Monday, November 30, 2009

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (audio)

Book Description:
In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII's court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king's favor and ascend to the heights of political power.

England in the 1520's is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king's freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.

Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, where individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage. With a vast array of characters, overflowing with incident, the novel re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.

I was curious about this book, especially since it won the Booker Prize and was getting a lot of buzz in the literary world. I can't say I'm an expert on Henry VIII and his great matter, but I know enough about it, having read a few books that go over the whole thing, The Autobiography of King Henry VIII by Margaret George in particular, which I adored. Plus, I am a fan of the miniseries The Tudors on TV, (at least for the first two seasons), though it is rife with innacuracies. I chose to listen to this book on audio, even though I was sent a copy of the hardcover by the publisher. I'm glad I did, I really enjoyed listening to it and the actor, Simon Slater, did a great job narrating. He was a master at all the various characters and their accents, I found it easy to discern who was speaking. Cromwell's voice was always easy to point out and identify with, but he did an exceptional job with Thomas More, Cranmer and Cardinal Wolsey's voices as well.

Wolf Hall is the story of the rise of a man, Thomas Cromwell, who comes from nothing and rises to nearly the highest office in England, becoming King Henry VIII's right hand man. Thomas, the son of a brutal blacksmith in Putney leaves home as a young teenager after being beaten by his father. He makes his way in the world at various things, learning the wool trade, learning to fight as a mercenary in the French army, studying in Italy, he is a renaissance man, though no one will admit it. To all the nobles and peers he will always be a blacksmith's son. Renown for his great memory and ability at organization he is taken on by Cardinal Wolsey and his household. Here he learns his true calling as a master of politics with the unique point of view of seeing how Wolsey ran the kingdom for Henry VIII. Cromwell meets numerous dignitaries, ambassadors and courtiers, honing his talent for discretion and diplomacy. Through it all, Cromwell stands by the Cardinal, even when it's clear the Cardinal is out of favor with the king. But, Cromwell walks a fine line and places himself in a position to be able to remain at Court and be "useful" after Wolsey leaves the court and eventually dies. Cromwell's reputation and talent becomes known to the King who takes him on as one of his courtiers, eventually leading up to becoming his secretary, a great and important job. Cromwell becomes rich under the king and is able to provide for his family and the various wards he looks after. In my mind, the basic gist of the story is how can it be that a man from nothing can rise to the power that he did in Henry's court? It seems inconceivable, but it truly happened.

Now, there's much more to this book than just Cromwell's rise in power. We are sympathetic to Cromwell from the first. By the way, he is always referred to as "he," the pronoun is always used in regard to Cromwell, as if he is some kind of deity. This was a bit disconcerting at first, but I got used to it, I imagine it was more bothersome in print. Cromwell is a family man, taking care of his entire household and we feel for him many times, first when his wife dies, and then his daughters and sisters. But, all the while, he's never maudlin, often matter of fact, a realist with a dry way of looking at life. He keeps moving on and upward, though he is likable as his power increases, you don't get the feeling that he is a money grabbing greedy opportunist like all the other courtiers and advisors surrounding Henry, particularly the Boleyns.

Often I appreciated the dry wit that came out in his thoughts and phrasing, especially in regard to Thomas More. More comes across as a self righteous prig, with Cromwell as the sympathetic hero, a realist, a survivor, a man with common sense. The book ends, much to my disappointment, with the demise of Thomas More, who refuses to give in and accept the king's marriage to Anne Boleyn and all that goes with it. I've heard that Ms. Mantel wrote this book to counteract A Man for All Seasons which portrays More as somewhat of a saint. She does a good job at undoing that image of More here. Cromwell does not come across as a saint either, he is a bit of an opportunist, though he has a way about him that is charming and self-deprecating. I really liked him, he was human, kind and caring, not the monster he is so often portrayed as in history books and movies.

I guess one of my main gripes about this book is that for most of it, we are with Cromwell, and his rise in power and wealth. It's all about Cromwell, and then in the last part of the book, suddenly it all shifts to More! Once again, Thomas More becomes the center of attention - even here in Cromwell's story! It's all about More, More, More! I found it unfair that we are reading all about likable Cromwell and the whole long book ends with the death of snarky Thomas More, as if he is the center of the universe. I was disappointed that the story shifted to him and his last days in the Tower with Cromwell still trying to be good and noble, giving More a chance to change his mind (which he refuses to do.) Yet no matter what Cromwell may have tried to do, More came off as the good one, Cromwell, the lowly born thug. Still, I enjoyed More's character - his sneariness towards Cromwell, and Cromwell's inner thoughts as well towards More. Here, Cromwell's tutelage under Wolsey comes in handy. Never show your emotions, never let anyone think you are afraid of them. As Wolsey said as he was being arrested, (to paraphrase) "Look at my face, I am not afraid of any man!" You could say the same of Cromwell. Stone faced, rarely showing his true thoughts, he'd just take what was thrown at him and make some pithy or self deprecating remark about it. One particular rumination of Cromwell's on More that I was fond of (and he had many!) that made me chuckle was in regard to More's tendency for lookng shabby. Cromwell wonders why More couldn't seem to get himself a good shave, "Can't he make time, shorten his whipping schedule?" Cromwell was no fan of More's propensity for wearing hair shirts or More's nightly self whippings.

There were many great lines in the book that made me laugh out loud, the Duke of Norfolk had some zingers, "Mary?" (referring to the Princess of Wales) "that talking shrimp?" Many, many little gems throughout this book, too many to list, but Cromwell's observations of everyone were always right on the money, he saw through everyone, nothing escaped him. I enjoyed his banter with Mary Boleyn and Jane Rochford and his thoughts on Mark Smeaton as well. He wasn't one to gossip, unless it would serve a purpose. He was neat and orderly and had a mind and memory like a trap.

Well, enough about the wonders of Thomas Cromwell, you can read the book and read about them for yourself. I enjoyed this book very much, but I can't say it deserves all the accolades and attention it has gotten. Still, it is unique that it paints Cromwell as a sympathetic figure and makes him likable, and for that the book is a worthwhile read, especially if you are are into this time period. I hear the author is writing a sequel, the continuing story of Cromwell in Henry's court, I will definitely read it, though after learning to appreciate Cromwell, I'll hate to read about what happens to him eventually. :(

One last note about the title. Why did she name it Wolf Hall? Yes, yes, I know it's the name of the Seymour family estate, and we all know that Henry drops Anne Boleyn for Jane Seymour, but why name the book Wolf Hall based on the last paragraph of this book? Am I missing something?


Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Gardella Vampire Chronicles by Colleen Gleason

Book Description:
Beneath the glitter of dazzling Nineteenth-Century London Society lurks a bloodthirsty evil...

Vampires have always lived among them, quietly attacking unsuspecting debutantes and dandified lords as well as hackney drivers and Bond Street milliners. If not for the vampire slayers of the Gardella family, these immortal creatures would have long ago taken over the world.

In every generation, a Gardella is called to accept the family legacy and this time Victoria Gardella Grantworth is chosen, on the edge of her debut, to carry the stake. But as she moves between the crush of ballrooms and dangerous, moonlit streets, Victoria's heart is torn between London's most eligible bachelor, the Marquess of Rockley, and her duty. And when she comes face-to-face with the most powerful vampire in history, Victoria must ultimately make a choice between obligation and love...


I simply devoured this series - I loved, loved, loved it! Thank God for Kindle, because it made it so easy for me to just quickly buy the next book in the series and read it immediately! First off, I thought the covers were gorgeous! Aren't they? *scroll down to see pretty covers*

I was instantly smitten with the story of young Victoria Grantworth who is making her debut in Regency England. Only 20 years old she learns at the same time that she is a Venator. She comes from a long line of vampire killers, also known as Venators, it is her destiny and duty to take on this mantel to kill vampires and protect humans. She embraces the idea and doesn't mind it at all, except for when it means that she's going to have to keep it a secret from the Marquess of Rockley, the new man in her life that she is falling in love with and means to marry.

I loved Rockley. He was kind, handsome, gentle, noble - everything I wanted for Victoria. I wanted them to be a happy couple and hated the idea that she had to drug him and keep her secret life from him. I was also afraid that he would play right into the vampires hands and they'd use him against her, and naturally, that is exactly what happens. Her dear Aunt Eustacia prepares her for the possibility, but Victoria is still new at this and doesn't believe it. Max Pesaro, an enigmatic fellow Venator who's very good at scowling and showing his disapproval thinks Victoria is much too flighty to be a Venator and he warns her too that she can't have both. There is no way she can live a double life as a marchioness and as a Venator - inevitably she will have to choose - or the choice will be made for her against her will.

I screamed in agony over the ending of this can't put down book and I eagerly loaded up the next on my kindle!


Book Description:
The Gardella Vampire Chronicles continue as the glorious 19th-Century city of Rome gives rise to a new threat from the immortal undead....

Lady Victoria Gardella Grantworth de Lacy has been a vampire slayer for just over a year, balancing her life as a peer of Society with the dangerous role that takes her out on moonlit streets, stake in hand. She has learned brutal and heartbreaking lessons about the sacrifices that must be made in order to save humanity from the evil that secretly preys upon it, but she has not wavered in her vow to fight on.

Now, in Italy, a powerful vampire is amassing the power to control the souls of the dead. As Victoria races across Europe to stop what could be the most deadly army the Gardellas have ever faced, her unlikely companion is Sebastian Vioget, a man as tempting as he is untrustworthy. But when Victoria discovers that she has been betrayed by one of her most trusted allies, the truth will challenge all her powers as a Venator - and as a woman...

The story moves on, sadder and darker, Victoria is now a widow, and I must admit, I was so upset over the ending of the last book that I had to read on immediately - hoping that at the end of the series somehow, some way she could get her Philip back. In this book, Victoria travels to Italy and meets Lord Byron of all people, as well as some familiar faces from the last book. Among them is fellow Venator, Max who is engaged to some Italian blonde! Very, very upsetting ending, though not as sad as in the last book. I still loved all the delightful details, how her maid cleverly hides stakes in her hair before going out, and the idea of Victoria's vis bulla which is a little filigreed hanging crucifix that is pierced next to her belly button and gives her the strength she needs to fight the vampires. It is a tiny silver circlet dipped in holy water and blessed. Amazingly enough, after reading these books, I have a whole new appreciation for body piercing! I have this strange longing to get one myself! Eep!

This book, as I said, is darker and less romantic. Max, we find, has turned against the Venators and has joined the Tutela, a group of humans that aid and protect vampires and provide them with victims to feed on. What has happened? How can Max do this, and how dare he go and get engaged after all the grief he gave Victoria for doing the same thing in the last book! There's more to Max's story than we know. We also get to know Sebastian Vioget better, who owned a vampire cafe in London called the Silver Chalice. He's on the scene in Rome as well and is eager to woo Victoria. He is aware of her secret life and is willing to help her - but for favors in return. Sebastian always knows more than he's willing to divulge and he's not altogether trustworthy. As debonair as he is, I still prefer Max's brooding ways, but Max has plenty of his own problems that all come to a head at the end of the book with devastating results.

I really enjoyed the locale of this book in Venice and Rome and makes me want to go there all the more!


Book Description:
To gain access to the secrets of a legendary alchemist, Rome's vampires have allied themselves with creatures as evil and bloodthirsty as they are. The new leader of the city's vampire hunters-Lady Victoria Gardella Grantworth de Lacy-reluctantly turns to the enigmatic Sebastian Vioget for help, just as Maximilian Pesaro arrives to aid his fellow slayers, no matter what the sacrifice. Desire puts her at the mercy of Sebastian, while loyalty binds her to Max, but she does not know if she can trust either. Especially when a seductive vampire begins luring her into the shadows...

Another dark story, this one is still set in Rome, though it does have it's more whimsical moments in the form of Victoria's mother and two dowager friends who come to visit in Rome and put a definite cramp in Victoria's plans to fight off vampires at night.

Victoria is now the Illa Gardella, head of the Venators and we get more glimpses of the headquarters of the Venators in Rome and it's workings. We meet other Venators like, Brim, Michaelas and Zavier, a red haired (!) Scottish Venator. Alas, Zavier is too short to be a Jamie Fraser, though I was struck by the similarities of his highlander accent and red hair - something to think about... Zavier takes a liking to Victoria, but she has her hands full between Sebastian and now, after a devastating kiss - Max! I enjoyed much of this book, but I found Max's self sacrificing getting to be too much to take - enough already! This becomes the common theme in the books, though angsty and exciting I needed some lovin' between Victoria and Max, I just didn't feel completely comfortable with Victoria and Sebastian and their moments in various carriages - which also becomes an on-running joke throughout the series. Max's ex-fiancee, Sara Regalado and her vampire father play large roles in this book as well.

The end of this book was a shocker as Victoria succumbs to the charms of Sebastian's great-great-great vampire grandfather, Beauregard. It was devastating to read of Victoria in Beauregard's clutches, drinking blood and liking it! Eep! A haunting image in which all I could think of was "fix this!" But, the biggest and scariest part of this book is the cliffhanger and worrisome feeling that although Victoria is rescued, Victoria may have become a kind of vampire herself! I had to immediately download the next Kindle and read on!


Book Description:
Ruining Victoria's homecoming, a vampire stalks the streets of London - during the daylight. Not only is Victoria unable to detect the vampire with her heightened senses, but she's being framed as the prime suspect behind the killings.

Meanwhile, her heart is still divided between the enigmatic Sebastian Vioger and her fellow slayer Max Pesaro. The battle is made even more difficult by the legacy of a vampire's touch - a vampire who left in Victoria's veins boiling blood that forces her to fight evil on two fronts: against the new breed of undead threatening London and against the darkness within herself.

Ah, at last, things are heating up between Max and Victoria. Back in London, Max is back and so is Sebastian. Sebastian is now a Venator and we learn the truth about him. The new Marquess of Rockley (Philip's heir) has turned up, a Kentuckian. I had my hopes that the new Marquess of Rockley was going to be Philip incarnate - but alas, he is not. Not even remotely so. Still, I loved the tie in with King George IV's coronation and the idea that Princess Caroline is a vampire! How interesting!

Sara Regalado, now a minion of Lilith's, is back at it again and up to her dirty tricks, she turns out to be much worse than I ever suspected. Parts were hard to read in this book, some awful things happen to some of our favorites and there is a big showdown at the end, that finally solves the dilemma of what happens to Victoria and the tainted blood of a vampire that runs in her veins.

Again more sacrifices on Max's part, but at least we know he loves Victoria, except that he's always doing something to make you think, "Oh no! This is it! He's going to die now!" Max is no longer a Venator, which needed to happen in order for him to be released from Queen of the Vampires, Lilith, who has been obsessed with him and had him in his thrall. Without the vis bulla of a Venator, Victoria is constantly worried for him since he is not as strong without it, which drives him crazy. He has his pride and he hates to be in the position (especially with his rival, Sebastian, as a Venator now) of being "lesser" than Victoria.

Basically, he is willing to die and save his pride than remain alive and be weak. I am getting a feeling I know where this is going to lead into the last book. The basic key: Lilith must die - but how?

Book Description
Directly descended from the very first vampire hunter in the Gardella family, Victoria knows she must continue the lineage so humanity will have protectors against the undead. While Sebastian Vioget appears to be both the perfect warrior and lover to ensure the Gardella Legacy, Victoria cannot forget Max Pesaro - the former slayer still haunted by the vampire queen Lilith's obsession with him. But it is Lilith's obsession that may save all of humanity. Demons, enemies of both mortals and the undead, have found their way to earth. To defeat them, vampires and slayers must fight side by side. But Lilith wants Max in return for her cooperation - a small price for the world, but too high a price for Victoria.

At last the end, and it was so satisfying to finish, and it was so romantic between Max and Victoria throughout - at last! But, he is so frustrating with this self sacrificing and brooding! Still, I loved the ups and downs and roller coaster emotions I got in reading about the two of them while battling demons and vampires and learning about what Waywren really is (duh, so obvious, but it didn't even occur to me!). I must admit, I was a bit disappointed that there was no Philip coming back from the undead at the end. Despite my love for Victoria and Max, I was really hoping that somehow Philip could return - I loved him so!

I must admit, I was so wrapped up in the romance and relationship between Max and Victoria, the plotline of fighting the demons and closing the gap became secondary to me. And yes, I guessed what was the truth behind Gwen (I must admit I never really liked her all that much!) Getting the five rings and finally killing Lilith off seemed more as a sideline! Still, a lot happens though I was a bit disappointed in the whole Guilia/Sebastian 'saving her soul' plotline - it just seemed convoluted to me, and I was still hoping it was going to be a way to bring Philip back! *pout*

Still, I'm happy for Victoria and Max and the new little Gardella on the way. Loved what happens with her mother and all the loose ends neatly wrapped up.


A wonderful, wonderful series, who knew I've love something like this! I loved the historical aspect of it, the hackney coaches, the inumerable dresses described, the balls and tea things. I loved the thrills the chills, the battles, the swords, the blood and gore, the thrall of being bitten, the eroticism of it. I loved the cold feeling on the back of the neck when a vampire is near and that "poof" when a vampire is staked and the vis bulla that hangs somewhere on the body of a Venator. I loved the "at last" moment between Victoria and Max and the way he told her he'll make her forget her own name. *sigh* It's hard to believe I've never seen a single Buffy the Vampire Episode, and the only other vampire books I've read are the early ones by Anne Rice. Well, I feel a change in the air - a sudden chill, something... paranormal.

Watch out!

Overall series rating: 5/5

Sunday, November 22, 2009

100+ Reading Book Challenge

I'm ready!

Last year I read 100 books, and this year I wasn't sure if I'd make it, but I'm doing pretty well right now and just finished my 86th book of the year, the 2nd in the Gardella Vampire Chronicles - love, love, love them! I'll review them all at once when I've finished all five of the books in the series - which will be soon since I'm devouring them in record time!

So, I'm taking the plunge and joining J. Kaye's 2010 100+ Reading Book Challenge.

It's pretty straightforward, read 100 or more books for the year 2010. If you want to join up, go over to J. Kaye's blog here and sign up. I wish I had done this for 2009, so I am thrilled to be able to join up for 2010!

Challenge Rules:

1. The goal is to read 100 or more books. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.

2. Audio, Re-reads, eBooks, YA, Young Reader, Nonfiction – as long as the book has an ISBN or equivalent or can be purchased as such, the book counts.

3. No need to list your books in advance. You may select books as you go. Even if you list them now, you can change the list if needed.

4. Crossovers from other reading challenges count.

5. Challenge begins January 1st thru December, 2010. Books started before the 1st do not count.

Happy reading everyone!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sick of Shadows by Sharon McCrumb

Book Description:
The book that started it all for Edgar Award winner Sharyn McCrumb's widely acclaimed series featuring amateur sleuth Elizabeth MacPherson.

When delicate Eileen Chandler is set to marry, her family fears the man is a fortune hunter. Thank goodness, Eileen's cousin Elizabeth MacPherson comes early for support. Unfortunately, Elizabeth also has some detecting to do, as a dead body is found, and none of the wedding party is above suspicion....

This book has been on my TBR pile forever, so I finally got around to reading it. I wish I could say it was worth the wait, but it just didn't really bowl me over. I'd heard it was witty and well done and I just don't see what all the fuss was about. Lots of quirky, offbeat characters, but I found none of them compelling, and I didn't even click with Elizabeth MacPherson who is the main character and the start of this acclaimed series that left me cold. One of the reasons why I read this book was that the later books take Elizabeth to Scotland from Southern Georgia, where this book takes place. I liked the idea of Scotland (of course), but I don't think I'm going to bother continuing with this series afterall.

It's not that it was bad, but it didn't keep me interested. Even though the many different oddball relatives and side characters were "different," the murder mystery itself made me curious, but I wasn't burning to find out who did it. The many different characters were distracting from the murder itself and I just wanted to get this short book (240 pages) over with.

The basic plot is Elizabeth has just graduated from college and has to be a bridesmaid in her cousin Eileen's upcoming wedding. She stays with Eileen's dysfunctional though well to do family for at least a week before the wedding. An awkward business, since Eileen hasn't seen any of them in years. Eileen is a mystery in of itself, institutionalized the previous year, we're not sure if she's completely stable or not. All her other cousins are strange to say the least, but some had their bright spots. I liked the Prince Ludwig nut, Alban, the best. He built his own Disney-like castle (aptly named Albania by his witty and jaded cousin, Geoffrey). The way he and Elizabeth meet is one of the best moments in the book. In fact, you get the impression there might be something romantic there, but they're first cousins, so that rules that one out. This is a contemporary novel afterall. Elizabeth barely knows any of her cousins, so we get to meet them all one by one, as well as the fiance and a visiting psychiatrist. All with their own little peculiararities.

As the week unfolds, Eileen, the bride to be, is found dead in an old skiff in the lake on the family property (hence the reference to Sick of Shadows and the Lady of Shallott - again, I just read a book with this same theme! What a coincidence!)

Who murdered Eileen? Was it one of her siblings or some other relative? Maybe it was the fiance, who we find out didn't even really want to marry her - except that Eileen would come into $200,000 by being the first of the cousins to get married thanks to an eccentric great aunt who made this proviso in her will. Because of this, any one of the many siblings or cousins could have been the murderer to get the money.

Over the course of the investigation we also get to meet the county sheriff, who, predicatably, is smarter than he sounds and likes to keep up the charade of being just a good ol' boy. In addition, we get to know his sidekick Clay, and some family secrets are revealed to further the plot and throw the reader some red herrings.

I won't reveal who the murderer is, but the whole wind up was just kind of ... dumb. I shook my head and thought - this is it? It was a cute little mystery, but light. It didn't have any meat on it for me, just lots of little sideline stories of weird characters and would be murderers. Maybe I'm just not a big enough mystery lover to have really appreciated this, though I like historical mysteries. I think I have a ways to go to get into these types of books.

Hey, at least I read it, and I knocked off another book from my TBR Challenge! That's the important thing!


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran

Book Description:
In a debut romance as passionate and sweeping as the British Empire, Meredith Duran paints a powerful picture of an aristocrat torn between two worlds, an heiress who dares to risk everything...and the love born in fire and darkness that nearly destroys them. From exotic sandstone palaces... Sick of tragedy, done with rebellion, Emmaline Martin vows to settle quietly into British Indian society. But when the pillars of privilege topple, her fiancé's betrayal leaves Emma no choice. She must turn for help to the one man whom she should not trust, but cannot resist: Julian Sinclair, the dangerous and dazzling heir to the Duke of Auburn. To the marble halls of London... In London, they toast Sinclair with champagne. In India, they call him a traitor. Cynical and impatient with both worlds, Julian has never imagined that the place he might belong is in the embrace of a woman with a reluctant laugh and haunted eyes. But in a time of terrible darkness, he and Emma will discover that love itself can be perilous -- and that a single decision can alter one's life forever. Destiny follows wherever you run. A lifetime of grief later, in a cold London spring, Emma and Julian must finally confront the truth: no matter how hard one tries to deny it, some pasts cannot be disowned...and some passions never die.

I really thought I knew what to expect from this book. At first I thought it would be the usual story of a missish and proper English bred Victorian young lady come to India to be married who meets a dashing and disreputable man who unleashes her hidden passions. Ho-hum, been there, done that.

I was wrong - very wrong.

From the beginning, Emmaline Martin is not your average miss. She is a survivor. Outspoken as well as a talented artist, she makes the long journey from England to India with her parents. En route, the steamer sinks and she barely escapes alive but for being rescued by a merchant ship, crewed by Irishmen. Having lost her parents, she arrives in India alone, amidst the scandalous whisperings of the other colonials, "What happened to her?" "Was she abused by her rescuers?" "How unladylike!"

Now an heiress, Emmaline is reunited with her fiance, who turns out to be an ass - and an unfaithful one at that - and is soon disenchanted with what she realizes her life will be like as a proper memsahib in colonial India. Suffering from the recurring nightmares of the shipwreck, she is disillusioned and unhappy with her future. Her fiance, Marcus, makes it plain he only wants her for her money and will continue his philandering ways once they marry. He expects her to act with decorum and grace, just like all the other memsahibs in India. That's just not going to happen to Emma. One night at a ball in her honor, she meets Julian Sinclair alone outside in the garden. He is tall, dark and handsome, the perfect foil to her blonde fiance. He and her fiance are cousins, but Julian is the one to inherit the dukedom of Auburn, even though he is part Indian, much to Marcus' chagrin. Not exactly accepted in England or India due to his heritage - Julian doesn't care. He's rich, clever, powerful and notorious with women - he does what he wants. When he and Emma meet, there is an instant chemistry and understanding between them - kindred spirits. Their paths cross several times again and they warily become friends, though her fiance warns not to have anything to do with him. Julian saves her from a few unfortunate instances and soon she begins to think of him as someone she can trust. Before long, Marcus proves himself to be more than just a jerk, he strikes Emmaline and she breaks the engagement off with him, yet she needs someone that can help her get out of Delhi for rumours and signs are pointing to the imminant possibility that an Indian Mutiny may occur. It is out of the question to remain in the city, she must get to safety somewhere else.

And so, as predicted by Julian, an Indian uprising goes into effect with devastating results. It is horrible. Ms. Duran paints a clear picture of how dreadful it was with all the murdering and death. Julian helps Emma escape and they have a tender night together. He tells her he loves her, but he must go back to Delhi to look after the Indian side of his family. He promises he will return and leaves her in safety at the house of a maharajah. But, it turns out Julian was wrong. Emma must face more tragedy and turmoil, and the nightmares she experienced from her shipwreck are nothing compared to what she now faces while trying to save herself and get out of India. She trusted Julian and believed he'd find her, but alas, he never returns. She must fight and kill and do what she must to survive. Her experience takes it's toll on her for years to come.

We next come upon Emma four years later in England. She is a shell of the person she had once been. Living with her married cousin, who has nursed her and tried to bring her back to reality and peace, Emma pours her heart out in her painting. All her nightmares and memories of the Mutiny are brought to life - horrible, bloody, graphic paintings of scenes she witnessed. Soon, a friend of her cousin's wants to show them in a gallery and sell them for her. The opening night is a sensation. Shown under a pseudonym, no one realizes she is the real painter, except for one. I bet you can guess just who happens to be there that evening - yes. Julian, the Duke of Auburn.

The next part of the book is pushed forward with momentum, I could barely put it down. From the minute Julian realizes that Emma is alive (he had thought her dead) everything changes for the two of them. She is still damaged from her memories and fights him, she cannot stand the idea of seeing him again - falling for him - trusting him - look what happened to her last time she believed and trusted in him. She hurts too much. Of course, they've both been under the wrong impressions - thanks to Marcus, her jerk ex-fiance. I won't go into all the details, but Julian and Emma must join forces to come to terms with their future and find out why and who is trying to kill her as well. Words taken from letters she stole from an English soldier she killed are written in Urdu in her paintings. It turns out they are more incriminating of the Indian Mutiny than anyone realizes. Someone wants her dead.

This was more than just your usual historical romance. It was intense, emotional and stirring. I cared about Emma and Julian and wanted to see them together - but it just wasn't that easy. Emma is a strong heroine, which makes it that much harder to see what happens to her over time with the Mutiny and aftermath and how it nearly kills her and wrecks her. Julian is strong and courageous, but must live with the idea that he couldn't save Emma from what happened - he's not even sure what exactly happened to her! He goes on a tear after seeing her again in London, dropping any sense of decorum - he will fix this and damn the consequences! Finally, when they have their big showdown and explanations, it's cathartic for all, including the reader.

A really good book, it took me a little while to get into it, but once I did, it was so worth it! The locale of India was evocative and their lovemaking is sensual and memorable. The references to Tennyson's The Lady of Shallot "I am, half sick of shadow" were well done and poignant as well, I loved it. I can't wait to read the rest of Ms. Duran's books, this is an author I will watch out for in the future!


Friday, November 13, 2009

Desolation Island by Patrick O'Brian (audio)

Book Description:
The 5th novel in Patrick O'Brian's hugely successful Aubrey/Maturin Series

Commissioned to rescue Governor Bligh of Bounty fame, Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend and surgeon Stephen Maturin sail the Leopard to Australia with a hold full of convicts. Among them is a beautiful and dangerous spy -- and a treacherous disease that decimates the crew. With a Dutch man-of-war to windward, the under-manned, out-gunned Leopard sails for her life into the freezing waters of the Antarctic where, in mountainous seas, the Dutchman closes...

This is the first time that I've listened to one of the Master and Commander books, and I must admit, there were some things I liked about it, but some things I did not. I did like the narrator, Simon Vance, who did the various accents, but I found it hard to concentrate on the battle scenes and the various sea faring terms, such as 42 degrees longitude, 43 minutes due west (or something of that sort) that would come up quite frequently.

The story itself wasn't bad. We are back again with Lucky Jack Aubrey (who isn't as lucky in this book, as we shall see) and his friend and ship's surgeon, Stephen Maturin, who is also a spy for the British against Napolean's France. Jack has got himself a ship, the Leopard, not the most gallant ship, it's not very pretty, nor does it have a glorious reputation, having blown up the unprepared American frigate, The Chesapeake in 1807, which almost set the US at war with Britain. Many Americans were killed and even Jack admits (he was not the ship's captain at the time) it was a bad job of it.

The Leopard has the ignominious task of transporting ("transporting!" says Jack scathingly) convicts to Botany Bay. A few of them are women, which is never considered good luck on a ship. One, a Mrs. Wogan is an interesting creature. She is a spy and an American - and a good friend of Diana Villiers, Stephen's old love and Achilles Heel (he's had more than enough laudanum due to her over the years, than is good for him). Diana has left him in the lurch more than once. They resemble each other and Stephen develops a fondness for Mrs. Wogan, as do most of the men on the ship. She is a genteel sort of prisoner, she has a maid and her own cabin and an endearing manner about her. She has a way of making men fall all over themselves for her. More than one probably cannot fathom the idea of her going to live in an Australian penal colony.

While en route, the Leopard has many hardships. It must face off with a Dutch Man of War which meets it's untimely end and then the Leopard hits an iceberg in the Antartic and is seriously crippled. It loses it main mast (I think) and it's rudder. Not good. It limps along until, with Jack's amazing navigational abilities, it lands on Desolation Island, a remote, frozen island inhabited by no man, just seals, penguins, sea elephants, birds and sea leopards. To Stephen, a naturalist, it is paradise. To the rest of the crew it is an icy hell. Before reaching the island, a good part of the crew set off in one of the boats (with Jack's permission) to see if they can navigate in the ocean to some warmer climates and safety. Jack will not leave his ship, of course.

The book had it's high points and some humerous moments, but it was in my opinion not as entertaining as the previous ones I've read. There is a bit in the beginning with Jack and Sophie (his wife) and children. Some bits of Stephen, gearing up for meeting Diana after a long time, only to be ditched by her (poor Stephen), and an unusual stowaway, a Mr. Herapath, who turns out to be a heartsick amour of Mrs. Wogan. Herapath becomes Stephen's mate when his last surgeon's mate dies of the fever that overtakes the ship.

While asea, the story is grim and bleak, I was actually looking forward to their reaching Botany Bay (they never do in this book) and I was hoping we'd meet Captain Bligh (of the Bounty Mutiny). I was interested in seeing what Jack thought of him, apart from the fact he was known to be a great navigator. I read all the Mutiny on the Bounty books when I was young, I highly recommend them. I would have liked to get O'Brian's take on Bligh. Much of this book was from Stephen's point of view, not much at all from Jack. In fact, for much of the book, Jack is remote, concentrating on his command, although I did enjoy a few naughty tidbits that came out of his mouth, particulary his views on women! But, mostly this is Stephen's story. Will he ever recover from Diana? Will he ever get over his opium addiction? Will he help Mrs. Wogan escape?

If you are a big fan of the series, this is a must read, but it's not a book I'd recommend to just pick up and read for the fun of it. You have to be into this type of series to appreciate it. Granted, since I was listening, I don't think I got the full effect of the writing and sea jargon and overall feel for the book like I did with the others. I think I will take a break from Jack and Stephen and concentrate on other genres, though I will revisit this series again - someday. In any event, I've knocked off another book for my TBR Challenge.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

Book Description:
Nothing ever goes right for Eloise. The day she wears her new suede boots, it rains. When the subway stops short, she's the one thrown into some stranger's lap. And she's had her share of misfortune in the way of love. So, after deciding that romantic heroes must be a thing of the past, Eloise is ready for a fresh start.

Setting off for England, Eloise is determined to finish her dissertation on two spies, the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian. But what she discovers is something historians have missed: the secret history of the Pink Carnation-the most elusive spy of all time. As she works to unmask this obscure spy, Eloise has more and more questions. Like, how did the Pink Carnation save England from Napoleon? What became of the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian? And will Eloise Kelly escape her bad luck and find a living, breathing hero of her own?

I've been having the hardest time writing this review, I've been putting it off and off and the reason why is, I'm afraid I can't do this book justice - I loved it!

I was so surprised to find out how much I really adored this book! It had it all. First of all, it was a little chic litty because it starts out in present day. Eloise is our modern day heroine who has a thing for the Scarlet Pimpernel and another similar type of 18th century hero that worked with the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Purple Gentian. Now, having just read (or listened, in my case) to the book, The Scarlet Pimpernel, I loved this premise. Eloise decided to write a paper and go to England to research this topic and find out who was the the real Purple Gentian and another mysterious masked hero, the Pink Carnation. Now, of course, they're all fictional, but this book brings them to life, particulary the Purple Gentian. As Eloise delves into her research, she is generously given the chance to read the private papers of the real story from the Purple Gentian's present day descendents. While reading these papers, she meets Colin, the not so endearing present day earl or viscount or lord (I can't remember what he is) of the Selwick family. She has a couple of run ins with him - of course, he's dazzingly handsome, and she's always managing to make a fool of herself in front of him - a la Bridget Jones, which I found endearing and funny (especially since I love Bridget!).

While reading the 200 year old papers, we are then taken back in time to Napoleanic times and when the Purple Gentian was in action! We learn about Amy, who wants to work in league with the Purple Gentian (even though she doesn't know who he is.) She has wanted this ever since she was a little girl and she hops off to France from England with her cousin, Jane, and chaperone, Gwen. This is when the book gets really good! We also meet Lord Richard Selwick who is the real The Purple Gentian. He is charming and handsome and I found him totally endearing as well. There are tons of mix ups, humerous antecdotes, masked kisses, daring rescues and a mystery, plus some sweet, but at the same time, hot sex scenes - this book had it all! Not to mention - a great plot and I loved every minute of it! I loved the switching back and forth between Amy and Richard's story and Eloise and Colin's, which is not finished! I'm sure we'll learn more about our present day hero and heroine in the future books of this series.

Do yourself a big favor - read this book. It helps to know the story of The Scarlet Pimpernel first, though it's not required - but it does help. I'm eager to read the rest in this series - it was so much fun and I hated to finish it!


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn (audio)

Book Description:
Despite his admonitions to stay away, Lady Julia arrives in Yorkshire to find Brisbane as remote and maddeningly attractive as ever. Cloistered together, they share the moldering house with the proud but impoverished remnants of an ancient family -- the sort that keeps their bloodline pure and their secrets close. Lady Allenby and her daughters, dependent upon Brisbane and devastated by their fall in society, seem adrift on the moor winds, powerless to change their fortunes. But poison does not discriminate between classes….

A mystery unfolds from the rotten heart of Grimsgrave, one Lady Julia may have to solve alone, as Brisbane appears inextricably tangled in its heinous twists and turns. But blood will out, and before spring touches the craggy northern landscape, Lady Julia will have uncovered a Gypsy witch, a dark rider and a long-buried legacy of malevolence and evil.

Book Three of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries, I had high hopes that there would be a lot more interaction between Lady Julia and Brisbane. Alas, he seemed as remote as ever, they were apart for the greater part of the book. I found him hopeless at times. I was so frustrated with their relationship! Poor Lady Julia goes all the way to the bleak moors of Yorkshire, land of the Brontes in all it's Gothic glory, to be with Brisbane for she feels he needs her. Instead, he barely has anything to do with her. Occasionally he would give in to a passionate kiss, and then push her away, telling her to leave cryptically, before storming off to help find a sheep or something of the sort. Of course, not until the end of the book to we become privy to his thoughts and learn why he behaved the way he did - but still! I found him quite annoying for the most part!

So, because Brisbane was basically not around, Lady Julia had to amuse herself and turn her attentions to the mysterious and strange Allenby family, the previous owners of the remote and crumbling Yorkshire estate that Brisbane has taken over. Julia slowly but surely unearths some dark family secrets surrounding the now dead heir to the Allenby line, Redwall Allenby. Redwall, an Egyptian scholar is the late brother of two very strange sisters. Lady Julia takes it upon herself to catalog all of the artifacts he collected from Egypt in order to sell them off to provide for his sisters and mother. Little does she know that she will find two dead babies hidden in a priest's hole in his study that appear to be mummified. But, these are not ancient babies, they are relatively new and Julia is determined, with Brisbane's help, to find out who they belonged to, and how they got there.

Meanwhile, Julia has become friends with the local Gypsy healer, Rosalie, who turns out to be Brisbane's aunt. She is a flamboyant character who reveals more facts about Brisbane's childhood so that we get a more complete picture of who Brisbane is and why. I liked Rosalie's character and she gave some pizzazz to what I considered a drab storyline. There were some bright notes such as the mating of Mr. Pugglesley and Florence (from the last book) - I can't imagine what ugly puppies they'd have! But even Julia's siblings, Portia and Val seemed depressed and out of sorts. There was no humor or fun, aside from some of the catty thoughts Julia had for Hilda Allenby, one of the two strange sisters who had a fondness for raising poultry. This book was bleak in comparison to the first two books in the series, although it was in keeping with the locale of the moors. The entire book oozed "gothic" and there were many send ups and references to Wuthering Heights and the Bronte Sisters in general. Plenty of odd characters in the Allenby family alone. Still, I found the mystery itself lacklustre and predictable and only the very ending of the book made up for Brisbane's lack of affection towards Julia for the majority of it. I'm sure fans of this series will agree with me, the ending was very satisfying.

On another note, I listened to this book on audiobook and was very disappointed in the narrator, which probably affected my opinion on the book itself. Beware of the audible edition with Margo Westwood as the reader. Don't get it. She sounded like she was channeling Bette Davis as Margo Channing in All About Eve. Over the top with the melodrama, some day I will re-read this in print, just so that I can eradicate the picture in my mind and give Lady Julia a better version in my head of what her voice should be like. She deserves better. Although, Ms. Westwood was very good at doing the voice of Rosalie the Gypsy woman.

All in all, it was a good book, but to do it justice, I need to re-read it, I think I will enjoy it a lot more in print than on audio. I'm very much looking forward to the further adventures of Lady Julia and Brisbane in the next book in the series, which I believe is in the making and will send them to India!


Lord Ruin by Carolyn Jewel

Book Description:
Mistaken identity and a night of shattering passion force a marriage of opposites: Ruan, duke of Cynssyr, a sophisticated and notorious rake, and Anne Sinclair, a spinster with the bad luck of being a pretty woman born to a family of beauties. Will "Lord Ruin" succeed in showing Anne that more than passion unites them or will their differences keep them apart?

Let me start off by saying I loved this book.

It was a complete surprise to me, I did not know what to expect, I thought it would be another regency romance with a winsome heroine and rakish lord, something cute and sweet, but not very memorable. I admit, the reason why I believed this to be so was based on the sickeningly sweet and somewhat sappy cover. How wrong I was - never judge a book by it's cover! This was a can't put down story, at once sexy and thrilling with a thread of a murder mystery running throughout. It made it more than just a sensual regency romance between a spinsterish heroine and rakish duke. As much as I'm all for sensual romances between rakish dukes and spinster misses, the sex scenes can sometimes become repetitive, in fact to the point of being dull - but this was anything but!

The story sets out a little confusing, there are three main men we meet, all good looking regency bucks. Dev turns out to be the male lead that is in love with our heroine, Anne. He intends to marry her, but then we are taken unawares for it turns out she is inexpicably debauched by his best friend, Ruan, the Duke of Cynssyr (get it, his name is Ruan - Lord Ruin? Corny, but I liked it!) I won't go into how it all happens, but it does and I must admit as outlandish, implausible and unbelievable as it was, it had me from the beginning and I couldn't put the book down! I had to know what would happen to poor Anne! Poor Anne - who turns out to have another side to her concerning the bedroom!

Anne and the duke must marry to save her reputation. From there we see their relationship develop. They become friends as well as lovers, but Anne suffers from the idea that she is unattractive, yet to her husband she is anything but. She is a breath of fresh air to him, although I did tire of how often I had to read about how much he admired her enormous breasts. The duke comes across as a rake and a cad - basically a self absorbed, selfish man who takes what he wants - namely Anne. But, as the book unfolds, we realize he is much nobler than we believe. He takes his role in the House of Lords seriously and is much admired by his peers. At the same time, he is trying to find out who is kidnapping and raping, and sometimes killing young women in London. There are a lot of red herrings, I often thought I knew who the culprit was, and then I'd flip flop to thinking someone else was the killer. This was the interwoven thread through the book - who's the killer and will Anne be it's next victim? Everything comes to a head at the end with an exciting rescue and finish, although I was a bit confused about who actually was the culprit. I think I might just have to read this book over again - and again - and again. *grin*

Anne was a likable heroine. She turns out to be a very competent duchess and lives up to the title. Plus, I often sympathized with her, I felt so sorry for her when she believes Ruan is still carrying on an affair with his ex-mistress, and empathized with her when she wouldn't believe him when he told her he loves her. She keeps thinking he's going to pack her off to one of his estates in far off Cornwall to keep her out of the way, yet as it turns out, he can't bear to keep away from her. They have a passionate marriage, one that was sizzling with chemistry, it was truly a pleasure to read! ;) Yes, there was always the worry about his ex-mistress and the fact that Anne had wanted to marry Dev - would that pose a problem for Ruan - and if so, what would he do about it? I liked it how he had this possessive streak when it came to his duchess. I loved it how he fell in love with her, how he wanted to protect her, and how devastated he was when he realized she was in danger.

There are also all sorts of side characters to consider, Ruan's friends, were they really friends, or were they really the killer? I also liked Anne's sisters. One of whom, Emily, the prettiest and youngest, takes a fancy to Dev. I'd like to read about their relationship which this book sets the reader up for. It turns out Emily has more backbone than anyone believed.

This is the first book I've read by Ms. Jewel, and it certainly won't be the last. I hope she writes a sequel to this one, for it really deserves one. I was sorry to finish this, I loved the characters and was wrapped up in their world and the who done it mystery of the Jack the Ripper type killer - great sex, great plot, great characters. For me, this had it all!


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mine Till Midnight by Lisa Kleypas

Book Description:
When an unexpected inheritance elevates her family to the ranks of the aristocracy, Amelia Hathaway discovers that tending to her younger sisters and wayward brother was easy compared to navigating the intricacies of the ton. Even more challenging: the attraction she feels for the tall, dark, and dangerously handsome Cam Rohan. Wealthy beyond most men's dreams, Cam has tired of society's petty restrictions and longs to return to his "uncivilized" Gypsy roots. When the delectable Amelia appeals to him for help, he intends to offer only friendship -- but intentions are no match for the desire that blindsides them both. But can a man who spurns tradition be tempted into that most time-honored arrangement: marriage? Life in London society is about to get a whole lot hotter...

What is it about all the books about Gypsies I've been reading lately? It's quite a coincidence. It seems every time I start a new romance, I'm reading about a hero who is half Gypsy, half Irish (or Scottish, or English - whatever) and shunned by his mother's people, the Roma, for being tainted with non-Romany blood? He's not accepted by his other half either - the father's side. Alienated by aristocratic society for having the blood and dark, swarthy good looks of his Roma forebears, he is in a kind of limbo, unaccepted as an equal and subject to the unkind prejudices and distrust of his people, no matter who his father may have been.

And so I've described Cam Rohan, the hero in Mine Till Midnight. This is Cam's story. Raised as a young boy in his mother's Gypsy camp, he must leave the camp and winds up working at Jenner's, a gambling house in London. It is soon learned that Cam has a knack for numbers, and he also has a knack for making money - lots of it, much to his embarrassment. Viscount St. Vincent (yes that St. Vincent from The Devil in Winter) takes Cam under his wing and introduces him to Society. Cam hobnobs with the many gentlemen that come to Jenner's, though he's still not considered one of them. He's rich, to be sure, but still a half breed Gypsy with a dubious heritage. Although Cam is wealthy and good looking and can have any woman for the asking - there is no shortage in that respect - he's bored with life and is considering giving up the ways of the gadji (non-Gypsies) and going back to his mother's tribe and traveling with them across the country.

But, his plans are upset when he meets prim and proper spinster, Amelia Hathaway who is looking for her drunken, scape grace brother Leo. Leo is a lost man, in more ways than one. Suffering from the loss of his dead fiancee, he has given up and decided to drown his sorrows with wine and women, gambling and all sorts of sordid activities. In other words - he's gone to pot.

Amelia seeks him out, with the help of her family retainer, another Gypsy, Merripen who has been with her family for years and is like an older brother to her and her siblings. While looking for Leo, they meet Cam in a dark alley behind Jenner's and he helps them. He's immediately arrested by the beauty and demeanor of Amelia - strange as that may be - it must be kismet - they are meant for each other, though she fights it at first. She is torn, her family counts on her to be strong and take care of them. She carries the load on her shoulders. They have a slew of problems: a broken down estate that her brother is taking no interest in, a frail younger sister who nearly died of scarlet fever (which killed Leo's fiancee, btw) and another younger sister who is a kleptomaniac. Fortunately, the crumbling estate is right next door to Stony Cross - from the Wallflower Series. After Leo nearly burns the estate down to the ground by accident, the Westcliff's from Stony Cross take them in until they can repair the damage - which basically means for the rest of book.

By coincidence, Cam Rohan happens to be staying at Stony Cross at the same time and he resumes his interest in Amelia. He shamelessly stalks her, intent on wooing her. But, another guest is staying in the area as well, her former love who jilted her, an architect that once led her to believe he'd marry her. He broke her heart and now he's suddenly back in her life again! Boy, when it rains it pours! I enjoyed the way Cam put the architect in his place and Amelia overcomes her initial distrust of Cam and sees the light - she wants him! Before long, she gives in to the passion that is simmering everytime they meet. Cam is also a huge help to her and her family, although Amelia is proud and resists his help at first, but her protests appear to be futile, he is relentless and will not take no for an answer - he wants to marry her and help her family - and her incorrigible brother who seems to be on a suicidal mission. One of the things that bothered me about this book was I didn't get the chemistry and "thing" between Cam and Amelia, I didn't see what he saw in her to begin with. It was more like he was bored and she was new and different and not his usual type so - voila! He's mad for her! But, for how long? How long can he go on rescuing her from one calamity after another? What happens if he finally says, "Enough already! You're family is driving me nuts!" Of course, that won't happen, but I find his too good to be true kindness and understanding a bit implausbile and too much. It kind of takes away from that bad boy attitude I found attractive in him to begin with. How much is he going to take? Yes, yes, I know, he never had a real family of his own so he doesn't mind taking on Amelia's siblings and their problems - he'll gladly do it for her - but I just don't find it attractive that he's so domineering after knowing her for such a brief period of time. He's just walked in and taken over, which irks her as well, she's not used to giving up control to anyone. Because he's half Gypsy and so male - is that supposed to make it all right? But, then again, this is a romance and no one ever said romances were all that realistic - that's part of why they're so fun to read and escape in, especially when it comes to alpha males!

Will Cam get his way with Amelia without her clunking him on the head first? Will he ever get over the fact he is half Gypsy and not accepted by either side of his family? Will Amelia agree to marry him and risk society's prejudices and dare to have some fun in her life? Will Leo ever shape up and be the good brother he once was? Will her fragile sister hook up with their Gypsy family retainer? Will Cam risk his life for the woman he loves? Will Amelia ever figure out how to get that damn ring off her finger? Questions... questions... just read the book and you'll find out the answers.

As usual, Lisa Kleypas' characters ooze sensuality and sexual tension, making it a pleasure to see how her hero and heroine finally manage to have a happy ending. In addition we see some old friends from the Wallflower series and there is a poignant side story between Amelia's frail sister and Merripen. There is also a villain and a ghost that add interest to story as well. All in all, it was a good book, though not the best Lisa Kleypas I've read. I can't say that Cam is a favorite of mine, I still go for the "to the manor born" types like Lord Westcliff *sigh* Still I am eager to read the next in this new Hathaway Series (new to me, at least) for I have a feeling I just might get my wish!


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn (audio)

Book Description:
Fresh from a six-month sojourn in Italy, Lady Julia returns home to Sussex to find her father's estate crowded with family and friends. Much to her surprise, the one man she had hoped to forget -”the enigmatic and compelling Nicholas Brisbane -”is among her father's houseguests - and he is not alone. Not to be outdone, Julia shows him that two can play at flirtation and promptly introduces him to her devoted, younger, titled Italian count.

But the homecoming celebrations quickly take a ghastly turn when one of the guests is found brutally murdered in the chapel. Lady Julia resumes her unlikely and deliciously intriguing partnership with Nicholas Brisbane, setting out to unravel a tangle of deceit before the killer can strike again.

Warning: spoilers!

I'm really liking these Julia Grey mysteries! Of course, it doesn't hurt that I am very intrigued and falling not a little in love with Nicholas Brisbane! Half Roma, half Scottish, he has a mysteriousness about him, and we find out a little more about his past. This time, Nicholas has his arm in a sling, due to a heroic act involving Julia's father that she's not supposed to know about. It does not take away from his sex appeal nor does it prevent him from acting the sleuth.

The story opens as Lady Julia prepares to return to England for the Christmas holidays after a prolonged holiday in Italy. She plans to stay at her father's Abbey, an estate in the country. She brings with her, her two brothers, Lysander who has just married a fiery Italian beauty, and Plum, her artistic and philandering brother. In addition, they have brought a guest with them, a young Italian count, Alessandro, who has made it plain that he is "interested" in Lady Julia. She is flattered, but not exactly bowled over by him. Still, it makes it interesting when they return to her father's home in the country and Brisbane is there! A little competition doesn't hurt! Neither one has expected to see the other, and thank goodness Lady Julia has her Italian count because Brisbane has a fiancee! Eek! I loved Julia's instant hate for Mrs. King (the fiancee) and thankfully, we soon learn that Brisbane doesn't seem to be all that enamoured of her. The engagement appears to be a sham, but we don't know why. Mrs. King is a flighty snob who eventually breaks her engagement with Brisbane and developes a tendre for Julia's brother, Plum.

We are introduced and reacquainted with many characters from the previous book. Morag, Julia's Scottish maid, sister Portia (who I liked more in this book, she wasn't as flighty), Aquinas, Julia's ever efficient butler and Julia's father and his new lady love, Fleur, from the last book. In addition, there are some new faces, Julia's poor relations, Emma and younger sister, Lucy and Lucy's new moneyed fiance, Sir Cedrick as well as Aunt Dorcas, Julia's cantankerous great-aunt. There is also a handsome young vicar, Mr. Snow, who seems more of rogue than a clergyman and of course, Mrs. King, Brisbane's fiancee.

Before long, we get into the thick of the story - a murder. It seems that Julia's cousin, the soon-to-be-married Lucy has murdered the nefarious clerygyman in the sanctuary of the chapel. She is dazed and incoherent - did she murder him or not? If not, who really did - and who tried to poison her and her sister with brandy later on? In addition, is there a ghost that is roaming the halls of the Abbey? Not only that - is there a jewel thief in their midst? While snowed in and isolated from the rest of the world, Julia and Nicholas are on the case. Not only does their relationship deepen, but so does the plot. There are all sorts of revelations and a delicious nod to the Gothic Novel. Ghosts, gypsies fortune tellers, stolen kisses and even a bevy of puppies and kittens abound!

I really enjoyed this book, listening to it whenever I could. The narrator was a bit better in this one, though I wasn't crazy about her voice for Nicholas. Once again, I learned more about the Roma/Gypsies during the Victorian period and the prejudices of those "in trade" versus those who are not. I also enjoyed the background of the March family (Julia's family) and the references to "mad as a March hare" that were around the Abbey as well as the descriptions of the Abbey itself and the furniture, the rugs, clothing, the styles, the jewelry - you name it, I was swept up into the Victorian era.

Not only that, I heartily enjoyed Julia's catty thoughts and fake smiles and thinly veiled put downs towards Mrs. King. But, the Brisbane/Julia relationship is what is my real love of this series and I especially enjoyed how they became closer in this book, smoking hashish in his rooms while discussing the case and of course, their impromptu and passionate kiss. Julia has come to terms with her feelings for Nicholas, but he cannot comes to terms with his own for her yet. I am ever hopeful that Julia will get him to admit his feeling for her once and for all - if only his stupid pride wouldn't get in the way. He says he will never marry a woman of fortune. I don't think that's going to stop her, though. She wants him, but he's not ready to be caught - yet.

The mystery itself in the book was very good, though the conclusion was a bit drawn out so that it seemed a little anti-climatic to me once we find out the truth of it. I did not guess it, but then, I'm not really good at guessing who the villain is in mysteries. There is still a dangling thread to worry about too - I wonder if it will come up again in one of the future books yet to be written.

Speaking of future books, it's on to the next in the series to find out just how far Lady Julia will go to get her man!

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