Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Crossed Wires, by Rosy Thornton


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

Let Sleeping Rogues Lie, by Sabrina Jeffries


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, by Sophie Jordan

medstm1If you like your English romance mixed with a little bit of Texas, then this is the book for you!

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

An Improper Suitor, by Monica Fairview

51rscquvghl_sl500_aa240_A young lady in possession of her own fortune, and raised by a Grandmother with friends such as Mary Wollstonecraft, has no inclination or desire to marry, despite society's views on the subject. But when said Grandmother has a change of heart, and places an ultimatum at your door; find a husband within 3 months or she will marry you off to a rake, one tends to pay more attention to her marriage prospects. Such is the case with Julia Swifton.

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

Tall, Dark, and Kilted by Allie MacKay


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

The Edge of Desire, by Stephanie Laurens


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.