Monday, March 30, 2009

Highland Warrior by Monica McCarty

Book Description:
The ruthless enforcer of Scotland's most powerful clan, Jamie Campbell will use any means necessary to vanquish lawlessness and unrest among the feuding Highland clans. Seduction is a game as easily played as subterfuge, but when Jamie poses as suitor to a rival clan's daughter in order to expose treason, the line between duty and pleasure is suddenly blurred. Ebony-haired, ruby-lipped Caitrina Lamont defies him, denies him, and arouses him like no other woman. Caitrina has no intention of forsaking her beloved father and doting brothers for a husband - especially a hated Campbell. But Jamie's raw, sensual strength and searing kiss melt her resistance. When her idyllic world is shattered, Caitrina's only hope to save her clan lies in the arms of Jamie Campbell, the enemy she holds accountable for its ruin. Can their tenuous truce, born in the velvet darkness of passionate nights, forge a love as strong as the sword that rules the Highlands?

I must admit, I had a hard time getting into this book. Ordinarily, I love Monica McCarty, I'm a big fan of her last trilogy of books, but this was a darker sort of tale, and her hero and heroine just really drove me up a wall! It was the sort of Romeo and Juliet story of two people from opposing clans that are forced to marry for various reasons and the hatred between their clans prevents them from being able to give in to their love and face the inevitable choice of honor thy love or honor thy family. What to do? How to choose?

Another reason why I think I had a hard time with this book was because I read it in ebook format. This is the first book I've read that way. I was thrilled to download the Kindle application onto my iTouch a few weeks back, and this was the first book I downloaded! (see? I really am a fan of Monica McCarty!) It took me a few weeks to read because I only read it while working out at the gym or on the go, in line at the supermarket, or waiting for a meeting to begin, things like that. It wasn't my usual sort of style of reading, plus, I was reading other books at home during this period, and I'm not used to reading two books at once. Frankly, I'm monogomous when it comes to reading. One book at a time. But, I think as I get more and more used to this, I'll learn to read (or listen, I have some audiobooks on my iTouch as well) simultaneously with a book I'm reading in the comfort of my home.

But, back to the book...

Caitrina Lamont is the beautiful daughter of the chief of the Lamonts. Her clan is, unbeknownst to her, harboring the outlawed MacGregors and Jamie Campbell is the one that has to find them and bring them to justice. His cousin is the very powerful Earl of Argyll of the Highlands who is strict and known for his lack of mercy towards outlaws and those that go against him. Jamie is Argyll's "henchman" and hated throughout the Highlands. He meets Caitrina by chance and it's instant attraction on both parts. Yet, upon first meeting she doesn't know who he is. When she does find out, she hates him, and hates to admit she's in lust with him! For almost the entire rest of the book it's this love/hate predicament. She loves the fact he's so strong and handsome and the best warrior around, not to mention he makes her legs wobbly just looking at him - yet he's a Campbell! Her family hates the Campbells! He, on the other hand, is a bit more rational. He knows who she is from the start and wants her. His problem is he has to obey his cousin's commands which go against Caitrina's wants. If he finds out her father and brothers are protecting and hiding the outlaw MacGregors on their lands, he will have to bring them to justice and very likely they will hang. Caitrina comes across at first as a spoiled princess (as Jamie calls her), but before Jamie can try and work out a deal with her father to prevent the Lamonts from all being caught and hanged, her castle is attacked and burned and she loses her whole family in one fell swoop. She is humbled and traumatized and must deal with the fact she has nothing. Not only is she devastated by what has happened to her, the man responsible for it all was Jamie's brother!

Jamie has a solution to her problems - and to keep her castle - marry him. There's the undeniable fact they have this passionate "thing" between them, yet can their love in the bedroom overcome the feuding between their two clans? Can she ever trust him and respect him - truly love him - knowing he's a Campbell and brother to the man that killed her father and brothers? This is the big dilemma through the whole book that became quite tiresome, despite the hot love scenes between the two of them in bed. Because of what she has gone through in losing her family, Caitrina "grows up" and is no longer the spoiled princess of before, yet she still can't seem to get through her thick skull that Jamie is a good man and she should trust him no matter what. Everytime I thought she was going to give in to him and see the light, she'd go and do something that made it look like she didn't trust him and they'd have to start all over again! I found it very frustrating, it was like a one trick pony: Caitrina and Jamie kiss and make love and have passionate sex at night, yet during the day they have nothing but misunderstandings and stormy arguments with both of them storming off to their own corners of the ring. Are these two ever going to "get over it" and realize they love one another and that love trumps everything else?

I won't spoil the ending, but you've probably got a good idea of how it ends up. Still, despite my tepid reaction to this book, I'm still eager to read the other two in this trilogy!


Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Spy by Celeste Bradley

Book Description:
James Cunnington has a pressing mission at hand: He must find the daughter of a missing code breaker for the Liar's Club, a man suspected of turning traitor for Napoleon. Time is of the utmost concern. While it is evident that his ward's new tutor has something to hide, James in unaware that the woman he seeks now resides under his very roof... Desperate and near destitute, Philippa Atwater must don gentleman's clothing to pass herself off as a scholarly young tutor. Her clever--if itchy--disguise allows her time to pursue her quest to find her father, ruthlessly abducted by French spies. Closely guarding the cryptic notebook he entrusted to her care, she senses danger all around her--even in the home of her roguishly handsome new employer, James Cunnington. Now Philippa is about to discover that the desire can be as lethal as a well-aimed bullet...

This is number three in the "Liar's Club" series by this author and I liked it. I didn't love it, but it was pretty good. I must admit, when I read the first in this series, it was the first Regency spy romance I'd ever read and I loved it! It was all new and exciting to me (plus it was a great book - The Pretender.)

But, I digress.

Now that I've read several more of these types of books, I'm getting a little tired of this genre, yet I want to finish this series, so I'm valiantly forging on!

The Spy is the story of Phillippa Atwater. A young and beautiful redhead who has been on the run fleeing Napoleon's men. They have abducted her father, a renown cryptographer, who was a member of the secret "Liar's Club" in London. They want him for his expertise in writing codes. Phillippa is destitute by the time she gets to London and the one man she thought could help her is now dead. Before her father was abducted, he told her one thing, to paraphrase, "keep an eye on James Cunnington." Not knowing what this might mean, she's not sure if her father meant James is a friend or foe, but whatever he is, he's the key to how she might be able to find her father and free him.

In this world of spies and treachery, it's hard to tell the difference between who is good and who is evil. The common thread and theme throughout the book is one of mistaken identities and the guilt of one man. James Cunnington, a spy formerly known as "the Griffin" is trying to come to grips with the fact that he had allowed himself to fall prey to a beautiful, yet deadly woman who captured and tortured him in order to reveal who some of the club's other members were. Systematically, these members were found and destroyed. James can't live with the guilt of what he did and has nightmares over it, and the never ending and all consuming need for revenge to get back at the woman who led him down this road. How will he react to the fact that another beautiful woman has come into his life to entice him in the guise of a harem dancer? He seems to be susceptible to this sort of thing...

Despite the underlying serious tone of the book, it is a romance after all, and once I got past the slow start and build up of our characters it turned into a good read and the romance aspect of it really kicked in - Ms. Bradley outdid herself on heightening the sexuality between her hero and heroine by having Phillippa masquerade as a skinny young man who becomes a tutor to the adopted son of James Cunnington.

The two of them become friends, Phillippa is now Philip Waters and James decides to take him under his wing and make him "more of a man" when he's not tutoring his irascible, yet adorable son, Robbie (who sees right through Phillippa's disguise from the instant he meets her.) There are some entertaining moments throughout the book, one at Gentleman Jackson's Club and at a ball in which 'Philip' becomes the beau of the ball! I also was glad to see the valet, Buttons, who's on the scene again too! Ever helpful with costumes!

But the fly in the ointment is, how does Phillippa deal with the fact that she believes James might want to destroy her father, because he thinks her father has turned traitor and is working for Napoleon of his own will? Not only that, Phillippa is also terribly attracted to him - to the point where she nearly has a most embarrassing moment when she's "checking him out" while he's asleep. She is Philip at the time, and I must say, I was so afraid that James was going to wake up and find this young man ogling his privates! Not exactly what happens, but it's a close call.

I really enjoyed this book. We see some of the characters from the first two books that I liked a lot and there is a little bit of a Shakespeare feel to it, with all the hidden genders. Lots of action in the plot up to the ending which made up for the slow beginning. I was very curious to see how it would all be resolved and how Phillippa would be able to reveal herself to James and her love for him. Of course, there is the usual angst when he finds out, but some very sensual and erotic moments between them, in particular a harem dance of the Seven Veils scene that was very well done.

If spies and romance are your thing, I recommend this series, so far it's pretty good!


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Romeo, Romeo by Robin Kaye

Book Description:
A self-made millionaire, gorgeous and sexy, who also loves to cook and clean? Is this every woman's fantasy or what?

Rosalie Ronaldi, high-powered corporate turnaround expert, doesn't have a domestic bone in her body. Surviving on take-out and dirty martinis, she keeps her shoes under the dining room table, her bras on the towel rack in the bathroom, and her clothes on the couch.

Macho Nick Romeo loves an independent woman because it means no commitment. Until he meets Rosalie and discovers that all he wants to do is take care of her... Before too long, he's moved in, cleaned up her apartment, stocked her refrigerator, and adopted her dog.

But things turn complicated when her job puts her in charge of a dealership Nick has been secretly trying to take over for years, and telling him the truth would blow her whole career, and blow up their relationship too ...

What can I say? I simply luuuurved this book! I ate it up like candy - devoured it!

Now, many of you have figured out by now, I'm not normally a contemporary romance reader - I'm strictly an historical girl, but for a number of reasons I finally got myself a copy of this book! God! What took me so long? I'm so glad I finally read it, and I'm so sorry I waited so long! I was swept up in the world of Brooklyn and yellow volkswagon bugs, Thai take out, stilletto heels and just a really good romantic story! Original, funny, tender and steamy. I felt like I knew these people, I didn't want the book to end, I'll miss them now. It was so well done, and well thought out. Not your average romance novel plot. I loved all the feisty talk and lingo, she had the Italian and slang and Brooklyn-ese down! So many little details of what she wrote were so true as well. Too many to list, but I could just so relate to a lot of what she wrote - it was so much fun to read!

Now, onto the story, this book is a quick and great read. Rosalie Ronaldi is her own career woman living in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She's got a good job, a good life and she doesn't want to get married. Sex? Sure, who doesn't want sex, but she doesn't want the strings that go along with it. In walks Nick Romeo, hunk extraordinaire who helps tow her car home (or back to his garage.) She mistakes him for an ordinary (but oh so sexy and handsome) mechanic. He chooses not to tell her that he's really a millionaire, but that was before he knew they were going to start seeing each other - and I mean "seeing each other!" They go from a super passionate unbelievable kiss in an Italian restaurant to virtually moving in with one another. All along are "the rules." No strings: the relationship ends when it's no longer fun.

Nick is an unbelievable guy. I loved him! He cooks, he cleans, he serves breakfast in bed and nurses Rosalie through a bout of pneumonia. What doesn't he do? Just the image of him vacuuming and lifting up a 10 ton couch with one hand as he easily vacuums beneath it - he's Superman! *sigh* He even walks and loves her big lug of a dog. What a dream.

But, all dreams must come to an end, and as Nick and Rosalie realize that things have gone from casual to suddenly special - things start to break apart. There are complications with her job and the fact he hasn't even told her his last name and who he really is in three months! Rosalie is no idiot and she knew his secret early on and was willing to let him keep it. But still, these two nutcases couldn't admit they are in love with each other and are meant for each other! Both have their hang ups about marriage and happiness and what they think they need in their lives. Do they resolve things? Well, you'll just have to read it yourself to find out.

In a book full of energy and snappy repartee and comebacks in the style of "Moonstruck", "The Sopranos" and "Jersey Boys." It was an absolute pleasure to read. I loved Rosalie, I swear I could hear her voice in my head - as I did with all the characters! The writing was smooth and seamless - Robin Kaye, you hit all the buttons, you got it all right! Yay you! Not a single dull moment, everything belonged and fit! Why am I not shocked, based on other things I've read by Robin it's no surprise. She a born storyteller with a knack for writing dialogue, sexy love scenes and all topped off with a sentimental touch that leaves you with tears in your eyes.

I think I need to start reading more contemporaries now! Do yourself a favor and read this book, you won't be sorry!


P.S. I loved several of the little nods to Brooklyn and New York, like lunch at Katz's and of course you had to mention the Pond Scene and Colin Firth! LOL! I'm sorry, Robin, I took so long to read this - forgive me?

Congrats and I can't wait to read your next book, Too Hot to Handle!

And yes, I know this is a really gushy review, but I mean every word of it, even if we're old friends! *grin*

Saturday, March 21, 2009

His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis

Book Description:
To this landmark biography of our first president, Joseph J. Ellis brings the exacting scholarship, shrewd analysis, and lyric prose that have made him one of the premier historians of the Revolutionary era. Training his lens on a figure who sometimes seems as remote as his effigy on Mount Rushmore, Ellis assesses George Washington as a military and political leader and a man whose “statue-like solidity” concealed volcanic energies and emotions.

Here is the impetuous young officer whose miraculous survival in combat half-convinced him that he could not be killed. Here is the free-spending landowner whose debts to English merchants instilled him with a prickly resentment of imperial power. We see the general who lost more battles than he won and the reluctant president who tried to float above the partisan feuding of his cabinet. His Excellency is a magnificent work, indispensable to an understanding not only of its subject but also of the nation he brought into being.

The basic premise of this book is the author wanted to write about Washington the man and what made him tick. Why did he do the things he did, what drove him on? Who was he really, did he have a heart? What were his thoughts and desires?

A tall order, considering all of Washington's private letters and correspondence were burned after his death by his wife, Martha. We'll never know for sure what sort of sweet endearments he wrote to her, or what his private thoughts and feelings were when he was commanding the Continental Army and watching his men die of smallpox and walk barefoot and bleading in the snow at Valley Forge. What did he really think of Thomas Jefferson when he found out Jefferson was scheming to make people believe Washington was growing senile and was under the thumb of Alexander Hamilton? We'll never know for sure, but this author did his best to come up with some pretty good assumptions and conjectures, but nothing concrete due to the lack of primary source materials.

Washington has been described as larger than life, stalwart, strong, a good soldier, majestic on his white destrier - leading his troops to victory and the final win of the American Revolution at the Battle of Yorktown. Yet, he was an enigma. He was close mouthed, quiet, a listener. He had never been one to shoot his mouth off and chatter on like a John Adams. He took in the scenery and listened to what his men told him. Then he made decisions. From some of his letters that were saved, which were from his war correspondence or dull letters to British merchants or tradesman, it is possible that Washington had quite a voluble temper and one of his greatest achievements was the fact that no one knew it. He was always in control in view of the public and his troops as a commander. It was to hide his fiery emotions that he kept in check. More than one acquaintance commented on the fact that they could see this is how he was. They could imagine the emotions brewing beneath the surface, yet Washington would never show his real emotions, because it was his honor and reputation at stake. He came across as cold and aloof - above the fray. He was perfect for the job of commander and the first president of the United States. If ever there was a man born for the job, it was Washington.

According to this book, Washington's driving force was how he meant to be perceived by all. His reputation and honor were crucial to him. Because of this, he kept all his regular correspondence dull and dry and to the point with no emotion or feeling. Just simply orders. If he did say or write something that he felt might come back to haunt him, he went back and edited it years later for posterity's sake. Many of his actions and orders during the Revolutionary War were based on how he felt it would show him in history and he did the same as president and even in his last will and testament in which he finally freed all his slaves. Probably the only ones who really knew him for who he really was were his close servants, Martha and his close personal friends. Not a sign of the living and breathing human George Washington with a passion or sense of humor comes across in any of his writing.

I can't say I really liked the man after reading this book. I got the feeling the author didn't either. It wasn't a very grandiose or flattering portrayal of Washington. He came across as often petty, opportunistic, holding a grudge and parsimonious. Land was a big issue with him and he didn't hesitate in taking the lion's share when it was offered. He married Martha Custis, a rich widow who owned a lot of land in Virginia, even though he loves another woman (albeit she was married.) His marriage is made to sound like a calculated move on Washington's part to raise him in status and wealth. It was a good marriage for both, although there were no children (it is believed that Washington was sterile since Martha had two children from her previous marriage.) Ironic since he is known as "the father of our country."

I won't go into any more details, of which there were plenty, but the book was not the most entertaining read, I found it a bit of a chore, thankfully it was short. This was not like a David McCullough book, it reminded me more of something I had to read as a history major in college. High on fact and details. Washington is depicted as this great icon of the American Revolution and founder of the Nation, but at the same time, I had the unsettling feeling that we'll never know what he was really like. Most of this book was the author's impressions and not much on how Washington's contemporaries viewed him. I couldn't help getting the feeling this author had an axe to grind when it came to George Washington. Still, I do plan on reading his biography on Thomas Jefferson eventually. At least Jefferson's letters were saved which will shed more light on him than Washington.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Prize by Julie Garwood

Book Description:
In the resplendence of William the Conqueror's London court, the lovely Saxon captive, Nicholaa was forced to choose a husband from the assembled Norman nobles. She chose Royce, a baron warrior whose fierce demeanor could not conceal his chivalrous and tender heart. Resourceful, rebellious and utterly naive, Nicholaa vowed to bend Royce to her will, despite the whirlwind of feelings he aroused in her. Ferocious in battle, seasoned in passion, Royce was surprised by the depth of his emotion whenever he caressed his charming bride.

In a climate of utmost treachery, where Saxons still intrigued against their Norman invaders, Royce and Nicholaa revelled in their precious new love...a fervent bond soon to be disrupted by the call of blood, kin and country!

Ah, another Julie Garwood medieval, her Scottish ones are my favorites, but this one was pretty good too, even though it was about Englishmen instead of Scots - how I miss those Scottish brrs! Alpha hero, Baron Royce is the greatest, smartest, strongest and tallest Norman warrior. But, he is felled by the lovely Nicholaa's slingshot, whose Saxon castle he has set out to capture. She manages to hit him squarely in the forehead leaving him momentarily dazed and woozy. A metaphor for what happens to him over the next several months. Then she winds up outmanoeuvring him and escapes just as his men take the castle. But, before long, Royce realizes the deception and tricks her himself, hauling her back to King William in London. She doesn't make it easy for him. For one thing, he's highly attracted to her (and vice versa) and the other thing is she's always trying to escape and she isn't afraid of him. She is determined to be difficult and she has a stubborn streak a mile wide.

Royce has never met anyone like her. He's amused by her tirades and also admires her cunning and soft heart. She is a worthy adversary and before long he has determined he'll have her. But, she again fells him by turning the tables and choosing him for herself instead! They immediately marry before the King of England in an impromptu public ceremony. But, as soon as they get married all these accidents happen to her that delay the consummation of their marriage. Oh, there are some hot kisses and promises of more, but it does become a bit tedious. Once Nicholaa's burned hands heal, she gets hit with an arrow! How long must her long suffering warrior husband wait? He doesn't wait forever, and once the wait is over, their bed is the one place when they can both be themselves and have a passionate marriage.

Most of the book's theme centered on the fact that Royce wouldn't let Nicholaa be herself. Medieval women were expected to have no say in their lives, whatever the men wanted was the law. Royce wants her to be what he thinks she should be. Over time, he learns that he shouldn't try to change what he loves most about her. Royce succeeds in getting Nicholaa to change for him (at least on the surface) and she behaves like the good and dutiful wifey he expects. She yes's him to death, but the sparkle is gone from her eyes - he realizes he's gotten rid of the exact same things he finds most endearing about her. Where did that fiery hoyden go to? Nicholaa also comes to realize that the arrogance and conceit she perceives in Royce really isn't all that bad. She realizes he's a kind and caring man who is gentle with babies and loves her despite his outwardly gruff exterior. She loves him for who he is inside, overlooking a serious scar he has on his face and a real dominance syndrome, which he manages to get under control. He has your typical alpha male tendencies that his love manages to soften - he becomes a kinder and gentler English warrior for his lady. I enjoyed reading about Royce's ruminations on love and his own insecurities. He never believed he'd find a woman who truly loved him for fear of his ugly scar.

I really enjoyed this book and got swept up in the world of medieval England. As usual the settings and descriptions are first rate. I found her characters endearing and I even liked the smaller side characters and their little stories too, like her brother Justin's transformation and an older knight who plays chess with Nicholaa and is beginning to feel his age. One line I found funny, a maidservant, Alice is almost depicted as an old hag at the ripe old age of 30! Ha!

I recommend it.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Lion's Daughter by Loretta Chase

Book Description:
Esme Brentmore doesn't care that revenge isn't a suitable job for a woman. She's determined to avenge the murder of her beloved father, an enigmatic English aristocrat who lived in self-imposed exile. Honor demands that Esme let nothing and nobody stand in her way. That includes the handsome wastrel who's become entangled in her life, whose charm does not make up for his lazy and irresponsible character.

Having gambled away his entire family fortune, Varian St. George, Lord Edenmont, now lives by his wits and winning ways. A man who has always taken the path of least resistance---preferably in soft beds with willing women---he does not want to become embroiled in a mad quest with a hot-tempered and heavily armed redhead.

But forced to travel together through an exotic land, the mismatched pair soon discovers that friction can produce some very dangerous sparks...

My first book by this author, Loretta Chase.

I read it primarily because this is the first in her "Scoundrel" series. On various romance sites on the Internet, I've read that the third book in this series, Lord of Scoundrels, is one of the best romances out there. So, being the methodical type, I began with book one in the series. It is the story of whether an irresponsible and dissolute cad can redeem himself when faced with the courage and passion of the obstinate and tenacious young woman that has turned his once cushy and lazy world upside down.

Esme is not your typical Regency heroine - not at all. Born to a high born Englishman turned spy who is exiled from England, Esme has grown up as a little warrior in her native country of Albania. Used to fending off enemies and bullets and living on her wits, she passes herself off as a young boy when she needs to. Though she is beautiful, often she hides herself up so no one can tell except for those green eyes of hers. Varian St. George, Lord Edenmont is not your typical Regency hero either. Penniless, he has spent his entire family's fortune. His estate back in England has gone to ruin and he is virtually exiled, since if he returns to England, he'll be jailed for his unpaid debts. Instead he sponges off fellow aristocrats abroad who enjoy his charming personality and good looks. A wastrel in almost every sense of the word, he haphazardly meets Esme and they must travel together to find her young cousin, Percival, who has been kidnapped. Percival is 12 years old and an endearing lad, I really liked him!

All this is set in the country of Albania, which I knew almost nothing about before reading this (I still don't know much.) Albania is near Italy across the Adriatic Sea, it's in Europe, but more Moslem than European. This is also the same area where Lord Byron traveled to and wrote about in his epic poem, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.

Varian is sort of a Childe Harold himself. It's implied that he may have been Byron's inspiration. Mistaking Esme for a young girl, Varian is oddly attracted to her, and being the lascivious cad that he is, his conscience does not exactly stop him from wanting her even though he believes she's too young. An odd combination that I found a bit distasteful. It didn't exactly endear him to me. To be honest, I had trouble feeling any empathy for him for most of the book, and didn't really care all that much for him. I found Esme's father, The Lion, much more appealing (must be that red hair of his), though we see little of him. I sort of wondered who it was supposed to be on the book cover - the Lion or Varian? He doesn't look like either one's description (I hate it when the book cover model is nothing like the actual written person is supposed to look like.)

Although, we hear much about Varian's past indiscretions, he's now at a crossroads in which he's realizing he's going to have to face up to his responsiblities. He really has no choice. But, is it because he's falling for Esme and wants to earn her admiration and love, or is he just finally getting old and "growing up?" Can he actually mend his ways from the past 10 years destruction and fix all the damage he's created? A tall order and I was sceptical. But, by the end of the book, Varian had redeemed himself in my eyes and I was rooting for him. I liked the way we see his tranformation from ne'er do well to an honorable English lord.

Due to certain circumstances, the two are forced to marry, although not reluctantly. They can't deny their passion for one another, though it didn't sizzle off the pages. I thought they were just too unlikely a couple, and I didn't buy the way Varian was so taken by this slim little whisp of a girl who barely looked like she was 12 years old. Was it because she was so brave and resourceful and it was her aura he liked? I think that was probably it. (I hate to think it's the other reason!) Once married, they must return to England where she can meet her paternal grandmother and he to pick up the pieces of his crumbling estate and pay off the sizeable debt awaiting him. There the story wraps up with an exciting ending and all ends well.

I can't say I was really thrilled with this book. It took me almost a week to read it, and it wasn't that long. The first two thirds of the book when it takes place in Albania dragged on and on, I felt like I too was travelling through the dirt and mud forever. By the time they all got to England it was like a breath of much needed fresh air - finally! The last third's pace picked up and suddenly I was sailing again! All the loose strings are taken care of and we are led to believe that Varian and Esme will live happily ever after. I hope so at least. With her indominable strength and personality, I think she'll keep him in line for a long time!

I liked this author's style of writing, even though this plotline was a bit hard to follow while it took place in Albania with the various who's who of foreign villains and their minions. In any case, I anticipate reading through her backlist!


Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

Book Description:
East London, 1888 -- a city apart. A place of shadow and light where thieves, whores, and dreamers mingle, where children play in the cobbled streets by day and a killer stalks at night, where bright hopes meet the darkest truths. Here, by the whispering waters of the Thames, Fiona Finnegan, a worker in a tea factory, hopes to own a shop one day, together with her lifelong love, Joe Bristow, a costermonger's son. With nothing but their faith in each other to spur them on, Fiona and Joe struggle, save, and sacrifice to achieve their dreams.

But Fiona's life is shattered when the actions of a dark and brutal man take from her nearly everything -- and everyone -- she holds dear. Fearing her own death, she is forced to flee London for New York. There, her indomitable spirit propels her rise from a modest West Side shop-front to the top of Manhattan's tea trade. But Fiona's old ghosts do not rest quietly, and to silence them, she must venture back to the London of her childhood, where a deadly confrontation with her past becomes the key to her future.

What a great book! Just the sort of historical fiction I love to sink my teeth into. I marveled at how authentic it all seemed, the details were wonderful bringing the drab and depressing feel of Victorian London and the poverty and squalor of Whitechapel in the late 1880's to life. The author really excelled at conjuring up this time period in London and New York. What seemed like a slow start with the book, turned into a riveting page turner after the first 150 pages. The story kept my interest and I wanted to find out what happens in the story of Fiona Finnegan and what becomes of her and her flight to New York. Her characters were well developed and I cared about them. The book drew me into it's world and I loved every minute of it. It was suspenseful, romantic, historically interesting and just a lot of fun to read!

Fiona and Joe Bristow are sweethearts in Whitechapel, London. A poor part of the city, it is also the backdrop in 1888 of Jack the Ripper, which plays a large part in the story. Fiona and Joe are saving up to open a shop of their own and get married. But, unfortunately, their plans go awry and Fiona loses everything: her family and a future with Joe in London. Plus, she is in mortal danger, and must flee to her Uncle Michael's, who lives in and has a small grocery in New York City. En route to New York with her little brother Seamie, they meet up with Nick, a young aristocrat who is going to New York himself to open an art gallery of impressionist work. Nick has his reasons for leaving London as well, and befriends them and they pose as a married couple with Seamie as their son. Nick is a "toff" and they travel in first class on the ship that takes them to New York. He is also homosexual and becomes Fiona's confidante and best friend.

Once in New York, she finds her uncle, who is suffering from depression after losing his wife to cholera and has become a terrible drunk. But, Fiona makes friends immediately with his neighbors and takes over the floundering grocery. In no time she meets a handsome and wealthy middle aged widower, Will McClane, who falls for her and he asks her to marry him. The New York parts of the book were my favorites. I loved reading how Fiona gets the grocery up and running and is courted by millionaire Will. He takes her to Delmonicos for dinner, Central Park, and his mansion on Fifth Avenue. Fiona likes him, but doesn't love him, he's a good man, but all along her heart is still back in London with Joe, her former love who she unsuccessfully tries to forget. We also see Joe's side of the love story between them and how he is dealing with Fiona running away. Joe and Fiona never stop loving one another, no matter all the ordeals they must go through. Plenty of angst and missed meetings and communications between them that I found very frustrating, but I really felt for both of them, even though they were separated for the majority of the book, which only made their reunion that much sweeter. But, there is so much more to the book than their love story.

Fiona is a born merchant and she has a nose for tea. With Nick and Seamie by her side she is able to rise in power as one of the most successful females in business in New York. She starts her own tea brand and opens tea houses throughout the city. She becomes a phenomonal success. But her ultimate goal is to one day be able to avenge her father's murder and ruin the man that was behind it. It all leads back to London, her past and Joe which culminates in an exciting and suspenseful last 50 pages of the book. The main focus of the book is all about Fiona and how she rises from nothing and succeeds in ruining the man who destroyed her family.

I really enjoyed The Tea Rose and highly recommend it. The descriptions of this period all rang true and the story itself was riveting, although the coincidences and good fortune that comes Fiona's way were a bit reminiscent of a TV miniseries from the 1980's. There is also a surprise at the ending that was left open ended, which I found vague and disappointing, almost as if it was tacked on to leave plenty of room for the sequel, The Winter Rose, which I am now eager to read. It continues the story of Fiona and Joe and their families.

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