Wednesday, December 31, 2008
There are books you read that leave you with a smile on your face for quite some time after you turn the last page and close the cover. Still smiling, I can say that Crossed Wires, by Rosy Thornton, is one of those books.
"Autocare Direct Motor Insurance. My name is Mina, how may I help you?" So begins the story of Dr. Peter Kendrick, a Professor of Geography at Cambridge and Mina Heppenstall, a call center operator. After Peter calls to report a second small accident, there is something in his hesitant conversation that makes Mina dig a little further, and she discovers that Peter is a widower whose wife died in a car accident 4 years previously. Against company policy, Mina takes Peter's number and calls him after hours, on her own. The story evolves from there, but on parallel courses, tied together on Sunday nights at 9pm, when the conversations take on a weekly regularity.
In fact, the book seems to have a duality theme. The lives of the two protagonists are explored individually and fully. Mina is the mother of a 10 year old named Sal, a confirmed bookworm whose teacher fears for her social development. Mina also has responsibility for Jesse, her 17 year old sister, who seems to float on the periphery of the story, but is central to the female relationships in Mina's family. There seems to be an emphasis on the mother-daughter relationship in Mina's story which recurs between Mina, Jesse and their mother, as well as between Mina's mother, Mina and Sal. It's quite a layered scenario and one full of satisfying outcomes for all.
Peter's household, on the other hand, has its own hand in the duality theme. He is the father of identical twin daughters, and has raised them alone, with help from friends, since the age of 5. As an identical twin myself, I found the description of the girls' relationship eerily reminiscent of my own with my sister, down to the silent language, the mirror-handedness and the exclusionary nature of their relationship. I also felt Peter's pain as the girls start to develop their own individuality. It is truly the thing parents of twins long for and dread at the same time. This was brilliantly described by the author. Peter's life is rounded out by his supportive relationship toward his doctoral student-baby sitter, Trish, and his good friends, Jeremy and Martin.
Each main character could have their own novel, as far as I'm concerned. Their stories were that absorbing and descriptive. However, we get the bonus of getting two for one. The narrative switches easily between the two separate lives, and when a near-tragedy strikes one, the other reaches out and the stories really connect for the first time.
I could say that all ends well here, but I won't. You have to keep reading to get the ending that you are hoping for. And Ms. Thornton delivers, in the sweetest way possible. It's a wonderful story, well conceived, well written and beautifully executed. I'm still smiling.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
I must say that I may have a new favorite author; at least for today. Sabrina Jeffries combines intriguing situations, likeable characters, and strong sexual attraction to make her stories page turners. In short, I like her style.
Let Sleeping Rogues Lie is one of her novels in the School for Heiresses series. This series revolves around students and teachers in Mrs. Harris' School for Young Ladies. When Anthony Dalton, the new Viscount Norcourt, wishes to enroll his newly orphaned niece in the school, he meets with some resistance. First, there is no room for her and second, and more importantly, Anthony does not really have custody of her, his brother's child. His aunt and uncle, the same evil people who raised him by punishing him for normal bodily urges, ie; masturbation (yes, it's mentioned quite frequently in this book) are fighting to keep her. And due to Anthony's reputation as a rogue and a rakehell, he needs to enroll Tessa in order to strengthen his claim to her guardianship and keep her away from them.
Anthony meets Madeline Prescott, teacher at the school and daughter of a physician wrongly accused of killing a woman by administering nitrous oxide during a medical procedure. In order for Tessa to be enrolled, Madeline needs something from Anthony in order to clear her father from the accusations of murder brought on by this same uncle. It's a convoluted, somewhat twisted plot, but it seems to work. Anthony is talked into giving "rogue" lessons to the girls in the school in exchange for Madeline's recommendation to the headmistress to enroll Tessa. This is probably the funniest part of the book. Surprisingly, Anthony finds his niche in instructing the innocents in the ways of avoiding the "beasts masquerading as gentlemen" such as himself. I laughed out loud at his lessons.
There's something intriguing about an author of historical romance who tackles some tough issues. After all, why bother? Isn't it all about the romance and the sex? Sabrina Jeffries tells us that there is something to be learned while indulging our passion for romance. Laugh at that statement if you want, but I certainly learned about the use of nitrous oxide in this time period, as well as the prevalance of disdain for masturbation and the misunderstandings regarding depression (which Madeline's father suffers from) during this time. In other words, I actually learned something new! If not a first for me, then something that does not usually happen when I read this genre. So kudos to Ms. Jeffries. And I will be reading the rest of her series. I like having my happy endings embellished with a little something extra.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Surrender to Me is the story of Astrid, the Duchess of Derring, was abandoned by her husband in order for him to escape forgery charges the the hangman's noose. He leaves her penniless, and Astrid scrimps and saves to keep her home and respectability while resisting the nefarious offers that come to her from less honorable gentlemen of the ton. Astrid is cool and collected; a proper Duchess, with a cold heart years in the making. When she finds out her husband is in the country, and planning to wed under an assumed name, she makes plans to journey to Scotland to stop his wedding.
Of course, it's not that easy. As Astrid's coach is attached by rough Scottish highwaymen, Griffin Shaw saves the day. Having come to Scotland based on the near-death ramblings of his thought to be mother, he journeys from Texas and his life there to find what his true heritage is. Griffin rescues the carriage, after taking a blow to the head, and Astrid and her maid lug him into the carriage so they may find a doctor to tend him. Astrid is immediately attracted to Griffin, and he knows it.
I always love a good plot, especially one that comes full circle as this one does. Astrid finds her husband, but someone else has plans to stop the wedding before she can talk sense into him. As Astrid leaves his room, a widow, she is seen and Griffin knows she must leave the area in order to escape the authorities who are looking for her. Along the way they Astrid is taken hostage by a Scottish clan, rescued by Griffin, and are forbidden to leave the castle where they are "guests". They escape only to come across another clan, this one the people Griffin was looking for. During this, Astrid and Griffin come to realize they care for each other more than either will let on.
I dearly love Sophie Jordan's books; I can never put one down! She writes her characters so intricately you know their inner thoughts before you read them on paper. You become involved emotionally and hate and love them at the same time! Definitely one to pick up!
Monday, December 8, 2008
Julia's mother died when she was very young of a trifling illness, or a broken heart, whichever you prefer. Her father, a rake of the first order, abandoned them and set out to live his life on the continent, making Julia reject the idea of marrying anyone, especially a rake like her father. So, with her Grandmother's ultimatum at her door, she sets out to find a husband of the scholarly type, for who should a bluestocking want if not a scholarly gentleman? If only it was that easy. Julia is quite literally abducted into the path of Lord Thorwynn, the man her Grandmother has threatened her with, in her attempts to rescue a lady on a bolted horse.
Lord Thorwynn is a former military man, back from battle with no desire to enter into society and its matchmaking Mamas. His chance meeting with Julia brings back a foe from his military days, Neave, and he's after Julia and her money. Thorwynn cannot rest until he can prove once and for all to the ton that Neave is not to be trusted, even risking his reputation along with Julia's in the process.
The romance between Julia and Thorwynn is slow to evolve, with many missteps and returned engagements rings along the way, but that only adds to the fun of the novel. It makes for a lovely story, especially with the addition of Julia's eccentric family and Thornwynn's hypochondriac mother. There is much humor throughout the book that makes it a joy to read.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Why don't I quit while I'm ahead?
It should be enough for me to love Outlander, Dragonfly, etc. etc., and then to just leave well enough alone. No. I have to gravitate toward any book with the word "kilt" or "Highlander" in it and expect to be completely, gloriously happy. Not gonna happen, I fear.
Tall, Dark and Kilted started off well enough. After all, the name itself was sufficient to inspire me to plunk down $6.99 US at the local drugstore. Of course, I should know by now that you can't judge a book by its title, but I was willing to take a chance on the plaided six pack displayed on its cover.
Sir Hardwick de Studley of Seagrave (yes, you read that correctly) is a ghost plagued by an ancient curse. Many years before the start of the story, he denied hospitality to a traveling minstrel who just happened to be a wizard. In return for his rudeness, Hardwick (ahem) is placed under a nasty little spell. His punishment? I'm so glad you asked. He has been cursed to pleasure a different woman every night with no relief for his own (ahem, again) condition. Right. Let's move on.
Hardwick strikes a deal with "The Dark One" whereby he may be released from his curse and finally have the eternal rest he so obviously deserves if he can, for one entire year, not become sexually aroused. (Still with me ?) Of course, old Hardwick thinks this will be easy considering how he has spent the last 255,500 nights. That's a lot of pleasuring, folks and our exhausted Highlander is more than willing to give it a go. He chooses a quiet retreat in the Highlands to wait out his proving period.
Enter our other protagonist, Cilla Swanner. Cilla has been having a hard time herself. Dumped by her fiance and ruined financially by said fiance's new girlfriend, she's looking for an escape and finds it in her uncle's ancient castle turned rest home in the Scottish Highlands. But she's in for quite a shock when she meets Hardwick.
The plot goes on from there and centers around the growing attraction between de Studley and Cilla. Of course she is just the woman to tempt him and ruin his chances of breaking the curse and most of the story revolves around Hardwick's growing attraction for her as he struggles with his self-imposed celebacy. Cilla, on the other hand, is trying to accept the fact that she is being actively pursued by a 700 year-old ghost who looks damn hot in a kilt.
The premise had definite promise and I enjoyed the beginning of the book more than the end. I had some trouble following the paranormal descriptions and lost my way several times as new barricades to this unusual couple's happiness kept unexpectedly cropping up. I did like the author's characterizations of the supporting players, particular Hardwick's ghoulish friend Bran of Barra and Cilla's somewhat psychic Aunt Birdie.
Overall, however, it doesn't really live up to the cover art. And frankly, that was a disappointment.
It's time to stop the insanity; I'm reading Shakespeare next.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Is it altogether possible that an historical romance can have too much of a good thing? I can say, unequivocally, yes, it can. And that does not make for a good book. In Stephanie Laurens' latest novel in the Bastion Club series, Christian Allardyce, Lord Dearne, and Lady Letitia Randall, nee Vaux, mix it up quite a bit on their way to a reconciliation. Usually, I don't complain about such things, but if there is one problem I have with this author's writing style, it's the fact that she must have an open thesaurus on her desk for every sentence. Laurens re-states the same sentence using different words so many times, that the book is probably twice as long as it should be. The love scenes have a certain descriptive repetitiveness to them which had me fast forwarding. In fact, the entire book had me wishing for the last chapter.
The story revolves around Christian and Letitia's long ago love affair. Christian leaves her to work as a sort of early MI6 agent and Letitia, while promising to wait for his return, is forced into marriage with a man who can save her family's fortunes. Fast forward 12 years, and her husband, a Mr. Randall, is found murdered in his study. Letitia calls on Christian for help. So what if they haven't spoken in 12 years and they are both still hurt and angry from what each see as abandonment by the other. Who else should Letitia call on, if we are to have a story, hmm?
While the story is a good one, as these plots go, there are times that you just shake your head at Letitia's stubborness and downright volatility. Laurens puts this down to Letitia being a "Vaux," like that should explain everything. The name "Vaux" was mentioned so many times, that by the end of the novel, I was totally immune to it. Please. Who cares? Letitia is high maintenance. Say it once since that's what you really mean, and leave it at that.
Anyway, the best part of the novel comes at the end, when the identity of Dalziel, the ring leader of this merry band of ex-spies who titled themselves the Bastion Club, is revealed. He gets his own book next Fall. I'm hoping that by then I will have forgotten how much I dislike this author's writing style. After all, Dalziel's story should be the most interesting, and the culmination of the Bastion Club series. The characters in this series should not be faulted for their creator's writing peccadilloes. Each and every one of the Bastion Boys are definitely worth a look.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Anyone who's past their teenage years can identify with and remember the feeling that comes with first love. It overwhelms you just when your romantic dreams are most active and your hormones are least able to handle it. And you remember it for the rest of your life. Your mortal life, that is.
It was in this frame of mind that I picked up my daughter's copy of Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer. The story of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, on the surface, is just such a story about teenage love. However, it takes about two minutes to realize that there is something very different about the Cullen kids. Putting aside their alabaster skin, graceful poise, perfect hair and strangely colored eyes that can be a walking advertisement for Freshlook Colorblends contacts, they are normal seventeen year old teens. Not convinced? You shouldn't be. Something very strange is lurking in Forks, Washington, and it's centered on the Cullen family.
Bella is a pretty teenager prone to some awkward occurrences, like hitting classmates with badminton rackets and tripping over her own feet. She comes to live with her father, Charlie, the Chief of Police, in Forks, where the perennial gray skies and rain make the town an attractive spot for the local undead. Bella is irresistibly drawn to Edward Cullen, another Forks teenager (on the surface). It's her deep attraction to him and his to her, that gets them into trouble. And then miraculously, gets them out of it.
What drew me into this story and had me finishing it in two days, which is unusual for me as I usually do not read anything that even hints of horror, is the author's way of handling Edward's "affliction." He seems almost normal, although highly sensitive, for a seventeen year old who has lived eighty some odd years and has to quench his occasional "thirst" on some very interesting liquid. He's kind, he's loving and affectionate and he loves Bella with all his heart, and will do anything to protect her, as will the rest of his adopted undead family. It's so endearing that you may actually forget the premise of the book. Briefly. After all, who wouldn't want to be loved like that? At any age?? Bella's casual acceptance of who or what Edward is and her willingness to be with him despite the fact her very life is dependent on his self control, adds to the appeal and the suspense There are other forces that these two need to be wary of. Edward is the least of Bella's concerns, and she tries many times to assure him that she knows he would never hurt her.
I loved this book. It wasn't the vampire elements (although the author managed to make even the lessons in vampire lore very interesting) that got me. It was the innocence of first love between Bella and Edward. That, combined with what Edward is, made this a page turner. I recommend this one and will be reading the sequels, as soon as I put a bandaid over the marks on my neck.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Harriet has a long and complicated back story, including the suicide of her husband, Benjamin, the Duke of Berrow, over a lost game of chess. Throughout the Duchess series, chess is a continual theme, but not so much in this installment. Harriet has made herself into a dowdy widow at only 27, and she is convinced there is no happiness left in her life, and her only distraction is helping preside over the local court while the judge drinks himself into a drunken stupor. Harriet realizes she needs some excitement in her life, so along with Isidore, the Duchess of Cosway, and the Duke of Villiers, she joins them at a house party given by the scandalous Lord Strange....dressed as a man!
Lord Strange is literally the richest man in England, and holds continuous house parties where actors, actresses, dancers and singers from his Covent Garden theater come to practice their shows, along with some other entertainments. In the midst of all this, Lord Strange is raising his highly intelligent daughter, Eugenia, while hosting scholars and the kingdom's most powerful politicians. Lord Strange is....well, strange. He his fascinated with engineering and has a replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa attached to his house. As a favor to the Duke of Villiers, he agrees to take "Harry" under his wing and teach him how to be a man, despite is weird attraction to the "boy" and his feminine looks. His lessons include riding very early in the morning, rare beef and beer for breakfast, and fencing lessons afterwards. Needless to say, a duchess is not used to such activity, and poor Harriet does her best to keep up, while finding a freedom she has never known before, and has always desired. Strange does figure out she is a woman, beginning an affair that painfully ends when Strange learns she is a duchess, and believes she is toying with him, as aristocrats sometimes do with the lesser classes. All ends well, don't worry, but I won't go into detail here.
While not my favorite Duchess book, this one does have its moments. Harriet's transformation into a confident woman is funny and sad at times, and Lord Strange's change from eccentric to responsible father is touching as well. This is a light-hearted book, and a nice, quick read.
If you are interested in the Duchess series, the next installment, When the Duke Returns, hits stores November 25.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
A beautiful girl stumbles upon a handsome man, lying unconscious in a forest. She needs to get married within the month, he doesn't remember his name or where he comes from. What's a girl to do? Keep him!
So starts this book by Teresa Medeiros, one of my favorite romance authors. And she is my favorite because she writes a really good story that's infused with humor; the combination of which is irresistible.
Laura Fairleigh and her two siblings are the wards of Lady Eleanor Harlow, brought to Arden Manor after a fire kills their parents. Lady Eleanor takes them in in part to assuage the guilt and yearning for her son, Sterling Harlow. Little Sterling was bartered by his father to his great-Uncle, Granville Harlow, the previous Duke of Devonbrooke, in order to become his heir. For years, Lady Eleanor pines for the son she lost. But that son, now the Duke of Devonbrooke, and a returned war hero, disregards her pleading letters. That is until Laura writes with the news of his mother's death. That sarcastic missive brings a furious Sterling to Arden Manor, where he meets with his unfortunate accident in the woods. Upon finding him, she somehow persuades the amnesiac that she is his fiancee and he has just returned, injured, from the Napoleanic wars. Before the newly christened "Nicholas" knows what hit him, the banns are read, and he's married to Laura. And that's just when his memory returns. And the fun starts.
Emotions run from desperation to love to redemption, and Sterling finally finds the ability to forgive the past and move on, with Laura's help. The book is a quick read and the "romance" part of this romance novel is well represented if you get my meaning.
There's a wonderful side story involving Lady Diana, Sterling's cousin and Thane, Lord Gillingham, who is Sterling's best friend. These two alone warrant their own story. And I can see a sequel in Laura's sister, Lottie, and brother, George.
I recommend this book for a quick and enjoyable read.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
For those of you who come here to read reviews of historical and contemporary romance, you may be initially disappointed with this particular review. I promise you, however, that you will not be disappointed with this book. While Nicholas Sparks, the author of The Notebook, A Walk To Remember and Message In A Bottle, to name just a few, is known for his contemporary and heartfelt writing, nothing he has done compares to this effort. Nothing.
Brothers Nicholas and Micah Sparks decide, in the winter of 2003, to take a three week trip around the world; no small feat as they both have to leave their wives (with their blessing) and a combination of 7 children between them in order to do it. The book opens with a brief family history and then describes Nicholas' reticence and Micah's exuberance over the commitment the trip entails, a small insight into their personalities. The book describes this journey in wonderful detail from start to finish. However, what makes it special, and so much more than just a travel log, it how Mr. Sparks weaves the life story of the Sparks family, chapter by chapter, into the trip. This once in a lifetime adventure is meant to bring Micah and Nicholas some time together after a tumultuous and heart-wrenching decade. We get the feeling that by spending that time together, these two brothers make sense of their upbringing, their relationship, the good times and the tragedies, and how they came to be the men they are.
Why should we care, you ask? We care for the same reason we love good fiction; because the story and the characters engage and transport us in some way. The same is true of this book, in more ways than one. Nicholas Sparks can weave a story, and while I'm not sure how much direct input Micah had in the actual writing of this book it's interesting to note that while the story is from Nicholas' perspective most of the time, and in his voice all the time, he gave his brother equal credit as author. That basically says it all about the relationship between these two.
If you are someone's sibling, son, daughter, father, mother, husband or wife, in fact, if you have any human relationships at all, this book will touch you in some way. I guarantee it.
Friday, October 10, 2008
The Romantic is the last book in a series by this author. Previous books, all read by me and thoroughly enjoyed, are The Seducer, The Saint, The Charmer and The Sinner. All of the characters, life long friends and members of the Dueling Society, make an appearance in each of these, so by the time I read The Romantic, their character development was pretty well along. This made for a great conclusion to the series.
The Romantic is the story of Julian Hampton, Solicitor, the ton's endless target of romantic speculation, and Penelope Leclere, or as she is known by her married name, the Countess of Glasbury. Penelope has been hiding the past decade. Hiding from the man she married and his interesting way of looking at marital relations and household management. What makes this book so sinister is not the actual description of some of those interests of the Earl, but the sly references to his treatment of his wife and his servants, including sexual abuse and slavery. You get enough of an idea to realize that Pen had no choice but to run. Julian, the Leclere family solicitor, arranged a scheme that would have exposed Glasbury's secrets if he did not let Penelope go. Unfortunately, that blackmail threat lasted only so long, and Penelope is forced to return to England and face down her husband, who holds all the cards, so to speak, in the eyes of English law.
What she doesn't anticipate is the secret Julian has been harboring since they were children together. And when she finds out what that secret is, she realizes that she needs to be free of the Earl forever, no matter what it takes. But can Julian continue to protect her? And can he avoid the Earl's anger and determination to get Penelope back and take his revenge?
I've read many other Madeline Hunter novels. and they are all very well written with exceptional character development and intriguing plots. This book is no exception. While the book is part of a series, each one can stand alone, as explanations and backstories are given in each. Quick reads, all, they will keep you warm and toasty (if you catch my meaning) as the nights get colder. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, you may want to turn up the air conditioning. Enjoy!
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Lady Kathleen MacDavid, a widow of nine years, finds herself with her Aunt in London to find a way to pair herself with Oliver, the Earl of Norcroft. Both Kathleen and Oliver descend from families that five hundred years ago were at war with each other on the border of Scotland and England. Doomed to ill luck since then (meaning the death of many a man in their early years that marries into the Dumleavy family, or attempts to court Kathleen) Kathleen goes along with the plan to unite the two families in marriage to hopefully break the curse. Her plans go astray when her Aunt has her brought to Norcroft manner unconscious and unknown. Kathleen wakes to find herself along in a strange house with the Earl and his mother, not knowing her name or where she came from. With only feelings of who she is supposed to be to guide her, she allows Oliver to help her with trying to regain her memory.
Rightfully suspicious, Oliver allows Kathleen to stay in his home at the urging of his mother and a weird feeling that she was meant to be there. Having won the bet between his friends to be the last man unwed, Oliver feels the pressure from his mother and his self to find a wife. However, Oliver is determined to marry for love and finds himself falling under the spell of Kathleen and her mysterious identity. He feels drawn to her and she to him, but neither can explain why. The more time he spends with her, the more his finds himself unable to part with her. He is a rational man, who when faced with the news of the curse and Kathleen's restored memory, decides to flee to decide his feelings and to come with a logical explanation other than the curse. Neither planned to fall in love.
The tale is not as simple as that of course, but telling much more would give it away entirely. The book was such a sweet mix of fun, magic and love that it was hard to put down when break time was over! I really felt the hopelessness of Kathleen as she tried to find her memories. Oliver is a treat himself, being a proper gentleman thinking quite improper thoughts of a woman under his roof with no memory. The clashes between these two are very romantic and fun in the only way a courtship with a woman who has no idea who she is can be. It is well worth the time to read!
Thursday, September 4, 2008
I have a bad habit when I start a new book. I like to read the last few pages first. I know, it's a bit ridiculous as it defeats the purpose of actually reading the entire book. With Loving Frank, the NY Times Bestseller by new author, Nancy Horan, reading the end of this book wasn't necessary. I already knew the ending to this particular story, so in this case, it wasn't the ending, but the story itself that was so satisfying.
Loving Frank is the fictional account of the love affair between famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney, a middle to upper class housewife in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago and Mr. Wright's earliest arena for his distinct brand of architecture. Mamah is no ordinary housewife of the times, however. She is a college graduate from the University of Michigan at a time when women with degrees were extremely rare. She spoke 6 languages and worked before her marriage as a librarian in Port Huron. Her background can certainly provide the excuse for her restlessness as a housewife.
Mamah (pronounced May-mah, and a childhood nickname for Martha) and her husband, Edwin Cheney, hire Frank to design their new Oak Park house. The affair starts when Mamah and Frank collaborate on the house and find the attraction between them too difficult to deny. It's a physical attraction, yes, but intellectually, these two are well suited. In 1909, he leaves his wife (and Mamah's friend, Catherine) and his six children. She leaves her husband and her two children, and they decamp to Europe, together, in a firestorm of disgrace. After all, this is the early 1900's, and adultery and child abandonment are looked upon with the utmost disdain and revulsion, and in this case, garners a fair degree of press coverage, none of it favorable. In fact, the liaison is disastrous to Frank's burgeoning career and the trip to Europe does very little to improve that.
The description of their lives in Europe and the people they meet make it difficult to remember that this is a novel of historical fiction. The writer makes it seem as if we are the third party in this relationship, privy to every thought of each of the characters, particularly Mamah, of which little in the way of history is available. When Frank convinces Mamah to end their exile and return to his family's home in southwestern Wisconsin, the Frank Lloyd Wright we are all familiar with re-emerges. He designs Taliesin, his home on the Wisconsin prairie, as a tribute to her. They are besieged by a relentless press there as well, but persevere to find a place for themselves among their neighbors.
What I found so fascinating about this book was the author's interpretation, through diaries and letters, of the thoughts that may have gone through Mamah's mind during her involvement with Frank. The guilt of abandoning her family, her friends, her ideals and her children come through at every turn. It humanized the story and made Mamah's voice real and her situation one that garners empathy at her choice to live a "true" life.
The ending of the story? Anyone can google Mamah Borthwick Cheney or Frank Lloyd Wright and find out what happens in August, 1914 at Taliesin. But if you don't already know, I would hope that you wouldn't. It makes the entire book a living, breathing testament to an intelligent woman who knew herself and knew what she wanted out of life. And hopefully found it.
Go read this book. You'll be thinking about it long after the last page is turned. It is exceptional.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Once again, I bought a book based on the title. Now usually this gets me into trouble, but this time I was pleasantly surprised. I've a thing for spies- whether they be male or female! This work is the beginning of a series of spy novels by Andrea Pickens, and I will say she does write a good mystery. Don't let that sentence fool you, it's a romance too.
Our heroine, Siena, is one of "Merlin's Maidens" a highly trained all female force that fights with Britain against their most dangerous enemies. These women are taken in from the streets and educated as a well-bred lady would be, with the addition of learning how to defend themselves; receiving the same training as most soldiers. However, theirs is different in that they are taught to kill with finesse. A true spy. Siena is the top student at the academy and is the perfect choice to flush out a traitor.
One of the suspects is the Earl of Kirtland; a former army officer that has been disgraced because of his wish to spare is men certain death; going against the orders of ones superior is unheard of in the British cavalry. An academic with no taste for the life of the ton, or the marriage market, Kirtland is more interested in rare books than appearing at balls and soirees, where his reputation is bandied about like a compromised debutante. He and the members of the Gilded Page club- a society of gentlemen thirsting for rare works of art and books- become Siena's target in her search for the traitor. Her startling appearance at their meeting wearing nothing more than a fig leaf and an offer of her charms to the winner of her challenge gets the novel rolling quite nicely. The entire group, in pursuit of a rare collection of books by an eccentric Duke, settle in at the ducal estate for a fortnight of intellectual bartering with the reward being the rare works. Siena must eliminate the members of the Gilded Page Club in order to find her traitor, and in the process falls under the spell of the Earl, who is the most likely suspect. In Siena's quest, she must decide if her heart or her head is leading her investigation, as well as figuring out who she can trust. It's a dangerous game that gets out of hand before all is said and done.
The entire work is filled with intrigue, sexual tension and a light humor that brings the story together in a neat package. Siena's character is wonderfully written as one who goes from the horrors of life on the streets to parading around as a widow under the guise "The Black Dove". Pickens' writes so many interesting facets of her character that I immediately was cheering for her as she went about her dangerous tasks. The Earl of Kirtland is as sexy as he is dangerous, with a mysterious air about him that makes you want to learn more just for the thrill.
All in all, the book was fun to read. The next in the series "Seduced by a Spy" is already out and I think I might have to pick that one up as well, especially for the name!
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
After much anticipation, my little package from Amazon.co.uk arrived late last week. After a fun two to three day read, I've discovered a few things about Phillipa Ashley's writing. For one, her characters work in these great industries in some seriously fun locations. For another, it seems someone is always relocating, either to run away to or run from something. Unraveling the mystery of why they are running and then watching her characters try to figure out the backstories that make them so interesting is an integral part of her modus operandi. But this book goes a bit further, as it actually teaches a lesson on abusive relationships.
Lucy Gibson meets Nick (Bagel Boy) Laurentis, a would-be entrepreneur working in a sandwich shop (aptly named Love Bites). When Nick wins the top spot on an Apprentice like show (complete with a British Donald Trump look-a-like), Lucy's life is turned upside down, and the only one seeing what is truly happening is her author friend Fiona. Fiona tries to convince Lucy that Nick's treatment of her is controlling at best and abusive at worst. Lucy does not see it, but we do. And so will you. And when the final show-down (literally) occurs between Nick and Lucy, unlike tens of millions of viewers of Hot Shots, you'll be relieved. And that, without giving too much away, is the premise of this new novel.
Lucy is chased by the aftermath of her decision to Tresco Farms, a small holiday farm in Cornwall, where Fiona has a cottage. Assuming another identity so the paparazzi cannot find her, Lucy meets owner Josh Standring and his girlfriend Sara. (I must stop here and point out that fans of Richard Armitage will recognize a myriad of small references in this book that refer back to his acting career. They were fun to spot, and Josh's last name is the most obvious of those. But enough of Richard.) Lucy and Josh don't think much of each other at first, but that starts to change, and when Sara gets wind of it, she turns into pure evil, which is pure fun to watch.
Did I love the characters in this book? Yes and no. I absolutely loathe Nick, and Josh could stand to be a bit less morally upright, considering his background. I loved Lucy and Fiona, the latter because she sees things as they really are, and the former because even though she's caught up in something she can't control, she pulls herself out and makes something of her career and her life that she can be proud of.
There's a rather nice surprise at the end of this book that you won't see coming. I'll add two further observations without giving away the ending. When a guy tells you he doesn't like to be lied to, believe him. When he tells you there are no second chances, don't.
Phillipa Ashley's Just Say Yes follows in the footsteps of her earlier efforts. There's lovely bits of humor where you least expect them. It's also a page turner that leaves you with that feeling that you've spent some time with interesting people you would like to know yourself. I know that's exactly what I look forward to when I open a book.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Forrest Gump is my favorite movie. And you might well be thinking what does my favorite movie have anything to do with Rosy Thornton’s new novel, Hearts and Minds? Nothing really, except that I can’t help but think of that famous quote; you know, the one about life being like a box of chocolates. Before this book arrived in my mailbox, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to get. But one week later, after devouring page after page, I can tell you that it was indeed a sweet surprise, eloquently written and beautifully told.
Hearts and Minds is a compelling story about the inside politics at a prestigious University steeped with history and tradition and, at times, crippled by both. The pivotal character is Dr. Martha Pierce, Senior Tutor at St. Radegund’s College, an all women’s institution, representative of one of the many separate colleges that comprise Cambridge University. Dr. Pierce is in many ways like many of us - a woman trying to find the elusive balance between work and home. While successful in her career, she is struggling with significant personal issues, including a clinically depressed teenage daughter, a severely underemployed spouse, and her own overwhelming sense of guilt. Professionally, she is a woman on the verge of enormous upheaval; her tenure as Senior Tutor has been extended temporarily beyond her third term in order to smooth the way for the new Head of House. But before this transition period is over, Martha will have to make some difficult decisions regarding her own career.
Just why would this transition require Martha to stay on past the end of her term? I’m very glad you asked. The answer would be James Rycarte, former BBC executive and first male Head of House. New to the world of academia, Rycarte stumbles through his first few months as Master of St. Radegund’s, dealing with an unfamiliar tangle of bureaucratic red tape and the blatantly open and sometimes hostile opposition to his presence at the college.
Throughout the book, Ms. Thornton paints these characters in perfect counterpoint. Rycarte is a man out of his element, stretching boundaries and his own personal limits while trying to win the respect of his colleagues, some of whom would very much like to see him pack up and leave. Martha, on the other hand, has been at St. Radegund’s for over twenty years. Confident and able, completely at ease in the institution, respected by all, Martha is the one faculty member Rycarte can turn to for support and guidance. Interestingly, just as James finally finds his footing, Martha’s own world seems to fall apart.
Ms. Thornton’s writing is eloquent and descriptive with intricately drawn images and richly expressive dialogue. As an American, I do admit to needing the first two chapters to find a rhythm, but then I was happily off and running, despite my own limited exposure to the Queen’s English. I also found the setting absolutely fascinating and Ms. Thornton’s descriptions of it prompted me to spend several contented evenings on my own discovering more about Cambridge.
So, life is indeed like a box of chocolates. And sometimes, just sometimes, you are lucky enough to open a box and find it has all of your very favorites.
Hearts and Minds is a must read.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
I love a good contemporary romance, and this book is a perfect example of why I love them so much. In fact, I loved both books I’ve read by this author, and can’t wait to read her new release, Just Say Yes. But I’m getting ahead of myself, as I’ll next review Wish You Were Here, after I re-read it (no hardship there, believe me).
This is the story of Emma Tremayne, an erstwhile Londoner exiled to Cumbria due to circumstances mostly beyond her control (well, except for a tossed smoothie, but who’s counting). Emma finds herself the PR person in the local tourist board of Bannerdale, a picturesque town, complete with lakes, mountains and plenty of wayward tourists and locals lost in the hills, needing to be rescued by the Bannerdale Mountain Rescue Team. Will Tennant is a member of said team. He’s also a philanthropist, entrepreneur and a hottie.
Emma’s task is to raise funds for a new base for the Rescue Team. Her idea is to get those mountain men to pose for a nude calendar, the proceeds of which will be used to help fund the base. Emma and Will butt heads immediately on the idea. Will’s resistant, but agrees to become Mr. July.
This sets up the story of these two individuals. Ms. Ashley layers these characters with back stories that pretty much keep them apart for most of the book. The sexual and emotional tension is so high that you just cannot stop turning the pages. What happened to Emma and her last boyfriend and her boss to make her so distrustful of men and so reluctant to get involved with a client? What happened to Will and his former fiancee to warrant his reputation as a serial seducer? Can we believe what we first hear about him, or is this man more than what he seems, in a good way? Will these two get together and stay together? And is there another love scene (sorry, had to ask)?
Ms. Ashley writes Emma as a strong, independent woman with a vulnerability born of her experience that makes her insecurity so believable and so pathetic at times that we can't help but feel sorry for her. Will is edgy, secretive and so magnetic as he decides to let go of his past and take a chance on a new relationship, afraid of getting hurt, but not being able to help himself. We are let in on Emma’s past fairly quickly, but Will’s remains a secret until the last quarter of the book. This allows us to experience that boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back formula that is so necessary to a good romance. It’s the plot device that keeps us hooked. And it makes that last page so darn satisfying.
Ms. Ashley can tell a contemporary story. Her writing is descriptive, and her dialogue is crisp and very, very funny in places least expected. Will’s calendar picture and Emma’s response to it was priceless. And there was one line about a beeper in a pocket that had me laughing out loud.
Read this book. If you are a fan of contemporary romance, you won’t be disappointed. Emma and Will had me at hello.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
What can I say? If I like a restaurant, I go back. Many, many times. So it is with authors. And Barbara Metzger is like my favorite New Jersey diner; I know exactly what's on the menu.
In A Perfect Gentleman, Ms. Metzger finds the winning recipe once again as she matches up a poor but well-meaning, services-to-let peer with a headstrong heiress in charge of the family business. Aubrey, Viscount Wellstone ("Stony" to his friends), is barely keeping it together, his father having gambled away the family fortune, leaving Stony several crumbling family homes, a spendthrift young stepmother and a pile of debt. Fortunately, Wellstone is nothing if not pragmatic and has managed to find a way to acquire some much needed funds; he finds himself self employed as a ladies' escort, sought after by the wealthy men of the Polite World to squire sisters, daughters and wives to events they themselves would rather not attend. Stony, at all times the perfect gentleman, does well in this endeavor until one of his friends, handling the business overflow, compromises a young deb. With his own reputation in shreds, it's back to square one for Wellstone, until a note from Miss Ellianne Kane arrives. Miss Kane is beautiful and rich and needs Stony's services to help solve a very personal mystery.
Coincidently, I like my eggs fried and my heroes flawed. And while I’m not sure how Ellianne takes her eggs, I can tell you that she also appreciates Stony’s shortcomings. Now add in a sense of humor, a sense of honor and a sensuous smile and you have the makings of some very satisfying fare. This book is a fast paced, hilarious romp through Regency London's drawing rooms, ballrooms and morgues. Yes, I did say morgues. And, no, I’m not going to explain. Suffice it to say that the story line holds an element of the macabre, and as Stony will attest, may not be for those with a weak constitution. But don’t let that aspect deter you from experiencing one of the best Barbara Metzger novels I have read so far.
This one is well done.
Friday, July 4, 2008
The last book in the Rogues of Regent Street series, The Beautiful Stranger was read during a break from the Outlander series. Outlander, however, was never too far away. When I started reading this particular book, lo and behold, there was a Jamie, a Fraser, a story set in the Highlands of Scotland and plenty of Sassenach, verras, lassies and lads to keep me warm until I finished it and could get back to the other Jamie. I was, briefly, a happy camper!
The story revolves around Lord Arthur Christian. One of the three surviving Rogues, he is handed the task of foreclosing and recouping a financial investment made on Scottish farm part-owned by his deceased friend, Phillip, Lord Rothembow. Of course, the farm is in the Highlands, so seeking a change of venue from London, he travels North to discuss terms with the lawyer involved in the sale (the other Jamie) and the original owner of the farm himself (the other Fraser), who, unbeknown to Arthur, is recently deceased.
On the way, he literally runs into the widow of Fraser McKinnon (Kerry, just Kerry, thank you very much) who is literally stranded on the road to the farm. Neither Arthur nor Kerry have any idea that Arthur is about to foreclose on the very property Kerry is fighting to keep. Sounds good, aye??
It is, up until this point.
The characters’ attraction to each other is so palpable that it basically blows off the page right at you. Arthur has never met anyone like Kerry, but knows that she is not what he is looking for in a wife. She is geographically undesirable, so to speak, and she’s a farmer's wife, and Scottish to boot, a nationality Arthur has no love for after spending some time among the natives. May I add that the Scots Arthur encounters have no love for Arthur either, calling him a lobsterback and a Sassenach. You get the picture. So what is Arthur to do when he realizes he has stumbled upon the very property he is foreclosing on? He leaves without telling Kerry that he is the one doing the evicting, trying to reverse the process before it's too late. It would have been smart of Arthur to inform Kerry why he was leaving, but then the book would have ended right there; an attractive alternative considering what happens next.
When Arthur realizes that Kerry actually knows about the eviction, he rushes back to Glenbaden in time to witness Kerry do something that will make both of them fugitives from Scottish law.
So, on to England they go. This part of the novel is the typical fish out of water story of Kerry adjusting to life in the ton, helped along by the other Rogues’ wives. I’d like to say that there is something different here, but unfortunately, I’ve read stories with this theme many times before. The difference here is that Cinderella does not exactly get to dazzle at the ball, but decides to return to the pumpkin and face the reason she had to leave Scotland in the first place.
This book does have the requisite ingredients of the typical historical romance, but it’s not one of Julia London’s best efforts. It’s almost like she got to the last Rogue and decided to “mail it in”, shall we say.
The Beautiful Stranger is a quick, diversionary read, but it falls a bit below this author’s other efforts. Read it to finish the Rogue series, but don’t expect to love it. Poor Arthur. He deserved better.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Stop the presses.
I read a book and thoroughly enjoyed it.
What’s so unusual about that, you say? I’m an easy sell, you think. I like almost all of the books I read, you remember. Well, time to revise your preconceived notions about me.
This book was completely sans smut.
Shocked? I knew you would be.
This story is so engaging and well-written that I didn’t even mind the omission. There is interesting character development, a fair amount of intrigue and suspense, enough English history to supply a realistic background setting, and lots of sexual tension to make up for the lack of actual…well, the real thing.
Everett Stockton, Viscount Stokely is introduced to his betrothed at age six. The lady in question, Lady EmilyAnn Arcott, is barely six months old. This tidy arrangement is their fathers’ idea, a marriage destined to unite a duke’s only daughter and an earl’s first born son for the monetary benefit of both families.
But as they say, things happen and the alliance between the two families is all but forgotten as the youngsters, although fast and furious friends growing up, are separated by boarding school, military service and unfortunate family circumstance. It is only when Lady EmilyAnn finds herself in desperate straights does she seek help from her childhood hero. And Captain Lord Stokely, the gentleman and real-life hero that he is, comes valiantly to her rescue, taking pity on the poor disheveled ragamuffin, all of sixteen, standing before him.
The plot thickens; the ensuing marriage between these two is unconventional, to say the least. Sparrow (Everett’s nickname for EmilyAnn) is left to oversee the restoration of Smokey’s (EmilyAnn’s nickname for Everett) estate and coffers, using her own money, stubborn determination and a knack for finding good investments. The Captain, now a Major, is off fighting Bonaparte, his pride sorely bruised at having his inheritance maintained and his family managed by his hoydenish child-bride. But there are a few surprises in store for Smokey upon his return to England. And that’s when the fun really begins.
I cheered for the Lady and I lusted after the Lord (my typical pattern, I’m not ashamed to admit) and I turned page after page, not able to put the book down. Barbara Metzger’s writing is flawless and I enjoyed her style immensely. I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for something joyous to read. Even without the sex.
Aren’t you proud?
Sunday, June 15, 2008
I've shifted gears a bit and left behind Regency England for post World War 1 America, the setting of Sarah Pawley's debut novel.
Our story is of Grace Langdon, a sixteen year old girl living on her family's farm in rural Virginia. The only daughter out of six children, a girl wasn't worth much in those days. Grace is full of romantic ideas from her constant reading of novels, especially Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, and insists she will only marry for love. She longs to get away and live a real life- not one where she is expected to marry and bear many children while disappearing into the background under her husband's thumb. The ladies of the community already talk behind her back because she is unmarried at sixteen; their opinion of her being she is almost an old maid. The women of this time in much of the country answered to their husbands, and had no control over their own destiny. Grace is determined not to be one of those women. She knows out there is another life for her, where she can be free of the day to day back-breaking labor she is forced to endure, and live her life as she pleases. But that is a long way off, or so she thinks.
Enter Charlie- an old childhood friend who has returned when his father lay dying. Charlie is charming and handsome, having just returned from the war, and Grace wonders if she might have found a man she could love, and who would love her as she is, and not as a wife who heels to her husband. She is learns the hard way he is not that kind of man, but one like most- insisting a wife do his bidding. Not surprisingly her father arranges for Grace to marry Charlie, to which is vehemently refuses. Life on the farm becomes horrible after her refusal, and before they can force her into a marriage against her will, she packs up her belongings and catches the train to Chicago, and her older brother and his wife. Her older brother Jack fell out with the family when he married the revolutionary Alice and rejected the old ways of his community, and time has not healed the breach.
Grace arrives in Chicago alone and meets handsome theater owner Henry Shaw and his drama queen star of the show/mistress Victoria (a divorced actress living with Henry...how scandalous!) at Union Station accientally. Grace asks for his help to find her brother, who just happens to live across the street from Henry. Grace is greeted with open arms by Jack and Alice, and here starts the transformation of Grace into a modern woman, in a very modern city. It's fun to learn how Grace adapts to the modern conveniences of life- refrigerator, gas stove, really anything that doesn't require coal burning constantly and is powered by gas! During this, Grace is drawn to Henry, despite his aloofness and rudeness towards her, and Henry is drawn to her youthful freshness and outlook on life. With an overprotective brother looking over her shoulder, and a sister in law who encourages her independence, Grace is changed from a quiet girl from the country into an almost confident lady of the city who is falling in love. She is growing up. Grace and Henry become closer as she goes to work for him after Victoria leaves for Hollywood; her jealously of Grace too much for her. A secret relationship starts, with Grace learning to trust in Henry, and he doing the same while trying not to order her around. It makes for some comical scenes between the two. Of course, all cannot stay lovely forever, and out of the blue tragedy strikes in the form of Charlie and his old fashioned state of mind towards women. Grace learns much about herself and what she can handle through all this, and follows her heart towards the path to happiness.
This novel was so lovely- I cried at the treatment Grace suffered from her parents, her hopeful love Charlie, and then her parents again! I simply adored Alice and Jack- for who could be more perfect than them for a brother and sister in law? I absolutely fell in love with Henry and his vulnerability underneath his proud exterior. The author describes the harshness of 1920's rural Virginia in vivid detail, and leaves nothing out when it comes to the lack of cars and the abundance of horses and buggies. Grace and Henry are written quite thoroughly and their emotions are portrayed beautifully. Chicago is captured perfectly as a modern city in the roaring 1920's, with prohibition going strong. I found nothing lacking in the plot, and all in all it makes for a wonderful read. Sarah Pawley's writing is very descriptive and flows beautifully; I had no problems at all feeling as if I was right next to Grace as she fed the chickens! Very gorgeous! Well worth picking up!
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
I'm not shallow person, usually. But I have to confess that I'm very into kilts at the moment. So, while I was browsing in the Romance titles at Barnes and Noble last week, I was drawn to Karen Marie Moning's Highlander series. Add an element of time travel (on my mind a tad too much, recently), ancient Celtic fables, two gorgeous Druid brothers (twins, no less!) and some good old fashioned hot lovin' , and I was hooked like a Sheltie after a stray sheep. Did I really just write that?
I guess I did. Kiss of the Highlander and The Dark Highlander are the stories of Drustan and Dageus MacKeltar, respectively; two brothers who find themselves living in the present, but are really sons of the sixteenth century. Both stories are infused with ancient Celtic lore involving Druids as the gatekeepers between the human world and the immortal sphere of the Fae. But that's not all they're infused with. There's plenty more to tempt the adventurous reader.
Kiss of the Highlander is Drustan's story. Asleep for five centuries, hidden away in a cave by gypsies, Drustan is awakened accidentally when American Gwen Cassidy literally falls on top of him. A scientist by profession, an insurance clerk by choice, she is on holiday in the Scottish Highlands, trying to kick start her otherwise mundane existence. Fortunately for us, she finds more than she bargained for. What follows is a often comical description of Drustan's first look at the twenty-first century. Gwen is convinced that Drustan is a just a wee bit daft, but vows to stand by him (and who wouldn't, the man is gorgeous) to see that he gets whatever help he needs, the poor laddie. But the tables are soon turned as Gwen finds herself traveling back to the sixteenth century and discovers that time travel is not as easy as it looks. And Drustan, due to certain unavoidable circumstances, is of no particular help.
It's Dageus' turn to be a part of the here and now in The Dark Highlander. He has assumed the persona of a wealthy young man (what my grandmother would call 'quite a catch') living in an upper Manhattan Eastside penthouse chock full of ancient and priceless antiquities. However, Dageus is a man literally possessed by evil; in an effort to save his brother, he violates an age old compact between the Druids and the powerful Tuatha De' (fairy realm.) The only thing that soothes the evil within (and listen up here, ladies) is sex. Lot's of it. And, as we learn early on, he is well practiced in that particular art. Enter innocent Chloe Zanders, a well educated student of the antiquities from Kansas, with a specialty in Celtic artifacts. Well, Toto, she's not in Kansas anymore when Dageus finds her snooping around (under his bed, of all places) uninvited in his absolutely 'to die for' digs. Without much ceremony and with silk scarves no less, he decides to hold her captive; she has discovered that he is "borrowing" priceless ancient texts from various sources in an effort to solve his evil-possession issue. The two eventually travel together to Scotland where we witness a touching reunion between Dageus and Drustan and, not to miss out, a trip back in time for Chloe and Dageus as well.
Now, I know what you're thinking because I was thinking it too. These books require a complete suspension of your definition of reality. But, after putting aside my previously expressed (see the Outlander review) aversion to anything even remotely resembling science fiction, I did find myself getting lost in the stories. I was fascinated by the bits of Celtic lore. I was especially fascinated by Drustan and Dageus, two characters who are the epitome of the Alpha male. And in case you're wondering, Moning is a very descriptive writer and her love scenes, all of them...and there are many of them... literally burn.
I am embarrassed to say that it did take me until almost the end of the second book (The Dark Highlander) to fully understand the whys and hows of what was going on in terms of the Fae, MacKeltar Druids and the Draghar. (Not the smut scenes, though. I got those immediately.) But that's not to say that another reader won't catch on more quickly. In spite of my lack of immediate comprehension, I do recommend both books, although I wouldn't say that they are a must read. If you want to go further in the series, the next book, The Immortal Highlander, is a continuation of sorts and pushes the envelope even further.
Another confession. Even after reading these books, I have yet to get over my quest for kilts and, as I'm starting to realize, perhaps I never will.
But, then again, what's so bad about that?
Sunday, May 25, 2008
And yet another bonus of having well-read friends....author recommendations! This author was brought up during a recent trip to Arkansas, where I was told I had to read her! So, I chose her most recent series, and I was not disappointed in the least! Of course, I read it out of order!
The Spice Trilogy is the story of the Knight family, Georgiana and brothers Derek and Gabriel. There is another series by Foley that tells the story of the rest of the Knight clan as well. These siblings were raised in India, at a time when the English sought to make their fortune from the bounty that India held. It was also was a place of much fighting between the Indian people and the British occupation.
The first novel is Her Only Desire, the story of Georgiana Knight, a fearless woman who has lived all her life in India. She has grown to love the people and the culture. Being English hasn't stopped her from being a proponent of the rights of the people, and the perfect example is our first glimpse of her, saving a friend from throwing herself into a ceremonial fire after her deceased husband. Georgiana is outspoken, a bit wild, fearless, and yet still has the innocence of a maiden. She longs to be in love, and refuses to settle for less. Enter Ian Prescott, the Marquess of Griffith- Ian is an ambassador for England and is sent in for negotiations with the powerful King Johar, whom is acquainted with Georgiana through one of his many wives. Viscious tribes threaten the area and King Johar's signature on a treaty is the only hope for peace. Ian is entranced by Georgiana's freshness and vitality, and falls for her against his better judgement. The entire party is forced to flee when Georgiana is caught snooping in the Queen's personal room, attempting to help Ian with his treaty negotiation. The brothers protect her and the trio is banished from the area. Sent to England to live with relatives she's never met, Georgiana is met at the docks by Ian, and they make their union official. He holds a horrible secret about his first wife that keeps him from forming an attachment with anyone-until he meets Georgiana. They each bring out the best and worst in each other!
The second installment is Her Secret Fantasy, the story of Major Derek Knight, an Indian soldier with a flawless record, until he and his brother get into trouble protecting his sister during their escape from King Johar. Derek is sent to England to find out what happened to the money the Crown had promised the regiments in India. Not happy with the assignment, but determined to secure the money for his men, Derek goes on his errand, making several stops among the parties of the ton along the way, and earning a reputation as man who can please a woman. At one of these parties he meets Lily Balfour, an impoverished lady who has come to London marry a rich man and save her family's estate from ruin. Both Lily and Derek are immediately attracted to each other, but Lily is intended to another- a man who Derek has been working with to get the money to his men. Derek's investigation of her intended prompts Lily to do her own searching, and she gets caught in the process by her suitor, who shows his menacing side as he threatens her. With Derek in danger from him, Lily acts bravely to save Derek from a horrible fate. The attraction between Lily and Derek is fierce and loyal, and they run into much danger while working out their feelings for each other.
The finale is Her Every Pleasure, the story of Major Gabriel Knight, a soldier like his brother, nicknamed the Iron Major. Gabriel should be dead- he receives a mortal wound while protecting his sister in India, and was in fact dead at one point, then brought back. That experience has changed his way of thinking, and he lays down is sword, swearing he will never again take anothers' life. He moves to a remote farmhouse in the countryside, lighting candles for those he has slain, and living a simpler life away from the ton. Then he finds Sophia asleep in his barn while feeding the resident kittens one day. Sophia is a Princess who's land has been torn apart by war, and she has lived most of her life in seclusion under the threat of death from her enemies. She is the last of her family to claim the throne, and with the help of the British government, she intends to claim her place. An attack on her party leads Sophia to run and take cover in the remote area, where she meets Gabriel and becomes his maid; her identity remaining a secret. They are instantly attracted to each other, however Sophia's curiosity about Gabriel, and his own issues make their short relationship volatile. Gabriel learns of her true identity after she leaves and Sophia requests him to lead her security detail, putting him in a position where he may have to kill again. However Gabriel realizes he can kill again, if it means protecting the woman he loves.
Each of these books has a different dramatic flair that moves in a continuing theme from story to story. Foley writes with such detail; the richness of the Indian culture is described beautifully, as is Princess Sophia's island nation, torn apart by war. The characters are well drawn out, each flawed and beautiful in their own way. These books are definitely worth a read!
Friday, May 23, 2008
Donna reviewed the prequel to The Other Boleyn Girl, The Constant Princess, so I've decided to review the sequel. I have to say that I think I liked this book as much or more than The Other Boleyn Girl. The chapters are short, and the book moves very quickly. Each chapter is narrated by one of three main characters, Lady Jane Rochford, Anne Boleyn's hated sister in law and wife of her brother George, Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII's fourth wife after the death in childbirth of Jane Seymour, and Katherine Howard, the very young (she's fourteen when she marries Henry) fifth wife of this hard to please King. How's that for an understatement?
The story is set three years after the execution of Anne Boleyn. The year is 1539 and an alliance is made between the German speaking country of Cleves, by marrying Anne of Cleves to King Henry of England. At this point, Henry is 48 years old, obese and suffering from an open wound on his leg-not a very attractive thing to the 24 year old Anne, who despite the age difference, wants to make the best of the situation. Lady Jane is up to her old tricks of manipulation and doing her Uncle the Lord of Norfolk's will, by trying to secure the best possible outcome for the Howard family. She is asked to spy on the new Queen, and when Katherine Howard, a 14 year old lady in waiting, is noticed by the King, Jane and her Uncle see another opportunity to put a Howard girl on the throne and extend their influence and power.
From here on, we watch as King Henry takes the law of God and matrimony unto himself again with disastrous results for the new Queens and Lady Jane.
It is hard to imagine what life at court and in England must have been like during the reign of Henry VIII, but this book, as well as its two predecessors, give us an excellent idea of the fear and betrayal that gripped England in those times. This is an unbelievably true story of human nature at its worst. Read this book. By the end, you will be shaking your head trying to figure out how Henry got away with everything he did for as long as he did. And you will wonder, as I do, what the repercussions were for the years following his reign.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
I waited anxiously for this book- I had enjoyed her others so much that I wrote the release date on my calendar so as not to forget! I was not disappointed. Elizabeth Hoyt's novels always have snippets of fairy-tales and children's stories at the beginning of each chapter, as shown in the Prince trilogy, and this is no exception. Here we learn the story of Iron Heart, which is more than just a bedtime story.
Lady Emeline Gordon, widow with a young son, is a high society fixture, known for her proper manners and excellent chaperonage of the younger beauties of the ton. She is well known to have the ability to craft a girl into the model of propriety, and ending with an excellent marriage. To have the patronage of Lady Emeline was something. Emeline is quickly introduced to her new neighbor, Samuel Hartley, and instant flames come to life. Sam is a wealthy American, with Native roots as shown by his odd stockings and the moccasins he wears proudly wherever he goes. He also has a sister, Rebecca, that he wishes to have Emeline sponsor while he is off gathering his information on a long ago battle where Emeline's brother lost his own life. Emeline, intrigued by the savage, yet gentlemanly man, agrees, despite her anger of his lack of propriety towards society.
Sam has a haunted past; being used as a tracker for the British during the French and Indian War (put your history caps on kids!) he was witness to an ambush where several soldiers, including Emeline's brother, lost their lives. He has traveled to London to investigate those officers who escaped death, trying to learn if the horrifying ambush was planned by a rogue officer. Sam has a stake in this as well; having left the scene of the ambush to get help, he was branded a coward, when in reality he was running to fetch help. Sam knows Emeline does not know the truth of her brother's death, and finds an unlikely ally in the Lady. She is interested in finding out what happened to her brother and his regiment as well.
Their attraction is immediate, but Emeline is not free; she is engaged to a man whom Sam fought with in America. That however does not stop the two of them from coming together, in more ways than one. Bring on the bodice ripping- literally! These two fight at every opportunity, but they are drawn to each other despite their differences. They both need each other; Emeline needs someone like Sam, who loves her completely with wild abandon, and not the casual friendly relationship she has with her fiance; Sam just needs Emeline. She is a part of him, and he can't live without her. Even Emeline's young son, Daniel, loves Samuel. The consequences of Sam's investigation into the ambush lead a dangerous man to come calling at the Hartley house, and Sam's love for Emeline is proven by force, and an engagement is broken.
This was such a good book, and there's so much more to it than what I wrote about here. I just love Elizabeth Hoyt's style of writing- she draws the characters out so well, and you can feel their emotions coming off the page. However, at the same time, she is wickedly funny and that humor makes the book very enjoyable. Definitely worth a read!
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
It's back to Tudor England for me and Phillippa Gregory's The Constant Princess, a prequel of sorts to The Other Boleyn Girl. This historical novel is based on the life of Catalina, Infanta of Spain, youngest daughter of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, two of the most powerful (and devout) monarchs in Europe. Catalina is also the promised wife of Arthur, heir to the English throne. Styled "Princess of Wales" at age three, she is destined to unite Spain and England through marriage.
To many, Queen Katherine (as she was later known) is best remembered as the wife Henry VIII discarded (right along with Catholicism) for the young usurper, Anne Boleyn. (Enter The Other Boleyn Girl.) In this novel, however, Ms. Gregory introduces us to Catalina as a young child, on crusade with her parents and then later, ensconced peacefully in the beautiful Alhambra. The story then continues with the Infanta as a young adult, on the precipice of what she considers her destiny. I think the reader will grow to admire Catalina and understand her actions as she struggles to become Queen.
The writing itself is fast paced, the story hums along nicely and in a relative straight line - easy to follow, easy to understand. Perhaps a bit too easy. I was expecting more of the breathless complexity of The Other Boleyn Girl, where characters buzzed in and out and the level of suspense and intrigue ran continuously high. That's not to say that this isn't an enjoyable and informative read. It's well worth the time, even if only to properly round out the back story of Henry VIII.
I wouldn't want to leave you with the impression that this novel is boring. It is not. There is plenty to consider, most importantly the author's premise that Catalina's motivation behind her ambition was based on a deathbed promise made to her first husband. I'll leave it to you to decide if that's a worthy assertion. But beyond that, I was left wondering...is that all there is?
Sunday, May 11, 2008
I stumbled across Susan Mallery while browsing through my local library's shelves and I picked up the first of the Marcelli sisters series. I was hooked and sped through the book, returning to the library only a few days later to pick up the remaining four books. While each book can stand on its own, I suggest that you read them in order since the series spans a number of years.
This series consists of five books: A trilogy about the oldest three sisters of the Marcelli family (The Sparkling One, The Sassy One, The Seductive One) and two companion books (The Marcelli Bride, The Marcelli Princess). They all take place in and around the family-owned vineyard, Marcelli Winery, located in California.
Book One (The Sparkling One) introduces you to the Marcelli family and concentrates on the oldest sister, Katie. Her family has begun to dispair that she will ever marry since the family tradition is to marry at 18 and she's reached the ripe old age of 28 without a prospect in sight. Katie owns a small but successful party planning business and is waiting for her big break. It comes in the form of Zach Striker, a high-powered, high-priced divorce lawyer who hires her to plan the annual fund-raising party for his law firm. He's not only highly successful and the youngest partner in the largest law firm in Los Angeles, but he's also gorgeous and has a reputation of being a heartbreaker. Their initial meeting makes Katie's heart flutter and other body parts react as well. Little does she know that Zach has an ulterior motive for hiring her for the job.
After leaving the meeting, she travels to the winery for a family dinner and is immediately accosted by the Grands, her Italian grandmother, Grandma Tessa and her Irish grandmother, Grammy M. She's barely through the door before she's being interrogated about her lovelife and in desperation, she mentions that she's met a very handsome lawyer. The Grands take the news and run with it, already planning the wedding and reception, despite Katie's attempts to downplay the whole thing. Luckily, her youngest sister, 18 year-old Mia makes an announcement that quickly puts Katie's 'new love' on the back burner. Mia has just become engaged to 18 year-old David, a fellow UCLA student and the Grands are ecstatic. David and his father have been invited to join the family for dinner and wedding planning.
Things only become more embarrassing for Katie when she discovers that David's father is Zach Striker and the Grands start matchmaking. Zach is adamantly opposed to the marriage, believing David and Mia are too young. He knows first-hand how difficult marriage can be at such a young age because he was married and a father at 17. When his wife left him shortly after David's birth, he put himself through college and law school while raising David as a single parent. His own experience with marriage and his career as a successful divorce attorney make him too cynical to believe that David and Mia can make a go of it. While Katie doesn't realize it at first, Zach hired her for the party planning, hoping he could get her on his side and convince his son and her sister to wait before marrying.
Since I don't want to give too much away, I'll simply tell you that everything works out to everyone's satisfaction in the end.
Book Two in the series (The Sassy One) focuses on Francesca Marcelli. Francesca followed the family tradition and married at 18 in a double ceremony with her fraternal twin sister, Brenna. Five years into her marriage, she is widowed and since then she's struggled to put herself through school, finally nearing the end of her Ph.D. program in psychology at the age of 27. During one of her 'research experiments' in which she's disguised as an unattractive, very pregnant lady, she meets Sam Reese, the CEO of a very successful security company who also happens to be devastatingly handsome. After Francesca nearly faints because her blood sugar is low, Sam insists that she relax and eat something. During the course of their conversation, Francesca is forced to confess that she's in disguise and is doing research for her Ph.D. Sam then invites her to dinner and she accepts because she's very attracted to him and she hasn't had a date in a very long time.
Life takes an unexpected turn for Sam when a 12 year-old girl shows up on his doorstep claiming to be his daughter. Sam was divorced years ago and, unbeknownst to him, his ex-wife was pregnant when she left him and never told him. Now she's remarrying and has sent their daughter to live with him. Over the course of the book, Francesca helps Sam cope with his newfound daughter and responsibilities but they break up over a terrible misunderstanding.
Once again, I don't want to give away the entire book but of course there's a happy ending.
Book Three (The Seductive One) is about Brenna, the other twin. After being married for nearly ten years and working two jobs to put her husband through medical school, Brenna finds herself dumped for a younger woman and she struggles to rebuild her life. She's the only one of the Marcelli children who's shown interest in the winery and she begins running the operation. Unfortunately, Grandpa Lorenzo is adamant that she'll never inherit the family business. Brenna decides that she'll start her own winery and, after trying to get a million-dollar loan from the local banks, she turns to Nicholas Giovanni, the Marcelli's next-door neighbor and owner of the Wild Sea Vineyards. Brenna and Nic had fallen in love before Brenna's marriage but a family feud, dating back 60 years interfered with the two lovers. Nic has never forgotten Brenna but he has also vowed revenge against her and her family for hurting him. When Brenna asks for a loan, he sees another way to further his plan of buying Marcelli Winery and finally getting his revenge.
The story ends happily and the secret of the long-ago family feud is solved along with another secret being revealed.
The Marcelli Bride follows The Seductive One and tells the love story between the younger daughter of the President of the United States and a Navy SEAL. I can't say more without giving away the story. The Marcelli Princess is the youngest sister, Mia's story.
I liked every one of these books and enjoyed reading about the large, loving Marcelli family with all their quirks and interesting family traditions. If you're looking for a fun series of books, I can definitely recommend these.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
The Paradise Will is exactly that- the will of General Paradise, Uncle to Miss Alyssa Paradise, our witty heroine. Alyssa learns, with great shock, that her Uncle's estate- Hawkscote- has been left to her instead of her male cousin, the anticipated heir. Before Alyssa can take this in, she learns of the unusual clauses of her Uncle's will, the most notable the requirement to dine with Sir Giles Maxton, a neighbor, once a week- completely alone! Having been known as a man of great humor and mischief, General Paradise's will is full of strange little quirks, but none so extraordinary as the weekly dinner with Sir Giles. Alyssa and Sir Giles meet at the reading of the will, and he is just as shocked as she seems to be. They do not get off to a great start, hardly surprising with such a requirement looming over them. The terms of the will are accepted by both parties, and the fun begins.
Alyssa arrives at Hawkscote with her ward and Charles, her possible fiance, who is set against the terms of the will. Charles is a cold fish, in my opinion, and somewhat pompous and assuming. Alyssa is glad to see him leave after his strained encounter with Sir Giles. They aren't the best matched couple, and Alyssa is starting to see the light. Alyssa and Letty begin to make Hawkscote their home, with Alyssa learning about managing the estate, with Giles' help, as per the stipulations of the will. Alyssa is a mischievous person, and during a visit from Caroline Nash and her mother; Miss Nash believing she is going to marry Sir Giles, creates a story about a scandalous part of her past, solely for her own amusement. Miss Nash and her mother are social conscious ladies of the neighborhood, and their haughty attitudes towards Alyssa ruffles her feathers and induces her to put them in their place, humorously of course.
All is not well, of course- there are issues with the estate, and Alyssa herself becomes ill from tending to a sick child of one of her tenants. In the middle of all this, Sir Giles and Alyssa realize their growing feelings for each other, but are both honor bound to another before announcing their attachment to each other. Much amusement follows, as well as danger.
I am purposely leaving some of the story out, because I want you to read it for yourself! There are too many hilarious situations for me write about in a single review!
I laughed aloud several times while reading this book. The main characters are both witty and intelligent, which make for a very humorous story. Add to this Letty, Alyssa's ward and friend, Piers, the male cousin who was stilted by his uncle, and you will find yourself laughing at their antics. This was such a fun read, not only is it well written and flows beautifully, the characters are well developed and their own individual personalities shine through. Elizabeth Hanbury's writing is wonderful, a nice change from the formula romances that we see so much of. I loved this book, now go out and buy it!!
Sunday, April 27, 2008
I initially hadn’t held out much hope that this book would be anything special. Most of the reviews were good, but there were several that were not. Be forewarned, there is fairly explicit sex throughout, but, as I happily found out, beautifully written. This book is most definitely a keeper.
The book opens with Lady Abigail Weston enlisting James Stevens’ assistance in teaching her about what occurs in the marriage bed so that Abigail may give her sister, who will likely receive a marriage proposal by the end of the season, an informed explanation before her nuptials. Lady Abigail is a twenty-five year old spinster who was engaged when she was very young, but her fiancé died before they could wed and she has remained unmarried. James Stevens is a wealthy, handsome (black hair, blue eyes…need I say more?) owner of a gambling den. Around London he is renowned for his prowess in bed. James is also the bastard son of an Earl, which makes him a pariah in the eyes of the ton. Any connection between the two would mean instant ruin for Abigail.
James Stevens in intrigued by Abigail, initially believing he can maintain a detached distance, but soon discovers that she ignites emotions he never thought he was capable of feeling. Their first meetings are wrought with sexual tension, and passion that neither can ignore, and they are both willing to admit that they share the same inexplicable yearning for one another. James’ tender feelings toward Abigail make him long to protect her from making any rash choices, especially the one she is most bent on - a sexual liaison with him.
James has been cast off by his father, the Earl of Spencer, and has been forced to make his way in a world that loathes his very existence. He is damaged goods in so many ways, and Abigail is determined to help him conquer his demons. He is desperate for love and acceptance from his father, who is unwilling to recognize James as his son in public. In order to dull the pain and heartbreak, James has established himself as the quintessential libertine. He has never in his life felt love for anyone, except for his mother and brother. But what tortures James most is that he has no power to change his circumstance. Instead he finds solace in torrid sexual encounters with fallen women of high society, but nothing has ever prepared him for the feelings Abigail stirs within. He knows any real relationship between them is impossible, but he can’t stop himself from his self-destructive path of experiencing real love for the first time in his life.
This book has been described by some as erotica…and I suppose it is, but the love/sexual scenes were written in such a way that instead of feeling cheap or dirty, they are beautiful and passionate. The author captured the tormented love between this unlikely pair so wonderfully, in my opinion, that it had me glued to every page until I finished. The minor characters do their bit to drive the plot along and place obstacles in their way, but the majority of the action revolves around James and Abigail, right where it should be. I’m looking forward to reading more of what this author has to offer.
Laura is twenty-eight, and a hopeless romantic who accepted as she is by her friends and family. She lives for love and is swept off her feet quite easily. Her friends are used to this, and even tease her about it somewhat. Laura falls for Dan, a friend who she meets at the tube stop every morning. Dan has a girlfriend, but this doesn't stop him from spending more and more time with Laura. Laura falls for him, and it's easy to see why with Dan carrying on about how much he wants her, and for several months she becomes a different person. Her life revolves around Dan and when he can stop by to see her after being out at the pubs most of the night. This also affects her job and her friendships. She shares him with his girlfriend Amy, who is mostly out of the picture. Deep down Laura knows what she is doing is wrong, but Dan is so sweet to her, and tells her that he will end it with Amy as soon as he can, so she pushes her doubts aside. The shoe drops when Amy turns up pregnant, bringing their relationship to a screeching halt. Laura is devastated- not only is her personal life in shambles, she learns that she has been suspended from her job for her lack of performance- which is a direct result from her relationship with Dan. Laura makes a decision to turn her life around, and *gasp* throws out her romance movies and novels (including her Jane Austen collection, I had to stop reading for a moment to recover) intent on ending her wild romantic streak and becoming a responsible adult.
To start on her endeavor, she goes on holiday with her family to Norfolk for her grandmother's birthday. Laura's grandmother Mary is a spunky and elegant eighty-five year old with stories of her deceased husband and their exciting life. She is also very inquisitive when it comes to her granddaughter. Despite Laura swearing off men and romance, Mary always tells her to not give up completely. A trip to Chartley Hall changes things abruptly. Laura meets Nick, the estate manager, who just happens to be gorgeous and they hit it off. However, Laura is off romance, so she treads a little too carefully around Nick. Regardless of this, she begins to fall for him. Nick is not quite who he seems to be, and when Laura realizes who he is, she is convinced it could never work and runs. She spends several months pining away for Nick, doing exactly what she tried not to do. What she doesn't realize is that Nick is doing the same thing. Their lack of communication is frustrating at times! At the risk of revealing everything, I will stop here. All ends well, do not fret!
There are many characters in this book that make the story what it is- Yorky, her flatmate who is obsessed with the girl downstairs; Jo, her best friend who is happily married and can see right through her; Charles, Nick's friend and instigator; Simon, the traveling brother and her parents, along with several other family members and friends. They all play their own little part in getting Laura and Nick in together.
There were times as I was reading that I saw a little bit of Bridget Jones in Laura, and there is one scene near the end of the novel that resembles a scene from the movie. I absolutely loved the book, although the ending, while appropriate for Laura's story, left me wanting a bit more. I found myself laughing out loud at some parts and crying at others, which of course is why I would recommend this novel to everyone! Harriet Evans is a very real writer, and I could imagine all the scenes with clarity. You really get into the characters and their individual quirks, which made for a very enjoyable read!