Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Book Description:
From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, comes an unforgettable edge-of-your-seat mystery that is at once heartbreakingly tender and morally courageous about what it means to be human.

Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.

Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it's only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.

Never Let Me Go breaks through the boundaries of the literary novel. It is a gripping mystery, a beautiful love story, and also a scathing critique of human arrogance and a moral examination of how we treat the vulnerable and different in our society. In exploring the themes of memory and the impact of the past, Ishiguro takes on the idea of a possible future to create his most moving and powerful book to date.

My second Ishiguro novel, this was a fascinating story, set in an alternate England in the late 1990's. In this book, cloning is a fact of life used for medical purposes. Hailsham is where Kathy, Ruth and Tommy grow up and go to school together. They've been there probably since infants and it seems like a regular nice English boarding school in the countryside, except they can't leave the grounds and there are lots of little mysteries surrounding it. It's not until they are in their early teens that they find out the truth - they are all clones to be used eventually as "donors" for medical purposes.

As ghastly as this sounds, it's written so eloquently that you become completely used to the idea and feel compelled to continue reading to see how it all turns out. What happens to Ruth and Tommy? Does Kathy ever become a donor, or does she remain a "carer" . The students start out by helping donors through their donations - a painful business that continues until they "complete." Most never make it past their 4th donation. There is never any graphic detail about what these donations mean, but you know it means they're giving up a vital organ. Yet, they're okay with this, they've been raised to accept it.

But, the flip side of this is the question - does mankind have the right to do this, and do clones have souls like regular human beings? The people we meet in this book have feelings, they have sex drives (though they cannot have babies - we never find out why) and lots of sex, they talk about life as they know it and what comes after Hailsham and becoming a donor.

I can't say enough about what a great writer Ishiguro is. His pacing is perfect, his writing is literary, yet simple and uncluttered - it's easy to read his novels. Again, this was a short book, less than 300 pages. I became engrossed in it from the beginning, for I deliberately did not want to read the dustjacket description. I wanted to come into with no pre-conceived notions, although I knew it had something to do with cloning, so I guessed the truth of what they were cloned for before it was revealed in the story. I had to keep reading to find out what happened with Ruth and Tommy, and of course, gentle and sensitive Kathy. Plus, I was caught up in the world of Hailsham and over and over I was mystified at how Ishiguro so easily wrote about the inner feelings and thoughts of a young girl - whether she was 8 years old and into make believe, or a blossoming young teenager, wondering about sex amidst the mind games that go on with girls her age. How does he know this stuff? I recognized a lot of the same sort of things I experienced as a little girl and young teenager. Who's brain did he pick - how does he do it? He was right on target, startling accurate.

This was a beautifully written haunting tale, one that will stay with me for a long, long time.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Highlander Unchained by Monica McCarty

Book Description:
Lachlan Maclean will do whatever it takes to protect his clan -- even if it means abducting the most willful woman in the Highlands with the secret intention of wooing her for marriage. A born searing sensual leader possessing brute strength, and an imposing command, Lachlan is unprepared for the beautiful spitfire Flora MacLeod, who jeopardizes his plans to save his clan, and digs beneath his hard, chiseled exterior to expose a tenderness that may be his undoing.

The greatest marriage prize in the Highlands, Flora is determined at all costs to avoid her mother's fate of being bartered away as a political pawn. Vowing to make her captor pay for his ruthlessness, she boldly engages him in a battle of wills, sweetening the challenge with dangerous passion -- even as the lingering curse and deadly ghosts of a past tragedy reach out to thwart a tender love that has yet to be spoken.

This was by far the best book in this trilogy of books about Scottish Highlanders in the early 17th century. I was not all that thrilled with the 2nd book, but this one more than made up for it.

The story of Flora and Lachlan is complex. She doesn't want to marry out of duty, knowing only too well how her mother suffered for it by being married off four times to men she never loved. Lachlan must marry Flora in order to save his brother who has been imprisoned by King James and to get her large dowry and win back his castle which had been seized by Flora's dastardly half-brother Hector. The trick is, Lachlan cannot let Flora know the bargain he's made with her cousin, the influential Duke of Argyll who has told him to marry Flora and he'll see that his brother is set free. Flora must marry of her own free will, she cannot be coerced into it. Lachlan must woo her.

And so the story goes, she hates him at first, and even stabs him, but there is no doubt about it, they are attracted to each other, their passion for each other creates steamy sexual tension, culminating in some great sex scenes once they consummate their love. *fans self* Lachlan is the usual tall, good looking, muscular alpha male, (well endowed, I might add). Flora is feisty, willful and stubborn, but beautiful as well and determined to get her way. The two make a great pair and have lots of chemistry between them and many sexy moments that aren't overly sappy or gratuitous.

Another aspect to this book that I loved is the "Lady of the Rock" folk tale that is brought to life. It's a true tale of a highlander laird's wife set on a rock alone to drown since her husband wants to be rid of her because she cannot give him an heir. She is saved at the last minute by a kinsman and lays a curse on the laird and his descendents. The story and the curse come into this story very well, and it's all well thought out, bringing the tale and the curse full circle.

I really enjoyed this book a lot, and the character or Rory McLeod from Book 1, Highlander Untamed is in it too. It's one of the best Highlander romances I've read to date. I highly recommend it!


Friday, July 25, 2008

Hornblower During the Crisis by C.S. Forester

Book Description:
Captain Hornblower, after two hard years on blockade at Brest, has relinquished the helm of the Hotspur. He has no ship, only the promise of one. Meanwhile there are battles to be fought.

This reading of HORNBLOWER DURING THE CRISIS includes two other stories, "Hornblower's Temptation" and "The Last Encounter," all published after C.S. Forester's death in 1966.

"Because Forester died before completing this novel, the reader is left with a summary sketch and his own imagination for final details of the plot. For Forester devotees, this will not detract from the essential verve and dash of Hornblower's last chase." (The Christian Science Monitor)

I was probably one of the few people reading this book that did not realize Forester died before finishing it. I was disappointed, since the story was just getting good, but thanks to the notes that Forester left, we know what he intended to have happen to Horatio. This book is 4th in the series chronologically. Hornblower is relinquishing the Hotspur to another captain and is setting off for Plymouth so that he can receive his "post command" as promised by Lord Cornwallis. Unfortunately, the hoy boat that is to take him to Plymouth is sighted by a French frigate and the men on the hoy (now including the officers of the crew of the Hotspur which ran aground) must somehow avoid the French frigate or try and capture it themselves. Thanks to Hornblower's excellent thinking, a plan is devised and they succeed in capturing the frigate, as well as some important documents that were on board.

Hornblower is rushed to London with the documents, which have Napoleon's new seal on them, and a new signature of his. The Admiralty is very pleased with them and make him an offer he basically cannot refuse. He gets command of a new ship, but he must also be a Spanish spy - and that's where it ends!

As usual, the writing was fast and easy reading, I love the Hornblower books, and despite being unfinished, it was a pleasure reading about my old friends, Horatio and Bush again.

There were also two short stories at the end of the book. Hornblower's Temptation took place while he is still under the command of Captain Sawyer (who went insane and had his crew mutiny under him). Hornblower has to manage a condemned Irish deserter and must come to terms with it after the deserter is hanged, and solves a puzzle while he is at it that eventually lets his guilty conscience rest. It was pretty good, but I did guess all along what was really going on.

The last story I have not read, for it is at the end of Hornblower's career, he is retired, and I'd rather save this story for after I've read all the books.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read, but very disappointing that it was unfinished. I'm sure at the time it was published (1966) his readers must have been devastated by the news of Forester's death.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Wild Rose of Kilgannon by Kathleen Givens

Book Description:
She came to the Highlands an innocent bride, but one man's love and two nations' enmity would make her a woman....

In her unforgettable novel Kilgannon, Kathleen Givens brought to vivid life the tempestuous romance of Mary Lowell, an English aristocrat, and the Scottish chieftain Alex MacGannon, who claimed her as his bride. Swept into a world of ancient customs, fierce passions, and political treachery, she never expected her life to take root in the Highlands, that she'd become...The Wild Rose of Kilgannon.

Now Mary and Alex's love story continues. As the fires of war engulf Castle Kilgannon, beautiful Mary stands fast, protecting her family and home. But when news comes of the capture of her beloved Alex, Mary vows to rescue her brave husband, who offered his life to save his men. As a defiant Alex is tried in London as a traitor, Mary unleashes her own campaign on London society, determined to win justice on the most dangerous battlefield of all. Even as Alex remains imprisoned in the Tower, she seeks his passionate embrace, forbidden and unforgettable, risking everything to free the rugged freedom fighter who has claimed her, body and soul . .

Having read the book before this one, Kilgannon, I pretty much knew what to expect, but I didn't think that for almost this entire book, the two main characters, Mary Rose and Alex were going to be separated! This book was so frustrating and annoying because of it!

They have only has a few fleeting moments together before he is sent to prison to await his trial for being a Jacobite in the first uprising for King James Stewart in 1715. Almost 400 pages of hand wringing and stolen moments and conjugal visits (pretty tame sex scenes) made this a dull and exasperating book. Granted, the last 50 pages weren't bad, but this is not my idea of a fun romance novel. Kathleen Givens is not a bad writer, but I just found this plot to be dismal and there wasn't much action in it, until the end with a duel and rescue.

I suspect that the author originally wrote this all as one big book, and her publishers told her to make it into two so she'd have two books instead of one for better marketing purposes. I say "bah! Humbug!" to that! The first book was okay, it started out really well, but then fizzled in the 2nd half and became dreary. This entire second book is like the second half of the first book! No sparkle, no fun, just a lot of worrying, hand holding and tension. I can't even write much of a review over this book, I was just so annoyed with it, I'm really surprised it's been rated so highly, I guess I'm just getting fed up with these sort of Scottish uprising/Jacobite books that don't come close to Outlander - I'm becoming jaded. I'll take a break from reading any Kathleen Givens books for a while


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me by Pattie Boyd

Book Description:

An iconic figure of the 1960s and '70s, Pattie Boyd breaks a forty-year silence in Wonderful Tonight, and tells the story of how she found herself bound to two of the most addictive, promiscuous musical geniuses of the twentieth century and became the most famous muse in the history of rock and roll.

She met the Beatles in 1964 when she was cast as a schoolgirl in A Hard Day's Night. Ten days later a smitten George Harrison proposed. For twenty-year-old Pattie Boyd, it was the beginning of an unimaginably rich and complex life as she was welcomed into the Beatles inner circle - a circle that included Mick Jagger, Ron Wood, Jeff Beck, and a veritable who's who of rock musicians. She describes the dynamics of the group, the friendships, the tensions, the musicmaking, and the weird and wonderful memories she has of Paul and Linda, Cynthia and John, Ringo and Maureen, and especially the years with her husband, George.

It was a sweet, turbulent life, but one that would take an unexpected turn, starting with a simple note that began "dearest l."

I read it quickly and assumed that it was from some weirdo; I did get fan mail from time to time.... I thought no more about it until that evening when the phone rang. It was Eric [Clapton]. "Did you get my letter?"... And then the penny dropped. "Was that from you?" I said....It was the most passionate letter anyone had ever written me.

For the first time Pattie Boyd, former wife of both George Harrison and Eric Clapton, a high-profile model whose face epitomized the swinging London scene of the 1960s, a woman who inspired Harrison's song "Something" and Clapton's anthem "Layla," has decided to write a book that is rich and raw, funny and heartbreaking - and totally honest and open and breathtaking. Here is the truth, here is what happened, here is the story you've been waiting for.

I've always been fascinated about the story between these three, and ever since I heard about this book it's been on my TBR list. I have a guilty pleasure in reading these sort of biographies, and anyone who knows me, knows I'm a huge Beatles fan. This book has no huge revelations or accounts of Beatles and rock star sexual orgies, it's more of an account of who she knew and where she traveled to. Considering the amazing love songs written for her, she didn't come across as all that remarkable (as she admits herself), but she does appear to be a genuinely nice person, but without a lot of gumption. She had a tendency to go along with everything and makes excuses for those who abused her over her lifetime. She's a bit wishy washy.

Beginning with her background, which was upper middle class, she was sent off to boarding schools at age 8, her parents had affairs and unhappy marriages and re-marriages. She's close to her siblings (6 in all, including half-siblings) and has a good, kind heart. She meets George when they're both incredibly young and it's love at first sight. They are immediately an item and get married before long. Since I've already read a lot about the Beatles, there were no new revelations for me here, but I was really interested in how the whole Eric Clapton thing came about. Interesting how she barely talked about Paul and Linda, I suspect she wasn't all that crazy about Paul. She mostly socialized and vacationed with John and his first wife, Cynthia and Ringo and his two wives, Maureen (who had an affair with George that ended her friendship with Pattie, understandably) and Barbara Bach, the actress.

Her life with Eric was really kind of tragic. He had this passionate love for her, but he was at first a drug addict and then after he kicked the heroine he became an alcoholic. He told her if she didn't leave George he'd start taking heroine - which he did! Imagine the guilt and pressure he put on her! Eventually over time, she did leave George for him and she had to deal with all of his addictions and really became a doormat and went along with it for a long time, drinking alot too, though never becoming addicted herself. She had to put up with his alcoholic tantrums and moods, his infidelities and unexpected and irrational behavior. He didn't even propose to her directly, he got someone else to do it for him long distance and then found it was from a bet he made! Yet, she still said yes. At the time just before, she had left him, since they'd been living together and she found out that he was sleeping with a friend of hers! George was no saint when she was married to him, yet, apart from a few infidelities, most of his neglect was due to his spiritualism and chanting and preoccupation with the giant estate he bought - Friar's Park (it's on his "All Things Must Pass" album.) Eric, in my opinion was worse to her than George. He was always so messed up and drunk. They both cared for her and loved her, as is indicated in the love songs they wrote with her in mind (she recounts how Clapton wrote the song, "Wonderful Tonight", which I think any woman would find endearing), but after her modeling career ended (while married to George) she didn't really have anything to do with her life. She was a wifey that became a neglected wifey - for both of them! I felt badly for her that she was never able to conceive, what an ordeal, especially while married to Clapton and undergoing in vitro, she finds out that an affair of his in Italy produces a child, his son Conor, who is tragically killed falling out of a NYC window years later.

Still, it's amazing that she went straight from George to Eric without missing a beat (no pun intended) - how many women can say that? A lot of this book is more of a catalog of who she knew and hung out with in the 60's and '70's in the London fashion and rock scene. She has also traveled extensively and now has a career as a photographer. She seems happy with her life now (unmarried), though always regrets that she left George and feels she should have stuck it out with him and tried harder to make their marriage work - yet it's always easier to say in hindsight, "shoulda, coulda, woulda".


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ransom by Julie Garwood

Book Description:
Overflowing with all of the majesty and intrigue of medieval glory days, this magnificent New York Times bestseller is a page-turner of passion and loyalty, justice and honor. Beloved storyteller Julie Garwood steps back to the silver-shrouded Highlands of her classic tale The Secret -- and hails the return of two unforgettable warriors: Ramsey Sinclair and Brodick Buchanan.

In the dark days after the death of Richard the Lionhearted, lives and lands would fall into upheaval at the hands of a power-hungry British ruler and his violent minions. One victim of the scourge is innocent Gillian, who is a mere child when the cruel and ambitious Baron Alford slaughters her father and tears her family apart. Alford, determined to recover a jeweled box for the despotic King John, is furious when the precious treasure slips through his fingers -- only to be lost for more than a decade.

Now a beautiful young woman, Gillian finds the key to resolving her past in handsome Scottish chieftains Ramsey Sinclair and Brodick Buchanan. With the cunning and courage of the daring Scotsmen, and with the friendship of a new ally, Bridgid KirkConnell, Gillian at last fights the unscrupulous Baron Alford, laying claim to her home, her family, and her father's reputation. But in the presence of the mighty warriors, Gillian and Bridgid discover that desire can be a weapon of conquest...betrayal can slay trust in a heartbeat...and the greatest risk of all is surrender -- to the deep emotions of unexpected love.

This wasn't bad, another medieval by Julie Garwood that has adventure, humor, sex and a good plot. Not my favorite of her books, but it had by far the best plot and the longest I've read to date of her books - over 500 pages (long for a romance novel.)

The plot of this one centered on Gillian, who is separated at the tender age of 6 from her sister, after watching her father brutally murdered by the evil Baron Alford in England, who is a close friend of King John. Alford takes her as prisoner and she is allowed to live with her Uncle in the North until she is 18 or so. She befriends a little boy at the that time who is trying to run away (he has also been imprisoned by Alford) and she saves him from near death. Over the course of events, she manages to get them rescued and she winds up in the Scottish Highlands looking for her sister and returning the boy to his parents (Iain and Judith Maitland from The Secret) While in Scotland she meets Brodick, Laird Buchanan, known for his temper among other things. He is the usual huge, Highlander alpha male, (blonde this time) and the two of them wind up getting married, though she is tricked into it and doesn't realize they're married at first.

Meanwhile, a secondary plot is going on with Laird Sinclair, newly selected as Laird of the Sinclair clan, he must unite his clan with the MacPherson's. Sinclair is knows for how handsome he is. Though unmarried, he must choose a bride eventually. This second plot has him join ranks with Brodick to help Gillian find her sister and a treasure that belongs to King John. His love interest is Brigid, a beautiful, stubborn clanswoman in the Sinclair clan that keeps turning down marriage offers because she loves only one man - Sinclair (though he doesn't know it.)

The plot moves along and the book follows the path of Gillian's search for her sister and the treasure. Her romance with Brodick is almost a sideline, though amusing and sexy. I was happy to see the Maitlands again and enjoyed their touching reunion with their son that had been kidnapped. This romance novel didn't seem to have as much sex in it as her other ones, but the plot of this one was more serious and adventurous. It held my attention (although I guessed right away who the Highlander traitor was.)

Gillian is a feisty heroine. She is brave, noble, strong and endearing, I liked her a lot. She's a good match for Brodick - almost too good for him. I feel sorry for her and what her life in the Buchanan Clan will be like. We don't find out, for the story ends there, though all through the book, everyone ominously tells her how unhappy she'll be with them. I hope they're all wrong, for she deserves to live happily ever after with her chieftain.

An enjoyable read, but I must admit, I still like Garwood's The Bride the best of her medievals.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Book Description
The novel's narrator, Stevens, is a perfect English butler who tries to give his narrow existence form and meaning through the self-effacing, almost mystical practice of his profession. In a career that spans the second World War, Stevens is oblivious of the real life that goes on around him -- oblivious, for instance, of the fact that his aristocrat employer is a Nazi sympathizer. Still, there are even larger matters at stake in this heartbreaking, pitch-perfect novel -- namely, Stevens' own ability to allow some bit of life-affirming love into his tightly repressed existence.

I agree this is a perfect novel. Short and perfectly executed. The writing was direct and flowing, just as Stevens, the butler, rarely ever said the wrong thing, so is it with Ishiguro's writing - nothing superfluous, nothing wordy, it was all just right. I marveled at how well this book flowed and I devoured it in one day.

Many years ago I saw this movie when it first came out, starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. I liked the movie then, but it has been so long ago I didn't remember all of it, except the gist of the story. In reading this book, it all came back to me, and I realized just how perfect the casting in that movie was. The movie was completely faithful to this little gem of a story. I must say I loved this short novel even more than the movie.

This is the story of Stevens, the butler. He has served Lord Darlington of Darlington Hall for over 30 years, but now finds himself in 1956 with a new employer, Mr. Farraday, an American gentleman who has bought Darlington Hall after the death of Lord Darlington three years previously. Stevens is at a crossroads in his career, possibly leading up to his retirement. Can he learn the simple art of banter and clever witticisms for his new master? Would it be dignified to converse with him in this way? This is just one of the many things that is on Stevens mind as he sets out on a sojourn to the West Country to visit the former housekeeper of Darlington Hall, who he hopes he might be able to convince to come back and work for them. On his motor trip, Stevens reflects on his past days as a butler, and what it means to be a great butler - he concludes that one of the essential characteristics of a great butler is "dignity."

The rest of book is beautifully written to show examples of what this dignity and courage under fire mean to a butler. He gives an account of Stevens father, once (as his son believes) a great butler himself. He tells of an instance in which another butler had to remove a tiger from under a dining room table in India before his employer's guests will come in to eat dinner. An amusing tale that sums it all up to the reader of how a butler should conduct himself, no matter how much stress he may be under. In an extremely poignant part of the story, Stevens must face his own test, a turning point in his career, when he must show that same aplomb and "unruffled" poise while overseeing a great and important dinner at Darlington Hall while knowing that his father is most likely dying upstairs in his attic rooms. It was very touching to me and brought tears to my eyes. Stevens might come across as cold on the outside, but the fact his own father had been a great butler, Stevens realizes his father would have wanted him to carry on and not fall apart - to have things well in hand - no matter what else was happening to him personally.

Another aspect of the story is Stevens relationship with the housekeeper, Miss Kenton. We realize that after working together for over 10 years, they develop a professional relationship, that, at one point (on her part) took a new direction - she must have felt she was in love with him. He doesn't realize this until much, much later after he reflects on things and she has been long gone and married. So often, what might seem so obvious to the reader completely went over his head when it came to Miss Kenton. Often, he was so concerned with the running of Darlington Hall, he was oblivious to human emotions - or refused to acknowledge them - when he had more pressing matters to contend with in attending to his post for the master of the house.

There's an instance in the book in which Darlington's political friends ask Stevens a lot of complicated questions about the world economy, questions he would obviously not know the answer to. Stevens has no idea of the answers and says something like, "I'm sorry I cannot help you in that matter, sir." This continues while they smirk and chuckle, and finally they explain to him why they were asking him these questions that sounded like they were deliberately trying to make him look stupid. They were using him as an analogy, stating that they felt the average person has no right in deciding and creating policies in the world in which they know nothing about, it should be left to the experts. They were wrong, of course. It was cruel the way they used Stevens this way to get their point across, but they weren't just doing it to be mean, they were doing it to try and prove a point. Later Darlington apologized to Stevens, for he realized it was wrong. But, that was part of Darlington's problem, he should have stopped it before it even happened. Stevens was too good a butler to say anything, he looked at it as another test for himself to remain dignified no matter how perplexing or humiliating the situation. He didn't take it personally.

Stevens loyalty to Darlington is unswerving before and after his death, even when it is obvious to anyone with eyes that Darlington was naively helping the Nazis. Although, Stevens does have a hard time in telling people he worked for Darlington after Darlington's death, due to all the publicity and bad press his former employer underwent after the war - libeled as a Nazi sympathizer. He did not want to have any disagreable conversations with people about his former employer and hear him castigated. Darlington had believed he was being honourable, helping to preserve peace in Europe (this is in the 1930's) when really he was just an amateurish pawn, (as an obnoxious American senator called him) used by the Nazis to create sympathy for Germany in England. Stevens view is if his master was doing everything for honour and what he believed was to save Europe and keep peace, then who was he to judge. There was dignity in what his master was doing - no matter how clueless he was in regard to Germany's ulterior motives. But, is that enough? Is honour a good enough reason to excuse less than honourable behavior? Stevens reflects upon this in his own position as well.

No doubt about it, the servant classes were mistreated by many back in the good old days of England, but not by all, and I would not say that this book was depressing, focusing only on the mistreatment of servants. It was more of one man's reflections and self enlightenment - his realization that there is more to the world than just being a great butler. He learns that he needs to lighten up. He realizes upon reflection that he doesn't have to act like a robot - that it's okay to banter, as his new boss is trying to get him to do. He realized he probably missed quite a bit in his life with Miss Kenton and his father dying trying to live up to that dignified ideal of what makes a great butler.

This was a short novel, less than 250 pages, but it is so worth reading. It doesn't have to be long to be good. It's a wonderful book that was a pleasure to read. Now, I must rent the movie and re-watch it again after all these years!


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas

Book Description:
Four young ladies enter London society with one common goal: they must use their feminine wit and wiles to find a husband. So a daring husband-hunting scheme is born.

Annabelle Peyton, determined to save her family from disaster, decides to use her beauty and wit to tempt a suitable nobleman into making an offer of marriage. But Annabelle's most intriguing -- and persistent -- admirer, wealthy, powerful Simon Hunt, has made it clear that while he will introduce her to irresistible pleasure he will not offer marriage. Annabelle is determined to resist his unthinkable proposition ... but it is impossible in the face of such skillful seduction.

Her friends, looking to help, conspire to entice a more suitable gentleman to offer for Annabelle, for only then will she be safe from Simon -- and her own longings. But on one summer night, Annabelle succumbs to Simon's passionate embrace and tempting kisses ... and she discovers that love is the most dangerous game of all.

This is the second Lisa Kleypas book that I've read. Again the Magic was the first in this Wallflower Series by her and I loved it! Unfortunately this one wasn't as good for me. There just didn't seem to be that same excitement as in the other one.

The first part of the book took a long time to get interesting between Annabelle and Hunt. Mostly it sets the scene for Annabelle's reasons why she has to marry for money - not easy when you don't have a dowry. She first meets Simon Hunt two years earlier in the prologue and experiences this searing kiss from him in the dark and never forgets it. Two years later once she's been out already in her 4th season, and pretty much considered over the hill, he pursues her, but is it as his mistress or as his bride? Even though he's fabulously wealthy, it's nouveau money, he's a self made man, the son of a butcher and she looks down her nose at him. She is determined to marry a peer of the realm, even though she finds him disturbingly handsome and virile and - an unforgettable kisser! The main theme of this romance is old money vs. new money in the face of the industrial revolution in England in the 1840's. The aristocrats are resisting the influx of commoners with money, yet at the same time, they need the money since their fortunes are sadly depleted. This parallels with Annabelle's dilemma, will she be able to marry well, or will she become some rich man's mistress to save her family?

Annabelle comes from good blood, but her family is in dire financial straights, and her mother is forced to sleep in secret with this horrible old Lord who pays some of their debts to keep her younger brother in school and Annabelle on the marriage mart. Their only chance is if Annabelle marries well. Annabelle, a wallflower due to her lack of a dowry, becomes friends with four other wallflowers and they plan to help Annabelle catch a husband. Often, Annabelle was described as passionate and stong-willed, yet I didn't see that in her. I don't think her character was really fleshed out all that well and I don't believe she'd ever accept being a wallflower or would allow her mother to sleep with this horrible old Lord if she was as strong willed and stubborn as she is referred to! At a country house party in Hampshire (the same estate as in Again the Magic) Annabelle goes after Lord Kendall, but Simon Hunt is there too, always watching her with that sardonic, amused look on his face. He knows just what she's up to. She sort of half-heartedly goes after Lord Kendall, I wouldn't say she was all that determined, but getting bitten by a snake didn't help her cause either!

One night, purely by accident, Annabelle and Hunt have a passionate moment hiding in the music room (this is the secret of the summer night as in the title) but she vows it was a mistake and it can never happen again. She's still determined to go after Kendall, since things have gotten even more dire with her family and the evil Lord that is tormenting her and her mother is there at the country house party too! But eventually, Annabelle realizes that she can't go through with entrapping Kendall into a compromising position to marry her, and due to a series of events that same evening, she winds up becoming engaged to Hunt instead! I found the whole scenario sort of rushed and Annabelle just gave into him and accepted him too easily. It was just too pat.

The last third of the book is about their marriage and how she has to cope with the fact that she's married a commoner and is not treated the same as if she had married someone from the aristocracy. Even though Simon is fabulously wealthy, he's treated with disdain by the aristocrats. He's a rogue anyway and does nothing to ingratiate himself with their set, except maybe to help them out financially which he probably does to embarrass them. But not all of them disdain them, he's good friends with Lord Westcliff (Marcus from Again the Magic), which is why he is present at the house party in Hampshire. So, even though Annabelle and Hunt have an enjoyable and passion filled marriage, she has to face being snubbed and talked about behind her back (she has a tendency to eavesdrop).

One of the things that bothered me with this story was that it kept reminding me of Gone With the Wind, which I've read upteen times and it is one of my favorite books. Simon Hunt was just like a Rhett Butler in many ways, especially in his description! Then there is Annabelle coping with being snubbed by the aristocratic set because she married a new money commoner. This reminded me so much of when Scarlett married Rhett and began hanging out with all the carpetbaggers, yet was shunned by the respectable, Confederate families in Atlanta. The big difference with Rhett and Hunt is, Rhett actually did come from a good family in Charleston, whereas Hunt came from a decidedly middle class background, which is impossible to overcome in England. Since GWTW is one of my very favorite books, I couldn't help noticing the similarities and it bugged me... but not too much.

All in all, the book wasn't bad by any means, but I think I was spoiled with Again the Magic and expected this one to be better. I'm very much looking forward to the next in the Wallflower Series, which is about the courtship of Marcus, Lord Westcliff and his story!


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Sunrise on the Mediterranean by Suzanne Frank

From Publisher's Weekly
One second, savvy 26-year-old English-American time-traveler Chloe Kingsley is in 1996, the next she finds herself being pulled up from the sea in ancient Israel. In this colorful, well-researched third installment in Chloe's time-traveling adventures (Reflections in the Nile, Shadows on the Aegean), she is transported into biblical times at the beginning of King David's reign. In neighboring Egypt, internecine conflicts surround the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten. The book starts off slowly, as Frank recapitulates the previous stories and explains how Chloe, a contemporary artist and one-time U.S. Air Force pilot, and Cheftu, her husband, a 19th-century French doctor whom she met on a previous time travel trip, have become separated. Added to this already convoluted setup is the character of RaEm, a dangerous ancient Egyptian woman who has been inhabiting Chloe's body in the 20th century and who is now stuck with Cheftu in the same time period as Chloe, on a deserted island somewhere near Egypt. The tale picks up steam once the author is fully embarked on her quest to fill some crucial gaps in ancient history via an intriguing plot in which people with modern knowledge interact with important historical figures. Chloe assists David's people in the invasion of the city that becomes Jerusalem, and designs the symbolic star of David; Cheftu becomes scribe to King David and a writer of the Old Testament; and RaEm connives to become Pharaoh's co-regent and attempts to use 20th-century scholarship to make a frightening change in the course of history. The juxtaposition of modern-day observations and expressions and archaic situations ("there was no direct translation for my words: Duh!") gives a good shot of humor to the clever, suspenseful narrative.

I thought this was the dullest of the series, having read the first two books in it. This one just didn't grab me. Maybe it's because my biblical history is a bit sketchy, harkening back to my Sunday School days when I was in 2nd great and learning about Yahweh and the Israelites.

A slow beginning, as usual it takes a little time to become accustomed to the period that Chloe and Cheftu have traveled to. Then they have to find each other, at least in the book it didn't take forever, and this time Chloe is in her own skin with red hair and pale white skin. Their reunion is a bit anti-climatic, but things pick up once they do, but they both become slaves! And have their ears pierced with 1/4 inch holes and chains put through them - major bummer! But, eventually they are able to show they are worth more to David and his men than just slaves and are given the opportunity to regain their freedom (separately, Chloe's mission to help the Israelites capture Jerusalem was probably the best part of the whole book.) After that they become close friends with David and witness the formation of Jerusalem.

Much of this book is devoted to the Jewish faith and the Chosen people and the formation of Zion. Many stories from the bible are recognizable and explained, particularly of David, and we get a sense of where many stories of the bible were tales handed down orally from generation to generation until finally they were captured by scribes (Cheftu being one of them) for posterity. As interesting as this might be for some, I found it pretty dry, and there wasn't much excitement or action. Plus, I got a little tired of reading about how Chloe was "living" the Bible. It seemed like much of the book was Chloe and Cheftu living as man and wife in a house, working long hours, eating, making love and falling asleep. Dullsville.

Some of the side plotlines were more interesting with RaEm in Egypt and the now immortal Dion from the last book reappearing, still as much in love with Cheftu as ever. This book has put me so off the series that I think I'm going to wait before reading the next one.

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