Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Mischief of the Mistletoe: A Pink Carnation Christmas by Lauren Willig (audio)

Book Description:
Arabella Dempsey’s dear friend Jane Austen warned her against teaching. But Miss Climpson’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies seems the perfect place for Arabella to claim her independence while keeping an eye on her younger sisters nearby. Just before Christmas, she accepts a position at the quiet girls’ school in Bath, expecting to face nothing more exciting than conducting the annual Christmas recital. She hardly imagines coming face to face with French aristocrats and international spies…

Reginald “Turnip” Fitzhugh - often mistaken for the elusive spy known as the Pink Carnation - has blundered into danger before. But when he blunders into Miss Arabella Dempsey, it never occurs to him that she might be trouble.  When Turnip and Arabella stumble upon a beautifully wrapped Christmas pudding with a cryptic message written in French, “Meet me at Farley Castle”, the unlikely vehicle for intrigue launches the pair on a Yuletide adventure that ranges from the Austens’ modest drawing room to the awe-inspiring estate of the Dukes of Dovedale, where the Dowager Duchess is hosting the most anticipated event of the year: an elaborate 12-day Christmas celebration. Will they find poinsettias or peril, dancing or danger? And is it possible that the fate of the British Empire rests in Arabella and Turnip’s hands, in the form of a festive Christmas pudding?

When I heard that Lauren Willig was giving "Turnip" Fitzhugh his own book, I wondered.  How is she going to pull this off and turn him into a lusty and dashing Regency hero?  Well, now I know.  I can't exactly say he's lusty, though he's looked on a lot of women with lust ;)  Reginald "Turnip" Fitzhugh is a delight!  Bumbling, yet full of good intentions, he meets his match in Arabella Dempsey, a well brought up young lady, who must become a schoolteacher in an exclusive girl's academy to help out her family's finances. While there, she stumbles into Turnip - literally - as well as a valuable document that French spies are willing to kill her for. Guess who comes to her rescue? I laughed aloud and loved every bit of this delightful and oftentimes hilarious Christmas themed addition to Willig's Pink Carnation series.

If you have read the previous books in the series, you are already well acquainted with Turnip, as he is affectionately known as.  Not the sharpest knife in the drawer, Turnip is a wealthy aristocrat with a penchant for outlandish waistcoats - the more garish the better.   In the past books, he's been mistaken for the the Pink Carnation, a mysterious spy that has managed to foil many French agents under Bonaparte's regime.  Of course, we all know Turnip is definitely not the Pink Carnation, although he's tall, handsome, blond and not a bad kisser when he puts his mind to it.  But, a spy - no sir!

The year is 1803 and dutiful brother that he is, Turnip is visiting his younger sister at her boarding school in Bath, delivering her Christmas basket, full of assorted goodies and what not, despite the fact she'll be returning home within a week or two for the Christmas holidays anyway.  The "goodies" are used mostly for trading purposes among the girls at the school.  Turnip's sister Sally was a hoot, I really enjoyed her.  On audio, Kate Reading did a great job of conveying just the right tone of bratty teenager.  Willig is aces at describing the Regency version of sibling scorn that goes on between brothers and sisters.  Blackmail, bribery, snarky remarks and the usual sniping at each other - that sort of thing.  I loved it!   Since I'm the youngest of six, I could totally relate!  Not that Turnip isn't a gentleman, he is.  He manages to rise above most of his sister's petty complaints, though he does often fall prey to her schemes and desires.  The long and short of it is, he's a good brother, even if he's a soft touch.  Sally's lucky to have him.

Arabella Dempsey is a brand new schoolteacher at Miss Climpson's.  She bumps into Turnip and he takes to her immediately.  They've met before, since Arabella was, until recently, the companion of her wealthy aunt and frequented many balls and soirees amidst the upper classes.  Unfortunately, the aunt married a ne'er do well fortune hunter, a Captain Musgrave. Arabella's hopes of one day inheriting her aunt's wealth were crushed when Musgrave ensnared her aging aunt.  It didn't help that the captain kissed Arabella and led her on as well - before the engagement!  What a scoundrel!   Now Arabella must make ends meet and her chance meeting of Turnip makes her slightly uncomfortable, for it's a reminder of what she could of had, and what her life is now.  Turnip is oblivious to Arabella's life change.  All he knows is he's attracted to her and wants to bloody well see her again!  He invites her to join him on an excursion to Farley Castle.  This will also help solve the mystery of the errant Christmas pudding with the cryptic note - "Meet me at Farley Castle" that turned up at Miss Climpson's.  Turnip will be able to kill two birds with one stone.  See more of Miss Dempsey and find out if he's uncovered a secret spy ring!  Here we see my old favorites like Lord and Lady Vaughn. I loved their story from The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, although here they are terribly sarcastic and snobbish at Arabella and Turnip's expense. But, I think it's mostly an act, though their comments were deliciously on target - great job, Lauren!

After the excursion to the Castle, one thing leads to another and indeed the note in the pudding is related to French spies - and Arabella becomes their target.  They believe she has an important list of spies and they will stop at nothing to get it. There is plenty of intrigue and as a result, a great deal of shenanigans ensue.  Arabella and Turnip keep running into each other and naturally he develops a tendre for Arabella.  He also sees it as his duty to protect her from said spies.  After an hysterical midnight ruckus in the music room, capturing the music master sneaking into a window of Miss Climpson's, Turnip sneaks up to Arabella's bedroom at the school.  Just to make sure she's safe, of course.  One thing leads to another and they share a kiss - but this must stop.  Arabella is a schoolteacher who cannot afford to lose her job - or her reputation.  Turnip is not that easily dissuaded.  He likes Arabella!  He makes it a point to see her again at the hilarious Christmas Pageant put on by the school the next day.  Arabella spends much of the time avoiding Turnip, but he chases her down.  She doesn't realize his feelings are serious about her and she has to put an end to anything.  I really felt badly for both of them.  She tells him once and for all that she can no longer see him, it is folly.  At first he's hurt by her rejection, believing she's putting him off because of his well known reputation for acting like an idiot, but puddings, jam, spies, danger and love all succeed in throwing these two together!

Much of the book revolves around the school and then later at the Duchess of Dovedale's Christmas House Party.  Here we meet some of the characters from Willig's earlier book, Temptation of the Night Jasmine and if you're familiar with that book, you'll see how the stories run simultaneously, only we're now getting a different point of view.   I'm leaving tons out, but trust me, it's jam packed with great little touches and loads of humor, I think this is by far the funniest of all the books in the series.  I love humor in my romances and while listening to it on my iPod, this made peeling potatoes and emptying the dishwasher fun!  I'm in awe of Willig's comic genius!

Turnip is an endearing hero and much of his dialogue is simply hilarious.  The world according to Turnip can be most amusing!  Who would have thought kippers could be so funny?  "Rugby beating Rugby!"  There were numerous crazy Turnip-isms - I wish I had the book in print to remember them exactly, there are too many to list, but they had me cracking up!  Arabella's practicality and common sense counterbalances Turnip's joie de vivre!    I love it how he goes to bat for her and defends and rescues her at the house party.  He is honorable and gentlemanly with her - I'm so glad to see that they both find love at long last - and those lessons at Gentleman Jackson's sure did come in handy - I cheered at the results!

I highly recommend Mischief, it was a real treat and perfect for the holiday season.  I especially loved the music that broke up the parts of the audiobook, it put me in a real festive holiday mood as well!  This has become a new favorite in the series for me, Turnip and Arabella are adorable and refreshing.  They're good for each other!  I simply loved Turnip!  He is a true hero in the finest sense of the word.  I hope you enjoy this latest addition to the Pink Carnation Series as much as I did.  As an FYI, this is a "clean" romance, no sex, so it's entirely appropriate for pre-teens.  Also, there is no mention of the modern day story between Colin and Eloise that takes place in all the previous novels, so we'll just have to wait for Willig's next installment for more on that score. 

Happy Holidays!


A Belated Bride by Karen Hawkins

Book Description:
She'd Never Marry Him!

The last man Arabella Hadley ever wishes to see again is Lucien Devereaux, the handsome, dissolute Duke of Wexford - who broke her innocent heart years ago and disappeared to London. So when she finds an unconscious man on her deserted country road and sees that it's Lucien, she's tempted to leave him there. But even more appalling than his presence is the brazen kiss he plants on her shocked lips and her response! So it would be totally insane to take him home to recover - wouldn't it? Except For One Small Thing... Lucien dares not reveal why he's returned to his country estate - or why he abandoned the strong-willed beauty years ago.  Especially since Arabella clearly has secrets of her own. But when her scheming, marriage-minded aunts successfully compromise them, the two are forced to become man and wife.  Which makes it ever harder for both to battle the passion that never disappeared...

This was a double-edged story of Lucien Devereaux, Duke of Wexford who returns by accident to the woman he loved - and ruined - ten years earlier.  What he did to her was despicable, but at the same time, he felt he had no choice at the time, and now years later he has his chance to make it up to her.  Will she let him?

I love Persuasion like stories.  Long lost love returns - can feelings be rekindled?  Can past sins and disappointments be forgiven?  Lucien and Arabella had fallen in love before he was a big, important duke. He had intended to marry her, but then his father died, he inherited the dukedom and all the debts that went with it.  His only alternative was to marry for money and he ignominiously deserted Arabella.  She was heartbroken and would forever remember him as a rake who discarded her virtue and feelings with nary a backward glance.  She'll love hate him until the day she dies.

Of course, as fate would have it, her carriage nearly runs him over on a moonlit road one night.  What is he even doing near her estate so many years later - and such a long way from London?  Lucien has been busy for the past ten years.  Although he did marry for money, he vowed to never actually use it.  He managed to turn his fortune around by becoming an expert on jewels on the sly, selling and buying for profit.  In addition, the Crown uses his knowledge from time to time to uncover wartime plots and affairs, when feasible.   Lucien is now a widower, his wife turned out to be mad and died in a riding accident.  He never really loved her and he's carrying the guilt of not being there for his wife - could he have prevented her death, could he have stopped her from riding off, crazily on an unbroken horse? 

Now, here he is again, ten years later in Yorkshire, hunting for jewel smugglers at the Crown's behest, and he is smack dab in the bosom of his old love's family.  The old love that he never got over.  The biggest regret of his life.  Can he makes things right between them again?  Is there anything he can do to atone for what he did to Arabella so many years ago?  Arabella is having nothing to do with him.  She cannot forgive him or forget what he did to her and how he broke her heart.  Plus, she has a lot on her hands as it is!  There's only so much one single woman can do!  Busy running a clandestine business smuggling cognac off the coast of Yorkshire to keep her family estate afloat - barely, she worries about her younger brother, home from the war.  He is suffering from post stress traumatic syndrome and has lost the use of his legs.  Wheel chair bound, he is determined to find the secret fortune hidden by their pirate ancestor.  A lost cause, but it keeps him occupied.  In addition, Arabella's two elderly aunts are famous for their sheep "love potion" that is famous in the county.  An illicitly brandy-laced concoction, reminiscent of "the recipe" made by the Baldwin sisters in the old TV show, The Walton's, everyone in the county wants to know what's in it, including the nearby squire and constable.  Did I mention her aunt's gambling debts as well?   Now, on top of everything else, Arabella is dealing with the return of her old love and all the old feelings stirred up in regard to him. 

Does he still have to be just as handsome and tempting as ever?

His charms, passion and that old thing called love just won't let Arabella stick to her guns. Before she knows it, he's wormed his way back into her heart.  She is a goner.  Lucien was deliciously described and it's no wonder Arabella finds him irresistible - her aunts do too!  They were a hoot!  He takes advantage of his injury from the fall when they first meet and stretches out his stay at her home for as long as possible while trying to expose the traitorous jewel ring.  As he gets closer to the truth of who is behind it, can he also save Arabella from the someone that's trying to kill the two of them as well?  Will marrying her solve everything?

I really enjoyed this story despite a somewhat slow start.  I was sympathetic to both Arabella and Lucien.  He's trying his best to make amends to her and I was pulling for him.  The aunts were very funny, particularly the side story in regard to her aunt Jane and the randy squire that she gambles with.  I'm really enjoying Karen Hawkins, she's a favorite of mine now and this is turning into a pretty good Regency series.  I highly recommend it!


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

If You Desire by Kresley Cole

Book Description:
How much temptation can a Highlander resist? He tried to run... In his youth, Hugh MacCarrick foolishly fell in love with a beautiful English lass who delighted in teasing him with her flirtatious ways. Yet he knew he could never marry her because he was a second son with no prospects, shadowed by an accursed family legacy. To avoid temptation, Hugh left home and trained as an assassin. She tried to forget him... Jane Weyland was devastated when the Highlander she believed would marry her abandoned her instead. Years later, when Hugh MacCarrick is summoned to protect her from her father's enemies, her heartache has turned to fury - but her desire for him has not waned. Will passion overwhelm them? In hiding, Jane torments Hugh with seductive play. He struggles to resist her because of deadly secrets that could endanger her further. But Hugh is no longer a gentle young man - and toying with the fever-pitched desires of a hardened warrior will either get Jane burned... or inflame a love that never died.

Second in the "If You" trilogy of three Scottish Highlander brothers who think their family is cursed.  They believe that a prophecy found in a book about their family legacy will prevent them from ever finding the love of a woman.  If they marry and consummate the marriage, that woman will die. Due to the death of their father and an accident that befell the fiance of the eldest brother, they truly believe this ridiculous prophecy.

This is Hugh's story, and he is just as gullible as his brothers regarding this curse.  The middle brother, Hugh is a trained assassin.  He is trying to prevent another dope addicted assassin, bent on revenge, from killing Jane, the love of Hugh's life. Yet, Hugh cannot admit she's the love of his life for fear he'll inadvertently cause her death.  But it seems like everyone (except Jane) is aware that Hugh has loved her forever! *rolls eyes*

Jane's father is basically Hugh's boss.  He trains, hires and oversees assassins who work for the Crown.  One of the best of the best assassins has turned rogue and wants to get back at Jane's father - and Hugh.  He also happens to be a psycho killer hooked on drugs.  He knows how important Jane is to both of them, so that's why he's out to kill her.  As part of the plan, Jane's father orders Hugh to marry his daughter in order to keep her safe and remove her from London, out of danger.  Jane has secretly loved Hugh all her life though Hugh has had no idea.  As much as there is a strong attraction between the two, the curse stands in their way of consummating the marriage.  Jane has been angry with Hugh for the past ten years because he disappeared without ever saying good bye to her.  She thought she'd marry him back then, so she's been carrying a grudge ever since.  That's why she's getting back at him now, by being a brat and a tease most of the time while they're on the road fleeing London to go into hiding.  I didn't exactly like Jane, but I could relate to her feelings for Hugh.  She'd grown up with him and had always loved him.  She had expected that he'd wait for her to grow up and marry her.  Instead he disappeared (working for her father) and had to leave the country with no explanations.  He was afraid for her life due to the curse.  Now, she's a grown up modern woman with vengeance on her mind.  She's going to get him back for what he did to her, even if it kills him! She wants to entice him and make him pay for her broken heart.  Of course, she still loves him too, even more reason to hate him!

At first they are at odds with one another and she's a royal pain in the neck after their quickie marriage.  But, they have to go on this long journey to the Scottish Highlands from London and he saves her life a few times.   He finally clues her in to the whole hunted by the assassin reason for marrying her, and he keeps making it clear to her that their marriage is one in name only.  As soon as the assassin is killed, he will leave her.  Well, this really pisses her off.  Frankly, I don't blame her, but she doesn't know about the dumb curse yet.  They become closer, but it was just so damn annoying with this curse and their lust for one another that they can't act upon.  They wind up at his brother's house that is nearly falling down.  They get to know one another and play house while fixing it up.  She's hoping she can change his mind about leaving her eventually.  Meanwhile this menacing psycho assassin is getting closer.  The worry about him was always hanging over their heads and ruining any fun they might have.  Finally, they give in to their passions and Hugh tosses the curse out the window.

For an eighteenth century aristocratic young lady, I thought Jane was much too modern and independent for me in her thinking. I didn't like her at first, but she grew on me eventually. Hugh, who was supposed to be this ferocious highlander seemed to always be at Jane's beck and call, writhing from un-quenched desire. She knew just how to press his buttons and lead him on to the brink of no return, although often it backfired on her, since she'd be so overcome herself from their kisses and what have you. I found the whole predicament unworthy of him, although it was fun to read! ;) Sometimes I felt like slapping Jane at the way she led him around by his nose. I softened towards her finally when she admitted her love to him and explained how hurt she'd been when he left her and why she was so angry these many years later. He was clueless and had no idea. He marveled at the thought she had always loved him.  Once the assassin is taken care of eventually Hugh learns the curse is not what he thinks it is.  I sympathized with Jane's reaction when Hugh finally tells her about the curse.  She was like "What? You've got to be kidding!"  It's how I would have reacted too!  She didn't believe it, and found it hard to understand that her beloved Hugh did!

I love Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark Series, but this one is just plain annoying.  It's not nearly as good, the chemistry was off, and it didn't help that Jane was so bratty most of the time, although she had her reasons.  As a whole, the book wasn't bad, there were some sexy love scenes and tense moments with the assassin, but it just didn't grab me.  I do kind of wonder what has happened to the third brother who is presumed dead or missing by the drug crazed assassin.  Of course, he isn't.  The third and last book is his story, so I'll probably read it for closure.

Not a bad nineteenth century historical, though I prefer Cole's modern paranormals better.  I think she has a better handle on them.


Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord by Sarah MacLean

Book Description:
Since being named one of London’s "Lords to Land" by a popular ladies’ magazine, Nicholas St. John has been relentlessly pursued by every matrimony-minded female in the ton. So when an opportunity to escape fashionable society presents itself, he eagerly jumps—only to land in the path of the most determined, damnably delicious woman he’s ever met! The daughter of a titled wastrel, Lady Isabel Townsend has too many secrets and too little money. Though used to taking care of herself quite handily, her father’s recent passing has left Isabel at sea and in need of outside help to protect her young brother’s birthright. The sinfully handsome, eminently eligible Lord Nicholas could be the very salvation she seeks. But the lady must be wary and not do anything reckless…like falling madly, passionately in love.

Young, beautiful but impoverished Lady Isabel Townsend is secretly running a shelter for women on her family estate up in the boonies of Northern England. It helps pay the bills although her roof needs repair and she has no way to pay for her younger brother to go to a proper boy's school.  Her recently deceased father, a spendthrift with a less than savory reputation amongst the ton, left them with almost nothing to live on, except the house and some ancient statues that Isabel is reluctant to part with.  Isabel is managing the best she can, with a house full of women who are working for her as assorted servants, a groom, butler and a few able bodied footmen, although with a decidedly feminine air about them.

She encounters the handsome and much sought after Lord Nicholas St. John, who is looking for the sister of the Duke of Leighton, his close friend.  The Duke's sister, Georgiana has run away because she is pregnant and is seeking refuge at Isabel's estate, which has developed a sort of underground reputation as a safe place for women.  Nicholas has somewhat of a past reputation as a "finder."  He is also an antiquities expert with, I suspect, a sort of Indiana Jones edge to him.  As he's following Georgiana's trail and getting closer and closer to her, he and Isabel meet by accident - quite literally.  Isabel, absorbed in reading some papers in the village nearly gets herself run over by a cart.  Nicholas saves her just in time, having no idea that she is the source of his quarry.  Talk about finding love in the least likely of places.  He is immediately struck by her fine figure and unusual height - not to mention beauty.  But, most of all, he is taken by her because she seems to have no idea he is such a catch in London - every matchmaking mama's dream!  Instead, she only knows him as the well known antiquities expert and she just happens to have some "marbles" that need to be appraised and - ultimately sold.

At the same time, her "girls" back at the estate are convinced that Isabel should marry for money.  That is the only way to save the estate.  They paw through their favorite ladies' periodical, Pearls and Pelisses, seeking advice on how to land a lord.  Isabel will have none of it.  She's convinced selling the marbles will save the estate.  Albeit, she is sorry to part with them, the Greek and Roman statues are worth a small fortune.   She is strong and independent and doesn't want to marry herself off to the highest bidder.  After seeing all the women who have been mistreated by men over the years, seeking refuge at her home, that's the last thing she wants to do.  Nicholas invites himself to the estate, his "tracker" antennae suspecting she is hiding something there, due to her cagey invitation to inspect her statues.  He shows up early and unexpectedly with his friend, "Rock," a Turk that takes a liking to Isabel's cousin (nice little side story there.)  A huge storm hits the area and they're forced to spend the night. Pandemonium ensues as Isabel valiantly tries to keep her big secret - a secret from Lord St. John!  Even though she has no idea that he's looking for Georgiana, who has been happily acting as her brother's governess and teaching him Latin, she can't let word get out, it could ruin her!

Well, one thing after another happens and Nicholas falls for Isabel as soon as he sees her in her britches trying to patch the roof.  It doesn't hurt it's raining and her thin blouse becomes plastered to her figure.  This leads to a kiss and the fireworks begin...  Soon Nicholas melts Isabel's heart and changes her mind about lords and men and the possibilities of all the pleasures they can bring!  If those marbles could only talk!  ;) This was a fun regency and follow up to MacLean's first book, Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, but not quite as good.  I enjoyed this, but I didn't love it.  Unfortunately, it was a little like another book I've recently read, How to Marry a Marquis by Julia Quinn, which I preferred over this one.  They both had the cute little bits at the beginning of each chapter, instructing the reader on how to land their lord or marquis - whatever - and the penniless daughter left with no money, needing to raise her sibling.  Similar.  Here, there were plenty of plot twists and turns and the usual happy ending as well as some touching moments when both come to terms with their parents' mistakes.  I liked the way Nicholas interacted with Isabel's little brother, the young earl, as well.  Both Isabel and Nicholas grow and learn in this tale.  They're both able to shed some of the burdens that have been on their shoulders for years.  It's well written and has a a good plotline with some funny moments too, I like this author and she'll be an automatic buy for me.

We get some fun glimpses of my favorites from the last book too. Nick's brother, Gabriel, and his wife Callie (I loved both of them!) help save the day for Isabel and Nicholas after they have their "big misunderstanding."  Naturally, there are more books to come, the next will focus on the jerky Duke of Leighton who left his sister Georgiana alone after realizing her condition.  There's more to that story, I'm sure.  He leaves much to be desired and deserves his comeuppance.  I'm sure Nicholas and Gabriel's fiery Italian sister, Juliana, will succeed in accomplishing just that occurrence.

Last but not least, someone please get Ms. MacLean some decent covers for her books! They're too good to have these cheap and nondescript covers!  The color of this one is atrocious as well as the font and photo - uggh, there is nothing I like about it!  Red and purple???  Yecch!  But don't let that stop you from reading, as the old saying goes, don't judge a book by it's cover! :)


Stolen Charms by Adele Ashworth

Book Description:
A Flawless Beauty
Bored with her pompous suitors, Miss Natalie Haislett longs for romance and adventure. She is inflamed by dreams of the mysterious Black Knight - a daring English thief who has stolen her heart from afar with his legendary exploits. To meet her beloved, she reluctantly appeals to the one man who knows him: the renowned womanizer Jonathan Drake.

A Priceless Passion
Intrigued by Natalie's loveliness, Jonathan agrees to take her to France where the Black Knight is rumored to be. To allay suspicion, they travel in the guise of a married couple, sharing intimacies that blossom into friendship and kisses that stoke a reckless hunger...

A Thief of Hearts
When a necklace of precious emeralds is brazenly stolen at a party they attend, Natalie knows that the Black Knight is near. But she doesn't realize that the man of her dreams has already seen inside her heart-and has vowed to possess it...

I simply adored this romance! Set in the early 1840's, the young and proper Natalie Haislett runs off to France with dashing Jonathan Drake, a known rake, to see if he can introduce her to a daring jewel thief, the Black Knight.  As improbable as the whole scenario was, I loved it!  I was a bit apprehensive that I wasn't going to love this one as much as My Darling Caroline, another of Ashworth's novels, but I enjoyed this one even more!

Natalie is at a disadvantage, we first meet her as a young, naive debutante who declares her love to the older and dashing Jonathan Drake outside her family estate the evening of her debut.  They share a passionate kiss and she tells him she loves him.  Rather than taking complete advantage of her (which he easily could have done) he does the honorable thing and ruefully sends her back inside.  Years go by and she cannot think about that evening without complete embarrassment.  Yet, it turns out she has to turn to Jonathan for another reason now - to introduce her to the Black Knight!  Of course, we all know who the "real" Black Knight is.  Jonathan is working for the Crown, the usual sort of espionage, foiling some sort of French coup thing.  Jewels are involved and it was all deliciously far fetched but so much fun!

The two travel to France together, posing as man and wife.  They sail there and head for Marseilles, sharing a tiny cabin together - and a bed no less!  Nothing happens between them except some passionate kissing, stringing out the sexual chemistry between the two, with a constant building up.  Their characters are well developed and there is a lot of emotion and thought that is going on in both their heads about one another.  Natalie has this crazy notion that she wants to marry the Black Knight - or at least this is what she tells Jonathan.  He gnashes his teeth as he discovers his feelings are strong for her, yet he's competing against himself - the Black Knight!  But, the plot turns, and we find out Natalie's real reasons are different and not what they seem.   She's still attracted to Jonathan very much, but is convinced he's a rake and no good for her.  How can he convince her otherwise?  Can he persuade her that he really loves her - and has been in love with her ever since that first night together when they danced and she ingenuously told him she loved him?  How can he make her believe she's not just one of a million other women he's said those same words to?

I'm leaving tons out to avoid spoilers, but there are plot twists all over and I loved the locales and descriptions of the scenery, the costumes, furnishings - all very well done in this historical romance.  Entertaining plot, emotional and thoughtful - and poignant.  By the time they declare their love for one another, I was nearly in tears. Great, great! 


Monday, November 15, 2010

Life: Keith Richards by Keith Richards (audio)

Book Description:
As lead guitarist of the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards created the riffs, the lyrics, and the songs that roused the world. A true and towering original, he has always walked his own path, spoken his mind, and done things his own way. Now at last Richards pauses to tell his story in the most anticipated autobiography in decades. And what a story! Listening obsessively to Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters records in a coldwater flat with Mick Jagger and Brian Jones, building a sound and a band out of music they loved. Finding fame and success as a bad-boy band, only to find themselves challenged by authorities everywhere.  Dropping his guitar's sixth string to create a new sound that allowed him to create immortal riffs like those in "Honky Tonk Woman" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Falling in love with Anita Pallenberg, Brian Jones's girlfriend.  Arrested and imprisoned for drug possession.  Tax exile in France and recording Exile on Main Street.  Ever-increasing fame, isolation, and addiction making life an ever faster frenzy. Through it all, Richards remained devoted to the music of the band, until even that was challenged by Mick Jagger's attempt at a solo career, leading to a decade of conflicts and ultimately the biggest reunion tour in history.  In a voice that is uniquely and unmistakably him--part growl, part laugh--Keith Richards brings us the truest rock-and-roll life of our times, unfettered and fearless and true.

A little known fact about me, that probably none of you are remotely aware of is I was once a complete Rolling Stone junkie.  I was obsessed as a young teenager.  Posters all over my room, the Stones insignia -that giant red mouth with the shiny lips on my bedroom door...  a lifesize poster of Mick Jagger leering over my bed for everyone driving past our house to see.  What can I say?  I've been in love with the Rolling Stones for over 35 years.  I didn't just love them, I grew up with them, I learned how to play the guitar with them - by them.  Playing Rolling Stones songs as a kid, listening to the songs constantly and then becoming obsessed with them solidified my Stones mania.  Mick and Keith in particular.  I read up on them all I could - is it any wonder I'd drop everything and get this audiobook of Keith's - with Johnny Depp narrating?  Come on - it's a no brainer!

This was an amazing autobiography, love, love, loved it! Keith's story is superbly told. One of the best autobiographies I've read (or listened to).  An in depth view of life from the the resilient, indefatigable Keith Richards. Maestro, backbone, creative heartbeat and soul of the Rolling Stones.  Never would I have imagined that the stoned out, heroine addicted, dark rhythm guitarist had been a choir boy and a boy scout! Tons of revelations on life, on the road, touring, drugs, his relationship with (and without) Mick, his girlfriends, children - even his pets!  But most of all, the heart of it is the ever expanding love of his craft - the guitar and his music.

There are parts that get bogged down a bit in their early years.  If you're not already aware of who the blues and jazz greats of Chicago were at the time, your eyes may glaze over as Keith extols over the greatness of these musicians.  I remember reading  their names way back when during my Stones obsession when I was thirteen or so: Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, playing at the Crawdaddy Club.  The early Stones were into rhythm and blues, that was their shtick.  They then morphed into rock n' roll later.

One of the most amazing things Keith reveals is the fact that he was actually a choirboy - and a Boy Scout! It's almost a joke - as if he's putting us on heh, heh, "Let's fuck with their heads and make them think I was a choir boy and a Boy Scout - you think they'll believe it?"  Well, let me raise my hand - I can't help but wonder, "Is he putting us on?"  He was a soprano in a boy's choir in Dartford where he grew up and actually sang before the queen in the 1950's.  On top of that he was really into scouting! He was even a patrol leader and to this day remembers it all - Keith remembers everything!  I was really surprised and loved the accounting of his life. 

In case you're not sure who Keith is, he's the dark horse, mangy, scary looking Stone who plays rhythm guitar while Mick struts across the stage, always in the limelight.  Keith sings, but his speaking voice is gravelly, sexy, nearly incomprehensible.  Yet his singing voice sounds so different!  High and somewhat weak in the early years, he rarely sang except in harmony vocals with Mick.  Never solo.  Many of his songs, particularly on the "Steel Wheels" album are my favorites.  "Can't Be Seen With You" and "Slipping Away" are great.  His voice is good on them too.  He really got into singing more in his later years and it shows.  I can barely stand to listen to Mick on that album now, Keith is so much better and his songs are soulful with some beautiful melodies.  Who'd have thought?  Many of the Stones' great songs were written by Keith, they're his music, while Jagger mostly wrote lyrics, but later on wrote some big hits as well, such as "Miss You."

Keith was pretty cute in his early days of the '60's and '70's, you'd never know it now, with that leathery look about him.  Check out his eyes, they've seen a lot over the years.  I've seen the Stones twice in concert, first time was in 1981 on the "Tattoo You" tour. Keith looked very muscular onstage, I was surprised, I thought he'd look like a wasted heroine addict.  He was off the stuff by then.  Wearing a black leather vest and nothing underneath.  Even from where I was, somewhere back in the crowd on an outdoor day in Philadelphia, he was someone to watch and follow.  Keith was steady, much more than Mick, who was doing all his gyrations and turns and bumps and grinds with  "Start Me Up" blasting.  Keith held my attention, he looked focused and strong.  Mick just looked, well... stupid.  Ah, memories.  The second time I saw them was on their "Steel Wheels" tour around 1989 at the Meadowlands at Giant Stadium.  I remember it was a good concert, but not nearly as memorable as the Philadelphia gig.  I don't even remember what Keith or Mick were wearing at that one - it was at night, outdoors, but I was older and more sedate by then.  We actually had seats at that concert. *grin* I was married, but no kids yet.

Growing up an only child in a poor post-WWII Dartford, Keith got into scouting and singing in the school choir.  But when his voice changed at around age 13 he was booted out of the choir and he was lost.  He became a rebel after that, but still kept with the scouting until he heard Elvis' Heartbreak Hotel and began playing the guitar.  That was it.  His advice on guitar playing really interested me, for his advice is almost exactly what I did growing up.  If you want to learn how to play the guitar, start with the basics and learn on an acoustic.  Then work your way up to steel string and electric.  I only got as far as acoustic with the gut strings (steel hurt my tender fingers too much) but I played and played constantly developing the much needed callouses.  Luckily my older brother was just as into it as I was and he taught me alot.  We'd jam together up on our third floor blasting "Sticky Fingers" and playing "Sway" and "Wild Horses," I was singing and wailing away on  "Dead Flowers" over and over until we got it right.  I was rhythm and my brother was lead.  Hard to believe nowadays.  I was very interested in Keith's trick by tuning his guitar with just five strings to get that quintessential sound.  I play by ear most of the time nowadays and can learn a song simply by hearing it and playing it over and over - the same way Keith learned in his early days playing the guitar!  Lots of craftmanship and hints and instruction abounds throughout his book.  As he says at one point, musicians are always happy to help fellow musicians get it right.  I haven't picked my Yamaha up in years - but I still have the same one I had from 1973-unbroken, no less!  (I think it needs new strings - but that's about it.)  I think it's about time I took that baby out of it's case - I'm so in the mood to jam again!

Everything you've ever wanted to know about the Stones you can probably find out in Keith's book.  He pulls no punches and tells is like it is. 

Keith was the real leader of the Stones.  He rounded people up and got them to do stuff.  Of course, during his heroine years, he might keep them waiting around for hours and hours, but he'd make up for it by not going to sleep for days to finish recording a track!  He managed his heroine addiction to a tee, it was quite an art when you think about it.  He's very open about it, I feel like, if the need ever arose, which I don't think it ever will thank-you-very-much, I would know just how to cut heroine - but it would have to be the good stuff.  He lived with heroine for over 10 years, both he and his wife/girlfriend Anita Pallenberg were junkies -what an existence - but they managed it.

Keith's not malicious or spiteful, you can tell, he's just telling the truth about how he saw things.  He's candid about Brian Jones and Mick Jagger - he doesn't hold his feeling back.  He tells you exactly what he thought and still thinks of them.  He basically hated Brian who had a mean streak.  It was refreshing and clear - despite the 10+ years of when he was a heroine addict.  Keith basically comes across as a great guy, a nice guy, a decent guy who just wants to play music and doesn't want to have to deal with egos and one particular member's LVS (lead vocalist syndrome) attempt to branch off to a solo career and undermined a record deal to do it.  Keith is loyal and a friend for life but Mick's subterfuge really pissed him off.  A must for any Stones fan, I cannot recommend it enough.  I also liked the way the audio was set up.  Johnny Depp did most of it as Keith before heroine, and then after heroine.  During the heroine years, the voice is different, narrated by Joe Hurley, a fellow musician.  He's more like Keith's real voice, slurry, sloshy, very British and just plain ... cool.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Perfect Stranger by Anne Gracie

Book Description:
They vow to love, honor and cherish ... and then get to know one other...

With her signature spirit, Faith Merridew has left everything she’s ever known for the man she thought was the love of her life. Instead he leaves her name - and dreams - in the dust. That is, until she crosses paths with Nicholas Blacklock, a Waterloo veteran, who offers to save her reputation with a marriage of convenience.

A hardened soldier, Nick hides a deadly secret - and tries to keep Faith at arm’s length. But even though Nick can command legions of men with a word, his orders go sweetly ignored by his convenient bride. And as they come to know one another more deeply, she brings out in him things he thought dead: gentleness, laughter…and love…

Quickie review.  I've been distracted and busy of late and need to do some catching up.

This is Faith's story, third in the Regency Merridew Sisters series.  Twin sister to Hope, from the last book in the series, The Perfect Waltz, Faith is a beauty with a love of music.  Duped by a con artist who passes himself off as a Russian violin virtuoso of royal lineage, she elopes with him, only to find out months later that he's already married.  Left high and dry, she is ruined.  Stranded, alone in France, with no money and no food, she has nothing but the clothes upon her back.  Just as she is about to face the end at the hands of a few Frenchmen with rape on their minds, she is miraculously rescued by a handsome stranger who handily dispatches the villains and takes Faith under his wing and protection.  She owes him her life.

Her prince in shining armor's name is Nicholas Blacklock.  As soon as he hears of Faith's sad story he tells her he will marry her to save her reputation, in spite of the protestations from his friend, a giant Scot, who is wary of women and distrusts all of them.  Faith is aghast at the idea as well.  She can't just up and marry some stranger she knows nothing about!  But, the alternative is unthinkable.  She's stuck and soon acquiesces and accepts his proposal.  Nick carries a secret.  Raised in England from a noble family he is a man who thinks his days are numbered.  By marrying Faith, he will give her his name, status and a home in England with his mother, where she will be well taken care of.  A last good deed before he dies.  No strings and no future attached.  A marriage in name only.  He intends to send her on a packet to France the day after they marry, never to see her again. 

What secret is he hiding and can they avoid falling in love despite their promise not to? Nick is convinced he is dying, yet, we, the readers, have no idea why.  Migraine headaches plague him, but that's about as much as we know.   Faith is completely oblivious, having no idea that he expects to die soon.  All she knows is he has saved her and she doesn't want to leave him.

Of course they fall in love, this is a romance after all.   Faith proves to be irresistible and she refuses to leave for England, no matter what Nick tells her to do.  She keeps coming back to him after he thinks he's sent her off and good bye for good.  He can't get rid of her, and soon he doesn't want to.  They fall in love quickly, yet it is bittersweet, for all the while, there is this sense of doom hanging over them - what is it?  How can it be prevented?  Is there any hope?  And what is in Spain where he is heading - and why?  Yet, despite the impending doom, their nights together are blissful, their only chance to be alone - the idea of a marriage in name only went out the window their first night together!

Faith is adorable and I liked her.  She will not accept no for an answer from Nick and tries her best to be a good military wife to him as they travel on horseback, sleeping rough sometimes, camping and cooking over fires throughout the French countryside  Faith has come a long way from Bond Street in London.  His friends soon accept and love her as well and do all they can to make the road easier for her.  But they also know Nick's secret, and the closer they get to their destination in Balbao, Spain, the more uneasy everyone becomes.

This turned out to be a poignant story after the slow start of when Faith and Nick meet and before they marry.  It picked up about half way through and became a page turner.   I had to find out what his secret was and how it was resolved.  The secondary characters were well drawn and the side story between Nick's Scottish friend and the young and wild Spanish girl they meet was an interesting diversion that ultimately led to the big finale when everything came together.  I didn't feel like I really got inside Nick's head, maybe it was due to his secret for most of the book.  Although, I liked him as a hero and kept hoping for a happy outcome!  I loved his idea of swimming lessons!  Faith's character was deeper and more involved..  It also helped that I knew her from the two previous books as well.  She was persistent and strong, she grows up in this book and becomes a resilient woman, no longer a victim.

I recommend this series, although this book was my least favorite, primarily because it had the shadow of death overhanging most of it.  Still, I enjoyed it and I can assure everyone it ends happily, albeit with a touch of the supernatural.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

How to Marry a Marquis by Julia Quinn

Book Description:
When Elizabeth Hotchkiss stumbles upon a copy of How to Marry a Marquis in her employer's library, she's convinced someone is playing a cruel joke. With three younger siblings to support, she knows she has to marry for money, but who might have guessed how desperate she's become? A guidebook to seduction might be just the thing she needs—and what harm could there be in taking a little peek?

James Sidwell, the Marquis of Riverdale, has been summoned to rescue his aunt from a blackmailer, a task that requires him to pose as the new estate manager, and his primary suspect is his aunt's companion, Elizabeth. Intrigued by the alluring young woman with the curious little rulebook, he gallantly offers to help her find a husband... by practicing her wiles on him. But when practice becomes all too perfect, James decides that there is only one rule worth following—that Elizabeth marry her marquis.

I loved this romance.  Second in the Regency "Agents for the Crown" series, Elizabeth is an endearing heroine who works as a paid companion for the irascible Lady Danbury. Elizabeth has been working for her for five years, while trying to support her three younger siblings after her wastrel father up and died and left them with nothing but debts.  Elizabeth, gently bred from a noble, though penniless family, is at her wits end.  The money is running out and all she can hope to do is marry to save her family.

One day, she finds the book "How to Marry a Marquis" on a bookshelf in Lady Danbury's library.  Curious, she picks it up and decides to take it back to her cottage and read it, although she really doesn't believe in anything it says, but... she's desperate.  Just getting it home without being discovered turned out to be a huge feat in of itself!  Her younger sister gets hold of it, studies it, and convinces Elizabeth that if she follows all the rules then Elizabeth should have no trouble finding someone suitable.  Maybe not necessarily a marquis, but someone that she can be happy with.   The rules are hilarious btw - I was convinced Lady Danbury was the real author, but it never come up in the storyline.

At the same time, Lady Danbury has gotten her nephew, James Sidwell to pose as her new estate manager.  James, a marquis, is more like a son to her with a secret agent type background.  They have a poignant background regarding how Lady Danbury took James into her home after his mother died when he was a young boy.  She helped remove him from the unhappy and detrimental influence of his father.  Now, a grown man and a retired agent of the Crown, Lady Danbury enlists his help to find out who is blackmailing her.  In his disguise as estate manager, he meets Elizabeth repeatedly, and soon they form a friendship.  He is interested in the comely companion to his aunt, despite her alarming tendency to flail her arms about, knocking things over and hurting unsuspecting marquis that happen to be in harm's way.  Elizabeth barely gives the handsome estate manager the time of day at first, for he is unsuitable for her needs.  Although, she has been learning her lessons from "How to Marry a Marquis" and tries practicing them on James, since he's the only young man around.  To her, he is nothing more than a guinea pig for the real thing.  She needs to meet someone with a little money and an estate steward just isnt' going to "do" it.  James is chagrined, for if he weren't bound to keep his disguise in place, he would court Elizabeth as himself - a marquis!  They are continually thrown together and I laughed out loud at many of their adventures and mishaps together.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who's behind it all.

Before long, James finds out about Elizabeth's guilty secret and her book.  He finds it intriguing (being a marquis himself) and offers to help her in her quest.  Funnily enough, her first lessons involve kissing and boxing.  Amazingly enough - she goes along with it!  But almost immediately, the more he's around Elizabeth, the more he realizes he doesn't like the idea of her marrying anyone else.  He's jealous at the very idea!  He must have her for himself and figures he can play along with her little game and once he catches his aunt's blackmailer then he can come clean with her, ask her to marry him and they'll live happily ever after.  But, it doesn't work out that way.  Elizabeth finds out that James is a marquis at the masquerade ball Lady Danbury throws.  She jumps to the wrong conclusions and thinks he's been making fun of her all along, amusing himself at her expense.  Of course, she's dead wrong - he's been falling in love with her instead - and she with him!  But, she fell in love with what she thought was a lowly estate manager!  James' friends from the first book in the series, To Catch an Heiress, try to patch things up for them, but Elizabeth doesn't make it easy.  She refuses to marry James - after he's made it crystal clear he wants to marry her!  Elizabeth has a tendency to be stubborn and obstinate at times. 

This book was simply delightful and read like a screwball comedy.  I'm leaving tons out, but the verbal word  play, irony and developing romance between Elizabeth and James made this a quick and entertaining read.  Elizabeth tried to resist James' natural charm and good humor for she was determined to marry someone to save her family and James was determined to make her fall in love with him, but he was stuck because of his hidden identity.  The back and forth between the two along with James' dilemma about how he should break the news to Elizabeth about who he really was kept the story moving forward.

An early Julia Quinn comedy with a touch of poignancy, laughter and some sweet love scenes thrown in as well.  I liked Elizabeth, she tried to do the right thing, but her single minded determination got in the way of her common sense that was telling her to trust her love and go with James - whether estate manager or marquis!  I loved it!


Friday, November 5, 2010

Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn

Book Description:
After eight idyllic months in the Mediterranean, Lady Julia Grey and her detective husband are ready to put their investigative talents to work once more. At the urging of Julia's eccentric family, they hurry to India to aid an old friend, the newly widowed Jane Cavendish. Living on the Cavendish tea plantation with the remnants of her husband's family, Jane is consumed with the impending birth of her child—and with discovering the truth about her husband's death. Was he murdered for his estate? And if he was, could Jane and her unborn child be next?

Amid the lush foothills of the Himalayas, dark deeds are buried and malicious thoughts flourish. The Brisbanes uncover secrets and scandal, illicit affairs and twisted legacies. In this remote and exotic place, exploration is perilous and discovery, deadly. The danger is palpable and, if they are not careful, Julia and Nicholas will not live to celebrate their first anniversary.

It was deliciously fun to re-visit with Lady Julia and her new husband, Nicholas Brisbane in this fourth book of the Lady Julia Gray historical mystery series.  Although, as much as I love them now as a married couple, that doesn't mean the misunderstandings between them have gone away.  Nor has Brisbane ceased his enigmatic brooding.  I was pissed off with him in the first part of the book.  Brisbane still has his mysterious side, which can make him appear arrogant and unfeeling at times.  Until we realize - he's doing it all for a reason - and then we love him for it.   Brisbane does nothing without a good reason.   It's important to always remember this - I think I've finally learned my lesson and won't forget.  O ye of little faith?  It's amazing how Raybourn can make me love him and then hate him - and then love him again! 

As newlyweds, Julia and Nicholas are both feeling their way through their marriage.  Feelings get hurt, passions flair, making up in bed is always nice, but then the cycle repeats again.  The basic gist of it is, Julia wants to be a detective like her husband and Brisbane won't let her because it's too dangerous.  She pouts, says something flippant.   Stiffly proper and well groomed, he storms out, while she stews and waits for him to return.  This time, they're abroad, en route to a remote outpost in India with Portia, Julia's sister in tow.  Portia is bent on reuniting with her former lesbian lover and soulmate, the now widowed Jane Cavendish, who is due to give birth.  Jane's husband, Freddie, died under tragic and mysterious circumstances.  Plum, Julia's brother is also with them, acting as protector since Brisbane has remained behind in Calcutta.  Another one of the those pesky marital spats.  *grr*

After their long journey, when they arrive at Jane's plantation "Peacocks" , they find out their wayward cousins Emma and Lucy Phipps, who we met in Silent in the Sanctuary, are living nearby - small world.  We don't see much of Emma, for she is dying of breast cancer, but Lucy plays a larger part in the story.  Now, a widow herself, she is nursing her sister and having a clandestine affair with someone in the neighborhood, hoping to remarry after her sister's death.  Frankly, I kept thinking there would be more to these two mysterious sisters.  Without giving away any spoilers, I don't believe we've seen the last of either of them.  I wouldn't be surprised if all is not as it seems.  It kept niggling at me, Julia never saw the dead body.

Once at "Peacocks", Julia begins her detecting to find out if Jane's dead husband was murdered or not.  There are loads of interesting side characters, the Reverand and his particularly unusual wife and family, a drunken doctor, the handsome Harry Cavendish, cousin of the deceased, the domineering maiden aunt, a mysterious White Rajah who lives in an old monastery nearby - plenty of suspects and intrigue, not to mention danger.  There is a man eating tiger that is terrorizing the area, which seemed to scare me more than anything, based on what happened to the drunken doctor's wife.  She was mauled by it, enduring an excruciating painful death.

Eventually, Brisbane re-joins them at the plantation and the book, in my opinion, became more interesting in the second half. Maybe it's just because I love him and when he's in the picture - everything is livelier in my eyes.  Both he and Julia become a team, albeit he is reluctant to have her join him for he worries about her safety.  Still, they make it work.   Brisbane's concern for her is truly noble and by the end of the book, his motives are understood, even though earlier on he appears selfish and sulky.  All I can say is, he's a brilliant actor!  *sorry, I'm being cagey to avoid spoilers*

I enjoyed the mystery surrounding "Peacocks" and how it unraveled - it was a good story!  I was completely surprised by certain events, although I did guess correctly about who the leprous old woman was, but not at first.  Believe me, for the most part, I was guessing incorrectly throughout (I'd make a terrible detective!)   Many of the the side characters were oddly peculiar, yet likable, moreso than in the previous books.  The story between Jane and Portia was particularly moving and I get a lump in my throat thinking about it.  Yet, the main driving force in the story is how Julia and Brisbane are getting on as man and wife.  The fact they are now married only makes the series better, in my opinion.   I was worried that the series would lose some of it's fizz, but that's not the case at all.   In fact, it's quite the opposite.  Are they as humorously entertaining as Amelia and Radcliffe in the Crocodile on the Sandbank series?  No, but who could be?  Still, Julia and Brisbane have their own particular winning qualities which I find nearly as satisfying.

I believe this was probably my favorite of the series to date.   The characterizations and intrigue have more depth to them than in the previous Lady Julia novels.  Although it got off to a slow start, the poignancy in the second half made up for it, enhancing the story with it's richness and memorable events.   I highly recommend for Victorian historical mystery lovers, this is a great addition to the series.


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