Sunday, August 21, 2011

It's a braw bricht moonlicht nicht t'nicht...

... and I'm off for Bonnie Scotland tonicht - ye ken? 

I'll be there for two weeks and excited doesn't come close to describing the way I'm feeling at the moment!  I'll finally be living my dream and touring the Scottish Highlands in addition to visiting Edinburgh, Skye, Islay and St. Andrews!  A good part of our time will be in the Loch Ness area as well, so I'll be sure to visit many Outlander locations and post a full recap of my trip when I get back!


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dream Man by Linda Howard (audio)

Book Description:
Detective Dane Hollister of the Orlando police department has never met anyone quite like Marlie Keen. While he has doubts about her supposed clairvoyant powers, she sees crimes as they're being committed, there is no doubt about how much he desires her. To Marlie, Dane is all heat and hard muscle, and he makes her body come alive as it never has before. But not even she can foresee that their passion will lead them on a dangerous journey into the twisted mind of a madman who will threaten their happiness and their lives.

Quickie Review:

This was a great romantic suspense thriller - on audio it was incredible!  With Phil Gigante narrating as Dane Hollister, it was to die for.  I already know Phil from his narration of Karen Marie Moning's books - 'nuff said.  If you loved him as a Scottish Highlander or Barron's from her Fever series - you'll love him as Dane as well.

Linda Howard is a favorite of mine and Dream Man is another total winner.   Full of nail biting moments, the reader follows Detective Dane Hollister as he's on the hunt for a serial killer in Orlando, FL.  Marlie Keen had a traumatic and horrible experience six years earlier while working with the police to catch a killer.  Because of it, she lost her "powers" -  until now.  Marlie is clairvoyant and has the unique ability to see inside the killers' heads as they select their victims and kill them.  Marlie, who has worked with the police in the past, helping them solve murder mysteries, comes face to face with Dane Hollister who is the chief detective investigating a recent and very bloody brutal murder that has taken place in Orlando.

Dane is skeptical of Marlie upon their first meeting.  At first, he doesn't believe a thing she's saying about witnessing the recent murder because she's inside the killer's head while he's doing it.  They're antagonistic towards one another, exacerbated by the fact that Dane has a raging hard-on through the whole thing! As much as he dislikes Marlie at first, he's unaccountably attracted to her!  He can't seem to control it, and she's pretty much oblivious to it in the beginning.  But his partner (who I loved!) was onto it from the get go!  Poor Dane, every time he gets near her, he can't stop himself from pointing like a hunting dog - he can't help it!

Pretty soon, Marlie proves herself the real thing and Dane, reluctantly, admits she really can see into the killer's mind.  At the same time, he is nutso over her - and Marlie is overwhelmed by this incredibly macho detective that is coming on to her like gangbusters!  Let me just say right now, I simply loved Dane!  OMG!  I want.

Dane doesn't take no for an answer form Marlie.  She is no match for this raging mass of testosterone that has zeroed in on her and before we know it - he's moved in with her and they are having a torrid affair.  My one gripe is how quickly they go from strangers to lovers - to living together!  Same thing in her Mr. Perfect.  Hell, I'm not really complaining, it cuts out a lot of red tape in the relationship, although in respect to Marlie and Dane, this quickness in their relationship becomes an understandable obstacle.  I'm leaving a ton out.  Marlie becomes totally debilitated every time the killer kills his victim.  Dane is full of anguish over "using" her to catch the killer and it backfires on him (of course.)  The book was full of suspense and it was a really clever story - but graphic, not for the faint of heart.  When he kills his victims, it's not pretty.  

Do yourself a favor and get this book and read it or better yet, get the audio version - you won't regret it.  All the characters are interesting, the plot is great, the psychological aspect inside the killer's mind is fantastic.  Did I mention that the romance sizzles off the pages?  Marlie is one lucky clairvoyant (though she can't get inside Dane's head - much to his relief.)  I couldn't stop myself from listening to this audiotape every chance I got.  Empty the dishwasher?  Sure!  I don't mind - I can listen to Dream Man while doing it!

This is a winning book and Phil Gigante made it.  I am so in love with him Dane Hollister.  A contemporary Alpha - notice the capital A?


Friday, August 12, 2011

Before Versailles by Karleen Koen

Book Description:
Before Versailles is the luscious, sweeping story of the young Louis XIV in his first year as king of France. Told in the alternating perspectives of the young king and his first love, the woman who would become his mistress, Karleen Koen's newest weaves a portrait of court and country in turmoil with the legends of this colorful period in history, including that of the mysterious man in the iron mask. 

I've been waiting for Before Versailles to come out ever since I first heard about it, which was approximately a year ago.  As a big fan of Koen's other books that take place in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, I eagerly awaited it's release.  Yet, I was fearful.  I was not overly fond of her last book, Dark Angels, a prequel to Through a Glass Darkly.  Dark Angels was somewhat of a disappointment, and I was afraid it was because there had been such a large gap of years between Dark Angels and Now Face to Face, the sequel to Through a Glass Darkly.

No such worries with Before Versailles, despite the fact it took me a while to get into it.  I downloaded it on my kindle the day it came out and began reading it shortly after.  But, due to various reasons and many interruptions, I couldn't sink my teeth into it right away.  I wound up reading the first fifty pages in drips and drabs.   Because of this, it took me a while to become absorbed in the world of Louis XIV - never fear - once I got past my initial stumbling block and found my stride, I became engrossed in the story.  By mid-way it was hard to put down.  Before I knew it - I was loving it.

As usual, Koen's characters are masterfully fleshed out and well written.  They all have their own personalities, whether it's young and naive Louise Francoise de la Baume Le Blanc de La Valliere, new to court and starry eyed over the young and handsome King of France or even King Louis himself.  A mere twenty-two years old, Louis is young and eager to strike out on his own.  He wants to make a name for himself as the ruler of France.  We follow Louis for four months during his early reign as he grows into his kingdom.  Much of the story is from his point of view.  

Now that his old adviser, Mazarin has died, Louis must rely on his own wits and judgment in regard to whom he trusts and keeps closest to him.  At the same time, he is experiencing love, not once, but twice!  Neither of the times is it with his bride.  Instead, he falls for his new sister-in-law, Henriette, referred to at Court as Madame.  Madame is the new wife to Monsieur, Louis' homosexual brother, Phillippe, who's giving it his best shot to be a loving heterosexual husband.  Henriette is the sister of King Charles II of England.  She is vivacious and charming and has brought new life to Louis' court, something his own wife, Queen Marie-Therese has been unable to do.   Louis finds Henriette irresistible.  He falls in love with her immediately and, I suspect, he falls in love with the dangerous thrill of an illicit love affair. In the eyes of the church, an affair with his sister-in-law would be considered incestuous - yet it doesn't stop him, he wants her and she wants him!  No good can come of it. 

Louis' second love is our sweet and guileless Louise.  Louis and Louise - it made me cross eyed!  I loved Louise, who is fortunate to be invited to be a lady in waiting for Madame at Court.  She doesn't catch Louis' eye right away, but her kindness and honesty appeals to him, particularly in the events that transpire in which she reveals to the king the existence of a boy in an iron mask who she saw in the woods and lives in a nearby monastery.  As the mystery unfolds after she informs the king of what she has learned (this is before their affair is even close to beginning),  Louis' feelings for her ignite.  He had never really noticed her while still in Henriette's thrall.  She had merely been the young and pretty girl who walked his dogs and tried to prevent his beloved favorite, Belle, from dying.  But now, all of a sudden, he sees her!  Despite my reservations that Louise is falling for Louis, I was happy and excited for her.  Their clandestine affair was thrilling, but also bittersweet and tender.  If Louis is going to have a mistress, I much preferred sweet Louise over the vain and selfish Henriette.   I was glad to learn that in real life Louise was more than just a brief fling to Louis.

Besides his love life, Louis is busy leaving his boyhood behind and becoming a real king during these four months. Whether it is tracking down the culprit who is leaving him nasty Mazarinades, (disgusting little notes of his mother and the late Cardinal Mazarin and their supposed love affair that went on until his recent death) or managing the secret regarding the imminent arrest of the Viscount Nicolas Fouquet who is stockpiling weapons and has more money than God.  Louis has a lot on his plate but handles it all well - a harbinger of what is to come later during his reign.

I loved the setting of the Palace of Fontainebleau where most of the book takes place before Louis builds up his hunting lodge at Versailles.  The imagery and descriptions are vivid as well as the rich historical detail.  Life at court, the costumes, the intrigue.  The gossip and courtiers surrounding the king and jockeying for position.  Phillippe's indiscreet behavior amidst his circle of friends and lovers added to the story and gave it another dimension in addition to the whole brouhaha involving Louis and Henriette.  There is so much going on, but it was told faultlessly.  I didn't feel bogged down at all with events or names and faces.  I'm sure Ms. Koen did tons of research for this book, yet it read like a novel, not like a history book.  After reading this, I now appreciate the historic aspect of Dark Angels to a greater extent.  Primarily this is because it's where  Madame (Henriette) first comes to our attention and what later happens ten years from where Before Versailles leaves off.

If this is a period you are interested in, particularly in regard to Louis XIV himself, then this is a must read.  I really loved it and will probably re-read it just so I can give the first half the attention it deserves.   I really enjoyed the way Koen used some of the old legends and a nod to Alexandre Dumas (The Man in the Iron Mask and The Three Musketeers) throughout the story.  If it seems slow at first, stick with it, for it really is a beautiful period in Louis's life, romantically and politically, as he "grows up" and we see the inklings of what will be the legendary "Sun King."


Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Untamed One by Ronda Thompson

 Book Description:
Running from angry villagers and the man who ravaged her, the witch Lucinda flees into the forest to have her child. But Lord Jackson Wulf hunts her down, believing her death will break the family curse that transforms him into a monster. Instead of killing the witch, Jackson is moved by her beauty and desperate plight.  Lucinda seizes the chance to find safety for herself and her babe when a bargain is struck between this outcast woman and this doomed man--and sealed by their marriage in name only…

In return for his protection, Lucinda has promised that her magic can free Jackson from his torment. But this pretty witch soon finds herself in danger of being seduced by Jackson's charms and pursued by the man who would see both her and her child dead. Can she trust a Wulf with her safety and the safety of her child? Can she trust her heart to Jackson? To surrender to a Wulf is a terrible risk, for love will either unleash the beast within the man...or finally set him free. 

Another installment in the Wild Wulfs of London series.  This is book two, involving Jackson.  I like this regency historical paranormal series, which involves the notorious Wulf Brothers who must break the family curse that has made them werewolves whenever the full moon rises.

Jackson Wulf is on a mission.  He has learned that a certain witch who lives a reclusive life in a cottage deep in a distant forest from town might be able to break the family curse.  Yet, in order for her to do so, he must kill her.  Upon entering the lonely cottage, he meets a young woman, Lucinda, who is unexpectedly in the midst of giving birth.  It turns out she is the witch he has sought out.  He cannot go through with killing the young and beautiful woman.  He helps deliver her baby instead.   They form a bond and kiss afterwards, but immediately following the tender moment between them, the nearby villagers descend upon the cottage, intending to burn it down.  They fear Jackson, whom they know to be a werewolf and want to destroy him.  In order to protect Lucinda, Jackson saves her by turning into a wolf to fend off the villagers while she runs for her life with her newborn.

Months later, Jackson returns to London to find that the same witch, Lucinda, is firmly ensconced in his home, posing as his wife! She is also claiming the baby is his!  Jackson is taken aback at first, but he vividly remembers Lucinda and he cannot turn his back on her.  They strike up a bargain that if he goes along with the charade and does not reveal the truth that they were not really married, she will try and help break the spell.  

Due to a series of events, Jackson insists on marrying Lucinda in order to protect her from the baby's real father who wants both Lucinda and the baby dead.  He promised her directly after the baby was born, while still in the cottage, that he would see to it the babe would always be safe.  This promise comes back to haunt him more than once.  Lucinda had been defiled by the local lord of the manor (a distant relation to the king) while she was drugged and remembers none of it, except that she wound up pregnant.  Her baby bears the unmistakable family birthmark on him, which can only now pose a danger to his life.  Jackson is unaware of the circumstances that led to Lucinda's pregnancy or the birthmark, but he assumes she had been free and easy with her virtue and he considers her fair game for himself.  

After they marry, Lucinda keeps telling him their marriage is in name only, but Jackson has other plans.  His "werewolf" scent unconsciously drives women wild.  He is irresistible and terribly handsome.  It's all Lucinda can do to keep her hands off him.   He is single-minded when it comes to seducing her, but Lucinda is afraid to give in to him.  She doesn't believe he will still want her once she helps him break the curse.  Then where will she be?  Can they come to terms with each other and give in to their mutual passion, or will Lucinda keep putting him off over and over again while seeking the answer towards breaking the curse?

Overall this was a good story and I enjoyed it, though their constant misunderstanding of each other's feelings drove me crazy!  They love one another, yet neither one of them knows it!  Grr!  She thinks he'll drop her once he's no longer a werewolf, yet she wants to insure he'll take care of her baby if he does!   She's falling in love but they come from completely different worlds, how can she manage to pass herself off as a "Lady" of the ton?  He finds himself falling for her against his will even though he keeps telling himself it's only lust.  But he's growing attached to Lucinda and the baby he now thinks of as his own.  Too attached.  He hates the idea of losing them, they've become too important to him.  But, there's that damnable curse that says he must not marry the one he loves!  Yet, he's already married to her.  Does that mean Lucinda will die because of the curse?  Will she be able to figure out a way to break it?  Let's just say all these questions are answered by the end of the book.

A quick read which will appeal to werewolf and paranormal lovers who also enjoy historical romances.  A nice combination of the two genres.  But keep in mind, the whole thing is extremely far-fetched and there's not a whole lot of deep character development or anything that's going to make me remember this book forever.  Still, it kept my attention, the sexual tension went on for too long, but I liked it overall.  But please don't take it too seriously, it's just pure fantasy.  I like these passionate regency werewolves, so I'm eager to read on in the series!


Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin (audio)

Book Description:
England, 1176. Beautiful, tranquil Glastonbury Abbey— one of England’s holiest sites, and believed by some to be King Arthur’s sacred Isle of Avalon—has been burned almost to the ground. The arsonist remains at large, but the fire has uncovered something even more shocking: two hidden skeletons, a man and a woman. The skeletons’ height and age send rumors flying—are the remains those of Arthur and Guinevere?

King Henry II hopes so. Struggling to put down a rebellion in Wales, where the legend of Celtic savior Arthur is particularly strong, Henry wants definitive proof that the bones are Arthur’s. If the rebels are sure that the Once and Future King will not be coming to their aid, Henry can stamp out the insurgence for good. He calls on Adelia Aguilar, Mistress of the Art of Death, to examine the bones.

Henry’s summons comes not a moment too soon, for Adelia has worn out her welcome in Cambridge. As word of her healing powers has spread, so have rumors of witchcraft. So Adelia and her household ride to Glastonbury, where the investigation into the abbey fire will be overseen by the Church authorities—in this case, the Bishop of St. Albans, who happens also to be the father of Adelia’s daughter.

Another interesting foray into the middle ages with forensic expert, Adelia Aguilar.  Adelia, with her precocious daughter, Allie, and the ever faithful Gyltha and dear friend, Mansur leave their home in Cambridge with Emma, Lady Wolvercote, the young widow who is now a wealthy woman after the demise of her dastardly husband (from the last book) whom she was forced to marry.   While en route with Lady Emma's entourage, Adelia is called away by King Henry II to investigate old bones found in Glastonbury rumored to be the bones of legendary King Arthur and his wife, Guinevere.  Of course, all is not as it seems.  The usual macabre medieval doings involve the disappearance of Lady Emma, her young son and an injured German knight.  There are loads of twists and turns with some really creepy characters - villains in the wood, in particular.

I found the plot itself a bit hard to follow, there were several.  The main one was trying to find out what happened to Emma and her entourage.  Were they killed on the road?  Is so, where are their bodies?  Another plotline is the one about who started the fire at Glastonbury Abbey and whose bones are really buried there and why.  As usual, it's the last person you think it is, but i guessed correctly early on, now that I'm familiar with the author's style.  Some tender words and romance between Adelia and Rowley, the Bishop of St. Albans - and the father of her child. This made me happy, especially with her decision in regard to him.   Finally we get some regret on Adelia's part of her decision way back when he wanted to marry her.

All in all, a good mystery, though I felt it was all over the place in parts with the different branches of the story leading to all sorts of revelations.  Kate Reading, the narrator does a great job, I know her voice so well.  She is the voice of Adelia to me.  I like her men's voices as well, the high sing song voice of Mansur, in particular. Her Rowley is good too - just masculine enough to make him sound realistic - he's pissed off most of the time with Adelia.  I like it how he complains that he's always rescuing her from some hole!  I don't blame him - he does seem to be rescuing her in every book - always showing up just in the nick of time! 

This is a really interesting series if you're into this time period with Henry II.  She touches on some of the political aspects of Henry's woes with the church as well as medieval forensics.  She writes a good mystery with some added romance and suspense, enough to keep the reader's attention.  The last sentence, which gears up for the next book is particularly ominous. I'm afraid Adelia has made a mortal enemy.  One that is not going to rest until he gets his revenge. 


Friday, August 5, 2011

My Seduction by Connie Brockway

 Book Description:
Connie Brockway sweeps readers back to the rough beauty of Regency-era Scotland and into the scintillating, passionate, and surprising love story of a mysterious Highlander and the woman he is pledged to protect.  Desperate to keep her two sisters and herself from the poorhouse, Kate Nash Blackburn embarks upon a journey to northern Scotland, where she hopes to gain the gratitude and patronage of a wealthy marquis. When fate maroons her at a tavern full of ruffians, a brawny Highland soldier comes to her rescue. It's Kit MacNeill, the man whose pledge to her family has haunted her for years. When he offers to escort Kate through the treacherous Highlands to Castle Parnell, she accepts even though her instincts warn her against trusting this rough and dangerous man. But soon Kate is startled by the Highlander's cultured speech and courtly manners. Who is this man of contradictions, shaped by a shadowy past, who fiercely wards off an attempt on her life, whose broad shoulders beckon her touch, and in whose arms she comes fully alive?

I had high hopes for this book.  Why?  1) I love Connie Brockway and 2) It takes place in the Scottish Highlands.  Unfortunately, I was disappointed with it.  It wasn't nearly as good as the other Connie Brockway's I've read.  One of the things that I love about Connie Brockway is the clever humor in her books.  This had none.  It was pure melodrama.  Plus, it didn't really get good until half way through the book.   Her mysterious Scottish highlander hero lacked development as well as her heroine.  I just never got inside their heads enough to care about them - what happened?

Kate Nash is a young and pretty - though impoverished - English widow.  Albeit from a good family, her father died, leaving Kate, her sisters and mother virtually penniless.  Their mother died soon after.  The circumstances of their father's death was one in which he sacrificed himself in order to release three men who were jailed in a French prison.  The three men who all come from the same remote orphanage in the Scottish Highlands are spies of a sort.  They are "rose hunters," part of an order sworn to secrecy to fight France - covertly - during the war.  To repay the debt they owe the girls' father, they vow to protect the Nash women if ever they are in need.

Kate finds the whole thing somewhat ridiculous and discounts their oath and forgets about it. But as a few years go by and money has become scarcer, she decides to visit Castle Parnell which belongs to a rich viscount who once showed some interest in her.  He is the brother-in-law of her selfish cousin who died in a boating accident with his brother.  The castle is far away in Northern Scotland, but she embarks on the journey, for she is desperate.  Hoping the viscount will help her with money if she asks, this seems like her last hope.  One mishap after another happens on the long road north and just when it looks like her luck has run out for good, alone in a disreputable inn about to become dessert for several unsavory miscreants, a savior appears and rescues her.

It turns out it's Kit MacNeill, one of the three rose hunters that vowed to protect her and her sisters three years earlier.  But, he's nearly unrecognizable to Kate after three years.  Swarthier, weathered, older looking, he has the look of experience and danger about him.  How did he know where she was - is it a coincidence he should just turn up in the middle of nowhere and in the nick of time?  Of course not.  He works in mysterious ways and for the majority of the book, Kate is in the dark about who he is and his background.  But, after beating up her unworthy driver, he offers to take her the rest of the way to Castle Parnell, which is still a great distance. 

Unaccountably attracted to him, but also repelled by his coarse manners and abrupt style, she accepts his offer and they must make do in each other's company.  He does keep her safe and they gradually grow to care for one another along the road until they reach the Castle.  It has been a long, hard, cold journey.  Their last night on the road, they give into their feelings for one another and spend the night together.  It is blissful and magic, but no one can ever know about it.  Kate and Kit don't expect to see each other again once he delivers her to the viscount. But, it turns out there is danger from smugglers and Kate learns her cousin and the viscount's brother were actually murdered.  Kit is invited to stay at the Castle by the viscount, who seems like a decent guy, but this only makes the situation between Kit and Kate that much more unbearable.  They have to pretend nothing went on between them, only Kate is realizing she is in love with Kit, and vice versa.  Kate was hard to figure out, I couldn't decide whether I liked her or not at first, but then she grew on me.  I think I definitely would have liked the book more if she had been more endearing to me from the beginning. I understood her transformation, but she was prickly - and not in a good way.

Brockway's writing is usually wonderful, but the pace of this book was plodding and slow, not the usual snappy dialogue and quick repartee's between the hero and heroine.  There was no sparkle between Kit and Kate (their names coupled together made me cross-eyed!)  The first half of the book took forever for me to get through, but once they had their night together and were at the Castle it picked up considerably. 

The key that turned the book around for me was when they finally realized they love one another and the story became poignant.  I had warmed to Kate by then, and the plot moved at a quicker pace.  Phew!  That long trek in the cold was over!   But, our hero and heroine have a major dilemma on their hands.   Kate needs money and Kit doesn't have any, so even though she's mad about him, she must cultivate the viscount and sacrifice herself. The viscount wasn't a bad man and he seemed to be truly interested in Kate.  But he wasn't Kit!  She didn't love the viscount.  Can love win out and will Kate realize she has to follow her heart and conscience?   In addition, Kit has his own qualms and insecurities to deal with.  As an officer in the army (he is on leave) he can't possibly expect Kate to follow him if he asks her to marry him.  He's a nobody, an orphan, the son of a whore.  He feels unworthy of her.  Both are unaware of each other's feelings - the usual miscommunication.  Their problem was a poignant one, particularly when Kate thinks she's saying good-bye to Kit for the last time.   A wave and he was gone...

Even though I was disappointed with the book compared to her others, it wasn't actually bad, just not what I expected from her.  I liked the way it all came around at the end with the discovery of who the real villain was and why her cousin and the viscount's brother were killed.  This is the first in the Rose Hunters Trilogy, in which we find out what happens with the other two Scotsmen who were let go at the same time from that French prison.  I'm curious about them and who will get paired up with who regarding Kate's sisters.   

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