The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Genre: Mystery (of sorts)
Main characters: John Gabriel Utterson; it is through him that we get to know Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde
Time and place: 19th century London

First sentence:Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance, that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary, and yet somehow lovable.

Verdict: Wow. Loved it, despite the fact that is started out rather slow and I already knew what the big twist at the end was going to be.

Summary
Mr. Utterson just knows there is something wrong with his friend Jekyll. Not only he’s been acting withdrawn lately, but he also changed his will with an unusually worded one. The new version states that were something to happen to Jekyll, were he to suddenly disappear, a certain Mr. Hyde is to inherit all of his fortune. Now, Utterson has only a passing acquaintance with this Hyde, but he agrees with everyone else who’s ever met him: there’s something about him that sends shivers down people’s spines; he feels… evil. Utterson suspects that the man is somehow forcing Jekyll’s hand, perhaps even scheming to kill him, to get his hands on his fortune; he feels compelled to solve the mystery of the man, and rescue his friend from his clutches.

“If he be Mr. Hyde,” he had thought, “I shall be Mr. Seek.”

But then a murder happens; Hyde kills someone in cold blood, and there has been a witness. Wanted by the police, Hyde disappears. In his absence, Jekyll flourishes again, becoming the man he once was.

But then…

General impression
First of all, I was surprised to see that this is a very short book. Until now my sole acquaintance to the story has been via the musical, and the plot there has a bunch of characters, including not one but two romantic interests. As such, discovering that the book has little to no plot at all, and very few characters was… quite unexpected, to say the least. It is obvious while reading that the author intended it to be a novella centered around a mystery, no more.

We’re first introduced to Hyde, via a secondary character. The peculiar way he makes people around him feel does not go unnoticed. A connection between him and Jekyll is mentioned in passing — he has a check with the latter’s name on it — and it is the first time their association makes Mr. Utterson uncomfortable. He has some suspicions, and it is obvious that the reader is supposed to share them, and is supposed to wonder, together with him, about this Mr. Hyde — who might he be, what does he have on Jekyll for the latter to act so strangely whenever the former is mentioned? A web of misdirection is woven around the reader, and I was sorry that I already knew the key to the mystery, because otherwise I am certain I would have found the big reveal simply stunning.

THERE WILL BE SPOILERS FROM HERE ON
(although since there’s an expression that has entered the vernacular you too probably know who Hyde was and how he related to Jekyll; however, in case you don’t, you definitely want to stop reading here)

Since nothing much other than the big reveal happens in the book, and the said big reveal was anything but a mystery to me, my expectations rapidly lowered towards the ending. For a while the book seemed flat and I didn’t expect to enjoy the remaining pages — and I was surprised to see I did. I thought the ending was handled very, very well: I knew who Hyde was, of course, but I didn’t know how he came to be, or how he came to stay, and I loved the missing pieces I have only now discovered. For example, I loved the theory Jekyll had about man’s dual’s nature:

I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both; and from an early date, even before the course of my scientific discoveries had begun to suggest the most naked possibility of such a miracle, I had learned to dwell with pleasure, as a beloved daydream, on the thought of the separation of these elements. If each, I told myself, could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path, doing the good things in which he found his pleasure, and no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil.

I loved how Hyde was at first a smaller man, as Jekyll mostly led a noble life until then, a life that did not allow the evil side of him the chance to grow:

The evil side of my nature, to which I had now transferred the stamping efficacy, was less robust and less developed than the good which I had just deposed. Again, in the course of my life, which had been, after all, nine-tenths a life of effort, virtue, and control, it had been much less exercised and much less exhausted. And hence, as I think, it came about that Edward Hyde was so much smaller, slighter, and younger than Henry Jekyll.

It’s interesting to notice that in time, as Hyde got to satisfy his every pleasure, this is reflected in his physical appearance too: his size actually increases. And then, I loved how the discovery of the drug that alternately let Hyde free and imprisoned him back in Jekyll’s skin was nothing but a fluke — Jekyll seems to have bought a certain medicine that was (unbeknownst to him) impure, one way or another; when his initial supply is depleted there is nothing he can do to recreate his potion again. I also loved the description of Jekyll’s feelings in his first moments as Hyde:

There was something strange in my sensations, something indescribably new and, from its very novelty, incredibly sweet. I felt younger, lighter, happier in body; within I was conscious of a heady recklessness, a current of disordered sensual images running like a mill-race in my fancy, a solution of the bonds of obligation, an unknown but not an innocent freedom of the soul. I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil; and the thought, in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine.

A thing that I did not love as much was the ending: show spoiler

Although of course I do realize this is the only way things could have been satisfactorily ending. Ah, but still.

Nitpick: something that has somewhat disappointed me in the story is that the initial theory was that Jekyll was searching for a way to separate the evil side of a person from his good side. And he did manage to isolate the evil in him, in the person of Hyde. Thing is, he explains at one point that this is the way the drug works:

The drug had no discriminating action; it was neither diabolical nor divine; it but shook the doors of the prison-house of my disposition; and like the captives of Philippi, that which stood within ran forth. At that time my virtue slumbered; my evil, kept awake by ambition, was alert and swift to seize the occasion; and the thing that was projected was Edward Hyde.

(this very idea is another one of the things I loved about the book)

Thing is, by this description I would have expected him to be alternately good and evil — under the incarnation of Hyde I figure that the good, angelic side of Jekyll is the one that’s imprisoned (since all evil was Hyde, only the good parts remained). Which makes me think that taking the drug again should have imprisoned Hyde (and all the evil with him) and set free everything that was good in Jekyll (probably in the guise of a third character). Yet this is not how it happens — the evil side is alternately set free (Hyde), or mixed back in with the good (Jekyll), a thing that I think directly contradicts the aforementioned quote.

Not that I am complaining all that much. But still, my nitpicky nature felt the need to comment on it :)

Recommend it to?
I expect everyone and their mother has read this (teensy, tiny) book by now. However, I heartily recommend it, as long as you know not to expect anything sensational: it’s a simple, straightforward story, that hinges on one big twist at the end. Of course, the contemporary reader knows what the twist is, but I thought the book enjoyable nonetheless.

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And Then He Kissed Her by Laura Lee Guhrke

Genre: Historical Romance
Main characters: Miss Emmaline Dove, Harrison Robert Marlowe
Time and place: 1890s, London
First sentence:Working for a handsome man is fraught with difficulties.
Verdict: Cute but forgettable.

Summary
She knew the rules for nearly everything, and yet, she couldn’t help wondering if those rules had anything to do with what was right and what was wrong. Worse, she was beginning to think that despite being a mature woman of thirty years, she knew nothing at all about life.

Growing up in a family obsessed with morals and propriety, Emma knows everything there is to know about society rules. She wants to share her knowledge to the world, and what better way to do that than write a book? Especially as Emma works as the secretary of Viscount Marlowe, the owner of the city’s leading publishing house. And yet, try as she might and edit as she might, the Viscount is adamant that what she writes about is too boring to ever see the light of print.

And then one day Emma decides she’s had enough. She resigns her job and takes her manuscript to Marlowe’s main competitor, who offers her a column in one of his papers. She’s almost an overnight success, to Marlowe’s complete and utter surprise. What’s more, he’s downright awestruck by the changes her newly found situation effected in Emma: as a secretary she was a mousy thing, “as dry as dust“, always doing her lord’s bidding and always keeping her thoughts to herself; now however she turns out to be quite the opposite, she has a temper, and behind her propriety there is a fiery passion that Marlowe would so like to explore.

And then he kissed her…

Setting
Ten years before the book opens, Harry, the Viscount Marlowe, has divorced his then wife. What started out as a serious case of love at first sight (“I knew nothing of her character, nothing of her mind, nothing of her temperament, but I didn’t care. I fell in love with her the first moment I looked into her eyes. She had the biggest, darkest, saddest eyes I’d ever seen. I’d set myself on marrying her before the introductions were even finished.“), ended up in disaster, so for Harry there was no other choice. A divorce however was considered in very bad taste at the time, so, although he had both money and a title, society shunned him. What is worse, his sisters were shunned too, and in an era when a proper marriage was important this hurt their perspectives quite a bit.

Years have passed and things are slowly coming back to a semblance of normality. Harry however still feels guilty about it, and he has sworn he will never get married again. He chose to live the life of a rake (totally unsurprising in such a book), having a string of mistresses he doesn’t really care about, nor does he ever spend more than a few months with1. And this is the state of the matters when the new, radically improved Emma enters the stage :)

Characters
At thirty, Emma considers herself firmly “on the shelf”. She’s a “girl bachelor”, “a woman, I was told, who should not indulge in self-pity because she has no husband and must earn her own living. Instead, she should be cheerful in her tiny little flat, practice strict economies and stringent moral principles, and make the best of her “unfortunate situation”2. Which is exactly the way Emma has built her life: she lives frugally in a tiny flat she shares with her cat, Mr. Pigeon, and when it comes to decisions she always makes the sensible ones. The turning point is her thirtieth birthday, when she realizes that her best years are behind her, and she has rather wasted them by never listening to her heart. So she quits her job, takes her life in her own hands, and never looks back.

Harry is described as “one of Britain’s rarest commodities: an eligible peer with money” :)
His mind revolves around his business and his strategies, because he enjoys a challenge, but also because he wants his family to lack nothing, as they are the ones who had to take the fall for his mistake all those years before. His heart is still smarting after his failed marriage, as he had dearly loved his wife and was completely unprepared for the misery each of them brought to the other. Something I really liked about him is that he is not afraid to admit his mistakes and take steps to correct them; he tries hard not to let his own opinions influence his views on cold, hard facts. Which doesn’t mean that his own biases never get in the way, it just means that he’s aware of said biases and knows when and how to scuttle around them.

Plot
There’s not much plot to speak of :)
This is mostly a character-driven story, where the interesting part is getting to see our two characters helping each other grow. This is most noticeable with Emma, who finally manages to let go of the overly-constrictive way she was brought up to live in (for example, she firmly believed that, when it comes to eating poultry in public, a woman should only eat the wings, because there is no equivalent human body part; anything else would be indecent). This is done very nicely, in a gradual and believable manner, and it’s one of the best parts of the book. As for Harry, he’s a bit more cliché, as his change mainly involves turning from a regular rake to a reformed one, but following his journey is fun nonetheless :)

What I liked most
Emma’s thoughts on turning 30 :)
Actually, the fact that she was thirty — what a coincidence, I am 30 too :P — because one sees this quite rarely in historical romance books (while the reason for it is quite obvious, I enjoyed the variation nonetheless)

What I liked least
There is a scene where Harry and Emma are left alone in a parlour, while the landlady is shortly detained elsewhere. Harry takes advantage of the fact that Emma’s propriety would not let her make a scene and starts telling her all the things he would like to do to her if the situation permitted. Emma enjoys it, despite herself, but the same cannot be said of me, as for some reason I have found that whole (long!) scene a total bore. I am willing to bet that the same scene is considered the best one by many, but I didn’t feel it advanced the action in any way. I get that it’s supposed to awaken in Emma the awareness of her own desires, but did it really need all those pages to do that? Yawn.

Thoughts on the ending
Quite a cute HEA :)
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
People who enjoy reading romance books, of course. It’s a nice, enjoyable story, not to mention its current Goodreads score is 3.92, the folks over at Dear Author‘s gave it an A, and Emmaline was chosen Best Heroine of 2007 in AAR’s 2008 reader poll.

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | Laura Lee Guhrke’s website

  1. I cannot help wondering why a behaviour like that — breaking female hearts over and over again — would be considered attractive, and yet romance books abound in rakes other than normal, nice guys. Perhaps because at the time there was hard to find a middle ground, a guy could be either a rake or a total abstinent, and for some reason the former is considered better than the latter. []
  2. quote from the author’s website []

The Solitary House by Lynn Shepherd

Genre: Historical Fiction
Main characters: Charles Maddox
Time and place: 1850, London
First sentence: London.
Verdict: Cleverly written.

Summary
Charles Maddox is a private detective, following in the footsteps of his uncle, a renowned thief-taker, whose name he shares.

It started like an easy enough case. Charles was hired by a lawyer to find who sent threatening letters to Sir Julius Cremorne, a powerful man of the day. He promptly acquits himself of the task; the very next day the man he found ends up dead. This piques Charles’s interest, and also his sense of justice. It is obvious to him that Sir Julius is hiding something and Charles does not plan to give up until he find out what that is and has the killer facing the justice he deserves.

General impression
Yet another NetGalley book :)

I was drawn in by the writing style, and the POV which I found quite original. It’s third person yet not omniscient, although it’s not fully limited to what Charles sees & knows either. Also, it had a way of breaking the fourth wall now and then, conversing to the reader in such a way that at times the book felt like being a story told to me by a friend. A quote, for you to make an idea:

[Mrs. McLeod introduces the new servant girl to Charles]
There’s something else I have not yet mentioned, and nor, for that matter, has Mrs McLeod. In her defence, the point is so obvious that Charles can see it for himself. I do not have her excuse and you, of course, can only see what I allow you to see. So here it is: The girl is beautiful, and she is black.

Setting
Charles lives with his well-to-do uncle in a good part of London, but other than that his job makes him spend most of the time in the poor, dreary parts of the city. The author is great when it comes to descriptions, and the book’s atmosphere remembered me of the one in Drood (there’s even a mention of dead babies, although in a different context). I know it’s only natural for the two books to share the same atmosphere, as they both deal with 1850 London, but what I consider the nice touch is the way both of them drew me in and made me feel like I was there in a way1.

Characters
I don’t know precisely what I was expecting from Charles, but I do know he took me by surprise. Although he is yet young he has been hardened by his job in the police force, and he is anything but naive. He’s stubborn and well-suited for the life he chose: nothing scares him, no sight’s too gory for him, plus he has a high pain threshold — alas, all these traits will come in handy throughout his adventure in this book. He has a closed personality, perhaps as a result of the guilt he feels over a mistake he made as a child, one that drove his whole family apart. His uncle compares him to “a bright sheet of smooth paper, folded and folded and folded again until it is nothing more than a hard tight knot, closed into a fist“. He’s also a bit of a scientist, he collects curios, and he is owned by a black cat he really cares about. I liked this about him, the fact that the author gave him a background, and hobbies unrelated to his work, thus making him feel like a real person, not just a stock figure.

Also, Charles has a sense of humor:

[Charles is seriously beaten up; when asked what happened he says:]
“I got into a — disagreement.That man I’ve been looking for took quite unreasonable umbrage at discovering me snooping through his things, and decided to make his displeasure known in concrete form. At least that’s what it felt like.”

Relationships
About two thirds of the book follow Charles’ investigations, while a third covers the story of a (mysterious?) girl. While these two will get to meet for a short bit, somewhere near the end, there is otherwise no relationship between them (although one might have expected a hero and a heroine to end up together :) ). I actually like these kinds of books, where there is no romance mentioned, as it’s not easy to build a believable relationship from the fringes (this being a mystery book the mystery is supposed to take center stage, while the romance has to take a back seat), and I’d rather have it missing than badly done.

There is however a relationship worth mentioning: the one between Charles and his now old and ailing uncle. Charles Maddox the elder once had an inquisitive mind (alas, he has Alzheimer now) and a keen intuition. In all his career he only had two cases he could not solve; he is the one who had taught his nephew, our hero, the tricks of the trade. The two were always quite close, and now, as Elder Charles can no longer care for himself and his household, Young Charles has stepped up to the task. There is a certain tenderness in Young Charles’ manner when he sees his uncle reduced to a shell of his former state. One can see he cares for his uncle, and in the latter’s few moments of lucidity it is obvious that despite his gruff manner he cares for his nephew too.

Plot
Ah, the plot. The reason my interest in the book was not as high as it could otherwise have been. I usually like detective novels, especially the ones like the Kinsey Milhone series, where one detective starts following various threads, and eventually manages to unravel them with the mighty power of his logical thinking. Unfortunately there were times when I couldn’t quite follow the thread (some things appeared out of nowhere, or so it seemed to me2), and after a while I gave up even trying to see the logic of it all. I kept reading, of course, but no longer caring for the said investigation — a thing that severely hindered my enjoyment of the book as the investigation plays quite a major part in it.

An example:
Beside the Cremorne case, Charles has another one: he’s been hired by a man called Chadwick to find the daughter he repudiated sixteen years ago, because she was pregnant. Apparently she died after giving birth, but the old man now repents and wants to find his grandchild. Charles’ one lead is one of the women in the staff of the workhouse where the poor girl ended up after her parents threw her out of her home.

Charles: I’m looking for a girl who gave birth there, sixteen years ago.
Lady: Oh, but there were plenty of them.
Charles: Her name is Chadwick.
Lady: I do not remember.
Charles: She died a short while after giving birth.
Lady: Wait, I know a girl like that [More details follow]. Only her name was not Chadwick. And she didn’t die.
Me: ***What???***

Alas, this is a false lead, meaning that the girl the lady was thinking of is not the girl Charles was looking for, but this seemed so very contrived to me at the moment of reading that my interest in following along with the investigation promptly vanished.

What I liked most
Sir Percival Glyde :) :)
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw him being a part of this book, albeit a minor one. This book takes place a little after Laura has managed to escape the asylum where she was being kept as Anne Catherick, and the nurse who helped her escape is one of the minor characters. I loved this part, especially as earlier on our Charlie is saved from an accident by Wilkie Collins himself, and Charles Dickens too. So very cool :)
(according to the acknowledgements Charles has chance encounters with other book characters too, but I did not recognize them, as I am not familiar with the works in question. My loss.).

A reference I did recognize was the way the first few sentences mirrored the ones in Bleak House (for some reason I’ve known the latter by heart ever since high school). This is how Bleak House begins:

London. Implacable November weather. The Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall.

This is how this book begins:

London. Michaelmas term lately begun, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather.

This makes me very sorry that I have not read Bleak House, because some of the characters of that book (Tulkinghorn, Inspector Bucket) are also present in this one. There are also some parallels between the two plots: Hester and Clara having Mr. Jarvis as their guardian reminded me of Bleak House’s Esther and Ada Clare being the wards of Mr. Jarndyce. There’s also a Rick, in both books, not to mention that they all live in the title house :) Also, the dialogue between Hester and Mr. Jarvis when they first got to the house almost mirrors the one in the same circumstances of Bleak House exactly:

“You are clever enough to be the good little woman of our lives here, my dear,” he returned playfully; “the little old woman of the rhyme, who sweeps the cobwebs of the sky, and you will sweep them out of our sky in the course of your housekeeping, Esther.”

This was the beginning of my being called Old Woman, and Mother Hubbard, and Dame Durden, and so many names of that sort, that my own soon became quite lost.

This idea of Hester/Esther’s that she’s not very clever also appears in both books. Alas, unfortunately the parallels I detected stop here (I never got past the first few pages of Bleak House that I studied in school), but I am sure there are plenty of them from then on too. Again, my loss, as I am sure I would have enjoyed finding those parallels tremendously.

Unrelated, an idea I liked:

Maddox sniffs. “At least [Jane Austen] could write decent prose, which is more than I can say for [Charles Dickens]. [...] Though even she seemed to consider a wedding an ending, rather than a beginning. It is usually quite the opposite way around, in my opinion. And in my experience.”

Thoughts on the title
If I am not mistaken, this is the US title of the book, the UK one being Tom-All-Alone’s (the name of a London cemetery). Both places (Tom All Alone’s and The Solitary House) make brief appearances in the book; however, I find The Solitary House a lot more important in the plot development than TAA’s, and as such I think the US one is the better title. Also, if we were to consider merely the words, regardless of their connection to the book, I’d still like the US version better, as I find it gives away a mysterious and Gothic vibe.

Thoughts on the ending
I really enjoyed the twist at the end, which I seriously did not see coming. I’ve been wondering all throughout the book what Sir Cremorne’s awful deed may be; I was afraid that whatever it was it would not prove serious enough to justify the murders. And, while I have not yet decided whether his secret was worthy of bloodshed, let’s just say it was even more awful than I expected.

show spoiler

Recommend it to?
I encourage any mystery lover to give it a shot. It may seem slow in parts, yet I for one felt that the twist at the end was worth it :) All the more encouragement if you happen to like Bleak House, or The Woman in White.

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | Lynn Shepherd’s website

  1. I say “in a way” because I don’t think I, with my nice comfy life, can truly imagine those conditions []
  2. admittedly, there was at least one instance where matters cleared up after re-reading the last few pages, so it may be not entirely the book’s fault []

Unraveled by Courtney Milan

Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance
Main characters: Miranda Darling, Smite Turner
Time and place: Bristol, 1843
First sentence:Well, Billy Croggins, why are you here again?
Verdict: Enjoyed it a lot, yet a bit less than the rest of the series.

Summary
It’s a sweet tale, about kittens and puppies and rainbows and love.

Well, there are some stray cats at one time. And a dog. And a rainbow of sorts ( :) :) ). And love enough to conquer all.

Miranda Darling lives in ‘the other side of the town’, the area where the poor live and the bad smells abound, the streets where the law is more of a guideline than a rule. A mysterious person called the patron makes the rules there, and Miranda has no choice but to obey. They have a sort of agreement that she will serve him once a month — and usually this ‘service’ he needs of her involves a brush-up with the law. Nothing truly bad, but nothing completely clean either.

Smite Turner spends his days as a magistrate in Bristol. He is so devoted to his duty that people joke around him that he’s married to his work. He has a fantastic memory, that allowed him to see through Miranda’s disguise when she almost committed perjury in his court. He warns her off it, and she knows that it’s in her best interest to mind his warning. And yet the Patron sends her out again…

General impression
Ah, the book of Smite. I bought it a few months ago and been waiting for a special moment to savor it, like a treat. And quite a treat it was, for the most part. However, my expectations were sky high, so it’s little wonder that I ended up a wee bit disappointed.

Characters
One of the reasons I like this series is that Ms. Milan knows how to build compelling, multi-dimensional characters.

Smite has a painful past, that still gives him nightmares. Their family was poor, the mother was going mad, and no one ever helped them. As a child, he went to the town elders to beg them to intervene, lest he or his brother should end up hurt by their mother. But no one listened to him, and his mother punished him savagely when she found out. Now an adult, Smite takes great pains never to forget that. He lives an austere life, almost devoid of comfort, because he worries that if the nightmares will stop he will forget how important it is to be just to the under-privileged, to always hear their side of the story too.

In his own words:

“I do not fear what comes at night. I dread its absence. I fear being caged by luxury. I fear that one day I will no longer understand desperation, and with that, I will slowly stop listening to what others have to say.” [...] “I don’t regret what circumstances have made of me, inconvenient though they may be. I make a difference.”

Miranda too is a fighter. A child of actors, she has been raised on the road as she was travelling with her parents troupe. However, she was lucky enough to be well educated, as one of the men in the troupe was an ex-Oxford teacher, no less. She had a happy childhood, but everything changed when she lost her mother. Her father simply stopped functioning; the troupe broke. Miranda was left at sixteen to fend for herself and for Robbie, an eight year old boy whose mother abandoned him. It’s only then, faced with the real world, that she discovers how sheltered her prior life was. And yet she does her best, with courage, despite the fact that Robbie treats her surly and she’s always terrified about what he might decide to do next.

Relationships
As usual, the family dynamic among the Turners is one to be enjoyed. There are some frictions still between Ash and Smite, as the former still feels the need to help the latter somehow, to compensate for not being there for him when they were kids, yet even these are resolved by the end of the book (which sadly is also the end of the series *sigh*).

And then, of course, there’s the relationship between the two main characters. A relationship that I was happy to notice was, despite the conditions they have met in, based on trust. When Miranda sees him in a less-than-honorable situation (throwing up in the bushes) Smite, the upright, the efficient, cannot let her wonder what was that about1, and also cannot lie, so he tells her about his childhood trauma and the effects on him. Later on, he unwittingly hurts her, due to another unfortunate reflex the same trauma instilled in him. And, as the author puts it, he didn’t have enough experience dealing with women and feelings, so instead of doing what others might have done, buy her a trinket, he went to her and risked real intimacy. Told her his story, to make her understand. And thus he had a chance to discover that not only she didn’t think him “broken”, but admired him because he had faced everything he did and turned his trials into strength. I liked that the author took care of this earlier rather than later, getting it out of the way, letting the characters actually know each other throughout the book, rather than having them — or at least Smite — wear a mask for the most part.

You know, if there is one thing I very much LOVE (yes, with caps :) ) about Ms. Milan’s books, it’s this: the characters always communicate wonderfully. There are none of the pretenses found elsewhere (you know, the ‘I’ll act in a completely different way than I want to, to protect X’ kind of things). When Jessica was blackmailed in Unclaimed, she told Mark so. When Miranda was blackmailed, she went straight to Smite, although she knew he might send her away. When Smite thought it was best for Miranda to go, find someone else, less flawed than himself, he told her so, straight on, without trying to hide the effect this’ll have on him. And so on. If only more authors would do this rather than have their characters dissemble.

Plot
I think that the reason part of the book fell flat for me is the subplot regarding the Patron: there supposedly is this guy who runs a sort of crime cartel, and who Miranda has unwittingly struck a deal with when she was younger. And now she tries to get out of it, and bad things start happening. And, of course, Smite would want the Patron caught and entrusted to the long arm of the law. And the reader is supposed to be curious about who the Patron may be, etc etc. However, other than Miranda and her ‘ward’, Robbie, there is only one other family introduced in this book. A family that lives in the same area as Miranda and the Patron, and a family that knows Miranda’s every move, as one of the members is her best friend and confidant. Which is why it was beyond obvious all the way who the culprit was + it made me want to give Miranda a shake every time she had a talk with the best friend — alas, so many moments she spent revealing her secrets to her enemy. And I knew that, and of course I did not enjoy it.

What I liked
First of all, ever since first finding out about the Turner brothers’ names — they were named by their mother, who had a sort of religion mania — I was curious what might Smite’s name be. And now I know, and I am happy to say that it is far less violent than I imagined:
The Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every living thing, as I have done.
It’s a Bible verse about what God told Noah, after the flood. Making Miranda exclaim, after she found it out, that Smite was named after the rainbow :) :)

Miranda’s name is not bland either. Her full name is Miranda Darling, and Smite usually calls her that. She always wonders whether he means Miranda Darling, as in her name, or Miranda-comma-darling, with an endearment term. Not that Smite is one for endearments, but he too enjoys the ambiguity of it.

Also, I loved Smite’s sense of humor, his sarcasm that he uses to strike at those who annoy him. He and Miranda are a perfect match from this point of view too, as she too can be (and is) sarcastic (but not cruel), and as such their banter is one of the things I enjoyed most in the book. I am actually sorry there is no fourth Turner brother (or sister. or distant acquaintance.), which means I’ll never get to see Miranda teasing Smite about his sentimentality quota2 again *sigh*.

A quote, to get an idea:

“An act,” Miranda repeated. “Stand as tall as you like, and frown at me all you wish. I saw you just now. You were feeding cats.”

“So I was. And do you make something of that?”

“You,” Miranda said daringly, “have a kind heart.”

He turned away from her, the tails of his greatcoat swirling about him.

“Don’t enlarge too much upon the matter. The cats were hungry. I had food. This seemed to be a problem with a ready solution. It’s not kindness to solve problems; it’s efficiency.”

“I stand corrected. You have an efficient heart.”

Thoughts on the title
Throughout the series, I have complained about the names being too ‘stock’ to be truly interesting. This book is the exception, as I totally love the title :) The reason? For once the author has clearly explained what the title refers to. It is the state of mind Smite finds himself in after he sent Miranda away:

“At the moment,” he muttered numbly, “I may be coming a bit unraveled.”

Which is probably the best declaration ever, coming from someone as in control of himself as Smite always was; and I was absolutely delighted by it.

Thoughts on the ending
The ending (other than the HEA I was looking forward do and was happy to get) felt a bit contrived. Again, it’s about the matter of the Patron, that was solved in a way that made everyone happy (everyone but me, the reader, who thought the stars have aligned a bit too well in this particular case)
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
All the historical romance lovers, of course. Although I recommend reading the previous books (Unveiled and Unclaimed) first, to get a sense of the family dynamics. The book is enjoyable by itself, but it is even more so if you know the back story.

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | Courtney Milan’s website | Courtney Milan on Twitter

This book is a sequel to:
Unveiled | Unlocked | Unclaimed

  1. or well, he probably could, but I imagine deep inside he was longing to share his secret with someone else []
  2. this sentimentality quota Smite has is a cool thing in itself. When he was thirteen, just starting at Eton, he devised this strategy where each day he had 30 minutes allotted to complain about how tough things were, while the rest of the time he worked to fix the problems he no longer allowed himself to complain about []

Pride & Passion by Charlotte Featherstone

Genre: Historical Romance
Main characters:Lady Lucy Ashton and Adrian York, Duke of Sussex
Time and place: late 19th century, London
First sentence:“Beyond the mists, the darkness and shadow, he waits, reaching out through a veil of gossamer threads — ‘your future,’ he whispers, ‘your destiny.’”
Verdict: Meh.

Summary:
Lucy, the offspring of a loveless family, has only one use in her father’s eyes: she has to marry well. And what better catch for her other than a duke? The Duke of Sussex, that is. Lucy is truly desperate as the news: she wants to marry for passion, just like her cousin Isabella, and in her eyes the duke is a stuffy bore that will never do anything less than ducal. They have even kissed once, and his lips felt like a dead fish. What is she to do?

General impression
First of all, thank you NetGalley for the book. This is not one of my favorites from the site, but hey, it is not their fault I ended up not liking it. The reason I requested this was that it had glowing reviews, and I was looking for something to pass the time until the next Turner book (as yet unscheduled) will come along. Unfortunately it ended up touching on too many of my pet peeves for me to truly enjoy it.

Setting
A bit unexpectedly, the ton isn’t a part of the setting, as everything happens outside the Season (how cool, this may be my first book where that’s the case). What we have instead is a mysterious society, the Brethren Guardian, consisting of three people that are tasked to guard three ancient relics, in order “to protect the world from an evil they had no idea lurked amongst them“. And there’s of course a villain, supposedly the descendant of a missing fourth Guardian (or was it Guardian wannabe?), who lets nothing stand in the way of his destroying the Brethren. For yes, the duke does want Lucy to be his, but there are other pressing matters vying for his time and attention too.

Characters
I didn’t much like Lucy. While I can buy her interest in the occult, I couldn’t get many of her reactions. I found her to be a bit of a drama queen, as the author keeps insisting on how brittle she was on the inside, how she has given up all her dreams after her father has chased away the boy she liked, how she is hiding everything of her behind a mask, etc etc; by the third repetition I did kinda get tired of it. However, in Sussex’s eyes she can do no wrong, as he takes every reaction of hers and spins into something unique and wonderful (the funniest such part being when she bluntly tells him she has no feelings for him, and he thinks something along the lines of ‘other women may have tried to soften the blow’, implying that she’s too wonderful to do that, namely to care for other people’s feelings). In her defense, she’s not all bad, as she does have a few good moments, but still I did not like her overall.

Sussex, on the other hand, is the mysterious, brooding kind that is the perfect fit for such a book. He hides many secrets but carries his burden well. His determined tenacity accepts no obstacles, and his behaviour in society is (mostly) flawless. Oh, and his whole face changes when he smiles, the rigid demeanor set aside. Unfortunately he has chosen Lucy as the target of his affections, and so my lack of interest for her kinda expanded over him too (it’s hard to respect a guy who’s so hang up on someone like I think Lucy is).

As for the villain, Orpheus, it’s like the author cannot decide on his level of mysteriousness. The Brethren are supposed to be chasing him, he should be hard to find. And yet he’s basically the old-fashioned equivalent of a select night club owner. Lots of people know about his ‘lair’, and lots of people manage to gain admittance too (the whole thing is supposed to be a secret and yet there’s more than one person willing to bring a random lover inside the inner circle). Sure, he is not always in his club, but there are times he is; at times ceremonies are sometimes organized, and everyone there knows he will attend. Let’s just say this isn’t how I would have expected a guy like him (on a mission, and with something to hide) to act.

There were some characters that I did like. Such as Elizabeth, Sussex’s blind sister, who is strong and determined and everything Lucy isn’t (she too has had a harsh disappointment years before, she too has had a much unfeeling parent, but you don’t see her complaining about not daring to have dreams anymore, and oh how brittle she is, and more such nonsense). And then there’s Alynwick, another of the Brethren, and also Laird of the Clan Sinclair (*sigh*), a conflicted spirit and a notorious rake, who just begs for a love story of his own :) (and I do believe the next volume will be all about him). My favorite couple in the book :) (although they are not exactly a couple per se)

Relationships
A source of frustration for me, from the very first page Sussex is very much in love with Lucy. However we are not told how, or why that happened. He keeps dreaming about her physical qualities, and that’s about it. It’s a relationship that I do not get to see being born, and growing; I’m just told it exists and I’m supposed to believe it. And it seems like an easy cop-out of the author’s, ‘the relationship’s there because it’s there, now deal with it’, and it kept me from getting emotionally invested in the story.
(to be fair, this is actually explained later on, the when and the why of Sussex’s falling for Lucy; however this is done near the end of the book, and I had all the pages until then to be frustrated by this)

Plot
The book opens with Lucy having just found out that her former artist lover, whom she thought to have died in a fire, is actually alive. He’s also in the way of a secret society whose members are after him. And lo, one of those members happens to be Lucy’s arranged husband-to-be. At this point I believe that the reader is supposed to care both for Lucy and her as-yet-unmet beau — unfortunately (and besides the fact that I didn’t much care for Lucy at this stage, and as such her plight meant nothing to me) on the next pages we get to see the situation from Sussex’s point of view: according to him, Lucy’s beloved Thomas not only has killed someone, but he may also be the very enemy of the Brethren. So I sided with Sussex, wanting to kick Lucy with a shoe every time she daydreamed about her unfortunate connection. Even funnier is that, after starting out with Lucy very decidedly caring for Thomas (she even played with the occult just to be able to contact him once again), the perspective changes in a few pages, as she starts thinking that ‘hey, I didn’t care all that much for Thomas because after what happened to my first love (hint: not Thomas) I was left too shattered to be able to really love again’. Oh, and she was twelve when this ‘first love’ thing happened (it didn’t involve anything physical; however, is it plausible for her to be left so shaken that many years later, as an adult, she still has issues stemming from it?). Bottom line, I didn’t care about Lucy & her love story, I didn’t care about the whole Brethren business either (because I didn’t understand where it came from, and why it was so important), I did care for Sussex but in a rather limited amount, as I didn’t quite get his regard for Lucy — is it any wonder the book fell flat for me? There are some really good scenes now and then, but by themselves they didn’t feel enough to carry the whole book.

Thoughts on the title
I found it somewhat misleading, as the alliteration made me think of this being yet another version of Jane Austen’s novel. This book has nothing in common with the original P&P however, and, with this out of the way, the title does manage to stand on its own. Both ‘pride’ and ‘passion’ are, in a way, the things that stand between our H and h. Pride, because it is one of her main traits (in a very ‘tell, not show’ way, as she doesn’t act particularly proud, yet we are told repeatedly that her pride is considerate in size), and one of the reasons she rejects Sussex is that her pride is hurt that her father has arranged their marriage. And passion, because it’s the one thing Lucy looks for in a marriage (a bit at odds with her self-proclaimed inability to love again), and it is the very thing she thinks the ‘priggish’ duke of Sussex lacks :)

Thoughts on the ending
A HEA hinting that more things may happen (alas, a pet peeve of mine right there, ending on a cliffhanger so that the readers will buy the next book).
show spoiler

What I liked most
The way the author has managed to explain something :) (basically the last two sentences of the spoiler above)

What I liked least
First of all, I could have done without the ‘mystic’ part. One of my pet peeves, having supernatural stuff happen in books that are not fantasy or the likes. But let’s say that’s just me. (Speaking of the mystic, another scene I found rather funny was when Lucy goes to see her for the second time, and has her palm read; she is predicted a long happy life, with four children and a happy marriage based on a love so strong not even death could mess with, or something of the sort. And one of the next things the mystic says is “I begin tae think that maybe yer future is not yet fixed, and that ye might be the fortunate sort to change what it might be.“. Which basically means we have different definitions for the word fortunate :) to recap, Lucy was told her future is fixed, and she will live the perfect life, and then she was also told that perhaps she is fortunate enough to change it? :) :) )

Another thing that bothered me is the whole secret society part. It didn’t feel like something that fitted in, just a plot device to make things happen (I mean, secret relics? From where? Why does the secret society only have three people, and these particular three people at that? At one moment their cause is being presented as ‘a cause worth risking life and limb for‘ — what made it so important? etc). There are too many things unexplained about it (or perhaps they were explained in the previous book, but since I have not read that one…) to make it feel believable. Not to mention that the actual level of mysteriousness is very vague, to say the least. At one point Sussex thinks about how only him and his ‘brethren’ know about their society and relics; however a few pages earlier Lucy is mentioned as having had one of them in her hands (how come?), and Lizzy knows something of it, and Anastasia. Not to mention there’s Orpheus, their enemy, and his people (and he couldn’t have wanted the relics if he hadn’t known he existed, right?).

Another complaint:
show spoiler

Last but not least, what was Lizzy’s seeing-eye dog doing with Sussex and Lucy? If that (the scene with Rosie at the inn) didn’t sound contrived I don’t know what did. And to think it could have been easily fixed by making Rosie Lucy’s dog from the start, instead of Lizzy’s. Or at least dwelling a bit less on how much Rosie helped Lizzy manage her daily life, so it would be less pressing to think how is Lizzy to manage without her canine friend.

Recommend it to?
People who really like romance books, I guess. This wasn’t my cup of tea but, if you don’t mind any of my mentioned issues with it, by all means give it a try. It has a rating over 4 on Goodreads! :)

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | Charlotte Featherstone’s website

Unlocked by Courtney Milan

Genre: Historical Romance
Main characters: Evan Carlton, Earl of Westfeld & Lady Elaine Warren
Time and place: 1840-41, Hampshire and London
First sentence:It had been ten years since Evan Carlton, Earl of Westfeld, last entered a ballroom.
Verdict: Nice :)

Summary:

“It didn’t matter what people said; if you pretended not to hear it, they couldn’t embarrass you. She need show no reaction, need have no shame. If you didn’t acknowledge what they said, you need shed no tears. And so she’d hid her head in the sand and locked away everything about herself but a pale-haired marionette of a lady.”

This has been Lady Elaine’s life for the past ten years. Ever since her first season some of the popular people (especially Lady Diana and her cousin Evan) have ridiculed her for all sorts of reason. They nicknamed her Lady Equine, they mocked her laughter, her mother, and everything else. As years passed and it became quite obvious she was heading for spinsterhood, Elaine had only one thing to be grateful about: Evan, the chief tormenter and the guy she used to fancy before all this happened, has left England, and one could only hope he will never return.

Evan, ten years older than the nineteen year old who was the darling of society and the inventor of most of Elaine’s nicknames and torments, is now a completely changed man. He realizes not how cruel he was, and comes back ready to apologize and make amends. Is it any wonder that Elaine is not happy to see him again?

General impression
I usually don’t care much about novellas, as I don’t think there’s enough room for the characters to truly grow in such a short number of pages. I started this one, however, mainly because it was touted as being number 1.5 in the Turner series, and I was curious to know in what way the book (whose protagonists I knew were not Turners) fits in. As such, I was somewhat disappointed (although I was somewhat expecting it) to see that the Turners (Ash, married and a duke, and Mark, recently knighted) only put in one appearance at a ball. I was hoping either Evan or Elaine were some sorts of cousins to them; but in a book as short as this it should have been obvious to me from the start that it would not be room for anything else :)

ETA: Oh silly, silly me. As I was putting the finishing touches on this review I checked out the book’s page on the author’s site, and Lady Elaine is mentioned as having made an appearance in Unveiled. Which is why I went to check that book, and now I am deeply ashamed not to have remembered Margaret’s friend (mentioned there as twenty-five and yet unmarried due to her unfortunate laughter) — I mean, I did of course remember Margaret had a friend, but her name seemed to have slipped my mind so much that ‘Elaine Warren’ didn’t even sound vaguely familiar, not to mention remembering someone by that name. So yay, this makes it indeed Turner 1.5, as it’s actually related to the series in a way :) :)

Setting
A small-town society can be a hellish place to live in if people insist in making you the butt of their jokes. Which is exactly how Elaine’s life is, and was for the last ten years. People can make you or break you, or at least that’s the way things were, back then — and while Elaine fights not to let any of them show she’s hurt, the fact that all she has to look forward to is a life of loneliness and ridicule is not something she can easily overlook.

Characters
Let us just say that I found both main characters to be courageous, and I like that.

Elaine has the courage to stand up for herself, and every time Diana jabs at her she jabs right back, for her own satisfaction, as no one else is on her side. She never complains, as she’s too strong for that, and she bears her burden as best and quietly she can, trying not to let her mother see that anything’s amiss. I cannot imagine how tough her life must have been in the last years, but she has born everything as gracefully as could be. Which isn’t to say she has no personality; she has, and lots of it, but she has learn to hide it as much as possible (even her ball gowns are pale colors only) in order not to stand out and become more of a target.

As for Evan, he has the courage to admit what he did was wrong, and to fight to make things as right as possible again. Having spent the past few years either climbing Mont Blanc or preparing for it, his views comprise far more than the salons of the ton. He now sees his mistake, and his main purpose in life is to fix it :) And yes, I liked that about him.

Another character worth mentioning is Elaine’s mother, the female version of the absent-minded scientist of the day. She is passionate of math and astronomy, and research, and calculations, and similar things. She has one of the greatest minds of the age… unless it comes to more mundane matters, as for example she’s completely oblivious to the way people are treating her daughter, or even herself. I think her obliviousness was a tad exaggerated (this is Elaine’s eleventh season, after all, and her mother never notices something may be amiss). I found her an interesting character nonetheless (how often does one get to meet a Regency-era female astronomer after all :) )

Relationships
One of the things I loved most in the book is the way the relationship of Elaine and Evan of ten years ago was described. This was the riskiest part of the book if you ask me, as the reader must buy that Evan is a nice guy, Evan cares and has cared for Elaine, and Evan has mercilessly tormented her, all at once. If any of these parts hadn’t felt believable enough the book would have fallen flat. Needless to say, the author pulls it off. She does it so well that my regard for Evan actually went up a (small) notch. show spoiler

Thoughts on the title
Okay-ish, I guess. I do get the references to passion unlocked, and perhaps Elaine’s personality unlocked from the confines of self-consciousness — and yet I still wish it was something less generic than that.

Thoughts on the ending
Totally unsurprising :) show spoiler

What I liked most
The laughter :) I mean, OK, it wasn’t precisely nice sounding (somewhere between the sound of a horse and a pig, they say); however the fact that she used to have this unrestrained, glad-to-live-life kind of laughter definitely made me like her :) (and it also made the hero fall in love with her, but who’s counting :) )

What I liked least
Can I pretty please complain about the length again? Why yes, of course I knew it was a just a novella when I have picked it up, but I didn’t expect to miss Ms. Milan’s complexity of characters quite so much. I mean sure, Evan and Elaine are definitely not cardboard cutouts, yet they do not compare to the cast in Ms. Milan’s full-length novels (at least those I have read); not to mention the love story seemed positively rushed :) (not in terms of time, in terms of interesting things happening)

Recommend it to?
Anyone who likes a good Regency romance novella. :)

Buy this from amazon.com | Read it online or buy it (just $0.99) via Goodreads | Courtney Milan’s website | Courtney Milan on Facebook | Courtney Milan on Twitter

Other books in the Turner series:
Unveiled | Unclaimed | Unraveled

Unveiled by Courtney Milan

Genre: Historical Romance
Main characters: Lady Anna Margaret Dalrymple, Ash Turner
Time and place: 1837, Somerset & London
First sentence: So this was how it felt to be a conquering hero.
Verdict: Liked it & am looking forward to the sequel.

Summary:
After years of waiting, Ash Turner has found a way to get revenge on the distant relative who once could have saved his sister but let her die.

But the ensuing legal battle hurts innocents too, and Lady Anna Margaret is one of them. Although her brothers scurry away she stays behind, pretending to be her father’s nurse and hoping that when Ash will be around she will be able to spy on him, and use everything to her and her family’s advantage. She didn’t take into account the possibility that Mr. Turner could turn out to be likable. She didn’t think that she will fall in love.

General impression
First of all, I did like it. Ms. Milan is definitely on my list of must-try-more romance authors. It was such a treat to read this after reading and loving Unclaimed a short while ago. Especially as it allowed me to meet a younger version of Mark, still writing the book that will propel him in the ranks of nobility in a short while. Speaking of which, I am very glad that Unclaimed exists, as Mark’s character (a younger brother with a hard childhood, who is writing a book on chastity, of all things) definitely could use more exploring :) I am very looking forward to reading the book of Smite.

Characters
Ash is a rich business man who has built his fortune trading rubies. He left his family at fourteen, and he’s never gone to school. However, he has an unerring instinct when it comes to reading people, and to make himself liked by them; everything he’s managed to achieve is based on these two. And yet part of Ash feels he’s a failure. He has a responsibility to the welfare of the two brothers whom he adores, and all he wants to do is shower them with presents. They never, or very rarely accept anything from him, and Ash reads this as a reproach regarding the fact that those many years ago he has left them to fend for themselves. As the book opens, Ash is well on the way to inherit a dukedom, and a title. He is fighting tooth and nail for that, not for the sake of the money, or becoming a Duke, but for the things he will be able to do for his brothers if he succeeds.

And now you know my greatest weakness: my brothers. I want to give them everything. I want everyone in the world to realize how perfect they are. They are smarter than me, better than me.
[...]
And I’ll do anything—cross anyone, steal anything, destroy whatever I must—to give them what they deserve.

Either way, power suits Ash; he is intelligent, and kind, has principles, and has far broader views on society than his peers (having experienced a lot more ups and downs than most average gentlemen). He is a force to be reckoned with; and yet he has a vulnerable side too. This is one of the reasons I like Ms. Milan’s books so much, the fact that her heroes are confident, likable, yet flawed.

Lady Anna Margaret has lost everything — her fiancé, her mother, her fortune, her position in society. All her former acquaintances deny her, and she feels like she does no longer mean anything to anyone. It’s like she felt that her title, her high-birth defined her, and now that they are gone she feels there’s nothing of her left. Her one driving force is to help her brothers defeat the despicable Mr. Turner, in order for the three of them to become legitimate and rich once again. It’s interesting to notice how much she grows throughout the novel: in her previous, titled life she was nothing more than a silly child. Her misfortunes polished her, uncovering her inner strength; and then Ash came along and infused her with confidence. “You matter. You are important” he keeps telling her (and oh, how I loved that).

It is worth noting (something I also noticed when reading Unclaimed) that the characters do manage to have their own lives outside their love story. When they are separated they grieve; but they do not sit idly, looking at life pass them by, they try to get on with their lives at best they can. The mark of strong people, I’d say. It is easy to give up, it’s harder to go on. Their choices are not easy to make; their consequences are not easy to bear — yet Ash & Margaret (and Mark & Jessica) never let this stand in their way. And I liked that.

Relationships
Only one thing to be said here (other than my enthusiasm at the relationship between the three Turner brothers; they may not spell everything out, there may be misunderstandings between them, but it is obvious there is true affection between them, and that’s one of my favorite parts of the book(s)).

I remember I read somewhere a critique of this book that thought the employer/employee relationship that develops between Ash and Margaret was a touchy subject matter. And while I admit that I do see how such a relationship can generally be thought of as opportunistic, in this case I thought it very well handled. Ash has no regard for titles and social position. He never, not once, uses any of those to impose anything to the woman he thought was nothing more than a hired nurse. When he looks at her he never sees a subordinate, an inferior, but some magnificent creature that needs to be helped to discover her own strength (and he is happy to do for her just that).

A related quote:

“I want you to choose me,” he said, “well and truly choose me of your own accord. I don’t want you to wait at the crossroads in the hopes that I will force the choice upon you.”

Speaking of their relationship, and quotes, I found quite interesting the part where Ash first sets eyes on Margaret:

It reminded him of the cacophony of an orchestra as it tuned its instruments: dissonance, suddenly resolving into harmony. It was the rumble, not of thunder, but its low, rolling precursor, trembling on the horizon. It was all of that. It was none of that. It was sheer animal instinct, and it reached up and grabbed him by the throat. Her. Her.
[...]
It was not lust itself he felt, but the premonition of desire, as if the wind that whipped around his cravat were whispering in his ears. Her. Choose her.

Plot
A sort of Romeo and Juliet, in a way :)
Margaret hates the enemy of the family. She hates the one who made her lose everything, and she plans to do everything she can to help her brothers destroy him. But then she gradually discovers the man behind the name; day by day he wins her loyalty a bit more. Now, I already knew how this was going to end, having read the sequel and all, but what did keep me from even putting the book down (I read most of it in one sitting) was my curiosity regarding who will give up what, and how will they manage to reconcile their conflicting interests.

Thoughts on the title
I am somewhat conflicted about it. While I get what the author’s been trying to do, and I like the idea of a series with similar-sounding titles (Unveiled / Unlocked / Unclaimed / Unraveled), I am a bit unhappy with the title’s relevance to the book. I find it way too generic a word to actually mean something. Although to be fair it is not an entirely meaningless word (Margaret metaphorically unveils her inner self due to Ash encouraging her to believe in herself; Ash too unveils his innermost secrets) yet it is not as representative of the book as I would have liked (however I admit there’s a high chance the problem lies with me not the title).

Thoughts on the ending
As unexpected as could be, given the genre:)
show spoiler

What I liked most
I loved the way Ash treated people, especially those with a lower rank. Not only the class gap did not exist for him, but he also had a way of paying attention to people, of making them feel like they mattered to him. This is most obvious when it comes to Margaret, who is drawn towards him by this promise that she also could eventually believe that she mattered (something she has never felt before), and that she can be trusted. show spoiler

On a lighter note, I thought Ash’s threat to someone was pretty cool:

I will hire trumpets to stand outside your home every evening, where they will sound notes at irregular intervals. You will never have a solid night’s sleep again.

(cool in the sense that it would be so easy to put into practice, and so very efficient :) )

And the obligatory reference to Ash’s name (I did almost guess it, or at least the gist of it) :
show spoiler

What I liked least
While not precisely a complaint per se, the book felt a bit repetitive at times. Everything makes sense, nothing is gratuitously repeated, and yet… perhaps I would have liked it more if some words/notions would have appeared less.
(an example off the top of my head would be the part where Ash encourages Margaret to paint her own canvas, and she reminds herself to do so many times after; I got the fact that she was trying to garner strength from those words, and I commend her for it, yet as a reader I definitely wouldn’t have minded not reading the same idea over and over again so many times)

Recommend it to?
I am not a Romance fan in particular yet I find I enjoy Ms. Milan’s books; by all means I encourage anyone who doesn’t actively dislike the romance genre to give this a try. And then do also try Unclaimed :)

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | An interesting discussion about a main plot point | Courtney Milan’s website | Courtney Milan on Facebook | Courtney Milan on Twitter

Next in the same series:
Unlocked | Unclaimed | Unraveled

Unclaimed by Courtney Milan

Genre: Historical Fiction / Romance
Main characters: Sir Mark Turner, Jessica Farleigh
Time and place: 1841, London and a small town called Shepton Mallet
First sentence:Sir Mark Turner did not look like any virgin that Jessica had ever seen before.Verdict: Loved it :)

Summary:
When it comes to chastity, Mark Turner wrote the book. Literally. And it has turned out to be a very popular book indeed. Much to his dismay, Mark is now a public figure, with people teeming around him everywhere he goes. He’s being worshiped as a paragon of moral virtue, almost a saint. He is acting graciously about his celebrity, yet sainthood is a pretty lonely business. And deep down inside he longs for a woman seeing him just as he is.

Yet Sir Mark also has enemies. And one of them offers a large sum to whomever manages to break Mark Turner’s chastity spell, and expose him as a farce. A former courtesan, fed up with that life and in need of money to build a new life, Jessica Farleigh knows this to be an opportunity not to be missed.

General impression
Yup, that’s right, yet another NetGalley book.
And yet another book I am glad to have picked up. :)

This is my first book of this author’s, and by no means I intend this to be my last. Especially as I have just discovered this is book 2 in a series of three. I am so, so very looking forward to reading the first one. The third too, but it has yet to be written/published.

Setting
The year is 1841, and Mark’s book, called ‘A Gentleman’s Practical Guide to Chastity‘ is the it thing of the day. The queen has even knighted him, “for his contribution to popular morality“. His followers are many and enthusiastic — the males have even formed a society called the Male Chastity Brigade, or MCB, with emblems, meetings, secret signs, the whole nine yards.

Which is why Mark escapes to a small country town, hoping to pass by unnoticed; however, once recognized, he becomes almost an object of worship, both due to his book and the fact that his celebrity has stimulated the economy of the land. Jessica on the other hand, albeit posing as a married woman, and having followed Mark, finds herself on the other end of the social spectrum; the people of Shepton, very conservative, are shunning her from their midst because of the way she dressed, and the loose morals they thought this hinted at.

Characters
First of all, I really enjoyed the foreword, where the author confessed she’d always wanted to write a rock-star hero, and thus Sir Mark the famous author was born. :)

One of the things I liked about the book is the way it takes readers’ expectations and turns them around. It is quote often that historical romance books (particularly the ‘reformed rake’ ones), have an experimented hero and a blushingly innocent heroine. The situation is here completely reversed: Jessica is quite experienced in the art of seduction, having made a living for years by pleasing men. Mark on the other hand is a virgin by choice — having seen the ways men can undo women’s fates, he chooses not to inflict this kind of harm. He will wait until he will have a wife, and, as he wants to be completely faithful to her, this is not a decision he takes lightly. Especially now, when everyone and their mother is in awe at him and his saintly ways, and he thinks his chances of finding someone to take the time to discover him as a person, and care for him as such, are slim to none. I liked the way this decision of his is a constant effort: it does not come easy to him, as he is just as tempted by lust as the other men (especially after Jessica enters the picture, of course), and yet he knows that his decision is the right one, and stands by it.

I loved how well constructed the characters were. Each of them having qualities, and flaws, and backgrounds that allow the reader to understand their motivations better. Sir Mark is such a likable guy that is very difficult to imagine someone with basically a good heart to want to destroy him for money. And yet, if anyone can do it, Jessica is. Jessica, whose mistake when she was fourteen led to her being shunned by her family. Jessica, who feels that she has sold her soul, piece by piece, all those years, and soon she will have none of it left. Jessica, who after a particular ‘accident’ can no longer stand even the touch of a man. And Jessica, whose whole hope on getting a normal life lies in the amount of money she will make by betraying Mark.

Relationships
I have very much liked the relationship between Mark and the members of his little family (two brothers and a sister in law). Everyone likes him, everyone wants to protect him, everyone accepts Jessica with open arms despite her reputation because that is what would make Mark happy. And I was very appreciative of the way Mark considers himself rich, and having always been so, because he’s been lucky enough to have his brothers (“Mark was wealthy beyond imagining. He’d had letters and love and companionship all his life.“). A very powerful statement if we take into account that as a child Mark and his brother Smite have gone hungry for a few months; which goes to show that Mark feels true riches have nothing to do with money, and I thought this was a really nice touch.

As for the relationship between Mark and Jessica, I won’t write too much about it because I don’t want to give too much away. Suffice it to say it was well written, and I loved the way it started out merely as a vague interest, growing day by day into something else.

Just one thing: I very much liked the way she caught Mark’s interest — how he thought her to be an enigma, something to discover, and his hopes that perhaps she will see him the same way too:

What would she say if she looked Mark in the eyes? Would she see a saint? An icon to be worshipped? Or would she see him?
[...]
He’d been curious about her ever since he’d seen that flinch. Like a callow youth, he’d enlarged upon it in his mind. See? There is more to both of us than anyone else will acknowledge.

Plot
Since this is a romance novel the question is not ‘will they, won’t they?’, but rather ‘how will they manage to end up together?’. And, in this case, the more burning issue: will Jessica go through with her plan? What will Mark do then?
Well, rest assured the plot of the book does answers these questions :) Simple as that. And complicated as that; since we care about the characters we care about getting good answers to those questions too. Let’s just say I was not disappointed in the way everything turned out :)

Thoughts on the title
Mysterious. It took me a while to understand what it refers to. Scratch that, I have no idea what it refers to :)

Thoughts on the ending
Unsurprisingly, I loved it.
show spoiler

What I liked most
A detail I have found most interesting is Mark’s full name (his initials are M947T, as his full name is show spoiler

). I do believe this small things speaks volumes about how emotionally shaken his mother was. Also, he had a brother called Smite (and it’s hinted that it too was a short version of something else). Now, this is nothing like Nicholas If-Jesus-Christ-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebon‘s name, but it is somewhat out of the ordinary (and as such interesting) nevertheless.

The passage where Mark, exasperated by everyone’s reaction towards him, introduces himself to Jessica is quite cute too:

“Sir Mark Turner,” he said. “I speak with the tongues of a thousand angels. Butterflies follow me wherever I go. Birds sing when I take a breath.”

He relinquished her hand as easily as he’d taken it. She could feel the phantom pressure of his grip against her palm, strong and steady. She stared at him, unsure how to respond to that introduction. If Sir Mark had actually been mad, surely the matter would have been broached in the London papers.

“That must be rather disconcerting,” she finally said. “You appear to have lost your butterflies.”

What I liked least
There was nothing that I truly did not like. I do have a vague regret that we weren’t told how Mark got the idea of writing a book, as he did not particularly seem like the type to want to share his opinions on a grand scale like that, but I don’t think it a very big deal.

Recommend it to?
Romance & historical fiction lovers, of course :) Not that I discourage anyone to give it a try, it’s a light read and I had fun with it.

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Previous books in the series:
Unveiled | Unlocked

Next book in the series:
Unraveled

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins


There is a special magic in number three, isn’t it? Welcome to the third stop of the Wilkie Collins tour! It is the first tour on The Classics Circuit and it plans to follow Mr. Collins as he visits a few of the book blogs in the blogosphere, in hopes of making new acquaintances. Feel free to visit the previous stops (1, 2) and the full list of the stops planned for the future. And, of course, enjoy this one!


Genre: Mystery
Main characters: Miss Rachel Verinder, Mr. Franklin Blake; Mr. Gabriel Betteredge, Sergeant Cuff
Time and place: 1799, India; 1848 – 1849, London and Yorkshire
First sentence:I address these lines—written in India—to my relatives in England.

Summary: The Moonstone is a large diamond, originally stolen from an Indian shrine and said to be cursed. Brought in England by a soldier of noble birth, John Herncastle, it is bequeathed by him to his niece, Rachel Verinder, on her 18th birthday. When she receives it she is childishly delighted by it — but the precious stone disappears over night and no one knows what to make of the disappearance. A famous detective, Sergent Cuff, is summoned from London, but his enquiries meet with resistance in the area he would have least expected, as Miss Rachel herself seems to be opposing the inquest with all her might.

Ever since first opening the book I was amused at the shape it way written in: letters and descriptions of events by various characters, in order to record a certain story “in the interest of truth“. The very same way The Woman in White was written, and, as I liked that book, I readily prepared to like this one in turn. At first it started out a bit slowly, but once things got rolling I could hardly put it down.

Were I to name a most amusing narrator, I would certainly choose Miss Drusilla Clack, a single woman dedicated to her faith and her charitable causes, so much so that she became a caricature of such a character instead of a multifaceted human being. Among her quirks we should note the fact that she considered sympathy for the sick a very un-Christian reaction and takes pride in giving tracts to people because that’s her idea of doing them good. A funny scene involving her is when she tries to force Lady Verinder into salvation by hiding books on religious topics all around the Lady’s house (and then she goes home so convinced she did good that she feels like a young girl again).

Another narrator that I have liked was Mr. Gabriel Betteredge, Lady Verinder’s house stewart. Despite his age (somewhere around seventy and eighty) he takes pride in doing his job well and he treats the people under him as kindly as they deserve. In the course of the book he has quite a few fits of the “detective fever”, as he calls it, but always in the company of someone better acquainted with the situation and more likely to make discoveries (it can be said that Betteredge would make a wonderful Watson while never being capable of being a Sherlock Holmes himself). Although I have mostly liked him he did have at times moments of feeling superior to other people (usually women), and then I usually got annoyed at him. But then I remembered his most interesting quirk (he believed the truth, the life and everything was to be found in the pages of Robinson Crusoe) and it made me smile again.

Here’s one of his “superior” quotes, just to form an idea:

“[...] it is a maxim of mine that men (being superior creatures) are bound to improve women—if they can. When a woman wants me to do anything (my daughter, or not, it doesn’t matter), I always insist on knowing why. The oftener you make them rummage their own minds for a reason, the more manageable you will find them in all the relations of life. It isn’t their fault (poor wretches!) that they act first and think afterwards; it’s the fault of the fools who humour them.”

Ugh.

Looking back I realize I have only mentioned things I have found amusing in the book. Don’t expect this to be a funny volume though — on the contrary, it is a very serious one as the happiness of the members of a whole family is at stake. Not any members of any family, but a cast of characters that the reader grows to like and root for, and as such their happiness becomes important (or at least that’s what happened with me). The atmosphere of the book is also rather gloomy, what with everyone suspecting everyone else of theft, with even a few deaths and illnesses thrown into the bargain. It is not a happy reading in any way, but it’s definitely a captivating one.

Here is a quote from the book’s preface by the author, illustrating an interesting side of the book:

“In some of my former novels, the object proposed has been to trace the influence of circumstances upon character. In the present story I have reversed the process. The attempt made here is to trace the influence of character on circumstances. The conduct pursued, under a sudden emergency, by a young girl, supplies the foundation on which I have built this book.”

The young girl in question is, of course, Miss Verinder. She is a complex character, young, pretty, gentle, kind hearted, but with an easily excited temper. A temper that made me actually dislike her at first (way too overexcited by everything around her for my taste), but as the story progresses her strong nature begins to shine through, and the book ended with her as my favorite character of them all. As far as her way of seeing things influences the narrative, it is obviously after a while that her decisions influence the book throughout, but I think the mystery would have been just as complete even without her acting in a certain way. But, of course, I agree that the author knows best so I will say no more.

Last but not least, T.S. Eliot called this book “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels“. It is hard to believe in this day and age, when detective novels are everywhere, that a little over a century ago the genre almost didn’t exist. And then Wilkie Collins appeared on the scene. While not entirely original (parts of it are inspired from real life), the book established the cornerstone of the genre, and some of its elements are still used to this day (large number of suspects, amateur detectives, the person who did it was the least likely of all, a local policeman who does a bad job at solving the case and more).

What I liked most: There is a certain scene where Rachel has a heated conversation with the guy she’s in love with. It’s my favorite scene and I liked Rachel at least twice as much afterwards.

What I liked least: I was less than enchanted by the “medical experiment” that helps solve part of the mystery. I found it quite hard to believe despite Ezra Jennings quoting from official (and I supposed real life) books. Sure, the author assures us in the preface that he had make sure this is what it would have happened, by consulting “not only [...] books, but [...] living authorities as well“. I do believe him of course, and yet that part of the narrative was decidedly the one I liked least.

Recommend it to? Anyone who likes classics and/or good mystery books.

See also
Audrey Niffeneger’s review of The Moonstone

Written by the same author:
Poor Miss Finch | Armadale

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