Tuesday, February 28, 2012

With Seduction in Mind by Laura Lee Guhrke

Book Description:
Her proposition...

London Society is harsh for a young woman with no family connections who has to work for a living. But when Daisy Merrick is sacked from yet another job, the feisty and outspoken miss comes up with a plan that could give her a future beyond her wildest dreams. There's only one problem. Her success depends on a man, the most infuriating, impossible, immovable man she's ever met.

His Resolution...

Sebastian Grant, Earl of Avermore, is England's most infamous author. Known for his notorious reputation, he is more interested in play than work, and has no intention of cooperating when Daisy shows up on his doorstep with a mad plan. The provoking, fire-haired beauty stirs his sense beyond belief, and Sebastian knows he has only one way to stop her. Seduction.

I enjoyed this final book in Guhrke's Girl Bachelor series except it got off to a slow start and took a long time for the hero and heroine to actually kiss! I'm all for long build ups but there wasn't enough sexual tension to sustain the story until the last third of the book when things finally start heating up.   The story itself was pretty good of two writers who are forced to work together as critique partners.  Sebastian is a well known novelist and playwright who has lost his touch.  Due to a cocaine addiction, his past eight years of writing have been utter "rubbish."  Now clean of the drug he feels he can't write a thing - he doesn't even want to try.  He's afraid to.  Daisy is a budding author, dying to get her first book published.  She accepts an assignment from Sebastian's publisher who thinks she has potential.  Her assignment is to get Sebastian to write one more book to fulfill his contractual obligations.  The problem: Daisy wrote a scathing review of his latest play that closed in less than a week.  For that, Sebastian can barely stand the sight of her, much less let her critique his writing and get him to write another novel!

Yet Daisy is relentless and if anyone can get Sebastian to do it, she can.  She's going to earn that $500 advance come hell or high water.  She will not stop until she gets him to write that book!  Finding an old manuscript of the first book he ever tried to write, he gives it to her thinking that will be the end of it and he'll be rid of her.  She reads it and makes a zillion notes and suggestions, expecting him to make revisions.  She even follows him out to the country to stay with his aunt - she is like a terrier!  She will not give up.  She has a soft spot when it comes to Sebastian, for he had once been one of her favorite authors and she can't just let him give up writing forever!  In his early days (before the cocaine)  he had been a fine writer and she's convinced he can be one again!  Unaware of his addiction and fears, she keeps pestering him, dogging him at every move until finally she gets under his skin - but not exactly in the way she expects.  He's beginning to look at her differently...  The image of that annoying drama critic is fading each day.  Daisy is now becoming more and more beautiful in Sebastian's eyes.  A red haired, sensual woman who has no idea how enticing she is.  He soon realizes that the easiest way he can get out of this writing situation is if he plays along with her.  Why not make her think he'll complete the revisions she recommends?  But secretly he'll work on seducing her instead.  She'll become so enamored of him and swept off her feet, she'll go along with whatever he wants!  Voila! Problem solved and he'll get to see more of the delectable Miss Merrick and what's underneath her buttoned up shirtwaists!  Little does he know his plan will backfire.  Instead of putting off his writing for good, he winds up re-writing the entire book after all!  How does this come about?  It's amazing how lust can can work as an incentive.  Sebastian talks Daisy into promising she will allow him to kiss her after every 200 pages of revisions.

As you can imagine, the two of them wind up longing for their post-revision kissing sessions.  Each one becomes more and more daring as Sebastian's book gets closer and closer to completion.  Naturally, this was my favorite part of the story.  He's writing like mad - and it's good - and Daisy is (as predicted) dazed and befuddled over this new sensation she's experiencing - passion.   As a virgin, she's never experienced it before.  A whole new world has suddenly opened up for her.  But, she can't seem to write anything herself because she's dazzled by his passionate kisses!  He really does sweep her off her feet!  But how far can it go?  What happens when the book is finished - is that the end of it between them?  Or does Sebastian find he can't live without his adorable critique partner after all?  And what will Daisy do when she overhears an unfortunate conversation between Sebastian and his aunt?  Will she think she's just another fling for him to discard once his book is finished and he doesn't need her as his muse any longer?  In the romance world, nothing good ever happens from eavesdropping.

This romance is wonderful if you like stories that involve authors and their writing.  It goes over a great deal of what the writing process is like: critiquing and revisions, writers block, story arcs, what it takes to make a story compelling and deep.  Not Guhrke's steamiest novel, but it kept my interest.  We see a bit of Harry Marlowe, Sebastian's publisher, and hero from And Then He Kissed Her  in it (which is a great book btw).  Also references to other heroes from the series.  Overall I liked With Seduction in Mind, but it was a weak finish to the Girl Bachelor Series which I found a bit uneven.  Two of the books I loved, and two were meh, but all in all, I recommend it.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lady in Red by Karen Hawkins

Book Description:
Sometimes ... Men can be such fools.  Wealthy and powerful Marcus St. John, the Marquis of Treymount, must recover a lost family heirloom. All he has to do is convince the irritatingly beautiful Miss Honoria Baker-Sneed to relinquish his treasure for a reasonable sum. How difficult could that be? 

Sometimes ... Women can be so emotional.  Honoria is astounded when Marcus shows up on her doorstep and arrogantly demands she surrender a ring that is rightfully hers. Irritated at such high-handed methods, she refuses.

And sometimes ... Love can be a complete surprise.  Heated arguments end in a scorching kiss that embroils them in a horrid scandal. Marcus finds he must wed the brazen beauty, only to realize that somehow, Honoria has stolen her way into his heart. Can he convince Honoria that he is worthy of her regard? Or will he lose the only woman he has ever loved?

Overall, I find I like Karen Hawkins' romances, but I'm afraid I was disappointed in this last book and finale to the Talisman Ring series.  The series is about how the four St. John brothers each find love while having their mother's heirloom talisman ring in their possession. The series started off well with brothers Anthony and Brandon's stories, but it lost it's appeal midway as the heroes had some major flaws to overcome.  A shame for it started out so promising.

In Lady in Red, Honoria Baker-Sneed struggles to make ends meet while her widower father, who has lost the family fortune through bad investments, tries to recoup his finances with business ventures abroad.  Left on her own, she must take care of her many younger siblings.  Her sister, Cassandra, a beauty, is sure to make a splash with her upcoming "come out."  But they have no money to finance it.  Honoria has hopes that Cassandra will marry well, thus putting other rich men in the paths of her younger sisters (shades of Pride and Prejudice and the logic of Mrs. Bennet).  But in order to marry well, she must make her debut.  A quandary, indeed.  Honoria is somewhat of an expert in antiques and is able to make a little money from buying and selling collectibles, but not nearly enough to support the whole family or finance Cassandra's wardrobe for a Season.  

Marcus, the Marquis of Treymount, who also dabbles in antiques is no stranger to Honoria.  Adversaries in the antique world, she has outbid and wrangled with him in the past at various auctions.  (Where does Honoria comes up with the money to make these purchases in the first place?)  Now she finds herself at loggerheads with him again when he unexpectedly comes calling to claim his talisman ring back.  A ring which had unexpectedly fallen into her possession while at a ball in Scotland (from the previous book in the series).  Honoria grasps at the chance to make enough money for her sister Cassandra's debut by offering the ring to the marquis for an exorbitant amount of money.  He refuses and the bargaining goes on for a good part of the book until they are caught in a compromising position and they must marry to stop the gossip-mongers.  Even though both of them claim they detest one another, they are falling in love. 

It really took me a long time to get into this book because the first part of it went on forever about Honoria's family.  I kept thinking who cares about all of Honoria's many siblings?  How many times are we going to have to read about her little brother's frog that keeps getting lost somewhere?  Boy, I grew tired of that damned frog.  I wish someone had just stepped on it and be done with it!  Then, I couldn't believe how long it took for any interaction to actually begin between Honoria and Marcus, our hero and heroine!  It seemed to take me days just to get to the part when I think they finally have some dialogue together.  Once they do interact -  it's all about the damn ring and the bargaining!  Honestly, for the first three quarters of the book all they do is argue about the stupid ring, interspersing their squabbles with romantic episodes in which "Marcus the Marquis" succeeds in having Honoria land in his lap!  Either it's in a bumpy carriage ride (hence the whole side line of Marcus' crazy carriage driver, Herberts) or he hauls her onto his lap himself.   Plus, it didn't help that I never really warmed up to either the hero or the heroine.  He was prickly, stiff and starchy and she was, well... boring.  And then there were a few occurrences that take place throughout the novel that bothered me to the point where all I could think about were these occurrences rather than the actual story!  I won't go over all of them, but here are some of the highlights...

Carriage ridesThe long running joke throughout the book is how Marcus, who's so proper and perfect, has to use his brother Brandon's carriage driver, Herberts, for a few months.  Herberts drives like a maniac throughout the streets of London at top speed.  He prides himself on what a great job he's doing in getting Marcus from one place to another and always has his hand out for a tip!  (I admit, he was funny and one of the most enjoyable characters in the book.)  He may get the carriage from one place to another in record time, but the occupants of the carriage are bounced around and shaken up to such a point, they're lucky they don't have any broken bones by the time they reach their destination!  Now that you get the gist of it, I was sorely disappointed that the only one or two real sensual scenes in the whole book take place in the aforesaid bumpy carriage!  Ouch!  Poor Honoria - a virgin too!  Of course, it was bliss and ecstasy and all that, but couldn't we see some slow and tender lovemaking for the poor girl?   Just the idea of being in the carriage with this crazy carriage driver at the helm, knowing full well what was going on inside ... it was just so unromantic - blech!

Violet eyes.  It simply drove me crazy how this color was used over and over as an eye color throughout the entire book!  Most of the time, Honoria's eyes were described as hazel, but then the author must have forgotten at one point what color they were, for then she made them violet - and then back again to hazel!  It's no wonder she got a little confused for half the Baker-Sneed siblings were violet-eyed and half were hazel - plus Marcus' former paramour had violet eyes! What is it with violet eyes?  If I read it once, I read it a million times: "her violet eyes," "her wide violet eyes," "his violet gaze"  Violet, violet, violet!  Where's a copy editor when you need one?  In fact, I don't believe I have ever met someone face to face with violet eyes in my life, yet in Regency romances, it seems like they're everywhere!

Cassandra, Cassandra, Cassandra! (as in "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!)  Near the end of the book, what should have been a glorious moment turns into a disaster! With Honoria finally wearing the titular red dress and Marcus declaring his love for her in front of everyone at her sister Cassandra's debut ball, fate steps in and turns the wonderful finale into an unexpected, cringe-worthy nightmare!  Honoria's quiet and soft spoken sister, Cassandra steps in and ruins the scene?  Honestly, someone get a gun!  She steps in like a dragon and tells Marcus to leave her sister alone!?  Huh? With the music stopped and everybody watching and listening!?  I was horrified, and once again, poor Honoria is cheated out of a beautiful moment (I'm surprised it didn't take place in the carriage!)  If I were Honoria, I would have had the footmen remove Cassandra from the premises pronto!  Honestly, and just who does Cassandra think is paying for her ball?

Lady in Red had it's better moments, but it left a lot to be desired.  Poor editing and continuity didn't help.  Marcus was a bit too uptight and arrogant for my liking (except when he was in his carriage).  To counterbalance his dour mien, there were some funny moments that made me laugh aloud in addition to the antics of the coachman. I laughed when Honoria had to pretend that she was ultra ticklish if anyone touched her.  This was to ward off the touchy feeley advances of a lord who was interested in buying the ring off her at a ball.  Ironic that Honoria wouldn't sell the ring to Marcus except for her required price, and then she wound up being stuck with it for good - he used it as his wedding ring for her.  Hmmph! I wonder what she thought of that?

Overall, I give this series a C+, for I really enjoyed the first two books, but after that the story lines just didn't wow me and I found too many faults with the heroes.  Still, I like this author and will continue to read the rest of her backlist.


His Mistress by Christmas by Victoria Alexander

Book Description:
For three years, Lady Veronica Smithson has been perfectly happy as a widow-and thoroughly independent. Still, the right gentleman could provide the benefits of marriage without the tedious restrictions. And in Sir Sebastian Hadley-Attwater, renowned explorer and rogue, Veronica is sure she has found him.  Sebastian will come into his inheritance in a matter of weeks-if his family deems him responsible enough. There's no better way to prove his maturity than with a wife. But though Veronica will share his bed, she refuses to marry. However, Sebastian has a plan: An intimate sojourn at his new country house will surely change Veronica's mind. For Sebastian never takes no for an answer. And he intends to persuade his Christmas mistress that they belong together-in this, and every season to come. . .

I adored this Victorian romance about a lively widow who sets her sights on handsome explorer, Sir Sebastian Hadley-Attwater.  He is the one.  She's not interested in remarrying - she wants to be his mistress!  Used to her independence, she has no intention of giving it up by marrying, no matter how handsome and adventurous Sir Sebastian is, particularly when he gets that look in his eye.  Sebastian has other ideas, though.  Eying the beautiful Veronica Smithson (and her hat) at a lecture he can't forget about her.  Once introduced, he is instantly enamored of this outspoken and oh so appealing friend of his cousin.  It's clear the attraction is mutual, but he realizes he wants more than a mistress - he wants to marry her!  This was a scrumptious romance.  I loved both the strong hero and heroine in this well done and sometimes poignant tale that brought tears to my eyes at the end.

The gist of the story is, Sebastian has to prove to his older siblings he is responsible so he can come into his inheritance.  With a new house in the country and setting up housekeeping, all he needs is a wife and he'll be all set.  Coincidentally he meets Lady Veronica around the same time.  Perfect.  She's gorgeous, wealthy in her own right, a consummate hostess and he can't stop thinking about her.  He instantly decides she will be his future wife and goes about courting her as any gentleman would with the honorable intention of marriage.  Much to Veronica's chagrin, he's too much of a gentleman.  She was hoping for some wooing of another kind... the kind that Sir Sebastian has a reputation for with the ladies.  Alas, when he ultimately proposes, she turns him down and makes a counter offer to be his mistress.  Unfortunately, before he proposed he spilled the beans to his nosy sisters that he would be married by Christmas, confident that Veronica will accept his proposal.  Uh oh.  

After much wrangling over their difference of opinion, Veronica and Sebastian compromise.  He agrees to a trial run at Christmas time to have Veronica become his mistress.  Of course this is all in theory, they've barely even kissed!  He invites her to spend Christmas at his country estate where they can "play house" and see if this mistress idea will work out.  Of course, he's convinced he'll get her to come around and agree to marry him in no time.  But, Veronica is determined to be a mistress, she does not want to marry - no matter how much he makes her heart flutter.  Could it be love? Once at his estate things start off well until his entire family descends upon him!  To make matters worse, they are all under the impression that Veronica is his wife and they are eager to welcome her into the family!  His sisters (who are in the know) talk him into a half-baked idea to not tell Veronica about it - but you know this will never work.

Soon enough, the truth comes out - and the whole sticky business of the inheritance.  If only Sebastian had told her about it!  You can guess what Veronica thinks - and does.  Still, I admired her aplomb.  She didn't burst into tears or make a scene, but she wasn't happy either. Sebastian has some serious groveling to do to make it all right again - and he does, magnificently.

Trust me, this was a delightful romance that I ate up like candy.  Veronica is my kind of heroine - no wilting lily, she is strong, confident, beautiful and not afraid to say what she thinks.  But she also knows when it is wise to be tactful and keep her mouth shut (unlike her argumentative spinster aunt).  The only thing going against Veronica is her crazy notion of being a mistress, which she has not thought through.  Having never been one before, she really didn't think about the scandalous ramificationss that would ensue.  Besides this point, Lady Veronica is an original heroine, I'll give her that and I had a smile on my face throughout this entire book.  Plus, I loved Sebastian! Rugged in a blond scruffy kind of way, he stole my heart.  He's sexy yet endearingly adorable all at the same time.  I loved the way he fell for Veronica (a bit too quickly, I admit) and wanted to have a life with her in his new house that he's so proud of.   When his family arrives en masse it was very amusing for he and Veronica have almost no time to test out their mistress theory!  Here she is supposed to be his mistress instead of his wife, and he's paying the price for it and keeping the whole thing a secret from his siblings - and they haven't even been to bed together yet! The irony!

Victoria Alexander is a new to me author and I can't wait to read the next book in this series! All the characterizations, descriptions of outfits, furnishings, etc. are first rate and faithful to the Victorian period.  Do yourself a favor and get this book, it was a total delight and I'm eager for more!


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Yours Until Dawn by Teresa Medeiros

Book Description:
Gabriel Fairchild's valor during battle earns him the reputation of hero, but costs him both his sight and his hope for the future. Abandoned by the fiancée he adored, the man who once walked like a prince among London's elite secludes himself in his family's mansion, cursing his way through dark days and darker nights.   

Prim nurse Samantha Wickersham arrives at Fairchild Park to find her new charge behaving more like a beast than a man. Determined to do her duty, she engages the arrogant earl in a battle of both wit and wills. Although he claims she doesn't possess an ounce of womanly softness, she can feel his heart racing at her slightest touch. As Samantha begins to let the light back into Gabriel's life and his heart, they both discover that some secrets - and some pleasures - are best explored in the dark ...

I loved, loved, loved this book!  Teresa Medeiros is one of those hit or miss authors for me, but let me assure you, this one's a hit. This is the story of Gabriel Fairchild, a war hero who was blinded during the Napoleonic Wars.  Home now at his country estate, he must learn to cope with being blind, losing his fiancee and getting on with his life.  No longer the perfectly handsome gentleman who made women swoon and fall at his feet, he's now bitter over how his life has changed.  Not only is his face scarred, his psyche is as well.  He lashes out at anyone and everything.  He behaves like a savage at his country estate and everyone is afraid of him, including his parents and siblings.  No one has the courage to stand up to him - except for the new nurse, Samantha Wickersham who enters into his life.

I loved Samantha.  Strong willed and smart enough to take this monster on, for that is what Gabriel has become, she takes none of his anger and self pity - all nonsense.  Outmaneuvering Gabriel over and over again, she never gives up (although she comes close at one point), she finally wins him over and teaches him to re-learn the manners he once had.  She wakes him up to reclaim the gentleman that once lived inside his body.  She shows him that he must learn to live with the fact he is blind and will most likely never regain his sight again. There is a slim chance that someday his eyesight will be come back, but it's a dim hope.  He must be realistic and with Samantha's help he can do it.  Not only does this domineering force in his household turn his life all around, but she steals his heart as well.  A twist on the beauty and the beast theme, Samantha teaches Gabriel to be a better person, while at the same time she seeks atonement for her own past sins as well.

As the two develop feelings for one another, the reader begins to realize there there's more to this story than meets the eye.  It was a pleasure to see how they interact, first as enemies and eventually as soul mates. This really was a great story and I loved both hero and heroine.  Gabriel is bigger than big, but as they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.  I loved it how she "tames" him and we see his transformation, all due to her.  But there is more to it than just that, which I won't go into, to avoid spoilers.  The story deepens when we find out the truth about Samantha's past, it gives the story a whole new dimension.  Trust me - it's good.

Not only is the main storyline well done but so are the characterizations.  I loved the little thing going on between the butler and housekeeper too!  All the servants join in to help Samantha eventually.  They want to see her succeed with Gabriel where all others failed.  Not only was it thrilling and entertaining, it was heartwarming to follow along with this couple through their ups and downs. *sigh*

Great, great story, very worthwhile - a keeper.


P.S. 4.5 rating because of the one scene towards the end that didn't fit with the rest of the story and seemed very odd and out of character for the h/h.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rawhide Down by Del Quentin Wilber

Book Description:
On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was just seventy days into his first term of office when John Hinckley Jr. opened fire outside the Washington Hilton Hotel, wounding the president, press secretary James Brady, a Secret Service agent, and a D.C. police officer.  For years, few people knew the truth about how close the president came to dying, and no one has ever written a detailed narrative of that harrowing day.  Now, drawing on exclusive new interviews and never-before-seen documents, photos, and videos, Del Quentin Wilber tells the electrifying story of a moment when the nation faced a terrifying crisis that it had experienced less than twenty years before, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

With cinematic clarity, we see Secret Service agent Jerry Parr, whose fast reflexes saved the president's life; the brilliant surgeons who operated on Reagan as he was losing half his blood; and the small group of White House officials frantically trying to determine whether the country was under attack. Most especially, we encounter the man code-named "Rawhide," a leader of uncommon grace who inspired affection and awe in everyone who worked with him.

Ronald Reagan was the only serving U.S. president to survive being shot in an assassination attempt.* Rawhide Down is the first true record of the day and events that literally shaped Reagan's presidency and sealed his image in the modern American political firmament.

I clearly remember the day Reagan was shot.  I was in college in Washington, DC at the time, coming back to my dorm from a class and all my friends were gathered around the little black and white portable TV in one of our rooms watching the coverage.   We all felt a kinship to the new president, having just experienced his riveting inauguration, the release of the Iran hostages, a new vitality in Washington.  There was a new excitement and polish to his presidency that spread across town - it was electric.  He had a larger than life presence, this Hollywood cowboy.  I was lucky enough to attend one of the inaugural balls and got a glimpse of him in his limousine with Nancy (alas, they were just leaving as we were arriving).  There was a light on in the back of the limousine where they were seated so the public could see them as they drove past.  I was a young twenty year old at the time, and as I saw them departing the Pension Building where the Presidential Ball was being held, all I could think of to say was a breathless, "Wow."  Not only did Ronald Reagan have that movie star glamour about him, but now he had the Presidential glamour.  It was... awesome.  (I still have a souvenir napkin from the ball we attended that night.)

Watching the scene unfold on TV, we were devastated.  No matter what your politics, it was a scary moment in history and unthinkable.  I felt like crying, I remember thinking how old Reagan was, and I was so worried for him.  He had just turned 70, the oldest president to be elected, yet he was amazingly spry for his age.  I liked him, even though I didn't vote for him.  I cared about him.  Life was taking an alarming turn around this time.  First John Lennon's death the previous fall, now Reagan shot and a few months to come, the Pope would be shot as well.  There was so much to take in.  Little did we know while watching the events on TV what was really going on behind the scenes with the attempt on Reagan.  This book answers every question about that day.

Rawhide Down is an excellent account of all that happened that day outside the Washington Hilton as Reagan was leaving from a labor union luncheon.  The events are fascinating to read about.  We get a glimpse into the daily life of the Secret Service agents on duty as well as the surprising background on the Secret Service itself.  It was quite an eye opener and I was surprised to learn of how little training was actually involved for many of the first agents, leaving it to mostly on the job training.  By the early '80's their training had been formalized, but at the time of Kennedy's assassination there had been hardly anything.

We also get the lead in to Hinckley and his motivations.  His obsession with Jodi Foster was the determining factor, but his plan to assassinate Reagan was, for the most part, a last minute decision.  Amazing.

Of course we get the full White House point of view of all that is involved with security and Reagan himself.  His schedule and routine, his background and general mien.  He's a genuinely likable man. This book brings that day all back.  The events leading up to the attack and it's aftermath are meticulously gone over.   I couldn't put the book down.  Once the shooting takes place, it's a quick read, fast paced and riveting.  His staff scrambling waiting for Vice President Bush to arrive in Washington, Alexander Haig taking command and his blunder on the air of mistaking the chain of command - all fascinating to read about!

But, I found the most compelling part of the book was what no one knew about at the time.  Reagan came dangerously close to dying.  Due to the quick thinking of one of his Secret Service men who quickly pushed him into the limousine to speed off away from the Hilton, Reagan's life was saved.  He was unaware that he'd actually been hit by a bullet which hit the limousine and ricocheted off it to go into Reagan's back, and into his lung, narrowly missing his heart.  While Hinckley was being captured and press secretary James Brady was fighting for his life in a pool of blood at the Hilton, Jerry Parr, Reagan's Secret Service man in the limousine with him, was trying to determine if Reagan was all right or not.  The president was complaining he could not breathe, but did not think he'd been shot.  At first the limo was heading back to the White House, but Parr made the split second and live saving decision to change course and take Reagan to the George Washington University hospital.

From there, we switch to GWU's Emergency Room and what happened when they got the call from the little white phone at the desk.  The phone that rarely, if ever, rings.  It's a direct line from the White House to notify them that the president has been hurt and is on his way.  Just the thought of how they all must have been freaking out!  But they didn't.  They were professionals and handled the crisis amazingly well, a lot better than Reagan's advisers at the White House who were all running around like chickens with their heads cut off!

I won't go into every little detail, you'll have to read this book for yourself, but trust me, it's great and if you are at all interested in presidential assassinations or Ronald Reagan, this is a must read.  I highly recommend it.  Wilber is a reporter for The Washington Post, and he did a pain staking job at researching and interviewing for this book.  You feel like "you are there."  Don't miss it.


*There have been many assassination attempts on U.S. presidents, four of which were successful: Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy. President Theodore Roosevelt was injured in an assassination attempt after leaving office.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Scandalous Desires by Elizabeth Hoyt

Book Description: 
Can a pirate learn that the only true treasure lies within a woman’s heart?

“Charming” Mickey O’Connor is the most ruthless river pirate in London. Devastatingly handsome and fearsomely intelligent, he clawed his way up through London’s criminal underworld. Mickey has no use for tender emotions like compassion and love, and he sees people as pawns to be manipulated. Yet he’s never been able to forget the naive captain’s wife who came to him a year ago for help—and spent one memorable night in his bed...talking.

Widowed Silence Hollingbrook is impoverished, lovely, and kind - and a year ago she made a horrible mistake. She went to a river pirate for help in saving her husband and in the process made a bargain that cost her her marriage. That night wounded her so terribly that she hides in the foundling home she helps run with her brother. Except now that same river pirate is back...and he’s asking for her help.
When reading the first of the Maiden Lane series, Wicked Intentions, I was intrigued by the side story involving Temperance's sister, Silence.  I felt terribly sorry for Silence and what happened due to her involvement with Mickey O'Connor, pirate and raider of the Thames.  At the same time, I thought she was incredibly naive for going to him for help in the first place.  The whole thing backfires on her when Silence approaches Mickey, without her husband's knowledge, and requests he return the cargo he stole from the ship her husband works on.  Her husband is going to lose his job unless the goods can be recovered.  O'Connor, notorious for his ruthlessness and lack or morals, agrees to return them - for a price.  Silence must spend the night with O'Connor in his bedroom.  Even though he never touches her, he sends her home in a disheveled state and forces her to walk up the middle of the street in shame as if she had been his whore for the night.  Essentially, he was ruining her reputation in exchange for saving her husband's job.  Of course, no one will believe nothing happened between them!  Including her husband.  Things are never the same between Silence and her husband again and when he goes off to sea for the last time, his ship sinks and he dies with it.

It's now a year later and Silence has gone to work at her sister's foundling home with her brother, Winter.  She has become close to one of the baby's, Mary Darling, who we learn, at the end of book two in the series, is the illegitimate daughter to none other than - Mickey O'Connor!  The spitting image!  Mary Darling had been left on the home's doorstep and Silence has basically become her surrogate mother.  One day Mary disappears and Silence is bereft until she learns that O'Connor has taken her to his "palace" of ill gotten gains.  Silence wastes no time in going there to retrieve Mary - returning to the scene of her shameful walk home.  Only, this time, Mickey makes her an offer she can't refuse.  Because his enemies have gotten wind that he has a daughter, he has taken Mary back to his palace to keep her safe.  He wants Silence to move into the palace as well, to take care of Mary, since all the baby does is cry all day long for her "mother." Silence agrees, she loves Mary and can't bear the thought of leaving her there.

Once Silence moves in, she gets to know Mickey better and gradually she falls in love with this man of danger.  When the palace is attacked and Mary is nearly killed, Silence's family comes to reclaim her, featuring a scene with *swoon*  Lord Caire from Wicked Intentions.  But, Mickey can't live without Silence and comes to get her back and she willingly goes with him.  Yet, he still cannot make a commitment to her for she will become a target for his enemies.  He takes her to his "safe house" away from London.  There she learns of his "other life" as a respectable shipbuilder, a successful man living his life as an innocuous Englishman with a house in the country.  This side of Mickey is "Michael Rivers" and Silence begins to envision herself by his side forever.  It is here that they begin their love affair, but Mickey must still take care of unfinished business regarding his father, The Vicar, who is his archenemy and rival in London.  His father is ruthless (and a little mad) and will not hesitate to use Silence and Mary as bait to lure Mickey into a trap and get rid of him once and for all.

Despite my already knowing the previous background on these two from the previous books in the series, it took me a long time to get into the story of Silence and charmin' Mickey O'Connor. I had a hard time warming up to Mickey.   This is not unexpected because he did such a despicable thing to Silence by ruining her marriage - just for the fun of it.  I just could not forgive him for it.  Mickey had to really change for me to come around to him.  As expected, as Silence began to trust him and change her opinion of him, so did I, but I still never really liked him very much.  Plus, it didn't help that I kept imagining Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean as Mickey (not a good thing).   Nothing against him, but he's not my idea of hero material physically.

I viewed it as another tortured hero story in which the hero has a horrible childhood and becomes a criminal to survive on the streets, working his way up to becoming the most feared pirate lord in London.  His lousy childhood and evil father is supposed to justify all the awful things Mickey does as an adult? Until he finds the woman who changes him and makes him a better person?  I'm not very fond of this scenario in romances and have a hard time buying it.  But eventually, I began to appreciate Mickey a little bit more when he became "Michael" in Silence's mind and no longer Mickey.  Once we find out who his father is and what happened and how he cares for Silence and Mary I thawed a little, but it was still hard for me to justify his piracy and what he did to Silence in the first book.

Normally, I love Hoyt's books, but this one just didn't thrill me.  Still, the writing itself is fine as is the period, costumes, setting, etc.  I just have a hard time with this kind of storyline and I wasn't overly fond of the hero - a deal breaker for me.  Silence was just sort of blah, she goes along with whatever everyone tells her to do. Often, she sets out with her own objectives but then caves in pretty easily to whatever someone else wants, whether it's marrying her first husband, even though he's much older than she is, then going to work at the home with her brother, then living with Mickey, then wearing the dress he gets her and going to the opera, then going back with her family to her sister's after the attack, then running off with Mickey without telling anyone where she is and going to his country house - come on! The chemistry was good between the hero and heroine, but I found it took a long, long time for the two of them to finally go to bed together.  Of course their one night out together before that turns into a disaster!

One question: why is everyone so worried about raising money for the home?  Winter and Silence's sister Temperance has married the wealthy Lord Caire - can't he donate a ton of money, if need be?  Temperance used to run the home, I'd think that would no longer be an issue.  This leads into the home's patrons and some new faces in the series and side story involving Silence's brother, Winter. It has potential, though I'm surprised at who Hoyt is setting him up with (or so it seems).  Somewhat unorthodox, an older widow in her early 50's?  I wonder how Hoyt will pull this off, but the cliffhanger ending has me looking forward to the next book!


Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick (audio)

Book Description:
Following early beginnings as a knight in the English royal household and a champion of the tourneys, William Marshal's prowess and loyalty have been rewarded by the hand in marriage of Isabelle de Clare, heiress to great estates in England, Normandy and Ireland. Now a powerful magnate, William has weathered the difficult years of King Richard's absence on crusade and is currently serving him on campaign in Normandy while Isabelle governs their estates. All the stability William and Isabelle have enjoyed with their young and growing family comes crashing down as Richard dies and his brother John becomes King. Rebellion is stirring throughout the Angevin domains and although John has created William Earl of Pembroke, the friction between the two men leads William and Isabelle to distance themselves in Ireland. The situation escalates, with John holding their sons as hostages and seizing their English lands. The conflict between remaining loyal and rebelling over injustices committed, threatens to tear apart William and Isabelle's marriage and their family.

Follow up to Chadwick's The Greatest Knight, a book I loved on audio, she continues the story of William Marshal, the greatest knight and probably the most noble man that ever walked the earth. In his later years, married to his wife Isabelle and raising their many children, their marriage is passionate, despite the time he spends away from home.  They are depicted as soul mates and equals in each other's eyes.  The books spans thirty years of their marriage until William's death.  Over this time we experience the trials and tribulations of his family, most of which were brought on by King John of England.

William was adept at keeping a cool head through most of his later years in dealing with King John, although it took a toll on him eventually.  John is by far the villain throughout a good part of this book.  Always on Marshal's case, he is constantly accusing him of treason and treachery, and it's amazing how William walked a fine line to keep his lands (and head) with John as his jealous king.  I was so happy when John finally died, and it's testimony to William's loyalty that on John's death bed he commanded William Marshal to act as regent to John's son, Henry III who was a boy king at the time of John's death.  Deep down John knew William was good and would look out for Henry III as no other.

The goriest and most upsetting part of the book for me was the description of the "supposed" events of what happened to Prince Arthur who rivaled King John for the throne.  King John had the sixteen year old Arthur imprisoned and William de Braose witnessed a few knights leaving his jail cell late one night.  William de Braose goes in to Arthur's cell and sees that he has been horribly maimed, his eyes gouged out.  In agony, but not dead, the boy is suffering terribly.  He goes to King John who comes back with him to see for himself.  As an act of mercy, John kills Arthur himself to put him out of his misery.  It is a horrifying scene, and one that will stay in my memory for a long time.

The gist of the story is how William and his family manage to survive the reign of King John intact.  It's a miracle he does, for John really had it out for him, demanding his two eldest sons as hostages to insure William's loyalty (a needless and spiteful demand).  Some parts were a bit tedious, I grew tired of John, John, John!  On audio, Christopher Scott does an excellent job at narration, though his accent for Isabelle was kind of in and out.  Sometimes she sounded Irish and other times she didn't.  I admit, with all the different names of Lady this and Lord that and the Earl of something it was hard to keep track of who was who in parts. I can see how in print it would be a bit easier.

At the end of the book, when William is preparing to die (which I thought was dragged out a bit too long), I was surprised by his desire to become a Templar Knight at the last.  I had no idea that he took his vows on his deathbed.  I felt badly for Isabelle, his wife, she truly seemed crushed by the idea.  This part of the book was very sad as they said their good-byes and then when he insured that the new young king was in good hands.  Faithful to the king to the last.  His actual death a few days later seemed slightly anti-climatic.

All in all, this is a fine work of historical fiction, with enough PG-rated romance to add a little zing to the storyline.  There are only so many times the reader can endure another one of John's miserable demands on the Marshals, so a little husband and wife connubial bliss is welcome, from time to time, to break up the angst and worry that seems to hover over a great deal of the book.  William and Isabelle had a marriage that was unusual and succeeded in a time when marriages were arranged and not often happy.  It is to their credit that they successfully raised so many children, although no male descendants to carry on the line after his sons.  Sounds like the legendary Marshal curse may have been for real.   Who knows?

If the reigns of Richard and John are your thing, I recommend The Scarlet Lion for lovers of this genre and medieval period.  It might help to read The Greatest Knight first, which I preferred, but not absolutely necessary.  Beautiful cover, btw too!


The Gift by Julie Garwood

Book Description:
A child bride, Sara Winchester had grown into a winsome beauty, joyfully anticipating the day when her husband Nathan, Marquess of St. James, would return to claim her heart at last. Charmingly innocent, she dismissed the ancient feud that divided Nathan's family from her own...and she was totally unaware of his past exploits as the notorious pirate, Pagan. The man who now stood before her was perplexing, arrogant and powerfully handsome...a warrior-gentleman whose gentle touch aroused her to the wildest, deepest pleasures of love.

Nathan had never bared his soul to any woman, but he was soon utterly beguiled and exasperated by Sara's sweet, defiant ways. Aboard his ship, The Seahawk, she was brave, imperious and determined to win his heart completely - yet upon their return to England, her love would be sorely tested as a vile conspiracy tried to tear them apart. With their future at stake, they would discover the true destiny of their passion...for all time! 

Quickie Review:
I must say I really enjoyed this book, it was full of humor and Sara, the heroine, reminded me very much of Garwood's endearing medieval heroines who are adorably unaware of the havoc they wreak in their lord's castle, only here it's on board a ship - or a boat, as Sara keeps calling it, much to her husband's chagrin, for he is the captain of said "boat."

Set during Regency times, Sara and Nathan married at a very young age at the order of King George III (who was in his mad stage at the time) to bring their two feuding families together.  She was four and he was fourteen.  Fourteen years later with neither having anything to do with the other, they must consummate the marriage in order for Nathan to come into his inheritance.  Her side of the family is full of villains who want to have the marriage annulled, except Sara is good-natured and eager to get away from them and to help save her aunt who has been held prisoner (long complicated story) by her evil uncle.  One thing leads to another and Nathan, who has grown into a great big, beastly man with a scar, aims to find her and kidnap her.  Bracing himself for the strong possibility she will be as ugly as sin (the women in her family are known for it), he is captivated and happily surprised by how beautiful his wife turned out to actually be.  He follows her before absconding with her (and her aunt, who they rescue) on his ship to set sail for the Indies (and where her aunt has an island home.)

Once on board the ship, Sara has no idea who her husband really is - the notorious pirate, Pagan (we learn about him in the previous book in the series, Guardian Angel).  There are many great moments throughout the book and as Sara and Nathan get to know one another as man and wife, (despite his seasickness and the fact she wants to get to know him first before sharing a bed) Sara manages to poison his entire crew and nearly destroys the ship itself with her parasols.  Basically she scares all the men half to death, they're convinced she is cursed.  But, eventually they come around and wind up loving her just as much as her stern captain does.  One of my favorite scenes was when Sara misunderstands one of the crewmen, Jimbo and believes he's calling Nathan "daft" when he's really saying "aft" and then she makes him promise never to call the captain aft again.  (Believe me it's funnier than it sounds!)  Hero and heroine are great together.  Between Sara's screwball logic and Nathan's exasperation, despite his passion for her (and there is the usual Garwood heat in this romance) it was a delightful read.  I love these kinds of stories, I thought they only existed in her medievals, but how wrong I was!

This was a really fun book, with the usual drama towards the end as Nathan goes to loggerheads with Sara's father, who turns out to be just as much a villain as her uncle.  A grand finale with the Prince Regent himself made for a very satisfying ending and another winner from Garwood!

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