Kim’s Review of Death in the Floating City (Lady Emily Series #7) by Tasha Alexander

ditfcTowards the end of 2011/beginning of 2012 I was introduced to a character by the name of Lady Emily. She is a woman of the Victorian Era, a time when woman should be seen and not heard.  Lady Emily, however, is a woman who bucks that notion and delves into learning, reading, languages, art, geography, etc.  I found so much of myself in her at times that I flew through the first book of Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series And Only to DeceiveAfter falling head-over-heels in love with Alexander’s writing, characters, and settings I quickly made my way through the other five available books: A Poisoned Season, A Fatal Waltz, Tears of Pearl, Dangerous to Knowand A Crimson Warning (all links lead to my reviews).

In the latest installment of the Lady Emily series, Death In the Floating City, we follow Emily as her adventures take her to Italy for the first time.  Many years ago, Emily’s childhood arch nemesis  Emma Callum, shocked English society by eloping to Venice, Italy with her lover, an Italian count.  Despite their past, Emma has now turned to Emily for help as she finds herself entangled in a mystery that involves the death of her father-in-law and the disappearance of her husband.  Emily takes her up on the offer, and travels to Venice with her husband, Colin Hargreaves.  There, Emily discovers that there is more to this story than what meets the eye, and she finds that she must look to the past to solve this crime in the present day.

I’ve always been impressed with authors who can write 5+ books in a series and keep each one feeling fresh and new, while continuing to develop the characters and relationships in new and exciting ways.  Death in the Floating City is the seventh book in the Lady Emily series, yet it reads with the excitement and freshness of the first, And Only to Deceive.  It’s 100% due to Alexander’s talent as a writer.  Not only should she continue to write the Lady Emily series, but I think she should start writing travel books as well.  Her descriptions of Venice are astonishingly beautiful, stunning, and so visual.  At times I could close my eyes and completely see the scene she was painting for me.

When I read Alexander’s books I literally become so engulfed by them.  The characters’ sadness is my sadness, their happiness is my happiness as well.  By the time I got to the last few pages of the book my face hurt SO MUCH from smiling.  I walked around the whole day with just a goofy grin on my face because I was completely overwhelmed with happiness.  Books that can have that kind of effect on a person are my favorite.  It’s a clear indication that the writer got you enveloped in the story.  The added surprise to Death in the Floating City was a book within the book!  Not only do you become completely obsessed with the murder mystery, but you are fascinated by the tragedy that is Besina and Nicolo’s story.  I was slightly saddened that Colin was missing for large chunks of this book, but understood the reason for it once I got to the end.

I’m excited about the direction that the series is taking.  The decisions and discoveries made at the end of Death in the Floating City should create some interesting problems/conflicts to overcome in the next books of the series.  Book eight, Behind the Shattered Glass, is slated to release this upcoming October.

On a completely different side note, Elsie Lyons has been designing the covers of Alexander’s novels since book five (Dangerous to Know) and she needs a shout out. These covers are exquisite and to put it simply, I love them.

4 out of 5 Stars

This is my twelfth completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge.

Death in the Floating City by Tasha Alexander
Minotaur Books (2012)
Hardcover: 320 pages
ISBN: 9780312661762

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2012 – A Year in Review

fireworksAnd with it being  January 1st, 2013 we can officially end 2012 and all its reading goals.  I’m very happy to say that I have succeeded in reading my 110 books for the year and exceeded that goal by a whopping 74 books!  With the success of this year I’ll up my reading goal again for 2013.  Keep an eye out for my annual New Year, New Challenges post for a breakdown of what I’m looking to accomplish.

2012 has definitely been a year of eclectic reading for me.  It’s difficult to pick my favorite books of the year since I read so many, but here is my best go:

  1. The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley
  2. The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley
  3. Dangerous to Know by Tasha Alexander
  4. A Million Suns by Beth Revis
  5. The Apothecary’s Daughter by Julie Klassen
  6. When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James
  7. The Siren by Tiffany Reisz
  8. Short Straw Bride by Karen Witemeyer
  9. In A Treacherous Court by Michelle Diener/The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick
  10. Fever by Lauren DeStefano

Damn. That was difficult.

My reading challenges wrap up is as follows: I once again blew through the Historical Fiction challenge (woot woot!).  I also succeeded in my first year participating in the Around the Stack challenge!  Now for the bad parts. The TBR challenge and the Audio challenge both got only one completed review each out of me.  I know I failed the audio challenge because of 1Q84 (AH SO LONG), plus my addiction of reading newer books killed any hope I had of finishing the TBR challenge.  A 50% completion rate for the challenges isn’t terrible, but I’d still liked to have completed 100%.

Even though it’s 2013 I still have some books to review that I finished in 2012, so keep an eye out for them.  You can also see a listing of EVERYTHING I read this year, including review links, here.

Well, there you go folks.  My 2012 year in review.  Enjoy the rest of your New Year’s and join me again tomorrow as we kick off a new year and new challenges!

Armchair BEA: Day 2 – The Favorites!

For the second day of Armchair BEA posts, we’ve been tasked with describing our favorite reads of this year.  Instead of just picking one book and talking about it myself, both Todd and I have picked two of our favorite reads of the year and will share them with you!  Hopefully this will inspire you to seek out new and exciting reads for the remainder of the year.  So, without further ado, here they are:

Todd:  I’d have to say that my favorite book this year is H10N1 by M. R. Cornelius.  Yes, you could say that it was a shoo in because it’s a post-apocalyptic thriller, but I think it’s more than just that.  One of the best parts of novels in this genre is that they are as much a reflection of the people around us as they are a description of the actual apocalyptic event.  Yes, I know the whole genre is pretty popular right now with the likes of The Walking Dead and Resident Evil on TV and the big screen, but I’ve always liked these kinds of books, as they showcase the good and the bad that comes out of a dire situation.  Cornelius definitely achieved that in her work, and it was a thrill ride from start to finish.  I’m definitely glad I gave this one a shot, it was a blast to read.  You can read my full review here!

In second place by a very, very slight margin is the second book in the Across the Universe trilogy, A Million Suns by Beth Revis.  Although I’ve just finished it recently, it’s definitely an amazing follow-up to Across the Universe.  In it, we follow Elder as he attempts to lead the ship through a new host of trials and tribulations following the death of its previous leader, Eldest.  Not only does Revis’ writing show amazing technical detail that is a staple of any good sci-fi novel, but the interpersonal connections she weaves between Elder and his main interest, Amy, are great.  It’s a great coming-of-age novel that explores the difficulties of leadership, and the obstacles one must overcome in being different than everyone else.  Hopefully I can finish my review quickly and post it up for everyone to read!

Kim:  Although it was quite a task to pick just two books that would take the top spot so far this year, I’ve finally managed to do so.  First up is the fifth book in the Lady Emily series by Tasha Alexander, Dangerous to Know.  Lady Emily’s character is fleshed out much more in this book, as she and Colin must deal with her miscarriage.  Although she was already a strong female character, this tragedy gave her some depth that made her all the more believable and relatable.  We all must get through difficult patches in our lives, so to see Lady Emily boldly carry on and eventually overcome this situation was inspiring.  Alexander did a great job in creating such a wonderful character, and along with the other characters in the novel presented an exciting story that I couldn’t put down!  You can read my full review here.

Seeing as Todd has ranked his two books after choosing them, I’d have to say that I’m saving the best of my two for last.  Orchid House by Lucinda Riley is a stunning tale of love and loss.  As I stated in my review, I was amazed that this is Riley’s debut novel, as her writing is as seamless and fluid as the most veteran writers out there.  The way in which she crosses time and geography in this work is astounding.  Covering three generations and three countries, Riley treats us to a rich world that drew me in from the very beginning.  I’m always a sucker for great character development, but this went above and beyond, teaching us that life is a precious gift that can be taken from us at any time.  Couple this with the amazing backdrop of Riley’s fantastic plot and you have a sure winner.  I don’t give out more than 5 stars often, but this definitely deserved it!  Read my full review here.

Well, that’s it for our favorite reviews of the year so far!  Check back tomorrow for the third day of Armchair BEA posting.

Until then, happy reading!

#4 A Guest Review of A Crimson Warning (Lady Emily Series #6) by Tasha Alexander

A Crimson Warning (Lady Emily Series #6)For those of you who have been sticking with my Lady Emily reviews, today marks my last one! (Well, for now at least….)  On Saturday, my review for the sixth and most recently published novel in the series, A Crimson Warning, was posted on the Austenprose blog!

Lady Emily and her husband Colin are back from their adventures abroad, and have finally come home for the season.  Everything seems to be fine until slashes of crimson paint begin appearing on the front doors of society’s biggest players.  When one of them is murdered Colin is given the case.  As always, Lady Emily finds some way to make herself useful and begins her own investigations, hoping to be of some help to Colin.  Will they figure out who is responsible for these heinous crimes before another person is murdered?

For those who would like to read my reviews in order click the links below:

  1. And Only To Deceive
  2. A Poisoned Season
  3. A Fatal Waltz
  4. Tears of Pearl
  5. Dangerous to Know
  6. A Crimson Warning

PS – Aren’t these covers amazing!?

This is my fourth completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

#3 A Review of Dangerous to Know (Lady Emily Series #5) by Tasha Alexander

Dangerous to Know (Lady Emily Series #5)Yes, I’m back with a review for the fifth novel in Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily mystery series, Dangerous To Know. (Bear with me, there are only 6 out so far! 1 left to review!)  Lady Emily is becoming quite the world traveler!  After her harrowing experience in Constantinople, she and her husband Colin travel to Normandy, France, to his mother’s large estate to rest, relax, and recoup.  She aims to keep a low profile, yet fate won’t let this be, sending yet another mystery to land right in her lap.  Out riding one day, Lady Emily comes across the body of a young woman who has been brutally murdered.  Chillingly, the woman looks like Lady Emily, and has the telltale wound marks of the infamous Jack the Ripper.  With this similarity Emily can’t rest until she tracks down the killer.  She faces her greatest challenges yet, as she must travel across the beautiful backdrop of Normandy to chase down clues on the elusive murderer’s trail.  Will she be able to cheat death as she did in Constantinople, or will her luck run out this time?  Will she be able to bring justice to the young woman and unmask her killer?

Dangerous to Know is a much darker novel than the previous four, giving us a glimpse at a side of Lady Emily we haven’t seen previously.  Still reeling from being shot and miscarrying, she’s in a depression that is greatly subduing her normally outgoing, sparkling, and effervescent personality.  She begins to hear a child crying out at night, and it starts to drive her mad with grief over the child that she’s lost.  The murder (as weird as this sounds) works to drive her mind on a straight path.  It gives her something to focus on and in turn helps to bring her out of the funk she is experiencing.  It’s interesting to see this side of Emily, as it makes her human.  I don’t mean to say that she isn’t a realistic person in the first four novels, but everyone has dark periods in his or her life, and giving Emily and Colin a period of grief to get through made me love their story even more than I previously did.

The reintroduction of Sebastian (from A Poisoned Season) was a fantastic idea!  He is one of my favorite recurring characters; his over-the-top flirtations with Emily make me laugh all the time.  He’s always so mysterious and quick-witted.  His presence brings out a jealous side of the normally confident Colin that is highly entertaining. Together with the emotional development of Lady Emily, this novel definitely progresses much further than the previous ones.  It’s a great addition to an already wonderful story over these five novels.  Alexander did a great job (as usual), and I can’t wait to see what she has in store in the next book!

5 out of 5 Stars

This is my third completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

This is my second completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

Dangerous to Know by Tasha Alexander
St. Martin’s Press (2011)
Paperback 336 pages
ISBN: 9780312383817

#2 A Review of Tears of Pearl (Lady Emily Series #4) by Tasha Alexander

Tears of Pearl (Lady Emily Series #4)In the fourth installment of the Lady Emily mystery series, Tears of Pearl, Tasha Alexander takes us on an exciting journey to Constantinople, where Lady Emily and her now-husband Colin Hargreaves (I’m so glad they finally tied the knot!) attempt to relax on a peaceful honeymoon away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.  However, Lady Emily can’t seem to catch a break, as mystery and suspense seem to have traveled with her (and her luggage) to Constantinople.  Following an evening at the opera, Emily and Colin are witnesses to the discovery of a murdered harem girl’s body.  As the ranking English citizen at the scene, Colin is assigned to the investigation, and is able to secure the Crown’s permission to have Lady Emily assist in the case.  The Crown is a little hesitant in allowing her to help Colin, but realize they need a female to gain access to the women of the harem.  Even with their misgivings it appears to be an excellent choice, as Lady Emily prepares to do what she does best: solve seemingly impossible mysteries. She explores the harem girl’s family history and discovers that her father is a British diplomat, and that she had been abducted from his care many years prior. She goes on to find even more interesting facts about harem life, all which make the murder seem not quite so out of the blue.  Add to all of this the possibility that Emily could be pregnant and you’ve got one hell of a story to follow.

While still a solid book, Alexander’s Tears of Pearl felt like it lost a bit of its shine at some points. Emily spends most of the book wondering whether or not she could be pregnant and reeling with thoughts on what having a child could do not only to her independence, but also to her ability to work with Colin. While these were realistic things for her to be thinking about, the constant thought of “Could I be pregnant? Could I be pregnant?” got old after a while. If she’s intelligent enough to solve murders and learn multiple languages in a short amount of time, I’m pretty sure that she could figure out conclusive signs of being pregnant.  It felt at times like the mystery was being put into the background while we dealt with the possible pregnancy.

Aside from this debate the remainder of the book is wonderful. Its lush portrait of Constantinople had me eagerly adding Turkey as a destination to visit on my bucket list.  Not only were the descriptions of Constantinople’s palaces and temples wonderful, but the dialogue about their social customs was intriguing as well.  I’ve said in the past that these novels made me feel smarter upon completion.  Tears of Pearl is no different; the conversations that Emily has with the women of the harem are fascinating!  You get to hear what others thought about the strictness of British society on women, and how they found it stifling.  Of course I found this comical (as did Lady Emily), coming from women living in a harem.  Yes, they were allowed an education, but the highest social position that they could rise to was a position entitled Valide Sultan.  All this meant was that you were the sultan’s mother, and as such had more control than other women did.  The debates between Emily and the harem women on how their social customs were better than each other’s were enlightening conversations that have led me to do more research on the customs of the Ottoman Empire.

Historical fiction novels that are meticulous in research are my favorite kinds.  Not only do they offer you an escape from the world we currently live in, but they offer you a chance at learning about another, entirely different, frame of time.  Alexander’s books fit the above description to a T, and as such have earned a spot on my “favorites” shelf.  They’re obviously scrupulously researched and offer insight into social customs, art, literature, and so much more.  If you’re looking for intelligent adventures with mystery and sleuthing thrown in, then the Lady Emily series is the best choice!

4 out of 5 Stars

This is my second completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

This is my first completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander
St. Martin’s Press (2010)
Paperback 352 pages
ISBN: 9780312383800

For those who have been reading the series and are interested, Tasha wrote a short story which serves as a prequel to Tears of Pearl, titled Emily and Colin’s Wedding.  The entire story can be found here

#100 A Review of A Fatal Waltz (Lady Emily Series #3) by Tasha Alexander

A Fatal Waltz (Lady Emily Series #3)In A Fatal Waltz by Tasha Alexander, the third novel in the Lady Emily mystery series, we find ourselves again in Victorian England with Lady Emily Ashton.  This time, we follow Lady Emily to a house party in the country, hosted by Lord Basil Fortesque.  Unfortunately for Lord Fortesque, he winds up dead as the recipient of a bullet from a dueling pistol.  Lady Emily sets her mind to discovering who the killer is after the husband of one of her good friends is erroneously implicated as the murderer.  Unfortunately Lady Emily has little to go by, as the only clue is a letter sent to the deceased that references a political assassination.  Acting on the information contained in the letter, Lady Emily travels to Vienna, where she must dig up new details and place together new clues.  Fortunately she gets to spend some time with her fiance, Colin Hargreaves (an undercover agent for the crown).  She is also involved in an interesting twist when she must make friends with his former lover, Kristiana Von Lange, in order to get out of a difficult situation.  With all of the twists and turns thrown at Lady Emily it begins to seem as if the murder will never get solved!  Will her engagement end now that Kristiana is back in Colin’s life?  Will Emily be able to make a breakthrough in the case before it’s too late?

Immediately after finishing A Poisoned Season, I picked up A Fatal Waltz ready to jump into another mystery with Emily and Colin.  I couldn’t wait to read not only how their relationship progressed, but also the tongue-in-cheek humor that I’ve come to expect from Alexander’s writing.  While Waltz moved a bit slower than the first two in the series, it did NOT disappoint on the mystery front.  I was guessing the entire time, thinking myself a better sleuth than I actually was!  I failed miserably, guessing completely wrong. Hopefully by the sixth book in the series I’ll have picked up some detective skills from Emily that help me figure out whodunit before the story ends (I can only hope).

As in the previous novels of the series, Emily is a modern-thinking woman, keen on keeping her independence and freedom.  She’s an absolutely fascinating heroine to follow, as she really gives a big middle finger to the social restrictions on women.  She reminds me of Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice in multiple ways.  She allows her wit and intelligence to ease the way for her non-traditional values and decisions.  Most of the people she meets are enthralled by her and for the most part come around to her way of thinking.  Maybe they don’t 100% agree with her, yet they respect her views enough to allow for the freedom of discussion about them.  She’s a heroine I’m proud to like, and I think that anyone who gives these novels a chance would definitely appreciate her mind and find themselves growing quite attached to her.  Not only this, But I’m willing to bet that once you begin to read the first novel in this series, you won’t be able to stop until the sixth and most current novel ends up in your “finished” pile.  They’re that good!

4 out of 5 Stars

A Fatal Waltz by Tasha Alexander
Harper Collins (2008)
Hardcover 304 pages
ISBN: 9780061174223

Note: With this review I close out 2011, and officially complete my 2011 100 book challenge! Yahoo!!!

#96 A Review of A Poisoned Season (Lady Emily Series #2) by Tasha Alexander

A Poisoned Season (Lady Emily Series #2)The second installment in the Lady Emily mystery series, A Poisoned Season begins with Lady Emily Ashton at the tail end of mourning for her husband.  (We learn of his death in And Only To Deceive)  As a fresh start, she decides to re-join the London social scene on her own terms.  Newcomer to the social scene, is a Charles Berry who claims that he is the direct descendant of Louie XVI and Marie Antoinette.  Not only this, but he intends to take Lady Emily as his mistress (although she won’t have any of it!)  Additionally, it appears that someone has been stealing items that belonged to Marie Antoinette, and just as the mystery appears to deepen with this new development, the owner of one of the items is murdered, deepening it further.  It is up to Lady Emily to find the true burglar and murderer before he or she finds her, as it seems that the thief  is becoming exceptionally interested in Lady Emily.  She must work quickly as her own life is at stake!  Will she be able to make it in time?

Alexander does a fantastic job with A Poisoned Season.  Just like her first novel, I was hanging on the edge of my seat from cover to cover.  I thoroughly enjoyed all of the new characters that we’re introduced to.  Lady Emily’s childhood friend Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge was a perfectly added dose of comedic relief.  We’re also treated to more of the romantic tete-a-tete between Colin Hargreaves and Lady Emily, as Colin continues to try to convince Emily to marry him.

As I stated in my review of the And Only To Deceive, had Jane Austen and Agatha Christie been writing partners, Tasha Alexander’s books would have been the outcome.  The mystery that Alexander sets up for us is wonderful.  I had my thoughts on who the culprits could have been from the beginning, and was shocked to find out how wrong I was by the end.  The ending completely blew me away, as I was not expecting it AT ALL.  Throw into the investigation some background on Marie Antoinette, fine art, and literary discussions, and you have a mystery that you actually learn things from.  This is probably one of my favorite things about the Lady Emily series (I’m currently reading book #4).  They’re intelligent mysteries that make comments about the social/intellectual restraints of the Victorian time period, while at the same time providing characters and story lines that encourage you, the reader, to further your own knowledge of the events/people/places mentioned.

I cannot recommend Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series enough.  It’s literally all I’ve been talking about for the past two weeks, and I have been recommending it to everyone.  They’re engaging, intellectual, funny, and sophisticated reads that are sure to please mystery, adventure, and historical fiction fans abound.

5 out of 5 Stars

A Poisoned Season by Tasha Alexander
Harper Collins (2008)
Paperback  352 pages
ISBN: 9780061174216

#94 A Review of And Only To Deceive (Lady Emily Series #1) by Tasha Alexander

And Only to Deceive (Lady Emily Series #1)Good friend of the blog Laurel Ann Nattress (founder of Austenprose and newly published editor of Jane Austen Made Me Do It) recently sent me the newest book in the Lady Emily series by Tasha Alexander to review.  When I signed on to review A Crimson Warning I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there were five other books published beforehand.  Having never read any of the Lady Emily mysteries I said “why not?” and jumped in headfirst with book one: And Only To Deceive.

Being a woman in the Victorian Era, Emily Bromley’s main social obligation is to marry and have children.  Call her ahead of her time, but she thinks nothing of this prospect, and is practically forced to marry the wealthy Viscount Philip Ashton just to escape her mother.  A few months after the wedding, Philip is killed on safari in Africa, and Emily feels guilty in being more relieved than remorseful about his death.  Now independently wealthy due to her inheritance of his estate, she takes up a study of ancient Greek literature and antiquities upon finding out about Philip’s intense interest in these subjects.  She is extremely surprised to come across his journals detailing how in love with her he was, as well as some strange entries about antiquities.  As she learns more about these subjects as well as Philip himself, she begins to realize that not is all as it seems.  She discovers evidence of sly business dealings, as well as stories about Philip from his friends that don’t seem to add up.  Now it is up to Emily to uncover the truth about her husband and bring the details of his death in Africa to light.  Will she be able to do all this without being discovered by those who may have harmed Philip?

Lady Emily is a breath of fresh air on the heroine front.  She’s wonderfully charming, yet fiercely intelligent, pushing the boundaries and limits of what women were allowed to do back in the day.  She refuses to be placed into a certain social box, instead forging her own path, surrounding herself with friends who will accept her for who she is becoming.  I also like that she tries to influence the other women she knows to think in a more intellectual manner, and have a voice of their own rather than just accepting their husbands’ as their own.  She refuses to believe that all women are good for are being wives.  She studies Greek, art history, mythology, and much more, allowing her new-found knowledge to expand who she is. (Sound like an Austen heroine?)

The pace of the novel was absolutely excellent; there was never any feeling of boredom or plot dragging.  Everything kept me enthralled in the mystery, eagerly trying to figure out who was responsible for the missing original artifacts.  Being an avid reader, I also enjoyed the little discussions that were thrown in here and there between characters about different literature opinions.  The Odyssey is one of my favorite books of all time, so all of the discussion about it was a pleasure to read.  Alexander is a gifted writer of dialogue, moving most of the book along through conversation, rather than narrative overtures.

I’d like to think that if Jane Austen and Agatha Christie ever wrote novels together, Tasha Alexander’s works would be the result.  With Austen-like heroines and intelligent mysteries a la Christie, Alexander made a hell of a debut with And Only To Deceive.  If you’ve never heard of the Lady Emily novels (I’m still smacking myself that I never did) I heartily recommend giving them a try.  Alexander will have you on the edge of your seat from cover to cover, eager to pick up the next book in the series immediately after.

5 out of 5 Stars

And Only To Deceive by Tasha Alexander
Harper Collins (2006)
Paperback  336 pages
ISBN: 9780061148446