Son of the Morning

Son of the MorningSon of the Morning by Linda Howard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you don’t think too much about the glaring plot holes and gratuitous sex scenes I suppose this is sort of a fun, fluffy book. I have no clue what the title signifies. I don’t recall the phrase “Son of the Morning” coming up at all. I enjoyed the fact that a lot of the book takes place in the Twin Cities. And I’ll read anything about medieval Scotland, and a modern-day scholar translating historical documents. But Grace’s reasoning and inner-thought process left me shaking my head – starting with why the heck didn’t she go to the police immediately after witnessing the murder of her husband and brother. Then, of course, there is the fact that this CLUELESS woman is extraordinarily lucky, not just once, but quite a few times. This book contains VERY explicit sex – if you like that kind of thing you’ll be in heaven. It’s not my thing. Nothing particularly romantic about any of it. I suppose the fact that they share sex dreams before they even meet is supposed to indicate that they are meant for each other. Whatever. But first she has to get over feeling like she is betraying the memory of her dead husband. But like I said, if you can get past the plot machinations, I enjoyed the adventure of her outwitting the sadistic, evil guy, and her relationship with the woman she rents a room from in Chicago. But really, the sex added nothing at all to the story.

Description: A scholar specializing in ancient manuscripts, Grace St. John never imagined that a cache of old documents she discovered was the missing link to a lost Celtic treasure. But as soon as she deciphers the legend of the Knights Templar – long fabled to hold the key to unlimited power – Grace becomes the target of a ruthless killer bent on abusing the coveted force. Determined to stop him, Grace needs the help of a warrior bound by duty to uphold the Templar’s secret for all eternity. But to find him – and to save herself – she must go back in time to fourteenth-century Scotland and to Black Niall, a fierce man of dark fury and raw, unbridled desire. Audiobook read by Natalie Ross.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

The Physick Book of Deliverance DaneThe Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the premise of this book, being a researcher and historian myself. I also like investigations into the paranormal. However – this ends up bordering on magic and fantasy. The historical side of the story was very well done. I would like to have learned more about these women and their relationships with their daughters. It’s interesting to see Connie’s mother covering up her magical abilities in New Age mysticism, and to show the relationship develop between Connie and her mother. I did find it a little hard to swallow the idea that Connie is only learning of her own paranormal abilities in her twenties. I also wish that the psychic and paranormal elements had been more “ordinary” and less fantastical. The love story between Connie and Sam the steeplejack was sweet. I wouldn’t call this a mystery exactly, since the clues were obvious to the reader, nor is it a thriller. You’ll know who the bad guy is long before Connie does. I listened to the audiobook, so the phonetic dialect spellings didn’t bother me. On the other hand, I wasn’t at all convinced by the narrator’s (Katherine Kellgren) Boston accent.

Description: Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin plans on dedicating her summer to research. Her plans begin to fall into place when she is tasked with selling her grandmother’s reclusive Salem home. However, upon discovering a seventeenth-century Bible, Connie unwittingly walks into an ancient mystery and embarks on a quest to discover a book that contains ultimate knowledge.

The Queen’s Secret

The Queen's SecretThe Queen’s Secret by Victoria Lamb

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Setting: England, mainly at Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire
Time: 1575

Main characters: Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley – Earl of Leicester, Lettice Knollys (grand-daughter of Mary Boleyn) – wife of the Earl of Essex, Lucy Morgan – a young African singer and court entertainer, William Shakespeare – age 11.

First paragraph, Prologue: “Lucy Morgan peered over the high wooden side of the swaying cart. A group of soldiers trotted past, sunlight glinting off their helmets, their dusty blue livery announcing their allegiance to Lord Leicester. Staring back down the road, she could no longer see the distant towers of Richmond Palace, their bright pennants fluttering in the breeze off the River Thames, but only wooded hills and high green hedgerows as the road deepened into countryside.”

Favorite lines: “She had heard of Walsingham. He was the Queen’s spymaster and one of the most dangerous men at court. Some said he had strangled men with his bare hands and could sniff out a lie at a thousand paces. She could well believe his reputation. He had thin, papery eyelids that barely seemed to move, his dark gaze steady and unblinking, like that of a watchful snake. She lowered her own eyes, focusing instead on his immaculate hands resting on the parchment-strewn desk, the vast gold ring glinting on his finger. She could imagine those hands about her neck, squeezing the life out of her.” p. 162-163.

“The mirror in Elizabeth’s hand showed a pale, pockmarked face, stripped now of her whitening paint, the short spiked hair on her head like that of a demented baby. She stared down at herself, her dry lips trembling, her eyes wide – still alert, with the watchful gaze of the young woman she remembered. Without her bright wigs, her potions, her jewelled gowns, the trappings of princedom, what was she but an aging hag, a foul-breathed creature any man would pass by in the marketplace and shudder to imagine beside him at night?” p. 243.

“Sunshine burned on her closed lids. Opening them, she danced on, dazzled but alive. Her hands strong, graceful. Her feet pointed thus. Immaculate. The ring of their faces blurred slowly. A tree, shaken: white petals, blossom drifting on the air. Lucy turned, arms wide and spinning, into the last movement.” p. 297.

Given that I had to include three favorite passages, I love Victoria Lamb’s ability to paint with words. Her descriptions are marvelous. The setting is based on Elizabeth’s visit to Kenilworth Castle in 1575, described in marvelous detail in Robert Laneham’s Letter. Even the character of Lucy Morgan is based on one or more persons mentioned in historical documents. Certainly there were black musicians and entertainers at court. That gives this novel a point of view that is quite unique among the plethora of Tudor fiction. We have an appearance from the 11-year-old William Shakespeare and can speculate that Lucy is the inspiration for the “Dark Lady” (especially given the working title of book #2) which I think is just brilliant. I loved everything about this book and eagerly wait for the sequels to be published.

Description: July, 1575: Elizabeth I, Queen of England, arrives at Kenilworth Castle—home of Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. Leicester, who has long had ambitions to marry the Queen, knows this may be his very last chance to persuade her to marry him. Toward this end, the hopeful earl has organized a lavish week of music, dancing, and fireworks. Despite his attachment to the Queen and his driving ambition to be her King, Leicester is unable to resist the seductive wiles of Lettice, wife of the Earl of Essex—and the queen’s own cousin. Soon whispers of their relationship start spreading through the court. Enraged by their growing intimacy, Elizabeth employs Lucy Morgan, a young African singer and court entertainer, to spy on the adulterous lovers. But Lucy, who was raised by a spy in London, uncovers far more than she bargains for. For someone at Kenilworth is plotting to kill the queen. No longer able to tell friend from foe, it is soon not only the queen who is in mortal danger—but Lucy herself…

About the author: Victoria Lamb grew up in the peaceful Isle of Man, benefiting from a vast library of books and a family of writers from which to take inspiration. (Victoria is the daughter of the acclaimed and prolific historical novelist Charlotte Lamb.) She lives in Warwickshire, England. The Queen’s Secret is her fiction debut, and the first in a planned trilogy of novels set in the court of Elizabeth I.

Haunted Ground

Haunted Ground (Nora Gavin, #1)Haunted Ground by Erin Hart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Erin Hart may be a “midwesterner” but she has obviously spent a great deal of time in Ireland and has immersed herself in the history, music, and culture of Ireland. Her debut book in the Nora Gavin series is a wonderful blend of science, history and folklore. Nora and Cormac track down local elders and musicians in their search for answers to mysteries old and new. The plot and characters are complex, she does a great job with creating atmosphere, and there are plenty of red herrings to keep the reader guessing. The romance between Nora and Cormac is understated and undeveloped, and presumably will develop in future books. I didn’t find it added anything and could have been left out. There is also the (unsolved) background mystery of the murder of Nora’s sister. So I’ll give it 3 stars with room to grow.

Book description: Read by Jennifer McMahon. When farmers cutting turf in an Irish peat bog make a grisly discovery – the perfectly intact head of a young woman with long red hair – Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire and American pathologist Nora Gavin are thrown together by their shared scientific interest in human remains. Because of the preservative effect of the bog, it is difficult to tell whether the head has lain there for two decades, two centuries, or two millennia. As they dig into the mystery of the red-haired girl, they are drawn into the two-year-old disappearance of a landowner’s wife and young son. The story delves through the many layers of Ireland’s turbulent past, tracing the still-visible footprints of fortified tower houses and ancient burial mounds, ever mindful of the eternal, subliminal connections between past and present.