Friday, March 30, 2012

The Perils of Pleasure by Julie Anne Long

Book Description: 
A rescued rogue . . .

Scandal has rocked the city of London. Colin Eversea, a handsome, reckless unapologetic rogue is sentenced to hang for murder and, inconveniently for him, the only witness to the crime disappears. Then again, throughout history, the Everseas have always managed to cheat fate in style: Colin is snatched from the gallows by a beautiful, clever mercenary.

A captivating captor. . . 
Cool-headed, daring Madeleine Greenway is immune to Colin's vaunted charm. Her mission is not to rescue Colin but to kidnap him, and to be paid handsomely for it. But when it becomes clear that whoever wants Colin alive wants Madeleine dead, the two become uneasy allies in a deadly race for truth. Together, they'll face great danger—and a passion neither can resist.

Quickie Review:
Having heard a lot of good things about new to me author Julie Anne Long's Pennyroyal Green Series, I finally took the plunge and got hold of the first book, The Perils of Pleasure.  I'm glad I did, for I enjoyed the story and I loved charming and handsome Colin Eversea especially. He is an irresistible scamp who manages to break down the indomitable fortitude of Madeleine Greenway.  The book begins as Colin Eversea is sentenced to hang for a murder he didn't commit.  But at the last minute he is rescued by a beautiful and enigmatic woman, Madeleine Greenway, who has been hired to have him whisked away in the nick of time.  But then a mystery develops.  While Colin is in hiding with Madeleine, someone tries to murder her, making it apparent that whoever wanted him freed wants her dead as well.  Who hired her in the first place and why would they want her dead?  The two wind up on the run throughout the the more dangerous areas of London while trying to solve the puzzle of who framed Colin for murder and why.

There are many suspects, but nothing definitive, but the most likely is someone from the Redmond family which has been feuding with the wealthy Everseas for centuries.  Or could another suspect be Colin's elder brother Marcus, who also happens to be marrying the woman Colin has been in love with forever?  How does she feel about this turn of events?  Colin was meant for her, but with his going to the gallows, his brother has stepped in, chivalrously I might add, to take his brothers place.  Colin is not about to let the wedding happen.  His destination and intentions?  His family home in Sussex, Pennyroyal Green, where he intends to stop the wedding - in addition to proving his innocence.

Madeleine Greenway, Colin's partner on the road prides herself on being a professional and not succumbing to the irresistible charm of Colin, no matter how much he tries to worm his way into her heart.  Despite his claim to love Lucy, the woman who is about to marry his brother, he still can't stop getting ideas about Madeleine.  It's too irresistible.  He can't resist the challenge of seducing her.  (I told you he's a scamp.)  Keeping her distance from him stems from the tough time she's had in the past.  Losing her husband and baby to smallpox, she has managed to make a living as "a planner" someone hired to do the impossible - sort of an historical one woman "Mission Impossible."  She does not want to fall in love again for she associates love with the pain and loss of her family.  She doesn't want to fall prey to those emotions again.  Yet Colin is unperturbed by her resistance, confident he can wear her down over time.  Even though Colin loves (or thinks he loves) Lucy he still wants to get Madeleine between the sheets.  Their close proximity to one another while on the run lends an intimacy to their relationship.  One kiss left them both dazed and longing for more.  No matter how much Madeleine tries to put up a strong front of indifference to Colin's charms, he's getting to her.  She's a woman after all - a woman who hasn't had sex in a long, long time...  One little kiss won't hurt, will it?  One night together?

For most of the book, this read like an historical mystery.  But towards the end, after plenty of build up and sexual tension between Colin and Madeleine, there are one or two naughty interludes between them that leads to the inevitable moment of truth and a "what happens next" conundrum between them.   I really enjoyed the story and it's characters to the point where I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this series as well, for there are a slew of Everseas and Redmonds to be dealt with in the future.  There is plenty of historical flavor and evocative descriptions of Whitechapel, Seven Dials and Newgate Prison, which give the book an authentic feel to it.  If you like historical mysteries with enough romance and spice to make them "interesting" you'll enjoy The Perils of Pleasure.  


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Doc by Mary Doria Russell (audio)

Book Description:
The year is 1878, peak of the Texas cattle trade. The place is Dodge City, Kansas, a saloon-filled cow town jammed with liquored-up adolescent cowboys and young Irish hookers. Violence is random and routine, but when the burned body of a mixed-blood boy named Johnnie Sanders is discovered, his death shocks a part-time policeman named Wyatt Earp. And it is a matter of strangely personal importance to Doc Holliday, the frail twenty-six-year-old dentist who has just opened an office at No. 24 Dodge House.

Quickie Review: 
On audio, an entertaining rendition of the life of John Henry "Doc" Holliday, concentrating on the years he lived in Dodge City, Kansas in the 1870's. As much as this novel centers on Doc himself, it also gives the background on all those around him. It tells the "mini" stories of several secondary characters who are friends and/or acquaintances of Doc. They each have their turn, their story and how they come to know Doc Holliday, whether friend or foe.  It's almost as if Doc is the sun and all the others are planets spinning, while revolving around him at the same time in Doc's solar system. Doc is the light that shines on them and puts them in the temporary spotlight.  The one thing they all have in common is they know Doc in some way. Most become friends, like the Earp brothers, some are not so friendly.  

John Henry Holliday is a southern Georgia gentleman who became a dentist at age 20. He is educated and genteel but contracts tuberculosis at the age of 21. He moves out west to Texas for health reasons but winds up in Dodge City, Kansas eventually.  There he takes up with Kate, a Hungarian frontier whore who had once been a promising young lady in the court of Maximilian of Mexico before the revolution that overthrew his reign.  She is greedy and mercenary and always wants to go where "the money is."  She and Doc have a tempestuous relationship, or about as tempestuous as it could get, considering Doc was dying of consumption most of the time.  While Doc practices dentistry during the day while sober, at night he's a professional gambler and drinks Bourbon in massive quantities.  The murder of Johnnie Sanders is front and center and is a major theme throughout the book.  Doc took a personal interest in Johnnie's death, as did several others.  Was Johnny murdered for money or did he die in a stable that burned down one night by accident?  Throughout the book this remains a mystery, but Wyatt Earp and Doc are very interested in finding out the truth about Johnnie's death and who was behind it.

I really loved this book and Doc himself. An entertaining snapshot of the Old West and of those people who knew Doc Holliday. By the way, this has virtually no accounting of the shootout at the O.K. Corral if that's what you're looking for.  It basically debunks all the exaggerated accounts of the "murderous gunslinger" Doc Holliday. He was hardly that. Soft spoken, a masterful pianist, a perfectionist as a dentist and a proud and honorable gentleman first and foremost.  Unfortunately he died an alcoholic, drinking to keep the coughing and hacking of his consumption at bay.  Great story and terrific on audio.  I miss the soft southern Georgian drawl of the narrator, Mark Bramhall as Doc.  He did a wonderful job with the various southern and foreign accents, particularly Doc and his constant coughing fits.  He brought the character of Kate and her Hungarian guttural accent to life, as well as the polished Austrian voice of Father Alexander von Angensperg, a Jesuit priest that befriends Doc after coming to Dodge for Johnnie Sanders funeral.

An engrossing tale of the Wild West with a murder mystery added in.  Plenty of memorable characters, many with familiar names.  Life behind the scenes of Dodge City and the people that lived there and what made them unique and special.  It's a little like you're living there too! Why John Henry "Doc" Holliday could have even been your dentist!  I highly recommend it.


The Cursed One by Ronda Thompson

Book Description:
Wed and widowed in one day, stunning socialite Amelia Sinclair's honeymoon is anything but typical. Then again, neither is Amelia - rebellious and impulsive, marrying Robert Collingsworth was the one sensible thing she ever did. Now he's dead and she must escape the vicious creatures stalking her - even if it means relying on a stranger. Well, maybe not a complete stranger. Amelia first glimpsed Gabriel Wulf years ago on the busy streets of London; since then he has haunted her dreams. But in the flesh, Gabriel is much more tantalizing than she ever dreamt, and much more complicated…

Gabriel Wulf, the strong one, the sensible one - the family, and the curse that plagues them, are his only priorities; there was little time for women and none for love. Now, he must protect an enticing beauty - and not just from the dangers that prowl the woods around them. Gabriel has secrets, dark ones he's sure Amelia must never know and could never understand. But she has already awakened his heart...and the beast within. Will Amelia be the key to his salvation, or the architect of her own demise?

Quickie Review:
This is the last of the Wild Wulfs series, which overall I found to be good if you like werewolf paranormals.  Unfortunately, Gabriel's story was my least favorite of the bunch about these werewolf brothers. 

The premise of The Cursed One is that on an estate nearby to the Wulf's country estate, strange doings are going on in the woods.  Gabriel's childhood friend, Robert has just gotten married and taken his bride to his home for their wedding night.  Yet, something terrible happens and he turns into a vicious monster - a werewolf and tries to attack and rape his new bride, Amelia.  Amelia is having none of this and escapes.  Conveniently, Gabriel happens to be passing by and hears the commotion going on at the nearby empty estate (all the servants have fled the house, except one who remained, a young girl).  Gabriel's comes to Amelia's rescue and kills "Robert."  But as we find out, it wasn't really Robert is was someone else who was able to take his form.  Robert is dead in the cellar.  Thus, Amelia, who happens to be Gabriel's sister's old school chum, is a widow on her wedding day.  She's not all that broken up about it for she has secretly had a thing for Gabriel for years.  They also share a passionate kiss upstairs after Gabriel kills the monster.  Little does she know about the Wulf family curse that turns them into werewolves when they fall in love and the moon is full.  Gabriel, Amelia and the young servant girl must fend off the monsters from the woods that are trying to attack them and invade the manor house.  Their mission:  to make it to the safety of Gabriel's home, which is unfortunately a few days away on foot.  Not an easy task.

Along the way, Gabriel and Amelia's growing attraction becomes stronger and stronger.  Without his control, he's giving off strong pheromones that are driving Amelia mad - she's dying to kiss him and be with him.  The feeling is mutual, but he fights it for he feels the beast in him gaining control and he's afraid he's not going to be able to stop himself from shifting into a wolf.  The other girl, who's name I can't remember plus I never trusted her anyway, is hiding a secret as well which comes out in the end. (I told you I didn't trust her.)  Will Gabriel's lust and growing love for Amelia turn him into a werewolf before her very eyes?  What will she do when she finds out he is like the very monsters they're running away from?

Overall this romance just didn't do much for me.  For one thing I didn't like Amelia at all.  Uh-oh.  That's a surefire way for me to not get into a book.  She was bratty and annoying and grated on me through the whole thing.  Of course, she grows up a lot over the course of time (a few days) when they are trudging around in the woods and avoiding monsters, yet I never warmed up to her at all.  Not one bit.  I don't know how Gabriel could even stand to be around her, much less fall in love with her!  By the end, she redeems herself and loses her pride and lah-dee-dah ways when all is revealed, but she'd already lost me by then.  She realizes that she loves Gabriel no matter what he is.  Ho-hum, same scenario as in the last two books.  Gabriel, for a hunky werewolf shifter was just boring.  His entire dilemma consisted of trying to overcome his illogical lust for this bratty annoying widow who is making the long trek to his family estate feel like it's taking an eternity!

To sum it up, there was nothing very memorable for me about this book and I only continued with it because it was the last in the series, which started out well.  I trudged through this one.  I still have to read a novella from an anthology that deals with one of the other brothers, but then I'm done!  If you like werewolf paranormals that take place during Regency times I recommend this series, but overall I found it uneven, but maybe you'll feel differently. 


A Rogue By Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean

Book Description:
What a scoundrel wants, a scoundrel gets . . .

A decade ago, the Marquess of Bourne was cast from society with nothing but his title. Now a partner in London’s most exclusive gaming hell, the cold, ruthless Bourne will do whatever it takes to regain his inheritance—including marrying perfect, proper Lady Penelope Marbury.

A broken engagement and years of disappointing courtships have left Penelope with little interest in a quiet, comfortable marriage, and a longing for something more. How lucky that her new husband has access to such unexplored pleasures.

Bourne may be a prince of London’s underworld, but he vows to keep Penelope untouched by its wickedness—a challenge indeed as the lady discovers her own desires, and her willingness to wager anything for them . . . even her heart.

Quickie Review:
I loved this romance, which was a surprise for me since I don't usually go for these sort of story lines involving ruthless heroes who carry lots of baggage from their childhoods thus making it all right for them to be jerks when they are grown ups.  Yet, who would have thought?  Sarah MacLean won me over!  In A Rogue... we have our hero Bourne, who is an English aristocrat, yet also a jaded partner in a high class London game hell.  For the past ten years, he has been consumed with the desire to ruin and destroy the man who was responsible for the loss of his entire fortune - all at the turn of a card when he was a green young man of twenty-one years.  Now rich and successful, Bourne finally has the opportunity to regain the one important piece of land he used to own - his family estate.  The catch is, in order to get it, he must marry his childhood playmate, Penelope, an "on-the-shelf" spinster with a large dowry and the deed to the land which he lost in that same card game ten years earlier.  He is not going to let someone else marry her, you can bet on it.

This romance was a roller coaster ride of emotions.  I adored Penelope and Bourne's first snowy reunion after ten years, making the letters written between the two of them at the beginning of each chapter all the more bittersweet.  The fact that Bourne is nothing like that kind boy Penelope grew up with, the same lovable and kind young man who went off to school and wrote her endearing little notes is gone forever.  How sad and tragic.  Now he's an ass most of the time.  Bitter and bent on one single objective in life, for much of the book Bourne comes across as a humorless cad who has his priorities all screwed up.  I usually hate these types!  Yet I actually got into his character and enjoyed his transformation - I believed in him!  Oh how I hate these kinds of heroes and write them off, but with Bourne it was different.  I felt bad for him when he lost everything, basically being duped and cheated out of his inheritance at such a young age.  Penelope was a peach.  I really liked her.  She had a backbone and wasn't a typical meek and mild young miss who did anything she was told.  Yes, she did some dumb things once in a while, going against Bourne's orders or wishes, but she was her own woman basically.  She managed a happily ever ending with Bourne after all, didn't she? That's saying something!

So, the two of them are thrown together in a marriage of convenience and neither is very happy about it for different reasons. (The unexpected and humorous role Penelope's father plays in the instigation of their marriage was fun too - I guessed right about him, btw). Over time, their feelings change and a deep passion develops between them.  Bourne gradually remembers just how much Penelope once meant to him as a youth and his old feelings eventually override his desire for vengeance on the man that cheated him out of ten years of his life.  I did have issues about how dense Bourne was about how to win Penelope back when he feels he's lost her for good.  It took his friends to make him see the light. His friends, btw, have future books coming up as well, which I'm eager to read.  

Basically, this romance is a rendition of the old story of how the love of a good woman can change any man for the better.  These two make a great pair! Snappy dialogue, intense and utterly sexy love scenes and a satisfying finale.  I was up all night reading it.  I loved it!


P.S. Gorgeous cover, btw, what an improvement from the covers in MacLean's last series!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Wicked Little Lies by Victoria Alexander

Book Description:
Evelyn Hadley-Attwater has it all - a genteel Victorian life replete with loving husband, ball gowns and elegant parties. No one, including the man she married, suspects that she was once "Eve," a spy for England's most enigmatic intelligence agency. Summoned for one final assignment, the excitement of her former life and memories of her mysterious, flirtatious boss "Sir" prove too tempting....

Adrian Hadley-Attwater is a respectable, dignified gentleman. But even the most proper gentlemen have secrets of their own. Secrets from the rest of the world, from their families, from their wives. Secrets that have a price. Now, as a veil of secrecy frays, a tantalizing game of cat and mouse will test the bounds of unfailing love...

I had high hopes for this spy romance when I first read the blurb about it.  Second in a new series by this new to me author, Victoria Alexander, I bought the first book in the series His Mistress by Christmas, and read it first.  I love, love, loved it.  In His Mistress by Christmas, we first meet the hero and heroine of My Wicked Little Lies, Eve and Adrian Hadley-Attwater.  They seem like a respectable and happily married couple.  Was My Wicked Little Lies as good?  No, I'm afraid not, which is a pity since I'd been looking forward to it so much!  It just didn't have the same allure as His Mistress. The premise was good,  involving the hero and heroine who have been married for two years.  They're still very much in love and looking forward to a long life together with children and the the whole nine yards.  But, there's a catch.  Each of them has kept a big secret from the other.  Eve was a spy and Adrian - well, he was "Sir" her spymaster.  But she doesn't know that.  As you can guess, a rogue spy is out to reveal the truth about who "Sir" is and Eve must go back into the spy business to keep the secret from her oh so respectable husband, having no idea, of course that he is "Sir!"

Everything about this book should have made it a winner but for some reason there just wasn't enough chemistry between Eve and Adrian to keep me interested in them.  Here they've had a great marriage so far and the next thing you know it's unraveling at the seams because they're playing all sorts of mind games with each other!   Adrian fell in love with Eve when he was "Sir" over two years ago.  They corresponded as spy and spymaster yet never met personally.  He leaves the business when he inherits his title as an Earl and "courts" Eve as if he never knew who she really was or what she did.  Now he gets the harebrained notion to discover whether or not she would have fallen in love with "Sir" back then.  What would happen if "Sir" came back into her life, would she fall for him, despite being happily married?   Adrian decides to "woo" her as Sir by sending her red roses, etc. and winds up making a mess of things.  Eve winds up moving out and Adrian, who is supposed to be this intelligent man of the world becomes this clod who wants to see if his wife is really in love with him or not!

Now, don't get me wrong, overall I enjoyed this romance, but I did not feel committed to the hero and heroine and sort of felt they deserved their just desserts.  Their lies and games with one another, though it had its amusing moments seemed off and implausible.   Adrian barging into an hotel room bent on capturing Eve in the act with another man, only to find the other man in the arms of someone else was pretty funny, but then when Eve finds out about it, she decides to keep the knowledge to herself and teases Adrian instead.  Ordinarily this should have been fun, but it only wound up being sort of mean in my eyes.  Of course, they do love one another dearly and Eve forgives Adrian in the end, but there is much groveling on his part for being such an ass and not trusting her.  And, of course, there's nothing like the fear of death to put things into perspective when Adrian is kidnapped.  Still, I'm sorry, spymasters just don't grovel!  Adrian should have known better!

Another matter I had problems with was the side story of Max, the current spymaster who replaced Adrian, and Celeste, Eve's assistant and former cohort in the spy business.  They're having a secret fling together.  I couldn't quite get my bearings on her and whether I was for her affair with Max or not.  It was a bit unorthodox and again, all these secrets! I guess they go with the territory in a romance about former spies.  Still, I found this side story an unneeded distraction from the main story.  Were the love scenes between Max and Celeste thrown in because there were virtually none regarding Eve and Adrian?

Overall, My Wicked Little Lies wasn't bad, but it just wasn't as good as it's predecessor.  Writing about married couples and keeping the romance sizzling is a tall order.  I must give credit to the author for giving it a go.  In any event, I am eager to read the rest of the series, for I can't wait to see what's in store for the rest of the Hadley-Attwaters! 


P.S. One of the things that attracted me to this story in the first place is the use of "Sir" as the title of Eve's former boss and spymaster. It was very much like the use of "Sir" in A Courtesan's Guide to Getting Your Man, another book I simply loved!   I find the use of "Sir" erotic in both instances.  If you liked that book, you'll get a kick out of it here too!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

When Gods Die by C. S. Harris

Book Description:
Brighton, England, 1811. The beautiful wife of an aging Marquis is found dead in the arms of the Prince Regent. Draped around her neck lies an ancient necklace with mythic origins-and mysterious ties to Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin. Haunted by his past, Sebastian investigates both the Marchioness's death and his own possible connection to it-and discovers a complex pattern of lies and subterfuge. With the aid of his lover, Kat Boleyn, and a former street urchin now under his protection, Sebastian edges closer to the killer. And when one murder follows another, he confronts a conspiracy that threatens his own identity...and imperils the monarchy itself.

Here we find Sebastian St. Cyr up to his neck in a murder mystery again, only this time the murder victim is found by the Prince Regent himself in his Brighton Royal Pavilion!  Thinking he is having a secret rendezvous with a married lady he has been after for months, the Prince is shocked to find her dead in his arms with a knife in her back!  His retainers cover up the scandal and tell all it was a suicide, but Sebastian is brought in to help shed light on the mystery of who killed the beautiful young woman.  As he delves into the mystery, he finds that all is not as he believed in regard to the dead woman at all and the mystery becomes even stickier when St. Cyr realized her murder is tied into a plot to overthrow the House of Hanover.  In addition, some revealing truths come to light in his own family concerning the unpleasant memory of his mother's drowning in Brighton when he was a boy.

Sebastian is not on the run this time, as in the previous installment and first book in the series, so it was not quite as exciting as the first book, but it had it's moments taking us from the Prince Regent's Royal Pavilion to the grimy cells of Newgate Prison and the dank and foul underground vaults of London.   Many of the same characters from the first book reappear in When Gods Die, cementing them as "regulars" in the series, no doubt.  I like his friends who are interesting with their own minor plot-lines or calamities that must be dealt with.  They also create a nice ensemble of characters that round out the book.

I like Sebastian and I worry about his relationship with actress Kat Boleyn who is secretly a spy for the French.  He truly loves her and I fear for what will happen between them down the road.  She wants to stop her spying, but I don't think the French are going to let her.  Plus, what is Sebastian going to do when he ultimately finds out what she has really been up all these years, aiding and abetting the very enemy he was fighting against while in the Napoleonic Wars?

On a lighter note, there are some amusing bits in this book, such as his long suffering valet who finally quits after Sebastian ruins his umpteenth coat and waistcoat.  The man is hard on his clothes, to say the least.   An aristocrat who has a knack for solving mysteries, he's no pushover and is adept at getting to the root of the matter which usually makes him a target by those who don't want him digging around where he doesn't belong.  As a result, he finds himself in and out of scrapes constantly, I do wonder how long his luck will last.

If you are a fan of historical mysteries, particularly in the Regency era, this series is for you.  Sebastian is charming, handsome and urbane. He fits in anywhere, whether it's a glittering ballroom or a stinking rat infested sewer - often on the same night, to his valet's chagrin.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Under the Same Sky by Genevieve Graham

Book Description:

The year is 1746. A young woman from South Carolina and a Scottish Highlander share an intimacy and devotion beyond their understanding. They have had visions of each other their entire lives. And yet they have never met.
Now, with their lives torn asunder, Maggie Johnson and Andrew MacDonnell's quest to find each other is guided only by their dreams—and by the belief in the true love they share.

On the Carolina frontier Maggie Johnson’s family struggles to survive. Maggie’s gift of “the sight” and her visions show her a presence she calls Wolf. She watches him grow from a boy her age to a man even as she goes from child to woman.

Andrew MacDonald has always wondered about the girl he sees in his dreams. He is able to talk to her through their thoughts and vows that even if he must cross an ocean he will find her. They are thrust into different situations: Andrew fights for the doomed Jacobite cause and Maggie is captured by slavers, then rescued and brought into a kind, loving Native American tribe. They each believe in destiny and the power of the love they have shared forever.

Under the Same Sky is an emotionally memorable and heartrending story that covers a few different genres, so it's hard for me to pinpoint how to label it.  I wouldn't call it a romance novel, but there is a central love story integral to the plot.  I'd say it's similar to historical fiction only with a supernatural element to it.  The telepathic connection between the hero and heroine, Andrew and Maggie spans across the Atlantic Ocean.  Andrew and Maggie live on different continents, which keep them apart for most of the book until they finally come face to face with one another at the end.  As you can imagine, this is the driving force behind the story that keeps the reader interested - how and when are they finally going to meet?  Until that penultimate moment, the plot line revolves around each of them in their own separate lives and how they must deal with the injustices and brutality of their two very different worlds.  Yet they are survivors, managing to overcome what life hits them with.  The one constant that helps them cope and overcome life’s adversity is the mysterious mental communication between them.

Maggie in South Carolina and Andrew in Scotland have a relationship where they are connected in each other's thoughts since childhood.  They’ve grown up inside the other's head as long as they can remember, usually during dreams.  Yet, they know virtually nothing about the other until they are adults and tragedy strikes.  Maggie must deal with rape and survival.  She is eventually rescued by the Cherokee Indians.  Andrew, in Scotland deals with the battle of Culloden and its aftermath.  He decides to find Maggie in South Carolina and makes his way there to find her.  Along the way he becomes friends with various people who join him in his journey to America.  By the way, how did Andrew manage to travel all around Scotland without being arrested?  No one wore kilts after Culloden, especially in a busy seaport, unless you wanted to be arrested on the spot.

I liked the connection theory between her hero and heroine and how they can hear each other's thoughts from across the sea. Yet, it was a foregone conclusion they would hook up eventually, so the element of surprise and suspense was reduced, thus making the story a bit too placid for my tastes.  When they finally do meet face to face it was a bit anticlimactic, compared to their previous unexplainable “meeting” that happens when Andrew touches some standing stones while still in Scotland.  I did scratch my head concerning this part.

Inspired by Diana Gabaldon's Outlander books, the author wrote her own while waiting for the next book in Gabaldon's series to come out.  I can relate to that. *grin*  For a first time writer, I must give her credit, it was a brilliant story and the writing mechanics were nearly faultless, but it wasn't perfect.  The first part of the book was great, it had lots of drama and it was exciting, albeit sad.  What happened to her sister Rose was terrible.  Yet, as awful as it was, this part of the book was the most compelling.  Describing what happened to Maggie and her family was the best part of the whole story, though it may be hard to stomach for many. The whole capture and rape was very well written and exciting, but it really slowed down after the rescue.

The second half of the book seemed to lose its momentum and plodded along until finally Maggie and Andrew find each other.  A problem that came up occasionally was that the book dragged on or went off on tangents involving minor characters, veering away from the main focus of Andrew and Maggie.  I kept wondering, is this someone that is going to be a major character later on?  Then it turns out that, no they aren't.  I couldn't help being a little annoyed or let down at this realization.  If the book had been longer, a large tome, then yes I can see expanding on these secondary characters, but with a 300+ page book, it took away from the main focus.  Another issue I had was that some parts of the book were conveniently glossed over.  In the second part of the book when Maggie is accused of murder, her predicament is cleared up much too easily.  Yes, she spends time in jail, yet we don't see how it's all cleared up!  We only hear about it secondhand.  We never find out what happens and how Iain (one of Andrew's friends) cleared it all up. What happened to the corrupt judge?  What happened to Joe?  Her arrest and its resolution would have been much more dramatic if the Captain (the villain in the story) had been developed more.

Overall, this was a good read, but my main problem with this book is the fact that Andrew and Maggie remain apart through most of it. My favorite part was their mystical experience through the standing stones, although it was such a retread of Gabaldon’s time travel theory it took away from the moment.  I realize the buzzing and voices heard by Andrew at the time was an homage to Outlander, but this momentous scene could have been more original.  When they finally meet in America, due to their previous connection at the stones, it seemed almost inconsequential.  This is a great first effort by the author, despite some unevenness. Whereas the first part of the book was full of action, often tragic, the second half of the book lost that intensity.  I am looking forward to reading her next book though!


*There is no sex in this story, by the way, which would make this book very appealing in the YA market,

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Last Camel Died at Noon by Elizabeth Peters (audio)

Book Description:
The last camel is dead, and Egyptologist Amelia Peabody, her dashing husband, Emerson, and precocious son, Ramses, are in dire straits on the sun-scorched desert sands. Months before, back in cool, green England, Viscount Blacktower had approached them to find his son and his son's new bride, who have been missing in war-torn Sudan for over a decade. An enigmatic message scrawled on papyrus and a cryptic map had been delivered to Blacktower, awakening his hope that the couple was still alive. Neither Amelia nor Emerson believe the message is authentic, but the treasure map proves an irresistible temptation. Now, deep in Nubia's vast wasteland, they discover too late how much treachery is afoot (and on camelback)...and survival depends on Amelia's solving a mystery as old as ancient Egypt and as timeless as greed and revenge.

Quickie Review:
On audio, this (to me) wasn't quite as good as the previous installments in the Amelia Peabody mysteries.  Nothing against Barbara Rosenblat, who (as usual) does a fantastic job with narration.  She is beyond compare.  But in this, Book 6 of the series, the Emersons find themselves in the Sudan this time.  Excavating the usual sort of antiquities in the middle of nowhere, they find themselves stranded in the desert, their camels all dead, no water, no food and convinced death is near. Yet, they are rescued.  Where are they?  When they awake from their stupor of dehydration, they find themselves in the lap of luxury and well cared for.  But, they are essentially held prisoners in a lost kingdom, known as Holy Mountain.  Stuck in the middle of a power struggle between two brothers, one of whom Emerson nicknames "Nasty"!  It was more like they're stuck in the middle of a H. Rider Haggard novel, of which this is a homage (Amelia's favorite author*).

This has the usual amusing bits, but I got lost in the plot line and all the names started to sound alike after a while.  Still, it had it's humorous moments, I especially enjoyed Amelia's meeting of Blacktower.  Also, his grandson's name is a hoot - Reginald Forth-Wright!  I admit, these books are endearing to me, although this one was a slight departure from the norm, since they spent the majority of the time holed up in this secret kingdom.

*H. Rider Haggard wrote adventure books, King Solomon's Mines, Allan Quatermain and She, among others, which were quite popular at the end of the nineteenth century.


A Matter of Scandal by Suzanne Enoch

Book Description:
Miss Emma Grenville, who is no silly debutante, has had her fill of thick-headed noblemen who believe women exist solely to satisfy men. And her arrogant new landlord, the Duke of Wycliffe, is the worst of the lot! The too attractive cad wants to triple the rent on Emma's finishing school for young ladies to help get his uncle's estate out of debt. Well, Greydon Brakenridge clearly needs educating — about women. And Emma's just the one to enlighten him!

The sinfully handsome duke has never met a woman he couldn't outwit and seduce. And now that he's tricked Emma into a wager, he has the stubborn headmistress right where her wants her — and hopefully, soon in his bed. But the confirmed bachelor underestimates the intelligent and surprisingly sensual Miss Grenville. For she may be leading Greydon to a place neither dreamed they'd ever go — to the altar.

Quickie Review: 
At last we get to read the third and final in Enoch's With This Ring Series!  This is the story of Emma Grenville, the young headmistress of a girl's finishing school who tangles with Greydon Brakenridge, the Duke of Wycliffe who can't resist her condescending ways towards him.  We've gotten to know Emma slightly in the previous books and her happily ever ending was just delicious!  While visiting his uncle in the country who is having money problems, Greydon helps his uncle by having him raise his tenant's rents.  The finishing school happens to be one of the aforesaid tenants.  Well, you can imagine what happens!

Emma is furious with Greydon when she finds out he's behind her rent increase.  The two experience that well known romance novel syndrome of "instant dislike which turns into instant lust."  Yet, it works! In order to avoid the increase, Emma wagers the increase that he cannot teach her girls the ways of London and the necessary etiquette and ballroom behavior to help catch a husband.  Their wager has unforeseen consequences.  Throwing them together more and more, Greydon pursues her against his own good sense, which leads to all sorts of clandestine activities that makes them the subject of a major scandal that puts Emma's job at risk, as well as the closing of her school.  How can this confirmed bachelor clear her name and the girls that attend her school?  Can't you guess?  I liked this bit of fluff.  Emma is a good match for Greydon who needs some excitement in his life and interaction with a headmistress of girl's finishing school is just the thing!  She can hold her own to anything he throws at her.  A fun romp, plus I love the old world romance cover too (and she really is in her nightgown in the book!)  A fun regency romance by one of my favorite "new to me" authors!


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Not Wicked Enough by Carolyn Jewel

Book Description:
When Lily Wellstone heads to the Bitterward Estate to comfort her widowed friend Eugenia she certainly does not have romance in mind. In fact the playful but level-headed Lily is amused to no end when, en route, a gypsy gifts her with a beautiful medallion, claiming it will ensnare the romantic desires of a stranger.

But Fate has other plans in the form of Eugenia's ruggedly handsome brother, the Duke of Mountjoy. One day at Bitterward and Lily can't deny the sizzling attraction between her and the roguish duke. Nothing can come of it, of course. She's not looking for entanglements and he's practically engaged. But whether it's her outgoing nature and the duke's outlandish ways sparking off one another; or the mysterious gypsy medallion working "magic"-hearts are stirring in the most unexpected and wicked ways...

I love Carolyn Jewel's romances and Not Wicked Enough is just as good as her others.  This book was different and very sexy.

The wealthy and unmarried, Miss Lily Wellstone is an original.  Independent, adventurous, sexy and charismatic, she is her own woman.  She knows what she wants.  Although never married, if she wants a lover, so be it.  While visiting her dear friend Eugenia, she meets Eugenia's brother, the Duke of Mountjoy (an apt name) - definitely lover material.  Although he's virtually engaged to another, the two cannot deny the irresistible attraction they have towards one another and before long they can't keep their hands off each other.  Coincidence that the Duke just happens to find her wherever she is in the middle of the night while exploring his estate?  Both go into a torrid affair with a 'no strings' attached attitude. A secret fling while Lily visits his home for a few weeks. 

On the surface, they are perfectly civil and polite to one another, yet in private their clandestine series of meetings in the middle of the night (Lily remains awake most nights, a night owl, sleeping during the day) scorch up the pages of this book.  Lily is just as adventurous when it comes to sex as she is in all other matters and Mountjoy is her match.  To say the least they have fun together, but the fact that Lily intends to leave and go back to her own home eventually is always hanging over their heads.   It can't just stop there!  I scratched me head over this plot point. Why did it take two extremely intelligent people so long to figure out what was so obvious to the reader?  Neither is married, both are wealthy, what's the obstacle, apart from Lily repeating saying she doesn't want to get married because she wants to remain true to her fiance who died years before. They are meant to be together forever.  It's obvious.  Meanwhile as things heat up, we find out that Lily has not always been so daring, in fact, she has been a recluse for a good part of her life.  She has not always been this way, and as the story unfolds we uncover her past and it's implications in regard to her future. 

The Duke also has an interesting back-story.  Coming into his title unexpectedly ten years earlier, he lived and worked on a farm with his siblings, having no idea he would become a duke.  His origins are humble, until one day a solicitor informs him that he has inherited the title from a distant cousin.  Mountjoy is a simple hardworking man with simple tastes - and no interest in clothes.  This is an ongoing sore point with Lily who is herself a clothes horse.  Always up on the latest fashions and very concerned about her appearance she cannot abide how poorly tailored his clothes are.   She'd make a good valet for him - he even dreams of her as his valet, referring to her as just "Wellstone" in his dreams - and soon in real life.  Much to his "real" valet's delight, Lily convinces Mountjoy to see a good tailor, picking out the materials herself and gradually has him outfitted worthy of a duke.  The difference is amazing!  Lily is becoming more and more important to him in his life.  As the two of them carry on their affair, will either one of them be able to call it off and end it eventually?  Does he still intend to marry his neighbor or is Lily looking more and more like duchess material to him?

As much as I enjoyed this book quite a bit, Lily is a cool customer and I never quite felt like she was a real person, she seemed almost too perfect, beautiful and accomplished - at everything.  I pictured a mannequin more than a hot blooded woman, although some parts were very hot between them.  Mountjoy was almost like two different men, his original pre-duke self, an earthy lover with sensual wants and desires and then his ducal persona.  All business, dedicated to the running of the estate, but perhaps to the point where he ignored the fact his widowed sister was wasting away and needed more attention.  It took Lily to point out his sister's condition, otherwise he would have remained clueless.

This was a great story, sexy and fun but with some underlining seriousness to the tale as well. There is a running theme of self denial throughout this story.  A quote I liked was apt from Lily's point of view which was right on the money and summed it up for everyone:
Self denial, she'd found, was the unfailing precursor to overindulgence in the very thing one sought to avoid.
If you're already a Carolyn Jewel fan, this is another winner to add to the collection.  If you haven't tried her yet, do so.  She writes some of the best historical romances out there.  Well researched and written with unusual plot twists. Different types of heroines and heroes, not your average run of the mill story.  There's always something a bit intriguing about her books, sometimes even supernatural.  Here it's the gypsy medallion - did it throw Lily and the Duke together or not?  Give this a try and work your way through her back list as well, you won't be sorry!

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