Wednesday, March 31, 2010

To Catch an Heiress by Julia Quinn

Book Description:
When Caroline Trent is kidnapped by Blake Ravenscroft, she doesn't even try to elude this dangerously handsome agent of the crown. After all, she's been running from unwanted marriage proposals. Yes, Blake believes she's a notorious spy named Carlotta De Leon, but for six weeks until her twenty-first birthday, when she'll gain control of her own fortune, hiding out in the titillating company of a mysterious captor is awfully convenient—and maybe just a little romantic, too.

Blake Ravenscroft's mission is to bring "Carlotta" to justice, not to fall in love. His heart has been hardened by years of intrigue, but this little temptress proves oddly disarming and thoroughly kissable. And suddenly the unthinkable becomes possible—that this mismatched couple might be destined for love.

As much as Julia Quinn is one of my favorite authors, this regency was not one of my favorites though it had a lot of good features in it and had me laughing out loud. I'm beginning to make my way through her backlist, beginning with this first of a duo involving spies for the Crown.

Blake and Caroline are the hero and heroine, destined for one another. They meet by chance while Caroline is running away from her nefarious guardian who is after her fortune. Blake mistakes the runaway Caroline for a spy he's been after and he kidnaps her, bringing her back to his estate for questioning. He gets no answers from Caroline, who has become mute from a sore throat. Plus, she's content to remain there with him until her 21st birthday - a perfect hideaway from her guardian! Several hilarious episodes later, they begin to fall for one another. Yet, Blake is carrying around the memory of his fiancee who was a fellow spy that was killed on the job. He cannot forget her or the guilt he carries about her death. Can the irrepressible Caroline cure his ills and allow him to find love again?

Blake Ravenscroft is swoonworthy in looks: tall, dark and handsome, every inch the masculine hero. Yet I found his inability to let go of his dead fiancee depressing and it dragged the story down. Yes, yes, I know this is supposed to be the heavy burden which he overcomes to make it all a better and happier ending, but it still bothered me to no end! I sympathized greatly with Caroline, who was rebuffed by him more than once (after he has nearly deflowered her, no less!) His claim that he cannot marry her because he has vowed to never marry due to the death of Marabelle, his fiancee got old real fast! How many times is Caroline going to take this from him? He feels responsible for her murder (which is nonsense) and uses this excuse to avoid admitting he can love someone else - namely Caroline. A cop out. He dropped a few notches because of it.

Now, that doesn't go to say I didn't like him - I did! I loved his jealous temper and wry sense of humor. He and Caroline had some great interplay, some parts were very amusing! But, I kept wishing he'd get over Marabelle and stop hurting Caroline's feelings! I loved Caroline, she was quick on her feet, full of witty repartees, kind and fearless when it was called for. A perfect mate for Blake. She wins everyone over instantly, from the "may I be so bold" butler, Perriwick, Mrs. Mickle, the cook who starves everyone in the household (except Caroline) to Blake's sister Penelope who instantly wants to match them up. James, a marquis and Blake's best friend and partner in crime is also taken with her, though he's giving Blake the chance to offer for Caroline first, if he'd just go ahead and do it! I must admit, when he finally does do it, I did appreciate Blake's proposal scene, it must have been quite the sight! *smirk*

I recognized in To Catch an Heiress some of Ms. Quinn's trademark characteristics that appear in her later - and better books. I get the feeling she was still working on her writing chops with this one. The telltale sibling squabbles between Blake and Penelope are lively as well as the hero who has some kind of anguish from his past to overcome. Both signature features of Quinn's Bridgerton novels. Here, Blake's mournful past was central to the plotline and the "fly in the ointment", but weak. I wasn't touched or affected by the fact that Blake had lost his fiancee, whereas often with Quinn's later heroes, I am greatly sympathetic towards them and their problems. In this case - nothing, nada. I just wanted him to forget her and get over it!

I look at To Catch an Heiress as a pre-cursor to my favorite all time series - The Bridgertons. I figure, Quinn had to get the kinks out and test the waters somewhere! This novel has the same humor, romance and lightheartedness that is unmistakable in all her romances, albeit the sex here is a bit rushed, but that too takes practice! ;)


Sunday, March 28, 2010

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

Book Description:
In this charming late Victorian romantic suspense novel, Emily, a young and beautiful widow, regrets her husband's African hunting expedition death less than is proper. The late Philip, Viscount Ashton, had a passion for classical antiquity, and Emily, in an attempt to get to know her husband postmortem, uses her newfound independence in London to study it. In the process, she forms a friendship with Cecile du Lac, a Parisian of a certain age, and realizes that there was more to Philip than she realized - including his genuine passion and love for her. The charming Colin Hargreaves may have been involved with Philip in art forgeries, and Andrew Palmer proposes to Emily and then offers evidence that Philip is still alive. By this time, Emily and Cecile are a well-practiced team of amateur sleuths: Philip's secrets begin to emerge, and travel to Greece provides the possibilities of a new life. Alexander makes Emily light but sympathetic, and conveys period flavor without being ponderous. Her knowledge of the ethical dilemmas posed by Victorian etiquette is considerable; sexual chemistry in particular is handled with exquisite delicacy. The archaeological background will lure readers who like to dig for their clues. - Publishers Weekly

What a surprise! I loved this historical mystery and devoured it in one day! A quick read, it's an elegant story of the wealthy and beautiful widow, Lady Emily Ashton who finds herself in the unfortunate circumstance of falling in love with her husband after his death, rather than before. Married for only a brief period of time, it is only after her husband has died of fever while on an African safari that she really gets to know him. Through friends and his journals and letters she pieces together the man that he was and deeply regrets not having known him better while they were newlyweds. But, as she learns more about the man and his interests, she uncovers the truth of a lie he was living - or was it a lie?

Lady Emily, widowed for a year, is eager to discover more about the man she barely knew. The man who loved her and called her Kallista, though not to her knowledge while he was living. She'd had no idea of his love for her. She married him more as a way to get away from her mother, rather than because she wanted to marry him. Guilt ridden, she takes on his interests beginning with his love of Greece. She reads The Iliad, developing a love for the prose and spends a great deal of time at the British Museum studying the nuances and design of ancient Greek vases and the like. She learns about the ancient antiquities her husband collected but discovers much to her alarm that many of the vases and artifacts he had donated to the Museum were not the originals, they were forgeries - while the originals were kept at his family estate! How could he do this? Was he a cheat and a fraud?

As the story develops, Emily is befriended by many of Philip's old big game hunting friends, in particular, the handsome Colin Hargreaves and the irreverent but amusing Andrew Palmer, the son of another collector of antiquities. Both men begin to play a large role in Emily's life and are front and center in the mystery she is trying to solve about the truth of what kind of man her late husband was. Both men are up to something - but how and what? The story kept my interest, though it became clear to me immediately who the culprit was, but I was still left to determine why and what were the motives. I had to read on! It all played out wonderfully, the mixing of the mystery with the antiquities and the well done characterizations of everyone involved made it hard for me to put down. An effortless read!

The setting goes back and forth between Paris and London of the late 1880's. The style and historical descriptions were beautiful and lavish. Accurate and evocative of the times, Ms. Alexander's writing is light, not overly wordy, yet full of imagery. A real pleasure! I longed for a relationship to develop between Emily and Colin, though impossible due to the strictures of Victorian mourning, although the reader is left with a few tantalizing tidbits. There is plenty of attraction between the two of them that bodes well for future books, even though I felt Colin made his intentions known to Emily much too soon. Playing hard to get doesn't hurt and keeps the storyline interesting and compelling, at least on the romance front.

One particular point of the book that I loved was how The Iliad was featured, for it is one of my favorite stories. The story of the noble Hector having to fight the spoiled and vain Achilles, even though he knows it will be the death of him and destruction of Troy has always tugged at my heart. I was naturally glad that both Emily and Colin preferred Hector over Achilles for he is my favorite as well (hence, the name for my wonderful and beautiful Golden Retriever!)

I'm eager to read the rest of this series, of which there are about four books to date. Lady Emily is likable and I admire her daring streak - she drinks port! How scandalous! *grin* Even her servants root for her when her dragon of a mother comes to harangue! There is a tingling cliffhanger at the end of And Only to Deceive that makes the reader want to read on and find out what happens next to Lady Emily and her new friends while she is in Santorini at her late husband's estate. I hope the next book takes place in that environs - and I hope we see a lot of Colin Hargreaves as well! I really liked him - I want an inscribed golden apple too!

I highly recommend this book, I'm very happy to have discovered Lady Emily, she is now my new favorite Victorian lady sleuth - move over Lady Julia!


Roses by Leila Meacham

Book Description:
Spanning the 20th century, the story of Roses takes place in a small East Texas town against the backdrop of the powerful timber and cotton industries, industries controlled by the scions of the town's founding families. Cotton tycoon Mary Toliver and timber magnate Percy Warwick should have married but unwisely did not, and now must deal with the deceit, secrets, and tragedies of their choice and the loss of what might have been - not just for themselves but for their children, and children's children.

It took me a long time to get into this book, for one thing, I was reading it on kindle, usually devoted to only when I work out. But I've been sick for the past month and haven't been working out at all - so, you get my drift, I haven't been reading on my kindle. Finally, after a couple of tries, I got into it. Once I got past the first third of the story, I was hooked and read it in two days. This is not a short book, it's over 800 pages long, so it's saying something that even though it took me a couple of weeks to read the first 100 pages in drips and drabs in waiting rooms at orthodontists and doctor's offices, not to mention the check out lines at the supermarket - I read the next 700 pages in two days! It was hard to put down.

Roses is the story of Mary Toliver and Percy Warwick, their love for one another and the mistakes they made that set in motion a series of events that span the next six decades. Set in Texas for most of the 20th century, the book is divided up into parts - Mary's Story, Percy's Story and Rachel's story, Rachel is Mary Toliver's grand niece and it looks like she is destined to repeat the same grand mistake her Aunt Mary made, no matter how much Mary tries to circumvent it. My favorite part was Percy's, I adored him and found much sympathy with him. Mary and Percy's stories are the same, from different point of views, and Rachel's picks up in the 1980's after Mary's death. I found Rachel difficult to like, probably because we just didn't "know" her as well as Mary and Percy. I found her stubborn and irrational, an even bigger fool than her Aunt Mary!

The gist of the story poses the question: is land more important than love? Is land worth giving up the love of your life for?

For Mary Toliver this is the burden she must carry with her most of her life. The daughter of a cotton plantation owner, Vernon Toliver, she inherits the whole kit and kaboodle when he dies. She is named the sole heir to this cotton plantation, Somerset. Her mother and brother can never forgive her father for making her the sole owner - nor can they forgive her. Mary must pay the price of owning Somerset. Her mother declines in health, turning to alcoholism. Her bitterness towards Mary is undeserved yet her mother cannot love Mary any longer. Her brother Miles cannot abide by it either. They just don't understand this desire for the land that Mary's father knew Mary had in her to continue the plantation and not just sell it. The only people in her life that stand by her are her dear friends, Ollie DuMont and Percy Warwick, the sons of the other two founding families of the small town in Texas that her ancestors help form in the previous century. Their families are connected through the symbol of the rose going back to their earliest ancestors in Europe with the War of the Roses, and some kind of blah, blah, blah history that goes with it. Basically, between the families, the red rose is given to 'ask for forgiveness,' and the white rose given in return represents 'forgiveness is granted.'

Percy Warwick. I loved Percy. Mary you were such a fool! I would have given up anything for Percy! Percy loved Mary from the day she was born. He watched her grow up, and finally just befor going off to France during WWI, he makes his feelings known to her. By this time, Mary is already engrossed with Somerset and the need for her plantation to be a success. Not easy with the weather and the boll weavel that can strike and kill a cotton crop. When Percy returns from the war in France, they start up a love affair. It's great, it's wonderful, yet there's always her damn land that gets in the way! Mary bides her time with Percy, her land is what is most important to her at the the moment, she keeps putting off their engagement. She takes him for granted at times, convinced he'll always stand by her, no matter how great her preoccupation is with Somerset. Percy is thoughtful, wonderful, understanding and considerate. But he has his limits.

Due to bad timing and mistakes that are compounded over and over Mary and Percy do not marry, though they never stop loving one another. From the 1920's through the Depression and on into WWII they live with that knowlege, yet both can do nothing about it. They each marry another and learn to live with it. They grow old in the same town, watching each other's children grow up. They are friends, sharing in their trials and tribulations, some so sad, I cried a few times for these people, some things were heartbreaking, especially for Percy. As time passes, Mary believes that she must one day right the wrong that was done when her father made her sole heir to Somerset. She looks back and realizes that if she had chosen Percy over Somerset before it was too late, so much would have been different in their lives. So much unhappiness could have been avoided. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

Fast forward years later to the 1980's. Mary is dying and we know that she has just changed her will. Her grand niece, Rachel is a clone of Mary. And coincidentally enough, Percy's grandson, Matt is a clone of him! And guess what happens? Rachel is devoted to the land, just like her great aunt. She loves Somerset and everyone assumes she is going to be the heir to it when Mary dies. But, all is not as it seems. This is Mary's chance to try and stop what she believes is the curse of the Tolivers. She doesn't want to see Rachel lose out on love as she did. But, fate has other ideas, despite Mary's attempts to save Rachel. Will love once again take 2nd place to the land? Will history repeat itself and will Rachel and Matt have to live with the spectre of the Toliver curse hanging over their heads?

I really liked this book and couldn't put it down, but there just seemed something lacking in it. There wasn't enough depth to it somehow. Oh sure, I understood who the characters were and what they wore and what they said, but their emotions never went too far, except in Percy's case, he was the one exception. Mary was so single minded and distant throughout much of the book, and Rachel was just a blip at the end, a duplicate of Mary. The story had it's elements of irony, fate and foreshadowing about it, but it wasn't a great book, yet it was an engrossing story and I had to see what would happen, as if I were watching a soap opera. The story of lost love that endures over the years was appealing, but the last part of the book with Rachel's story was the weakest. I loved Matt, her love interest, because he reminded me of Percy. I did wonder what he saw in Rachel so much, considering how they'd barely even had a proper kiss together - and he's convinced he wants to spend the rest of his life with her? Instead of an ending that was supposed to leave the reader with that satisfied feeling for them, it fell flat. Though ironically, I loved the meeting between the elderly Percy and Lucy in front of her bridge group - priceless!

All in all, it was a good read, I really enjoyed it, but not the memorable type of epic saga I was expecting, like a Giant or The Thorn Birds. The constant mistakes and repercussions prevented me from loving it. Basically, I wanted a happy ending for Percy and Mary and I didn't get it. I will always love Percy Warwick, no matter what, he was the best thing in the book! I'm always a sucker for tall, good looking men with hearts of gold and a love that lasts forever. Mary was such a fool! Give Roses a try - at least to read about Percy! That alone makes this book worthwhile! *grin*


If You Dare by Kresley Cole

Book Description:
High in the Pyrenees, a band of mercenaries led by Courtland MacCarrick wages war for General Reynaldo Pascal. When Court turns on the brutal general, Pascal orders him killed. Court narrowly escapes and exacts revenge by kidnapping Pascal's exquisite Castilian fiancee.

Noble heiress Annalìa Tristan Llorente despises her towering, barbaric captor almost as much as she does Pascal. Her inexplicable attraction to the Highlander only fuels her fury. Yet nothing will stop her from returning to Pascal-for if she doesn't wed him, she signs her brother's death warrant, as well as her own.

From the moment Court discovers that Anna's prim facade masks a fiery, brave lass, his heart's ensnared and he dares to defy the curse that has shadowed his life-to walk with death or walk alone. But Pascal vows that he'll hunt the two, never stopping until he's destroyed them both. If they survive, can this hardened soldier of fortune convince the only woman he's ever loved that she's meant to be.

If You Dare is a delightful, on the run, historical romance that involves a stubborn Scottish Highlander, Courtland MacCarrick, who has a family curse hanging over his head and proud noblewoman, Annalìa Tristan Llorente, who is descended from Castilian royalty and has a distinct dislike for plaid wearing, arrogant - and hairy - Scotsmen. In somewhat of a convoluted plotline, Annalìa and Courtland are thrown together unwillingly. Annalìa detests the brawny and uncouth Scot, but she is forced to help him when she finds him near dead on her property. She recognizes he is one of the notorious mercenaries that are terrorizing the Andorran countryside, but her good conscience cannot leave him to die. Soon enough, he gets better and takes over her household while her brother, Aleix is held captive by the evil Pascal, a man determined to become the next ruler of Andorra.

There's no love lost between Courtland and his former employer - Pascal. Having someone try to murder you will do that to do. Since Pascal tried to have Courtland murdered, Annalìa assumes he'll come to her aid to help rescue her brother from Pascal's clutches. Courtland by this point has had enough of Annalìa's insults and haughty attitude in regard to his Scottish background. Her proud disdain is neverending, and it doesn't help that he's fighting the strong attraction he has towards her. To teach her a lesson, he acts the brute towards her and teases her, pretending he will not help her unless she sleeps with him. She finds him unbearable (although, he's starting to grown on her as well) and takes matters in to her own hands and goes to Pascal herself. Pascal has stated he will only release her brother if Annalìa will marry him - a fate worse than death. Annalìa walks right into Pascal's trap and basically hands herself over to him. Tsk tsk, silly girl.

Ultimately, but too late, Courtland rues his unecessary teasing, and he and his crew must dash off to rescue Annalìa and her brother. Meanwhile, Aleix has already escaped with Pascal's alleged daughter, Olivia, who has been waiting for a chance to escape from the clutches of her would-be father. By the time Courtland and his crew get to Pascal's retreat, they only find Annalìa, but no brother. They escape but not from Pascal's Rechazados - legendary and deadly assassins who have Annalìa in their sights. Now on the run to evade the ruthless assassins who are bent on murdering Annalìa, Annalìa and Courtland must make their way through the French countryside en route to the safety of London together where Annalìa hopes to be reunited with her brother, Aleix.

I told you it was convoluted!

En route to England all sorts of things happen to Annalìa and Courtland, but most importantly, they fall in love with one another, though both must overcome their own strong barriers to accept it. Annalìa has no idea what this curse is all about, and Courtland cannot ask her to marry him, for he fears if he will, Annalìa will be struck down dead because of the curse. It's a long, bouncy roller coaster ride of a journey together, but sexy and amusing. I loved the interplay between them, much of it sassy and fun. Annalìa is no shrinking violet, she does what she wants and eventually learns how to "play" Courtland like a violin - I really liked her! She's strong and brave, a gunshot wound doesn't even stop her! He, of course, finds himself helpless to her charms. This strong and brawny Scottish warrior is brought to his knees by this tiny, yet fearless Castilian.

Once in London, Courtland's two older brothers come to his aid and certain revelations take place regarding the curse. Courtland will not ask Annalìa to marry him, he loves her too much to risk her life. By this point, madly in love with him, she is bewildered, sad and irate as hell that he won't marry her! An unlikely alliance develops between Aleix and Courtland and the men return to Andorra to get Pascal out of the picture once and for all. Once Pascal is out of the way, Annalìa will be able to return to Andorra and her brother - albeit, she is not the same woman she had been before Courtland MacCarrick came into her life. Will she and Courtland ever be together again? Will Courtland overcome his family's curse and marry Annalìa in the end? If not, will her brother accept their love - even if Courtland cannot marry her? How will Annalìa and Courtland overcome this obstacle? Fortunately, fate steps in, as well as Courtland's mother - and some common sense.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this trilogy about Courtland's brothers and how they each deal with the curse in their own way. This really was a fun book, and as confusing as the plot may seem, it makes sense while reading it. I was rooting for these two lovers and was completely satisfied with the happily ever after ending that had both humor and tenderness. I highly recommend this series, it assuaged my Scottish Highlander craving 100% and gave me a chuckle throughout as well!


P.S. I've had this on my TBR list forever, I'm sorry I waited so long to read it, chalk up another book finished for my TBR Challenge!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (audio)

Book Description:
Be prepared to meet three unforgettable women:

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women -- mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends - view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't.

I've put off writing this review because I just didn't think I could do this book justice. It was great. It was wonderful, I loved it. It is memorable and inspirational. I still sound disjointed, I don't know how to write about it, except to tell everyone to go out and get it and read it! I listened to it on audio and I'm so glad I did! With three different sensational narrators for Minny, Skeeter and Aibileen I was sucked into the world of Jackson, Mississippi of 1963. I wholeheartedly recommend listening to this book on audio. It was truly a pleasure, the excellent writing and vivid portrayal of the characters is enhanced by the superb readers. I felt I knew them, like I was right there with them. I was there sitting in those kitchens with these wonderful characters. I didn't want it to end.

The world was a different place back in the early 60's, segregation and the word "colored" were household words. I'm old enough to remember when African Americans were referred to as "colored" and having a colored maid was the norm where I grew up, whether she cooked, cleaned, cared for the children - or all three. I grew up in New Jersey and I'd like to think the rules were different with us than how they were down South, but this book brought back plenty of memories for me and our maids - whom I adored and loved. It made me wonder - was it like that in NJ too? I hate to think it could be, I cringe at the thought in disbelief. Or was it just a Southern thing?

The Help has three sections and point of views, Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter. Minny and Aibileen's stories reflect what it's like for them to work for white ladies in Jackson, Mississippi. Aibileen has been around, she's worked for plenty of people over the years and has seen a lot. She's wise beyond her years and is the soul of the book. Minny has a temper and it's gotten her into trouble, but she's the best cook in Jackson, yet she crossed one powerful Junior Leaguer who made it nearly impossible for her to get another job. All it takes is one rumor and no nice white lady will hire you. Minny has a husband who beats her and five children and another on the way. She can't afford to lose another job.

Then, there's Skeeter Phelan, just out of college. Skeeter doesn't fit in anymore with the rest of her hometown friends like Hilly and Elizabeth. Skeeter is single and not really interested in getting married right away - she wants to be a writer. Once she's back home she finds out that the beloved housekeeper that raised her has quit without even saying good-bye. Skeeter knows this can't be true and she hasn't gotten the whole story. She's sympathetic to "the help" in town, she doesn't like what she sees and the way they are treated. After talking once to Aibileen, she takes on the idea to write about what it's like for them to work for white ladies and raise their children - the good and the bad, but above all - the truth. Skeeter sacrifices a lot in her life to write this book, but it's worth it to her and it frees her from many of the social constrictions her life in Jackson is rife with.

My favorite character's story was Minny's. Minny gets a dream job working for Celia, a rich, young, white lady who lives out in a big mansion in the country. Celia is a country girl - real country. She doesn't have the same kind of prejudices about hiring help as the Junior Leaguers in town. In fact, the Junior Leaguers won't even give her the time of day, no matter how rich she is! She's married well beyond her hometown of Sugar Ditch - the lowest of the low. She wants to keep Minny a secret from her husband, she doesn't want him to think she can't clean and cook all on her own. I really liked Celia and felt sorry for her. I loved the storyline between Minny and Celia. Minny kept saying how she hated white women, but she had a soft spot for Celia - she just wouldn't admit it to anyone.

Aibileen is Skeeter's partner in writing the book. Slowly but surely she enlists the help of other maids to contribute their stories. Aibileen writes her own story herself and has a flair with it. She has the makings of a writer too! She and Skeeter bond and become close with their clandestine project. Eventually Minny joins in, albeit reluctantly, she just can't resist, she knows how important it is. It's a huge risk for them all and I was on the edge of my seat for much of the book worrying about them! The Civil Rights movement was ramping up, Martin Luther King's march on Washington was in the news and the death of Medgar Evers in Jackson punctuates the danger all three women are placing themselves in. For Minny, Aibileen and Skeeter the consequences could be severe, even lethal.

I'm leaving a lot out and skipping tons, the bitchy Junior Leaguers like Hilly and Elizabeth and their hypocritical attitudes. I was dying to see what would happen with Hilly and how she would enact her revenge once the book came out. I don't want to give anything away, there are too many elements in it that are great. I couldn't stop listening to the audio, I had to find out what would happen to everyone. These characters all have become so familiar, many are dear to me, I hope they will be for you too.

This is hands down the best book I've read this year, I wholeheartedly recommend it, it is a must read for everyone, in my opinion, but, especially women. It will make you stop and think and stop and think all over again. It's ending gives you hope in a quiet, yet powerful way. An uplifting and very, very satisfying read.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Serpent Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

Book Description:
Lucy Craddock-Hayes thought the man lying in the ditch was dead, but he survived the assault. With the help of her servant, Lucy brings the gentleman home, and learns that he is Viscount Simon Iddesleigh. As Simon slowly recuperates, he finds himself falling in love with sharp-witted and surprisingly sharp-tongued Lucy, but he also knows that the longer he stays, the more likely it is that his quest for vengeance will endanger Lucy and her family.

I really enjoyed this romance, the last of the Prince's Trilogy that have all involved three very different men who are friends with one another in Georgian England. They know each other through their common interest in botanical matters and are members of the Agrarian Society, a loose-knit club in which everyone, members of the peerage or not, are interested in agriculture. The previous books involved Edward de Raaf, the fifth Earl of Swartingham and Harry Pye, a commoner who married a noblewoman. Their romances were tops, and this one is no different, though I think it's the weakest of the three. The Serpent Prince follows Viscount Simon Iddesleigh who has the misfortune to find himself stabbed in the back and left for dead somewhere in Kent. Simon has pissed someone off!

Lucy Craddock-Hayes, a spinsterish country maiden, comes upon Simon's nude body while out on her morning errands. Upon mistaking him for dead, she soon realizes he isn't dead afterall and she takes it upon herself to help him by bringing him home. I wonder if she would have been as eager if he had been short, bald and ugly, instead of looking more like a felled blonde Adonis! Against her retired sea captain father's oaths and threats that nothing good will come of this, she oversees Simon's recovery back to health. Little does she know that nothing will ever be the same for her again. The local vicar that has been wooing her for the past three years now seems hopelessly dull and ordinary compared to the blasphemous charm and wit of the Viscount Iddesleigh. As soon as Simon can sit up in bed, he wastes no time in noticing the beautiful daughter of the house. They have a non-courtship of sorts. Lucy resists and Simon, who claims to have no gentlemanly manners, cannot. He is shameless in his flirtations with Lucy, who is not used to someone like Simon - much less living under the same roof with her! Their courtship is enhanced by Simon's made up as he goes fairy tale of the Serpent Prince, which parallels Simon and Lucy's story as well. Lucy is falling for this man, yet he will leave her as soon as he is well again. How can she return to her humdrum life with her cranky father and boring vicar?

Simon has his own set of problems in addition to the strong feelings he's harbouring for Lucy. He is hell bent on avenging the death of his brother who was killed in a duel two years earlier. Unused to dueling, his brother was at an obvious disadvantage and sacrificed himself to save his wife's honor from a vicious rumor started on purpose. Simon feels partly responsible for the death since he was part of the rumor! It was all a set up and untrue, but the result ended in tragedy. An expert swordsman himself, Simon is determined to duel and kill each one of the men he holds responsible for the death of his older brother.

Although Simon is preoccupied with his many duels and avoiding getting killed himself, he still cannot get Lucy out of his head once he returns to London. In one of the most romantic proposal scenes I've read in a long time, he returns to Kent and asks for her hand. She gladly accepts and wedding plans ensue. Lucy travels to London and stays with Simon's widowed sister-in law. While there, Lucy learns of her fiancee's unusual propensity for dueling! Unaware of why Simon can't seem to stop himself from calling men out and killing them over and over again, she is torn - what kind of man can go around killing other men all the time? She has no idea about his vendetta. She finds the idea of killing abhorrent, yet she is even more alarmed at herself because her repugnance doesn't seem to be stopping her from still wanting Simon! How can she rationalize it? She can't. She's basically in lust with her soon to be husband and marries him anyway.

Once married, they have a sizzling love life, yet all is not perfect as is often the case in romance novels. There are complications about who is the mastermind behind Simon's brother's death, and now Lucy's life is threatened to boot! Before long, Lucy has had enough! She cannot live with Simon any longer and his obsession. She leaves him and returns to her father in Kent, even though she has promised Simon she would never leave him! Grr - and yet she does it anyway! I hate it when people do that! Naturally, Simon can't bear losing her and destroys his greenhouse and his roses that are his prized possessions. More angst, but Lucy soon realizes she can't live without her wayward husband and returns to London on Christmas Eve only to witness another duel that Simon is in! Will it never end?

Thankfully, it does, and it all ends well, although my heart nearly stopped beating more than once during those nerve-wracking duels! Although Simon's obsession over avenging his brother became tiresome, I still really loved this book and found Simon and Lucy's courtship engaging and romantic. I cared about them and wanted things to be settled. Ms. Hoyt wraps it all up nicely and our hero and heroine are able to live happily ever after.

Despite his predilection for dueling, Simon is a worthy hero. Sexy, funny and totally shameless in his red heels (he's somewhat of a clothes horse) he was an amusing foil to Lucy's gray gowns and practicality. Love brings out the best in them and it was gratifying to see how they each come to terms with their issues so that they can get on with their lives and forgive and forget.

I recommend this series as a whole. The side characters are good too, her father in particular was amusing, he had some of the best lines (most of them derogatory about Simon). The book is sexy, compelling and entertaining, Ms. Hoyt has a real talent and I look forward to reading all of her books eventually!


Friday, March 19, 2010

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley

Book Description:
The year is 1881. Meet the Mackenzie family - rich, powerful, dangerous, eccentric. A lady couldn't be seen with them without ruin. Rumors surround them - of tragic violence, of their mistresses, of their dark appetites, of scandals that set England and Scotland abuzz. The youngest brother, Ian, known as the Mad Mackenzie, spent most of his young life in an asylum, and everyone agrees he is decidedly odd. He's also hard and handsome and has a penchant for Ming pottery and beautiful women.

Beth Ackerley, widow, has recently come into a fortune. She has decided that she wants no more drama in her life. She was raised in drama - an alcoholic father who drove them into the workhouse, a frail mother she had to nurse until her death, a fussy old lady she became constant companion to. No, she wants to take her money and find peace, to travel, to learn art, to sit back and fondly remember her brief but happy marriage to her late husband.

And then Ian Mackenzie decides he wants her.

I loved this book. I loved mad, passionate Ian. He's not really mad, he has Asperger's Syndrome, or something like it. Although, back in the 1880's, he would certainly have been considered mad - or eccentric. Whatever it is - he's different.

How do I love Ian - let me count the ways: he's Scottish (anyone who knows me, knows about my penchant for all things Scottish), he's handsome, strong, fills a doorway. An amazing lover, although because of his peculiarity, he cannot love - or so he thinks. Once he meets Beth Ackerley he recognizes in her a thing of beauty, just as a Ming bowl, and he goes after her.

By the time Lord Ian discovers Beth, she's already affianced to a conniving yet stupid fortune hunter who is no match for Ian. He rescues her at the opera from her low-down fiance by informing her of her fiance's "secret life" of sex and debauchery. Beth is not your typical high society English Victorian widow who carries smelling salts and stiffens at the slightest hint of impropriety. She comes from humble beginnings, her father was a con artist, and her mother was barely able to save them from starvation. By some miraculous turn of events, Beth married a young vicar who loved her and taught her that there's nothing wrong with passion in bed. She was happy with him in their little parish amongst the poor of the East End of London. But, her husband died and Beth became a paid lady's companion to an old lady who left Beth her entire fortune.

Now that Ian has assuredly gotten the fiance out of the picture, he proposes on the spot to Beth himself! She is naturally taken aback by his proposal, yet considers it briefly, he takes her breath away, and he is awfully handsome... and he does kiss ever so well... (I told you, Beth is not your typical missish Victorian!) Lord Ian's frankness doesn't shock her - and his kisses don't either! But, the practical side of her wins out, even after his tantalizing kiss in his box at the opera. She thanks him for his help, breaks off the engagement and leaves for Paris immediately to learn how to draw - and guess who conveniently has a brother who is an artist in Paris?

Ian follows Beth to Paris, but that's not the whole story. There's a murder that takes place in London and Ian is the prime suspect. As the story unfolds, we learn this is not the first murder of this kind and we wonder - did Ian do it, or did his brother - a duke - do it? What are they hiding, what is the family secret, and why do all the women that get involved with Mackenzies either die or leave them? And what business does this pesky detective from Scotland Yard have in all of this?

While the murder mystery is getting thicker, Beth and Ian are getting hot and heavier - and o! What a sexy affair it is! But, it's short lived, for she soons marries him and meets his brother, the duke. Did I happen to mention that Mackenzies don't take no for an answer? Especially when they have several brothers that always seem to be around to lend their support when needed? Once Beth marries Ian and goes to Scotland with him, she meets his brother, Hart - the duke. Hart is not a friendly sort. He's furious Ian married without his permission. He makes it clear that he doesn't like Beth and thinks she's nothing more than a gold digger, despite the fact that she already had her own fortune by the time she met Ian.

Meanwhile, while Beth is fighting off annoying brother in-laws, making friends with one of their estranged wives, and trying to solve the mystery of the London murders that Ian is implicated in, she's falling in love with her husband! How gauche! But, what can she do, he is irresistible and I couldn't blame her one bit! She knows Ian didn't do it - but she's not sure who did! Will Beth put herself in jeopardy trying to solve the mystery? You bet!

I really liked Beth, she is not a gold digger, she is her own woman, she knows what's going on in the world, she has seen the seemier side of life and has her eyes open. Granted, she has her moments when she has her doubts and is scared or put off, but it doesn't last long - she's strong! She is tenatious in solving the murder mystery and removing this cloud that is hanging over her husband's head. She doesn't want him to live with this inspector chasing him all his life, and she doesn't want Ian to be at the beck and call of hid brother, Hart either! (the name - Hart, is ironic, for he has no heart. Cold as ice. Yet Ian, the one who thinks he doesn't - does!)

I loved every word of this original historical romance. Ian is every inch a heart throbbing, jaw dropping hero, yet he's so vulnerable! He's been locked up a good part of his life - unjustly, and I have to admit, I'm a sucker for these kind of heroes with tortured pasts. He's extremely intelligent, but misunderstood. Beth is the balm to his nightmares and episodic rages. For a man that says he cannot love, once he meets Beth, he can finally call himself a liar - he knows how to love, but he just doesn't realize it yet. Beth brings out the best in him and they are perfect mates for one another.

Read this romance! You won't be sorry, Ms. Ashley did a great job in balancing Ian's Asperger's with the heartstopping and noble attributes of a romantic hero. I held off on reading this book when everyone else was reading it last year because I thought I wouldn't like it, but I'm sorry I waited - it was great!


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles by Margaret George (audio)

Book Description:
She was a child crowned a queen.... A sinner hailed as a saint.... A lover denounced as a whore... A woman murdered for her dreams...

I've put off writing this review forever because the friggin' book took me forever to get through! Granted, I liked the beginning and was starting to get into this lengthy historical fic on Mary Queen of Scots (whom I knew almost nothing about beforehand) but then after about 20 odd hours and half way through I began to get a little tired of Mary. I was starting to realize that I just didn't really care about her all that much. She kept making such bad mistakes! Mary wailing that she's misunderstood and the Scots don't like her. Mary pining away for Darnley and then despising Darnley (I don't blame her for that though). Mary wishing Bothwell would come save her. Mary bemoaning the fact that she's stuck on an island and the Scottish lords hate her. Mary wringing her hands that the English despise her - and it's starting to look like Queen Elizabeth isn't fond of her either. By the end of the book, I was so sick and tired of Mary, Mary, Mary, I couldn't wait until Mary was executed and I could be done with her!

Sorry to all of you Mary Queen of Scots fans, but I just didn't have a whole lot of sympathy for her. To sum it up, I thought she was incredibly naive and let herself be overruled and dominated by every man she knew! The book overall was well written, but not nearly as entertaining as the other book of hers that I loved, The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers. Unfortunately so much of Mary's life was depressing, barely any high points once she returns to Scotland. Yes, her love affair with Bothwell was exciting for her, but so short lived and doomed from the start, they had such little time together, and as Bothwell reflects himself before becoming involved with her romantically, every man that loves Mary seems to die! How true! At least she had her faithful Marys (Flamina, Seton and Lusty) and her French doctor and priest who remained with her almost to the end. Everyone else died for her cause.

All in all, unless you are a die hard Mary Queen of Scots fan and can't get enough of her, this book is a long, long slog. It starts with Mary's birth to her execution, with every single little thing that happens to her. The gist of the book is, Mary was good and a devout Catholic. She did not want to hurt anyone or kill Elizabeth, but there was so much plotting going on around her, she was incapable of stopping it. She was a victim of plotters who were anti-Catholic and would go to any lengths to insure that Mary was out of the picture - for good. She was seen by the English as a threat to the English throne, and by the Scots she was looked on as a Frenchwoman who was unfaithful to her husband and then had him murdered by her lover. On audio, she sounded naive and perplexed - "why do they hate me so?" Despite Mary's simplistic and unrealistic attitude towards many of her problems, the narration by Donada Peters was excellent although it did not make me a fan of Mary Queen of Scots.

Sorry for my haranguing, but I was so sick of the book after listening to it, I could barely even bring myself to write this up right away - if at all. Compared to Henry VIII, this was a big disappointment, but I am at least glad I know her story now and background of what exactly happened to her and why she was accused of plotting to murder Queen Elizabeth and thus executed for it. It just became so dull and uninteresting towards the end. How many letters can you read about? Her piety began to grate on me and I felt sorrier for her faithful followers who all went to their deaths because of her, like the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Bothwell and Babington. A lot is conjecture in this book, as the author says in her afterward. Some things about Mary's motives and actions will never be completely understood, we'll probably never know the truth. But, the bottom line is, Mary made many, many bad decisions and alienated herself to all her lords and Scottish subjects, primarily due to her Catholicism, which is a pity. If only she'd stayed in France... oh well.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark by Donna Lea Simpson

Book Description:
A fascinating and exasperating young lady…
The Marquess of Darkefell has enough to worry about with a bloodthirsty wild beast rampaging the countryside and sinister family secrets to protect. Then Lady Anne Addison arrives, with unquenchable curiosity and intelligence that drive him to distraction…

An infuriatingly unyielding man…
Lady Anne finds the marquess darkly handsome, seductive, and forceful, with a ruthless magnetism that challenges and stimulates her. But he seems determined to keep secrets that may threaten both herself and her helpless friend…

Thrown together in a time of crisis, with a murderer on the loose, the marquess picks an absolutely dreadful moment and the worst possible way to declare his intentions…

I've found myself leaning more and more towards historical mysteries these days, and this latest is termed a "cozy mystery." G-rated, this story takes place in Georgian England, though for most of the book I had the odd feeling it took place in Victorian times. There is a decidedly Gothic feel to this novel, set in Yorkshire. The story revels in werewolves, castles, murdered young women and the ubiquitous darkly brooding marquess (his name is even Darkefell!) Lady Anne Addison, a spinsterish young lady who conveniently is independently wealthy, is visiting her vaporish friend, Lydia, who is newly married into an unfriendly family. She beseeches Anne to come visit her and solve the disturbing mystery of the werewolf that plagues the area. Howls in the night abound. Just as Lady Anne arrives, she literally trips over the dead body of Lydia's maidservant who appears to have been attacked by some wild animal. Could it have been a werewolf?

Lady Anne is a devotee of common sense and does not believe in werewolves or any other kind of paranormal activity that has the Yorkshire countryside of Darkefell in an uproar. She believes there must be a rational explanation for the death of the poor young girl and she takes it upon herself to investigate and solve the murder mystery. I can't say I liked Lady Anne at first. She was much too domineering and curious to my liking, though over the course of the book she grew on me. Or, I just got used to her butting in where she isn't wanted. She meets and offends most of her dear friend Lydia's in-laws - including the handsome marquess of Darkefell who lives in the nearby castle alone, but deigns to eat his meals with the rest of his family in the dower house where Lady Anne is residing as a guest.

The marquess is oddly attracted to Anne's indomitable spirit, although she is no beauty. He is struck by her forthrightness and sensibilities and he reluctantly makes a play for her, albeit, he's not the most romantic sort and clumsily kisses her from time to time. Anne is even more reluctant to fall for his so-called charms and rebuffs his kisses with some well placed slaps across the face. She doesn't fool him though, he sees through her maidenly sense of decorum and continues to seek her out. As a matter of course, they both appreciate each other's fine minds and work together to solve the mystery of the dead girl. The marquess also uses their time together to ultimately make his intentions clear to Lady Anne. He likes her, he wants to kiss her, he wants to marry her. Lady Anne will have none of it, although she finds him handsome and his kisses create a feeling in her that she has a hard time ignoring. But, being a woman of independent means, she will not be a slave to her libido and once the mystery is solved, she hightails it out of Darkefell on the next coach to Cornwall. Silly, silly woman. Of course, the marquess plans to follow her and the hunt is on, thus leading to another book in the works which continues their reluctant courtship in Cornwall, though a publication date is uncertain.

There are plenty of suspects in this novel, a former African slave that the Marquess has rescued, the Marquess' brother, John, who is Lydia's husband, the ornery neighbor who has a distinct dislike of the Marquess, and a handful of various servants and townspeople who have an axe to grind or some sort of vendetta as well.

Can Lady Anne solve the mystery and still remain aloof to the lord of the castle's charms? Will we learn what is Lydia's problem and if her husband has been unfaithful? Why does the marchioness dislike her daughter-in-law so much, what is she hiding? Is there really a werewolf roaming the countryside terrorizing poor defenseless young women? All is revealed by the end of the book, with a major cliffhanger regarding Lady Anne and the marquess.

Although I was not bowled over by this historical mystery, I am curious to know what happens between Lady Anne and Darkefell. If you like cozy mysteries, this is worth a look, but I found the writing at first hard to follow and stilted and no where did I get the sense this was taking place in the 18th century! Even the cover gives the impression of a later time period! Lady Anne seemed much too independent a woman and would have fit in much better in the late eighteenth century. The mystery itself wasn't bad, though I did guess who the murderer was at one point, but there were a few red herrings that threw me off the scent. The plotline was decent and kept me interested, but I've read better.


Something About You by Julie James

Book Description:
There's something about Julie James...

Staying overnight in a luxury hotel, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Lynde overhears a high-profile murder involving a U.S. Senator. Special Agent Jack Pallas is assigned to the investigation-the same Jack Pallas who still blames her for nearly ruining his career three years ago. Now the pair will have to put their rocky past behind them, focus on the case at hand-and smother the flame of their sizzling-hot sexual tension.

Upon downloading this book on my kindle I was floored by how quickly I got into it, from the first few words I was hooked. I'm still amazed at how quickly I sped through it, despite not being able to read it every living minute, due to a busy week at my daytime job. Julie James is probably my favorite contemporary romance author, and it never ceases to amaze me how tight and concise her writing is. No unecessary verbiage and background fodder, it's all to the point, pertinent to the plotline and compelling all the way through. I loved every word and was stunned when it was over - I didn't want it to be over! I wanted the sexy wordplay and blistering edginess to never end. Long live Cameron and Jack! I couldn't get enough of them!

This was a slight departure from Ms. James' previous romances, Just The Sexiest Man Alive and Practice Makes Perfect- two of my very favorite contemporaries. This romance is more suspenseful, it involves a murder with lots of danger and tension and not just of the criminal variety - the sexual tension between Cameron and Jack is delectable. It was still definitely a romance, in fact I had to fan myself more than once due to the steamy sex scenes between Cameron and Jack - Ms. James has eclipsed her last books in this regard - hotter and sexier. I never thought I'd get over Jason Andrews (the hero in Just the Sexiest Man Alive) but, alas, move over Andrew, there's a new sheriff in town - Jack Pallas - and I want him. Now.


Jack is sex on a stick - everything I love in a hero. Tall, dark and handsome, which goes without saying. But, he's built. Strong and muscled - but not overly so. He can wear a suit gracefully (he's an FBI agent afterall), but he also wears that oh-so-delicious facial scruff as well. The kind that grows back within hours of shaving - ummm. Just right... The kind that after he's kissed you a few times - thoroughly, I might add, the telltale redness appears on your lips and surrounding areas to indicate to all, who may be attune to these sort of things, that you've been kissed - thoroughly. Yup, that's why I love scruff. And Jack has it in spades. There are loads of other things I love about him, but a few that stand out for me are, he wears a blazer and bluejeans (I love that look), rides a motorcycle handily, he's gentle when he needs to be, and he's rough when it's called for (in or out of bed). He appreciates a sense of humor - and he is not hung up about dating someone who can order him around, careerwise, or who lives in a house bigger than his. Oh, one more thing - a few scars don't hurt - I seem to have a penchant for men with scars on their bodies. Weird, I know, but it's a bi-product I seem to have picked it up from my love for Jamie Fraser in Outlander. A man who has been tortured in the past, yet has had the ability to overcome it. He has that vulnerablility with honor and nobility mixed in that gets me everytime. I'm a sucker for it.

Don't worry, I'm not ignoring Cameron. I really loved her, even if I was a tiny bit jealous of her. She's smart and beautiful and - she has Jack! She's quick thinking and sensible. I was glad that she wasn't some wilting lily who fell to pieces in tense situations, in fact she was amazingly resilient, bullet wounds and all. She didn't do the usual "I don't need your protection" line when she's told she's going to require constant surveillance since she has overheard a murder, and most likely the murderer is going to come after her. She takes it in stride and accepts it, despite the fact that Jack must move into her house. Cameron is no idiot, she knows she's attracted to him and she doesn't shy away from it - which leads to all sorts of tantalizing scenarios. Besides that, she is a professional afterall and the daughter of a cop. She knows the score. I liked that in her. I also liked the fact that she doesn't keep the truth from Jack about what happened in their past three years earlier. She tells him about it as soon as he moves in with her. She too has an honorable side to her that I admire. On a quirky note, one thing that I'm in awe of is how she can wear high heels all the time! We're talking 3" and up! How do her feet stand it? But, no matter how she does it, she wears them well - and with aplomb. There's this one scene with silver heels and a black silk thong... well, you get the picture. Wow!

That's reminds me, I must make note of the cover of the book - it's fantastic! Plus, it's a cover of Cameron and Jack - and she's actually wearing a noteworthy dress from the story! I am impressed! Ms. James must have a good amount of clout with her publishers to pull this off! Brava!

Not only is the story gripping with suspense all the way up to the end, but it has it's comedic moments and a nod to one of my favorite all time movies, It Happened One Night starring Clark Gable. Jack Pallas has that certain je ne sais quoi about him that Gable's characters had as well. Rugged, strong, take charge men that are softies when it comes to that one woman that was meant for them. I've always loved Gable, so this was a perfect comparison for me.

Do yourself a favor and read Julie James' latest offering - it is so worthwhile! I loved every word and felt like reading it all over again as soon as I finished it! This is a definite keeper (as are all her books). The top notch writing, snappy dialogue, well thought out plotline with a murder, wedding and a heart stopping finale makes it the most entertaining book I've read this year! Don't miss it! This is an author to keep an eye on - an automatic buy for me always!

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