Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Rogue in a Kilt by Sandy Blair

From the Book's Back Cover:
The Bravest Heart
To win a wager – and the keys to a castle from his liege lord – Sir Angus McDougall must find a bride in three months’ time. What woman would refuse so bold a knight? His slightly tarnished armor and battle scars should not matter – and yet they all say no. Then an inadvertent handfasting binds him to Birdalane, a shy beauty and a giften healer whom some consider a witch. And Angus cannot help but fall under her spell…

The Fairest Bride
Though he is a stranger to her, Birdalane leaves her woodland home to follow her new husband over the hills and dales of Scotland. Their journey is difficult and she has neither kith nor kin to help her. But her mystical gift allows her to read his innermost heart… and foretell the incredible path they will travel together.

This book was a bore.

Having previously read – and liked - two other Highlander romances by this author, I really thought I’d like this one in her Kilt series – and boy was I disappointed! I’m just glad this book was short – 255 pages! Still, it seemed to take me forever to get through it. The other two had a time travel aspect to it, but this one did not – too bad.

Birdalane is one pathetic birdbrain! I got so tired of reading about her troubles and utter cluelessness. She had so many problems - where do I begin? Her mother died when she was very young and she wound up taking care of herself in the woods all by herself, she has severe myopia so cows and boulders looks like large blobs to her. She has scars all over her body, because she is a healer that takes on other people’s pain and illnesses and absorbs them into her body to make them well again (not unlike the guy in Stephen King’s The Green Mile.)

The constant need of hers exhausts her body and she gets very sick and must rest afterwards – much to the consternation of Angus, who has no idea what she is up to. This was also very tiresome to have to read over and over. Angus was forever playing nurse to her, taking care of her and worrying over her after each healing episode.

Birdi is considered a witch by many, so people near her home shunned her, so she’s never had any friends, except for one tinker man who was kind to her. Having grown up in the woods all alone, she is beyond naive when it comes to the outside world of 1410, Scotland. She doesn’t even know what kissing is! She thinks Angus is planning on eating her and when he first kisses her, she thinks he’s tasting her! I don’t know where she got the notion that he’s a cannibal! She is also mystified by (but likes) the yearnings and feelings she has in her body below her belly (cough) when she wakes up from certain kinds of dreams (cough cough.) The one thing going for her is she’s gorgeous, which is how Angus discovered her in the first place when she was taking a skinny dip in a pond and he was overcome by her naked beauty as he watched her surrepticiously (well, he wasn't much of a saint at this point).

This book did absolutely nothing for me, it only seemed to make me tired. All the slogging and plodding along that Angus and Birdi must go through, traipsing across Scotland left me weary and eager to get this book over with. Over and over we hear how Angus is attracted to Birdi, yet he won’t dare take advantage of her, even when she’s wearing nothing and riding a horse a la Lady Godiva! He still manages to keep his honor – and his swollen groin - under control no matter what. I kept on wishing he’d lose control of himself or something – at least to make it exciting!

The two of them were attracted to one another, but nothing ever happens! It’s just one big long tease until close to the end. Yes, they kiss a few times, but it’s pretty tame doings. Due to Angus’ big mouth, they wind up handfasted, but even then, he will not take her to bed, since he plans on undoing the handfasting, much to her chagrin, since she’s already fallen for him. Lucky for her, she’s outrageously striking – otherwise she’s got nothing going for her. Eventually, he figures out she’s blind (he’s not all that bright either, in my opinion, since it took him forever to figure this one out!) and it doesn’t seems to bother him, but he does pity her. She’s pretty pitiful! She’s just too stupid and naïve to be believed, I couldn’t get into her! Finally, but the end of the book, they wind up back at Castle Blackstone where we meet some old friends from the last book in the series, A Man in a Kilt.

I could go on and on, but I really don’t want to. Do yourself a favor and skip this book. I’m going to read the next in the series, A Thief in a Kilt, eventually, which I think is about Angus’ friend, Ian, who was one of the more interesting characters in this book – that one sounds promising at least!


Monday, May 26, 2008

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Book Description:
When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, grifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.

Beautifully written,
Water for Elephants is illuminated by a wonderful sense of time and place. It tells a story of a love between two people that overcomes incredible odds in a world in which even love is a luxury that few can afford.

I loved this book and read it in one day. Previously #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List, I'd heard of it, but I didn't really know what to expect. It was well written and evocative of the time: small town America during the Great Depression. Easy prose, well paced, not overly wordy and a simple story. Yes, despite it's brevity and simplicity it was a story that grabs you from the first in the prologue, I could barely put it down.

I've never read a book like this about the circus and I find it all fascinating. At times it was repugnant, particulary reading about some scenes in which the animals were fed rancid meat or beaten, but not overly so, there is not much in that vein. As an animal lover, I wouldn't have been able to read it if it was worse, and this was not over the top, just enough to be realistic and move the story on, bringing further illumination on what is to come later. It also opens a window to what life was like in 1931 during the Depression, where many lived on almost nothing, and starvation was commonplace.

Our main character, Jacob, is a decent young man who finds himself in dire circumstances. The story is told in flashbacks when he's in a nursing home, age 93, as he is recalling what happened to him when he first learns of his parents death while he's about to graduate from Veterinary School at Cornell. (This did remind me of some other books like The Green Mile and The Notebook.) Jacob can't deal with the shock of losing his parents and finding out that they were broke as well. He winds up running off with a circus that happens to be conveniently leaving town. They're in need of a vet and he fills the bill. From there we get swept up in the show life. We learn circus vernacular, the difference between 'kinks' and 'performers' (nothing, it's just the way they're referred to), the hierarchy in the circus, roustabouts and ticket sellers are the bottom feeders all the way up to the owner, Uncle Al, who's hated by everyone, but he runs the circus, and he has the money, so everyone bows down to him and his wishes. You see what the circus train is like, the various cars and what are in them and just tons of stuff - you really feel like you've run away with the circus too!

Jacob's relationship with Marlena and August is reminiscent of the same kind of relationship in another book, Sophie's Choice. The young man falls for the beautiful woman that is involved with a paranoid schizophrenic who at times is the most charming of all men, and at other times, cruel, unpredictable, dangerous - and very jealous! August and Marlena are a team. He's the animal trainer and master in the ring, and she's the performer who rides the horses and ultimately, Rosie, the elephant - the star attraction. You really wind up liking smiling Rosie a lot - I won't give away the plot, but she's integral to it by the end. I learned a few things about elephants in this book (they love alcohol!) and are smarter than you think! And they drink a lot more liquid than is just in a bucket!

The romantic triangle between Jacob, Marlena and August is fraught with danger, it keeps you on the edge of your seat. Although, I never really felt emotionally tied to any of them. I was more like a dispassionate watcher - waiting for the train wreck you know is coming. You're scared for them, but I couldn't help feeling they were playing with fire and wished they would stop.

If you're looking for something a little different and a quick, engrossing read, give this a try. You won't be sorry. It's a slice of Americana that is little known, and a good story too.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Highlander for Christmas by Sandy Blair

Book Description:
Welcome To My World

'Tis the season to be jolly, but Boston antiques dealer Claire MacGregor isn't looking forward to a solo Christmas, or cocoa for one, or trimming the tree by herself. But company's coming. Claire is fooling around with an old puzzle box and when it opens...a gorgeous, studly laird appears. Thumbs down: Sir Cameron MacLeod is centuries old. Thumbs up: he doesn't look it. And Cameron is tall, dark, and lusty - very lusty.

Come Away To Mine

Who is this lovely lass? And where is he? Before awakening in the 21st century in Claire's bedroom, the last thing Sir Cameron MacLeod remembers was readying for war with a rival clan. Despite her strange clothes and odd ways, Claire is bonny and brave. He's about to find out that love is a many-splendored thing indeed...

I know, I know, this one looks really over the top as far as Highlander time traveler romances go, but the title really caught me and I like this author so I gave it a try. What a quick read, I read it one day! I've read one of the author's previous books, Man in a Kilt, which I really liked a lot. This one wasn't as good, but it wasn't bad either.

Cameron really is a studly guy! *sigh* This book was pretty amusing, he's constantly getting himself into trouble with the police. The whole thing is definitely lighthearted as he and Claire try and come to grips with the fact that he can't seem to find his way back to 1745, which is where he came from, only a few months before the Battle of Culloden. His loving aunt, who's a witch, spirits him away so that he won't die in the battle, and he winds up in 2008 as part of an inheritence that Claire received from a kindly older man that she had befriended. He moves in with her as they try to find a way to send him back in time. They fall in love, but do not admit it, since both think he's probably going to be leaving and they don't want to have broken hearts - but they do anyway. Eventually, they give in to their feelings, they begin sleeping together, but he's still holding back. Once he realizes he's not going back, he's disatisfied with his life and feels he must earn some money and get back to Scotland to see for himself whatever happened to his clan's lands. It's kind of bittersweet, but a surprise ending, and he winds up with a pretty cool career so they have some money to live on. A few nice sex scenes, but nothing outlandish as the cover of the book would indicate!

The book itself had a few loose ends (whatever happened to his joining the army? Did Tracy ever date the mailman and leave the Purple Pussycat?) and it's a bit disjointed in some parts but nothing major. It was cute how Christmas tied in, buying Christmas trees, drinking egg nog spiked with whiskey, Christmas gifts and shopping. I especially liked Cameron's idea of how to bring in new customers to Claire's antique shop.

I enjoyed this little bit of fluff with it's happy ending. It's not the greatest time traveler highlander romance I've ever read, but it's not the worst either. Cute.


Friday, May 23, 2008

The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

Book Description:
The year is 1539. Henry VIII must take another wife and the dangerous prize of the crown of England is won by Anne of Cleves. Although she is fascinated by the glamour of her new surroundings, she can sense a trap closing around her.

Katherine Howard, meanwhile, is to flirt her way to the throne. But her kinswoman Jane Boleyn is haunted by the past and the Boleyn inheritance of suspicion, betrayal, and death. In this time of upheaval and uncertainty, these three young women must try to survive the most volatile court in Europe.

I've read a couple of Gregory's books, including The Other Boleyn Girl and The Constant Princess and loved them. I had high hopes for this book too.

I really was disappointed and was not all that crazy about this book. Yes, I enjoyed reading about the Tudor court, but compared to the other two books, this was a real let down. Partly, I think, is because Henry is just so fat and ugly and old now. He's simply disgusting with his piggy eyes, flabby skin, he weighs a ton and has this smelly pus-filled festering wound on his leg that won't heal. Yucck! Where is Prince Harry from The Constant Princess and dashing Henry from The Other Boleyn Girl? He is nowhere to be found. Instead, he's become a madman and a tyrant on the throne, chopping off heads left and right - enough already!

In addition to that, I just could not get into any of the main characters. Anne of Cleves came across as just so vapid and boring in the beginning when we first meet her and when she comes to England as Henry's bride to be. Then Katherine Howard was just too stupid to live! Yes, she's only 14, but Gregory wrote Katherine out to be so incredibly stupid it became exasperating to read! All she cared about what was she got as gifts and her clothes and gowns - it got a little old. Plus, I just found the thought of her straddling big old gross (impotent) Henry in bed when she is just 15 and he is 50 so repulsive - yecch! As far as the rest of it, I couldn't care less what happened to any of them, and no sympathy for Jane Boleyn whatsoever,(George Boleyn's widow who testified against him and Anne Boleyn and sent them to the block). Jane got what she deserved in the end.

Another thing I didn't like about the book was the way it had each of the three women have their own first-person short little chapters. It made it choppy. Just as I felt like I was settling into one of these women and getting into her viewpoint, it switched to another one, and then I had to get used to that one again! Very annoying! Reminded me of an epistolary novel, and I've never been really fond of them. I don't feel like you can ever sink your teeth into them and get to know the characters. The descriptions are usually brief and it's just not my style. Granted the very end at the block was good - but all the weeping and begging and sobbing leading up to it - okay already!

This is a short review, simply because I was so disappointed, I just don't want to really go on and on with it. Just not my cup of tea.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Smuggler's Bride by Darlene Marshall

Book Description:
Julia Cooper has a secret that could cost her life. She's really Lady Julia Anne Sanders Delerue, and she's investigating who's using Delerue-Sanders Shipping to smuggle contraband into frontier Florida. But when her disguise as a cleaning woman at her uncle's tavern gets her kidnapped and taken deep into the pine woods, she has to think fast to stay alive--while asking herself who would kidnap a cleaning woman?

Rand Washburn has a secret that could cost Julia Cooper her life. When two pea-brains dump an Englishwoman at his farm while he's recovering from yellow fever, he has to figure out how to get rid of her before she finds out he's sitting on top of the biggest smuggling operation ever seen in Florida.

Julia's following in the footsteps of her parents, who put an end to the career of a notorious brigand in
PIRATE'S PRICE. She ignores Washburn's warnings and follows him on a midnight foray, literally stumbling into a riverside gathering of thieves and smugglers. If she ever wants to make it home to England in one piece, she's going to have to think fast to keep Washburn and his cronies from burying her deep in the back woods, even if it means marrying that handsome scoundrel at gunpoint. Julia and Rand are trapped in a dance of lies and deception even as their passion deepens and betrayal lurks in the shadows. But what kind of future is there for an aristocrat's daughter and a backwoods smuggler? Can Rand ever convince Julia that she's destined to be the smuggler's bride, or is he going to have to make sure she's not able to tell anyone--ever--about what he's up to along the Florida coast?

My Thoughts:
I didn't think I would, but I loved this book! I had read the author's first book, Pirate's Price and wasn't all that cought up with it. All three of her books have been recommended on Diana Gabaldon's (I gather they are friends from the Compuserve writers boards) "Methadone List", so I thought I'd give them a try. There are allusions to the story of Pirate's Price in this book, but it's not necessary to read that book to enjoy this one.

Smuggler's Bride was a delightful read, and short for a romance novel too - only about 235 pages. Rand Washburn is quite dashing in a backwoods Cracker sort of way, though it is evident he has some sort of secret and that he's most likely really high born as is Julia, who does his cooking and mending for him. He thinks she's just some tavern girl. They're forced into a marriage of convenience and the development of their relationship is fun to read about and their eventual love (though they aren't aware that they are in love.) I don't want to spoil it, but the scene in which Julia finds out who Rand really is - he sounds just devastatingly handsome - yumm! Tall, great Adonis-like build (that seems to be romance authors favorite God of choice description for their heroes) and blonde, he is a dreamy anti-hero, since for the majority of the book we're under the impression he's an illegal smuggler. Much of the book deals with how the two are falling for each other, yet each thinks that the other is a desperate smuggler out for money. They're torn with their feelings, though it doesn't stop them from having great sex! LOL! It was kind of poignant when they both realize who the other is - they liked each other when they thought they were nobodies, living a blissful little existence in the piney-woods on the Panhandle. I couldn't put this book down, it was so fun to read - plus, I love forced marriage storylines.

Ms. Marshall also includes a lot of historical detail in this book about the Florida panhandle and what life was like there in the early 1840's when Florida was still a US Territory and what later becomes the US Coast Guard and what their uniforms look like, among other things. She obviously enjoyed the research. She wraps the story up with a minimum of angst and you're satisfied with the ending. Loose threads taken care of and all very tight and well done. This book has a lot of likable characters and a dreamy hero - though I would like to see what happens with one of the side characters, James Crane, he was interesting material, I'd like to read his story eventually, he deserves a love interest.

This wasn't a great literary achievement, but as far as romance novels go, I give it a 4 out of 5. I highly recommend it - you'll probably read it all in one afternooon!


Friday, May 16, 2008

Time and Again by Jack Finney

From Amazon:
"Sleep. And when you awake everything you know of the twentieth century will be gone from your mind. Tonight is January 21, 1882. There are no such things as automobiles, no planes, computers, television. 'Nuclear' appears in no dictionary. You have never heard the name Richard Nixon."

Did illustrator Si Morley really step out of his twentieth-century apartment one night -- right into the winter of 1882? The U.S. Government believed it, especially when Si returned with a portfolio of brand-new sketches and tintype photos of a world that no longer existed -- or did it?

This book has been on my list for over a year and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. I really enjoyed it. It's not a romance, but a true time traveler story with a fascinating mystery added to it.

Si Morley is an advertising artist in 1970 Manhattan who is invited to take part in this top secret government experiment involving time traveling back in time. The long and short of it is he agrees to go back to Manhattan in the year 1882. While there he helps solve an old mystery and at the same time brings the reader vividly into the world of the 1880's. Finney's writing is so enjoyable. It's quick paced and vivid. His descriptions suck you in so you really feel like you are there in Manhattan, sledding through Central Park in the moonlight in a horse drawn sleigh, bridles jangling and singing "Jingle Bells" at the top of your lungs. There are lots of historic details, which I found really interesting, one being, I had no idea that the arm of the Statue of Liberty (with the torch) sat in Madison Square for years before it was actually attached to the rest of the statue before it was actually erected in New York's harbor. But, back to the story... eventually, Si must make a decision on what to do with his time traveling dilmemma: stay in the 1880's or return to the polluted world of 1970?

I don't want to spoil all the little details of the book, but one of the most surprising aspects of it for me was how important The Dakota on W. 72nd St. and Central Park West is in the book (and this book was written in 1970, long before John Lennon lived and died there). I happen to know the Dakota pretty well since one of my best friends from college lived there and I've spent a lot of time there. So, it was really cool to have this building described and lived in as it was in 1882 when it was first built. I was able to picture all of it vividly, since the outside and inner courtyard of the building is still just as it was back then. Nowadays it's surrounded by large apartment buildings, but back then when it was built, it overlooked Central Park all by itself. The only other building that was near it, and that was 5 blocks away, was the Museum of Natural History on Central Park West. The two of them looked like these huge monoliths overlooking the park with nothing else around but farmland back then. My book was illustrated with sketches and photographs (including many of the Dakota), I recommend this edition if you read it.

This really was such a good story and ended very cleverly with the solving of the mystery and a bittersweet ending which I found poignant and also a fitting end. Anyone who enjoys history and this kind of a time travel story will love this book - I sure did!


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Loving the Highlander by Janet Chapman

From Book Description:
A tempestuous passion begins with a battle of wills...

When Sadie Quill comes upon an unbelievably gorgeous man lying naked beside a lake, she can't resist taking his photo -- and is quickly trapped in a passionate confrontation with the fierce stranger. Discovering the identity of this irresistible warrior will complicate Sadie's search for a legendary gold mine. For he is Morgan MacKeage, a medieval highlander in modern-day Maine, a man with the fury of the untamed wilderness pounding in his veins -- and the power to unlock Sadie's fragile heart.

This is the 2nd in the Highlander Series by this author. The premise is a group of Highlanders from the 13th century are accidentally brought forward in time to present time. They amazingly learn to adapt, sell their ancient swords and jewels and buy a huge tract of land on a mountain in the backwoods of Maine. All the books center on a different one, or the son or daughter of one. The last book, Charming the Highlander was pretty good about the leader (laird) of the clan and how he meets his modern wife, and kind of touching. This one was about the laird's brother, Morgan, and how he meets his match, Sadie.

The beginning of the book was kind of funny, especially how Sadie and Morgan meet. He has the body of a god and she sees him swimming nude and takes a picture of him in the woods while he's sleeping. He hears her and chases after her (nude) and scares her to death. Then they meet again on a blind date and it's pretty funny.

Sadie is carrying around a heavy burden on her shoulders. She is terribly scarred on parts of her body from burns that occured eight years previously from a fire that killed her sister, and ultimately her father. She's shy with men, and obviously does not want to show her scars to anyone. Morgan, highly attracted to her (all 6 feet 1 inches of her!) could care less about her scars but he realizes she has to overcome them and be willing to show them to him when she's ready.

There's a whole sideline in which she's looking for this lost gold and he's trying to prevent her from finding out about this magic waterfall and gorge on his land. It's a bit convoluted, but makes the plot move forward with the usual bad guys chasing after them and trying to kill them for the gold.

Not a bad book, but not as good as the first either, which had more emotion in it. This book also left up in the air the whole relationship with her mother and Morgan's cousin, Callum. We find out her 43 year old mother (who had Sadie when she was 16 conceived in the back of a Mercedes - hence Sadie's name - Mercedes) is pregnant! Maybe that will be another book!


Friday, May 9, 2008

The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

From Publishers Weekly
As youngest daughter to the Spanish monarchs and crusaders King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Catalina, princess of Wales and of Spain, was promised to the English Prince Arthur when she was three. She leaves Spain at 15 to fulfill her destiny as queen of England, where she finds true love with Arthur (after some initial sourness) as they plot the future of their kingdom together. Arthur dies young, however, leaving Catalina a widow and ineligible for the throne. Before his death, he extracts a promise from his wife to marry his younger brother Henry in order to become queen anyway, have children and rule as they had planned, a situation that can only be if Catalina denies that Arthur was ever her lover. Gregory's latest compellingly dramatizes how Catalina uses her faith, her cunning and her utter belief in destiny to reclaim her rightful title. By alternating tight third-person narration with Catalina's unguarded thoughts and gripping dialogue, the author presents a thorough, sympathetic portrait of her heroine and her transformation into Queen Katherine. Gregory's skill for creating suspense pulls the reader along despite the historical novel's foregone conclusion.

Philippa Gregory is not exactly known for her faithfulness to historical accuracy in her books, but she's a good storyteller and I liked this book and found it hard to put down. I've read some of her others (The Other Boleyn Girl and The Virgin's Lover) and this did not disappoint despite the mixed reviews I'd read on it.

In the past, I'd never really known anything about Katherine of Aragon, except that she was the Queen of England and Henry VIII's first wife who he divorced to marry Anne Boleyn. I was never all that interested in her and just thought of her as the dowdy older queen that Henry tired of and who could no longer conceive an heir for him. Well, how wrong I was! This book paints a much different picture of Katherine. She is truly the daughter of Queen Isabella of Castille and nothing is going to stop her from her destiny - to be Queen of England. She was born a princess and despite the trials and tribulations she endures while in England in between her marriages, she survives - the Constant Princess.

Catalina, as she is known through most of the book, is young and pretty. She catches the eye of her future father-in-law upon first arriving in England. Henry VII is very attracted to her, but she is promised to his son, Arthur. Upon first marrying Arthur, they don't suit. But, once alone at Ludley Castle in Wales they fall in love and make love every night in secret. Unfortunately, he dies 7 months later and makes her promise on his death bed that she will marry his younger brother, Harry (Henry VIII).

And so is the crux of the book - Katherine's big lie. She keeps her promise to Arthur and waits and waits for England to finally decide what to do with her after Arthur dies and before she marries Henry VIII. This lasts for 7 long years in ignominy. She is a nobody at court and her parents are not much help at all. Finally, she gets her way with Harry and denies her marriage with Arthur was ever consummated in order for it to appear seemly by marrying his brother. At one point after she is widowed, Henry VII proposes marriage to her (being a recent widower himself) and turns against her when it is so obvious that she will marry no one but Henry. She is determined to be the Queen of England, and have her son be the future King of England. By marrying Henry VII, her son would not be heir to the thrown. Her reaction to Henry VII's proposal is 'what's the point?' And she'd be under the thumb of his horrible mother as well!

This book reads a bit like a romance novel as far as her relationship with Arthur is concerned. They were deeply in love and she was devastated when he died of the Sweat. You do feel sorry for her, but admire her courage and determination. By the end of the book (still in her early years of marriage to Henry) she leads the battle against Scotland at Flodden. She organizes Henry's army and basically controls everything, since he is still very young, spoiled and immature (only 21, she is 5 years older.) Over and over she prays to Arthur, telling him how she is doing what they had planned to do together, and everything she is doing is for his memory and the deathbed promise, it gets a bit morbid with her constant praying to him and asking him to wait for her in heaven. She did grow to love Henry VIII, but not as much as she loved Arthur, but what can you expect from a girl who is only 15 and her first love - she compares Henry to her handsome Arthur constantly.

Catalina is strong, resourceful and courageous and I found her a likeable heroine. I recommend this book, but those of you that dislike historical innacuracies and supposition will probably cringe over some parts of it, but since I really knew nothing about her to begin with, it didn't bother me one bit! I was sucked into the Tudor court and look forward to reading another one of her Tudor books!


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Highlander Unmasked by Monica McCarty

Book Description
Alex MacLeod’s virile physique, fearsome reputation, and renowned fighting skills have helped him master to perfection the role of a hardened mercenary. On a secret mission to protect his clan, he must keep his true purpose well hidden. But his dangerous endeavor is threatened by a beautiful woman he saves from outlaws, never dreaming she will appear at court and put his plans in jeopardy.

Meg Mackinnon needs a strong husband by her side to defend her clan’s holdings, but her search has been hampered by burning fantasies of the midnight rescuer whose smoldering blue eyes and raw sensuality left her breathless. Alex pretends to be a mercenary with no loyalties, yet he is clearly much more. As Meg challenges Alex to reveal all his secrets, the stakes grow perilously high, especially for the bold woman who dares to unmask a highlander.

Here is another one of those many Scottish highlander romances that focus on familial duty vs. true lust love.

I have read the previous book by this author, Highlander Untamed, which I thought was a better story. This one centers on the brother of the hero from the last book. Alex McLeod is your typical alpha male (sandy blonde hair this time) with the anatomy of an Adonis, not to mention he's hung like a horse. Alex has a secret that the heroine, Meg, is trying to find out. There is an unmistakable attraction between the two from the first time they meet, when he's rescuing her from a band of marauders. From there the sexual tension only grows. Meg is smart and full of spunk, almost nothing gets past her - except Alex McLeod who bests her in a game of chess. No one has done that before. There is a mutual attraction between the two, but both carry the burden of having to do the right thing for their clans.

Meg must find a suitable husband and Alex must help his brother and get revenge for the deaths of his cousins by thwarting the seizure of lands for colonization from King James in Skye that belong to his clan. They are stymied over this point and it becomes the main focus of the story. Most of this book takes place at court in Edinburgh, though we don't really get a lot of detail of life at court or of the the characters in the book. Her friend Elizabeth has a stammer, but we don't know why. Elizabeth's brother, Jamie, wants to marry Meg, but we don't know what their past friendship has been like, only that they've been like brother and sister growing up. He seems like a decent sort of guy, but she prefers the dashing Alex McLeod and his piercing blue eyes.

Much of this book deals with the thoughts of Meg and Alex. Both are burning for each other, and longing for the next time they can kiss and er... other things too. Meg, who has up to this point been a prim and proper daughter completely loses all self control and throws herself at Alex, overcome by his virility and passion. She is a fast learner for sex, which I found a bit hard to swallow, but the sex was hot (albeit unmarried sex) and I read this book in less than 24 hours. *fans self*

Quite diverting.


Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

From Amazon:
Set in her native St. Petersburg, Russia, Simons's novel focuses on a WWII love affair. As the story opens, Tatiana, the youngest member of the Metanova family, is just 17; she still shares a bed with her older sister, Dasha. Not long after the country goes to war with Germany, Tatiana meets Alexander, a soldier, and sparks fly. It turns out, however, that Alexander is the same soldier Dasha has been crowing about. Possessed of a strong sense of family loyalty, and living under conditions that permit no privacy, Tatiana refuses to interfere with her sister's happiness, but the attraction between Tatiana and Alexander proves too powerful. Complicating matters, another soldier, Dimitri, has information that could destroy Alexander, and Dimitri likes Tatiana, too. In order to protect both Dasha's feelings and Alexander's life, the star-crossed lovers become part of a deceptive quadrangle as war intensifies around them. Taking her title from a tragic poem by Alexandr Pushkin, Simons skillfully highlights the ironies of the socialist utopia.

I loved this book! I'd never heard of it, but it was highly recommended to me by many who loved the Outlander series. It's nothing like Outlander, except for the fact it's about two young people, desperately in love, and trying to survive in a war torn period of hell.

The book starts out beautifully. Set in Leningrad, 1941, Tatiana and Alexander meet over ice cream at a bus stop. Right away you fall for Alexander. Tall, handsome, dark haired self assured - he is a soldier in the Red Army. Yes, he has a secret that is soon revealed and it explains why he is different from so many soldiers in the Red Army just as war is declared against Hitler. This is a period of Russia I am not that familiar with. We all know the Doctor Zhivago story, set during the Communist Revolution and WWI, but I just didn't know much about the Battle of Leningrad or even the geography of Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Now, I do! So many descriptions of the city, and the bronze horseman refers to the statue of Peter the Great that is in Leningrad in front of St. Isaac's Cathedral. I find it interesting seeing what life was like under Communist rule under Stalin during the war. Lots of references about the Soviet system, rationing, etc. but the book was not really political, except to point out the injustices of the system and how hard it was to live there during this time.

Some parts of the book seemed endless, their starvation during the long Winter of 1942 in Leningrad was very depressing, especially with all the deaths, yet I couldn't stop reading and it was in my thoughts always. Tatiana is such a survivor, she was such a quiet, strong soul. I really liked her. She let herself be put upon by everyone, and she was by no means anyone who can speak up for herself, but by the end you realize just how much strength and courage she has. One of the endearing parts of this book is that Alexander sees that in her and loves her right away. If only their circumstances were not so tragic. She's lucky to have him, but it's awful she can't because of her sister and the secret he must keep from the slimy Dimitri. Alexander's story of his life and what happens to his parents was heartbreaking and I cried over the flashback of the last time he saw his father. The love story was wonderful between Alexander and Tatiana, the sex was hot joyous and some moments were very memorable between them, but having to hide their love for each other took it's toll. You just wanted to slap them both and tell them to tell the truth to Dasha! Finally, when they have their interlude together, it's a nice respite before the war steps in again. There were so many little beautiful things in this love story - I loved it how he asked her to call him Shura. *sigh* I don't want to spoil what happens for anyone by revealing too much.

This book is the first of a trilogy, and I'm now dying to get my hands on the next, for it's crucial to read it. This first book ends up in the air, you need to find out what happens to Alexander! I highly recommend this book! Not for the faint of heart - it's nearly 900 pages long!

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