Sunday, May 19, 2013
A Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss
(2013, Contemporary Series) 5/18/13
After two years, SAS soldier Lee Davis is finally coming home. His family and friends thought he was dead. Things have changed since he left, but the most surprising change is that his supposed fiancée, Juliet Browne, has become a part of his circle of friends - except that they broke up just before he left on his last mission. Lee decides to feign amnesia to find out what’s really going on - but he finds himself drawn to Jules all over again.
I had mixed feelings about this book. There were many moments that were emotional and lovely. Karina Bliss is an excellent writer and she did a great job depicting Lee’s struggles to adjust to normal life again. However, the fake amnesia storyline was a gimmick that went on too long. And even after that part of the story was resolved, there were a lot of characters from other books that played a big part in the story. I felt a little lost. I enjoyed the book, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.
If I'd written this book immediately after reading it, I might have graded it a little more highly. But a day later, I can barely remember the good parts, while the negatives stand out more. So I downgraded it from 4 to 3.5.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
An Unlikely Countess by Jo Beverley
(2011, Georgian) 5/12/13
Prudence has spent most of her life sacrificing for her brother - and now that he has a career and a wealthy wife, he ignores Prudence’s poverty. One bright moment in Prudence’s life is when she shares a few moments with Cate Burgoyne. But then he’s gone - until months later when he rescues her from a bad marriage. He’s now an Earl, and although their marriage is unlikely, they are determined to make the best of it.
This was an unusual book. The hero and heroine spend a short time together in the first chapter, but then they are separated for almost a third of the book. When they are reunited and forced to marry, they spend more time together - but the focus of the book is on the practical aspects of their marriage, rather than the development of their relationship. There are far more paragraphs devoted to Prudence’s clothes than there are on her emotions. The Georgian background was interesting, but I just didn’t feel much of a connection between the hero and heroine. The writing was excellent, as always, and the story was interesting, but I just didn’t find it as compelling as some of Jo Beverley’s other books.
Jo Beverley always finds an excuse to drop Rothgar into her Malloren books. (Or in this case, Diana, Rothgar's wife.) Although it always seems believable to have them appear, I get the impression that I'm supposed to be ooohing and aahhing like Rothgar is Justin Bieber - "oooh, it's so exciting to see him". Maybe that's what her fans want - a glimpse of Rothgar in every book. But I find it a little silly. I didn't think those characters really needed to be there.
Friday, May 10, 2013
How to Misbehave by Ruthie Knox
(2013, Contemporary) 5/9/13
Good girl Amber Clark has been admiring contractor Tony Mazzano from afar, but when the tornado warning siren goes off, she and Tony are stuck together in a dark basement. It gives them a chance to get to know each other - and give in to their attraction.
This was a cute novella. At first I was afraid it would just be one long sex scene, but things improved in the second half. Both Amber and Tony have interesting backgrounds, and I thought the author managed to establish their connection beyond their sexual attraction. I’m not sure I was convinced this was a happy ever after - it was just too short - but it worked well for what it was.
I used to enjoy Regency novellas, but I think contemporary novellas are harder to write since a large portion of the page count is necessarily taken up by love scenes. When you only have a few pages to work with, I'd rather focus on emotional connections rather than body connections.
Thursday, May 09, 2013
The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee
(2013, Turn of the Century) 5/8/13
Betsey Dobson has survived on her wits, and she has advanced from being a typewriter girl to the excursions manager at the seaside resort of Idensea. She enjoys her work and the unexpected freedom it brings her - but she is intrigued by John Jones, the Welsh engineer who is building the resort’s pleasure fair. She and John begin an affair, but Betsey must guard her heart, because she knows their relationship can’t last.
The characters and setting of this book were intriguing, but I struggled with the writing. I enjoyed reading about this unusual setting, and the heroine’s advance from a typewriter girl to a manager. The author did a good job depicting the heroine’s pleasure in her work and how she became better at it over time. But the relationship between the hero and heroine was less successful. The book alternates between the heroine’s perspective and the hero’s, but the language feels stilted and unemotional. Maybe this is supposed to be “literary fiction” but it just felt tedious and hard to read. The first half of the book was a chore to get through. Things improved in the second half, but still, I found myself more frustrated by this book than I expected. Too bad, since the premise was quite intriguing.
Sometimes I feel shallow because I prefer romance to more literary fiction - but trying to parse out the meaning of sentences just doesn't appeal to me any more. If I have to read a sentence three times to figure out what it means, then it's too much for my brain - I read enough complex documents for work.
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Her Ladyship's Companion by Joanna Bourne
(1983, Regency) 4/28/13
French teacher Melissa Rivenwood leaves her school in London to take a job as a companion in remote northern England. She finds an intriguing cast of characters - her imperious employer, Lady Dorothy, the 7 year old earl, Robbie, and his mysterious uncle, Giles. There are also several other relatives who are also living in the house. Everything seems well at first, until mysterious accidents start to threaten Robbie. Who can she trust?
This was a fairly by-the-numbers gothic, but it was well written enough to keep me turning the pages. All of the characters were straight out of gothic central casting. Especially in the first half, it was hard to keep track of everyone. But despite all this, the story and characters were interesting. I enjoy a good gothic, even if the story is predictable. It was worth reading despite the problems.
Gothics are out of fashion, but they're fun to read occasionally.
Stay at Home Dead by Jeffrey Allen
(2012, Contemporary Mystery) 4/28/13
Stay at home Dad Deuce Winters is making his usual trip to the grocery store when he finds a dead body in his minivan. The victim is his high school nemesis, Benny Barnes, and soon everyone in Rose Petal, Texas, thinks Deuce is the killer. So Deuce decides to do a little investigating of his own...
This was a quick and fun read, although it didn’t quite hold up when thinking about it later. The book was very easy to read, with short chapters and an engaging writing style. The main characters (Deuce and his wife Julianne, the midget investigator Victor) were fun and well written. But the plot had a lot of holes, and some things didn’t make a whole lot of sense. This was a book with a lot of style, but not much substance. Still, it was fun to read.
My review sounds a little harsh, but still, I enjoyed it enough to buy the next book in the series.
Friday, April 19, 2013
The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand
(2012, Contemporary) 4/16/13
Cade Corey, the heir to the Corey chocolate fortune, is in Paris in hopes of starting a gourmet chocolate line - and she wants the best chocolatier in Paris, Sylvain Marquis, to work with her. But Sylvain has no interest in working for a company that sells cheap chocolate bars at supermarkets. Cade and Sylvain begin to play a cat and mouse game, but the game isn’t for chocolate - it’s for love.
This was a charming, fun book. It had a “fairy tale” aspect to it so I couldn’t take the story too seriously. I especially liked the heroine - I know enough about the history of Hershey to enjoy this fictionalized version. Sylvain was more of a stereotypical alpha hero, albeit one with an interesting career, but he improved in the second half of the book. My one complaint is that the ending felt rushed - the hero and heroine go from thinking it won’t work out to Cade deciding to leave her entire life and move to Paris in just a couple of pages. It really needed more time to feel real (especially since Cade seems to enjoy her job for most of the book so her sudden decision to drop everything seemed a little forced). But the charming feel of the book, and the luscious descriptions of the chocolate, kept me turning the pages despite its flaws.
I found the background of Corey chocolate so interesting - especially since I visited the Hershey museum a couple of years ago - that I'd love to see another book with that history as a backdrop. But it doesn't seem like Laura Florand's other chocolate books have anything to do with that.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
Lady Meg's Gamble by Martha Schroeder
(1998, Regency) 3/22/13
Lady Margaret Enfield is desperate to save her home, but after she is left penniless, she sees no way out. Then a neighbor introduces her to Captain James Sheridan, a wealthy Navy captain who is looking for a home of his own. They agree to a marriage of convenience - but can they get past each others’ faults and make a happy life together?
I always enjoy a marriage of convenience story. This one worked well at first. The characters were well written - both of them were quick to make assumptions and tended to act before they thought, but their actions made sense based on their personalities. It was a nice change to read about a hero who wasn’t titled and a heroine who had no interest in society and the ton. But the misunderstandings between the hero and heroine went on too long. What seemed natural for the characters in the first two thirds of the book became frustrating and tedious in the last third. Although this wasn’t a bad book, I ended up feeling a bit disappointed.
Martha Schroeder wrote one book that I loved (A Merry Little Christmas) but her other books have been a bit disappointing. She doesn't seem to be writing any more - which is too bad, since her best book seems to have been her last one.
Monday, March 18, 2013
The Ice King by Dinah Dean
(1980, Regency-era Russia) 3/17/13
After the death of her uncle, Tanya is afraid she will spend the rest of her life as a companion in a remote village, but distant relatives offer her a season in St. Petersburg before she leaves. She is soon caught up in the social life of the city, and drawn to the mysterious Prince Nikolai. Nikolai has been known as the emotionless Ice King since the death of his wife years earlier, but perhaps Tanya’s influence will help him thaw...
It was interesting to read a book with such an unusual setting, but most of the book was more focused on the setting than the characters. The author spent a lot of time describing St. Petersburg and Russian society in great detail, but the characters (particularly Nikolai) remained cyphers. This was a little bit frustrating, especially in such a short book. The characters started to come to life in the last 50 pages or so, but overall this book was more notable for its setting than for its character development.
I'm not sure what to do with this book - it's in terrible condition (so yellowed it's practically brown) but I hate to throw it out when Dean's books are so hard to find!
Sunday, March 17, 2013
A Matchmaker's Christmas by Donna Simpson
(2002, Regency) 3/16/13
For her last Christmas, Lady Bournaud invites friends and relatives to her home for a house party, but the pairings don’t go according to plan. The well born Lady Silvia is attracted to the penniless vicar, and spirited Canadian Verity is drawn to the careless Lord Vaughn. Lady Bournaud’s godson David Chappell was intended for her companion Beatrice, but they share a dark past that may be too much for them to overcome.
This book had a lot of promise, but it just had too much going on for one Regency. Although the main couple was supposed to be David and Beatrice, the romances between the other two couples were often more interesting. We get pages of Beatrice worrying about her secret past, but the final reveal felt anticlimactic - and their great love rather bloodless. It was a nice Regency but it lacked any great feeling.
This wasn't a bad book, just a little boring and predictable.
Thursday, March 07, 2013
Calculated in Death by J.D. Robb
(2013, Suspense) 3/6/13
It looks like a mugging gone wrong, but Eve realizes there’s more to the murder of Marta Dickenson, an accountant who may have audited the wrong account. As more bodies pile up, Eve and Roarke have to search for clues among the financial elite.
This wasn’t one of J.D. Robb’s best books. The characters are still interesting, but there were too many similar suspects in this case. The potential murderers didn’t have much personality, and I spent over half the book confused about which one was which. They just seemed blah and interchangeable. The book picked up in the last third, and I always appreciate seeing Peabody and the other secondary characters, but this book just didn’t stand out compared to others in the series.
It's hard to find a good police procedural, and even rarer to find one with interesting characters (and a happy ending - it seems like most police detectives in fiction are depressive loners). So I keep reading the J.D. Robb books even though they are outrageously pricey and don't hit every time.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Muscling Through by J. L. Merrow
(2011, Contemporary) 2/20/13
Al may not have a degree or a fancy job, but he’s intrigued by college professor Larry Morton - even after Larry mistakes him for a mugger. Everyone around Al and Larry see their relationship as unequal, but Larry sees something in Al that no one else can see - his kind heart.
This was an intriguing writing experiment that mostly worked. The story is told from the perspective of Al, who isn’t particularly perceptive or self-aware. But the reader starts to understand Al by seeing how other people react to him - we get a perspective on Larry based on his actions, even though we don’t get to hear his thoughts. I sometimes found this frustrating, because I wanted to know more - Al is a nice enough character but he’s limited as a narrator - but in the context of a novella it worked. The frequent sex scenes also limited the character development - at first they helped explain the relationship but after a while they just became repetitive. If the book had been longer I think I would have given up but at this length, it worked. It was interesting to read a book with such a different perspective.
I read this book on my Kindle and I didn't see the cover art until after I finished the book. I think the cover would have added to my reading experience - I had a hard time visualizing Al and the cover definitely makes him more intriguing. More Larry's view of Al rather than his own.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Autumn Rose by Marjorie Farrell
(1991, Regency) 2/19/13
Honora Dillon has lived an unassuming life in Hampstead with her daughter since she ran away with a scoundrel as a young girl. But their quiet life is changed when Nora’s daughter Miranda falls in love with Jeremy, the Earl of Alverstone. The marriage seems impossible because of the differences in their stations - but when Nora starts spending more time with Jeremy’s godfather, Viscount Marcus Vane, she begins to wonder...
I’ve read several books by Marjorie Farrell and enjoyed all of them, but this one just didn’t measure up. It was refreshing to read about an older heroine who had to come to terms with her daughter growing up and the choices she had made in her life, but the romance between Nora and Marcus felt like an afterthought. They barely spent any time together and had no chemistry whatsoever. It left the book feeling flat and kind of dull.
I wonder if reading the more fast paced books that are being published now has ruined me for a good Regency. I still have quite a few in my TBR pile so I hope not!
Saturday, February 02, 2013
The Hollow House by Janis Patterson
(2011, Historical Mystery) 2/1/13
I decided to use the name Geraldine Brunton. It's not the name I was born with, nor the name I married, but it will hide who I really am...and what I have done. I've taken a job as companion to wealthy invalid Emmaline Stubbs, whose fragile exterior hides a will of iron. Despite its opulence, the Stubbs household is not a happy one. Emmaline's equally stubborn daughter and charismatic, untrustworthy son-in-law want control...
This was an intriguing gothic mystery that kept me turning the pages late into the night. The book is set in Denver just after WWI, and there were a lot of interesting details about the setting and time period. The heroine is a typical Gothic heroine, who comes to a dark and mysterious house hiding secrets of her own, although Geraldine is a lot more savvy and tough than many of those old Gothic heroines. The book is also lacking any romance - it’s purely a mystery. At first I liked this, because it made sense for the heroine to avoid men and to stay away from anyone who might guess her secret. But as the book continued, it started to get a little repetitive, and a little flirtation might have added some spark. This was the main problem with the book - the author ratcheted up the tension in the first half of the book, but once the murder took place, the tension couldn’t be sustained. There weren’t enough suspects to keep the reader guessing. I still kept reading but it just didn’t quite live up to the terrific first half. Still, I liked it overall - 4 stars.
I've been trying to expand my horizons and read more books outside of romance. It's just as hard to find a good mystery as it is to find a good romance.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
An Illicit Temptation by Jeannie Lin
(2012, Medieval China) 1/29/13
Dao is a house servant masquerading as a princess on her way to marry a powerful chieftain. As a lowly commoner with no prospects, she is content to be an alliance bride until an encounter with Kwan-Li, her enigmatic escort, tempts her with the promise of forbidden love. On their adventure through the wild Khitan steppe, Dao discovers Kwan-Li has secrets of his own... Sequel to My Fair Concubine.
This novella had its moments, but in the end it was just too short. The setting of this story (medieval China and the steppes) was fascinating, but there wasn’t enough space to really explore it fully. The first half of the book was interesting, but just when I wanted to know more about the characters, the author switched the focus to the love scenes. They were fine, but having multiple love scenes in such a short book meant that other aspects of the story were neglected. The novella was fine as a quick follow-up to My Fair Concubine, but it just wasn’t long enough to stand alone. I think the author could have written a full length book about these characters, and I wish she had.
I wish the author had done more to explore the steppe setting in this story - I just finished listening to a five part podcast about the Mongols and I was eager to read a romance with that setting. But maybe that's too foreign for romance readers. (It works for Game of Thrones!)
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Lady Maggie's Secret Scandal by Grace Burrowes
(2012, Regency Historical) 1/27/13
Lady Maggie is the daughter of a courtesan, but she was adopted by her father, the Duke of Moreland, and his wife. Now 30, she lives a reclusive life until she needs help to find a reticule hiding secret letters. She turns to Benjamin Hazlit, an Earl who also works as a private investigator. He pretends to court her in order to investigate, but soon they both want more - except Maggie still has secrets that she must hide from her family.
I had mixed feelings about this book. I’m not a stickler for historical accuracy, but there were a lot of points in this book where I was taken out of the story by something that just didn’t feel "right" for the period. This was mostly a problem in the first half of the book. I also found aspects of the story clichéd and the heroine frustratingly passive when it came to her “big secret”. But despite these problems, I couldn’t stop reading. The characters were interesting and the plot moved at a fast clip, which kept me from thinking too much about any problems with the story. I enjoyed reading about the heroine’s close family and her difficulties in being the illegitimate daughter of the Duke. I’m left wondering how to rate this book and ended up giving it 3 1/2 stars, because it was so readable despite its flaws.
I’m not sure I will pick up other books by Grace Burrowes unless they’re recommended by other readers, though. I’ve read some reviews and the plots in those books seem to be even more over-the-top than this one.
Saturday, January 26, 2013
Beguiling the Beauty by Sherry Thomas
(2012, Edwardian) 1/26/13
When the Duke of Lexington meets the mysterious Baroness von Seidlitz-Hardenberg on a transatlantic liner, he is fascinated. In reality, the “baroness” is Venetia Easterbrook—a proper young widow who had her own vengeful reasons for instigating an affair with the duke. But the plan has backfired. Venetia has fallen in love with the man she despised—and there’s no telling what might happen when she is finally unmasked…
I never liked the old school romances where the hero and heroine hated each other until the end of the book, when they fell into each others arms and declared eternal love. I could never believe that all the hurtful things the characters did to each other could be forgotten so easily. Sherry Thomas’s books remind me of those romances. They are written in a much more sophisticated way, but the characters still spend most of the book hurting each other, inflicting painful emotional wounds until they suddenly discover a happy ever after in the last few pages. When I read Beguiling the Beauty, I didn’t feel carried away with romance - I felt sad and a little depressed. Everyone in the book, including the secondary characters, seem determined to inflict unhappiness on one another. The author has an elegant writing style which kept me reading to the end, but I found it hard to believe in the happy ending. Perhaps that’s a failing in me as a reader.
I still have a couple of Sherry Thomas books in my TBR pile that I may try to read at some point, but I doubt I'll buy her books again. It's disappointing, because there are so few new romance authors, especially those who are writing something other than "same old same old". But I guess I'm too much of a traditional reader to enjoy something too far outside the lines.
The Importance of Being Wicked by Miranda Neville
(2012, Regency Historical) 1/25/13
Thomas, Duke of Castleton, has every intention of wedding a prim and proper heiress. That is, until he sets eyes on the heiress's cousin, easily the least proper woman he's ever met. Caroline Townsend has no patience for the oh-so-suitable (and boring) men of the ton. So when the handsome but stuffy duke arrives at her doorstep, she decides to put him to the test. But her scandalous exploits awaken a desire in Thomas he never knew he had.
Another excellent book by Miranda Neville. I was a little wary when I picked it up because I’ve read so many books with this premise, but the author manages to put a new spin on a familiar story. “Wild child” heroines often come across as immature, but Caro’s back story is so well developed that her actions make sense based on her personality. I also enjoyed that neither the hero or the heroine had to completely change their personality to make the relationship work. My interest waned slightly in the last third, where misunderstandings come between the hero and heroine a bit. (The disagreements were realistic, just not very romantic.) But the emotion of the ending made up for it. Another great book by Neville.
I know several people who liked this cover, but there is something weird about it to me. The heroine's head and shoulders seem out of proportion, and the dress fits in a strange way. Oh well, nothing's perfect!
The Second Seduction of Lady by Miranda Neville
(2012, Regency Historical) 1/24/12
Eleanor Hardwick and Max Quinton shared one night of incredible passion . . . that was shattered the next day, when Eleanor learned of a bet placed by Max's friends. Now, five years later, Max still can't get Eleanor out of his head or his heart. He has a single chance to make a second impression - one that will last forever.
This short story was a disappointment. I’m not sure if it was just too short, or if the premise was flawed from the start, but it just didn’t work for me. The characters thoughts and actions didn’t add up. The heroine is presented as someone who doesn’t want to marry, but after that initial setup, her thoughts and emotions are all about how much she would enjoy being married. The hero claims that he respects the heroine’s intelligence and independence, but he spends most of the story manipulating her. In a longer book it’s possible the author could have reconciled these contradictions (or made them a point of contention) but in this novella they just seemed confused. The only reason to read this novella is that it introduces and explains the heroine of her next book.
Some authors just don't do well with novellas - maybe Miranda Neville is one of them. I love the cover though - there's nothing like a period dress cover.
Monday, January 21, 2013
The Duchess War by Courtney Milan
(2012, Victorian) 1/20/12
Robert Blaisdell, the Duke of Clermont, wants nothing more than to be different from his father. He has been secretly writing incendiary handbills to organize workers that his father exploited. But the handbills are attributed to Minnie Pursling, who is trying to escape her own secret past by vanishing into the background. Robert is deeply attracted to Minnie, and must find a way to protect her while also protecting his family.
I had mixed feelings about this book. For the first third of the book, it seemed like the author was deliberately trying to make her characters hard to understand - as if she was taunting the reader with characters that were obscure and confusing and difficult to read. This gradually improved during the book, but still, the characters often did things that didn’t make much sense (and weren’t explained very well). Still, the story was intriguing, and the character of Minnie in particular was very interesting and sympathetic. There were some truly excellent scenes along the way, which helped. By the end of the book I was caught up in the romance and the relationship, but I still felt like I was trying to read a story that didn’t quite come into focus.
I'm not sure what to think about Courtney Milan's writing - there's definitely potential there but I'm not sure whether she's an author for me. Call me shallow, but I like a story that's easier to understand. But I will try her again.