The Earl, the Vow, and the Plain Jane

The second installment in Cheryl Bolen’s Lords of Eton series finds Jack St. John, known to his friends as Sinjin, elevated to the title Earl of Slade. Lord Slade has enthusiastically taken his place in the House of Lords as a Whig, and has made a success of his public life, but his personal life is something else. The family coffers are lower than low, and Slade has three sisters to present and dower, and a crumbling ancestral home, not to mention the promise he made to his dying father. He’s leased out the family’s London house and rented rooms for himself, but he can’t even afford to keep a carriage. It seems the only solution must be to marry an heiress. A very wealthy heiress.

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The Earl the Vow the Plain JaneMiss Jane Featherstone has long felt a tender admiration for Lord Slade, but she and her father, a leading Whig in the House of Commons, are poor as the proverbial church mice, and Jane believes herself to be hopelessly plain. Her cousin and dearest friend, Lady Sarah Bertram, however, is beautiful, extremely wealthy, and about to be presented to society.

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Small wonder Lord Slade should focus his interest on Lady Sarah.

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As if that weren’t distressing enough to Jane, Slade proceeds to ask for her help in courting her cousin.

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Heartbroken in spite of her conviction that a poor plain Jane could never be the wife of an earl, Jane agrees to help, on the condition that Slade refrain from offering for Lady Sarah until he can honestly say that he loves her.

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As Slade finds himself in competition with the many young men swarming around the gorgeous Lady Sarah, he spends more time than he should with Jane, with whom he shares many political and intellectual interests, while Sarah seems rather taken with Slade’s younger brother, Captain David St. John. And Jane finds herself seriously considering the worth of a successful businessman and would-be politician, Mr. Cecil Poppinbotham.

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Add an inside look at period electioneering, an amusing cast of supporting players, and the support of Slade’s long-time friends Harry and Alex, and you have another entertaining tale of life, love, and politics under the Regency.

 

Back on Trek

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been a Star Trek fan for fifty years (gee, that’s a little scary), since I was in college during the first run of the The Original Series (as it was not known then).

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During and after that run, as I caught up with missed episodes in reruns, I also read most, if not all, of the paperback spin-off novels that came out, some of them written by well-known science fiction writers of the day.

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By the time Star Trek: The Next Generation aired, life, and syndication, got in the way, and I picked up episodes of that and of Deep Space Nine rather sporadically. Didn’t even think about reading the accompanying novels, although over the years I have caught up with watching both series.

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Then came Voyager. By then my life was a bit more settled, and so was the broadcast schedule for the show, now on a regular (if short-lived) network rather than syndication. I watched Voyager from the beginning, fell in love with the ensemble cast, and read the Voyager novels (varying in quality but all featuring the familiar cast) as they came out.

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After Voyager returned to Earth, finishing its seven-year run, I read a few of the “relaunch” novels that appeared, but wasn’t terribly impressed, and there weren’t many of them. I stopped watching for them not that long after the series ended, when I heard that some writer (in a Next Generation novel, I think) had killed off Kathryn Janeway.

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Voyager without Janeway, the redoubtable first female captain with her own series? I don’t think so. Chakotay without Janeway, break my heart again.

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Not too long ago I was wondering what the Trekverse had in store for the cast of Deep Space Nine after that show closed. I knew there must have been any number of novels written in the years since then. So I went poking around on the Internet, where I learned that, this being science fiction, Janeway was restored to life four books into a (currently) nine-book relaunch series by a single author, Kirsten Beyer.

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Full CircleI tried to resist, but I failed. Completely. I devoured the first two books (Full Circle and Unworthy) over the Memorial Day weekend (and these are not short novels), the third (Children of the Storm) during the week, and the fourth (The Eternal Tide) this weekend. Hooked, obviously. I’ve downloaded number 5 (Protectors), although I might force myself to read something else next. Maybe.

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As a reader and as a writer, I’m impressed with how well Kirsten Beyer has handled bringing in backstory from five TV series and countless novels without huge info dumps and without leaving the reader (assuming a certain degree of Star Trek knowledge) totally confused. There are literally hundreds of books out there (if you think I’m exaggerating, check out Wikipedia’s List of Star Trek Novels), and there may well be people who have read them all. I’m not one of them, and never will be, but I am enjoying these.

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However, I’m not writing this to tell you “Read these books, you’ll love them!” Unless you’re a long-time Star Trek fan with a special affection for Voyager, you probably wouldn’t. It’s a niche market.

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What I am sharing, as I babbled to a writer friend recently, is the joy of rediscovering books that keep me up late, books that I can’t put down. Books that have me reading 1800 pages in ten days or so. The joy of binge reading.

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Writers come to look on reading almost as homework, too alert to the mechanics, watching to see how the writer has done something, kicking ourselves because we don’t think we can do it as well, or because we really wish we’d thought of (or written) something on our own. Although most of us are bookaholics, with huge piles of books we really want to read, on our shelves or our ereaders, the book that keeps us up all night, that keeps us away from whatever we think we should be doing, becomes a rare find.

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So when you find an author, or a series, or a subgenre that you fall in love with, go ahead and binge. Reading should be a joy, not an obligation, and I’m delighted, and thankful, to have been reminded of that.

 

The Reign of King Henry IX

Laura Andersen’s The Boleyn King set the stage for the reign of Henry IX, son of Henry VIII and his queen (and eventual widow) Anne Boleyn.

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The Boleyn Deceit brings on more alternate Tudor history. Political intrigue, star-crossed The Boleyn Deceitlovers, military action, enough characters to be confusing at times, thoroughly enjoyable. This volume veers a bit farther from our history, of course, and I found myself hopping onto Wikipedia from time to time to check on the real lives of the historical characters. As this is the middle volume in a trilogy, the cliff-hanger ending was not a surprise, and thanks to the immediate availability of ebooks, it took only a moment to grab the third book.

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The Boleyn Reckoning continues the reign of Henry IX, still known as Will to his sister Elizabeth and their close friends Minuette Wyatt and Dominic Courtenay. But the relationships between the four are changing rapidly, and not for the better. Meanwhile tensions rise with both France and Spain, people move in and out (the lucky ones) of the dread Tower of London (some innocent, some guilty), and William becomes more like his father—and more unpredictable—as time goes by.

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I don’t want to give away any of Andersen’s plot twists. I love being surprised by books. The Boleyn ReckoningBut in this case I’d accidentally stumbled over spoilers myself. I read the beginning of The Virgin’s Daughter, the first volume of Andersen’s Elizabethan trilogy, before realizing it was really the fourth book in the series. So I knew the fates of several characters ten years later. I’m not going to share the details, but instead of “spoiling” anything, that knowledge raised the suspense and kept me racing through The Boleyn Reckoning.

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The main action of The Virgin’s Daughter picks up some twenty years after The Boleyn Reckoning. I fought its efforts to drag me back into Andersen’s glittering and all-too-believable alternate Tudor world (it wasn’t easy). I’m going to save the second trilogy for a while—I’m afraid I’ll race right through it.

 

The Portrait of Lady Wycliff

Cheryl Bolen begins a new series (The Lords of Eton) with The Portrait of Lady Wycliff, the story of Harry Blassingame, the Earl of Wycliff, as he searches for the missing portrait of his late mother. Harry has spent the last eight years restoring the family fortunes lost by his late father, a decent man sorely lacking in ability as a gambler. Harry would prefer to keep his own counsel as to exactly how he has refilled the Wycliff coffers, but it wasn’t through gambling. Well, not exactly, anyway.

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The Portrait of Lady WycliffThe last property on Harry’s list is the London house on Grosvenor Square, now in the possession of a young widow, Louisa Phillips. Surely it won’t be difficult to convince her to sell.

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Louisa holds no admiration for the aristocracy, and no grief over the loss of her much older and unloved husband, who bought her from her unscrupulous father when she was fifteen years old. In fact, she holds very little admiration for men in general. She prefers to be an independent woman, with a secret of her own.

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But, she discovers to her great distress, she can’t sell the house to Harry because she doesn’t own it. How will she and her younger sister Ellie manage now?

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Against her better judgment, Louisa teams up with Harry to peel an onion of mysteries: Who is the shadowy “benefactor” who actually owns the house and apparently owned Louisa’s husband, too? Did Phillips and his secret backer deliberately set out to ruin the Wycliff family? And what has become of the missing portrait of Lady Wycliff, which should have been hanging in the Grosvenor Square house?

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Louisa and Harry set off on a wild tour of Cornwall in search of answers, posing as Mr. and Mrs. Smith and (definitely against Louisa’s better judgment) sharing rooms—and, chastely, beds—in country inns along the way, fighting their growing admiration for each other, convinced an aristocrat and a bluestocking have no future together.

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Will they find the benefactor? The portrait? The answers? True love? Well, this is a romance, of course, but the road to Happily Ever After is always an adventure. In this case, a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, populated with charming characters—Louisa’s sister Ellie and Harry’s cousin Edward have a few adventures of their own—and the always interesting background of Regency England.

 

More Techno Fun

Yesterday morning I found my computer waiting for its password—it had updated and rebooted during the night. That always makes me a little nervous. The computer is eight years old and often slow. A while back it took me two hours and a lot of experimentation to get it back on after an update, and a few weeks ago an update wiped out my Quicken file (I’ve been more careful about back ups since then). This time there were no update-related problems.

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But when I opened my email, I found some very strange messages. Two were automated “not taking queries” responses from agents I have not queried. There were a couple of “you can’t post here because you don’t belong to this forum” emails from RWA forums that, indeed, I do not belong to. A couple of bounce notices from old email addresses. I later found spam emails, apparently coming from my email address, on a couple of lists I do belong to, and at least one friend received a spam link from me.

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Drat. Spoofed again.

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So I dove into the depths of AOL to change my password. I suspect the spoofing had nothing to do with my password, but it doesn’t hurt to change them, and the one I’ve been using, probably since the last time I had some minor disruption in service, was hard to type. I stuck a couple of unrelated words together and had a new password. My computer and the cloud based email system were fine with it.

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My phone wasn’t.

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I put the new password into the generic email app that the Verizon salesman set up for me two years ago when I bought the phone, and was informed, in no uncertain terms, that it was incorrect. Tried again. And again. The very definition of stubborn stupidity, repeating the same action and expecting a different result. I did not get a different result, no matter how often I tried.

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I checked AOL help and found nothing useful, but after spending way too much time on the problem, the passing mention of an AOL android app finally clicked. I found my way to the app store, downloaded AOL, and was back in my email immediately. (And in the evening I figured out how to stop the old app from demanding authorization every time I woke the phone up.)

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What strikes me as funny about the whole thing is that not much more than two years ago I’d never read an email on a phone. I didn’t have a phone that could handle the job. I didn’t know what I was missing, but now I do. The thought of not being able to access my email through my phone has become completely unacceptable.

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I’ve seen no more evidence of email spoofing since I changed the password, whether that was really a factor or not. My Amazon Fire tablet, which until recently was demanding a password every other time I opened my email, sometimes telling me it was wrong, and then letting me in anyway, still doesn’t seem to have noticed the change. So I have three ways to get to my email—too bad my email isn’t more exciting.

 

More Cozies

I’ve read been reading cozy mysteries lately, so here are a few I’ve enjoyed, one from a brand new series by Kate Parker, plus series entries from Annabel Chase and Cindy Brown.

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The Killing at Kaldaire House begins a new series from Kate Parker, this one set in Edwardian London and featuring Emily Gates, a young, talented, and reasonably The Killing at Kaldaire Housesuccessful milliner who inherited her shop from her mother. Unfortunately some of her aristocratic clients seem to see no need to actually pay their bills, and Emily is forced to take extreme measures, using the burglary skills she learned from her father’s disreputable (but highly successful) family to take their valuables (some of which turn out not to be valuable at all) hostage.

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On a late night visit to Kaldaire House, Emily discovers the dying master of the mansion lying on the floor of his study. Unwilling to abandon anyone in that condition, she alerts the household. When Lady Kaldaire promises to vouch for her (and pay Emily’s bill herself) if Emily will help her solve the mystery of Lord Kaldaire’s murder, Emily has little choice.

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She doesn’t have much choice when the attractive detective assigned to the case, James Russell, recognizes Emily as a member of the notorious Gates family and promises not to arrest her if she will help him keep an eye on her relatives. Needing her income to send the relative she cares most about, her younger brother Matthew, to a special school for the deaf, she finds herself juggling her investigating for Lady Kaldaire, her family, and her growing attraction to Detective Inspector Russell.

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With a range of entertaining supporting characters, lots of period detail, and a good mystery, The Killing at Kaldaire House promises another fun series of cozy mysteries from Parker.

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Better Than Hex is the fifth installment in Annabel Chase’s Spellbound series of humorous paranormal mysteries, following the adventures of Emma Hart, who didn’t know she was Better Than Hexa witch until she stumbled into Spellbound, a community of paranormals trapped in their town by a very old spell, and found she couldn’t leave. In this tale, Emma, now the local public defender (and witch in remedial training) takes on the case of a young were-lion who won’t explain why he was caught in possession of deadly nightshade. Meanwhile she frets over the impending marriage of her not-so-secret crush, fallen angel Daniel Starr, to mean-spirited (but gorgeous) fairy Elsa Knightsbridge. Has Daniel really fallen back in love with his ex-girlfriend, or has he been the victim of an Obsession potion administered by Elsa?

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Better Than Hex ends on something of a cliffhanger, so I immediately downloaded the Cast Awaysixth installment, Cast Away, in which Emma is only slightly distracted from her concerns about Daniel by a new client (a macho young werewolf accused of peeing inappropriately in a peony bed) and a new mystery (the death of a likable troll found frozen under a bridge). Emma’s experiment with potions at the nightclub hosting Elsa’s bachelorette party goes awry, of course. Will she break the Obsession spell in time to stop the wedding? Or will the secret she’s been keeping trip her up? Chase answers these questions while leaving plenty of story lines for the next books in the series.

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Cindy Brown’s The Phantom of Oz is another fun theatrical mystery, this one set in an elegant old theater haunted by the Lady in White. Ivy Meadows is a hardworking young The Phantom of Ozactress who also works for her Uncle Bob’s PI firm (Duda Detectives), so naturally when her best friend, Candy, disappears from the touring company of The Wizard: A Space OZpera Ivy dives in to investigate, landing herself an understudy role with the company in the process. Props include spaceships and Trekian costumes, and the cast includes munchkins and flying monkeys (played by children ranging from adorable to creepy), a famous director, a toxic reality star, a costume mistress who might be a witch, and Toto. Misunderstandings with her boyfriend and her brother only make Ivy’s life more complicated, not to mention the wardrobe mistress’ well-intentioned cold remedies. I love this series, with its madly scrambled theatrical productions and hilariously close-but-not-quite-there movie titles.

 

A Visit From the Easter Raccoon

Once again, a seemingly minor problem has spiraled into major household repairs (and expense), although fortunately not on the scale of the Great Plumbing Adventure of 2016. I’m coming to expect this sort of thing.

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It all started in January with the pitter-patter of tiny feet—no, make that the nightly stampeding of paws—above my head. We’d just had three days of cold weather so icy I couldn’t even get into Houston for work, and rodents had taken refuge in my attic. It wasn’t the first time in the forty plus years I’ve lived in this house, far from it, but I decided to take action and called in Pest Control.

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The pleasant and knowledgeable man who came to evaluate my situation immediately spotted the Hole in the Roof, which I had managed not to notice despite the fact that it was located low on the roof not far to the left of my front door. No wonder there were rodents in my attic.

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roof 1

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The Pest Control technician came the next day, and after he’d laid out traps in the attic we covered the hole in the roof with a handy wooden crate cover from the garage. The technician knew his business; the noise in the attic disappeared almost immediately and the slab of wood on the roof stayed in place.

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It stayed in place for several weeks, as I became more and more complacent and found any number of things more important than calling someone to repair the roof. I’d glance up there each morning when I went out to collect the newspaper, satisfied that everything was under control.

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Until I woke up on the Saturday morning before Easter to a crash and the sound of paws running through the attic. When I went out to get the paper, it was clear that that the wood had been moved and the hole exposed. What an enterprising . . . rodent, I thought, as I moved the wood back in place. The traps up there will take care of this.

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Nope. Come evening, great banging around upstairs told me that something was trapped in the attic, something larger than my previous tenants. I went out and moved the board, came back in and made loud noises by snapping the door to the attic, and went back out.

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There was a raccoon on the roof, sitting next to the hole, staring back at me.

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I waited half an hour or so, until I was sure the raccoon had gone on about its nocturnal business. Then I put the wooden slab back in place and weighted it down with a large artillery shell (my garage is full of a remarkable variety of strange objects) that my late husband used as an ashtray.

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The next morning, Easter, I heard banging on the roof again, and when I went outside I could see that the wood had been moved again. Not wanting to trap the raccoon in the attic, I left my failed barricade as it was.

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Sometime on Monday, though, I realized that I hadn’t heard any more noise upstairs. When I climbed the ladder to check the hole in the roof, I saw that it had only been partially uncovered. Had the raccoon been unable to get back in? Had it met with an accident, or found a better place to live, maybe a furnished apartment over someone’s garage? I decided to take a chance and cover the hole again, this time adding the second artillery shell from the garage. (Don’t ask me where Jack found them, or why I’ve kept them all these years. Amazing what eventually comes in handy. Besides, it’s not that easy to toss a heavy brass object in the trash.) If I heard furious action in the attic, I could always go out and uncover the hole.

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roof 2

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Meanwhile, I found a local roofer with many excellent reviews. I contacted him on Tuesday, and while I was at work, he scoped out my problem. It would take a full square (a ten-by-ten-foot sheet of half-inch plywood) to repair the rotten decking that had allowed the rodents to tear a hole in the first place, and several hundred dollars. Maybe it wasn’t worth starting to patch a 22-year-old roof? Twenty years is a pretty typical life span for a roof in this climate, and my homeowner’s insurance company had been giving me grief over it for several years.

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roof 3

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So the roofers came on Monday at 7:30. An amazingly efficient crew of six or seven men had the whole job, including clean up, done by 5. It looks beautiful. Well, it looks like a nice, clean, intact roof, and the old gray rodent-chewed vents have been replaced by handsome black ones with caps to keep future rodents out. Of course all the leaves that were on the old roof are now on my lawn, but that’s a minor problem.

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roof 4

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I’m still listening for noise in the attic, but so far so good. According to Nutmeg, my cat, no animal in its right mind would have stayed around with all that hammering going on. I guess I’m lucky she didn’t pack up and leave. She did demand extra treats and a lot of cuddles.

 

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