Saturday, October 11, 2014

Oxford Blue Series, by Pippa Croft (The First Time We Met, The Second Time I Saw You, Third Time Lucky)

I usually don't review an entire series at once, but The Oxford Blue Series, 
   by Pippa Croft (pen name for Phillipa Ashley) has me making an exception.   

The Oxford Blue Series is Pippa's debut into the New Adult scene, and it's a brilliant one at that. The series follows Lauren Cusack, daughter of a US Senator, while she endeavors to master the hallowed halls of Oxford University in search of a Masters in Art History. Told from Lauren's particular point of view as an American in an environment somewhat alien from her stateside collegiate experience, Pippa takes us along for a wild ride. From practically the moment Lauren arrives in Oxford, she's thrown into the exclusive world of
Alexander Hunt, son of a marquess and the object of everyone's curiosity at the college. Inexplicably attracted to the dangerous and handsome soldier/aristocrat, Lauren finds herself at the center of a relationship fraught with sexual attraction and deception. For every step forward in their relationship, Lauren and Alexander take two steps back, experiencing the heartache of family interference, betrayal, and class distinction.

As Lauren experiences her push and pull relationship with Alexander, we do the same. She has no idea whether to love him or despise him, trust him and feel sorry for him, or run from him as far and as fast as she can. We feel the same. While readers may want what's best for Lauren, she's young enough not to know what's best for herself. And the author does a wonderful job in conveying Lauren's confusion over the situation she has found herself in.

The first two books set the stage of their ongoing relationship and the second one, in particular, defines the parameters of Alexander's need for Lauren. It ends on a great cliffhanger. Luckily, the third in the series, Third Time Lucky, was released the same day I finished The Second Time I Saw You, so I didn't have to wait long to see what happens.

A warning to the retiring reader; the sex is HOT and PLENTIFUL.  That's all I'm going to say on the subject. When I say Lauren and Alexander are attracted to each other, I'm being a little coy. Their relationship is smoking, and the author does not hold back in this regard.  There, I've done my civic duty in letting you all know. At first it seems that this is the only glue that is holding these two together. But as the series moves on and we get to the final book, Alexander starts to open up a bit more, and we begin to see a side of him that up until this point has been well hidden. We begin to suspect that there is more to what he feels for Lauren then we've been privy to, and ultimately we come around to seeing in him what she sees. But not without quite a bit of angst and hand wringing first. And the question remains; is it too little too late?

Secondary characters add depth and conflict to Lauren's experience. They are just colorful and malicious enough to add all the necessary drama. I especially loved Lauren's involvement with Scott. Their relationship had me guessing to the very last page.

The Oxford Blue series is well-written and flows very quickly from page to page, and book to book. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I am mentioned in the acknowledgements for my slight and relatively small contribution to the author's hard work.

Well done, Ms. Croft. Highly recommend.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty's latest stab at writing is as good or better than her last, The Husband's Secret, which I previously reviewed on this blog. She has become one of my new favorite contemporary authors.

Big Little Lies is a masterful showcasing of 21st century relationships between spouses, parents and children, and parents and grandparents. The author keeps those pages turning by using police interviews at the beginning of each chapter which hint at a  future, devastating occurrence at a Trivia Night at the local elementary school. Concurrently,  the reader becomes invested in the lives of the main characters.

Jane and her 5 year old son Ziggy move to Pirriwee Peninsula near Sydney to make a fresh start. Through Ziggy's kindergarten class, she meets Celeste, mother of twin boys Josh and Max. She also meets Madeline, whose daughter Chloe is also in Ziggy's class. The three mothers form an unlikely friendship as do their children. When Ziggy is accused of bullying another girl in the class, things start to quickly go downhill as marriages unravel, personalities are dissected, life choices are questioned, and new found relationships are ultimately tested.

Written from differing points of view, Big Little Lies is, at the same time, an indictment and a tribute to parenting in the present age. But it's not just for parents. Social mores, charitable endeavors and societal taboos are also covered, but the reader never feels overwhelmed. The story is utterly believable; as believable as real life.

Recommend highly!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Between the Devil and Ian Eversea, by Julie Anne Long

Julie Anne Long's Pennyroyal Green series continues with this lovely romance. This latest effort,  Between the Devil and Ian Eversea, will continue to enthrall fans with a wonderful, damaged male protagonist in the title character, Captain Eversea. In previous novels, Eversea brothers Chase and Colin have already met the loves of their lives. Now it's Ian's turn. Tansy Danforth, late of America, comes home to England and her guardian of sorts, Genevieve Eversea's husband, the Duke of Falconbridge who is charged with her care. The Duke's one goal is to see Tansy married and married well. With a tragic history and issues of her own, Tansy proceeds to enthrall the male population of Pennyroyal Green. Ian, however, sees right through that act, as Tansy sees through his. The eventual awakening between these two is bound to happen, but Ms. Long puts that off for as long as possible, and in the meantime, takes us for a wild, intimate ride.

Like all the books to date in the series, this one shines with love and humor. There is one pivotal scene in a ballroom that had me laughing out loud in its hilarity, and when I picture Ian and remember this book, that scene always comes to mind. You'll know it when you read it.

Highly recommended and a treat for Ms. Long's fan base, Between the Devil and Ian Eversea may be the means to convert quite a few new members to the fold. And after a little tease, I'm on tenterhooks waiting for Olivia Eversea's story, which seems to be next. I'm sure that will be quite the culmination to this well-loved series. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Somewhere in France, by Jennifer Robson

I've had good luck these past few months with some wonderful debut novels by some very promising authors.  Jennifer Robson's first novel, Somewhere in France, keeps that streak alive and well. It is being touted in the promotional material as a book fans of Downton Abbey will love. I find that characterization a bit limiting. If you like good historical fiction with strong, able characters and an exciting, perilous setting with a believable love story thrown in for good measure, you will love Somewhere in France, even if you have yet to watch an episode of Downton. The only similarities between this novel and that series are the general time period, the Great War (which lasted less than a season in Downton time), and one character from an aristocratic background who yearns to make a contribution and decides to move beyond the role to which society has assigned her. That would be about it. Yes, the Downton allure may be a strong one, but this novel can stand (and sell) all on its own.

Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford has always felt like there should be more to her life than a debutante season and marriage shortly thereafter.  As a young girl, she meets her brother Edward's school friend, Robbie Fraser, and she first reveals to him her desire for a stronger education.  Robbie encourages her to pursue her dream.  Years later, as war bears down on them, they meet again at a ton ball. Attracted to the woman Lilly has become, Robbie, now an accomplished surgeon, once again encourages her to follow her aspirations to do something worthwhile with her life.

What Robbie doesn't expect is for Lilly to volunteer as an ambulance driver and plunge herself into the turmoil and peril that is France and the Western Front during the Great War. Finding themselves in close proximity at the same Casualty Clearing Station,  Robbie, now a field surgeon, must set aside his feelings and fear for Lilly if he is to do his job without distraction. Lilly, angry and confused, and constrained by the strict rules against fraternization, has no choice but to try to forget Robbie;  ignore him as he has chosen to ignore her. Until the horrors of war touch them both, and everything changes.

Somewhere in France is a story as much or more about relationships and loyalty as it is about the changing mores of the time period in which it is written; Lilly and Edward; Edward and Robbie, Robbie and Lilly, their lives all circle around each other, against the ever present backdrop and horrors of war. Ms. Robson's secondary characters add a dimension to the story that reveals just how far Lilly has traveled from the persona of an earl's cossetted daughter. It's quite a transformation, and it's only one facet of the novel that grabs the reader's interest and doesn't let go.

I really hope the wait will not be long until Ms. Robson's second effort. Intelligently written, beautifully descriptive and fast-paced, Somewhere in France will appeal to Downton fans, but everyone who reads it, Downton fan or not, will love it. Highly recommend.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Devil Wears Kilts, by Suzanne Enoch

So after a long hiatus due to graduate school, and not being in charge of my reading lists, I'm finally able to read what I want again.  It's a great day for me!

I've been out of the loop in regards to what's new in the world of Romance Literature, despite seeing many book posts on many authors Facebook pages.  I can't remember where I saw this particular book, but a kilt-wearing devil seemed to be a great way to get back into the swing of things.

Suzanne Enoch's tale of romance begins with Lady Rowena, a girl who is ready for her season in London the moment she turns eighteen.  Unfortunately for her, big brother Ranulf, Marquis of Glengask, has other ideas.  A nice birthday party with the clan should be enough for her.  Surrounded by only brothers most of her life, Rowena has no intention of staying hidden away in the Scottish highlands.  With her maid's help, Rowena escapes to London, causing uproar and general unrest at Glengask.  Ranulf, knowing what dangers lay beyond Rowena's sheltered life, immediately follows her to London with a mind to bring her straight back to Scotland.  His arrival in London is anything but gentlemanly, and for the first time ever, a female stands in his way.  Lady Charlotte stands for no one to be rude, especially in her own house!  Sparks, and any other sharp, pointy objects fly as Ranulf and Charlotte butt heads.

Our hero and heroine become interesting chaperones for Rowena and Charlotte's sister, Jane.  When they aren't arguing over the use of violence to settle disagreements, or whether or not Ranulf is gentleman enough to go into London society, they get to know one another.  Ranulf, determined not to make the same mistake his father did when bringing his English mother to the highlands, must worry for his sister's safety from rival clans in London while trying to keep in Charlotte's good graces.  Charlotte, nearly a spinster at the ripe age of twenty-five, knows she shouldn't be attracted to the devil in the kilt.  But then again, why not?

'The Devil Wears Kilts' was a great return for me as a reviewer, as it provided plenty of action, drama, and of course, romance.  Great secondary characters, (including 2 enormous Scottish Deerhounds), and a well-written story make this novel a great way to spend an evening inside by the fire.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Kisses, She Wrote: A Christmas Romance (Novella) by Katharine Ashe

"It wasn't every day that a man discovered himself to be the hero of a virgin's secret diary."

"It would be the height of dishonorableness to continue reading."

"She could burn the diary now and cast the earl entirely from her thoughts. Or for a few more weeks she could enjoy his company..."

I read a lot of Regency romance and although I try to avoid it, I often notice the similarity between plot lines; it's almost inevitable given the structure of the genre. However, I was surprised and pleased to note that "Kisses, She Wrote: A Christmas Romance" is adorably original.

I didn't believe I would come to like, much less love the hero of the novella, Cam Westfall, the Earl of Bedwyr. The ignoble act of reading Princess Jacqueline of Sensaire's private diary combined with the earl's self-serving plagiaristic tendencies - all but assured me that this was one hero who was going to have to work overtime to earn my adoration. And work he did. In the end it was his gorgeous poetry and his budding, reluctant vulnerability that sealed the deal for me. The princess, however, proves to be a much tougher sell...

Ms. Ashe's writing is wonderful; the 176 pages turned themselves and I was lost - as any reader should be - in this timeless love story. Well done!

(Just a note: The publication date for "Kisses, She Wrote: A Christmas Romance" is December 3, 2013.  As of tonight, however, the book is on Kindle pre-order for .99.  It's a great deal while it lasts.)

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Lost Duchess, by Jenny Barden

In my almost five years of reviewing and recommending to friends, family and readers here, there have been a few times, and only a few, when I have been completely and totally blown away by a book that  I've read. This usually happens when there is a happy confluence of subject matter, writing prowess, research skill and character development, wrapped up in a believable, action filled story. If you haven't already guessed, The Lost Duchess, by Jenny Barden, is one of those books.

This second effort by Ms. Barden begins with the story of Emme Fifield, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I, who yearns to throw off the mantle of Court and live a normal life; one where marriage and children are a possibility without the Queen's interference. When her trust and naivety is brutally savaged by the erstwhile heir to the Duke of Somerset, she sees her only opportunity to forge a new life lies in joining an expedition to the Chesapeake, in the New World. She convinces the Palace to allow her to go, with the understanding that she will return with a full report on the new Colony's progress.

Christopher Doonan is an experienced mariner with a colorful and painful past. Taken by the Spanish and held in Mexico as a young man, he is sold into slavery. Rescued by Cimaroons, he becomes the leader of a pack of outlaws in Panama. When word comes to him of an English ship, he is reunited with his brother, a member of the crew,  and makes his way back to England, a changed man. Drawn to the sea, he returns to the New World with Sir Francis Drake, where he acquires a page named Rob, who becomes his constant companion. "Kit" is once again set to return to the New World, as boatswain on a ship scheduled to leave England, but this time he will choose to remain as a permanent settler, for reasons he cannot yet divulge.

Kit and Emme meet at one of the Queen's audiences to fete the accomplishments of Sir Francis, and to discuss the recent and future expedition.  Kit is entranced by Emme, but while Emme certainly notices him, she is intent on the seed of the plan that has already taken root in her mind.

Those familiar with American history and the nascent English settlement of the Colonies in the late 1500's know the story of the Lost Colony at Roanoke, whose original destination was actually the Chesapeake Bay area. There is no record of what happened to the 116 men, women and children who established that colony in 1587. However, Ms. Barden has an incredible knack for weaving fiction with fact. The story of the settlement is told through her characters, and the ending is one plausible explanation for what happened. She's done her research and it most definitely shows.

Descriptive passages are everywhere.  Ms. Barden makes it very easy to imagine Emme's life at Court, the ocean voyage, the sights and sounds of the New World and the settlement itself.

The love story between Kit and Emme serves a dual purpose. The connection between them is sweet and beautifully written, and serves as a way to possibly define this novel as a historical romance. However, most historical romances highlight the characters' relationship, with the setting and time period secondary and as a means to an end. In fact, the setting of these novels are virtually interchangeable as  long as the protagonists are together on the last page.  Ms. Barden, conversely, uses her characters to highlight the setting and makes that the focal point of the story. What happens to them and where it happens is as important as who they are to each other. This is what makes this novel so very good.

The last few chapters are suspenseful, dramatic, and satisfying in their resolution. It's at this point that the pages practically turned by themselves. Revelations come fast and furious; love and life are affirmed between father and son, friends, and lovers.  I did not want it to end.

Please note: Out on November 7, 2013 from Ebury Press, intially it will be available from in Kindle and hardcover, The Book Depository in hardcover and at bookstores everywhere except North America. I will post on our facebook page as that availability changes.

The Lost Duchess, by Jenny Barden is highly recommended, and one of the best books I've read this year.