Saturday, August 11, 2012

August and July Re-cap Reviews

Ten quickie book reviews! I've been reading a lot as we head into the later part of summer, but I can't say anything has really bowled me over, with the exception of one new to me author and my first venture into Texas historical romance.  There definitely seems to be a theme to books I've read lately: scarred heroes.  I love them for some reason, probably due to Jamie Fraser.  In addition, my fascination continues with the secret service, this time regarding the assassination of JFK written by Jackie Kennedy's secret service agent.

Texas Destiny by Lorraine Heath

Book Description:
Arriving on the Fort Worth train, Miss Amelia Carson, mail-order bride, had never met Dallas Leigh, the Texan she promised to marry. The tall cowboy at the station wasn't Dallas. He was Houston, Dallas's brother, sent to escort her on the rugged three-week trek to the ranch where Dallas waited. Brought up in war-ravaged Georgia, Amelia thought Dallas's letters made Texas sound like heaven, a place for her dreams to grow with the right man beside her.

By all appearances, Houston Leigh would hardly be considered the "right man." The war he survived had scarred him inside and out, and he was little competition for his handsome brother. But from the moment Houston met Amelia, he knew she possessed the courage this wild land needed. She had eyes that could see past his wounded face to his soul. And he would fight any man—except his brother—for her heart. Now he and Amelia were riding down dangerous trails, sleeping under the stars, and God help them, they were falling in love.

This was a beautiful love story of a scarred and lonely cowboy who must escort his brother's mail order bride fiancee to the brother's ranch from Ft. Worth. It's a month long trek in which they meet many trials and tribulations, but the main one is how how do they cope with the fact they are falling deeply in love with one another and she is meant for another? Much of this story was touching and bittersweet. I simply loved it and nearly cried in a few parts. Houston's scarred life both physically and mentally was sad and painful to read about, but Amelia understood him so well. They were truly soul mates for one another. Well written, evocative of the time, Texas in the late 1870's, it pulled at my heart strings. Is it any wonder? I'm a sucker for scarred hero romances. On the surface it appears to be a quiet story, involving a simple romantic triangle, but there is so much emotion going on beneath the surface, it's much, much more. It's simply great.  This is my first book by Lorraine Heath and I'm eager to read the rest of her backlist, this being one of her earlier books.


She Tempts the Duke by Lorraine Heath

Book Description:
Three young heirs, imprisoned by an unscrupulous uncle, escaped—to the sea, to the streets, to faraway battle—awaiting the day when they would return to reclaim their birthright.

Sebastian Easton always vowed he would avenge his stolen youth and title. Now back in London, the rightful Duke of Keswick—returning from battle a wounded, hardened, changed man—cannot forget the brave girl who once rescued him and his brothers from certain death.

Lady Mary Wynne-Jones paid dearly for helping the imprisoned young Lords of Pembrook, and she remembers well the promise she made to Sebastian all those years ago: to meet him once more in the abbey ruins where they shared a bold, forbidden kiss. While Mary is betrothed now to another, a friendship forged with dark secrets cannot be ignored. Unexpected passion soon burns dangerously between them, tempting Sebastian to abandon his quest for retribution to fight for a love that could once again set him free.

Another by Lorraine Heath, one of her latest in a new series, but I had my ups and downs with this one.  Set during Regency times in England, instead of late 1870's Texas,  I saw many similarities between this story and Texas Destiny, most notably another scarred hero and silhouettes as a seduction technique. Though I love scarred heroes, Sebastian is much too obsessed with regaining his title as Duke and regaining his lands.  Not to mention,  seeking revenge on the uncle who tried to have him killed.   Because of his obsession, he treated Mary badly, the woman he's supposed to care so much about.  I scratched my head over Sebastian's treatment of her, as did she.  I had trouble warming up to him and Mary's character was much too spontaneous and thoughtless of what she was doing.   Though she knew better, she disregarded the rules of avoiding scandal, to the point that it was unbelievable.  Still, this story wasn't bad, but I much preferred Texas Destiny.  Still, I look forward to Tristan and Rafe's stories.


Slightly Tempted by Mary Balogh

Book Description:
Meet the Bedwyns—six brothers and sisters—men and women of passion and privilege, daring and sensuality.  Enter their dazzling world of high society and breathtaking seduction…where each will seek love, fight temptation, and court scandal…and where Morgan Bedwyn, the willful youngest daughter, discovers that true love is a temptation no woman can—or should—resist.

Young. Ravishing. Exquisitely marriageable. From the moment he spies Lady Morgan Bedwyn across the glittering ballroom, Gervase Ashford, Earl of Rosthorn, knows he has found the perfect instrument of his revenge. But wedlock is not on the mind of the continent’s most notorious rake. Nor is it of interest to the fiercely independent Lady Morgan herself…until one night of shocking intimacy erupts in a scandal that could make Gervase’s vengeance all the sweeter. There is only one thing standing in his way: Morgan, who has achieved the impossible—she’s melted his coolly guarded heart. For Gervase, only the marriage bed will do, but Morgan simply will not have him. Thus begins a sizzling courtship where two wary hearts are about to be undone by the most scandalous passion of all: glorious, all-consuming love.

Morgan's story took me forever to read and I barely liked it.  For one thing, I dislike revenge plot lines and then I found Morgan to be the most annoying, headstrong, impetuous heroine I've come across in a long time.  I just felt like slapping her.  Over and over I rolled my eyes over something she did.  The worse being when she makes an incredibly rash mistake with the hero, Gervase, while in Brussels.  Didn't she care or understand the implications of it - and what that might mean on her wedding night with a future husband?!  Plus, the whole thing, brief as it was, was anything but romantic.  I cringed.  On top of that, the whole theme of revenge and misunderstanding was tiresome. It took me a while to warm up to Gervase, but once we learn the truth behind his scandal, I had more sympathy for him, but he really did nothing for me as a hero, and the constant French phrases of endearment he uses ma chérie and mon chère became irritating and clichéd. 

The first half of the book while in Brussels bored me to tears, and the endless nursing and bandaging of the soldiers after the Battle of Waterloo went on and on.  It was almost reminiscent of Gone With the Wind, but without the intriguing characters of Rhett and Scarlett.  Once they return to England it wasn't much better - maybe... slightly.  Morgan became impossible once she learns the truth of Gervase's original intent to woo her and why.  Her behavior towards him was inconsistent, which is it?  Does she want to jump his bones or remain indifferent to him and keep up the charade of being betrothed and then jilt him?  I hated this entire scenario, which comes up a lot in this series, fake engagements.  Yes, I get it, Morgan is only 18, but she was so childish, yet we're supposed to believe she is so mature in other ways?  I could not wait for this book to be over, and the only reason why I finished it and didn't give up on it long ago was because I want to read all the books leading up to Wulfric's story!  The best part of this book was the very last line - the cliffhanger lead in for the next book in the series.  Hopefully it's better than this disappointment.


Dancing at Midnight by Julia Quinn

Book Description:

Lady Arabella Blydon can sense the secrets smoldering behind the dark, penetrating gaze of Lord John Blackwood. Still she desires this handsome, mysterious stranger who stirs her passions like no other man--even as he warns her to stay away.

War scarred Lord John's body and soul. But this brazen, intoxicating, infuriating bluestocking poses an even greater threat: she is forcing him to care again. For Belle is a woman of bold, independent spirit, equally unconcerned about society's petty restrictions and love's hidden perils. And the beautiful, determined schemer will not rest until she returns joy and light to the damaged lord's life...and wins a place in his shuttered heart forever.

I really loved the previous book in this series, but this one fell a bit short.  This is Belle's story, she is the cousin to the heroine in Splendid.  She meets John Blackwood, the man of her dreams and shamelessly pursues him, only she doesn't realize that he is the target of a vengeful lunatic out to kill him.  John is also suffering from guilt because he was too drunk to stop said lunatic from raping a young Spanish girl when he said he'd protect her during the war.  It's been eating him up for five years and he feels he's not worthy to fall in love with anyone - until he meets Belle.  Not as endearing a story as Splendid, and I found much of it was sort of disjointed.  It also doesn't have the same seamless fluidity and humor of her later books.  Belle was kind of nutty - a bit too nutty - and their romance and marriage happened ridiculously fast.  Still, not a bad historical, it is Julia Quinn after all, but light.


Dark Desires after Dusk by Kresley Cole

Book Description:
Kresley Cole continues her bestselling Immortals After Dark series with this electrifying tale of a ruthless demon mercenary and the lovely young halfling who enchants him. A seductive beauty he can never have, yet can't resist... 

Cadeon Woede will stop at nothing to atone for the one wrong that will haunt him forever. But once he secures the key to his redemption, the halfling Holly Ashwin, Cade finds that the woman he thought he could use for his own ends and then forget haunts him as much as his past.

Raised as a human, Holly never knew that some frightening legends are real until she encounters a brutal demon who inexplicably guards her like a treasure. Thrust into a sensual new world of myth and power, with him as her protector, she begins to crave the demon's wicked touch.

Yet just when he earns Holly's trust, will Cade be forced to betray the only woman who can sate his wildest needs -- and claim his heart?

I really enjoyed Cadeon and Holly's story, it was hard to put down!  Holly, an OCD math genius in New Orleans, finds out that she's really not just an average woman, but really a Valkyrie, who's also "a Vessel" and tons of Lore people are after her to either kill her or breed with her (long story.)  Cadeon, a mercenary has been hired to capture her and bring her to this evil sorcerer in exchange for a legendary sword that he's been looking for - for 900 years!  To make matters worse, Holly is the woman that is destined to be his mate - and he's been spying on her for the past year, all the while knowing he can't have her because she is human... or is she?  Much happens on this crazed road trip as they travel north in the wilds of Canada to the sorcerer's castle.  It's oh-so-complicated, but also oh-so-exciting and filled with adventure and - heat, especially for the big "first time." Very sexy.  I recommend it! 


Something About Emmaline by Elizabeth Boyle

Book Description:
Alexander Denford, Baron Sedgwick, is a gentleman to be envied. He lives a rakish life of well-celebrated ease and contentment and has one person to thank for his perfectly ordered existence—his dearest wife, Emmaline. She never complains about his mistresses or his penchant for late nights out. His friends are envious, but they don't know the truth—Emmaline doesn't exist. But when he starts receiving bills from London for clothes, shoes, hats and a staggering amount of other female accoutrements, he realises something is decidedly amiss.

Posing as Emmaline isn't a stretch for the newly arrived Lady Sedgwick, she's been conning gentry for years. But as the popular baron's wife, she now has the one thing that has eluded her—entree into London's inner circles. Against Alexander's better judgment, Emmaline is impossibly fixed in his life. And suddenly Emmaline is challenging him to be the husband she deserves.

Emmaline is simply adorable.  Alex, Baron Sedgwick is nonplussed when the imaginary bride he made up to get all the matchmaking mamas and his grandmother off his back, becomes a reality!  Emmaline turns up in his London townhouse, posing as his countess and against all common sense, he goes along with it and becomes "besotted" with her!  She is a great character and I loved this book! It was a pleasure to see how the two of them work things out and fall in love.  Many mad-cap moments as Emmaline charms her way into Society, and Alex, against all good judgment and common sense - falls in love with his wife!  A charming romance, light, fluffy and fun - as long as you suspend disbelief!


The Last Good-bye by Sarah Mayberry

Book Description:
Ally Bishop knows the settling kind when she sees one. And Tyler Adamson is definitely one. Ordinarily this never-in-one-place-long girl would stay far, far away. Maybe it's the way he looks in jeans, or the way he looks at her, but suddenly Ally is breaking her own rules with dizzying speed. All that Australian temptation right next door...well, there's only so much resistance one girl can have.

As she dives into a fling with Tyler, Ally assures herself she can maintain perspective. After all, he's only here long enough to care for his ailing father. That gives them a time limit, right? With each passing day, however, she falls for Tyler more. And soon she has the strongest urge to unpack her suitcase and stay a while.
Another winner by Harlequin author, Sarah Mayberry.  The poignant story of grown son, Tyler Adamson, returning to his once abusive home to care for his estranged father during his last dying days of cancer.  There is a lot of baggage to deal with which makes the story bittersweet.  Lots of emotion and realistic issues to deal with, I really felt this was Tyler's story more than Ally's.  Although it might not sound romantic, it was.  The relationship the develops when Tyler meets Ally, the next door neighbor who manages to capture his heart, is a nice foil to what is going on with his father .  This was an overall good story with some serious issues, but a good love story too, though Ally's side of the story seemed weak in comparison to Tyler's.  I preferred the sequel to this one about his brother, One Good Reason, but this one still had me up in the middle of the night reading until I finished it.


Mrs. Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill

Book Description:
For four years, from the election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy in November 1960 until after the election of Lyndon Johnson in 1964, Clint Hill was the Secret Service agent assigned to guard the glamorous and intensely private Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. During those four years, he went from being a reluctant guardian to a fiercely loyal watchdog and, in many ways, her closest friend.

Now, looking back fifty years, Clint Hill tells his story for the first time, offering a tender, enthralling, and tragic portrayal of how a Secret Service agent who started life in a North Dakota orphanage became the most trusted man in the life of the First Lady who captivated first the nation and then the world.

When he was initially assigned to the new First Lady, Agent Hill envisioned tea parties and gray-haired matrons. But as soon as he met her, he was swept up in the whirlwind of her beauty, her grace, her intelligence, her coy humor, her magnificent composure, and her extraordinary spirit.

From the start, the job was like no other, and Clint was by her side through the early days of JFK's presidency; the birth of sons John and Patrick and Patrick's sudden death; Kennedy-family holidays in Hyannis Port and Palm Beach; Jackie's trips to Europe, Asia, and South America; Jackie's intriguing meetings with men like Aristotle Onassis, Gianni Agnelli, and André Malraux; the dark days of the year that followed the assassination to the farewell party she threw for Clint when he left her protective detail after four years. All she wanted was the one thing he could not give her: a private life for her and her children.

Filled with unforgettable details, startling revelations, and sparkling, intimate moments, this is the once-in-a-lifetime story of a man doing the most exciting job in the world, with a woman all the world loved, and the tragedy that ended it all too soon— a tragedy that haunted him for fifty years.

I enjoyed this quick read about what it was like to be Mrs. Kennedy's secret service man. Lots of interesting antidotes, but I must admit I was exhausted reading about all her travels and after a while it all began to sound like a repetitive travelogue.  She went all over the place - Greece, Paris, Pakistan, India - many times on her own without JFK.  I had no idea that she spent so much of her time away from the White House!  Almost every weekend she'd go to their rented house in Middleburg, Virginia (she was a huge riding enthusiast), then it was in Hyannis Port for the entire summer, Newport with her parents in September and Palm Beach for the holidays.  I had no idea!  I do wonder what the public thought of that at the time when JFK was president.  (I was too young to remember.)  Was their any criticism that Jackie was away from the White House so often?  The last parts of the book describing the events of the assassination, the aftermath and Kennedy's funeral were riveting and my heart went out to Mr. Hill and his eyewitness account of what it was like for him right there at the limousine when it happened and after.  He was very close to her, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn he fell in love with her during his time as her agent.  Who wouldn't?  A good book and must read for anyone interested in what life was like in the Kennedy White House (and outside it as well.)  Lot of wonderful pictures of Mrs. Kennedy I'd never seen before too. 


 One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde (audio)

Book Description:
Jasper Fforde's exuberant return to the fantastical BookWorld opens during a time of great unrest. All-out Genre war is rumbling, and the BookWorld desperately needs a heroine like Thursday Next. But with the real Thursday apparently retired to the Realworld, the Council of Genres turns to the written Thursday.

The Council wants her to pretend to be the real Thursday and travel as a peacekeeping emissary to the warring factions. A trip up the mighty Metaphoric River beckons-a trip that will reveal a fiendish plot that threatens the very fabric of the BookWorld itself.

Once again
New York Times bestselling author Jasper Fforde has a field day gleefully blending satire, romance, and thriller with literary allusions galore in a fantastic adventure through the landscape of a frisky and fertile imagination. Fans will rejoice that their favorite character in the Fforde universe is back.

I've really enjoyed all of the previous Thursday Next book in this series, most of which I've listened to on audio, as was this one.  But this sixth installment to the series was simply... awful. I could barely makes heads or tails of it, it wasn't even the "real" Thursday through the entire book. Most of it just seemed to be a number of literary and grammatically themed gags all thrown together higgledy-piggledy in order to create an incoherent plot line about Thursday Next being missing (or is she?) and the "written" Thursday Next has to masquerade as the "real" Thursday to find out what happened to the real Thursday! Yes, we see some old familiar faces, but I missed the real Thursday as she's supposed to be! It just wasn't the same, although the narration was fine, as usual.  Still there was no jumping in and out of books, or seeing familiar classic characters from books we all know and love.  The fact I even finished this book took superhuman effort on my part. Big disappointment.


A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant

Book Description:
Newly widowed and desperate to protect her estate and beloved servants from her malevolent brother-in-law, Martha Russell conceives a daring plan. Or rather, a daring plan to conceive. After all, if she has an heir on the way, her future will be secured. Forsaking all she knows of propriety, Martha approaches her neighbor, a London exile with a wicked reputation, and offers a strictly business proposition: a month of illicit interludes . . . for a fee.

Theophilus Mirkwood ought to be insulted. Should be appalled. But how can he resist this siren in widow’s weeds, whose offer is simply too outrageously tempting to decline? Determined she’ll get her money’s worth, Theo endeavors to awaken this shamefully neglected beauty to the pleasures of the flesh—only to find her dead set against taking any enjoyment in the scandalous bargain. Surely she can’t resist him forever. But could a lady’s sweet surrender open their hearts to the most unexpected arrival of all . . . love?

I had high hopes for this debut romance from this author, but it just didn't win me over.  The premise of why Martha wanted the baby was noble but unrealistic to me and I couldn't get into the storyline.  It's just not my kind of romance, I guess.  I liked the hero, Theo, but Martha was prickly and unlikeable for the majority of the book.  She was too "good." Yes, I see how she is "awakened" but I found the love scenes awkward (as they were meant to be at first) but they actually made me uncomfortable.  The ending was rushed as well, I would have liked to have seen them have their moment together, finally happy - an epilogue, at least?  The fact she could not enjoy sex unless she admired and respected Theo as a person, explained a lot.  Theirs was a quiet burgeoning of feelings between two people who find themselves thrown together in a highly unlikely situation.  As a result, it took me a while to finish this.  Martha was just too noble and driven in her quest, to the point where she was blind to see that what she was doing was wrong - until the end.  The first part of the book was a bit dull with all her "goodness" interspersed with the daily grim business of getting her with child, but it did at least pick up in the second half as we see Theo's transformation into a responsible young man with a conscience.  Still, much of it was about his estate matters and trying to win over Martha by being a concerned landowner.  This had it's moments, but not as lascivious as the book blurb makes it sound.  A quiet romance heavy with the theme of noblesse oblige.

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