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A Certain Darkness–could WWI have ended sooner?
A Certain Darkness
by Anna Lee Huber
Lord Ardmore—a good name for an evil person. Although he is not physically present in A Certain Darkness, his influence and machinations pervade the events of this spy novel. Verity Kent and her husband Sidney are a rich and glamorous couple who are both well known in the intelligence circle for undercover work for the British during WWI. Sidney is also a war hero. In this book, they are once more called into service by their country to discover potentially damaging evidence.
In this action packed drama, Verity and Sidney don’t know whom to trust as they try to uncover how a murder occurred on a train and in a jail cell without anyone seeing either crime. Verity is a polyglot, a helpful skill as the couple interacts with French, German, Dutch, and Flemish speakers. One of my favorite scenes involves Verity speaking in their language to someone who is previously unaware that she can understand their conversations with others—rather embarrassing for the speaker.
The plot is complicated because the events that occurred during and after the war are quite complex. Just when I thought I wasn’t enjoying the book because of the intricate historical references, the action and intrigue picked up and I couldn’t wait to read what would happen next.
Both characters suffer from the horrors and stresses of the war, but there are some mental and emotional breakthroughs for both of them in this book. Whereas in the first book I read in the series (#2) I found the couple rather frivolous, I have come to like and respect both of them as I have gotten to know them better. There has also been more character development with each book. If you are interested in history or like spy mysteries, you will enjoy this series including A Certain Darkness. It closes out with a very important hook that will keep me and other readers anxious to read the next book in the series.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: Mystery, Historical Fiction
Notes: 1. #6 in the Verity Kent Mystery Series. I do not recommend this book as a standalone. There is just too much necessary background provided in the previous books.
3. One of the themes of this book concerns the ending of WWI. I did an Internet search on this topic and found this is a concern for some historians. In her introduction, Huber lists a recently published nonfiction book on this subject that she used as a resource for her fiction book.
Publication: August 30, 2022—Kensington
Much of intelligence gathering in general was accepting that there were few total victories, few clear choices of right and wrong. Everything was shaded in gray. One had to make judgment calls, constantly wagering possible sacrifices versus gains. Sometimes you got it right and sometimes you got it wrong. But whatever the outcome, you had to swallow the guilt and disgust such decisions and compromises at times wrought.
I recognized what game he was playing, for he’d learned it from the best. After all, Lord Ardmore didn’t simply aim to outwit his opponents, but to corrupt and demoralize them. To turn them against themselves, against their very morals.
“I’d accepted long ago that the war was utterly senseless.” His voice rasped as if being dragged from the depths of his lungs. “That I was simply stuck. Just a little cog in a great monstrous machine that couldn’t be stopped and would one day consume me as well.”
by Danielle Steel
If you want an entertaining romance mixed with some mystery and spies, Suspects is a good choice. It reads quickly and has sympathetic main characters. Theo is a successful business woman in the fashion industry. She is married to an older, extremely wealthy man. They have a relatively happy marriage with one child. Everything changes instantly as Theo’s husband and son are kidnapped, probably by an angry Russian over a business deal that went sour.
Mike is a career CIA agent, promoted up the ladder but still very hands-on. He is married to his job. His path crosses with Theo’’s as he follows up on Pierre de Vaumont, a slimy character who makes his money by matching rich and shady individuals with corrupt individuals who can fulfill their needs. Mike knows about the kidnapping and is immediately drawn to Theo and wants to keep her safe.
Most of the book deals with efforts to find the kidnappers and keep Theo safe. In the process a mostly long distance romance, New York to Paris, develops between Theo and Mike.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: Women’s Fiction
Notes: There is steam in this romance as the couple enjoys a “lovefest of tenderness and passion” whenever they are together. Their sexual encounters are closed door, but that part of the story becomes repetitive and does not move the plot forwards.
Publication: June 28, 2022—Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House)
He could feel his good resolutions sliding away, like Jello-O down the drain.
The windows were all tightly closed so tear gas wouldn’t enter the apartment, and they heard the first cannons go off, shooting tear gas into the crowd. Mike was shocked at what was happening, it looked like a war zone in the most civilized city in the world.
“You’re not a normal person. You’re an exceptional, remarkable one that people are jealous of, which makes you a target. And there are dangerous people in the world.”
Aria’s Travelling Book Shop–trauma of grief
Aria’s Travelling Book Shop
by Rebecca Raisin
This second adventure of the Van Lifers features Aria, Rosie and Max who are the main characters in Aria’s Travelling Book Shop. We follow them to France for the summer where they meet up with new and old friends as is the way with these nomadic souls who travel from festival to festival earning their way as they go by holding pop-up specialty shops.
This story is told from Aria’s point of view. She lost the love of her life to cancer three years ago and is still struggling with grief, guilt, and an inability to move forward in her life. Her friend Rosie is always there to support her, but Rosie has a life surprise that complicates her ever-meticulous plans. Aria tries to re-establish a relationship with her husband’s family who estranged themselves from her after TJ’s death. She receives a journal written by TJ during his last months that reveal his hopes for her future. Jonathan is a successful writer who wants to be friends with the romance book loving Aria.
An interesting technique the author uses is to have Aria step outside herself, as if she were an onlooker announcing the events. For example, in italics we read “Hopeless romantic Aria vowed never to love again after loving her husband, TJ, but fate seems to have other ideas and keeps throwing mysterious Jonathan in her path. Is this a test of her commitment…” Using this approach, we get an up close view of Aria’s working through her issues in an almost humorous way.
In addition to personal matters, Rosie and Aria are confronted with a negative and unhappy “friend” who invites herself along. She is not a nice person, but Rosie and Aria try to understand and help her. Look for a surprise transformation for that character, and enjoy the very bookish nature of this novel.
I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to HarperCollins for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Romance, General Fiction (Adult)
Notes: #2 in The Travelling Shops series, but can be read as a standalone.
Publication: August 10, 2021—Harper Collins
Promises that won’t be kept swirl in the air above like the glittery trail of a sparkler extinguished before the word is written. I smile sadly, wishing things didn’t have to end but knowing that they do.
“According to my translation app you just told him: You’re a wet chicken!” She bites down on her lip before laughter gets the better of her.
I duly sit and wait for Rosie as she hurries to make tea and serves me a slice of cake so large it has its own postcode.
Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris–charming
Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris
by Paul Gallico
A delightful work of fiction set in London and in Paris tells the tale of Ada Harris, a hard working char woman who sets her sights on owning a Christian Dior dress. She doesn’t want to wear it, just to own and look at something so beautiful as one would admire a work of art. How indeed would an honest widow, who is already living with few indulgences, manage to accumulate enough money for a designer dress?
Paul Gallico in Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris takes us on the journey with Mrs. ‘Arris as she struggles with the money issues that crop up all through the book as there are many aspects of a trip to Paris that the poor lady who is clearly not a seasoned traveller could not anticipate. You will quickly come to love Mrs. ‘Arris as everyone does who meets her. She is so genuine and determined and never wishes anyone ill.
Paul Gallico makes his character come to life from her wrinkled face and the twinkle in her eye to her accent (e.g. “lydy” for “lady”), dropping her “h’s,” and her word choices like “lumme” and “blime.” Her interactions with other characters are key to the story. They have aspirations of their own, and Mrs. ‘Arris is not shy about helping others including Natasha, Dior’s top model, and M. Fauvel, a quiet accountant at the fashion house. She breaks down English/French and class barriers with her inviting charm and practical approach to problems.
This little book brought smiles to my face, and I got teary eyed a few times as I found Mrs. ‘Arris had stolen my heart. The author’s writing style is perfect for this book, moving along quickly with descriptions that can put the reader in a messy bachelor’s flat or on the thick gray carpets of Dior’s. It is a charming novel that has held up well across the years, and that I will no doubt reread just for pleasure in the near future.
Notes: Blogger friend Christopher recommended this book in a “throw back” post. His review was so convincing that I bought it immediately. It’s over a year later, but I finally read it and am so happy I did. Thanks, Christopher! You can find his review here: https://pluckedfromthestacks.wordpress.com/2019/06/24/mrs-arris-goes-to-paris/.
Publication: 1958—Doubleday & Co.
And yet with some chars there was more to it than just that, and particularly with Mrs. Harris—a kind of perpetual house-proudness. And it was a creative effort as well, something in which a person might take pride and satisfaction. She came to these rooms to find them pigsties, she left them neat, clean, sparkling and sweet-smelling.
She had an exquisite figure and clever tiny feet that never once had tripped upon the corpses she had climbed over on her way up the ladder of success.
Mrs. Harris simply felt that if one owned a dress so beautiful that it cost four hundred fifty pounds there was then nothing left upon earth to be desired.
A Springtime to Remember–gardens of Versailles
A Springtime to Remember
by Lucy Coleman
There are times, like today, when I wonder why I would pick a romance off the virtual bookshelves. Then I read a book like A Springtime to Remember by Lucy Coleman and understanding strikes again. I am hit by a combination of the beauty of Versailles, the ostentatious audacity of the aristocracy of days gone by, a passion for history, the mystery of family relationships, and ultimately the gentle magnetism of two hearts drawn into one.
Lexie, a TV presenter, wants more professionally; it is not enough to be the pretty face in front of the camera. She also has to prove her value to her successful brother, Jake, who very publicly fired her. Lexie is combining forces with cameraman Elliot Nielson to produce and financially back their own mini-series of documentaries. Their first project takes them to France to focus on the Palace of Versailles. Their futures are ironically fixed in the past: Lexie has an added interest in Versailles as her grandmother, an avid gardener, spent a year working in the Versailles gardens immediately prior to her marriage. Mysteriously, she never discussed that year with her family.
Indulge in this clean romance with its appreciation for natural beauty and historical context. You will be treating yourself to lots of smiles and a few tears in the midst of a well-told tale.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Boldwood Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction
Publication: December 26, 2019—Boldwood Books
“Versailles holds so many secrets. The more you uncover, the more you realise the surface has only just been scratched, even after all the years of intense scrutiny.”
I nod my head in agreement, thinking that every family has their problems, they’re just all very different. It’s how you resolve them that counts…
“I’ve learnt that the nature of life is that everyone’s journey is different and, therefore, no one should ever stand in judgement of another. Not least because they have not travelled that same road. Instead, it’s wise to feel grateful if one’s own road is less arduous, or one is simply better equipped to deal with the harsher realities of life.”
Treacherous is the Night–once a spy, always a spy?
Treacherous is the Night
by Anna Lee Huber
Although the Great War is over, no one is over the Great War in Anna Lee Huber’s Treacherous is the Night. Every family has been affected by the huge number of fatalities and the return of badly wounded soldiers. Civilians carry the memories of deprivation and on the continent all live daily in the midst of destruction and rebuilding. For Verity Kent, the end of the war means reunion with a husband long thought dead and the end of her dangerous stint as a spy. Verity is dragged back into the aftermath of the war when she is an unwilling participant in a séance that is an obvious hoax.
Verity and her husband are trying to sort out their difficult relationship, but manage to put their struggle aside to solve the mystery, decipher codes, and discover who is lying. Huber does an excellent job of putting the reader in the timeframe right after the end of the war, and she reveals the horrors of war without being graphic. She portrays Verity as a woman restricted by the times she lives in, but capable and competent to achieve so much more than is expected from a woman in that period.
I enjoyed Treacherous is the Night and would like to read the first book in the series for more background and to experience Verity’s previous adventures.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Notes: #2 in the Verity Kent Series, but acceptable as a standalone.
Publication: September 25, 2018—Kensington Books
We might be incapable as of late at discussing anything of importance, but as well-educated upperclass Brits, we could always rely upon our proficiency at inane small talk. After all, we’d been drilled in it since the cradle.
But in my estimation, he was naught but an officious pig, no offense to the swine.
“…the truth is war is hell on everyone who falls near its angry maw. The actions you take thinking to spare the innocent or inexperienced can just as easily cause their destruction, simply because the world is turned so bloody upside down.”