Friday, December 31, 2010

A Dance Through Time by Lynn Kurland

Book Description:
James MacLeod was the most respected - and feared - laird in all of Scotland...  Unpublished romance novelist, Elizabeth Smith, knew she was overworked when she began hearing voices.... To clear her mind, she took a walk in Gramercy Park. She dozed off on a bench - and woke up in a lush forest in fourteenth-century Scotland.  A forest surrounding the castle of James MacLeod...  

Quickie Review:

My first book by this author and I really loved this time travel romance. Twentieth century young woman who happens to be a romance author from NYC accidentally travels to medieval Scotland and meets the fierce laird of the MacLeod clan who immediately thinks she's a witch and throws her into his pit of a dungeon.  Feeling guilty, he frees her and then tries to make it up to her and they fall in love and you can guess the rest.  It was actually a really good book and I devoured it!

This is one of the time travel stories in which the modern heroine, Elizabeth, must deal with the dirt and grime, bad teeth and foul breath of just about every Scottish Highlander she meets - except for the hero, of course! *grin*  I was glad Elizabeth figured out pretty quickly what had happened to her when she traveled back in time.  She handled it pretty well.  I loved the way she meets James MacLeod, the laird.  His reaction thinking she's a witch is realistic, frankly, and his first inclination is to have her burned.  But, instead he throws her in this horrible dungeon, it was disgusting and naturally, she is totally traumatized by the experience.  He finally lets her out after feeling so sorry for her and does all he can to then help her.  They gradually fall in love, and of course, there is a villain who's trying to mess things up for everyone.

As the story progresses, James and Elizabeth marry and she has come to terms with the fact she won't ever see NYC again, but she remembers something about what she read about the MacLeod Clan.  At one point she saves James' life after a fierce battle with a neighboring clan.  Only he should have died at that battle.  She realizes she has changed the future so that she and James are going to have to travel ahead in time so that the future is not screwed up.  So, they go forward and James at first is blown away by everything, but he gets used to it pretty quickly and he meets her brothers and parents and it's all one big happy family, until they have to go back again to kill this awful villain!  It's complicated, but it was really good, and there are something like 13 more books in this series! 

All I can say is Elizabeth was endearing, I really liked her and her reaction to things, though she did tend to be annoying at times.  James was, to me, sort of a realistic highlander, what you'd expect from those days.  It took some getting used to for him to accept Elizabeth's ways (primarily, about cleaning up his disgusting castle!)  The side characters were good too, his illegitimate son and the young girl he falls for.  Elizabeth's brothers all get their stories too.  I even enjoyed the way her father reacted to James as well - it was all so good!

I highly recommend this classic time travel story, a real keeper and it's "clean", with some allusions to sex, but nothing blatant, so it's appropriate for young teens, who I'm sure will eat it up!!


Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Mad Bad Duke by Jennifer Ashley

Book Description:
Meagan Tavistock could easily see how Alexander had earned the nickname Mad, Bad Duke. His deep blue eyes promised sinful pleasure, his touch burned through the silk of her dress, and his rich voice intimated that as soon as they were skin to skin, he'd fulfill desires she didn't even know she had. When a love spell missed its intended target, Meagan could no longer resist the temptation...until the magic wore off, leaving the pair in a most compromising position. Their only option was a marriage that thrust Meagan into a new world of high danger, dark secrets, and a passion so intense she couldn't help wondering: Was it the lingering power of the spell or true love at last?

Quickie review:

I totally loved and enjoyed this 2nd installment in Ashley's romantic Nvengaria Series with paranormal elements. Alexander, the Grand Duke was a swoonworthy character and Meagan was much more likable and endearing here than in the first book of the series. Alexander is a super powerful guy, now a diplomat in London for the country of Nvengaria.  He has a fearsome reputation and temper.  Basically, he's the kind of person, you just don't mess with.  Meagan is a young Englishwoman who is somewhat of a wallflower amidst London's spectacular beauties.  She is virtually a nobody, except her step-sister is married to the Prince of Nvengaria (1st book in series).

Due to a magic love spell that goes awry, these two are thrown together.  They both experience realistic dreams of having sex in a bath with one another and when they actually see one another at a ball - all those dreamy memories surface and with one look - she's his.  Suddenly little Meagan is having mad, passionate sex with this amazingly powerful man at the ball, behind closed doors!  No way - this is too crazy!  Plus, she was a virgin.  Once he realizes he has "ruined" her, he does the honorable thing and offers her his hand in marriage to save her reputation.   She has no choice, it's a given, she's now going to be the Grand Duchess! Talk about a life change!  It doesn't hurt that he is irresistible and the two of them can't keep their hands off each other due to this love spell.  Or is it really the spell that's making them act this way?

Meanwhile the Grand Duke must face the realization that he's part logosh (a strange mystical animal from Nvengaria) and he's actually falling for his little English wife for real.   He's got a lot on his plate.  Someone's trying to murder him and he's learning how to shape shift - all without letting Meagan know about it!  She's mystfied with his sometimes bizarre behavior.  One minute he's Mr. Passionate, sweeping everything off the dining room table to have her and the next minute he's cold and aloof and will barely notice her.  It turns out he's afraid he will hurt her and turn into a logosh when he's having sex with her.  Sex with Meagan tends to make him lose all control and it would be so embarrasing if he turned into a panther in the middle of *ahem* you know. Silly man!  Of course, Meagan has no idea and is hurt by his cold and puzzling attitude. 

Naturally, it all turns out well in the end, and I ate this book up.  The plot line was far fetched and pure fantasy, but it was fun and moved along and kept my interest.  I really liked both the hero and heroine, I empathized with Meagan and her new life, coping with her new responsibilities of being a busy Grand Duchess.   Regarding Alexander - I just loved every scene he was in.  Bigger than life in every way - I love a man like that!  I highly recommend this romance for the sheer pleasure of it - the sex was pretty hot too! *fans self*


Monday, December 27, 2010

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (audio)

Book Description:
Barcelona, 1945.  A great world city lies shrouded in secrets after the war, and a boy mourning the loss of his mother finds solace in his love for an extraordinary book called The Shadow of the Wind, by an author named Julian Carax. When the boy searches for Carax's other books, it begins to dawn on him, to his horror, that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book the man has ever written. Soon the boy realizes that The Shadow of the Wind is as dangerous to own as it is impossible to forget, for the mystery of its author's identity holds the key to an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love that someone will go to any lengths to keep secret.

Shadow of the Wind is an historical fiction, a novel filled with twisty turny plot lines and characters that keep you guessing and wondering.   It's the story of a young Spaniard, Daniel who searches for what happened to the author of a mysterious book. Their lives parallel in this literary mystery. It kept me guessing throughout with imaginative and memorable characters as well.

Young Daniel Sempere is introduced to the "Cemetery for Books" with his father at a young age.  The son of a bookstore owner, Daniel is appreciative of this honor.  He is allowed to select one book to keep.  What is that book?  The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax.  A relatively unheard of author, Daniel's story begins with his discovery of Julian's book - and his fascination that evolves in regard to the mysterious author.  Daniel devours the book and longs to read more by Julian, but alas the books are hard to find and Daniel soon learns that a mysterious person that resembles a character in The Shadow of the Wind is following him, and wants the book.  This person is destroying every copy of Julian's books that still exist.  Why?  Who is this person with a leather mask for a face?

Over the course of this interesting and sometimes poignant journey of Daniel's, we see him grow up into a young man.  We get to know Daniel and the many special people in his life, such as his good friend and confidante, the beloved Fermin, one of my favorites in the book.  As Daniel learns more about Julian Carax, we realize Daniel's life, in one particular way, parallels Julian's.  Both fall in love with a young women forbidden to them.  I was kept guessing throughout the book and had all sorts of ideas and theories about who was who and what was the big secret.  I was wrong most of the time, but it made it all the more an enjoyable read/listen.  I must admit, it was a very clever story!

Listening to this on audio was worthwhile for the Spanish names and expressions are fresh in my mind, and I know that if I had read it in print, I would have mangled all the Spanish pronunciations (I've never studied the language) and I feel fortunate I listened to it instead.  Narrated by Daniel Philpott, he did a fantastic job with all the voices, accents, pronunciations, etc.  I was sympathetic towards all the characters, his voice flowed through the story making it seamless and soothing to me as I listened while going about my daily routine of commuting, folding laundry, making dinner, working out - you name it.

A memorable story, a mystery within a mystery and any book lover will appreciate the storyline for it revolves around a book!  Not only that, the era and setting is unique to me, I am now eager to visit Barcelona one day.  The mystery of what happens to Julian has many layers and I found it riveting, as well as Daniel's story and how the two merge and come together.  A brilliantly planned out novel, executed perfectly. Very well done.  Ironically enough, I started reading this a few years ago and put it down, I just wasn't in the right mood for it at the time.  I'm glad I picked the novel up again and listened to it instead.  If you are like me, give it another try or keep with it, it gets better and better as the story progresses.

I highly recommend this novel, I'm sorry it took me so long to read it, but I'm glad I finally did!


2010 TBR Reading Challenge Wrap Up - Done!

I completed my 2010 TBR Challenge! There were times when I was remiss and didn't get to any for a while, but eventually I got with the program and finished it up - in the nick of time!  I had to select 12 books that had been on my reading list for at least six months and then I had twelve alternates.   I read seven books from the main list and read 5 alternates.  Scottish Highlander romances seemed to dominate my TBR list this year - surprise, surprise!  But, since Scottish highlanders are what started me on romances in the first place, it's not unusual that they're the ones that have been on my TBR list the longest.  Ironically, I was disappointed with most of them, although I really enjoyed On a Highland Shore by the late Kathleen Givens quite a bit.  If I had a favorite overall of all the TBR books, I'd have to say two romances took the prize, Stolen Charms by Adele Ashworth, and Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas were great.  The House at Riverton by Kate Morton, a non-romance audiobook was a favorite as well.  I vetoed two of my original list, I just knew I wasn't going to read them, not that I won't ever, but I just didn't think I'd be able to get into them.  I put off When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (who I love as an author!)  but I just never seemed to be in the right mood to read it.  Same with John Fowles, The Collector.  One of the alternates I had to put down because it was so bad was What Do You Say to a Naked Elf? by Cheryl Sterling.  Just the title alone should have warned me!  I never made it to a couple of classics I've been meaning to read by Fitzgerald and Hemingway - one of these days I will get to them.

Overall, I'd say my TBR list this year was a bit of a disappointment.  My average rating for the entire list wound up being a middling 3.5 stars.

Below are all the books I read for my challenge. All are reviewed, you can check the tags to find it.  I'm definitely doing this challenge again for 2011, and I'll post the books later this week that I'll choose for the challenge.

My List of Completed TBR Books for 2010

1. The House at Riverton by Kate Morton - on audio, I adored this story that takes place in a grand house during the Edwardian Era and 1920's.  Flashhbacks of a young servant's life, great book!  4.5/5

2. The Scottish Thistle by Cindy Vallar - Dull.  Scottish highlander tale leading up to the Battle of Culloden.  Nothing like Outlander, big disappointment.  One of those books that had been on my TBR list forever! 2.5/5

3. If You Dare by Kresley Cole - first in her Scottish brothers historical series.  Not bad, not great.  Nothing like her Immortals After Dark Series, which is much better.  4/5

4. Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman - this was a slog to get through, although I love this type of historical fiction.  I adored her previous book on Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, Time and Chance, but this final book in her Henry/Eleanor trilogy was sad and depressing.  It came across as rather choppy as well.  All the mistakes made by everyone made it an overall downer of a book, as much as I love this author.  4/5

5. The Stone Maiden by Susan King - dullish Scottish highlander romance, forgettable.  3.5/5

6. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova - Vampire inspired novel of search for the real Dracula in Eastern Europe. Way too long, but glad I finally got to it.  On audio.  2.5/5

7. The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney - not a page turner, but evocative of the wintry Canadian setting of the 1860's.  3.5/5

8. Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati - overall a disappointment.  I couldn't help but compare it to Outlander, to it's detriment.  Now at least I've read it and I will not be reading the sequels.  On audio.  3.5/5

9. Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas - loved this, one of my favorites of the year!  Historical romance of author swept off her feet by wealthy publisher that won't take no for an answer.  They embark upon an affair to remember.  Jack Devlin is a memorable hero. La sigh.  4.5/5

10. Stolen Charms by Adele Ashworth - loved, loved, loved this historical!  My favorite on my TBR list.  Crazy, unbelievable plot, but set that aside and this was an adorable story.  Entertaining plot line, emotional and thoughtful - and poignant. By the time they declare their love for one another, I was nearly in tears. Great, great!  5/5

11. On a Highland Shore by Kathleen Givens - loved it, not so much for the romance of the story but more about the action and how it opened my eyes up to how the Vikings raided the Scottish isles during medieval times and the aftermath.  4.5/5

12. Intimate Enemies by Shana Abe - So so Scottish medieval romance.  Another one about Vikings invading a Scottish isle, but this one just didn't keep my interest, despite the Romeo and Juliet romance.  3/5

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Slightest Provocation by Pam Rosenthal

Book Description:
As children of feuding Derbyshire landowners, Mary Penley and Kit Stansell eloped against their families' wishes. But neither their ardor nor their marriage could survive their own restless natures. — Nine years later, Kit is a rising star in the military while Mary has made her way in a raffish, intellectual society of poets and reformers. A chance meeting re-ignites their passion, but still they have very different values. Yet when Kit uncovers a political conspiracy that threatens all of England, they agree to put their differences aside. Amid danger and disillusionment, Kit and Mary rediscover the bonds that are stronger than time, the selves who have never really parted-and the love that is their destiny. 

Is it possible to rekindle a relationship that took place years ago?  Despite different backgrounds and upbringings?  Is sexual chemistry enough?  Is it possible to love someone again who betrayed you over and over?  Are second chances believable - or is it just something conjured up in fairy tales?  Is it possible for someone to "grow up?"  What is true love?  What constitutes a soul mate? Is it possible to loathe someone as much as you love them?  Is older and wiser - a good thing?

Pam Rosenthal's The Slightest Provocation asks all these questions.  Kit and Mary married as young lovers, eloping against their parent's wishes.  She, springing from a wealthy family (in trade - horrors!) and Kit, coming from a well to do aristocratic background.  Never mind, that his father, the 7th Earl of so and so really isn't his father.  His mother, the dutiful wife of the Earl, produced the obligatory heir and a spare, and was then free to take a lover, or two, or three over the years - Kit being the result of one of her more lasting liaisons.  No love lost, since it turns out the Earl was more interested in young men than women anyway.

So, Kit and Mary run off, they have a tempestuous relationship, young marrieds and all that jazz, yet, as expected, they are young and stupid.  Kit winds up experimenting with courtesans and Mary turns to his best friend in retaliation.  Uggh.  They separate, end of relationship.  Yet, to preserve their respectability, they remain married, but go their separate ways - for ten years!  Mary is now ready to remarry.  She's had a few lovers over the years - discreetly, as warrants her station in society, and Kit had gone abroad, doing his best in the Napoleonic Wars. Both have grown up quite a bit and, as chance would have it, they come across one another one night at an inn in France while waiting for a packet to take them across the English Channel.  Whatever would we do without convenient cozy inns that provide clean rooms and good food?

Hmmm... did I mention sexual chemistry?

One thing leads to another... it's too irresistible - the slightest provocation throws them together in a room upstairs and well... you can imagine what happens.  Yet, all is not rosy and gay afterwards.  They are married after all, and they did go their separate ways for a reason.  Although in bed, they may be perfectly compatible, outside the bedchamber is another story. 

Yet, this is just the beginning of the story.  Fate throws them together again and while Mary is visiting her widowed sister in the village where they grew up - the same village that Kit is from, by the way, she and Kit decide to embark upon an affair!  A married couple, openly estranged with one another, headed for the divorce courts - having a secret affair with one another?  How scandalous!  Clandestinely, they meet - often - and carry on.  Where will this lead?  Much is discussed between them, and there is a mystery to solve as well about who is stirring up trouble in the country, fomenting rebellion.  Can Kit accept the fact that his wife is an intelligent, modern (by early 19th century standards) woman with a mind? That she may even have some pertinent and logical opinions?  She may even be cable of actually talking about politics and discuss what she considers is fair and right in the world!   On the other hand, can Mary accept the fact that her husband has grown up and is no longer the Peter Pan she married?  He is now a gentleman that is pursuing a career with the Home Office and is trying to prevent a rebellion amidst the common folk of Derbyshire.  May find that he just might not be the flibbertyjibbet twenty-one year old she married.

They have their differences, yet the common denominator is they cannot live without one another. Over the course of a few weeks they get to know one another again and realize - it's not all bad!  Is there hope for this couple?  Can they overcome the past and renew their marriage vows and live happily ever after?  Can they respect one and another and treat each other as equals - as soul mates?  As best friends - as well as lovers?

Although, I found this plot line intriguing, (it's one of my favorite kinds, Sherry Thomas is aces at this type of romance), I found this book to be just so-so. Often it came across as somewhat scattered and dull. I had high hopes when I read the description of the story, but it faltered here and there.  Still, it wasn't bad, but I think with the proper editing, it could have been a lot better.  It started out well, but somewhere in the middle and second half, it got bogged down with the possible rebellion brewing and the totally unnecessary sideline of her niece running off with the local aristocratic boy.  The sex scenes were okay but I kept hoping for something more emotional and passionate.  Kit and Mary's relationship needed more oomph, it was lacklustre and I felt we were too at "arms length" to appreciate what was happening to them.   Read it and see for yourself.  Still, I will definitely read more by her, I haven't given up on this author, for I think she has a lot of potential and her plot lines are intriguing to me - I have high hopes!


Sunday, December 19, 2010

2010 Audiobook Challenge Completed - Year End Wrap Up

I had an amazing year for audiobooks, some of my favorite all time books were discovered this year on audio.  I easily completed the 2010 Audiobook Challenge hosted by Aline at Royal Reviews. My goal was to listen to 20 audiobooks (obsessed level) for the year.  I surpassed that figure and listened to 33!  What were some of my favorites?  To name a few:  A Town Like Alice, The Help, Life: Keith Richards and Paul is Undead.  I discovered several new authors, such as Kate Morton, Ariana Franklin and Elizabeth Peters, plus I zipped through all three Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books!

Below is my list in the order I finished them and my ratings.  All with links to my reviews.

1. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown   3.5 stars
2. The House at Riverton by Kate Morton  4.5 stars
3. The Seduction of the Crimson Rose by Lauren Willig  4 stars
4. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute  5 stars
5. Guilty Pleasures (Anita Blake Vampire Slayer) by Laurell K. Hamilton   2 stars
6. The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick  3.5 stars
7. The Well of Lost Plots (Thursday Next) by Jasper Fforde  4 stars
8. The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig  3.5 stars
9. Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles by Margaret George  3 stars
10. The Help by Kathryn Stockett   5 stars
11. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton  3.5 stars
12. The Betrayal of the Blood Lily by Lauren Willig 3.5 stars
13. Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde  3.5 stars
14. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson  4.5 stars
15. The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss  4 stars
16. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson   4 stars
17. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick   1.5 stars
18. The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn  2.5 stars
19. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson  4.5 stars
20. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe   3.5 stars
21. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See  3.5 stars
22. Paul is Undead by Alan Goldsher  4.5 stars
23. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova   2.5 stars
24. The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters   4 stars
25. Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin  4 stars
26. Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati   3.5 stars
27. The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters  4 stars
28. First Among Sequels: Thursday Next by Jasper Fforde  3 stars
29. The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin  4 stars
30. Life: Keith Richards by Keith Richards  5 stars
31. The Mischief of the Mistletoe: a Pink Carnation Christmas by Lauren Willig  4.5 stars
32. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón   4 stars
33. Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters  4 stars

I fully intend to do this challenge again in 2011, it was so much fun and since I'm such a big audiobook lover, it was a breeze to do!

I hope everyone has a safe and happy new year!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

On a Highland Shore by Kathleen Givens

Book Description:
In an age when Norse invaders threaten Scottish civilization, one woman will defend her clan's honor and claim her own exceptional destiny.

1263: As the Highland village of Somerstrath prepares for the joyous wedding of Margaret MacDonald, the laird's daughter, a dark storm of bloodshed and betrayal closes in.... Now, determined to hold her shattered clan together and locate her abducted younger brother in the wake of a brutal Viking attack, Margaret must choose between obeying the dictates of King Alexander's court, or placing her trust in Gannon MacMagnus, an imposing half-Irish, half-Norse warrior. Who is this stranger who vows not to harm her? Will he vanquish the barbarous killers who would continue to destroy the rugged, magnificent land she calls home?

This was a gripping book.  From the very first chapter I was riveted to the plot line.  Some of it was terribly brutal with a sad aftermath and some parts, such as the relationship that develops between the hero and heroine, are wonderful.  It was a book full of emotion and drama.   Not your average medieval romance, this tells the story of Margaret MacDonald and the terrifying struggles she faces as a young woman who must cope with the fact she has lost the world she once knew so well.  Margaret, who could be a stubborn young woman, soon learns the hard way that those things that once seemed important to her are nothing compared to survival when tragedy strikes her happy home. 

Destined to marry a prominent Scottish nobleman at Court, Margaret is the eldest daughter of the laird of Somerstrath, a Highland village along the coastline of northern Scotland.  As she prepares for her wedding and happy future with her new husband, she is horrified to discover his unfaithfulness to her and recognizes how vain he really is.  She is disgusted and disillusioned.  She refuses to marry him, and her father gives her an ultimatum.  If she does not marry him, she marries no one and she will have to enter a nearby convent.  While deciding what to do, she travels inland with her older brother and younger sister for a few weeks at Court.  While there, an old seer woman talks to Margaret, giving her a cryptic message of a "a man of gold" and she tells Margaret she will have to fight dragons.  Upon Margaret's return to Somerstrath, the worst of the worst has happened.  She finds that the entire castle and village of Somerstrath has been raided by Norsemen - Vikings.  No one has been spared.  Women and children raped and murdered, every man dead, not a single survivor except the handful of boys they kidnapped to sell as slaves - one being Margaret's little brother, Davie.  In one fell swoop, Margaret has lost her parents and the rest of her siblings.  No one is left except her brother and sister who traveled with her to Court.   Margaret is brave and courageous, but even facing this kind of carnage is too much.  Both sisters are numb with disbelief and ever hopeful they will find their little brother hiding somewhere amidst the ashes and wreckage.  Nothing, not a trace of him.  My heart broke while reading of Margaret's loss.  Meanwhile, Margaret's older brother, who now becomes laird of the clan, turns out to be nothing more than a hindrance, only interested in his own glory and doesn't seems to care at all for anyone but himself.

Shortly after their discovery, a band of warriors arrive. They are mistaken at first as enemies, since some of them -  two brothers - are half-Norse and half-Irish.  A struggle ensues, but soon enough it becomes apparent they are friendly and are only trying to help.  They help Margaret and what is left of her family pick up the pieces of their lives. They aide them in burying their dead and removing to another nearby fishing village down the coast.  There, they can be safe and wait for their uncle who also has his hands full with other raids going on along the coast. 

From this point on, everyone lives in terror of the Norse raiders return, which is certain.    Margaret soon becomes friendly with Gannon, the elder of the two half-Norse warriors that have come to help.  It's clear that Gannon is the "golden one" whom the old seer woman referred to, although Margaret doesn't realize this at first.  They are drawn to one another and soon fall in love amidst all the terrible horror that has happened.    Gannon remains by her side, but soon must go out after the leader of the Norse raiders, leaving Margaret behind.  As a strong and able bodied man he must do this, but he hates the idea of leaving her alone and unprotected - by him.  Of course, the village is raided again while he is away, and Margaret is taken away.  These raids are absolutely devastating to read about!  Kathleen Givens is great at describing these events .  I must say, I was very impressed with her writing here, much more than in her Kilgannon books which I found a bit dreary.  There is tons of excitement and action and angst!  Can Gannon rescue her?  How can Margaret survive, will the leader rape her?  Will she ever find her brother?  On top of everything else going on is the strong bond between Margaret and Gannon.  He is modest and must deal with the fact everyone looks at him as if he is the enemy because of his blond Nordic looks.  He is a quiet leader, strong and capable, sharp and intelligent.   He also loves deeply and forever.  He knows Margaret is his soul mate and he will do anything to get her back.

I really loved this book, I'm leaving a ton out, it's too hard to fully describe everything, a lot happens!  It was hard to put down once I got about 50 pages into it and I looked forward to reading it every chance I got.   One of my greatest regrets upon finishing it, was that the late Kathleen Givens died before ever writing the sequel.  What a talent!  Such a shame.  On a Highland Shore has a few loose ends that I'm sure she intended to address.  One big one, in particular, was about her younger sister and the mysterious Scotsman she meets at Court for a brief time.  He is older, yet he tells her in so many words, they are destined to marry one day, and he will wait for her to grow up.  Does she ever meet him again?   And what about Davie? 

Do yourself a favor, if this is a time period you're interested in, read this book.  For one thing, it's a real eye opener about  the Island Scots and Norse raiders who battled over the northern island territories in the Middle Ages.   Viking raids were not uncommon and totally devastating with their long ships and fierce warriors descending upon coastal villages and wreaking havoc everywhere they went.  No wonder the Viking were so legendary and feared!  The vivid descriptions and events of this story bring it all to life up until the very last page.  The characterizations are excellent and I grew attached to many of the side characters too, Gannon's brother was a favorite.   I highly recommend this novel!


Sunday, December 12, 2010

To Taste Temptation by Elizabeth Hoyt

Book Description:
The ton loves nothing more than a good scandal, and they're giddy with the appearance of wealthy Samuel Hartley. Not only is he self-made, American, and in the habit of wearing moccasins, but he is also notorious for fleeing a battle in which several English gentlemen lost their lives. What the ton doesn't know, though, is that Samuel is in London because of this massacre. He believes his regiment was given up to the enemy and won't rest until he finds the traitor.

Lady Emeline Gordon is captivated with Samuel. Not only does he defy convention with his unusual dress, his sensual smile, and his forthright manner, but he survived the battle that killed her beloved brother. Samuel suspects that the person responsible for her brother's death is Jasper Renshaw, Viscount Vale, a family friend since childhood - and Emeline's fiance. Despite Emeline's belief in Vale's innocence and her refusal to break off her betrothal, she and Samuel begin a passionate affair. But can their relationship survive the fallout from Samuel's investigation?

I really loved this book, I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I'd probably like it since I loved Elizabeth Hoyt's previous "Prince" series. If this first book in her Legends of Four Soldiers series is any indication of how the rest of it will be, then I think I'm going to love this series!  This was a great story! It had romance, humor, a mystery, everything I love in a book.  Colonial Samuel Hartley descends upon 1760's London in his unorthodox buckskin leggings and moccasins to solve the mystery of what happened during a fateful battle in the French Indian War and who was the traitor that set them up for the massacre in Quebec.  Sophisticated Lady Emeline Gordon keeps insisting she is not attracted to this uncouth man, but she can't deny it - she is lost to his good looks and rugged countenance.  Yet, she's engaged to someone else?  What to do?  I loved this!

Samuel Hartley is not your usual drop dead good looking, take charge, indomitable alpha hero.  Although set during the 1760's pre-Revolutionary War, Samuel reads more like a modern hero.  He's American, or rather a Colonial, since the Revolutionary War hasn't begun yet.  He shakes hands, rather than bowing and scraping.  He wears moccasins and leggings, forgoes a powdered wig.  He wears a queue, no powder.  No dandy, he sticks to browns and black, typical of a Colonial, despite his fortune (in trade!)  Top notch with a gun, no one comes close to him in shooting with his Kentucky Long Rifle.  He has a mystery about him as well, running alone amidst the darkened alleyways and backstreets of London in the middle of the night.  He's a runner. I found this refreshing in an historical novel.  Usually you find this sort of modern persona in independent minded historical heroines, which I find grating and out of character, but with Samuel I found it kind of neat for a change.  Don't get me wrong, he's still very much the Georgian male animal who was a British soldier in the colonies fighting in the French and Indian War.  While there, his regiment was massacred in a crucial battle near Quebec.  He is convinced there was a traitor in their midst - an officer - who knew the plans of where the regiment would be heading.  Ambushed alongside a river, almost all were lost.  Samuel is, what today we would consider, a cross county runner.  Upon viewing the carnage and total annihilation of his troop, he fled the scene and ran to get help - hence why he has been called a coward for running away.  But in truth, he ran miles and miles, destroying his feet until they looked like bloody stumps to get help and notify his superiors of the ambush.

Now, several years later, Samuel is in London to learn the truth and find out who the traitor was.  He systematically investigates all the possible officers that are still alive who could have been responsible.  This is where we meet our heroine, Lady Emeline Gordon.  A beautiful widow with a young son, Emeline is renowned for her respectability and decorum, the top of her class.  Her brother also fought and died in the above mentioned massacre.  Samuel seeks her out to find out whether she may be able to shed any light on the matter, although he does not want her to know what he's up to.   He worries that she will think he is a coward for running from the battle in Quebec as well.  His sister, who is in need of sophistication, is the perfect excuse for Samuel to "hire" Lady Emeline (who has a talent for this sort of thing) to oversee her debut and give her some polish.

Emeline is not the typical heroine either.  I found her refreshing as well.  Not some simpering miss, she is older - though still a beauty.  She has a worldly sophistication about her.   She is at home in London or at a country estate.  The English aristocracy is her fishbowl, and she is a pro at maneuvering her way inside it.  So, when she meets Samuel Hartley - she is a bit taken aback!  He is not what she's used to.  Somewhat coarse and unrefined, he is constantly surprising her with his manners and customs - yet she is drawn to him and soon finds herself finding ways to run into him - it doesn't hurt that he's rented the townhouse next door to hers or that her son has taken an immediate shine to him as well!   The feeling is mutual, Samuel is attracted to Emeline and takes her son under his wing.  The boy needs a male influence badly.  But, did I mention that Lady Emeline is engaged to be married to one of the officer's at the massacre?  Her fiance, Viscount Vale is an old childhood friend.  I really liked him a lot - though he's not meant for Emeline.  He becomes an ally of Samuel's and together they join forces to find the traitor.  I'm sure another book will be about him and (I hope!) Emeline's dowdy best friend!   Emeline is also interested in solving the mystery, for she was close to her brother and wants to get to the bottom of his death (a death so horrible they do all they can to spare her the details). 

Samuel is not infallible.  He cannot bear to be in crowds - the fetid smell of sweat and unwashed bodies haunts him and brings back memories of the war and battle.  It is debilitating and a major chink in his armor.  He's not the life of the party in a crowded ball room to say the least.  He has his flaws and I loved the way Emeline rescues him more than once and doesn't lose her head.  Simply put, they're made for each other, even if they come from totally different worlds.  How on Earth are they going to come to terms with their different backgrounds and live happily ever after?

There are tons of details I'm leaving out, but take my word for it.  This book has everything!  Chock full of rich descriptions of Georgian England, there's a mystery regarding the massacre, some skulduggery and suspense regarding the real villain, plus a cartload of interesting characters with a delightfully unorthodox courtship between Emeline and Samuel.  Their romance builds and builds, stringing the reader along, but if you're familiar with Elizabeth Hoyt's previous books you know she doesn't let her readers down when it comes to sex!  ;)  In addition, each chapter starts off with the "Tale of the Four Soldiers" which parallels the main story.  This one is about the soldier that went into the woods.  Very cleverly done! Read it and enjoy!


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Highland Surrender by Dawn Halliday

Book Description:
Determined to put his roguish past behind him, the Earl of Camdonn arranges to marry the proper Lady Elizabeth. But when an accident lands the Earl in the expert hands of a beautiful Highland medicine woman, all well-laid plans are thrown to the wind - and, just as in the old days, his passions run high... Ceana MacNab has terrible luck with men. Resigning herself to the healing arts, she has steeled her heart against love. Then fate sends Cam her way. Even though he's a well-bred Earl - and Ceana a low-born Highlander -their all-consuming passion may lead the way to lasting bliss.

I can't say this book was really my thing.  I loved Halliday's earlier book, Highland Obsession which I read last year.  That was a different story, which featured a Georgian love triangle that winds up with an erotic menage a trois between Cam, his best friend and his new wife whom Cam has an obsession for.  Now in it's sequel, Highland Surrender, we have Cam's story.  Instead of obsessing over his friend's wife, Cam now becomes obsessed with Ceana, the local healer woman who has a strong independent streak.  The problem is, Cam is betrothed to a young and beautiful Englishwoman who has reasons of her own for marrying Cam, other than the fact he's rich and handsome and lives in a big castle.  To further complicate matters, she's fallen in love with his stableman, Robert, who's really his half brother. How is this foursome ever going to wind up with the right partner?  Much eye rolling on my part due to the incongruous plot line with some S&M love scenes that just were not my cup of tea.

This novel had everything in it but the kitchen sink!  The disgraced and much maligned Earl of Camdonn has returned from England with his betrothed, Lady Elizabeth, an Englishwoman who has secrets of her own.  Little do we know she is not nearly as naive and inexperienced as she appears.  Her uncle, the cruel and sadistic Duke of Irvington is a villain that takes pleasure in beating Elizabeth's lady's maid in lieu of beating Elizabeth when she has been "naughty."  Elizabeth lives with the duke because he is the only family she has left (he killed her parents and brother by making it look like they died of smallpox.)  She has been under the duke's thumb for years and her marriage to the Scottish Earl of Camdonn is her ticket to freedom.

Upon Cam and Elizabeth's return to Scotland from London, they are set upon by highwaymen who waylay their carriage and Cam is shot.  Elizabeth flees to safety with the aid of Cam's handsome stableman who just happened to be coming back from a tryst at Ceana's place.  Ceana MacNab, the local healer comes upon Cam in the woods and nurses him back to health at her remote cabin.  Of course, Cam is attracted to her and the feeling is mutual, but neither can act on their feelings.  Ceana has been carrying on with Robert, Cam's head stableman who rescued Lady Elizabeth.  He asked Ceana to marry him earlier, but she refused.  Maybe it was because she didn't like the way he slapped her backside while insisting she like it.  Or maybe it was due to her claim that MacNab women don't marry?  Most likely, it's the later.  The question is, why?  How come MacNab women never marry? 

The plot deepens when we find out that Robert is Cam's half brother.  Upon rescuing Elizabeth, Robert cannot get her out of his mind and he wants her.  He thinks of her at night and looks up into her window, yearning for something he can never have.  As it turns out, she's strangely drawn to him as well.  One thing leads to another and they cannot deny their attraction any longer.  His dark passions match her own, and he finally gets to try out that new flogger he made!  Much happens and they begin a torrid S&M flavored affair.  Meanwhile, Cam returns from Ceana's cabin, now very much in love with her, though he knows deep down she can never become his wife.  He is committed to marrying Elizabeth, even though it's a marriage of convenience.  He's not attracted to Elizabeth the same way he is to Ceana, bedding Elizabeth would be for an heir only.  Ironically, Cam learns of Elizabeth's affair by observing her with Robert making love in a cave.  At the same time, he overhears Robert admit to Elizabeth that they are brothers.  Wow, how much more can Cam take in one night?  Serves him right for eavesdropping.

Poor Cam!  He's trying to be good to make up for his misdeeds from the last book, but it's not easy!  He needs to marry Elizabeth for her connections, but he loves Ceana, who can never be accepted by society as his countess.  What are they all going to do?  Elizabeth and Robert love one another, but she needs to marry Cam to get away from her awful Uncle Walter.  Plus, Robert has no money to speak of, and he's the illegitimate son of the last Earl.  Can Lady Elizabeth give up her pampered life to marry a lowly stableman?  Ceana loves Cam as well, and even though he asks her to marry him, throwing caution to the wind, she must refuse another marriage offer - again.  We soon learn that a curse had been put upon the women in Ceana's family.  Whoever they are betrothed to will die before the marriage takes place.  So far, the curse has come true and that is why Ceana refuses to agree to marry Cam.  She's afraid if she says yes, she will be sentencing him to an early death.

So, let's get this straight... it's beginning to resemble a Shakespearean comedy!

Cam loves Ceana but she's just a low born healer woman, and he's a lofty earl that needs to marry another lofty personage because that's how things are done in the early 1700's.  Ceana can't marry him because she's certain it will kill him due to her family curse.

Lady Elizabeth needs to get away from her awful uncle and marrying Cam is the answer.  But, she doesn't love Cam, she loves his bastard half-brother who's nothing more than a head stableman.  Robert doesn't feel he is worthy to marry Elizabeth, even though she really likes his flogger.   The psychological trauma she has undergone by her uncle is a perfect fit for Robert's penchant for kinky sex.  They're a perfect fit.

Much hand wringing, soul searching and angst goes on, but by the end of the book all is made right and these two mismatched couples get paired off satisfactorily.   All's well that ends well.

Bottom line, I'm not into S&M or bondage type romances, so this one did little for me.  The incredibly far fetched plotline was oftentimes ridiculous, but I kept with it to the end, just to see how they all got together.   Not bad, the writing itself was well done, but I couldn't relate to any of the characters and didn't feel much sympathy for anyone.  A disappointment compared to the first. 


Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Mischief of the Mistletoe: A Pink Carnation Christmas by Lauren Willig (audio)

Book Description:
Arabella Dempsey’s dear friend Jane Austen warned her against teaching. But Miss Climpson’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies seems the perfect place for Arabella to claim her independence while keeping an eye on her younger sisters nearby. Just before Christmas, she accepts a position at the quiet girls’ school in Bath, expecting to face nothing more exciting than conducting the annual Christmas recital. She hardly imagines coming face to face with French aristocrats and international spies…

Reginald “Turnip” Fitzhugh - often mistaken for the elusive spy known as the Pink Carnation - has blundered into danger before. But when he blunders into Miss Arabella Dempsey, it never occurs to him that she might be trouble.  When Turnip and Arabella stumble upon a beautifully wrapped Christmas pudding with a cryptic message written in French, “Meet me at Farley Castle”, the unlikely vehicle for intrigue launches the pair on a Yuletide adventure that ranges from the Austens’ modest drawing room to the awe-inspiring estate of the Dukes of Dovedale, where the Dowager Duchess is hosting the most anticipated event of the year: an elaborate 12-day Christmas celebration. Will they find poinsettias or peril, dancing or danger? And is it possible that the fate of the British Empire rests in Arabella and Turnip’s hands, in the form of a festive Christmas pudding?

When I heard that Lauren Willig was giving "Turnip" Fitzhugh his own book, I wondered.  How is she going to pull this off and turn him into a lusty and dashing Regency hero?  Well, now I know.  I can't exactly say he's lusty, though he's looked on a lot of women with lust ;)  Reginald "Turnip" Fitzhugh is a delight!  Bumbling, yet full of good intentions, he meets his match in Arabella Dempsey, a well brought up young lady, who must become a schoolteacher in an exclusive girl's academy to help out her family's finances. While there, she stumbles into Turnip - literally - as well as a valuable document that French spies are willing to kill her for. Guess who comes to her rescue? I laughed aloud and loved every bit of this delightful and oftentimes hilarious Christmas themed addition to Willig's Pink Carnation series.

If you have read the previous books in the series, you are already well acquainted with Turnip, as he is affectionately known as.  Not the sharpest knife in the drawer, Turnip is a wealthy aristocrat with a penchant for outlandish waistcoats - the more garish the better.   In the past books, he's been mistaken for the the Pink Carnation, a mysterious spy that has managed to foil many French agents under Bonaparte's regime.  Of course, we all know Turnip is definitely not the Pink Carnation, although he's tall, handsome, blond and not a bad kisser when he puts his mind to it.  But, a spy - no sir!

The year is 1803 and dutiful brother that he is, Turnip is visiting his younger sister at her boarding school in Bath, delivering her Christmas basket, full of assorted goodies and what not, despite the fact she'll be returning home within a week or two for the Christmas holidays anyway.  The "goodies" are used mostly for trading purposes among the girls at the school.  Turnip's sister Sally was a hoot, I really enjoyed her.  On audio, Kate Reading did a great job of conveying just the right tone of bratty teenager.  Willig is aces at describing the Regency version of sibling scorn that goes on between brothers and sisters.  Blackmail, bribery, snarky remarks and the usual sniping at each other - that sort of thing.  I loved it!   Since I'm the youngest of six, I could totally relate!  Not that Turnip isn't a gentleman, he is.  He manages to rise above most of his sister's petty complaints, though he does often fall prey to her schemes and desires.  The long and short of it is, he's a good brother, even if he's a soft touch.  Sally's lucky to have him.

Arabella Dempsey is a brand new schoolteacher at Miss Climpson's.  She bumps into Turnip and he takes to her immediately.  They've met before, since Arabella was, until recently, the companion of her wealthy aunt and frequented many balls and soirees amidst the upper classes.  Unfortunately, the aunt married a ne'er do well fortune hunter, a Captain Musgrave. Arabella's hopes of one day inheriting her aunt's wealth were crushed when Musgrave ensnared her aging aunt.  It didn't help that the captain kissed Arabella and led her on as well - before the engagement!  What a scoundrel!   Now Arabella must make ends meet and her chance meeting of Turnip makes her slightly uncomfortable, for it's a reminder of what she could of had, and what her life is now.  Turnip is oblivious to Arabella's life change.  All he knows is he's attracted to her and wants to bloody well see her again!  He invites her to join him on an excursion to Farley Castle.  This will also help solve the mystery of the errant Christmas pudding with the cryptic note - "Meet me at Farley Castle" that turned up at Miss Climpson's.  Turnip will be able to kill two birds with one stone.  See more of Miss Dempsey and find out if he's uncovered a secret spy ring!  Here we see my old favorites like Lord and Lady Vaughn. I loved their story from The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, although here they are terribly sarcastic and snobbish at Arabella and Turnip's expense. But, I think it's mostly an act, though their comments were deliciously on target - great job, Lauren!

After the excursion to the Castle, one thing leads to another and indeed the note in the pudding is related to French spies - and Arabella becomes their target.  They believe she has an important list of spies and they will stop at nothing to get it. There is plenty of intrigue and as a result, a great deal of shenanigans ensue.  Arabella and Turnip keep running into each other and naturally he develops a tendre for Arabella.  He also sees it as his duty to protect her from said spies.  After an hysterical midnight ruckus in the music room, capturing the music master sneaking into a window of Miss Climpson's, Turnip sneaks up to Arabella's bedroom at the school.  Just to make sure she's safe, of course.  One thing leads to another and they share a kiss - but this must stop.  Arabella is a schoolteacher who cannot afford to lose her job - or her reputation.  Turnip is not that easily dissuaded.  He likes Arabella!  He makes it a point to see her again at the hilarious Christmas Pageant put on by the school the next day.  Arabella spends much of the time avoiding Turnip, but he chases her down.  She doesn't realize his feelings are serious about her and she has to put an end to anything.  I really felt badly for both of them.  She tells him once and for all that she can no longer see him, it is folly.  At first he's hurt by her rejection, believing she's putting him off because of his well known reputation for acting like an idiot, but puddings, jam, spies, danger and love all succeed in throwing these two together!

Much of the book revolves around the school and then later at the Duchess of Dovedale's Christmas House Party.  Here we meet some of the characters from Willig's earlier book, Temptation of the Night Jasmine and if you're familiar with that book, you'll see how the stories run simultaneously, only we're now getting a different point of view.   I'm leaving tons out, but trust me, it's jam packed with great little touches and loads of humor, I think this is by far the funniest of all the books in the series.  I love humor in my romances and while listening to it on my iPod, this made peeling potatoes and emptying the dishwasher fun!  I'm in awe of Willig's comic genius!

Turnip is an endearing hero and much of his dialogue is simply hilarious.  The world according to Turnip can be most amusing!  Who would have thought kippers could be so funny?  "Rugby beating Rugby!"  There were numerous crazy Turnip-isms - I wish I had the book in print to remember them exactly, there are too many to list, but they had me cracking up!  Arabella's practicality and common sense counterbalances Turnip's joie de vivre!    I love it how he goes to bat for her and defends and rescues her at the house party.  He is honorable and gentlemanly with her - I'm so glad to see that they both find love at long last - and those lessons at Gentleman Jackson's sure did come in handy - I cheered at the results!

I highly recommend Mischief, it was a real treat and perfect for the holiday season.  I especially loved the music that broke up the parts of the audiobook, it put me in a real festive holiday mood as well!  This has become a new favorite in the series for me, Turnip and Arabella are adorable and refreshing.  They're good for each other!  I simply loved Turnip!  He is a true hero in the finest sense of the word.  I hope you enjoy this latest addition to the Pink Carnation Series as much as I did.  As an FYI, this is a "clean" romance, no sex, so it's entirely appropriate for pre-teens.  Also, there is no mention of the modern day story between Colin and Eloise that takes place in all the previous novels, so we'll just have to wait for Willig's next installment for more on that score. 

Happy Holidays!


A Belated Bride by Karen Hawkins

Book Description:
She'd Never Marry Him!

The last man Arabella Hadley ever wishes to see again is Lucien Devereaux, the handsome, dissolute Duke of Wexford - who broke her innocent heart years ago and disappeared to London. So when she finds an unconscious man on her deserted country road and sees that it's Lucien, she's tempted to leave him there. But even more appalling than his presence is the brazen kiss he plants on her shocked lips and her response! So it would be totally insane to take him home to recover - wouldn't it? Except For One Small Thing... Lucien dares not reveal why he's returned to his country estate - or why he abandoned the strong-willed beauty years ago.  Especially since Arabella clearly has secrets of her own. But when her scheming, marriage-minded aunts successfully compromise them, the two are forced to become man and wife.  Which makes it ever harder for both to battle the passion that never disappeared...

This was a double-edged story of Lucien Devereaux, Duke of Wexford who returns by accident to the woman he loved - and ruined - ten years earlier.  What he did to her was despicable, but at the same time, he felt he had no choice at the time, and now years later he has his chance to make it up to her.  Will she let him?

I love Persuasion like stories.  Long lost love returns - can feelings be rekindled?  Can past sins and disappointments be forgiven?  Lucien and Arabella had fallen in love before he was a big, important duke. He had intended to marry her, but then his father died, he inherited the dukedom and all the debts that went with it.  His only alternative was to marry for money and he ignominiously deserted Arabella.  She was heartbroken and would forever remember him as a rake who discarded her virtue and feelings with nary a backward glance.  She'll love hate him until the day she dies.

Of course, as fate would have it, her carriage nearly runs him over on a moonlit road one night.  What is he even doing near her estate so many years later - and such a long way from London?  Lucien has been busy for the past ten years.  Although he did marry for money, he vowed to never actually use it.  He managed to turn his fortune around by becoming an expert on jewels on the sly, selling and buying for profit.  In addition, the Crown uses his knowledge from time to time to uncover wartime plots and affairs, when feasible.   Lucien is now a widower, his wife turned out to be mad and died in a riding accident.  He never really loved her and he's carrying the guilt of not being there for his wife - could he have prevented her death, could he have stopped her from riding off, crazily on an unbroken horse? 

Now, here he is again, ten years later in Yorkshire, hunting for jewel smugglers at the Crown's behest, and he is smack dab in the bosom of his old love's family.  The old love that he never got over.  The biggest regret of his life.  Can he makes things right between them again?  Is there anything he can do to atone for what he did to Arabella so many years ago?  Arabella is having nothing to do with him.  She cannot forgive him or forget what he did to her and how he broke her heart.  Plus, she has a lot on her hands as it is!  There's only so much one single woman can do!  Busy running a clandestine business smuggling cognac off the coast of Yorkshire to keep her family estate afloat - barely, she worries about her younger brother, home from the war.  He is suffering from post stress traumatic syndrome and has lost the use of his legs.  Wheel chair bound, he is determined to find the secret fortune hidden by their pirate ancestor.  A lost cause, but it keeps him occupied.  In addition, Arabella's two elderly aunts are famous for their sheep "love potion" that is famous in the county.  An illicitly brandy-laced concoction, reminiscent of "the recipe" made by the Baldwin sisters in the old TV show, The Walton's, everyone in the county wants to know what's in it, including the nearby squire and constable.  Did I mention her aunt's gambling debts as well?   Now, on top of everything else, Arabella is dealing with the return of her old love and all the old feelings stirred up in regard to him. 

Does he still have to be just as handsome and tempting as ever?

His charms, passion and that old thing called love just won't let Arabella stick to her guns. Before she knows it, he's wormed his way back into her heart.  She is a goner.  Lucien was deliciously described and it's no wonder Arabella finds him irresistible - her aunts do too!  They were a hoot!  He takes advantage of his injury from the fall when they first meet and stretches out his stay at her home for as long as possible while trying to expose the traitorous jewel ring.  As he gets closer to the truth of who is behind it, can he also save Arabella from the someone that's trying to kill the two of them as well?  Will marrying her solve everything?

I really enjoyed this story despite a somewhat slow start.  I was sympathetic to both Arabella and Lucien.  He's trying his best to make amends to her and I was pulling for him.  The aunts were very funny, particularly the side story in regard to her aunt Jane and the randy squire that she gambles with.  I'm really enjoying Karen Hawkins, she's a favorite of mine now and this is turning into a pretty good Regency series.  I highly recommend it!


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

If You Desire by Kresley Cole

Book Description:
How much temptation can a Highlander resist? He tried to run... In his youth, Hugh MacCarrick foolishly fell in love with a beautiful English lass who delighted in teasing him with her flirtatious ways. Yet he knew he could never marry her because he was a second son with no prospects, shadowed by an accursed family legacy. To avoid temptation, Hugh left home and trained as an assassin. She tried to forget him... Jane Weyland was devastated when the Highlander she believed would marry her abandoned her instead. Years later, when Hugh MacCarrick is summoned to protect her from her father's enemies, her heartache has turned to fury - but her desire for him has not waned. Will passion overwhelm them? In hiding, Jane torments Hugh with seductive play. He struggles to resist her because of deadly secrets that could endanger her further. But Hugh is no longer a gentle young man - and toying with the fever-pitched desires of a hardened warrior will either get Jane burned... or inflame a love that never died.

Second in the "If You" trilogy of three Scottish Highlander brothers who think their family is cursed.  They believe that a prophecy found in a book about their family legacy will prevent them from ever finding the love of a woman.  If they marry and consummate the marriage, that woman will die. Due to the death of their father and an accident that befell the fiance of the eldest brother, they truly believe this ridiculous prophecy.

This is Hugh's story, and he is just as gullible as his brothers regarding this curse.  The middle brother, Hugh is a trained assassin.  He is trying to prevent another dope addicted assassin, bent on revenge, from killing Jane, the love of Hugh's life. Yet, Hugh cannot admit she's the love of his life for fear he'll inadvertently cause her death.  But it seems like everyone (except Jane) is aware that Hugh has loved her forever! *rolls eyes*

Jane's father is basically Hugh's boss.  He trains, hires and oversees assassins who work for the Crown.  One of the best of the best assassins has turned rogue and wants to get back at Jane's father - and Hugh.  He also happens to be a psycho killer hooked on drugs.  He knows how important Jane is to both of them, so that's why he's out to kill her.  As part of the plan, Jane's father orders Hugh to marry his daughter in order to keep her safe and remove her from London, out of danger.  Jane has secretly loved Hugh all her life though Hugh has had no idea.  As much as there is a strong attraction between the two, the curse stands in their way of consummating the marriage.  Jane has been angry with Hugh for the past ten years because he disappeared without ever saying good bye to her.  She thought she'd marry him back then, so she's been carrying a grudge ever since.  That's why she's getting back at him now, by being a brat and a tease most of the time while they're on the road fleeing London to go into hiding.  I didn't exactly like Jane, but I could relate to her feelings for Hugh.  She'd grown up with him and had always loved him.  She had expected that he'd wait for her to grow up and marry her.  Instead he disappeared (working for her father) and had to leave the country with no explanations.  He was afraid for her life due to the curse.  Now, she's a grown up modern woman with vengeance on her mind.  She's going to get him back for what he did to her, even if it kills him! She wants to entice him and make him pay for her broken heart.  Of course, she still loves him too, even more reason to hate him!

At first they are at odds with one another and she's a royal pain in the neck after their quickie marriage.  But, they have to go on this long journey to the Scottish Highlands from London and he saves her life a few times.   He finally clues her in to the whole hunted by the assassin reason for marrying her, and he keeps making it clear to her that their marriage is one in name only.  As soon as the assassin is killed, he will leave her.  Well, this really pisses her off.  Frankly, I don't blame her, but she doesn't know about the dumb curse yet.  They become closer, but it was just so damn annoying with this curse and their lust for one another that they can't act upon.  They wind up at his brother's house that is nearly falling down.  They get to know one another and play house while fixing it up.  She's hoping she can change his mind about leaving her eventually.  Meanwhile this menacing psycho assassin is getting closer.  The worry about him was always hanging over their heads and ruining any fun they might have.  Finally, they give in to their passions and Hugh tosses the curse out the window.

For an eighteenth century aristocratic young lady, I thought Jane was much too modern and independent for me in her thinking. I didn't like her at first, but she grew on me eventually. Hugh, who was supposed to be this ferocious highlander seemed to always be at Jane's beck and call, writhing from un-quenched desire. She knew just how to press his buttons and lead him on to the brink of no return, although often it backfired on her, since she'd be so overcome herself from their kisses and what have you. I found the whole predicament unworthy of him, although it was fun to read! ;) Sometimes I felt like slapping Jane at the way she led him around by his nose. I softened towards her finally when she admitted her love to him and explained how hurt she'd been when he left her and why she was so angry these many years later. He was clueless and had no idea. He marveled at the thought she had always loved him.  Once the assassin is taken care of eventually Hugh learns the curse is not what he thinks it is.  I sympathized with Jane's reaction when Hugh finally tells her about the curse.  She was like "What? You've got to be kidding!"  It's how I would have reacted too!  She didn't believe it, and found it hard to understand that her beloved Hugh did!

I love Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark Series, but this one is just plain annoying.  It's not nearly as good, the chemistry was off, and it didn't help that Jane was so bratty most of the time, although she had her reasons.  As a whole, the book wasn't bad, there were some sexy love scenes and tense moments with the assassin, but it just didn't grab me.  I do kind of wonder what has happened to the third brother who is presumed dead or missing by the drug crazed assassin.  Of course, he isn't.  The third and last book is his story, so I'll probably read it for closure.

Not a bad nineteenth century historical, though I prefer Cole's modern paranormals better.  I think she has a better handle on them.


Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord by Sarah MacLean

Book Description:
Since being named one of London’s "Lords to Land" by a popular ladies’ magazine, Nicholas St. John has been relentlessly pursued by every matrimony-minded female in the ton. So when an opportunity to escape fashionable society presents itself, he eagerly jumps—only to land in the path of the most determined, damnably delicious woman he’s ever met! The daughter of a titled wastrel, Lady Isabel Townsend has too many secrets and too little money. Though used to taking care of herself quite handily, her father’s recent passing has left Isabel at sea and in need of outside help to protect her young brother’s birthright. The sinfully handsome, eminently eligible Lord Nicholas could be the very salvation she seeks. But the lady must be wary and not do anything reckless…like falling madly, passionately in love.

Young, beautiful but impoverished Lady Isabel Townsend is secretly running a shelter for women on her family estate up in the boonies of Northern England. It helps pay the bills although her roof needs repair and she has no way to pay for her younger brother to go to a proper boy's school.  Her recently deceased father, a spendthrift with a less than savory reputation amongst the ton, left them with almost nothing to live on, except the house and some ancient statues that Isabel is reluctant to part with.  Isabel is managing the best she can, with a house full of women who are working for her as assorted servants, a groom, butler and a few able bodied footmen, although with a decidedly feminine air about them.

She encounters the handsome and much sought after Lord Nicholas St. John, who is looking for the sister of the Duke of Leighton, his close friend.  The Duke's sister, Georgiana has run away because she is pregnant and is seeking refuge at Isabel's estate, which has developed a sort of underground reputation as a safe place for women.  Nicholas has somewhat of a past reputation as a "finder."  He is also an antiquities expert with, I suspect, a sort of Indiana Jones edge to him.  As he's following Georgiana's trail and getting closer and closer to her, he and Isabel meet by accident - quite literally.  Isabel, absorbed in reading some papers in the village nearly gets herself run over by a cart.  Nicholas saves her just in time, having no idea that she is the source of his quarry.  Talk about finding love in the least likely of places.  He is immediately struck by her fine figure and unusual height - not to mention beauty.  But, most of all, he is taken by her because she seems to have no idea he is such a catch in London - every matchmaking mama's dream!  Instead, she only knows him as the well known antiquities expert and she just happens to have some "marbles" that need to be appraised and - ultimately sold.

At the same time, her "girls" back at the estate are convinced that Isabel should marry for money.  That is the only way to save the estate.  They paw through their favorite ladies' periodical, Pearls and Pelisses, seeking advice on how to land a lord.  Isabel will have none of it.  She's convinced selling the marbles will save the estate.  Albeit, she is sorry to part with them, the Greek and Roman statues are worth a small fortune.   She is strong and independent and doesn't want to marry herself off to the highest bidder.  After seeing all the women who have been mistreated by men over the years, seeking refuge at her home, that's the last thing she wants to do.  Nicholas invites himself to the estate, his "tracker" antennae suspecting she is hiding something there, due to her cagey invitation to inspect her statues.  He shows up early and unexpectedly with his friend, "Rock," a Turk that takes a liking to Isabel's cousin (nice little side story there.)  A huge storm hits the area and they're forced to spend the night. Pandemonium ensues as Isabel valiantly tries to keep her big secret - a secret from Lord St. John!  Even though she has no idea that he's looking for Georgiana, who has been happily acting as her brother's governess and teaching him Latin, she can't let word get out, it could ruin her!

Well, one thing after another happens and Nicholas falls for Isabel as soon as he sees her in her britches trying to patch the roof.  It doesn't hurt it's raining and her thin blouse becomes plastered to her figure.  This leads to a kiss and the fireworks begin...  Soon Nicholas melts Isabel's heart and changes her mind about lords and men and the possibilities of all the pleasures they can bring!  If those marbles could only talk!  ;) This was a fun regency and follow up to MacLean's first book, Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, but not quite as good.  I enjoyed this, but I didn't love it.  Unfortunately, it was a little like another book I've recently read, How to Marry a Marquis by Julia Quinn, which I preferred over this one.  They both had the cute little bits at the beginning of each chapter, instructing the reader on how to land their lord or marquis - whatever - and the penniless daughter left with no money, needing to raise her sibling.  Similar.  Here, there were plenty of plot twists and turns and the usual happy ending as well as some touching moments when both come to terms with their parents' mistakes.  I liked the way Nicholas interacted with Isabel's little brother, the young earl, as well.  Both Isabel and Nicholas grow and learn in this tale.  They're both able to shed some of the burdens that have been on their shoulders for years.  It's well written and has a a good plotline with some funny moments too, I like this author and she'll be an automatic buy for me.

We get some fun glimpses of my favorites from the last book too. Nick's brother, Gabriel, and his wife Callie (I loved both of them!) help save the day for Isabel and Nicholas after they have their "big misunderstanding."  Naturally, there are more books to come, the next will focus on the jerky Duke of Leighton who left his sister Georgiana alone after realizing her condition.  There's more to that story, I'm sure.  He leaves much to be desired and deserves his comeuppance.  I'm sure Nicholas and Gabriel's fiery Italian sister, Juliana, will succeed in accomplishing just that occurrence.

Last but not least, someone please get Ms. MacLean some decent covers for her books! They're too good to have these cheap and nondescript covers!  The color of this one is atrocious as well as the font and photo - uggh, there is nothing I like about it!  Red and purple???  Yecch!  But don't let that stop you from reading, as the old saying goes, don't judge a book by it's cover! :)


Stolen Charms by Adele Ashworth

Book Description:
A Flawless Beauty
Bored with her pompous suitors, Miss Natalie Haislett longs for romance and adventure. She is inflamed by dreams of the mysterious Black Knight - a daring English thief who has stolen her heart from afar with his legendary exploits. To meet her beloved, she reluctantly appeals to the one man who knows him: the renowned womanizer Jonathan Drake.

A Priceless Passion
Intrigued by Natalie's loveliness, Jonathan agrees to take her to France where the Black Knight is rumored to be. To allay suspicion, they travel in the guise of a married couple, sharing intimacies that blossom into friendship and kisses that stoke a reckless hunger...

A Thief of Hearts
When a necklace of precious emeralds is brazenly stolen at a party they attend, Natalie knows that the Black Knight is near. But she doesn't realize that the man of her dreams has already seen inside her heart-and has vowed to possess it...

I simply adored this romance! Set in the early 1840's, the young and proper Natalie Haislett runs off to France with dashing Jonathan Drake, a known rake, to see if he can introduce her to a daring jewel thief, the Black Knight.  As improbable as the whole scenario was, I loved it!  I was a bit apprehensive that I wasn't going to love this one as much as My Darling Caroline, another of Ashworth's novels, but I enjoyed this one even more!

Natalie is at a disadvantage, we first meet her as a young, naive debutante who declares her love to the older and dashing Jonathan Drake outside her family estate the evening of her debut.  They share a passionate kiss and she tells him she loves him.  Rather than taking complete advantage of her (which he easily could have done) he does the honorable thing and ruefully sends her back inside.  Years go by and she cannot think about that evening without complete embarrassment.  Yet, it turns out she has to turn to Jonathan for another reason now - to introduce her to the Black Knight!  Of course, we all know who the "real" Black Knight is.  Jonathan is working for the Crown, the usual sort of espionage, foiling some sort of French coup thing.  Jewels are involved and it was all deliciously far fetched but so much fun!

The two travel to France together, posing as man and wife.  They sail there and head for Marseilles, sharing a tiny cabin together - and a bed no less!  Nothing happens between them except some passionate kissing, stringing out the sexual chemistry between the two, with a constant building up.  Their characters are well developed and there is a lot of emotion and thought that is going on in both their heads about one another.  Natalie has this crazy notion that she wants to marry the Black Knight - or at least this is what she tells Jonathan.  He gnashes his teeth as he discovers his feelings are strong for her, yet he's competing against himself - the Black Knight!  But, the plot turns, and we find out Natalie's real reasons are different and not what they seem.   She's still attracted to Jonathan very much, but is convinced he's a rake and no good for her.  How can he convince her otherwise?  Can he persuade her that he really loves her - and has been in love with her ever since that first night together when they danced and she ingenuously told him she loved him?  How can he make her believe she's not just one of a million other women he's said those same words to?

I'm leaving tons out to avoid spoilers, but there are plot twists all over and I loved the locales and descriptions of the scenery, the costumes, furnishings - all very well done in this historical romance.  Entertaining plot, emotional and thoughtful - and poignant.  By the time they declare their love for one another, I was nearly in tears. Great, great! 


Monday, November 15, 2010

Life: Keith Richards by Keith Richards (audio)

Book Description:
As lead guitarist of the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards created the riffs, the lyrics, and the songs that roused the world. A true and towering original, he has always walked his own path, spoken his mind, and done things his own way. Now at last Richards pauses to tell his story in the most anticipated autobiography in decades. And what a story! Listening obsessively to Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters records in a coldwater flat with Mick Jagger and Brian Jones, building a sound and a band out of music they loved. Finding fame and success as a bad-boy band, only to find themselves challenged by authorities everywhere.  Dropping his guitar's sixth string to create a new sound that allowed him to create immortal riffs like those in "Honky Tonk Woman" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Falling in love with Anita Pallenberg, Brian Jones's girlfriend.  Arrested and imprisoned for drug possession.  Tax exile in France and recording Exile on Main Street.  Ever-increasing fame, isolation, and addiction making life an ever faster frenzy. Through it all, Richards remained devoted to the music of the band, until even that was challenged by Mick Jagger's attempt at a solo career, leading to a decade of conflicts and ultimately the biggest reunion tour in history.  In a voice that is uniquely and unmistakably him--part growl, part laugh--Keith Richards brings us the truest rock-and-roll life of our times, unfettered and fearless and true.

A little known fact about me, that probably none of you are remotely aware of is I was once a complete Rolling Stone junkie.  I was obsessed as a young teenager.  Posters all over my room, the Stones insignia -that giant red mouth with the shiny lips on my bedroom door...  a lifesize poster of Mick Jagger leering over my bed for everyone driving past our house to see.  What can I say?  I've been in love with the Rolling Stones for over 35 years.  I didn't just love them, I grew up with them, I learned how to play the guitar with them - by them.  Playing Rolling Stones songs as a kid, listening to the songs constantly and then becoming obsessed with them solidified my Stones mania.  Mick and Keith in particular.  I read up on them all I could - is it any wonder I'd drop everything and get this audiobook of Keith's - with Johnny Depp narrating?  Come on - it's a no brainer!

This was an amazing autobiography, love, love, loved it! Keith's story is superbly told. One of the best autobiographies I've read (or listened to).  An in depth view of life from the the resilient, indefatigable Keith Richards. Maestro, backbone, creative heartbeat and soul of the Rolling Stones.  Never would I have imagined that the stoned out, heroine addicted, dark rhythm guitarist had been a choir boy and a boy scout! Tons of revelations on life, on the road, touring, drugs, his relationship with (and without) Mick, his girlfriends, children - even his pets!  But most of all, the heart of it is the ever expanding love of his craft - the guitar and his music.

There are parts that get bogged down a bit in their early years.  If you're not already aware of who the blues and jazz greats of Chicago were at the time, your eyes may glaze over as Keith extols over the greatness of these musicians.  I remember reading  their names way back when during my Stones obsession when I was thirteen or so: Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, playing at the Crawdaddy Club.  The early Stones were into rhythm and blues, that was their shtick.  They then morphed into rock n' roll later.

One of the most amazing things Keith reveals is the fact that he was actually a choirboy - and a Boy Scout! It's almost a joke - as if he's putting us on heh, heh, "Let's fuck with their heads and make them think I was a choir boy and a Boy Scout - you think they'll believe it?"  Well, let me raise my hand - I can't help but wonder, "Is he putting us on?"  He was a soprano in a boy's choir in Dartford where he grew up and actually sang before the queen in the 1950's.  On top of that he was really into scouting! He was even a patrol leader and to this day remembers it all - Keith remembers everything!  I was really surprised and loved the accounting of his life. 

In case you're not sure who Keith is, he's the dark horse, mangy, scary looking Stone who plays rhythm guitar while Mick struts across the stage, always in the limelight.  Keith sings, but his speaking voice is gravelly, sexy, nearly incomprehensible.  Yet his singing voice sounds so different!  High and somewhat weak in the early years, he rarely sang except in harmony vocals with Mick.  Never solo.  Many of his songs, particularly on the "Steel Wheels" album are my favorites.  "Can't Be Seen With You" and "Slipping Away" are great.  His voice is good on them too.  He really got into singing more in his later years and it shows.  I can barely stand to listen to Mick on that album now, Keith is so much better and his songs are soulful with some beautiful melodies.  Who'd have thought?  Many of the Stones' great songs were written by Keith, they're his music, while Jagger mostly wrote lyrics, but later on wrote some big hits as well, such as "Miss You."

Keith was pretty cute in his early days of the '60's and '70's, you'd never know it now, with that leathery look about him.  Check out his eyes, they've seen a lot over the years.  I've seen the Stones twice in concert, first time was in 1981 on the "Tattoo You" tour. Keith looked very muscular onstage, I was surprised, I thought he'd look like a wasted heroine addict.  He was off the stuff by then.  Wearing a black leather vest and nothing underneath.  Even from where I was, somewhere back in the crowd on an outdoor day in Philadelphia, he was someone to watch and follow.  Keith was steady, much more than Mick, who was doing all his gyrations and turns and bumps and grinds with  "Start Me Up" blasting.  Keith held my attention, he looked focused and strong.  Mick just looked, well... stupid.  Ah, memories.  The second time I saw them was on their "Steel Wheels" tour around 1989 at the Meadowlands at Giant Stadium.  I remember it was a good concert, but not nearly as memorable as the Philadelphia gig.  I don't even remember what Keith or Mick were wearing at that one - it was at night, outdoors, but I was older and more sedate by then.  We actually had seats at that concert. *grin* I was married, but no kids yet.

Growing up an only child in a poor post-WWII Dartford, Keith got into scouting and singing in the school choir.  But when his voice changed at around age 13 he was booted out of the choir and he was lost.  He became a rebel after that, but still kept with the scouting until he heard Elvis' Heartbreak Hotel and began playing the guitar.  That was it.  His advice on guitar playing really interested me, for his advice is almost exactly what I did growing up.  If you want to learn how to play the guitar, start with the basics and learn on an acoustic.  Then work your way up to steel string and electric.  I only got as far as acoustic with the gut strings (steel hurt my tender fingers too much) but I played and played constantly developing the much needed callouses.  Luckily my older brother was just as into it as I was and he taught me alot.  We'd jam together up on our third floor blasting "Sticky Fingers" and playing "Sway" and "Wild Horses," I was singing and wailing away on  "Dead Flowers" over and over until we got it right.  I was rhythm and my brother was lead.  Hard to believe nowadays.  I was very interested in Keith's trick by tuning his guitar with just five strings to get that quintessential sound.  I play by ear most of the time nowadays and can learn a song simply by hearing it and playing it over and over - the same way Keith learned in his early days playing the guitar!  Lots of craftmanship and hints and instruction abounds throughout his book.  As he says at one point, musicians are always happy to help fellow musicians get it right.  I haven't picked my Yamaha up in years - but I still have the same one I had from 1973-unbroken, no less!  (I think it needs new strings - but that's about it.)  I think it's about time I took that baby out of it's case - I'm so in the mood to jam again!

Everything you've ever wanted to know about the Stones you can probably find out in Keith's book.  He pulls no punches and tells is like it is. 

Keith was the real leader of the Stones.  He rounded people up and got them to do stuff.  Of course, during his heroine years, he might keep them waiting around for hours and hours, but he'd make up for it by not going to sleep for days to finish recording a track!  He managed his heroine addiction to a tee, it was quite an art when you think about it.  He's very open about it, I feel like, if the need ever arose, which I don't think it ever will thank-you-very-much, I would know just how to cut heroine - but it would have to be the good stuff.  He lived with heroine for over 10 years, both he and his wife/girlfriend Anita Pallenberg were junkies -what an existence - but they managed it.

Keith's not malicious or spiteful, you can tell, he's just telling the truth about how he saw things.  He's candid about Brian Jones and Mick Jagger - he doesn't hold his feeling back.  He tells you exactly what he thought and still thinks of them.  He basically hated Brian who had a mean streak.  It was refreshing and clear - despite the 10+ years of when he was a heroine addict.  Keith basically comes across as a great guy, a nice guy, a decent guy who just wants to play music and doesn't want to have to deal with egos and one particular member's LVS (lead vocalist syndrome) attempt to branch off to a solo career and undermined a record deal to do it.  Keith is loyal and a friend for life but Mick's subterfuge really pissed him off.  A must for any Stones fan, I cannot recommend it enough.  I also liked the way the audio was set up.  Johnny Depp did most of it as Keith before heroine, and then after heroine.  During the heroine years, the voice is different, narrated by Joe Hurley, a fellow musician.  He's more like Keith's real voice, slurry, sloshy, very British and just plain ... cool.

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