Friday, September 30, 2011

Silk is for Seduction, by Loretta Chase

Let me start out by saying no betrothals were hurt in the writing of this novel. That said, Loretta Chase has written a gem in Silk is for Seduction.  The first in a series about the Noirot sisters (three women with a past that make convicted felons look good) brings together Marcelline Noirot and Gervaise Angier, 7th Duke of Clevedon in an attempt at seduction, but not the kind we are used to in this genre. What Marcelline wants is Clevedon's future wife. Marcelline and her sisters are modistes. Without a following in the upper reaches of the haut ton, they need an in, and the eldest Noirot travels to Paris to attract the Duke so she can literally make a pitch for his future business. The Duke is enjoying the final year of a swing through the Continent and must return to London to marry Lady Clara Fairfax, sister of his best friend, the Earl of Longmore. And it is that lady that Marcelline really has her eyes on.

What ensues seems to be the  typical boy meets girl plot, but with Marcelline's professional reputation at stake, and her unsuitable background to boot, Clevedon meets with a dead end in his quest to have her for his own. She won't give in and he won't give up, even to the detriment of his relationship with Lady Clara and her brother.

While all of this, on the surface, sounds like Marcelline is a home wrecker of the worst kind, nothing could be further from the truth. For while she does fall in love with Clevedon, she strongly encourages him to marry Clara. Neither her motives nor Clevedon's are honorable to begin with, and that's what makes this such a good love story. I've never read a novel where both protagonists are such driven (and in Clevedon's case, selfish) individuals, like-minded in their drive to get what they want, not realizing that what they want is the same thing. It's a brilliant plot and it works to keep the reader guessing up until the very end of the novel.

Sprinkled with small, hysterical one-liners (you'll know one when you read one),  Silk is for Seduction admirably serves its purpose of entertaining the reader and it sets up the next two books in this series perfectly. I can't wait to see how the girls adjust to the outcome of this story and go on to find loves of their own. And I'm wondering if Lady Clara's brother, the Earl of Longmore is somehow, some way involved.  I'll just throw that out there and see if Ms. Chase takes the hint.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Go Small or Go Home, by Heather Wardell

Go Small or Go Home, by Heather Wardell is currently a .99 Kindle download. To be honest, I never hold out much hope for .99 Kindle downloads. They are often either too short, too simple or too silly. In fact, I can count on my hand the number I thought worthy of even that small expenditure. But oh, what an absolutely brilliant bargain Go Small or Go Home is. Packed with some of the most wonderful dialogue I’ve read in quite awhile (which probably means I haven't read enough of Ms. Wardell's work) it challenges the old adage that you get only what you pay for.

Forrest Williams has finally fulfilled a life long dream by playing ice hockey for the Toronto Hogs, but playing is not what anyone would call it. Emotionally paralyzed by a horrific car accident that claimed the life of his fiancĂ©e, Forrest is ostracized by his teammates as a minor physical injury keeps him glued to the bench.  Survivor’s guilt shapes his actions and because of it, he’s on the fast track to an early retirement. But the pressure of a multimillion-dollar contract and the club owner’s wrath forces him to hire a private massage therapist in the hope of regaining his physical health. But no matter how much he wants to get back out there and play, his personal baggage is just too heavy to carry onto the ice.   

Tess Grayson is torn between a successful career as a massage therapist and her passion for making miniature pieces of three-dimensional art.  She would like nothing more than to turn that passion into a full time career and say goodbye to massage therapy forever. But a girl’s got to eat and Tess applies for the temporary stint as Forrest’s savior.  She immediately recognizes that his problems are centered more in his head and less in his leg and, in the same manner she does everything, applies herself whole-heartedly to healing him. But she soon realizes she’s in danger of losing that heart to a man who apparently has nothing left to give.

Written in Tess’ voice, the narrative shines with insightful humor and touching sadness. Tess struggles to find herself at the same time she fights Forrest’s demons and the emotional toll these battles take on her is staggering. Every page in this book packs a punch and I found myself immediately lost in Tess' world. Of course, Forrest’s thoughts are closed to the reader, just as they are closed to Tess. Only once does he open up enough to let her (and us) in, and the price of admission would destroy a woman weaker than Tess. But despite Forrest's hot and cold temperament, she continues to root for him and for herself, and I found myself squarely behind her, although holding out less and less hope for him. 

The supporting characters are wonderful in their own right, particularly Tess’ best friend Jen and Forrest’s gallery owning mother, Jayne.  Magnus, the Hog’s team captain earned my eternal admiration and even Tess’ alcoholic twin sister Pam gained my support in the end.

I loved everything about this book, including the ending. Especially the ending.  Don’t hesitate to spend the buck, if you’re lucky enough to get it for that price. But, even at ten times the price, it would still be a bargain. Trust me on this.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Persuade Me, by Juliet Archer

Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel. How many times have I re-read Frederick Wentworth's letter to Anne Elliot? How many times have I thought that if Anne and Frederick would just TALK to each other, everything would turn out just fine?  In Persuade Me, Juliet Archer's wonderful modern adaptation of the novel that defined first love and missed opportunities, the story is brought up to date and the result is a thoroughly enjoyable read that can stand on its own merits, even for someone who has never read a word of the original.

Dr. Rick Wentworth, an English expert in marine biology based in Melbourne, Australia, has written a book and is in England to promote it. A Steve Irwin-type adventurer (with much more sex appeal), Rick finds the time to visit his sister and her husband and is drawn into the drama of the families surrounding Kellynch, the seat of the 8th Baron of Kellynch, Walter Elliot.  Anna Elliot, a lecturer in Russian literature and Walter's semi-estranged daughter presently living in Bath, has reason to follow Rick's career.  Anna and Rick share a past. Ten years prior, at eighteen, Anna fell in love with Rick, but when he asked her to go with him to Australia, she was persuaded by her godmother Lady Russell and her father, to give Rick up.

All of our favorite Austenite characters grace this adaptation. There's the Musgrove sisters, one of whom Rick seems to favor, Mrs. Smith (now Anna's landlady and best friend), Sir Walter and his daughters Mona and Lisa (love those names), Lady Russell, William Elliot-Dunne (still as slick and smarmy as his Regency predecessor), two Mrs. Clay characters, Lady Dalrymple, Ben Harville and even James Benwick. They are all transported seamlessly into the modern world.

The main premise of the entire story, the Elliot family's role in Rick and Anna's original breakup, translates very well and is just as believable in a modern context, as in the original.  In the original, Wentworth's lack of money and position led to her family's stance. In this adaptation, it's Anna's youth, and the thought, hammered home by Lady Russell,  that her mother (had she lived) would have wanted Anna to wait, to go to University and make something of herself first, before she committed to a serious relationship. All powerful means of persuasion for a young, sensitive teenager living in the 21st century.

There are some things that don't translate as well at first glance, however. The dysfunctional nature of Anna's relationship with her family is a bit harder to understand when put in the modern day context. Why does Anna put up with Mona, her younger sister? Why does she even talk to her father let alone run to him when he snaps his conceited and self-important fingers? Why does she let Lisa, her elder sister and Walter's pet, run roughshod over her feelings?  In the original, I really had not given this much thought, except to say, it was her duty as a daughter and sister to put up with her family's baggage. In modern times I'm asking why Anna feels the need to be a doormat. I just want to shake her! But that really makes her awakening at the end of the book so much better. You can feel Anna coming into her own, just as she finally realizes that her future can be as bright as her past.  She finally pushes back at her family, and is rewarded with what she's wanted for ten long years and was afraid she'd never have. So in the end, even these issues do not matter. That's how good this book is.

Juliet Archer has written a gem that even non-Austen fans would love. The fact that I spent the entire book comparing it to the original and wondering at the ingenious way the author turned Regency situations into contemporary ones, speaks to the creativity involved in writing it. From the foreword (written by one, Will Darcy) to Rick's heartfelt, beautiful love letter to Anna, Persuade Me is an Austen adaptation worth writing home about. Persuade Me is the second in Ms. Archer's Darcy and Friends adaptations. On sale September 15th and published by Choc Lit, it's a must-read for fans of either Jane Austen, contemporary romance or both.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Before I Go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson

What if you woke up every morning, thinking you were twenty-five, and then looked in the mirror and saw a forty-something?  What if you discovered you were in bed with a man every morning that you didn't know, in a room that was unfamiliar?  This is the life of Christine, a writer, who suffers from amnesia.  Christine cannot retain memories after she falls asleep at night.  In the morning, she wakes to thinking she is twenty-five, with her entire life ahead of her.  Every morning, her husband, Ben, tells her who she is, and who he is, and then leaves for work for the day.  Christine is left alone in a house she doesn't know.  Then at the same time every morning, a cell phone rings, and a Dr. Nash tells her to go to her closet, in the shoebox, and read her journal.  She reads about what she's done previously, with no memory of the events.

Then one day, after appointments with Dr. Nash that Ben doesn't know about, she goes to find her journal without being told to.  Bits and pieces of her memory begin to return, but they do not correlate with what Ben has told her of their lives together.  She remembers a son, but Ben told her they had no children.  Christine remembers Claire, her best friend from college, but Ben tells her she's moved away.  Bit by bit, with Dr. Nash's help, Christine begins to remember more and more, but what remembers isn't what it seems.

Watson was a new author for me, and this book was chosen for my book club with fellow reviewer Lindsey.  You really get into the mind of Christine and her daily struggles to remember her life.  The last 100 pages or so are so full of new revelations and action, that I could not stop reading- even if the house were on fire!  The twists in the plot are so subtle, you don't realize what's going on until Christine does.  A nail-biting story that will leave you feeling a bit unsettled.

Friday, September 2, 2011

One Night in London: The Truth About the Duke by Caroline Linden

The first in a series, One Night in London: The Truth About the Duke is the story of Edward de Lacey, one of three sons of the Duke of Durham, and their combined fight to refute a claim by their father on his deathbed that he was married twice, quite possibly committing bigamy. This confession basically negates the de Lacey sons' claim on the dukedom, leaving Charles Lord Gresham and heir, Edward, the spare and manager of the estates, and Gerard, the youngest who is in the military, illegitimate.

Edward de Lacey has a reputation for being cold and efficient. He begins the search for an attorney who will contest any and all claims to the dukedom in court and in so doing, snatches the best one from the hands of Lady Francesca Gordon, a widow with legal problems of her own concerning the custody of her niece. When faced with what she feels is the attorney's perfidy in dropping her case, she takes it out on Edward, and the sparks immediately fly. Edward, an engaged man, is nevertheless fascinated by Francesca. His engagement is soon over, however, when he's faced with his intended's disloyalty in the form of a scathing story in a gossip rag. When Francesca tells him she can get a retraction, Edward agrees to help her find her niece and a bargain is struck.

The story line is wonderful, and fully engages the interest of the reader. Edward's troubles are real and complicated, but the best part of this book is watching Edward deny his attraction to Francesca in too many ways to count. She's the exact opposite of what he would look for in a relationship, and he cannot believe he is attracted to her, but when he finally realizes that he's in too deep, the romance blooms and we see the kind of man he really is.  Francesca, for her part, fights the attraction on the basis that Edward is well above her own station. I would have liked to see a better explanation of her first husband's demise, however. There are some questions remaining about that and I'm not sure those will be answered in the remainder of the series, which is too bad. Something is just not right there, and we are left hanging for the answer.

There are some other interesting points the novel brings out. We see examples of the treatment of women by professional men of that era when Francesca endeavors to hire an attorney. And even with Edward's help, the discrimination is blatant. We are also treated to an explanation of primogeniture as the de Lacey's struggle to hold on to their inheritance. But with all this, One Night in London is a romantic romp  and the ending, while tying Edward and Francesca's love story up neatly, leaves the main problem that brought them together, still unresolved. Will Charles, Duke of Durham pick up the reins? And just what trouble has Gerard got himself into? Luckily,  I suspect we will find out soon enough.