Thursday, October 28, 2010

Devil of the Highlands by Lynsay Sands

Book Description:
They call him the Devil... He is the most notorious laird of Scotland: fierce, cold, deadly... and maybe even worse. Yet Evelinde has just agreed to wed him. Anything, she thinks, is better than her cruel stepmother. Though Evelinde should be wary of the rumors, she can't help but be drawn to this warrior... for the Devil of the Highlands inspires a heat within her that is unlike anything she has ever known.

They may call him whatever they wish, but Cullen, Laird of Donnachaidh, cares only for the future of his clan. He must find a wife, a woman to bear him sons and heed his commands. He has no need for beauty or grace, but one taste of his lovely bride's sweet lips and the sultry feel of her skin arouse an untamed passion. Perhaps there's more to marriage than he thought...

This was an enjoyable highlander romance - entertaining and diverting.  A forced marriage scenario, the hero, Cullen, is far from the Devil he is rumored to be.  In fact, he's a fair and honorable man.  He and our heroine, Evelinde, get on amazingly well right from the start, although they do seem to be prone to the usual misunderstandings of young marrieds.  It doesn't help that he doesn't talk much either.   The plotline was a bit predictable and some of the humor seemed a bit forced as were the predicaments Evelinde got herself into, leading to some rather interesting moments between the two of them.  Evelinde has a knack for unwittingly exposing herself at the worst of time - many of which drive Cullen crazy.  He's either overpowered with desire for her, or ready to strangle her!

The basic story revolves around fair English maiden Evelinde, who is abused at home due to her evil stepmother.  Said stepmother marries Evelinde off to Cullen, Devil of the Highlands who she believes will be a terrible husband to Evelinde, thus insuring her fate for the rest of her life.  Rumor has it, he is the worst of the worst and she's sure Evelinde will continue to be mistreated (her stepmother has a real sadistic streak in her).

But, as it turns out Cullen is nothing like the rumors.  He's young and handsome and sees right through the stepmother and recognizes her for the witch she is.  Evelinde and Cullen first meet under the most bizarre circumstances.  I admit, it was borderline ridiculous and I had to roll my eyes at the many plot devices used throughout the book that were supposed to be humorous and sexy - yet came across more as ... well, a plot device.

Cullen scoops Evelinde up, marries her immediately and takes her away off to his Scottish castle. Before long, they consummate their marriage and both enjoy their nights together until it becomes clear someone is trying to kill Evelinde. Why is it in almost every other highlander romance I read, someone is trying to kill the heroine? At least here Cullen and Evelinde catch on early to the fact she’s being stalked and take precautions, but all for naught. The killer always seems to be there just at the opportune time when no one is looking to make their move. It kept me guessing for the most part. Just when you think you know who the culprit is, the story changes and you’re back to square one again.

I liked Cullen and Evelinde together, they were cute as a pair. The love scenes were vivid and sensual and the story moved along and didn’t get bogged down with a lot of unnecessary filler. Not only was it a romance – and a forced marriage one, which I’m partial to, but it was a murder mystery as well. Yet, the actual characterizations were dim and only skin deep. There was a lighthearted feel to the book, despite the dangerous presence of someone trying to kill Evelinde while making it look like an accident. An easy read. The main story is whether Evelinde can get Cullen to open up to her and if she can get used to her new life in a strange castle with a strange husband, who’s not nearly as bad as she feared he would be.

Overall, this was pretty good, but not great. I disliked the plot devices and forced situations, but it was still a fun read and I liked the hero and heroine. Most likely I’ll read the rest of the series, of which this is the first.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin (audio)

Book Description:
Rosamund Clifford, the mistress of King Henry II, has died an agonizing death by poison-and the king's estranged queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is the prime suspect. Henry suspects that Rosamund's murder is probably the first move in Eleanor's long-simmering plot to overthrow him. If Eleanor is guilty, the result could be civil war. The king must once again summon Adelia Aguilar, mistress of the art of death, to uncover the truth.

Adelia is not happy to be called out of retirement. She has been living contentedly in the countryside, caring for her infant daughter, Allie. But Henry's summons cannot be ignored, and Adelia must again join forces with the king's trusted fixer, Rowley Picot, the Bishop of St. Albans, who is also her baby's father.

Adelia and Rowley travel to the murdered courtesan's home, in a tower within a walled labyrinth-a strange and sinister place from the outside, but far more so on the inside, where a bizarre and gruesome discovery awaits them. But Adelia's investigation is cut short by the appearance of Rosamund's rival: Queen Eleanor. Adelia, Rowley, and the other members of her small party are taken captive by Eleanor's henchmen and held in the nunnery of Godstow, where Eleanor is holed up for the winter with her band of mercenaries, awaiting the right moment to launch their rebellion.

Isolated and trapped inside the nunnery by the snow and cold, Adelia and Rowley watch as dead bodies begin piling up. Adelia knows that there may be more than one killer at work, and she must unveil their true identities before England is once again plunged into civil war . . .

Another clever medieval historical mystery involving mistress of the art of death, Adelia Aguilar, who, now a mother, still uses her doctoring skills and winds up investigating the poisoning of the lady Rosamund Clifford, King Henry II's mistress.

I was a bit taken aback at first, since a lot has happened since the first book in the series ended. Adelia is now a mother, and the father of her baby, Rowley has taken an oath of celibacy to be one of the King’s bishops! Huh? But, I kept telling myself, hah! He’ll never keep that oath! (I was right.) When the Lady Rosamund becomes ill from poisoned mushrooms, Rowley is dispatched to fetch Adelia by King Henry. She is an expert on poisons, death and forensic medicine. It is an awkward reunion for them, the first they’ve seen of each other since the baby’s birth. They remain at arm’s length, though Rowley, unabashedly, coddles and dotes over their baby, Allie, speaking “baby talk” to the infant as any proud papa would –priest or no!

Adelia reluctantly agrees to go with Rowley, she doesn’t have much choice in the matter. Upon arrival at the abbey where Rosamund lives, it’s apparent she is dead, only they find a macabre death scene. Rosamund the fair, is no longer so fair. In fact, she is fat. That’s a surprise. But the real kicker is, her body is sitting up at a desk, as if she died while writing, stiff with rigor mortis. In front of her are letters she had been writing to Queen Eleanor, expounding on how much Henry is in love with her and how one day she will be the rightful queen. Very odd. No sooner does Adelia begin to examine the dead body but Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry’s queen shows up herself! The whole scenario is very bizarre, and becomes even more so when Rosamund’s faithful housekeeper, Dame Dakers, tries to kill Eleanor of Aquitaine by jumping out from a hidden garderobe! Adelia prevents the murder, thus granting herself a bit of good will from the queen, though the rest of Eleanor’s followers have no love for Adelia, nor Rowley.

A full cast of characters enters onto the scene and it’s up to Adelia to figure out which one of them is behind the poisoning of Rosamund. Henry’s wily queen is the obvious mastermind behind the murder, but that’s too obvious for Adelia and Rowley. Rowley believes it’s someone else, who wants to make it look like Eleanor in order to start a Civil War between Eleanor’s followers and Henry’s. Eleanor has been under house arrest by Henry for several years and has just escaped from France to join forces with her eldest son, Prince Harry to overthrow Henry II. The time is ripe for rebellion and Adelia is smack dab in the middle of the snake pit of political intrigue and murder that surrounds Eleanor's retinue.

Who is the real culprit? In the dead of winter, Eleanor insists on taking everyone to Godstow, a nunnery. There they spend Christmas. At least Adelia is reunited with her baby, Allie and her friend and servant, Gyltha. Adelia begins her inquiries which puts her in even further danger from the real assassin and his employer. Plus, Allie’s life is threatened as well, which completely scares Adelia to death! The killer is warning her – don’t get too nosy! Meanwhile, Rowley has snuck off, faking his death in order to enlist the help of Henry II and his men. Can they make it to Godstow in time before the assassin responsible for Rosamund’s death - and the ensuing death of her maid – does away with Adelia as well?  The bigger and burning question is - does Rowley ever break his vow in this book? ;)

It’s a clever mystery and no matter how much I love them, I’m awful at figuring out who the real villain is in mysteries. I’m the worst at picking up clues and mannerisms, probably because I’m listening to this on audio, instead of reading it, so I do miss things while emptying the dishwasher and making dinner. To say the least, I was stumped again about who was the mastermind, though I did guess the assassin. Kate Reading was the narrator on audio and she did a great job, as always. Her accents are believable for the men as well as the women.

This is a really interesting and absorbing series and I recommend it. Modern forensics and medieval history combined in one detailed and, at times, suspenseful novel. All the characters have their own macabre and detailed character flaws that bring them to life. I hear the next one, Grave Goods, is even better, I’m eager to get to it now.


The Last Hellion by Loretta Chase

Book Description:
She Needed to be Tamed...

She was a breathtaking firebrand, and Vere Mallory, the notorious Duke of Ainswood, had never seen anything like her. Although he thought he was rescuing Lydia Grenville from the clutches of a renowned wastrel, he quickly discovers she is angry at his interference! Amused by the sultry hell-cats's fury, Mallory vows to teach her some humility - in life and in love.

He Was Just the Man to Do It.

Lydia Grenville was fuming. She was determined to save womankind from disreputable rakes like the infamous Mallory, not to succumb to his scandalous charms. She finds herself overwhelmed by the scintillating sensations he brings to her body, but when she discovers that he has bragged that he's going to "tame" her, Lydia vows to fight his advances... but nothing prepares her for the surrender she finds in his arms.

I totally loved this book!

I’ve really enjoyed the entire Scoundrels Series as a whole (the first was a bit weak, but the others made up for it). This is the last book of the series and I recommend reading the series in order, or at least read Lord of Scoundrels (which is great!) before this one.

Beginning with the prologue, which brought tears to my eyes, I knew The Last Hellion would be good. We are first introduced to our hero, Vere, a few years before the story begins. The younger brother to the Duke of Ainswood, he is a ne’er do well, man about town. But tragedy strikes and death upon death occurs successively in his family. His older brother dies first, leaving behind three children, two girls and a son, Robin, the nine year old heir to the dukedom. Vere takes Robin under his wing, becoming close over the course of six months. But, tragedy strikes again and Robin succumbs to diphtheria and dies. Despite his outward jovial, devil-may-care appearance, Vere is heartbroken and must now carry the burden of the dukedom he does not want.

Vere becomes all the worse. He’s gone overboard, and for those that read, Lord of Scoundrels, you may remember him as the lout that Sebastian Dain fights with on his wedding day. The present Duke of Ainswood is basically… a jerk. Yet, we know he’s really not as bad as he seems. He’s just suffering inwardly and rebelling against the dukedom and air of respectability he’s supposed to uphold. Much of the course of The Last Hellion is the reformation of Vere, Duke of Ainswood.

And just who is responsible for this reformation? The indomitable Lydia Grenville, that’s who, although she is completely unaware of it. Lydia is amazingly resourceful, smart and intelligent. A reporter and secret author of London's most popular and highly anticipated fictional serial, The Rose of Thebes, she is a match for Vere. At first, they despise each other and have a very public fight in an alleyway, much to the consternation of Vere. Proud of his boxing prowess, he’s having a hard time living down the fact that Lydia bested him in a street brawl! In front of a crowd of witnesses, no less!

Lydia comes from the lower depths of society. She is no high society debutante. Yet, as the story progresses, we find out there is some kind of distant family connection to the Ballisters, Lord Dain’s family (from Lord of Scoundrels). All is not as it seems. All Vere knows is she is absolutely annoying as hell, yet absolutely magnificent. Beautiful and statuesque, dressed all in black, she careens through London in her gig, giant black mastiff, Susan, in tow. She is a crusader. In the spirit of Mary Wollstonecraft, she is an advocate for women’s rights, particularly in rescuing young innocents from the clutches of a notorious London “bawd” who leads poor, unsuspecting runaways into her trap and turns them into prostitutes against their will.  Lydia has the makings of becoming a great duchess!

Vere and Lydia run into each over and over again and despite their animosity towards each other, there’s an undeniable attraction as well. Although she’s worldly when it comes to street smarts and getting scoops for her paper, she’s a complete innocent when it comes to love – much less kissing! Vere takes advantage of this, which becomes a delicious romance between the two. He intends to take her down any way he can. Except, he didn’t count on falling in love with her too! While trying to romance her, the two of them join up as a team to foil London’s seamy underworld and save his two young nieces! Lots of thrills and chills abound!

In addition, I greatly enjoyed the romance between Tamsin (one of Lydia’s rescues) and Dain’s brother-in-law, his wife, Jessica’s notoriously addle brained brother, Bertie. Bertie became quite endearing in this book. It helps if you’ve read Lord of Scoundrels previously to appreciate him.  He and Tamsin were very cute together and were a funny little side story.

I can’t say enough about what a fun and entertaining read this was! A thrilling, steamy, funny historical romance! Yet , there is an underlying emotional storyline as well – ahhh, the perfect combo. Do yourself a big favor and give it a whirl. Chase has become one of my favorite romance novelists, in the style of Julia Quinn and Karen Harper. I highly recommend her. The Last Hellion was a wonderful finale to Chase's Scoundrels series.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde (audio)

Book Description:
Literary sleuth Thursday Next is out to save literature in the fifth installment of Jasper Fforde's wildly popular series.

Beloved for his prodigious imagination, his satirical gifts, his literate humor, and sheer silliness, Jasper Fforde has delighted book lovers since Thursday Next first appeared in The Eyre Affair, a genre send-up hailed as an instant classic. Since the no-nonsense literary detective from Swindon made her debut, literature has never been quite the same. Neither have nursery rhymes, for that matter.

It's been fourteen years since Thursday pegged out at the 1988 SuperHoop, and Friday is now a difficult sixteen year old. However, Thursday's got bigger problems. Sherlock Holmes is killed at the Rheinback Falls and his series is stopped in its tracks. And before this can be corrected, Miss Marple dies suddenly in a car accident, bringing her series to a close as well. When Thursday receives a death threat clearly intended for her written self, she realizes what's going on—there is a serial killer on the loose in the Bookworld. And that's not all—The Goliath Corporation is trying to deregulate book travel. Naturally, Thursday must travel to the outer limits of acceptable narrative possibilities to triumph against increasing odds.

Packed with word play, bizarre and entertaining subplots, and old-fashioned suspense, Thursday's return is sure to be celebrated by Jasper's fanatical fans and the critics who have loved him since the beginning.

Finally, I’ve finished the Thursday Next series, which for the most part was highly enjoyable, except for the fact that the series began to fizzle as it got closer to the end. This last book was somewhat of a disappointment. Rambling and disjointed, it was the weakest of the series. It really seemed more like a re-tread of all the previous books, summarizing what went on in them.

Here we find Thursday, and it’s fourteen years later from where the last book (Something Rotten) left off. Thursday and Landen are middle aged marrieds with their children. Friday is a grubby teenager, who barely speaks in anything other than monosyllables. There are two other younger daughters, Tuesday and Jen who we never see. We find out later that Jen is a figment of Thursday’s imagination and doesn’t really exist, due to a spell that Uranus Hades put on her. The narrative is from Thursday’s point of view, so she wouldn’t know this of course, until Landen and Friday tell her, but, due to the spell, Thursday can only remember this fact for a few hours at most before forgetting again and thinking she has a teenage daughter who is up in her room studying or something.

Anyway, back to the story, Thursday has been faking retirement from SpecOps all these years. She’s been hiding her secret from Landen, making him believe she works for a carpet installation company. Meanwhile, she’s still flitting in and out of Jurisfiction, the backbone of the behind the scenes book world that exists in all the Thursday Next novels. Jurisfiction is a brilliant alternate world and my favorite place in all these books. At first things seem a bit tame, until we realize that something is up and there is a dastardly scheme afoot to turn the beloved masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice into a reality TV show! I must admit, I had to laugh over this – it’s not a bad idea! But, the clincher is, if it’s made into a horrible reality show, the original book will disappear! Oh no! Can Thursday stop it? Mrs. Bennet, Kitty and Lydia, of course, are all for the idea, Jane is her usual noncommittal self as long as everyone is happy, Lizzy is distrustful of it – and darn! We never got to see or hear from Darcy – I would have loved to know what he thought of it!

While Thursday is trying to thwart this travesty from happening, she's battling all sort of other disasters due to the "serial" killer (hilarious pun!).  She’s also training her “other” Thursday trainees, one who is known as Thursday5, a peace loving, Earth Shoe, yoga loving Thursday and Thursday 1-4, who is nothing like Thursday5. Thursday5 follows the “real” Thursday all around in Jurisfiction – learning the ways of being a Jurisfication agent. The other one, Thursday 1-4 (based on the books written about Thursday’s adventures) is more like a Lara Croft wannabe. She was quite amusing with her snide remarks and put downs of Thursday5. Everyone detests her in Jurisfiction-including the real Thursday, who disapproved of the way she was written in the first four novels about her.  Thursday 1-4 has plans of her own to secretly turn Jurisfiction upside down – a major takeover more like!

In addition, Thursday is worried about the future of her son Friday and if he’s ever going to save the world. The way he is at 16 is not all that promising – but thanks to her time warp/travelling capabilities from her Dad and Uncle, she knows that Friday is destined to be a genius and play a huge part in time travel and saving the world! But, will he? Uh oh! *much too complicated to go into*

The usual mayhem takes place at the end of the book, but all ends well. The book wasn’t bad, it does have it’s moments, but it did seem to fall a little flat. Overall, it’s an amazing series, with loads of humor and plays on words, it’s ingenious the way it’s written.  Yet, I got the impression that Fforde got tired of it and wanted to end it with the last book, Something Rotten, and was talked into writing another.

I listened to this on audio, which was narrated by Emily Grey, a different narrator than the earlier books. She did a fine job, but I disliked the way she made Landen sound, as if he’s some big, dumb galoof, otherwise it was good, but not great.


Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas

Book Description:
She was unmarried, untouched and almost thirty, but novelist Amanda Briars wasn't about to greet her next birthday without making love to a man. When he appeared at her door, she believed he was her gift to herself, hired for one night of passion. Unforgettably handsome, irresistibly virile, he tempted her in ways she never thought possible...but something stopped him from completely fulfilling her dream.

Jack Devlin's determination to possess Amanda became greater when she discovered his true identity. But gently-bred Amanda craved respectability more than she admitted, while Jack, the cast-off son of a nobleman and London's most notorious businessman, refused to live by society's rules. Yet when fate conspired for them to marry, their worlds collided with a passionate force neither had expected...but both soon craved.

Wow, another great, great Lisa Kleypas romance! This one was another classic, taking place sometime in the pre-Victorian era. Successful spinster author, Amanda Briars, mistakes handsome publisher, Jack Devlin for a male prostitute she has hired, sight unseen.  It's her birthday gift to herself for her 30th birthday - she intends to lose her virginity.  Little does she know that he’s really shown up at her front door to get her to pen a serial novel for his publishing firm and steel her away from her current publisher. They have quite a steamy encounter, although Amanda has no idea who he really is! She doesn’t lose her virginity that night – leaving room for more to come for the reader – but she cannot forget the unforgettable experience she has had with Jack.

You know of course what happens. They meet again at a party and *shock* there he is! The notorious millionaire publishing mogul who has taken London by storm! In classic Lisa Kleypas style, Jack is a self made man, rising from nothing to make a name for himself. Rich, handsome, virile and irresistible, he doesn’t care what people think on the outside. But inside, he wants the love of a good woman but he won’t admit it – least of all to himself. He knows no boundaries and is ruthless in getting what he wants – and he wants Amanda. He wants her to be one of his authors - and he’d like something a little more personal as well. But, as a wife? He’s not the marrying kind, so he says. The first part he has covered, for she’s acquiesces to his demands to write the serial novel, thanks to the exorbitant amount of money he’ll pay her, and the worry that he might let slip to someone what happened to them “that night.” As to the second part, she surprises him and they come to “an arrangement” – she liked being with him that night and would like more of it. But, she doesn’t want the strings of being married either – so they have an affair. She sets the rules, they have a mutually satisfying affair and after three months it ends. They go their separate ways. Can they both live with this arrangement? Not bloody likely!

I simply loved this book. Amanda was no pushover. She really held her own with Jack most of the time. She’s not painted as a raving beauty of statuesque proportions, though Jack thinks she’s gorgeous. Often, she’s painted as having a few flaws in her figure, having to diet once in a while, refraining from indulging in too many bons bons, refreshing to see in an historical romance heroine. She was intelligent, but didn’t count on falling for Jack so hard. Didn’t she think it would happen? Once she realizes how much she loves him, she remembers what he said about not wanting to ever marry or have children.  She assumes he’ll never ask her to marry him. Oops – did I say children? Uh oh. She makes a pre-emptive strike and ends the affair early – no matter how wonderful it was. After the break up they’re both miserable and she’s in a fix.

Finding how this mistake is fixed kept me reading into the wee hours to finish this book, which was passionate, delicious and steamy. A real keeper and now another Lisa Kleyas favorite!  I highly recommend this delightful historical romance.  Good all the way to happy ever after ending!


Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard

Book Description:
What would make the perfect man?

That's the deliciously racy topic that Jaine Bright and her three girlfriends are pondering one night at their favorite after-hours hot spot: Mr. Perfect. Would he be tall, dark, and handsome? Caring and warmhearted - or will just muscular do? As their conversation heats up, they concoct a tongue-in-cheek checklist that becomes an overnight sensation, spreading like wildfire at work and sizzling along e-mail lines. But what began as a joke among friends turns deadly serious when one of the four women is murdered....Turning to her neighbor, an unpredictable police detective, for help, Jaine must unmask a killer to save her friends - and herself.  Now, knowing whom to trust and whom to love is a matter of survival - as the dream of Mr. Perfect becomes a chilling nightmare.

This was an excellent suspenseful romance that was nearly impossible for me to put down. Feisty heroine, Jaine Bright and her three friends’ Mr. Perfect list puts them all in danger. What was supposed to be nothing more than a joke now makes the rounds at the office. Word spreads like wildfire across the internet, thus hitting the news agencies and morning news shows who want to interview the four women. Their little list has now become the flavor of the week. Unfortunately, a psychotic killer doesn’t think the list is so funny and he systematically decides to kill each of the women.

Meanwhile, Jaine has recently moved into her first house as a single home owner. All is right with the world except she hates her grubby next door neighbor who she is convinced is an alcoholic derelict – that is until she finds out he’s a cop and gets an eyeful of him one morning walking around in his kitchen in the butt buff. ;) Quite the eye candy! After that, he and Jaine develop the hots for one another, and boy – it’s hot! The chemistry sizzles, the heat scorches the pages, Linda Howard is aces at building sexual tension, teasing the reader along until these two are about to combust! In addition to the romance end of it, their playful banter flows effortlessly, the dialogue and action is fast and well paced – it was simply a great book! I loved it!

Sam Donovan is built with the body of a god and not afraid to show it off. The scene through the kitchen window is a hoot! He is to die for (although his hair is a bit short for my own personal tastes – a minor point in the grand scheme of things.) With a heart of gold and as brave and heroic as any medieval warrior – he’s someone who can handle just about anything. He also knows what he wants and doesn’t hesitate in going after it. He wants Jaine. Fortunately, Jaine reciprocates the feeling and realizes what a catch he is and melts in his arms (I would too.) As much as we don’t have to deal with a lot of romantic angst in their relationship, my one gripe with the story is just how quickly these two hook up with each other – as in marriage. It seemed a bit fast – I liked it, don’t get me wrong - but they instantaneously decide to get married within weeks of knowing one another. All hell is breaking loose around Jaine and her friends, due to the list, not to mention they’re starting to drop like flies from their friendly psychopath - and Sam is proposing marriage!

Naturally, our hero, Sam, is just the kind of cop that specializes in homicidal maniacs, yet, the killer proves to be quite a challenge and the reader is in for a big surprise at the end.  It was very, very clever, the whole play on the Perfect Man was really well done.  Jaine had no idea her grubby neighbor could very well wind up as her own Mr. Perfect, and no one guesses who the killer is - who has a serious Mr. Perfect complex.  I can’t recommend this book enough.  The characters are well defined, Jaine's friends have personalities - we know them!  Making parts of the book all the more bittersweet in parts.  I know now why this is always in the top ten best romance lists, it really is a winner and a worthwhile read. I could kick myself for not having read it earlier. I’ve only read one other book of Howard’s, Son of the Morning, and I loved that one as well. I’m definitely checking out the rest of her backlist! If contemporary romantic suspense is your thing – then read this! You won’t be sorry!


Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters (audio)

Book Description:
Radcliffe Emerson, the irascible husband of fellow archaeologist and Egyptologist Amelia Peabody, has earned the nickname "Father of Curses" - and at Mazghunah he demonstrates why. Denied permission to dig at the pyramids of Dahshoor, he and Amelia are resigned to excavating mounds of rubble in the middle of nowhere. And there is nothing in this barren area worthy of their interest - until an antiquities dealer is murdered in his own shop. A second sighting of a sinister stranger from the crime scene, a mysterious scrap of papyrus, and a missing mummy case have all whetted Amelia's curiosity. But when the Emersons start digging for answers in an ancient tomb, events take a darker and deadlier turn - and there may be no surviving the very modern terrors their efforts reveal.
Another clever and hilarious Amelia Peabody mystery on audio with the fabulous Barbara Rosenblat narrating.  She has a diverse repertoire of voices, from German baronesses to American western drawls, she brings all the many characters to life.  Her depictions of Emerson and their young son, Ramses had me in stitches!  She was also great as the voluble and lascivious German baroness who had her eye on the very manly - and married  - Emerson.  Amelia handily sends her on her way.   The American missionary zealots are probably my least favorite of her accents, I always find it a bit disconcerting to hear American accents amidst so many foreign dialects - they sound so flat and crass!  I'm embarrased, wondering do I sound like that?

Amelia and Emerson are once again in Egypt for the archaeological season. This time they've brought their exceptionally precocious - and long-winded - son, Ramses.  He is simply adorable as an archaeological child prodigy.   As a young lad, he is naturally a magnet to dirt and muck and whatever other kinds of messes that little boys get into, much to Amelia's chagrin.  I marvel at the urbane matter of fact nonchalance Amelia exudes when faced with the myriad scrapes and predicaments that befall Ramses, unlike Emerson, who is endearingly emotional when it comes to the boy.   I believe it wouldn't hurt if Amelia showed more affection and patience with Ramses, he is a little boy after all, no matter how grown up he sounds.

I could go on forever about Ramses, I truly loved him, he was just so cuuuuute! How do I love thee, Ramses? Let me count the ways! He is a collector.  He collects things - in this case, a baby lion cub to bring home to England for his Uncle Walter and Aunt Evelyn.  He also has the most adorable way of talking with a lisp that comes and goes (depending on when he finds it most useful for effect.)  Plus, I love the way he pronounces his "th's" instead with "d's" as if he has a Brooklyn accent!  He sounds so adult in much of what he says, his vocabulary is exceptional as is his logic and reasoning. Yet, whenever he talks, it's all in this high pitched little voice and quasi Brooklyn accent! It is most adorable! His explanation of how he came to be in the pyramid with his parents when they were trapped there is particularly amusing, especially his answer in regard to where he left the note to tell someone where he had gone:
"I tied it to de collar of the de cat Bastet."
Such a brave and noble little boy!  No wonder his parents are so proud of him (even if Amelia doesn't lavish the praise as much as she should.)  I am in awe how Peters had written his character!  He is both totally adorable and amazingly advanced!

Since the story is in the first person of Amelia, her commentary and private opinions are generally spot on and totally amusing (due to her sometimes jaundiced point of view.)  She is deliciously polite when she means to be cutting.  She tosses off insults and dispatches set downs with the grace and aplomb of a princess.   No matter where she is, Amelia remains a lady first and foremost, regardless of how taxing the circumstances.   Some of the most amusing moments are when Emerson and Amelia are alone - they are so civilized with one another (at least as far as we can tell).  Even when no one else is around to hear them!  I suspect this is not the case in bed, but that is territory we are not privy too, although there are amusing allusions... who knows?   One of my favorite little moments between them, (there are many) is when they are speaking of Ramses.  Amelia vents her frustration in regard to his antics:
"I have long since given up trying to anticipate what Ramses can and cannot do," I replied with considerable heat.  Your second point has some merit; but Ramses' motives are as obscure as his capabilities are remarkable.  I never know what the devil the child has in mind."

"Language, Peabody, language."

I took a grip on myself, "You are right.  Thank you for reminding me, Emerson."

"You are quite welcome, Peabody."
So civilized and so - British!

I do love them together.  A perfect combination!  I was nearly in fits over how funny they were together when trying to determine a way to escape from the pyramid they were trapped in (before Ramses comes to help them out).  The moans and groans and noises Emerson makes were hilarious as he must lift Amelia in the air to see if she can get out to safety.  Rosenblat is simply perfect as Emerson!  He is much funnier on audio that in print - trust me!

All in all, a very, very fun audiobook to listen to.  The ultimate conclusion of the mystery seemed a bit anticlimatic and fantastical - somewhat Da Vinci Code-like, but, it was simply delightful in any case because of Amelia, Emerson and Ramses' parts in the outcome.  I'm still a little foggy about what the actual mummy case actually had to do with everything, but it doesn't matter.  The important thing is, they solved the mystery and all ended well.  Frankly, the best part of these books isn't so much the mystery in them - it's the characterizations and the humor.  That's what make this series so amusing and addictive - I'm eager for more! 


Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Abduction of Julia by Karen Hawkins

Book Description:
What can a respectable Regency miss do when kidnapped by a nobleman intent on marriage? Why, marry him, of course.

Julia Frant has secretly loved Alec MacLean, the wild Viscount Hunterston from afar. So when he accidentally snatches her instead of her lovely, scheming cousin for an elopement to Gretna Green, Julia leaps at the chance to make her passionate dreams come true.

Alec's in no position to quibble: if he doesn't marry by midnight and live scandal-free for a year, he loses his inheritance. At least marriage with do-gooder Julia will guarantee his fortune.

But as his plain brown wren transforms herself into an elegant swan, Alec suddenly can't stay away from his last-minute wife - and when he kisses her, the inheritance is the last thing on his mind. Unfortunately, scandal can occur from the best of intentions... and Julia is never short of good intentions!

Another Regency by Karen Hawkins, one of my favorite historical romance authors!   This was her first novel (correct me, if I'm wrong) and I loved it!   Plain Jane nobody, Julia Frant is forced into a marriage of convenience with dashing rogue Alex MacLean so he can inherit his grandfather's estate. The usual miscommunication abounds.  Do-gooder Julia uses Alec's newly inherited money to support her favorite charity for reformed wayward women while they both fight their desire to be more than man and wife, in name only.

Julia never expected to make such a spectacular marriage.  Not nearly as beautiful as her cousin, Therese, Julia is looked on upon as a "poor relation," one step away from a paid companion.  Next to Therese, she is positively dreary in comparison.  With her spectacles, ordinary brown hair and frumpy clothes, she is definitely considered on the shelf.  Even worse, she's now considered as a chaperon to her cousin who has loads of suitors - one of whom is Alec MacLean.  Vain and selfish, Therese is not a very nice person and she has tricked Alec into thinking she will elope with him.  Due to his grandfather's strange will, Alec must marry the daughter of the earl of Thingamummy.  Therese is that daughter - hence why Alec needs to elope with her.  If he does not marry her by his thirtieth birthday, the money in the will reverts to his unscrupulous cousin, Nick.  Alec is desperate.

The plot gets a bit complicated, see if you can follow it with me.   Alec has been duped by Therese.  Instead of running off with her, he has abducted her dowdy cousin Julia!  Therese is in cahoots with the disreputable Nick.  She has deliberately misled Alec so Nick would get the money instead.  Therese has a passion for Nick and intends to marry him, although Nick is not exactly of the same feeling.  Time is running out for Alec, he's about to turn thirty and he has no wife!  But, as luck would have it - Julia is also a daughter of the earl of Thingamummy - even if her father was only the earl for a few days before his death.  How fortuitous!  American born, Julia had lived in America all her life until her father died four years earlier.  Due to his untimely end, she was forced to live in England with her cousin and aunt.  During those four years she also has had time to moon over and fall in love with Alec MacLean, who, until now, has never looked twice at her, except to notice her as the Dragon Frant.

Julia convinces Alec to marry her and they start their arranged marriage together - in name only.  She has a few conditions: 1) They will not consummate the marriage, after a year is up, they go their separate ways 2) She gets half the money so she can use if for her charities.  Alec is in no position to object and agrees - despite the searing kiss they share together that promises to haunt both of them night and day.

Gradually, they settle into married life, but their sexual tension heightens daily.  Alec finds he's becoming quite fond of his little wife and he's worried she's in love with his horrible cousin - Nick!  Of course, he couldn't be further from the truth!  Jealousy abounds, Julia becomes more and more puzzled by her husband's odd behavior and all the while they're both trying to avoid getting into some sort of scandal that will scuttle the inheritance - not easy since Nick is doing all he can, with the aid of the obnoxious Therese, to make sure they lose it! 

Julia is a sweet and endearing heroine, yet holds her own and sticks to her guns with the devilishly handsome Alec, who's tearing his hair out by the end of the book due to the sexual frustration and jealousy he's experiencing over his wife, who he's fallen in love with!  Their growing love for one another is a pleasure to follow as it unfolds and I really enjoyed this romance all the way up to the end!  Julia blossoms into a beauty and Alec learns that money isn't everything as long as he has the woman he loves. A good love story with some humor and sizzle.  The first in a series, which I'm eager to continue.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati (audio)

Book Description:
A novel that revolves around the forbidden, incandescent affair of a spinster Englishwoman and an American frontiersman. When Elizabeth Middleton leaves England to join her father and brother in the remote mountain village of Paradise in New York, she does so with a strong will and an unwavering purpose: to teach school. It is December of 1792 when she arrives in a cold climate unlike any she has ever experienced.

And she meets a man different from any she has ever encountered - a white man dressed like a native. His name is Nathaniel Bonner, also known to the Mohawk people as "Between Two Lives." Elizabeth's ultimate destiny, here in the heart of the wilderness, lies in the odyssey to come: trials of faith and flesh, and passion born amid Nathaniel's own secrets and divided soul.

This is a book that's been on my TBR list for a long, long time.  I've been hearing about it ever since I finished the Outlander Series for the first time over five years ago.  Everyone said if you like Outlander, you'll like this.  I'd heard the heroine was like a cross between Claire Fraser and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.  It all sounded too good to be true.   In response to all the praise, I resisted it, partly because I suspected I'd be let down.  Well, sure enough, that's exactly what happened.  My gut instinct, once again, was right.  It wasn't bad, but I wasn't bowled over by it either.  I'm glad I finally got around to it, but I just was not into it.   The plot itself wasn't bad, but it made no impact on me.  The characters had their good points and some were interesting, but for the most part, I was just kind of meh about the whole thing. 

For a long book, it surprisingly lacked the depth and emotion I'd expect a book this size to have.  I wasn't overly fond of any of the characters and had trouble really getting to like the heroine, Elizabeth, and the hero, Nathaniel.  He was enigmatic, very much of a mystery to me.  A white man, but raised very much with the ways and traditions of the native Indian  (Native American).  Elizabeth was always a little too stubborn.  Very independent and intelligent, she was someone to admire but where was her warmth and tenderness - a likability about her?  I felt at arms length with her.  Granted, I was interested in what happens to her and Nathaniel but I would not consider their love for one another all that great - in fact, I thought it seemed awfully rushed the way they fell in love and it kind of left me perplexed how they schemed and plotted to run off together - amazing!  Be that as it may, they made a good couple together.  I liked the way Nathaniel called Elizabeth "Boots." That was cute, but it's just about the only thing I can think of! Although there were some nice love scenes, they lacked passion - as did the entire book.

Elizabeth Middleton is new to Paradise, an Upstate New York settlement, still in the early days of the new United States in the early 1790's.  Her aging father, Judge Middleton, has lived there for some years already, although Elizabeth was raised in England with her dissolute brother, Julian.   As soon as Elizabeth and Julian arrive in Paradise, she meets the Bonners - Nathaniel and his father, Hawkeye (from Last of the Mohicans).  Both are mistaken for Indians at first, but it soon becomes apparent that they are white men, raised and adopted by the Indian tribe of the Kahnyen'kehaka.  She and Nathaniel are instantly "in" to each other, though she resists it at first.  She's a determined twenty-nine year old spinster, soon to be the schoolteacher in Paradise.  He's a hunter who's used to wearing a feather in his long, dark hair, wears buckskins and has a young half Indian daughter from a previous marriage.  Not exactly two people you'd expect who would hook up together immediately.  He knows she's the one for him, and in his own blunt sort of way, he tells her so, and before we know it, they're lovers and planning to run away together to avoid Elizabeth's unwanted suitor, Richard Todd.  Todd wants to marry her primarily to get the mountain her father owns and has promised to deed over to her when she marries.  She doesn't want to marry Todd, and we find out that he is a force to be reckoned with and doesn't take "no" easily.

Nathaniel and Richard Todd have had an ongoing rivalry for years and there is no love lost between them.  As much as Todd is a threat to them, I was never really all that worried about him as a villain.  It was another guy, Jack Lingo, who had me worried.  He was this trapper Frenchman that was after the "Tory Gold" a legendary gold that was reputed to have been stolen by Hawkeye's adopted father, Chingachgook.  Lingo is convinced they still have the gold and he's can be a ruthless cold blooded killer.   He pops up a few times in the story, enough to be a menace, but not a big one.

There are plenty of different characters in the book that gave the story some color, my favorite was the black housekeeper to the Judge, Curiosity.  A freed slave, she was smart and bossy and knew more than everybody else put together! She stole every scene she was in!   On audio, the parts with her sparkled and had life.  Julian, Elizabeth's brother is a ne'er do well rake with a gambling problem, who manages to eventually redeem himself just before his death.  Even he was somewhat of a cliche, but I liked the parts he was in.  I was fond of Robbie Maclachlan, a Scot who another hunter and trapper and a friend of the Bonners in the bush.  He had a cool cave that had it's own hot water spring - how convenient!  All the Indian characters were one dimensional, not surprising since they are generally soft spoken, of few words.  Hannah, Nathaniel's daughter was different, she was cute and perky, but borderline annoying some of the time.  Most everybody else was just sort of meh.  What can I say?  Maybe it's me.  It seemed like whenever something really big and dramatic should happen - it just kind of deflated and got solved too easily or was drawn out so much that it got boring, or everything faded in a cloud of blackness and we hear about what happened later.

The narrating itself was fine by Kate Reading who I know well from the Pink Carnation books.  Some parts could not have been easy with the various Indian pronunciations that sounded halting on audio.  I'm afraid much of the story just seemed dullish to me without any real compelling thread that made me want to see what happens next.  I was glad when it was finally over, rolling my eyes a bit at the big surprise about Hawkeye's heritage.

Sorry for those of you that love this series, I know it's a favorite for many.  Chalk it up to the fact that I've been spoiled by Diana Gabaldon, who's blurb of praise is smack dab right on the cover!  If only this book hadn't been compared so much to the Outlander Series, maybe I'd have felt differently.  Basically, the only similarity I found to it was the Indian connection.  I did appreciate the cameo references of Gabaldon's characters (by permission) to young Ian Murray and Jamie and Claire at the Battle of Saratoga.  Claire was referred to as a white witch healer.  Yet, the reminder of them only seemed to exacerbate my indifference to Donati's characters in comparison!  Plus, it made me want to re-read An Echo in the Bone sooner rather than later!  (I'm really due for a re-read of it!)

I'm glad to have at least crossed this one off my TBR list (it was one of the books in my 2010 TBR Challenge this year - I'm not having the greatest luck in choices unfortunately, hardly any winners!)  All I can say is, if you are a big Outlander fan, you may or may not feel the same way I do.  It's a risk you'll have to take, it could go either way.  The story here was a good one, it wasn't a total loss.  The writing itself was well constructed and I appreciated a lot of the descriptions and research that went into the writing of it, particularly in regard to the native American Indians, but it just needed more "oomph" for lack of a better word. 


After Midnight by Teresa Medeiros

Book Description:
"Our sister is marrying a vampire." When the ever practical Caroline Cabot first hears those words from the lips of her fanciful youngest sister, she accuses Portia of having a wild imagination. But when she discovers their sister Vivienne is actually being courted by Adrian Kane, the mysterious viscount rumored to be a vampire, she decides to accept his invitation to a midnight supper and do some sleuthing of her own. To both her delight and her dismay, she soon finds herself falling under Kane's bewitching spell. After all, what's a proper young lady to do when her sister's suitor arouses more than just her suspicions?

I really enjoyed this late Regency paranormal romance!  A pleasant surprise, I had no idea what to expect.  Still on the search for an historical paranormal that's as good as The Gardella Vampire Chronicles, this one has come the closest so far in my quest.

Set in 1820 London and it's environs, the story centers on three sisters, one of whom is outwardly being wooed by a rumored vampire.  Said vampire is doing nothing to dispel the rumors, while at the same time, he's falling for her sister Caroline, who as the eldest and considered on the shelf, has serious doubts about whether or not she wants her sister Vivienne marrying this mysterious Adrian Kane, who is never seen in the daylight.   Caroline's common sense wars with the evidence that is gradually stacking up against him. Is he a vampire or not?  If not, why has no one seen him outdoors on a sunny day?  Why are there no mirrors in his entire house?  Why is a London constable suspicious and warning her away from him, and why is he so interested in Vivienne, who looks exactly like his fiancee who mysteriously disappeared and died a violent death six years earlier?  Good grief!  And to make matters worse, he's devilishly handsome, in a blond, hot blooded, manly sort of way with nary a hint of fanged teeth about him!

Yet, his younger brother is another story.  What is he hiding beneath that studied Byronesque pose of his?  Is he the real vampire in the family with his deathly pallor and penchant for rare meat? 

Adrian is definitely hiding something and Caroline is torn.  One side of her wants to find out the truth about him, and the other side just wants him!  It doesn't help that he obviously wants her too!  How dare he, when he's supposed to be courting her sister! Stolen kisses and his enigmatic answers to her questions aren't helping.  The stakes are upped when she finds out her sister Vivienne is being used as bait to catch the real vampire in the story.  Will Caroline risk her own life to save her sister, and unwittingly put her other sister, Portia's life in grave danger?  Can she forgive Adrian for lying to her and putting Vivienne in such danger?

Lots of questions and dilemmas that made this a really fun read.  I loved the vampire slayer aspect to it without it being too heavy handed.  It didn't dominate the story which is basically a romance.  There were humorous parts that made me laugh, particularly the way Adrian and Caroline sparred with one another, yet somehow she always seemed to wind up in his arms and ultimately - his bed.  There was also just enough suspense and mystery to it to make it compelling all the way to the finish with room for a sequel, which I'll definitely be reading!

I highly recommend.  An entertaining and worthwhile read!


Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Exile, an Outlander Graphic Novel by Diana Gabaldon

Product Description (from Amazon):
A luscious full-colour graphic novel — written by #1 New York Times bestseller Diana Gabaldon — that offers a completely new look at the original Outlander story!

The Exile retells the original Outlander novel from Jamie Fraser's point of view, revealing events never seen in the original story and giving readers a whole new insight into the Jamie-Claire relationship. Jamie's surreptitious arrival in Scotland at the beginning of the tale, his feelings about Claire, and much more — up to the point where Claire faces trial for witchcraft and must choose whether to return to her own century — are brought to life in brilliant four-colour art.

I loved it.
How could I not love this?  It's Jamie Fraser in full, living color?  Granted, he looked completely different from one page to another, sometimes he had a pretty boy look to him, sometimes he looked older and more steely, but most of the time he was just ... Jamie. *sigh*
When I first heard of this graphic novel idea, I was not into it.  For one thing, I didn't even know what a graphic novel was!  I thought it was something to do with explicit sex!  It seems laughable now, but I was really that clueless!   Graphic novels are basically comic books, only fancier with better drawings (in this case, the art work by Hoang Nguyen is superb.)  The characters are usually more extreme looking, i.e. sharper eyebrows, angular features, provocatively sexy, bigger boobs.  For instance, Claire's are quite prominent!  The Exile is a work of art.  It's hardcover for one thing, and the colors within are brilliant and evocative of the beauty of the Scottish Highlands, yet it has the separate story frames and overhead voice bubbles - just like a comic book.  It's an odd sort of fusion, but it works.  But, no matter what anyone says, I think a graphic novel is nothing more than a fancy-shmancey comic book. Yet, if it gets people to read who normally don't read books, then by all means - whatever works!  I'm all for that!
Here the story is told from Jamie and Murtagh's points of view.  I loved seeing what Murtagh saw, we're now privy to a lot of things we weren't aware of before, particularly his distrust of Claire and his desire to protect Jamie.  Because of this, The Exile is more political than romantic, in my opinion.  Yes, yes of course we have the basic relationship between Claire and Jamie.  But now the focus is more on Jamie's return from France and dealing with the clan politics at Leoch.  Claire only complicates everything.  Jamie's walking a tightrope between being an outlaw wanted by the English and honoring the Mackenzies without threatening his uncles as a future Mackenzie clan chieftain.  
Do the characters look the way I imagined them to look?  Not exactly, but close to it.  I will always have my own idea and vision in mind of how I picture everyone, but I appreciated this book simply for the fun and novelty of it.  I loved the drawings, the clothes in particular.  Now I know how they look in their plaids!  And now I know what Black Jack Randall's hat looks like (I always pictured it differently).  I can see Claire's original dress that she wears when she comes through the stones, and then in her yellow dress Mrs. Fitz gives her to wear once she's at Leoch.  I loved the look of Mrs. Fitz too!   And her reaction to Claire's bra! *giggles*  Murtagh looked exactly how I pictured Dougal to look (like Sean Bean in the movie, Lord or the Rings).  Claire was much sexier looking than I imagined, I can see how she would have created such a stir everywhere she went!  Apart from Jamie's face looking so different from drawing to drawing, (I guess since it was all hand drawn, it's hard to make him look exactly the same in every drawing) I loved all the various depictions of him.  Some of his shots were simply gorgeous - one particular nude backside drawing of him was particularly droolworthy with a typically gorgeous view of the Highlands.  Wow! Their wedding night love scene was another memorable and satisfying drawing (although Claire's elongated fingers were strangely claw like and scary looking!)  Claire looked great most of the time, even down to the detail of her English rosebud mouth.  

Here's the unexpurgated art work from their wedding night from Diana's blog, which you can click on for the larger version.
For the most part, all the pictures did the original Outlander book justice.  I can't be critical of it.  I guess my one gripe was how blousy Claire looked most of the time, but I chalk it up to the fact this is a graphic novel and she's more sexed up than usual.  Speaking of boobs, it was funny how certain thoughts were expressed by bubbles, particularly when Claire first tells them she's a nurse and all the men have bubble thoughts of a "wet nurse" and stare at her bosom!  I also loved the scene when she's sitting on his chest working on his slippery bandages and Dougal asks him if he's well enough to ride and he says yes if only they could get the lassie off his chest and a clean shirt!  Of course, those of us who have read the original book know, that's when Jamie said he first fell in love with Claire! *sigh*  I also loved Jamie's reaction after Claire tells him, in so many words, that he's a good lover.  *grin*
One particularly confusing point in The Exile is this new guy Kenneth!  Who is Kenneth??  He comes through the stones too, as witnessed by Murtagh, who thinks he's in cahoots with Claire.  Then we learn he is somehow associated with Geillis Duncan.  He must have been her lover from before she left Inverness in 1968 - or was it 1967?  I get confused on what is the actual year.  In any event, Kenneth is all new to us.   It turns out that he and Geillis were supposed to be together from the first, but he wound up showing up several years after she did.  It's not exactly clear what the point of him is - was he just supposed to be another Bonnie Prince Charlie devotee going back in time to try and change history?
I can't go over every part of The Exile, but take it from an Outlander lover - this is worthwhile and a must read.  I really surprised myself, I didn't know how I was going to like it.  I'm so glad I have my own copy (signed by Diana Gabaldon when I saw her at the National Book Festival in Washington last weekend) and I will treasure it. It's just lovely and I will peruse it over and over again.  It really makes me want to read Outlander over again (for the upteenth time) so I can absorb all these new revelations that have now come out.  One thing I'm not sure of, is The Exile supposed to be part of the actual series, so everything we learn about here is something that really happens in the series?  Or is it just an alternate "what if" re-storytelling?   I wish I had asked her when I had the chance.
Also, a few more things, as an FYI, be aware (I was not, so I was very surprised) The Exile only goes as far as when Claire decides to stay with Jamie after he rescues her from Cranes Muir.  It ends before they go to Lallybroch.  It barely covers the first half of the book.  I imagine this was so that it would appeal to a wider audience by taking all the Jack Randall stuff out at the end.    Also, right now, Outlander is now available for FREE on kindle!  Take advantage of it, I don't know how long this will last!
Overall opinion:  A must have!  5/5

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Penelope & Prince Charming by Jennifer Ashley

Book Description:
His blue eyes beguiled. His muscular form could have satisfied any fantasy. He had a delicious foreign accent-and to top it off, he was royalty! What woman would dare refuse the most sought-after lover in Europe? Miss Twice-a-Jilt Penelope Trask, that's who. And, unfortunately for Damien, marrying Penelope was the only way to inherit his kingdom. Good thing this enchantingly infuriating woman didn't seem completely immune to his many charms. The passionate way she returned his kisses told Damien he wasn't the only one head over heels. But wooing was difficult amid assassination attempts, wild magic, and desire so strong it threatened to overwhelm him every time they touched. Why had no one mentioned the road to happily-ever-after was so difficult?

I really enjoyed this Regency romance with a magical bent to it!  Having fallen in love with Ms. Ashley's most recent Mackenzie series, which I adore, I thought I'd check out her back list, starting with her Nvengaria Trilogy of which this is the first.

Damien is Crown Prince of a mythical land called Nvengaria, located somewhere in the mountains of Eastern Europe, a tiny kingdom of which almost no one has ever heard of.  Somewhere in the Moldavian region, a tiny principality, not unlike Monaco, it is full of legends and wild cossacks!  The men there are handsome blue eyed devils, their woman dark haired beauties, full of passion and daring.  This was a steamy romance that starts off with a bang - Damien in bed with a Russian princess or countess or something like that.  Normally, I don't like to read about the hero having sex with someone else in the first few pages of a book - but it worked here and there's quite a surprise at the end of the scene that hints at the kind of lover Damien is and what's in store for the future! 

In order to remain Crown Prince and avoid being murdered by one of his archenemies in Nvengaria, he must marry the descendant of the princesses of Nvengaria.  She just happens to be the unknown Penelope Trask who lives quietly on a small estate in England.  The daughter of a nobleman, she has led a sheltered life (somewhat) and is considered "on the shelf."  She has no idea what she's in for or who she really is.  There's a magic spell that enfolds Penelope and Damien making them irresistible to each other, neither one of them can keep their hands off each other as soon as they meet.  Staid and serious Penelope has trouble resisting this dashing and swoonworthy stranger who sweeps her off her feet.  Damien, who falls for her instantly (due to the spell) is too good to be true.  The practical side of Penelope is doubtful and wary of this foreign prince that insists she must marry him, despite the magical attraction - what is she to do?

Not only is Penelope wary - she's in for some surprises - these Nvengarians are something else!  Damien is a connoisseur when it comes to love games and he fully intends to introduce Penelope to them all!  An eager and fast learner, she appears to be up for anything - who'd have thought some nobody from a little known village in England would become so worldly overnight?  It must be that Nvengarian blood in her she didn't know about.  Pretty racy!

As much as I liked it, the story was far fetched most of the time.  You'll like it if you remember it's a fantasy set within Regency England.  Don't be a stickler for reality or in depth characterizations, basically, it's a fun lusty romance.  I enjoyed the unusual plot line, Damien was quite fetching in that tall, dark and sexy way of his.  I really loved the fairy tale idea that he completely turns Penelope's world upside down and won't take no for an answer, whisking her off to his mountainous land of lore and legend.  He's pretty irresistible. I did worry that he fell for her too quickly, all due to the magical spell, no real courtship to win her trust and love.  Once it wears off - where would she be in his regard?  His promiscuous history with other women posed a problem - can Penelope live with that?  It was hard to believe that wouldn't be a problem, and she did jump to conclusions about him and wondered about this point too.  But by the end of the book, we are reassured that it's more than just magic that binds them to each other although I felt her characterizations were not as complex and detailed as in her Mackenzie books.  As I said before, it was just a fun story, nothing overly deep, though Damien and Penelope do have to fend off various murder attempts which added drama!

I enjoyed the many side characters throughout the story, including the villainous Grand Duke Maximilien who's not as bad as he seems.  Penelope's bubble headed mother and her noble fiance,who is also her best friend's father, had a nice little side story too.  Damien's Scottish highlander friend, Egan MacDonald, perked my interest as well.  There are a lot of little touches and characterizations throughout the book that give it color, mostly of Damien's many servants and retainers who help him win Penelope's trust and escort them back to safety in Nvengaria.

There are some surprises and suspense towards the end, as well as some humor added throughout the story.  Most of all, there is the sexual tension between Penelope and Damien, leading up to their wedding night.  It all made this a fun read.  I'm eager to read the rest of the series now.  The stage is set for Maximilien and Egan, who star in the next two books which center around how they find love, although I find it hard to believe Meagan, Penelope's man-crazy best friend is meant for Maximilien!  Should be interesting!


P.S. I bought this on Kindle only to find out as soon as I bought it - it was offered for FREE the next day!  Grr!  At least I liked it!
Related Posts with Thumbnails