Disney is a particularly good illustration of this disparity in Cinderella retellings, for the Brothers Grimm filled their story with a ghostly mother, stepsisters who self-mutilated, and the doves who later punished them for their misdeeds by plucking out their eyes.

Hodge doesn't go quite *that* far, but she restores the tension to the story, raising the stakes for her Cinderella and transforming the tropes of the classic fairy tale into a gorgeous examination of guilt, loss, and love. Here, the mother's ghost is absolutely TERRIFYING (why did I never realize this before?), a powerful catalyst for Maia's transformation from servant shackled by her circumstances to a woman embracing the chance to face world and the uncertainties of the future on her own terms -- but only if she's willing to let go of the past. Within eighty short pages, Hodge crafts a wonderfully believable romance, but even better, redeems Maia's stepfamily from the status of mere villains to fully realized characters, individuals every bit as broken and in need of love as Maia.

Gilded Ashes is a haunting, wonderfully creative Cinderella retelling, cementing Ms. Hodge as a YA author to watch. Rich in mystery, romance, and spine-tingling chills, this is the best kind of novella -- one a fully-realized and satisfying whole on its own, but that leaves you desperately wanting more. A gorgeous tale, beautifully told -- I can't wait for Ms. Hodge's next book!

About the book:

A romantic reimagining of the classic Cinderella fairy tale, Gilded Ashes is a novella by Rosamund Hodge set in the same world as her debut novel, Cruel Beauty.

Maia doesn't see the point of love when it only brings people pain: her dead mother haunts anyone who hurts Maia, and her stepsisters are desperate for their mother's approval, even though she despises them.

Meanwhile, Anax, heir to the Duke of Sardis, doesn't believe in love either—not since he discovered that his childhood sweetheart was only using him for his noble title. But when Maia's and Anax's paths cross before the royal ball, they discover that love might not be the curse they once thought. And it might even be the one thing that can save them both.

Fantasy fans who love Kristin Cashore and Rae Carson will find everything they're looking for in this extraordinary and romantic novella.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Review: Miss Wonderful by Loretta Chase

Miss Wonderful (Carsington Brothers #1)
By: Loretta Chase
Publisher: Berkley
ASIN: B000PC71M8


Alistair Carsington, third son of the Earl of Hargate, may be revered as a hero of the Battle of Waterloo, but currently he's the bane of his father's existence. The earl has tolerated the last of one of Alistair's famed Episodes of Stupidity, and so issues an ultimatum: find an occupation that can support his reputation as one of the most fashionable members of the ton, or failing that, marry an heiress. If Alistair cannot secure an income via work or marriage, the earl will sell holdings that would otherwise provide for Alistair's two younger brothers -- and seeing his siblings penalized for his notorious behavior is the one thing Alistair absolutely will not allow. Partnering with his best friend, Lord Gordmor -- and the man responsible for saving Alistair's life and badly wounded leg on the blood-soaked fields of Waterloo -- Alistair and sinks his remaining funds into Gordy's scheme to build a canal through Derbyshire that would transport coal from his mines, thus making Gordy's estate (finally) profitable. 

Determined to prove his worth to the business venture, Alistair travels to the wilds of Derbyshire to meet with local landowners in order to alleviate any concerns they may have about the proposed development. He resolves to begin with the Mr. Oldridge, the largest landowner in the area and as such, arguably the most influential -- if Alistair can win Oldridge Hall to his cause, surely the rest will meekly follow, and his -- and his brothers' -- future will be secured. But Alistair didn't count on Mr. Oldridge being more interested in botany than building projects, and is left to deal with the man's daughter Mirabel -- a titian-haired beauty whose smile turns his knees to jelly, even while her appalling lack of fashion sense drives him to despair. Alistair came to Derbyshire to escape the threat of romantic entanglements -- but when his biggest opposition turns out to be the one woman he doesn't want to live without, his first foray into the world of business promises to yield a richer dividend then he'd ever dreamed...if only Mirabel wasn't so distracting...

At thirty-one, Mirabel Oldridge has resigned herself to the life of a spinster. Following her mother's death, her father retreated into his love of botany and proclivity for scientific study, allowing her beloved home to fall into disrepair. But Mirabel was determined to save the home she loved, and threw herself into the very unfeminine work of running the estate, cloaking her form in hideously unfashionable clothes so as not to distract the men she must deal with, and so be taken seriously as a competent businesswoman. Her life may be lonely, but she doesn't regret her choice, until the devilishly handsome Alistair Carsington arrives with his plans for a canal -- a canal! -- that would wreck the quiet country life that has so long been her solace. But Alistair, despite his reputation as one of the foremost dandies of the ton, proves surprisingly tenacious -- and irresistible -- reminding Mirabel of a part of her life she'd thought long buried, the part that once hoped for a happily ever after all her own. But with Alistair as determined to see the canal succeed as she is equally determined to stop it, any hope of a future is surely out of the question...right? However, Mirabel never reckoned on the delicious chaos the unstoppable force that is Alistair Carsington would wreak upon her heretofore happily immovable resolve, for when the two collide sparks fly, and the only certainty is that neither will emerge unchanged.

As I've fallen in love with the Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn, I've found myself somewhat concerned as to what might possibly come close to Quinn's humor and sparkling characterization once I've finished her books -- and I'm happy to say if Miss Wonderful is any indication, Ms. Chase's novels will not leave me wanting. She has a wonderfully dry, understated sense of humor, a sarcastic bent that I absolutely adored, and her characters just shine. The chemistry between Alistair and Mirabel practically leaps from the page with a deliciously palpable intensity, as at first blush these characters could not be more dissimilar -- yet Chase takes great delight in proving just how wrong first assumptions can be.

Given Alistair's history of romantic entanglements, it would be easy to classify him as a heartless rake, one more in a long line of stereotyped romance heroes. It's a trope I can enjoy, don't get me wrong -- but the manner in which Chase turns one's expectations on their head is delightfully refreshing. Alistair is a man who, when he loves, loves whole-heartedly, committing his all to his amours even as the entanglement inevitably resolves into one of his famed Episodes of Stupidity. But everything changed after Waterloo, and the lame man who emerged from the battlefield masked his emotions and intellect behind the facade of one of society's foremost dandies -- dressed to perfection, always ready with a cutting quip, all to mask his loss of memory surrounding the battle and a soul-deep conviction that he is wholly undeserving of the accolades bestowed upon him by merely by virtue of not dying. Alistair's desire to prove himself in business serves as an unexpected catalyst in his journey toward emotional wholeness, putting him in a position through which he is finally forced to -- and able to deal with -- confront the physical and emotional impact of his battlefield experiences. Thanks to Chase's superbly-shaded characterization, Alistair is a character who proves to be cleverer than his acquaintance at large thinks he has any right to be, and watching him come into his own, driven to make his way in the world is a joy.

I loved Mirabel. Not only is she a spinster, but she's older than the hero by two years -- which isn't much, granted, but it's a refreshing change from the norm in romances of this ilk, wherein the hero is inevitably older, wiser, and more experienced than his romantic counterpart. While she may be completely, hilariously, clueless about fashion and hairstyles, Mirabel is passionate, smart, and dedicated. I loved her business acumen and hard-won respect as a woman choosing to do a "man's work," a choice born from a heartbreaking combination of desire and necessity. Out of this desperate combination of loneliness, desire, and attraction, Mirabel finds herself very much the initiator in her relationship with Alistair, which I loved for her gumption and vulnerability. And while it kind of broke my heart that she plunged into a physical relationship without any thought (initially) of the eventual emotional consequences, it's a testament to Chase's characterization that I still deeply empathized with her even as I couldn't quite support her willingness to give herself to what she is initially sure will only be a passing fling. 

Miss Wonderful proved to be a fantastic introduction to Ms. Chase's writing, and I cannot wait to explore her backlist further. Her sense of humor is laugh-out-loud funny, and her gift for wry, hilarious understatement makes her prose positively shine. Alistair has to rank as one of my favorite heroes in recent memory -- not only is he wonderfully sarcastic and impeccably turned out at all times, but he's positively addicted to emotional vulnerability. *wink* While Chase's leads are polished perfection, fantastic examples of characters whose experiences run the emotional gamut over the course of the novel, her supporting players leave something to be desired, the notable exception being Mirabel's delightfully quirky father. However, the hint that both sets of parents may have had a subtle hand in introducing their offspring? -- a delightful, well-played surprise. Unlikely lovers Alistair and Mirabel's relationship sizzles with electric chemistry. Couple their engaging relationship with a fast-paced plot and a gentle examination of the effects of PTSD in Alistair's life, balanced with warmth, compassion, and laugh-out-loud humor, and the result is a frothy, funny romance that is a sheer joy to read -- Miss Wonderful proves very wonderful indeed.

About the book:

Alistair Carsington really, really wishes he didn't love women quite so much. To escape his worst impulses, he sets out for a place far from civilization: Derbyshire -- in winter! -- where he hopes to kill two birds with one stone: avoid all temptation, and repay the friend who saved his life on the fields of Waterloo. But this noble aim drops him straight into opposition with Miss Mirabel Oldridge, a woman every bit as intelligent, obstinate, and devious as he -- and maddeningly irresistible. 

Mirabel Oldridge already has her hands full keeping her brilliant and aggravatingly eccentric father out of trouble. The last thing she needs is a stunningly attractive, oversensitive and overbright aristocrat reminding her she has a heart -- not to mention a body he claims is so unstylishly clothed that undressing her is practically a civic duty. 

Could the situation be any worse? And why does something that seems so wrong feel so very wonderful?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Review: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars #1)
By: Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
Publisher: Vintage


Never say never, for ten years after she fled Neptune for New York and a law degree, Veronica Mars is back, determined to embrace the essential part of herself she fought so long to deny -- the part that thrives as a private investigator. But while Veronica may be ready to embrace her destiny, convincing her father that she's made the right decision is another matter entirely. While Keith recovers from the attack that nearly claimed his life during the Bonnie DeVille murder investigation, Veronica is attempting to keep Mars Investigations afloat. But a chance to save Mars Investigations comes from an unlikely source -- the Neptune Chamber of Commerce. Spring break is big business in Neptune -- big business that is threatened by the recent disappearance of college student Hayley Dewalt. The money would get Mars Investigations' books in the black once again (irritating Sheriff Lamb is just a bonus), and despite her distaste for Neptune's elite, Veronica agrees. But nothing is as it seems, and the deeper she digs into Hayley's disappearance, the more dangerous the investigation becomes -- and when a second girl vanishes, Veronica finds that her past has come back to haunt her. The price of embracing her calling as a PI may be higher than she's preparing to pay...

Now, I'm far from an expert "marshmallow," but I love Veronica Mars and her snark and her film noir-shaded glory and, who am I kidding, LOGAN. So I was thrilled when the ground-breaking Kickstarter campaign took off and a the long-awaited movie was released last month -- and if ever there was a LoVe (couldn't resist) letter to the fans, it was that pitch-perfect film that hit all the right  notes and left me wanting more. Happily, Rob Thomas foresaw this contingency and provided for it with The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, the first in a proposed series of official Veronica Mars novels. People, this is continuity HEAVEN.

I've read my fair share of tie-in fiction (i.e., Star Wars, Doctor Who), and this is among the best I've ever encountered. Building on the momentum of the movie release, The Thousand Dollar Tan Line immerses you into Veronica's world once more, with all of the twists, turns, and quips that passionate fans love so much they just couldn't let the show die. Similar to the film, this book is a love letter to the fans, chock-full of the characters we know and love and references to past cases, all while moving Veronica forward. This is beautifully showcased in her relationship with Keith, as they work through the stress of his recovery and his disappointment and anger that Veronica has returned to embrace the life he'd thought -- hoped -- she'd escaped forever.

As a fan this book was an absolute joy to read. I loved watching Veronica work through the mystery of Hayley's disappearance as the demons that once plagued her life resurface in a WONDERFULLY surprising manner. The voices are very-nearly pitch-perfect, the pacing is electric, and the atmosphere is sublime. If this is the quality of storytelling one can expect from future volumes in this series, I hope it goes on forever. #marshmallowforlife

About the book:

From Rob Thomas, the creator of the television series and movie phenomenon Veronica Mars, comes the first book in a thrilling mystery series that picks up where the feature film left off.

Ten years after graduating from high school in Neptune, California, Veronica Mars is back in the land of sun, sand, crime, and corruption. She’s traded in her law degree for her old private investigating license, struggling to keep Mars Investigations afloat on the scant cash earned by catching cheating spouses until she can score her first big case.

Now it’s spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is no simple missing person’s case; the house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

In Veronica Mars, Rob Thomas has created a groundbreaking female detective who’s part Phillip Marlowe, part Nancy Drew, and all snark. With its sharp plot and clever twists, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line will keep you guessing until the very last page.