Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Scottish Thistle by Cindy Vallar

Book Description:
Loyalty and honor. A Highland warrior prizes both more than life, and when he swears his oath on the dirk, he must obey or die. Duncan Cameron heeds his chief's order without question, but discovers his wife-to-be is no fair maiden. Although women are no longer trained in the art of fighting, Rory MacGregor follows in the footsteps of her Celtic ancestors. Secrets from the past and superstitious folk endanger Rory and Duncan as much as Bonnie Prince Charlie and his uprising to win back the British throne for his father. Rory and Duncan must make difficult choices that pit honor and duty against trust and love...

This is one of those books that had been on my TBR list forever! I don't even remember where I got the idea to read it, except that it was recommended for Outlander fans. Something that was supposed to be similar to Jamie and Claire - the hero and heroine in the Outlander Series. For one thing, the book wasn't easy to get hold of, but lo and behold, I found out recently that it was available on Kindle, so I bought it and finally got around to reading it. The anticipation was great, for I had heard good things about it.

What a disappointment.

It's not that it was all that bad, but I was expecting a sweeping, well written Scottish romance and instead it was this long, plodding, somewhat dull account of the events leading up to the Battle of Culloden and it's aftermath in the Scottish highlands. Yes, there was a romance somewhere in the story, and that is what I found most disappointing - the lack thereof.

As the book starts out we are introduced to our hero and heroine in the Scottish highlands. Rory MacGregor is posing as a smuggler, known in the highlands as "Thistle." No one realizes Thistle is a woman and she keeps it this way. She helps the poor and defenseless. It also turns out that she is the chief of her outlawed clan of the MacGregors who have had to hide and live in secret, all their lands and rights stripped away. Duncan, our hero, is ordered by his chief to marry Rory, a deal that was made when she was a little girl. He likes her right away and can't wait to marry her, but she's against the idea, yet she must do it to help her clan. It's complicated, but they marry by handfasting, but she insists that they do not consummate the marriage. She has no intention of staying married to him and does not want children to complicate the matter. Poor Duncan is led around by the nose by Rory and does whatever she says. He agrees. Some warrior! He thinks he can convince her to change her mind before a year and a day are up. Unfortunately, he's not around enough to convince her since he has to go off to battle for most of the book! Rory is also fighting her own conscience in regard to her marriage. She likes Duncan and is attracted to him, but he is half Campbell, a clan that was responsible for the death of her mother and loved ones - a clan she will forever despise.

Meanwhile, Bonnie Prince Charlie is getting ready to invade Scotland and Duncan must join up under his clan chief. He leaves Rory behind to act as temporary chief of his clan, the Cameron's. He and his chief and all the other Cameron warriors go off to battle for about two years or so. This part of the book seemed like an eternity to get through. Duncan is traipsing all over Scotland and parts of England following his clan chief and Bonnie Prince Charlie in a hopeless stab at an uprising. I would say for the whole middle of this book Duncan and Rory are apart. In fact, it's all mostly from his point of view, we don't even know what she's going through most of this time except for some brief parts when she is almost raped and adopts a baby whose is orphaned. But, Rory has the "second sight" and she can foretell the future and she also has a way of popping in on Duncan as if it's a dream (but it's not) from time to time to comfort him when he is gravely ill or down in the dumps. Still, it was a slog getting through all the battles and marching through snow and illnesses, etc. If I'm not mistaken, the author self published this book, and in this respect it showed. I'm sure her research on the battles of Prestonpans and Culloden was first rate, but it made for a very dull and long interlude with no action or romance between Rory and Duncan. She should have cut this part back, it went on for much too long, it was a struggle just to get through it!

Why did I persist in finishing it if it was such a struggle? Because this was one of the books in my TBR Challenge and I just wanted to get it over with! I had already given up on a previous book I'd started on Kindle (Dark Prince, Book 1 of the Carpathians which I couldn't stand), so I was determined to get through The Scottish Thistle come hell or high water! And I did! I have to pat myself on the back - a true challenge to finish it!

Aside from the boring war scenes of the book (and I'm not saying I dislike war scenes in general, I usually don't mind them as long as they don't go on forever), the romance part of it was light and I kept comparing it to Outlander wondering if the author was a big fan of Diana Gabaldon and decided to try her own hand at the battle of Culloden. I saw many similarities in the two books, but Rory and Duncan were nothing like Jamie and Claire. For one thing, for most of the story Rory won't even admit she loves Duncan! It's while he's away she realizes she loves him all of a sudden! We're supposed to believe in this great love between them and there's nothing to indicate what caused it - why does she now love him - absence makes the heart grow fonder? I just didn't buy it and without any bona fide good romantic scenes (and I don't mean sexual) the book fell flat. Oh there were a few tender moments between them after he gets back from the war, injured and scarred from his battles and imprisonment, but not enough for me to believe in any great psychic love connection between them! It was a bit gimmicky with the whole second sight aspect of hers, and I kept waiting for the superstitious townspeople to try and burn her as a witch, a la Claire at Cranesmuir. Rory was also a gifted healer, another Claire Fraser similarity.

Plus, another niggling thing that bugged me was I kept wondering how are Rory and Duncan going to live in Scotland after Culloden with the British breathing down their necks and Duncan on the run to avoid hanging? The scenario did not bode well for a happily ever after ending - were they going to live together in a cave for seven years? But voila - they have their answer - the colonies! It's off to America they go - where they can be happy and maybe they'll even meet up with Jamie and Claire in twenty years!

All in all, it wasn't a bad book, but it was a big waste of time for me. If it hadn't been so long and boring and focused more on Duncan and Rory and their relationship and love it would have been a lot better and engaging. A lesson learned, when writing a book that is touted as a romance, keep the romance in it - or at least, keep the hero and heroine together for most of the story and lighten up on the war end of it. At least in Dragonfly in Amber Jamie and Claire were together leading up to Culloden, they weren't apart for half the book, though I did consider the marching and following Prince Charlie around a slog the first time I read it.

For those of you that are big Outlander fans and were considering reading this, just keep in mind, this is not another Dragonfly in Amber except that you'll feel exhausted making your way through the bitter cold of Scotland and England under the command of the hapless Prince Charles who couldn't command his way out of a paper bag. At least he's depicted here in a realistic light and not as the beloved folk hero of legend. Rory and Duncan have a very slow and long courtship. Rory is aggravating to the extreme by not admitting her love to Duncan until almost the very end of the book. And he's so smitten by her (I kept wondering why?) that he became less and less admirable in my eyes. He'd just take all the crap she'd give him without even batting an eye. Not your typical Scottish warrior in the alpha male sense. He was a good man, but needed a bit more authority when it came to his wife. He had the gentleness and honor of a Jamie Fraser, yet without Jamie's alpha side, he lacked that necessity that completes the aura of a Scottish highlander that I love so well!

I can't recommend this book, read it at your own risk. If you're into historical fiction and less on romance, then maybe you'd like it more than I did, but the gimmicky psychic connection and tepid romance parts might bug you in that case.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton (audio)

Book Description:
Introducing Anita Blake, vampire hunter extraordinaire. Most people don't even bat an eye at vampires since they've been given equal rights by the Supreme Court. But Anita knows better--she's seen their victims. . . . A serial killer is murdering vampires, however, and now the most powerful vampire in town wants Anita to find the killer.

Desperate for another series that left me breathless like the Gardella Vampire Chronicles by Colleen Gleason or Karen Marie Moning's Fever series, I thought I'd give Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter a try. I'd heard rave reviews about this series, there are upteen books in it and I figured it must be good.

How wrong I was!

I could barely finish it. I have to give myself a pat on the back for simply getting through it, fortunately it was short, only about 9 hours long. At least I know now what it was like, but I'm amazed that it's received such accolades and is such a favorite.

First of all, I didn't like a single character in the entire book. Anita Blake, our heroine comes across as a kick-ass girl who can take care of herself in a world in which vampires are accepted, she is also an "animator" by profession, someone who can raise zombies from the dead. Zombies are a sideline in the book, the main gist of the book is a master vampire that is over one thousand years old wants Anita to find out who is killing the vampires. Yes, even though vampires are already dead, they can be killed for good by stabbing them with stakes in the heart or injecting them with silver nitrate, or even cutting off their heads and the rest of their bodies into little bits - a messy business. I longed for the clean "poof" of staking vampires from The Gardella Vampire Chronicles, nothing but ashes to show for a kill!

One of the annoying things I found about Anita was she was always scared of things, yet she was supposed to be the "executioner" to the vampire world, they were supposed to be afraid of her! And often I could not understand her motivation for what she did. For example, it was never clear why she was willing to sacrifice herself to help a zombie she helped raise from the dead. Was it some sort of motherly protective thing? She was willing to let Nikolaos lick her bite (from the hapless Philip, see ahead) to save this zombie that should have meant nothing to her yickh!

Speaking of Nikolaos, she is the master vampire that was supposed to be the biggest and baddest vampire ever and it was laughable! She was this pipsqueak childlike vampire with a high childish laugh and voice (even worse on audio) that scared Anita to death. I'm sorry, but I could not get into it or take it seriously, I kept thinking how ridiculous it was. It was just so bad! I guess Nikolaos is supposed to be like a Claudia from Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire? Not even close!

Then, there were all sorts of other characters, one of whom was supposed to be utterly handsome, dripping with sex appeal, yet covered with vampire bites. He was a vampire stripper and a "freak" that got off on being bitten by vampires. This was the hapless and doomed Philip. I'm sorry, I didn't have much sympathy for him or anybody else in the book. I kind of liked Edward, who was a sort of hired assassin and a friend of Anita's, but even he had his faults. Jean-Claude was another master vampire that bit Anita and made her drink his blood and then disappeared for the rest of the book. I take it he becomes important in the rest of the books and a possible love interest? Unfortunately, the narrator Kimberly Alexis, gave him this high voice with a French accent that made him sound more gay than anything else, certainly not a love interest to Anita. Another gripe I have about the audio version is the cheesy music that is interspersed into the plotline. Dream and action sequences have this organ synthesizer kind of mood music that I found more distracting and annoying than anything else. I think it was supposed to set the mood and make things scarier - I don't know!

Then, there were all the different monster type of characters in the book besides vampires. I really laughed out loud at the wererats - man rats that try to attack Anita and later become her friends. The image of these giant rats wearing bluejean cut offs running around in dark tunnels was not scary to me at all (and I hate rats!) I merely smirked and kept listening, I kept hoping the book would get better, but it only got worse! The big wrap up at the end with the big battle to kill Nikolaos and her underling vampires was anti-climatic.

Sorry for all of you Laurell K. Hamilton fans who love these books, I won't be reading more of them. I'm scratching my head over the appeal, but to each his own. I'm still on the lookout for something close to the Fever series with a romantic interest, so if anyone has any suggestions, please speak up!


Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute (audio)

Book Description:
A novel told partly in flashbacks about a girl's search for the Australian she met in Malaya during World War II. "A harrowing, exciting, and in the end very satisfying war romance. A Town Like Alice tells of a young woman who miraculously survived a Japanese "death march" in World War II, and of an Australian soldier, also a prisoner of war, who offered to help her--even at the cost of his life.

Originally published under the title "The Legacy".

This was a great book. I doubt I will able to do justice to it with a review, but I will try.

The audio version of it, read by Robin Bailey, was superb. I couldn't stop listening to it. Having seen the BBC version from the 1980's years ago, I had forgotten a lot of the story, so it was as if this was the first time being introduced to the story, though I did have a pretty good idea of how it ended. The story is broken down into two parts. The first part in Malaysia, during WWII, and the second part takes place after the war in Australia.

The story begins as told by an aging solicitor in London, Noel Strachan who befriends a new client, a young twenty-something girl, Jean Paget, who has come into some money left to her by an uncle. Due to a strict provision in her uncle's will, she will not come into the bulk of the estate until she is 35 years old, the estate is held in trust until she can inherit. In the meantime, she can live off of the income from the trust, so Mr. Strachan becomes her friend and helps her adjust to having this new found money. During that first year, their friendship grows and we learn that Jean had been a prisoner in Malaysia during WWII when the Japanese took over Malaysia. It is now a few years after the war and she recounts her tale of how she and several other women and children had to march all over Malaysia looking for a camp to be settled in. Over the course of this marching period, many die and there is much suffering and hardships that they experience.

They meet two Australian men, one of whom, Joe Harmon, befriends Jean, in particular. She is the women's leader of a sort, and they develop a particular friendship. Joe is under the impression Jean is married, which is probably a good thing, for as Jean remarks later, it was a dangerous time and something could have easily happened between then in an instant when so much war and suffering was going on. Desperate times could have easily led to something both would later regret. Unfortunately, before this could have even become a possibility, Joe is punished for stealing for Jean and her band of women. He is tortured and crucified in front of them. His hands are nailed to a tree and he is flogged to death. The women and children are traumatized by the sight and Jean feels the guilt and sorrow for the rest of her life, feeling it had been her fault. After this horrible incident, the women are whisked away and must continue on in their journey, eventually winding up in a tiny village for three years until the war is over and they can return home to England.

Six years later when Jean is recounting the story to Noel, she declares that she would like to return to that tiny village and build them a well as a thank you for the way the villagers had taken care of her and the other prisoners. She goes back and builds her well, and while there she discovers the incredible truth that the young man who was crucified had not died after all. In fact, he was back in Queensland as a Ringer (a type of Australian cowboy) and managing a homestead in the Outback. She is determined to visit him and see for her herself if he is indeed all right, and to lay to rest her curiosity of whether or not there was a spark between them, or was it only her imagination? She cannot return to England without pursuing it, no matter what the outcome.

Meanwhile, little does she know that Joe Harmon has gone to England to see her! He has only just found out that she had been unmarried during that time in Malay. He'd never forgotten her and he needed to see if she was the same as he had remembered. He had plans to ask her to marry him. While in London, he meets her solicitor friend, Noel, who doesn't tell him she's pursuing him in Australia, but Noel arranges it so that they will meet in Australia as soon as Joe returns. As you can imagine the story is tantalizing, since you're dying to find out how they will react to seeing one another again!

Once they do reunite it is wonderful! At first, they're a bit awkward together, but they go away for a weekend on a beautiful tropical island and there they can relax and get to know one another again. I cried for them, it was such a relief that they were able to come together and be happy together! Although this book was written in the 1950's, there is no sex, but the chemistry of them together is palpable, it more than makes up for the type of graphic material common in today's novels. Theirs is a memorable love story, and of course, I couldn't help but notice the similarities between Joe and Jamie Fraser of Outlander. Both were flogged and have horribly scarred backs due to sacrificing themselves for the women they love. Joe's mother is even from Inverness, Scotland, so that makes him a Highlander in a way, doesn't it? ;) Still, Joe is an Aussie through and through. He has a slow Queensland drawl to him. He's sticks out like a sore thumb while in London, but in the Outback he knows his stuff and I loved the imagery of the land and the feel for Australia. It is evocative, makes you want to go there and see it - I know I do now!

Why is this book titled, A Town Like Alice? Because Alice is the name of a little town in the Outback that Joe has told Jean about while they are prisoners in Malaysia. He speaks of it fondly. There's nothing else like it, an oasis in the barren desert of Northern Queensland. The little town near where he works, Willston, is a drab, dull and very, very ordinary backwater with nothing to offer. Joe's worried that Jean will never marry him for it's such a dreary town to be near. But Jean is resourceful and comes up with plenty of enterprising ideas to bring the town up to scratch and make it attractive so it will grow and prosper - to become a town like Alice! Get it?

It's great to see how Jean is so resourceful and full of great ideas. She is such a strong, but quiet and gentle woman. Joe is supportive of her completely, and I'm glad that he's not put off by her money. He's not the kind of man that won't let his wife have businesses of her own. They support each other entirely, it was a pleasure to get to know them. The ending of the book is satisfying, we're content with how Joe and Jean wind up and happy with their life and achievements together. Noel Strachan, her solicitor friend who narrates the entire story, brings it full circle at the end. He is most endearing as Jean's confidante - the eyes and ears to the story.

I think this will probably be one of the best books of the year for me. It's heartwarming and poignant, a great love story. I can't recommend it enough, I'm still basking in the glow from it, I didn't want it to end. A pity there is no sequel, though I will be sure to read everything by Nevil Shute now, a great storyteller.


The Seduction of the Crimson Rose by Lauren Willig (audio)

Book Description:
Determined to secure another London season without assistance from her new brother-in-law, Mary Alsworthy accepts a secret assignment from Lord Vaughn on behalf of the Pink Carnation: to infiltrate the ranks of the dreaded French spy, the Black Tulip, before he and his master can stage their planned invasion of England. Every spy has a weakness, and for the Black Tulip that weakness is black-haired women-his "petals" of the Tulip. A natural at the art of seduction, Mary easily catches the attention of the French spy, but Lord Vaughn never anticipates that his own heart will be caught as well. Fighting their growing attraction, impediments from their past, and, of course, the French, Mary and Vaughn find themselves lost in the shadows of a treacherous garden of lies.

Book Four of the Pink Carnation Series, I was afraid I wasn't going to like it - how wrong I was - I loved it! Listening to these books on audio is so much fun. Kate Reading does a great job at the voices, and I love the way she does Lord Vaughn's drawl in particular. He happens to be the hero - or rather - anti-hero of this book.

Vaughn is an aging ne'er do well that we become acquainted with in the previous two books, we're not exactly sure what to make of him. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? Silver at his temples carrying a silver topped cane, silver in his waistcoat - the man loves the color silver! A widower with a past, the Pink Carnation has enlisted him to be a spy for her. He's not exactly thrilled with the idea, but he has his reasons for helping her, as we learn later on in the book. As we learned in Book Three, the Black Tulip, a french enemy spy, has a penchant for statuesque, beautiful dark haired women whom he recruits as spies - his petals. Mary Alsworthy just happens to fit the bill. Vaughn must approach Mary to see if she'll go along with the idea of setting her up as bait to lure the Black Tulip into the open, and hopefully succeed in unmasking the French spy and removing him once and for all.

Mary was not altogether likable in the last book, which was the story of her sister Letty and Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe, who had been in love with the beautiful Mary before he mistakenly eloped with her sister! Mary is now "a spinster" and unhappy that she must rely on her little sister's money for another season in London in search of a husband. Lord Vaughn becomes her savior. He and Mary make a bargain, she will become his "petal" for the Black Tulip in return for enough money to pay for her own season. The barbs and insults fly between the two, there is no love lost between them. Both are selfish and vain creatures, used to the good life. Mary can be calculating and mercenary when faced with poverty and no marriagable prospects. She is pragmatic and sensible when it comes to her future. Vaughn is a gentleman, but from a bygone era when men still wore swords and fought in duels for honor. He is rich to be sure, yet he has no love in his life. He's been a jaded wastrel much of his past ten years abroad, and he's now gotten to the point where he wants to settle down to a quiet life where all he has to worry about is producing an heir. As much as these two start out disliking each other enormously, a bond grows between them, and they develop a strong attraction for one another - albeit reluctantly. In some ways their mutual distrust and then love for one another reminds me of Scarlett and Rhett - another pair of renegades who flout society's niceties in order to achieve their ends.

I wound up loving the sparring that went on between Mary and Vaughn, it kept the book refreshing and perky. It was much more interesting that a conventional courtship. I loved Vaughn's snide and witty remarks in regard to St. George, a would be suitor of Mary's. Just as Vaughn is realizing that Mary could be someone he can see marrying himself, he finds out that his first wife, the sibilant Anne, is not dead afterall. She wants to resume their marriage! Due to this latest catastrophe (he has no love for his first wife who ran off with the music master ten years earlier) he cannot in good conscience seduce Mary or even offer her marriage, but he still doesn't like the idea of someone else marrying her either! Still, he must avoid her as much as he can, not easy since they're working together as spies to foil the Black Tulip. I really loved the fact that Mary grew up a lot in this book. Once she realizes that she loves Vaughn, she accepts it and will not take no from him. She nurses him when he is shot and I admired her and the way she handled herself in an emergency situation. Not only was she resourceful, she was brave and courageous. I was rooting for her - yes! Someday she will make a grand countess for him (if they can only get rid of his pesky first wife!)

With lots of adventure and some red herrings and plot twists, all comes out at the end - or does it? I'm still not convinced that the Black Tulip is dead, as we are led to believe. In this series, if there is no dead body, then I'm unconvinced. We shall see what happens in the next. A worthwhile read, refreshingly different from the previous two books, Vaughn and Mary make a delicious couple, they're meant for each other and the chemistry between them was wickedly delightful, although there was no sex going on between them (a bullet wound does tend to put a damper on that sort of thing.) Yet, there was a sensuality between them that made up for the lack of consummation. I have no doubt in the future Mary will be producing an heir and a spare in no time!

In regard to the modern-day parallel story between Colin and Eloise - I loved it! Yay, they had their date and it was great! Eloise does have the annoying tendency to say the wrong things around Colin, but I hope that once she feels more comfortable around him, she'll lose that. I am growing to love the handsome Colin, and I am thrilled for Eloise that he wants to see her again the next day! Their flirty repartee had me giggling like a school girl, I'm eager to see what happens next between them!


Saturday, January 16, 2010

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton (audio)

Book Description:
The House at Riverton is a gorgeous debut novel set in England between the wars. It is the story of an aristocratic family, a house, a mysterious death and a way of life that vanished forever, told in flashback by a woman who witnessed it all and kept a secret for decades.

Grace Bradley went to work at Riverton House as a servant when she was just a girl, before the First World War. For years her life was inextricably tied up with the Hartford family, most particularly the two daughters, Hannah and Emmeline.

In the summer of 1924, at a glittering society party held at the house, a young poet shot himself. The only witnesses were Hannah and Emmeline and only they - and Grace - know the truth.

In 1999, when Grace is ninety-eight years old and living out her last days in a nursing home, she is visited by a young director who is making a film about the events of that summer. She takes Grace back to Riverton House and reawakens her memories. Told in flashback, this is the story of Grace's youth during the last days of Edwardian aristocratic privilege shattered by war, of the vibrant twenties and the changes she witnessed as an entire way of life vanished forever.

The novel is full of secrets - some revealed, others hidden forever, reminiscent of the romantic suspense of Daphne du Maurier. It is also a meditation on memory, the devastation of war and a beautifully rendered window into a fascinating time in history.

The House at Riverton is a vivid, page-turning novel of suspense and passion, with characters - and an ending - the reader won't soon forget.

In case you were wondering, I wanted to clear up some confusion over the title of this book. Ms. Morton, the author, is Australian and the book's name was published in Australia as The Shifting Fog, though in the UK and the US, the book was published as The House at Riverton, which is the name I prefer. The audiobook version, which I listened to is called The Shifting Fog, with this particular cover to it, a cover I prefer. So I'm titling my review The House at Riverton, but using The Shifting Fog's cover. Got it?

Okay, let's get onto the review.

Did you ever watch the BBC television series from the 1970's called Upstairs Downstairs? It was very popular then and we used to watch it on Masterpiece Theatre Sunday nights when I was growing up. My grandmother was a particular fan. I remember the show vividly, and throughout the entire time I was reading The House at Riverton I remembered much of Upstairs Downstairs and couldn't help but compare the two. Not only are they similar because they center on the servant's point of view and their employers who are well to do Londoners, but both stories are set during the same time period - Edwardian England up to the mid 1920's.

Our central character and narrator of the story is Grace Bradley, who takes us back to her childhood when she began work at Riverton House, a large English country estate. A young girl of fourteen, she starts out as a maid and over the course of ten years, she works her way up to becoming a lady's maid for the eldest of the two daughters of the house, Hannah and Emmeline Hartford. Grace develops a great sense of duty towards servicing Hannah, to the point where she makes personal sacrifices in her life to remain with Hannah as her maid. She considers it an honor and strives to do her best. In this regard, Remains of the Day, another story about the servant class in England comes to mind. As the invisibe servant of the household, Grace witnesses the many tragedies that occur at Riverton House and she learns of it's many secrets which are revealed one by one over the course of the story.

I was surprised at the beginning of the story, knowing nothing of the actual plotline before listening to the book. It starts out as if you are reading a movie script. We soon learn that a movie is indeed being made about the Hartford sisters and R.L. Hunter the poet who kills himself by the lake at Riverton during a large party in 1924. I believed this book was going to be some sort of love story between Robbie and one of the sisters, but it was much more than that. This is Grace's life, working for the Hartfords, learning and keeping their secrets in silence, and bearing witness to the great events of the day, World War I and it's effects and aftermath to the household and society in general. It signals the end of an era before the onset of the roaring 20's. We see the two girls mature and grow up, though it's really Hannah who we get close to, this is Hannah and Grace's story.

An eldery woman, nearly one hundred years old, Grace tells her tale in flashbacks, interspersed with her current life in a nursing home. She is relatively healthy, though understandably frail, yet still sharp enough to recall working and living at Riverton and the events that led up to the death of Robbie Hunter. Often, she alludes to a great mystery of what really happened that night. Whatever it was, it is not the version that the movie is depicting. No one knows the secret except Grace. This was one of the most compelling things about the book - what really happened that night?

I loved all of it and ate it up like candy. I love these kind of books that are fiction yet use real life events as the anchors around the story. Plus, the period is fascinating to me, and the actual structure of the book and each revelation was like removing a layer, finally getting to the bottom as the last layer is removed and we learn the secret. It was very well done. Grace was endearing, I loved her at any age and I looked forward to listening to her voice as her story and life unfolded. The other characters in the book were not as vivid as Grace's, but there was enough development in them to feel like you knew them and their types. The many secrets and twists, some poignant, some sad or even bitter, further enhanced the story and setting. It was evocative and thoughful all the way up to the surprise ending. Just when you think you've figured it out, you realize it's not what you think at all.

I wholeheartedly recommend this if you enjoy books about the servant class and the aristocracy. I most certainly do. The narration by Caroline Lee, an Australian actress, was superb. I loved her characterization of Grace, plus I simply loved her voice and Australian accent, of which I didn't even realize was Australian at first, it's subtle and sweet and delicate - perfect. Her American accents were just right too - annoying and flat sounding compared to everyone else. Definitely gives you the sense of the ugly Americans of that era. All business and new money. Her voice for the butler and cook were spot on, and I loved the voice she used for Emmeline as well.

Give it a try, I hope you like it as much as I did. A real treat - and unexpected as well!


Friday, January 15, 2010

Knight of Desire by Margaret Mallory

Book Description:

His surcoat still bloody from battle, William FitzAlan comes to claim the strategic borderlands granted to him by the king. One last prize awaits him at the castle gates: the lovely Lady Catherine Rayburn.


Catherine risked everything to spy for the crown. Her reward? Her lands are declared forfeit and she is given this choice: marry FitzAlan or be taken to the Tower. Catherine agrees to give her handsome new husband her body, but she's keeping secrets, and dare not give him her heart. As passion ignites and danger closes in, Catherine and William must learn to trust in each other to save their marriage, their land, and their very lives.


I liked this book a lot, it has depth to it with a good plotline, a cut above the usual alpha male lording it over his new wife medieval. There is a poignancy about this couple, you're rooting for them and frustrated as well with the secrets and mistakes that leads to the angst between them. Both of them want to love one another and be happy, yet due to a series of circumstances and miscommunications, they have a long and circuituous road ahead to finally find the happiness they long for. Thanks to the vivid characterizations and unexpected plotlines, this book was a pleasure to read, though I did have a problem with some of the hero and heroine's actions, which didn't sit right with me. But overall, I loved it and could barely put it down.

When we first meet our hero and heroine, it is five years before the real story of the book gets started. They have a chance meeting in a stable as Catherine is planning to slip away the night before she is to marry - an arranged marriage with a man she does not trust. She senses he is not a good man. William FitzAlan, a young and green knight, inwardly wishes he could help her and stop the marriage, yet he cannot. Instead, he does the only thing he can do - he keeps her company on her last night as a maiden. He agrees to help her escape for a few hours while they talk together beneath the stars and it becomes a night both of them will remember fondly.

Five years later, Catherine is her own woman, a strong heroine, used to having the run of things. Yet, she is emotionally scarred. Being married to the brutal man who misused her repeatedly has taken its toll. It's no wonder when we first meet her again, she gets down on her knees and thanks God when she hears the news that he has been killed as a traitor in battle. As fate would have it, William FitzAlan is the knight that has been chosen by the king to marry her. He recognizes her as the same girl of that long ago night, yet Catherine does not recognize the shy and bearded knight of her dreams. Instead, before her is a large and imposing blood stained warrior fresh from the battle that killed her husband. William has come a long way himself in five years. Honor bound to his liege, the King of England, he intends to marry Catherine, despite the fact he believes her to be a lying schemer who betrayed her husband as a traitor knowing full well she'd be sending him to his death.

The plotline becomes more intricate, but the gist of it is, William must learn how to trust in Catherine and recognize that she has not turned into a cheating liar since their first meeting before she married. She is a gem and he must learn to recognize it. I couldn't help but wonder why he had such a hard time seeing it to begin with. Once he learned the truth of her unhappy first marriage, that should of clinched it and removed all of his doubts about her. Yet, then we wouldn't have such a good story with a good dose of angst and frustation!

Due to Catherine's first husband's cruelty, which William was told of by a trusted and loyal servant, it takes Catherine weeks to finally be comfortable enough to truly be William's wife in bed. She comes around with much cajoling and kind words and actions. They learn to savor and enjoy their nights together and he shows her a whole new side to marriage she'd never previously experienced. But, at first, she is scared to death, to say the least. Yet, despite this, due to her close friendship with the king's son, William thinks that she is the prince's mistress! Does he believe she was merely acting about being afraid to bed him when they first married? Unfortunately, her confession at a later point in the book of the true parentage of her young son doesn't help her case, though she has a good, albeit damaging, reason for it. Still, I had a problem with this plot point because it didn't seem to jibe with her fear of the sexual act itself due to her husband's brutality.

In any case, does William give her the benefit of the doubt? Does he understand or accept her explanation of why and how it happened? No! He thinks the worst of Catherine. Her confession only firmly plants the idea in his head that she is some kind of Jezebel, forgetting the terror in her eyes in those first few days of their marriage at the thought of getting into bed with him. How could she be someone's mistress? He continues to have too many remaining doubts about her when he should have more about his own men, such as the devious fellow knight whom he leaves in charge of the castle while he's away, despite Catherine's pleas to do otherwise. Big mistake.

There were so many reasons staring William in the face as to why he should believe Catherine, yet he ignored all of them and her good qualities. He refused to recognize he could be wrong about her. To add to that, he has a tendency of saying stupid things, bringing up - what he considers - her lying past which angers and saddens her. How can he make such tender love to her, yet not trust her? They spend their days avoiding each other. She fumes and he scratches his head wondering why. (Though I noticed it didn't keep him from her bed for too long *grin*) William's a good man and Catherine's lucky to have him, but he's got a lot to learn. I'm not saying it was all William's fault, since that confession of hers about her son really didn't help her case, but a man of the world and a knight such as William, should be a bit sharper when it comes to recognizing the signs when they're right in front of him. Eventually, William learns the hard way that he can't live without his new wife and he goes to the ends of the earth to keep her. I found it very satisfying when they finally are able to communicate their love for one another and put the past behind them. I loved the ending and how the author brought their story full circle. Nice touch.

I'm looking forward to her next book in the series, Knight of Pleasure, I think Ms. Mallory's debut is an excellent addition to the medieval romance genre and I hope she writes many more! Plus, her covers are divine - simply beautiful and luscious to look at!


Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher last year after winning it in a giveaway.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Seduce Me at Sunrise by Lisa Kleypas

Book Description:
Win has been an invalid ever since she suffered a near-fatal case of scarlet fever. Merripen is a Romany Gypsy who was taken in by the Hathaway family when he was a boy. He has always kept his fierce passion for Win a secret, believing a romantic relationship would never be possible. But Win goes to an exclusive clinic, far away from Merripen and the rest of her family, and makes a remarkable recovery. And when she returns two years later, a changed woman, the explosive passion between these long-denied lovers threatens their family, their future, and even their lives...

Wow, I loved this story!

I was a bit lukewarm over the first in Kleypas' Hathaway Series, her follow-up to the ever popular Wallflowers Series. I was not as bowled over by Cam Rohan as many of her other fans were, and found his manner a bit pushy, but I was interested in the enigmatic and brooding Kev Merripen, another Gypsy half-blood that had lived with their family for years. Second in the series, this is Kev's story.

Kev, found unconscious by the Hathways as a young teen, had been left for dead by his tribe. The Hathaway's nursed him back to health and he then became a quasi member of the family. Part brother, part servant, he has a genuine love for the Hathaways and would protect them until his dying day. Despite Merripen's dark and foreboding manner, he has the loyalty of a lion and a particular love for Win Hathaway, the invalid second daughter in the family. As they both grew up, Will loved Merripen as well, yet due to her weak constitution and the fact that Kev had nothing to his name - a half Rom with no money of his own, he considered himself unsuitable and he would not allow their love to be acknowleged. He was satisfied for the moment to protect and take care of her, but as she grew older, Win was disatisfied with this arrangement. She wanted to love Kev openly and completely and the first step towards this was for her to get better once and for all. She goes away to a sanitorium for two years in France to recover. Once back on English soil, she is determined to face Merripen and renew their love fully with no more hindrances.

Naturally, all does not go exactly as planned.

Once back, Win wastes no time in seeking out her old love and putting her plan into action. But, their reunion takes a wrong unexpected turn due to mistaken identity. He mistakes her for a prostitute sent up to his room at his hotel. Cloaked with a hood, he cannot see her face, and she keeps up the pretense. Startled and shocked once he recognizes her, they have an explosive, unguarded passionate encounter, but he pushes her away as he comes to his senses, as he does through much of the next few hundred pages. His is combustible, his love for her is so pent up, you can feel the tension waft off the pages. He wants her and needs release, yet, not only does he still believe himself wrong for her, her doctor, who has returned to England with her, has made it clear that it could be fatal for her if she has a child. Hmmm... that's a sure deterrent for mad, passionate sex. Quite a condundrum.

But, Win rejects her doctor's belief, she wants a normal life, she doesn't want to be considered an invalid any longer. And she wants to spend her life with only one man - Kev, and Kev is trying not to give in - but it's not easy! Their attraction to one another and love cannot be ignored, there's too much going on between them, no matter how much they try to deny it. Amidst the usual misunderstandings and harsh words, giving angst to the story, they do manage to have a few passionate, spellbinding moments together, one of which gets out of control - and gets them into hot water. They are seen, in flagrante, kissing at a ball in the dark. Hot with passion, he admits he loves her, yet he still cannot marry her - and bed her. He won't kill her by acting on his love. He doesn't want her to die in childbirth as did his mother. Noble intentions, but unrealistic and they backfire. Her smarmy doctor wants to marry her anyway, and takes advantage of the situation. He steps in and says he was the one seen with her. Kev does nothing to stop him. Win, furious that Kev is not claiming her, can do nothing but accept the doctor's proposal to save herself from disgrace. Her doctor is hiding some kind of nefarious deep dark secret about the death of his first wife. What is his story? Is it just that he likes to collect beautiful things, and Win would be the crown jewel in his collection? How can Kev let this happen?

Without giving away too much, I can assure you Kev comes to his senses before it's too late. And what a glorious time it is! I loved it, it was everything the reader could hope for! Lisa Kleypas is the queen of writing sensual romantic love scenes and Win and Kev's moment of truth was one of her best. One of the things I really adored about this story is the chemistry between this pair. Their love for each other is palpable. A tortured hero, as are many of Kleypas' leading men, Kev is larger than life, a rough but gentle giant with a simmering sexuality about him. He is strong and towering, yet vulnerable - who was his father and why did his Rom tribe leave him for dead? He has a terribly brutal past and he's afraid that he'll hurt Win. But she's not afraid of him, she wants him and goes after him! Win's character could have been this withdrawn, shrinking violet, but instead Kleypas gives her a strong backbone and will to live. Petite and fair haired, with a beguiling innocence about her that hides the true passion beneath, she's a perfect foil for Kev's commanding aura and masculinity. She has an iron will and the ability to calm Kev and finally make him happy.

As much as it seems that once they have their place in the sun together all is well and good, but they're still not completely out of the woods yet, the story doesn't end there. Thanks to a little - but crucial lie that Win told Kev, he is furious with her and scared to death. Roms don't take to being manipulated by women - even if they are madly in love with them. A minor setback, but that's not all that happens in the story. More secrets are revealed and we find out the truth about Kev and Cam Rohan and their true heritage that will change their lives forever. Being a sucker for highborn lords, this was just what I wanted!

I'm sorry the book is over, I could of continued to read on and on forever, I'm eager to read the next book, even if it doesn't center on Kev and Win, at least I'm sure I'll get a glimpse of them! They've become one of my favorite literary romance couples now! I'll also be interested in seeing what develops between Leo, Win's viscount brother and the prickly governess that's gotten under his skin.

One of my new favorites by Lisa Kleypas and a keeper - read it and enjoy!


Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown (audio)

Book Description:
In this stunning follow-up to the global phenomenon The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown demonstrates once again why he is the world's most popular thriller writer. The Lost Symbol is a masterstroke of storytelling -- a deadly race through a real-world labyrinth of codes, secrets, and unseen truths... all under the watchful eye of Brown's most terrifying villain to date. Set within the hidden chambers, tunnels, and temples of Washington, D.C., The Lost Symbol accelerates through a startling landscape toward an unthinkable finale.

As the story opens, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building. Within minutes of his arrival, however, the night takes a bizarre turn. A disturbing object -- artfully encoded with five symbols -- is discovered in the Capitol Building. Langdon recognizes the object as an ancient invitation... one meant to usher its recipient into a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom. When Langdon's beloved mentor, Peter Solomon -- a prominent Mason and philanthropist -- is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes his only hope of saving Peter is to accept this mystical invitation and follow wherever it leads him.

Langdon is instantly plunged into a clandestine world of Masonic secrets, hidden history, and never-before-seen locations -- all of which seem to be dragging him toward a single, inconceivable truth. As the world discovered in The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, Dan Brown's novels are brilliant tapestries of veiled histories, arcane symbols, and enigmatic codes. In this new novel, he again challenges readers with an intelligent, lightning-paced story that offers surprises at every turn. The Lost Symbol is exactly what Brown's fans have been waiting for... his most thrilling novel yet.

Having read the Da Vinci Code, I had high hopes for this book. I really enjoyed Da Vinci and as this book got started, I noticed right off the bat several formulaic similarities. Once again, we're with Robert Langdon, brilliant symbologist in his tweed sport coat, running through the Capitol Building in Washington and stumbling upon a gruesome scene in the Capitol's Rotunda - a la Da Vinci's Louvre.

From there we go on a twisty wild night in which Langdon must solve the puzzle of what the "magic word" is from a Masonic pyramid that he's had part of in his possession and holds the answer to great and infinite wisdom. Something that will change the world if revealed. This opens up all sorts of suggestions of a Pandora's Box. Still, Robert must cooperate with a crazed, tatooed lunatic that has kidnapped his good friend, millionaire philanthropist and Mason of the 33rd Degree, Peter Solomon. The novel's villain, Mal'akh is convinced that if he learns the secret of the Masonic pyramid he will transform into a God. He has personal reasons for wanting to do this and has prepared for this night for over ten years. It's convoluted, but I found this creepy lunatic, Mal'akh, one of the best parts of the book. On audio, he had this whispery voice and a suitably skin crawling fascination about him that made his parts of the book the most riveting.

Other characters were just plain annoying, including Langdon, who came across too much of a know-it-all and not much charm. To showcase his knowlege, the author had top CIA director, Inoue Sato, question Langdon on every imaginable detail of symbolism (it seemed) so that it became tedious listening to his long drawn out answers and explanantions on every point. I'm all for background to help the story, but this really went overboard. His friend, Peter Solomon, and his sister, Katherine were other know-it-alls as well who were borderline zealots in regard to their individual fascinations with science and the wisdom of the what the Masons believed. More explanations and mini-lectures on the science of noetics and physics. Uggh. Frankly, I'd had enough.

I rolled my eyes over and over again every time Langdon, when posed with some new and startling revelation, would start off his answer by saying "as any symbologist would know, this is one of the most common symbols used in the world today!" There was a certain amount of smugness I detected in him that I found irritating. The book began to sound like one big long lecture on Masonic history and symbolism, including the history of the United States' forefathers and their spiritual and Masonic leanings. All the background fodder made me feel like I was in a lecture hall. Yes, Mr. Brown, we have no doubt, you did a lot of research for this book, but you don't have to beat us over the head with it. We get it! Have you ever heard of a Mary Sue, an author's wish fulfillment? I think Langdon is Dan Brown's Gary Stu. I think someone needs an editor that is not afraid to use a red pen and cut, cut, cut.

Don't get me wrong, the exciting twisty blind alley moments were good, and there were a few big surprises I wasn't expecting, but for the most part, this book was awash with unnecessary wordy philosophical and historical explanations. It would have been so much better if it kept mostly to the action. Having once lived in D.C., I know the Capitol well. I enjoyed the locale and racing around the city and the Capitol and monuments, but by the time we get to the big finale - the big secret - OMG! What a let down! And then the last 50 pages of the book (or in my case, the last hour of the audiobook) was dull, dull, dull, just one big lecture and philosophical discussion. After the villain gets his, the book should have ended there. What a mistake.

The narrator of the audiobook, Paul Michael, did a good job, but I wasn't crazy about his women's voices, but then I find most male narrators can't do justice to the female characters. The one woman character he does a good job with is Inoue Sato who sounds like a man due to her destroyed raspy voice described as the voice of a dying man with strep throat. One of the best lines in the book, comes from Sato who berates Langden upon first meeting him, after he asks her what she wants him to do, "For starters, you can stop calling me 'sir'" One of the few humorous moments in the entire book. But often the narrator's thinking inner voices, for both the men and women characters, sounded like the voiceover from the guy in the old Taster's Choice coffee commercials who borrows his friend's cabin for the weekend and finds he has no milk for his coffee! Remember those?

Anyway, back to the book. For the most part it was a mystery thriller on the trail of the crazy tatooed Mal'akh. I saw through most of the red herrings in the book (except for the one real BIG one) and much of it was predictable, I guessed early on where the whole thing would end up, it wasn't hard to figure that out. I did learn some interesting stuff about the Masons and next time I'm in the Capitol Rotunda, I'll be sure to check out that painting of George Washington on the ceiling!

Not a bad novel, but it was far too wordy and I think the author could have edited it back quite a bit. Plus, the big revelation at the end, the thing we've been waiting to find out about through the whole book was a colossal let down. I would have laughed if I hadn't been so disappointed. I felt like I'd invested all this time into listening to the book and then it had this tedious philosophical drawn out ending that is supposed to amaze us and make us think. Unbelievable.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Breakfast in Bed by Robin Kaye

Book Description:
The third funny, sexy, contemporary romance from a fresh new voice in romance fiction.

Rich, the epitome of "anti-domestic," can't cook to save his life, and his idea of cleaning his apartment is to invite his mother over. But he's ready to settle down, and he can't stop thinking about the ex-girlfriend who got away. When he notices that his soon-to-be-married friends cooked and cleaned their way into their women's hearts, he asks his friend Becca to help transform him into a nurturing man to win back his ex.

Rich is the only guy who's taken the time to know Becca for herself. She decides she'll give him the makeover he's asking for, though she'll be damned if she's going to turn him into a domestic god for another woman. She wants Rich for herself, but how can she convince him that her kitchen and her bedroom are the only domestic locales he desires?

After reading this romance and thoroughly enjoying it, I think I'm going to have to dust off that old fondue pot of mine in the basement and put it into good use. There's one particular scene that includes chocolate, a fondue pot and lots of hot lovin' - if you know what I mean. This is par for the course for Robin Kaye, no slouch when it comes to hot anything, and Breakfast in Bed is no exception.

Let me start off by saying, I loved Rich Ronaldi, our story's hero. He is the brother of Rosalie and Annabelle from the previous two books. I was eager to read Rich's story for I liked him immediately when we first meet him in book one of the series, Romeo Romeo. He's a studly Italian from Brooklyn, yet a college psychology professor teaching at Columbia. This gives him an enlightened way of thinking when it comes to relationships and emotions, which comes in very handy when dealing with our heroine, Becca, who is quite a hard nut to crack. Emotionally repressed, she comes from an upscale, uptight Philadelphia Main Line family in which she has a lot of baggage to get rid of. Although the two of them are oil and vinegar on the surface, things click for them, but it takes a lot of nudging and help from their friends and one clairvoyant aunt to help them stay together.

I say 'stay together', because from the beginning, they start out as unlikely roommates - or apartment mates in this case. Thrown together by fate, they find themselves wrapped around each other - nude. In bed. Asleep. Kissing. How can this be? As farfetched as it sounds, due to a mix up, they have to share Annabelle's - and previously, Rosalie's - Brooklyn apartment. What is it about this apartment? It sure gets a lot of action - not to mention marriage proposals! Rich is coming off a broken relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Gina. Can I just say I am so happy Gina ended it with him? I hated the idea of Gina and Rich together! But, for someone as smart as Rich, it takes him a long time to figure out that Gina was all wrong for him in the first place. While waiting for that light bulb to turn on in his head to show him how right Becca is for him instead, he convinces Becca to help turn him into 'relationship material' to get Gina back. What a numbskull! What is 'relationship material' you ask? A domestic god. A guy that can cook and clean and take care of himself. A big boy, a grown up. Not some kid that still needs Mommy to do everything for him.

As the story develops, cranky and uptight Becca begins to relax around Rich, she's a real sour pickle at first, angry and determined to fend for herself in the art world, with no help from Daddy whether it's his family name or money. Rich realizes soon enough what he's dealing with. He's hot for her, but he respects her feelings and is probably one of the few people that wants to really help her succeed on her own as an artist. Unfortunately, this leads to the BIG MISUNDERSTANDING that takes place inevitably in the book. Becca moves out due to the BIG MISUNDERSTANDING and their burgeoning love affair ends abruptly. I had issues with Becca over this and kept on wanting to slap her upside the head and tell her to "get over it!". She never even gave him a chance to explain himself, she just left. I had almost no sympathy for her. Lose a bit of the misplaced pride and open your eyes and see what you've got in front of you. A great guy who loves and wants you.

Still, together they made a sweet couple, which made it all the more heartwrenching when she left him. They had chemistry. Every touch, every sensual moment was electric, exciting - great! There's a touch of irony in the plotline as well. Rich starts out wanting to learn how to be a domestic god to get his old girlfriend back, and ironically, by the end of the book, after Becca moves out, he does it all on his own naturally - out of misery because he's lost her. He becomes a cleaning machine - it relaxes him! What comes comes around, goes around. As all these books point out clearly, a man who cleans and cooks and serves up breakfast in bed is an irresistible force. I lost count of how many times he actually served Becca in bed - who could leave such a guy? He was so adorable doing it too!

This book is chock full of pleasant little surprises too. The side characters are memorable and funny, notably Rich's Aunt Rose and the gay neighbors from upstairs. I also loved Tripod, the three legged cat - and I don't even like cats! The romance is hot and inspirational - remember the fondue pot? The snappy dialogue flows off the pages effortlessly. I can easily hear them all talking as if I'm in the same room with them - the antipasta, the lasagna - pass the garlic bread! Italian cooking abounds throughout - yumm! There are even a few quick and easy recipes I'm definitely trying out, especially the salmon!

Admittedly, it took me a little while to warm up to Becca. Her stubborn streak and unwillingness to hear Rich out and give him the chance to explain himself threw me. But, once she came around and realized what she really wanted and needed to make her happy - namely Rich - it all came together and the happy ever ending more than made up for her lapse. Their reunion made it all worth while and brought tears to my eyes. I knew she'd finally come to her senses - plus, he's a zillion times better than any old B.O.B. 'Nuff said.

Robin Kaye you've written another winner!


Friday, January 1, 2010

Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

Book Description:
The Duke of Jervaulx was brilliant - and dangerous.

Considered dissolute, reckless, and extravagant, he was transparently referred to as the "D of J" in scandal sheets. But sometimes the most womanizing rakehell can be irresistible, and even his most casual attentions fascinated the sheltered Maddy Timms.

Then one fateful day she receives the shocking news - the duke is lost to the world. And Maddy knows it is her destiny to help him and her only chance to find the true man behind the wicked façade.

But she never dreamed her gentle, healing touch would alter his life and her own so completely - and bind them together in need, desire ... and love.

Wow! My first book of the new year, and what a read! Set in early 1820's London, I was bowled over by this historical romance. This is not just your usual fluffy romance, it's a can't put down, carefully crafted, complex and unique love story. I've had this book on my TBR list for a long time ever since I saw it was #6 on the AAR 100 best romances list. I'd heard it was good, but had no idea what the plot was actually about. The above blurb doesn't come close to doing it justice. This is a keeper!

It's the story of two of the most unlikely people coming together, one a scapgrace ne'er do well duke who also happens to be a mathematical genius. The other is an innocent Quaker spinster, Archemedia (Maddy) Timms whose father is a mathematical genius as well. The Duke of Jervaulx, otherwise known as Christian, and Maddy's father are colleagues working on a mathematical paper together. Her father is blind, so Maddy must help him with his correspondence with the duke. She disapproves of the duke, reading about him in the scandal sheets. He represents to her all that is wicked and sinful, the complete opposite of how an upstanding and gentle Quaker man should comport himself. Once she actually meets him at the final presentation of the paper to the Mathematical Society and has dinner with him afterwards she is struck by how civilized and different he appears to be - despite his piratical good looks and rakish smile. He is worldly, urbane, gentlemanly and offers her father a chair for a new school he setting up in London.

But, fate steps in when the duke suffers a stroke the next day after fighting in a duel. Not understanding what is wrong with him, he is violent and confused and is sent to an exclusive insane asylum in the country - run by Maddy's uncle. Months later, Maddy and her father go to live there and Maddy realizes that the duke is there. Not having heard what exactly had happened to the duke, they believed him dead. Soon, Maddy becomes his attendant at the asylum and works wonders with him. She soon realizes he is not mad, his main problem is that he cannot talk and has trouble understanding others speech. She works with him and slowly he begins to regain his composure around her. But, it's a long, slow process and this is not his only problem. His family has been working on having him declared incapable of managing his own affairs and money which would have him lose all his estates and funds. It's up to Maddy to help him get ready for the hearing that will determine if he is fit enough to take care of his own finances and affairs. He doesn't exactly pass the test, and from there he must wed or be put back in the asylum for good. Only a wife can stop it.

As you can imagine, there is a lot more to this story. There is a depth and complexity in the storyline involving the duke and his desire to be understood and not locked away as a madman for life. His driving desire is not to lose everything. He's on the precipice of a cliff. He must be able to regain his life back - and have Maddy, who has become his lifeline. What started out as a simple seduction on his part has turned into a true devotion to one another, though it's not easy for either of them to admit it. She tries to resist him and the attraction she feels towards him, but it becomes harder and harder to do so when she is often in such close proximity to him as his nurse. Plus, she has grown to care deeply for him and wants to see that he is not cheated out of his right as the Duke of Jervaulx. But, how can they mix together socially, much less marry? A major part of this story is the fact that Maddy is pulled in two - her love and desire for Christian and her devotion to her religion as a Quaker. By marrying him, she would have to give that all up, it's all she has known all her life. As is her custom, she only wears somber colors in gray and black, simple clothing as is the Quaker way, not exactly the style of a grand duchess. We are in Maddy's head often, and understand her doubts and concerns about Christian. She is torn. I admired and felt terrible for Maddy. She wants to help him, she feels she has had some kind of Calling from God to come to his aide and she does not want to see him locked up for life. She knows better than anyone else that he is recovering and he is not the lunatic his family wants the judges to believe he is. What should she do? It's against her faith to tell an untruth or spend money when one doesn't have it, yet there is so much about the Duke's life that would force her to cast aside her beliefs. How can she rationalize it? Is love stronger than one's religion? What is considered moral and immoral when faced with these impossible decisions?

Another major part of the book is that Christian can barely talk and we sympathize with his frustration, reading first hand what it's like for him. It's humbling to see him first as he was as this great duke with the world at his feet who is then cut down in an instant and locked away like an animal who cannot speak. There is an analogy at one point when Christian, who is much better at this point, is with a baby that is crying and he realizes he and the baby are alike. He knows how she must feel. All she can do is cry and tremble when she us unhappy and frustrated, she can't speak her thoughts - she is frustrated, so she cries! He has been there, he knows how she feels! I thought this was a moving point in the story and I really grew to love Christian and I badly wanted him to succeed in his fight for his rights and happiness.

At first, some parts of the book took some getting used to. To show Christian's affliction, often his thoughts all run together in print. We're often in Christian's head and can read his thoughts and how jumbled they are and how he has trouble understanding words, (though he has no trouble understanding and reading his mathematics equations and formulas.) In his mind, he thinks of Maddy as Maddygirl, or often when he's annoyed with her as thee thou prim or something to that effect. In addition, with her Quaker beliefs, Maddy speaks plainly, in thee's and thou's, I got used to this Quaker-speak eventually too. Aside from that, there are loads of exciting and entertaining parts of the book, particularly when they're on the run, escaping his family. One of my favorite parts was how Christian was able to come up with some cash so they'd have some money to run away. Not only does the sensuality heat up between Maddy and Christian, suspense reigns supreme in the second half of the book with the lead up to Christian getting his affairs back in order and then a grand ball planned with the King in attendance and culminating at the Quaker meeting house at the end. I couldn't put it down until I was finished!

I'm trying my best not to give up any spoilers here, but I'll just say that I had tears streaming down my cheeks towards the end of the book. A lot of ups and down occur between Christian and Maddy, it's not easy for them. As the reader, you are drawn into their story, you're rooting for them, hoping for success and gnashing your teeth at each set back. It was a profound and touching ending, particularly taking into account how far Christian had come from his early days in the asylum to begging Maddy to stay with him and be his duchess. I can at least assure you that the book ends happily, but there are plenty of bumps in the road getting there. You won't be sorry! Touching, poignant, thoughtful and sexy, this book is a must read - one of the best romances I've read - ever!

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