Saturday, January 28, 2012

Splendid by Julia Quinn

Book Description:
There are two things everyone knows about Alexander Ridgely. One, he's the Duke of Ashbourne. And two, he has no plans to marry anytime soon...

That is until a redheaded American throws herself in front of a carriage to save his young nephew's life. She's everything Alex never thought a woman could be—smart and funny, principled and brave. But she's a servant, completely unsuitable for a highborn duke—unless, perhaps, she's not quite what she seems...

American heiress Emma Dunster might be surrounded by Englishmen, but that doesn't mean she intends to marry one—even if she has agreed to participate in one London Season. When she slipped out of her cousins' home, dressed as a kitchen maid, all she wanted was one last taste of anonymity before her debut. She never dreamed she'd find herself in the arms of a dangerously handsome duke... or that he'd be quite so upset when he discovered her true identity. But true love tends to blossom just when one least expects it, and passion can melt even the most stubborn of hearts. 

Quickie Review:
This was a "splendid" romance by my favorite romance author Julia Quinn.  It's also her first book.  I loved it! 

Alex, the Duke of Ashbourne, a confirmed bachelor, falls head over heels in love with the irresistible and highly unorthodox Emma Dunster, a beautiful red-headed American heiress who takes London by storm.  Their first meeting is a memorable one.  Emma, dressed as a maid, dashes across a busy street to save the duke's young nephew from being struck by a carriage.  Emma is knocked out herself and awakens in the duke's carriage several minutes later.  He is "instantly" struck by something about her and kisses her.  Ah, romance.  Emma is somewhat bowled over by him too, but she makes him think she is a maid in her aunt's household where he drops her off.

The next evening is Emma's big grand debut.  Alex has been invited, but ordinarily he'd never go to one of these kind of soirees.  But, taken so with the young and courageous maid that got hurt saving his nephew the day before, he figures it's the least he can do, to follow up and see if he can find out how she is and thank her again for what she did.  Well, you can guess the rest.  As soon as he sees Emma for the first time in her beautiful finery making her debut - off come the kid gloves.  He makes a bee line for her immediately, demanding an explanation.  He dances with her, etc. and has the whole ton talking!  The great Duke of  Ashbourne is smitten! In fact over the next several weeks he makes it clear to every other bachelor in London that Emma Dunster is "his" and hands off!

Does Emma mind this?  Yes and no.  Everyone begins pushing these two together, expecting a marriage proposal any day.  In fact, they're hoping she'll be compromised by Alex which will hurry the process.  This didn't exactly sit well with me.  Why did everyone have to be so pushy about it?  What was the hurry?  She's really not out to get married, for she expects to return to America and run her father's business.  But the more she gets to know Alex, the more she's starting to re-think her plans regarding marriage.  Added to that, is the fact Alex keeps saying he's not ready for marriage - which suited her fine before.  But now..?  Meanwhile, Alex is having similar thoughts.  Is this confirmed bachelor dreaming of quiet evenings at home with a comely wife by his side - and making babies every night?  Is he practicing marriage proposals?  Hmmm...

As these two are trying to work out what they really want, the plot thickens when Emma's cousin, still a big wet behind the years and down from Oxford, gets himself into deep trouble and is in need of ten thousand pounds - 10,000 pounds - to pay off a gambling debt from a ruthless cheater who has designs on his sister.  Emma is an heiress, but she'll also come in to additional money sooner - when she marries.  She wants to help her cousin - so what does she do?  I'll leave you in suspense, but it backfires and there is an angsty moment for a brief while, but love saves the day - as well as common sense and a bit of sincere grovelling.  I must admit, Splendid has the most endearing marriage proposal scenes I've ever read - both of them!

I didn't know what to expect from this romance or whether I'd like it or not, it being her first.  My opinion is that it was a stellar first effort.  Why am I not surprised?  Julia Quinn is the crème de la crème in the romance world.  I did recognize some burgeoning tell-tale elements of her style which we see carried off so well in her later books.  Siblings, wise mothers and ideal marriages abound in Julia Quinn's books.  The characterizations are well done, plus there is the ever present sense of humor and screwball characteristics that make her books so funny and endearing. The angsty plot point was solved a bit too easily, which could have given the story more depth if expanded upon, but that's fine with me I'm not a fan of angst when it's drawn out too much.

All in all this was a delightful book and a satisfying piece of fluff.  I recommend it!


Lord Perfect by Loretta Chase

Book Description:
Tall, dark, and handsome, the heir to the Earl of Hargate, Benedict Carsington, is known for his impeccable manners and good breeding. Benedict knows all the rules and has no trouble following them-until Bathsheba Wingate enters his life. Now, the two must embark on a rescue mission that puts them in dangerous, intimate proximity. Fortunately, Benedict is in perfect control-despite his mad desire to break all the rules. Perfect control. Really. 

Quickie Review:
Great madcap story of Lord Perfect Rathbourne who meets and falls (unbeknownst to him) in love with Bathsheba DeLucey Walker, a notorious widow (for various reasons, she doesn't really deserve the moniker). Her twelve year old daughter and his fourteen year old nephew run off together to find (what they think) is a hidden treasure. For days, Rathbourne and Bathsheba must be on the road together in search of them. Some parts were hilarious, some sexy, some poignant and heartwarming. An all around great, great romance, just as they should be.   Another winner from Loretta Chase!

Some parts of this "road trip" romance were simply hilarious!  One scene at inn in which a fight breaks out was a scream.  Bathsheba is no wilting lily.  She is a mother and knows her daughter only too well.  You see, they come from a long line of DeLucey's who are conniving cheats.  Bathsheba didn't seem to inherit the worst of the traits, but she can see her daughter has a flair for being a con artist - and she's not even a teenager yet!  The perfect Benedict finds himself at a loss - how has he fallen into this mess to retrieve his nephew and Bathsheba's daughter?  The notorious Bathsheba - I might add.  She's really not all that notorious, but her dead husband married her knowing his family would disown him - which they did.  To the ton, she's notorious for this reason.  She's also incredibly beautiful.  Guess who falls for her, next?

I loved this book - it was scrumptious reading and now a new favorite! And how about this cover!!


Meet Me At Midnight by Suzanne Enoch

Book Description:
Victoria Fontaine's mischievous nature and brilliant, biting wit have scandalized the ton . . . and earned her the nickname "Vixen." But her reputation pales before the infamous Lord Althorpe's, known as "Lord Sin." The years Sinclair Grafton spent on the Continent have done nothing to quell the rumors about his past. And when the stunning Vixen and the handsome rogue find themselves momentarily alone at an elegant gala, their passion gets the best of them.  Caught by Victoria's father in a shockingly sensual kiss, Sin and Vixen have no recourse except a wedding. At first the very liberal lady relishes the thought of an unfettered marriage to an indifferent, unrepentant scoundrel. But she suspects there is more to this enigmatic, remarkable man, that his rakish persona is merely a pose. And after one unforgettable night of ecstasy, Lady Vixen is determined to unmask the true Sin . . . to satisfy a passionate heart that craves far more than freedom.

Quickie Review:
Fun story of Vixen Fontaine, the belle of London known for her hoydenish ways and flirting. She ends up in a scandalous clinch with Lord Althorpe, a known rake, newly returned to town from abroad. Of course they must marry, but little does she know he's been a spy for the past five years fighting Bonaparte and is now home to find out who murdered his brother.

Sin didn't expect to lose his self control over Vixen, but one look at her from across a ballroom had him asking for a dance, then a walk in the garden and some heavy petting amidst the shrubbery.  Vixen, so caught up in his appeal and masculinity, blah, blah, blah, couldn't stop herself from going along with him, and before she knows it, her father is yelling in outrage and she's engaged to be married - to Sin.  How did the clever Vixen get herself in such a fix?  Good question.   As the new Lady Althorpe she soon figures out that Sin is not all that he seems to be and she wants to help him find his brother's murderer.  Almost certain it's one of her former suitors, he's chasing after them while she's got a sneaking suspicion it's someone else entirely.  The two can't agree on this issue until it's almost too late.

This was a good story and I loved Vixen, who has smarts, looks, personality, gumption - and a great name. She is the perfect foil for her arrogant, aristocratic and autocratic husband. I also enjoyed seeing characters from the previous book in the series, Lucien Balfour and his wife, Alexandra.  Sin and Lucien going head to head was quite enjoyable!  

Overall, not the most memorable regency I've read, but it was entertaining and frothy.  A diverting winner!


Slightly Scandalous by Mary Balogh

Book Description:
Meet the Bedwyns…six brothers and sisters—men and women of passion and privilege, daring and sensuality.

Enter their dazzling world of high society and breathtaking seduction…where each will seek love, fight temptation, and court scandal…and where Freyja Bedwyn, the wild-hearted daughter, meets her match in a man as passionate, reckless, and scandalous as she.

Growing up with four unruly brothers has made Freyja Bedwyn far bolder than most society ladies. From feisty manner to long, tumbling hair, Lady Freyja is pure fire, a woman who seeks both adventure and freedom.

Adventure soon finds her on a visit to Bath, when a handsome stranger bursts into Freyja's room and entreats her to hide him. His name is Joshua Moore, Marquess of Hallmere, a man with a hell-raising reputation of his own who is quickly intrigued by the independent beauty. So intrigued, in fact, that he makes her a surprising request: to pose as his fiancée and help thwart his family's matchmaking schemes. For two people determined to be free, it's the perfect plan…until passion blindsides them both. For as Joshua sets out to achieve his complete seduction of Freyja, a woman who has sworn off love is in danger of losing the one thing she never expected to give again: her heart…

Quickie Review: 
I didn't think I was going to like this book all that much.  In the previous Bedwyn books, Freyja is hard to like because she's so prickly, but this was terrific! How wrong I was! I loved Freyja's story! I am so pleased that Balogh gave her such a good HEA. Irony of ironies, Lady Freyja Bedwyn winds up in a make believe betrothal, engaged to Josh, the Marquess of Hallmere, a devil-may-care rogue she meets en route to Bath.  Their paths meet again in Bath, and, as only Freyja Bedwyn can do, she renews their acquaintance in front of everyone by accusing him of being a seducer of young housemaids!

Of course, she proves to be irresistible to him, she's so haughty and full of herself at first, he's dying to take her down a peg.  The two are made for one another, but it takes the entire book for them to realize it.  Freyja has a major chip on her shoulder ever since her engagement to her neighbor Kit (from A Summer to Remember) was broken and she was thrown over by another, his present wife, Lauren.  Now that Lauren is expecting their first baby and presumed heir, Freyja doesn't want to be anywhere near the vicinity of the happy event - hence her trip to Bath.  While staying at an inn on her way there, a strange (but gentlemanly looking) man enters her room and asks her to keep his secret as he hides in her wardrobe.  Too astonished to say anything she keeps her mouth shut as a troupe of angry individuals come looking for him.  The man turns out to be Josh who is hiding to evade being roped into a marriage by a devious father.  Much complications ensue, but once resolved, Josh thanks and kisses Freyja in her nightgown and climbs out the window.  All this to the great Freyja Bedwyn, the sister of the Duke of Bewcastle!

When Freyja and Josh meet again a few days later, she is at loggerheads with him initially, but then they become friends.  To avoid having to marry (again!) she agrees to pretend they are engaged.  It will be fun, a lark! But it goes on longer than expected, her brother (the duke) gets wind of it and suddenly it's not as easy to back out of it as they originally thought.  Wedding plans are set in motion and then Josh is accused of murdering his cousin, and nearly the entire Bedwyn family accompanies him to his Cornwall estate to put the matter to rest and see that his name is cleared.  There are lots of delicious moments throughout the book and particularly between Freyja and Josh.  Freyja is actually growing on me!  Suddenly - I like her!  Over the course of this book we learn to sympathize with Freyja and unearth her many layers of insecurities.  As she realizes she's falling in love with Josh, she realizes she's gotten over Kit too, and maybe never really loved him to begin with.  But, she's afraid Josh doesn't feel the same way.  Josh is just what she needs and by the end,  I was so happy for both of them!
This was so good and I was sorry to finish it.  I'm leaving tons out, but this was a great book.  Fifth in the Bedwyn series (if you count the first two prequels), this is my favorite of all the books so far.


P.S.  Another water-logged love scene in this book - a definite trend in this series. What is it about Balogh and water?  Whether it's an island, a pond or the the infamous gamekeeper's hut at Kit Butler's estate, watery sex scenes sure get a lot of mileage in this series! 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

How to Abduct a Highland Lord by Karen Hawkins

Book Description:
It's hardly the type of wedding Fiona MacLean dreamed of. No family, no guests, just a groom who's been dragged - literally - to the altar. But if marriage to Black Jack Kincaid, the handsome wastrel she'd sworn never to see again, will avert a bloody war between their clans, so be it. Surely she can share his bed without losing her heart...

Known throughout Scotland and London as a wild rogue, Jack is accustomed to waking in dire situations, but...married? Long ago, he and Fiona reveled in a youthful passion. Now, the fiery, sensual lass is his once more. And though their marriage is in name only, Jack is determined to win her forever - body and soul....

First in the MacLean Curse series, I had mixed feelings about this book, I was bothered by the improbable forced marriage scenario and the fact the hero is such a cad at first and then does such an about face about his feelings for the heroine.  First, he's outraged that she has tricked him into marrying her (which I had trouble with on her part) and then he decides he might as well make the best of it, bedding her and then leaving in the middle of the night to gamble and carouse about London leaving his wife back in bed at home.  Then, after much ado he falls madly in love with her once he realizes he could lose her.  He had a lot of shortcomings to get over and she, who is supposed to be an independent and spirited-minded kind of lass, was incredibly naive about her newly married situation and what is simply not done in London Society.

The story begins in Scotland.  Fiona MacLean's dear brother Colum has been killed by a member of the Kincaid clan.  Their two families have been feuding forever.  She is certain her other brothers will retaliate and more bloodshed and killings will take place.  In order to thwart this inevitable event, she conveniently has her men fetch the rakish and dead drunk Black Jack Kincaid (and former love of her life) who is passed out in a heap in the road - in a great rainstorm - which she has brought on (the MacLean's have a supernatural ability to create rainstorms at will when they are emotionally upset.)  The rakish Kincaid has just come from the arms of his married mistress (who crops up later in the book).  Fiona's strong men bring Jack to the church where Fiona has a vicar ready and waiting and marries them while he's very nearly unconscious.  He's barely cognizant of where he is and what's going on until he wakes up in a comfortable clean bed to find he's married to Fiona MacLean, the girl who jilted him umpteen years before when he wanted to run away with her.  The girl he never quite got over (though he won't admit it, least of all to himself.)  She had second thoughts at the time and changed her mind, due to the ongoing feud between their two clans, even though she gave her virginity to him.  She's remained a spinster ever since and he became a rogue and a wastrel, vowing to never lose his heart again.

Now fifteen years later they are married - in name only - and Jack is furious.  But, he looks on the bright side, takes her to London with the intention of having the marriage annulled.  (Why a Scottish lord lives in London I don't know, but it serves it's purpose.)  Fiona is only happy to go along with him, for as soon as her big brothers learn about what she's done, they're going to come after her.  She wants the marriage to "stick" which means they have to consummate it.  Plus, she wants to have a baby.  She makes an agreement with Jack that as soon as he gets her pregnant, she'll return to Scotland, have their baby and raise it alone.  He'll be off the hook and won't have to have anything more to do with her.  He's all for this arrangement to jump into bed with her and he takes this part of the agreement seriously, only he makes love to her - thoroughly.   If there's one thing that hasn't changed - the sex is still great!  But then he does the unthinkable - he leaves her and goes out for a night on the town - alone!

This won't do, which is the crux of the story.  Can Jack wise up and realize what a good thing he has with Fiona and that he's going to have to settle down and stop acting like a rake when he now has a beautiful wife whom he's loved for years anyway?  When is he going to forgive her for leaving him at the altar fifteen years earlier?  He may not realize it, but the hurt he felt that night when he found out she had changed her mind, never left him.  Hence his reason for drinking and carousing and all sorts of other things - because he never got over her.  Now that he's got her, he's got to let it go and look to the future.  Forgive and forget.

Of course, it takes him forever to get to that point.  In the meantime, they both fall in love with one another all over again, yet neither will admit it to the other and all sorts of things happen while in London, where the majority of the book takes place.  He insists on continuing his rakish ways of gambling and staying out all night (I really couldn't stand him during this phase of the book) and she, in retaliation, decides to go out on the town - alone as well.  Her opinion is, "If he can do it, so can I!"  There's another male Scottish acquaintance who is only to happy to escort her about to Jack's usual haunts, places not fit for a lady of Fiona's background and naivete.   He has a score to settle with Jack, plus he's eager to seduce Fiona at the same time.  A dastardly villain, basically.  There's lots of jealousy that crops up, miscommunication and the usual "I've-loved-you-all-along-why-didn't-you-tell-me?" dialogue that goes on.  It's not until Jack realizes he can lose Fiona to another man that he decides to settle down and be a good husband.  Jealousy always works when it comes to reformed rakes. Plus, when he's afraid she's carrying his baby he doesn't want her to leave him and go back to Scotland to carry out their bargain.  Predictably, he changes gears, but Fiona's not buying it at first.

This book was a series of frustrating missteps on the part of the hero and heroine with some sensual scenes between them from time to time.  Overall I wasn't overly fond of either of them.  Too many mind games go on with no real emotional pull to the story to keep me interested.  It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either.  Still, I will read on in the series for I like Hawkins and there's more ahead for Fiona's big and brawny Scottish brothers - and their weatherly supernatural powers.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Open Season by Linda Howard

Book Description:
Be careful what you wish for....  

On her thirty-fourth birthday, Daisy Minor decides to make over her entire life. The small-town librarian has had it with her boring clothes, her ordinary looks, and nearly a decade without so much as a date. It's time to get a life -- and a sex life. The perennial good girl, Daisy transforms herself into a party girl extraordinaire -- dancing the night away at clubs, laughing and flirting with abandon -- and she's declared open season for manhunting. But her free-spirited fun turns to shattering danger when she witnesses something she shouldn't -- and becomes the target of a killer. Now, before she can meet the one man who can share her life, first she may need him to save it.

This was such a great read, I loved it!  Funny, suspenseful, hot - you name it! Plus it had an adorable golden retriever puppy in it! What more could you ask for! I adored it! 

Staid small town librarian, Daisy Minor, gives herself a makeover on her birthday.  It's high time she moved out of her mother's house and got a place on her own - and a sex life.  She's thirty-four years old and really needs to change things.  With her new blonde haircut, make up and an updated wardrobe she happens to attract the attention of the town's brawny police chief  - Jack Russo!  A brash out of towner from Chicago, she is less than thrilled with Jack and his Yankee ways.  Yet, they keep bumping into each other and pretty soon the whole town is talking about their hot love affair!  But... wait a minute... there is no affair - yet.  Meanwhile, Daisy is testing out her new look at the nearby dance clubs and unwittingly witnesses a murder one night in the parking lot of one of them and becomes a target herself.  Who's there to save her? You guessed it!

The plot is a complex one, full of interesting side characters involving the mayor of the town who is behind a white slavery ring, bringing girls in from Mexico and Russia, selling them to the highest bidders - virgins commanding the highest prices.  Daisy has witnessed the murder of one of the guys working for the ring and she has to be gotten rid of so she can't testify.  The cast of characters are colorful and lively and I was really drawn into the story - it was nearly impossible to put down! I loved the way we see how it all unfolds and just what kind of a mess the mayor finds himself in - all very clever and well written!

Back to Jack and Daisy... soon enough, Jack and Daisy's non-affair turns into a full blown real one, the chemistry between the two is electric and despite Daisy's early protestations that she doesn't want to have anything to do with Jack, she's ripe for a fling and finds he's too hard to resist.  His large countenance (in every respect) and "won't take no for an answer" attitude is impossible to ignore.   Plus, he's great in bed.  *sigh*  The one catch - she thinks he's not into getting married - yet she's not getting any younger and she wants to have babies!  Hence her whole reason for the make over.  She's out to snag a husband and have a family!   Hmmm... what to do, what to do?

One of my very favorite things about this book was the humor.  I found myself chuckling over and over again over the frequent meetings between Jack and Daisy.  One particular moment in the drugstore with a box of condoms is hilarious!  They have many funny moments and conversations throughout the book.  The dialogue between them is fast and sassy, she can hold her own with him.  Yet, as they get closer, he becomes ever more protective of her.  Since Daisy has moved out and living alone in a not so great part of town - albeit a small southern sleepy kind of town - she buys herself a watch dog.  Jack has advised her to get a no nonsense canine - something like a German Shepherd.  What does Daisy get - a golden retriever puppy!  As the owner of a golden retriever myself, I thought Jack's reaction was priceless. 

"That's a golden retriever puppy."  She cuddled the baby to her. "So?"  With measured movements, Jack closed the door, locked it, then rhythmically beat his head against the frame.  "What's wrong with my puppy?" Daisy demanded.

"He's a puppy."  ...

"He'll grow," she said.  "Look at the size of his feet.  He's going to be huge."

"He'll still be a golden retriever."

"What's wrong with that? I think he's beautiful."

"He is.  He's gorgeous.  But goldens are so friendly, they're no protection at all.  They think everyone is their friend, placed on earth just to pet them.  He might bark to let you know when someone comes up, but that's about it."

"That's okay, he's perfect for me."  She kissed the top of the puppy's head. He was squirming trying to get down so he could investigate this new human.

Sighing, Jack reached out and took the little guy in his big hands.  The puppy began licking madly at every inch of skin he could reach.  "So, his name's Killer?"

"No, I've just been trying out names.  Nothing seems to fit."

"Not if they're like Killer, they won't.  You name goldens something like Lucky, or Fuzzbutt."  He lifted the puppy until they were nose to nose.  "How about Midas or Riley or --"

"Midas!" Daisy said, her eyes lighting as she stared from him to the puppy. "That's perfect!" She threw her arms around him, stretching up on tiptoe in an effort to kiss him, but the newly named Midas got there first and licked her on the mouth.  She sputtered and wiped her mouth, "Thanks sweetie, but you aren't half the kisser the guy is."

"Thanks," Jack said, holding Midas at a safe distance as he leaned down and their lips met.  And clung.  The kiss deepened.  The melting started again. 

"Do you mind if I spend the night?" he murmured, trailing kisses down her throat. 

He is sinfully sexy.  I loved Jack.  He's big and commanding - a real alpha.  Yet he knows when to be sweet and gentle when it matters.  Aside from his too short haircut and a little overdoing it with the muscles, I'd say he was near perfect.   I also really loved Daisy, but she got a little left out of the book towards the big climatic ending.  Jack told her to stay put and keep out of trouble while he handled things with the bad guys - and she did!

Do yourself a favor and read this book, it was so much fun and a real keeper!  Linda Howard has become one of my favorite contemporary romantic suspense authors, she really is great with this genre.


P.S.  Ms. Howard's descriptions of owning a puppy are right on target.  Lo and behold, I looked it up and yes, she is the proud owner of a golden or two.  I knew it!  They are such scamps as puppies, but so adorable!  I'm treating you to some pictures of my Hector when he was a little pup - about 10 weeks! Oh my how time flies!  He's nearly ten years old now!

Those cute little legs behind him, only a puppy can do this!

Always smiling up at you - always happy!

What a sweetie!

One of his two speeds: sleeeping

All Grown Up 

Married to the Viscount by Sabrina Jeffries

Book Description:
One kiss... 

Abigail Mercer was breathless with anticipation at being reunited with Spencer Law, whom she met once and later married by proxy. But now the dashing Viscount Ravenswood denies all knowledge of their union! Far too many witnesses have made it impossible for the secretive Spencer to reject his "bride" without causing a scandal. So he has proposed a marriage in-name-only until they can locate his mysteriously absent younger brother - who is responsible for everything! - and untangle this messy affair.

Abigail is incensed, irate...and irresistibly attracted to this handsome, infuriating man who hides his smoldering passion behind a proper exterior. So the lady will agree to his terms on one condition: Spencer must seal their bargain with a kiss. But he finds that one deep, lingering, unforgettable kiss isn't nearly enough. And keeping his hands off his pretty wife is going to be much harder than he thought...

Last of the Swanlea Spinster Series, though this can be read as a standalone, I was a bit deflated by this historical romance.  Maybe it was because it was the last of the series, or maybe because it was just "okay", nothing about it really grabbed me, despite an interesting premise. My main gripe with it was Spencer, the hero of the story.  He had his appealing moments, but his overbearing take charge manner created too many problems and angst and I found I had little sympathy for him.  Bottom line:  if the hero doesn't do it for me, I'm not going to love the book.

Former spymaster Spencer, the Viscount of Ravenswood (from the previous book in the series) finds out he is married by proxy to the beautiful American, Abby Mercer, whom he eyed the year before while visiting his younger brother Nat, in Philadelphia.  He soon learns that he can thank his brother for this bizarre turn of events that finds him married.  Fresh from America, Abby shows up on Spencer's doorstep in London, thinking she is married to him (on paper) but that's not the case at all!  To avoid scandal, they must pretend they are really married while Spencer tries to get to the bottom of how this all came about.  His brother Nat has disappeared, so Spencer and Abby must pose as happily married newlyweds in front of the ton.  This poses a problem, for despite their mutual attraction to one another, Spencer has a deep dark secret that prevents him from marrying.  Hence his intentions to dissolve the marriage as soon as he can.  But his growing feelings for Abby makes it harder and harder for him to keep his vow of remaining a bachelor. So what does he do?  He keeps pushing her away, then succumbing to her charms, and then pushing her away again - thus hurting her feelings over and over.  Uggh.  She has no knowledge of his secret, so she's confused and distraught over the mixed signals he's sending her.  

Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, Abby's father manufactured a special elixir knows as "the Mead" which Spencer's brother, Nat invested in while he was in America.  When Abby's father died, she took it upon herself to continue the manufacturing of it.  Nat, who believed his brother needed a wife, arranged and forged the marriage between the two by proxy which gave him the rights to manufacture the Mead.  Upon her father's death, Abby travels to London (with her Scottish maid - whom I liked)  to take her place as her husband's bride and work out the details of manufacturing "the Mead".  Of course, nothing happens as it should.  Abby tries to fit into London Society, uncomfortable because Spencer keeps assuring her that their marriage will eventually be dissolved, even though they have to keep "pretending" until Nat is found.   Not an easy task.  To further complicate matters, the biggest gossip monger in town discovers Abby's Mead and decides to sponsor her.  Lo and behold, it becomes a huge success as a perfume and becomes the hit of London's fashionable set!  Still, Abby and Spencer are having a hard time of it with his constant warring over his feelings for her.  He's used to running things to the point where he believes he must control every aspect of her role as his wife.  Basically he's being an ass and he can't stand the temptation she is to him!  I could have killed him!  

This wasn't a bad romance but Ravenswood's constant and overbearing behavior with no explanations to Abby drove me crazy and I found I had less and less sympathy for him.  He did some pretty jerky things to her, but she forgave him, of course, once his secret and motivation was revealed.  Still...

Also, I'm scratching my head over the cover, as far as I can recollect, there was no bathtub scene like this in the book.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Lord of Fire by Gaelen Foley

Book Description:
After years of preparation, he has baited his trap well, luring the depraved members of Society into his devil’s playground so he can earn their trust and uncover their secrets. Yet no one in London suspects that Lord Lucien Knight is England’s most cunning spy, an officer who has sacrificed his soul for his country. Now an unexpected intruder has invaded his fortress of sin, jeopardizing his carefully laid plans–and igniting his deepest desires.

Beautiful, innocent, Alice Montague finds herself at the mercy of scandalous Lord Lucien. But as he begins his slow seduction to corrupt her virtue, Alice glimpses a man tormented by his own choices, a man who promises her nothing except his undeniable passion. . . .

I'm afraid I just wasn't as bowled over by this second installment in the Knight Miscellany series as others before me.  It started out well when we are first introduced to Lucien Knight, who seems to be the leader of some sort of Hellfire Club, throwing orgies and wild parties in a cave beneath his house.   What makes him even more interesting is the idea he gets into his head to seduce his mistresses' oh so perfect and moral sister in law, Alice Montague.   But then we learn that Lucien is not all that he seems to be.  He's not a rogue at all.  It turns out he is a spy.  Oh no.  Another regency spy story... I'm growing so tired of these storylines, which must have been the thing back around 2002-2003 when many of these books were written.  All the romance authors seemed to have glommed onto the Regency spy bandwagon - or else their publishers insisted on it.  Whatever it was, this book lost all steam and credibility for me when the plot line turned toward the spy game direction.

Not only was I sick to death of this kind of scenario, (how many times do I have to read about how the hero is really good, but has to keep it a secret, so he acts the cad?) but as soon as I realized Lucien was a spy who was trying to gain secrets from all the debauched people that came to his parties, I was turned off in general.   The orgies in his grotto at his home?  I found it all a bit distasteful, no matter what his real reasons were for holding them.  

Alice's side of the story was slightly more refreshing.  She is an on the shelf spinster taking care of her adorable young nephew, Harry, whose father died.  Caro, her widowed sister-in-law (and mother to the boy) is a complete nympho who could care less about raising her son, remaining perfectly happy to have her sister-in-law do all the work in raising the boy.  When Harry comes down with the chicken pox, Alice tracks down Caro to bring her home to be with him (fat chance).  This is how Alice winds up in Lucien's grotto during one of his all night "parties." It was all extremely far-fetched and Alice was too naive to be believed.  Still, it threw Alice and Lucien together and of course, Lucien is bowled over by her innocence and incredible beauty as soon as he sees her.  But even more crazy, as innocent as she was, she comes mighty close to touching and holding his - ahem - staff of pleasure.  Huh?  I'd say the virginal Alice is one pretty fast learner.  Who knows what would of happened if her sister-in-law hadn't walked in when she did to interrupt their brief  interlude.

What gets me though is how Lucien, this highly clever spymaster, does the unthinkable as soon as he lays eyes on Alice for the first time.  Because he is so bowled over by her purity and beauty - he must have her?  He tricks Alice and a shameless Caro (who is now his ex-mistress) and manages to keep Alice with him for a week while her promiscuous sister-in-law goes off to be with her son (fat chance) while he's recuperating.  Did I mention the embarrassing spectacle Caro makes of herself over Lucien (in front of Alice)?  She resembled a cat in heat.  There were many WTF moments in this book, and in my opinion, Lucien lost all credence with me by the way he behaved over Alice, keeping her with him so he could seduce her in the privacy of his own home where she must remain for a week.  It was selfish and out of character for him. It just didn't seem to make sense to me.  If he really was a no good rake - then yes, I'd believe it.  But, he is just acting like one.  If he's really a good man and not a lecherous womanizer, why would he do such a thing?  Plus, I kept asking myself, "Why her? What did Alice have that made him ask her to marry him in a week?  Their special week together sure worked wonders!  They get to know one another and by the end Alice comes around to him and realizes, "Gee, he's really not that big a jerk after all - I think I'm in love with him!" - it boggles the mind!  Plus, all this time she's still unaware of his real persona as a spy.  Yet despite all this, she still thinks he's pretty neat, even though he's planning on holding another one of his orgies in his grotto in a few days! Warning bells would have been going off in my head non-stop! If I were Alice I wouldn't have had anything to do with him! 

Eventually, they all wind up back in London (surprise, surprise, Caro dragged sick little Harry with her because she wanted to be near all the fun!)  Alice goes after them and the plot turns to the hunt for the French spy, Bardou, who once tortured Lucien for five weeks.  Bardou is out to bomb London on Guy Fawkes night, which will kill hundreds of innocent people.  Lucien is busy looking for him, unaware that his slutty ex-mistress Caro has taken up with the evil Bardou, thinking he's some Prussian count!  Well, she rues that mistake before long.  Frankly, this plot-line was all over the place and ... believe it or not, I was kind of bored during some of it, despite the crazy, far fetched over the top melodrama!  It just didn't keep me interested.   As dashing and handsome as Lucien was, I really just don't like story lines with tortured misunderstood heroes who conveniently use their unhappy childhoods to behave like cads to try and prove something.  (Why is it then all wind up being spies?)  Lucien had an unhappy childhood because he had... asthma!  Heavens!  Alice started out as a strongish heroine and then turned into a puddle.  If only she hadn't turned into such a nitwit.  Her naivete and goodness added up to just plain stupidity!  I don't get it.  Before she met Lucien she seemed like a sensible, capable young women.  Then as soon as she meets him, she completely falls for him and believes she's in love with him and they're going to get married!  Of course, it didn't quite happen that way, she did give him a hard time at first - for about a day.  

I'm leaving tons of the book's plot line out and it really wasn't as bad as I'm making it out to be (pardon my sarcasm), but it was just so far-fetched!   I was disappointed in both hero and heroine as well, especially after being so revved up to read this book which I thought I was going to love!  And please don't get me started on all the talk she has with him about her "womanly courses" and his asking her about where she is in her cycle!?  As if they even knew about that sort of thing during Regency times, despite his excuse that he once studied to be a doctor! *another eye rolling moment*

Still, after all that, I like this author.  The writing itself was good as were the details and descriptions, but I had to roll my eyes several times throughout the novel.  On a final note, I found the teaser about his icy twin brother Damien an intriguing twist.  I like his type and the next book is about him - let's see if he's really going mad or not!


Monday, January 2, 2012

Take A Chance on Me by Susan Donovan

Book Description: 
For animal behaviorist Emma Jenkins, romance has been at the bottom of her daily "to do" list since making it through a messy divorce. But everything changes the day six-feet-of-gorgeous Thomas Tobin walks into her office with a quivering Chinese Crested named Hairy, a canine that looks more like an underfed rodent than a dog. Sure Thomas is sending her mixed signals-but that charming smile just sent Emma's dormant sex drive through the roof... 

Thomas isn't looking for a fling. In fact, he wants nothing to do with women. He just wants to know if Hairy witnessed his owner's murder. But something tells him that asking Emma to help him with the case will spell nothing but trouble-trouble in the form of serious temptation.

Thomas knows that relying on Emma's expertise-and her soft touch with a weird dog that has somehow become his-may be a crazy way to track a killer. Especially when Emma's down-home warmth makes him want to believe that anything is possible-even true love.

There are spoilers in this review.

This was a cute contemporary about a lady vet, Emma Jenkins, who meets studly gorgeous law enforcement undercover investigator, Thomas Tobin, who has acquired a Chinese Crested - this little pipsqueak of a dog with some big emotional problems because it witnessed its owner's brutal murder. Emma is a behaviorist with animals and Thomas has brought the dog to her to see if she can help him get the dog back to "normal."  You see, this little dog is a mess - poor thing!  Plus, this dog might be the only chance the police have to finding the killer.

Emma and Thomas both have issues when it comes to relationships.  Recovering from the recent divorce from her husband who was also her partner in their veterinary practice, she is now living with her father out on his farm.  In addition, she's recently become the surrogate mother to the teenaged daughter of her best friend who was killed in a car crash - under dubious circumstances in L.A.  Between her practice, her "new" daughter and the fact she hasn't been laid in about a year - Emma's a bit stressed out.  On the other hand, Thomas has his own set of problems, mainly because he doesn't trust anybody and his wife abruptly left him when she found out he was sterile.  As far as he's concerned, everybody has an ulterior motive for what they do - especially women.  In his line of business, he's seen the worst side of relationships because his undercover work is to pose as a hit man who people hire to kill their spouses.  As fate would have it, these two are thrown together when one of Thomas' informants has been murdered and Thomas is stuck with the scared and traumatized dog left behind - hence what brings him to Emma's office.  Little do they know this odd little dog will bring them together, and he winds up being more emotionally stable than our hero and heroine, who's insecurity problems mirror his.

There's an attraction as soon as they meet, both are ripe for a relationship.  But they are both so skittish and clumsy!  Thomas winds up making a total ass of himself over and over again and Emma keeps misreading his signals and misunderstands just about everything he says and does.  For an animal behaviorist, she hasn't a clue when it comes to humans, but Thomas isn't making it easy with his mixed signals at first.  There is a mutual lust thing going on big time but neither is willing to take a chance on getting hurt again.  Thomas does some really incredibly awful things at first, but finally he wises up, yet by that point he has some major hurdles to overcome to get Emma to go out with him.  Yet despite their relationship handicaps, and the fact that Emma is raising an impressionable teenager - falling in love is a certainty.   

I really enjoyed this quick and entertaining read.  Plus, the sexual build up was great, but I did find it annoying that just when they're finally going to do the deed, his idea of foreplay is to come clean and tell her that he's sterile!   Full disclosure and all that. But, couldn't he have managed to pick a better time to drop the bombshell?  Thank goodness, it didn't completely ruin everything - but it came close!  Then, once they're happily ensconced in a relationship and things are looking rosy, she drops an unexpected zinger on him and again - he acts like a complete jerk!  Uggh!  I hate it when heroes do stupid knee-jerk things and disregard any attempts at understanding and listening to an explanation!

Aside from Thomas' stupidity when it comes to important relationship building blocks like love and trust, I really liked these two and was rooting for them to work out their issues while evading Emma's psycho ex-husband.  The writing is smooth and well done, I enjoyed all the side characters too.  They're not just cookie cutter figures, they have personalities and add a little oomph to the background.  I also liked the locale of Baltimore, Maryland and the whole "crab feast" thing that goes on there.  A crab dinner with a mallet, melted butter, spicy crab seasoning and cold beer made for an interesting first date, though all I could think of was how poor Emma wore her sexy nice dress to such a messy dinner!  LOL!  It was a good story with many funny moments in it too with some laugh out loud scenes.   I really enjoyed the whole canine aspect with Hairy - the ugliest dog that ever existed.  Although I must say, when I looked up a picture of what a Chinese Crested looks like they don't seem so bad to me.  This one below is pretty cute! But wearing a maxi pad? OMG!  And Thomas' underwear as a chew toy?  No wonder Thomas was embarrassed!  

Still, I'm glad all ended well and Hairy was able to continue his "career."  I must admit, I learned a few things!

I recommend this romance and will definitely read more by this author.  I met her at RWA last June in New York and told her how much I loved her collaboration with Celeste Bradley on A Courtesan's Guide to Getting Your Man.  I explained how I wasn't a big contemporary reader, but Susan convinced me to try one of her romances.  I'm glad I finally did and I look forward to reading more of her books!  Thanks Susan for giving me that nudge in the contemporary direction!


Sunday, January 1, 2012

11/22/63: A Novel by Stephen King (audio)

Book Description:

In this brilliantly conceived tour de force, Stephen King—who has absorbed the social, political, and popular culture of his generation more imaginatively and thoroughly than any other writer—takes readers on an incredible journey into the past and the possibility of altering it.

It begins with Jake Epping, a thirty-five-year-old English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching GED classes. He asks his students to write about an event that changed their lives, and one essay blows him away—a gruesome, harrowing story about the night more than fifty years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a sledgehammer. Reading the essay is a watershed moment for Jake, his life—like Harry’s, like America’s in 1963—turning on a dime. Not much later his friend Al, who owns the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to the past, a particular day in 1958. And Al enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson, in a different world of Ike and JFK and Elvis, of big American cars and sock hops and cigarette smoke everywhere. From the dank little city of Derry, Maine (where there’s Dunning business to conduct), to the warmhearted small town of Jodie, Texas, where Jake falls dangerously in love, every turn is leading eventually, of course, to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and to Dallas, where the past becomes heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and where history might not be history anymore. Time-travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying.

Normally I am not a big Stephen King fan, his books are too scary for me. I have read some of his fantasy, non-horror stuff, such as the first few books of his Gunslinger Series, but that's about it.  When I heard about this book and that it was about time-travel and the 1960's - it sold me!  It's one of my favorite eras, having grown up during this time, the youngest of a large family.  When I look back on my earliest memories, the early '60's seemed like an idyllic time.   I was too young to remember JFK's assassination, but I do remember Bobby's and Martin Luther King's.  Before those tragic events, days were long and lazy, before the escalation of Viet Nam and the race riots in Newark - which were not far from where I grew up.  For me, as I was about to start first grade, summers were endless, catching lightning bugs at dusk before bed without a care in the world except for maybe the occasional worry about learning how to read in the upcoming school year and if I'd like my new teacher.  I associate those days with the music on the radio as well:  Petula Clark's "Downtown, " the Young Rascals "Groovin'" as well as any number of Beatles songs (my sisters were avid Beatlemaniacs).

Is it any wonder I ate this book up like candy?  On audio it was spellbinding.  Craig Wasson, an actor that I only know from his role in the movie, Body Double, did a fantastic job of narrating the novel in the first person as the protagonist, Jake Epping.  He does a myriad of voices for the many characters in the book.  As much as some may think it gimmicky, he used impersonations of well known Hollywood actors for some of the characters.  I recognized Jack Nicholson (as Frank Dunning, Harry's father).  Burt Lancaster and Jimmy Stewart popped up as well.  I liked it!  It brought the book to life, as if I were listening to a movie that left nothing out from the book! An ideal situation!  I had a similar reaction when reading The Help.  Wasson also does women's voices as well - I loved the soft southern drawl of Jake's love interest, Sadie, as well as Miz Mimi  and Ellen Dockerty.

11/22/63 brings back many yesteryear memories.  I won't go over the whole plot, which you can read in the book description above, but King weaves a fabulous story of how Jake Epping travels back in time to 1958 to undo certain events that created misery for people he knew personally or knew of.  The book is broken up into parts, beginning in Maine, then Florida and ultimately to Jodie, Texas where the bulk of the book takes place not far from Dallas leading up to the assassination attempt on Kennedy.   It's a great, great time travel story that lets us experience life in the late '50's and early '60's from Maine to Texas through Jake's eyes and especially as he falls in love with a young school librarian, Sadie Dunhill.   

His time in Jodie and his relationship with Sadie was especially satisfying to read.  It's the one romantic element to the book, but not overly done.  I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur of romance ;) and I found no issues with King's sex scenes - though I believe the book made it onto some Bad Sex in Fiction Award short list for 2011.  Pay no attention, they're tasteful and pretty tame compared to what I've read elsewhere.  Plus, he's given me a new appreciation for pound cake.  I'll always have a smile on my face when I have some from now on.  ;)

While in Jodie, Jake takes on the persona of George Amberson, a substitute teacher at the local high school.  A highlight of the novel for me is when he is directing the school play "Of Mice and Men."  On audio is was great as he describes opening night and the audience's reaction to the young star of the play - Mike Coslaw. Wonderful! Wonderful!  I get teary eyed just thinking of Lenny and George...  His characters are well drawn, real people to me.  I miss them and I was involved with their lives.  Jake/George made many friends in Jodie and it was a good life he had there for a while...

But as we get closer to November of 1963, the plot turns gritty and menacing - the past is obdurate.  The bigger the event that is to be changed, the more obstacles time sets up to prevent it.  I was on the edge of my seat wondering what calamity was going to prevent Jake from fulfilling his goal.  Lee Oswald and his wife Marina are now center stage and the focus of the book.  Would he be able to pull it off - can he stop the Kennedy assassination and if so, what will happen to the future if he does? That is the $65,000 question.  If Jake stops the assassination, how will it change events in the future, and will he even be able to return to 2011?  And what about Sadie? Can he leave her behind? Can he risk bringing her back with him to an uncertain world of 2011? Will it be that much different?

I'm leaving a ton out so as not to spoil the book for those of you who want to read it.  It's epic-like, Jake's many tasks and journey from Derry, Maine (the same evil, dark and dank town as in his novel, It) to Dallas takes us on a roller coaster ride.  Some critics have said this is a self-indulgent chance for King to write a book and spout off on his feelings about Viet Nam, etc., but I say, ignore all that and read it for the entertainment alone and don't think too hard about what the author's intentions were.  I say he wanted to write a time travel novel and it's one of the best I've ever read - and I've read many.  Although, as good as it was, there were a few things that bugged me about it, the book wasn't perfect after all.  There were some similarities to another great time travel novel, Replay by Ken Grimwood and towards the ending, it tended to ramble and go on and on.  I also found the ending a little overly sentimental and bittersweet.  But, overall, I can overlook these minor matters.  I just simply loved it and even gave it to my husband and brother for Christmas!

Nothing like starting the new year off with a five star review! This was a fabulous, memorable book!  Don't miss it, and on audiobook it's amazing!


P.S. I love the "what if" back cover in the hardcover!

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