Sunday, December 28, 2008

TBR Challenge

The rules developed by MizB

* the challenge is to read 12 TBR books in 12 months -- you can read those all in one month if you want, or one a month, or however you wanna do it.
* you need to have a list posted somewhere for others to see (even if it's in a comment here)
* you CANNOT change your list after January 1st, 2009!!!
* you can create an Alternates list of MAXIMUM 12 books, if you want, in order to have options to choose from (you can read these in place of books on your original list).
* audiobooks and e-books ARE allowed
* re-reads are NOT allowed, as they aren't TRUE "TBRs"
* you CAN overlap with other challenges

If this is something that you would like to participate in you can sign up at 2009 TBR Sign up.

Here is my TBR List for 2009:

1. House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
2. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
3. The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
4. Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde
5. Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett
6. The Summer Garden by Paullina Simons
7. Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen
8. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy Emmuska
9. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
10. Across a Wild Sea by Sasha Lord
11. Desolation Island by Patrick O'Brian
12. The Sword Maiden by Susan King

My Alternatives:
1. Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman
2. Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine
3. Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati
4. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
5. A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught
6. Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy
7. Sick of Shadows by Sharyn Mccrumb
8. Hornblower and the Atropos by C.S. Forester
9. The Heaven Tree by Edith Pargeter
10. Assassin's Quest by Robin Hobb
11. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
12. Shield of Three Lions by Pamela Kaufman

Wish me luck and come back every so often to read the reviews of these books (though I hope to be reading a lot more than just on this list!)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn (beware of spoilers!)

Book Description:
Penelope Featherington has secretly adored her best friend's brother for...well, it feels like forever. After half a lifetime of watching Colin Bridgerton from afar, she thinks she knows everything about him, until she stumbles across his deepest secret...and fears she doesn't know him at all.

Colin Bridgerton is tired of being thought nothing but an empty-headed charmer, tired of everyone's preoccupation with the notorious gossip columnist Lady Whistledown, who can't seem to publish an edition without mentioning him in the first paragraph. But when Colin returns to London from a trip aboard he discovers nothing in his life is quite the same -- especially Penelope Featherington! The girl haunting his dreams. But when he discovers that Penelope has secrets of her own, this elusive bachelor must she his biggest threat -- or his promise of a happy ending?

I loved this story!

I have been looking forward to reading this book, ever since I first started reading this Regency series about the Bridgerton's, and I knew this story about Colin would be great. It was funny, poignant, surprising and had a great ending! Julia Quinn has done it again! I guess I should stop being surprised, she gets me every time - and once again, I had one of those tears in my eyes moments at her wonderful ending. She is one of my favorite romance authors.

This is the story of Penelope Featherington, 28 year old spinster who has been in love with charming Colin Bridgerton since she was 16 years old (a memorable opening scene). Penelope is a close friend to the Bridgerton family, and has known Colin for years, but it's not until he returns from Cyprus (one of his many trips abroad) that the two of them become better friends, and before long, Colin begins to see Penelope in a different light. No longer the lonely wallflower he knew from years ago that he felt sorry for and asked to dance. She has blossomed into a clever and witty and pretty young woman - with a big secret.

I loved their courtship. Colin is charming! But, he has insecurities and anxieties just like anyone else. He wants some purpose in his life. He doesn't want to be known as "charming Colin Bridgerton." He wants to be able to do something well and receive the recognition for it from his peers. Penelope unexpectedly comes across one of his travel journals and reads a page from it. A great reader herself, she recognizes that he has a talent and flair for writing and tells him so. (I loved the excerpts from his journals too - very entertaining to read them!) After getting over his initial anger that she read his diary, he succumbs to her flattery over his writing (what author hasn't?) and becomes dumb with delight! Suddenly, he sees Penelope in a whole new way - it's amazing what a little flattery can do! Now, at first I was a little put off by this. I thought, he's not really falling for Penelope for herself, it's because she's complimented him on his travel journals and has told him he should get them published. That can turn anyone's head. But, over time, he does seem to realize he loves her, but it's slow coming and it takes him a while to work it out in his head. I like the idea he had to deliberate over this, and asked his sister Daphne for her opinion. He's unsure of himself and his feelings. He's vulnerable at first, but by the end he's clear about his feelings and wants the whole world to know how he feels about Penelope - a great moment in the book!

Penelope is slow and steady in her love for Colin. She's loved him forever and never wavered in her feelings for him. But, she is also her own woman and feels she must do what her concience tells her to do. I felt for her. Penelope has come a long way. I love to read this kind of story where a shy or unattractive young girl finally comes into her own and blossoms. I also enjoyed her relationship with Lady Danbury, a crotchety old dowager who decides to make Penelope one of her pet projects. It was moving and tugged at my heartstrings to read about Penelope's happy ending.

There is much more to this story than just one particular plotline though. One of the most enjoyable parts of this series is Lady Whistledown's column which is a gossip column about the ton. She is scathing, insulting and irreverent - but she is almost always right. Who is she? I had my suspicions in the previous books, but I was wrong. In this book we find out who it is, and it's a big surprise. I won't spoil it here, but I loved the way it was all masterfully brought about from beginning to end. It made this a very special book. I can't stress enough that this series should be read in order, otherwise you won't appreciate Lady Whistledown's column as much.

I won't go into much more detail here because it's too difficult without tons of spoilers, but I'll just say that this was my favorite book of the series so far. As usual, there is some psychological business and depth that has to be dealt with on the part of the hero, which is characteristic in this series. I think it puts it in a class above the usual romances out there. This book in particular was so well written and humorous. The love scenes are few and not over the top, but they are tender and sexy and Colin is oh so swoonworthy. A great read! Do yourself a favor and read this series, you won't be sorry!


Btw, this was the 100th book I read this year!

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Time for Dreams by Jen Holling

Book Description:
A Passion So Intense it frightened her...
intrigued her...
consumed her...
and called to her from another time.

What would possess an intelligent, self-sufficient woman to step into a world of magic and mystery, a dangerous land of intrigue and suspicion, a time far removed from her own?

After years of uncertainty, Audrey Williams could no longer ignore the beckoning from the man in her recurring dream. Brenden Ross, heir to an earldom, is about to embark on an ill-fated crusade to rescue Mary, Queen of Scots, and somehow Audrey must stop him.

Breaking free from the bonds of time, Audrey is plunged into the turbulent world of sixteenth-century Scotland where she will finally meet Brenden face-to-face. But once her eyes meet his, their hearts are bound as one, and their lives--and history--will never be the same.

Having read some of this author's more current romances that were kind of on the light side, I was pleasantly surprised to read this engrossing historical romance set in the 1500's in Scotland and England during the time just before Mary, Queen of Scots is executed. Although, this is technically a romance, I'd consider it heavier on the historical side than romance. Brenden and Audrey's romance is complex and frustrating, although neither of their characters were fully developed, in my opinion. I never felt like we really got to know them well. Brenden came across as distant and aloof, we didn't often get inside his head. Audrey had more substance to her, but I still found her bland. In fact, it seemed more like the side characters were more interesting than our hero and heroine!

Audrey seems to be the only person that can see an old corridor when she is 10 years old on a tour with her parents of an old Scottish castle. She walks down the corridor and meets a young lad of sixteen or so. They talk briefly and then she goes back to the tour which she had left. She realizes that she had somehow traveled back in time 400 years, and the boy she met grows up in her dreams. She sees him as a man and has the same disturbing recurring dreams every night for the next 16 years. Little does she know, but he has been having the same kind of dreams about her as well.

As an adult, she finally decides to return to the castle and see if by returning to that same corridor she can make the dreams stop, since they've been driving her crazy. She is able to go back in time and eventually finds Brenden, the boy she met before who is now a man and involved in a plot to try and save Mary, Queen of Scots from being beheaded. Brenden recognizes her instantly and they have a mutual bond - their dreams. They're also physically attracted to one another, but Audrey is hesitent to act on it for fear she'll become pregnant. But, Brendan takes her away with him to his family estate and she meets his family, numerous half-brothers, brothers, his father, his mother and various bad guys and innocent girls accused of witchcraft. It's a whole circus of characters of whom I found interesting - more interesting than Brendan and Audrey.

Audrey feels she was meant to go back in time to save him from trying to save Mary, yet even though she tells him the truth about herself, he still tries to save the queen and Audrey is forced to be a lady in waiting for her before she is executed. Their rescue attempt is foiled and there is tension and excitement, fleeing to avoid the charges of treason, and all the while Audrey wonders if she should return to her own time or stay. She has some honor bound reasons to stay as well, but she's unsure of herself and her love and commitment to Brenden. She has some baggage from a previous marriage that is dragging her down, and Brenden also feels great guilt about not being able to save the queen or one of his famiy members from dying (I'm trying not to reveal any spoilers here). It's all a mish mash and I found it irritating, but at the same time, I was riveted to this book and kept reading, mostly to find out if Audrey returns to her own time and how it is all revealed and wrapped up at the end.

As much as I enjoyed a lot of this book, I did tire of all the men having a thing for Audrey, which got a little predictable. Brenden's father, the Earl of Irvine, a known womanizer who is in his late 40's and attractive takes an instant liking to Audrey. Brendan's charming half-brother, one of his father's bastards, has a thing for her too and it creates tension between the two brothers. Then, there's a jerky captain of the guard who keeps leering at her and trying to molest her. What is it about Audrey? Must be that 20th century air about her they all find irresistible.

Brendan falls for her immediately, but it's unclear how deep his love is. They have this dream bond between them, but is his love based on that bond or is he genuinely in love with her? Why does he love her so much? We never really know, it's not fully developed, and the same thing with Audrey. Audrey's relationships with his brothers seems to be warmer and closer. Audrey always seems to be mad or annoyed with Brenden, and he keeps doing things that don't help. The sex in this book is nothing steamy or graphic, but the build up and sexual tension is good between them, but once they actually "do it" it was too quick and a let down and I was disappointed with the turn of events that follow it. Still, besides the romance between the two, there is other story about why Brenden feels honor bound to try and save the doomed Scots queen, even though it's seemingly hopeless.

If you like historical romances, that aren't of the really steamy variety, especially during this time period, you'll like this book. I found it nice to read a book like this for a change, it was very different from her MacDonell Brides Trilogy. This had more historical detail, intrigue and suspense to it, with a real plot, even though it ran off on tangents at times, which might have been more acceptable if the book were longer. In any event, I still liked it.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Wallflower Christmas by Lisa Kleypas

Book Description:
The Wallflowers are four young ladies in London who banded together in their wild and wickedly wonderful searches for true love. Now happily married, they join together once again to help one of the world's most notorious rogues realize that happiness might be right under the mistletoe...

It's Christmastime in London and Rafe Bowman has arrived from America for his arranged meeting with Natalie Blandford, the very proper and beautiful daughter of Lady and Lord Blandford. His chiseled good looks and imposing physique are sure to impress the lady in waiting and, if it weren't for his shocking American ways and wild reputation, her hand would already be guaranteed. Before the courtship can begin, Rafe realizes he must learn the rules of London society. But when four former Wallflowers try their hand at matchmaking, no one knows what will happen. And winning a bride turns out to be more complicated than Rafe Bowman anticipated, especially for a man accustomed to getting anything he wants. However, Christmas works in the most unexpected ways, changing a cynic to a romantic and inspiring passion in the most timid of hearts.

A Wallflower Christmas takes a trip to Victorian London, under the mistletoe, and on a journey of the heart. With her trademark charm, sensuality, and unforgettable characters, there's no one like Lisa Kleypas to make you believe in the magic of Christmas.

This is a sequel to the Wallflower series, which I just finished a few days ago. I must admit, my timing worked out wonderfully to read this book at this time of year, only days before Christmas! I enjoyed this short novella (213 pages) and it was nice to catch up with the Wallflowers and their respective husbands and find they are all still blissfully in lust love with their husbands and vice versa! Lillian redeemed herself in this book for me, I was getting annoyed with her in the last 2 books, but she did a lot of good turns for Hannah, who was the star of this book.

Hannah is the wallflower companion to the incomparable Natalie Blandford who is being considered as a bride by the rakish and oh so good looking American Rafe Bowman, brother to Lillian and Daisy Bowman (now Lillian, Countess of Westcliff and Daisy Swift).

Rafe's father has ruled he must marry Natalie or forfeit his fortune and future inheritence of his father's soap factory. At first, Rafe arrives in London with the intention of going through with the courtship until he meets shy and unassuming Hannah. It's love at first sight. There is no other accounting for it. Rafe is instantly smitten by her (though, frankly, I don't see why). Hannah is sweet and demure, not overly attractive, so it's not clear what Rafe sees in her, so it must be something chemical or he just wants to see if he can seduce her within 20 minutes of first meeting her. He loses no time in kissing her - deeply - and she doesn't stop him. She knows it's wrong, but he's irresistible and this kissing business (and more) continues while they are together at Stony Cross Manor in Hampshire (where most of the Wallflower series takes place) for the Christmas holidays. Rafe is torn, does he obey his father, do the "right" thing and ask Natalie, who's vivacious and a beauty and a daughter of the peerage (as his father puts it) or throw cares to the wind and seduce, bed, and (maybe) marry Hannah instead and thus lose his father's money (which he doesn't really need anyway.)

Rafe certainly seems hell bent on seducing her and Hannah is just too defenseless to put him off. I kind of had a problem with this. At times I felt like he was forcing himself on her when he really shouldn't have been - it was ungentlemanly and unseemly. Yes, yes, I know, it's a romance! But, I have my standards and I felt sorry for Hannah. She wasn't gorgeous or rich and didn't know what to do. She was falling for Rafe (against her own good judgment) and because of that, she turned down an honest - albeit unromantic and in writing, no less - marriage proposal. She believes that Rafe may love her (based on an indiscreet love letter he wrote and then tried to burn unsuccesfully), or he may just want her for a mistress. What to do? Choose him and turn down the only marriage proposal she may ever get, or refuse to let him "do things" to her since he's probably going to marry Natalie (who I didn't like at all, btw - meow.) Rafe and Hannah seem to be kissing all over the place, it's a wonder they never get caught!

I felt because of the brevity of the book, things were rushed. Rafe and Hannah kiss way to soon, there is no build up. They get hot and heavy very soon too and I just kept thinking, "Hannah, you shouldn't be doing this with him!" Still, I give her credit, she kept her virginity intact until the end of the book, although they weren't married yet. That bachelor annex at the Manor has gotten a lot of mileage in these books!

Without spoiling the ending, I can assure you it all ends tidily and Lisa Kleypas throws in a couple of hot sex scenes with her new and her old characters from the past books to make everyone happy. This was a fun and feel good Christmasy romance that is a must to read for everyone who has read her Wallflower series. I hope she writes a few more!


Monday, December 22, 2008

The Immortal Highlander by Karen Marie Moning

Book Description:
For eons Adam Black has aided humanity and meddled in its affairs, much to the chagrin of the queen of the Seelie Court. He has finally pushed her too far and finds himself, a once powerful Fae, invisible and very human. But he is still as resourceful as ever, and finds a way to reach the queen and plea to have his curse lifted with the help of a young lawyer, Gabrielle O'Callaghan, a human born with the ability to see his kind. As old enemies yearn to take advantage of his weakened state, threatening his life and all existence, Adam discovers that Gabrielle threatens a heart he never thought he had.

This is the 6th in the Highlander saga of books by Moning, and this one revolves around the fae Adam Black that has popped up from time to time in some of the previous books. Adam is over the top. He oozes sex appeal and appears irresistible to any woman within sight. Six and half feet tall, long black hair, golden skin, perfect body with a penchant for leather pants and an eternal hard on. Could he get any better? Unfortunately, he's not human, although when Gabrielle runs into him, he appears to be so, due to a curse that the queen of the faes had put on him. Plus, he's invisible to everyone except Gabrielle, who was born with the capability of seeing faes, (though it's a family secret). If the truth is ever revealed to the fae world she could be hunted down and captured forever.

Does this sound like a typical highlander romance to you? No? It didn't to me either. It had way too many "paranormal" overtones to it for my liking. I like the real thing. A brawny, alpha male who wears a kilt and calls his woman "mine." Although Adam would probably - no, almost certainly - win the "Sexiest Man Alive" poll by People magazine he doesn't have a soul, and I just thought he was too perfect. I got a little tired of all the descriptions of how gorgeous he was and how irresistible he was and how he just exuded manliness and sex appeal with a contant sly smile and smoldering look in his eyes as if he can't wait to tear your clothes off. His constant thoughts of wanting to bed Gabby and all the things he'd do to her there - well, it got kind of old. I like sex just like anyone else - but, this was just over the top and - a whole book like this? Well, I never thought I'd say it, but it was kind of dull.

Gabby, as a heroine wasn't bad, but as usual, she is a virgin who refuses to give into Adam, even though he's making it more and more hard for her to resist him. How many times did we have to hear about the huge bulge in his pants that would never go away? Although the book was entertaining at times, Adam was never a character that I liked all that much in the previous books. He's a devilish rogue fae who's always up to no good. It was hard for me to like him in this book, despite the good deeds that come out that he was responsible for. I think this might have been my least favorite of all the books due to this. Plus, it didn't help that it was the same formulaic ending. Girl meets gorgeous highlander, has awesome sex with him, but must lose him in some way (either he's believed dead or lost in another time) and she must return to her hum drum life in Cincinatti (or wherever she lived previously in the States) and then lo and behold he turns up and surprises her and they have hot sex again! Been there, done that.

This was the third book in the series that ended this way. This time, the two heroines from the last two books encourage Gabby to take a giant leap of faith - they did and lived happily ever after - so Gabby can too. Who knows, maybe your immortal sex God will want you once he regains his immortal fae powers - you must believe! At first, we don't think it will work for Gabby, but as in all romances, we do get the happy ending, I just wish it had been a little different and imaginative and not so similar to the other ones. Some parts were exciting, but overall, this book didn't thrill me. I think there was such a big build up to when Adam and Gabby finally have sex, it was almost a let down.

Give me a mortal man in a kilt instead of leather pants and I'm happy. I don't need fairy tales. *grin*


March 3, 2011 - Updated for Audiobook Review

Upon revisiting this story, this time on audiobook with the masterful Phil Gigante narrating, I've updated my rating solely because I love his voice for Adam Black.  He gives him this sexy sort of lilting accent that is irresistible!  I also appreciate this book much more now that I've read the Fever series.  We're introduced to Daroc who we later meet in the Fever Series and it's good background material for what was happening to the Seelie.  I like Gabby a little bit more here, it's understandable how freaked out she'd be by Adam, although I still think the very ending of this book was a bit sappy and sugary for my own tastes, but overall it's much better on audio than in print.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Scandal in Spring by Lisa Kleypas

Book Description:
After spending three London seasons searching for a husband, Daisy Bowman's father has told her in no uncertain terms that she must find a husband. Now. And if Daisy can't snare an appropriate suitor, she will marry the man he chooses—the ruthless and aloof Matthew Swift.

Daisy is horrified. A Bowman never admits defeat, and she decides to do whatever it takes to marry someone . . . anyone . . . other than Matthew. But she doesn't count on Matthew's unexpected charm . . . or the blazing sensuality that soon flares beyond both their control. And Daisy discovers that the man she has always hated just might turn out to be the man of her dreams.

But right at the moment of sweet surrender, a scandalous secret is uncovered . . . one that could destroy both Matthew and a love more passionate and irresistible than Daisy's wildest fantasies.

I think this was my 2nd favorite of the Wallflower Series, my favorite was the prequel, Again the Magic, but this one was my favorite of the four original books. I didn't expect it to be, Daisy was always the immature one, the one that I didn't really care about in the other books, and I have to really give Lisa Kleypas a hand - she did a great job with this romance! I was under the impression that Daisy was going to wind up with Cam Rohan (from Devil in Winter) and I'm so happy she wound up with Matthew Swift instead! Daisy started out as being described as a head in the clouds, flighty type of heroine. But, over the course of the book we see her mature and transform into a young woman who knows what she wants, and stands strong and by her man! Her life becomes passionate and enthralling, she no longer is in need of her books for excitement.

I really enjoyed seeing how they meet again after many years, and he winds up being this handsome, smart, dependable but oh so attractive American! I love these kind of stories! Of course she despises him at first, but sex appeal takes over and it was really fun to read all about their unorthodox courtship, fun and sexy, a real page turner! I read it in less than a day! Plus, this book had the usual other Wallflowers and their husbands in it too, all taking place in Hampshire at Lord Westcliff's manor. The one fly in the ointment is, I must admit, Daisy's sister, Lillian. She now really gets on my nerves. I liked her a lot in her own story, It Happened One Autumn, but in the rest of the books she is just annoying to me and such a bitch! But, her husband Marcus is still my favorite, with Matthew Swift coming in a close 2nd. There was something about Matthew that I really loved in this book! I found him very appealing, maybe because he came across as more normal than many of the other heroes in this series. Plus, all throughout the story I was dying to find out what his big secret was! And could he have picked out a more appropriate and adorable ring for her? I loved it!

Without giving away any spoilers, I'll just say, this was a heartfelt story from beginning to end. I'm glad to see Daisy found true love with a commoner and an American and that their life will now be happy and settled. No more running away, no more dark secrets. She'll be with her friends, and I found the last page touching, a great finale to this quartet of books! One of my favorite romance series that I've read to date! I highly recommend all of them, Lisa Kleypas consistently writes excellent romances!


Friday, December 19, 2008

Charming the Prince by Teresa Medeiros

Book Description:
Dear Reader,

My enemies know me as Lord Bannor the Bold, Pride of the English and Terror of the French. Never in my life have I backed down from any challenge or betrayed so much as a hint of fear - until the war ended and I found myself a reluctant papa to a dozen unruly children.

Realizing that I couldn't lop their little heads off or throw them in the dungeon, I sent my steward out to find them a mother and me a bride - an attractive, meek, maternal creature too plain to tempt me to get her with child. You can imagine my horror when he returned with Lady Willow of Bedlington, a spirited beauty who made me think of nothing else!

With her cloud of dark curls and the sparkle of passion in her eyes, Willow was everything I'd sworn to resist. I never dreamed she would join forces with those mischievous imps of mine to teach this cynical warrior just how sweet surrender can be.

Bannor the Bold,
Lord of Elsinore

This was a cute romance, but I thought it would be funnier based on the description. It is the first book I've read by this author.

Willow, the heroine grows up to be a Cinderella drudge-type in her family, after her father marries a bitchy woman with six children. Her father doesn't die, but he just doesn't do anything to stop having her wait hand and foot on her step-siblings, and fend off the advances of her lecherous step-brother Stefan. Finally, Willow has her chance to flee her unhappy home when she has the offer of a lord (sight unseen) who wants to wed her, with his steward in his stead to take his place during the actual ceremony. You see, our hero, Bannor, is virtually locked up in his castle, afraid to venture out and risk running in to his 12 unruly children!

Of course, once Willow arrives, the children turn on her, but she winds up winning them over, and they all gang up on Bannor. One of the plotlines that bugged me was his reasoning. It barely made sense. He already has too many kids to handle, but he needs someone in his castle (like a wife) who can take care of them and keep then in line. He wanted his steward to pick out a homely bride, someone who he would not be tempted to bed - he wants no more children! But, Willow turns out to be beautiful. To save her pride, he sics his children on her, hoping they'll convince her that she doesn't want to remain married to him. Well, it all backfires and I never thought it made sense anyway.

But, despite everything, they do fall in love, and there is a sort of sad and poignant tie in at the end when Willow is kidnapped and when Bannor recalls his childhood as a bastard and how he watched his mother freeze to death.

This is a medieval set in England. I prefer the ones in Scotland, I'm actually probably one of the few people out there that like reading Scottish dialects! This romance had some humorous moments, but nothing like you'd expect based on the book description on the back of it. Willow was sort of dull and uninteresting and Bannor just came across as dense sometimes, plus I found all the kids annoying (as they were meant to be, but I still didn't like them!) as well as Willow's obnoxious sister and Bannor's eldest son (though there is a redeeming moment for both of them). There were a few plotlines that I didn't really go along with, they just didn't sit right with me: Bannor's friend, Sir Hollis, winds up falling for the town whore (Netta) and marries her with Bannor's approval (I found that hard to swallow.) Or that he's raising 4 of her children as his own. It just didn't sit right with me. It seems like the whole area believes if they leave a baby at the door of his castle, he'll take it in and raise it as his own. Willow might know it's not his, but the rest of the world will believe they're his bastards. Also, Willow also doesn't seem to mind (or Bannor) that her 13 year old step-sister is canoodling with his 13 year old son. These little "family" issues kind of got lost and glossed over to me. A loose end too, who is his evil step-brother? He was mentioned more than once, and I felt for sure he was going to come in to the storyline at one point, but never did. This was a bit fuzzy.

But in any event, the book wasn't half bad, and I'll read more from this author, her Scottish medievals in particular.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Imposter by Celeste Bradley

Book Description:
It isn't easy moving about Society dressed like a dandy-especially when one is a ruthless spy. But that's precisely the latest mission for Liar's Club agent Dalton Montmorecy. Dalton is posing as Sir Thorogood, the elusive cartoonist whose scathing political caricatures have all of London abuzz. The true identity of Sir Thorogood is a mystery, and Dalton hopes that impersonating him will flush out the real menace before his cartoons do further damage to the Crown. Now, if Dalton could only find a way to get the irksome, yet oddly appealing widow, Clara Simpson, off his trail...

When Clara meets Sir Thorogood at a ball, she's certain he is an impostor-because she's the true Sir Thorogood. Secretly penning the cartoons under the frothy nom de plume, Clara hopes to save enough money so that she can leave her in-laws and find a new residence. Now she is determined to reveal an imposter's identity-and that means doing some undercover work herself. But pretending to be someone you're not has a funny way of making a woman do things she wouldn't ordinarily dream of-even if it drives her straight into the arms of her devilishly handsome adversary!

This is the 2nd in the Liar's Club series, of which I loved the first book, The Pretender.

This one wasn't quite as good, mostly because I recognized several of the plot devices from the first one so it didn't seem as new and fresh to me. Book 2 picks up with Dalton Montmorency who is now the Spymaster of the Liar's Club. He is unsure of his place with them and takes on the assignment of becoming Sir Thorogood, the pseudonym of the cartoonist that has exposed many an important man in London. One thing leads to another, and Claire (the real cartoonist) goes out of her way to expose the man that is posing as her - or rather, Sir Thorogood. The whole thing is a bit outlandish and convoluted. To make matters more complicated, Claire poses as the maid next door, Rose, and winds up meeting another persona of Dalton's, Monty, a thief who has come to steal documents of her nextdoor neighbor. They wind up attracted to one another, having no idea the other is an imposter and that they've really met before. It was fun, but not very realistic.

Before you know it, the secret's out, they've had some wild attic sex and I found the book a bit tedious with the crazy plotline and all the disguises and other personas and not enough relationship building and romance. I like Dalton as a hero, but again (as in The Pretender) he's always dwelling on should he choose his love for the girl, or his duty to his country. One good point is, this book keeps you guessing about who the real bad guy is. Just when you think you've got it nailed, it surprises you, and you're wrong, and have a great big "Ooooh! So that's who he is!"

Anyway, if you like Spymaster Regency romances, you'll like this one, but as I said before, the plot was too crazy with all the disguises, I like something a bit more straightforward and funnier - although this one had it's moments, but more of them were just kind of dumb and unbelievable (if that's possible in a romance!)


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride: A Sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice by Helen Halstead

Book Description:
When Elizabeth Bennett marries the brooding, passionate Mr. Darcy, she is thrown into the exciting world of London society. She makes a powerful friend in the Marchioness of Englebury but the jealousy among her ladyship's circle threatens to destroy Elizabeth's happiness. Elizabeth is drawn into a powerful clique for whom intrigue is the stuff of life and rivalry the motive, and her success, it seems, can only come at the expense of good relations with her husband. This novel also continues the stories of other favorite Pride and Prejudice characters including Georgiana Darcy and Kitty Bennett, each of whom have amusing adventures of their own. Told in the language of the era and bringing Regency society vividly to life, Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride recalls Austen's theme of the necessity of individual growth in the maintainance of lasting bonds.

Over the past six or seven years, I've read scads of published, self-published and free internet published Jane Austen fanfics of Pride and Prejudice. I consider myself somewhat of an authority on this genre, having succumbed to the Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy hysteria following the 1995 BBC production of P&P. I devoured everything I could get my hands on. Prequels, sequels, moderns, alternate realities, what if's - you name it. I loved all of it. I even took a stab at it and wrote one of my own. Many of the published books I'd bought and read were disappointments, I found internet fanfiction to be largely much better. I found the actual books available on Amazon for sale, to be bland and repetitive, nothing new or interesting, mostly rehashes of Austen's original. I expected to find the same with Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride. Well, count me wrong, I was pleasantly surprised to find I was not disappointed in this sequel. I liked it - a lot.

The story begins in the last few weeks before the marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy. It was like coming home again, seeing all the familiar Bennets and Bingley's with their usual hysterics and snide remarks, squabbling and maneuvering. I found there was some stereotyping of these characters that I suspect came from the BBC production but who cares, I enjoyed it in any case! A lot of the book centers on Kitty and Georgiana. Since these are the main single ladies in the story (Mary doesn't count), it's not unusual that we'd read about how they meet their future husbands. Kitty's transformation is very sweet. She goes from the "most foolish girl in all of England" (to paraphrase Mr. Bennet) to a thoughtful young girl who realizes you can't judge a book by it's cover. Her story is especially touching and poignant and brought tears to my eyes. Georgiana's story was not quite as interesting, since she is portrayed as so shy and docile and afraid of her own shadow. At one point she finally screws up enough courage to face a well known playwright who she believes is wrecking her brother's marriage. Still, I found her a little annoying, I preferred Kitty. Georgiana could also not make up her mind about who she loved and wanted to marry. Will she forever carry a torch for her cousin, Col. Fitzwilliam (who carries a torch for Elizabeth Darcy) or marry an unasumming younger brother who suddenly finds himself a marquess when his brother dies?

Elizabeth and Darcy are not always front and center in this novel. Not a lot of romance and canoodling and sizzling scenes in bed. Everything in the romance dept. is very subtle and understated. The author leaves much to the imagination - which was fine! I preferred it that way. I wish we had gotten more into Darcy's head in this book, but since we didn't ever in the Austen orginal, I won't quibble over it.

Elizabeth as Mrs. Darcy, becomes the toast of the town and celebrated for her wit and charm. To the point where it almost gets her in trouble with her marriage. I found that I really did not find this Elizabeth overly warm, the author did not really help us like her all that much. Yes, she's pretty and charming and smart, but I found no warmth in this Elizabeth. She was a teasing wit most of the time. Sometimes we'd get some glimpses of inside her head, but rarely. I saw almost no indications of her love for Darcy.

Darcy finds her new set of friends competition and struggles to keep her all his own, while at the same time, he's glad and proud to see the advances she's making in society. Darcy being Darcy wants her all to himself, but cannot vocalize this properly and they have a rift in their marriage over it. I still found this Darcy attractive and loved it when he used his husbandly authority to get rid of her suitors and keep their privacy. No portrait of her will hang in public, no matter how gorgeous it is - it will only hang at Pemberley. No wife of his is going to have a play written and performed about her - no way! It's clear he loves her and savors their time alone, he does not want to share her with the world. But the thing he loved most about Elizabeth and what attracted him to her in the first place is the same thing that society loves about her too. He can't keep her like a bird in a cage (as one annoying admirer compares her to) forever! This is the crux of their fall out. Elizabeth doesn't mind her husband's authority most of the time, but she does mind being told what she can and cannot do if she doesn't see the reason in it.

The other main plotline in the story is Lady Catherine de Bourgh's ill will. She does whatever she can to see the Darcy's rue the day they crossed her, but she doesn't really get her way. She marries off her daughter Anne, to a somewhat impovershed nobleman (this was amusing) and then nearly disinherits her when Anne does not bend to her will, and leaves most of her fortune to her nephew, Col. Fitzwilliam, making him an eligible bachelor. In comes Caroline Bingley! Caroline is her usual snide self in this, but you kind of wind up liking her in the end. The Hursts are the Hursts and you end up disliking them even further when it is revealed that they foster out their only child as an infant and only visit him periodically! I suppose this was typical of high society couples back then? In any event, it only underscored my dislike of the Hursts.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book, it was like a reunion, getting re-acquainted with all my old friends and family that I hadn't seen in a long time. Is it as good as Jane Austen's original - of course not! But, for anyone who can't get enough of P&P, I think they'll find this is a pretty good sequel. It kept me interested, it was not dull and it was fairly believable (particularly in what happens to Lydia in the end.) I recommend it.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

My Darling Caroline by Adele Ashworth

From Booklist
Caroline Grayson is a brilliant, independent nineteenth-century woman whose true passion is botany. Denied her dreams of studying at Oxford University because of her gender, she is also prevented from putting her auxiliary plan of attending New York University into action when her father compels her to marry the mysterious and sullen earl of Weymerth, Brent Ravenscroft. They both enter into the marriage with visions of personal gain. Brent wants to get his horses back from Caroline's father, who bought his estate while he was away at war. Caroline wants to annul the marriage, thus gaining the freedom to sail to the U.S. and achieve her dream of becoming a world-class botanist. But their hearts have other ideas. Caroline gradually realizes that her husband means as much to her as her flowers and that his unconventional respect for her intelligence represents a form of freedom her peers can only vaguely imagine. Ashworth's smart dialogue, complex characters, and complicated plot twists make this debut novel a joy to read.

Do you ever feel like you can't wait to get home and snuggle into bed and read your book? You look forward to it all day long at work, and think of the characters and what is going to happen next? That's how I felt about this romance. This book was recommended to me from a friend at LibraryThing who said it was her favorite romance novel and I really wasn't sure what to expect. Set during the Regency period in England, I thought it would be another steamy type of regency romance, lightweight and frothy - but I was so wrong. Yes, it was steamy at times, but this was a thinking woman's historical romance. It makes you think and the plot was complex. At times, I thought it was a bit too coincidental or convoluted, but by the end, it all made sense and it was a perfect epilogue. I loved this book!

Caroline is a botanist, she breeds roses and dreams of one day traveling to America to study at Columbia University to live her life long dream. She is gifted with a natural genius for numbers, doing complex computations in her head, but this kind of talent only gets her odd looks during the time and age of which she lives. Her father marries her off to an arrogant, yet strangely gaunt and desperate nobleman. Caroline has no intention of remaining married to him, planning to run off to America and pursue her dream of studying botany and getting an annulment.

She and her new husband, Brent, are distant with one another at first, but he is attracted to her and the build up to consummating their marriage is sexy and evocative. She, a 26 year old virgin tells him he will not be her first and he believes her. But, on their wedding night she bluntly informs him that she cannot bed him. He respects her wishes but little does he believe she means she will never bed him! He is drawn to her dark good looks and - intelligence. He soon sees for himself that she is different from other girls. He respects her aptitude with numbers and immediately puts her in charge of his finances. Theirs is a marriage of convenience but he is determined to seduce her by any means he can think of.

Caroline comes across at first as selfish with her own intentions. Even though she is beginning to like her new husband, and his deaf illegitimate daughter that she takes under her wing and becomes mother to, she still plans on leaving them. I had a hard time with this concept, and I was glad to see at one point in the book, Brent points this out to her, how selfish she is. Even though she is extremely bright and intelligent, she can be glaringly dense in some matters - likes others feelings and learning to recognize what makes one truly happy. Fortunately, over time, Caroline cannot stay immune to his charms and she finds her desire to leave him for America less and less appealing until eventually she gives the idea up altogether. But, once Brent finds out what she intended to do, all hell breaks loose!

All the characters in this romance are complex and not what they seem on the surface - there are many layers to them, with underlying scars or tortured wartime nightmares. At first Brent seems like some obnoxious earl, but as we get to know him, he is so much more and we grow to love him and his interesting history. I don't want to give too much away, but he's not your typical alpha male, larger than life romantic hero, he has much more depth to him, and it's moving to read what he says aloud, when he finally gives in to his feelings and wants to let Caroline know how he really feels about her. I really loved their courtship and relationship together.

The main theme running throughout the story is one of women and how unfair the world was to them during this period. It was simply a man's world back then. Someone like Caroline faced many obstacles to be able to become a botanist - it would have been virtualy unheard of and impossible for her to achieve her dream in real life outside a romance novel. Intelligent women were not treated seriously by most men and this is driven home in the story. Caroline respresented the women of the day, and Brent supported her, going against the typical male stereotype of keeping the little woman in her place, born to marry, have babies and tend their flower gardens.

There is much, much more to this book than I've described. Some other plotlines are that Brent has a few secrets from his past we want to know about, he also has a nemesis from France who is stalking him, waiting to kill him, and Brent must come to terms with his sister from America who has returned to reconcile with him. But, the main plot is how he and Caroline grow to care for one another. What starts out as an awkward arranged marriage truly becomes a meeting of the minds; they are ideal for one another.

Do yourself a favor and read this book, it was interesting and well written, except for Brent's constant use of the word sexy, which I thought sounded a bit too modern for a Regency, but I still enjoyed it very much. I intend to read more by this author in the future!


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Saving Grace by Julie Garwood

Book Description:
When Lady Johanna learned that she was a widow, she vowed she would never marry again. Only sixteen, she possessed a strength of will that impressed all who looked past her golden-haired beauty. Yet when King John demanded that she remarry--and selected a bridegroom for her--it seemed she must acquiesce, until her beloved foster brother suggested she wed his friend, the handsome Scottish warrior Gabriel MacBain.

At first Johanna was shy, but as Gabriel tenderly revealed the splendid pleasures they would share, she came to suspect that she was falling in love with her gruff new husband. And it was soon apparent to the entire Highlands clan that their brusque, gallant laird had surrendered his heart completely, But now a desperate royal intrigue threatened to tear her from his side--and to destroy the man whose love meant more to her than she has ever dreamed!

I had a little trouble with this book at first. "What's not to like," I thought. A Highlander medieval by Julie Garwood - my favorite combination! But, this story had some serious overtones, it wasn't a lighthearted comedy of a forced marriage like some of her previous medievals I've read that I've loved. Our heroine, Johanna, had been brutalized by her former husband, Raulf, and she's emotionally scarred by the experience by the time she meets her new intended, Gabriel MacBain. Gabriel is one of Garwood's most forbidding heroes, it takes a long time for him to come around and become a "kinder and gentler" highlander. He's laird, and arrogant and uncompromising at first. I had a hard time growing to like him, he's probably my least favorite Julie Garwood hero that I've read to date. I actually felt a little sorry for Johanna having to have him as her new husband! Still, there were some humorous moments when they wed, but most of the time he barely seemed to have a sense of humor himself, his transformation was slow and deliberate.

But, still the plot was pretty good. Johanna has a secret about King John of England that is partly responsible for him sending her away to marry a Scottish laird in the faraway highlands of Scotland. Later, this will prove to be her undoing, and also her "saving grace." By this time, she has grown to love her gruff husband and nothing is going to stop her from staying with him. The main plotline of this book is probably more to do with strong women rather than a romance between an Englishwoman and her gruff Highlander laird husband.

Over and over the theme in this book is the plight of women in the medieval ages. They were treated wrongly, lesser than animals and the Church preached to men that women had no say in anything. A woman was beaten and punished for the slightest thing in this book, a sobering thought and one that made me cringe. Garwood makes Johanna a strong heroine who overcomes her fears and conquers and vanquishes her enemies who wish to maltreat her and those like her. She unites her husband's two clans and manages to be a matchmaker and sister in common with the other women in this book. It's not easy for her to do these things but she does. She is up against tremendous odds and prejudices because she is an Englishwoman. We see Johanna grow from a scared and lonely widow new to the Highlands, to a strongwilled warrior's wife who stands up for herself and those like her.

The first half of the book was a bit slow going, but the later half of the book got more interesting and exciting. I enjoyed reading about the tension with England and King John and the last 50 pages of the book were especially good. I can't say this book was as steamy or romantic as some of Garwood's others, but I will say that Gabriel does wind up being a good husband, although I still had trouble with his domineering ways and brusqueness. As usual, the descriptions of the time and place are wonderful and the historical aspect of the book is right on as well. Garwood is tops in this regard, one of my favorite historical romance authors!


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Someone To Watch Over Me by Lisa Kleypas

Book Description:
She couldn't remember who she was...

A temptingly beautiful woman awakens in a stranger's bed, rescued from the icy waters of the Thames, her memory gone. Told that she is Vivien Rose Duvall, one of London's most scandalous beauties, she finds herself under the protection of enigmatic, charming Grant Morgan. Her life is in his hands. Deep in her heart, she knows he has mistaken her for someone else...

He was the only man she could trust. As one of London's most eligible, and unattainable catches, Grant Morgan is a man who has known every kind of woman. And the one in his arms now seems so innocent, so vulnerable, that he can't help but be enchanted. And as his love for this mysterious beauty grows, he's determined to unravel the secrets of her past and discover the truth--no matter what.

So far I've liked everything I've read by Lisa Kleypas, but this book was the first of hers that hasn't thrilled me. It wasn't bad, but it didn't grab me either - a bit too on the melodramatic side for me, and hardly any humor in it. It just took itself too seriously. I like a more lighthearted romance.

This is the story of a young beautiful woman who had amnesia. She's in the care of tall, handsome, and slightly uncouth Grant Morgan, a rich Bow Street Runner who thinks she is London's greatest and notorious courtesan. Plus, he has no liking for her - though he has desired her in the past, and was rebuffed by her. He has an axe to grind with the great Vivien Duvall and plans to even the score with her. But, he unwillingly falls in love with her instead because she's nothing like the scheming vixen he had known previously. This amnesiac Vivien is all sweetness, caring and considerate of others. But, someone is trying to kill her and it's up to Grant to find her would be murderer and bring him to justice. Plus, he has to solve the dilemma of his heart that he's falling for nothing better than a high priced whore who will sell herself to the highest bidder. How can he come to terms with it - the more he investigates her almost murder - the more he finds out about her secrets and just how nefarious her past really is.

Vivien (as I will call her) is not much of a heroine. I don't feel like we really get into her. I never really "bonded" with her, perhaps it's because through most of the book we don't know who she really is. I knew she couldn't possibly be the courtesan everyone thinks she is, so who is she? A sister? A long lost cousin? She seemed so boring to me compared to everything we hear about her notoriously promiscuous sister. Plus I think she gave it up to Grant much to easily, which wasn't in keeping with her maidenly charms and shy demeanor. I also felt sorry for her at the same time. Their first time together, he realizes she can't be Vivien because she's a virgin. I saw this happening from almost page 1, so when it really did happen, it was a bit anti-climatic (no pun intended, of course!) and no surprise. Not only that, but I guessed immediately who the real culprit of the book was, the one that was trying to murder Vivien.

I'm not saying I disliked this book, but it was a little boring at times, the sex was okay, not as good as in her later books, and I just felt like this needed something. It all seemed lacklustre - needs more oomph! Give me some humor and the hero and heroine poking fun at themselves a bit. Grant was so big and huge and forbidding all the time. Always scowling or trying to stop himself from going berserk from his pent up desire or anger. It got kind of old. Vivien was predictably uncertain of herself and just too sweet and good to be true - it made for a dull heroine.

This is the first of the Bow Street Runners Series, and I'll continue with it, I hope they get better. I think they will, as I said before, this is an early book of Kleypas', and I'm sure they'll improve, for her Wallflowers Series is great!

I'll give this a 3.5/5.
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