Thursday, August 15, 2013

July 2013 Reviews

Before I launch into my July book reviews, a brief note about my sadness regarding the recent passing of eighty-five year old Barbara Merts aka Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michael's. Barbara is the author of numerous books, but Crocodile on the Sandbank is one of my all time favorite historical mysteries and the series as a whole is fantastic. Set in Victorian times (and then into Edwardian), it mostly takes place in Egypt. It follows the hilarious archaeological enthusiasts, Amelia Peabody, her husband, Emerson and their precocious son, Ramses - it is very well done. I'm still making my way through the series, it has about 20 books in it. Especially good on audio, with the incomparable Barbara Rosenblat narrating. Barbara will be dearly missed. Rest in peace.

Now onto the reviews...

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory by Ben Macintyre (audio)

Book Description:
In 1943, from a windowless basement office in London, two brilliant intelligence officers conceived a plan that was both simple and complicated— Operation Mincemeat. The purpose? To deceive the Nazis into thinking that Allied forces were planning to attack southern Europe by way of Greece or Sardinia, rather than Sicily, as the Nazis had assumed, and the Allies ultimately chose.

Charles Cholmondeley of MI5 and the British naval intelligence officer Ewen Montagu could not have been more different. Cholmondeley was a dreamer seeking adventure. Montagu was an aristocratic, detail-oriented barrister. But together they were the perfect team and created an ingenious plan: Get a corpse, equip it with secret (but false and misleading) papers concerning the invasion, then drop it off the coast of Spain where German spies would, they hoped, take the bait. The idea was approved by British intelligence officials, including Ian Fleming (creator of James Bond). Winston Churchill believed it might ring true to the Axis and help bring victory to the Allies.

Filled with spies, double agents, rogues, fearless heroes, and one very important corpse, the story of Operation Mincemeat reads like an international thriller.

Unveiling never-before-released material, Ben Macintyre brings the reader right into the minds of intelligence officers, their moles and spies, and the German Abwehr agents who suffered the “twin frailties of wishfulness and yesmanship.” He weaves together the eccentric personalities of Cholmondeley and Montagu and their near-impossible feats into a riveting adventure that not only saved thousands of lives but paved the way for a pivotal battle in Sicily and, ultimately, Allied success in the war.

This was a great (true) story about how during WWII the Allies were able to make the Nazi's think they were going to invade Greece instead of Sicily, a major coup on the road to winning the war. The plan involved loads of behind the scenes espionage, but primarily the big scheme was planting the dead body of what appeared to be a naval officer delivering important war plans of the invasion - misleading war plans. All in intricate detail which does tend to get bogged down occasionally. Very well done on audio, narrated by John Lee. I highly recommend it to anyone that is interested in Fifth Column spies during WWII. All of Macintyre's books of this are fascinating, if this is your thing.


Pleasure of a Dark Prince by Kresley Cole

Book Description:
Lucia the Huntress: as mysterious as she is exquisite, she harbors secrets that threaten to destroy her—and those she loves.

Garreth MacRieve, Prince of the Lykae: the brutal Highland warrior who burns to finally claim this maddeningly sensual creature as his own.

From the shadows, Garreth has long watched over Lucia. Now, the only way to keep the proud huntress safe from harm is to convince her to accept him as her guardian. To do this, Garreth will ruthlessly exploit Lucia's greatest weakness—her wanton desire for him.

Another rip-roaring roller coaster ride in the Immortals After Dark (IAD) series. Here we have Garreth McGrieve, Lykae who finds his mate - Lucia, a Valkyrie who is the greatest Archer and due to a promise she made eons ago, she must not have sex - at all - ever.  Of course, this is anathema to Garreth who lives for sex - especially with his mate, but he finds ways to get around this with her. For the first half of book, Lucia is evading him, while he is chasing her around the world until they wind up in the Amazon together. This was one long adventure of ups and downs, often reading like an Indiana Jones movie - with lots of sex! Loved it!


Demon From the Dark by Kresley Cole

Book Description:
A scorching tale of a demon outcast poisoned with vampire blood and the vulnerable young witch he vows to protect—even from himself.

Malkom Slaine: tormented by his sordid past and racked by vampiric hungers, he's pushed to the brink by the green-eyed beauty under his guard.

Carrow Graie: hiding her own sorrows, she lives only for the next party or prank. Until she meets a tortured warrior worth saving.

In order for Malkom and Carrow to survive, he must unleash both the demon and vampire inside him. When Malkom becomes the nightmare his own people feared, will he lose the woman he craves body and soul?

I didn't expect to love this next and 10th in the IAD series - but I did.  If fact I think it's a favorite so far for me.  Exciting battle scenes, a vulnerability in both hero and heroine, amazing chemistry - and let's not leave out the hot sex. The intense plot line definitely makes you want to continue on in this paranormal series which has only gotten better and better with each successive book.  Here we come full circle with Malkolm, a demon that is turned into a vampire (demons loath vampires) against his will.   Intense and strong, I loved to see his "human" side eventually shine through, particularly cute with the young witch Ruby.   Plus, I loved seeing so many of the past characters (and future) coming together in one book - and what the hell is this Order all about? And La Dorada - yipes!  A thrilling read and hard to put down in the second half.


Open Country by Kaki Warner
Book Description:
Molly McFarlane is desperate, forced to flee to the frontier with her late sister's children. While outrunning the trackers their stepfather set on her trail, she marries a dying man, assuming his insurance settlement will provide for them. But the man doesn't die. And when Molly ends up caring for the man and his own family, she finds that even the best of lives can emerge from the worst of circumstances... 

Second in the trilogy of brothers living in New Mexico Territory in the early 1870's, this is Hank's story. Molly McFarlane, out of desperation, marries an unconscious Hank Wilkins because she believes he won't live after a train derailment and she needs the railroad widow's settlement money because she is fleeing her evil brother-in-law with her niece and nephew. Of course, this isn't right and she knows it, which becomes a major fly in the ointment when Hank lives after all. His amnesia doesn't help matters either as the lie is prolonged. Good story, with a truly scary villain who is tracking Molly and the children. I loved Hank who is the big, strong, silent type.  Shy about his unusually handsome face, he hides himself under a beard most of the time.  To say the least, Molly is devastated by the first time he sees him smile clean shaven.  Wonderful story between the two, though I did have trouble with the deception going on for so long, but it was still great to see so much of Brady, who I really loved from the first book in the series, as well as Brady's wife, Jessica.  Brady sees to Hank's safety while he is ill and barely gives Molly an inch.  He's not a pushover when it comes to her, and I was glad of it.   I'm becoming a Western lover and these books are great and keep me riveted and reading, reading, reading until they're finished.  The character development and the plot lines are first rate.


The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig

Book Description:
As a lawyer in a large Manhattan firm, just shy of making partner, Clementine Evans has finally achieved almost everything she’s been working towards—but now she’s not sure it’s enough. Her long hours have led to a broken engagement and, suddenly single at thirty-four, she feels her messy life crumbling around her. But when the family gathers for her grandmother Addie’s ninety-ninth birthday, a relative lets slip hints about a long-buried family secret, leading Clemmie on a journey into the past that could change everything. . . .

What follows is a potent story that spans generations and continents, bringing an Out of Africa feel to a Downton Abbey cast of unforgettable characters. From the inner circles of WWI-era British society to the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the red-dirt hills of Kenya, the never-told secrets of a woman and a family unfurl.

Although this book is very different from author Willig's previous Pink Carnation books, the dual storyline scenario remains.  The story flip flops between modern day events in Manhattan with Clemmie and the series of events that happened in the 1920s between the beautiful Beatrice and the less prepossessing Addie, Clemmie's grandmother.  There is a mystery of what became of Beatrice, who married and was banished to Africa and then disappears there.   What happened to her and how did Addie wind up with Beatrice's husband?  And what about the children?  I found the story a bit slow at first but then after the second half of the book it really picked up and I found it hard to put down. I really wanted to find out what the truth was behind the events that slowly unfold in Africa.  But alas I found the big finale and the big secret a bit anti-climatic.  Still I enjoyed it though I found it very similar to a Kate Morton novel.  Coincidentally, while reading The Ashford Affair, I was listening to one of Morton's books simultaneously on audio.  (See review below).  I must admit, I found Willig's novel much more riveting though there was a certain something lacking.  Neither Clemmie nor Addie really won me over and frankly, I found Beatrice the only really interesting character in the book.  Clemmie's budding romance with her distant step-cousin didn't sit well with me, and I was actually rooting for her to wind up with the Englishman!  Oh well...


By Love Undone by Suzanne Enoch

Book Description:
Madeleine Willits was shunned by London society for a scandal that was no fault of hers, and forced to seek a paid position in the country. So when Quinlan Bancroft, Marquis of Wakefield, comes to direct the household during his uncle's illness, Maddie is determined to detest the nobleman on sight. But though the 'marquis' is easy to dislike, the 'man' himself is a different matter. Quinlan's aplomb in the face of mud, demented pigs, and musket-waving villagers is deucedly appealing. Small wonder, then, that Maddie quite forgets to repulse Quinlan when he enfolds her in a sweet embrace...

Caught kissing his uncle's lovely young companion, Quinlan feels he should make amends, and use his rank to re-establish Miss Willits in society. Unfortunately, it is soon apparent that Maddie has no idea how to resist importunate young rakes who believe her ripe for the plucking. But Maddie knows there is only one rake whose attentions she truly needs to fear—because only Quinlan Bancroft possesses the power to break her heart.

Vintage Enoch and a surprisingly entertaining romance of Madeleine, a ruined young noblewoman taking care of an elderly invalid who is the estranged brother to a duke. His nephew comes to check up on his uncle and help with management of the estate.  He unwittingly falls for Madeleine, no matter how much of shrew she appears to be!  He thinks she's his uncle's mistress at first, but that is cleared up soon enough.  They trade insults and barbs and fight through a good part of the book - and it was a lot of fun! The plot was a bit far fetched bringing her back to London to reinstate her reputation with his mother (the duchess) overseeing her come back.  I found the whole thing a quick read and I gobbled it up!


Never Marry a Cowboy by Lorraine Heath

Book Description:
Sensitive and lovely Ashton Robertson fell in love with Kit Montgomery the moment she first laid eyes on him. Four years later, her most cherished dream has come true: the rakish English aristocrat is her husband, if only for a brief time. But will a few days in paradise be enough, now that Ashton has found sweet freedom in his arms?

To ease his tormented soul, Kit agreed to marry his dear friend's sister. But Ashton's gentle beauty and fiery spirit are slowly captivating the hardened rogue, causing him to reevaluate his outlook on life...and to wonder if, perhaps, they should turn their blissful temporary union into something more permanent.

This is the last of this Rogues in Texas western series, but I found it still lacked the oomph of her Texas Destiny series which I adored.  This western romance is the story of young girl who is believed to be dying of consumption.  Her brother, wishing to grant her last wish, asks the town of Fortune's (now) sheriff, Kit Montgomery to marry her in name only so that she can have a nice wedding day to remember until the day she dies.  After much hesitation, based on his history with his brother's dead wife, Kit agrees to marry her.  Of course, they wind up falling in love which is exasperated by the fact she's expected to die within six months.  They try to avoid too much intimacy but it's impossible after a while.  Both are torn, but of course it all ends well, but only after much hand wringing and worry.  I liked this better than book 2 in the series and it kept my attention, but overall it didn't have the emotional pull I believe it should have, based on the angsty storyline.  Btw, this needs a new cover design pronto - it's so reddd!


Slightly Sinful 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 Alleyne Bedwyn, the passionate middle son, is cut off from his past—only to find his future with a sinfully beautiful woman he will risk everything to love.

As the fires of war raged around him, Lord Alleyne Bedwyn was thrown from his horse and left for dead—only to awaken in the bedchamber of a ladies' brothel. Suddenly the dark, handsome diplomat has no memory of who he is or how he got there—yet of one thing he is certain: The angel who nurses him back to health is the woman he vows to make his own. But like him, Rachel York is not who she seems. A lovely young woman caught up in a desperate circumstance, she must devise a scheme to regain her stolen fortune. The dashing soldier she rescued from near-death could be her savior in disguise. There is just one condition: she must pose as his wife—a masquerade that will embroil them in a sinful scandal, where a man and a woman court impropriety with each daring step...with every taboo kiss that can turn passionate strangers into the truest of lovers.

What a surprise, I really enjoyed this installment of the Bedwyns saga.  The previous book was such a let down I've had this one languishing on my "to be read" list forever!  This is Alleyne's story.  After the battle of Waterloo, Alleyne Bewcastle, believed dead by his family, has amnesia and is found by Rachel York who is living in a brothel in Brussels - long story, she is not a prostitute. She comes from a noble background but is down on her luck. She nurses him back to health and they pose as a married couple, returning to England so she can claim her inheritance.  Once again, another Balogh false marriage/engagement scenario where the couple falls in love while pretending to be in love.  Despite the usual Balogh formula, I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would, and the ending was worth it all.  Now onto Wulf's story - finally!


The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (audio)

Book Description:
A long lost letter arrives in the post and Edie Burchill finds herself on a journey to Milderhurst Castle, a great but moldering old house, where the Blythe spinsters live and where her mother was billeted 50 years before as a 13 year old child during WWII. The elder Blythe sisters are twins and have spent most of their lives looking after the third and youngest sister, Juniper, who hasn’t been the same since her fiance jilted her in 1941.

Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother’s past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Milderhurst, and Edie is about to learn more than she expected. The truth of what happened in ‘the distant hours’ of the past has been waiting a long time for someone to find it. 

I had a hard time with this novel, it took me forever to get into and I almost put it down, but I persisted until the end.  I found the story hard to follow for some reason.  Lots of red herrings, just when you think you've got it, and you've figured out the story of the "mud man" and who he is or what happened to Tom - you realize you're wrong!  Not the best I've read by Kate Morton, but by the end it kept me interested, though an overall melancholy story.  I loved the WWII setting, which tied in with my recent surge of interest in WWII non-fiction titles.  On audio the narration was great by Caroline Lee who is always superb and gives it a nice touch, I love her voice and accent.


The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan

Book Description:
Miss Jane Fairfield can’t do anything right. When she’s in company, she always says the wrong thing—and rather too much of it. No matter how costly they are, her gowns fall on the unfortunate side of fashion. Even her immense dowry can’t save her from being an object of derision.

And that’s precisely what she wants. She’ll do anything, even risk humiliation, if it means she can stay unmarried and keep her sister safe.

Mr. Oliver Marshall has to do everything right. He’s the bastard son of a duke, raised in humble circumstances—and he intends to give voice and power to the common people. If he makes one false step, he’ll never get the chance to accomplish anything. He doesn’t need to come to the rescue of the wrong woman. He certainly doesn’t need to fall in love with her. But there’s something about the lovely, courageous Jane that he can’t resist…even though it could mean the ruin of them both.

I was not as enamored by this story as everyone else seems to be, but I find Courtney Milan hit or miss.  Jane Fairfield, in order to avoid being married off, pretends to be a social clod, actually turning people off by her inane talk and outlandish fashion sense.  Yet, she is nothing she appears to be.  She is doing this all for the love of her sister who has "fits."  I thought it was extremely clever the way Milan wrote Jane and how she managed to insult everyone by looking like she did not mean to and so forth.  But what I had trouble with is when we got further into the story and her friendship with Oliver. I loved both he and Jane together, but why doesn't Oliver, who is so brilliant, realize just how much he should marry her from the first?  It should not have been such a dilemma for him?  Yet he struggled.  The big problem was so obviously solvable.  We do get his side of things at the very end of the story, but by that point it seemed kind of lame. Too much hand wringing over the dilemma of whether he should declare himself for her or not and how it would affect his political aspirations.  She's of age, an heiress and they have a mutual attraction and love. Why not?  She's got tons of money, that will fix anything as far a future career for him.  Instead of feeling for them I just wanted to slap some sense into them!  I remember feeling the same way in The Duchess Wars. Such a big to do. All this worrying when the solution was so obvious. Overall this was good for me but not great, though some bits were fun such as their horse ride together and their honest opinions of the pitfalls of courtship. Some little gem-like moments, but overall - meh.


Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (audio)

Book Description:
Chicago Stars quarterback Dean Robillard is the luckiest man in the world: a bona-fide sports superstar and the pride of the NFL with a profitable side career as a buff billboard model for End Zone underwear. But life in the glory lane has started to pale, and Dean has set off on a cross-country trip to figure out what's gone wrong. When he hits a lonely stretch of Colorado highway, he spies something that will shake up his gilded life in ways he can't imagine. A young woman . . . dressed in a beaver suit.

Blue Bailey is on a mission to murder her ex. Or at least inflict serious damage. As for the beaver suit she's wearing . . . Is it her fault that life keeps throwing her curveballs? Witness the expensive black sports car pulling up next to her on the highway and the Greek god stepping out of it.

Blue's career as a portrait painter is the perfect job for someone who refuses to stay in one place for very long. She needs a ride, and America's most famous football player has an imposing set of wheels. Now, all she has to do is keep him entertained, off guard, and fully clothed before he figures out exactly how desperate she is.

But Dean isn't the brainless jock she imagines, and Blue—despite her petite stature—is just about the toughest woman Dean has ever met. They're soon heading for his summer home where their already complicated lives and inconvenient attraction to each other will become entangled with a charismatic but aging rock star; a beautiful fifty-two-year-old woman trying to make peace with her rock and roll past; an eleven-year-old who desperately needs a family; and a bitter old woman who hates them all.

As the summer progresses, the wandering portrait artist and the charming football star play a high-stakes game, fighting themselves and each other for a chance to have it all.

Natural Born Charmer is for everyone who's ever thought about leaving their old life in the dust and never looking back. Susan Elizabeth Phillips takes us home again . . . and shows us where love truly lives.

Another great one by SEP on audio, I'm sorry to finish the last of the Chicago Stars series for I simply loved it.  Dean Robillard, natural born charmer and quarterback to the Stars meets fate in the shape of a petite woman wearing a beaver costume on the side of the road. He picks her up and so begins his unusual courtship with Blue Bailey as they make their way to his farm in Nashville.  Things aren't exactly what he thought they'd be like while there.  He unexpectedly meets up with his estranged parents: his gorgeous 52 year old ex-groupie mother whom he wants nothing to do with and his aging rock star father, Jack Patriot.  In addition there's his 11 year old stepsister who has run away from home and a mean old lady who own the town of Garrison, Tennessee where his farm resides. It's one great story and I loved it!  Loads of laughs, but heartwarming parts too as only SEP can do.  Great characterizations, I loved everybody, especially Dean and Nita Garrison and the late great Anna Fields was amazing as narrator!  Loved, loved the way she did Nita especially!


A Kiss to Rememeber by Teresa Medeiros

Book Description:
Laura Fairleigh needs a husband. If she is to keep a roof over her siblings’ heads, the prim rector’s daughter must wed by her twenty-first birthday. When she finds a mysterious stranger with the face of an angel and the body of Adonis unconscious in the forest and with no memory of his name or his past, she decides to claim him for her own. Little does she know that her fallen angel is really the devil in disguise.

Sterling Harlow, the notorious rakehell known as the “Devil of Devonbrooke,” awakens to the enchanting kiss of a lovely young woman who informs him he is her long-lost betrothed. With her sun-kissed cheeks and smattering of freckles, she looks every inch the innocent, but her curves possess a woman’s allure. When she assures him he is the perfect gentleman, he wonders if he’s lost his wits as well as his memory. He would have sworn he was not a man to be satisfied with mere kisses—especially from lips as sweet and luscious as Laura’s.As he attempts to uncover the truth before their wedding night,
A Kiss To Remember ignites a passion neither of them will ever be able to forget....

An endearing romance of Sterling Harlow, a notorious duke who falls off his horse and hits his head while en route to one of his smaller estates.  He gets amnesia (another amnesia romance!) and is talked into believing he's engaged to Laura Fairleigh, a rector's daughter who his mother had befriended and took him before her death.  Laura, an orphan with her siblings is presently living in the house where he lived with his parents before he was fostered off to become the heir to the dukedom of which he now.  I really loved the way this story developed, and I couldn't put it down in the second half when Sterling regains his memory and the sh*t hits the fan!  There's a lot more to it than that, but I really did love it and the 2nd half of the book is pretty sizzling!


Surrender to the Devil by Lorraine Heath

Book Description:
Frannie Darling was once a child of London's roughest streets, surrounded by petty thieves, pickpockets, and worse. But though she survived this harsh upbringing to become a woman of incomparable beauty, Frannie wants nothing to do with the men who lust for her, the rogues who frequent the gaming hall where she works. She can take care of herself and feels perfectly safe on her own—safe, that is, until he strides into her world, and once again it becomes a very dangerous place indeed.

To bed her but not wed her. That's what Sterling Mabry, the eighth Duke of Greystone, wants. But Frannie abhors arrogant aristocrats interested only in their own pleasure. So why then does the thought of an illicit tryst with the devilish duke leave her trembling with desire? Her willing body begs for release...and a wicked, wonderful surrender.

A surprisingly quick read which I enjoyed - my favorite in this series so far.  This is Frannie Darling's story.  Protected by Feagan's Lads (as she calls them) she finally finds love with Sterling, the Duke of Greystroke (another duke named Sterling!)  Only due to their differences in status it's understood he can never marry her.  He ruthlessly pursues her and because she is so taken with him - and against her better judgment - they embark upon a short affair, both knowing it can only hurt them in the end.    As far-fetched as much of it was, I liked it. 


Where Dreams Begin by Lisa Kleypas

Book Description:
"We're strangers in the darkness," he whispered. "We'll never be together like this again."

Zachary Bronson has built an empire of wealth and power, but all London knows he is not a gentleman. He needs a wife to secure his position in society—and warm his bed in private. But one alluring, unexpected kiss from Lady Holly Taylor awakens a powerful need within him beyond respectability.

An exceptional beauty whose fierce passions match Zachary's own, Holly always intended to play by society's rules, even when they clashed with her bolder instincts. But now a dashing stranger has made her a scandalous offer that does not include matrimony. Should she ignore the sensuous promise of a forbidden kiss...or risk everything to follow her heart to a place where dreams begin?

Vintage Kleypas and surprisingly better than I thought it would be.  Lady Holland Taylor (Holly) is a young widow that is caught off-guard by the fabulously wealthy self made Zachary (typical Kleypas hero) who kisses her in a conservatory at a ball, having mistaken her for someone else.  From there, he can't forget her and she goes to work for him, teaching him etiquette and how to be accepted by polite society.  Of course, they fall in love in the usual Kleypas way - passionate and stormy.  Yet, despite the feelings she has for Zachary she is torn about the memory and promises she made to her dead husband George.  I really enjoyed this book and wonder if she'll ever write a novel for Zachary's rival, the mysterious Vardon Ravenhill.


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