Friday, July 30, 2010

Tempt Me at Twilight by Lisa Kleypas

Book Description:

Poppy Hathaway loves her unconventional family, though she longs for normalcy. Then fate leads to a meeting with Harry Rutledge, an enigmatic hotel owner and inventor with wealth, power, and a dangerous hidden life. When their flirtation compromises her own reputation, Poppy shocks everyone by accepting his proposal -- only to find that her new husband offers his passion, but not his trust.


Harry was willing to do anything to win Poppy -- except to open his heart. All his life, he has held the world at arm's length -- but the sharp, beguiling Poppy demands to be his wife in every way that matters. Still, as desire grows between them, an enemy lurks in the shadows. Now if Harry wants to keep Poppy by his side, he must forge a true union of body and soul, once and for all...

Quick review because I've had a hard time thinking about what to write about this book, and I've put it off because I didn't really like it.  Coming off the second in the Hathaways Series, Seduce Me at Sunrise, which I loved, I was bound to be let down with Poppy's story.  It wasn't just because Poppy was sort of a boring heroine, but I didn't like the hero in this story at all, and to me, that makes or breaks the book.

Is it me or is Harry Rutledge kind of ... awful?  I'm not sure if I like this kind of ruthless hero.  He's handsome and mysterious - the owner of the Rutledge Hotel that is the common setting for many of Kleypas' books in both the Wallflowers and Hathaways series.  At first I thought, hmm, interesting... so Poppy will wind up with the Mr. Rutledge.  But then as we got to know him more, I was thinking more along the lines of "Poor Poppy, the rabbit!"  I think she's a bit out of her depth with Rutledge - the cat.  He's an odd hero, no friends and he's a recluse.   He ruthlessly ruins her plans to marry Michael Bayning, the man she wants and loves, and then has the effrontery to appear almost gleeful at the way he compromises her at a ball, resulting in their need to marry instead - all in front of her former fiancé, who has now taken to drink after having to give Poppy up.  Granted, he turned out to be weak and unworthy of Poppy - but still!  I didn't like the fact that Harry took it upon himself to manipulate everyone and everything - much too heavy handed for my tastes!  I usually like alpha heroes and men in charge who call their women "Mine", but Harry just came across as mean.  I don't like that.

I found their relationship and eventual love for each other a reach.  Their marriage starts out on the cool side, Poppy is not crazy about him and she has to get used to his odd ways.  She's forced to marry him since they were seen kissing at a ball (just like with Win and Merripen).  So, why all of a sudden did Poppy fall for him after a few weeks? What did he do to win her love?  Nothing much, except maybe she just started to get used to him, but I can't see how she'd actually love him!  Mr. Rutledge is not Mr. Romantic.  He leaves her in the middle of the night after taking her virginity with no explanation, leaving her miserable and questioning the whole sex act  to the point where she has to ask her brother about it!  Then she leaves London (and Harry) to go to Hampshire with her brother Leo the next day.  Not good for a new marriage -  it took a long time to even consummate it, and then they both walk out on each other afterwards?  Aargh!

Once in Hampshire, everything changes, all of a sudden Poppy realizes she loves him because she finds out what a rotten childhood he had and that her companion, Miss Marks, is his half sister.  Huh?  So that makes it all fine and dandy?  I don't buy it.  At least her family didn't like him at first, yet I was disappointed that they came around so easily, especially Cam and Merripen.  Was it because he followed her to Hampshire (as they knew he would), and then took a holiday away from the hotel to have a honeymoon?  I guess a little R&R and sex can miraculously change a man overnight - again, I don't buy it.

One shining point, I liked seeing bits of Merripen and Win here, for I love them as a couple.  But I was surprised there was simply no mention whatsoever that Merripen and Cam are brothers and that their father was a lord. Only their Rom associations were referred to - perhaps not to spoil Seduce Me at Sunrise for those that haven't read it yet?

This was the weakest of the Hathaway series, Poppy has never been all that interesting and I can't say this book changed my mind about her.  Harry was the villain through most of the book, and not even a really delicious villain like Sebastian from Devil In Winter.  Sebastian's more of a reformed rake, IMHO, anyway.  The sex was okay, nothing great.  I got the impression this is a transitional book from Win and Merripen's story in Seduce Me at Sunrise to Leo and Catherine's storyline in the next book.  There's quite a cliffhanger regarding them and it certainly makes me want to read the next book!  I have high hopes that it's better than this one! 

As a whole in regard to this series and Lisa Kleypas in general, I'm getting a little tired of the Hathaways and their quirky ways.   The plots are a bit formulaic as well.  Once the h/h finally fall in love and get it on, declaring their love for each other, some villain comes and kidnaps one of them and there is some sort of rescue at the end.  They may not always be exactly like this but LK's books all follow this basic formula.  I really loved it at first, but now that I've read a lot of Kleypas, this formula is getting really old - she needs a shot in the arm when it comes to her plotlines to give them some much needed zest.  Don't get me wrong, I love LK, but this was a real miss!

Excuse my rant but I guess I'm just really annoyed with this book and it put me in a crappy mood.  In sum, I don't like this kind of mean and ruthless hero. Harry came across as a jerk much of the time, and frankly, I felt sorry for Poppy and her lot in life with him.  This was my least favorite of all the Kleypas books I've read.  Harry Rutledge did nothing for me, as did this book. Too little build up with their budding relationship that shows the development of their feelings and Poppy's aha moment that she loves him!  He just simply wants her, and then when it turns out she's the first woman to make it hard for him he realizes, "Gee, if I still want her so much, I must be in love!"  Hmm.  A disappointment, though I will read the next and the next and the next...


Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Forbidden Lord by Sabrina Jeffries

Book Description:
Jordan Willis, the Earl of Blackmore, has played with the heart of many a society belle -- yet one stolen kiss impulsively planted on the soft, irresistible lips of the preacher's daughter proves his undoing. The prim and proper Emily Fairchild's innocent response sends desire surging through the notorious rake, and he can't forget her. Now, meeting Lady Emma Campbell, an outrageously flirtatious debutante, leaves the earl more shaken than ever -- for the brazen beauty is an uncanny double of the sweet Emily! Emily cannot reveal the reason for her scandalous masquerade - not even to the earl whose heated embrace awakens a sizzling passion. Her very life depends on convincing society that she is Lady Campbell, yet no disguise can hide her dangerous attraction to the earl. But does "Cinderella' dare risk losing her handsome "prince" by revealing that she is just a country girl?

I loved this book! I was so surprised, I had no idea I was going to fall in love with this story, since I wasn't really thrilled with the first in the series, The Pirate Lord, which was just okay.

Right away the story gets off to a good start with a major mix up.  The virtuous and little known Emma Fairchild accidentally gets into a carriage during a masquerade ball with the notorious Earl of Blackmore.  Both are under the wrong impression.  He thinks he's taking home some merry widow looking for action, and she thinks the Earl is her cousin for they look exactly alike with their masks on.   Once the mistake is realized, Emily, a rector's daughter, puts the Earl in his place.  He is chastised but also intriguingly attracted to this little nobody.  Not able to get a real good look at her in the moonlight, he asks her to remove her mask.  She does so reluctantly and before we know it, they have one long, lasting, memorable kiss.  Gentleman that he is, he drops her off back at the ball so she can maintain her reputation and they go their separate ways.

Months later Emily is forced to pose as her friend, Lady Sophie's cousin.  She's blackmailed by Sophie's awful father who is trying to find out who Sophie attempted to elope with.  The details are unimportant.  The important part is Emily now becomes Lady Emma, daughter of a Scottish nobleman who is having her first season in London.  Of course she bumps into Lord Blackmore right away and, having never forgotten that searing kiss in his carriage with the girl he hasn't been able to get out of his mind, he right away recognizes her and does everything he can to get her to admit to him who she really is and explain why she is partaking in this charade.  Emily can't tell him for fear she'll be arrested for murder (complicated plotline with Sophie's father blackmailing her) so they go back and forth, back and forth.  He's working on her any way he can, mostly by seduction, and she's tempted by him and tempted to tell him the truth.

Love conquers all and we have a happy ending, but it's a rocky road getting there.  Jordan and Emily make a cute couple and I was rooting for them through the whole book and enjoying the way she'd play the coquette as Lady Emma, driving him crazy, but it did bother me over and over, why didn't she just tell him the truth about why she was posing as someone else?  He's an earl after all, no matter what Lady Sophie's father could do, Jordan could have handled it.  Fortunately it did all work out in the end, though I had issues with Jordan's heavy handedness in the way he dealt with Emily.  At one point, he virtually kidnaps Emily, insisting that she tell him the truth or else.  They go on this madcap ride in his carriage to Derbyshire from London, staying at inns alone (scandalous!)  By this point, they've already done the deed, but I did feel sorry for her and the way he was putting her in a tough spot.  Plus, he took forever to finally come around and realize that he loves her.  Emily's words sink in eventually, teaching him about loving someone,

"It's not love that destroys. It's the lack of it."

Jordan's parents had an unhappy marriage before his mother died, and he saw how unhappy his father had been and then how his father lost his second wife after a wasting disease and how it broke his heart.  Jordan did not want to risk love and be hurt the way his father was.  It took this little nobody rector's daughter to convince him he was wrong - finally!  I really did like him and didn't hold it against him that it took so long for him to come around eventually - I loved the story!

I can't wait to read the next book in this series!  There was humor, passion and lots of excitement in this romance, I really enjoyed it and highly recommend.  The characters and motivations were well developed (albeit frustrating!) and the side characters were entertaining too, like Lady Ophelia, Emma's "mother." This was well written, historically accurate and a real page turner, no dull parts or down time - I read it in one day.  Sorry about the quick review, but take my word for it, this is a keeper!


Night's Rose by Annaliese Evans

Book Description:
For nearly one hundred years, Rosemarie Edenberg has worked tirelessly to wipe the dreaded ogre tribe from the earth. Now the tribe has gathered in London to work a spell that will destroy the scourge of their kind, the woman they call the Briar Rose.

Two magnetic men will unite to aid Rose -- her mysterious Fey advisor, Ambrose, and the vampire, Lord Shenley, an Earl of scandalous reputation and even more scandalous appetites. One will save her, one will betray her, and both will challenge her to face the past that haunts her.

Once upon a time, she was ensnared in the mists of enchantment, cursed to sleep one hundred years. But this beauty wasn’'t awakened with a kiss, and has never known happily ever after.

With the help of her handsome allies, Rose may yet find it.

I'm reading so many fantastic books these days and speeding through them, I'm having a hard time keeping up with the reviews.  Bear with me, this is a quickie!

Ever since I read Colleen Gleason's Gardella Vampire Chronicles, I've been looking for another historical paranormal series that is as good.  It's like searching for the Holy Grail.  Night's Rose was not as well done and riveting, but it did scratch my itch in more ways than one.

Rose is a slayer, but not of vampires.  She's for the most part human - mortal - and it is her duty to kill evil paranormal monsters that threaten the Earth.  She goes after ogres and demons and that sort of thing.  Vampires seem to be okay as long as they don't try and kill her and feed on her.   Rose has a complicated history along the lines of the fairy tale of  Sleeping Beauty.  It's too involved to go into, and frankly it was flawed.  To me, it seemed almost a bit unecessary to even have the Sleeping Beauty comparison theme for I didn't quite get the point of it.  This was one of my gripes about this book. Her background was sketchy and hard to understand.  At one point she had been asleep for 100 years, and then for another 100 years after that she has been at the mercy of the Fey de Nuit who have been using her to do their dirty work slaying their enemies.  The setting is London in the mid-eighteenth century.  I like this time period and the costumes and customs, so I really enjoyed much of the book, for it had the historical element I love and the suspenseful paranormal aspect with a couple of love interests thrown in for good measure. 

The whole Sleeping Beauty part was lost on me and only detracted from the main part of the story which was battling the ogres and wondering which one of the two men in her life she can trust.  Rose had a traumatic experience when she awoke from her 100 years sleep, it wasn't a prince that kissed her, and the experience has haunted her.  She has nightmares and flashbacks that refer to it, but it left me wondering and puzzled about how and why it happened.  I couldn't quite understand why if she is part fey her grandfather, the grand king of the Feys allowed the "awful" thing that happened to her to happen! (still following me?)  Lots of unanswered questions and loose ends, but there's another book so maybe that will answer some of these questions.

During that second 100 years after she wakes up from her spell and traumatic experience, Rose meets Ambrose, who becomes her mentor.  He is fey and there's an attraction between the two, but it is tamped down, for he is more of a father or brotherly figure to her, still we're uncertain if he's "the one" for her or not.  Does he love her and if so, why is she only finding out about it after one hundred years of knowing him?  Another man in her life is the attractive and seductive vampire, Gareth who is another question mark.  Is he really good for her, or is he lying to her as well?  These two men are integral to her survival and interweave through the plotline.  Gareth certainly has the sensuality factor covered, one particularly erotic love scene made me think twice about what it would be like to make love to a vampire. Ms. Evans also writes erotic romance as Anna J. Evans, so it's not surprising she has quite a flair for writing it, but, it still bugged me that he was a vampire!  I kept thinking about how hard it would be to be married to one when he must "feed" and sleep all day.  Yuck, it's just not a concept I'm comfortable with.  I still have a ways to go on the whole paranormal romance drinking your blood while making love thing.  I prefer mortal men in general, but I suppose a lusty vampire or werewolf is okay for a change once in a while. ;) 

Most of the book follows Rose and her search for truth and duty to kill these ogres that are planning on wrecking the world, starting with the revival of this giant ogre that has lain dormant under the River Thames for centuries.  He is supposedly enormous and I couldn't shake the idea of the giant Pillsbury Dough Boy from Ghostbusters out of my head.  Imagine the damage this ogre could do to the many steeples and buildings of Georgian London!   Rose, Ambrose and Gareth are all trying to prevent the ogre from coming to life and her special blood is crucial to making it happen so she must be protected at all costs.   She's protected, but Gareth who has fed off her a little bit (from their big erotic love scene) is captured and I won't go into it, but there's a big rescue at the end and all is sort of resolved.   There's plenty of sword and battle scenes, with heads flying and gore spurting, so if you're into this sort of thing, this book's for you!

Overall, I liked this book despite it's complicated back history, I intend to read the next in the series.  The plot development and characterizations were not as good as Colleen Gleason's.  I didn't feel as much of a close and personal connection to the characters here but it wasn't bad either.  I recommend it for paranormal romance fans, particularly if you like historicals.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas

Book Description:
Love has designs of its own....

To all of London society, Lord and Lady Tremaine had the ideal arrangement: a marriage based on civility, courteousness, and freedom -- by all accounts, a perfect marriage. The reason? For the last ten years, husband and wife have resided on separate continents.

But once upon a time, things were quite different for the Tremaines.... When Gigi Rowland first laid eyes on Camden Saybrook, the attraction was immediate and overwhelming. But what began in a spark of passion ended in betrayal the morning after their wedding - and now Gigi wants to be free to marry again. When Camden returns from America with an outrageous demand in exchange for her freedom, Gigi's decision will have consequences she never imagined, as secrets are exposed, desire is rekindled -- and one of London's most admired couples must either fall in love all over again... or let each other go forever.


This is one of the best historical romances I've read in a long time.  I couldn't put it down, it was great.  Such a different and daring plot. I'd heard mixed things about it, either you're in the "love it" or "hate it" camp - I'm in the "love it" camp!

The book flits back and forth during Victorian times between the 1880's and 1890's.  It flashes back to the 1880's when our hero and heroine first meet and marry.  You have to really pay attention to the dates at the beginning of each chapter to be prepared for whether it's a flashback or "present day."  At first I didn't think I was going to like Gigi, the heroine.  She's rash and selfish, used to getting her way, she acted like a spoiled brat - and she was!  But she grew on me and I wound up loving her.  Gigi grows up a lot over the course of the book, I loved her daring ways, she can face anything.    Determined with her mother's help to marry a duke, Gigi is fabulously wealthy.  But it's new wealth.  Still, she comes mighty close to getting her wish until her fiancé, the duke winds up dying accidentally.  Soon afterwards she meets his heir, Camden Saybrook who lives on the neighboring property to her estate.  He is already promised to someone, but this minor detail is inconsequential to Gigi who still goes out of her way to ensnare him.  And ensnare she does!  Before long, the two have really fallen for each other, which surprises and enthralls Gigi who has never been in love before.  But in an oh-so-Gigi manner, she forges a letter from his fiancée informing him that she has married someone else.  Camden now thinks he is free to offer for Gigi and he instantly pops the question.  He can't wait to marry and bed her.  He's captivated by her.   No one is like Gigi.

Wow... Gigi, how can you live with yourself?  How did you expect to pull this off without his ultimately finding out?  What did you expect?  How low can you sink to achieve your own ends?  But, of course, this is the young, spoiled, overindulged Gigi.  Well, the whole thing backfires on her, Camden finds out the truth right before they marry.  But, does he back out of the marriage?  No!  He goes through with it, just to get revenge on the little vixen who lied to him.  They have a blissful wedding night, she is deflowered and ready for their Paris honeymoon and he leaves her in the dust the next day.  *sigh*

Does Gigi ever fully acknowlege what a mistake she made and how wrong it was of her to lie to Camden? Not really, and that's what he found so unforgivable. He would have forgiven her if she had only come clean on their wedding night, but she didn't. The only remorse she shows is getting caught and found out, not so much in actually deceiving him. This is her flaw and cross to carry.

Ten years go by with this estrangement set up.  They remain married, yet never see one another.  They both develop lives of their own, Camden in New York, Gigi in London.  But, Gigi wants more to life and she wants to re-marry.  She files for divorce so she can marry her milquetoasty fiancé, Freddie.  He's loyal and staid, tried and true, plus he loves her and is willing to brave the bad weather her divorce is certain to bring on.  But, when Camden returns announcing he'll only divorce her if she gives him an heir first - all hell breaks loose.

There's a lot of controversy about this book, probably due to the way our hero, Camden treats Gigi when he returns to London solely to produce an heir. He makes it clear he will take no enjoyment in the act with her.  He can barely stomach her.  He's believable too.  He takes her standing up and plants himself inside her, does the deed, finishes and leaves her all in three minutes flat!  It happened so fast - I didn't have time to be shocked! I just had to keep reading to see what her reaction would be and if it would keep happening this way between them with each successive time!  Of course it doesn't. The chemistry between the two is palpable and jumps off the pages.  Camden is crazy about her, but it's the usual, he's too proud to let her know, he's secretly madly in love with her but can't admit it.  Each encounter between the two becomes longer and steamier.   You see, Camden has always loved her and always will.   What a conundrum.  Now, she wants to divorce him and he doesn't want to let her go - what should he do?  I loved the first time he meets her lapdog fiancé - so civilized, yet it's clear Camden is not going to give her up, even if he doesn't articulate it out loud.  But, Freddie knew what he was up against, I'm sure.

I really loved Camden.  I like his kind of hero.  Yes, he uses and treats Gigi abominably, but he's hurt, he wants revenge and - he still loves her!  We see Camden as he was as a young man when he first falls in love with Gigi, and then with the numerous flashbacks we see how he evolves to the man he is today.  Richer and much more worldly and cynical, unfortunately.  I felt badly for him, but at the same time, he really didn't have to have gone to such drastic lengths for his revenge.  What she did was incorrigible, but forgiveable if he really loved her.  Male pride! Grr!  Still, I loved his commanding take charge presence. He's big and handsome, he's become a man, yet he still has traces of that vulnerable, disillusioned young man that Gigi took advantage of ten years earlier.

One of the great parts of the story is the character development of everyone, including the delightful side characters like her mother, her neighbor, the Duke of Perrin, and Gigi's butler, among others.  So many little details in the story bring humor and depth to it.  It makes it stand out from others romances.  I loved all the details we're given in regard to our hero and heroine.  Little instances and backstories made me love and cherish them.  I knew them and didn't want this story to end!  For instance, I loved Gigi and her self assurance, but at the same time, she's really hiding behind a well constructed facade.  Little things begin to come out about her personality that shows the reader how vulnerable she is.   She has a priceless Impressionist art collection - yet she knows nothing about what's in it or the artists.  It turns out she bought an entire art collection from some house sale to impress her husband, hoping that one day, if he ever returned he'd appreciate it.  How pathetic.  But at the same time it makes her human and endearing, she kept hoping long after she'd given up. 

After Camden left her in the lurch, she went after him to Paris, begged him to forgive him - all to no avail.  He wouldn't budge and it killed me to read about how she wouldn't give up at first until finally she had no choice but to go back to England defeated.  We see how much she really loved him, but at the same time she had to go through hell to see just how wrong she was to lie to him.  It's things like this that come out over the course of the flashbacks that deepen Gigi and Camden's characters.  Again, in another instance which I found utterly poignant was their chance meeting in Amsterdam about five years into their estrangement.  This could have been a chance at reconciliation, but the fates wouldn't have it.   I gnashed my teeth at the idea of how Camden after realizing Gigi may still care for him from the look on her face when she saw him, tried to go back to her hotel to ask her to come back to him with a gorgeous jeweled necklace and a bouquet of wilted flowers only to find she'd checked out already - and then to find out years later she really hadn't checked out?  Aargh!  The pain! If only she'd known!  *sob*

There are so many good scenes in the book, too many to list, but it does end happily, one of my favorite moments is the way she faces Camden in New York City, decked out in jewels (the Amsterdam necklace) in the midst of a dinner party he's giving.  She enters the drawing room, wowing all the gauche New Yorkers and takes the bull by the horns - she's an original!  It's her turn to take him back and she surprises him in New York like he did to her in London.  The men are all drooling over her and they all know Camden's the lucky guy who she wants! It's a great moment!

Now, I haven't even mentioned the whole wonderful side story of Gigi's mother! I loved her!  She has this developing storyline about how she originally wants to fix her daughter up with this middle-aged reclusive duke that lives nearby Hertfordshire.  It turns out he's got quite a past reputation as a rake!  Gigi's mother is still a handsome woman, around fifty, a widow and full of life.  As it turns out, the duke takes a fancy to her and the tables are turned - I simply loved what happens between them! *giggles*   One scene made me crack up where the duke wants to look his best and tells his valet he wants "the green one" for his waiscoat - shades of Darcy in the 1995 miniseries of P&P!  I loved it! 

Don't miss out on this book, don't be put off by it's unorthodox storyline.  I have to admit, I'm a sucker for these sort of plotlines of couples getting back together, or long lost loves reuniting not unlike Austen's Persuasion.  This is a great book and I am definitely reading everything Ms. Thomas writes!  A winner and a keeper - I'm glad it's on my kindle so I can re-read again and again!


Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman

Book Description:
The long-awaited and highly anticipated final volume in Penman's trilogy of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine-  a tumultuous conclusion to this timeless story of love, power, ambition, and betrayal.

Where the second novel in the trilogy, Time And Chance, dealt with the extraordinary politics of the twelfth century, climaxing with the murder of Thomas Becket and Henry's confrontation with the Church and self-imposed exile to Ireland, Devil's Brood centers on the implosion of a family. And because it is a royal family whose domains span the English Channel and whose alliances encompass the Christian world, that collapse will have dire consequences. This is a story of betrayal as Henry's three eldest sons and his wife enter into a rebellion against him, aligning themselves with his bitterest enemy, King Louis of France. But it is also the story of a great king whose brilliance forged an empire but whose personal blind spots led him into the most serious mistake of his life.

Sharon Kay Penman has created a novel of tremendous power, as two strong-willed, passionate people clash, a family divides, and a marriage ends in all but name. Curiously, it is a novel without villains - only flawed human beings caught up in misperceptions and bad judgment calls. Most devastating to Henry was not his sons' rebellion but his wife's betrayal in joining them. How could it happen that two people whose love for each other was all consuming end up as bitter adversaries? That is the heart of Penman's tale in Devil's Brood.

Yes, this was a much anticipated book, and I delayed reading it for a long time because I didn't want the story of Henry and Eleanor to end.  The last of the trilogy, I already knew what was in store for me.  Having recently read The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick which tells the same story from William Marshal's point of view, I was prepared for the outcome, but I did not expect Devil's Brood to be so sad.  I must have been in denial or didn't want to think about it.  I loved Time and Chance, Penman's last book on Henry and Eleanor, which followed the early glory days of their marriage.  Devil's Brood was not nearly as enjoyable a read, primarily because it was exceedingly depressing with so many deaths and disappointments.  I struggled with the storyline as if this entire book had a dark thundercloud hanging over it.  Well written and absorbing, I still had to trudge through it, shaking my head over and over again in response to the many follies Henry, Eleanor and their sons made repeatedly.  Because of this, it took me a long time to finish, nearly a month.  The book is dense to say the least.  Loads of historical facts in regard to Henry's reign and it takes a lot of concentration to focus on the many characters, events and locations.

As the book begins, Henry and Eleanor's marriage is already strained due to Henry's clueless disregard when it comes to certain things - such as the feelings of his wife and sons.  He has no idea how much Eleanor resents his mistress, the young and naive Rosamund Clifford.  I can't help identifying with Eleanor and putting my own sense of betrayal in her head.  Eleanor is getting older, she's in her late forties, her beauty is fading and Henry is flaunting the dewy Rosamund as his mistress.  It's obvious Rosamund is not just a passing fancy for she remains Henry's mistress for a long time.  By the time she goes to a convent to die, I actually felt sorry for her.  I never thought I'd feel that way, for at the end of Time and Chance I wanted to scratch her eyes out!  It's galling for Eleanor, though she'd never admit it.  She's the beautiful Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England, a duchess in her own right.  What is the little Clifford to her?  Yet, Eleanor is the supreme political animal, powerful and proud, she's not happy playing second fiddle, paticularly when her marriage had once been so satisfying.  How dare Henry?  Later, as her sons grow older and begin to rebel against their father's tight hold over them, she uses the opportunity to get back at Henry, whether subconsciously or not.   Was if because of Rosamund or did Eleanor just like wielding her power and wanted in on the game?  She sides with her sons over Henry, a gross betrayal, creating a schism in their marriage forever after and leading to her incarceration for sixteen years.  Henry cannot forgive her.  Their marriage is irrevocably damaged, never will they regain the intimacy and fulfilling partnership of their earlier years together.

Henry's downfall, among other things, is his constant struggle with his sons, Hal, Richard and Geoffrey.  He promises them lands and riches, yet he holds back over and over until "they're old enough" to manage them.  Hal and Richard are fed up with his empty promises, often rebelling against their father - siding and cuddling up with the King of France, who'd like nothing more than to cause a rift in the Royal Family.  Then after the repeated rebellions are quelled (as they usually are), Henry forgives his sons, yet he still will not give them what they want: independence.  Henry insists he cannot "trust" them.  It's a catch 22.   Add Eleanor to the mix, a mother tiger defending her cubs and the situation escalates.   It no longer becomes just a matter of independence.  The sons, primarily Richard, are angry with their father over his treatment of Eleanor who he keeps locked up in various castles over the years.  It's as if Eleanor is a bird whose wings have been clipped.  Henry knows what she is capable of and he knows best how to deal with her and keep her out of action.  Eventually, years later, he relents and releases her, but the damage has already been done.  They have some moments together, mourning as parents or grandparents, but these are few and far between over the course of sixteen years.

As well done as the book was with it's research and background, I found it choppy jumping from event to event, place to place, almost as if this is a thesis in which the goal is to prove unequivocably that Henry II was responsible for his family's unhappiness due to his repeated wrong decisions.  Over and over again we see how Henry erred in judgment over this or that, and how it ultimately backfires.  Their family is the ultimate dysfunctional family.  His sons despise him, he and his wife are estranged, even his youngest son, John, who he believed was the only son who loved him, betrayed him at the end.  It became painful to read, particularly the ultimate irony of Hal's death and Henry refusal to visit him in his last hours, not believing that he was really dying.  I couldn't help thinking of the story of Peter and the Wolf, poor Hal, poor Henry, poor everybody!  And then of course, the final tragedy of Henry's death, alone, stripped clean of his regal trappings, it was all incredibly sad!

Although the majority of the novel centered on Henry, Eleanor and their sons and daughters, we do see glimpses of old friends, like Ranulf and his blind Welsh wife, Rhiannon, their children as well as numerous other characters like Henry's cousin Maud.  There are many others whose names escape me, many are familiar faces that we have seen grow old in this amazing trilogy.  I highly recommend Penman's books for I consider them the gold standard of historical fiction, but be prepared for a great deal of sadness and trouble in Devil's Brood.  I've always had a soft spot for Henry, I've loved him since he was the young man we first meet in When Christ and His Saints Slept and it is crushing to see how disappointing his life as a father and husband ended.  There is a particularly poignant moment near the end of the book, the last conversation between Eleanor and Henry,

"Do you think I wanted it this way? I loved my father dearly, never imagined that my sons would not love me."

Poor Harry, I grieve for the way his life ended.  A great king, but full of so many flaws and misguided when it came to his sons.  Looking back on his life all one can say is "if only, if only, if only."


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Indiscreet by Carolyn Jewel

Book Description:
Marrying for love can be a challenge. . .

Edward, Marquess of Foye, would have been happy to continue his life as an unmarried gentleman rake. His brother's death changed everything. As the last of his line, Edward must now marry. Heart already broken by a capricious young girl, he vows to find an older woman-seasoned, mature. . .and no threat to his feelings.

 Falling in love can be dangerous. . .

 Sabine Godard was educated by an Oxford don beyond what was proper. Her studies became her salvation after her past left her unwilling to accept the touch of any man. Though she never intended to fall in love, when she and Edward meet, passion defies logic. Together they explore temptation and sensuality, healing old wounds. . .until events require them to risk everything for their love.

Quick review since I'm backed up with books, but I'll try to get some reviews in, albeit short ones.  

Where do I start with Indiscreet?  I loved it!  Carolyn Jewel is now one of my favorite romance authors.  Her plots are intricate and not your average run of the mill plotlines.  Her heroes are to die for, I've loved every one of them and her heroines are strong, resilient and clever women who have a problem in some way or another, but they learn how to deal with it.  Each book of hers I've read has been a little gem.

Indiscreet starts out with a provoking beginning, the reader learns that a particular regency rake and man about town has "deflowered" a young and beautiful innocent, Sabine Godard.  He blithely announces it to his friends one evening, one of whom is disgusted to hear it and leaves the table.  It is assumed word will get out in London about the girl, and she will be ruined.

Time goes by and the setting is in another country, far, far away from London.  Edward, Marquess of Foye, who was the same man at the table that left disgusted in London, is meeting the ill fated Sabine for the first time with her uncle, who is an aging Oxford professor.  They are touring Turkey and Sabine, who is extremely intelligent and worldly for her young age is helping her uncle write a book.  Captivatingly beautiful she doesn't look or act the part of a ruined young woman.  She's confident and self assured.  Edward is instantly smitten by her and their friendship and relationship begins.  We learn that she had not been deflowered afterall, it was all an outrageous lie.  Edward is already aware of it, for it turns out that he was duped as well.  It's complicated.

Sabine and Edward grow closer yet she is dedicated to her uncle and cannot leave him for Edward.  The novel becomes full of suspense for as their desire and love for one another increases, Sabine must leave Edward in Constantinople and travel with her uncle to visit the palace of a nazim who has designs on her.  Edward can do nothing to stop her leaving, though he follows her and the romance picks up and I couldn't put it down.  A daring rescue ensues, Edward must save Sabine by having her masquerade as a boy and it's one thrilling page after another. I was on the edge of my seat to see what happened next! 

This is a great story that goes from London to Turkey and then back to London again.  Your heart will soar and plummet and soar again reading this page turner!  Not only was it spine-tingling and suspenseful, the hero and heroine had loads of chemistry and their loves scenes hit the spot.  I highly recommend it!  The locales were evocative and well described and the historical research top notch and well written.  Overall a great and memorable romance!

My only gripe is the covers of Ms. Jewel's books have almost no relation to the actual storyline!  They're these provocative and sensual covers that look like they're designed to sell books, rather than depict the story inside.  Still, a minor matter, but I had to mention it for I really don't care for the covers, alas.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage by Jennifer Ashley

Book Description:
Six years ago, eighteen-year-old Lady Isabella Scranton scandalized all of London by eloping the night of her come-out ball with the notorious rake, Lord Mac Mackenzie. After three turbulent years of marriage, she scandalized London once again - this time by leaving him.
Now the reformed Mac has returned, and he wants one thing: Isabella back in his life, his house, his bed. He'll do anything he has to, play any game, as long as he gets her back. Isabella resists, but when she agrees to pose for erotic paintings he's been working on, she realizes her body has never stopped craving her husband's very skilled touch. Mac is determined to show Isabella that he's a changed man, but three years without her has only increased his hunger for her.
 When an ingenious forger with designs on Mac's paintings, and Isabella herself, comes dangerously near, Mac sets himself up as Isabella's protector and vows to never leave her side, whether his independent and proud lady likes it or not.

I'm a sucker for a Scottish Highlander in a kilt.  Mac Mackenzie, the hero of Jennifer Ashley's highly enjoyable sequel to The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie is probably one of the sexiest Scots in a romance I've come across in a long time.  Mac is an artist, passionate and all consuming.  When he paints, he is dressed - or rather undressed - in nothing but his kilt and red "gypsy" scarf on his head.  The image makes me swoon.  This bare chested, red headed, large man with the body of a warrior is undeniably attractive, particularly because he can be the suave and sophisticated Victorian aristocratic gentleman as well -with a Scottish accent no less!  *thud*  Adding to the allure is that crazy kind of Scottish intensity he has for his estranged wife, Isabella..  He is mad for her, he wants her back and when he gets that glint in his eyes that says "Mine!" she better watch out!

And that, my friends, is the gist of the story.

Mac wants his wife Isabella back and nothing will stop him.  Six years have gone by since they eloped and created a scandal in London.  Three years into the marriage, Isabella had had enough.  Yes, Mac was super passionate, a great lover, the love of her life.  But he was a drunken sot as well.  Unreliable, unpredictable and often out of control she could no longer live with the uncertainty of what he would do or where he would wind up.  Their quarrels were often and she never knew when they would start or end.  Weeks would go by when all would be well and then the fighting would begin again, he'd disappear off to Rome or Venice and then he'd pop up again months later and the cycle would repeat.  Together they had the most passionate lovemaking imaginable, but also a million headaches and worries to go along with it.  She needed stability in her life and she could no longer enable his drinking habit and wayward lifestyle.  After a tragic miscarriage, she called it quits.  At age twenty-one Isabella grew up fast, but Mac was still very much of a child.  He needed comforting and assurances from Isabella that her love for him would never die, yet what did do for her after her miscarriage?  You don't want to know.

Now, three years after their separation, Isabella comes back into Mac's life.  Did she do it because she wanted to start up something with him again, or was it because she wanted to find out if he was aware that there was a forger out there passing himself off as the talented artist, Mac Mackenzie?  I think the forger was an excuse for her.  It was time for her to let him into her life again, but she didn't count on her husband's ferocity nor impatience.  Mac is not a "gray area" kind of person.  He needs to know what Isabella wants: does she want to be married again to him or not?  It's that simple.  But for Isabella, it's not that simple.  She's scared of her feelings for Mac.  She still loves him just as much as ever, but she's torn.  She doesn't want to take him back and then find out he's that same old Mac he used to be, despite his assurances that he has completely stopped drinking alcohol and now prefers tea.  She can see for herself that he's sober, but he's so intense and big and dominating - he's a daunting figure with his kilt - and without it!  Apart from his heart stopping maleness and bravado, I loved his vulnerability -what will he do if he can't have Isabella?  He's desperate, on the inside he's torn up over her.  More than once he turns to his brothers for help, he must get her back, but how without scaring her off?

Deep down she knows she wants him back again, but it has to be slowly - baby steps - on her terms.  But Mac is like a steamroller - ready for action and - sex!  He's been dying for it for years - they both have! Theirs is a highly sensual, erotic relationship, built on love, but his painting plays a large part in it too.  Isabella is his muse.  Now that she's back in his life, he can't stop himself from painting her nude by memory and before long, she becomes his model.  What a courtship! To say the least, instead of coffee breaks, they have a different kind of break - if you know what I mean.  Who could resist Mac?  He's amazingly sexy in that kilt when he's painting, I could totally sympathize with Isabella for giving in to him.  But later when she's no longer clouded by that lustful daze, she worries, and probably thinks too much about whether she can live with him or not.  He rather neatly solves that problem by moving in with her univited when his townhouse is set afire by this nut who is running around posing as him.  This gives them the opportunity of being close, sort of testing the waters, though Isabella is naturally skittish and wary.   She's determined not to give in until she's absolutely sure of herself, no matter how often she lets him share her bed.  She may not have made up her mind yet about being his wife again, but all the servants and the rest of the household know how it's going to end up.  Mac is undeniably sure and he's determined to help Isabella make up her mind any way he can!   He goes on to prove to her he is a changed man and courts her the way he thinks she wants him to.  It's cute, but they both acknowlege his attempts are nothing more than a superficial game.   What's important to Isabella is seeing that Mac can be trustworthy and she can rely on him.  That's he grown up.  She'll always love him, but can he be a father, protector, a partner?  Someone she can count on?

I really did love this book but once it became inevitable that Mac and Isabella would reunite, the storyline lost a little of it's oomph.  The side story of the forger gave the book some unexpected turns, but I felt the sudden adoption of the little girl, Aimee, improbable and rash.  I was primarily interested in Mac and Isabella and felt Aimee was a distraction.  Isabella's relationship with her estranged family and younger sister also seemed a bit undeveloped, but these were minor in the grand scheme of things.  The lovemaking was sensual and well done throughout the book and the storyline flowed easily.  Some minor characters are amusing as well, such as Isabella's disapproving butler who refuses to give an inch to Mac.  It was great to see his brothers, Cameron, Hart and Ian and Beth from the last book (which I adored!) but the heart and soul of this story was the chemistry between Isabella and Mac and their undeniable attraction to each other.  They make a great couple.  Theirs is a crazy kind of love, everyone thought they were nuts to elope together in the first place and now here they are again causing a scandal by reuniting!  I loved it and I hope you will too!  I highly recommend it!


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor by Stephanie Barron

Book Description:
For everyone who loves Jane Austen...a marvelously entertaining new series that turns the incomparable author into an extraordinary sleuth! On a visit to the estate of her friend, the young and beautiful Isobel Payne, Countess of Scargrave, Jane bears witness to a tragedy. Isobel's husband-a gentleman of mature years-is felled by a mysterious and agonizing ailment. The Earl's death seems a cruel blow of fate for the newly married Isobel. Yet the bereaved widow soon finds that it's only the beginning of her she receives a sinister missive accusing her and the Earl's nephew of adultery-and murder. Desperately afraid that the letter will expose her to the worst sort of scandal, Isobel begs Jane for help. And Jane finds herself embroiled in a perilous investigation that will soon have her following a trail of clues that leads all the way to Newgate Prison and the House of Lords-a trail that may well place Jane's own person in the gravest jeopardy.
It's been a number of years since I was ten years old and in the midst of my Nancy Drew fervor.   It all started upon discovery of  my mother's old blue Nancy's tucked away on a top shelf in our library at home. I devoured them all that year, relishing one mystery after another involving the adventures of Nancy and her faithful sidekicks, Bess and George.  Time went by and before long I discovered Gone With the Wind and another obsession took root.  Nancy was relegated to the top shelf again in lieu of Rhett Butler and ultimately Mr. Darcy.  Still, I never forgot my love for those childhood mysteries and lately I've begun to pick them up again, only now I'm attracted to the historical mystery.  Historical mysteries combine my love for historical fiction and romance with a resourceful and enterprising female sleuth, often with an enigmatic and brooding love interest thrown in to make it interesting.  Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor is no exception. 
First in a series of books featuring Jane Austen, author Stephanie Barron excels at making Jane a real living and breathing person.  We all are familiar with the iconic portrait of Jane Austen, the beloved nineteenth century author and creator of the classic Pride and Prejudice who died too young of Addison's Disease.  Yet, we don't know for certain a whole lot about her life, which conveniently leaves room for Barron to create a series that takes advantage of the missing gaps to create her mystery series. 
The books are set up as if some missing letters written by Jane have been discovered roughly two hundred years later.  The letters wind up telling the story from Jane's point of view of her visit to Scargrave Manor and the ensuing murders that follow.  Scargrave Manor is the country home of her recently married friend, Isobel Payne, Countess of Scargrave who's husband has suddenly died one night after a ball they have given.  Of course, Jane is there for her friend, particularly since Isobel is later accused of poisoning her husband the earl, as well as commiting adultery with the earl's heir who is accused of murdering her maid!  Much complications and it seems hopeless for Isobel who is sent to Newgate Prison to await trial.
Jane is convinced her friend is innocent, yet how can she prove it and save her from hanging?  Single-minded in her determination to find the real culprit, Jane doesn't always use the best judgment, nearly causing her own demise and complicating matters by falsely accusing the one man who is secretly helping in the cause.   I admired Jane's resourcefulness while still retaining her ladylike behavior no matter what the situation.  I also enjoyed the interaction she had with Lord Harold Trowbridge who seemed to pop up frequently just to annoy her and play the villain.
I enjoyed the various side characters throughout this mystery and recognized the makings of many a hero and heroine from her novels, cleverly wrought to indicate where she got her inspirations from, such as Fanny Delahoussaye, who I couldn't help comparing to what a young Mrs. Bennet or Lydia might have been like and the disagreable Lord Harold Trowbridge had the makings of a Mr. Darcy!  Very well done and the period research, language and settings were first rate.  
I do have one pet peeve, though minor, which was the need for so many footnotes, which I found a distraction, particularly on a kindle.  They disrupted the flow of the story by flipping me forward and I'd get all lost and couldn't find my place again in the book!  Finally, I stopped clicking on them and waited to read them when I came to the end of the chapter.  Often they were interesting and informative (though I like to pride myself on the fact I knew a lot of them already).  I would recommend if you are reading this on a kindle or some other ebook device, wait until the end of chapter to read them - or suffer the consequences!
Although the book got off to a slow start, by midpoint it really picked up and I got into it and was eager to finish and find out who the culprit was.  This is a worthwhile series if you like historical mysteries and particularly if you are a Jane Austen fan.  The author is faithful to her memory.  The reader will recognize many lines and characters from her books, it's fun to spot them - as if we're in on an inside joke, although it is not a necessity to be a Jane afficianado in order appreciate the series, which I am told only gets better and better as it goes on.  Enjoy!

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe (audio)

Book Description:
Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin needs to spend her summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation. But when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie's grandmother's abandoned home near Salem, she can't refuse. As she is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the family house, Connie discovers an ancient key secreted within a seventeenth-century Bible. The key contains a yellowing fragment of parchment with a name written upon it: Deliverance Dane. This discovery launches Connie on a quest to find out who this woman was, and to unearth a rare colonial artifact of singular power: a physick book, its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge of herbs and other, stranger things.

As the pieces of Deliverance's harrowing story begin to fall into place, Connie is haunted by visions of the long-ago witch trials, and begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem's dark past then she could have ever imagined.

I had high hopes for this book, for it had a lot of elements in it I usually like.  Unfortunately, this was just okay, nothing great.  I normally love historical fiction and the Salem Witch Trials, though overdone, is a period I actually haven't read much about apart from reading The Crucible a million years ago in high school.  More recently I read The Lace Reader which takes place in present day Salem with a supernatural witchy theme to it.  It kind of got me in the mood for more.  The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane seemed a perfect combination for me.  The basic theme and plotline of the story was a good one, but the author just didn't carry it out as far as she could have.  Instead we got what seemed like an abridged version of what could have been a really good book.

I wanted a meatier, more interesting detailed story of Deliverance herself in the 1600's.  The author centered more on the modern day heroine, Connie, who wasn't all that likeable and had a propensity for dropping her book bag everywhere she went with a resounding thunk!  Okay, I get it, she carries a lot of books around because she's a graduate student at Harvard!  Connie's story becomes complicated as she learns that she is a descendant of a family of healers or "cunning women" and the physick book she is searching for that belonged to her g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-grandmother is a sort of family book of spells - a grimoire.  In addition, her boyfriend is struck down with some kind of recurring seizures and her professor is using her to find the book for his own nefarious reasons.

I love books that flash back to an earlier period as in Lauren Willig's excellent Pink Carnation Series.  In Physick we have another present day Harvard PhD candidate, only her specialty is researching the early Puritans.  I thought, great we'll learn about Deliverance Dane's story going back in time. Well, yes we did learn about her a little, but it was a let down.  It could have been much better.  The author only skims the surface of what could have been the story of Deliverance and her descendants - the women in the family and their trials and tribulations - or maybe even something about the book itself and where it wound up and why and with whom.   Just when I think we're going to have a lengthy chapter on Deliverance and we'll get to know all about her and her descendents, something along the lines of Anne Rice's The Witching Hour, the chapter ends with it's hokey mood music - this is an audiobook afterall - and we flop back to Connie and her bookbag.  Grrr! I wanted to know more about Deliverance, we barely got her story.  Yes, we find out what happens to her at the end, and the description of her trial and it's outcome were excellently done, but it wasn't enough.  Instead we get two chapters that tell a bit about her daughter and grandaughter, neither or whom are likeable. I wanted to know about how Deliverance met her husband, what her life was like before she was accused of being a witch, what was she thinking?  What happened to the men in the family - why were they all struck down?  There could have been so much more to this story and instead we get this half-hearted attempt at historical fiction tacked onto a contemporary mystery thriller with a caricature of a villanous professor in pursuit of the Philospher's Stone!  

Connie's part of the story had some interesting touches to it, the pyrotechnics when she tries out a spell or two were lively (I was tempted to try them out myself!) but her relationship with a local steeplejack who becomes her boyfriend was lightweight.   There was no emotion and I kept wondering what in the world did this guy see in her - she was so dull and dreary!  When he falls ill and she must save him, the plot picked up, but their relationship lacked pizzazz and romance.  For them to suddenly be in love seemed farfetched and improbable.  I needed some backup material and primary sources! ;)

I listened to this on audio and the narrator, Katherine Kellgren, was fine, but I just didn't really like the book itself.   The colonial time periods were too brief, it would have been more interesting if they were longer and more detailed in the plot and build up. The lack of character development and the clichéd villain and kooky mother did nothing for me.  Basically, this book just had no depth to it, a real disappointment.  It didn't help that I didn't really get the ending either.  Ghosts?  Maybe the author's next effort will be better.


Monday, July 5, 2010

The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne

Book Description:
A glittering French aristocrat is on the run, disguised as a British governess. England’s top spy has a score to settle with her family. But as they’re drawn inexorably into the intrigue and madness of Revolutionary Paris, they gamble on a love to which neither of them will admit.

One of the best romances I've read in a long time is The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne.  Her follow up to that big success was My Lord and Spymaster which was good, but not as good.  The Forbidden Rose is somewhat of a prequel to Spymaster's Lady and unfortunately it left me less than thrilled and I can't say I ever really got into it as a romance.  I was disappointed in it overall. It was okay but nothing great or compelling, I found it hard to get into the heroine's head and relate to her, though I really liked her hero, William Doyle.
Maggie is an aristocrat who is also the secret leader of an underground organization that spirits away aristos during "the terror" under Robespierre's revolutionary France a là The Scarlet Pimpernel.  Maggie leads a vast network not unlike the later French Resistance during WWII.  She is cunning and resourceful, but I just never really sympathized a whole lot with her.  Her father is an eccentric who feels more comfortable hiding in disguise pondering his mathematical equations, letting his daughter run her network saving doomed aristocrats from Madame Guillotine.
Maggie meets Doyle who is a British spy bent on learning the whereabouts of Maggie's father who has a list of names that will mean the death of many innocent men.  I was a bit sketchy about this part, but the gist of it is, Doyle needs to find out where her father is and so he befriends Maggie (who doesn't trust him at all at first) hoping she will inadvertently lead him to her father.  The book plods along at first and is not very interesting for the reader is trying to figure out who is who for everyone is lying about who they really are.  It made it hard to really get into their characters.  They travel together making their way to Paris.  With them is a young sidekick of Doyle, an English thief known as Hawker (Adrian in the Spymaster books), who is being groomed by Doyle to eventually be a spy for the government.  Hawker has a long way to go.  En route to Paris, Maggie and Doyle develop a mutual friendship which blossoms into passion - and eventually into love.   Their love is oblique, mostly understood and assumed.  We are to believe that it's just one of those inexplicable, once in a lifetime, kismet sort of things.  I was a bit let down, for I didn't buy into this theory.  It just sort of happened.  One minute they are wary of each other, then they admire each other, then all of a sudden they sleep together in a friend's room and then she's marrying him and next - rescuing him from certain death in a French prison.  All because he is her life and she can't live without him?  Whah? How did this happen all of sudden? We get this one cryptic line from Maggie "I cannot have him. I shall want him every day of my life."  Oh, I guess that explains everything!
Although some things are revealed to us about Maggie's past and her character and motivation, she's a mystery to me.  Doyle too is a question mark - is he a bastard son of an English aristocrat?   How did he wind up working for the British?  How did he find the young apprentice Hawker who doesn't think twice about killing - and why did Doyle bring him with him to France?   Why is Maggie 'the one' for Doyle?  What is the glue that is holding Doyle and Maggie together? I feel like there were too many unanswered questions and a lot was left to the reader's imagination.  Because of this, I was not bowled over by this book.  Yes, Maggie is a strong woman and I admired the way she planned the rescue of Doyle and the rescue itself was exciting though improbable.  Overall, I think this book fell flat in the development of the characters and the plot.   She is supposed to be this clever leader of this underground network, yet I really haven't seen any sign of her cleverness, other than her rescue plan of Doyle's.  If she's so clever, how come she let her cousin poison her so easily and didn't even figure it out until Doyle had to almost hit her over the head with it!  William is a good guy, but not your standard hero.  He's large and strong and forbidding, not overly handsome or anything, in fact at first he seems almost unattractive!  He can also change personas easily, a master of disguises, passing himself off as a French peasant one moment and then as a ruthless cutthroat in the next.  Yet, he also has a softer romantic side to him, he is an earthy, sensual man with Maggie.  He recognizes that she is his soul mate, although we don't know why, unfortunately.  We don't really get much inside his head either!  Once he has made up his mind, he acts on his decision and I really did like the way he asked her to marry him - all rushed and passionate.  Expecting - and accepting only one possible answer.  For once Maggie has met her match.
If you are into spies and this historical period, the research is tops and the book definitely has its moments, but it was oddly unemotional for me most of the time.  These spies can't really afford emotion, too much is at stake for them, one false move and it's all over.  Perhaps that's why I got such a lukewarm feeling with it.  I'm certainly not giving up on the series, I'm eager to read more about Adrian's story one day for he develops into an interesting character when he's older in the previous books, but Maggie and Doyle to me are like side characters to me, because that was how they were introduced to me in the earlier books.  I appreciated reading their story and how they came to meet, but overall this book just had a lacklustre feeling to it.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Memoirs of a Hoyden by Joan Smith

Book Description:
"You are certainly a lady who knows her own mind - and everyone else's!"

After one had savored the starry dusk of Constantinople, raced camels across the Syrian desert, and been chased by Arabian bandits, England seemed quite dreary indeed!

But for famed author and adventuress Marion Mathieson, it was - momentarily - home. Here to lecture on her new book, A Gentlewoman's Memoirs of the Orient, she had no choice but to obey the ludicrous restrictions placed on "civilized" ladies. Truth to tell, many considered her exploits quite unladylike!

But a stormy night's highway robbery soon raised her spirits considerably. Especially now that the "Queen of the Orient" was in pursuit of spies and smugglers - albeit in the unwilling company of Mr. Kestrel... whose strong shoulders and captivating eyes promised a lady as much adventure as she could handle!
Quick review on a cute and diverting regency romance, with a surprisingly likable heroine as an authoress who is convinced she is always in the right. Add in an exasperated country squire on the trail of French spies while trying to rid himself of said annoying authoress, it all makes for a fun read.
Marion is not your typical heroine, for one thing, she's older than most.  A spinster at age thirty-two she has no aspirations of getting married, though she's still very pretty and comely.  She just thinks she doesn't need a man in her life.  She's an independent woman used to getting her way.  While traveling through England on her book tour, male secretary in tow, their public equipage is robbed and she runs into the annoying Mr. Kestrel who is rude and dismisses her out of hand.   He's high handed and almost comes across as a cowardly fop.  Eventually, Marion winds up at the country estate of one of the local gentry who takes them in for the night.  At dinner they get to know the owner and his daughter and lo and behold Kestrel shows up - he's a neighbor with a fondness for sheep and he doesn't seem to be interested in Marion's stories of her adventures in the Orient either - imagine that! Is he or isn't he who we think he is?  Zany mix ups, false identities and passionate kisses while on the hunt for French spies along the English coastline prove to be too irresistible for Marion and she wants in on the fun!
Bored with the humdrum life in England, she longs for adventure.  Her bossy tendencies take over and she immediately takes matters into her hands and interferes with Mr. Kestrel's (who we find out is really a spy for England)  plans to catch Boney's spies who have been skulking around the coastline of England.  Can he stop a French invasion - not if Marion keeps getting in the way!
There were lots of funny laugh out loud moments.  Between Marion's hilarious thoughts about everyone and her bantering that goes on with Kestrel I enjoyed this quick read.  Her secretary is funny too as he tries to help Marion and usually makes matters worse.  Kestrel and Marion detest each other on sight, but soon it turns to passion, albeit reluctantly.  Both are just as surprised (and horrified) to find they're attracted to one another! Kestrel as hero material was hard to like at first, but he grew on me, Marion was just plain funny and full of herself. 

A light and frothy clean romance which I really liked! It was cute, funny and a quick read. The hero wasn't developed much at all, and through most of the book he was sneering and surly, but over the course of the storyline we understand why. For the most part, it was the heroine who made the book likable with her witty asides and preponderance for jumping to the wrong conclusions. While completely missing the mark, she valiantly remained convinced that everyone else around her was the numskull. I wouldn't mind reading more about the adventures of this hoyden!  Fun and amusing!

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson (audio)

Book Description:
Salander is plotting her revenge - against the man who tried to kill her, and against the government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life. But it is not going to be a straightforward campaign. After taking a bullet to the head, Salander is under close supervision in Intensive Care, and is set to face trial for three murders and one attempted murder on her eventual release. With the help of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his researchers at Millennium magazine, Salander must not only prove her innocence, but identify and denounce the corrupt politicians that have allowed the vulnerable to become victims of abuse and violence. Once a victim herself, Salander is now ready to fight back.
Third and last of the Millenium Series by the late Stieg Larsson, this was a bittersweet read, it was great to read on about Salander and Blomkvist, but I was sad to know this is the end and no more books will be forthcoming (despite the legal wranglings of the author's estate and rights of a fourth book or outline for one found on his computer.)  I loved the series as a whole and this book, albeit not originally intended as the last in the series, (there were ten books planned), did give the series some closure.  Hornet's Nest was a direct continuation of the second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire. It's almost as if they were both originally written as one long book and then divided into two.  Here we pick up directly after the cliffhanger of book two with Lizbeth in the hospital, rescued by Blomkvist.  Lizbeth is a survivor, so we are all assured she is going to recover from the bullet wound to her head, but will she be done in by her own father?  Or maybe by "the Section" a covert group of men one would expect from a Cold War spy novel?  "The Section" is so secret, only a handful of people in the Swedish government know of its existence.  They have their hands in various parts of the puzzle that Blomkvist begins to solve in book two and now wants to expose and write about in book three.  Lizbeth is personally involved, for it's her story he will write about, beginning with her troubled childhood, institutionalized at the age of twelve (unjustly) and then a ward of the government with no say in her own rights, assigned guardians to manage her affairs - all under the assumption that she is not in her right mind. Her civil rights were grossly violated over and over again and Blomvkist is determined to publish her story in Millenium, the magazine he runs.
I'm getting ahead of myself, there is a lot to this story and if you haven't read book two, you'll be lost in book three.  It also helps if you are computer literate and up on the Internet ins and outs.  For instance, my eighty-something year old mother began reading this series, a lover of mystery thrillers.  She was lost in regard to the extensive computer details of hacking, internet use, transfer of files, uploading, downloading - you name it - it all went over her head and she put the book down unfinished.  These books are addictive and great, but heavy on high tech gadgetry. One little pet peeve I had with them was the blatant product placement name dropping.  I do wonder if Larsson wrote them this way with the constant product placement or was that the publisher's doing?  How many times did I read about the use of Apple ibooks?  It's fine to read about the brand occasionally, but in this entire series it's drummed into the readers heads - Apple, Apple, Apple!  Okay already, I get it!  Everyone in Sweden has an iBook!  Sheesh! 
The basic gist of the story is Lizbeth Salander gets her day in court and almost the entire book leads up to the penultimate legal showdown, which I consider a tour de force.  Accused of three murders, she's going to go to trial for them.  Lizbeth is one tough cookie, amazingly resourceful and brilliant she has her own agenda for getting revenge for the sh*t that has happened in her life.  As the book progresses, her lawyer (Blomkvist's sister) is trying to prepare her defense, but it's not easy, for the enigmatic Salander will barely tell her anything, suspicious of everyone who purports to want to help her-she has good reason.  Eventually she writes her life story up surreptitiously with her Palm that is cleverly secreted to her in the hospital.  More murders, plot twists, surprises and bravo moments (particularly in the court room showdown regarding her despicable former psychiatrist) brings the series to a close.  All the murky details of "the section" are exhaustively revealed including the evil machinations and orchestration of the enormous cover up responsible for the abuses dealt to Salander for most of her life.  Whereas the first two books had a great deal of action and thriller tense moments, this book concentrates more on revealing the illegal goings on of the covert government organization.  Even so, there were still many exciting, nail biting moments, particularly involving Erica Berger, who finds herself the target of a disgruntled employee while at her new job as editor in chief of a conservative newspaper and Lizbeth's final showdown with her super-human fearsome brother.
I'm being deliberately vague with a lot of the details in the book, for I don't want to spoil it for those of you that haven't read it yet.  Take my word for it, this is a worthwhile series, and I give it 5 stars overall if you are into contemporary high tech thrillers with a strong and highly unusual heroine.  Mikael Blomkvist, her white knight is also good, though I did roll my eyes several times throughout the series at the way every woman who meets this middle aged, slightly paunchy guy wants to jump into bed with him!  Over and over another beautfiul woman propositions him out of the blue and then can't get enough of him! It was kind of laughable but entertaining and gave the books a sort of endearing quality to them.  What is it that Blomkvist's got?  All I can think of is, he must be pretty amazing in bed, although for a writer, Blomkvist isn't much of a  love talker, he's pretty straightforward and not all that romantic.  I couldn't help wondering is this just a Swedish thing or was this Larsson's own wishful fantasy? 
Enter the fray and public frenzy if you dare and read these books, I highly recommend them.  Hornet's Nest is a great wrap up, pulling it all together, though I enjoyed the first The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo the most.  I've listened to all three on audio with Simon Vance narrating - his voice is perfect.  I think I'm in love with him now! ;) Salander is a memorable character, I'll miss her and wonder what Larsson had in mind for her future, I guess we'll never know, though my own personal feeling is I'd like to see her settle down one day with "that nice doctor" who removed the bullet from her head.  Who knows?
5/5 overall Millenium series

P.S. I just saw the movie today and it was great.  The actors were perfect, I loved it, faithful to the book and now I'm eager to see the next one when it opens later this month!
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