Monday, December 3, 2012

December Quick Reviews

It's hard to believe it's already December!  I've read an eclectic set of books in the last month, a lot of mysteries and ho hum romances for real cheap on kindle (now I know why), but I did have some stellar reads as well, like one by Darlene Marshall, Castaway Dreams, Peggy Noonan's When Character Was King about Ronald Reagan, another hilarious 1930's cozy mystery, A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen and the the first of a funny regency espionage series, Revealed by Kate Noble.  Here are my reviews:

The Hippopotamus Pool by Elizabeth Peters (audio)

Book Description:
The popular 19th century Egyptologist, Amelia Peabody romps through her eighth archaeological adventure. Amelia returns to Egypt for an exciting excavation. She finds herself faced with a surprising new villain who is every bit as clever and resourceful as the intrepid Amelia herself!

More adventures with the Emerson's in Egypt. A lot happens while on their latest dig: Emerson's brother Walter and his wife Evelyn are on the scene and not as the happy couple we are used to, Ramses gets kidnapped - as well as Nefret - and Amelia and Emerson take on the criminal class of Luxor. All told with the usual humor these books are known for.  Amelia's narration by Barbara Rosenblat is fabulous as ever. Great fun though the actual plot is a bit murky and forgettable.


Unraveled by Courtney Milan

Book Description:
Smite Turner is renowned for his single-minded devotion to his duty as a magistrate. But behind his relentless focus lies not only a determination to do what is right, but the haunting secrets of his past—secrets that he is determined to hide, even if it means keeping everyone else at arm’s length. Until the day an irresistible woman shows up as a witness in his courtroom…

Miranda Darling isn’t in trouble…yet. But she’s close enough that when Turner threatens her with imprisonment if she puts one foot wrong, she knows she should run in the other direction. And yet no matter how forbidding the man seems on the outside, she can’t bring herself to leave. Instead, when he tries to push her away, she pushes right back—straight through his famous self-control, and into the heart of the passion that he has long hidden away…

I think this was the best of the Turner trilogy of three brothers (I loved the novella, Unlocked, in this series too). I haven't been bowled over by this author to date, despite all the praise for her, but I really loved this romance.  Smite is by far the most interesting of the Turners and is such an unusual hero, tortured - yet very much in control of his emotions and his orderly world - until he meets Miranda who he makes his mistress for a month. The whole theme of Justice and what it really means and his heartbreaking past really made this a worthwhile read. the other books in this series pale in comparison. I really liked Miranda too, not your typical heroine either.  I'm glad she didn't let Turner follow through with his plans - a good match for him - and a good book!!  Beautiful cover too!


Where Serpent's Sleep by C.S. Harris

Book Description:
London, 1812. The brutal slaughter of eight young prostitutes in a house of refuge near Covent Garden leaves only one survivor- and one witness: Hero Jarvis, reform-minded daughter of the Prince Regent's cousin, Lord Jarvis. When the Machiavellian powerbroker quashes any official inquiry that might reveal his daughter's unorthodox presence, Hero launches an investigation of her own and turns to Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, for help.

Working in an uneasy alliance, Hero and Sebastian follow a trail of clues leading from the seedy brothels and docksides of London's East End to the Mayfair mansions of a noble family with dark secrets to hide. Risking both their lives and their reputations, the two must race against time to stop a killer whose ominous plot threatens to shake the nation to its very core.

An excellent addition to the adventures of Sebastian St. Cyr, who I am growing to love. This time he's on the trail of why the granddaughter of a duke left her family and became a whore and why she was killed - and why it was made to look like an accident. This time, his sleuthing is at the behest of Hero Jarvis (I knew they'd wind up together - albeit not the way I imagined.) I found the book riveting, this is turning out to be such a great series! The last few paragraphs brought tears to my eyes, glad Sebastian did the right thing.  Another beautiful cover too!


The Prophet by Amanda Stevens (audio)

"My name is Amelia Gray."

I am the Graveyard Queen, a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts. My father passed down four rules to keep me safe and I've broken every last one. A door has opened and evil wants me back.

In order to protect myself, I've vowed to return to those rules. But the ghost of a murdered cop needs my help to find his killer. The clues lead me to the dark side of Charleston—where witchcraft, root doctors and black magic still flourish—and back to John Devlin, a haunted police detective I should only love from afar.Now I'm faced with a terrible choice: follow the rules or follow my heart.

Well, well, well... I hear this is not the end of the series, but do we ever find out if there were some lasting effects of the gray powder and Amelia's foray to the other side? And what of Devlin's lasting effects? At last we get some closure in regard to Devlin and Amelia's "relationship" but I still feel like things are not settled completely between them. Lots of loose strings that need to be settled. I love these modern day Southern paranormal mysteries on audio, narrated by Khristine Hvam.  I highly recommend it them for she gives you a real good flavor of that Southern Charleston feel.  Makes me want to go there - now! The Charleston drawl, the Gullah people and everything else about that city and it's environs.  A worthwhile read - and a TV series in the making?  *gulp* 


The Runaway Countess by Leigh LaValle

Book Description:
"Her heart longs for justice, but her body clamors for sin."

Once the darling of high society, Mazie Chetwyn knows firsthand how quickly the rich and powerful turn their backs on the less fortunate. Orphaned, penniless and determined to defy their ruthless whims, she joins forces with a local highwayman who steals from the rich to give to the poor.

Then the pawn broker snitches, and Mazie is captured by the Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire. A man who is far too handsome, far too observant...and surely as corrupt as his father once was.

Sensible, rule-driven Trent Carthwick, twelfth Earl of Radford, is certain the threat of the gallows will prompt the villagers' beloved "Angel of Kindness" to reveal the highwayman's identity. But his bewitching captive volunteers nothing-except a sultry, bewildering kiss.

And so the games begin. Trent feints, Mazie parries. He threatens, she pretends nonchalance. He cajoles, she rebuffs. Thwarted at every turn, Trent probes deep into her one vulnerability-her past. There he finds the leverage he needs and a searing truth that challenges all he believes about right and wrong.

The delicious, if left-brained, hero might forever change all you think you know about the Robin Hood legend. Contains razor-sharp wordplay, skinny dipping and tortured hearts.

A different story of impoverished Lady Margaret aka Miss Mazie, the orphaned daughter of a lord, who aids a local highwayman in a Robin Hood theme and gets caught. The local magistrate, handsome and austere Lord Radford takes her as his prisoner to find out who the Midnight Rider really is. She will not divulge the truth, despite the mutual attraction that is growing between them. The stakes escalate as does their passion. A good book despite the slow beginning. Once I got into it, the second half really took off.  Another luscious cover.


Revealed by Kate Noble

Book Description:
Phillippa Benning is the unrivaled beauty of the Season. But when another lady challenges her for a marquis's attentions, Phillippa entices him to a secret rendezvous-only to stumble upon The Blue Raven, England's most famous spy, lurking at the site of her planned tryst.

The Blue Raven has uncovered an enemy plot directed at upcoming society functions, but he's unable to infiltrate London society. Phillippa makes an offer: in exchange for entrée among the ton, he agrees to have his true identity revealed at the Benning Ball-guaranteeing her unrivaled notoriety. As the danger draws closer, the mysterious spy and Phillippa give in to mutual desire. But when the game turns deadly, betrayal waits around the corner, and Phillippa must decide once and for all-is it the myth that captured her heart, or the man?

I loved this espionage themed regency of well to do widow, Phillippa Benning, leader of the ton, who accidentally gets herself tangled up into a French plot with "presumably" the notorious English agent, The Blue Raven. Of course, she is taken aback to find that the notorious war hero is none other than the bespectacled, gangly and bookish Marcus Worth! Little does she know! What an entertaining romance, filled with dry wit and plenty of red herrings! Looking forward to continuing with this Blue Raven series!  A keeper!


A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen (audio)

Book Description:
The Queen of England has concocted a plan in which Georgie is to entertain a Bavarian princess? and conveniently place her in the playboy Prince's path, in the hopes that he might finally marry.

But queens never take money into account. Georgie has very little, which is why she moonlights as a maid-in-disguise. She must draw up plans: clean house to make it look like a palace; have Granddad and her neighbor pretend to be the domestic staff; un-teach Princess Hanni the English she's culled from American gangster movies; cure said Princess of her embarrassing shoplifting habit; and keep an eye on her at parties. Then there's the worrying matter of the body in the bookshop and Hanni's unwitting involvement with the Communist Party. It's enough to drive a girl crazy...

I simply loved this second installment of the continuing adventures of Lady Georgiana. I found much of it hilarious and on audio it is a scream! It really comes through with Hanni's German accent and her "gangster-speak." Katherine Hellgren, the narrator does a great job, as usual, with all the accents, it makes it so much fun to listen to. I think it really enhances all of it, especially the voices of all the males with their 1930's cant, like Gussie and poor Tubby.  It really makes me feel like I'm living it up in London's high society in the 1930's!  I love this decade! My only gripe is the elusive Irishman, Darcy is not as prevalent here as in the first book, but I loved the ending, so it made up for it. All in all, this is becoming a favorite series of mine, can't wait to listen to the next one!


Seven Nights in a Rogue's Bed by Anna Campbell

Book Description:
Desperate to save her sister's life, Sidonie Forsythe has agreed to submit herself to a terrible fate: Beyond the foreboding walls of Castle Craven, a notorious, hideously scarred scoundrel will take her virtue over the course of seven sinful nights. Yet instead of a monster, she encounters a man like no other. And during this week, she comes to care for Jonas Merrick in ways that defy all logic—even as a dark secret she carries threatens them both.

Ruthless loner Jonas knows exactly who he is. Should he forget, even for a moment, the curse he bears, a mere glance in the mirror serves as an agonizing reminder. So when the lovely Sidonie turns up on his doorstep, her seduction is an even more delicious prospect than he originally planned. But the hardened outcast is soon moved by her innocent beauty, sharp wit, and surprising courage. Now as dangerous enemies gather at the gate to destroy them, can their new, fragile love survive?

Defies all logic is exactly the way I'd describe this book as well!  I could barely finish this annoying romance between two distinctly unlikeable people. Sidonie, the heroine who's name I had the worst time pronouncing inside my head, was holier than thou at first.  But oh how she crumbles completely in the arms of the dastardly hero, Jonas Merrick, whose scars and tortured past make him hard and cruel. Then they have a few blissful days of non stop sex - yet she will not marry him when he asks her!  What a nit! Of course she has this big secret that he will not forgive her for when he finds out about it. Then her sister and this murder! All were beyond me, I was fed up 1/2 way through but persevered and finished this romance!  I'm not sure if I will read more by this author since it's my first book by her, but this had all the elements of what I dislike in a romance, I'm afraid.


When Character Was King by Peggy Noonan

Book Description:
No one has ever captured Ronald Reagan like Peggy Noonan.

In When Character Was King, Noonan brings her own reflections on Reagan to bear as well as new stories—from Presidents George W. Bush and his father, George H. W. Bush, his Secret Service men and White House colleagues, his wife, his daughter Patti Davis, and his close friends—to reveal the true nature of a man even his opponents now view as a maker of big history. Marked by incisive wit and elegant prose, When Character Was King will both enlighten and move readers. It may well be the last word on Ronald Reagan, not only as a leader but as a man.

This was a great book about Ronald Reagan. What struck me so much about it is how relevant his philosophy is towards today's economic woes, despite the fact it was written in 2001. It's impossible not to compare the past climates in 1964 and again in 1979 with today's huge deficit and general malaise in the country. Among some of the things that struck me was his desire to reduce the size of an unwieldy and ineffectual government, hearkening back to the original intent of the U.S.'s founding fathers. His plan to reduce taxes in order to promote growth in the economy made perfect sense and was successful (Kennedy did this as well and well, what do you know? It works!) Rather than raise taxes which hurts the economy, growth led to the boom in America that lasted from the Reagan years all the way through the Clinton years. So much of what Reagan was saying way back in his first political speech for Goldwater in 1964 made sense and he kept at it, never deviating from his original intent. Did he use polls to make decisions? Never! I could go on an on. Beautifully written homage to Reagan from Noonan, whose writing tugs at your heartstrings, bringing up so much emotion and genuine fondness for this great president. Beginning with his birth and childhood, his days in Hollywood and SAG president, the governorship of CA and through the presidency leading up to his sad years with Alzheimer's - all in a simple and seemingly effortless prose. This book is full of lessons of what is wrong economically with the U.S. now.


Season for Surrender by Theresa Romain

Book Description:
Alexander Edgeware, Lord Xavier, has quite a reputation—for daring, wagering, and wickedness in all its delightful forms. But the wager before him is hardly his preferred sport: Xavier must persuade a proper young lady to attend his famously naughty Christmas house party—and stay the full, ruinous two weeks. Worse, the lady is Louisa Oliver, a doe-eyed bookworm Xavier finds quite charming. Yet to refuse the challenge is impossible—he will simply have to appoint himself Miss Oliver’s protector…

Louisa knows her chance for a husband has passed. But she has no desire to retire into spinsterhood without enjoying a few grand adventures first. When Lord Xavier's invitation arrives, Louisa is more intrigued than insulted. And once inside the rogues’ gallery, she just may have a thing or two to teach her gentlemen friends about daring…

My first by this author, I'm sorry to say I found this book to be dull and uninteresting. The original premise is about two Regency gentlemen who have nothing better to do with themselves than act like rakes and make wagers in the big betting book at White's. They make a bet that Xavier (our hero, who has a secret passion for reading Dante) can't get an infamous bluestocking spinster to come to his annual bawdy Christmas house party without damaging her reputation - or something close to it. Frankly, I got a little confused. Xavier falls for her, and his cousin, the other one in the wager, tries to do everything he can to soil her reputation, while Xavier is trying to save it, even though all he "really" wants to do is get her somewhere where he can "ruin" her!  She was dull as dishwater and he wasn't much better although handsome - as we are told over and over again. Glad I finally finished this, but what a slog!  Lovely cover, though.


 Castaway Dreams by Darlene Marshall

Book Description:
After a lifetime in the Royal Navy, surgeon Alexander Murray finds himself castaway with brainless beauty Daphne Farnham and her fluffy little dog. While the dog could be supper, she’s useless. Daphne can’t understand why the humorless surgeon doesn’t like her—everyone likes her! She’s beautiful, rich, and has excellent fashion sense, a most useful skill when putting together an ensemble. This unlikely pair (and Pompom) will have to figure out how to survive together, and may discover that each holds attractions not obvious at first—or even second—glance.

I totally loved this book! I've read all of Darlene Marshall's previous books, but this one takes the cake! It is simply wonderful!  Story of stodgy older navy surgeon, Alexander Murray who finds himself shipwrecked and stranded on an island near Bermuda with Miss Daphne Farnham, who he considers to be the most useless and dimwitted society miss he has ever had the unfortunate pleasure of being stuck with. Of course, his opinion changes drastically over time and I loved every word of this endearing romance of how two complete opposites fall in love. It had everything: steamy sex, humor, and an excellent plot line that kept me interested with top notch writing and research to go with it.  Very, very clever story, a tour de force for Ms. Marshall!  Who would have thought curmudgeonly Dr. Murray would turn out to be such a sexy hero? But of course on second thought, why should I be surprised? He's a Scot with red hair (with a bit of gray thrown in for gravitas). A keeper, though I'm not crazy about the cover...



Joanne said...

Great mix of books this month, Julie!

Re: The Graveyard Queen series...I just visited her website today and the next book is The Visitor with a little preview of chapter 1. I'm very excited about the NBC tv series!

Lover of Romance said...

Castaway Dreams sounds good though, I will be putting it in my TBR pile...looks like you got some good ones read!!!

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Joanne, even better! I'll have to check out her website and see when the Visitor is due out!

Lover, there is a previous book, Sea Change, that first introduces the hero in Castaway Dreams too, if you are interested.

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