Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Book Poll and My Best of 2011

Want to take my book poll and see how many of the books I read this year you've read too?  You don't have to have read them this year, just tick off the one's you're read ever!

*Updated: Ack! Looks like only LiveJournal members can take the poll! Darn!  Well, at least you can see the books I've read if you can't take the poll.

Julie's 2011 Poll

2011 was a great reading year for me.  I read some fabulous books and discovered new to me authors who became favorites such as Ciji Ware and Suzanne Enoch.  I finished up some series, such as the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning and read the whole Swanlea Spinsters Series this year by Sabrina Jeffries.  I also finished the last book in the Mistress of the Art of Death series and discovered some new historical mystery series by Kate Ross and C.S. Harris. I started a few more promising romance series, such as the Knight Miscellany by Gaelen Foley and A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.  All of Judith McNaught's books were great, and I finished up all her historicals (sniff, sniff) I'll be reading her contemporaries this coming year in 2012.

Some of my favorite books of the year were surprisingly on audio, such stand outs were, Replay by Ken Grimwood and 11/22/63 by Stephen King.  Both time travel books set in the 60's which were great.  Katherine by Anya Seton, a book I'd heard about for years, everyone telling me I should read it - and it was good!  Bossypants was hilarious and made me appreciate Tina Fey (I'm now a 30 Rock fan, catching the reruns on TV).  Linda Howard's Dream Man was fabulous, I loved it too!

Some of my absolute favorite reads this year in addition to the audiobooks mentioned above were Island of the Swans and A Race to Splendor, both by Ciji Ware. Diana Gabaldon's The Scottish Prisoner -one word:  Jamie.  In The Proposition by Judith Ivory I discovered a new hero I love - Mick!  Another favorite was Winter Garden by Adele Ashworth.  What a great story, it was so moving it brought me to tears.  Another surprise hit was She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell, labeled as Christian Fiction - it wasn't preachy or religious at all!  I don't know why it has that label.  Whatever it is - I loved, loved, loved it!

I loved The Winter Rose and The Wild Rose, great finish to Jennifer Donnelly's Tea Rose Series - I ate them up!  A few surprises in the romances, I adored A Courtesan's Guide to Getting Your Man by Susan Donovan and Celeste Bradley.  Supposedly they are coming out with a sequel (Swan's story) but I haven't seen any news about when.  An oldie but goodie was a charming book, Daddy Long Legs (it's free on kindle) by Jean Baker - great!  I've loved Julie Garwood's medievals, but she totally bowled me over with The Lion's Lady, it was just marvelous and so different for a Regency too!  Elizabeth Hoyt has become an auto-buy for me, she is firmly entrenched in my favorite romance authors list - every book she's written has been terrific!  Finished up her Four Soldiers series this year which I loved, particularly the Beauty and Beast themed, To Beguile a Beast and started her new Maiden Lane series - quite intriguing!

Have a Happy New Year everyone and I hope 2012 is another great reading year for us all!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

In Bed With the Highlander by Maya Banks

Book Description:
Ewan McCabe, the eldest of the McCabe brothers, is a warrior determined to vanquish his enemy. Now, with the time ripe for battle, his men are ready and Ewan is poised to take back what is his—until a blue-eyed, raven-haired temptress is thrust upon him. Mairin may be the salvation of Ewan’s clan, but for a man who dreams only of revenge, matters of the heart are strange territory to conquer.

The illegitimate daughter of the king, Mairin possesses prized property that has made her a pawn—and wary of love. Her worst fears are realized when she is rescued from peril only to be forced into marriage by her charismatic and commanding savior, Ewan McCabe. But her attraction to her ruggedly powerful new husband makes her crave his surprisingly tender touch; her body comes alive under his sensual mastery. And as war draws near, Mairin’s strength, spirit, and passion challenge Ewan to conquer his demons—and embrace a love that means more than revenge and land.

Quickie Review: After skimming some other reviews of this book, I guess I'm not the only one out there who felt they were reading a Julie Garwood medieval.  This started out similarly to Ransom (with the kidnapping of a laird's son) and then morphed into The Bride (one of my all time favorite romances.)   Mairin, the heroine has lived in an abbey for the past several years - in hiding.  She is an heiress and she is kept hidden so that no one will try and kidnap her and marry her for her dowry.  Of course, the villain in the book succeeds in capturing her, but she manages to escape and winds up in the safety of the McCabe's.  As soon as the hero, Ewan sees her and learns who she is - he wants to marry her - for her money and because of the way she makes his blood heat up.  She is very beautiful (of course.)

Mairin has a number of endearing type qualities that are supposed to make the reader think she's adorably quirky, one of which is mumbling to herself while unaware that she's speaking aloud.  I just couldn't help comparing her to a Garwood heroine, and because of that, I felt Mairin was a copycat.  I know it's crazy, but I just couldn't help it.  She's also incredibly naive when it comes to kissing - not unlike the heroine, Jaime, in The Bride, who feels she isn't a good kisser.  Here, Mairin, tells her soon to be husband, Ewan, that he doesn't know how to kiss right.  Everything Mairin knows about kissing came from her mother superior - a nun - while living at the abbey.  I told you she was naive.

And then she gets hit by an arrow and doesn't even know it?  How can you not know when an arrow goes right into you?

And please don't even get me started about her vomiting.  I don't think I've ever come across a heroine that vomits as much as this one does, though I have come across a hero who does it.  It's understandable when she's first pregnant and suffering morning sickness, but then it starts to become a chronic problem.  Is it just from the pregnancy?  Finally, when the dastardly villain in the story, Cameron, tries to bed her, she throws up all over him - hmmm... that's one way of dampening a man's ardor.

To sum it up, this book was a retread of several Julie Garwood novels I've read in the past, only without the winsome and endearing heroine. Nor as funny. Instead, this heroine is much too sheltered to be believable and her tendency to vomit is belabored upon much too often. Okay, I get it already, she has morning sickness morning, noon and night! It wasn't bad, but nothing is as good as Garwood when it comes to this genre. I also felt there could have been more background on who Mairin's father was and what Neamh Álainn was.  Was it land, a castle, land and money - what??   Whatever it was, everyone wanted it!  Also, when exactly did this book take place?  I gather it's some sort of medieval period, but the author really doesn't give us much background in that department.  There are three Scottish kings named Alexander in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, which one was supposed to be Mairin's father?

I've decided to skip the rest of the series, of which this is the first for fear I'll only be disappointed.  If someone wants to convince me otherwise, be my guest!


Reforming a Rake by Suzanne Enoch

Book Description:
A governess must never be alone with a man. Her reputation mustn't have even a hint of scandal. She must never reveal personal emotions. No matter how strong the provocation by her employer. A governess never questions her employer's commands. Even when he's tempting her to forsake respectability for desire? She must never, ever, fall in love with someone above her station. Especially a rake - no matter how devastating his kisses may be ... 

Alexandra Gallant is a governess extraordinaire - and if it weren't for that unfortunate incident at her last position, she wouldn't now be forced into the employ of Lucien Balfour, the most notorious rake in London. Though the sinfully attractive earl hired her to teach his young cousin, his seductive whispers and toe-curling kisses suggest he has something far less respectable in mind . . . And that will never happen. For although Lucien seems determined to teach her about pleasure, she has a few lessons to teach him about love!

Quickie Review: I love, love, loved this regency which really was about reforming a rake!  Lucien Balfour has a horrible reputation as a lady-killer, but the highborn governess he hires to teach his cousin finishing etiquette so he can marry her off, changes him into a better man. Of course there are plenty of bumps along the way, and Alexandra, the governess, was a bit too stubborn in her ways for my liking, but by the end I had tears in my eyes when these two finally have their happy ending.

Lucien is the kind of rakish hero I love.  Big, bad and oh-so swoon-worthy.  Women drop at his feet - except Alexandra - although inside she's melting at his advances.  Lucien has hired her because he's been saddled with his cousin and her mother - two women he wants to get rid of as soon as possible.  As far as he's concerned, they are uncouth, uncivilized and have absolutely no taste.  He needs someone to whip them into shape so he can introduce them to society - and marry the cousin off - and have her mother go with her!  As soon as Alexandra, who's much in need of a position, takes on the job she realizes Lucien is going to be harder to teach than his cousin!  He can't help coming onto her from the beginning, and she is constantly berating him, while trying not to melt in his arms!  Eventually, he becomes too hard to resist, and against her better judgment she succumbs to his charms.  But, I have to hand it to her, she put up a good fight and he didn't make it easy to resist.  

I really enjoyed the back and forth between Alexandra and Lucien, but in the end, I felt that Alexandra needed to give him more of a break once it was clear he loved her.  Her doubts about him were based on the fact that he is notorious and what could he possibly see in a governess, other than the challenge of seducing her. She finds it hard to believe his feelings for her are true - but he really is in love and he goes towards great lengths to prove it to her - even locking her in his basement!  Still, that's not enough, despite her desire for him.  She ultimately leaves him and goes to teach at the same girl's school she attended herself.  He comes after her, a poignant scene, ready to do anything she asks of him, but she is unconvinced that they are meant for one another.  I found it hard to forgive her for what she put him through at that time, but it was a very satisfying end by the time she comes to her senses and realizes she can't live without him.

I recommend this delightful book, first in the With This Ring Series. I'm really starting to love this author!


The Other Guy's Bride by Connie Brockway

Book Description:
Determined to prove her worth as a budding archaeologist, Genisse Braxton vows to solve one of the world's greatest mysteries-to find the location of the lost city of Zerzura. Unfortunately, no man dares take the risk of escorting the resolute young scholar across the open desert. But on her way to Egypt, Genisse engages in a daring deception-she will switch places with Mildred Whimpelhall, who is traveling to meet her fiancé.

Cynical adventurer Jim Owen will do anything to escape the dark secrets of his troubled past. Betrayed by the woman he loved, scorned by proper society, he agrees to carry out a danger-fraught task: escort Mildred Whimpelhall across a lawless desert to her intended. But Jim is about to learn that "Mildred" isn't exactly what she seems...and the dangers they face together are eclipsed only by an even greater peril: falling in love, against all reason, with another guy's bride...

Quickie Review:  At long last a sequel to As You Desire, one of my favorite historical romances!  I must mention that this book is a first for Connie Brockway, who decided to break away from the traditional publishing world by "going rogue" and self publish this e-book.  Then Amazon made a deal with her to publish it in print as well, so she had the best of both worlds.  Tired of having to kowtow to what her publishers wanted her to write, she wanted the freedom to write what she wanted to write! I applaud her courage to break away and - I'm so glad she did!

This story revolves around the daughter of Harry and Dizzy Braxton from As You Desire.  Ginny, following in her parent's footsteps, has a passion for archeology, but she is chagrined because no one will take her seriously.   Plus, her tendency to wreak havoc wherever she goes has given her a reputation amongst the locals - avoid at all costs!  No one wants anything to do with her, convinced she is a jinx.  Certain she has made a new and spectacular discovery, she sneaks off to the Saharan desert passing herself off as the fiancée of the commander of a British outpost in the middle of nowhere. Her guide is Jim Owens, a quasi American cowboy who's a scoundrel but knows his way in the desert.  The commander of the post has hired Owens to escort his fiancée, Miss Whimpelhall, since Owens owes him a big favor.  Of course, no one has any idea that Miss Whimpelhall got seasick and decided to take a different route to Egypt.  Ginny, a fellow passenger on their ship, takes advantage of Miss Whimpelhall's change of plans and blithely dyes her hair a garish henna red and "becomes" Miss Whimpelhall.

In Cairo, Ginny and Jim hook up and their journey together begins.  It soon become clear that Ginny is a magnet for problems and small catastrophes.  Yet Jim still finds himself falling in love with her. Ginny is just as you'd expect Dizzy and Harry's daughter to be, she holds her own against Jim, although their constant bickering and miscommunication with one another after her identity is  revealed grew tedious and frustrating. Still, the ending was very romantic, which made up for some weaker parts in the middle in the book.  But overall, this was a real treat.  Ginny and Jim are a great pair and I loved his secret and the way it all unfolds - it really was a fun plot line with lots of humor that is expected with a Connie Brockway novel, adventure, sand storms, kidnappings and even some glimpses of Harry and Dizzy as parents to their large brood of children!  (I loved Harry's reaction when he finds out his daughter has been alone - in a cave - with the notorious Jim Owens!)  It all made for a very satisfying read!  *clapping*


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fantasy Lover by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Book Description:
Dear Reader,

Being trapped in a bedroom with a woman is a grand thing. Being trapped in hundreds of bedrooms over two thousand years isn't. And being cursed into a book as a love-slave for eternity can ruin even a Spartan warrior's day.

As a love-slave, I know everything about women. How to touch them, how to savor them, and most of all, how to pleasure them. But when I was summoned to fulfill Grace Alexander's sexual fantasies, I found the first woman in history who saw me as a man with a tormented past. She alone bothered to take me out of the bedroom and onto the world. She taught me to love again.

But I was not born to love. I was cursed to walk eternity alone. As a general, I had long ago accepted my sentence. Yet now I have found Grace--the one thing my wounded heart cannot survive without. Sure, love can heal all wounds, but can it break a two-thousand-year-old curse?

Julian of Macedon

Quickie Review:  This contemporary paranormal romance set in New Orleans, started out sort of interesting but then fizzled somewhere in the middle.  First of the Dark Hunter Series, Grace Alexander, a sex therapist, (of all occupations), hasn't had a boyfriend for umpteen years.  For her birthday present, her psychic friend conjures up a sex slave for her for a month - Julian of Macedon. Julian has been trapped in a magical book for two thousand years.  The only time he gets out is when he is summoned to be a sex slave to some lucky woman.  How did he get in this predicament?  A curse was put on him way back when in ancient Greece by his half brother, who is a god - an angry god.

The summoning works and Grace finds herself face to face with this gorgeous hunk of man.  But, she's wary of the whole set up and refuses to have sex with him until she gets to know him better.  But that doesn't stop her from doing everything else with him!  She also doesn't want to "use" him as others have over the centuries.  Did I mention he can't have an orgasm either - until the curse is broken?  Poor man!  So, instead he spends all his time pleasuring her - lucky Grace! ;)  As they spend more and more time together she wants to help him break the curse, which isn't easy.  They must wait to have sex in order to break the curse.  For the rest of the book, we are waiting for the big moment when the time comes to break it.  If they do it wrong - he will be sent back immediately to the book forever.  Julian and Grace have a rollicking good time together leading up to the big night, but always there is the worry of the curse hanging over their heads.  It stops her from completing falling head over heels for him and both are tense and sexually starved by the end!   In addition to that, Grace is convinced that once the curse is broken, he'll go back to his own time and forget all about her.  He does want to go back - but for revenge.   He falls in love with her, but he worries about what would he do in modern day America - he's a Spartan warrior!  They wind up bickering and the usual big misunderstanding due to a lack of communication.  Meanwhile, there's a pesky weirdo stalking her and wouldn't you know it - Grace kicks Julian out of her house just when she needs him the most to protect her!

Frankly I got a bit fed up with this whole storyline.  Grace did nothing for me, and I found this whole love slave thing ridiculous.  Yes, I know this is a paranormal romance, but it was so far-fetched and I didn't have much sympathy for either the hero or the heroine.  I just wanted to get to the end and see them finally have sex and break the curse already!

This is a very popular series, so I'm sure the rest of the books are better than this prequel - but I'm just not really sure if this is my cup of tea.   Fantasy just isn't a favorite of mine, but I'll give it one more chance...


Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon

Book Description:
London, 1760. For Jamie Fraser, paroled prisoner-of-war in the remote Lake District, life could be worse: He’s not cutting sugar cane in the West Indies, and he’s close enough to the son he cannot claim as his own. But Jamie Fraser’s quiet existence is coming apart at the seams, interrupted first by dreams of his lost wife, then by the appearance of Tobias Quinn, an erstwhile comrade from the Rising.

Like many of the Jacobites who aren’t dead or in prison, Quinn still lives and breathes for the Cause. His latest plan involves an ancient relic that will rally the Irish. Jamie is having none of it—he’s sworn off politics, fighting, and war. Until Lord John Grey shows up with a summons that will take him away from everything he loves—again.

Lord John Grey—aristocrat, soldier, and occasional spy—finds himself in possession of a packet of explosive documents that exposes a damning case of corruption against a British officer. But they also hint at a more insidious danger. Time is of the essence as the investigation leads to Ireland, with a baffling message left in “Erse,” the tongue favored by Scottish Highlanders. Lord John, who oversaw Jacobite prisoners when he was governor of Ardsmiur prison, thinks Jamie may be able to translate—but will he agree to do it?

Soon Lord John and Jamie are unwilling companions on the road to Ireland, a country whose dark castles hold dreadful secrets, and whose bogs hide the bones of the dead. A captivating return to the world Diana Gabaldon created in her Outlander and Lord John series, The Scottish Prisoner is another masterpiece of epic history, wicked deceit, and scores that can only be settled in blood.

This is the best of the Lord John books, no doubt about it.  Why?  Because of Jamie Fraser. *sigh* 

I've enjoyed the previous Lord John books but because this one is such a direct tie in to Gabaldon's Outlander series I found it the most compelling and entertaining to read.  As I've found in the previous Lord John mystery books, the actual mysteries aren't that great or complex.  It's Lord John himself, his character and those that surround him that make the story.  The mysteries don't hold me or make me wonder nor are they real whodunits.  It's more like what kind of a mess has Lord John stumbled upon and how is he going to get out of it?  I found the same to be here.  The actual mystery in the The Scottish Prisoner - the Wild Hunt Jacobite plot line which takes Lord John to Ireland was so-so.  I knew all along who did what, it was no surprise to find I was right.  What was great was that Jamie Fraser was with him!   Together, Jamie, Lord John and Tom, his valet, made a great trio!  I wouldn't call this a mystery, it's more like the adventures of Jamie Fraser and Lord John Grey in Ireland and how Jamie rescues Lord John from a big mess and they're able to forgive and forget that unfortunate matter that happened in the stables at Helwater.  

Gabaldon gives us plenty of more reasons to love Jamie Fraser in this book.  I loved the back story on him and our insight to his life at Helwater with Willie, his young son whom he cannot acknowledge as his own.  But what's really insightful is the fact that he even leaves Helwater for a while to go to Ireland and London! This is all new and wonderful!  Jamie is in fine form here - vintage Jamie.  His interaction with John's family is fascinating in London - this is a whole new world and side to Jamie we haven't seen before. He is an older Jamie than we know and love from Dragonfly in Amber and glimpsed in the early chapters of Voyager.  Jamie is brought to London to help with a poem that he may be able to translate.  Lord John's brother has summoned him to his townhouse in London.  While there, after an initial unpleasantness, Jamie is able to be "himself" again - a laird, a gentleman, as he was before Culloden.  Jamie is once again recognized and referred to as Lord Broch Tuarach, instead of as a convicted traitor and prisoner.   It's great to see him this way!  He's larger than life, I fell in love with him all over again. *sigh*  He can hold his own against anyone he comes up against, including Lord John's brother Hal, the Duke of Pardloe, and the Duke's enemies.  A favorite scene of mine takes place in the Duke's library, as Lord John and an enemy battle it out, Jamie blithely watches them make fools of themselves before breaking it up. He's just so damn cool!  But despite the fact Jamie is in fine form here, his yearning for Claire was heartrending, his dreams and nightmares  - and the constant prayer, that she might be safe.  She and the child.  This is always hanging over Jamie's head, plus he can't completely accustom himself to the idea of being "free" while away from Helwater.  In his heart he is tied to Helwater - because of Willie.   He's not completely whole, he's a changed Jamie due to his lost life and...Claire

Basically, Jamie makes this book, but all the characterizations are vibrant and colorful - even Lord John's valet Tom is great!  Interesting enough, there is a very surprising story regarding the Duke of Pardloe's wife, Minnie.  Hal's duchess and her background as a spy, whom Jamie knew in Paris before the Rising, raised an eyebrow.  The glimpses we get of her relationship with Hal and their astonishing courtship would make a great book in of itself!  I wonder if Diana will ever write it, including that hearth rug scene! ;)

Overall, The Scottish Prisoner is a worthwhile, excellent addition to Gabaldon's Outlander and Lord John series.  Do you need to read the earlier books in the Lord John series to get into it?  No, but it helps.  Do you need to read the Outlander books to like this?  No, but if you're an Outlander fan, you'll simply love it, otherwise it will be an above average book if you're unfamiliar with Jamie Fraser's character.  As much as the mystery itself wasn't all that scintillating, the relationship building and characterizations were top rate.  They make the book, as well as filling in some of the lost years for Jamie while at Helwater and the bittersweet relationship with his son.  One of my favorite picks of the year for 2011 and a nice holdover until book eight, Written in My Own Heart's Blood is published.   A keeper for any Outlander and Lord John fan.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tender Rebel by Johanna Lindsey

Book Description:
Scottish heiress Roslynn Chadwick needs the safety of marriage to protect her from an unscrupulous cousin and from the army of fortune-hunting scoundrels who covet her wealth and beauty. And Anthony Malory is everything she has been warned against.

A ruthless, irresistibly handsome English rogue, Malory's sensual blue eyes speak of limitless pleasures. How she wishes she dare to love such a man... to believe the whispered murmurings of his passionate promise... and to follow the enchanting dream...

Once again, I was let down, I still can't say I'm thrilled with these Malory Family books, which had been much touted and recommended to me.  What am I missing?  Tender Rebel was slightly better than Love Only Once, but not by much.  Maybe it's because this is an older book, from the '80's and this was a popular type of scenario then.  Fiery, hot tempered Scottish heiress, Roslynn, must marry to thwart her dastardly cousin's scheme to marry her for her money.  Fleeing to London before her cousin can get to her, Roslynn seeks out the safety of an old school friend who helps introduce her to society.  You see, Roslynn must marry - fast, before her sneaky cousin can kidnap her and force her to marry him.  

Once in London, Roslynn seems to be a magnet to the Malory's: the rakish Anthony and his brother James, James' seventeen year old son, Jeremy and their niece Regina (from Love Only Once, who is now married to former rake, Nicholas Eden, Viscount of Monteith.)   Roslynn and Anthony have an instant attraction, but Roslynn had been warned off about rakes from her friend and also her grandfather before he died (yet, he also advised her that they can make good husbands too.)  Anthony proves to be irresistible and he has no compunction in chasing her down like a gazelle running from a lion.  She too easily winds up in his arms, even though he's a known womanizer and confirmed bachelor.  I was quite surprised at how easily she allowed herself to become seduced by him, in a solarium no less, where anyone can see.  For a well raised Scottish miss, she should know better.
Lo and behold, Anthony really begins to care for Roslynn.  They come to an understanding, he knows she must marry quickly so he agrees to help her find a suitable husband. A familiar storyline, of course no one in his eyes is suitable and and after rescuing her from a close call due to her cousin, he proposes marriage himself - of convenience - in order to protect  her.  After many refusals, Roslynn finally agrees to marry, seeing that it is the most sensible thing to do at the moment.  (I admit, I loved the lie he told her about one of her would be suitors, insinuating brother and sister have been having a fling for years! Shameful!) But she puts the stupidest condition on the marriage.  She insists that he keeps a mistress for she thinks he can't possibly be faithful to her, due to his notoriety as a ladies' man.  She doesn't want to fall in love with him, so she wants to make sure she's going into the marriage with her eyes open - it was so dumb!  He agrees even though he has no intention of keeping to her ridiculous bargain, for he's dying to get her into bed and make her his (even though he's already done had her the night before they marry).  
Her crazy kind of logic was ridiculous, and once they married and she thinks he's been cavorting with some tavern wench the storyline grew tedious in the extreme.  She freezes him out because she thinks he'd doing exactly what she required of him!  No matter how much he denied it, she refused to believe him.  All they did was argue and play mind games with one another. She just wouldn't believe him or trust him, no matter what he said or what his actions confirmed. He was always "teaching her a lesson" thinking up ways to make her want him - and basically have a normal marriage where the husband and wife like each other - how novel!  If I were Anthony I wouldn't have put up with her and I would have done all in my power to prove to her my faithfulness rather than have it drag out forever!

Roslynn was so stubborn and blind to the fact Anthony really was in love with her, I barely liked her and her marital conditions.  Apart from her pretty face, what did he see in her anyway?  She was plucky, I'll give her that, I liked the way she jumped out of a window into a hay cart to escape from her cousin.  That took guts. Anthony was already rich, so he didn't need her money - I think it was because - dare I say it - it was love at first sight.  Plus, she was a challenge and then she began to grow on him and the final straw was when he rescued her.  That was the end of his bachelor days.  For some reason, she'd gotten under his skin and he wanted to protect her from her cousin once and for all, and marriage was the only way (as well as punching the cousin out, Anthony also happens to be an expert pugilist.)

All in all, this book was so-so.  Too many mind controlling games in a marriage spells disaster and makes it hard to trust one another which was the basic gist of their problem and theme of this book.  It took forever to get Roslynn to come around, although Anthony believed in her from the beginning and he was willing to bide his time until she came to her senses about him and admitted she loved him.  I guess Roslynn's grandfather was right, reformed rakes do make good husbands - I'm sure we'll see in future Malory books if we get glimpses of this couple in the coming years.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dark Needs at Night's Edge by Kresley Cole

Book Description:
Néomi Laress, a famous ballerina from a past century, became a phantom the night she was murdered. Imbued with otherworldly powers but invisible to the living, she haunts her beloved home, scaring away trespassers - until she encounters a ruthless immortal even more terrifying than Néomi herself.  

To prevent him from harming others, Conrad Wroth's brothers imprison him in an abandoned manor. But there, a female only he can see seems determined to drive him further into madness. The exquisite creature torments him with desire, leaving his body racked with lust and his soul torn as he finds himself coveting her for his own.  

Yet even if Conrad can win Néomi, evil still surrounds her. Once he returns to the brutality of his past to protect her, will he succumb to the dark needs seething inside him? 

I loved this story, which was very different from the previous Immortals After Dark books.  Here in Book 4, we have killer vampire, Conrad Wroth, who has been a vampire assassin for centuries and is now going insane because of this whole mess that's inside him from killing so many people over the past several centuries.  He is the biggest, baddest, craziest vampire around - and he's out to kill his brothers because they turned him into a vampire in the first place! His brothers succeed in capturing him (not an easy task) and chain him up in an old abandoned plantation house near New Orleans (a familiar locale for this series) where they hope they can cure him of his insanity before he kills them!  

While chained to his bed, in and out of consciousness, Conrad becomes aware of a ghost, Néomi, the former owner of the manor and now a phantom who is able to communicate with him.  A well known ballet dancer from the roaring twenties, Néomi was murdered on the night of her big party in the same house.  Her jealous ex-fiance brutally stabbed her and she's been alone as a ghost ever since - without being able to leave or communicate or touch anyone - until Conrad.   This ghostly scenario reminded me a tiny bit of Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger.  Néomi is fascinated to finally have someone to talk to - and he's this big, luscious specimen of a man - well, okay a vampire, but a manly vampire! A virgin vampire too!

It was a great and compelling story which I read it one day.  Over the course of several weeks, Néomi is able to help Conrad regain his sanity and the two gradually fall in lust love.  Of course, she is beautiful and he is gorgeous (as all these immortals are) but she is incorporeal, he can't touch her - hold her, kiss her.  And boy, does he want to!  The sexual build up was great as was the chemistry between this unlikely couple.  It's a bit difficult, if you get my drift - though they manage to do some creative things to overcome this basic problem.  Still, its not enough, Néomi wants to have sex (who wouldn't?) and a body!  Some nearby witches from the same coven we've gotten to know in the last book in the series are able to cast a spell to give her a body, but there's a catch - it's temporary.  Néomi doesn't know for how long it will last before she gets killed somehow.  She won't tell Conrad the truth of how she became incorporeal, she wants to just have this chance to be with him with no sadness hanging over their heads.  Of course, she knows and it's tearing her apart, but he's oblivious and is loving her, wants to marry her.  She is his lifelong mate as far as he's concerned - the whole nine yards - he's been blooded (it's what they call it for vampires when they've found their soul mates).  Yes he has no idea it's all going to come crashing down on the two of them any minute. Néomi puts him off and won't agree to marry him because of the uncertainty and he wonders why...  there's something she's keeping from him...

I kept wondering how were they going to solve the problem of keeping her alive. For everything does come crashing down eventually.   It kept me reading and I couldn't put it down.  At first I wasn't crazy about Conrad, for good reason since he was so crazy and a monster.  But, he changes completely over the course of the book, once he's solved his sanity problem (at a cost!) and forgives his brothers. Néomi was also hard to gauge at first too, she's so different since she's a ghost, but I grew to really like her and her background and dilemma!  They made a great pair and I wanted them to be together and have their happy ending!  It was good to see some old characters from the previous books too, it's a cool world that the author has created for this series and this is a great addition to it as well!  This is a good one!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Deeds of the Disturber by Elizabeth Peters (audio)

Book Description:
Can fear kill? There are those who believe so but Amelia Peabody is skeptical. A respected Egyptologist and amateur sleuth, Amelia has foiled felonious schemes from Victoria's England to the Middle East. And she doubts that it was a Nineteenth-Dynasty mummy's curse that caused the death of a night watchman in the British Museum. The corpse was found sprawled in the mummy's shadow, a look of terror frozen on the guard's face. What or who killed the unfortunate man is a mystery that seems too intriguingly delicious for Amelia to pass up, especially now that she, her dashing archaeologist husband, Emerson, and their precocious son, Ramses, are back on Britain's shores. But a contemporary curse can be as lethal as one centuries old and the foggy London thoroughfares can be as treacherous as the narrow, twisting alleyways of Cairo after dark when a perpetrator of evil deeds sets his murderous sights on his relentless pursuer... Amelia Peabody!

Another hilarious installment in the adventures of the Emerson family: Amelia, Radcliffe and... Ramses.  Home in England made for a refreshing change from the previous books.  The threesome handle many things simultaneously: annoying relatives, murders at the British museum and a bit of matchmaking between a young newswoman, Miss Minton (who looks like a younger sister to Amelia) and the ever zealous newspaperman Mr. Kevin O'Connell.  Masked aristocrats, orgies and pagan rituals abound!  I loved every minute of it on audio with Barbara Rosenblat narrating in her usual style that only adds to the hilarity!

The murder mystery itself seems almost secondary to the rest of the mayhem that takes place. Still, the murders serve their purpose in giving Amelia something to do and an excuse to get away from her son's experiments and her unsettling niece and nephew who have been foisted upon her by her errant brother while he goes off to India.   Amelia loves to solve a mystery and the idea of Egyptian mummies, curses, a pagan ritual involving a sacrificial virgin and masquerading as a hired "extra" at said ritual - well, that's right up Amelia's alley!

I was really in stitches in some parts of the book.  A favorite, and what I consider a very funny scene: Amelia at the tavern with Mr. O'Connell, the reporter.  Amelia is a scream as she insists the bosomy bar maid that takes their order take Amelia's scarf - to keep warm, of course, since the young woman must obviously be in need of one!  Amelia presses it upon her as "a gift." I laughed at Amelia's sheer audacity and refusal to take no for an answer.

I am stilll finding Ramses greatly amusing.  His loquaciousness - and Amelia's reaction to it - is quietly hilarious.  Ramses is such a character, there's no one else like him, I'm sure, in literature.  He disguises himself easily, practices his own embalming experiments as well as other types of experiments involving gun powder (where does he get it from, I'd like to know!)  His cousins who have come to visit for the summer put a cramp in his style, but he manages to withstand them.  A tender moment (if you can call it one) between Amelia and Ramses was very nice (for they rarely happen) when we learn the truth of what the cousins are about!

I was sorry there was no sign of the "master criminal" in London, though I kept on expecting him to show up unexpectedly dressed as an Egyptian priest.  Other things made me wonder too - I half expected Miss Minton was some sort of missing half-sister to Amelia, since the fact they resembled one another and were so alike was mentioned several times throughout the book.  As it turns out, she is the granddaughter to a duchess - alas, with no money, but she captures the interest of a few gentlemen - some good, some bad.

Last but not least, Amelia and her handsome - and robust - Emerson are still at it.  In love, partners together in every sense of the word.  It is a pleasure to read about their exploits.  I'm happy to see that parenthood and being old marrieds hasn't dampened their spirit one bit - in and out of the bedchamber!  ;)

A wonderful addition to the Amelia Peabody series, I recommend it!


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dance of Seduction by Sabrina Jeffries

Book Description:
She won't let a thief steal her heart . . .

It's difficult enough for Lady Clara Stanbourne to run her London home for reformed young pickpockets without having to contend with a criminal in business right next door! The mysterious Morgan Pryce is obviously dealing in stolen property, and she will never allow the handsome scoundrel to lead the children astray! Pryce is very much mistaken if he believes her a delicate rose he can wilt with soft words and passionate, unspoken promises. Now if only Clara could douse the fiery yearning the charming cad ignites inside her . . .

This bold, beautiful temptress is indeed a distraction-and Morgan wishes he could tell the exquisite Clara the truth: that he is working undercover to break up a notorious crime ring. His mind should be on his duty-not wondering how it would feel to hold Clara in his arms and taste the sweetness of her luscious lips. But now that she has entered into his most dangerous game, Morgan knows he must have her, despite the very real peril to his secret mission ... and to his heart! 

Coming off the fabulous After the Abduction, the previous book in the Swanlea Spinsters series, Dance of Seduction just didn't grab me (plus what did the title have to do with the plot line??)  Fourth in the series, the plot revolves around former sea captain, Morgan Pryce (from After the Abduction) who is posing as a fence in Spitalfields, a poorer section of London.  He's working for the Home Office and meets Lady Clara Sanbourne who runs a home for reformed  pickpocketing children just down the street.  Unfortunately, I grew a bit bored with the reforming storyline regarding the Home for the children and Clara's willy nilly dashing about into danger without a single thought in her head for her own safety. 

Morgan is secretly trying to catch a well known criminal in the area, known as The Spectre and Clara believes he's a disreputable wretch who is only encouraging her "children" to continue their thieving ways.  She wants to get him to close up shop and take his nefarious ways somewhere else!  But her blood is hot and she can't deny the way he makes her feel when he flirts with her - and so the attraction begins.  But her meddling is interfering with Morgan's covert operation to capture the Spectre!
As their romance heats up with one particularly well done seduction scene in the library at a ball (which I think is the book's cover, see below postcript), Clara and Morgan begin to care for one another - and fall in love.  But how long can Morgan keep up his false identity with her?  She's going to find out soon enough - what will happen when she does?  Fortunately, she takes the news well, but despite that, they find they are at an impasse when it comes to whether they marry or not:  he wants to go back to sea and have command of a ship of his own.  She wants to be with him, but doesn't want to leave her Home for the children behind - nor does she want to be a lonely ship captain's wife who sees her husband once or twice a year (if she's lucky!)   Memories from his troubled childhood further complicate their romance.  A former pickpocket himself as a child in the streets of Geneva, he wants to escape the big city of London which only reminds him of his youth.  He's running away from his problems rather than trying to overcome the lingering guilt and shame from his early years.  Clara tries to help him understand but he's in denial.  As much as he cares for Clara, he doesn't feel he can be a good husband to her.  What to do?  The last thing he needs now is this dilemma that sidetracks him as he tries to entrap the master criminal in Spitalfields.  

Unfortunately, I grow weary of these Regency espionage romances and this is another one that didn't wow me.  I think I've had my fill. 


P.S. Is the cover supposed to be the scene when they are sequestered in the library at the ball?  The inside flap certainly appears to be!  Click here to see!

Ravished by Amanda Quick

Book Description:
There was no doubt about it. What Miss Harriet Pomeroy needed was a man. Someone powerful and clever who could help her rout the unscrupulous thieves who were using her beloved caves to hide their loot. But when Harriet summoned Gideon Westbrook Viscount St. Justin to her aid, she could not know that she was summoning the devil himself…

Dubbed the Beast of Blackthorne Hall for his scarred face and lecherous past, Gideon was strong and fierce and notoriously menacing. Yet Harriet could not find it in her heart to fear him. For in his tawny gaze she sensed a savage pain she longed to soothe…and a searing passion she yearned to answer. Now, caught up in the beast's clutches, Harriet must find a way to win his heart — and evade the deadly trap of a scheming villain who would see them parted for all time.

My first romance by Amanda Quick, this has been on my TBR list for a long time.  I found it to be a pretty good romance but not as great as I thought it would be, considering it's #42 on the Top 100 Romance list at AAR.   I will admit, it had it's good points, the heroine was deliciously ditzy, so preoccupied with her fossil hunting.  Living along the coast of England, Harriet spends a lot of time in the underground caves nearby her home.  Upon discovering the caves are being used for illicit smuggling, she contacts Viscount St. Justin, the owner of the land, to rub out the criminals.  Her primary concern is not so much that smuggling is illegal, but she's worried the smugglers may discover her fossils and her latest find "a tooth."  

As she tells Gideon, the Viscount, when she first meets him, "there are unscrupulous rogues lurking everywhere!"  Apparantly fossil hunters have no reservations in stealing other people's finds and laying claim to them as their own.  Gideon is struck by this charming beauty and fossil loving heroine.  For one thing, she doesn't even bat an eye at his disfigured face which is marred by a long scar down it's side.  He's also amazed at her complete disregard towards her own safety which leads to a night together in one of the caves.  A night that compromises her by Society's standards and in reality.  Gideon, notorious and much maligned as the Beast of Blackthorne Hall due to a previous scandal, makes love to her in the cave and a forced marriage is soon in the works.

Harriet tries to avoid marriage, but finally relents when she realizes she must do as her aunt and sister insist upon.  We're led on a merry ride to London where Harriet is taken to acquire a bit of "polish."  Some parts were very funny and Harriet is an orginal.  I laughed aloud many times, particularly in regard to her precious "tooth."  Not surprisingly, she becomes the target of a scheming former friend of Gideon's who's after revenge, but she holds her own and clobbers him over the head, running to Gideon and explaining to him how she "accidentally" killed him.  She didn't actually, but the whole thing, which could have been a nasty affair is smoothed over by Gideon, who is soon realizing his future wife is a handful!

I liked Gideon's side of the story too.  Accused of ravishing a young woman and then refusing to marry her, he is castigized for her resulting suicide.   He has spent the last several years trying to overcome the scandal and lost respect and admiration - from his father.  A hopeless case - until Harriet comes on the scene.  His situation with Harriet and the circumstances of their impending nuptials are eerily familiar, but Harriet wins his parents over.  Their first meeting is indeed memorable!  I loved it!

This really was a fun story!  My one gripe - the tepid love scenes, but overall, I recommend it!


Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Proposition by Judith Ivory

Book Description:
No man, gentleman or otherwise, has ever looked at Lady Edwina Bollash the way the brash, handsome man standing before her is doing now. Edwina has accepted the challenge to transform incorrigible Mick Tremore into a gentleman in just six weeks. And although the linguist is sure she can rise to the task, she isn't at all certain she won't swoon under his frankly sensuous gaze before her job is done.  Mick has lived outside of London society long enough to know that appearances can be deceiving. Edwina might look all buttoned up—the perfect English lady—but there is unleashed passion existing just below her placid facade (not to mention a great pair of legs!). And as she prepares him to take his place in society, Mick prepares Edwina to take her place in his heart...and in his bed.

This book has it all, I loved it! Based on the same premise as one of my favorite plays, Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw, Edwina Bollash is a linguist who takes on a wager that she can turn Cornish/Cockney, ratcatcher, Mick Tremore into a gentleman in time to attend a grand ball. Mick is to die for - I simply loved him! Oh my, he's become a new favorite hero to add to my list! The sexual tension that builds between these two is magnificently written.

Mick Tremore grew up in Cornwall with slews of siblings but moved to London to make a living and send money home to his family.  Despite the sound of it, he's proud of his profession - as a ratcatcher - he's good at it too!  He has a pet ferret or two that help as well catch them.  One day, while trying to catch a mouse at a modiste's shop in London, he spies a pair of gorgeously long legs in a dressing room.  He is captivated - Mick is a "leg man" - the longer the better.  Will he ever be able to find out who the owner of those legs are?  Before he can work on that problem, all hell breaks loose in the shop and he winds up running for his life and winds up in a tea shop.  One thing leads to another - as in Pygmalion and two young men - twins - make a wager that Mick could be passed off as a gentleman at a fancy ball.   Edwina who has stepped in to help Mick from the snafu he has landed in at the moment impulsively agrees to be his linguistic coach and teach him to be a gentleman.  Mick agrees to it for he's promised a certain amount of money if he succeeds.

Little do Mick and Edwina know what sort of mayhem develops, for Mick moves into her townhouse (to the horror of her staff!) and she begins her daily lessons.  Just getting him to take a bath for the first time with her stoic butler was hilarious!  Mick is an original - and he's instantly attracted to Edwina, with her spectacles and buttoned up collars and sensible boots.  He audaciously makes it plain what he'd like to do to her as they become closer and has all sorts of tricks up his sleeve to get his way.  Be still my heart, the tension that builds between the two of them is amazingly carried out.  Once he gets wind that she's the owner of the tantalizing long legs he admired at the dress shop - there's no holding back.  He must see them - naked... on a raised table - as if a pedestal (not unlike the ancient myth of Pygmalion and Galatea).  What amazed me is how Edwina goes along with it!  Although on second thought, it's not so amazing because as Mick is becoming more and more like a gentleman, she's becoming more and more enamored of him!  He's really starting to resemble a lord - he's the air about him, the looks, the hands - the accent.  He's a quick study - amazingly quick - maybe too much.

I won't spoil any more of the plot, but trust me this is a great, great romance!  I'm not nearly doing it justice in this short review, but it's witty and has strong characters in both Edwina and Mick.  He is simply fabulous, but Edwina easily holds her own with him.  They are great together.   His personality dazzles, he charms everyone - plus his looks are to die for - except for his mustache.  Did I forget to mention his mustache?  The mustache - his pride and joy?  In the late Victorian era when this book takes place, many men sported a mustache and beard and Mick is oh so proud of his.  It's long and thick, luxuriant, walrus-like (or so I imagine it to be) and guess who hates it!  Edwina wants him to get rid of it pronto!  He agrees and makes a bargain - just how do you think he gets her up on top of that table revealing her legs to him?  Ooooh, it was rich!

Besides the obvious story of turning Mick into a gentleman and whether or not it's possible, there was also the side of the story of Edwina falling for a common man - can she?  Can she overlook his humble beginnings?  As the granddaughter of a duke, it's unheard of and would be considered quite a step down in Society.  She'd be an outcast.  But her feelings for him are strong - more than just wanting to have him in her bed - she cares for him - she's fallen in love with the big lug.  Then, there's Mick's side to consider - does he really want to leave his ratcatcher life and become a "gent" and speak well so he can become a valet for some nob up in Newcastle?  He knows better.  He can't possibly expect her to marry a valet.  If he does go to far away Newcastle - uggh, just the thought of it - it's the same place Wickham and Lydia were ignominiously sent to in Pride and Prejudice! Will Edwina ever see him again?  Doubtful.  What happens after the ball?  As the dreaded big night nears both must face truths about their feelings for one another and the realities of British Society in the late nineteenth century.  It seems hopeless... As the night of the ball gets closer, things heat up more and more between them, to the point of no return.  At the same time,  we also learn the truth of what the real wager is all about with the twin gentlemen and what they're up to.  It all comes to head on the climatic night of the ball as family secrets are revealed, but it's also a bittersweet revelation, yet maybe an answer to their dilemma - oooh! How I loved it!

Read this book, buy it on kindle (as I did) or track it down somewhere else in print - it's a keeper and worthy of a re-read.  Mick is one of those unforgettable heroes and Edwina is the lucky gal that gets him!


Sunday, December 4, 2011

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (audio)

Book Description:
The novelist Maurice Bendrix's love affair with his friend's wife, Sarah, had begun in London. One day, without warning, Sarah had broken off the relationship. It seemed impossible that there could be a rival for her heart.

A classic book that I've heard of for years, but had never picked up. Finally I got around to listening to it on audio.  What a surprise, this was not what I expected at all. It's the story of how Maurice Bendrix, a novelist in post WWII-London, copes with the end of an affair with a married woman whom he was seeing for two years.  She breaks it off unceremoniously, no explanation, no scenes, no recriminations - nothing.  He's in the dark and mistakenly assumes she has gone on to someone else.   Most of the story is from Maurice's point of view.  It's aftermath, his questions of faith, God and the Catholic Church are all covered as he comes to terms with and learns the unexpected truth behind their break-up.   A masterfully done audio, narrated by Michael Kitchen.  The bitterness and sadness conveyed by Maurice is real and palpable, I felt like Maurice was telling his story to me.

Maurice is bitter - very bitter.  He loved Sarah Miles, the wife of an acquaintance who lives nearby.  Their affair lasted for nearly two years, but they began to bicker and doubts of each other's love began and unexpectedly she stopped seeing him after an air raid in which he nearly died.  Like that - it's over.  Maurice has tried to forget her and get on with his life, but once he runs into her husband, Henry, a mild mannered man who is clueless in regard to his wife's extramarital activities all those old feelings were dredged up again.  Running into Henry that night in the rain, leads to having a drink together which then leads to Henry admitting he suspects something is going on with Sarah and wonders if he should hire a private detective to follow her.  Someone discreet.  He's been given the name of a reputable service that specializes in this sort of thing.  But, the thought of it is so distasteful to him, he wants to forget about it.  Yet Maurice has the bug now.  His own selfish desire makes him offer to hire the detective for Henry.   As if he's doing Henry a favor.  Henry says he'll think about it, but Maurice goes ahead anyway.  He is obsessed with the idea that Sarah has moved on to someone else and he wants to know who is the man she is sleeping with now.  Is it the man she left him for?

Events do not turn out quite the way Maurice expected, although the detective makes it possible for him to get hold of Sarah's private diary.  Maurice unashamedly reads it, going over the time of their affair and afterwards and realizes he had been completely wrong about her.  She writes she still loves him, always has. Still desperately in love with her - he cannot wait to tell her so.  She can leave her husband and they can live happily ever after...

Of course this doesn't happen.  Irony comes into play.  We learn that Sarah left Maurice because she believed God had saved him from dying in that air raid.  She prayed to God and promised she would leave him and go back to her husband if only God would keep him alive.  The question is, did Maurice die in that raid or not?  Sarah was convinced he was dead at one point - and then he wasn't.  She was convinced God answered her prayer and brought him back to life - so she kept her promise and left him.  Maurice had been unaware of all of this until he read her diary. Once he learns the truth he calls her, he must see her!  She resists, she is unwell, she tries to put him off.  She has vowed to God not to see him.  He won't take no for an answer and tells her he is coming right over.  His call drives her out into the rainy dark night to avoid seeing him, despite her bad cold..  I bet you can see where this is going...   Events lead to the worst possible thing that can happen and Maurice and her husband, Henry must both deal with it.  The questions of religion, God and the Catholic Church, in particular, are brought up.  Is there a God?  Sarah had been a non-believer up to this point (though she had been baptized a Catholic, but didn't know it).  Maurice doesn't believe in anything and detested the pious priests in their hassocks, preaching truth and goodness - all sanctimonious bullshit, as far as he was concerned.  He blames God... for losing Sarah.

This was really a great story, primarily because of the heartfelt emotions we experience through Maurice.  I don't think I've ever read another book that conveyed such an intense sense of loss from a man's point of view over a broken love affair.  On audio, I felt like I knew Maurice.  I could turn my head and he's be there smoking a cigarette, taking a deep drag and continuing his monologue of what happened to him.  First his anger over having her leave him for, what he is convinced is another man.  Then his morbid curiosity to find out who she is sleeping with and what she is doing now through the services of the nice but somewhat bumbling detective and his young son (a very interesting and worthwhile diversion to the overall bitterness of the main storyline.)  Then, the revelations of her diary and the aftermath and ensuing tragedy that happens next.  It was like a Hardy novel!

Overall, this is a worthwhile read, I highly recommend it on audio, it is very strong yet arms length in that late 1940's British way.  It's hard to describe.  Repressed emotion, quiet intensity.  Still waters run deep.  Maurice never breaks down and cries over Sarah, but he is distraught and bereft, but also so angry and bitter!  Who can blame him?  The irony is astounding as well as the philosophical aspect of whether there is a God or not? A memorable book.  Read it.

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