Friday, May 27, 2011

A Notorious Love by Sabrina Jeffries

Book Description:
A Desperate Measure

Helena Laverick is at her wits end! The only man who can help find her eloping young sister is that scoundrel Daniel Brennan - the man who played with her emotions last year and then left. And he used to be a smuggler! Although Mrs. Nunley's Guide to Etiquette for Young Ladies would never approve, Helena is forced to go after the runaway in Daniel's company. But something about being with him feels oddly freeing - and a delicious tingle warns Helena that more than her reputation may be in danger...

Daniel finds most of the prim and proper lovely's rules ridiculous - but when she insists on masquerading as his wife for the sake of appearances, he immediately envisions the delights of sharing a bedchamber. The unexpected smoldering beneath her straitlaced exterior ignites his desire, and the vulnerability hidden beneath her cool control makes him want her even more. Yet Helena's a lady, and he's the son of a highwayman. How can he ever ask her to share his world?

This is the second in the Swanlea Spinsters Series and focuses on the unlikely courtship between Daniel Brennan and the eldest of the Laverick sisters, Helena.   In the previous, A Dangerous Love, we're introduced to Helena and Daniel.  Lady Helena looks down her nose at him since he's a low born highwayman's son, even though it's apparent they're both attracted to one another.  She's distrustful of all men and their ulterior motives.  Plus, she has an inferiority complex about her lame leg, brought on from a bout of Polio eight years earlier.  Daniel cannot even fathom the idea of courting the icy Lady Helena despite what his heart may feel about her.  He returns to London to start up an investment consulting business.  As expected, their story did not end there and here we get to read of their further adventures!

Helena's youngest sister Juliet has eloped with an unsuitable and questionable gentleman.  With her other sister Rosalind on her honeymoon in Europe, Helena must seek the help of the only man she knows who can assist in the recovery of Juliet before it's too late - Daniel Brennan.  Helena is loathe to seek him out, but she has no choice.  Of course, she'll never admit she'd like to see him again anyway, despite his lowly parentage and background.  She is unaccountably attracted to him, but she'd die rather than let him know.  It doesn't help that when she finds him in London, she is interrupting him with one of his "fancy women!"  Helena gets quite the eyeful, much to Daniel's amusement.  But after much haggling and bartering, he agrees to help her.  Together they try to foil what they now believe is a kidnapping attempt.  They take to the road, tracing Juliet's footsteps.  Helena's icy exterior thaws as she and Daniel get to know one another over the next week. Posing as man and wife, Helena realizes she'd been wrong about Daniel.  He truly is a good man who has tried to distance himself from his notorious upbringing as a smuggler.  Unfortunately, his past comes to haunt him as they discover the real reason for Juliet's kidnapping.   Naturally, they fall in love along the way as well.

I really enjoyed this book, particularly Helena's transformation from an untouchable ice princess to the lusty wife of a smuggler!  As Helena's eyes are opened in regard to Daniel, she soon relishes the role as Daniel's make believe wife.  She can pretend and be as "wanton" as she wants.   He makes her feel free and desirable, the way no man has before.  To Daniel, her lameness is of no concern and Helena realizes he loves her for herself and not her title or money.  They have quite the adventure together traveling throughout the countryside.  I had much sympathy for Daniel due to his sad childhood and the fact he overcame it and was able to make something for himself.  Plus, he's quite the looker - tall, blond and muscular, enough to make a woman swoon. 

Overall, this was a fun romance though not overly memorable.  Still I liked it and it's hero and heroine.  It had a little bit of everything: humor, sex, adventure and not a lot of angst.  We see how two lonely people overcome their preconceived perceptions of what is important in life.  They learn to love one another for themselves and not by what society dictates.  It all wrapped up well and set us up for the next in the series - Juliet's story, which I'm very curious to read about!


Thursday, May 19, 2011

100 Followers - Thank you and Giveaway!

100 Followers - Oh Boy! 

Thank you to everyone who has found my little book blog.  I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have.  It's been fun blogging about all the various books and romances I've read over the past three years.

In honor of this "great achievement" I've decided to have a giveaway of some of my favorite "gently used" books - keepers!

You have until June 30th to enter the giveaway (sorry, U.S residents only!) and the winners will be chosen at random.  I have 10 books up for grabs!  I know, I know, you're probably wondering - what?  You're not giving away a book by Diana Gabaldon?!  Sorry, but her books are just too dear to me, I have a matching set that I can't part with!  But, I do have some highlander related books that are pretty good!  Just fill out the form below, leave a comment (so I know you're a real person) and become a follower if you are not already.   You may select more than one book.

The following ten (in no special order) are dear to me, each one was great in it's own way.  They are all rated 4 stars and up.  I've posted the link to my reviews for each one - check 'em out and spread the word!  Thanks again to all you wonderful book lovers and good luck!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

Book Description:
When India Selwyn Jones, a young woman from a noble family, graduates from the London School of Medicine for Women in 1900, her professors advise her to set up her practice in London's esteemed Harley Street. Driven and idealistic, India chooses to work in the city's East End instead, serving the desperately poor.

In these grim streets, India meets-and saves the life of London's most notorious gangster, Sid Malone. A hard, wounded man, Malone is the opposite of India's aristocratic fiancé, Freddie Lytton, a rising star in the House of Commons. Though Malone represents all she despises, India finds herself unwillingly drawn ever closer to him, intrigued by his hidden, mysterious past.

Though they fight hard against their feelings, India and Sid fall in love, and their unpredictable, passionate and bittersweet affair causes destruction they could never have imagined. Sweeping from London to Kenya to the wild, remote coast of California, The Winter Rose is a breathtaking return to the epic historical novel, from a masterful writer with a fresh, richly vivid, and utterly electrifying voice.

Recently I came across a book review in which a friend was so overwhelmed by a good book, all she could think of saying at first was how awesome it was.  I know the feeling.  I often feel stymied when I've read a great book. "I am not worthy, I am not worthy"  How can I review something when my words are nothing more than a lowly worm in comparison?

That's how I feel about The Winter Rose.  It was great, even better than it's predecessor, The Tea Rose.

Set in the year 1900, the story picks up where The Tea Rose left off.  Fiona Finnegan has been happily married to Joe Bristow but still misses her brother Charlie who has changed his name and become the infamous mobster known as Sid Malone.  Untouchable and feared, he is the leader of the poorest neighborhood in the East End of London.  Fiona wants to get in touch with him, but he'll have none of it.  He wants nothing to do with her.  He wants to leave his former life behind - for good.  He's been through too much as a criminal; he can never again be the brother Fiona longs for.  She refuses to give up - against her husband's wishes, thus jeopardizing her marriage.  Donnelly's descriptions of the dark and grimy streets of Whitechapel and Limehouse are vividly realistic whether we're following Fiona's harrowing search or Sid's criminal activities that ironically lead him to who will become the love of his life.

Paralleling Fiona and Joe's storyline, the main focus of The Winter Rose is on brand new doctor, India Selwyn Jones who's goal is to open a free clinic in Whitechapel, the most needy area in the East End.  Although born to an old and aristocratic family, she longs to help the poor - women in particular, eschewing her money's wealth and privilege.   India soon meets Sid Malone.  She's aware of his reputation as a gangster and dislikes him, yet she cannot help feeling drawn to him somehow.  After saving his life they form a tentative truce - a friendship.  Sid would like to help her with funds to start a clinic but she refuses to accept his blood money.  They run into each other frequently and soon they can't help but fall in love. 

India's life is complicated.  She faces the daily trials and harsh realities of being a doctor in Whitechapel.  The doctor she works under us unbearably chauvinistic towards his female patients and India finds it harder and harder to work with him.  Yet, she has the help and friendship of her co-worker Ella who shares in her dream to open a women's clinic. In addition, she is engaged to Freddie Lytton, a vain and ruthless young politician who has no scruples left to speak of.  He has completely bamboozled her into believing he loves her for herself.  But really he's marrying her for her fortune which will become his once they tie the knot - a deal he has made with her cold and austere mother who wants India to leave medicine behind and be a good society wife.  India doesn't love Freddie but she's known him forever as a childhood friend and she's fond of him.  But it's not like what she feels for the dangerous Sid Malone!   Soon she cannot deny her feelings for Sid and - fortuitously before the wedding - she finds out what Freddie has been up to with her mother and breaks off their engagement.  But that's not the end of Freddie - he plays a large and important role in the entire book.  His mad desire for power was both repellent and fascinating.  His just desserts were one of the most satisfying endings I've read in fiction.

Once Sid and India become lovers, it's glorious for them, although it must be kept in secret.  I was so happy for them, but at the same time - so worried!  No one can know!  Sid has too many enemies who could use India against him, plus it would ruin her reputation - they're not married!  He wants to leave his criminal life behind and they plan to run away together to Point Reyes, California where they can marry and start anew - but things don't go as planned.  So many forces work against these two.  At this point, the book was nearly impossible to put down until the end.

I won't give away anymore about the plot, but it was great!  I never would have thought I'd be so into this kind of storyline of a do good woman doctor who hooks up with a no good scoundrel!  But, it's so much more than that!  I was on the edge of my seat.  Sid's and India's lives are tumultuous.  We follow them from London to Africa and it's a bumpy, rocky road! The other characters in the novel give the story that needed balance so that the reader is not too overwhelmed by what is happening to Sid and India.  The side story of Fiona and Joe created some angst, but the other story of younger brother Seamie and Willa was riveting!  Not only did it keep my interest - their climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro was harrowing and incredibly descriptive and well done.  I felt like I was a mountain climber right there with them!  I admit, as much as I loved it, it left me exhausted and I needed a break from time to time.  It was easy to become swept up in all the various locales and storylines whether it was Whitechapel, Limehouse, Kenya or Mt. Kilimanjaro! 

This is turning out to be a great series, although I would have liked a little more detail in the last chapter and epilogue.  Hopefully we'll get more of that in the next book in the series.  Still, it warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes - it's just so good!

If you enjoy historical fiction with a heavy romantic and suspenseful storyline as well, you'll love this.  Donnelly is a wonderful author and her descriptions and research are fantastic.  The period comes alive - you are there with her characters! I'm bowled over by it.  India and Sid's poignant romance will stay with me.  Sad and memorable - though don't worry, there is a happy ending!  I am really looking forward to The Wild Rose now which continues the story of Seamie and Willa! 

This was an awesome read!


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase

Book Description:
Blame it on the Egyptian sun or the desert heat, but as tensions flare between a reckless rogue and beautiful scholar en route to foil a kidnapping, so does love, in the most uninhibited and impossibly delightful ways.

This was a fun regency that takes place amidst the ruins and desert of Egypt.  Daphne Pembroke is a scholarly genius when it comes to Egyptian hieroglyphics and the study of antiquities.  While visiting Egypt to study the pyramids up close, her brother Miles buys her a valuable and ancient papyrus to translate, which is her hobby.  Her hobby must be kept secret for it was frowned upon, back in the day, for a woman to have a hobby other than raising children and keeping house.  From this stems all sorts of trouble.  Convinced the papyrus contains the key to finding a lost treasure, her brother is kidnapped by criminals.  They think he is the only one who can read it.  It turns out it's really Daphne who is the only one who can read the ancient document, (which has also been stolen), but the ruthless kidnappers don't know this yet.

Daphne is a widow - a wealthy widow.  Her late husband, Virgil, was a scholar and nearly three times her age. She didn't regret it when he passed away for he repeatedly tried to smother her intelligence, jealous her brain was smarter than his.  It wasn't only her brain he tried to tamp down.  To hide his own inadequacies in the bedroom, he made her feel that passion was wrong, insisting she was too forward and "mannish."  She needed to be more ladylike and show some decorum in the bedroom.  Naturally, Daphne developed all sorts of guilty feelings about her own sexuality, afraid that there was something wrong with her that she needed to be kept bottled up.

That is until she meets Rupert Carsington - Mr. Impossible.

Tall, dark and handsome with an irresistible smile and charm, he is famous for being a hellion.  The fourth son to Lord Hargate, a well known peer in England, Rupert is sent to Egypt as a last resort - to get rid of him and hope he'll lose some of his hellion-ish ways.  Naturally, as soon as Rupert arrives in Cairo, he gets in a fight and lands himself in jail.  Wherever Rupert goes the local consuls are all too familiar with having to get him out of trouble.  Rupert's used to it, you've seen one jail you've seen them all - plus someone always get him out.  It's always the same routine until he meets the widowed Mrs. Pembroke with her luscious red hair and large green eyes.  The two body parts that are just about the only parts of her body he can see under her black veil and widow's weeds.  Daphne has come to the jail because she has heard about him and is in need of someone who can accompany her to find her brother - basically, she needs a bodyguard and he's English, big and knows how to fight.  She springs Rupert out of jail and he plays at being her big brawny lummox of a bodyguard.

The two of them set off on a sort of odyssey sailing up the Nile, visiting various spots in search of her brother Miles, who is trying his best to escape from his captors without getting himself killed.  He's caught between two warring factions, one is a Frenchman named Duval who is after the papyrus and the other is an Englishman, Lord Noxley (aka Lord Noxious, as nicknamed by Rupert), an acquaintance of Miles' and Daphne's in Cairo.  Little do they know he's really known as the feared "Golden Devil," a psychopath who will do anything to get the same papyrus.

Soon enough Daphne is having a hard time avoiding Rupert as a man and imagining what it would be like to make love to him.  He's having the same thoughts, naturally.  Yet, he knows he must take it slow - she's a prickly thing and as much as she finds him attractive - he's also annoying!  He's impossible!  He loves to bait her by acting like a dumb ox when really it's all just an act.  She finds him exasperating on all fronts - whether it's over something he said or the way he smells so manly and provocative when he gets close to her.  Often they find themselves in some conveniently close quarters while fleeing murderers and thieves in dark enclosed spaces while on their journey to find her brother.

This book was a romance but it's also a bit like an adventure story.  Daphne and Rupert, in search for her brother, run into all sorts of danger and fall for each other along the way.  It takes them forever to figure out it's love.  A few steamy scenes cement the relationship, but it's complicated for Daphne is convinced once their adventure ends he'll find her boring - and it's never really occurred to Rupert she'd want to marry him!  She's already turned him down once when he threw out the idea - rather too casually.  Having asked her once and been rejected, he's hesitant to ask again.  But, love wins out in the end!  Rupert helps Daphne overcome her insecurities, loving both her passion - and her large brain!  She finds she can't live without her big charming lummox, particularly after a close call when she thinks she's lost him for good. 

As much as I had fun with this book and there many humorous moments, there were some parts that dragged and I couldn't help compare it to other books I've read that were better, such as  Crocodile on the Sandbank and As You Desire.  Still, Mr. Impossible was pretty good and Daphne and Rupert made a great couple, I loved the way she found him so exasperating!   I also loved the epilogue, one of the best I've read!  If nineteenth century Egyptian archaeologists fleeing from bad guys while finding time to fall in love are your thing - you'll love this book!


Friday, May 6, 2011

A Courtesan's Guide to Getting Your Man By Susan Donovan and Celeste Bradley

Book Description:
Regency London’s most celebrated courtesan, The Blackbird, was a woman before her time—uninhibited, financially independent, and free to live by her own rules. Schooled in the sensual arts by the one man she loved the most, she recorded every wicked detail in her diaries…

When Boston museum curator Piper Chase-Pierpont unearths The Blackbird’s steamy memoirs, she’s aroused and challenged by what she finds. Could the courtesan’s diaries be used as a modern girl’s guide to finding love and empowerment? One curious curator—and one very lucky man—are about to find out…

***  ***

*fans self* 

This was one hot romance.

I loved it. 

I could barely put it down.  Sneaking home at lunchtime to grab twenty minutes here, twenty minutes there.  Snatching a few minutes before leaving for work in the morning ... staying up late with the itty bitty light while hubby sleeps - I was completely enamored by this book!  I didn't expect to have this kind of reaction - but I was totally into it!  It's the successful collaboration of two well known authors, each known for their own particular genre.  One contemporary, one Regency.  It was like a Reeses candy bar ... peanut butter and chocolate!  A perfect combination - and oh so yummy!  The two authors came together to write a modern day/historical romance combining their two fields of expertise.  It's the the story of how a mousy young museum curator from Boston turns herself into a luscious vixen who succeeds in capturing her dream man by using the diaries of a young and courageous Regency courtesan as her inspiration.   I was swept away by both story lines.  For once, the modern storyline and the historical one were equally as good and kept my attention until the very end! 

Maybe it was all the sex...

Still, I'm used to sex, but this was a lot - even for me.  I wouldn't call it over the top, but it is graphic, some parts are erotica-like.  Naughty, daring, pushing the boundaries. Who knows?  Whatever it was, it worked!

I found the book inspiring in some ways.  If Piper could transform herself from a nerdy, bespectacled, blue-lipped curator to a sexy, jaw dropping bomb shell - so could I!  Well... almost.  The inner vixen in me shouted aloud - "Hey, lay off the pizza already and get yourself off your lazy butt and hop on over to the gym!"  And I did!  This book got me motivated!  I want to be a sexy vixen and make men's jaws drop too! ;)

Enough about me, let's talk about the book which begins with the contemporary side of the story and then flips back and forth to Ophelia's Regency London storyline.

Piper is a curator for a small museum in Boston, working on her next big exhibit about the life of Boston's famous woman abolitionist, Ophelia Harrington.  Her job may or may not be on the line, due to budget cuts and the fact that her last exhibit was a total flop.   With all the pressure about her job and the fact she spends a lot of her time holed up doing research, Piper hasn't exactly been keeping herself up.  Coming off her thirtieth birthday, she's due for a change.  She's been so preoccupied with work that she's let herself go.   Underneath her dowdy exterior she has the voluptuous body of a Venus. Unfortunately, you'd never know it. On one particularly bad hair, no make-up, bag lady-dress day (and don't forget the blue pen run amok episode), Mick Malone, Mr. OMG-the-man-I-threw-myself-at-and-was rejected-by walks into her life again.  The man she never got over.  The man she fantasizes about.  And, he's just as gorgeous, tall, dark and handsome as ever.  And an Irish brogue no less!  It's been ten years since they've seen each other. Will he recognize her? Does he even remember her?

Amazingly enough - yes!  He does!  It turns out Mick's been harboring feelings for Piper ever since that night she tried to seduce him in a drunken state back in her dorm room years ago.  Having no choice, he had to turn her down.  He couldn't take advantage of a woman as far gone as Piper was that night.  He respected her too much.  Plus, he was her teacher's aide and due to leave the country in less than two weeks.  He wasn't about to start up something with her only to leave shortly thereafter!  If things could have been different he would have taken her up on her offer - and more.  He liked her.  But, alas, it wasn't meant to be.   Now here he is after all this time, a globe trotting museum celebrity with his own Indiana Jones-type reality TV show in the making.  Guess who's the new guy working at her museum for the next six months?

Poor Piper, could life get any worse?  By meeting Mick again after so many years - and the humiliation of having him see her looking like such a wreck?  Well, it's a wake up call.  Coincidentally, she's just been reading all of Ophelia Harrington's steamy pornographic diaries and Piper is absolutely buzzing with sex, sex, sex on her mind.  With the help of her friend Brenna, Piper undergoes a complete makeover transformation - a la her favorite courtesan, The Blackbird, aka revered and respected, Boston abolitionist, Ophelia Harrington.

Piper's transformation is a total success - and boy was it fun reading about how Piper plays Mick like a violin.  But, it's not merely an act, they soon develop strong feelings for one another and get closer and closer by the book's end.  Meanwhile, there's the sticky issue of what should Piper do about the newly discovered evidence she's unearthed about history's famous abolitionist who was really a daring and provocative courtesan in her youth!

It turns out that Ophelia was being forced into an arranged marriage and wanted no part of it.  She saw no way to control her life other than to become a courtesan.  At least as a courtesan she would have her own house, money and choose who would sleep in her bed.  It was the kind of freedom she craved!  So what if she wouldn't be accepted by polite society and she'd be forced to only mingle within the scandalous world of the demimonde.  She didn't care! 

With the determination of a terrier, she tracks down the most famous courtesan in London at the time, a beautiful woman known as Swan.  Swan at first will not help her, but Ophelia convinces her otherwise and Swan agrees to teach her the ways of being a courtesan - in secret.  They become close friends and confidantes. The most important part of Ophelia's training is with Sir, the masked man Swan enlists to be Ophelia's lover for a week.  Each night he will instruct her on the Seven Delights of the Courtesan.  *sigh*  Who is Sir?  Ophelia thinks he's a male version of a courtesan and loves every minute she has with him.  But she schools herself not to fall in love, no matter how easy.  He is her teacher and she must learn from him - and learn she does!

Ophelia's training is a big success and Swan interviews many prospects and finds her a protector.  For five years Ophelia is with her protector, Robert, until it ends when he leaves the country on a diplomatic mission.  She's sad to see him go, despite the fact she turned his marriage proposal down - she doesn't want to be anyone's wife - she cherishes her freedom.  Over the course of the next few months, she sees Sir again (masked, as usual), but then, against Sir's warnings, she gets involved with a well known writer with an unsavory reputation.  Their affair leads to a series of events that gets her arrested and accused of murder.  It's all very exciting and I won't reveal the details, but I was riveted by the storyline and couldn't put the book down!  Of course we know Ophelia doesn't hang for murder, because she becomes an abolitionist in Boston twenty years later, but how?  What happens?

This story had it all:

Sex: lots of it.  Racy, sensual, evocative.  Some areas could have made me squirm or feel uncomfortable, yet it was so well written and passionate, there was no awkwardness or purple prose to ruin it.  It definitely wasn't your typical formulaic romance either! 

A Unique Plot: I've never read such a unique plotline.  Courtesan turned abolitionist?

A Masked Lover:  Sir was to die for, I loved him. I loved the whole idea that he was Ophelia's trainer. Their seven nights together - their seven sins - delectable! Who can resist a lover who wears a mask all the time?  That mystery of not knowing who he is or what he looks like, except well... ahem... from the neck down.  The big question of who Sir really was added to his allure.  I guessed correctly, I suspected who he was all along, which made it all the more delicious by the end!

A Strong Heroine:  Ophelia was her own woman.  She wasn't going to take sh*t from anyone.  She determined her own destiny.  She wanted to be a courtesan instead of being forced into a marriage - and she did it!  I do wish we got to witness her first meeting with Robert, her first protector.  I would have liked to have seen how that went.  I kept thinking he was going to be a dud - I'm glad it worked out for her for five years.

Vivid Descriptions: Talk about inspiration!  All the things described that both Ophelia and Piper wore in and out of bed - I want!

Fascination and Tension:  Not sexual tension, though the book didn't suffer due to the lack of it.  There was tension about what was going to happen next!  It kept me reading, I had to find out what happens next! 

A Happy Ending: Both the modern and the contemporary story lines had the ending I wanted!  For Piper, the opening night gala and Ophelia's exhibit's was all it could be.   We know Ophelia somehow moves to America and becomes an abolitionist - but how and with whom, who does she marry?  I was tickled pink to find out - a perfect ending!

I truly loved this book, not only was it sexy and entertaining, I learned a little something about what's involved in being a museum curator and organizing and creating an exhibit.  No easy task!  I'm certainly going to take a second look at museum exhibits from now on.  Not only for the subject of the exhibit itself, but the layout, the planning and execution of it as well - very interesting! 

Susan Donovan is a new to me author, since my familiarity with contemporary romances is a bit limited, but I'm familiar with Celeste Bradley and have read and enjoyed her historical romances in the past.  I hope they write some more books together in the future.  This book is a definite keeper - in fact, I think it deserves a permanent spot on my bedside table - for handy reference ;) 

This book was sent to me by the publisher, St. Martin’s Paperbacks, for early review. Available in stores May 24th, 2011.


Note: 12/31/2012

This book has been re-released under the title Unbound.

This Duchess of Mine by Eloisa James

Book Description:
No man can resist Jemma's sensuous allure . . . Except her own husband!

Wedding bells celebrating the arranged marriage between the lovely Duchess of Beaumont and her staid, imperturbable duke had scarcely fallen silent when a shocking discovery sent Jemma running from the ducal mansion. For the next nine years she cavorted abroad, creating one delicious scandal after another (if one is to believe the rumors).

Elijah, Duke of Beaumont, did believe those rumors.

But the handsome duke needs an heir, so he summons his seductive wife home. Jemma laughs at Elijah's cool eyes and icy heart—but to her secret shock, she doesn't share his feelings. In fact, she wants the impossible: her husband's heart at her feet.

But what manner of seduction will make a man fall desperately in love . . . with his own wife?

I loved this book, the best by Eloisa James I've read to date.  I was told the Desperate Duchesses series gets better as it goes along and I agree.   Upon the advice of various reviews I'd read, I skipped the first two books altogether and started with the third in the series.  It caused a bit of head scratching here and there, but not too much.

This Duchess of Mine is the fifth in the series and Jemma's story, which I've been dying to get to.  In the last book, the side story is dominated by Jemma, to the point where her story with her estranged, but now no longer estranged husband was more interesting than the main story!  (This is a common occurrence in Ms. James' novels, I've noticed).  Set during Georgian times in the 1780's, Jemma is the Duchess of Beaumont who has lived apart from her husband for the first nine years of their marriage.  After witnessing him with his mistress, the newly married Jemma hastens to Paris - for nine years!   Elijah, her duke, let her remain there.    Guilt ridden, he felt he deserved what he got, and he didn't think she'd ever forgive him. (A poor excuse if I ever heard one!) Instead she became the most beautiful Englishwoman in Paris.  Although she had an affair or two, nothing compared to her duke who she secretly pined for.  Jemma is a multi-faceted heroine.  She's quick witted and extremely intelligent - she's also a master chess player.  The game of chess is a dominant occurrence throughout this entire series.  In the previous books, she came across as sort of a know-it-all, but here we really get to know Jemma and I wound up loving her! 

Elijah, the Duke of Beaumont has a secret.  He is dying and needs an heir before he succumbs to the heart disease that is slowly killing him. The duke calls his duchess back from Paris informing her that he wants an heir - he wants to make an heir.  Jemma has loved him all along, but due to their lack of communication and the fact they've barely seen each other in the last several years, they have to basically start over again with their marriage.  Even though she is eager to make an heir too, she insists they get to know each other first - she wants him to woo her - and she wants to woo him!  She doesn't know about his illness, so she's in no hurry to make a baby.  They have all the time in the world!  Instead, she wants him to be able to choose her (some crazy advice she got from a male friend) and sics her biggest rival from Paris on him, hoping that if someone else pays attention to him and flirts with him (he's known for his staid and Puritan-like ways and is not your typical Georgian dandy) he'll be flattered by all the attention and will appreciate by being able to choose Jemma over another.  It really didn't make sense to me and it was highly convoluted, but it served it's purpose - it prevented them from sleeping together immediately and created some diverting moments at Vauxhall.  Not much time goes by, their marriage is heating up and just when it seems they are finally going to do the deed - he has one of his frightening fainting spells (otherwise he seems fine) and Jemma finds him.  Knowing how his father died of the same heart failure, she is no idiot and instantly realizes what's wrong with him.  He comes clean with her and they must come to terms with it.  He may very well die at any moment - how can they fix this problem?!   Jemma refuses to just let him die and will not give up on finding a cure.

The rest of book revolves around how they deal with this dilemma, searching for a doctor they have heard about that has been experimenting with a drug that can regulate the heart - a derivative of the poisonous flower, foxglove.  Meanwhile, they are becoming closer and learning more and more about each other. Discovering new places, likes and dislikes - and falling in love.  It makes their plight all the more bittersweet - for time is a wasting.  They fear the next time he faints it could kill him.  Elijah does have one remedy that seems to work!  Physical exertion helps keep his heart pumping regularly.  Physical exertion, as in the sexual kind, particularly.  In addition they've taken to playing chess together again, both are equally matched.  One particular chess game is masterfully described - in bed - blindfolded.  I must admit, it was a novel approach to the game and very well done!  Even if you don't play chess, you'll appreciate the setting! ;)

One of the things I loved about this book was all the detail that went into it, particularly the clothing.  Georgian fashion was one of opulence, large panniers, everything powdered, wigs, beauty marks, jewels, silks and satins - it was sensuous and rich.  Jemma fit right in and I enjoyed reading about everything she wore and how she chose what she'd wear, it was fascinating to imagine and evocative of the era. 

Elijah on the other hand, eschewed the glitter of the era which is reflective of his personality.  Upon the death of his father, who died  in the most scandalous fashion in a brothel, Elijah felt he needed to make up for his father's notorious reputation.  His clothes remain dark and conservative, his hair is plain and unpowdered as befits a serious member of the House of Lords, which Elijah considers himself to be.  He is in stark contrast to the Duke of Villiers who is his oldest friend and, at one time, a major rival for Jemma.  Villiers and Jemma are both fanatics when it comes to chess and their ongoing chess match threatened to ruin her marriage once and for all.   Besides chess, Villiers other obsession is his attire - he is a clotheshorse.  Villiers is known for his excessive attention to his clothing.  Everything must be perfection, although he manages to keep his masculinity about him.  No one can accuse of him of being "light in the instep."  He's the father of five bastard children, which makes up the side story in this novel and is the natural lead in to the next.  I really like Villiers, he's a very interesting man and all of his scenes have a sparkle in them, I can't wait to read his story - which is the next in the series.

So are you wondering what happens to Elijah and if they find a cure?  I can assure you this book ends happily, but it does have it's poignant moments.  I really enjoyed it and it was a worthwhile read - a beautiful cover too!  Enjoy it - I know I did!


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Lion's Lady by Julie Garwood

Book Description:
Christina Bennett had taken London society by storm. The ravishing beauty guarded the secret of her mysterious past until the night Lyon, Marquis of Lyonwood, stole a searching, sensuous kiss. An arrogant nobleman with a pirate's passions, he tasted the wild fire smoldering beneath Christina's cool charm and swore to possess her...

But the feisty and defiant Christina would not be so easily conquered. Mistress of her heart and of her fortune, she resisted Lyon's sensuous caresses. She dared not surrender to his love...for then, she must also forsake her precious secret...and her promised destiny!

Another Julie Garwood winner from her early backlist.  This is the story of Christina Bennett.  Orphaned and raised by Native American Indians in the Black Hills of Dakota, she journeys all the way to Regency London bent on fulfilling her destiny to meet and ultimately kill the father she never knew.  Wow, what a unique plot line and I loved it! 

Christina's mother had been a London debutante who married a visiting king from a small European country.  For her mother, it had been a fairy tale romance until she returned to his country and found out what a despicable ruler and despot he was.  He tortured and killed his people.  His reign was one of fear and hatred.  Desperate and pregnant, Christina's mother ran away to the far reaches of North Dakota!   After giving birth to her daughter, she befriends an Indian squaw who had been kidnapped from her tribe with her young son.  Saving the son's life from death and killing the squaw's captor, they travel and live together until, when Christina is two years old, her mother is killed by a bear.  Fulfilling a promise she made to her friend, the Indian woman raises Christina as her daughter.   Not an easy task, for Christina is blond and blue-eyed and wasn't the type that would blend in well.  But Christina is accepted into the village based on a prophecy from the village shaman who dreamed of her as "the Lioness."  She is raised as an Indian, but all the while, her adopted parents know and she knows her destiny is to return to London someday and live among the white men.  Christina's mother kept a diary, outlining the events of her life and why she ran away.  She tells Christina everything in the diary. 

When Christina become a young woman, she leaves the Indian village and finds her aunt who is living in Boston.   Promising her a fortune and the inheritance she felt she was cheated out of, she convinces her mother's sister to be her chaperon.  They travel to London together and Christina is launched upon Society.  Her aunt is a dragon, selfish to the core.  But, Christina is good to her, despite how awful she is.  While in London, Christina becomes a sensation.  Society whispers about her identity - rumors abound that she is a real princess.  She is Princess Christina Bennett.  Her beauty, serenity and grace set her apart from the other debutantes.  But all the while Christina is determined.  Inside her head the wheels are turning.  She will get back at her father and kill him if she can.  Christina is one of the strongest heroines I've come across in a romance.  By growing up with the Indians, she is a warrior at heart.  If anyone can take care of herself, she can.  Behind her flawless beauty she can be ruthless, toppling any man and slitting his throat with ease. 

When the Marquis of Lyonwood, a former spy for the Crown, sees Christina for the first time at a ball he is struck by her grace and sheer presence.  Instantly drawn to her, he makes it a point to be introduced.  Christina notices him as well, but keeps her cool as always.  Lyon cannot stop thinking of her.  A man who made it clear he has sworn off women and has no interest in courtship or marriage, his attraction to Christina is noticed by the ton.  Particularly when he so blatantly makes is clear he wants her - for keeps.  Who is this unusual woman that has him so captivated? 

Lyon is confounded by Christina.  He can't figure her out.  Her accent, her strange customs and manner of speech.  The way she prances around barefoot and eats leaves off the shrubbery (a very funny moment, btw, at a garden party).  Having only just learned English, she often misuses words - which further confuses him - and this is a man who prides himself on his sleuthing capabilities and getting to the bottom of any mystery! (He's a trained assassin as well.)  He never would have guessed in a million years where she's been living all her life and who with!  As much as there is a serious side to this book, there were millions of funny moments between Christina and Lyon.  The more he sees of her, the more puzzled he is, but the more he wants her!  Gradually it begins to dawn on him that she is hiding a great deal.  Still, he doesn't know how much or why.  I loved the way the story unfolded and he finally finds out everything about her.  The dialogue and repartee between the two of them was great!  What a couple!

Still, there is the sticky problem regarding Christina's plans to return home to North Dakota and live with her Indian family after she kills her father.  Lyon is unaware of her plans and as far as he's concerned, she's going to marry him and they'll live happily ever after.  Will she be able to leave Lyon?  Will she even want to now that she's fallen in love with him?

An exciting finish involving her father, a hidden fortune, her conniving bitter old aunt, who everyone hates, and some scampering around in the hedges makes for a lively and entertaining read all the way up to the last page.  This was such a good book!  I had no idea what it was going to be about and it was so unusual!  Yes, it was basically a regency romance, but the whole Native American Indian part of it gave it an original twist!

I've loved Julie Garwood's medievals, but this Regency really took the prize.  It was refreshing and a nice change of pace.  Still it had all the romance, humor (and sex) that makes Julie Garwood novels so great.  Her strong hero and heroine are a perfect match for one another.   A real pleasure and I'm adding it to my favorites list - a keeper!


Monday, May 2, 2011

Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster

Book Description:
First published in 1912, this is a modern version of "Cinderella", told in the form of letters. It is the love-story of an orphan and her unknown benefactor, written and illustrated by the great-niece of Mark Twain.

This was a wonderful book!  I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone!  It was recommended to me a few years ago, and I could kick myself for taking so long to read it.  But I was in between kindle books and this is available as a free download, so I decided to give it a go.  I'm so glad I did, for the story warmed my heart and I fell in love with its captivating heroine and budding author Jerusha Abbott. 

Jerusha grew up in an orphanage. Now, at the age of eighteen, an anonymous benefactor, who is one of the orphanage's board members, chooses to send her to college after reading a sample of one of her essays.  Convinced she has talent, he pays for all her schooling, wardrobe and expenses for all four years.  The only condition is she must write him once a month to let him know how she is doing and what she is up to.

Jerusha is flabbergasted and grateful for the chance to go to college and enthusiastically pours her heart into the letters.  She doesn't just write one a month, she writes dozens! She nicknames her benefactor "Daddy Long Legs" because she once got a glimpse of his shadow that elongated his figure - hence the name.  Jerusha is a darling.  Her love for life is inspiring and she does indeed have a flair with pen and ink.  Her one disappointment is that no matter how many letters she writes to "Dear Daddy Long Legs" he never writes back.  It's a completely one sided relationship!  Jerusha goes through a mix of emotions towards him over the course of her four years.  At times she sad, curious and often miffed, but always deeply grateful that he has given her the opportunity to leave the orphanage and learn all the many different things college life can offer.

In Jerusha's (or Judy's as she begins to call herself) letters we discover the friends she's making at school.  Her closest friends are her roommates and one particularly snobbish young woman from New York City.  Miss Snob has a youngish  and very rich uncle who comes to visit the college from time to time and he and Judy become friends.  Coincidentally, they meet again when he visits the farm that Daddy Long Legs has arranged for Judy to stay at for the summer break.  It turns out the uncle grew up there in the summers.  All the while, Judy continues to faithfully write her letters, more than just once a month.  She is prolific!  She's probably written hundreds of letters - all with no response (except from her benefactor's secretary, who is the only contact Judy has ever known.)

Eventually, Judy's college time comes to an end and she has to make a decision with her life.  What is she to do?  She's falling in love with the rich uncle! He says he loves her too, but they come from different worlds and they quarrel and now she's afraid and confused over all of it.  What should she do?  She writes a desperate letter of help to Daddy Long Legs, asking for his advice.  He writes her back.  Finally after all these years.  He requests that she comes to New York to see him so they can talk.

Guess what happens when they meet?

Great, great book!  A happy ending that will bring tears to your eyes.  *sigh*  I simply loved it!  If I had read this book when I was a young teen I'd have considered it one of my favorites!  You know what?  Now that I'm older and (supposedly) wiser with a somewhat sophisticated eye on the world - I'd still consider it a favorite!   Do yourself a favor, get it, read it and enjoy!  Quick read, I read it in less than a day - pure pleasure!

Written in 1912, this is just as endearing today as I'm sure it was when it was first written. Loved it!


P.S. Coincidentally enough, I saw the 1950's movie with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron years ago.  They changed the plot a bit and transformed Jerusha into a French orphan who goes to college in America.  They changed her name to Julie, and made her last name Andre instead of Abbott.  I always got a kick out of it because I have the same name - or rather, I did before I got married.  In several parts of the movie they're always calling her name out loud, "Julie Andre! Julie Andre!"  It sounded so funny to hear my name over and over again in a movie!   A bit of trivia, but big stuff for a thirteen year old!

Married by Morning by Lisa Kleypas

Book Description:
For two years, Catherine Marks has been a paid companion to the Hathaway sisters—a pleasant position, with one caveat. Her charges’ older brother, Leo Hathaway, is thoroughly exasperating. Cat can hardly believe that their constant arguing could mask a mutual attraction. But when one quarrel ends in a sudden kiss, Cat is shocked at her powerful response—and even more so when Leo proposes a dangerous liaison.

Leo must marry and produce an heir within a year to save his family home. Catherine’s respectable demeanor hides a secret that would utterly destroy her. But to Leo, Cat is intriguing and infernally tempting, even to a man resolved never to love again. The danger Cat tried to outrun is about to separate them forever—unless two wary lovers can find a way to banish the shadows and give in to their desires…
Fourth in the Hathaway's Series, I really enjoyed Cat and Leo's story - I knew I would! The Hathaway's governess has a secret past and Leo, Lord Ramsey, intends to find out what it is while wooing her at the same time.  I’ve been looking forward to this one ever since I read the second book in the series, Seduce Me at Sunrise. It was clear then that Leo and Catherine were destined for one another, yet each of them had some pretty heavy baggage to unload before they could be happy. Leo needed to reform and drop his profligate ways and Catherine needed to live her life without worrying about the secret and damaging past she can’t live down.

Leo’s come a long way since the first book in the series, Mine Till Midnight. A tortured hero, he watched his fiancée die in his arms from fever and then went over the deep end, nearly losing his mind in grief. He came close to dying himself. After that, with his new title, he became a ne’er do well rake hell, determined to dull his grief with gambling, drugs, whoring and being about as bad as you can get, while still remaining a gentleman.

Enter Catherine Marx, the governess with a past. A past she wants to remain a secret for it’s about as different from her uptight, dowdy and prim exterior as you can get. Working for the Hathaways has been a joy to her compared to her former life growing up with her mercenary grandmother who ran a brothel. Catherine tried her best to remain apart from the goings on there until her grandmother sold her off to the highest bidder. No matter that the man who “bought” her is a degenerate pervert who will pay anything to deflower and have his way with her - repeatedly. Fortunately, Catherine is rescued just in time by her half brother, Harry Rutledge (from book 3, Tempt Me at Twilight), a man unknown to her until that day.

To make a long story short, Harry helps Cat so she can put her former life behind her and forget it forever. Dying her hair brown and making herself nearly invisible, she disguise herself and becomes the plain Miss Marks, governess and companion to the two youngest in the Hathaway family. She’s happy and life is good until Leo Hathaway returns from Paris after an extended period of time. From that moment on, she and Leo are at loggerheads with one another. Their constant dueling and crossing of swords makes it apparent they can’t resist one another, except neither one knows it… yet.

An ‘opposites attract’ story, Leo’s rakish behavior is a foil for Cat’s implacable respectability. Once Leo impulsively kisses Catherine, their constant arguing takes a turn to passion. He can’t ignore his feelings for her and grows to love her.  Predictably, both are wary at first of these strong romantic feelings.  They've been fighting with each other so long, it's hard to believe!  In addition, as much as Catherine is drawn to Leo, she has trouble dealing with the passionate feelings she’s developing for him – afraid of her sexuality, afraid she’s inherently like the women in her family who became prostitutes. Plus, she doesn’t feel like she’s good enough for him, due to her background.

To further complicate matters, due to a peculiar clause in the will when he inherited the title and estate, Leo has to marry so that they don’t lose their family home.  Will he propose to Cat because he really loves her or because he has to marry somebody?

Lisa Kleypas is a favorite of mine, and this was such a good story. I’m leaving tons out, but I loved the way Leo wouldn’t take no for an answer from Cat. Once he learns of her past, he doesn’t hold it against her. He wants her and he goes after her, over and over again, despite her protestations.  Still, it wasn't always easy, sometimes he'd be aloof and she wasn't sure of the way he felt about her or not.  In fact, sometimes she was amazingly dense - her insecurities had a way of blinding her to what was so obvious to us! The give and take between them only heightened their sexual tension.  What a relief when finally she gives in but even then, all is not perfect in their world.  She still has to fight off the advances of the creepy pervert who has turned up again that tried to buy her years before and her degenerate aunt, who is now running the old brothel, is helping him get to her!   There is plenty of excitement in the last third of the book, but of course we get our happy ending.  Now onto book 4 and the last of the series!

All in all, this was a fun book to read. Romantic, sexy and daring. Their love scenes sizzled! Lisa Kleypas’ writing is always wonderful, she’s one of the best romance authors out there and Married by Morning is a welcome addition to the Hathaway series! I recommend it.

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