Saturday, July 26, 2008

Face Down Beneath the Eleanor Cross by Kathy Lynn Emerson

No Cover Available

Face Down Beneath the Eleanor Cross
by Kathy Lynn Emerson

Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Kensington
First Released: 2000

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Blurb:
Nothing is as it seems when would-be widow Susanna, Lady Appleton, finds her official period of mourning interrupted by a cryptic message from her supposedly dead spouse. Shockingly, Robert is alive--but not for long...

Neither late nor lamented by his wife, Sir Robert Appleton summons a stunned Susanna to a furtive London meeting. Yet intead of a reluctantly anticipated martial reunion, the renowned herbalist finds her poisoned husband gasping his last breaths beneath the Eleanor Cross. Vowing to bring his killer to justice, Susanna embarks on a daring winter journey across the frigid English countryside. She swiftly discovers that there is no shortage of those who bore animosity toward Robert--most of them female. But which of the wealthy, wayward knight's mistresses is a murderess? His widow is determined to find out, aware that the gallows now awaits the most likely suspect: Susanna herself...

This book is a murder mystery set in 1565, and it is meticulously researched. (In fact, historical tidbits that aren't necessary to understand what's going on are frequently strewn throughout the story.)

Solving the murder mystery doesn't seem to be the primary focus of the novel since most of the book is spent with Susanna playing with her stepdaughter or with the other characters falling in love with each other. This is just as well since I was able to correctly identify the murder immediately after our introduction to that character and none of the red herrings shook that conviction.

I suspect this book isn't a good one to be introduced to the heroine, Susanna Appleton. She is placed in a position were she should have emotions: concern, worry, dread, saddness, etc. Except for brief flashes of emotion, Susanna seems remarkably unbothered by anything, from the loss of her husband to the threat to her life to the stress of confronting her husbands mistresses. To me, she came across as bland and unrealisticaly unemotional.

I also had a hard time thinking very highly of Susanna. She only asks her suspects some brief, obvious questions and trustingly accepts their answers. She never tries to dig deeper to find the truth and doesn't look beyond "the obvious suspects" until she's about to be sentenced to death. This wouldn't be a problem except that all the characters think her so astonishingly clever at solving murder mysteries.

Luckily, the secondary point-of-view characters are engaging even if sometimes I didn't understand why they acted the way they did.

Two unmarried characters do have sex, but it isn't explict. I don't recall any cussing. I'd rate this book as "fairly clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter One

January 3, 1565

"Back again, eh? 'E's gone on without ye. In a powerful hurry, 'e were, too."

Susanna Appleton broke off her survey of the tavern known as the Black Jack to stare at its proprietor. Until a moment ago, she'd never set foot in the place, but there might be some use in letting his misconception stand, especially if the mysterious "'e" turned out to be the man she sought. "How long ago did he leave?"

The tavernkeeper was shorter than she, a small, wiry man in a canvas apron. When he took a step closer, Susanna smelled garlic and stale, spilled wine, a pungent and unpleasant combination when trepidation had already made her queasy. A pock-marked face and brown teeth did nothing to alleviate her first, negative impression.

"Come and sit with old Ned, sweeting," he invited, leering at her, "and I'll tell you everything I know. But let's see what's under the 'ood this time."

Before she could stop him, he flipped the heavy wool away from her face, narrowing his eyes to get a better look. As he leaned in, the stench of his breath nearly made her gag.

Repulsed, Susanna backed away. Beneath her cloak, she fumbled for the small sharp knife suspended from the belt at her waist. She could expect no help from customers who frequented a place such as this, and for once she did not think it likely she'd be able to talk herself out of trouble.

The Black Jack Tavern was as disreputable as the lowest tippling house. A smoky fire burned in the chimney corner, spreading its murky light over four rickety trestle tables in a windowless, low-ceilinged room. Around them, occupying rough-hewn benches and stools, with not a chair in sight, were more than a dozen patrons, men who appeared down on their luck and potentially dangerous. A few of them were eating, but most ignored offerings of cheese and meat pies in favor of beverages served in black jacks, wooden cans treated with pitch on the inside.

To Susanna's relief, a call for more beer distracted Ned. The moment he turned away, she fled, escaping into the narrow street outside.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Princess and the Hound by Mette Ivie Harrison

Book Cover

The Princess and the Hound
by Mette Ivie Harrison

Trade Paperback: 410 pages
Publisher: EOS
First Released: 2007

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover Blurb:
He is a prince, heir to a kingdom threatened on all sides, possessor of the animal magic, which is forbidden by death in the land he'll rule.

She is a princess from a rival kingdom, the daughter her father never wanted, isolated from true human friendship but inseparable from her hound.

Though they think they have little in common, each possesses a secret that must be hidden at all costs. Proud, stubborn, bound to marry for the good of their kingdoms, this prince and princess will steal your heart, but will they fall in love?

This story is a sort of "Beauty and the Beast" tale. The worldbuilding and the pacing are good. The characters act and change realistically throughout the book.

The romance in the story develops slowly. There is kissing in this book, but no sex. The magic in the book is confined to animal magic (mainly, the abilty to talk with animals). I'd rate this book as "good, clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter One

Prince George could not remember seeing his father without the crown on his head, except perhaps in bed, and even then the imprint on his temples was clear enough. But the crown could have been melted down or stolen away, and it would not have mattered. George could see kingship in every movement his father made.

When King Davit spoke to Cook Elin, he always complimented her on how well suited her cheese was to her tart, how her salad reflected the colors of the autumn mountains in the distance. George had no idea if his father liked the flavor of the salad or the tart. He did not know if his father knew either. He knew only that the king had a duty to offer approval to his subjects who strove to please him. And the king always did his duty.

When speaking to the scarred and muscular lord general of the mounted army, King Davit nodded and talked wisely of the best way to deal with the effects of the war. George had no sense of what the war had been like for his father, whether he had been afraid of the sound of the enemy's war cry, as had the guardsman at the gate. The war was the kingdom's war, and so it had been fought.

Even when George was alone with his father, it seemed there was no difference. The king told George the story of the baker who had made too many loaves but at the end of the day would give none of them to the poor and then found in the morning they had been eaten by mice instead.

The king told George of the seamstress who left an unfinished seam in a fancy ball gown, thinking it would never be noticed, then went to the ball herself—only to watch the gown gradually spin away from the wearer until she stood in nothing but her undergarments and wrath at her betrayal.

In the stories there was always a message for George to remember. For the prince of Kendel, from the king. Never a story for fun, with magic and wildness, with adventures and threatenings and the promise of more to come. Never a story that made George want to cry, or to laugh, or to dance. Only a story to make him think.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

The Well of Ascension

The Well of Ascension
(Mistborn, Book 2)
by Brandon Sanderson

Mass Market Paperback: 781 pages
Publisher: TOR fantasy
First Released: 2007

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover Blurb:
Evil has been defeated.
The war has just begun.

They did the impossible, deposing the godlike being whose brutal rule had lasted a thousand years. Now Vin, the street urchin who has grown into the most powerful Mistborn in the land, and Elend Venture, the idealistic young nobleman who loves her, must build a healthy new society in the ashes of an empire.

They have barely begun when three separate armies attack. As the siege tightens, an ancient legend seems to offer a glimmer of hope. But even if it really exists, no one knows where to find the Well of Ascension or what manner of power it bestows.

It may just be that killing the Lord Ruler the Lord Ruler was the easy part. Suviving the aftermath of his fall is going to be the real challenge.

This is a "mystery fantasy" where the main characters perceive their world in a certain way, but the more they learn, the more they realize they haven't understood the truth about their world. The world-building in this book is excellent as is the pacing.

The book lacks the suspense of the first book because of the expectations it raises in the reader. From the very beginning, it seems obvious that the real threat to everyone is the Deepness, not the armies, and that Vin needs to leave the city to find a way to defeat it. The struggle to keep the city seems like a waste of time because of this. Well, this bit of information may qualify as a spoiler but knowing it adds suspense to the first two-thirds of the book. Despite what the beginning seems to imply, it is vital that Vin and Elend keep control of the city. Enjoy.

The main characters' relationships don't feel as well developed as in the first book (with one exception). That made it pretty easy to figure out who was going to die in this book. Even Vin and Elend's romance seemed emotionally at a stand-still until they suddenly got married. There is plenty of kissing, but no sex outside of marriage and no explicit sex. There is a small amount of cursing. Overall, though, it was still an excellent book. I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One

The army crept like a dark stain across the horizon.

King Elend Venture stood motionless upon the Luthadel city wall, looking out at the enemy troops. Around him, ash fell from the sky in fat, lazy flakes. It wasn't the burnt white ask that one saw in dead coals; this was a deeper, harsher black ash. The Ashmounts had been particularly active lately.

Elend felt the ash dust his face and clothing, but he ignored it. In the distance, the bloody red sun was close to setting. It backlit the army that had come to take Elend's kingdom from him.

"How many?" Elend asked quietly.

"Fifty thousand, we think," Ham said, leaning against the parapet, beefy arms folded on the stone. Like everything in the city, the wall had been stained black by countless years of ashfalls.

"Fifty thousand soldiers..." Elend said, trailing off. Despite heavy recruitment, Elend barely had twenty thousand men under his command--and they were peasants with less than a year of training. Maintaining even that small number was straining his resources. If they'd been able to find the Lord Ruler's atium, perhaps things would be different. As it was, Elend's rule was in serious danger of economic disaster.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

If I Had You by Lynn Kurland

If I Had You

If I Had You
by Lynn Kurlandby

Mass Paperback: 433 pages
Publisher: Berkley Romance
First Released: 2000

Source: Library

Back Cover Blurb:
Artane...a majestic keep on the edge of the sea.

Artane...the foster home of Anne of Fenwyck and the legacy of Robin de Piaget.

Warring had kept Robin far from home for so long, Anne had all but given up hope he would ever return. But now Robin has returned to Artane--to the enchanting young woman who leaves him breathless with longing...and to a treachery that places them both in terrible danger. Then as the past threatens their future, he realizes that he wants nothing more than to have her--forever...

This book is a historical romance of the "beauty tames the beast" variety. As in, Robin verbally abuses Anne and physically abuses his brothers and one of his sisters, but he falls for Anne's beauty. Anne hates Robin because of his treatment of her, but she refuses all other suitors (including a very nice fellow) because "[Robin] is so beautiful!" Robin deliberately ruins Anne's reputation knowing his actions will mean no one else will marry her (even though "nothing happened" between them), yet he doesn't intend to ask her to marry him. Because of this action, though, they're forced at swordpoint to marry.

I'm afraid this isn't what I'd call "romance," even though Robin apologizes in the end. It's abuse, plain and simple. I'd hate for women read this and fantasize that if they just stick with an abusive relationship in real life, they can reform the fellow.

There are no explicit sex scenes, but the main characters do have sex after they're married. There is a fair amount of cursing. I'd rate this as "don't read."

Excerpt: Chapter One
The young woman sat atop her mount and looked down the road that separated her from the castle. She had traversed its length many times over the course of her ten-and-nine years and felt reasonably acquainted with its dips and swellings. She was, however, eager to be free of its confines and, as a result, off her horse, so she viewed it with a keen eye. Judging the distance separating her from her goal to be not unmanageable, she took a firmer grip on her reins and urged her horse forward.