Friday, April 25, 2008

The Pride of Lions and The Blood of Roses by Marsha Canham

Two books, back to back leading up to the Battle of Culloden:

The Pride of Lions

Book's Description:
They were torn between pride and passion. . .

It was a boastful wager, a bold flirtation meant to win a proposal from the most eligible officer in His Majesty's Royal Dragoons. How was the spoiled and pampered Catherine Augustine Ashbrooke to know the handsome stranger with the brooding midnight eyes would see through her plot and make her the pawn in a dangerous game of his own?

United by a reckless game of chance. . .

Alexander Cameron may have won the highborn English beauty in a duel, but not even the lure of long-forgotten desires could keep him from his meeting with destiny. He had no choice but to carry his reluctant bride off to the Highlands, to a world of ancient blood feuds and a brewing rebellion--a world where fiery passion and breathtaking courage would prove that even legendary warriors could lose their hearts.

Bestselling, award-winning author Marsha Canham sweeps us into the turbulence and romance of Scotland's quest for freedom in a saga of two born enemies whose lives and destinies are irrevocably bound to the fate of an empire.

Sounds like my kind of book, doesn't it? I had heard these books were great to read if you're an Outlander fan like I am. Scottish Highlands in 1745, a Scottish warrior is forced to marry an English sassenach bride - hmm... sound familiar?

Yes, it is familiar in some ways (like the setting) to Outlander, but believe it or not, I found it more similar to Gone With the Wind! How so, you ask? Crinoline skirts, the heroine loves another man, our hero smokes a cheroot and has glossy black hair, the flash of white teeth and that knowing smile...

All throughout this book, I got the feeling that the author was a big fan of GWTW. Instead of the Civil War she substituted the Stuart uprising and ultimate downfall at the Battle of Culloden. It wasn't bad, but I found all these little GWTW-isms distracting. But aside from the fact that I was constantly comparing her hero to Rhett Butler (and who smokes cheroots in 18th century Scotland?), and rolled my eyes at the descriptions of her heroine's pantalettes under her crinoline skirts (umm, they weren't worn until 100 years later) and a replay of Scarlett's morning after "I can't believe I did that with Rhett!" scene, I enjoyed this book! Her battle descriptions were vivid and riveting and the sex scenes were hot (though after a while became a bit tiresome). Plus, she had a Fraseresque, busty red haired villainess who stole every scene she was in. Even though I couldn't help noticing a number of plot similarities to Outlander (although this book was written before it) I got caught up in this book and looked forward to the sequel especially since it leaves you with a huge cliff-hanger ...

The Blood of Roses

Book Description:
The stunning sequel to The Pride of Lions!

In a novel that sizzles with passionate intrigue and breathtaking romance, Marsha Canham whisks the reader back to war-torn Scotland as a legendary warrior fights for the two things most precious to any man: his country and the woman he loves.

She was born an Englishwoman, but he made her a Scot, pledged to fight for her beloved husband--even against the country of her birth.

Catherine Ashbrooke Cameron had committed the unpardonable sin of falling in love with her husband--a Scottish spy she married in her English home. Now, as she raced to the Highlands, into the strong, tender arms of Alexander Cameron, the innocent English beauty would learn the passions of war--and the price of love ....

He fought to keep her safe as he battled the English enemy--and betrayal from within.

Alexander Cameron was a man with a price on his head and enemies to burn. Love had made the legendary warrior vulnerable. Now he must protect Catherine from the dangers that threatened them both. But as he rode into battle against the English, she refused to stay behind. He had claimed her, touched her, loved her, and she vowed nothing would ever separate them again.

This was not your typical Highland romance. This was meatier leading up to the Battle of Culloden, the battle itself and aftermath. It was similar in some ways to Dragonfly in Amber, 2nd in the Outlander series, so how could I not like it? Not as gut-wrenching, but it had it's moments. Often I couldn't help wondering if Gabaldon read these books before writing hers.

Lots of twists and turns in this book, and many surprises. Just when you think you know who the traitor is in their midsts, you're wrong! It's who you least expect! I really enjoyed this 2nd book much more than the first. I found it hard to put down, and I thought of it often. Whereas the first book reminded me of GWTW, this one hardly did at all. The author really found her stride in this one, and the battle depictions were very good - she does a great job at describing the scene of Culloden and Drummossie Moor, the weather, the scenery, the villagers come to watch - very vivid!

I was drawn in and had to keep reading! I recommend this series for Outlander fans. Alex and Catherine are no Jamie and Claire (not even close!), but they do have a good story and if you're interested in the Battle of Culloden and the events surrounding it, you'll appreciate these books. Keep in mind, these are romances, without the depth and scope of an Outlander, but I was pleasantly surprised and they helped assuage my thirst for anything remotely like Outlander while waiting for book 7 to come out! Plus, they have plenty of kilted men and sexy hotness thrown in for good measure!


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Enchantment by Orson Scott Card
Enchantment is the story of a Ukraine-born, American grad student who finds himself transported to the ninth century to play the prince in a Russian version of Sleeping Beauty. Early in the story, he muses that in a French or English retelling of the tale, the prince and princess would live happily ever after. But, "only a fool would want to live through the Russian version of any fairy tale."

Although his fears turn out to be warranted, as he and his cursed princess contend with the diabolical witch Baba Yaga--easily Russia's best pre-Khrushchev villain--to save the princess's kingdom, Enchantment is ultimately a sweet story. Mixing magic and modernity, the acclaimed Orson Scott Card (Ender's Game) has woven threads of history, religion, and myth together into a convincing, time-hopping tale that is part love story, part adventure. Enchantment's heroes, "Prince" Ivan and Princess Katerina, must deal with cross-cultural mores, ancient gods, treacherous kinsmen (and fianceés), and ultimately Baba Yaga herself.

This wasn't bad, but it didn't grab me. I kept with it, and parts were amusing and I liked reading about the Ukraine and culture and getting an idea of the old folk tales and evil witches and good kings and princesses. But, I had high hopes and thought it would be better; the book had been highly recommended to me. I found it dragged in parts, and for me it was just okay. But, I adore time-travel stories and enjoyed it in that respect.

Overall the story is good and I like the way Ivan is transported back in time and then Katerina is transported to his time for a while. This gives them both the other's perspective of where they're coming from (literally) and they learn to respect and eventually love one another. The book wraps up well, though there is still room for a sequel in case he ever feels like writing one.

This is the first book that I've read of Card's, so I don't know if he does this in his other books too, but he tends to throw things in to the book that will later date it (Stephen King does this a lot too). Among them are references to the New York area, as if everyone knows how far Sag Harbor is from Kennedy Airport (I know, but I'm familiar with Long Island!) and who is Bruce Cockburn? Some singer from the 90's? During a somewhat crucial scene when Ivan and Katerina are finally going to consummate their marriage Ivan reaches over and turns on the CD player and it's playing Bruce Cockburn? Who is he and what does he sound like? I found it a bit annoying as the lyrics and song are described and I have no idea who he is. I can understand having something like this in a fanfic (such as mine! *grin*) but not in a published work by a well known author. Maybe it's just me, but I didn't like it, I thought it was kind of corny. I guess Orson Scott Card likes this singer.

This book is sort of Jewish comedy/time travel/fairy tale story. I liked Ivan, but Katerina was a little hard to like in the beginning, since she's so mean to Ivan at first. I enjoyed the story more when they are back in America together, actually. That's where Ivan and Katerina finally fall in love, up to that point it was a battle between them. But, even their falling in love was a quick thing, not a lot of emotion or inner feelings. Suddenly they love each other! He wrote Ivan well, but Katerina was definitely lacking in depth, maybe it's because she's a woman, and Card has trouble writing from a woman's perspective. I found it lacking. I would have preferred more warmth in her character, she was pretty cold through a lot of the book. Her final showdown with Baba Yaga pretty much fizzled out as well. The one female exception: Ivan's mother, Esther, I really liked her a lot and appreciated everything she did for him. She's a wise woman, very sly when she needs to be. I'm glad she and Katerina hit off right away. Baba Yaga was a good character too, but she was an old crazy, evil witch, not supposed to be a real person. (I did like her husband, the Bear, though!)

Anyway, I'm glad I read it and know what it's all about, but I'm not in any hurry to read anything by this author in the future.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Shadows on the Aegean by Suzanne Frank

From Publishers Weekly
The myth of Atlantis inspires the confident second novel in Frank's time-traveling romantic trilogy (after the popular Reflections in the Nile). Green-eyed Chloe Kingsley finds herself not in ancient Egypt, where the last novel ended, but on pre-classical Crete, inhabiting the body of an oracle headed for the doomed island of Aztlan. There she meets her soulmate and fellow time-traveler, Cheftu, now an Egyptian healer. Together, they experience a sensuous barbaric Minoan culture. Part Mary Renault, part Jacqueline Susann, Frank delights in re-imagining (sometimes pulpishly) lost rituals of love, power and religion, but she also finds moments of refreshing humor in the contrast between Chloe's modern sensibility and ancient manners. Longing for a cigarette or a bar of chocolate or a Diet Coke, Chloe is an easy heroine to sympathize with. Meanwhile, back in the 20th century, Chloe's nemesis now inhabits her body while Chloe's sister encounters ferocious magic in an unknown tomb. Fans will stay tuned.

Now that I’ve read the first two books in this series, I’m hooked, but not completely bowled over by it. I find the locale of the islands in the Aegean fascinating, and the ritual customs of the islanders repellent yet mesmerizing – I looked forward to reading this book every night and was surprised at how quickly I finished it. But, one of the problems with the book is it is very confusing at first. The reader is not sure what is going on and who is who. It’s not easy to keep track of the many priests and oracles and clan chiefs, much less who is “evil” and who is “good.” Before long it all makes sense, but it takes a while. The glossary and map in the front of the book help a little, but I wish it had been more detailed and said who was who (like the way Colleen McCullough does with her Man in Rome Series.)

This book is full of many different characters. I especially had trouble with the male characters and keeping them straight: Niko, Nestor, Dion, Pheobus, Who was gay? Who was the one that was supposed to inherit and kill his father? Who was the albino and what of the girl Niotne he rescued? Who was Nestor again and why was he important? Who was in love with their sister, and who had to have sex with their stepmother? The intrigue and various rituals became overwhelming, not to mention the characters in Egypt. Before long I knew who was who, but it was disconcerting at first, as well as trying to figure out who these people were and what their purpose was. The book jumped around a lot. One character in Egypt that Cheftu meets, (who’s name I can’t remember) winds up being a patriarch of Israel as is revealed to us in Cheftu’s last parting words to him. At one point in the story, the plot takes us to present day Egypt and Chloe’s sister’s world with the scheming priestess, RaEm (from Reflections in the Nile) in the body of Chloe, acting like a slut and not caring one bit how she looks or dresses. (We never see this part of the story again – a major loose thread, if you ask me!) It also took a while for me to figure out, (until Cheftu comes right out and says it) that instead of traveling forward in time from ancient Egypt during Pharaoh Hatshepsut’s reign, they’ve traveled back 400 years! Cheftu now must experience an even more uncivilized Egypt than last time, with Egypt suffering the poverty and starvation of an ongoing famine. Is this the same famine from Jacob and Joseph in Genesis? Throughout the book there are many biblical references, and by the end they are key to the plot. The God of the bible, God of the Israelites, is the anchor and salvation of many.

The best part of the last book, Reflections in the Nile, is the relationship between Chloe and Cheftu. In this one it’s not as intense and enjoyable. There are miscommunications and misunderstandings that cause some angst. Before they found each other again, I was driven to keep on reading until they meet. Their first meeting is a disappointment since Chloe isn’t even aware of meeting him – and yet she sleeps with him! This is the drawback of sharing a body with another. The owner of the body, an oracle, Sybilla, is the one that actually gets to be with Cheftu during a ritualistic night of sex and sacrifice. He is drawn to her, though does not realize why. At this point he thinks his wife, Chloe, is dead. Later on when Chloe is with him, (as Chloe, not Sybilla) the truth comes out. I was afraid this was going to cause a problem between them when she realizes he has slept with Sybilla. Her “Go to hell!” comment in English helps accomplish their reunion. Instead of causing angst, it made Cheftu realize he is with his beloved Chloe again – for whom else would say this to him in English? He races after her, they reunite, all is forgiven and it turned out to not be such a big deal. This happens a few times in the book. Later on, she’s under the misimpression that he’s gay or bi – silly girl! Sometimes I find Chloe’s modern way of thinking jarring amidst these ancient times. Wishing for a water bottle just seemed stupid to me, rather than amusing.

The 2nd half of the book entails the various volcanic explosions of the islands and the eventual demise of the Aztlan Islands (Atlantis) completely. How are Cheftu and Chloe going to survive and get away alive? It gets very exciting and at parts it was riveting and hard to put down. Not only are we aware that all of this will one day sink into the sea and oblivion, but we worry about this sore on his groin that Cheftu has, and what is it? Will Dion have his way with Cheftu? Not only that, but Mad Cow Disease seems to be running rampant due to the sacred cows and bulls of Apis that are worshipped by the Egyptians and Aztlans. Not only is Aztlan sinking, but all the leaders and priests (including Cheftu) have got Mad Cow Disease and holes in their brains!

Thank God for miracles – the elusive elixir of mortality! Stay tuned!


Friday, April 4, 2008

My Devilish Scotsman by Jen Holling

From Amazon:
In Holling's superb trilogy, it's 1597, and Scotland is no place for witches. After Alan MacDonell's wife was burned at the stake, he sent his three daughters away. Now he is dying and sends three escorts to bring them back to marry men he believes will protect them from the witch hysteria.Gillian is now to marry Nicholas Lyon, the powerful Earl of Kincreag. In their story, My Devilish Scotsman, Gillian is drawn to Nicholas and anxious to be a good countess since she has no discernable powers. Nicholas promised his best friend, Alan, he would marry one of his daughters, and that's all there is to it, but Gillian sneaks through his defenses. Then, just as he lets down his guard, Gillian discovers that she has powers as a necromancer, one who can speak with the dead.

Medieval Scotland comes to life in Holling's tantalizing trilogy, and each book is moving and engrossing, as each tormented hero is saved, not by the powers of the MacDonell sisters but by their love. Through her alluring characters, Holling celebrates the triumph of good over evil, especially in dangerous times, and no one should miss these fine romances.

Lately, I've taken to reading a lot of Scottish Highland romances, and I had read the first book in this series, My Wicked Highlander *rolls eyes at the titles* and judged it okay. It was one of the first Scottish romances I had read, so I didn't have much to compare it to. Since then I've read many, and again, my reaction to this book is "It's okay." As far as Medieval Scotland comes to life, no it did not. In fact, I didn't even realize it took place in the 16th century, until I read the blurb of it from Amazon (Booklist). This book could have taken place in the 12th century or 17th century for all I knew.

This story is about the middle daughter, Gillian, a brown haired beauty (of course) who marries Nicholas, who has a reputation for being cruel and unforgiving and rumor has it, he murdered his first wife by pushing her off a cliff. But, he's dashingly good looking in a Darcy-esque (Pride and Prejudice) kind of way and she falls in love with him and he with her in no time. I did find their courtship amusing, in particular concerning a love potion she tries to give him and inadvertently winds up inside the pet dog who spends the rest of the time in the book chasing after her, licking, jumping up on her, and ultimately saving her life at one point. But, despite a few amusing episodes, the book was somewhat lackluster and a trifle dull.

Gillian is just not all that interesting a heroine, and Nicholas (who is really the son of a pirate that raped his mother) reminds me a little of Darcy. Always brooding, doesn't smile or talk much, feels he's above it all (he's an Earl), so I kind of like him, despite his bad temper - but what does he see in Gillian, apart from her lovely swaying hips and heaving breasts? Gillian, compared to her two sisters is the weakest of them all. Nicholas is naturally wary because his first wife cuckolded him and then tried to poison him, he doesn't want that to happen again in his second wife! But, I feel like he fell for her much too easily and quickly and couldn't understand why - she's so drippy! Even the sex is a bit ho-hum.

Overall, if you like witchy romances, you'd probably like this book (I'm not into witches). I found the outcome predictable and guessed who was behind the mysterious deaths and poisonings and I'm pretty positive I know what is the mysterious illness that is killing their father. But, despite my feeling for this book, I'll read the 3rd in the trilogy about her younger sister, Rose, who is definitely more interesting and based on her looks, could be Jamie Fraser's (Outlander) little sister!


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

From Amazon:

The story’s unlikely heroine is Catherine Morland, a remarkably innocent seventeen-year-old woman from a country parsonage. While spending a few weeks in Bath with a family friend, Catherine meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Catherine, a great reader of Gothic thrillers, lets the shadowy atmosphere of the old mansion fill her mind with terrible suspicions. What is the mystery surrounding the death of Henry’s mother? Is the family concealing a terrible secret within the elegant rooms of the Abbey? Can she trust Henry, or is he part of an evil conspiracy? Catherine finds dreadful portents in the most prosaic events, until Henry persuades her to see the peril in confusing life with art.

Executed with high-spirited gusto, Northanger Abbey is the most lighthearted of Jane Austen’s novels, yet at its core this delightful novel is a serious, unsentimental commentary on love and marriage.

For the longest time, I never knew anything about Northanger Abbey. I knew it was one of Austen's books, (her first) but I had no idea what it was all about - up until a few months ago when I saw the latest TV production of it on Masterpiece Theatre and thought the story was charming and delighful. I was then determined to read the book. It was the only Jane Austen book I had yet to read.

At long last I have read it and loved it. I only wish I had read it much earlier and hadn't waited so long. Before I knew the story, I was under the impression it was like a Gothic novel, and yes, but more of a satire of a Gothic novel, a parody.

Catherine is so sweet and ingenuous, and Tilney is charming and just what every gentleman should be. He has a wry wit and a great sense of humor and in addition, the ability to put someone at ease immediately - and the sensibility to recognize when someone is in need of being put at ease. For a first novel, I believe it is amazingly good. She makes it look easy, the way she uses a simple sentence or phrase to sum up a John Thorpe's obnoxious tendencies, or the insincerity of Isabella Thorpe's conversations without coming right out and saying she is a liar and an unforgivable flirt!

Not only are her characterizations right on, but she pokes fun at the sensational novels of the day with their outlandish plots by cleverly having Tilney make one up right on the spot! Tilney has now become one of my favorite Austen men, up there with Darcy and Knightley!

Now I can say I have read the complete works of Jane Austen. Don't be like me, if you have not read this book yet, by all means do not delay! It is a must read and a joy to go through the ups and downs of Catherine and Henry Tilney, and it also has one of my favorite phrases from Austen (I had no idea it came from this book!)

"I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”

Lastly, there is a wonderful quote from the book that I think is very a propos even today. I read a lot of historical novels, despite their historical innacuracies, I enjoy them for the storyline and characters. Some readers absolutely deplore these kind of books and cannot get past the idea that an author made up a lot of their stories based on fact, but then added in their own embellishments to create more drama and interest in what would otherwise be a dry and dull story. I do not feel the same way, it doesn't bother me. This quote from Miss Tilney sums it up for me:

"I am fond of history — and am very well contented to take the false with the true. In the principal facts they have sources of intelligence in former histories and records, which may be as much depended on, I conclude, as anything that does not actually pass under one’s own observation; and as for the little embellishments you speak of, they are embellishments, and I like them as such. If a speech be well drawn up, I read it with pleasure, by whomsoever it may be made — and probably with much greater, if the production of Mr. Hume or Mr. Robertson, than if the genuine words of Caractacus, Agricola, or Alfred the Great.”

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