Friday, March 31, 2006

Born in Fire by Nora Roberts

When Maggie Concannon, a young lady who is a glass sculptor, sells her first piece of glass, she meets her beloved father, Tom Concannon, for a drink and then they head out to the cliffs looking across the ocean towards America. When Tom suddenly dies there with only Maggie by his side, his last word was Amanda, which meant absolutely nothing to Maggie.

Fast forward a couple of years and Maggie is a moderately successful artist, but she has just caught the attention of Rogan Sweeney who is a big time art dealer, manager, connoisseur.

Maggie has a very temperamental and volatile personality that is usually ascribed to artists. She might have caught the attention of Rogan Sweeney, but it doesn't mean to say that she wants to keep it. She doesn't answer her telephone, won't respond to messages, so the suave and sophisticated Rogan decides to head to County Clare and speak with her face to face. Sparks fly almost immediately, and they are both interested, but business comes first, until finally Maggie is the one who takes the bull by the horns and starts things. Maggie is a great heroine - earthy, passionate, fiery, artistic...real. Rogan is a great catch - rich, good looking, determined, and he knows when to take what Maggie dishes out to him, and when to fight her for her own good.

Rogan realises pretty quickly that he wants more, but Maggie has never wanted the normal things in life - marriage, kids, domesticity. She leaves the domesticity to her sister Brianna, and attributes her fears about marriage to her own parents marriage. Her father loved her, but her mother Maeve, is a complete bitch who has made both of her children's lives a misery in different ways. For Maggie, she was conceived outside the bounds of marriage, of a long dead passion, and Maeve never lets her forget it! It doesn't matter that the sin was Maeve's, Maggie is the one who is blamed for Maeve's loss of her life as she wanted it.

Once Rogan has managed to get her to sign on the dotted line as far as her art goes, he starts down the path on trying to keep her interest in him, realising that he needs to play it cool before she will come to him. I really loved that there was no huge misunderstanding in this book. Yes, our hero and heroine spent time apart, but it was time apart for Maggie to realise how much she loved Rogan, time apart for her to become as comfortable as she was ever going to be with the idea of commitment to Rogan, and he was willing to wait as long as it took, but as soon as she took the first step towards him, he was there to show just how much he wanted her!

The only other Nora Roberts books I have read are the Chesapeake Bay books featuring the Quinn brothers, which I absolutely loved. The first book of the Born In series is right up there with them. I think I feel another glom coming on!!

Rating 4.5/5

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue

This book was inspired by an actual murder in the Welsh border regions in 1763. In surviving newspaper articles from the time it is suggested that the young girl who committed the murder did so because she was obsessed with clothes. This is the basis that Emma Donoghue chooses to follow.

When we first meet Mary Donoghue she is 14 years old, and a schoolgirl living in London, at an age where most other working class girls have been sent out to work. Mary hasn't been sent out to work yet because her mother promised her father before he was executed for his part in a rebellion that she would ensure that Mary was educated. Mary's mother has remarried to a man that Mary can't stand, and who resents the fact that he is supporting a girl who is old enough to find work and assist more in the household. The problem is that Mary feels that she is too good to go into service, too good to become a seamstress, yet she wants all the fine things in life.

Early in the book Mary has an encounter with a peddler where she gives away her virtue for the price of a red ribbon. Left pregnant by the encounter she is eventually kicked out of home when her condition is discovered. She shortly finds herself in one of the roughest areas of London, and it isn't too big a leap for her before she finds herself servicing the cullies and making some money for herself. Her one friend is a fellow prostitute named Doll, who teaches Mary the tricks of the trade and how to get by, as well as warning her who to stay away from.

In the midst of a terribly cold winter, Doll convinces Mary that needs to sign up to go into a home for reformed prostitutes, if only so that she has warmth and food for the rest of the winter. When she finally rebels against the strict rules and religious environment of the home she comes back to find her only friend gone, well, dead...and then on the wrong side of one of the most dangerous pimps in London.

Mary flees to her mother's home town of Monmouth, hoping to find a new life for herself, to match with the new history she has made of her life. She is taken in as a maid for her mother's former best friend, Mrs Jones, who rapidly befriends Mary, not only employing her but also making her her confidant in her struggle to give her husband a son.

Also living in her home are the slave Abi, originally from Africa, via the Caribbean, who works for no wages. There is also Mrs Ash who was originally employed as a wet nurse but has been living with the family for many years, now in the guise of a governess for the one surviving daughter. Finally there is Daffy, and intense but likeable young man who is trying to make a life for himself away from his hypocritical, cleric father, who also runs one of the village pubs.

Once Mary is living with the Jones, this story becomes several things - firstly a study of extended family as defined at the time to include servants and slaves, secondly, a story of empowerment as Mary encourages Abi to try and get some wages for her toil. Finally, this is a story about whether Mary can take the chance that she has given to live a life away from the prostitution that she has previously undertaken. At one point it appears that Daffy and Mary may marry, but that is shortlived as Mary realises that if she does marry Daffy she will be stuck in a little town in the Welsh Marches for the rest of her life.

As Mary goes through life, pretty much destroying the peace of mind of the people around her, the author gives us a character who is almost totally unlikeable. What makes her so greedy, so convinced of her elevated worth in her own mind, and yet so able to rationalise that choosing a life of prostitution is okay for her. Mary in effect lives hard and fast and dies early without ever seemingly being happy, or at the very least unable to realise when she has a good thing going - a precautionary tale if nothing else.

Whilst Mary, and many of the other characters are unlikeable, and this is in many ways a story without much hope, it is nonetheless well written and compelling. I have had it on my TBR list for ages, so I am glad to have finally read it! Even where there are glimpses of hope, for example, for Abi, to me the suggestion for the future was not really one of happiness.

Within that though, there are glimpses of humour, such as when the ultra religious and judgmental Mrs Ash gets her comeuppance, but those moments are few and far between.

When rating this book, I hovered between 3.5 and 4, mainly because the characters are pretty much unlikeable, but the writing was compelling, and I was completely drawn into the story on more than one occasion.

Rating 4/5

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Second Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares

The second of the Travelling Pants books by Ann Brashares, this book opens on the first day of summer, with Bridget, Lena, Carmen and Tibby getting together to perform the ritual of the pants. Last summer they all went away except for Tibby. This year she is the only one who is going away (to film school), whilst the other girls are all staying home in Washington.

However, Bridget somewhat impulsively decides that she needs to go to Alabama, after finding letters from her grandma that her father had not given her. Bridget is much changed from the girl that we met at the beginning of last summer. She no longer plays soccer, long her first love, and she has dyed her blonde hair brown, and gained some weight. Through her journey over the summer she learns a lot about her family, and that she was trying to hide away from herself. Interestingly, when she goes to Alabama she chooses to not reveal her true identity to her grandmother, but instead pretends to be someone looking for a job and therefore helps her grandmother clear out her attic. Eventually she meets some of the other kids she knew when she was a little girl, and begins to come back to herself, even if it takes facing and dealing with a traumatic memory from her past to get back to herself.

Since last summer Lena has been in love with a Greek boy, Kostos, who she met on Santorini. Before the summer started, she broke up with him, and if anyone asks why she goes along with the "long distance relationships are too hard" routine. When Kostos unexpectedly turns up at her door, Lena is terrified. How can she allow herself to love him when he is going to leave again so soon. And he does leave after a blissful week, but not for the reasons that Lena expects, and she is hurt in so many ways. He only tells her that he has a situation but will explain everything later. With Lena's story we get to see the effects of heartbreak, in a romantic sense, but also in a familial sense, when her grandfather falls critically ill and her family have to race to Santorini. There she meets Kostos again, and finds out the truth about his circumstances. All through this time, Lena is trying to find out about a story from her mother's past that she would rather not talk about, causing problems between the remaining mothers of the four girls (Bridget's mother having died years earlier), but eventually all is resolved, but it is a reminder to the girls that there mothers are human too.

Carmen is also about to learn that her mother is human, when she starts dating a work colleague, and Carmen suddenly discovers that she is not ready to give up the close, exclusive relationship that she has with her mother, even if it makes her mother upset to lose the man that she loves. Carmen is also trying to date Porter, but has to work out why she is doing this, and come to a realisation about relationships with boys.

Tibby goes off to film school, and begins to make new friends, but her lessons this year are about the nature of true friendships, and that means that at some point she must look back to last summer and the death of Bailey. Luckily she has Brian around to help her with this, unless she pushes him away because he is not cool enough that is! After making a humiliating film of her mother that Brian hates, but her new friends think is cool, Tibby is forced to reevaluate after seeing her mother's reaction to the film, and to face truths about herself, and to deal with the events of last summer.

Whilst these books are light they are very enjoyable and they do deal with plenty of issues relevant to the target age group, including dealing with relationships of divorced parents, death of loved ones, teenage sex. If there is one thing that I don't get though, it is that it seems that both this summer and last summer, 16 year olds are allowed to wander wherever they like over America without anyone worrying about their safety! Bridget just jumps on a bus to Alabama, hires a hotel room and lives there by herself for several weeks before she moves in with her grandma. Last summer, Lena and her sister were coming back from Greece and Lena just flew off to where Bridget was because she was having problems. I doubt that that is how it really is, and it is but a small criticism.

I am hoping to go and rent the DVD for the movie of the first book, and get the third book in the series out soon. Only problem is the third book isn't out on audiobook at my library so I am actually going to have to read it, as opposed to listening to it!

Rating 4/5

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Too Perfect by Julie Ortolon

The third book in the Perfect Trilogy.

A Wandering Duckling

Defying the terrible sense of direction that's kept her form traveling, Amy ships out as a nanny on a Caribbean cruise--and promptly gets lost when they stop on St. Bart's. Now she's stranded without any money--or even a toothbrush!

A Two-Faced Beast

Locals say that Gaspar, owner of the island's crumbling fortress, is a hideous recluse. They call him La Bete, "The Beast." But when Amy applies for a job at the fort, she meets only his charming assistant, Beaufort. In truth, the two are the same man--billionaire Byron Parks, who's desperately seeking privacy and peace.

A Perfect Fairy Tale?

Amy aches for the miserable man secluded in the fortress tower. Through e-mail, they begin an imaginative exchange of romantic fantasies. Byron is hopelessly smitten with his sexy storyteller--but will his real-life make-believe ruin their happy ending?

This is the final book in the Perfect trilogy that started with Almost Perfect and continued with Just Perfect. So was this the perfect conclusion? Unfortunately not for me! Kristie J mentioned in a comment that she could barely finish this book and I can understand that. For me the first two thirds of the book was a struggle, the last third a bit better.

So to start with the reasons why it wasn't the perfect conclusion. Firstly, the whole premise was so unrealistic and so ridiculous. Amy is scared of travelling and so in order to fulfill the challenge to her friends she decides to take a nannying job for a couple and their grandchildren on a cruise through the Caribbean. Okay so far so good. So they are at Gustavia when she gets fired from her job for bringing the children back late to meet their grandparents, and so she wanders off and then misses the last shuttle back to the ship and is left stranded on the beach with only the clothes that she is wearing. What should she do? Well she'll go to an employment agency and get a job as a housekeeper at a crumbling fort of course!

The owner of the fort is Hollywood mover and shaker Byron Parks, but he is hiding out and doesn't want anyone to know where he is, particularly the paparazzi. He has therefore told all of the town that he is a beast, hideously scarred, and so none of the locals will work for him. He also has another persona, that of Lance, who is the assistant to the beast.

Once he realises that Amy has no clothes Lance goes shopping with her at Guy Gaspar's insistence, choosing better styles for Amy than she would have chosen for herself, also buying jewellery and a computer. This is after having known her for two days tops!

So what about Amy and Byron. I guess they are okay. Amy doesn't really set the world on fire. She is nice but that is about it. I didn't sense a lot of fire or passion within her, or anything really that interesting. She likes to write and Byron and her make up a story one night during an email exchange to prove that, but really that is probably it about her.

As for Byron it didn't really feel as though we even got to know Byron until right near the very end, which is I guess is how it was for Amy as well. He was being portrayed as a poor little rich kid who was shunted between his parents, and who ended up being jaded at a very young age with the glamour of Hollywood. Meh! So what? Wasn't enough to make me want to fall in love with him.

And could the author resist the triple wedding. Being aware that this is a spoiler I will put it below. Just highlight below to read!

Of course not. Even though Byron doesn't propose until one week before the already double wedding, of course Amy will have enough time to find the perfect dress and get married next week!! It will be just perfect!

There was one good thing about the epilogue though. It did reflect the fact that children are not everyone's idea of a HEA which was a good thing!

So my overall thoughts on the trilogy. I liked Almost Perfect, and Just Perfect. I thought that Just Perfect was on the verge of being exceptional until the last third. As for Too wasn't anywhere near too perfect which is a disappointment. I'm glad I have read the trilogy though because Julie Ortolon was one of those authors that I have been drawn to on numerous occasions. At least now I know!

Rating 3/5

Friday, March 24, 2006

Bubbles A Broad by Sarah Strohmeyer

The fourth book in the Bubbles Yablonsky series by Sarah Strohmeyer, this instalment finds Bubbles looking forward to a week's try out with the Lehigh News Time. If she is successful she will end up with a permanent job, so she is keen to do well.

However before she has even started at work, she finds prison escapee and convicted murderer Carol Weaver at her house, asking Bubbles to investigate to see what link there was between Lehigh Steel and her husband's death thereby clearing Carol of involvement. That night after Carol's visit, someone breaks into Bubbles' house and shoots at her bed, so Bubbles has to work out who is trying to kill her this time!

Luckily Steve Stiletto offers Bubbles a place to stay with him at his mansion despite the fact that they still haven't slept together even though they have been seeing each other for months!

So on only a couple of hours sleep Bubbles goes off to her first assignment, covering a meeting of the Lehigh Historical Society. When she gets there she runs into a very unhappy former client from the House of Beauty and quicker than you can say "oh my goodness your hair is falling out and it's your wedding day" Bubbles finds herself in a fight with her photographer who is also on one weeks trial. Needless to say that they both have their try outs terminated, although Bubbles manages to talk her bosses into reinstating her for the rest of the week at least.

As the investigation into Hal Weaver's death continues Bubbles goes through a variety of different scenarios including lesbian love trianges and drug related murder, and meets the usual crew of odd ball characters along the way.

What wasn't usual in this installment was the reduced amount of page time for Mama and Genevieve, and Bubbles' daughter Jane and her clueless hairdressing prodigy boyfriend G, and the book is better for it. That doesn't mean to say that they aren't there, just that they aren't as involved in the whole book!

One thing that definitely moved forward in this book was the romance between Steve and Bubbles, with the relationship finally going to the next step, in very well written and quite steamy scenes without being at all explicit.

There was a lot going on in this book in relation to the mystery, and at the end of the day we did find out who it was thought killed Hal Weaver but I'm not quite sure that everything was resolved completely.

Overall, a much better read than the last books, Bubbles Ablaze. I'll be going to the library to see if I can get the audiobook for Bubbles Betrothed either today or tomorrow!

Rating 3.5/5

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Just Perfect by Julie Ortolon

The second book in the Perfect trilogy by Julie Ortolon, following on from Almost Perfect.


You have to be tough to work in the ER—but Dr. Christine Ashton's courage doesn't extend to riding a chairlift, no matter how much she loves skiing. Her challenge is to strap on a pair of skis and conquer her fear of heights. The bigger challenge, though, will be resisting the sexy ski instructor her friends have deemed off-limits.


Alec Hunter is more than just a fun-loving charmer and nothing like the users, losers, and strays Christine usually winds up with. But she's still giving him the cold shoulder, and he's determined to prove how wrong she is about him.


After helping the victim of a snowboarding accident, the two fall hard and fast—with enough heat to melt the mountains. And everything is just perfect—until Christine must face kind of fear and choose between her dream job back home and her dream man in Colorado.

Okay, so it was a bit sooner than the eventually than I suggested in the review for Almost Perfect. As I said in the comments on Almost Perfect I was enjoying this book more than I did the first in the trilogy, that is until about two thirds of the way through the book, when it descended to more psychological analysis than love story.

So the first half of the book was really good. Christine Ashton looks like an ice princess but actually cusses with the best of them, drinks her beer from the bottle, and she is a really good trauma doctor. She hires Alec Hunter to help her bring her skiing skills back up to scratch so that she can hopefully beat her brother Robbie in a race, so that she can prove to her father that she is as good as Robbie is at some things!

They are attracted to each other immediately, but she thinks that Alec is a ski bum with no job and no future, and she is determined that this time she is not going to fall for some loser bloke who is going to use her and then leave her like so many of her previous boyfriends. Whilst Alec did come from a rough family background, he has worked hard to achieve all her has. Alec is pretty insistent in his pursuit of her, but Christine keeps on resisting until eventually she learns the truth about him.

My favourite parts of the book were where we saw the Mountain Search and Rescue teams at work, helping injured skiers and rescuing some people who got caught in an avalanche. There was also a series of telephone conversations that I really liked between them that took place once Christine returned home, whilst they tried to fight their desire to get together and to get past the fact that they lived so far apart.

However for the last third of the book, I felt as though it got really bogged down in the issues that they both had with their families, and then with working out how they can be together and where that was going to live.

Being a romance it will be no spoiler to know that they will get married, but I really hope that Ortolon doesn't succumb to a triple wedding for the friends in the next book!! I've started the third book, Too Perfect, so we will see how it goes!

Whilst I would have rated the first two thirds of this book better than the first book in the trilogy, the last third brought it back down to the same rating as Almost Perfect.

Rating 4/5

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Almost Perfect by Julie Ortolon

Maddy, Christine and Amy are thrilled that their old college suite-mate has written a bestselling book, How to Have the Perfect Life—until they realize she used them as examples of how women let fear screw up their lives. The worst part is…it’s sort of true. Together they make a pact: they each have one year to face down their fears—and maybe show Miss Perfect a thing or two!

A Free Spirit

Maddy was always the artistic one of the group, alive with color and mischief from her saucy red curls to her vintage hippie skirts. Her challenge, the friends decide, is to get her artwork accepted at a gallery. A job as arts director at a summer camp near Santa Fe—with its multitude of galleries—seems like a start in the right direction.

A Reformed Bad Boy

There’s just one catch: The camp is run by Maddy’s high school flame, Joe, whose heart she broke—okay, smashed—and his anger towards Maddy hasn’t cooled one bit. But neither has their attraction.

A Perfect Match?

Old desires burn hotter than ever as Joe makes it clear there's only one way back to his heart: She has to get serious about her art. But will falling in love help or hinder Maddy as she struggles to meet her challenge?

This is the first Julie Ortolon book I have read, but I have had her on my TBR list for a while. When the postman came to visit to day he bought the third book in the trilogy, Too Perfect, with him so I figured that it was time to actually read the first book in the series to see if I actually liked it or not. Bit late once you have already paid for all three book, but never mind!

And did I like it? Well, yes I did. It was a lot of fun, and I am looking forward to reading more about the three college friends.
Joe and Maddy were hot and heavy in high school, so much so that Joe asked her to marry him. Being 17 years old, and just having received a coveted scholarship to allow her to study art at University, Maddy said no and went off to college. Joe, who was already in the Army, threw himself into his career, where he had stayed until he was shot in the knee whilst serving in Afghanistan. Having been discharged for medical reasons, he was now helping his adopted mother run a summer camp for girls.

In the meantime, Maddy had graduated from college, met and married her husband Justin and then nursed him through cancer. Now that he has been dead for two years it is time for her to get on with her life.

As soon as Maddy receives the invitation from Joe's adoptive mother to come and work at the camp for the summer she knows that it is going to cause problems, but gradually she is talked around, mainly by the thought of being able to spend a lot of time doing her art with an aim to getting shown in a gallery. Joe's mother, Mama Fraser is probably the one big problem that I had with this book. I really don't like it when there is a third party who just KNOWS even before the romance begins that the couple are perfect for each other, no matter what happens.

Joe and Maddy were both likeable enough, with Joe just being alpha enough, but prone to fits of over sensitivity, whilst Maddy was so busy trying to walk on egg shells a lot of the time, but for the right reason. It was nice to see them as they tried to deal with both the past and the present, with an eye on the future.

One of the main thrusts with this book was also about the strength of the relationship between the three girlfriends, and whilst this was good, there were times that there was just a little too much analysis going on between the three of them, about..well everything. Or maybe it is because I don't really have those kind of girlfriends that I speak to three times a day, or email constantly.

Overall, my first trip into Ortolon books was quite enjoyable. I will definitely be reading the next books in the series...eventually!

Rating 4/5

Dragonwyck by Anya Seton

Originally published in 1941, this book is classified as a gothic romance. It reminded me of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier in tone in several ways. Having read and loved Seton's classic Katherine, I am hoping to read a few more of her books.

Among the easy correlations to make between Rebecca and Dragonwyck are the darkness and Gothic nature of both homes where the majority of the action is set, the aloofness of both main male characters, the hint of murder and tragedy. I suppose that these are characteristics of gothic romance as a whole, however it is a genre that I have not personally read a lot of so these were quite striking to me.

Miranda Wells, an 18-year-old farmer's daughter, is, one afternoon in 1844, suddenly invited to live at Dragonwyck, the Hudson Valley estate of her distant relative, the great Nicholas Van Ryn. Falling under the strange and passionate spell of both the mansion and its owner, she becomes part of Dragonwyck, with its gothic towers, flowering gardens, acres of tenant farms, and dark, terrible secrets.

In this exquisite and compelling novel, Anya Seton, with her customary attention to detail paints a marvelous portrait of an America torn between ideals of freedom and feudal traditions. We meet not only the poor tenant farmers at Dragonwyck and the European royalty that visits there, but in finely crafted New York City scenes, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and the Astors. Above all, Seton masterfully tells the heart-stopping story of a remarkable woman, her remarkable passions and the mystery and terror that await her in the magnificent hallways of Dragonwyck.

I wasn't really quite sure what to expect from this novel when I started it, but almost from the beginning I was drawn into the story, in fact surprisingly so, given the broad generalisations that are given to our main characters. When we first meet our heroine, the very naive and innocent Miranda Wells, she is reading a romance novel instead of completing her farm chores. Our first glimpse of our villain, Nicholas Van Ryn, is of a very charismatic, dashing, darkly handsome man, whose wife, the unfortunate Johanna is a gluttonous, extremely overweight woman. Our first glimpse of her is as she asks Nicholas if he remembered to bring her pastries for her from New York.

Miranda has just received an invitation to act as the governess to the Van Ryn's child. The Van Ryns are distant relatives on her mother's side. Her father, the dour Ephraim, is not keen for this to happen, but through a tricky manipulation of The Test, where the family bible is opened at a random page, to pick a verse and see what light it adds to the matter under consideration, the decision is made that Miranda is to go. She therefore sets out for the brightness that is New York City in the 1840's, where Miranda feels completely inept and out of fashion in what she had felt were her smartest and most fashionable clothes.

After meeting the dashing Nicholas, she is literally swept up river on a paddlesteamer, fearing greatly as the paddlesteamer races against another steamer during the trip. Here we get our first real glimpse of Nicholas, a man who appears to be extremely passionate about things like paddlesteamer racing, but who also vacillates between tremendous charisma and terrible internal darkness.

As we progress through the novel we are introduced to the big issues of the day. The rights of tenant farmers to own their own land for example, the looming war with Mexico, issues of which Miranda is completely in ignorance about. Miranda is introduced into a world where she doesn't belong, feeling completely out of depth, and not being accepted by any, it seems, except Nicholas, despite her ethereal beauty and her lovely new wardrobe.

Eventually, Nicholas' wife dies, and Miranda is sent back to her home, but she goes with a secret. She is betrothed to Nicholas, and once the obligatory year of mourning is over, he will be coming to claim her, which he does, much to Ephraim Well's consternation.

So Miranda returns to New York, and during this time we see short glimpses into New York's social scenes with visits to Edgar Allan Poe, who Nicholas greatly esteems. However it seems that part of the reason that Nicholas wanted Miranda is that he can mould her into his perfect wife, a woman without her own social networks (Nicholas actively discourages her from making any friendships with anyone), her own opinions, existing only to appear to be perfect to all around her, a sign of his own power and control.

Of course, if there is a heroine and a villain, then there must be a hero, and in Dragonwyck, our hero is Doctor Jefferson Turner, the doctor from the nearby town of Hudson. Dr Turner is a man of many faces. Not only is he a doctor, he is also very involved in the movement to allow tenant farmers to own their own land, and in due course he also goes off to fight in the Mexican war. If there is a shortcoming in any of the major characters, then Jeff is probably it. Whilst he is likeable, and integral to the plot, his growing attraction to Miranda is not given a terrible lot of page time, maybe because the fact that an attraction to a married woman was something that wouldn't have really been talked about openly when the book was first written.

Another thing that is not talked about much compared to if this novel had been written today is that of the marital relations between Miranda and Nicholas. There are hints of violence at various points in the novel, particularly as we begin to see the disintegration of Nicholas Van Ryn the man as he descends into his own personal darkness with chilling results.

Overall this is an entertaining read that kept me engrossed from beginning to end, giving glimpses into both people and events from New York and America in the 1840's. I look forward to tracking down more of Anya Seton's books. Some of her more popular books are currently being rereleased with forewords by popular historical fiction author, Philippa Gregory.

Rating 4/5

Where do you read?

Okay..this is a thinly disguised post about what I did last night!

Last night we went to athletics at the Commonwealth Games here in Melbourne, and had a fantastic time!

The events that we got to see were Men's Shotput, Women's Hammerthrow, a couple of events from the Men's Decathlon, Women's 400m semi finals, and then the semi finals and finals of the mens and womens 100m, and also a couple of 100m finals for EAD. The field in the Men's 100m included Asafa Powell, current men's world record holder.

The final event was the Men's 5000 metres and I have to say I have never been part of a sporting atmosphere like it!! Talk about electric! So exciting!

The funny thing was though, that there was a young girl sitting near me who read through most of the events. Whilst I had my book with me and read before all the events started I certainly wasn't reading during the races! It did make my heart swell though to see that there is definitely at least some of the younger generation who love to read so much that nothing will distract them!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Kleypas Question

Way down in the comments on Dreaming of You, Lori suggested reading Worth Any Price.

My question you need to read the other two Bow Street Runner books, Someone to Watch Over Me and Lady's Sophia's Lover, or does Worth Any Price stand alone okay?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Key by Lynsay Sands

Lynsay Sands was chosen as author of the month for March over in Historical Romance Chat. As she was a completely new to me author I wasn't sure where to start, where better than in the middle of a series. Well actually, I got the second book in the series from the library by mistake, and by the time I realised someone else had the first book so I still have to wait for that one!

Iliana Wildwood would do anything to escape from the depraved baron who sought her lands - including marrying a barbarian. Fleeing to the highlands, Iliana was wedded to Duncan, laird to Dunbar Castle. Certainly, there was something about the virile warrior that made her weak in the knees - but something stank in the state of Scotland, and Iliana would not trust anyone until she'd discovered the source.

Determined therefore to resist her handsome husband, Iliana found a way to keep her secrets safe. Employing a belt of chastity, the spirited beauty managed to thwart the thane's advances. But then her husband changed his tactics and began a sensual assault that sent her intentions up in smoke. And as the air cleared, Iliana found it had been her heart she had locked away, and that this stubborn Scot had finally found...THE KEY

Whilst this book wasn't a bad read, it certainly didn't take off to any great heights, I think maybe because the basic premise was so silly that by the time the problem had been mentioned 10 times I was over it.

When Iliana first arrives at the keep of her intended, she is disappointed to see that it looks a little tumbledown. She is even more disappointed when she goes inside and see that is little better, if not worse. The rushes are dirty, the benches and tables are filthy, and everything needs a thorough scrubbing...starting with her husband. You see, Iliana's major problem is that her new husband stinks. Luckily she bought her chastity belt with her, which she dons and tells her husband that she will not take off until he has a bath. Duncan is appalled. It is June, and he still has another month until he is due to bathe, because he bathes every January and July...whether he needs it or not.

Dunbar castle had not always been let go so badly, but it was 20 years since Duncan's mother had died, and his father had paid little attention to his surroundings since then, and therefore neither did Duncan or his sister.

Iliana soon takes charge and gets the rushes changed, the food improved, arranges for all the village people to have new plaids, because they only get given one a year by Duncan, and generally begins a spring clean of the whole place, but Duncan is still resisting because he is stubborn.

So whilst the premise was unusual, it was beginning to stink itself when it was still being talked about two thirds of the way through the book, because it was still being mentioned even when there was treachery and betrayal all round.

As far as Iliana and Duncan went they were fine as hero and heroine, and there was a nice little sub romance plot between their parents late in the book! There was also a fair amount of set up done for the sequel which I believe is called The Chase, which is Duncan's sister Seonaid's story.

I actually also don't really think it mattered a great deal that this was the second in the series, as from what I can tell the only link between the two books is the messenger sent from King Henry to arrange both marriages. I could be wrong there though.

Overall, not bad, but not great either. I will read more from this author.

Rating 3.5/5

Friday, March 17, 2006

Master of Seduction by Kinley MacGregor

So it's been ages since I read a pirate romance. I read all three of Jennifer Ashley's books last year, and figured that since I enjoyed them that I may enjoy Kinley MacGregor's pirate book when I picked it up by mistake from the library. I thought I was getting Master of Desire, another Scottish romance, not this one!

No Man Could Master Her

All lovely Lorelei Dupree had in mind was helping her fiance and the city of Charleston by setting a trap for the infamous pirate Black Jack Rhys. She certainly never intended to let him kidnap her. And she most definitely had no intention of losing her heart to a man so skilled in the arts of love that they called him the master of seduction.

Black Jack Rhys had a score to settle with an old enemy. Kidnapping his adversary's fiancee seemed liked the perfect answer. But the man who'd won the hearts of a thousand women hadn't counted on falling in love himself.

This book was unbelievable, and no I don't mean that in a this was truly amazing and awesome way...just that it was completely unbelievable.

I'll skip the preamble and get to what should have been the meaty bit of the story. Jack had kidnapped Lorelei, taken her on board his ship and was sailing off over the horizon. So far, so good. Within pages of this event, we discover that every single pirate on board is a gentleman and no harm will come of to Lorelei at the Captains behest. Some of the pirates even have their wives on board with them who spend time mending clothes, doing laundry, and in the evening the crew provide romantic music as the sun sets on another glorious day on the ocean. O-k-a-y.

At first Lorelei is put in a cabin that has lovely large windows (??), but when there is a battle (or rather a few cannonballs fired in anger) she is put into a different, dingy room. Queue the Captain's son to ask her favourite colour, and voila..a whole room full of lovely furniture including yellow bed coverings, lace, you name it! Oh, and do you have a secret desire to paint Lorelei? Why yes I do...voila....easels, paints of every possible colour. What shall we have for dinner? Roast chicken, no, roast duck perhaps? A touch of playfulness turns into a pillow fight turns into a sword fight between the hero and heroine. Lucky she is such a talented swordsperson. Well of course, her Granny taught her!! The list of things that were unlikely are endless.

So what about Lorelei and Jack. Aside from the fact that pirates named Jack will forever look like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean to me, Jack was okay. So he paid people to say how badly he had treated them, but freely admitted that if backed into a corner he would fight tooth and nail to escape. There's nothing wrong with having a good publicity machine! And Lorelei was likeable enough..I guess. Well she was there at least!

Overall this was a lackluster book that I thought about putting down and not picking up again on more than one occasion. At some stage, I will probably read the other pirate book by Kinley MacGregor called A Pirate of Her Own, but I definitely will not be spending good money on it!

Rating 3/5

It Happened One Autumn by Lisa Kleypas

The second of The Wallflower series that started with Secrets of a Summer Night, this book is the story of Lillian Bowman and Marcus, Lord Westcliff.

Four young ladies enter London society with one necessary goal: they must use their feminine wit and wiles to find a husband. So they band together, and a daring husband-hunting scheme is born.

It Happened at the Ball...

Where beautiful but bold Lillian Bowman quickly learned that her independent American ways weren't entirely "the thing." And the most disapproving of all was insufferable, snobbish, and impossible Marcus, Lord Westcliff, London's most eligible aristocrat.

It Happened in the Garden

When Marcus shockingly -- and dangerously swept her into his arms. Lillian was overcome with a consuming passion for a man she didn't even like. Time stood still; it was as if no one else existed, thank goodness they weren't caught very nearly in the act!

It Happened One Autumn...

Marcus was a man in charge of his own emotions, a bedrock of stability. But with Lillian, every touch was exquisite torture, every kiss an enticement for more. Yet how could he consider taking a woman so blatantly unsuitable as his bride?

Having read several Lisa Kleypas books in quick succession, I was prepared to really love this book once again. Whilst it was enjoyable, it didn't draw me in as much as the others did.

There were a couple of things that I didn't like about it. Firstly, there was the whole dramatic ending with Marcus' disapproving mother. Without giving away too much information it was way over the top as a course of action..trying too hard to be dramatic in my opinion.

Secondly, there was the Prologue and the Epilogue. In the prologLillianlian goes to a perfume shop where she has a special perfume made for her, which the perfumier tells her has a special secret ingredient in it. I was a bit worried about where this was going but in the end it was handled in a fun way, but not silly! However, the epilogue goes back to the perfume. The second half of the epilogue is in effect the opening scene of the next book...and then there is an excerpt as well. I guess the point is that in this case, the epilogue was actually really unnecessary. It was a nice change from a lovely scene with at least one baby already have blessed the blissful union of the happy couple that you usually get though!

Now for the things I did like about this book. I liked the gradual unveiling of the real Marcus, from a cold and stuff aristocrat to a man who likes to play rounders, who makes up butterfly names to save Lillian from discomfort, who comes to the self realisation that he needs someone to save him from becoming the ultimate stuffed shirt, stiff upper lipped man like his despised father was.

There were scenes in this book that were laugh out loud funny, in a way that I don't think the other books I have read by Kleypas have been. During the scenes where we saw Annabelle Hunt, the heroine from the last book, she absolutely stole the show.

Overall I did enjoy this book, but not as much as others. I am looking forward to Devil in Winter which I am hoping to get from the library shortly.

Rating 4/5

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Strange Bedpersons and Manhunting by Jennifer Crusie

My library had this as a 2 books in 1 book, but I cannot find any reference to that edition anywhere on the net, so I my cover looks nothing like either of these. Minor detail I suppose!

Well, I guess it was bound to happen....a Jennifer Crusie book that I really didn't like!

When she agrees to accompany her ex-boyfriend Nick Jamieson, a conservative Republican lawyer who is desperate to make partner, on a weekend business trip as his fiance, Tess Newhart, an outspoken woman of the world, discovers that opposites really do attract.
First problem that I had with this book was the ex-factor. They had been broken up for a month. That's not ex ex in my opinion. They had been apart long enough to miss each other but not much more than that. And the reason why Tess was still holding out against Nick...because he wouldn't have sex with her in a public place. Not much of a reason in my opinion.

I didn't mind Nick that much, although yes he was very driven career-wise, but Tess - ugh!! If I had of met her in real life I would have punched her!! Annoying, selfish, annoying.

There was a second romance in this book between Nick's friend Park, and Tess' friend Gina, and I didn't really buy into that one either.

Overall, a disappointment to me. If this had of been the first Crusie that I had ever read I probably never read any more from her!

Rating 3/5

And then to contrast, I really enjoyed this book. It was laugh out loud funny. I started it at 11pm at night, and finished at 2.30 the next morning, and don't regret missing out on those couple of hours of sleep at all.

After three failed engagements, successful businesswoman Kate Svenson comes up with a definitive plan for finding the man of her dreams by snaring an eligible bachelor at The Cabins resort, but as her would-be swains begin to drop around her, Jake Templeton decides to save the world of men from this dangerous femme fatale.
One of the good things about Jennifer Crusie's characters is that she doesn't write about 18 year old virgins all the time. Her women are generally rich in life experience, and know what it is that they want. In this book Kate Svenson thinks she knows what she wants, but when she plans how to achieve those things, it doesn't quite turn out that way.

Jake used to be everything that she ever wanted, but now he is has kind of withdrawn from life and is helping his brother run a resort complex. He likes to spend at least some of his day fishing, and hanging around in the local bar.

I really liked Kate's journey in this novel. It really is about working out what it is that you really want, as opposed to what you think that you want, and then setting out to get it. The gradual building from friendship to love for Jake and Kate was well handled and felt real.

Rating 4/5

That just leaves Crazy for You and then I have finished all of JC's fiction books...just in time for Don't Look Down to come out next month.

Speaking of Jennifer Crusie, she now has another collaboration project going in addition to the one she has with Bob Mayer. The highly entertaining blog with Bob can be found here and now there is a new one with her collaborationists Anne Stuart and Eileen Dreyer here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas

Well, I still haven't lucked out with the Lisa Kleypas books! I even really like the cover on this one. Simple but really nice looking!

She was unmarried, untouched and almost thirty, but novelist Amanda Briars wasn't about to greet her next birthday without making love to a man. When he appeared at her door, she believed he was her gift to herself, hired for one night of passion. Unforgettably handsome, irresistibly virile, he tempted her in ways she never thought possible...but something stopped him from completely fulfilling her dream.

Jack Devlin's determination to possess Amanda became greater when she discovered his true identity. But gently-bred Amanda craved respectability more than she admitted, while Jack, the cast-off son of a nobleman and London's most notorious businessman, refused to live by society's rules. Yet when fate conspired for them to marry, their worlds collided with a passionate force neither had expected...but both soon craved.

I really liked Amanda and Jack as individual characters, but also as a couple. Amanda was able to be independent as well as intelligent without being a threat to Jack in any way, and without being a complete pariah. It has to be said that Jack would be my kind of man. Funny, passionate, intelligent, good looking, sexy...well...maybe I should stop drooling before I short circuit the keyboard!

Whilst your normal romance structure suggests that the couple will admit their attraction, and then there will be some conflict and then they will get back together, it didn't really feel as though that happened here. They did spend time apart of course, but it seemed to be handled quite maturely between them both.

I also have to say that Kleypas really up the anti with the sex scenes in this book. They were sizzling, and really pushed the envelope in a couple of the scenes compared to the scenes that you usually see in romance novels.

A very enjoyable read, and one that I am pretty sure that I will be happy to revisit. A keeper for sure!

Rating 4.5/5

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

What the Lady Wants by Jennifer Crusie

Before I started this I only had four more Jennifer Crusie books to read, and I have to say that if they are all as quick to read and as fun, then I should be done with them by next week.

Mae Belle Sullivan is a heiress who has no money. Mitch Peatwick is a PI, but he's not really, Mae Belle's uncle is a murder victim who appears to have died of natural causes and the rest of her family is either crazy or crooked.

Written as a spoof to Sam Spade type detective novels, Mitch had decided a year earlier that he could earn a living as a PI. Having also taken a substantial bet that he could do so, he only had a few days left to go on his bet. After a year of divorce work, he is somewhat jaded and distrusting of everyone, so when Mae Belle Sullivan walks into his office asking him to find the diary of her dead uncle he already knows that she is lying to him.

Mae Belle was after a dumb detective who she could get to spread rumours about her Uncle Armand's death whilst she tried to figure out what was going on with him. Instead she got Mitch who wouldn't do what she asked, and who she was beginning to feel very attracted to. Unlike some of Crusie's heroes, Mitch didn't do a great deal for me, but that's okay.

Whilst Mae Belle's family were all Mafia types, including her cousin Carlo who really wanted to be with her, they were all pretty cliched, but in a completely over the top, fun kind of way. In fact it is probably fair to say that the whole novel was written in a tongue in cheek fashion, with over the top characters, but for me that is refreshing in itself in a way. This was not a book pretending to be anything more than a fun, romantic story, with screwball characters.

Overall, this was a fun novel, with a cute couple at it's centre. I only figured out after I read it that Nick and Tess from Strange Bedpersons were also in this novel, so I guess I will read that one next.

Rating 4/5

Rules for Writing Scottish Romances

Came across these Rules for Writing Scottish Romances over at Gabrielle Campbell's blog, The Lost Fort, third post down. Well worth a visit to read some of the comments as well!!

There are quite a few of these going around, and many of them are very entertaining. You can find links to more of these at Sarah Cuthbertson's blog. She has several sets of rules, and/or links on her blog. I also really liked the medieval ones.

Rules for Writing Scottish Romances

1) The hero is always depicted as Highland chief (complete with kilt and basket hilt sword usually - and wrongly - called claymore), even if he lives in the Lowlands.

2) The heroine is always English.

3) She's described as feisty; often red haired.

4) The bad guy is her father/brother/betrothed.

5) The heroine, in most cases abducted by the hero, first hates him and sees him a savage but soon can't resist his alpha maleness (her betrothed is a whimp, after all) and falls in lurve. Of course, she goes over to the Scottish side at that point. A bit angsting is ok, but not too much. This is a romance, not a psychological portrait of a woman torn by opposite allegiances.

6) The hero is in lurve with the English girl since he met her at a ball he attended in disguise to spy on the English.

7) If the English characters (except the heroine) are keen on getting more money, it's always greed.

8) If the Scottish hero is keen on getting money, it's to help his clansmen to buy cattle, or sometimes to restore his ancient seat which the English destroyed.

9) The hero says "Ye ken, lassie," a lot.

10) If the hero drinks a lot of whisky, it's alpha male-y, if the English do it, it's depraved and a sign of inherent weakness.

11) The Campbells are the only Scottish clan that is bad.

12) There can be a clan feud, but it has to be ended in order to fight the English. Except if it involves the Campbells because those are bad (see 11).

13) The Scots win the decisive battle despite they're outnumbered five to one and fight with swords against muskets. This is achieved by the famous downhill charge.

14) There must be at least one scene where the hero shows the heroine the beauty of his country by dragging her along over mountains and stones, though heather and moor, until he finds a river where he can catch some salmon with his bare hands. Romantic dinner ensues.

15) Never bother about the differences between pre- and post-Culloden Scotland, even if you mention Culloden as example for the badness of the English.


16) The hero must at some point deliver a speech stuffed with platitudes about the greatness and braveness of the Scots from the times of their mysterious selkie ancestor onwards (and never mention Normans or Vikings in the family trees), and list a number of vile English kings that tried to unjustly suppress the Scots.

17) Bonus points if you can manage that speech while the hero stands in chains in front of his English captors. He will of course get flogged for such an insult, and the heroine has a chance to escape with him.

18) The hero has a trusted sidekick who hates the Sassenach girl until she manages to save his life.

19) The heroine can ride in a man's saddle. She also has a favourite horse, preferably some breed that would never be able to find footing on highland mountains if this were not a romance.

20) The hero is able to swim across any loch in the depth of winter without getting a cold. While escaping several salvas of arrows or bullets.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Florabama Ladies' Auxiliary & Sewing Circle by Lois Battle

Bonnie Duke Cullman is making changes, well, is being forced to make changes. Her husband of many years is not only divorcing her, but he has just told her that they are basically bankrupt. Her years of being a stay at home mum have just come to an end. So, after having held down only one job in her life she is on her way to Florabama to work in a college helping women who are struggling to get through college, and hopefully move on in their lives.

On the same day that Bonnie is starting out on her journey to Florabama with her puppy, another group of women are also undergoing forced changes. They have all been told that their employer is closing down operations at the Cherished Lady lingerie mill and they are all now jobless. For many of these women, who lived pay check to pay check, there is nothing for them to fall back on, and they need to find another way of earning a living, and quickly.

So Bonnie is thrown into the deep end, trying to assist these women choosing what courses to take, assisting with forms etc, eventually finding that they have become a part of her life, and she a part of theirs.

Whilst this book is set in the South, and there are characters in the book, they are not as cartoonish as some authors seem to make Southern women. These are for the most part, lower to middle class struggling to make ends meet, to keep their families together and food on the table. They just happen to live in the South.

Bonnie is the daughter of the Duke, a man with considerable connections, and it is upsetting for her when she realises that she did not get the job on her own merits, but she works through this. She also starts to move forward in her life when an old friend Riz comes calling.

Of the women who lost their jobs, the best characterisations are Ruth who always wanted to be a teacher, but when she got pregnant and then married had to shelve that dream. Instead she is trying to ensure that her grandchildren are not abandoned by their unreliable mother Roxy. Roxy too is pretty well defined, even if her actions are not actually explained.

Hilly is another well written character. She is loud and brash, angry and hurt. She was married a couple of times but her second husband was the love of her life, until he went to Vietnam and didn't last too long after he came back. She flits from one meaningful relationship to another, until she eventually meets Jess, who is everything that she normally doesn't like.

A couple of the others are kind of key to the story but don't get much page time. The scope of the book is one year, and we really don't find out what happened to Bonnie in particular, although we know that she has certainly grown throughout the book.

Overall this was a good read.

Rating 4/5

Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas

What can I say! Two great reads from Lisa Kleypas in the space of two days. Can't ask for much more than that really can I?

The first of a four book series called The Wallflowers, this book is about Miss Annabelle Peyton and Mr Simon Hunt.

Four young ladies enter London society with one common goal: they must use their feminine wit and wiles to find a husband. So a daring husband-hunting scheme is born.

Annabelle Peyton, determined to save her family from disaster, decides to use her beauty and wit to tempt a suitable nobleman into making an offer of marriage. But Annabelle's most intriguing -- and persistent -- admirer, wealthy, powerful Simon Hunt, has made it clear that while he will introduce her to irresistible pleasure he will not offer marriage. Annabelle is determined to resist his unthinkable proposition ... but it is impossible in the face of such skillful seduction.

Her friends, looking to help, conspire to entice a more suitable gentleman to offer for Annabelle, for only then will she be safe from Simon -- and her own longings. But on one summer night, Annabelle succumbs to Simon's passionate embrace and tempting kisses ... and she discovers that love is the most dangerous game of all.

Simon was a man with new money, making his own way into the world at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. Having only read 3 Kleypas books, I am beginning to sense a certain similarity between her heroes - determined, self made, and independent. It will be interesting to see if this continues as I read more.

Whilst I really liked Simon Hunt, this was Annabelle's story. Somewhat refreshingly, Annabelle was not a martyr for her family, determined to marry a rich man to keep her family from becoming really, really poor and to save her mother from unwelcome advances from Lord Hodgeham, the villain of this book. Yes, that was definitely a part of it, but she was not afraid to admit that she liked nice things, that she wanted a titled husband, and she would do just about anything to get it. The fact that she got a husband who was exceedingly rich, handsome, dashing, entrepreneurial, but not titled meant that coming to terms with Simon's humble roots was something that we go to see both for Annabelle and her family. The stronger parts of this story were the parts prior to the marriage, especially the sexual tension between them, and the circumstances around their betrothal were very entertaining. It was also a nice change to have the heroine being the one who is reluctant to admit her feelings, but the ending where she could finally admit her feelings was a bit trite.

If I did have any other minor gripes with this book it was that it feels like there was a fraction too much set up for the next book happening. Now I don't know if I would have noticed if I didn't know that the next book was about Lillian and Marcus, Lord Westcliff, but I did know, and I did notice. It is but a small flaw!

Hands up if someone can feel a Lisa Kleypas glom coming on?? By the way, does anyone know if there really are adders in Hampshire?

Rating 4.5/5

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas

There has been a little bit of pressure around to actually pick up this book and read it, so it was with great expectations that I did so. And was I disappointed? Were the expections too high? I'll answer that shortly. I also wanted to use this to meet the March TBR challenge over at Briannasmommy's blog.

In the shelter of her country cottage, Sara Fielding puts pen to paper to create dreams. But curiosity has enticed the prim, well-bred gentlewoman out of her safe haven--and into Derek Craven's dangerous world. A handsome, tough and tenacious Cockney, he rose from poverty to become lord of London's most exclusive gambling house--a struggle that has left Derek Craven fabulously wealthy, but hardened and suspicious. And now duty demands he allow Sara Fielding into his world--with her impeccable manners and her infuriating innocence. But here, in a perilous shadow-realm of ever-shifting fortunes, even a proper "mouse" can be transformed into a breathtaking enchantress--and a world-weary gambler can be shaken to his cynical core by the power of passion...and the promise of love.

Title: Dreaming of You

Author: Lisa Kleypas

Year published: 1994

Why did you get this book? I have been hearing such good things...oh, okay, I have been being nagged by someone, that I ended up requesting it specifically so I could see what the fuss was about.

Do you like the cover? Nothing special, but it was okay

Did you enjoy the book?Yes, I believe I did.

Was the author new to you and would you read something by this author again?The only thing of Lisa Kleypas' that I have previously read was in the Where's My Hero anthology and that was the story of the daughter of this couple, so it was really nice to go back and see how this couple came to be together. This was my first full length novel though. I will definitely be looking for more of her books!

Are you keeping it or passing it on?It's a library book so I better take it back. If it was mine though it would definitely be a keeper.

Anything else?I am really glad that I read this. I liked both Sara and Derek as the H&H, and it was definitely a refreshing change that neither of them were aristocratic. Derek had pulled himself out the situation he was born in, and Sara was intelligent and complex. The storyline with Joyce Ashby was a little far fetched but other than that minor blip this was a really great book.

Thanks Kristie!!

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, March 10, 2006

A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon

The sixth book in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon continues the story of the Fraser's and MacKenzies with all the action taking place in pre-revolution America.

The eagerly awaited new epic from the International Bestselling Author of The Fiery Cross Their love has survived time, but can they survive fate? 1772 - the eve of the American revolution. In Boston, men lie dead in the street and in the backwoods of America, isolated cabins burn in the darkness of the forest. The Colony is in ferment. Jamie Fraser, a passionate leader of men, receives an envoy from the Governor Josiah Martin, asking for help. The Governor needs someone to unite the backcountry, pacify the seething resentments of the settlers, and keep the mountains safe for King and Crown. Jamie Fraser, everyone agrees, is the man for the job. But Jamie knows what is to come. His wife, Claire, has travelled back in time from the twentieth century, and she knows that it's only a matter of a few years before the start of the War of Independence, ending with the exile or death of the men loyal to the King of England. Neither prospect appeals to Jamie. Beyond everything else, though, looms the threat of a tiny clipping from The Wilmington Gazette, dated 1776, which reports the destruction of the house on Fraser's Ridge, and the death by fire of James Fraser and all his family. Jamie hopes Claire is wrong, for once, about the future - but only time will tell.

When you read one of these books there are certain elements that appear to be necessary:



Accusations of treason

Description of medical problems



Suggestions of witchcraft

I hope that doesn't sound too cynical, but I am afraid I was a little disheartened whilst reading this book. I went out and bought it the first day I saw it, and paid full price for it, not caring that if I had of waited two days I could have had it at a much reduced price. I settled down thinking that this would be the same as the others in the series in that I would be able to devour it in three days, having let an entire weekend pass me by while I spent time in 18th century Scotland and/or America. Six months later I have just finished listening to it in the car.

The good bits in this book, and there were plenty, were as always exceptional. The passages where Ian tells what happened to him when he spent time with the Cherokee were excellent and had me crying my eyes out as I travelled down the road at peak hour, as did several other sections of the book, including the parts that occurred after July 4, 1776. There were also numerous moments throughout the book when I gasped in shock, or laughed out loud, or was left wondering where on earth the journey was going to take me next.

As I was reading though, I couldn't help but feel that there were a lot of story arcs that didn't really need to be in the book to take the story forward. However, having now finished reading the book I can see how some of those parts actually did fit in with the ending, but it took me a long time to see it! There were also numerous occasions where I was far enough outside of the story to notice that phrases were repeated in quite rapid succession, and to be wondering what on earth this part had to do with anything!! I guess what I am saying is that the book could have done with harsher editing.

We still get to see plenty of the very lovely Jamie Fraser (....huge SIGH!!), but his son-in-law Roger Mackenzie comes into his own in this book, seemingly having found his place in the order of life on Fraser's Ridge. Jamie's young nephew Ian Murray is one of my other favourite characters and I really hope that in the next book we get to see him happy and settled (and yes, I am looking forward to the next book already!). Claire was Claire, and Brianna was much more likeable in this book, with wee Jemmy and Germaine in particular scene stealing merrily throughout the book.

I feel I must spare a word for Davina Porter, the actress who narrates the unabridged version of the Outlander books. She is amazing, with clear distinctions of voice between so many characters, and so easy to listen to. It is not always the case with narrators on audiobooks.

I do LOVE the earlier books in this series, and I will continue to buy them, but maybe I will wait a couple of days rather than buying the first copy I see of the next book. Many of the lingering questions of the series have been answered in this book, but I still look forward to reading more about how Claire and Jamie fair during the American Revolution, and hopefully beyond.

In summary, there were still many parts of trademark excellence from the author, but there were too parts of this book that either needed to be edited out or treated differently to keep my attention as the earlier books in the series had.

Rating 4/5

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

From the back cover:

Nine-year-old Oskar Schell is an inventor, amateur entomologist, computer consultant, Francophile, letter writer, pacifist, amateur astronomer, natural historian, percussionist, romantic, Great Explorer, jeweller, origamist, detective, vegan and collector of butterflies.

When his father is killed in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, Oskar sets out to solve the mystery of a key he discovers in his father's closet. It is a search which leads him into the lives of strangers, through the five boroughs of New York, into history, to the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima, and on an inward journey which brings him closer to some kind of peace.

I'm not quite sure where to begin with a review of this book, or what rating to give it.

My reactions whilst I was reading were that this was an extremely hard book to felt like just plain hard work. The characters were on the crazy side, their antics varied from heart wrenching to just plain silly, their relationships very strange, however, there were definitely still moments of great tenderness, humour and poignancy.

Spread throughout the text there are various pages that are either images which are connected with the story, or not! Some of these had the effect of galvanising the storyline, but there were several which were a distraction as opposed to an addition. For example there is a chapter which is Oskar's grandfather writing to his son, and all through the letter there are red pen marks correctly spelling and grammatical mistakes.

This was a challenge, and that can be a good thing right?? Right, but in a lot of ways this was a very disjointed and too complex story, with some additional poignancy.

Interestingly enough, Jonathan Safran Foer is married to fellow author Nicole Krauss, whose novel The History of Love, takes a very similar set of circumstances and explores them. It will be interesting to do a comparison between the two books in due course.

Rating 3.5/5

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


No, not the title of a book, rather how I feel.

I belong to several groups where there are reading schedules or author of the months or something similar.

At the moment I am struggling through Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. In addition to that I have on my TBR during March for a group list (and in no particular order!)

Lyndsay Sands
The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis
The Florabama Ladies' Auxillary and Sewing Circle by Lois Battle
The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
Mists of Avalon
The Shiralee

The Borgia Bride and The Bronze Horseman are both rereads of books that I love but I am feeling a bit overwhelmed at this moment in time. And those are only March's books. There are already more lined up for April!

Off to read!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Where's My Hero - Anthology

An anthology featuring Lisa Kleypas, Kinley MacGregor and Julia Quinn, Where's My Hero is supposed to be the stories of three of those secondary characters that we sometimes meet in romance novels who are just crying out to have their own stories told. Only problem with this is that I had never read any of either Lisa Kleypas or Julia Quinn's books! I still read their stories, but in reality I picked this book up because I really wanted to read Simon's story by Kinley MacGregor.

the first story in the book was Lisa Kleypas' Against the Odds, which featured Dr Jake Linley who apparently is a character who appears in several of her books (on her website she refers to them as book hoppers). Jake has secretly been in love with Lydia Craven since the first day they met. Of course it wouldn't do to admit that, so Lydia and Jake have been extremely antagonistic to each other ever since they met. Lydia is portrayed as being extremely clever, and has agreed to become betrothed to a fellow mathematician who will not mind her working once they are married.

On the night of Lydia's betrothal to another man, Jake kisses Lydia and she realises that she has no passion with her husband to be, but decides that it doesn't really matter, much to her mother's horror. Her parents (Sara and Derek from Dreaming of You) still have an extremely passion filled marriage, which we get glimpses of in this book.

Three days before the wedding, Lydia and Jake find themselves locked in the cellar with no way of getting out, and they finally talk about their feelings and realise that they both have had unrevealed feelings. Jake knows that marrying him would mean no longer living the life of luxury she is accustomed this something that Lydia can do?

This was a very enjoyable story, but I can't help but feel that it almost deserved a full story. Doesn't really matter though, because it did make me want to pick up more of Lisa Kleypas' books. (And yes Kristie, that does mean Dreaming of You!!) I could totally see how Jake would steal scenes in other books, so I gave this a 4/5.

The second story was Kinley MacGregor's Midsummer's Knight, the reason why I got this book in the first place. Our hero was Simon, who was in Born in Sin as one of the few friends that Sin has, and travelled with him to Scotland. Simon was also in Master of Desire, although I haven't read that myself. Simon is the man who stands behind the other men, unobtrusive and ignored by all the girls. He has been the famous knight's Stryder's friend, ally, bodyguard and personal secretary for quite some time, and for the previous year he has been answering letters sent to Stryder by the lovely Kenna MacRyan, signing them off as Your Ever Loving Knight, S. Simon has poured out his heart to Kenna, and she to him, but Simon knows that he could never hope to marry Kenna - she is just too far out of his league. So when Kenna turns up at a tournament thinking that she is betrothed to Stryder, it becomes very awkward all round!

Once it is revealed that Stryder can not even read or write let alone write letters pouring out his soul, it becomes clear that the author of the letters is Simon, and after spending the day alone together Kenna knows that it is Simon that she loves. She asks her cousin King Malcolm to allow her to marry Simon, but he will not do so, because Simon has neither title nor land - certainly not a suitable prospect for marriage. It is therefore agreed that if Simon wins the tournament then they can be married. That however means that at some point Simon will have to defeat Stryder, a task that noone else has ever been able to achieve.

I really enjoyed this novella, and was glad to see Simon in the spotlight. I gave this 4.5/5.

The final novella was A Tale of Two Sisters by Julia Quinn featured Ned Blydon who apparently was in a book called Splendid.

It is three days before Ned's wedding to the daughter of his neighbour, Lydia Thornton. Ned has resigned himself to the fact that his days of living life as a rake (albeit not all that notorious) have come to an end and that he will now have to do the responsible thing and get married. So what if he doesn't love Lydia...not everyone has to love their wife when they first get married do they?

Whilst escaping from the wedding hullabaloo, Ned comes across Charlotte Thornton, Lydia's sister and maid of honour. He is immediately captivated by her, and as the days prior to the wedding pass quickly he begins to wonder if he is marrying the wrong sister.

What he doesn't know is that his betrothed is secretly in love with one of the other neighbours, and is planning to elope before the wedding with Rupert.

For me, this was the weakest of the three stories. I didn't quite see how Ned would become a scene stealer in the same way as Simon and Jake were. It was still fun, especially some of the deliberately bad poetry, but Ned's reaction when he found out that Lydia was eloping was a bit over the top, especially seeing as he wanted the bride's sister anyway, but other than that it was okay. 3.5/5 for me.

Overall rating 4/5

Taming the Scotsman by Kinley McGregor

After the way I enjoyed Born in Sin, I was really hoping to have the same reaction to Taming the Scotsman, the story of Ewan MacAllister.

Ewan has been blaming himself for his brother Kieran's death ever since he returned from his ill fated trip to England. You see, Ewan had run off to England with Isabel MacKaid, Kieran's love, and Kieran had left his possession on the banks of the loch and walked into it, never to be seen again, presumed drowned. Because Ewan blamed himself, he has made a promise to his dead brother that he will not allow himself pleasure, and he lives in a very well furnished cave overlooking the loch as a reminder. Even before this happened, Ewan was the quietest of the MacAllister brothers, not as good looking or charming and therefore left behind, always wanting approval from his parents, but not really ever receiving what he needed.

Into his cave comes Nora, niece to two kings who is about to be wed to a man who finds her extremely irritating, and who she knows she will be miserable with. Nora comes to Ewan as she has been told that he has the fiercest reputation in the land and that he will assist her in her quest to get to England to the sanctuary of her aunt's home. Of course, her timing is completely off, arriving as she does on the anniversary of his brother's death and she find him completely drunk and asleep naked!

He agrees to take her to his brother. Whilst Ewan is used to solitude and initially Nora's chattiness also drove him to distraction, but it is not long before he gets used to that and begins to value her. The fact that they are kidnapped by gypsy's, and then by others more dastardly certainly don't hurt. Whilst being held hostage by the gypsies, who were being paid to just delay Ewan, not to hurt either of them, the young gypsy girl Catarina teaches Nora a dance of love which she uses to great effect. Without giving too much away, it seems that there are some who believed that Nora and Ewan would make a perfect couple and have engineered it so that they would spend time together. There are others trying to stop Ewan from spending any time with Nora, and there are still others who want their revenge on the MacAllisters for the perceived slight. Of course, Nora should have realised that something was up when the two servants she bought with her left her alone with Ewan, in effect forcing her into a compromising situation.

In the end, this book was readable but nowhere near as enjoyable as Born in Sin. Whilst the author was trying very hard to make Ewan a very tortured hero, it seemed to be more sullen to me, and that he was wallowing in his self pity - an understandable self pity to a degree certainly, but still wallowing nonetheless.

The end of the book leaves space for more sequels, especially when it seems that Kieran may in fact not be dead after all, which would mean that that was a wasted two years of wallowing anyway!! Who knows, as far as I am aware that mystery has not yet been solved in any of the books of this series.

Rating 3.5/5


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