Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Once and Always by Judith McNaught

Book Description:
Across the vast ocean sailed Victoria Seaton, a free-spirited American beauty left suddenly orphaned and alone. Eager to claim her long-lost heritage, she was amazed at the formal elegance of Wakefield, the sumptuous English estate of her distant cousin...the notorious Lord Jason Fielding. Sought after at plays, operas, and balls by London's most fashionable ladies, Jason remained a mystery to Victoria. Bewildered by his arrogant demeanor, yet drawn to his panther-like grace, she came to sense the searingly painful memories that smoldered in the depths of his jade-green eyes.

Unable to resist her spitfire charm, Jason gathered her at last into his powerful arms, ravishing her lips with his kisses, arousing in her a sweet, insistent hunger. Wed in desire, they were enfolded in a fierce, consuming joy, free at last from the past's cruel grasp. Then, in a moment of blinding anguish, Victoria discovered the shocking treachery that lay at the heart of their love...a love she had dreamed would triumph...Once And Always.

I love Judith McNaught's books, she's a favorite of mine, although this is only the third one I've read by her.  Her heroines always get my sympathy, there is loads of angst, and the heroes are usually these big, bad, tall, dark and handsome hunks that are Alphas - my favorite combo most of the time.  Yet, Once and Always went a little too far with the big bad hero theme and I had my likes and dislikes with this novel.   Jason, the hero, was too much on the cruel side for my liking and Victoria, who was charming with an independent streak while in America, came across as overly trusting and naive in England - almost TSTL, which grated on me over time - she really had to smarten up for me to really admire her.  Still, I grew to love these characters over the course of the book, but can I call this one a favorite? No, but it was still entertaining despite some flaws.

Regarding Jason, he took some getting used to.  He was cruel, dark and cold, but I enjoyed seeing how he gradually thawed towards Victoria.  Jaded from a previous marriage to an unfaithful wife who is then responsible for the tragic death of his son, he - understandably - has a lot of emotional distrust towards women and cannot bear to love again.  Plus, he has a tendency to jump to the wrong conclusion - a typical McNaught heroic trait.   Big, bad hero jumping to the wrong conclusion and not giving the heroine a chance to explain herself and she not realizing he's jumped to the wrong conclusion until it's too late. He hurts her, but she forgives him in the end and makes him promise never to do it again.

I'm not a big lover of tortured heroes, although Jason won me over eventually.  I loved his slow smiles towards Victoria as he gradually falls for her.  My heart leapt at the same time hers did.   I disliked him when we are first  introduced to him, he really comes across as a stinker.  Yet, as we get his backstory it becomes clear why he is so mean and rude and just plain awful to be around!  Again, I'm not fond of the excuse of blaming it on his awful childhood, but it explains a lot and makes the reader more sympathetic towards him - and we see how Victoria "tames" him and makes him whole again.  A take on the Beauty and the Beast theme.  Victoria is adorable in many ways, a perfect foil for Jason's brooding, disagreeable persona.  I also enjoyed the way she tamed the wild dog she finds in the woods - a nice parallel to Jason.  I liked Victoria with her titian hair and blue eyes (if I read it once, I read it a million times), but sometimes it was unbelievable she could be so dense!   I rolled my eyes one too many times.
One particularly glaring incidence in which Victoria's TSTL naivete drove me nuts was leading up to their first time making love.  This is ordinarily the "big moment" the reader is waiting for in a romance.  Victoria is a virgin, and it was a major disappointment and not a pleasant experience for her!  Again, this is not unusual for McNaught's books, she often favors this kind of scenario.  The hero thinks she's not a virgin and lo and behold she is!  Yet, he misunderstands her because she's so naive about sex that she makes him believe she has already lost her virginity to her fiance in America.  Yet, it's too late by the time he rams into her!  Ouch! I don't know why McNaught does this to her heroines, for it's far from romantic, but it creates loads of angst.

Through most of the book, Victoria is under the impression that her fiance, Andrew from America, is going to come and retrieve her from England and take her back home to America and marry her.  He has been off abroad in Europe and was away when her life changed so drastically.  Of course, we know Andrew is never coming because his mother (who doesn't want him marrying her) never sent on her letters letting him know her parents have died and she's been packed off to England.  Victoria holds out for Andrew for a long time until she inevitably falls for Jason. She knew his mother was not for the marriage - couldn't she figure out for herself that giving the mother her letters was a BIG mistake?  Then, she receives a letter from the mother telling her that Andrew has married someone else.  Hello?  When will she learn not to trust this mother?  Everyone else seems to doubt her - but Victoria is just too good and trusting! Grr!  When the fatherly Duke (a side character who wants her to marry Jason, his real son)  finds out that Andrew really didin't marry, he conveniently doesn't tell Victoria the real story.  Jason and Victoria both resist their attraction to one another at first, but love triumphs and they eventually marry once Victoria's heart mends from her loss of Andrew.  By the time Andrew does actually show up after they're married - better late than never - I was disappointed there wasn't more of an ending with him.  He just walks away into the mist, never to be seen of again.  I wonder whatever happened to him?  Granted, all hell breaks loose after he leaves, but I would have liked to have seen more of an aftermath in his regard.

After that episode when Andrew comes and goes, Victoria flees the house when she learns the truth that Andrew hadn't married someone else and that the truth had been kept from her.  Victoria rides off and is mistakenly taken for dead by drowning in a nearby river (though no body is ever found). Yes, it was far fetched that everyone thought she was dead in the first place (again, jumping to conclusions!) but I loved it how she came back and once she and Jason were reunited, I enjoyed their playful banter as he stalks after her, following her up the stairs to their bedroom... who doesn't love being chased into bed?  Delightful!

Overall, not my favorite McNaught, but it was still a great story with tons of emotion, pain and soul searching by both hero and heroine.  A hard to put down book all the way up to the very last page!  There were a few loose ends that I would have liked to have known more about, like what happened to her sister?  And is there a story about their friends, the nice young couple that befriend the newly married Victoria?  As always, I did enjoy this romance and Jason's transformation from the brutal beast of a man to a wonderful human being and winning the love of his life - once and always.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Miss Wonderful by Loretta Chase

Book Description:
Alistair Carsington really, really wishes he didn't love women quite so much. To escape his worst impulses, he sets out for a place far from civilization: Derbyshire - in winter! There he hopes to kill two birds with one stone: avoid all temptation - and repay the friend who saved his life on the fields of Waterloo. But this noble aim drops him straight into opposition with Miss Mirabel Oldridge, a woman every bit as intelligent, obstinate, and devious as he--and maddeningly irresistible. Mirabel Oldridge already has her hands full keeping her brilliant and aggravatingly eccentric father out of trouble. The last thing she needs is a stunningly attractive, oversensitive, and overbright aristocrat reminding her she has a heart--not to mention a body he claims is so unstylishly clothed that undressing her is practically a civic duty. Could the situation be any worse? And why does something so wrong feel so very wonderful?

So far the romances I've read by Loretta Chase have been pretty good overall.  One, in particular, was great, Lord of Scoundrels.  One of my favorites.  Unfortunately Miss Wonderful wasn't bad but it wasn't great either.  The main plotline besides the romance between the hero and heroine wasn't all that compelling to me - it involved a proposal.  No, not a marriage proposal.  It was a proposal to build a canal.  Our heroine, Mirabel, didn't want it to go through her property and the hero, Alistair did.  As an investor in the canal's success, he was sent to her county in England to enlist the support and approval from the local landowners, one of which is her father.  Naturally, Mirabel and Alistair are on opposite sides of the equation, but Alistair has a tendency to fall in love easily and as soon as he sees her, he is smitten.  Mirabel finds him handsome and the attraction between them is mutual, but she will not budge on the canal issue, taking over the duties and voice of her preoccupied and flora obsessed father.  Her answer was an unequivocal no in regard to the canal, and she would not give in, no matter what her feelings for Alistair.  In or out of bed.

As much as the book had it's steamy and humorous moments, for the most part I felt the whole plotline regarding the canal and Mirabel's stubbornness by not giving in to the idea - annoying.  There were funny bits of humor and I liked Alistair, but at first I thought he was way too fussy and a dandy about his clothes. But by the end, I liked how the storyline deepened, and we realize that Alistair is not just a superficial dandy.  We get the background on him and it is explained why his clothing obsession (a la Beau Brummel) was a sort of post traumatic stress disorder he got after nearly dying at Waterloo.  Since then, he has had to live down the idea that he is some kind of war hero which he felt undeserving.  All he did was survive the battle - with a limp.  Witnessing so much blood and carnage, he suffers inwardly from survivor guilt which has turned him into a clothes horse, thus becoming the fashion expert amongst the Regency ton.   I sympathized with him and also appreciated the parallel  regarding Mirabel's father's botany obsession that manifested after the death of his beloved wife and mother to Mirabel.

Still, Mirabel's fixation on not allowing the canal was bothersome, it was a pesky plot point that I wished would just go away.  Especially, how she was willing to go against Alistair, even after seducing him!  Spinster that she is at the age of thirty-one, (she's older than him by two years) she goes for, what she perceives as, the last chance to lose her virginity and see what it's all about.  Alistair protests at first, but he's only human.  Honor be damned!  The woman is tossing her stockings at him and stripping off her clothes - what's he to do?  Plus, he wasn't quite himself, recovering from an accident to the head.  

Mirabel, in my opinion, did too many things that seemed out of character for her.  Once she meets Alistair she goes from the prim and proper, well respected daughter of the county's primary gentleman landowner to the local sleep a-around!  (Okay, I'm exaggerating.)  I couldn't quite get it though, how could she feel so attracted to Alistair when they were at such odds against one another?   What compelled her to choose him?  I felt that Alistair needed some growing up to do.  He came across as a sort of lightweight hero, but he grows up over the course of the book, yet nothing overly swoonworthy or notable about him. I felt like she was always leading Alistair on, despite wearing the hideous clothes and hairdos to deliberately repel him.  Was it because she wanted a last stab at romance and he was around and interested?

She climbs up a ladder to his room in the daytime (as if no one would notice a ladder propped up against the side of the house outside his window in broad daylight?) and enters his sick room with every intention of having an afternoon of mad passion and enlightenment into the mysteries of sex - despite the fact she is trying to thwart his every move about the canal.  He's still somewhat recovering from a blow to the head from a rock in a stream (an accident prone kind of hero) and succumbs to her charms.  It was actually one of the more entertaining parts of the book.  He makes a gallant effort to forestall her attempts at seduction but his libido rules over his good sense and Mirabel gets her way.  But... but... afterwards it just didn't sit right with me.  Mirabel still plotted behind his back by making him look like he's not quite right in the head... it just didn't sit well with me even though she felt like she was falling in love with him!  WTF?  I didn't like that and it shaded my impression of her and the book overall.   It all ends well with  a reasonable solution to their fundamental difference of opinion, but overall, I couldn't have cared less about the damn canal and whether it was built or not!

Alas, the book just didn't do it for me, unlike some of the other Chase books I've read.  Still, I have high hopes for the future of this series and reading about Alistair's brothers, younger and older. 

On a last note, I still don't understand why this book is titled, Miss Wonderful.   I guess it's catchy, but not very apropos to the storyline.  Mirabel was far from wonderful in my estimation, although she finally comes around in the end, but it was like pulling teeth to get her to do it!


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin (audio)

Book Description:
A chilling, mesmerizing novel that combines the best of modern forensic thrillers with the detail and drama of historical fiction. In medieval Cambridge, England, four children have been murdered. The crimes are immediately blamed on the town's Jewish community, taken as evidence that Jews sacrifice Christian children in blasphemous ceremonies. To save them from the rioting mob, the king places the Cambridge Jews under his protection and hides them in a castle fortress. King Henry II is no friend of the Jews-or anyone, really-but he is invested in their fate. Without the taxes received from Jewish merchants, his treasuries would go bankrupt. Hoping scientific investigation will exonerate the Jews, Henry calls on his cousin the King of Sicily-whose subjects include the best medical experts in Europe-and asks for his finest "master of the art of death," an early version of the medical examiner. The Italian doctor chosen for the task is a young prodigy from the University of Salerno. But her name is Adelia-the king has been sent a mistress of the art of death. Adelia and her companions-Simon, a Jew, and Mansur, a Moor-travel to England to unravel the mystery of the Cambridge murders, which turn out to be the work of a serial killer, most likely one who has been on Crusade with the king. In a backward and superstitious country like England, Adelia must conceal her true identity as a doctor in order to avoid accusations of witchcraft. Along the way, she is assisted by Sir Rowley Picot, one of the king's tax collectors, a man with a personal stake in the investigation. Rowley may be a needed friend, or the fiend for whom they are searching. As Adelia's investigation takes her into Cambridge's shadowy river paths and behind the closed doors of its churches and nunneries, the hunt intensifies and the killer prepares to strike again . .

I really enjoyed this - what shall I call it - an historical thriller?   The lengthy description above pretty much gives an accurate account of what the book is all about.  Adelia is an intelligent woman, a spinster by choice, she has no interest in attracting a man, she's a doctor, one of the few educated and classically trained women doctors in the world.  What's her specialty? Corpses - they "talk" to her.  Salerno has the only university that admits women in the study of medicine.  Pretty amazing what she can glean by examining the body of a corpse back in the middle ages during the reign of Henry II.  With no modern day accoutrement's she figures out over the course of her investigations where the children were murdered, how and most likely what was the motivation and background of the killer.

Adelia is summoned to Cambridge, England at the behest of Henry II who has a few crucial and entertaining cameos in the story.  One of the first people she meets is Sir Rowley.  At first we're not enamored of Sir Rowley.  He's a tax collector.  Images of the evil tax collectors in the legends of Robin Hood come to mind, so I took an instant dislike to him.   He unexpectedly assists Adelia while she conducts her autopsies on the bodies.  Is he the killer?  His reaction to the autopsies is one of genuine horror and over the course of time we learn that Sir Rowley is not a bad guy and he begins to grow on us - as well as Adelia.

There are many interesting and rich characters.  I particularly liked Prior Geoffrey, who she helps by relieving him of a prostrate problem.  I also liked the young boy, Ulf and his grandmother, Gyltha.  Throughout the story there are several red herrings as to who is the killer and why he killed these poor innocent children in such horrible ways, it's obvious he must be mad.  Yet, the most interesting part of this novel is how Adelia narrows down the list of suspects of who is the murderer.  Is it a monk, the prioress, one of her nuns, one of the knights returned from the Crusades?  There are many possibilities all under Adelia's acute observation.  Unfortunately, whoever the killer is, he's onto her and is determined to scare her off the case, as well as her friends who have come with her from Salerno to investigate.  What's another murder to add to his list?  At this point, the story ramps up and became hard to put down. 

The writing in this novel is first rate, the descriptions, although gruesome were realistic and the grime and filth and dirt of this period rang true.  Although I cringed in parts due to the horrific nature of the crimes, especially with children involved, I was engrossed with the story, and surprised to find out who the culprit was by the end.  I was sure I had it figured out, but then I realized I was wrong and had to keep listening to find out who the killer was and if he'd try to capture little Ulf or Adelia herself!

I also found it interesting why Henry II was so concerned with the safety of the Jews in England (money, of course.) It was vastly entertaining near the end how Henry saw right through the Prioress, revealing just how greedy she was!  I felt like clapping, for she was the worst!  He also had the opportunity to show up the Church in retort to the whole Becket debate, which led to Becket's assassination and canonization, probably the most famous thing Henry II was ever known for and never lived down.  Becket's obstinacy in not giving in to Henry's desire to give secular courts jurisdiction over clerical trials and disputes was at the heart of the matter in the debate.  Here, the author manages to give Henry his chance to rub it in the church's nose, making it crystal clear why he insisted on being able to try churchmen - and women - who are convicted of crimes, rather than letting the church try their own.  I won't reveal what happens or how exactly, but you'll know what I mean when you read the book and get to the end.  Frankly, I loved it!

In addition, I loved the side story of Adelia's romance - it gave the story a richer and broader appeal and made her more human in my opinion.  I was happy the way it all ended up for her, I won't reveal who her love interest is, but you might be able to guess anyway *grin*  I rejoiced to see how she makes up her mind and goes with her conscience, even if it doesn't exactly coincide with her common sense.

As an audiobook, Rosalyn Landor did an excellent job with the narration, she's one of my favorite narrators, giving it all just the right accent and flavor of the times. 

If you are a fan of forensic themed stories or a CSI devotee, as well as lover of medieval fiction - this book is for you!  I rarely watch TV (except for some Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond reruns) but from what I hear, forensic shows are really popular!  I imagine this is sort of like a medieval version of them.  I'm glad I read it, something different for me and I was pleasantly surprised!  I highly recommend Mistress of the Art of Death and I'm eager to listen to the rest of the series now, the next one sounds even better than the first - featuring Eleanor of Aquitaine!


No Rest for the Wicked by Kresley Cole

Book Description:
A vampire soldier weary of life...

Centuries ago, Sebastian Wroth was turned into a vampire—a nightmare in his mind—against his will. Burdened with hatred and alone for ages, he sees little reason to live. Until an exquisite, fey creature comes to kill him, inadvertently saving him instead.

A Valkyrie assassin dispatched to destroy him...

When Kaderin the Cold Hearted lost her two beloved sisters to a vampire attack long ago, a benevolent force deadened her sorrow—accidentally extinguishing all of her emotions. Yet whenever she encounters Sebastian, her feelings — particularly lust — emerge multiplied. For the first time, she's unable to complete a kill.

Become competitors in a legendary hunt...

The prize of the month-long contest is powerful enough to change history, and Kaderin will do anything to win it for her sisters. Wanting only to win her, forever, Sebastian competes as well, taking every opportunity-as they travel to ancient tombs and through catacombs, seeking relics around the world-to use her new feelings to seduce her. But when forced to choose between the vampire she's falling for and reuniting her family, how can Kaderin live without either?

What can I say - I loved this story!  Why did I wait so long to read this book?  Second in the Immortals After Dark Series, I read the first, A Hunger Like No Other almost two years ago and just never got around to reading the next in the series.  I wasn't wholeheartedly won over by paranormals by that point, but now I'm more accustomed to the idea of vampires and werewolves.  This time I was into it!

Kaderin is not the most likable person at first.  She's "unfeeling," the by-product of, what she considers, a "blessing" that's gotten her to where she is over the past one thousand years, fighting battles, killing vampires and being an all around tough motherf*cker!  No one messes with the legendary Kaderin the Valkyrie.  She has won the Hie Scavenger hunt any number of times, she's ruthless and determined to win at any cost.  The loss of her sisters long ago at the hands of a vampire Kaderin should have killed-but didn't, has driven Kaderin to these lengths.  She's gone from Kaderin the Kind Hearted to Cold Hearted over the years since she became unfeeling.

But now... what's happened?  She meets Sebastian, a vampire she's about to kill and suddenly everything changes.  Her world tilts and she feels.  She feels lust and can't help it.

Sebastian, an ancient vampire, turned against his will by his brother, has been alone all his vampire life.   But, one night he meets his match.  Kaderin, killer of all vampires, is about to kill him, but some strange force stops her and it is kismet, they are meant for one another and Sebastian realizes she is his mate - his bride.  This means, instant lust, instant attraction, he must have her forever.  It's all new for him too!  It's been eons since he's felt this way, by meeting her, he has now become blooded as if he were human.  Kaderin cannot resist his pull, but this is insane - he is a vampire!  She hates vampires!  She can't be into a vampire (much less, let one into her!)

But, it's not easy for her to say no.  They have one mad, passionate moment, nearly doing the dirty deed and she runs off but he follows her to the ends of the earth - literally.  She's entering the Hie Scavenger Hunt again and can't afford to be distracted by this overgrown hunky vampire who turns up everywhere! The big prize of the Hunt is one dear to her heart.  It can make one go back in time and change what happens in history.  She wants to go back and get her sisters who died.  Sebastian, to be with Kaderin, joins in the Hunt too - plus he wants to help Kaderin if he can.  Since he can "trace" (speed around all over the world in a blink of an eye as long as he's been there once before) he can go to all the far flung reaches of the world to accumulate points for the Hunt - he can even give some of the items used to accumulate points to Kaderin (what a sweetie!).

Over the course of the Hunt, Kaderin grudgingly accepts the fact she is Sebastian's bride.  She can't understand it, and hates to think what her family is going to think about it, but it's something she can't stop or hide.  He's irresistible to her and gradually she softens towards him.  She realizes that vampires are not all bad.  I loved their growing relationship over the course of the Hunt and how their chemistry together scorches the pages off this book.  Plus, there's a lot of humor due to this Romeo and Juliet type of relationship between the two.  I've got to admit, he really is irresistible.  He's kind, honorable, sex on a stick and devoted to her - not your average run of the mill vampire.

Action, excitement and a love story make this a really fun book to read. I'm eager to read more of the series now and already have the next book lined up (I'm glad there are a lot more to go!)  The writing is well done, characters are well drawn and different and interesting, and the plot kept me going all the way through to the ending.  Sebastian was a swoonworthy vampire, in fact he really doesn't act like a vampire, refusing to join in the usual vampire games, like feeding on humans (except Kaderin when they make love - hot!) or fighting with the Horde.  He's kept to himself, a loner, and now he has his mate - Kaderin.  I loved to see her transformation from Cold to Kind, she has a heart now - and Sebastian.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters (audio)

Book Description:

The joys of home and hearth are about to drive Victorian gentlewoman Amelia Peabody Emerson mad. While she and her husband, the renowned archeologist Radcliffe Emerson, dutifully go about raising their young son Ramses, she dreams only of the dust and detritus of ancient civilizations. Providentially, a damsel in distress, coupled with a promising archeological site, demands their immediate presence in Egypt. The damsel is Lady Baskerville, and the site is a tomb in Luxor recently discovered by Sir Henry Baskerville, who promptly died under bizarre circumstances. The tabloids immediately scream "The Curse of the Pharaohs!" Amelia and Radcliffe arrive to find the camp in disarray, the workers terrified, and a most eccentric group of guests. A ghost even appears. This is not at all what Amelia considers an atmosphere conducive to scientific discovery. Never one to deny others the benefit of her advice and example, the indomitable Victorian sets about bringing order to chaos and herself that much closer to danger. How Amelia triumphs over the forces of evil, and those who would stand between her and her beloved antiquities, makes for a delightfully spirited adventure.

Another highly amusing Victorian mystery involving Amelia Peabody and her gruff, archeologist husband, Emerson.  The description above really tells it all.  The two - now parents of an amazingly precocious child aptly named Ramses - head out to Luxor again and solve a murder mystery while excavating the latest royal Egyptian tomb. I listened to it on audio which was a hoot.  Barbara Rosenblat does a fantastic job with the narration, particularly of the crazy Madame Berengeria (more on her below).

I laughed out loud dozens of times during the course of this book, Amelia, as usual, is always right - even when she's not!  Her asides and the way she phrases things to make herself look good are hilarious.  Emerson, as always, is brusque and tempermental, yet when it comes to his beloved Peabody he is endearingly, how shall I put it?  I'll just put it the way Amelia does when referring to how Emerson shows his affections when they are alone in their bedchamber:  ***   (This asterisk description was hilarious btw with  Barbara Rosenblat narrating it - she did an absolutely stellar performance as both Amelia and Radcliffe - simply delightful!)  I was happy to note that despite being parents and a married couple for five years their love life has not been affected one bit.  There's nothing graphic in these novels, but it's apparent that things are "good" when it comes to the bedroom.  Even being in the room nextdoor to a flirtatious widow who has her eyes on Emerson doesn't seem to affect their nightly conjugal activities either!

There are too many hilarous things in this book to list, you'll just have to read it for yourself, but the one thing I must make note of is Rosenblat's voice of the mad Madame Berengeria - this nutty Egyptian woman that is always drunk as a skunk and convinced Emerson was her lover in a former life, he as her Egyptian King to her Egyptian Queen.  It was hysterical, but Emerson managed quite well, with Amelia's help of course, in avoiding any amorous encounters with the bizarre woman.   I still crack up, just remembering the way she talked - it was a scream!  Another character I loved was little Ramses and his cute little lisping voice - so endearing and adorable - and what a mind!  A chip off the old block and it looks like he'll be with them in future books while in Egypt too!

I really had fun with this audiobook and I have a feeling I am really going to love the rest of this series, it's like candy to read or listen to!  Some parts got a little bogged down here and there, it was hard to follow on audio with all the details of whozit and whatzit getting murdered or clunked on the head, but the gist of it is, the murderer was caught and Amelia and Emerson played no small part in the outcome!

Enjoy!  This is a fabulous, funny and very, very worthwhile series! 


The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

Book Description:
The year is 1867. Winter has just tightened its grip on Dove River, a tiny isolated settlement in the Northern Territory, when a man is brutally murdered. Laurent Jammett had been a voyageur for the Hudson Bay Company before an accident lamed him four years earlier. The same accident afforded him the little parcel of land in Dove River, land that the locals called unlucky due to the untimely death of the previous owner.

A local woman, Mrs. Ross, stumbles upon the crime scene and sees the tracks leading from the dead man's cabin north toward the forest and the tundra beyond. It is Mrs. Ross's knock on the door of the largest house in Caulfield that launches the investigation. Within hours she will regret that knock with a mother's love - for soon she makes another discovery: her seventeen-year-old son Francis has disappeared and is now considered a prime suspect.

In the wake of such violence, people are drawn to the crime and to the township - Andrew Knox, Dove River's elder statesman; Thomas Sturrock, a wily American itinerant trader; Donald Moody, the clumsy young Company representative; William Parker, a half-breed Native American and trapper who was briefly detained for Jammett's murder before becoming Mrs. Ross's guide. But the question remains: do these men want to solve the crime or exploit it?

One by one, the searchers set out from Dove River following the tracks across a desolate landscape - home to only wild animals, madmen, and fugitives - variously seeking a murderer, a son, two sisters missing for seventeen years, and a forgotten Native American culture before the snows settle and cover the tracks of the past for good.

My initial reaction to this book is how bleak and frigid it made me feel.  The locale was nothing but white snow and the constant trudging through it to get from one far and distant place to another.  The author's narrative was evocative of the desolation and loneliness of the freezing cold plains of the Canadian wilderness in the nineteenth century.  A murder mystery yet also a physical and metaphoric journey for the main characters.  Set in the wintry wilds of 1860's Canada, a mother searches for her son, who the authorities believe commit the murder.  A young, idealistic Company man (as in Hudson Bay Company) searching for the same said son, and the son, Francis, who must deal with the sadness and memory of his murdered friend and lover.

A murder has taken place and the usual suspects are rounded up.  The primary suspect is the seventeen year old son of a middle aged couple, the Ross's.  Mrs. Ross finds the dead body and she immediately puts two and two together, realizing the disappearance of her adopted son is probably no coincidence.  We are in her head throughout much of the book and I identified with her, naturally, having a teenage son myself.  Mrs. Ross has a mysterious past, having lived a few years of her life as a teen in an asylum.  Unable to carry a child to term, she and her husband adopted Francis as a young boy.  Yet, over the years as he grew up, she and her husband become distant with one another.  Why?  What happened? We don't know.

Francis, her son, has a secret as well, which was no surprise, it was the first thing I suspected.  He was having a homosexual relationship with the murder victim, Laurent.  I felt terribly sorry for Francis, for he had no one to turn to and he had really cared for Laurent - who seemed to be the only light he had in his life.  His father, who we later realize knew about his secret, would have nothing to do with him, and his mother was completely unaware of it until she finds out during her quest to find him.

Much of the book details the long route north from the little town of Dove River.  It turns out Francis has set out on his own to follow the killer who he saw leave Laurent's cabin.  Then Donald Moody and his guide and friend, a half breed Indian, Jacob, set out in hopes of finding Francis to question him and bring him back to Dove River.  Then Mrs. Ross leaves with an enigmatic trapper, William Parker, who had known Laurent, the dead man.  Parker was taken in as a suspect and after being severely beaten by a corrupt Company man he is let go by a town official who was disgusted by the way he was brutally treated.  Parker agrees to be Mrs. Ross' guide to help her search for Francis and it turns out he knows a lot about who probably was behind Laurent's murder.  There are a lot of "it's a small world" moments in this book.

So, we have three groups heading north separately that all wind up in this little Norwegian settlement.  Francis has been injured and Moody and Jacob find him there.  Moody is still unconvinced he didn't kill Laurent, not believing Francis' story of hoping to find the real killer.  Then Francis' mother shows up with Parker (of who she is developing a fondness) and she helps nurse Francis.  Still, the real killer is on the loose and being protected in another settlement some distance away.  The only way to prove Francis' innocence is to find the real killer which takes everyone (but Francis who has a broken leg) to the other far away Post in the middle of a snowy nowhere. 

Eventually, the truth, which is a bit convoluted,  comes out, though I found the reason for the murder anti climatic and not nearly as interesting as I'd hoped it would be.  I found the ending a bit up in the air.  What happens to Francis?  What happens to Mrs. Ross? What about the lost daughter - whatever happens to her - does she return to Dove River?  The characters were rather melancholy and some parts of the story sort of spiraled off into nowhere, for example, Line, a Norwegian woman who runs off with her lover and children, nearly dies from exposure, lost in the woods.  Or Ida, the daughter of  a neighbor of the Ross' who had a fancy for the teenage Francis.  What happened to all of them? 

I enjoyed reading this book as a change of pace from my usual and I got a strong sense of the Canadian wilderness - it's vast and terrible beauty if caught unprepared without shelter or a compass.  The different threads that interweave throughout the book made the mystery interesting and compelling, and I appreciated it how all the threads come together in the end in a sort of six degrees of separation kinnd of way, despite some loose ends.

If you are interested in this time period and a Canadian setting then this book may be for you.  Well written, though not a page turner, I recommend it solely for the experience of "living" during this time and place.  The individual characters stories are human and realistic, yet they take a back seat to the central character - which is the desolate and beautiful Canadian vista of the 1860's.


Blameless by Gail Carriger


Book Description:
Quitting her husband's house and moving back in with her horrible family, Lady Maccon becomes the scandal of the London season. Queen Victoria dismisses her from the Shadow Council, and the only person who can explain anything, Lord Akeldama, unexpectedly leaves town. To top it all off, Alexia is attacked by homicidal mechanical ladybugs, indicating, as only ladybugs can, the fact that all of London's vampires are now very much interested in seeing Alexia quite thoroughly dead. While Lord Maccon elects to get progressively more inebriated and Professor Lyall desperately tries to hold the Woolsey werewolf pack together, Alexia flees England for Italy in search of the mysterious Templars. Only they know enough about the preternatural to explain her increasingly inconvenient condition, but they may be worse than the vampires -- and they're armed with pesto.

Blameless is the much anticipated third installment of the Parasol Protectorate, the romantic steampunk adventure series starring the very much lately maligned and pregnant, Alexia, Lady Maccon.  Picking up on the cliffhanger ending of the last book, Changless, Alexia flees her werewolf husband, Connall Woolsey, after he denounces her as unfaithful upon learning of her unprecedented condition.  In the alternate paranormal Victorian world in which they live, it is impossible for werewolves to breed.  Hence, Connall accuses Alexia of shacking up with someone else, thus getting himself in a colossal tizzy leading to a permanent state of formaldehyde induced inebriation.
Not about to take his sh*t, Alexia packs her things up and with the aid of her remaining friends, escapes to Italy looking for proof that the baby is indeed her husband's (even though she's mad as hell at the lout and wishes the worst upon him). Facing deadly vampires, a single-minded and ex-communicated German professor and a host of Templar Knights, Alexia still finds time to partake and enjoy in the delights of Italian cuisine. The book was a fun read, but disappointing due to the long separation between Connall and Alexia.

In the last two books, their relationship is my favorite aspect of the series.  I just sort of put up with all the steampunk mechanical folderal because I loved Conall and Alexia.  Here, they are separated, in fact he is drunk most of the time and not even around.  She's off defending herself against motorized poisonous ladybugs and inquisitive scientists who want to dissect her and learn why she, a preternatural, can become pregnant with a werewolf's child.  I wanted more of Alexia and Connall - together!  It's not until the last chapter we finally get our wish, but it was long in coming.   I was gratified by the ending when they are finally reunited, yet Connall's gross error and delay in rectifying it just seemed to be glossed over. Are we supposed to believe because he is a highly emotional werewolf and alpha of the pack he's entitled to these kind of lapses in judgment? I did rejoice inwardly with Alexia when she realizes he has printed an "apology" in the London papers, thus making Alexia acceptable again in society, yet by the time they are reunited, there is no climatic moment in which he begs her forgiveness.  It's all just gruff and understood, it doesn't help that all hell is breaking loose and it's kind of hard to talk at that moment either!

Now, of course, it wasn't all bad, but just not what I anticipated or wanted to read about.  It was a let down, particularly since reading Changeless I've become acquainted with the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters and I definitely see the similarities.

As with Amelia and Emerson in Peters' series, the energy needed here to keep the series afloat is dependent on Alexia and Conall’s relationship. To me, all the other side characters, steampunk inventions and silliness come in second to their interaction, hence why Blameless was not as satisfying a read to me.  I can't help but compare my new favorites, Amelia and Emerson to Alexia and Conall - only in supernatural form.  The zest, the appeal - the sheer giddy humor between Alexia and Connall from the last book was sorely missed in this one! I still enjoyed it, but the reason why was mostly thanks to Prof. Lyall's side story as acting alpha while Connall is out of commission on his neverending bender.  His interaction with Lord Akeldama's close and personal friend, Biffy, was also a welcome and thought provoking surprise to what was an otherwise dullish story.  Another figure I find interesting is Colonel Channing Channing who plays an important, albeit covert, role.  I'd like to know what Ms. Carriger has in mind for his future in the series as well..

I've read the reviews that are out there on Blameless and I agree with the overall consensus that because of the separation and lack of banter and simple proximity between Connall and Alexia, Blameless lost it’s fizz and wasn’t as entertaining a read as the first two previous books in the series. But, I have high hopes in regard to the future!  I’ll admit much of the mechanical descriptions were beyond me and not my “thing,” yet I still enjoyed the book and there were loads of funny predicaments, and I loved Alexia's love for pesto (and Connall's aversion to it!), her many one-liners and a particularly delicious image of Connall blithely walking around in the buff.  Yet, I missed what should have been the grand finale in which Connall prostrates himself in undying love and begs Alexia's forgiveness, although something tells me Alexia is not going to let him live this indiscretion down.  Still, I'm crazy about him - the big, hairy lug.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (audio)

Book Description:
After a young girl discovers her father's darkest secret, she embarks on a harrowing journey across Europe to complete the quest he never could-to find history's most legendary fiend, Dracula. When a motherless American girl living in Europe finds a medieval book and a package of letters, all addressed ominously to 'my dear and unfortunate successor,' she begins to unravel a thread that leads back to her father's past, his mentor's career, and an evil hidden in the depths of history.
Sounds good doesn't it? Dracula... secrets... a mystery, and evil...
Don't be fooled, this book was far too lengthy and detailed, much of which seemed entirely superfluous. Do I really need to know about old peasant women and their fire dances in Bulgaria - and what does that have to do with finding Dracula?  I'm a lover of historical fiction, but... to me, this read like a travelogue of Eastern Europe and Turkey in the 1950's.  The author spent ten years researching for the book and undoubtedly intended to use every bit of it for her novel.  Well, good for her, but all the needless detail ruined what could have been a good suspenseful tale.
More often than not, The Historian reminded me of the Dracula version of The Da Vinci Code, but not as thrilling.  Instead of the Catholic Church, we learn all about the evil Vlad the Impaler, Eastern Europe in the fifteenth century and French monasteries and the monks that kept their secrets.   The story is bogged down with endless details, descriptions and historical references to the point where I lost track of the gist of the story.  It didn't help that it jumped around from 1972 to the 1950's and then to 1930 sometimes with no warning whatsoever.  At least in the audiobook I could differentiate since it was a different voice or accent for each period, but it was distracting to say the least.
As the story begins we meet a thirteen year old girl who's father is a diplomat living in Amsterdam.  She is a precocious child who has a knack for history and learning.  Upon raiding her father's library one day, she comes across a mysterious old book that is blank all but the middle page which is a florid and detailed woodcut picture of a dragon.  This becomes a theme in the book. Certain historians with promise come across this same strange book in the oddest of places - including her father, his mentor, Professor Bartolomew Rossi and, coincidentally, a few other people that crop up in this novel.
Over time, the teenage girl questions her father about the book and he reluctantly tells her his story that begins with his mentor, Rossi who is his professor in college in the United States.  Rossi's story begins in 1930 at Oxford when he first comes upon the same book with the dragon with the name "Drakulya" inscribed beneath it.  He is intrigued by the woodcut and begins to do research on Dracula which takes him to Romania and Istanbul.  Yet, there are evil forces that prevent him from continuing.  It scares him from continuing his research until the 1950's when a young student, Paul, comes across the same strange book and questions Rossi about it.  What a coincidence!
Paul takes up the quest of Dracula after his beloved mentor, Professor Rossi, disappears shortly after telling Paul of his strange and bizarre story of what he learned twenty years earlier about Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, secret maps, vampires and all sorts of odd things.  Paul begins his research and soon meets Helen, an enigmatic and beautiful Romanian (or is she Transylvanian?) woman who also happens to be an expert on Dracula - and wonder of wonders! She is Professsor Rossi's long lost daughter that he never acknowledged!  What a small world! 
Paul and Helen join forces and begin their search for the missing Professor Rossi and the burial place of Vlad the Impaler who we now know is Dracula the Undead, a vampire who is still walking around terrorizing unsuspecting historians!  
Still with me?
Meanwhile, this is all in flashbacks, for Paul is the diplomat in Amsterdam that is narrating this entire tale in segments to his inquisitive teenage daughter while they go from place to place in infinite detail.  Then Paul has to leave unexpectedly while visiting Oxford with his daughter, who decides to follow him to a French monastery.  She hooks up with a young student, Barley, that is assigned to escort her back to her home in Amsterdam,  Only she talks Barley into escorting her to France instead and en route they sleep together (she's older now, maybe closer to eighteen at this point, but I'm unsure).  Why the author even bothered with this sideline I don't even know, it was so unnecessary.

After much detail, loads of descriptions of small villages and background history it all comes to a climax in a monastery somewhere in France (I think, I lost track).  Paul has left his daughter at Oxford because he has learned that his wife and the mother of his daughter is alive.  It is Helen, Professor Rossi's daughter, his partner in crime who he met in the 1950's and fell in love with while searching for the missing Professor Rossi.  After believing she has been dead for almost fifteen years, he drops everything to find her.  We learn that she faked her own death so she could search on her own for the fiend, Dracula and thus end his reign of terror that has lasted for nearly five centuries.  Did I mention that Helen turns out to be a descendant of Vlad the Impaler as well?  I told you it reminded me of Da Vinci.

Now, this all sounds like a really exciting story, doesn't it?  Trust me, it's not.  It was slow and plodding and the story was burdened with such excessive detail I found it hard to keep track of the story and the whole point of this book!  The basic gist of it is, Paul, the diplomat is in search of his (what he thought) dead wife, Helen..His daughter goes after him so they can all seek out the real Dracula (aka Vlad the Impaler) and kill him once and for all.   If you can sift through all the mucky muck detail, be my guest.  This book could have been shortened by at least 300 pages to make it a more concise, suspenseful novel instead of what reads as a 1001 Cities to See in Eastern Europe Before You Die travel book.

On audio, the narrators, (there were two, Justine Eyre and Paul Michael, one for the daughter and another for all the other voices) were good.  Paul Michael who did the voices of the father, Rossi and Helen and the many other foreign accents did a great job, but I was disconcerted by his American persona as the father, since it was the same exact voice he did for the protaganist in The Lost Symbol (which I did not like), so it took me a while to get over that.  Justine Eyre was satisfactory, her role was minor in the grand scheme of things.

Am I being too harsh in regard to this book?  Maybe, but all I can say is I was fed up with this audiobook (all 26 hours of it!) by the half way point.   Only the most die hard historical fiction enthusiasts will appreciate it.  The writing itself was well done, but it needed an editor that wasn't afraid to edit a lot of the filler out.  I kept with it since it was one of the selections on my 2010 TBR Challenge list - and thank goodness, I can now cross it off the list!  Sheesh!


Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Bride by Julie Garwood (audio)

Book Description:
By edict of the king, the mighty Scottish laird Alec Kincaid must take an English bride. His choice was Jamie, youngest daughter of Baron Jamison... a feisty, violet-eyed beauty. Alec ached to touch her, to tame her, to possess her... forever. But Jamie vowed never to surrender to this highland barbarian.

 He was everything her heart warned against - an arrogant scoundrel whose rough good looks spoke of savage pleasures. And though Kincaid's scorching kisses fired her blood, she brazenly resisted him... until one rapturous moment quelled their clash of wills, and something far more dangerous than desire threatened to conquer her senses...

The Bride is my favorite Julie Garwood novel, and probably one of my all time favorite romance novels ever.  A cut above the usual Highland romance, this is a re-read for me, only this time, I had the great pleasure to listen to it on audio.  It was like reading it again for the first time and I loved it!  In my opinion this is Julie's best book and it's the book that hooked me on romances.  I was spoiled by The Bride, for I read it early on in my romance reading and it wound up becoming the gold standard for the way I rated other romances.  Coming off my love for Outlander I picked this up having no idea how good it was going to be. I was blown away by it and I was hooked on highlanders (other than Jamie Fraser) from that moment on. 

What makes it so good?
  • Humor. Tons of funny laugh out loud, delicious moments between the hero and heroine.  Garwood is great at this!
  • The Hero.  Alec is an alpha medieval Scottish hero with a kilt and accent that stole my heart.  I really love him!
  • The Heroine.  Jamie is the endearing, slightly klutzy, feisty, stubborn heroine with a heart of gold
  • Plot.  An amusing and diverting plotline that is a joy to read; these two people are thrown together in a marriage of convenience and against all the odds - it works!  Plus there's the usual murder mystery as well that's a bit more complex than the usual.
  • Romance. Mmmm... mmmmm good.   The chemistry between Alec and Jamie is perfect, they're a great match for one another, not to mention the sex which is passionate and memorable - yet, not over the top.  Highly satisfying, appropriate and well done. 
The basic plotline is about a young Englishwoman, Jamie (yes, it's a man's name, a running joke throughout), the youngest in her family of four girls.  Right away it's apparent Jamie is unique.  All her life she has been the strong one in the family, the one her older sisters rely on, and very often take advantage of as well. Jamie does everything around their castle while her sisters just let her.  She hunts with bow and arrow, she runs the household, nurses people back to health, protects them from intruders and takes care of her father - all without complaint.  It's all she knows and with such a good heart, it truly doesn't bother her.  She's no Cinderella waiting for her Prince Charming.  Although later on, it does annoy Alec when he hears about how she was used.  In his belief, the older daughters should have been taking care of their little sister!  Jamie is her father's favorite, though not his actual daughter by blood.  She is his stepdaughter from her mother's previous marriage who her father then raised as his own when he married her mother while she was still pregnant with Jamie.  Without question, she is the most beautiful of the daughters and when Alec comes to her father's castle to marry one of his daughters, it's Jamie whom he chooses.  There's an hilarious scene when he overhears Jamie and her sister talking to their beloved groom in the stable about what they've heard about the Scots and their outlandish ways and the pleated "gowns" they wear! So funny!
Jamie is unaware of her own beauty, she's natural and guileless - although she's not perfect.  She can be extremely stubborn though it's couched with an endearing naivete.   Alec as the laird of his clan is no nonsense, decisive and used to being obeyed without question.  He selects Jamie to be his bride and rides off to Scotland with her immediately after.  Jamie follows him, unhappy at her lot, but she obeys him, though she has a lot to learn about her new Scottish warrior husband.  Her delusions of how she'll be able to handle him are so sweet - and so unrealistic! I just loved her and she does get her way with him most of the time!  Without trying - she's irresistible - I really loved her!

*I'm so gushy over this book!*

And so begins a fabulous romance in which two totally different people learn to live and love with one another after being forced to marry.  She is the newcomer from England who must learn Alec's Scottish ways, and he has to learn how to chill out and treat her like a person and not as a possession - even though he does say at least once, "Mine!"   Both bend and make compromises.  They basically get used to married life.  Eventually they learn to trust one another and become a team as unlikely as that sounds in the Middle Ages (a few fictional liberties are taken, obviously).  Alec is the one that needs to change the most, he thinks of her as his chattel.  It's harder for him to accept his young wife's new ways, much less as an equal.  He's the consummate alpha male, set in his ways, brooking no arguments when he gives an order.  Yet he's so attracted to her from the beginning, it's hard for him to say no to those violet eyes.  This is amusing in of itself, especially the way all his men see the way he changes towards her.  For such a big and imposing man, Alec is a great and gentle lover, the love scenes between them are the best, not overdone, nor full of purple prose - just right. Their first time together is one of my all time favorites romance scenes.  A nice long build up starting with my all time favorite Julie Garwood moment when Alec says to Jamie on their wedding night as she cuddles up to him after bathing in a freezing cold pond,

"Jamie, you're wearing my plaid"

A priceless moment for she has told him that she will not let him bed her until she's wearing his plaid - and here she is totally oblivious to the fact that she's already wearing his plaid to keep warm! I laughed out loud at Alec and his cleverness - he knows what he wants and how to outsmart her!  Her initiation to sex that night is ideal and the chemistry between the two sets the tone for the rest of the book although Jamie keeps him at bay for a long time once they're back at his castle, sticking to her guns regarding "bedding" and "privacy" and "wearing his plaid."

Besides the romance scenes, there are a million little moments between this pair that are funny and clever.  Much to her own amazement, one of Jamie's little peculiarities is that she has a knack for starting clan wars at the drop of a hat! It was hilarious how she'd set off these fires unawares and then Alec's amazed reaction when he hears about his bride's latest indiscretion.  Scottish clans think nothing of going to war with the slightest provocation.  Yet, as annoyed as he gets with her, he can't get mad at her because she blithely made him promise he'd never yell or get angry at her - a promise he comes to rue over and over again for he's known for his temper!  But, the great thing is, no matter how exasperated he gets - he's always behind her one hundred percent and backs her up with all his men.  What strength - I loved it! Frankly, I loved Alec, period.  He's one of my all time favorite romance heroes.  Big and strong, commanding, fearsome, yet he turns to marshmallow inside when it comes to his adorable little English wife!

There are too many great scenes to discuss, but after their wedding night scene, my second favorite is between Jamie and the King of Scotland.  It's priceless, and one of my all time favorite Julie Garwood moments.  Jamie is unaware that she's talking to the King of Scotland who is supposed to visit their castle.  She comes upon him unexpectedly, not realizing who he is.  She's upset over her latest mishap (she has many), going on and on about her new marriage and how she thinks Alec is going to kill her over her latest.  She wants to wear his plaid now, which is really important to her, showing her love and support for his clan, but she can't get the pleats right.  She's telling this all to the king who she thinks is just some visiting lord.  Meanwhile, Alec is leaning against the door jamb listening to his zany wife go on and on with the King who actually winds up listening sympathetically to everything she's saying and then actually fixes her pleats for her!  I especially love it how she gets this vexed look on her face with the king and berates him for not paying enough attention as she tells him her long sob story.  It's very funny and Jamie is so adorable!  In many respects this reads like a screwball comedy - she is one of my all time favorite and funny heroines!

Besides the obvious romance going on between Jamie and Alec, there is also the whole mystery of who is trying to kill Jamie.  This is not an unusual plot point in a romance, but this one is well thought out.   I believe the first time I read The Bride I didn't quite figure out who was behind the murder of Alec's first wife.  Yet on listening to it this time, I realize how well Julie builds her case and reasoning of why the killer murdered his first wife.  Although Alec's wife died (everyone believed it was a suicide) we learn she left a baby daughter behind from a previous marriage.  Once Jamie finds out about the little girl, she immediately wants to retrieve her and raise her as her own.  Adopting the young daughter of Alec's dead wife is a nice way to parallel Jamie's own upbringing.  She won't let the young daughter, Mary Kathleen be raised by someone else, especially if they've been abusing her.  I was also glad that this storyline did not become center stage, which belongs to Jamie and Alec.  Yet it only underscored what a heart of gold Jamie has and how warm and compassionate a person she is.  I'm making her sound perfect - and she comes close.

As far as the audio version of this romance, it doesn't detract from the in print version at all. Rosalyn Landor does a great narration, though her voice for Alec is a little high for my own tastes, I wish it had been a man doing his voice ;) Still, the characters all came to life for me and it was an excellent rendition, you can't go wrong with it.

So, thank you for reading through my gushy homage to a favorite re-read and if you haven't checked this book out yet, go for it!  I recommend it highly to anyone that loves a highlander romance with men in kilts.     Plus, another thing I loved about it was that for once it was a book that wasn't filled with a ton of angst at the end that goes on for 50 pages where the heroine is kidnapped and the hero has to rescue her as I find in many romances. There was some tension there at the end with the murderer, but bearable. My favorite aspect of the book was  the relationship between Alec and Jamie and how they interacted. One minute they're at loggerheads with each other, the next they're just plain into each other - a totally, totally fun read!


Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Dangerous Lord by Sabrina Jeffries

Book Description:
To prevent a dear friend from wedding Ian Lennard, the notorious Viscount St. Clair, Felicity Taylor reveals his shady past in her anonymous London gossip column. But the dauntless miss never imagined St. Clair's rage - for the dangerous rake is now short a bride and desperately needs an heir. Threatened with exposure and ruin, Felicity has no choice but to marry the hot-blooded lord herself. Ian needs a wife merely to secure his fortune, but in Felicity he has met his match in both wit and passion. And no danger is greater than the possibility that he might actually be falling in love with his fiery new bride! 
Sabrina Jeffries is becoming a favorite of mine.  I simply loved the second in her "Lord" series, The Forbidden Lord, but this wasn't quite as good.  In fact, parts of it I found rather annoying.  The heroine is a secret gossip columnist known as "Lord X" and the hero takes umbrage over being a target of her column.  Ian, the hero has a complicated past.  He is harboring a secret about why he abruptly left England at the age of nineteen.   Bits and pieces and rumors come out about him, mostly scandalous, but the truth is he's been acting as a secret agent for England during the Napoleonic Wars, though no one really knows this, they all think the worst of him.  Now back in England, he needs to marry due to a strange clause in his father's will that says he must sire a son by the time he is thirty years old - or thirty-one, something like that.

Felicity is a young lady of quality (alas, with no money) who is in charge of raising her four younger brothers - three of whom are unruly triplets.  Their architect father has died leaving them with a pile of debt, and Felicity must earn a living to support her house and family by writing a gossip column as "Mr. X."  Ian happens to be Felicity's number one target in her column.  Hence, Ian and Felicity meet when Ian succeeds in finding out where Lord X lives (he is a secret agent after all) so he can force Lord X to stop writing his scurrilous tales about him!  When he succeeds in finding our Lord X, Ian finds out he's not at all what he expected!

Now, this all had a great premise, but gradually Ian's character appeared too manipulative for my liking.  Everything he did regarding Felicity was a game played against her.  He won over her brothers to get to her, he won over her housekeeper too and then threatened exposing Felicity to the ton.  I don't know why she even fell for him eventually.  Don't get me wrong, he wasn't all bad, we find out why he has such a manipulative nature, but I thought the gossipy plotline and his deceptions in this Regency were a bit over the top, yet it was still an enjoyable read.

Felicity through the majority of the book is trying to find out about his secrets.  She's like a terrier with a bone!  She won't give up.  Ian realizes one way to stop her is to marry her - and it doesn't hurt he's terribly attracted to her as well!  He likes her strong and fiery personality, a natural match for him.  He tries to get her to marry him by first asking her (she says no) and then compromising her (which I abhorred!) and even that had no success, so then he asks her to help him find someone else to marry, since he blames her for "ruining" his reputation so no nice girl will marry him.  He knows full well she'll realize how much she wants him herself  - and he's right!  It finally works in part with the help of the two heroines from the first two books in the series who have married his best friends.  Felicity does become jealous and eventually succumbs to his masculine wiles and allurements. ;)  But still, I couldn't stand how everything Ian does is a ruse to get her to agree to marry him! I got so tired of this game of his!   Because of his games, Felicity had a hard time believing him, particularly in regard to whether he was keeping a mistress or not.  She would not give up on the idea that he was!  More than once I had to grit my teeth over her stubborness to believe him!

I liked Felicity and I really blame it on Ian for this problem.  I didn't like the way he was treating her and lying to her all the time.  His methods were less than charming.  I felt they were more on the boorish side, frankly.  But, eventually she does fall for Ian, soon marrying him after she gives in to him one night - actually, I did like that part immensely. ;)   After a marriage ceremony that she nearly misses, her identity as Lord X is revealed, blah, blah, blah, Ian's evil uncle threatens them and Felicity must save the day coming toe to toe with London's most notorious gossipmongers!  It was all a little ridiculous, frankly.  Add to that, my less than enthusiastic reaction to Ian for much of the book, the whole thing left me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.  I now realize I don't like these kind of manipulative heroes all that much. They're usually arrogant and deceitful and if anything I feel sorry for the heroine ending up with them.  Yes, yes, it all comes out in the end why Ian acts this way, I guess his lousy childhood, etc, makes it all right.  Maybe you'll feel differently. 

Despite this hero's lack of appeal, the romance wasn't bad and I'm eager to read the rest of Ms. Jeffries backlist for her books are well written and entertaining!


P.S. Someone get this book a new cover, you can barely see what it's a picture of through it's murky purple-ness!
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