The Service of the Dead (Kate Clifford #1) by Candace Robb

This is the first volume in a new series, set in the time of Richard II, right before Henry of Bolingbroke returns to take the throne as Henry IV. I have read one other Candace Robb book, which was published under the pen name Emma Campion: A Triple Knot,  previously reviewed here.

The Service of the Dead Front Cover (Pegasus/W.W. Norton & Company)

The Service of the Dead Front Cover (Pegasus/W.W. Norton & Company)

THE PLOT: Kate Clifford is a young widow in York during the reign of Richard II, but there are rumblings that John of Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, is going to challenge his cousin for the throne. Kate struggles to maintain her independence from her dead husband’s brother and her own cousin while raising her husband’s illegitimate children as her wards. To offset her husband’s debts, she runs a boardinghouse that allows various lovers to meet discreetly. When a shocking murder takes place there, Kate is thrown into the middle of danger. Then two more murders take placeone in a method that is horrifyingly reminiscent of a period in Kate’s past. She becomes more certain that she is the ultimate target. But what is the motive…a long-ago family feud, or the current political climate?

MY TWO CENTS: First, let me say that the time period is awesome. I think it’s fairly unusual to find novels set as Henry IV was about to usurp the throne; and doesn’t even take place in London! The author paints a vivid picture of York in 1399.

Second, there are a LOT of characters. I know this is done because A) the author is setting up a whole series, and B) it’s a murder mystery so we need a large cast for a believable whodunnit, But it wasn’t all that easy to follow. I have an especially hard time with names that are unfamiliar to me (a definite disadvantage when reading Star Wars books!) So it took me a while to sort out Griselde, Clement, Jennet, and Berend (all of whom are servants). Matt and Sam and Phillip and Marie were a lot easier to follow! I may reread at least the first few chapters now that I’m done; I think I’d enjoy it more on a second read.

As for the mystery itself: there are many twists and turns, and it’s also a bit challenging to follow all the threads. I’m sure many of the suspects who were cleared of this particular crime will still show up as suspects or perpetrators in the next books.

BOTTOM LINE: An interesting read set in a less-popular setting. Fans of Tudor and Wars of the Roses fiction should enjoy it. I’ll definitely be reading the next book in the series. I may even check out the audio version at some point.

TEACUP RATING: Between three-and-a-half and four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available May 3, 2016, in hardcover, e-formats, and audio.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Her Every Wish (Worth Saga 1.5) by Courtney Milan

This novella is the second entry in the  new “Worth Saga” series, and its characters were first introduced in Once Upon a Marquess (reviewed here). Daisy is Judith’s friend in poverty, and Crash is her former lover.

her every wish

Her Every Wish Front Cover (Independently Published)

THE PLOT: When Daisy enters a contest that will be awarding startup capital to the person with the best business proposal, the crowd mocks and belittles her. Just because the rules didn’t specifically state the entries must be male doesn’t mean a woman should try to take a job from a man. But when people start throwing things at her, Crash steps in to stop the violence.

Daisy and Crash had a brief affair that ended abruptly. She’s not sure why he wants to help her win the contest, but having him around unnerves her. As for Crash, he’s still smarting from their breakup. But as Crash works to build up Daisy’s confidence, they forge an emotional connection that was missing the first time around.

MY TWO CENTS: I feel that no one gets to the heart of human emotions like Courtney Milan. For me, that makes her work more than romances. They’re like studies in human nature. The characters learn more about themselves, and that allows them to become romantically involved.

I’ve seen some reviews claim that Daisy and Crash had a “big misunderstanding.” I don’t agree with that. A lack of understanding, maybe; but I characterize a “big misunderstanding” as something like: “a couple were in love, but her father told the hero she wasn’t interested, and told the heroine that he only wanted her for her money.” This is more like, Daisy doesn’t understand how she insults Crash by insinuating that he should apologize for who he is…a multiracial former thief of uncertain parentage. In response, Crash lashes out at Daisy, hitting her in her weakest spot: her very worth as a human being. Yep, these two have a lot of work to do to mature, learn about themselves, and other people’s points of view.

Also, I love how Courtney is making a point of writing for all people, all kinds of romances. To a lot of people today, an interracial romance is probably no big deal, yet the vast, vast majority of romance is focused on white straight people. Courtney’s got some very interesting stories coming up in her contemporary “Cyclone” series, and I’ll definitely be checking them out.

BOTTOM LINE: This novella was just about the perfect length to tell a complete story without getting overly long or being too short. I love the way these characters grow to maturity before they can connect emotionally.

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The novella is now available in e-formats and paperback.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: After the Wedding, about Judith’s sister Camilla, should be out around the end of the year.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Untamed Earl (Playful Brides, #5) by Valerie Bowman

This series, which is based on classic plays, just gets better and better. This entry is based on “The Taming of the Shrew.”

The Untamed Earl Front Cover (St. Martin's Paperbacks)

The Untamed Earl Front Cover (St. Martin’s Paperbacks)

THE PLOT: Alexandra Hobbs has loved Owen Monroe since, as a 15-year-old girl, she saw him rescue her little brother from bullies. Now 18, Alexandra learns that her and Owen’s parents plan to arrange a marriage between him and Alex’s unpleasant older sister, Lavinia. Owen’s father is forcing him to marry Lavinia if he doesn’t want to be cut off. The catch is, Alex’s parents want Lavinia to want to marry Owen, so he’s got to convince her. No easy feat since Lavinia was deathly ill as a child, so her parents have spoiled her into becoming a self-centered, unpleasant shrew.

To sabotage the intended union and spend some time with Owen herself, Alex offers to give Owen lessons on winning the difficult Lavinia over. As a trade, Owen has to help Alex overcome her wallflower status and grab the attention of the man she loves (of course, he has no idea that he himself is the man). The two become good friends as Owen gives Alex lessons in waltzing and flirting, and Alex happily misleads Owen on any fact that might help him build a relationship with Lavinia. Eventually Owen realizes he’d be more than happy to marry Alex instead, but her parents insist that Lavinia, the older sister, must marry first. Owen’s father insists that he man up, stop drinking and gambling, and settle down with Lavinia. And Alex doesn’t want Owen to settle for her; she wants him to love her.

MY TWO CENTS: Up until now, my favorite “Playful Brides” book was The Unlikely Lady (reviewed here), but The Untamed Earl may overtake that spot. I LOVED this book; it was just darling. Alex is an adorable heroine who knows what she wants and tries like crazy to get it. Owen’s been dismissed as a loser by his own father, so it’s up to Alex to convince him that he’s really the hero she fell in love with, the one who rescues young boys from bullies. I really rooted for Alex, and for Owen to become the man she wants him to be.

Lavinia is another matter entirely. I wondered if, like Katherine the shrew, she would turn out to be a sympathetic character with her own love story. I’m still not sure that she shouldn’t get her own book someday. I wondered for a bit if she was destined to be courted by Christian, Lord Berkley, who might be her “perfect knight.” But it looks like Christian will have a different heroine in the next book.

And this wouldn’t be a “Playful Brides” book without some interference from Lucy, Cass, and Jane. Owen is Cass’s brother, so of course she gets involved; and Lucy comes up with a typical convoluted plan that only makes sense to her; and Jane sits around reading, eating tea cakes, and telling everyone else the plan is ridiculous. (I LOVE Jane.)

BOTTOM LINE: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Such a cute story with likable characters; it’s competing with The Unlikely Lady for my favorite in the series.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available May 3, 2016, in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: Christian’s book, The Legendary Lord, will be available November 1, 2016.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The James Bond Songs: Pop Anthems of Late Capitalism by Adrian Daub and Charles Kronengold

I consider myself a slightly-more-than-casual James Bond fan, but not a super fan. I’ve read the books and seen all the movies, but I couldn’t necessarily tell you exactly what plot point happened in what movie (especially the Moore years). I have a playlist of Bond songs on my iPod that includes all the Bond songs except one…more on that later. I like all kinds of books, so the description of this made me think it was something I might enjoy. Unfortunately, I was way off base on this one.

The James Bond Songs Front Cover (Oxford University Press)

The James Bond Songs Front Cover (Oxford University Press)

 THE COVERAGE: This is a very scholarly book that discusses the music of the James Bond films: the composers, singers, actors, and songs themselves. It covers all movies up through Skyfall; Spectre is not included. The book was released shortly before Spectre hit theaters in 2015. For some songs, the lyrics are broken down and analyzed along with the opening-sequence visuals.

MY TWO CENTS: Oh boy, here we go.

This is a 256-page book. It took me fully six months to get through. Why? Because, frankly, it’s an unpleasant read. I spent most of it trying to figure out who the audience might be for this book. I can tell you who it’s NOT for: fans of James Bond, the movies, the music, or the singers of the music. Why? Well, for starters, here’s a list of things the authors make it clear they dislike, outright hate, or otherwise have no respect for:

  • the character of James Bond
  • James Bond books
  • James Bond movies
  • the opening sequences of the movies
  • John Barry, composer of the Bond theme and scores for half the movies
  • the title songs for the movies
  • lyrics of the songs
  • the artists who sing the songs
  • the songwriters

In fact, in the acknowledgments, they admit they are not fans of the movies or songs. So why, you might ask, did they bother with this particular subject?

At least the “scholarly” aspect of it explains why the language used is often pretentious, including words I’ve never heard before. But then there’s also the part where the authors spew out profanity, especially one notable tirade against John Barry.

I was a little shocked by the venom shown against the singers of songs. Maybe not all the artists are legends, but some certainly are. And it just seems like all the language used to describe them is disparaging. The word “hack” is used several times. Including this passage at the end of the book:

So every time we whine about the fact that our favorite artist didn’t get picked, and some talentless hack did, some part of us surely is happy that we won’t have to navigate a complicated web of competing loyalties when the song comes out and sounds, well, okay, as okay as all Bond-songs sound. Competent, inoffensive, a bit staid.

Seriously, even Paul McCartney doesn’t escape, described as being “no longer a young rock star” at age 30 when he did “Live and Let Die” and struggling to make himself relevant apart from the Beatles. He’s also described as “sort of safe” compared to artists that might have been picked, such as Mick Jagger and David Bowie. Adele is described as having “what few Bond-singers before her had: camp cred and a large gay following.” Even before I had the tenor of the book, I was terrified of what ire would be rained down on Duran Duran, but it really just seems to be lead singer Simon Le Bon who gets beaten up (part of the “voices that say nothing less than you no longer have to be able to sing to be a pop star.”) Broadway legend Tim Rice is slammed for his “half-baked lyrics” to “All Time High.” The lyrics for “For Your Eyes Only,” which I have thoroughly enjoyed since it was on the radio in 1981, are dismissed as “a huge f**king mess.” And of course “A View to a Kill” lyrics are roasted, with an insulting “nice songwriting, boys” thrown in.

So do the authors like ANY of the songs? I don’t know why I was shocked when the one they lauded as “dynamite” was Madonna’s “Die Another Day.” This is the one song in all of Bond-dom that I do NOT have on my Bond playlist. I really dislike it. I’ve never liked it. And it’s not that I dislike Madonna, since I grew up to her. I’m sorry that her offering into the Bond song canon wasn’t more enjoyable. I’d much rather listen to “From Russia with Love,” although the authors toss that away with a “chances are you’ve never heard it.” Which again begs the question: Who do they think is reading this book? Someone who’s not a fan? Any fan interested enough to read this book would know the song. It’s just clear, over and over, that the writers have no clear view of their audience. They come across as egotistical enough to write a book ranting about something that’s not actually that important to them.

You may ask: “Why did you read the whole book? Why not give up?” When I dislike a book this much, I like to give it every chance to change my mind. But I just kept getting more and more annoyed. I would read passages out loud to my roommate, who remarked, “This sounds like it’s just one giant troll post.” Yeah, it really does.

Final evidence that I, as a person, was never going to be on the same planet as these authors comes in a quote discussing sequels:

Star Wars Fans still upset over George Lucas’s work on the prequel trilogy repress the fact that the original wasn’t a very good movie either.

Wow. Just, wow.  If this quote at come in the beginning of the book instead of 82% of the way through, I would have quit right there.

BOTTOM LINE: Not for casual readers, fans of James Bond movies or songs, or any of the artists who recorded Bond songs. Who does that leave? Maybe the population of scholars who thoroughly dislike Bond Songs?

TEACUP RATING: 1 out of 5 teacups. (I’m not giving it zero; it WAS written in complete sentences.)

ON SALE DATE: Available now in hardcover and ebook formats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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