Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Perfect Kiss by Anne Gracie

Book Description:
Before she sets out to see the world, Grace Merridew must first help her timid friend, who is being forced to marry Dominic Wolfe, boorish heir to a huge estate. To that end, Grace disguises herself as a plain and mousy chaperone. But when they arrive at the estate, Grace finds herself being pursued by a big bad Wolfe.

I loved this final book in the Merridew Series - the best of them all!  A great way to end the series! 

The youngest of the Merridew sisters, Grace grew up without the benefit of knowing her mother and father who died before she could remember them.  Her abusive grandfather enjoyed tormenting Grace, informing her that she would never really be loved by anyone since she killed her mother (in childbirth).  Fortunately, Grace is made of sterner stuff and was not entirely cowed by her grandfather, though she could never forget his words.   Deep down she began to believe that no one would ever love her in the same way her sisters did.  And so sets the scene when Grace agrees to pose as her friend's lady's maid en route to Shropshire.  The last thing she expects is to find love in a filthy dirty castle disguised as a non-descript, mousy maid servant.  Grace is there to help her best friend, Melanie, who is being forced to marry Dominic Wolfe, Lord D'Acre of Wolfstone.  Although I found it hard to believe that Grace could pull off the deception for very long, it opened the door for some interesting developments between Grace and Dominic.

Dominic Wolfe is an angry man.  Although the heir to a vast estate and castle in Shropshire, he has no interest in remaining there.  To come into his inheritance, he must marry Melanie Pettifer, but it will be in name only.  He wants nothing to do with anything that had to do with his father, who abused his mother to the point where she ran away with Dominic as a baby to get away from him.  Dominic barely knew his father and grew up abroad, except for his English schooling.  In order to come into the money from the estate, he must marry Melanie who he has never even met!  Poor Melanie has no desire to marry him either.  She has always wanted to have babies!  If she married Dominic that will never happen, for he has no intention of ever consummating the marriage!  He'll make sure she's taken care of, but he doubts he'll ever see her again.  What a sad existence!  Dominic seems more like a monster than a bridegroom!  When Melanie and her father - and Grace, who is now known as Greystoke - arrive at Wolfstone, they have a lot to put up with.

Arriving in the middle of a rainy downpour with Melanie's ailing father and a broken carriage - who is the first person Grace meets?  Dominic, of course.  Although, Grace thinks he's a groom from the stable, and he thinks she's a comely servant girl.   You can guess the rest.  They're immediately attracted to each other, but there's the sticky situation that he doesn't know who she really is and he's her best friend's fiance!  It really was a good story with lots of details I'm leaving out.  Dominic's friend, who happens to be the new curate, comes on the scene and it's love at first sight - for Melanie! How can we get the right couples together and keep everyone happy?

I really enjoyed this entire book and Grace had her hands full, not only with Dominic, but fixing up his castle, hiring staff and convincing him that he shouldn't let his hatred for his dead father rule over reason.  They had a couple of sizzling romance scenes as well.  Lots of fun side characters too - the whole thing was a lot of fun!  It was sexy, funny and heartwarming.

Anne Gracie's website has a great page devoted to A Perfect Kiss, here.  It's fun to see the pictures on it that she used for inspiration for Wolfstone, the worn steps and the wooden carved gargoyle, in particular. Take a look - I had fun browsing her site!

Overall, I loved this Merridew Sisters series and The Perfect Kiss was my favorite book of the four!  I highly recommend it!  The chemistry between Grace and Dominic was great, they were fun together, whether sparring together or loving together, I was rooting for them!  I loved the side story with Melanie and Dominic's old school friend, turned curate.  Plus, I loved seeing Dominic's transformation from angry young man to loving, benevolent master of his domain.   I'm leaving tons out, but it really was a pleasure!


Friday, March 25, 2011

A Fatal Waltz by Tasha Alexander

Book Description:
At her friend Ivy's behest, Emily reluctantly agrees to attend a party at the sprawling English country estate of Lord Fortescue, a man she finds as odious as he is powerful. But if Emily is expecting Lord Fortescue to be the greatest of her problems, she is wrong. Her host has also invited Kristiana von Lange, an Austrian countess who was once linked romantically with Emily's fiancé, the debonair Colin Hargreaves. What Emily believes will be a tedious evening turns deadly when Fortescue is found murdered, and his protégé, Robert Brandon - Ivy's husband - is arrested for the crime.

Determined to right this terrible wrong and clear Robert's name, Emily begins to dig for answers, a quest that will lead her from London's glittering ballrooms to Vienna's sordid backstreets. Not until she engages a notorious anarchist in a game of wits does the shocking truth begin to emerge: the price of exonerating Robert can be paid only by placing Colin in deadly peril. To save her fiancé, Emily must do the unthinkable: bargain with her nemesis, the Countess von Lange.

I seem to be on an 1890's kick at the moment and Lady Emily Ashton is furthering the cause.  Better than the last book in the series, I enjoyed reading of Lady Emily's adventures in Vienna in this third installment in the series.  While trying to clear the name of her best friend's husband who has been accused of murder, Emily meets all sorts of interesting people and finds herself in a maze of intrigue.  In addition, she must fight the urge to scratch out the eyes of her fiancé's former lover who enjoys tormenting Emily with innuendo that they have resumed their affair. Is it true or not? As usual, I loved the research, styles and settings in this late Victorian mystery that takes place in Cornwall, Vienna and ultimately London.

Now that Lady Emily is engaged to Colin Hargreaves, it makes things a bit sticky.  Colin's career is a dangerous one, involved in top secret diplomatic assignments, often aiding the Queen and Her Majesty's government.  He is a target to assorted undesirables who would love to stop him and get rid of him once and for all.  Colin can take care of himself and is used to danger, but this poses a problem for Lady Emily who worries for him.  She's already a widow and naturally doesn't want to lose him!  It's inevitable that Colin's love for Emily is going to hinder him in regard to his undercover exploits.  His enemies will target Emily to get to him.  How will they handle this once they marry?  How can Colin be effective when he's worrying about the safety of Emily all the time?  Will she be a distraction that will ultimately put him in danger - put him off his guard?  Will Colin's career, as we know it, end?  Or will they have to just live with the danger and deal with it?  Can they be happy together either way?

Unfortunately, Lady Emily has an independent streak that often puts her in danger.  But at the same time, she has a good heart and can't say no to a friend in need - especially if it involves a mystery.  Her best friend Ivy is in a fix.  Ivy's husband, Robert, is in jail accused of killing his mentor, Lord Fortescue, a man considered the most important, but also one of the most hated men in the government.  Robert awaits trial at Newgate and Lady Emily goes to Vienna to find out if she can discover who the real murderer is. 

The scenes and descriptions of Vienna were wonderful!  Emily fits right in and promptly befriends various people.  One of whom is an undiscovered and highly charming artist who seems to have a permanent seat at one of the many coffee houses.  He helps arrange a meeting with mastermind anarchist, Schroder, who may or may not be in cahoots with another evil mastermind who double-crossed Emily earlier in Cornwall at a house party where the murder took place.  He wants to start a world war pitting England against Germany and he wants Colin Hargreaves dead.  The more Emily delves into the murder mystery, the more complex it becomes and there are plenty of skeletons in the closet that are revealed.  Fortunately, Colin is in Vienna too, but unfortunately, so is the Countess von Lange, Colin's old love.  She is a thorn in Emily's side.  The Countess is beautiful and provocative - and I hated her!  Does Colin still love the Countess?  To add to the mess, Lady Emily's old friend, Jeremy Sheffield, Duke of Bainbridge, has decided he's in love - with Emily!  (as if we didn't see that one coming!)

I really enjoyed the intrigue involved in A Fatal Waltz and the various threads that were throughout it.  It all comes together at the end (I admit, I guessed right about who the killer was) and I am eager to continue with the series.  Whereas I was a trifle annoyed with Emily in the last book, I really liked her in this one.  She's back in my good graces!  Her romance with Colin is at arm's length, even though they are affianced, they remain respectable, no hanky panky and slipping into each other's bedrooms in the middle of the night.   But is someone else sneaking into Colin's?  Hmmm...

A satisfying and well written historical mystery that scratched my Victorian itch!  I recommend it!


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell

Book Description:
For a young society woman seeking a favorable marriage in the late 1890s, so much depends on her social season debut. Clara Carter has been given one goal: secure the affections of the city's most eligible bachelor. Debuting means plenty of work--there are corsets to be fitted, dances to master, manners to perfect. Her training soon pays off, however, as celebrity's spotlight turns Clara into a society-page darling. Yet Clara wonders if this is the life she really wants, especially when she learns her best friend has also set her sights on Franklin De Vries. When a man appears who seems to love her simply for who she is, and gossip backlash turns ugly, Clara realizes it's not just her heart at stake-the future of her family depends on how she plays the game.

I love, love, loved this book!

The story of a young debutante in the early 1890's of New York, we experience the trials and tribulations one girl must go through in order to catch a husband by the end of the season.  With no choice but to do as she is told, she must endure all sorts of agonies to appear as beautiful and biddable as possible.  Yet, is it worth it?  What's more important, obeying your parents or doing what feels right in your heart?

I pitied Clara, particularly when it comes to the wearing of a corset.  Back in the day, an hourglass figure was the be-all-end-all, and poor Clara is forced to wear a corset 24/7 to force her waist down to a tiny sixteen inches.  It's no wonder she can never eat anything and must sleep sitting up!  Everything is done to disguise her (what her aunt considers) less flattering attributes.  Poor thing, her aunt requires that her long white gloves be two sizes too small to make her hands appear smaller. She must cover her mouth when she smiles to hide her "large" mouth.   All sorts of tricks to catch the De Vries heir.  Only, he's not the one she winds up falling for - it's his brother, the younger son that's the real one worth having.   This was a great book!

I loved reading about Clara's season. What starts out to be a lacklustre debut turns into a huge success - thanks to the fact her father, a prominent physician, uses bribery to get her in the newspapers and invited to only the best homes and balls.  It seems he knows a lot about the most prominent families in New York, who'd rather not have certain things known about them.  Clara is unaware of her father's behind the scenes machinations, but gradually she begins to wonder and ultimately puts two and two together.

Meanwhile, as she is thrown time and time again at Franklin, the De Vries heir - and seems to be making headway with him, we realize we don't want Clara to marry him.  His brother is the good one, the nice one - the honorable one.  I liked him with his unruly lock of hair and mischievous sense of humor.  At first Clara won't admit she likes him better, but over time she can't deny it.  Especially when she thinks he prefers her best friend.  Will Clara marry the better man - or will she be the dutiful daughter and marry for money and an unhappy future?

Do yourself a favor and read this book.  It was wonderful, and if you're wondering,  it's clean, no sex and nothing graphic, perfect for pre-teens - or adults alike.   I was swept up in the gay '90's of New York's high society, hob nobbing with the Vanderbilts and Schermerhorns.  Dining at Delmonico's and Sherry's.  Yet, there is a moral to this story.  Money isn't everything.  As long as you can hold your head up high, that's what's important. 

A real keeper, and I was pleased as punch to get it for free on my kindle!


The Vampire Who Loved Me by Teresa Medeiros

Book Description:
Julian Kane is back in town.

Once, as a girl of seventeen, beautiful, headstrong Portia Cabot saved the cursed life of the dashing vampire Julian Kane - who marked her forever, then left to go in search of his soul. He returns five years later to find the enchanting young girl he left behind grown into a bewitching woman with a woman's heart - and a woman's desires.

Portia quickly discovers that Julian's seductive and forbidden kiss can still make her crave the night . . . and his touch. But the Julian who has returned to London is not the vampire she remembers. His fruitless pursuit of his stolen mortality has reduced him to drunken debauchery. And a recent spate of murders makes Portia fear that the man she has always adored may truly be a monster.

Julian knows he must drive Portia away - but his passion and hunger for her grow more irresistible every time they touch. For years he has fought the temptation to embrace his dark gifts, never realizing that Portia's love may give him the most dangerous gift of all . . . a reason to live.

Whenever I read a Teresa Medeiros book, I'm not sure if I'm going to like it or not.  She's a bit uneven.  The first book of this duo, After Midnight was great, I really loved it.  But, it's sequel, The Vampire Who Loved Me just didn't work for me.  I suspected that might be the case since Julian is a vampire and I wasn't all that fond of him in the first book, and here he's the hero!

Here we follow younger sister Portia who still carries a torch for Julian, the vampire brother to Adrian, her brother-in-law. Portia cannot accept that he is as dissolute as he appears to be.  She's been carrying a torch for him for five years.  At the end of the last book, she is locked up in a crypt with him and we never find out what exactly happened - did he drink her blood?  Did he deflower her? What actually happened between them when they were locked in together? We find out in this one, although not until close to the end.

Portia has grown up quite a bit since she was seventeen and had a colossal crush on Julian.  She's become a beauty and has also learned a thing or two about becoming a vampire slayer.  Julian has long since disappeared, yet Portia knows immediately when he's back in London and goes to him as soon as she can.  He now has a reputation as a wastrel and just as he shows up in town again, young women in Whitechapel are found dead - by a vampire.  Is Julian the killer?  Portia wants to clear his name, but at the same time she's putting herself in danger.   What if he tries to kill her?  Would he?

I had a hard time with Portia, at first she comes across as a strong heroine, someone who can hold her own. But then she keeps doing all these stupid things that bothered me.  Constantly putting herself in danger, leaving her windows open, walking alone looking for the killer in back alleyways, posing as a new vampire bride (as if!) After a while, she started to bug me.  Julian. I'm afraid I never cottoned to him from the beginning. 

The main gist of the story is Portia and Julian never stopped loving one another.  Their moment in the crypt left an indelible impression on both of them.  Yet because Julian loves her, he has stayed away from her because he is a vampire and has no soul.   He realized it was hopeless for them.  It turns out he has an old lover - another vampire who is old and powerful, though she is beautiful and dangerous.  She is the one that owns Julian's soul.  She's awful and is the real vampire who is going around killing unsuspecting women in the alleys.  Plus, she hates Portia for she is jealous and knows Portia is the love of Julian's life.  There's a real tug of war over Julian between the two of them.  Frankly, I just rolled my eyes - what did they see in him - he did nothing for me!  Somehow there must be a way to kill her, but at the same time, to do it in such a way that Julian can become a mortal again.  Not easy.

Still with me?

Parts of the book weren't bad, I liked the part when Julian and Portia attend a vampire party where Julian leads Portia around by a golden collar and she has to pretend to be his vampire bride.  Turns out Lord Byron is there - and he's a vampire too!  Of course, the vampires all find out the truth and they have to make a run for it and hide.  I was saddened and shocked afterwards when they find out that while they've been shacked up together in hiding, a certain beloved character had been kidnapped by Julian's vampire lover.

Overall, this turned out to be another vampire book I could have skipped.  I just can't resist these historical vampire romances!  Why do I keep doing this to myself?  I think I'll try Medeiros' other romances - without vampires, maybe I'll like them more.  I still haven't given up on her.


How to Treat A Lady by Karen Hawkins

Book Description:
Does She Dare?

To save her family from ruin, Harriet Ward invented a fiance - a wealthy sea captain.  But now the bank wants proof of the captain's existence.  Just as Harriet despairs, fate drops a mysterious stranger into her arms, who she believes has no idea of his own identity...  Does Harriet dare mislead the disturbingly handsome stranger? And if she does, what will be the cost?

Will he win?

Chase St. John knows exactly who he is. While quitting London, Chase was waylaid by footpads and left for dead.  Awakening in the care of Miss Harriet Ward, Chase is astonished when the tempting maid brazenly announces that he is her betrothed.  Chase, ever a rogue, decides to play the part of adoring lover.  But the price is rich, indeed, when it might mean losing his own heart.

This is the third book in Hawkins' Talisman Ring Series.  So far, I've loved the series, but this book was sort of a let down.  Maybe it's because I never caught on to Chase, the youngest of the St. John brothers and somewhat of a scapegrace.  His older brothers worry about him and his profligate ways, primarily his drinking and hanging out with undesirables.  Because of this, I'm afraid I was a bit biased.  I like the strong, reliable types - the older brother types.  Chase just didn't do it for me as a hero.

Chase has gotten himself into a fix.  He doesn't want his brothers to know about it, so he decides to flee the country and go to Europe to get away from his problems.  He's being blackmailed by a slimy "friend" who's taking advantage of Chase's guilty conscience over an accidental death.   Right there, Chase didn't endear himself to me.  While running away, he is set upon by thieves and knocked out.  Harriet Ward, a young lady who's family is virtually penniless but still barely surviving, finds him and brings him home to nurse.  Harriet has money problems and due to a crazy scheme hatched up by her mother, Chase winds up posing as Harriet's fiance - a sea captain who can help keep the bankers from taking away their house. 

Even though it was a harebrained idea, it had its amusing merits.  By helping Harriet's family, Chase is able to redeem himself in the reader's eyes and regain some honor that he badly needs.  He helps them with their sheep, rounding them up for shearing so they can sell the wool to market and pay the mortgage on their house.  The idea of an aristocrat getting down and dirty shearing sheep was a novelty, but still didn't grab me.   It would have been just as simple for him to anonymously give them the money to avoid losing the house as well.   I did like the way Chase posed as her affianced, but I grew tired of Harriet constantly waffling back and forth over how she felt about him.   A relationship develops between Chase and Harriet, though I found zero chemistry between them.  She is incredibly naive when it comes to the opposite sex and things like kissing, much less jumping into bed with him and allowing herself to be deflowered!  I just didn't see what he saw in her.  They were thrown together haphazardly, but for me, it wasn't enough to make a good romance.   It bothered me that he was deceiving her family most of the time, pretending he had amnesia too.   Did I mention that?  The whole plot was convoluted in the extreme.

Finally, his brothers find out where he is, and as usual, they help save the day.  Chase finds out he didn't kill someone, he'd been tricked into thinking he had, so all is well.  In sum, this was a lacklustre romance compared to other regencies I've read, it was somewhat forgettable.  Still, I have hopes for the rest of the books in the series. I love this author and won't let this one dissuade me from reading the rest of the series.


Monday, March 21, 2011

A Lot Like Love by Julie James

Book Description:
The FBI wants her cooperation. As the daughter of a billionaire and the owner of the city's top wine store, Jordan Rhodes is invited to the most exclusive parties in Chicago. But there's only one party the FBI wants to crash: the charity fundraiser of a famous restaurateur, who also happens to launder money for the mob. In exchange for her brother's release from prison, Jordan is going to be there—with a date supplied by the Bureau. Agent McCall just wants her. As the top undercover agent in Chicago, Nick McCall has one rule: never get personal. This “date” with Jordan Rhodes is merely an assignment—one they're both determined to pull off even if they can't be together for five minutes before the sarcasm and sparks begin to fly. But when Nick's investigation is compromised, he and Jordan have no choice but to pretend they're a couple, and what starts out as a simple assignment begins to feel a lot like something more. . .

Another winner by Julie James! 

Julie's books, hands down, are my favorite contemporaries.  A Lot Like Love picks up after Something About You, her previous romantic suspense novel.  In A Lot Like Love, can a beautiful and wealthy wine store owner socialite (who also happens to be the heiress to a billion dollar fortune) mix it up and fall for a sexy, hard core FBI agent assigned to a case where he has to pose as her boyfriend?

Yes, of course! 

Naturally, there are many bumps in the road to love and Nick McCall - the sexy FBI agent - is not "easy."  He's rugged, ruthless and an old school former NYPD cop.  Nick is the kind of guy that's more at home posing as a Mafia hit man than attending lah-dee-dah wine tastings where Chicago's rich and famous mingle over $100+ bottles of wine.  That is until he meets his most recent assignment - Jordan Rhodes.  Such sacrifices one must make for the sake of law and order!  You see, Jordan has something that Nick (and the FBI) wants.  Jordan happens to be friends with a local restaurateur that has mob connections and the FBI is dying to take him down for money laundering and to help capture a mafia kingpin.  Jordan can help with the sting to trap him.  Jordan also happens to have a brother that is in jail (for hacking into Twitter of all things!) and the FBI is willing to spring her brother with Jordan's cooperation in the sting of the restaurateur.    A natural combination. 

As you can imagine, Nick and Jordan come from different worlds yet that doesn't stop them from being attracted to one another.  I loved this story.  Jordan is likable (despite being beautiful and rich) with a vulnerable side to her.  She loves her twin (a dead ringer for a certain handsome rogue on the TV show Lost) and is willing to do anything to shorten his jail time.  Even though she's an heiress, she's her own person.  Normal, responsible, strong and smart.  She is nothing like Paris Hilton!  I really liked her and loved the way she handled herself around Nick who was determined to make her feel uncomfortable at first.  Upon first meeting, he had her pegged as the usual spoiled prima donna rich bitch, but how wrong he was!  Before long he realizes she's special and the sparks fly.  A fake kiss turns into something more and before long he's jealous of any man that hangs out with her - one particularly funny part was when he spies her having a private tete a tete with a man with a scarf in her wine shop after hours.  Nick dispatches him handily!  I love tough, jealous FBI guys, especially when they're marking their territory and Nick does it so well! 

There's plenty of intrigue, danger and lots of canoodling - a business trip to the wine country in Napa Valley turns into something more than just wine tastings.  It was one of my favorite parts of the book.  Yet, afterwards I could have screamed!  I'd fallen in love with these two as a couple.  Jordan and Nick are playing a dangerous game posing as lovers, but what's real and what's play-acting?  Grr!  Neither one of them wants to pull the trigger and say how they feel about the other - I was going crazy reading about these two idiots and how neither one would speak up as they say good-bye after their magical trip to Napa!  I felt like slapping both of them!  Luckily all ends well after handsome Nick saves the day after a nail biting finale while rescuing Jordan.  Nothing like a little danger and a near death experience to put things in perspective.  Afterwards, I loved the moment when he meets Jordan's father and brother!   *grin*

Sorry about the all over the place review, but I always feel kind of "wobbly" after reading one of Julie's books.  I love her characters so much - I almost feel "unworthy" writing about them!  I always feel like I wish they really existed - I want to meet them and hang out with them!  They're real to me!

Do yourself a favor, if you've never read a Julie James book - read one.  Every one of them is great.  Just trust me - A Lot Like Love is no exception.  This is a fun contemporary romance with enough danger in it to keep you riveted, but enough sexual chemistry between the hero and heroine to keep you... interested.  Plus, we see some of our old friends from Something About You (I have a major crush on FBI man Jack Pallas - I was simply giddy at getting to see him again!)  Although this is a sequel to it, it is not necessary to read it before A Lot Like Love.  Julie's books have it all:  humor, fast paced action and dialogue loaded with snappy come backs and sizzling romance.  You simply can't go wrong with her.  A quick, fun read!


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Slightly Married by Mary Balogh

Book Description:
Meet the Bedwyns… six brothers and sisters - men and women of passion and privilege, daring and sensuality… Enter their dazzling world of high society and breathtaking seduction… where each will seek love, fight temptation, and court scandal… and where Aidan Bedwyn, the marriage-shy second son, discovers that matrimony may be the most seductive act of all.

Like all the Bedwyn men, Aidan has a reputation for cool arrogance. But this proud nobleman also possesses a loyal, passionate heart - and it is this fierce loyalty that has brought Colonel Lord Aidan to Ringwood Manor to honor a dying soldier's request. Having promised to comfort and protect the man's sister, Aidan never expected to find a headstrong, fiercely independent woman who wants no part of his protection… nor did he expect the feelings this beguiling creature would ignite in his guarded heart. And when a relative threatens to turn Eve out of her home, Aidan gallantly makes her an offer she can't refuse: marry him… if only to save her home. And now, as all of London breathlessly awaits the transformation of the new Lady Aidan Bedwyn, the strangest thing happens: With one touch, one searing embrace, Aidan and Eve's “business arrangement” is about to be transformed… into something slightly surprising.

Forced marriages are some of my favorites, though this was a different take on the scenario. Honoring the last wishes of one of his men, Aidan Bedwyn marries Eve Morris to save her from losing her home and those that depend upon her. He is a military man, a dour colonel in the British army who first meets Eve upon telling her of the death of her brother, the man who's dying wish was to ask Aidan to protect his sister, no matter what. Another thoughtful, moving and poignant love story and first entry into the Bedwyn family.

The theme is reminiscent of the first of the Bedwyn prequels, One Night for Love, in which a dying soldier's last plea is to protect his loved one, forcing two people who don't know one another to marry, although that is where the similarities cease.  Eve is no shrinking violet.  She is used to being her own woman, running an estate and taking care of those around her.   Although not of the aristocracy, she has been raised and schooled as a lady.  In her neighborhood she is all that is good and kind, taking on servants no else will hire, and even raising two orphans as if they are her own children.  Everyone goes to Eve for help - she is someone that can be counted on.

Little does anyone know she has a secret love (or rather, she thinks she is in love) with a young man, her neighbor, who's family has forbidden him to marry her.  In their eyes Eve is beneath them because her father, once a common Welsh coal minor, made his fortune in trade (and married the coal mine owner's daughter to boot). Not good enough for their bloodlines, they hurried their son off to the diplomatic corp in Russia.  Secretly engaged to Eve, he is unaware of the change in her fortune once her father and then brother's deaths cripple her.  It doesn't help she hasn't heard from him in ages either!

Now she is about to lose her house and estate to her odious and social climbing cousin - a dead ringer for Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice - unless she can marry someone within a few days.  She must marry within a year of her father's death, and that anniversary is coming up in less than a week!  What is she going to do?

To save her from her impending fate, Aidan,  as the brother of a duke, comes to the conclusion that there is nothing else he can do but to marry her himself - in name only.  They will formally marry in London, a private low key ceremony, but then go their separate ways never to see one another again.  By doing this, she will never be able to marry her diplomat fiance nor will he ever be able to marry a general's daughter he had his eye on at one point.  The marriage will be recorded in the marriage registry and no one will be able to refute it.  Aidan intends to keep the wee secret from his family as well.  It is the honorable thing to marry her, and it will carry out the promise he made to her brother as his last dying wish.  To protect her - no matter what.  There is no need for his family to know anything about it.  It's his private business - ha!

Of course nothing goes as it should and once they are married, one thing after another comes up that prevents Aidan from leaving her and getting on with his life.  The biggest impediment to his problem is when his brother, Wulfric, the Duke of Bewcastle, learns of the marriage.  As the head of the Bedwyn family, there is no way in hell he is going to allow Aidan to have a secret wife ignominiously hidden away as if there is something scandalously wrong with her!  She must be acknowledged by the entire family and welcomed as one of their own - no matter what her pedigree.  As a Bedwyn no one will dare to snub her due to her lesser origins.

Usually I don't picture an actor in my mind when I read a romance, but I couldn't help it with Aidan.  To me, he looked like Ciaràn Hinds as Captain Wentworth in the 1995 film adaptation of Persuasion.  Although Aidan is military rather than naval - you get the general idea!  Tall and handsome with a somewhat taciturn and commanding bearing, Aidan is all composure and honor - a true Bedwyn.  What he didn't count on was falling in love.  Little did he know how his life would change upon meeting Eve!  Quiet and unassuming Eve surprises him throughout the book!

Then, once his brother, Wulfric, comes to visit Eve after their marriage, and informs her that she must go to London and be presented to the Queen, well, everything changes in their marriage.  She meets the rest of his family - who she pretty much hates on first sight  - and all hell breaks loose!  I loved it!  She must be launched for the London Season and she makes quite the first impression!

Aidan is not a little put out by the whole thing.  He is torn, he has come to care for Eve, against his own better judgment, and he hates to see her forced to act as if their marriage is a real one.  Not that he minds it himself, but he keeps thinking that she will resent it.  It's not part of their original agreement.  He's thinking mostly from her point of view and resents the way his brother is forcing his family down her throat.  To makes matter even more sticky, Eve had to be presented to the Queen and then attend a dinner dance with the Prince Regent - and guess who she bumps into while in London?  Her fiance!  Who didn't even let her know he's been back from Russia for the past several months!  He's not at all happy to see she's now married into the Bedwyns, but by this point she warming up to Aidan - and his bed.  That old fiance of hers doesn't seem to be as important to her anymore.  Eve is full of surprises. 

Thus, why the book is called Slightly Married.  They're married, yet they're not married.  Even though Eve and Aidan share a bed (from time to time), both are under the wrong impression that neither of them wants to make their marriage real.  How wrong they are!  As time passes, they become closer and Aidan is realizing he no longer wants to be a military man with no wife or children in his future.  He wants Eve, her two adopted children and all her misfit servants.  Before long, he realizes - they already are his family!  How can he say good bye to them forever?  He can't.  Yet, does he tell this to Eve?  No!  So she runs off to her home in the country, convinced she'll never see him again - only to find he comes after her, ready to change his life and live there with her!  He's made his choice.  *sigh*  It really was wonderful! 

This story grew on me.   What started out as a simple forced marriage storyline became more about choices and deciding what's really important in life to make one happy.  Eve and Aidan keep each other at arms length most of the time, except during a few combustible moments when they can't help but fall into bed together!  It was so out of character for both of them - and sexy too!  Yet it also worked and was understandable in their circumstances.  While still in the country before London, their feelings for one another grow and grow.  We see through both their eyes how their marriage of convenience becomes a true love, yet neither is aware of it yet. They care for one another, they become important to each other until soon they realize they can no longer live without each other.  It comes on so gradually - before they know it - they're in love!

I thoroughly enjoyed this romance and am eager to read the rest of the Bedwyn's stories - primarily Wulfric's.  He's such a cold character - I can't imagine who will be the woman that can warm him up!  Of course his book is the last in the series!  I've heard about this series so much, I'm glad I've finally met the Bedwyns.  I even sort of grew to like Freyja (she came across as a real pill in the last book, A Summer to Remember!)  Balogh is a first rate romance author, her stories are more than just romance, they are thoughtful and tender.  This is no exception.  A fun read and I'm ready for more!


P.S. On a side note, now that I've read three romances by Mary Balogh, I've noticed she always has a sex scene involving swimming - do all her books have this??

To Desire a Devil by Elizabeth Hoyt

Book Description:
Reynaud St. Aubyn has spent the last seven years in hellish captivity. Now half mad with fever he bursts into his ancestral home and demands his due. Can this wild-looking man truly be the last earl's heir, thought murdered by Indians years ago?

Beatrice Corning, the niece of the present earl, is a proper English miss. But she has a secret: No real man has ever excited her more than the handsome youth in the portrait in her uncle's home. Suddenly, that very man is here, in the flesh - and luring her into his bed.

Only Beatrice can see past Reynaud's savagery to the noble man inside. For his part, Reynaud is drawn to this lovely lady, even as he is suspicious of her loyalty to her uncle. But can Beatrice's love tame a man who will stop at nothing to regain his title-even if it means sacrificing her innocence?

First of all, let me begin by saying The Legend of the Four Soldiers Series was a captivating read.  I loved it even more than the author's previous Prince Series.  I had a sneaking suspicion who this last and final book would be about and deliberately did not read any kind of descriptions of it ahead of time so I would be surprised when I got to it.  Overall, the writing in each of the books was superb.  I seem to have a penchant for Georgian romances and Hoyt's novels are a pleasure.  They're sexy, well written with complex plot lines and memorable characters.  Her heroines are (usually) strong women, used to a certain type of environment.  Suddenly thrown off balance and plunged into new and unfamiliar territory, they rise to the occasion and become soul mates to the men they love.

Each chapter begins with a short blurb of an ongoing fairy tale that is the constant thread through the entire series that pulls it all together.   Each soldier has his own tale that parallels the main storyline.   Finally, what I consider a deal breaker when it comes to historical romances, Hoyt's books are true to the period.  Customs and manners were meticulously researched.  The gentlemen and ladies' costumes were well described, as well as the settings, locations and descriptions of the various places, whether it was an urbane London drawing room or the frigid backwoods of an eighteenth century North American settlement.

I sped through the series, eager to get to the final book and see how it all wrapped up.  Who was the traitor of Spinner's Falls?  We are still on the trail to find out who betrayed the regiment that was ambushed and massacred seven years earlier near Quebec at the infamous battle.  It is integral to the plot line of each book.  Someone betrayed them to the French and their Indian allies - an officer within their own regiment.   The Spinner's Falls massacre affected each of our heroes in their own individual way, unforgettable scars they are forced to live with for the rest of their lives.

How ironic that this final book turned out to be my least favorite!  I had been dying to get to Reynaud's story - and how he evaded death.  In the previous books, we are under the impression that Reynaud has died - burned at the stake by Indians after his capture at Spinner's Falls.  Images of his death were gruesome and harrowing, as mentioned more than once throughout the series.  Reynaud was Lord Jasper Vale's best friend from To Seduce a Sinner and the brother of Lady Emeline Gordon in To Taste Temptation.  His death was so hideous, Jasper and Samuel Hartley (the hero in Temptation) wish to keep the truth from Emeline.  Reynaud's horrific death is one that stays with us throughout the series.  It is probably the main driving force of why Vale, Hartley and Munroe (from To Beguile a Beast) all are on the quest to find the traitor that betrayed their regiment.

As it turns out Reynaud was not burned at the stake after all.  He was enslaved for seven years instead.  Only now he has escaped and made it back to London, penniless and in rags, determined to regain his title and holdings that go with it as the Earl of Blanchard.  Presumed dead, a distant cousin had assumed the title and moved into his townhouse with his niece, Beatrice Corning.  Beatrice, a young and unattached young lady has always had a fascination with a portrait of the "dead" Reynaud.  Now, all of a sudden, he shows up out of the blue, acting like a madman.  I forgot to mention someone is trying to kill him.   Reynaud slips in and out of a fever, imagining he is under attack by Indians again, although his attackers are really assassins in London.  Beatrice is accidentally hit by a bullet in one of these attacks and Reynaud oversees her recovery and makes love to her while he's at it.

Their romance and courtship is non-existent.  One minute they're strangers, the next minute they're lovers.  There is almost no getting to know one another.  I had a problem with this.  Beatrice falls into his arms while almost unconscious and then becomes immediately engaged to him.  How convenient.  They both realize they love each much too soon, and it felt rushed and forced, nothing like the tantalizing slow build up of the other books. 

At the same time, there is a mishmash of other plot lines going on.  Reynaud must petition to regain his title in the House of Lords.  His cousin, who is a politician, plans to keep the title by declaring Reynaud mad.  He is involved with this higher up power hungry politician who has an agenda of his own.  Can Reynaud prove his sanity and regain his title?  How can Beatrice help?  What happens with Beatrice's sick friend, a young man who lost his legs in the war?  Can she get Reynaud to help pass a bill allotting money to veterans who were permanently wounded fighting for the king?  The bill can narrowly pass if Reynaud regains his title and can vote for the bill in time.  Despite the mishmash, I really admired the way it all came around with Reynaud's speech in the House of Lords to pass the bill.

Overall, as I said before, it was a great series.  I enjoyed this last book, but it didn't have the same impact on me as the others.  Reynaud's character needed more fleshing out, and Beatrice, who had a good heart and meant well, was a lacklustre heroine compared to the others in the series.  She just did whatever she was told to do and didn't have much to her.   Their relationship, albeit tempestuous, was the most unrealistic of them all.  Reynaud, understandably, carried a lot of baggage due the past seven years and it left it's mark on his mind.   The fact that Beatrice was willing to go along with whatever he told her to do was beyond me.  Still, it was a fun read and kept my interest until the very end.  All the other characters from the previous books are reunited here - just like a big reunion!  If there's one thing I can say about Elizabeth Hoyt - she's a great storyteller!

One more thing - I love, love, loved this cover - my favorite of them all!


Legend of the Four Soldiers Series:  5/5

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Book Spotlight: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another...

In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon--when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an "outlander"—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord...1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire's destiny in soon inextricably intertwined with Clan MacKenzie and the forbidden Castle Leoch. She is catapulted without warning into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life ...and shatter her heart. For here, James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire...and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

About seven years ago a friend of mine bumped into me in the supermarket and we got to talking about books and so forth and after mentioning that I'd just bought The Time Traveler's Wife, she grabbed me by the arm and told me - told me - that I had to read this wonderful time travel book called Outlander.  I'd never heard of it.  She began to go on and on, extolling the virtues of somebody named Jamie Fraser.  Nodding, I began to perk up at the idea and took note of the recommendation.  When I later got home, I impulsively bought the first four books in the series off of Amazon.  For some reason I neglected to get the fifth, not realizing there were five in the series at that point.   Needless to say - I nearly cried when I didn't have it later on!

Believe it or not, once the books arrived, there they sat - for nearly a year in my TBR pile.  A year! Can you imagine?  What was I thinking?  I don't know what made me finally pick Outlander up, but I began to read it, and I was entranced.  I'd never read anything like it before.   From that moment was the demarcation point in my literary life.  Life before Outlander - life after Outlander.  The rest is history.  I swept through the books (okay, The Fiery Cross took me longer than the others and I had to put it down from time to time).  I was hooked!  Suddenly it was Jamie, Jamie, Jamie instead of Mr. Darcy, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Darcy!  As soon as I finished the The Fiery Cross, what did I do?  Naturally, I turned right around and began reading the entire Outlander series again from the beginning - with barely a pause for breath! I didn't want it to stop!  I loved it even more the second time around, suddenly it was like reading it in technicolor!  Now that I knew what would happen I could pay more attention to all the rich details and characterizations, I no longer wanted to speed through it to see what happened next!

Well, after I read the series through again - and again, I discovered the amazing unabridged audio books, narrated by the incomparable Davina Porter.  Davina Porter's voice is unbelievably perfect for this series.  She is the voice of Claire - she is Claire.  When she's Jamie - sigh - she really is Jamie Fraser!  I was able to borrow the audio books from my local library (on inter library loan) and for the next two years (I kid you not) I listened to the whole series in my car nonstop while driving around doing my various daily errands and what-have-you during the course of the day.  Only in my car.  It got to the point where my husband and son would go crazy if they heard Davina Porter's voice - they'd scream and yell, begging me to turn it off! When I finished the series, I bought the CD's and just started from the beginning again in one giant Outlander loop!  I kept this up until A Breath of Snow and Ashes came out.  After reading it, I added that CD to my giant loop as well until An Echo in the Bone came out.  I estimate I listened to those audio books in my car for about five years!  I just never got sick of the story, it fed my addiction.  Even my husband read Outlander.  That's saying something for he's not much of a book reader, unless it's Stephen King or Robert Ludlum.  I think he was mainly curious to find out who this Jamie guy was.  I was breathless with anticipation to hear what part he was on.  What did he think of it?  What did he think of the beating scene at Leoch?  What did he think of what Black Jack Randall did to Jamie at Wentworth Prison?  What did he think of all the sex???  Well, my husband is not the chatty type, it was like pulling teeth, but I did get him to talk about it eventually.  Did he go on to read the second book, Dragonfly in Amber?  No, but maybe he will before we go to Scotland this summer?  Did I happen to mention we're going to the Scottish Highlands this summer?  The title of my blog doesn't have the word Outlandish in it for nothing!  And guess who that handsome red haired Scot in my banner is?  (Ah, the wonders of Photoshop!)

So, now you know about Outlander and me.   I dare any of you who haven't read it yet, not to be affected by it when you read it for the first time - and trust me, you'll read it more than once.  It's that kind of book.  Maybe you won't be as affected by it as much as I was, but trust me, this series is that good.  It's life changing.  Not only is the story fantastic, but the writing is superb.  They're huge books, the kind you can get lost in - the Calgon take me away kind of books that leave you misty eyed, utterly exhausted but exhilarated as well.  You laugh, you cry, you're all over the place in these books.  Jamie and Claire's story is one of an everlasting love.  The time travel element gives them a special quality as well as the lush richness of Gabaldon's writing.  Frankly, I find it indescribable.  Everyone I've recommended them to has loved them as well -  the books are evocative, magical - and addictive!  

It was twenty years ago that Outlander was first published, below is an excerpt to give you a taste of what I'm talking about, it's one of my favorite moments:

Jamie made a fire in a sheltered spot, and sat down next to it. The rain had eased to a faint drizzle that misted the air and spangled my eyelashes with rainbows when I looked at the flames.

He sat staring into the fire for a long time. Finally he looked up at me, hands clasped around his knees.

"I said before that I'd not ask ye things ye had no wish to tell me. And I'd not ask ye now; but I must know, for your safety as well as mine." He paused, hesitating.

"Claire, if you've never been honest wi' me, be so now, for I must know the truth. Claire, are ye a witch?"

I gaped at him. "A witch? You—you can really ask that?" I thought he must be joking. He wasn't.

He took me by the shoulders and gripped me hard, staring into my eyes as though willing me to answer him.

"I must ask it, Claire! And you must tell me!"

"And if I were?" I asked through dry lips. "If you had thought I were a witch? Would you still have fought for me?"

"I would have gone to the stake with you!" he said violently. "And to hell beyond, if I must. But may the Lord Jesus have mercy on my soul and on yours, tell me the truth!"

The strain of it all caught up with me. I tore myself out of his grasp and ran across the clearing. Not far, only to the edge of the trees; I could not bear the exposure of the open space. I clutched a tree; put my arms around it and dug my fingers hard into the bark, pressed my face to it and shrieked with hysterical laughter.

Jamie's face, white and shocked, loomed up on the other side of the tree. With the dim realization that what I was doing must sound unnervingly like cackling, I made a terrific effort and stopped. Panting, I stared at him for a moment.

"Yes," I said, backing away, still heaving with gasps of unhinged laughter. "Yes, I am a witch! To you, I must be. I've never had smallpox, but I can walk through a room full of dying men and never catch it. I can nurse the sick and breathe their air and touch their bodies, and the sickness can't touch me. I can't catch cholera, either, or lockjaw, or the morbid sore throat. And you must think it's an enchantment, because you've never heard of vaccine, and there's no other way you can explain it."

"The things I know—" I stopped backing away and stood still, breathing heavily, trying to control myself. "I know about Jonathan Randall because I was told about him. I know when he was born and when he'll die, I know about what he's done and what he'll do, I know about Sandringham because ... because Frank told me. He knew about Randall because he ... he ... oh, God!" I felt as though I might be sick, and closed my eyes to shut out the spinning stars overhead.

"And Colum ... he thinks I'm a witch, because I know Hamish isn't his own son. I know ... he can't sire children. But he thought I knew who Hamish's father is ... I thought maybe it was you, but then I knew it couldn't be, and..." I was talking faster and faster, trying to keep the vertigo at bay with the sound of my own voice.

"Everything I've ever told you about myself was true," I said, nodding madly as though to reassure myself. "Everything. I haven't any people, I haven't any history, because I haven't happened yet.

"Do you know when I was born?" I asked, looking up. I knew my hair was wild and my eyes staring, and I didn't care. "On the twentieth of October, in the Year of Our Lord nineteen hundred and eighteen. Do you hear me?" I demanded, for he was blinking at me unmoving, as though paying no attention to a word I said. "I said nineteen eighteen! Nearly two hundred years from now! Do you hear?"

I was shouting now, and he nodded slowly.

"I hear," he said softly.

"Yes, you hear!" I blazed. "And you think I'm raving mad. Don't you? Admit it! That's what you think. You have to think so, there isn't any other way you can explain me to yourself. You can't believe me, you can't dare to. Oh, Jamie..." I felt my face start to crumple. All this time spent hiding the truth, realizing that I could never tell anyone, and now I realized that I could tell Jamie, my beloved husband, the man I trusted beyond all others, and he wouldn't—he couldn't believe me either.

It was the rocks—the fairy hill. The standing stones. Merlin's stones. That's where I came through." I was gasping, half-sobbing, becoming less coherent by the second. "Once upon a time, but it's really two hundred years. It's always two hundred years, in the stories. ... But in the stories, the people always get back. I couldn't get back." I turned away, staggering, grasping for support. I sank down on a rock, shoulders slumped, and put my head in my hands. There was a long silence in the wood. It went on long enough for the small night birds to recover their courage and start their noises once again, calling to each other with a thin, high zeek! as they hawked for the last insects of the summer.

I looked up at last, thinking that perhaps he had simply risen and left me, overcome by my revelations. He was still there, though, still sitting, hands braced on his knees, head bowed as though in thought.

The hairs on his arms shone stiff as copper wires in the firelight, though, and I realized that they stood erect, like the bristles on a dog. He was afraid of me.

"Jamie," I said, feeling my heart break with absolute loneliness. "Oh, Jamie."

I sat down and curled myself into a ball, trying to roll myself around the core of my pain. Nothing mattered any longer, and I sobbed my heart out.

His hands on my shoulders raised me, enough to see his face. Through the haze of tears, I saw the look he wore in battle, of struggle that had passed the point of strain and become calm certainty.

"I believe you," he said firmly. "I dinna understand it a bit—not yet—but I believe you. Claire, I believe you! Listen to me! There's the truth between us, you and I, and whatever ye tell me, I shall believe it." He gave me a gentle shake.

"It doesna matter what it is. You've told me. That's enough for now. Be still, mo duinne. Lay your head and rest. You'll tell me the rest of it later. And I'll believe you."

I was still sobbing, unable to grasp what he was telling me. I struggled, trying to pull away, but he gathered me up and held me tightly against himself, pushing my head into the folds of his plaid, and repeating over and over again, "I believe you."

At last, from sheer exhaustion, I grew calm enough to look up and say, "But you can't believe me."

He smiled down at me. His mouth trembled slightly, but he smiled.

"Ye'll no tell me what I canna do, Sassenach." He paused a moment. ... A long time later, he spoke.

"All right. Tell me now."

I told him. Told him everything, haltingly but coherently. I felt numb from exhaustion, but content, like a rabbit that has outrun a fox, and found temporary shelter under a log. It isn't sanctuary, but at least it is respite. And I told him about Frank.

"Frank," he said softly. "Then he isna dead, after all."

"He isn't born." I felt another small wave of hysteria break against my ribs, but managed to keep myself under control. "Neither am I."

He stroked and patted me back into silence, making his small murmuring Gaelic sounds.

"When I took ye from Randall at Fort William," he said suddenly, "you were trying to get back. Back to the stones. And ... Frank. That's why ye left the grove."


"And I beat you for it." His voice was soft with regret.

"You couldn't know. I couldn't tell you." I was beginning to feel very drowsy indeed.

"No, I dinna suppose ye could." He pulled the plaid closer around me, tucking it gently around my shoulders. "Do ye sleep now, mo duinne. No one shall harm ye; I'm here."

I burrowed into the warm curve of his shoulder, letting my tired mind fall through the layers of oblivion. I forced myself to the surface long enough to ask, "Do you really believe me, Jamie?"

He sighed, and smiled ruefully down at me.

"Aye, I believe ye, Sassenach. But it would ha' been a good deal easier if you'd only been a witch."

Excerpted from Outlander by Diana Gabaldon Copyright © 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. Excerpted by permission of Dell, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Now a little bit about Diana, who wrote these amazing books. I've met her in person twice now and she is amazingly down to earth and unaffected by her success. She seems very grounded and a gracious and lovely lady!

Diana Gabaldon is the author of the award-winning, #1 NYT-bestselling OUTLANDER novels, described by Salon magazine as “the smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting “Scrooge McDuck” comics.”

The adventure began in 1991 with the classic OUTLANDER (“historical fiction with a Moebius twist”), has continued through six more New York Times-bestselling novels–DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, VOYAGER, DRUMS OF AUTUMN, THE FIERY CROSS, A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES, and AN ECHO IN THE BONE, with nineteen million copies in print worldwide.

The series is published in 26 countries and 23 languages, and includes a nonfiction (well, relatively) companion volume, THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION, which provides details on the settings, background, characters, research, and writing of the novels. Gabaldon (it’s pronounced “GAA-bull-dohn”—rhymes with “stone”) has also written several books in a sub-series featuring Lord John Grey (a major minor character from the main series): LORD JOHN AND THE PRIVATE MATTER, LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE, and LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS. Another Lord John book, LORD JOHN AND THE SCOTTISH PRISONER, will probably be published in 2011).

Returning to her comic-book roots, she has also written a graphic novel titled THE EXILE (set within the OUTLANDER universe and featuring the main characters from OUTLANDER), but told from the viewpoint of Jamie Fraser and his godfather, Murtagh. The graphic novel is illustrated by Hoang Nguyen, published by Del-Rey.

Gabaldon is presently working on the third Lord John novel (LORD JOHN AND THE SCOTTISH PRISONER), and the eighth book in the OUTLANDER series. In addition, she is working on a contemporary mystery series, set in Phoenix, and has written Highly Scholarly Introductions (with masses of footnotes) to recent Modern Library editions of Sir Walter Scott’s IVANHOE and Thomas Paine’s COMMON SENSE.

Dr. Gabaldon holds three degrees in science: Zoology, Marine Biology, and Quantitative Behavioral Ecology, (plus an honorary degree as Doctor of Humane Letters, which entitles her to be “Diana Gabaldon, Ph.D., D.H.L.” She supposes this is better than “Diana Gabaldon, Phd.X,”) and spent a dozen years as a university professor with an expertise in scientific computation before beginning to write fiction. She has written scientific articles and textbooks, worked as a contributing editor on the MacMillan ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COMPUTERS, founded the scientific-computation journal SCIENCE SOFTWARE QUARTERLY, and has written numerous comic-book scripts for Walt Disney. None of this has anything whatever to do with her novels, but there it is.

She and her husband, Douglas Watkins, have three adult children and live mostly in Scottsdale, Arizona.

You can visit Diana online at

Published by Random House, here is the link that will tell you where the books are available for sale. No word yet on when exactly the next book of the series will be coming out, but Diana is working on it and said it might be as early as 2012!

Thanks to Cheryl Malandrinos for organizing and inviting me to participate in the Pump Up Your Book Virtual Blog Tour for Outlander, this was fun!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Something Wonderful by Judith McNaught

Book Description:
The tempestuous marriage of Alexandra Lawrence, an innocent country girl, and Jordan Townsende, the rich and powerful Duke of Hawthorne, is about to face its ultimate test of tender loyalty. Swept into the endlessly fascinating world of London society, free-spirited Alexandra becomes ensnared in a tangled web of jealousy and revenge, stormy pride and overwhelming passion. But behind her husband's cold, arrogant mask, there lives a tender, vital, sensual man...the man Alexandra married. Now, she will fight for his very life...and the rapturous bond they alone can share.

Another winner by Judith McNaught!  I simply love going through her backlist, it's a sheer joy to read her romances.  Well written and passionate, they pack a wallop, often a roller coaster ride of emotions.  She's one of the queens of romance and a favorite of mine.  The relationships she writes are hot blooded with not a little angst, alpha heroes abound and her heroines have a winsome innocence to them that I love - Something Wonderful is no exception!

Jordan and Alexandra are the most unlikely couple.  She, a country lass, is incredibly naive to the point where I nearly rolled my eyes.  She doesn't even know what husband and wives do on their wedding night?  C'mon!   But, despite that, I liked her and was able to overlook it, it only adds to the plot later on in the book as she matures.  He, on the other hand, is an experienced, worldly, man about town.  A wealthy duke with estates and influence up the wazoo.  Due to a strange quirk of fate, they are forced to marry.  He doesn't want to, but because she saved his life, he unknowingly compromised her and ruined her reputation.  He would be a cad if he did not marry her.  It's the least he can do to this young innocent girl that doesn't deserve to be ruined for an act of kindness and bravery.

Alexandra is seventeen years old and green as green, the last person in the world he thought he'd ever wind up marrying.  Being a cynic when it comes to love, he's not accustomed to her ingenuous heart of gold and joie de vivre.  Between her optimism and his gradual fascination with her personality that is new and fresh, you get the feeling their marriage has potential - if only he'd drop his ballerina mistress.  His first thought is to hide her away at one of his distant estates in Devon and carry on with his life - and mistress - in London.  But, as they get to know one another before the wedding, things begin to blossom between them and Alexandra falls in love with him, just as any seventeen year old would.  He's bigger than big, larger than life - and she's going to marry him!  She develops major hero worship, although he still thinks of her like the little puppy she's adopted on their honeymoon.  Yet, Alexandra's vivacious personality grows on him and by the time they marry and have their wedding journey, Jordan has become smitten by her guileless charm.  It's catching.  They christen their marriage bed en route to London and it's pure bliss, Alexandra is overwhelmingly in love with him even more.  He'd never admit it, but he's coming around to her as well, maybe this marriage thing will work between them after all...


But, this isn't a story about two people getting to know one another after a forced marriage.  It takes a twisty turn.  Just when you think Jordan and Alexandra are going to have a great beginning to their marriage and get on with their lives, he gets knocked on the head and disappears!  Oh no!  I couldn't believe it!  Everyone believes he's dead and after a year of mourning and missing him, Alexandra gets on with her life - alone - as his widow and duchess.  She becomes sophisticated and develops some polish.  Basically, she grows up and becomes a women.  She's no longer the girl Jordan left behind.

Thanks to Jordan's grandmother's who grows to love Alex, she becomes the toast of the town and London society.  But, while she's undergoing her transformation, she begins to hear the truth about what her husband had been like before she met him, and she doesn't like what she's hearing.  She feels like a fool, all her hero worship evaporates as she finds out just what kind of man he had been like.  Torn by her own memories of him and his notorious reputation as a ladies man she flings herself into have a grand old time.  Although she remains chaste in her scandalous escapades, rumors abound about her as well, though none of them are true.  To squelch the wagging tongues, she agrees to marry Jordan's cousin, Anthony (who inherited the dukedom) to settle down as his duchess.  She doesn't love him, but it's a future she can live with.

Guess what happens just before they say "I do" in the church?

I was up and down over Jordan in this book.  I kept wondering if McNaught was deliberately killing him off and we were going to read about Alexandra finding love with someone else - his cousin.  I was mentally preparing myself for that kind of storyline, unsure of my feelings of whether I wanted her with Jordan or Anthony.  At times I hated Jordan, he is not painted as a sympathetic character at first.  He's haughty and unfeeling, plus a real womanizer with many sins in his past.   While he was missing, Alexandra heard all about his exploits, his mistresses and paramours to the point where she was sickened by it.  She was determined to erase his memory from her mind and start fresh again.   Yet, upon his miraculous return Jordan wants his "wife" back.  Uh-oh.

Can Alexandra accept the man who has returned as her husband?  Faults and all?  Can Jordan accept the accomplished and glamorous young woman his wife has turned into in his absence?  It's as if he believes she has blossomed because he "died."  He can't accept that she simply grew up.  A lot has happened to both of them in the last two years, but one thing hasn't changed.  Someone is still trying to murder him.  Unfortunately, Jordan becomes convinced that Alex and her "fiance" Anthony are plotting to murder him.  Grr! So much angst and miscommunication!  They should be happy and loving each other and instead Jordan is being a jerk and brooding, brooding, brooding, taking it all out on innocent Alexandra who just wants to love him again and forget the past and move on.  I hated the way Jordan treated her at times - so typical of McNaught's heroes.

Yes, Jordan is the stereotypical jumping to conclusions McNaught hero.  Tall, dark and handsome, masculine, commanding with the haughty demeanor only a duke can have.  He assumes the worst of his wife.  Never does he give Alex the benefit of the doubt, even though he claims to love her.  He doubts her love for him and assumes that she couldn't wait to get married again after he "died" and had been living it up as a merry widow!  It drove me crazy that he was so wrong about her, but at the same time, I love, love, loved it!  I'm a victim to these kind of Judith McNaught heroes, if I met one in real life, I'd probably hate his guts, but in print - I swoon!

So, how do these two resolve their differences and live happily ever after, read the book and see!  It's a great book all the way up to the end-simply wonderful!


To Tempt a Scotsman by Victoria Dahl

Book Description:
She Has Nothing Left To Lose...

After finding herself at the center of a very public scandal that left one man dead and another on the run, Lady Alexandra Huntington has exiled herself to her brother's estate and is content to manage his affairs. But the arrival of darkly handsome Collin Blackburn awakens her curiosity and her desire - and the advantage of being a fallen woman is that she can be ruined only once...

Except Her Heart...

After a promise sworn to his father, Collin Blackburn is compelled to seek the aid of the woman who brought about his brother's death in a senseless duel. Yet Lady Alexandra is not the shameless femme fatale he expected. In fact, Collin suspects she is guilty of nothing more than a hunger to experience passion, and the brawny Scot is certainly equipped to oblige. But the quick-witted, keenly sensual Alexandra has a few lessons of her own to impart - on life, love, and the delicious joys of succumbing to temptation...

One of the things I love about Regency romances is their settings and the period.  I've read a million and know what to expect - it's like returning home for me when I pick up a new Regency.  The places, the etiquette and gentility, the styles and dress codes, that sort of thing.  Everyone is polite and dainty, bowing and curtsying.  I expect everything that was customary for the early nineteenth century. For the most part I enjoyed this book, and it kept my interest but I had one big problem with it.  It did not fit into my comfort zone for a Regency.  I tend to be a stickler with my heroines and Lady Alexandra was much too modern for a Regency chit - and she wasn't forthright with our hero, Collin.  She deliberately misled him and I had no sympathy for her.  Her manner was jarring to me and she did not behave the way I expect a young aristocratic lady should. *hmmph*  I admit it, I'm a Regency snob.

The premise of the story is the heroine, Alexandra thinks she's ruined for (nearly) getting caught in the act with a ne'er do well rake, so she might as well act the part and really be a wanton woman!   I disliked this logic and she annoyed me to no end.  Prone to riding astraddle and wearing men's britches, she does whatever she wants because she is the sister of a duke.  She sets her sights on Collin Blackburn, a handsome Scot, who has come to question her to find out the truth behind the death of his brother - a death that she is partially responsible for.  Collin's brother had been in love with Alexandra and fought a duel over her and was killed by the same rake (who's name escapes me) that she was caught in a compromising position with.  All in her first season! Collin is convinced this rake set his brother up and wanted him dead all along and staged the whole scene to make his brother call him out.  Alexandra turned out to be oblivious to it all and wound up becoming a casualty to the whole episode because she lost her reputation when news spread about what the duel was over.  Banished to her brother's estate, she has remained quiet over the whole episode until Collin shows up and wants answers.

Alexandra is no shrinking violet, after their initial first acrimonious meeting, they meet again at the estate of a mutual friend and she basically throws herself at Collin like a cat in heat. Tempting as she may be, he does the honorable thing and does not sleep with her, when she has so obviously made her wishes plain to him.  She actively pursues him and goes to Edinburgh for the Scottish "season" and she propositions him again.  She's pretty shameless with her intentions.  She knows what she wants and isn't afraid to go after it.  It's just so inconceivable that any well brought up young lady of that period would do such a thing!  She invites him to spend a week full of sex with her at her little secluded cottage and he takes her up on it.  He's falling for her and he can no longer resist her charms.  He is a man, after all, and he can only say no so many times.  Their week starts well until they go to bed and - oops! It turns out she's a virgin!  Well, he's furious she lied to him, he insists they marry, she says she doesn't want to marry him (hurting his pride) and then she up and gets sick with a high fever and he's got to rush her (on horseback) back to her brother's estate.  Once her brother, the Duke, gets wind of what's been going on he insists they marry but he won't let Collin near his sister until she's well again.  Her brother is seething, having no idea his sister is the one that started all this business.  Also, since she got sick, she forgot to tell Collin that the disreputable rake is back in town and wants money from her. 

As soon as she is well again, she and Collin have a quickie wedding, but then Collin gets jealous of every man Alexandra comes into contact with!  Plus, he suffers from "my wife is richer than me" syndrome.  Does he tell her what his problem is?  No!  So, there's all this miscommunication between them, lots of angst, she doesn't know what his problem is and their marriage begins to go to hell in a handbag!  Poor Collin - he went from noble do-gooder to stupid husband who doesn't know the first thing about how to treat a new wife!

Then, there's the problem of the disreputable rake that returns to England from the Continent and is blackmailing Alexandra...

He turns out to be a real scumbag and manages to kidnap both Alexandra and Collin and there's this horrible near rape scene that Collin has to watch, but I can assure you all ends well.  Still, I felt like this book was all over the place!  I sympathized to a point with Collin, but hated the way he constantly jumped to conclusions about the fidelity of his new bride!  I liked him better before he married Alex.  She is clueless for the most part, she does the stupidest things with no thought of how it must look in regard to her reputation, and she keeps neglecting to tell him about the rake who killed his brother and that he's back in town!  Grr!

Anyway, the overall book was entertaining and a good beach read on my new Kindle while I lolled around the pool in Cancun.  But it wasn't terribly memorable, maybe it would have helped if I had read this one first, before reading the sequel about her brother, the duke, first.  Something tells me that wouldn't have changed my opinion very much, although I liked the sequel better.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt

Book Description:

Reclusive Sir Alistair Munroe has hidden in his castle ever since returning from the Colonies, scarred inside and out. But when a mysterious beauty arrives at his door, the passions he's kept suppressed for years begin to awaken.


Running from past mistakes has taken legendary beauty Helen Fitzwilliam from the luxury of the ton to a crumbling Scottish castle and a job as a housekeeper. Yet Helen is determined to start a new life and she won't let dust - or a beast of a man - scare her away.

Another winner, and probably my favorite of Hoyt's Legend of the Four Soldiers series.  I loved this Beauty and the Beast themed romance that brought two lonely opposites together.  One devastatingly beautiful women is fleeing a life of captivity from a man who thinks of her as his possession.  The other is a man, horribly disfigured who has shut himself off from the rest of the world because he cannot bear to see children and grown people cringe and scream at the sight of him.  It's not your typical boy meets girl story. 

Helen Fitzwilliam is the former mistress of the political and powerful Duke of Lister.  We fleetingly met her in the first book of this series, To Taste Temptation, as an oblique figure, shunned by the snobbish society at a weekend garden party.  Standing apart from the rest of the women, no proper young lady would talk to her since she was a mistress - albeit, to a duke.  Why would he bring her there in the first place?  He is inconsiderate and vain.  You pity her for it looks to be a lonely life, ostracized by polite society - what kind of woman would want that kind of life in the first place?  Then in the second book of the series, To Seduce a Sinner, we meet her again, her name is Helen, and she becomes flesh and blood, no longer a distant figure to wonder about.  She seems to be a good person with two children, an attentive and caring mother too - even normal, except for the fact that her children are bastards and no one nice will talk to her.  By the end of the book, Helen has made up her mind to leave the Duke and run away.

Here in To Beguile a Beast, we pick up with Helen running off to the castle of Sir Alistair Munroe with the aid of Lady Vale (from To Seduce a Sinner).  Munroe is a gruff and reclusive naturalist living in the wilds of Scotland where he can remain cut off from society.  He bears the unsightly scars of torture by Indians while in the Colonies seven years earlier after being captured after the slaughter at Spinner's Falls.  Alistair lost an eye and two fingers as well as having one side of his face gouged and burned.  A once handsome man is now a beast, as he thinks of himself.  Can the beautiful Helen tame him - or perhaps make him a man again in his own eyes?

As the series continues, we are still on the trail of finding out who was the traitor that betrayed the regiment that was ambushed and massacred seven years earlier near Quebec.  The infamous battle known as Spinner's Falls is integral to the plotlines of each book in this series.  Sir Alistair was not a soldier, but he was traveling with the Twenty-eight of Foot while doing research for his book on North American flora and fauna.  Captured and disfigured he has resisted dredging up the memory of his experience at Spinner's Falls, but his old friend, Jasper Vale, has peeked his interest in revealing who the traitor was that gave their position away.  Someone betrayed them to the French and their Indian allies - an officer within their own regiment.

Meanwhile, on the romance side of things, Helen has shown up at Sir Alistair's announcing that she is to be his housekeeper.  His castle is a mess!  Filthy dirty, it's going to take a huge job to get it cleaned up and Helen doesn't exactly have any experience.  Helen has her two young children with her, a young boy of five and his sister who is nine.  For once I really liked kids in a romance!  They had their own little personalities and I felt and cared about them.  They are all on the run, hiding from the Duke of Lister who is determined to find them.  Not that he loves them, but they belong to him and he doesn't like the idea of losing something that is his.  Basically, we hate the Duke.  At first, I didn't think I was going to relate to Helen, I'm not the mistress loving type, but she is written so beautifully and sympathetically.  Young and impressionable when she first met the Duke as a young girl, you understand her plight.  I felt sorry for her and was rooting for her to get away from his grasp and start anew with her children.  Yet, the Duke is powerful and has long arms that can reach far away...

As Alistair becomes more and more used to his new housekeeper and her rambunctious children he begins to thaw.  Naturally, they are afraid of him at first, but they all warm up to each other in no time.  I particularly liked the tenderness Alistair showed to his aging dog which involved a poignant scene in the story.  As Helen and Alistair spar together, I adored reading of his evolution from recluse to passionate lover. He tries to ignore the attraction to Helen at first, but she feels it too.  His disfigurement means nothing to her, she falls in love with the man.  Helen was the perfect foil for him, he could not resist her and I loved how they came together.  It was sensual and fulfilling, just what you'd want to have happen between them.  Of course, that pesky Duke doesn't make things easy and I totally loved the way Alistair saves the day for her and her children.  It was all very clever and well done with a little angst thrown in, but not too hard to take, although I was on the edge of my seat reading all the way up to the end of the book. 

I couldn't ask for more in a romance, this book had everything! A good story, some hot sex, two charismatic and sympathetic leads and it kept my interest all the way up to the end.  The fairy tale legend of the soldier is great as well and matches the main plotline of the story.  I was surprised that this turned out to be my favorite of the series!  Give it a try and read the entire series, it's so worthwhile and Elizabeth Hoyt is a definite favorite of mine now!

P.S. I randomly won this book and received my copy in an online drawing.
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