Friday, July 20, 2012

Mid-Summer July Reading Wrap Up

We're on the back end of July now, when the reading is sultry and hot.  Beach and pool reading abounds.  July had a couple of books I have been waiting for with baited breath, and I was not disappointed by them in the least - stellar releases delivered to my kindle.  This is what I've been reading lately:

Defiant by Pamela Clare

Book Description:
Major Connor MacKinnon despises his commander, Lord William Wentworth, beyond all other men. Ordered to rescue Wentworth's niece after the Shawnee take her captive, he expects Lady Sarah Woodville to be every bit as arrogant and contemptible as her uncle. Instead, he finds a brave and beautiful lass in desperate peril. But the only way to free Sarah is for Connor to defeat the Shawnee warrior who kidnapped her—and claim her himself.

Torn by tragedy from her sheltered life in London, Lady Sarah is unprepared for the harshness of the frontier—or for the attraction she feels toward Connor as he guides her first through the consummation of their forced union and then through the dangers of the wilderness. When they reach civilization, however, it is she who must protect him. For if her uncle knew all that Connor had done to save her, he would surely kill him.

But the flames of passion, once kindled, are difficult to deny. As desire transforms into love, Connor will have to defy an empire to keep Sarah at his side.

I was blown away by this excellent addition to Pamela Clare's MacKinnon's Rangers series, I simply loved it.  This is Connor's story, the youngest of the three MacKinnon brothers.  Taking place in 1760 in upstate New York, this is the third in the series set during the French and Indian War.  Connor is the last of the MacKinnons to remain unmarried.  Seeing how his two elder brothers have become such family men, Connor is convinced he'll never be the same way, that it's not in him to settle down - until he finds himself the unlikely rescuer of the niece of his nemesis Lord William Wentworth.  Lady Sarah, who has been captured by the Shawnee Indians is a strong heroine.  She finds the courage and stamina to withstand her capture and together she and Connor make a powerful hero and heroine, despite their different backgrounds.  Their chemistry is terrific, the story is wonderful and I couldn't wait to see how they would end up together when there seemed to be so much going against them.   Much of her rescue reminded me of parts of Surrender (the first book in the series and my favorite of them all) and it was hard to put down.  Often I found myself reading this book in the middle of the night.  It was good to see so many old friends, Joseph, Iain, Morgan, Annie.  Lord William came across as even more of a villain here than in the last book, but I'm sure we haven't seen the last of him yet.  This is a spellbinding story with lots of action, adventure and a sensual intensity that also makes it a great love story.  A keeper!  4.5/5

Ravishing the Heiress by Sherry Thomas 

Book Description:
Millicent understands the terms of her arranged marriage all too well. She gets to be a Countess by marrying an impoverished Earl. And in return, the Earl Fitzhugh receives the benefit of her vast wealth, saving his family from bankruptcy. Because of her youth, they have agreed to wait eight years before consummating the marriage—and then, only to beget an heir. After which, they will lead separate lives.

It is a most sensible arrangement. Except for one little thing. Somehow Millie has fallen head over heels in love with her husband. Her husband, who has become her very best friend, but nothing more… Her husband, who plans to reunite with his childhood sweetheart, the beautiful and newly widowed Isabelle, as soon as he has honored the pact with his wife…

As the hour they truly become husband-and-wife draws near, both Millie and Fitzhugh must face the truth in their hearts. Has their pact bred only a great friendship—or has it, without either of them quite noticing, given rise to a great love?

An emotional second installment in the Fitzhugh Trilogy centering on Millie and Fitz and their arranged marriage. Millie, an heiress who has been in love with Fitz from the first, must face facts that his old love, Isabelle, has returned from India a widow. He intends to live with her, but only after he has sired an heir from his wife - Millie. In flashbacks we see the early days of their eight year marriage and how it grew into a true partnership between friends. Much of this story is melancholy until Fitz comes to his senses and realizes what a gem he has and how the memory of Isabelle is nothing more than that - a memory. Fitz has his flaws but I liked him. I did scratch my head over his thoughtlessness, particularly at the end at Henley Park when Millie is there? Overall a gut wrenching story for Millie, but with a satisfying ending - albeit rushed. I would have preferred a lengthier 'time in the sun' for Millie and Fitz once he realizes his mistake. As usual, Sherry is fantastic when it comes to strong emotional themes.  I'm in awe of her talent and she is an absolute favorite and auto buy for me.  Bring on the next in this trilogy!  4/5

Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase

Book Description:
From the Journals of Sophia Noirot: A dress is a weapon. It must dazzle his eye, raise his temperature . . . and empty his purse.

A blue-eyed innocent on the outside and a shark on the inside, dressmaker Sophy Noirot could sell sand to Bedouins. Selling Maison Noirot's beautiful designs to aristocratic ladies is a little harder, especially since a recent family scandal has made an enemy of one of society's fashion leaders. Turning scandal to the shop's advantage requires every iota of Sophy's skills, leaving her little patience for a big, reckless rake like the Earl of Longmore. The gorgeous lummox can't keep more than one idea in his head at a time, and his idea is taking off all of Sophy's clothes.

But when Longmore's sister, Noirot's wealthiest, favorite customer, runs away, Sophy can't let him bumble after her on his own. In hot pursuit with the one man who tempts her beyond reason, she finds desire has never slipped on so smoothly . . .

Loretta Chase does it again! This time Sophie Noirot has hero, the Earl of Longmore tied up in knots as he tries to keep up with her while trying to find his sister Clara who has bolted from London to avoid marrying a fortune hunter. Sophie does cartwheels around him due to her amazing ability with disguises and flair for drama, whether in the shop or with a pen. In other words - he is a lost man. Her beauty and intellect had him from their first meeting.  Is she a strong heroine?  You bet!  Despite falling in love with her, can Longmore overcome society's condemnation of an aristocrat marrying a dressmaker?  How can it work?  (It helps that her sister married a duke).  The real crux is will his mother ever accept her? I loved this book and it was a pleasure to see Sophie in action - she's an original! I only wish Longmore was more of an intellectual match for her, rather than someone who believes beating someone to a pulp is the way to solve everything!  At any rate, this was an entertaining historical, and another beautiful cover! 4/5

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (audio)

Book Description:
The sequel to Hilary Mantel's 2009 Man Booker Prize winner and New York Times bestseller, Wolf Hall delves into the heart of Tudor history with the downfall of Anne Boleyn

Though he battled for seven years to marry her, Henry is disenchanted with Anne Boleyn. She has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. When the discarded Katherine dies in exile from the court, Anne stands starkly exposed, the focus of gossip and malice.

At a word from Henry, Thomas Cromwell is ready to bring her down. Over three terrifying weeks, Anne is ensnared in a web of conspiracy, while the demure Jane Seymour stands waiting her turn for the poisoned wedding ring. But Anne and her powerful family will not yield without a ferocious struggle. Hilary Mantel's
Bring Up the Bodies follows the dramatic trial of the queen and her suitors for adultery and treason. To defeat the Boleyns, Cromwell must ally with his natural enemies, the papist aristocracy. What price will he pay for Anne's head?

This was not as good as Wolf Hall, in my opinion.  It did have it's moments - but not many.  The same old 'how do we get rid of Anne' storyline from Cromwell's point of view.  I listened to this on audiobook, narrated by Simon Vance.  He did a fine job, but overall, I found nothing overly special about it.  Oddly enough, I love Simon Vance's narrating, but even that could not win me over on this dry historical fiction. Cromwell is all business here, as expected, since he has almost no home life any longer, his wife and daughters dead and his sons are getting older and becoming their own men. He's not as likeable here, his dry wit and insulting observations on everyone is not as amusing as it was in Wolf Hall.  Here they sound more bitter and just mean.  The characters in the novel were flat and inscrutable and there is a certain pretentiousness in the writing itself that took away from the story.  Although the author's pronoun use is slightly better than in Wolf Hall, what is it with her odd use of he, Cromwell instead of just using his name?  These affectations are so unnecessary, in my opinion. Why do it?  I really lose patience with this sort of thing, just give me a good story, develop your characters so they are not just two-dimensional historical figures I can read about on Wikipedia.  I just don't understand all the accolades and rave reviews, I've read so much better in this genre.  3.5/5

Like No Other Lover by Julie Anne Long

Book Description:
It's the last chance for Cynthia Brightly, the ton's most bewitching belle. Driven out of London by a secret scandal, she must find a grand husband at the Redmonds' house party before word of her downfall spreads all over England. Unfortunately, someone at Pennyroyal Green is already privy to the whispers of broken engagements and dueling lovers: Miles Redmond, renowned explorer and—thanks to his brother's disappearance—heir to the family's enormous fortune.

Miles set his sights on Cynthia once, at a time when the ambitious beauty thought herself too good for a second son. But now he's heir apparent, relishing his control. He strikes a bargain with her: he'll keep Cynthia's steamy secrets and help her find a husband among the guests—in exchange for a single kiss.

What could be the harm in a simple kiss? Cynthia is about to discover that it's enough to unleash fierce passion—and that Miles Redmond is most certainly like no other lover in the world

This historical turned out to be a really good romance!  It had all the elements I love: humor, steam, romance and an added dash of poignancy to it that tugged at my heart strings.  Cynthia Brightly needs to get married in a hurry.  With no family and barely any money left, the former toast of London must marry soon or be faced with the unhappy eventuality of becoming a companion to a nasty old lady in a bath chair in Northumberland.  I found it hard to like Cynthia at first, but she grew on me and by the end she had me.  While at a house party in Sussex she meets Miles Redmond, the handsome naturalist and unlikely heir to the Redmond fortune, (since his older brother, Lyon, has disappeared).  Little does she know that Miles once met her - or rather - he overheard her a few years back and was repelled by what he heard come from her lips.  She called him a "dour second son."  Taking a page from Elizabeth Bennet's book, he is prejudiced against her from then on, convinced she's nothing more than a greedy mercenary bitch.  He can barely be civil to her when she visits his family home as a guest for two weeks at a house party. That doesn't stop him from wanting to kiss her though - plus other things as well.  Yet he knows she's all wrong for him.  He needs an heiress who can finance his next expedition, he is an explorer.  They're both in need of something other than love - money.  Despite his common sense which tells him to avoid her at all costs, he is intrigued by her and can't stay away.  They make a bargain, he'll help her with finding a husband by giving her pertinent information on the single men at the house party, if she gives him a kiss - and from there it turns into an eventful two weeks!  I really loved this book, although it took me a long time to read it due to my busy schedule.  If I had had the time, I would have raced through it!  A keeper!  4/5

Unclaimed by Courtney Milan

Book Description:

Her only hope for survival…
Handsome, wealthy and respected, Sir Mark Turner is the most sought-after bachelor in all of London—and he's known far and wide for his irreproachable character. But behind his virtuous reputation lies a passionate nature he keeps carefully in check...until he meets the beautiful Jessica Farleigh, the woman he's waited for all his life.

Is to ruin the man she loves…
But Jessica is a courtesan, not the genteel lady Sir Mark believes. Desperate to be free of a life she despises, she seizes her chance when Mark's enemies make her an offer she can't refuse: seduce Mark and tarnish his good name, and a princely sum will be hers. Yet as she comes to know the man she's sworn to destroy, Jessica will be forced to choose between the future she needs…and the love she knows is impossible.

Well, I liked this second installment in the Turner Series better than Unveiled, but not by much.  The theme of deception is continued in this implausible story of Sir Mark Turner - an aristocratic virgin who extols the practicality of chastity and subsequently has a throng of followers that all want to follow him.  Do I hear a distant voice singing "See Me... Feel Me... Touch Me... Heal Me ...?"  Jessica Farleigh, a beautiful but "nice" courtesan who is out of money makes a deal with one of Sir Mark's enemies to seduce Mark so she can earn enough money to leave the courtesan business and rent a nice little cottage in the country and live a quiet life forever.  She poses as a widow who just happens to live in the little country village where he is staying for a time to get away from the throngs of followers that hounded him in London.  Unfortunately things don't go as planned, for she didn't count on falling in love with him - and vice versa.  The book wasn't bad, but the whole "I'm not good enough for you because I'm a whore" theme grew tiresome and was dragged out to infinity. I found the entire storyline farfetched and the outrageous duel at the end fell flat. Yet I'm still interested in their brother Smite's story, so I will continue with the series, but I am not finding Milan as stellar as everyone makes her out to be.  3.5/5

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