Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Lodger by Mary Jane Staples

The Lodger by Mary Jane Staples4.5 Stars

This is a retelling of Marie Belloc Lowndes' book The Lodger but with a humorous cockney twist. While characters go about their daily routines and see to their own joys and challenges, a murderer is afoot. A murderer who strangles his lady victims and takes a lock of their golden hair as a souvenir.

No, the murders are not funny. But this is where Mary Jane Staples (a.k.a. Robert Tyler Stevens) excels at his craft. The way he can take a subject like Jack the Ripper and turn it into a feel good story is masterful. In this novel we are treated to three distinct romances, a lot of cockney humor and bantering dialog as well as satisfying suspense. 

It's a light read but there's still enough going on to satisfy serious readers who like a meatier story. The cover art makes you think its a YA novel but it really isn't. I would say because of themeatic elements older teenagers and up would be best suited. 


SEX: alluded to (off screen), one victim is a prostitute. 
PROFANITY: Mild (if you're American), Moderate (if you're British). No F bombs.
MY RATING: PG-13 (for profanity)

The Key Of Life by Francis Brett Young

The Key Of Life3.75 Stars 

When archaeologists start digging around her home of Castel Ditches, Ruth is intrigued. Not much happens in the country so anything of news is welcome.

But with the winter comes sickness. The head archaeologist becomes ill with pleurisy and the doctor puts him up at Ruth's home to be nursed since its the closest. She tends him and they fall in love ... but is it love? Or pity?

Hugh gets reposted to Egypt (because of the warmer dry climate) and he sends for Ruth to join him there. But when she arrives, Hugh is sick once again and his mind is full of his own work and nagging suspicions. Suspicions about Ruth and the new anthropologist, a man called Bezuidenthout...

I can't say any more, you'll have to read it. But I found it a quick, enjoyable read. It could have been 4 stars but the ending didn't quite satisfy me. 

The story takes place around the time King Tut's tomb was discovered so anyone fascinated with mummies, pyramids and archaeology in general would probably like this. Alas, it is difficult to find. I bought my copy through Abebooks but ebay is another option. 

Sex: None
Violence: None
Profanity: Ds
Paranormal elements: None

Lebanon by Caroline Miller

Lebanon3.5 Stars

We're first introduced to Lebanon as a young bayou woman living with her father, Crease and brother Joel. Her mother died while Lebanon was very small so her upbringing was left to the menfolk. So it's not too surprising that Lebanon is just as comfortable hunting alligators as she is in keeping house. While she never learned to read and write, (not for lack of desire) she is well seasoned in survival skills.

I loved the bayou part of the book, I always find that setting fascinating and her first love with Sebastian Ratcliff was soul satisfyingly sweet. They really seemed like soulmates. Unfortunately, Sebastian is betrothed to another and stands by his word...

Lebanon, alone with her misery, can no longer bear her memories in the bayou so she impetuously proposes to a family friend in order to head West.

We're not actually told where they end up settling and if you're looking for much in the way of wagon trails, river crossings and Indian attacks you'll be disappointed (I was not) as the story doesn't dwell on the journey, but rather the destination.

Lebanon is made for homesteading while her husband is not. Partly for this reason and partly because they're very different from eachother there are some serious ups and downs in their married life. 

I wont go further because I will spoil things but there is a twist toward the end which is quite surprising. And while some might say it has a possible HEA, the story did not end as I wanted it to and I frowned as I closed the book, which took it down a star for me.

Overall, a good read.


SEX: None
PROFANITY: Very mild, B


* NOTE* There's a paragraph in this book where Lebanon talks of a home remedy for preventing poison ivy blisters: chewing the leaves. I looked it up to see if that really works. It is NOT recommended and serious reactions may occur. Apparently, the thought was to chew very small amounts, (much the way homeopathy works), gradually increasing the dose. But there's no proof that this helps and could be dangerous so is best avoided. Sorry to disappoint. I'm sure you were eager to try this :)

A Roman Singer by Francis Marion Crawford

A Roman Singer (Dodo Press)This is the story of a rather ugly boy with a great voice. While still non-famous he falls in love with a Count's daughter and pretends to be a professor to gain access to his lady love while tutoring.

One day, he goes on a "field trip " with Hedwig, her father and another man to the Roman ruins at midnight so Hedwig can see the full moon through the hole in the ampitheater ceiling. While there, in the darkness he gets the urge to sing and does so but no one can tell where the voice is coming from. Nino says it's his cousin who has now disappeared into the night.
Hedwig falls in love with the voice and keeps asking about his cousin...

Then the day of his debut arrives and Hedwig and her father are in the audience...

To cut a long story short, the Count refuses to allow his daughter to marry a phlebian musician and he takes his daughter away to an undisclosed castle location far in the mountains of Italy.

There's a villain, and a love story, a great escape and a subtheme of opera. Add to that, the dialog has fantastic wit which makes it a winner in my books. (see my status updates for examples) 

I took it down a star because I dislike someone else narrating the story. (in this case it was Nino's adoptive father). You miss so much with explanations of "how I know what happened ".

But its a good fairytale like story and I enjoyed it.


The Heart Of Rome by Francis Marion Crawford

The Heart of Rome (Dodo Press)rating clarification 3.75

When the Conti family becomes bankrupt, their palace is confiscated and they are forced to move. Sabina, the youngest of the family is taken in, ironically, by the banker/senator and his wife (the very ones responsible for the Conti's losing their home) and spends the next few months with them.

Meanwhile, there is work being done at the Conti's palace. A renowned archaeologist has been hired to sniff out hidden treasures and "lost waters " deep under the foundations of the palace grounds.

This is a romance/mystery/adventure. The romance develops between the archaeologist and the princess Sabina, and when treasure is discovered in hidden vaults underground, he wants Sabina to be the first to see it.

Unfortunately, there are two other people in Rome aware of what lies beneath the city and these scoundrels (think mafia) are also aware of how to work the "lost waters " i.e, how to control the water's flow...which runs through the vaults and passages...

I wont say any more but it gets pretty exciting.

I couldn't make up my mind whether to give this 3.5 or 4 stars but since I enjoyed Francis Marion Crawford's book A Roman Singer just a smidgen more and rated that one at 4 stars, I have given this 3.75.


The Dead Alive by Wilkie Collins

The Dead Alive  2.5 Stars

A pleasant little who dunnit murder mystery, based on true events. A British solicitor is advised to go away for health reasons and rest up. He takes himself to a distant relative's farm in Vermont where two brothers are accused of murdering the farm manager. The one person who may hold a clue is the brother Ambrose's fiance; a pretty young woman named Naomi Colebrook.

What follows is a trial of circumstantial evidence, but no body.

Its an ok read but I was hoping for more suspense. This is more like playing the boardgame "Clue". But not bad for a novella. And its free on kindle

This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart

This Rough Magic3.5 Stars (Mary Stewart Group Read Sept 2014)

Well I started this a week earlier than I should have (got the dates mixed up) so I'm reviewing when I should just be starting to read. Nevermind. It happens.

I won't write a synopsis, that's been done many times. I'll just say that I enjoyed this, thought it was well written and was fairly gripping toward the end.

I liked the retro references to gold lipstick and nylon clothes which made me think of 60s films (gotta love em! ) and the dolphin was a nice touch too. Cigarette smoking was kept pretty much in its place in this one (MS characters are often chain smokers) which I found refreshing, although they do still smoke. Just not OTT. I thought that the h/h had fairly good chemistry but I would have enjoyed seeing them interact together a bit more.

I cant say I was steamrolled, though, by the plot. I could guess what was coming so unfortunately that curbed the suspense a bit. I would rate it about equal to Mary Stewart's The Moonspinners. Enjoyable but not neccesarily a reread.

Wildfire at Midnight is still sits top place in my affection :)


SEX: None. Some kissing and flirting
PROFANITY: Moderate (D, B, GD, H), particularly toward the end of the book.
VIOLENCE: Moderate violence in last quarter of book during "showdown ".


The Romance of a Poor Young Man by Octave Feiullet

The Romance of a Poor Young Man by Octave FeuilletLet me just say right now that this could very well deserve more than three stars but three is all I can give it. I was reading a public domain epub version riddled with typos and typos do not mesh with French names. Honestly, I'll probably never know what the character's real names were. I identified them with £ signs and asterisks. 

Anyway, its about a young gentleman who is left destitute on his father's death and forced to make his own way. He goes hungry for a while and then gets a position as a manager of sorts at a country estate. 

There's a rather uppity daughter whom he falls in love with in spite of himself and in spite of herself (she really isn't a very nice person, but of course she cant help it, its the curse of being rich and beautiful, who to trust?) and there are some pleasant minor characters as well.

I enjoyed the scenery descriptions in this. One boating scene took them down a small river through meadows and woods and culminated in a waterfall with a near death experience. That really got my imagination going! Theres also a very cool tower ruin and escape, but to be honest, a lot of the story was lost on me because of transfer issues. Very sad.

The blurb calls it a fairy tale. I suppose it could loosely be classified as such but just so you know there are no fairies, no fairy godmothers, and no magicians. But it is a "rags to riches on the stroke of midnight" kind of tale and there just might be a happily ever after in store for some. 


FYI: It has come to my attention that Project Guttenberg has this digital book and is free of formatting issues. I just downloaded it to see for myself and it reads perfectly. (and you can download the epub with images too) I highly recommend you use the P.G. copy. I wish I did!

The Children Of The King by Francis Marion Crawford

The Children of the King: A Tale of Southern ItalyI really, really liked this. 

Its a story of two brothers (orphans), age 10 and 12 who run away to sea. We meet up with them ten years later when they're strapping men, blonde blue eyed Italians who can break a horseshoe with one hand or snap a coin in half with two fingers.

The older, Ruggerio, is slightly larger and more fiery dispositioned. He does nothing half heartedly. So when he falls in love he thinks there is something terribly wrong, his heart pounds so erratically...

His brother is almost as physically strong as Ruggerio but more easy going and of a gentler disposition. He also falls in love but it is a more like a walk in a sweet smelling garden as opposed to a hurricane's violence. 

Of course, the men's choice of women has something to do with their ease or lack of. For Ruggerio has fallen hard for a woman too far above him in station for his longing to ever be realized, not to mention the small matter of her fiancee....

I can't say any more without spoiling things but I grew to really love these two brothers and I had a hard time putting this book down.

The ending is rather sudden and I hoped for a somewhat different conclusion which knocked it down a star for me. But I don't regret reading this at all. Francis Marion Crawford is a wonderful author and can truly spin a tale.


This is a very difficult book to find in hard copy but thankfully available for free on Amazon kindle and other public domain sites.

The Light of Scarthey by Egerton Castle

The Light of ScartheyEasily one of my favorite reads of 2014! It's one of those stories your brain doesn't want to "let go of" when you finish and I had a hard time sleeping last night.

Its a little difficult to give a synopsis without telling too much but I'll try my best to give the gist. The quotes I added in my reading updates will give you an idea, too.

When Adrian was a young man of 20 years, he fell head over heels for his distant French cousin Cecile who came to stay in England for the duration of her pregnancy. (The Napoleonic war was going on in France and her husband was fighting.) She was the type of woman every man admires and Adrian was thoroughly besotted. Well, her husband is killed in action and Cecile decides to leave the babies in England and return to France with some men to avenge the death of her husband. (Yes, she's that kind of woman.) Adrian volunteers to be her knight.

That's really just the background to the story so I'm not spoiling anything. When the book opens, we see Adrian, age 40, a recluse in a lighthouse ruin pining for his lost love. Then one night, Cecile's twin daughters arrive on the scene and with them come intrigue, a forbidden romance with a smuggler/ pirate, a treasure of guineas, swashbuckling adventures, murder and tragic love. 

Oh I really loved this. The characters are imperfect but hugely likeable (though not all) and human. The descriptions are memorable and the love stories squeeze your heart. 

At one point in the book you might be thinking, "Well this is pleasant story but I wonder where we're going with this..." Just keep reading. The plot turns completely around with new developments. How? Well for starters, one day, Adrian's old friend Captain Jack Smith appears at the lighthouse asking Adrian for use of the tunnels and caves under the island ruins for some secret enterprise... and that's all I'm saying.

This is a public domain book and if you get the free kindle version it has the advantage of an internal dictionary. There were quite a few words in here I had never heard of before. But I do like that. I feel like I'm improving my mind ;)

My one criticism is that for the first third of the book there's a lot of switching back and forth in time. But this does eventually come around to the present and move forward.

The last half of the book I had an extremely hard time putting down and I was sad to see it end. But it was very satisfying all the same.


Half Portions by Edna Ferber

Half Portions (Dodo Press)Half Portions is a collection of short stories set before/during/after WW1 in small town America. I enjoyed some stories more than others but overall, most held my interest. I confess to skimming parts of two. 

This is my first Edna Ferber book and I can honestly say she is a good writer. I wonder if I would enjoy her full length novels more, though? It's hard to write a completely satisfying story in the space of ten or twenty pages. You just get invested in the characters and its over. But it was a good taste of what Edna Ferber can do, so I'm glad I read it,

Good news is, most of her short story compilations are public domain and free on Kindle and her full length novels are available to borrow off Openlibrary.org.