Sunday, June 29, 2008
Simon Basset, the irresistible Duke of Hastings, has hatched a plan to keep himself free from the town's marriage-minded society mothers. He pretends to be engaged to the lovely Daphne Bridgerton. After all, it isn't as if the brooding rogue has any real plans to marry -- though there is something about the alluring Miss Bridgerton that sets Simon's heart beating a bit faster. And as for Daphne, surely the clever debutante will attract some very worthy suitors now that is seems a duke has declared her desirable. But as Daphne waltzes across ballroom after ballroom with Simon, she soon forgets that their courtship is a complete sham. And now she has to do the impossible and keep herself from losing her heart and soul completely to the handsome hell-raiser who has sworn off marriage forever!
I really liked this book, which is the first of the Bridgerton series. Fun and frothy, I laughed aloud and really enjoyed myself reading it. The repartee betweed Daphne and Simon is refreshing and the characters are endearing, well described and fleshed out - lots of emotion going on in this story.
On the surface, this is a frothy regency romance with some sex thrown in as well. But underneath there's more to it. This is Simon's story. Born to inherit the dukedom and losing his mother at the same time, he does not talk until he's 4 years old, and at that time he has a stammer. His father is disgusted by him, convinced he is stupid and an imbecile, he cruelly has nothing to do with him until Simon is a grown man, and by that point Simon will have nothing to do with his father, whom he loathes. But the damage is already done and Simon has lasting psychological scars from the way he was treated.
Simon overcomes his stammer and to get back at his father, develops a reputation in town as a rake. Time passes and eventually the old duke dies and Simon becomes the new duke and returns to London from his travels around the world. This is when he meets Daphne. From the get go they hit if off and it's fun to follow their "non" courtship. Simon is close friends with Daphne's brother Anthony, and it's very funny how they all interact together. Daphne has three older brothers, the one I loved best was Colin, and I can't wait to see if there is a book written about him. There must be. He's the wannabe rake of the Bridgerton's and is very amusing. I also liked their mother, Violet. She has 8 children, a widow, but still young - 40-ish and attractive - I wonder if there's a story or remarriage for her in store?
Back to Simon and Daphne... due to an inevitable turn of events spurred on by Daphne's budding love for Simon, they are forced to marry, even though Simon has constantly been telling her he will never marry - nor have children. Daphne discovers once they are married that he didn't quite tell her the real reason why and they have a falling out. This is where the story turns angsty. Plus, I couldn't help being a little "grossed out" by the constant analysis of why and how and when Simon would "pull out" just before orgasm - TMI! But, aside from all that, I really liked their characters. Daphne is no clinging vine. She has a mind of her own and is strong and not afraid to stand up for herself and kick Simon out of her bedroom if need be, and give him a piece of her mind. She's good for him! Despite Simon's tall and dashing good looks and ice blue eyes and aristrocatic demeanor, I felt sorry for him and the demons he's been carrying around, though I do think he was selfish and misguided in refusing to have children, but agreed with him that Daphne had tricked him when he was drunk so she could try and get pregnant - lots of drama during that part. But, as in all romances, all was resolved at the end and our besotted couple found their way back into each others arms again.
All in all, it was a good read (I read it in one day) and they all live happily ever after! I highly recommend this romance - lots of fun!
Saturday, June 28, 2008
When Margaret Lea opened the door to the past, what she confronted was her destiny.
All children mythologize their birth... So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter's collection of stories, which are as famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale as they are for the delight and enchantment of the twelve that do exist.
The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself -- all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune, but kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, at last she wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter's story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.
As Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. It is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire.
Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida's storytelling, but remains suspicious of the author's sincerity. She demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront the ghosts that have haunted them and become, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.
The Thirteenth Tale is a love letter to reading, a book for the feral reader in all of us, a return to that rich vein of storytelling that our parents loved and we loved as children. Diane Setterfield will keep you guessing, make you wonder, move you to tears and laughter, and in the end, deposit you breathless yet satisfied back upon the shore of your everyday life.
I had heard about this book, but didn't really know what to expect, except that it was a mystery and I thought it was going to be sort of scary. It had been praised up and down and compared to Rebecca and Jane Eyre, as kind of a Gothic type of mystery. It wasn't scary, but it was very thoughtful and clever - a literary mystery with themes of twins, unburied ghosts and abandonment.
Often, it had me convinced I knew just what was going on and knew the answer to the puzzle, and then over and over I was surprised by how wrong I was! I'm not usually a big mystery reader, my radar is not as finely tuned as some other readers when it comes to figuring out the answers and picking up on clues; I merely enjoyed reading this book until the end and finding out the answer to Vida Winter's thirteenth tale and Margaret's own demons as well.
The build up was thoughtful and slow, in fact, I had a hard time getting into the first half of the book. I was drawn to it and the theme of twins throughout, but I did not find it overly fascinating or hard to put down. I put it down often, but by the second half of the book, it was hard to put down. I found it memorable, the characters, the plot, the scenery - all very well done. Not overly wordy or melodramatic at all, yet the imagery stayed in my mind, the moors in Yorkshire, Angelfield's woods and gardens, gravel crunching under one's feet, the library, the bookstore, the topiaries - I had a vivid idea of the places and what everyone looked like and sounded like.
One of the best parts of the book for me was how it all unravelled by the end. Like a key unlocking the doors, one by one, until the mystery was out in the open. Towards the end, I was a bit confused as to who was who, and I'm still not absolutely positive (I will have to discuss this book with others who had read it) about who's bones were in the library. There is a ghostly element in this tale as well, which gives it that eerie gothic touch, but I must admit, I never really believed ghosts were the answer, I knew there had to be some reasonable expanation for some strange goings on - and it was a very surprising one! I had no idea!
I'm trying not to give up any spoilers here, but anyone who loves books (like I do) especially Jane Eyre, The Turn of the Screw, and Rebecca will appreciate a lot of the nods to these books, but they're not necessary to reading this book and enjoying it. Even though it's a mystery, I think this would be a good book to re-read, you'll appreciate all the little clues and nuances, especially the little things Miss Winter tells Margaret when they first meet. I found the dual stories about twins interesting, but the story of the Angelfield twins was much more compelling than Margaret's sad story of losing her sister and her mother's abandonment. The very ending of the book and Margaret's
This was not a quick read for me, it took me a little while, but it was worth it, I'm glad I didn't rush through it, for much of it needs to be savored and thought upon. Memorable.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Draven de Montague, Earl of Ravenswood, would never have entered the home of his most hated adversary had not the King himself ordered Draven to take in his foe's daughter for a year, to forge bonds of peace between their two feuding houses. Yet here is a lass whose spirit and loveliness could tempt Draven to betray his sworn vow never to let another close to his heart. Emily knows the searing heat of her passion could burn down stubborn Draven's defenses -- but will his surrender ignite a blaze so hot it consumes them both?
For some reason I thought this was going to be a Scottish Highlander romance, but it turns out it wasn't. It's a medievel English romance and I really liked it! My first book by this author (who I thought wrote Scottish romances - hence my confusion). I read it in a day, and it was the usual story about the virgin damsel in medievel times forced to live with ultra handsome, angry alpha lord so that their families will get along with each other at the King's edict. Naturally, they fall madly in lust with each other upon first sight and there is lots of sexual tension. But, actually there was more to it than just that.
Our hero, Draven (what a name!) has a very dark past he's dealing and coping with, not your average plot by the end - I liked it! Plus I was a bit surprised at who the ultimate villain was, I suspected him at first, but then got thrown off with a curveball, so it's not as predictable as I first believed it would be. I liked the heroine, she's not stupid or afraid - she has guts, a good match for Draven who's darker than a lot of romance hero's due to the childhood scars he's carrying around with him of his father and mother's death. Our heroine is determined to marry Draven, no matter how much he resists, and I enjoyed the way she goes about seducing him - it doesn't go quite the way she expects, but it's still hot and heavy between them, especially the scene on the ramparts! *fans self*
Give it a try, a good steamy English medievel romance. 4/5
Saturday, June 21, 2008
A true story—as powerful as Schindler's List—in which the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands.
When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombers devastated Warsaw—and the city's zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski began smuggling Jews into empty cages. Another dozen "guests" hid inside the Zabinskis' villa, emerging after dark for dinner, socializing, and, during rare moments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active in the Polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives in the animal hospital. Meanwhile, Antonina kept her unusual household afloat, caring for both its human and its animal inhabitants—otters, a badger, hyena pups, lynxes.
With her exuberant prose and exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, Diane Ackerman engages us viscerally in the lives of the zoo animals, their keepers, and their hidden visitors. She shows us how Antonina refused to give in to the penetrating fear of discovery, keeping alive an atmosphere of play and innocence even as Europe crumbled around her.
I can't remember where I heard about this book, probably on some list, but I decided to read it for it sounded good to me, and I'm interested in reading about WII experiences. The book was pretty good, but it was no Schindler's List, although similar as far as helping the Jews during WWII. I found the writing a bit awkward, based on Antonina Zabiniski's memoirs. The narration would switch back and forth to what Antonina was thinking, to what she might have been thinking, and I found that a bit distracting. I had to keep reminding myself that it was non-fiction, for the narration sometimes made it sound like it was fiction and then would flip flop to non-fiction. It wasn't that bad, but a bit annoying. Still, it was a moving story about courage and goodness in the face of the horror of the Nazis and the occupation of Warsaw during WWII.
It's obviously well researched, the story itself is one of bravery and determination of the many people that lived in Warsaw and the Jewish Ghetto during the German occupation and how this wonderful couple who owned a zoo helped the Polish Underground to rescue hundreds of Jews from the Ghetto who would have ultimately faced death in the camps without their help. Parts of it were touching and frightening, especially one devastating scene towards the end with German soldiers coming to the zoo and threatening to shoot them, but often I found the book a bit dry and unemotional, even though everything about the book should have felt emotional. I think it was just too much like a well researched historical paper, rather than an emotional rendition of the events that happened to these people.
Not only was the story about the Zabiniski's, but it also gave you the background on a lot of the people they rescued, who lived with them temporarily. The zoo was like a weigh station for those being spirited out of Warsaw. There was a woman sculptress, a man who was a dentist and collected beetles (I could have done without the lengthy three page description of his entire collection), his wife and various other people that they helped.
I enjoyed reading about the various animals at the zoo, many who had personalities of their own. Badger and this big rabbit that would steal all the food, a cute little piglet that their little boy, Ryc, would play with as a pet (it was heartbreaking when the Germans took it away from him all of a sudden with no warning). It was also interesting to read about some of the Germans who came to Warsaw, Lutz Heck in particular, who ran a zoo in Germany and offered to help take some of the animals from their zoo to Germany for safe keeping during the war. He was a liar, and most likely never had any intention of returning them, but he was very interested in genetics and bringing back some extinct species of prehistoric horses and cattle (the Nazis wanted to have the cattle for hunting purposes). At one point it was sickening reading about how the Germans soldiers would go hunting for pleasure in their zoo, shooting the poor animals for the fun of it.
I'm glad I read this book, but it was a bit of a chore because of the way it was written. I think it's an important story to be told about the danger and willingness of this couple to save so many people, but the author just didn't capture me. I was not at the edge of my seat over this book, and the book description makes it sound much more exciting that it was. But, it's a non-fiction, well researched book that tells a moving true story of good people during a terrible time in the history of Poland.
Friday, June 20, 2008
She gave him her innocence . . . Lady Aline Marsden was brought up for one reason: to make an advantageous marriage to a member of her own class. Instead, she willingly gave her innocence to John McKenna, a servant on her father's estate. Their passionate transgression was unforgivable -- John was sent away, and Aline was left to live in the countryside . . . an exile from London society . . . and he took her love.
Now McKenna has made his fortune, and he has returned -- more boldly handsome and more mesmerizing than before. His ruthless plan is to take revenge on the woman who shattered his dreams of love. But the magic between them burns as bright as ever. And now he must decide whether to let vengeance take its toll . . . or risk everything for his first, and only, love.
Ever since I've gotten into reading romance books in the past few months, the one name I have heard over and over again is Lisa Kleypas. Frequently her name comes up as writing some of the best historical romances out there. I was doubtful and felt they couldn't be as good as all that - well, I stand corrected - they are. I loved this book - I think it's the best romance I've read to date.
There are a number of reasons why I loved this book. For once, it was a good plotline that hooked me and I stayed interested in up to the very last page. I didn't want it to end. Aline and McKenna grow up together, but he's a stableboy and she's the daughter of the manor. It all takes place originally in 1832. They grow to love each other, but for various reasons McKenna is sent away, partly due to their romance being found out and Aline doesn't want to see him hurt by her father. She tricks him into leaving her for his own good, but she winds up making him hate her for doing it.
Twelve years go by and he returns to the manor in England after making his fortune in New York (shades of Heathcliff). They are still undeniably attracted to one another, but he's out for revenge and she cannot tell him about the horrible disfiguring scars she has on her legs from a terrible burn accident that happened to her shortly after he left the estate twelve years earlier. She's afraid if she tells him, he'll never be able to look at her and feel the same way about her. Yet, she'd rather not have him at all since she's afraid he'll stay with her out of pity and eventually regret his decision, and she can't live with that chance. Thus, she decides to lie to him again about the real reason why she's sending him back to New York without her.
Not only is the main plotline good, but so are the side ones. There is another love story going on with her sister, Livia, and McKenna's American partner Gideon Shaw, which is just as good and sexy as the McKenna/Aline plot. Gideon is a drunkard, but very debonaire and good looking and rich - will he be able to give up drinking for good for the love of Livia who has her own past scandal to contend with? It seems implausable, but I was captivated with their side of the story.
I couldn't get enough of this book, the sex scenes were great (for both couples) and plenty to go around, but I didn't feel they were just gratuitous sex scenes, they added to the plotlines and enhanced the emotional feeling of the romance. Another side character I really liked was Lord Sandridge a gay neighbor of Aline's. He was amusing and tender and compassionate, her confidante. I'd like to see more of him.
Not your typical formulaic romance here. It was thoughtful, not overly gooey or sappy. Aline is a formidable heroine at 31 years old. She's a woman now and a gracious hostess for her brother yet carries a huge secret burden around with her always. McKenna is larger than life, I loved seeing his tranformation from the young 18 year old stable boy to the rich businessman from New York come back to seduce Aline and carry out the revenge he's been dreaming of for 12 years - of course it doesn't happen quite the way he thinks it will.
I'm not going to give away too much, no spoilers here, but I'll just say, it all ends well and it's a very satisfying ending. I'll be sure to read the rest of the books in this series, of which this was the prequel. The series is known as The Wallflowers.
If you're into steamy English historical romances - this is a keeper!
Thursday, June 19, 2008
We all knew and loved Valerie Bertinelli as the girl next door cutie, Barbara Cooper, in the hit TV show "One Day at a Time." Now she is the divorced mother of a teenager and is conducting a very public -- and already successful -- campaign to lose weight as a spokesperson for Jenny Craig.
Losing It is Bertinelli's frank motivational story -- from her complicated family life to her struggles to maintain a healthy self-image while coping with celebrity, her tumultuous 20-year marriage to rock star Eddie Van Halen, and her difficulties with depression. She takes us behind the scenes in her acting career and marriage, recalling the stress and concerns of being a rock star's wife, the joys of motherhood, her lifelong battle with weight, and her determination to let herself feel loved again.
With courage and candor, humor and emotion, Bertinelli shares her fears and insecurities in ways that will appeal to the hundreds of thousands of women who face these same issues every day.
I didn't know what to expect in reading the book, I don't read celebrity autobiographies too often, but there's something about sweet little Valerie Bertinelli I've always liked and was curious to read her story - I'm glad I did.
I devoured this short book in one day. I was swept up in it and realized how much I had in common with her. We're just about the same age, so all of her memories of growing up and living in the 70's rang so true - I remember all of it, the hair, the music what life was like. Even though she was an actress, she was surprisingly well adjusted and down to earth, she's very lucky to have such normal parents and was raised with a moral backbone. Sure, she was no saint, and she did some drugs and went "all the way" before she was 18 with her boyfriend - but that's pretty tame considering what you read about with today's young starlets - there's almost no comparison. She wasn't a drug addict and it was interesting to get her take on what she thought about others around her who were (MacKenzie Philips for one).
I could totally relate to all her weight and self esteem problems over the years - I'm the same way! The different sized wardrobes, the binge eating, the yo-you diets, gaining all the weight back and more - emotional eating - it's like she was describing me! I found this book very motivational to get off my butt and do something about my weight right now. She was a bit gushy over Jenny Craig towards the end, but I know how it is when you're enthusiasic about a diet that is working and you want to tell the world "Do it! Try this diet - it worked for me!" I hope she keeps the weight off - that's the hardest part.
Her life with Eddie Van Halen was very interesting to read about. I don't know much about the group - I was never a fan of theirs, but I remember at the time reading that she married him - she was so young! Only 20 years old! As she says herself - "What were we thinking??" Frankly, I'm amazed she came out of the marriage so wise and well adjusted. Granted, she has weight problems, but with all the drugs and booze floating around for 20 years - she's surprisingly normal and well adjusted for being a rock star wife. This is not a tell all celebrity autobiography, she admits to infidelities, but doesn't go into great detail about them, and the way they are described we understand what her motivation was, it couldn't have been easy for her in her marriage, especially when faced with the knowlege that her husband had been having affairs through their whole marriage!
I really enjoyed this book, aside from her political rantings which I could have done without. Reading her story was like getting to know her and becoming her girlfriend and hearing all about what her life has been like for the past 46 years - I'd like to sit down with her over a bottle of wine and really get to know her - I think we'd click! *grin*
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Acclaimed author Jen Holling presents the stunning final novel in her sensual trilogy, set against the windswept hills of Scotland, about a trio of sisters with witchcraft -- and passion -- in their blood.
Rose, the youngest of the MacDonell sisters, is more concerned with her father's mysterious illness than with her impending marriage to her childhood sweetheart. A gifted but frustrated healer, she decides to beg help from William MacKay -- a reclusive laird who is renowned not only for his ferocity, but also for his healing powers. Denied entry to his fortress in the cold, harsh mountains of the far northwestern highlands, Rose uses cunning to force her way in, and William is duly intrigued with this bold slip of a girl. But securing his help may not be enough to save Rose's father. For there is something darker at work in the glen, something more powerful than William's and Rose's magic combined, and only the soul-deep passion that shadows their mutual desire can help their love prevail.
This is the third and last of the series about the three young beautiful sisters who are witches and are trying to figure out what is killing their father, who has married them off (or planning to) to different lairds throughout Scotland to keep them safe once he's gone. I was pleasantly surprised with this one, it was much better than I thought it would be. I found the first two to be a little dull, but this one made up for it with an interesting twist. It becomes obvious very soon in this book that this particular daughter, Rose, is not destined to marry the man she has been betrothed to.
In search of a great healer she's heard about in the North, she set out to his castle to get him to come and try and cure her father. In a case of mistaken identity, she meets William, who is the healer. At first we think he's older than he really is, since he has a lot of gray hair, but that winds up being a bi-product of his ability to heal people by setting his hands on them and taking their illness into himself. He then becomes ill for a day or two because of this. This is not unlike the character in Stephen King's The Green Mile and also the heroine in the book, A Rogue in a Kilt (that I've reviewed earlier here.) It seems to be a popular idea!
Anyway, Rose and William have a mutual sexual attraction which they fight at first (naturally, since she is betrothed to someone else), but eventually they give in and kiss, etc. but the sexual tension throughout the book is very good until they consummate their love.
Rose is no ordinary heroine, she has a lot of baggage. Sent away for safety when she was 8, after her mother was burned as a witch, she was sexually abused as a child by her foster father, and then later has an affair with his son. So this is no blushing virgin in this story - but it only gives her character more depth and I felt much more empathy for her. I was glad that William understood when she told him about it, but I do think he took it with a bit too much alacrity, considering the times (late 1500's). William seemed to be just a bit too wise to me, but I liked him as a hero. He's a laird, but not your typical alpha male, bulging muscles, 'do it my way or else' kind of guy. He's tall and handsome, despite his gray hair. He is hated by his villagers and he must keep himself hidden from them - not your typical hero!
Eventually, Rose gets him to come back to her castle to see if he can cure her father. As I suspected in the last book, the villain in the book is obvious, and his methods are too. William can't cure the father right away, but a lot happens here at the castle. Rose's betrothed comes to visit as well, and it turns out that he and William already hate each other, and there's an obvious jealousy between them for Rose as well. Her fiance is a jerk, btw.
I won't spoil the ending, but it was a pretty good wind up of the trilogy and this book made up for the dullness of the last one. It brought all the characters together and tied up all the loose ends with a minimum of angst and it was pretty exciting wondering how William and his daughter and brother were going to get out of trouble (I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't read it.) This was by far the most exciting of the books!
If you like witches and romance give it a try. 3.5/5
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Being a Greek god is not all it once was. Yes, the twelve gods of Olympus are alive and well in the twenty-first century, but they are crammed together in a London townhouse-and none too happy about it. And they've had to get day jobs: Artemis as a dog-walker, Apollo as a TV psychic, Aphrodite as a phone sex operator, Dionysus as a DJ.
Even more disturbingly, their powers are waning, and even turning mortals into trees-a favorite pastime of Apollo's-is sapping their vital reserves of strength.
Soon, what begins as a minor squabble between Aphrodite and Apollo escalates into an epic battle of wills. Two perplexed humans, Alice and Neil, who are caught in the crossfire, must fear not only for their own lives, but for the survival of humankind. Nothing less than a true act of heroism is needed-but can these two decidedly ordinary people replicate the feats of the mythical heroes and save the world?
This was a really fun, delicious, quick read, a brilliant, irreverent, sexy ride. I really liked it! Just a short little book under 300 pages. Was it high brow reading? No, but it was a lot of fun. I can imagine this being made into a movie, it has the British satire of Monty Python (but not too over the top), and the humorous reality of a Nick Hornby novel.
As the description says, all the "big" Gods live together in this crumbling house in London. They have various jobs that are perfect for what kind of God they are and modern conveniences such as cell phones. Aphrodite's is perfect, she's a phone sex girl - so throughout the book she has her Bluetooth in her ear, speaking out loud to her various "clients" - very funny. Her cell phone ringtone is "Venus" by Bananarama - perfect. Aphrodite is someone you don't want to piss off though. Apollo does, and she, being a goddess, seeks revenge upon him (as revenge is in all gods and goddesses DNA).
The story revolves all around Apollo and the turn of events that take place due to Aphrodites revenge. He is the sad sack in this story, despite his movie star good looks and physique, he's a loser. But, being a complete egomaniac, having to be the center of attention, so he is in this book as well! He tries to get a job as some sort of "seer" on his own TV show (cable, of course) and it's a total flop (plus a hilarious bit of him with a god-almighty hard on!) But, in the pilot audience is Alice and Neil, a shy, budding couple. Aphrodite gets her "born again" son, Eros, to make Apollo fall in love with Alice, and then has Hermes help with having Alice show up at their house to become a housekeeper. From there, all hell breaks loose, wrapping up with a big rescue at the ending and a parable on preserving and saving the earth from man.
There are so many very clever things in this book, I just can't list them all. Some sex (but only between the gods and goddesses themselves), it's all so ridiculous and if you are at all familiar with Greek mythology you'll really get a kick out of this book, although it's not a prerequisite to reading it. Ordinary mortals like Alice and Neil are perfect foils to these crazy gods, they're just so normal and down to earth. It's fun to see how their world is shaken up (sad too in some ways) by the gods, but all is resolved eventually.
The things I liked best about it are how the author brings these gods and goddesses to life in the present with their various mundane jobs and personalities. Ares, the god of war is constantly busy with the wars going on in the world, always working away with his maps and stuff, and just his presence in a room can make mortals start to fight with one another. Hermes, the messenger of the gods is the busiest of them all, and is always rushing around, pressed for time in his immaculate suit, and little wings on his ankles and hat-cell phone always at the ready. Aphrodite is perfectly bored and beautiful - she lives for love and looking good, everyone has slept with her, she's the most self centered and selfish of the gods - but everyone accepts this in her - she's Aphrodite after all! Artemis, the huntress is kind of out of her element. Hunting is being banned in England and she as a goddess, doesn't have much of a purpose anymore. She's a dog walker by occupation, since she had to get rid of her own (they couldn't afford to feed them any longer.) She's the moral element in the book and is central to the plot. She's the only one in the house that seems to care about anything. Demeter, goddess of the earth is gradually failing, she is growing old, and she can no longer keep things alive - the parable in the book. Athena is so smart, but can't get her thoughts across to anyone, she's so over their heads - it all just sounds like a bunch of gobbledygook!
I could go on and on, it's all perfectly funny and a great satire. I read this in one day, do yourself a favor and read it, it's a lot of fun!
Saturday, June 14, 2008
The first novel in a brand-new series about three young women looking for love--and upward mobility--from USA Today bestselling author Celeste Bradley.
ONLY A DUKE WILL DO
The only way for vicar's daughter Phoebe Millbury to inherit a family fortune is to find herself a duke--just as her late grandfather demanded in his will. But Phoebe, who's still trying to make good after a romantic scandal, also has her two cousins to contend with. They're all competing for the same money, maybe even the same men --until Phoebe meets her match in the terribly handsome and charming Rafe Marbrook.
BUT WILL IT BE "I DO"--OR ADIEU?
When she receives a marriage proposal from the Marquis of Brookhaven, Phoebe is thrilled to learn that Rafe is headed for dukedom - and accepts his offer. There's only one problem: It's from Rafe's older, less captivating brother, Calder. Now Phoebe finds herself on the verge of yet another scandal as she faces a desperate choice: Marry Calder for his money--or follow her own heart? Each way can only lead to trouble...
This was a delightful frothy romance set during Regency times in London. It's been a long time since I've read a Regency romance, not since high school and the million Georgette Heyer's I had read while babysitting at night. This is no Georgette Heyer regency romance - it's a hell of a lot spicier and probably not as well written, but it was still alot of fun to read. This is the first of a trilogy about all three cousins, can't wait to read the rest, this was my first book by this author, and she did a great job with it!
Right from the get go, it's off to a great start when our heroine, Phoebe (hate the name, but she was a sweet girl, who I kept imagining looked like the actress that played Catherine Morland in the recent ITV adaptation of Northanger Abbey on TV) notices Rafe and his perfect derriere at a ball. It's
Poor Phoebe accepts the offer of marriage, supposing it has come from Rafe and not his brother, who she hasn't even met. Since the brother, Calder, is going to become a Duke, this means she'll come into this great inheritence left by her Scottish grandfather (his will is pretty amusing.)
As so is the angst in the plot that leads us on a journey of much sexual tension and near scandalous predicaments, culminating in one blissful night together and then two weeks of miscommunication and more angst which all leads up to a great ending with our hero coming to the rescue on his white charger - all very cleverly and humorously done - I loved it!
I hope we see more the of the amusing dressmaker in the rest of the books!
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Propelled by the same superb instinct for storytelling that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once an incredible chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history and a deeply moving story of family, friendship, faith, and the salvation to be found in love.
Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them-in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul-they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation. With heart-wrenching power and suspense, Hosseini shows how a woman's love for her family can move her to shocking and heroic acts of self-sacrifice, and that in the end it is love, or even the memory of love, that is often the key to survival.
A stunning accomplishment, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a haunting, heartbreaking, compelling story of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love.
When I read The Kite Runner earlier this year (my first book of 2008) I considered it one of the best books I'd ever read. I was swept up in the world of Afghanistan, a culture I knew nothing about. Everyone said his next book A Thousand Splendid Suns is even better. Well, I disagree. Yes, it was good, but to me, it didn't have that gut wrenching story that went straight to my heart.
This is the story of two women, Mariam and Laila. For most of their lives they are at the mercy of men. Poor Mariam is told endlessly all her young life that she is a bastard, her mother relentlessly drums it into her head, warning her that men will always be the cause of a woman's misery (in so many words) and unfortunately, in Mariam's life it was pretty true. She is forced to marry a merciless older man, Rasheed, who makes her wear a burqa and ignores her (except when he's beating her) once he realizes that she is never going to bear him a son.
The other woman, Laila, has a sad life too. It begins well, but as her mother sinks into depression, her household begins to fall apart and the war in Kabul (where they live) can no longer be ignored. The danger is too great and Laila loses the most important thing to her, her friend and lover, Tariq, who must leave Kabul with his parents. From there, Laila's life goes downhill. The bombs falling on the city wreak havoc in her family and she is told Tariq is dead. She winds up marrying Rasheed, becoming his 2nd wife (he has two at the same time now.) Rasheed is in his 60's and Laila is only 14 and pregnant (though no one knows this, hence why she has agreed to marry Rasheed.)
I found the book compelling and read it in two days, but it was very, very depressing. The story was sad, but I did not cry for them, despite the life these women had. It was hard and dismal and Rasheed was awful to them. I was rooting for them every chance they had to escape, but all along though, in spite of the tension and drama of the book, I did not feel close to them. I didn't feel like I was in their skin, in their place as I did in The Kite Runner. I was reading about their woes and miseries dispassionately. Ironic, since this book was about two women (like me), but maybe it's because the author, who is an excellent writer, just doesn't hit the mark writing from a woman's point of view, in my opinion.
I do think as a rule, men have a hard time writing a woman's story and making it believable from their point of view. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule (I can't think of one right now) but this entire book was from both Mariam's and Laila's point of view. Even by the end, which was supposed to be a moving, cathartic, dramatic beautiful ending, I didn't feel much. Mariam makes the ultimate sacrifice for Laila's freedom, but for some reason it didn't affect me as much as I think it should have. Part of the reason is it took Mariam and Laila a long time to like each other, Mariam was very cold to Laila at first feeling her position as wife was usurped by this young kid who she nursed back to health. The novel told their story of getting to know one another and being sister/mother to each other, but I didn't feel like I was in the thick of it with them. Instances were described where Mariam went out of her way to help Laila and vice versa but it wasn't that emotional for me. Maybe it's just me, I don't know.
All in all, it was a good book and I loved reading about life in Afghanistan again, a different side of it, lasting almost 30 years from the late 1950's to 2003. I learned a lot about the war against the Soviet Union in the 80's and then the rise of the mullahs and the Taliban and how women were forced to bow down to the men again and lose all their freedom, it was brutal what they had to go through - and only 10 years ago!
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Chelsea Brown had never had much luck with men until she bumped heads with Griffin Campbell-a Highlander who set her head spinning and her heart racing. Visiting the wilds of Scotland, the Texan scientist had expected a different breed of man, but Griffin proved to be in a category all his own. First he kissed her senseless, then he destroyed the television, gallantly vowing to protect her from the miniature barbarians in the box. Breathless with confusion-or was it desire?-Chelsea found herself wrapped not only in his arms, but in the past. Transported to a place where the Scottish warrior's very life depended on her, the once shy Chelsea knew she would face any challenge to rescue the powerful clan leader. For it was his desire that transformed her timidity to bravery, his passion that convinced her their romance was no Highland fling, but a timeless love.
I read a lot of romances, but this one was just ridiculous! It began as a Scottish highlander romance time travel story, with the hero, Griffin, traveling from 1602 Scotland to present day Scotland. Then, once he's in present day it spirals down and becomes a modern day Texas romance, and then it spins off to become a 1880's Texas cowboy romance! Sheesh! I was so happy to finish this book! It was just so stupid! Here I thought it was going to be a time travel romance in the Scottish highlands and it was anything but! I felt like the description of this book was misleading at best, not to mention a very misleading book cover!
Probably one of the reasons why I wasn't into this book was because it was the 2nd in a series, and I hadn't read the first. But, they fill you in so much on the first, it doesn't matter (I'm glad I didn't read that one!) This story centers around poor Griffin Campbell, soon to be wed and laird of the Campbells in 1602. But he has a deep dark secret... he cannot kiss a woman without throwing up right afterwards! Mind boggling!
As you can imagine, there wasn't much hanky panky in this book until the end because everytime poor, poor confused time traveling Griffin kissed Chelsea - he'd throw up! It got pretty disgusting - he was throwing up everywhere! On airplanes, in bushes, in creeks, on some poor old lady! God - this book was a killer! What was even worse, after throwing up on the airplane due to air sickness, he kisses Chelsea afterwards without even rinsing his mouth - yecch! She liked it too - but then he threw up on the old lady! LOL! It was laughable! I can't say this was a sexy hero, no matter how good looking he was (except for the obligatory scene of him bare assed in cowboy chaps with nothing on underneath that I saw coming from a mile away.)
Once in modern day Texas (they flew there from Scotland) Griffin has to adjust to modern technology and cowboy boots and jeans, and the snickers and stares he gets by everyone who's never seen a girlie kilt on a man before (ahem, this is supposed to be 2003 - I'm sure some Texans in Austin have seen this sort of thing before somewhere - haven't any of these cowboys seen Braveheart??) Then, Griffin and Chelsea wind up time traveling to 1882 Texas and matters only get worse for Griffin is promptly put in jail - and lo and behold his long lost cousin from Scotland is in the adjoining cell! (He had time traveled 5 years earlier.) Can this plot get more convoluted? Chelsea gets to masquerade as a dance hall girl in a saloon and wear black garters and corsets and feel pretty for once - even though she really is pretty, but she has this annoying inferiority complex that she isn't pretty. (I can't stand this trait in romance heroines). Eventually, they all wind up back in present day Texas, never do they go back to 1602 Scotland - quelle disappointment!
The ending was ridiculous too - the hero and heroine have a lovely wedding, but her best friend and matron of honor goes into labor and her water breaks right at the "kiss the bride" moment and delivers the baby right there in the church! I felt like throwing this book at the wall!
Do yourself a favor, don't read this book!
Friday, June 6, 2008
Diana Gabaldon, the New York Times bestselling author of Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade and the wildly popular Outlander novels, delivers three tales of war, intrigue, and espionage that feature one of her most popular characters: Lord John Grey. In the heart of the eighteenth century, here are haunted soldiers . . . lusty princesses . . . ghostly apparitions . . . dark family secrets. And here Lord John will face enemies who come in the guise of friends, memories in the shape of a fiery-haired Scot named James Fraser, and allies who have the power to destroy him with a single blow. . . .
In Lord John and the Hellfire Club, Lord John glimpses a stranger in the doorway of a gentlemen's club - and is stirred by a desperate entreaty to meet in private. The rendezvous forestalled by a sudden murder, Lord John will wade into a maze of political treachery and a dangerous, debauched underground society. . . . In Lord John and the Succubus, English soldiers fighting in Prussia are rattled by the nocturnal visitations of a deadly woman who sucks life and soul from a man. Called to investigate the night-hag, Lord John finds a murdered soldier and a treacherous Gypsy, and comes to the stark realization that among the spirits that haunt men, none frighten more than the specters conjured by the heart. . . . In Lord John and the Haunted Soldier, Lord John is thrust into the deadly case of an exploding battlefield cannon. Wounded in the same battle, Lord John is called to tesify and soon confronts his own ghost - and the shattering prospect that a traitor is among the ranks of His Majesty's armed forces.
Capturing the lonely, tormented, and courageous career of a man who fights for his crown, his honor, and his own secrets, Diana Gabaldon delivers breathtaking human drama. And in tales seething with desire, madness, and political intrigue, Gabaldon once again proves that she can bring history to life in a way few novelists ever have.
One of the problems with Diana Gabaldon's Lord John books is that they have weak endings. I hate to say it, since she is my favorite living author, but her mysteries just don't end well, they kind of fall flat and are anti-climatic.
I think one of her problems is that her writing style does not suit well with a short mystery novella. Let's face it, her Outlander books are lengthy tomes. She excels in writing long, wordy descriptions. It's one of the joys of her books, they're rich in explanation, full of nature, actions and reactions, thought processes and descriptions. But, as I was reading the three stories in this collection, this type of writing style of hers bogged the stories down so terribly that I could not concentrate and focus on what was actually happening in them. I was sidetracked all the time by the descriptions constantly going off on a tangent or by Lord John's inner musings. This is fine in a large book that you can sink your teeth into, but here it just doesn't work. By the time the mystery was solved, I couldn't care less about it, and usually I found it all to be uninspired.
The actual solving of the mystery seemed to be secondary, Lord John was her primary concern. I like Lord John, I find his homosexuality intriguing, I worry for him getting found out. I admire him for being an honorable gentleman. But I felt like I had wasted my time in reading this book. How dull.
I had already read Lord John and the Hellfire Club a few years ago, since it was tacked on to the end of my copy of Lord John and a Private Matter. It's very short and forgetable. In fact re-reading it was like reading it again for the first time, I barely remember anything about it, and I only read it about 2 or 3 years ago - I can't remember! We're in Lord John's head in these books, which isn't bad, but even though I like him as a character - he's secondary to me in the Outlander books. I just don't think he has the charisma to carry off a mystery series of his own and keep me interested. Let's face it, I'm only reading these books for any further insight in his relationship with Jamie Fraser. The brightest moments in Hellfire were the ones in which Jamie is referenced. I know I sound like a selfish fangirl who only cares about a certain tall red-haired Scot, but it's true! The page sparkles when Jamie is on it, the rest is filler. I hate to be so harsh, but it's how I feel. I rate Hellfire a 3/5.
The 2nd story in the book is a little longer, but not very interesting, scary or exciting. The premise sounded good, Lord John and the Succubus centers on Lord John on duty in Germany allied with the Prussians to fight the French and Austrian armies. Some sort of she-demon is scaring all the soldiers so they can't sleep at night and are dead on their feet, worried they will be the next dead soldier found with his britches down or with two bloody holes in his neck, lying in a pool of blood. Granted, I'm interested in this German officer, Stephan, that Lord John kind of has a thing for. (He's also in Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade which comes after this story chronologically.) John is not sure if Stephan is coming on to him or not. I found that more interesting than the scary succubus flying around. I won't go into the story in detail or spoil the outcome, but the ending was just so-so. I couldn't help thinking big deal, there's a war on - no surprise or great revelations, I'd already pretty much figured things out by the end. This I rate a 3/5 as well.
Lord John and the Haunted Soldier is the final novella and the best of them, but still I felt like I was grasping in the fog to understand what the mystery was. Lord John is back from being injured in a battle in Germany. He faces a formal inquiry in regard to this cannon that exploded and the death of a soldier, Philip Lister. Lord John winds up trying to find out what happened to the pregnant bride to be of Lister, while imagining he's seeing Lister's ghost, as well as another 17th century ghost outside the Arsenal. I found the whole plot somewhat convoluted and I found it difficult to keep track of who was who and why they mattered. The best parts were his therapeutic letters written to Jamie Fraser (which he never mails) and his trusty valet, Tom. Again, another anti-climatic ending in which we find out what's behind the exploding cannon. As far as the missing girl, well, that's a little more involved and farfetched, wrapping up in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. I give this one a 3.5/5.
Overall, this book of the three novellas is the weakest of all the Lord John books to date, the best being, Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade. I think this book is probably a requirement for any Gabaldon die hard fan, but I can't say I liked this one, I couldn't wait to get it over with and felt it was more of a chore to get through than enjoy.
Overall rating: 3/5
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Judith Hampton was as beautiful as she was proud and loyal. Her dear Scottish friend from childhood was about to give birth, and Judith had promised to be at her side. But there was another, private reason for the journey from her bleak English home to the Highlands: to meet the father she had never known, the Laird Maclean. Nothing prepared her, however, for the sight of the Scottish barbarian who was to escort her into his land...Iain Maitland, Laird of his clan, a man more powerfully compelling than any she had ever encountered.
In a spirited clash of wills and customs, Judith reveled in the melting bliss of Iain's searching kisses, his passionate caresses. Perplexed by her sprightly defiance, bemused by her tender nature, Iain felt his soul growing into the light and warmth of her love. Surely nothing would wrench her from the affection and trust of Iain and his clan...not even the truth about her father, a devastating secret that could shatter the boldest alliance, and the most glorious of loves!
This was another fun Julie Garwood medieval romance - I love them. Her heroes are alpha males that are huge and incredibly sexy - yet tender and considerate once they're "tamed." The heroines are quirky, sometimes clutzy, always beautiful and full of spirit, and endearingly naive when it comes to their Highland warriors and the ways of love.
This book was no exception. Judith was a fun heroine, on the outside she's English born and raised, but she's really the unwanted daughter of the Scottish laird Maclean. She meets Iain, the laird of the Maitland clan. From the first they're attracted to each other and neither one of them resists kissing the other. This is sort of refreshing, since most romances I read, it takes forever for them to stop fighting the attraction and get on with it. Iain is striking, powerful, tall and gorgeous. I loved imagining what he must really look like - yumm... Plus, there's nothing like a huge, masculine Highlander ready and willing to show his new wife the joys of the marriage bed! As usual, Julie Garwood's bedroom scenes are masterfully done.
Judith winds up becoming a mid-wife of all things in this book, and I learned a few things about medieval birthing. She was adorable with her little quirks about how she intially reacts to the idea of birthing babies and resists it at first, convinced she can't do it all the way up to the point when she reaches the front door of the expectant mother's cottage, when all of a sudden a calm comes over her and she efficiently gets down to business. Then afterwards she sobs her whole way home crying all over whatever hapless warrior is walking her home. I enjoyed the way Iain would wait for her, or walk her from cottage to cottage - not your typical laird of the castle! His fellow warriors were entertaining too - especially when they are escorting her from England to Scotland so she can be with her friend, Francis Catherine. I can't wait to read the next book Ransom that is about two of these warriors and how they find their brides.
No real big angst in this book (which is the way I like it), but the conflict between the Macleans and the Maitlands comes to a head when Judith is taken to Laird Maclean and meets her father for the first time (among other people.) I found it a little touching at parts. A few loose threads: what was the cause of all the bitterness between the two clans, and why did the Laird Maclean hate the Maitlands former laird, Graham, so much? Whatever happens to Judith's mother? Does she get the end she so deserves? I'd like to see the Laird Maclean get his revenge on her for keeping his daughter from him for over 20 years, and subjecting Judith to such an unhappy childhood.
This was a delicious book to read in two days - a fun, take me away Calgon romance!
Monday, June 2, 2008
Tatiana is eighteen years old and pregnant when she miraculously escapes war-torn Leningrad to the West, believing herself to be a widow. Her husband, Major Alexander Belov, a decorated hero of the Soviet Union, has been arrested by Stalin's infamous secret police and is awaiting execution as a traitor and a spy.
Tatiana begins her new life in America. In wartime New York City she finds work, friends and a life beyond her dreams. However, her grief is ineacapable and she keeps hearing Alexander calling out to her.
Meanwhile, Alexander faces the greatest danger he's ever known. An American trapped in Russia since adolescence, he has been serving in the Red Army and impersonating a Soviet citizen to protect himself. For him, Russia's war is not over, and both victory and defeat will mean certain death.
As the Second World War moves towards its horrific close, Tatiana and Alexander are surrounded by the ghosts of their past and of each other. In the ruins of Europe, Alexander can't escape Stalin's power. Far away, Tatiana must think first of their son Anthony. They must struggle against destiny and despair in the fight of their lives.
A master of historical epic, Paullina Simons takes us on a journey across continents, time and the entire breadth of human emotion, to create a heartendingly beautiful love story that will live long after the final page is turned.
I devoured this book in two days. The 2nd in The Bronze Horseman trilogy this book picked up where the last one left off. I can't say it was as great as The Bronze Horseman but I enjoyed reading about these two lovers again. Plus, it reminded me even more of the Outlander series, with the separation of the two and their struggle to reunite.
As much as I enjoyed this book, I was disappointed that Tatiana and Alexander are separated for the greater part of it. We see their different points of view as they are on their own, separated from each other. Alexander, having avoided execution, spends his time trying to escape the Soviet Union, while continuing to serve in the Red Army, but he is eventually imprisoned after the war in the Gulag. From Alexander's viewpoint, we get his story of first leaving America as a boy of 10 with his parents, and the rude awakening of the poverty and squalor of living in the Soviet Union of the 1930's. Whereas The Bronze Horseman was really Tatiana's story, Tatiana and Alexander is really Alexander's story. It's a sad tale, first leaving his wonderful home in Barrington, MA, and then facing the hardships of the Soviet Union, and the eventual spiral down of his mother's alcoholism and his parent's arrests and his capture and escape from the NKVD (Russian secret police). We also get Alexander's background of all his liasons with women as a soldier in the Red Army that the slimy Dmitri alluded to more than once in the first book. He had so many, he didn't call them by their names for he could never remember them all. Shura was no saint before he met Tatiana! It made him more realistic to me, more down to earth, not so much the Superman he is depicted as in the first book. He has his flaws just like anyone else. He even makes loves to some nameless girl standing up with a cigarette in his mouth the whole time!
I think I enjoyed reading about Alexander's background better, it was depressing, but more engrossing and detailed and poignant. The thought of him as this cute little Cub Scout in his nice little town with the picket fences and clapboard houses is just too sad. My heart goes out to him, having to leave all of it because of his parent's misguided idealism and faith in the Soviet Union. He has such a terribly hard life from then on.
From Alexander's childhood, it segues right into the present time (1944) with Alexander in the Red Army, making his way through Poland, fighting the Germans. We meet an old face which is a surprise, a nice twist and heartwrenching turn in the plot. Alexander also has another Dmitri in some ways, Nikolai, who is another prisoner with a secret, who won't leave his side. The reason was pretty easy to figure out. I like battle scenes in books, so it didn't bother me reading about how they had to fight and the various skirmishes against the Germans, though some may find it a bit dull.
On Tatiana's side of the ocean, she is alone in New York City, learning to live with her new baby boy, Anthony, and trying to cope with a new country and language and the loss of Alexander. Luckily, she's a smart girl and adapts to life in New York with the few friends she makes working on Ellis Island as a nurse. She never gives up on Alexander and remains true to him, despite her longings for a pair of strong arms and broad shoulders. She does not give in, and has a narrow escape from a would be lover, which only reinforces her decision not to rush into a relationship with anyone. She still can't quite let go of Shura, believing he could still be alive. Again, we see how strong she is and determined and it's so gratifying when she finally finds out Alexander is not dead and she goes after him to rescue him - that's where it gets really exciting.
The last 200 pages of the book are the best. Tatiana, dying her hair black, goes to Germany with the Red Cross and cleverly manages to find out what prison camp Alexander is imprisoned in. Okay, a bit implausible and read more like a Mission Impossible episode, but I couldn't put it down during that whole rescue part and reunion leading all the way up to the epilogue. If there's one thing I'd change about Shura, it's his chain smoking and the way he can become violent and almost mad at the thought of losing Tatiana. I couldn't help feeling through the flashbacks and in the last book and this one that he was always wasting their precious last days and hours together by being mad or jealous at Tatiana. To me, it seemed out of character, I had a hard time understanding it in him.
But, without giving away the whole ending, I'll just say it's happy and satisfying.
On another note, a few other reviews I've read thought the sex scenes in this book, were a bit over the top, but I don't necessarily agree. I guess I'm just so used to reading sex scenes in romances it didn't even cross my mind as being over the top, I suppose I'm a bit liberal in that respect. By the time they are finally reunited, they understandably have an explosive sexual reunion (once they are able), and I didn't find it all that unusual, albeit the circumstances were trying while they are on the run from the NKGB. Some of their flashbacks were intense, but no more so than in the last book, in my opinion.
To sum it up, was this book as good as the first? No, since a lot of it was a repeat of the previous book. But it was enjoyable nonetheless and brought closure to this part of the story. I'm eager to read the last in the trilogy, The Summer Garden.