Saturday, March 9, 2013

Reviews from February & March 2013

I've been a maniac with reading lately!  This past month I've discovered a new to me author Grace Burrowes!  In addition, the anticipated Elizabeth Hoyt romance from her Maiden Lane series came out!   And so, without further ado...

Lady Sophie's Christmas Wish by Grace Burrowes

Book Description:

Lady Sophie Windham has maneuvered a few days to herself at the ducal mansion in London before she must join her family for Christmas in Kent. Suddenly trapped by a London snowstorm, she finds herself with an abandoned baby and only the assistance of a kind, handsome stranger standing between her and complete disaster.


With his estate in ruins, Vim Charpentier sees little to feel festive about this Christmas. His growing attraction for Sophie Windham is the only thing that warms his spirits--but when Sophie's brothers whisk her away, Vim's most painful holiday memories are reawakened.

It seems Sophie's been keeping secrets, and now it will take much more than a mistletoe kiss to make her deepest wishes come true...

This is the first thing I've ever read by this author and I really, really loved this regency holiday romance, better than most!  First in her Duke's Daughters Series, Lady Sophia Windham, daughter of the Duke of Moreland, unexpectedly finds herself having to take care of an infant baby boy. Knowing nothing about babies and nappies and feeding and bathing she is thankful when Vim, Lord Sandal comes to her aid. Stranded in London, he happens to know all about these things, and during a blizzard they meet by chance at an inn and he winds up showing her all she needs to know. She lets him stay at her empty ducal house in London, posing as a housekeeper.  Over the course of two weeks, they become close and fall in love. Not only with Kit, the baby, but with each other as well, yet neither is aware of the others feelings. Tender, funny and very sexy as well. A great read!  Now I'm going on to read the brother's stories (that came earlier) and I already went on to read the two prequels that tell the story of her parent's courtship and early marriage.


Two Novellas: The Courtship and The Duke and His Duchess by Grace Burrowes

Book Description: 
These feature the foundation for her bestselling Windham series. 
The Courtship: This is the tender story of love tested and won, and how Percy Windham, the dashing and brilliant man who was never supposed to become the Duke of Moreland, wooed the amazing lady who became his beloved Duchess.

Percival Windham is a second son, and a cavalry officer acclaimed and respected by his men. He is immensely attractive and distracts himself with the women who seem to throw themselves at him at every turn, until at a country house party, he meets beautiful, retiring Esther Himmelfarb. Esther's wealthier relations are taking shameless advantage of her dependence on them, and only Percy seems to see the striking intelligence beneath her modest demeanor. Percy sees her as the perfect companion and she finds in him the man of her dreams.

The Duke and His Duchess: Percival and Esther Windham had to beat the odds and face down gossip when their brief courtship resulted in marriage. Five years later, they have four children in their nursery, a ducal estate to care for, ailing family members needing care, and more trouble on the horizon than even a strong marriage might endure.

I devoured these novellas, since I'm newly into the series. Here we find out how His Grace and Her Grace meet and fall in love and then the story of Esther and Percival's early marriage with all their kids! My goodness, no wonder Esther is a bit worn out with melancholia! I enjoyed this early life of His And Her Graces and how they came about raising his two bastard children in the same household with the rest of his brood.  As usual, with novellas, everything seemed too fast, but I enjoyed these prequels, plus the Georgian setting is one of my favorites!


Lord of Darkness by Elizabeth Hoyt

Book Description: 
He lives in the shadows. As the mysterious masked avenger known as the Ghost of St. Giles, Godric St. John's only goal is to protect the innocent of London. Until the night he confronts a fearless young lady pointing a pistol at his head—and realizes she is his wife.

Lady Margaret Reading has vowed to kill the Ghost of St. Giles—the man who murdered her one true love. Returning to London, and to the man she hasn't seen since their wedding day, Margaret does not recognize the man behind the mask. Fierce, commanding, and dangerous, the notorious Ghost of St. Giles is everything she feared he would be—and so much more.

When passion flares, these two intimate strangers can't keep from revealing more of themselves than they had ever planned. But when Margaret learns the truth—that the Ghost is her husband—the game is up and the players must the temptation that could destroy them both.

With another Georgian setting, this next installment of Hoyt's Maiden Lane series features Godric St. John as the Ghost of St. Giles.  His wife, Megs, whom he married two years earlier in an arranged marriage - and hasn't seen since - has come to town to get pregnant - by him! She also is bent on killing the Ghost for she's convinced he killed her former love two years earlier. Godric, having been a widower doesn't feel like he can erase the memory of his dead wife.  Still, Margaret is determined and after a few awkward attempts they get into the swing of things of consummating their marriage.   I found the whole scenario a teensy bit uncomfortable and I didn't find myself becoming overly attached to either one of them, though I did like the hidden identity theme overall.  Still, I'm waiting for The Duke of Wakefield's story, frankly. Hoyt is a favorite and an auto-buy, so even though I didn't love this one, it's a big step up from the average historical.


Nobody's Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (audio)

Book Description:
Genius physics professor Dr. Jane Darling desperately wants a baby. But finding a father won’t be easy. Jane’s super-intelligence made her feel like a freak when she was growing up, and she’s determined to spare her own child that suffering. Which means she must find someone very special to father her child. Someone who’s more comfortable working out his muscles than exercising his brain.

Cal Bonner, the Chicago Stars’ legendary quarterback, seems like the perfect choice. But his champion good looks and down-home ways are deceiving. Dr. Jane is about to learn a little too late that this good ol’ boy is a lot smarter than he lets on—and he’s not about to be used and abandoned by a brainy, baby-mad schemer.

As much as I love this series, especially on audio, I admit, I had trouble with this one.  The entire premise of Jane's deceit to get a baby was hard for me to stomach, and Cal macho gruffness just wasn't very likable at first.  But... they both grew on me eventually.  The side story of Cal's parents helped, though Jim's behavior towards Lynn was troublesome as well - until he wises up.  By the end, I was enjoying myself, and Anna Fields narration made the storyline easier to swallow. Yet, I couldn't shake the whole "ick" feeling I got thinking about how they got together and why in the first place.


In Bed With the Devil by Lorraine Heath

Book Description:
They call him the Devil Earl—a scoundrel and accused murderer who grew up on the violent London streets. A proper young lady risks more than her reputation when consorting with the roguishly handsome Lucian Langdon, but Lady Catherine Mabry believes she has no choice. To protect those she loves, she would do anything—even strike a bargain with the devil himself.

Lucian desires respectability and a wife above all else, but the woman of his choosing lacks the social graces to be accepted by the aristocracy. Catherine can help Lucian gain everything he wants. But what she asks for in exchange will put their very lives in jeopardy. When danger closes in, Catherine discovers a man of immense passion and he discovers a woman of immeasurable courage. As secrets from his dark past are revealed, Lucian begins to question everything he knows to be true, including the yearnings of his own heart.

Not bad, but this didn't really capture my interest like Lorraine Heath's Westerns. This is the story of Lady Catherine Mabry, an aristocratic daughter of a dying duke who is fascinated by the ne'er do well Earl of Claybourne who's life mirrors that of Oliver Twist. She seeks out the earl because of his notorious background from the streets of London to ask him for a favor - to kill her best friends abusive husband. They make a bargain. Catherine will school Annie, the girl the earl grew up with on the streets whom he intends to marry. But soon it's Catherine that he dreams of and lusts over. It gets complicated and farfetched, but I kept with it.  Funny, how I just finished a book that centers around a gaming hell (Sarah MacLean's newest) and this one does as well! 


Prince Charming by Julie Garwood

Book Description: 

Only her beloved grandmother, Lady Esther, knew how devastated Taylor Stapleton had been when her fiancé eloped with Taylor's cousin. Now dear Esther - one of London's richest and most formidable matriarchs - lies dying. But first she was going to help Taylor pull off the scam of the season.  To escape becoming a ward of her unscrupulous uncle, Taylor would wed Lucas Ross, a rugged American rancher. Lady Esther's money would enable Ross to return home to Montana. Taylor had her own urgent reason to go to America...a precious legacy she hadn't revealed to Ross, for they had agreed to part ways once they reached Boston. But as her handsome new husband spoke of life in Montana, Taylor began planning a new future. To Taylor, the wide-open spaces of Montana sounded like paradise....

I'm discovering I'm really loving Western romances now, and I really loved this vintage Garwood.  It reminded me at times of her The Lion's Lady, an all time favorite.  Set in 1868, Taylor, an aristocratic Englishwoman, must marry an American stranger so she can elude her horrible lecherous uncle that is after her inheritance and her two baby nieces that are living in Boston. Taylor and her new handsome husband, Lucas Ross, travel by steamship to Boston where they expect to go their separate ways - but nothing happens as it should! Taylor is beautiful and resourceful - always gets her way. She drives Lucas crazy, especially since he's so attracted to her! Great story, hard to put down. Loved the side characters too. Taylor and Lucas are classic Garwood, very like her winsome heroines from her Scottish highlander romances who stop their big and brawny Highland heroes in their tracks.


The Wedding Bargain by Victoria Alexander

Book Description: 
London's most scandalous beauty, Pandora Effington, intends to marry a hero - not one of those boring, run-of-the-mill bachelor lords who leave her cold. No, the husband she desires must be someone special, someone whose touch sends delicious shivers down her spine, and who will do absolutely everything in his power to win her love. Someone like . . . Maximillian Wells.

The dashing Earl of Trent cannot believe his ears . . . or his eyes. Here before him stands beautiful Pandora Effington, and the fiery, unattainable heiress is making him a most tantalizing offer. Maximillian can have the lady's hand in marriage . . . if he agrees to play a game of her devising - one involving great risk, ingenuity, passion, and determination.

It is a game he has no intention of losing . . .

This series has been on my TBR list forever, but for some reason I could not get into this romance.  I had such trouble keeping track of what was going on, the characters weren't all that interesting to me and I almost didn't finish it.  I didn't sympathize with the heroine at all, I thought she was petulant and childish to continue with the bargain while insisting she didn't want to get married to Trent!  Yes, it was clever how he managed to complete the twelve tasks of Hercules, but I found it frustrating the way they both would not act on their feelings and kept playing these games, afraid to say what they really thought.  I'm not sure if I'll continue with the series (it's endless!) though I have liked other books by her.


The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

Book Description:
She will not give up…

Three months ago, governess Serena Barton was let go from her position. Unable to find new work, she’s demanding compensation from the man who got her sacked: a petty, selfish, swinish duke. But it’s not the duke she fears. It’s his merciless man of business—the man known as the Wolf of Clermont. The formidable former pugilist has a black reputation for handling all the duke’s dirty business, and when the duke turns her case over to him, she doesn’t stand a chance. But she can’t stop trying—not with her entire future at stake.

He cannot give in…

Hugo Marshall is a man of ruthless ambition—a characteristic that has served him well, elevating the coal miner’s son to the right hand man of a duke. When his employer orders him to get rid of the pestering governess by fair means or foul, it’s just another day at the office. Unfortunately, fair means don’t work on Serena, and as he comes to know her, he discovers that he can’t bear to use foul ones. But everything he has worked for depends upon seeing her gone. He’ll have to choose between the life that he needs, and the woman he is coming to love…

I have had a hot and cold relationship with Courtney Milan.  I've found her writing inconsistent, either I love it or don't like it all. I really loved this novella and prequel to her Brothers Sinister series.  A young governess insists on getting what is owed her after a loutish duke gets her in the family way. She sits in a park across from the duke's town house every day. His henchman, the Wolf of Clermont must set thing right, but winds up falling under the spell of Serena, the governess, instead. Their courtship is unusual. A very special little story and I really loved its ending too. A small gem.


Simply Irresistible by Rachel Gibson

Book Description:
Georgeanne Howard, charm school graduate and Southern bell extraordinaire, leaves her fiance at the altar when she realizes she just can't marry a man old enough to be her grandfather, no matter how rich he is. John Kowalsky unknowingly helps her escape, and only when it's too late does he realize that he's absconded with his boss's bride. At the height of his hockey career, this bad boy isn't looking to be anyone's savior but his own, no matter how beautiful this angel may be. But a long night stretches ahead of them - a night too sultry to resist temptation.

First in her Chinooks series, it took me a little while to warm up to the storyline - and John, it's big, brawny, hockey player hero.  I'm not much of a hockey fan.  But after half way through the book I was into it.  Georgeanne and John's one night together has repercussions that haunts both of them years later.  I did have a bit of a problem with the way Georgeanne kept their daughter a secret, but Lexie was adorable and I loved to see how she interacted with John. What is it lately, the last couple of books I've read involve either babies or cute kids? Sweet story and smokin' hot love scenes. Will definitely continue with the series.


The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer (audio)

Book Description:
The past is a foreign country. This is your guidebook. Imagine you could get into a time machine and travel back to the fourteenth century. What would you see? What would you smell? More to the point, where are you going to stay? Should you go to a castle or a monastic guest house? And what are you going to eat? What sort of food are you going to be offered by a peasant or a monk or a lord? This radical new approach turns our entire understanding of history upside down. It shows us that the past is not just something to be studied; it is also something to be lived. It sets out to explain what life was like in the most immediate way, through taking you, the reader, to the middle ages, and showing you everything from the horrors of leprosy and war to the ridiculous excesses of roasted larks and haute couture.Being a guidebook, many questions are answered which do not normally occur in traditional history books. How do you greet people in the street? What should you use for toilet paper? How fast - and how safely - can you travel? Why might a physician want to taste your blood? And how do you test to see if you are going down with the plague? The result is the most astonishing social history book you are ever likely to read: revolutionary in its concept, informative and entertaining in its detail, and startling for its portrayal of humanity in an age of violence, exuberance and fear.

The premise here is to imagine oneself as a time traveler to the 14th century England, as if this is a Fodor's guide.  Ever wonder how they "wiped themselves" in medieval England?  It covers just about everything you could possibly want to know so that you can get the lay of land, customs and what and what not to do. I enjoyed it, though it could be a bit dry at times. Narration was fine on audio.  A lot of eye openings facts I didn't know about!


Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas

Book Description: 
Liberty Jones has dreams and determination that will take her far away from Welcome, Texas - if she can keep her wild heart from ruling her mind. Hardy Cates sees Liberty as completely off-limits. His own ambitions are bigger than Welcome, and Liberty Jones is a complication he doesn't need. But something magical and potent draws them to each other, in a dangerous attraction that is stronger than both of them.

When Hardy leaves town to pursue his plans, Liberty finds herself alone with a young sister to raise. Soon Liberty finds herself under the spell of a billionaire tycoon - a Sugar Daddy, one might say. But the relationship goes deeper than people think, and Liberty begins to discover secrets about her own family's past. Two men. One woman. A choice that can make her or break her. A woman you'll root for every step of the way. A love story you'll never forget.

A pretty good contemporary - it is Lisa Kleypas after all, but it took a long while for it to actually get going with the long and drawn out background of Liberty's childhood and her crush on Hardy.  Finally by the time she has a career and meets Gage and the rest of his family, it seemed like the book was winding down and there didn't seem to be much left for their part of the story. The love triangle was hardly touched on and wasn't given enough time to develop.  Often I wasn't sure who I was rooting for until the end.  I got the feeling this book should have been much longer, but got cut down some where along the way in editing.  I still liked it a lot though, but I think the title is a misnomer.  Liberty did not have a sugar daddy and never considered it.  I love Lisa Kleypas but Sugar Daddy seemed to lack that certain something and strong emotional impact her earlier historicals have, though I recognized Gage's type from her earlier novels.  Alpha all the way. Will I read the rest of the series?  You bet!


Where Shadows Dance by C.S. Harris (audio)

Book Description:
Sebastian St. Cyr finds himself in the realm of international intrigue when he investigates the murder of a foreign office diplomat-a murder his reluctant bride-to-be, Hero Jarvis, knows something about. And when a second body is found, Sebastian must race to unmask a ruthless killer who is now threatening Hero's life-and the life of their unborn child. 

Not quite as good as the last book in the series, but still engrossing, maybe because I listened to this on audio this time. Sebastian is investigating the murder of a young man found dead who worked for the foreign office. More and more dead bodies begin to turn up as well as Sebastian's nuptials approach.  Poor Sebastian, will he be happy in this new marriage and what about Kat?  Many foreigners and diplomats to keep track of and the actual motive for the murders, once solved, was a bit hard to follow.  Great narration with the oh so familiar Davina Porter of Outlander fame.


A Rogue in Texas by Lorraine Heath

Book Description:
A duke's son, Grayson Rhodes was a maverick who had left London's suffocating upper class world to earn his own fortune. So he seized the chance to work Abbie Westland's land...and from the moment he first saw Abbie, he was determined to use his arms to work the farm by day and to soothe her through the nights in his strong embrace.

Abbie, with her fiery determination, was different from the fragile beauties he'd known at home. In her, Grayson found an honest passion he'd never experienced before. But could their growing love survive the surprising reminder of her past that came to haunt them?

Post Civil War story of bastard son of a duke, sent to Texas by his father to "straighten him out." While there, he works for a pretty widow picking cotton for her. Not a bad romance, they fall for each other, but something happens to ruin their plans of marriage... I like the premise and it was good overall, but didn't have the emotional punch her earlier Texas series has.


The Summer of You by Kate Noble

Book Description:
Lady Jane Cummings is certain that her summer is ruined when she is forced to reside at isolated Merrymere Lake with her reckless brother and ailing father. Her fast-paced London society is replaced with a small town grapevine. But one bit of gossip catches Jane's attention- rumors that the lake's brooding new resident is also an elusive highwayman.

Jane must face the much discussed mysterioso after he saves her brother from a pub brawl. She immediately recognizes him from London: Byrne Worth, war hero and apparent hermit-whom she finds strangely charming. The two build a fast friendship, and soon nothing can keep this Lady away from Merrymere's most wanted. Convinced of his innocence, Jane is determined to clear Byrne's name-and maybe have a little fun this summer after all.

This historical romance started out well, but stalled in the middle and I kind of lost interest towards the end.  Byrne Worth, the now retired Blue Raven, spy for the Crown, is hiding himself away in the north of England, licking his wounds as he recovers from a long illness.  Lady Jane Cummings unexpectedly enters his life on the nearby estate while caring for her father who is sinking more and more into dementia. The two are attracted to one another while trying to determine who the local highwayman is - in order to clear Byrne's name.  Everyone in town thinks it's him!  The book had it's moments, but seemed a bit plodding and not nearly as good as it's predecessor in the series.  Still, I like this author and will continue with the series.

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