The Lioness & Her Knight ~ Gerald Morris

  • Title: The Lioness & Her Knight
  • Author: Gerald Morris
  • Series: The Squire’s Tales #7
  • Genre: Fantasy YA
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  Luneta is tired of living in dull Orkney with her mother and father (who happens to be the most boring knight of King Arthur’s Round Table). She prides herself on always getting what she wants, so when the opportunity presents itself, she jumps at the chance to stay at a family friend’s castle near Camelot. Her handsome cousin, Sir Ywain —a young knight seeking adventure—arrives just in time to escort her to King Arthur’s court.

Along the way they pick up a knight-turned-fool named Rhience, whose wit and audacity set many a puffed-up personality in its place. Before arriving at Lady Laudine’s castle, the trio stops at Camelot, where they hear the story of the Storm Stone, a magical object deep in the forest that soon sweeps everyone into a web of love, betrayal, and more than a bit of magic.

Filled with broken promises, powerful enchantresses, unconventional sword fights, fierce and friendly lionesses, mysterious knights, and damsels in and out of distress, The Lioness and Her Knight proves itself as witty and adventuresome as the rest of Gerald Morris’s tales from King Arthur’s court.

Review:
After reading my friend’s reviews of this author’s stories, I decided to give him a try.

Like his other works, this charming little novel is based on one of the Chretien de Troyes’s Arthurian poems. The young protagonist Luneta is a sixteen-year-old girl from a not very rich but noble family. Chafing under her mundane existence, she feels that her loving parents don’t understand her. Of course, not! Since the times of King Arthur, there haven’t been many sixteen-year-olds thinking their parents understood them.

When Luneta’s mom and dad decide to send her for a visit to her mother’s old friend, Luneta is ecstatic. She is going on adventure! Her two companions during her travels are her cousin Ywain, a young knight dreaming of slaying dragons and gaining glory, and Rhience, a witty, charismatic jester who laughs at everyone, including himself. The three friends plunge into one escapade after another, helping each other and learning together.

A bossy, manipulative kind of girl (all in a good cause), Luneta is immensely practical. She has a generous heart and an untapped well of compassion. Her journey leads her from the modest manor of her family to castles and huts of the surrounding countryside. She encounters friends and foes, heroes and villains, but throughout the story, her willingness to help everyone who needs (or doesn’t need) her help remains unchanged, even to the detriment of her own safety and that of her friends.

Ywain, although at the periphery of the tale, learns the most profound lesson: hero’s glory doesn’t make a man happy. But as it often happens in fairy tales, the jester is the cleverest of them all. He is also the most charming character, and almost all the giggles and chuckles the novel inspires (quite a lot) can be attributed to him. His is the assurance that anything expressed in Latin must be true.

When one of the characters in the novel uses the expression “very necessary”, Rhience can’t resist the temptation to ridicule:

“What a curious expression!” Rhience said thoughtfully. “I wonder what the opposite of ‘very necessary’ is? Mildly necessary? Somewhat essential?”

Later in the tale, he briefly considers a career change:

“If that’s what comes of doing good, I’ve a mind to start doing evil instead.”
“You?” Ywain asked scornfully.
“That’s right,” Rhience replied, brightening. “In my next career, I’ll be a recreant knight.”
“You’d be terrible at it,” Ywain said bluntly.
Rhience looked affronted. “I don’t see why you have to be insulting. If I tried very, very hard, I could—”
“He’s right, you know,” Luneta said. “You laugh too much.”
“And worst of all, you laugh at yourself,” Ywain added. “I assure you that no self-respecting recreant knight would ever do that.”

At times a bit didactic, the novel was not very absorbing, at least not in the first half, which read more like an introduction than a real story. I had no trouble closing the book, but I always returned to it later. I wanted to know what happened next.

The second part of the novel was much more intense, almost like another story. The action picked up speed, the real danger and the lioness of the title finally appeared, and the plot switched direction as easily as a car.

I suppose I could’ve appreciated this book better if I were inside the author’s target audience, 13 or 14, rather than my much more advanced age, but it was a nice, light diversion regardless, and I enjoyed it. I think this novel is a good introduction to the medieval literature, especially for pre-teens.

I also learned a new word, recreant, a couple olden insults, blitherwit and gapeseed, and a juicy exclamation – Oh, lawks! I must admit, I’m partial to such verbal gems and I collect them.

Footnote: the cover art of the hardcover edition is terrible. Don’t pay attention to it; the story is much better.     

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A Rake’s Vow ~ Stephanie Laurens

  • Title: A Rake’s Vow
  • Author: Stephanie Laurens
  • Series: Cynster #2
  • Genre: Regency Romance
  • Format: e-book
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: Erica, Guest reviewer
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Description:  He vowed he′d never marry.

To Vane Cynster, Bellamy Hall seems like the perfect place to temporarily hide from London′s husband hunters. But when he encounters irresistible Patience Debbington, Vane realises he′s met his match …

She vowed no man would catch her.

Patience isn′t about to succumb to Vane′s sensuous propositions. Yes, his kisses leave her dizzy and his caresses made her melt; but Patience has promised herself she′ll never become vulnerable to a broken heart. Is this one vow that was meant to be broken?

Review: The second of the Cynster novels, this is in many aspects a much better effort than the first one. Central to all of them (or at least the first six) are the Bar Cynster: six men of around the same age, all brothers or first cousins and all in want of wives, even if they do not know this or want to admit to it.

This is Regency England, shortly after the Napoleonic Wars, and the Cynster clan encompasses your typical alpha males. Outwardly they are perfect gentlemen, always turned out to perfection and looking frightfully dashing. They are arrogant to their fingertips, never prepared to admit that they are wrong or to bow down to anyone, certainly not a woman. The leading male in this book, Vane, summarises this to the leading lady early in the book: “I am not a gentleman,” he drawls confidently to her. “I am a conqueror.”

If you can handle your men this testosterone-laden, then this book is a joy to read. Vane is much the same as his cousin Devil (subject of the first book), but thankfully our heroine, Patience Debbington, is sufficiently different from Devil’s wife Honoria, and this isn’t just a repeat of book one but with different names. The whodunit subplot is also much better handled, in that this time I didn’t figure out the culprit until much, much later in the book.

The plot is pretty simple. Vane, on his way to somewhere or other, is forced to seek shelter with his godmother Minnie by an unexpected thunderstorm. As an aside, this appears a popular theme with this author: book one featured a thunderstorm, and there is another thunderstorm later in this book. I’m wondering whether this is a veiled way of showing that the Cynsters only bow to forces of nature, but I digress.

Minnie always plays hostess to a variety of people, and this time her strays include her niece Patience, who has taken her seventeen-year-old brother Gerrard with her to prepare him for introduction into the aristocratic ton. Vane sees Patience, desires her, and the rest is pretty easy to predict. The subplot revolves around a petty thief who steals objects of minor value and someone wandering the nearby ruins at night with a light, but it’s all just window-dressing to the centrepiece of Vane and Patience’s building desire for each other. I found most the secondary characters fairly interchangeable, which wasn’t helped by two of them being called Edgar and Edward, so I could  never remember who was who, but again this did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.

The romance is sizzling, the sex is searing. I’m always curious as to how the men in this era manage to be so confidently experienced in the carnal arts when a woman is considered fallen if she has sex outside of marriage, but I haven’t often seen the whole ‘experienced man with green virgin’ trope this well-executed. I must also give Vane credit for actually being able to utter the words ‘I love you’, since Devil was too much of an alpha to do so.

All in all a gem of a romance, even if most of the other characters take second or even third fiddle, and while I hope that the whole range of manly Cynster men won’t start to get boring, I’m very much looking forward to the next book in this series.


Going Postal ~ Terry Pratchett

  • Title: Going Postal
  • Author: Terry Pratchett
  • Series: Discworld # 33
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Moist von Lipwig is a con artist and a fraud and a man faced with a life choice: be hanged, or put Ankh-Morpork’s ailing postal service back on its feet.

It’s a tough decision.

But he’s got to see that the mail gets through, come rain, hail, sleet, dogs, the Post Office Workers’ Friendly and Benevolent Society, the evil chairman of the Grand Trunk Semaphore Company, and a midnight killer.

Getting a date with Adora Bell Dearheart would be nice, too…

Review:  
I’m reading the Discworld series out of sequence but I like everything I’ve read so far. This is the installment #33, one of the latest ones, and it’s not nearly as funny as the earlier books. This novel is more serious; it might even be called tragic… as only a Discworld book could get. I mean, Pratchett’s parody gets so profound here, sometimes you want to laugh and weep at the same time. Or curse at the human follies and corporate immorality. Yes, this book is about greedy corporations.  

In Ankh-Morpork (I still have to peek inside the book to spell the city name correctly), the Post Office is dying. No, it’s already dead, has been dead for decades. Only its empty husk remains, bursting with millions of undelivered letters.

Obviously only a dead man can bring it back to life. Of all the dead men available, the ruler of the city, Lord Vetinari, chooses Moist Van Lipwig (what a name!), a convicted conman, to reanimate the Post Office. But first, Moist must be hanged… halfway.

Afterwards, he’s given a choice: take the job as the Postmaster and restore the city’s postal service or continue with the second half of hanging. Of course, Moist takes the job. Staying alive is mandatory. His employment situation could be fixed later.  Surely, there will be an opportunity for escape.

Or so he thinks. Unfortunately, Moist’s conscience, along with his parole officer, prevents him from bolting. Once he starts the job, he realizes that the Post Office and its employees need his help. And Moist can’t abandon them. Suddenly, he’s responsible for something bigger than the next swindle, and the novelty of the experience keeps him pushing the boundaries of his imagination. The bigger the challenge, the harder he tries, the better he enjoys himself. He wouldn’t let his postmen down. Mail will be delivered, rain or fire! At least, that’s what he promises on the front page of the local gossip rag.  

The obstacles he faces are legion, but the chief one of them is the Grand Trunk Company – your typical unethical corporation. Grand Trunk owns clacks towers – something like a telegraph network but without electricity. I’m not sure about the technology; it seems rather obscure, but the iniquity of the money-hungry owners comes through loud and clear. They want to squash all competition for communications on Discworld, and the reviving Post Office threatens their monopoly. So they sic an assassin on the recently appointed Postmaster and burn the Post Office building.

What Moist does in retaliation could be considered the heights of ingenuity. Or it could be considered the worst fraud in the history of Ankh-Morpork, depending on who you ask. I’m not going to spoil your fun by disclosing Moist’s scheme. Suffice it to say: Lord Vetinari was pleased. And so were all the postal workers. After all, their unconventional leader brought them victory and full-time jobs.

Moist is an unlikely hero. Neither super brave nor overly strong, he doesn’t command armies, wield a sword, or defeat monsters. Instead, he’s a genius with charm and people skills, a true conman with a smidgen of honesty, in short, a decent government official. Bureaucracy is his trade. His brilliant brain is his weapon. He succeeds at impossible tasks by employing unorthodox methods and showmanship. Sometimes, he’s not even proud of his twisted solutions, but nothing nice would work against his corrupt enemies. So he wins his battles by outsmarting the opposition and exploiting stupidity. A conman at his best!

It was a rare joy to read about Moist – one of my favorite fantasy heroes. Don’t you just love a scoundrel with scruples?

The rest of the characters are as colorful as you would expect of Terry Pratchett. The good guys and gals are not perfect; they all have some rather obnoxious quirks that make them real, like your coworkers. On the other hand, the bad guys are so bad, you only need to read the latest corporate scandal in Huffington Post to recognize them.

The two lines of the novel intertwine seamlessly. One is the story of Moist and the Post Office, the story of a clever guy with questionable morals cast in the role of a savior. People’s trust can cause miracles, the writer insists. It can even transform a con artist into a paladin. Of a sort. It can also lead to a number of ridiculous episodes and a few genuine smiles.

The second line of the story is a study of money and corporations, if in a slightly satirical, exaggerated style. It’s not funny – it’s scary. Too realistic. The rich villain of the novel gives the best explanation of the meaning of money I’ve read anywhere:

You think about money in the old-fashioned way. Money is not a thing, it is not even a process. It is a kind of shared dream.  We dream that a small disk of common metal is worth the price of a substantial meal. Once you wake up from that dream, you can swim in a sea of money.

I wonder: those bankers that precipitated the financial collapse of 2008 – did they wake up from that dream? Where did their swimming in the sea of money take them?  

This wonderful book invites you to think. It’s not a comfortable, easy book; it’s a book for smart readers. Highly recommended.

A Shire Romance (Part Fifteen)

A classic romance with a Hobbit twist!

When Tamsyn left for Somerset that morning, little did she realise that she’d end the day somewhere she didn’t even realise existed. Nor did Perry know when he set out for a stroll that day that his life would be utterly changed. Thrown together by chance and torn apart by their responsibilities, their future lies in Tamsyn’s hands.

Note to Readers:  This is the first full-length novel I ever wrote. It’s a few years old, and I know it’s far from perfect. That was never the intention either, since it isn’t something I can publish traditionally due to copyright issues. I like the story, however, so I hope people reading this will enjoy it on those terms. Please be aware it contains explicit language and scenes.

PART FIFTEEN – ALDERICK’S PARTY

There was nothing more Tamsyn could say to Faramir, so she followed Perry, trailing a few yards behind him. He stopped by the rain butt, took one look at her, then dipped a bucket into it and upended it over himself. He shuddered and shook himself, took a deep breath, then walked into the kitchen without looking back.

“Peregrin!” Esme sounded exasperated. “Don’t walk through the house when you’re dripping wet! Come and mop it up, you impossible boy!”

“I’ll do it, Esme,” Tamsyn said as she walked inside.

“But he… Are you sure?”

“Positive,” Tamsyn assured her, still looking at Perry as he walked towards the bathroom. “He deserves it, he’s been an absolute pleasure to look at.”

She knew he had heard her when he stopped and clenched his fists. He seemed about to look over his shoulder, but then he took another deep breath and walked on. Tamsyn knew she was affecting him, and felt a little cruel for encouraging it, but she wanted him to know that she found him desirable, and she could not help but want him to desire her back.

With Esme’s help she located a mop and took her time drying the floor, lingering outside the bathroom door until Perry came out. He was fully dressed in dry clothes and looked calmer, but one look at her and the intensity was back in his eyes.

“Would you like to see the family mathoms?” was the first thing he asked, his voice hoarse. Tamsyn nodded, and he grabbed her hand and dragged her with him, deeper into the house. The mop clattered to the floor, unheeded.

The corridors of Great Smials were all dimly lit, either by distant windows or by small oil lamps on the walls, but when Perry finally stopped and led Tamsyn into a room, it turned out to be windowless and pitch black. For a second they just stood, then Perry said, “Crap, I forgot to bring a candle.”

Tamsyn could feel him turn back to the door, but before he could open it again she caught him in her arms and ran her hands upwards along his body until she held his face in her hands. She tugged him down and met his mouth with her own, and Perry immediately pulled her close and deepened the kiss.

“I’m sorry, but I needed that first,” Tamsyn whispered when they came up for air, and Perry sighed.

“Tam, you’re driving me crazy,” he said, almost in a whimper.

“Perry, dearest, don’t you realise you do the same to me?” she replied. She didn’t wait for a response, but gently pushed him away instead. “Go on, get a candle.”

He left, leaving the door open this time, and in the gloom of the room a few shadows took shape, some with a gleam of metal or glass to them. When Perry returned with a candle he placed it on a small table beside the door. Tamsyn was peering intently at something dark in a glass cabinet which dominated the room, and her breath caught when it became clear what it was in the brightening light.

“Is that…?”

“Pippin’s Gondorian chain mail and livery,” Perry finished for her, stopping behind her and resting his hands on her shoulders.

“It’s beautiful,” she breathed.

“It’s old,” Perry amended. “Look at the mail, it’s nothing but rust. That cabinet hasn’t been opened in over a thousand years. If you touched anything in it, it’d crumble to dust.”

“It’s still beautiful,” Tamsyn insisted. “I wish I could see it more closely.”

“I can show you mine if you want,” Perry said, turning to a chest and opening it. He took out a pale, silvery shirt and a black tabard and put them on, belting them with a strip of black leather with a beautifully wrought buckle. The tabard was velvet, and Tamsyn couldn’t resist the luxuriously soft fabric, running her fingers across Perry’s chest and the embroidered white tree on the garment.

“This is yours?” she asked, her eyes wide.

He smiled. “The eldest son of Pippin’s direct descendant is still officially a soldier of Gondor, so we receive our own personal livery.”

“Who from?”

“The king.” His smile widened at her surprise and he said, “You’ve got to give it to the Gondorians: their administration is impeccable. When the Thain’s eldest son is born, we send a message to the king in Gondor. Thirty years later a tailor comes to Bree and sends for us, and when we get there the livery is sewn, made to measure.” He stroked the tabard, then added, “I’m sure it’s not necessary for them to send someone all that way just to make a loose-fitting shirt and tabard, but I suppose it gives them an opportunity to check on us, gauge us. From our side, it’s like a rite of passage.”

His eyes turned distant, and he didn’t even seem to notice when he slipped his arms around Tamsyn’s waist and pulled her against him. “I’ve never felt so small as when I went to Bree,” he murmured. “Father went with me, and he’d warned me what to expect, but the reality was so much worse than I’d imagined… There are still hobbits in Bree, but not many, and there were just so many big folk that I was scared out of my wits. I barely saw anything.”

She could hear it in his voice, and cupped a hand around his face. “Strange to hear you talk about yourself as small,” she said. When he gave her a questioning look she clarified, “Look at it from my perspective: you’re at least half a head taller than me. As far as I know I’m five foot five, so that must make you nearly six feet tall.”

His eyes widened for a moment, then he smiled and kissed her forehead. “Leave it to you to give me a completely new look on things. Me? Six feet tall?”

She chuckled and rested her head against his shoulder. “It’s true though. I don’t feel small at all here. Everything is the right size, the right proportion, so in my head I’m the same height as I’ve always been. I have absolutely no idea how tall I am at the moment. How tall are you?”

“Three foot nine.”

“So that would make me… I don’t know, three foot four?”

“Sounds about right.”

She shrugged and put her head back against his chest. “Six feet, four feet, two feet, what’s the difference? You’re perfectly built, that’s all that matters.”

“Perfect?” he asked, lifting her chin.

“Yes, perfect. Wide shoulders, strong arms, narrow hips, long legs… Perfect.”

“And this coming from someone who doesn’t want to hear that she’s beautiful.”

“It depends on who I hear it from.” She looked at him and grinned, and he grinned back.

“You’re beautiful,” he obliged, then kissed her until she went dizzy. He seemed more relaxed now though, and when they broke apart he gave her a long, fond look before taking off his livery and carefully putting it away.

“Come,” he said, picking up the candle, “let’s have a bite to eat before we go.”

“Won’t there be food at the party?” Tamsyn asked.

He turned around and raised an eyebrow. “Don’t be daft, of course there will be.”

“So why eat here?”

That earned her an exuberant laugh. “I thought you understood hobbits?” His eyes sparkled, and Tamsyn gave him a grudging nod.

“Right, point taken. Let’s eat then.”

o–o-o–o

 After lunch Tamsyn had to wait for everyone else to change, but it was worth it when Perry reappeared in a pale blue shirt, dark blue trousers and jacket, and with a deep violet embroidered waistcoat. He looked delectable, and beamed when Tamsyn expressed her approval.

Alderick Bolger lived on the other side of the village, right by a field, which was already heaving with partygoers when the Tooks and Tamsyn arrived. They paid their respects to the centenarian, and then Perry dragged Tamsyn into a confused whirl of introductions to too many hobbits for her to remember. He presented her to everyone as his girlfriend, and every time he did so it gave her a little flutter in her stomach that made her feel like she was fifteen again and in love for the first time.

There were three great roasting pits – which also served to keep the assembly warm in the late September evening – which held two whole spitted pigs and a large haunch of beef. There was a table with salads, cold meats, pies, a breathtaking assortment of cakes, and ale flowed like water. For several hours everyone simply grazed on the food and talked, then music started to drift across the field, at which point Faramir and Esme made their excuses and returned home.

Three hobbits had taken up station on a small platform near an open area. They played drum, flute and fiddle, and were cheerfully churning out dancing tunes with both enthusiasm and skill, which got everyone up and dancing.

Perry taught Tamsyn the basic steps to the dances, and she soon picked them up. Most of them involved little more than kicking your legs and twirling around, and Perry held on to her tight enough to keep her on her feet if she went wrong. She danced with him, then with Dongo, then Boar, then with Perry again, and after that she sagged down onto a bench next to him to catch her breath. Perry slung his arm around her shoulder and she snuggled close as he fed her a few slices of apple.

“Tommy doesn’t look very cheerful,” she remarked, nodding at Perry’s tall friend, who slumped morosely on a bench on the other side of the dancing area.

“That’s because he fancies Donna, but she’s going all moon-eyed over Freddy. See?” He indicated his sister, who was sat with three of her friends and kept looking off to the side.

“Right, and Fred?”

Perry snorted. “Look at him, in love with his food, he is.” And indeed, Freddy faced a mountain of food, and appeared oblivious to the world around him.

“So why doesn’t Tommy just ask her to dance? It doesn’t look like Freddy will complain.”

“He’s too shy. He keeps coming over for dinner, but every time Donna says something to him he just clamps shut and doesn’t say a word.”

Tamsyn rolled her eyes. “How do hobbits ever manage to breed?” she asked, exasperated. “Half of them run away when they’re kissed and the other half is too scared to talk to someone.”

Perry gave a wry chuckle. “Welcome to my world.”

Tamsyn absently picked at a sliver of apple skin between her teeth, looking at Donna with her head cocked, then resolutely stood up. “Let me see if I can do something,” she said. She gave Perry a lingering kiss, then walked over to Donna and plunked herself down on the bench next to the girl.

“Hey,” she said. “Enjoying yourself?”

Donna shrugged and mumbled something unintelligible.

Tamsyn bent closer. “No? Why not?”

Donna shrugged again. “Freddy’s not even looking at me,” she sulked.

“Which one is he? The handsome tall one over there?” Tamsyn pointed at Tommy.

“No, that’s Tommy Bracegirdle. Freddy’s over there.” Donna indicated Freddy, who was still intent on his food and did not appear to be even close to finishing. In the meantime, Tamsyn saw Perry saunter over to Tommy and sit down beside him.

“So dance with someone else then,” Tamsyn said.

Donna stared at her. “What?”

“Take it from me, if you want someone to take notice, you need to spend time with someone else,” Tamsyn said. “If they’re interested enough they’ll interfere. If they’re not… Well, then at least you’re still enjoying yourself.” She grinned at Donna, who smiled back shyly. However, her smile faltered again immediately.

“But no one is asking me to dance.”

“Why wait to be asked?”

Donna gave her an incredulous look, and Tamsyn wondered whether her suggestion was a breach of hobbit etiquette, or whether it was just something too bold for the girl to contemplate. She decided on the latter when Donna lowered her eyes, then peered around the benches through her lashes. “I’m not sure who I’d ask,” she muttered. “What if they say no?”

“Well, I reckon Tommy over there won’t. He’s been looking at you ever since I started talking to you.”

Donna’s head shot up and she stared at Tommy, who didn’t look away fast enough.

“I think he’s quite handsome,” Tamsyn said off-handedly. “Not nearly as handsome as your brother of course, but still. What do you think?”

“Tommy’s gorgeous,” Donna said with feeling, “but he never says a word to me, and he comes over for dinner at least once a week.”

Tamsyn resisted the urge to facepalm. “I think he’s shy, Donna.”

“Really?”

“Definitely. Go on, just take a deep breath, count to three and walk over. What’s the worst that could happen?” She gave the girl a gentle nudge, and all of a sudden Donna got the most resolute look Tamsyn had ever seen on the girl. She stood up and almost stomped over to Tommy, who had Perry whispering urgently into his ear. Tommy’s head shot up and he suddenly looked close to panic, but Perry muttered a few last words, then stuck his fingers in his friend’s side so he bolted upright just as Donna arrived.

What followed ranked amongst the most awkward scenes Tamsyn had ever witnessed. Donna twisted her hands into her skirt like a ten-year-old girl, and Tommy stood as rigid as a flagpole. They were talking, however, and then something amazing happened: Tommy moved and took Donna’s hand, and the girl’s smile in response was so radiant that Tamsyn could see him relax, even if his face still showed panic. She said something and dragged him with her, and his expression turned to wonder, then a shy smile as she turned a pirouette before him. Tamsyn was still watching them when two strong arms suddenly picked her up and twirled her around.

“You’re amazing!” Perry crowed, giving her the biggest grin ever, and she grinned back.

“So I’m told,” she said smugly.

“What did you tell her?” Perry asked as they both watched the couple waltz past them. Tamsyn told him, and he shook his head in wonder. “Didn’t think she had it in her.”

“And what did you tell Tommy?” Tamsyn asked.

Perry’s grin turned mischievous. “I told him that if he didn’t get up and dance with my sister right now, I’d steal all the poems he’s written about her and give them to her. He wasn’t convinced, but then I listed all his secret hiding places.”

“Ooh, you devious sod,” Tamsyn said admiringly, her eyes still following Tommy. “Poetry, eh? I think your sister’s the kind who would appreciate that stuff.”

“And you don’t?”

She shook her head. “Poetry is wasted on me. It’s all just so much pseudo-profound nursery rhyming to me.”

Perry’s mouth tickled her ear and his arms slid around her waist. “So what do you go for?”

She turned to him and smiled. “Coal-black hair and deep green eyes. Broad shoulders and narrow hips.” Then she twined her arms around his neck and pulled his forehead against hers. “Stealing melons. Bare-chested swordfighting. Roses on my pillow.”

She might have said more, but then Perry’s mouth covered hers, and for several long moments she lost herself in his kiss, forgetting where she was altogether. When she dropped her arms to his back and began to stroke it, however, Perry pulled back and gently pushed her hips away from him.

“Not this intense, not here,” he murmured, and Tamsyn gave a reluctant nod.

The band was still playing, the grass still packed with hobbits, and Tamsyn took Perry’s hand. “Dance?” she suggested.

Perry smiled, but shook his head. “You go, I’ll get us another drink.”

o–o-o–o

There’s trouble ahead! Find out what will happen in the next installment of  A Shire Romance! The story will be a weekly release until completion.  

A Shire Romance is written by Erica Dakin. You can find out more about Contrary Erica on the Guest Reviewers page and check out her website to find out more information about her work.

The Governess Affair ~ Courtney Milan

  • Title: The Governess Affair
  • Author: Courtney Milan
  • Series: The Brothers Sinister prequel
  • Genre: Romance
  • Format: e-book
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: Erica, Guest reviewer
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  She will not give up…

Three months ago, governess Serena Barton was let go from her position. Unable to find new work, she’s demanding compensation from the man who got her sacked: a petty, selfish, swinish duke. But it’s not the duke she fears. It’s his merciless man of business—the man known as the Wolf of Clermont. The formidable former pugilist has a black reputation for handling all the duke’s dirty business, and when the duke turns her case over to him, she doesn’t stand a chance. But she can’t stop trying—not with her entire future at stake.

He cannot give in…

Hugo Marshall is a man of ruthless ambition—a characteristic that has served him well, elevating the coal miner’s son to the right hand man of a duke. When his employer orders him to get rid of the pestering governess by fair means or foul, it’s just another day at the office. Unfortunately, fair means don’t work on Serena, and as he comes to know her, he discovers that he can’t bear to use foul ones. But everything he has worked for depends upon seeing her gone. He’ll have to choose between the life that he needs, and the woman he is coming to love…

Review: This charming (and completely free!) novella is the prequel to the Brothers Sinister series, which at this point in time (July 2013) looks to be about midway through being written. If every novel in this series is as good as this novella, readers should be in for an absolute treat.

It really is no more than a novella – I read the whole thing in only a few hours – but it was a joy from start to finish. The book centres around Serena Barton, a young lady governess who has had an unpleasant encounter with the Duke of Clermont which has left her in dire straits. Clermont himself wants her out of his hair with as little fuss as possible, so as not to further upset his already plenty disgruntled duchess. To achieve this, he sets his associate, Hugo Marshall, on Serena. And Hugo Marshall is more commonly known as the Wolf of Clermont due to his ruthless nature.

To say more of the plot would give away the entire novella, but I dare anyone to read this and not grin your way through the exchange between Hugo and Serena through written notes, or to not be touched by the sweet way Hugo puts her at ease later with the pin game. The writing is assured, accomplished and almost entirely devoid of errors, and the characterisation is completely believable. Also, for a novella this short it had a wealth of lines which were simply made for quoting at people, and it has a number of unexpected but very pleasant surprises.

I cannot recommend this highly enough, it should be a wonderful read for anyone who likes romance.


The Mister Trophy ~ Frank Tuttle

  • Title: The Mister Trophy
  • Author: Frank Tuttle
  • Series: Markhat #1
  • Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  A troll’s missing head could cause Markhat to lose his own.

All the finder Markhat wanted was a beer at Eddie’s. Instead he gets a case that will bring him face to fang with crazed, blood-craving halfdead, a trio of vengeful Troll warriors, and Mama Hog’s backstreet magic. Plus, the possible resurgence of the Troll War.

Through the town of Rannit’s narrow alleys and mean streets, Markhat tries to stay one step ahead of disaster. And ignore Mama Hog’s dire warnings that this time, the head that rolls could be his own.

Product Warnings: This book contains well-dressed vampires, extremely polite Trolls, and occasional bursts of humor. Avoid reading it when landing aircraft, welding in the nude, or taunting grumpy jackals while wearing pork chop earmuffs.

Review:  I’m glad I bought this book for my Kindle. It’s a short novella, a noir detective story, sweet and very fast. Despite the low page count, characterization is excellent. The tale introduces Markhat, the Finder. Three trolls hire him to find something for them – a war trophy, kept at the mansion of a local vampire. Of course, the wicked vampire doesn’t wish to part from his trophy, so mayhem ensues, and the trolls become Markhat’s unlikely friends and protectors. Clan-buddies, really.

Markham is definitely the hero here. Slightly embittered, definitely disillusioned, this smart-mouthed PI and a former soldier wouldn’t let any undead stand in the way of his Findings. Especially if he feels that his clients are in the right. Markhat’s moral compass makes him one of my favorite fantasy PIs.

The world building is handled marvelously. In as few terse sentences as possible, the writer transports his readers to a vaguely steampunk-ish city, balancing in between medieval tropes, industrial revolution, vampires, and sewers. Every detail plays a role, and nothing extraneous interferes with the galloping plot.

The secondary characters – Markhat’s clients, the trolls – are very colorful and surprisingly honorable, despite their teeth and claws. They fit well into the fantasy world the writer has created, and their integrity (with a troll twist, for sure, but still) is frequently funny for the jaded reader of the 21st century. I haven’t seen many ethical trolls in the genre, which makes this story highly original.

All the above-mentioned qualities, along with Mr. Tuttle’s dry sense of humor and his amazingly good language, clean and expressive, catapults this story to the top of the genre, at least for me. I’m going to buy the rest of Markhat’s adventures. There are already seven installments, I believe: something to look forward. I already smile in anticipation.

A very pleasurable little book.