Saturday, August 30, 2008

Son of the Morning by Linda Howard

Book Description:
A scholar specializing in ancient manuscripts, Grace St. John never imagined that a cache of fragile, old documents she discovered was the missing link to a lost Celtic treasure. But as soon as she deciphers the intriguing legend of the Knights of the Templar -- long fabled to hold the key to unlimited power -- Grace becomes the target of a ruthless killer bent on abusing the coveted force. Determined to stop him, Grace needs the help of a celebrated warrior bound by duty to uphold the Templar's secret for all eternity. But to find him -- and to save herself -- she must go back in time.

Summoning the magic of an arcane ritual, Grace steps back to the barren hills of 14th-century Scotland, enduring the perils of an untamed land to confront Black Niall, a fierce man of dark fury and raw, unbridled desire. Driven by a mix of fear and passion, Grace enlists this brazen knight to join her in a modern-day search for a killer. In their quest to protect a timeless secret, they uncover a love for all time -- and a deadly duel of honor that risks everything they have.

Outlander meets the Da Vinci Code?  Whatever is - I really loved this book!

It was so exciting and not what I expected at all. It starts out like a thriller a la Grisham's The Pelican Brief. Grace St. John a scholar in medieval languages and archeology witnesses the murder of her brother and husband and must go on the run in order not to be murdered herself by the evil Foundation that is in search of the lost treasure of the Knights of Templar. The book has elements of The Da Vinci Code in the Templar respect. But, then at the same time, this is a Scottish highlander time travel romance! Kniall is a true alpha hero Scottish warrior that is a former Knight of the Templar in 1322 and he is also the designated Guardian of the Treasure, kept at his Scottish Castle. He and Grace have a certain kind of telepathy going in their dreams of which are sexy and erotic. She is translating documents and old manuscripts that describe him and she can't get him out of her mind. Last but not least, I found some similarities in this story to the movie, "Nurse Betty" with Grace being hunted down by two of the Foundation's henchmen who want her dead. While Grace is on the run and fighting off the henchman she makes a few friends who are interesting, a computer geek and her colorful landlady, a former call girl who becomes her confidante, Harmony. The majority of the book is following Grace and her transformation from sendentary slightly overweight scholar to tough, lithesome, street savvy commando (think the girl in "The Terminator Part II".)

In the last third of the book, Grace must travel back in time to be with Kniall in order to save the Treasure from the evil Parrish (head of the Foundation.) We learn about Kniall and his life as a warrior and the Guardian and the history of the Templars and finally the culmination of when Grace and Kniall finally meet face to face - which is not exactly the "reunion" we've been waiting for, but eventually they have a very, very, steamy sexy night together. Kniall must travel forward in time to defeat the evil Foundation as well and he comes face to face with Parrish - exciting stuff!

I thought the whole thing was very entertaining. A few loopholes, but who cares? This was a riveting thriller of a time travel novel and I ate it up - all while on my non-stop flight from California to Newark. I highly recommend it!


Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Book Description:
Steinbeck's tough yet charming portait of people on the margin of society, dependent on one another for both physical and emotional survival.

Published in 1945, Cannery Row focuses on the acceptance of life as it is: both the exuberance of community and the loneliness of the individual.

Drawing on his memories of the real inhabitants of Monterey, California, Steinbeck interweaves the stories of Doc, Henri, Mack and his boys, and the other characters in this world where only the fittest survive, to create a novel that is at once one of his most humorous and most poignant works. In her thoughtful introduction, Shillinglaw shows how it expresses, both in style and theme, much that is essentially Steinbeck: "scientific detachment, empathy toward the lonely and depressed...and, at the darkest level...the terror of isolation and nothingness."

This is one of those classic books I've heard about forever yet had never gotten around to reading. A short novel (less than 200 pages), this is Steinbeck's ode to Monterey, California, set in the 1940's. At first it comes across as a group of antitodes and vignettes about the various low life characters that live along Cannery Row. As is customary to Steinbeck, they are the down and out types, the dregs of society. They all have their foibles and problems, yet in Cannery Row we like them. They may be drunks or whores or homeless types, but they have endearing qualities about them that make up for their shortcomings.

The story centers around Doc, a marine biologist, who is the only really normal character in the book (on the surface.) Everyone loves Doc and a group of men that are virtually homeless decided they want to throw him a party. Things get out of hand and the surprise party winds up starting without Doc (at his lab) and the place is trashed. Doc comes back to find a mess on his hands. They all meant well but as soon as they start drinking, they just lose their focus, not unlike today's drug addicts who can't get their acts together when they're doing drugs, but always have good intentions and mean well and tell themselves they're going to kick their habit. Steinbeck's people here are just existing in their own little tidepool. They don't have big dreams and aspirations, they just are trying to survive day to day without really doing much of anything.

All in all, this was a short little snapshot of life in Monterey when life was a lot simpler. I enjoyed reading this, since I was visiting Monterey at the time I was reading it. Steinbeck has a simple straighforward way of writing. He's not overly wordy and bogged down with details. It's a simple life he describes, but you get the point and feel of it. At times the book was humorous (Mack and his denizens) and other times it was a bit poignant (will Doc always be alone?) A worthwhile book that won't take much time to read, but a good example of Steinbeck's style and descriptions of the good natured but hopeless riff raff along the water.


The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn

Book Description:
1814 promises to be another eventful season, but not, This Author believes, for Anthony Bridgerton, London's most elusive bachelor, who has shown no indication that he plans to marry. And in all truth, why should he? When it comes to playing the consummate rake, nobody does it better...

--Lady Whistledown's Society Papers, April 1814

But this time the gossip columnists have it wrong. Anthony Bridgerton hasn't just decided to marry--he's even chosen a wife! The only obstacle is his intended's older sister, Kate Sheffield--the most meddlesome woman ever to grace a London ballroom. The spirited schemer is driving Anthony mad with her determination to stop the betrothal, but when he closes his eyes at night, Kate's the woman haunting his increasingly erotic dreams...

Contrary to popular belief, Kate is quite sure that reformed rakes to not make the best husbands--and Anthony Bridgerton is the most wicked rogue of them all. Kate's determined to protect her sister--but she fears her own heart is vulnerable. And when Anthony's lips touch hers, she's suddenly afraid she might not be able to resist the reprehensible rake herself...

This is book 2 in the Bridgerton books and I really enjoyed it! I've been away on vacation and finished this on the plane to California, so my memory is a bit sketchy, since I read this 10 days ago.

Set in Regency Times, this is Anthony Bridgerton's story (older brother to Daphne Bridgerton from The Duke and I who has a few cameos in this book). Anthony believes it's high time he married and had an heir for he is convinced that he's going to die at a young age like his father. Now that Anthony is around 30 he goes looking for a bride and finds one, Edwina Sheffield. She's beautiful, young, untouched and the most popular girl of the season (and a secret bluestocking too). Her older sister, Kate, who is only 21, but virtually a spinster in society, takes an instant dislike to Anthony, who has had a scathing reputation as a rake (but really he's an honorable man). Anthony realizes to get to Kate's sister and her approval so that he can marry the younger sister.

Lots of mayhem ensues, a funny croquet game, a bee sting and a rolicking dog chase and dunking in the Serpentine. Kate is a refreshing, charming and funny heroine. You're rooting for the two of them to get together and for Anthony to realize that Kate is the one for him. Eventually, due to being caught in a compromising (but innocent) situation, they must marry. They manage to overcome their differences as a new husband and wife and Anthony is finally able to come to terms with his belief that he'll die young.

Aside from the steamy sex and comedic touches to this romance, the author has a way of bringing poignancy to the story. You feel for Violet (the mother of all these Bridgerton siblings) and how she must have felt upon losing her husband at such a young age. Anthony's fear of dying young brings some depth and humanity to his character, no matter how misguided his belief is.

I had a good time reading this and look forward to all the rest of the series. Ms. Quinn is becoming one of my favorite Regency authors!


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Lush Life by Richard Price

From Publishers Weekly Master of the Bronx and Jersey projects, Price (Clockers) turns his unrelenting eye on Manhattan's Lower East Side in this manic crescendo of a novel that explores the repercussions of a seemingly random shooting. When bartender Ike Marcus is shot to death after barhopping with friends, NYPD Det. Matty Clark and his team first focus on restaurant manager and struggling writer Eric Cash, who claims the group was accosted by would-be muggers, despite eyewitnesses saying otherwise. As Matty grills Eric on the still-hazy details of the shooting, Price steps back and follows the lives of the alleged shooters—teenagers Tristan Acevedo and Little Dap Williams, who live in a nearby housing project—as well as Ike's grieving father, Billy, who hounds the police even as leads dwindle. As the intersecting narratives hurtle toward a climax that's both expected and shocking, Price peels back the layers of his characters and the neighborhood until all is laid bare. With its perfect dialogue and attention to the smallest detail, Price's latest reminds readers why he's one of the masters of American urban crime fiction.

"I'm not superstitious or anything, but that thing I pulled this morning? I have a real bad feeling it's going to come back and bite me in the ass."

An understatement. Ike, the victim, has no idea just how prophetic those words really are.

This is a crime story set in the lower East Side of Manhattan, somewhere around the East Village, Katz's Deli, 1 Police Plaza - that general area. This is the only thing I've read of Price and I must say after getting through the initial confusion in the first 25 pages of 'where is this going' I loved it. The street talk, the New York location, the every day life of the cops and detectives on the trail of a murderer, confessions, interrogations, cop slang, and the fact you really feel you're in this book, in it's world, in it's pages, it captures you and you just keep reading until it's over.

The story of a murder at 4:30 AM, the murder of a white guy with his two friends, all drunk, after a night of work and then bar hopping. A supposed mugging gone bad, misinformation, chasing the wrong guy and then the police are on the trail of who really did it. We're introduced to the main characters, Eric, he works in a restaurant, going no where, 35 years old, would be actor/writer, not much of a life going on. Is he telling the truth? Did he kill Ike? Matty, a big beefy Irishman middle-aged detective who's working on the case. He's got his own set of problems. Yolanda, a Latina detective also on the case. She's the queen of interrogators, makes the young kids fall for her and trust her, she can get a confession out of anyone. Then there's 17 year old Tristan, lives in the projects and is enthralled by his .22 pistol, hoping to get in with the brutal cool crowd, but only winds up getting himself in a mess, time is running out for him, he's blown it for himself all from a reckless action in a split second.

The whole story takes place in less than 2 weeks, most of it really in only a few days. We're on the murder trail and soaking up the atmosphere of the lower East Side. The Williamsburg Bridge, the Quality of Life driving by, life in the projects. This is a fast paced book, but at times it slows down and we witness the heartache the victim's father is going through, the media seekers, restaurateurs -and the cops.

In some ways this book reminded me a bit of Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, only I liked it much more, but there are some similarities. Price has done his research, he knows this world and it's language. A worthwhile read if you're into gritty detective crime type novels or even if you're not, but want to get a small peek into the world of the lower East Side and it's denizens.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

It Happened One Autumn by Lisa Kleypas

Book Description:
It happened at the ball . . .

Where beautiful but bold Lillian Bowman quickly learned that her independent American ways weren't entirely "the thing." And the most disapproving of all was insufferable, snobbish, and impossible Marcus, Lord Westcliff, London's most eligible aristocrat.

It happened in the garden . . .

When Marcus shockingly—and dangerously-swept her into his arms. Lillian was overcome with a consuming passion for a man she didn't even like. Time stood still; it was as if no one else existed . . . thank goodness they weren't caught very nearly in the act!

It happened one autumn . . .

Marcus was a man in charge of his own emotions, a bedrock of stability. But with Lillian, every touch was exquisite torture, every kiss an enticement for more. Yet how could he consider taking a woman so blatantly unsuitable . . . as his bride?

Another delightful Lisa Kleypas steamy romance! I like this one better than the first in the Wallflower Series. This one is Marcus's story, brother of Olivia and Alina from Again the Magic. Rich, staid, aristocratic and dependable Marcus finally meets his match in Lillian Bowman, a rich, brash American heiress who has bothered him from the first day they met. They are repelled by each other at first, but in this book, thanks to a "magic" perfume of Lillian's that turns Marcus on his head with desire, they find each other irresistible, despite the fact they both believe they can't possibly be meant for each other.

I really enjoyed this book and loved the funny, yet steamy encounters between Lillian and Marcus. Plus, I love these sort of stories in which the aristocrat falls for the unsuitable American girl. I really liked Lillian and her sparkle and fearless personality. But, she has her downfalls, one scene was very funny over dinner involving calf's brains. Westcliff is irritated by Lillian and they're always squabbling, but at the same time, he is drawn to her and can't bear to see her with anyone else!

The plot was a good one: Marcus resists Lillian, but can't help kissing her any chance he gets alone with her! She thinks it's from her perfume and doesn't believe he really cares for her. Meanwhile, the rake, Lord St. Vincent is in need of an heiress and sets his sights on Lillian as well. He is smooth, handsome and has a terrible reputation with the ladies - but an old friend of Marcus' so he's on the scene a lot. Will he capture Lillian and make her his wife? There was an exciting ending, plenty of hot premarital sex, and a happy ending with a total cliffhanger for the next book!

I recommend this series, this was a fun read!


Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

Book Description:
Look into the lace... When the eyes begin to fill with tears and the patience is long exhausted, there will appear a glimpse of something not quite seen... In this moment, an image will begin to form... in the space between what is real and what is only imagined. Can you read your future in a piece of lace? All of the Whitney women can. But the last time Towner read, it killed her sister and nearly robbed Towner of her own sanity. Vowing never to read lace again, her resolve is tested when faced with the mysterious, unsolvable disappearance of her beloved Great Aunt Eva, Salem's original Lace Reader. Told from opposing and often unreliable perspectives, the story engages the reader's own beliefs. Should we listen to Towner, who may be losing her mind for the second time? Or should we believe John Rafferty, a no nonsense New York detective, who ran away from the city to a simpler place only to find himself inextricably involved in a psychic tug of war with all three generations of Whitney women? Does either have the whole story? Or does the truth lie somewhere in the swirling pattern of the lace?

A good story, thoughtful and well paced, as intricate as the lace is front and center in the book. On the surface it seems simple enough, a mystery of what happens to a woman who is lost, but just when you think you know what is going on in the story, the twisty ending gets you and you find nothing is as it seems. I found it enjoyable to read (in a day, hard to put down). The tales of colonial Salem and it's witch hunts parallel this modern day plotline. In addition, there is the general feeling of ghosts and an otherwordliness plus the themes of family secrets, incest and of the unusual bonds between twins (like The Thirteenth Tale, reviewed previously).

Towner Whitney is the main character, having just had a hysterectomy she is summoned to return home from California, where she has lived for the past 15 years. Her beloved great-aunt Eva has disappeared. We meet the various members of the Whitney family, and learn about how quirky they are, considered by many in Salem to be modern-day witches, though really they are more like "seers" who can tell the future by reading lace. The beginning of each chapter in the book recounts a lesson on lace reading.

Her mother, Mae, lives on a small island near Salem, called Yellow Dog Island (it is overrun by semi-wild Golden Retrievers, of all things - owning one myself, it had to make me smile.) She runs a refuge for battered women and instructs them on how to weave lace which helps with their recovery. By rescuing them, her set up is likened to The Underground Railroad by helping them get away from their former lives, not unlike the way runaway slaves were aided in the 19th century. Towner has grown up on this island most of her life with her sister, Lindley. We learn that Lindley killed herself as a teenager and Towner has many secrets and inner demons trying to cope with her death. She's had a long hard struggle, mentally, to overcome survivor guilt and now must return to Salem and have all those old memories dredged up again.

This was a fascinating read, not only does the setting make you want to go to Salem (if you haven't already) but it is evocative of the New England location, you can easily picture yourself out on the water in the Whaler going back and forth to the Island, or in Aunt Eva's grand house, the setting of her teas and lace readings. Another unique setting is the shop of local resident witch, Ann Chase. Her shop is where she sells herbs and oils and tells fortunes. All the characters are interesting in and of themselves and have their own little histories or crosses to carry. But of all them, Towner has the hardest time of it. She becomes friends with Detective Rafferty who is trying to solve the case of what happened to Eva, and another runaway girl, Angela, who has gotten herself mixed up and pregnant with the local cult that call themselves Calvinists. Coincidentally, the sect is lead by Towner's brutal and horrifying uncle Cal, (Lyndley's father). Cal was married to Towner's aunt Emma, whom he brutalized and beat up repeatedly, until finally blinding her. Now mentally incapable of taking care of herself, she lives with Mae on the Island in in her own world of peace and quiet, never to be able to read lace again - if she ever could.

Still with me here?

Everything expertly comes together by the end, with a heart pounding escape and the opening and healing of old wounds and a satisfying ending, though completely unexpected - at least to me. I must admit, I was confused and had to really re-think things after I finished it. I'm not exactly sure about a few things, one being, "who jumped off the cliff?" I think I know, but I'm not positive. A lot is left up to the reader to figure it out once you know the truth behind the story.

Overall, this was really interesting and a good read, and worth a re-read for me just to get it all straight for my own peace of mind *grin* Completely original to me and a great first effort by this author. I'll be interested in reading what else she writes in the future.


Friday, August 1, 2008

The Duke Next Door by Celeste Bradley

Book Description:
The dangerously beautiful Deirdre Cantor is determined to inherit her grandfather's vast fortune. All she needs is to marry a duke...and be the first granddaughter to walk down the aisle. So when the proper Calder Marbrook, the Marquis of Brookhaven and future Duke of Brookmoor, is abandoned at the alter, Deirdre makes it her business to become his wife--in spite of the whispers about his past.

Soon Deirdre's visions of a lavish existence with the handsome Calder are shattered when she learns his shocking secret. Feeling betrayed, Deirdre seeks revenge by playing a perilous and seductive game of cat and mouse with her husband that threatens to drive them both to the heights of passion. But at what cost? Calder is determined to keep his secret under lock and key--and to make his stunning wife his in every way that matters. Even if it means winning her heart all over again...

This is the 2nd in the Heiress Brides series, the first being, Desperately Seeking a Duke which I liked. This one was even better. I'm rediscovering regency romances and I've decided I like this author. Her characters thoughts are funny and I find them endearing.

Calder has a big secret that his new bride, Deirdre, finds out about on their wedding day. He has a nine year old daughter who is less than thrilled about having a new stepmother. Meggie and Deirdre do not hit it off at first, but eventually the two of them become allies in their war against Calder.

Deirdre has always had a tendre for Calder, ever since she first saw him when she was only 16. Once they are married, there's the instant physical attraction between them, but there is always something that prevents them from getting together, whether it's an interruption of some kind (like a large explosion) or a misunderstanding or argument. Their wedding night never happens, but you're wishing it did since the few close encounters these two have are electrifying, you know when it happens it will be big! The most annoying thing about these two is they don't communicate. He's inwardly lusting after her all the time, but can't voice his emotions or wants. She's lusting after him all the time too, but she thinks he doesn't love her and she wants him to love her, not just want her body. Eventually they get together, only another misunderstanding happens soon afterwards (like what happened in the first book.) that leads to further angst and complications - but a hot sex scene too! There's a big ending with a chase and a rescue and someone gets shot. I like the humor in these books and the sex is hot and leaves you dying for more of the same.

This also has more on the secret longings of Calder's butler Fortescue and his secret attraction to the red-headed Irish lady's maid, Patricia, who is teaching how to read - the better to be along together. There's a brief scene with the very talented gay dressmaker that was in the first as well - he is ingenious and knows just what to say and tells these young girls what to do. I like him and the effect he has on his clients. I think he'll play a larger part in Book 3. Aunt Tessa is in this two, Deirdre's bitchy stepmother. Luckily, Deirdre sends her packing and we don't see her again after that - but she might turn up in the next book for some kind of revenge, she is a colossal bitch.

I'm looking forward to reading the third in this trilogy, funny, sexy and a nice quick, easy read. I recommend it.

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