Wednesday, May 27, 2009

First Comes Marriage, by Mary Balogh


The first book in a four book series detailing the changed lives of the four Huxtable siblings, First Comes Marriage did not have an auspicious beginning.  The prologue left me with questions that were unanswered for a about a quarter of the book. I began to wonder where Ms. Balogh was taking me.  I need not have worried at all.

The story of Vanessa Huxtable Dew and Elliot Wallace, Viscount Lyngate is first and foremost a historical romance, but a  truly atypical one. Viscount Lyngate comes to Throckmorton on a mission. He has found the legitimate heir to the deceased Jonathan Huxtable, Earl of Merton,  his 16 year old cousin and ward, who had Down's syndrome and died an early and peaceful death. That heir is Stephen Huxtable, Vanessa's brother.

Faced with this new found inheritance, the Huxtable family, Margaret the eldest, Vanessa, a recent widow and Katherine, the youngest, accompany Stephen and Viscount Lyngate to Warren Hall, seat of the Earl of Merton, where they all begin their education in the ways of Society.

Elliot has a problem.  As Stephen's appointed guardian, he has his three unmarried sisters to present to Society. As an unmarried man, he can not do it himself and no one is volunteering to help him.  He decides that the best solution to this dilemma would be to marry Margaret and have her supervise the come-outs of her sisters. But both Vanessa and Margaret have other ideas. Vanessa "sacrificies" herself to save her sister from the unwelcome marriage. And for some inexplicable reason not even apparent to Elliot at the time, since their relationship is anything but amicable, he agrees to marry her instead. The rest, as we say, is history.

The story has very few moments of intrigue to detract from the real purpose; watching Vanessa and Elliot fall in love. There is Con Huxtable, Jonathan's elder brother who does not inherit the title of Earl of Merton on a technicality, to mix things up a bit with his cousin Elliot. But for the most part, this is the story of two people who find that love can be found when and where it's least expected.

Mary Balogh writes with a wonderful attention to detail and describes emotional moments (and there are quite a few in this book) so perfectly that I wanted to hand the characters a handkerchief myself when the need arose. I didn't want it to end, and luckily, there are three more stories available. Katherine's is next, in Then Comes Seduction. Margaret's follows, called  At Last Comes Love. Both of these are now available in paperback. Stephen's story, Seducing an Angel, will be available in hardcover in June, 2009. They are already in my queue.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Wicked Angel, by Julia London


Months after beginning my weird and totally unreasonable quest to read almost every contemporary romance on the shelves, I decided that it was time to take a breather and return to my first love - the world of historical romance.  Lucky for me that I stumbled upon one of Julia London's earlier stories.  Wicked Angel is an engrossing read, whipping up a storm of emotions with every turn of the page. The plot itself is sequentially frustrating and fulfilling.  The main characters are both lovely and obstinate.  The story moves at a quick pace, yet is rich with detail and development.  I found myself smiling like a happy imbecile and alternately shaking my head in complete disbelief almost the entire way through the 374 pages. It's common knowledge among my family and friends that rollercoasters are generally not my thing, but I may reconsider after spending nearly five hours with Lauren Hill Bergen, Countess Bergen and the Duke of Sutherland, Alexander Christian.

Lauren has returned home to Rosewood, the crumbling estate/orphanage and barely working farm she had left nearly two years before. She is a beguiling character with a sunny disposition and a penchant for earning the complete adoration of the orphans at Rosewood. Thanks to her greedy uncle's machinations, she had been forced to marry a senile old man (a Bavarian Count, no less). When he died, she unthinkingly turned over her inheritance to the new Count Bergen and began thinking of returning home. Happy to finally be there, she throws herself into the task of making Rosewood self sufficient through hard work and clever barter.

Alex Christian, the Duke of Sutherland, is wealthy, handsome and bored. He's engaged to be married to Lady Marlaine Whitcomb and their wedding is set to be the event of the Season.  Although congenial, their relationship is not a love match, at least not on Alex's side. Lady Marlaine had been betrothed, almost from birth, to Alex's older brother Anthony.  However, upon Anthony's untimely death five years before, Alex not only inherited the Dukedom, but Lady Marlaine as well.  Their union is an important one, both politically and economically, and although he has some misgivings about the situation, Lady Marlaine is both charming and suitable and Alex sees his path in life clearly.

That is until he visits his country manor and stumbles upon Lauren singing to a rather large hog in a pasture.  As a result of the subsequent charge by the pig and Lauren's daring leap over a fence and into his arms, "Mr. Christian" as Lauren refers to him, is smitten. And Lauren Hill, as she introduces herself (sans her title of Countess) is equally enamored.

But of course, it is not to be. "Mr. Christian" must return to London and to his obligations and Lauren is left at Rosewood to dream of him. She doesn't have much time to enjoy those dreams, however, as her uncle decides to send her to London in a last ditch effort to find another husband for her - preferably one that will live long enough to provide enough funds to save his own inheritance.

Not surprisingly, once in London, both Lauren and Alex discover the truth about the other and each doggedly fight the overwhelming desire they feel.  But it is impossible. The story is wrought with angst as first Alex and then Lauren abandon conscience and duty in order to make peace with the inevitable - they must be together.

Speaking of musts - add this one to your bookshelf.  And while you do, I'll head over to Six Flags, although I doubt there's a rollercoaster out there that can offer a better ride than Wicked Angel.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Rosie Dunne by Cecelia Ahern

rosie dunne coverAny one who knows me will tell you that I’m a great reader. I will often read for many hours a day, but it is still rare to be unable to put a book down. This afternoon (at 3pm) I bought Rosie Dunne and this evening (at 8pm) I finished it. Now I will say the book left me feeling very confused emotionally, but I did love every minute of it.

Rosie and Alex are inseparable throughout their early lives, but the year Alex turns 16 his father moves the family to Boston. Rosie and Alex are devastated and vow to be together again as soon as they graduate. Alex, who has always dreamt of being a doctor, applies to Harvard. And Rosie applies to the school of Hotel Management at Boston College, hoping one day to run a huge hotel on the coast. And then on the night of Rosie’s debutant ball, Alex misses his flight and their lives are forever changed. As their lives move away from each other fate seems determined to keep them apart, but love is a strong thing and fate works in mysterious ways.

Rosie Dunne is told in a series of emails, instant messages, letters and occasional phone calls….it was very unique and so entertaining. The book begins when they are five and exchanging notes in class. The banter between Rosie and Alex is so marvelous. It is so engrossing; I absolutely fell in love with the characters and the writing style. Ahern certainly does a fantastic job conveying their thoughts and emotions within the small confines of correspondence.

The story will break your heart, lift your spirits, anger you and bring a smile to your face. Rosie Dunne is one of the best books I’ve picked up lately I highly recommend this lovely book.