Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor

Book Description:
A book to read and reread, an unforgettable romance and a timeless masterpiece. Abandoned, pregnant and penniless on the teeming streets of London, sixteen-year-old Amber St. Clare uses her wits, beauty and courage to climb to the highest position a woman could achieve in Restoration England - that of favorite mistress of the Merry Monarch himself, Charles II. From whores and highwaymen to courtiers and noblemen, from the Great Plague and the Fire of London to the intimate passions of ordinary - and extraordinary - men and women, Amber experiences it all. But throughout her trials and escapades, she remains, in her heart, true to the one man she really loves, the one man she can never have...

How is it I've never read this book before?

What a book! What a story! In the tradition of Gone With the Wind this is a sweeping and timeless romantic historical, still just as riveting today, 70 years after it's original publishing date of 1943. All I can say is, it must have been some sensation when it came out! Racy and full of sex, the book is a florid tale involving mistresses, adulterers and court intrigue. The reader experiences first hand Amber's ups and downs from poverty to riches, the Great Plague and Fire of London, her rise from a little known farm girl to a duchess in the court of Charles II. Set amidst the Restoration, this is the story of Amber St. Clare, the fiery, singleminded, beautiful and alluring heroine who keeps repeating the same stupid mistakes over and over again to win the love of her life, Lord Bruce Carlton. When will she ever learn? If I said it once, I must have said it a hundred times throughout this book - poor Amber!

I couldn't help but compare Forever Amber to Gone With the Wind, one of my all time favorite books. Amber and Scarlett are similar, both strong willed heroines who are survivors during a volatile period of history. Yet, I believe Amber's scruples left more to be desired than Scarlett's when it came to achieving her ends. Amber jumped from bed to bed without a thought, though she had her reasons and the times she lived in were much different than Scarlett's. She knew she was beautiful and used it to her advantage. Scarlett did it too, but in a more ladylike way, I believe. But, they both repeatedly married men they didn't love for money - and they both spent the greater part of their respective books pining for the man they can't have. Lord Bruce Carlton is Amber's Ashley Wilkes, although Bruce was not as milquetoasty as Ashley, he actually was Amber's lover on and off for ten years and the father of two of her children.

Amber is the kind of heroine that is hard to like - though I liked her! I can't say I admired her, she was self-absorbed, mercenary and at times - a complete idiot! At times I abhorred the way she behaved, particularly in regard to Bruce. Once she gets some money in her pocket and the clout at court to go with it, money goes to her head, and not in a good way. Conspicuous consumption. Get my drift? But, there was still something endearing about Amber. She had a good heart basically. I was always rooting for her and gnashing my teeth at her sheer recklessness regarding Bruce. Still, I don't blame her. She was young and naive at first and went through some really bad times, I often felt sorry for her. I liked her in the same way that I liked Scarlett O'Hara - do I want to be like them? No, but I still can't help sympathizing with them and wishing the best for them. I'm sure everyone could relate to Amber in some way or another - I know I sure did! I even saw a little bit of me *gasp* in her at times! Thank God I didn't read this when I was twelve years old, which is how old I was when I first read Gone With the Wind. As a result, there's a telltale Scarlett streak in my personality that shows up from time to time. I can't help it, she's in my blood.

But, I digress...

I was torn over Bruce as Amber's true love. I liked him and yet I didn't like him. He's no Rhett Butler and he's not an Ashley Wilkes either. In fact, at times he was a little of both, and yet he was neither. As I was getting closer to the end of the book, I was hoping that Amber would actually see the light and go for Almsbury, her sometime lover and Bruce's best friend. I really liked him! Though, at the same time, I kept wishing Bruce would realize he loved Amber and they'd go to America together - but he didn't! I felt for sure after they'd gotten through the plague together, he'd feel differently and come around and ask her to marry him - but no. Poor Amber! Yet, he always came back to her bed, even when they parted on bad terms and he'd tell her he couldn't marry her or *gasp* after he was already married to someone else - he still came back! He was kind of a jerk in that regard, but most likely a realistic portrayal of men of that period. Amber was fine enough as his mistress, but not as his wife. She never understood or accepted this. She loved him, he loved her. In her eyes what was stopping them from marrying?

The book is filled with irony, Bruce won't marry her because she isn't born from a noble and honorable background, but Amber actually is born of noble birth, yet she doesn't know it. Before Amber rises to become a countess and then ultimately a duchess, she is sweet and so in love with Bruce. In many ways she was still that ingenuous country girl he first met - but could not marry due to her humble background. Then, when she becomes a countess and then a duchess, she really changes and she's no longer sweet Amber, she's a Whitehall bitch. Maybe not as bad as Charles II's infamous other mistress, Barbara Palmer, but getting there.

Over and over I was glad I had read the Through A Glass Darkly books by Karleen Koen, for there were many similarities and it made me appreciate Forever Amber even more. It's almost as if Forever Amber was the prototype for them. I recognized historical events and names, it even seemed like I recognized conversations, for example, Charles II's talk with his sister, Minette, when she reveals all is not happy in her marriage to Louis XIV's brother - hadn't I read that same conversation in Dark Angels?

It was an exhausting book to read, though exhilarating as well, particularly during the plague sequence when both she and Bruce get it. I couldn't put it down during this part, though it was tiring to read about. Much detail and I really got a sense of what it was like in London during the epidemic. Much of Amber's life is like a soap opera - an historical Erica Kane! What next is going to happen to Amber? How is she going to get out of her latest predicament? Somehow, she always manages to land on her feet, she's like a cat with nine lives. She rises from the ashes and moves on and finds another man who's willing to take care of her or who has money she can use. Pragmatically, she goes from man to man, yet always remains in love with Bruce, her first and only love. By the end, the reader is left to wonder what will happen to her next - what a cliffhanger! Just like at the end of Gone With the Wind, we wonder, will Amber ever get her man back? I'm still reeling from it, but something tells me she'll land on her feet once again and manage quite nicely. I'm sure the success of Gone With The Wind had a lot to do with this ending.

If you like long, sprawling, romantic historicals that you can sink your teeth into, and don't mind a strong heroine that needs a slap upside the head once in a while, then you'll love Forever Amber. It's sensational fiction, evocative of the times and although Amber can drive you crazy, I really liked her - and the ending is a killer!

Poor Amber!!!


Descent into Dust by Jacqueline Lepore

Book Description:
The Extraordinary Adventures of Emma Andrews, Victorian Lady and Vampire Hunter

A young widow with an uncertain inheritance; a mysterious guest with unclear motives; a child in peril; and the dark, rain-lashed moors - all set the mood for this first novel in an historical gothic series in which a Victorian woman discovers that she is a vampire hunter

Twenty-five year old widow Emma Andrews grew up in the shadow of her mother's madness, so when she arrives at Dulwich Manor in the midst of a plague and soon thereafter begins to see apparitions, her family fears fate has finally caught up with her. But one guest among them knows Emma's visions are more than a trick of the mist. Valerian Fox has hunted the great vampire lord Marius through time and continents, and he knows that Emma's senses are heightened by a legacy that runs through her blood.

When Emma's young cousin is marked for death, Emma and Valerian must disregard propriety to prepare for battle. Poised at the intersection of life and death, uncertain of who she can trust, Emma finds that in order to save the most innocent among them she must embrace the inheritance she has feared and denied.

I've developed a devotion to Victorian mysteries lately, and on top of that, I've also grown to love historical paranormals - Descent into Dust is the best of both worlds - as if the two genres are combined. Descent is a paranormal mystery in which Emma Andrews, a young widow of noble birth during Victorian times must get to the bottom of the sinister presence that has enveloped her cousin's country home and the surrounding village.

As the story develops, Emma realizes that her cousin's young daughter, Henrietta is the target of this sinister presence. An innocent, Henrietta speaks of a nightly visitor that raps at her window. Marius, the visitor, tries to get in and befriend her. Her nursemaid is protective of her and distrusts Emma's concerns. The family thinks the young girl has just made up an imaginary friend. It doesn't help that most of the household thinks Emma is susceptible to becoming crazy herself, since her mother had gone crazy and died when Emma was a young girl. If Emma starts alarming the house about ghosts and evil spirits - much less vampires - she'll be carted off to Bedlam! The story definitely has a Gothic tone, and I saw many similarities to The Turn of the Screw, only in this case, it turns out that Marius is a powerful vampire and Emma uncovers many truths about herself. She finds out what really happened to her mother and father, and who they were. To top it all off, she also discovers she is a Dhampir - a vampire hunter who must somehow destroy Marius.

Thankfully Emma doesn't have to do this all by herself. She has the help of the enigmatic Valerius Fox (love the name!) who is visiting Dulwich Manor. As Emma comes to learn more about Valerius, after flipping back and forth on whether she should trust him or not, he reveals that he has been hunting Marius himself since he was a teenager after nearly dying at the vampire's hands. Another comrade in arms is the flamboyant Sebastian, the ne'er do well and very gay brother of the master of the house. There is also a mysterious priest, Father Luke that comes to their aide - all to foil the attempts of the evil Marius who wants to achieve even greater power. As it turns out, Dulwich Manor seems to be perched on top of the paranormal equivalent of the San Andreas Fault. A great evil is trapped in a hawthorn tree on the estate and Marius is trying to release it so he can then drink it's blood and take on it's colossal power. It's complicated but makes sense. It all comes to a head at the end of the book, with wooden stakes, holy water and lots of blood - but I won't spoil the ending for you.

I liked the book, but it did not have the same power and punch that other authors such as Colleen Gleason, Tasha Alexander or Deanna Raybourn have. I like a romantic interest for the heroine and the relationship that develops between Valerius and Emma shows promise, but it is still too oblique, there is no sexual tension between them that I can detect. He has secrets of his own and his character is painted in such a way that I'm not even sure if I want him to develop as a love interest for Emma or not. He is dark and handsome in a stark sort of way, but he needs further romantic embellishment, right now he's kind of coming across as weak and untrustworthy, he has issues which I won't divulge and I'm not sure if he's going to be able to overcome them or not.

The book is eerie, even scary in parts, as in Dracula rather than a romanticized vampire tale. Yet I had no trouble putting the book down. I was curious about what would happen, but it didn't have me on the edge of my seat. It lacked that certain something, though well written and the settings and locales were well done. At one point, Emma flees to France, which was sort of a weird little interlude away from the action. A bit clumsy, but I see the point of it. Emma has the makings of a strong heroine, she's already on her way, but she needs more "oomph!" I felt we were arms length from her, it's hard to describe - she's aloof from the reader. But, I think as the series goes on she will be a stronger character. By the end of the book, she manages to earn the respect of her family, they no longer believe she's insane, in fact she has their eternal gratitude, except for her younger self absorbed sister. I felt like slapping her through most of the book - she gives Anne Elliot's sister Mary from Austen's Persuasion a run for the money!

This is the beginning of a series for Emma. Here we've gotten the introduction to her and her background, her past marriage, her relationship with her family and ultimately how she learns of her vampire hunter powers and copes with the knowlege. She needs further training to hone her skills. I'm sure the future books in the series will have her traveling all over the world in pursuit of Marius with the help of her friends. It holds promise and I believe will become more and more interesting as the main characters are flushed out more. I look forward to the rest of the books as they come out and will definitely read them.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde (audio)

Book Description:
Detective Thursday Next has had her fill of her responsibilities as the Bellman in Jurisfiction, enough with Emperor Zhark's pointlessly dramatic entrances, outbreaks of slapstick raging across pulp genres, and hacking her hair off to fill in for Joan of Arc. Packing up her son, Friday, Thursday returns to Swindon accompanied by none other than the dithering Danish prince Hamlet. Caring for both is more than a full-time job and Thursday decides it is definitely time to get her husband Landen back, if only to babysit. Luckily, those responsible for Landen's eradication, The Goliath Corporation-formerly an oppressive multinational conglomerate, now an oppressive multinational religion-have pledged to right the wrong.

But returning to SpecOps isn't a snap. When outlaw fictioneer Yorrick Kaine seeks to get himself elected dictator, he whips up a frenzy of anti-Danish sentiment and demands mass book burnings. The return of Swindon's patron saint bearing divine prophecies could spell the end of the world within five years, possibly faster if the laughably terrible Swindon Mallets don't win the Superhoop, the most important croquet tournament in the land. And if that's not bad enough, The Merry Wives of Windsor is becoming entangled with Hamlet. Can Thursday find a Shakespeare clone to stop this hostile takeover? Can she prevent the world from plunging into war? Can she vanquish Kaine before he realizes his dream of absolute power? And, most important, will she ever find reliable child care?

As much as I've loved this series, Something Rotten was not up to the same calibre as the previous books about Thursday Next and her neverending fight for truth and justice against the Goliath Corporation and her amusing exploits (literally) in the world of fiction. Even though it was still a laugh and highly enjoyable, (Jasper Fforde has an amazing imagination), I found it hard to follow in parts - the story was all over the place, maybe because I was listening to it on audio.

The above recap of the book tells it all. The fourth in the Thursday Next Series, it's two years later from where the last book ended and Thursday leaves Jurisfiction and finds her way back home to Swindon. She gets a job back with SpecOps, though she has a whole new set of problems to solve.

As in the previous books, Thursday meets various fictional characters, here we meet Hamlet, who is sort of in the background, though by no means as humorous a character as I found Heathcliff or Miss Haversham in the previous novels. In addition, Thursday's mother runs a sort of rooming house for displaced historical figures, one of whom is Lady Emma Hamilton who is carrying on an affair with Hamlet (much to the ire of the tyrannical and diva-like Ophelia). Emma is one of my favorites. Having become a lush due to the untimely death of her Horatio (Wellington) she is living with Thursday's mother until history can be changed (frankly, this was all lost on me, I didn't quite get this part of the story, except that Thursday's father was working on it) She is always looking for a drink, I laughed out loud several times, especially on audio. Meanwhile, Thursday is wondering if her mother may or may not be having a fling with Bismarck - yes, that Bismarck, the same from 19th century Germany - or was it Austria?

Anyhow, the highlight of the story is Thursday and Landon's reunion - they're back together again, although it was touch and go at first - literally! Once he was un-eradicated, it took a couple of times for it to take. Landen had the unhappy misfortune of disappearing at the most inconvenient of times, leaving Thursday in one particularly embarrasing situation with his parents!

I was a bit disappointed that the narrator of Something Rotten was not Elizabeth Sartre, who I had gotten used to in the last two books. Emily Gray did this narration, and she was very good, but she just didn't have the same endearing quality in her characters, though I think I was just spoiled from Sartre. Gray was very good with Lady Hamilton, and very funny with St. Zvlkx (I never would have known how to pronounce his name if not for the audio version - it sounds like "zivilkix") and his lewd and bawdy Old English way of speaking that only Thursday's brother Joffy can translate. She was also good at two year old Friday's speaking, which was some sort of crazy latin word-speak from the world of Jurisfiction. Basically, you couldn't understand a word that Friday said, although it sounded like he was speaking Latin. Since I barely know any Latin to begin with, I don't know if he was speaking gibberish or not!

As usual, there are loads of literary inside jokes, Thursday has her own stalker Millon de Floss, Thursday's foe is Yorrick Kaine - which of course, gives Hamlet his line at the end, "Poor Yorrick - "alas..." You get the idea... The Cat formerly known as Cheshire is back (I love him) and there's a hilarious battle between him and Yorrick - the book definitely had it's moments, but as a whole it kind of fell flat. The ending was very odd too. No spoilers here, but I think it was supposed to be sentimental with Thursday's Gran, but I didn't get that feeling at all. It just left me perplexed and asking "Why?" I wondered if Fforde intended to end the series here and then wrote one more book for it, for it had a sort of final feeling to it. I'm all confused!

Some say they thought this book was a bridge to get Thursday from Jurisfiction back into the real world, maybe it is, I can't say until I read the next (and last) book, First Among Sequels. Whatever it is, it was amusing in parts, but a jumble as a whole. Between the world championship super hoop croquet game, Hamlet's being out of Hamlet, neanderthals saving the world, and the quest to expose Yorrick for who he really was - I was a bit lost in parts. But, as usual, the book is full of smirks and suprises and I'm happy for Thursday that she has her husband Landen back. But, I didn't find this one as good as the others. The ending was a bit wobbly as well. I still liked it, Fforde is incredibly adept and creative with this alternate world, but this is the weakest in the series, in my opinion.


Changeless by Gail Carriger

Book Description:
Alexia Tarabotti, the Lady Woolsey, awakens in the wee hours of the mid-afternoon to find her husband, who should be decently asleep like any normal werewolf, yelling at the top of his lungs. Then he disappears - leaving her to deal with a regiment of supernatural soldiers encamped on her doorstep, a plethora of exorcised ghosts, and an angry Queen Victoria.

But Alexia is armed with her trusty parasol, the latest fashions, and an arsenal of biting civility. Even when her investigations take her to Scotland, the backwater of ugly waistcoats, she is prepared: upending werewolf pack dynamics as only the soulless can.

She might even find time to track down her wayward husband, if she feels like it.

Simply put, I loved this book.

Second in the Parasol Protectorate Series, I enjoyed her first book, Soulless, but this one was even better.

Alexia and Lord Woolsey, now married, are still enmeshed in the connubial bliss associated with the first few months of marriage. Woolsey can't get enough of Alexia's nubile proportions it seems, and takes every advantage of letting Alexia know just how appreciative he is of her natural endowments, whether it's her body or her brain. Although they are not together for various parts of the storyline, when they are, it makes for great reading! I love the way Ms. Carriger writes, it's so clever and makes me laugh when it comes to Alexia and Connal!

For example, when Connal is in one of his amorous moods and her mind is on something else and she wants to discuss it. Ever the pragmatist, she realizes she might as well just give up and enjoy it:

Alexia sacrificed herself on the altar of wifely duty, enjoying every minute of it, of course, but still determined to pull him back...

His response after he gets his way is just as funny!

"Right," he said, as though he had just finished a refreshing beverage. "Shall we continue on, then?"

*giggles* Oh, how I love him! He knows his wife well and knows she'll want to get back to business and the subject at hand, but that doesn't stop him from making his own demands first - he has his priorities, after all! I love an alpha - whether man or werewolf!

One of the things I love about their relationship is the coy references to the passion that goes on between them. In most cases, this PG version is even sexier than an R rated version. The little tidbits of the earl nibbling down his wife's neck and spine are more evocative of the fun they must be having together between the sheets than if we had a more graphic description of their love life. It's obvious Alexia has no reason to complain in that department, even if she has to sleep during daylight hours and go about her business in the middle of the night (werewolf hours).

Alexia has come into her own in this book, and though she is soulless, not the sort to become overwrought with emotion or overly sentimental, I could relate to her better as a married woman. She has much to deal with now, namely her wayward best friend, Ivy, and her selfish unmarried younger half-sister, Felicity, who never has a nice thing to say about anybody! Alexia has settled into married life well. It hasn't stopped her one bit from noseying about in her husband's BUR business or aiding Queen Victoria as her muhjah (a type of unofficial and secret advisor) on the Shadow Council.

The basic plot of the book takes Alexia to Scotland with her best friend and sister in tow. While there, we learn of Connal's background and his mystery as to why he is no longer the alpha of this former pack, for it's unheard of that an alpha leaves it's own pack, but apparantly Lord Maccon did some years ago. The big question is why. In addition, we find out that there seems to be some sort of moving plague that has left it's mark around parts of London and seems to be en route to Scotland. The plague is attacking all the supernatural beings (vampires, ghosts, werewolves) temporarily taking away their supernatural powers. What is causing this, where has it come from, and how can it be stopped? Alexia, ever the take charge person, is on the case, even if her life is in danger - is someone trying to kill her?

Before leaving for Scotland, Alexia meets a beautiful yet disarming lesbian Frenchwoman who dresses as a man. She is an inventor, although we are unsure if she is good or bad. Is she some sort of spy that is trying to kill Alexia or not? Whose side is she on? Connal, before leaving for Scotland on the family business regarding his former pack, obliquely leaves instructions to Alexia to meet this inventor woman at her hat shop. Alexia does, and the woman had made (at Connal's request) a unique and 007-like parasol for Alexia with a lot of secret weapons and useful tools in it that later come in handy. Madame also seems to make a romantic play for Alexia herself, though Alexia is not interested - she has her highly sexed werewolf husband to consider! But, the main point of the book is that Alexia must get to the bottom of what is causing this plague - and afterall Alexia's joie de vivre is to get to the bottom of everything and fix it!

There are lots of exciting moments in the book, including a nerve wracking death defying fall off a dirigible. I enjoyed the family and pack infighting between the werewolves and Connal. Many interesting and comical side characters added color to the story, a Major Channing Channing, who looks promising for future books, Connal's valet cum actor, Turnstell, who finds himself in love with Alexia's wayward best friend, Ivy. Their reciprocal romantic conundrum is amusing as well as Ivy's fashion faux pas and ditzy commentaries on the strange events surrounding her - she's basically clueless about everything. Alexia's sarcasm made me laugh out loud often and her tart retorts to bitchy sister Felicity were well done. In fact, I admire Alexia mostly for her ability to think on her feet (and off, for that matter) and be the "common sense" person for much of the zaniness that goes on around her. I had some issues with Felicity fading into the background towards the end and I got a bit lost in the mechanical descriptions of transmitters and thingamabobs and that sort of thing, as well as the big wrap up and motivation of the villain and background history of the whys and wherefores, but those are minor gripes, for mostly I really loved the details and witty characterizations thoughout the book. I guessed who the villain was in the story, but it was by no means predictable - as is nothing in this book!

The 800-pound gorilla I'm avoiding is the major cliffhanger and big misunderstanding at the end of it. No spoilers here, but just when things are looking great and the mystery is solved and everyone is happy - all hell breaks loose! Poor Alexia - aargh! To say the least, I was shocked and dismayed and am in dire need of reading Ms. Carriger's next book Blameless as soon as it comes out! I'm not fond of clffhangers and this one is a doozy, but it did ramp the series up a notch for me and gave it a whole new depth, though it has me gnashing my teeth! I really have enjoyed the first two books enormously, the locales, descriptions and details of the Victorian period are first rate and the whimsical homage to steampunk gives it an amusing twist.

This is a promising author and series, I highly recommend it, though if you detest cliffhangers - you're going to be really upset at the end of this book. Still, I loved it and am eager to read on - cliffhangers or no!


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Pirates by Linda Lael Miller

Book Description:
A thoroughly modern woman encounters a dangerous, dashing eighteenth-century buccaneer is a sensuous, joyous, utterly heartwarming tale of love....

Phoebe Turlow needs to get out of Seattle and forget about the man she just divorced, her dwindling finances, and the lonely nights that stretch ahead of her. But she can't foresee what awaits her on Paradise lsland....

Duncan Rourke is known to historians as "the pirate patriot." He's been dead for two centuries -- or at least he's supposed to be, until Phoebe Turlow steps out of a van, into a run-down island hotel, and into his world.

Neither Phoebe nor her pirate can envision the glorious venture that is about to unfold. They understand only that they have found each other, and a grand passion across the chasm of time...and they fear only the moment when it may vanish. Passionate, emotional, and completely entrancing, Pirates will steal your heart.

I had high hopes for this time travel book that I've had on my TBR list for ages. It sounded good to me, but as I began to read it, I kept scratching my head and thinking to myself why does this storyline sound so familiar? Was it the hero's scarred back from a flogging by a sadistic English officer? Or maybe it was because a 20th century woman goes back 200 years in time only to find love and romance and then returns to her present time, pregnant with her 18th century husband's child - but then rejoins him again two hundred years earlier? Sound familiar to any of you Outlander fans? Sheesh!

As much as there were some Outlandish similarities, this book was not at all like Jamie and Claire's story. Phoebe is an unemployed divorcée who is down on her luck. She takes a trip to the Caribbean, all expenses paid, as long as she sits through the interminable time share pitch that the hotel makes as a prerequisite. While conveniently dressed for the fancy Saturday night masquerade party as a serving wench from the eighteenth century, she pushes the wrong button on the elevator and finds herself back in the Caribbean, only it's now 1781 and the Revolutionary War is going full tilt in America and she comes face to face with Duncan Roarke, the owner of the hidden Caribbean mansion where she finds herself. The mansion is his pirate lair, only he doesn't seem much like a pirate at all. He's more of a patriot for the American cause, although the rest of his family are all Loyalists.

Duncan is surprised at who Phoebe is, but believes her time traveling story, thanks to the help of his servant Old Woman, who is a wise native islander that teaches Phoebe the ways of the eighteenth century. She seems to have some sort of psychic power and has been waiting for Phoebe to arrive. She informs Phoebe that she will marry Roarke and bear him children. Well, that took care of any surprise for the rest of the book. Ho hum - bo-ring! Phoebe takes it all in (eventually) and falls madly in love with Duncan, even though he's gone off sailing for weeks and has left her behind on the island. While he's gone, she thinks of him constantly. Who wouldn't? He's handsome, dashing, plays the piano and looks like a pirate! Then, at one point, Phoebe leaves Paradise Island and goes off on her own because Old Woman told her to. She meets the same sadistic British officer that flogged Duncan and a whole other subplot enters into the story. She works as a serving wench in a tavern and bides her time until Duncan comes and finds her.

What got me was, what did Duncan see in Phoebe and why did he want to even find her? I found her annoying and often stupid, particularly when she keeps on wanting to befriend Duncan's former island mistress! Plus I can't stand romances in which the heroine falls in love immediately and the hero and heroine have sex before page 50. Now, I was reading this on kindle, so I don't know what page it was, but it seemed too damned early, and I did not understand the attraction Duncan had for Phoebe. In fact, so much about this whole plot line was trite and clichéd, I could barely get through it!

One interesting short lived part of the book was when Duncan went forward in time with Phoebe for a while, but then he inadvertently leaps back in time again without being able to let Phoebe know or say good bye to her. She figures it out soon enough, but what I didn't understand is why she just moped around pining for him. Why didn't she go to the elevator again and again every night and try to leap back to him again? It took her ages to figure it out! I did like their reunion, which was full of battle scenes and excitement. Although there was some sailing in ships that took place in the boat, the title Pirates is sadly misleading. This book is not in the least bit about pirates, don't get your hopes up. It's about an American patriot posing as a pirate to attack British ships for the Americans.

Meanwhile, the side stories involve the dilemma of Duncan's family being Loyalist, yet wanting to protect Duncan and his Revolutionary leanings. His mother and brother and sister all wind up having to flee Charleston (where he is from) and go live with him at his Caribbean hideaway. They all accept Phoebe with alacrity, not even questioning her background as strange or her odd short hairdo! I normally love time travel stories, but I do like to have a little reality thrown in them too, even if that sounds paradoxical. For Duncan's family and friends to all be so accepting of Phoebe (who I couldn't stand) just irked me and was unrealistic! Okay, okay, so I'm a time travel snob.

If I had the chance to do it all over again, I'd pass up this book, but it was part of my Time Travel Reading Challenge list, so I stuck with it. I wish I had been warned, I'm surprised it's gotten such good reviews elsewhere. Lovers of this book must be die hard Linda Lael Miller fans or have never read Outlander. What can I say, I've been spoiled by Diana Gabaldon. This is the only book I've read of Ms. Miller and I suspect it will be the last.


The Betrayal of the Blood Lily by Lauren Willig (audio)

Book Description:
Everyone warned Miss Penelope Deveraux that her unruly behavior would land her in disgrace someday. She never imagined she'd be whisked off to India to give the scandal of her hasty marriage time to die down. As Lady Frederick Staines, Penelope plunges into the treacherous waters of the court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, where no one is quite what they seem - ”even her own husband. In a strange country where elaborate court dress masks even more elaborate intrigues and a spy called the Marigold leaves cobras as his calling card, there is only one person Penelope can trust....

Captain Alex Reid has better things to do than play nursemaid to a pair of aristocrats. He knows what their kind is like. Or so he thinks -- until Lady Frederick Staines out-shoots, out-rides, and out-swims every man in the camp. She also has an uncanny ability to draw out the deadly plans of the Marigold and put herself in harm's way. With danger looming from local warlords, treacherous court officials, and French spies, Alex realizes that an alliance with Lady Frederick just might be the only thing standing in the way of a plot designed to rock the very foundations of the British Empire.

The sixth in the Pink Carnation series, I was glad to to see that the wonderful Kate Reading is back as the reader in this audiobook, for I had missed her voice in the last one. We pick up the series which is centered in India. Penelope Deveraux who we meet in the last book, The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, (which, I admit, I found the weakest of the series to date) is now married to Freddie Staines, an obnoxious "Regency prep" (love that description I came across recently) who she had to marry since she "compromised" him out of sheer boredom to get out the hum drum everyday life of London during the Season. All her friends were falling in love and getting married and Penelope was feeling a bit left out. So she flirted her way into marriage - and Freddie was available and eager for her. He seemed as good as any other bored London buck that was hanging around. Unfortunately, once married, they had to remove to India for a time to let the scandal of their marriage die down. Oh, Penelope, could you have been more foolish?

I found myself not really liking Penelope all that much at first. I didn't have much sympathy for her. She got herself into a fine mess. She was selfish and frankly - she deserved what she got. I didn't like her high handed, impetuous manner. Most of the time, she never said what she really felt and I just found her rash and obnoxious. When was she ever going to just be herself and stop all these games? Thankfully, by the end of the book, true love softens her towards life and I grew to like her - a little. Penelope has not had it easy, and much of what she does is due to her neglected childhood. She's never really been loved by anybody and it shows with her attitude. Finally, in India she meets her match.


In India Penelope meets Captain Alex Reid. He is assigned to escort Penelope and her husband Freddie to Hyderabad where Freddie is going to be in residence as some sort of official. Frankly, these kind of details were lost upon me. The main story was Penelope and Reid. They are attracted to one another, yet also repulsed by each other. Penelope is somehow convinced that Reid is some sort of spy that may be planning to commit treason against the Crown, and Reid is just trying to get this wayward, bored and disarmingly pretty married woman out of his mind, since she is the wife to an official he is assigned to. No matter how much he's dying to kiss her and take her into his arms, his honor will not allow it. But, she's working on him. She is daring and provocative - constantly. They spend a great deal of time together, he escorts her about, while her philandering husband seeks company with everyone but his wife. Freddie takes a mistress and installs her right in the same house with Penelope (the cad!) and then (hallelulah!) gets himself killed! I clapped! Yay! Penelope is rid of him! I won't say how. You'll have to read it yourself, but as Penelope and Reid grow closer, it was inevitable that Freddie would be killed off somehow (as in soap operas). For Penelope and Reid to ever find happiness, she has to be free of Freddie, and divorce was unacceptable - and she couldn't be Reid's mistress! But, just because Freddie is dead that doesn't mean the coast is clear for Penelope and Reid, in fact it become the opposite!

Reid's character was not as fleshed out as Penelope. This is really more Penelope's story. He's a soldier with the proper soldier's honor and pride about him that you'd expect. He is handsome and dashing outwardly, but he has the burden of guilt about him as well. Born legitimately to his married Scottish and Welsh parents, he does not face the same rules and prejudices his half siblings are subject to. His father was quite the ladies man, with numerous children born to his Indian mistresses. Reid loves his siblings and is close to them, yet he is powerless to change the rules of Indian society and the unfair doctrines set up against non-whites. Reid is the conscience of the story - the noble backbone used to point out the injustices that occured in Colonial India until their independence. He does what he can, but in the early nineteenth century, one man can do nothing to change the rules. The basic gist of Reid is, he does not want to make the same mistakes his father made, siring illegitimate children all over India. Yet, he'd like to marry eventually and have children, but the thought is unappealing without love, and the only woman he seems to have fallen in love with is married! What a conundrum!

To further complicate matters, Reid is trying to find out if his half-brother, Jack, is the renegade spy working with the French, the Marigold. Penelope is trying to find out who the Marigold is too - was the Marigold behind the death of her husband? There are plenty of twists in the plotline, including a spectacular death defying moment with a cobra. No sign of the Pink Carnation in this book since it's all in India, though she is alluded to.

I enjoyed the story and this new evocative setting brought a freshness to the series, not to mention there is sex again! It's not PG rated, if you get my meaning! *grin* Reid and Penelope have a three day interlude which was wonderful for them, but then reality steps in to end it. The first half of the book is slow going, setting up the poltical background of why Freddie is in India with his petulant bride, but the second half picks up mightily as the story becomes more engrossing - and Penelope becomes more likable. It was hard to put down.

Ms. Willig's descriptions and background of India in the period are first rate and she excels in conveying the sensuousness of the settings - the heavy dampness of the humidity, the scents, the fauna, the exotic atmosphere - India. I felt I was there with Penelope and Reid riding together alone or in the Nizam's palace watching the dancing and the danger. The reader experiences it all first hand.

On the contemporary side, we're still following the romance between Eloise and Colin which is not nearly as interesting as it was in the earlier books before they were a couple. Now that they're together, and Colin is Eloise's boyfriend, their storyline has fizzled and has no pizzazz. Eloise is still convinced that Colin is hiding something from her, but I don't buy it. She's barking up the wrong tree and causing needless trouble and anxiety to herself. She's also trying to fix up his sister, Serena with someone so Colin will spend less time worrying about his little sister and more time on Eloise! But there is the interesting tidbit of information that Colin's mother is married to a much younger man who is his aunt's grandson! More to develop there, I'm sure!

I enjoyed The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, though I'm eager to get back to London and more about the Pink Carnation herself. Penelope grew on me, but she's a prickly heroine. Though her relationship with Reid was a thorny one, I enjoyed seeing her change for the better once she fell in love. I knew she was capable of falling in love and becoming a good person, she just had to find the right man who loved her back.

Now that I've read all the books written in the series to date, I realize how much I love this series as a whole, it's one of my favorites. I highly recommend it for the historical aspects, but also the humor and romance in it as well. Although some of the books have been hit or miss, the series has everything. It's well researched and written, entertaining and also has the contemporary aspect to it with the Eloise/Colin storyline, I'm glad I discovered it, a real treat!

3.5/5 because I found it so hard to finally like the heroine!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean

Book Description:
A lady does not smoke cheroot. She does not ride astride. She does not fence or attend duels. She does not fire a pistol, and she never gambles at a gentlemen's club.

Lady Calpurnia Hartwell has always followed the rules, rules that have left her unmarried - and more than a little unsatisfied. And so she's vowed to break the rules and live the life of pleasure she's been missing.

But to dance every dance, to steal a midnight kiss - to do those things, Callie will need a willing partner. Someone who knows everything about rule-breaking. Someone like Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston - charming and devastatingly handsome, his wicked reputation matched only by his sinful smile.

If she's not careful, she'll break the most important rule of all - the one that says that pleasure-seekers should never fall hopelessly, desperately in love . . .

I finished this book last week and how do I count the nine ways I loved this book? Impossible. I can't. I just simply loved it!

At first I thought "Oh no, is this going to be another one of those spinster wallflower stories?" It is, but it's new and fresh, for it turns the wallflower story on it's head. Callie, our heroine, catches the eye of a rake, but not in the usual way. Her "list" of adventurous things she wants to do to feel alive again puts her in the path of our hero, rake about town, Gabriel, the Marquess of Ralston. He finds himself oddly attracted to this unusual girl who is not what she seems. He finds that not only is she refreshingly different from his tiresome mistress, she has the air of respectibility he needs to launch his half-sister into society!

I loved Callie as our heroine. She's been suffering for years under the thumb of her mother who has no idea how to dress her zaftig daughter. She has been subject to the strictures of society and at the dear old age of twenty eight, has been relegated to the spinster section of the ballroom forever. Finally, with the engagement of her younger sister, she has had enough. It's time she got a life - and she acts on it immediately! She writes up a list - basically, a "Nine things to do before I die" list. The first one she tackles on the list is a real doozy! Instead of skirting around the issue of loving the Marquess of Ralston from afar for the past ten years, she goes right to his townhouse in the middle of the night and asks him to kiss her (in his bedroom, no less!) And what a kiss!

I loved Callie for she is secretly daring and determined, though vulnerable too. She blossoms over the course of the book and becomes her own assertive self. Yet, I felt badly for her for she was considered "plump." Ralston admires her luscious curves, she was perhaps not so much chubby, but well endowed and only considered heavy for that day and age - a shame, for she didn't deserve the cognomen, which is a major theme in the story, for she blooms once she's in the proper dress made for her. Often, she must put up with slights and insults regarding her figure and I cringed and sympathized with her each time. Even Ralston at one point makes her feel inferior, though it was all a misunderstanding! Oh, how I hate it when that happens!

But back to the list...

Callie goes through with her entire list, and each item on it was a pleasure to read about - and it was so much fun to see how these adventures of hers would turn out, I really wondered how the author would do it - it was brilliant! Of course, Ralston stars in most of them, though that is not Callie's intention at first. The sex between them was steamy and well done, fitting into the storyline seamlessly. Not gratuitous or too long or flowery, just right with the perfect amount of build up and sexual chemistry needed to make it interesting, no matter how many encounters they had before making it legal. *fans self*

Ralston as a rake was far from perfect, though he manages to overcome his perceived inability to love and changes for the better by the end of the book. I love rakes and he was an irresistible one and a great lover too, which doesn't hurt! I loved it how he always seemed to pop up to help Callie with her list. I loved the way he was daring with her - he snuck into her bedroom and even made love to her at Brooks, his club. *fans self* She was some lucky girl!

A new author to me, I loved Ms. MacLean's writing style, I'll definitely be looking for her future books! Very well done, no jarring historical errors that I noticed in language or setting and attire. I felt we could have seen more in the development of the side characters, such as Ralston's Italian half-sister, Juliana and his brother Nicholas and Callie's brother, Benedick, though I suspect they'll all get books of their own. I wanted to know what becomes of Juliana's debut and the duke she meets in the bookstore. It was unclear if we later meet him with his mother who both snub her - or was that his father? Kind of a miss mash, I guess I'll have to go back and re-read it! *grin* There were elements in this book that reminded me of Julia Quinn, whose a favorite of mine: humor and poignancy in a regency setting, not to mention great sex! A winning combination!

The plain wallflower theme has been done to death but MacLean made it work here and it was a pleasure to read. I could have killed Ralston a few times, he really had a learning curve to overcome, I hated some things he did to Callie and the fact he couldn't recognize he loved her until so late in the game when he thought he'd lost her. Still, that's what made it so good! *grin* I ate it up like candy! A keeper! Brava!


Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton (audio)

Book Description:
From the internationally bestselling author of The House at Riverton, an unforgettable new novel that transports the reader from the back alleys of poverty of pre-World War I London to the shores of colonial Australia where so many made a fresh start, and back to the windswept coast of Cornwall, England, past and present.

A tiny girl is abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. She arrives completely alone with nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a single book -- a beautiful volume of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dockmaster and his wife and raised as their own. On her twenty-first birthday they tell her the truth, and with her sense of self shattered and with very little to go on, "Nell" sets out on a journey to England to try to trace her story, to find her real identity. Her quest leads her to Blackhurst Manor on the Cornish coast and the secrets of the doomed Mountrachet family.

But it is not until her granddaughter, Cassandra, takes up the search after Nell's death that all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled. At Cliff Cottage, on the grounds of Blackhurst Manor, Cassandra discovers the forgotten garden of the book's title and is able to unlock the secrets of the beautiful book of fairy tales.

This is a novel of outer and inner journeys and an homage to the power of storytelling. The Forgotten Garden is filled with unforgettable characters who weave their way through its spellbinding plot to astounding effect. Morton's novels are #1 bestsellers in England and Australia and are published in more than twenty languages. Her first novel, The House at Riverton, was a New York Times bestseller.

An engrossing historical novel that takes on the mystery of why a four year old girl was left alone on an ocean liner en route to Australia in 1913. It lacked the same endearing qualities and warmth I loved in Morton's first book, The House at Riverton. I found it difficult to connect with the many different characters and found not a lot of sympathy for them. Many were not all that likable. The intracacies in the plotline made it interesting and rife with speculation, but I always felt at arms length with everyone, I wasn't inside their heads. Perhaps it was deliberate to keep the mystery - a mystery.

As the story unfolds and the mystery eventually solved, we learn about the little girl, who becomes known as Nell Andrews. What becomes of her in Australia and what does she learn of her true parentage once she is in her 60's and how has it affected her adult life? The story unfolds in flashbacks that switch back and forth with present day. The different perspectives of Nell, Cassandra, her grandaughter, and Eliza Makepeace, the authoress who is the lynchpin in the mystery made it a bit confusing on audio. I think I would have preferred it in print though I got used to it after a while, jumping from 1900 to 2005 in a blink of eye. Caroline Lee, the reader did an excellent job in any case.

We find out Nell is the daughter of an aristocratic family, the Mountrachets living on a large estate in Cornwall, England. Her father was a famous portrait artist who also drew some amazing sketches for a book of fairy tales, the same book that is with Nell when she is left on the ship. It turns out the authoress of the tales lived in a cottage on the same property as the Mountrachets. What was the connection? All Nell remembers is that it was the authoress who took her to the ocean liner and told her to hide and remain quiet until she returned. Alas, she never returns and Nell sails to Australia, amazingly undiscovered by the authorities. Providentially, she is "adopted" by the dockmaster and his wife in Australia. As she grows up, she believes she is their natural child until she is an adult when her father finally tells her the truth. Nell was a hard nut to crack. She was not that likable, she has her issues, stemming from learning about the truth of what happened to her at four years of age. As a result, she disassociates herself from her family, and as she admits herself, she was not the best of mothers to her daughter, Leslie. She was stunted emotionally, a trait that is passed down to her daughter and grandaughter for different reasons.

As the story shifts around, we follow Nell in the mid 1970's, searching for the truth while visiting Cornwall. She buys Cliff Cottage and decides to settle there. But, as fate would have it, she cannot leave because her wayward daughter asks her to take care of her grandaughter, Cassandra who is a young girl. Nell must put her plans on hold. Years later, in 2005, Nell dies and leaves the cottage in Cornwall to Cassandra. Cassandra had been completely unaware of the mystery of Nell and her true parentage. She goes to England to see the cottage and solves the mystery herself through journals and the help of a few new friends. While in Cornwall, she begins to put her life back together after suffering a huge loss ten years earlier.

Meanwhile, we get bits and pieces in flashbacks of other Mountrachets in the early 20th century - Rose, Nell's mother, Linus, Rose's father who is searching for his long lost sister, Georgiana. Georgiana ran away with a sailor and had twins, a son and daughter - the daughter turns out to be Eliza Makepeace, the authoress. There are so many issues intertwined, many side stories, for a while I thought the story involving Linus was going to have some sort of incestuous truth to it, regarding his overwhelming fascination with his sister, Georgiana and then her daughter, Eliza, who looks just like her mother. Linus' wife, Adeline, is an unhappy tyrant, lady of the manor, who comes from a humble background herself, forever trying to live it down and determined to make a brilliant match for her daughter Rose. Rose has issues herself, trying to overcome the illness that kept her bedridden most of her childhood. She wants nothing more than to marry happily and have children - to live a normal life.

In addition to the intersecting stories, the fairy tales parallel the drama in Cornwall and what is really happening between Eliza and the Mountrachets. They serve as a sort of parable, and obliquely reflect Eliza's emotions on the events that occur at Blackhurst Manor. The fairy tales were often disturbing and disarming, not your typical happily ever after endings. On audio, I could have done without the hoaky music that ended and began every chapter, of which there were many - over 50! The music began to annoy me, such time wasters! Although I did not mind the mystical sounding music that prefaced each fairy tale, for it helped differentiate them from the main story and set the mood in that respect. If only they had eliminated the chapters music, and kept only the fairy tale music instead!

By the end of the story, we learn the truth of Nell's disappearance and it was pretty much what I expected in parts, though there were a few surprises I did not expect. I enjoyed this story, though I did not feel as close to the characters in this one, they always seemed to be arms length away. Detached and often enigmatic. No warm and cuddly feeling with any of them. I could not warm up to Eliza for I knew she was the one that "lost" Nell and I didn't know her ultimate reason why, Nell was prickly and Rose whiny and clingy. Cassandra was distant as well - I wasn't crazy about any of them, though I wanted to know what happened to them. The mystery itself is what drove the story onwards. The garden itself - as in the title - that is next to Cliff Cottage is also a part of the mystery, though I wish there had been more to it and the maze.

Not bad, but not great. I enjoyed the Cornish and Australian locales very much. The dialects set the historical and contemporary scenes vividly on audio and made me want to experience them first hand one day. But, I just couldn't shake the melancholy, sinister feeling of the story. The mystery of a child's abandonment is disturbing to say the least and unfortunately it overshadowed the entire book. A sad mystery to be solved, and ultimately sad for everyone involved.


P.S. Happy Easter!
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