Monday, April 30, 2007

Almost Heaven

Author: Judith McNaught
Published: April 1990 (Pocket Books)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 7/10

Elizabeth Cameron, Countess of Havenhurst, had a promising future ahead of her. She possessed beauty, grace, and charm, and was about to be betrothed to a viscount when she met Ian Thornton, disowned grandson of the Duke of Stanhope. The cover blurb says that his lineage is mysterious, but the duke's son married a commoner and was disowned. Ian is the duke's son's only child, and should be the heir to the duke now that his father has passed away. I didn't understand what was so mysterious when everyone knew Ian's story. Ian and Elizabeth spend some time together at a house party, and Ian wants her for his wife after she uses her quick wit to prevent a ridiculous duel, but before he can follow through, the couple is set up and discovered in the greenhouse (just talking) by her brother Robert.

Robert challenges Ian to a duel, and dishonorably fires before he's supposed to, wounding Ian, and as a result, Elizabeth's betrothal to the viscount is off the table. Her brother disappears, most likely to escape from his creditors, and a ruined Elizabeth takes charge of Havenhurst. Two years later, Elizabeth's uncle contacts Elizabeth's former suitors and offers them a chance to marry Elizabeth, after a short visit to see if they will still suit. Three respond to the offer, although Ian didn't want Elizabeth. Due to his incompetent secretary, the wrong response went to Elizabeth's uncle.

Elizabeth's arrival is a surprise to Ian, and the two butt heads. Lucy, Elizabeth's duenna, sees that the two are perfect for each other and set them up with time alone so their relationship can develop again. Ian still believes Elizabeth is a schemer. After all, he was under the belief that she flirted with him when she was betrothed to a viscount, and led him on. However, they figure out that the person who set them up in that greenhouse was one of Elizabeth's rivals (and a supposed friend - girls are mean!!). After her visit, Ian decides to marry Elizabeth because they love each other and he wants to save her from a marriage to a lecherous old man. To do so, Ian reconciles with his grandfather and becomes his legal heir.

On the day they marry, the man investigating Robert's disappearance tells Elizabeth that Ian may be responsible for Robert's departure, or murder even. She loves Ian, so she marries him anyway, hoping that it's not true. Unfortunately, Ian had a hand in Robert's disappearance, throwing him onto the crews of one of his ships because Robert tried to murder Ian after the duel. After this point, the romance could've been a lot shorter if they'd talked to each other. But they loved each other too much. Elizabeth didn't want to accuse Ian of something he may not have done, and Ian didn't want to tell Elizabeth about what he'd done until he figured out what actually happened to Robert.

And in the grand tradition of conflict-ridden romance, Robert reappears, spewing lies about what happened, and Elizabeth runs away, selling the emeralds Ian gave her for a wedding gift for funds. Ian is accused of murdering Elizabeth, and when she sees this in a newspaper, she confronts Robert and he admits that he lied about what happened to him. She pays him off and returns to London to show herself at Ian's trial. He's declared innocent, but he now wants to divorce his wife.

This book frustrated me so much at times. Like before, in Something Wonderful it takes a big sacrifice from the heroine to make the hero realize that he's wrong. Elizabeth sells her beloved Havenhurst to pay Ian back for the emeralds. He finally tracks her down (after buying back the emeralds and Havenhurst), and admits that he's an idiot and never stopped loving her. After kissing and making up, they talk and share what they'd been hiding from each other. You know, things would've been a lot easier if they'd just communicated!

The other thing that kept bugging me was how rich Ian was. I know that he had a lucrative shipping business, but he paid Elizabeth's uncle £150,000 to marry her. Then there was £45,000 for her emeralds. Then he paid £200,000 to buy back Havenhurst. So the money and everyone's assumption in the worst in everyone else made this book extremely aggravating, but the love story between the Ian and Elizabeth was lovely. McNaught's description of their first moonlit waltz in the garden at the house party was so romantic. It was all in Ian's, "Dance with me, Elizabeth." ::swoon::

I think McNaught's historical romances are all about deception and betrayal, so I think I'll pass on her in the future. Too much frustration.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Innocence and Impropriety

Author: Diane Gaston
Published: March 2007 (Harlequin)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 8/10

Ah, forbidden love. Jameson Flynn, secretary to the Marquess of Tannerton, is required to aquire Tanner's latest mistress. The Vauxhall Gardens singer, Rose O'Keefe has captured Tanner's attention, and once Flynn hears her song, he's fallen as well. But falling for Rose isn't an option, as Flynn has higher aspirations than being secretary to a marquess. He'd like to work in the government, or serve royalty, and he's definitely qualified to move up. Tanner has the connections to get him one of these coveted positions, so Flynn decides to put his career before his heart.

Rose, living with her father and his doxy (a horrible harridan of a woman), is being pushed to becoming Tanner's mistress, as he will protect her from other men and line the pockets of her father and the doxy. She's been told that the marquess could make or break her career, and with his sponsorship, she could sing in King's Theatre, a long-standing dream of Rose's. She knows she'll have to accept Tanner, who's known to be generous to his mistresses, but is torn because she has feelings for Flynn.

Because Flynn's handling the negotiations to acquire Rose, he spends a lot of time with her, supposedly singing Tanner's praises, but he and Rose fall even more deeply in love with each outing. Gaston writes these lovely, heartbreaking moments for them, where they're together for just a moment, but duty makes them step away, like when they dine with Tanner and one of Rose's friends in Vauxhall. They switch partners on the dance floor and Rose and Flynn waltz this perfect and passionate waltz, only to have Flynn escort her back to Tanner's side afterward. Despite trying to keep his distance, Flynn can't help caring for Rose, even arranging Tanner's gifts to truly suit her. For example, Rose isn't the kind of woman who craves jewels. Instead, Flynn arranged singing lessons for her at King's Theater, and she knew that he was behind it, not Tanner.

One annoying thing: With all the time and conversation spent together, Rose never mentions that she's never been with a man before. It's not like she had to say that she was a virgin, but she could've said she's never been a man's mistress. But that was part of the book's conflict, and it was resolved quickly enough when Flynn gets over it. I think he was more upset that he had almost given a virgin to Tanner (but that was before Rose wanted him for just one day before she officially became Tanner's mistress) than the fact that she hadn't told him about it.

The villian is the Earl of Greythorne, a cruel man with an affinity for sadism. I think he was the weakest part of the book because as a villain, he was a bit cartoonish. I was imagining one of those silent film villains who ties the girl up to the train tracks while stroking his mustache, holding his cape for dramatic effect. But yet again, he was a means to an end, serving as a not-so-deep source of conflict in a short book.

The resolution was fantastic, and I found myself falling a little in love with Tanner, because he's really a good guy; he just needs to find the right woman. He's even jealous of what couple has together, but supports Flynn's career decision and stays in touch with them after Flynn leaves his employ.

I'd definitely read more Diane Gaston in the future, and she also writes under the name of Diane Perkins as well.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Ramshackle Suitor

Author: Nancy Butler
March 2000 (Signet)
Regency Romance
Quote of Choice: "Stop squirming. More ill has come of women squirming than from any two countries spatting over boundaries."
Rating: 9/10

I'm so glad I gave Nancy Butler a try! She was a completely random pick (most likely because I liked the cover), and I'm going to look for her other titles.

Lucy Parnell, governess by trade, has come to the Isle of Man on a personal quest. She believes her dead sister's bastard child is calling for her to find him in her dreams. While walking in the countryside, she finds a man in a ditch, dressed in attire from the time of King Charles II. And it appears he's made an enemy of an angry ram, forcing him and Lucy up a tree for safety, and she shares the story of her quest to him. So begins the acquaintance of Lucy Parnell and Roderick Kempthrone, gentleman of leisure. Lucy's odious stepbrother tracks her down and tries to force her to quit her quest. When she refuses, he steals her trunk, which contains her money and clothes. Roddy is kind enough to offer her a place to stay with his friend, the Earl of Steyne and also wishes to help her find the long-lost nephew, resulting in lots of time spent with her in the process.

This has to be one of the most passionate Signet Regency Romances I've ever read. Not in that smutty historical romance way, but in the stolen kisses way. Lucy winds up torn between the ramshackle Roddy, with no job or money, and the man who's been courting her back in Manchester, Sir Humphrey Dumbarton. Roddy calls him Sir Humpty Dumpty, and does his best to make her see that her life would be happier if she chose the ramshackle fellow instead. Oh, and Roddy is conveniently rich, even as the youngest child of the most wealthy family in all of Cornwall.

The background story is very compelling as well, with the mystery child and the horrible stepbrother who definitely gets his comeuppance in the end. The book felt like it was a lot longer than its 214 pages, as I've slogged through 400 page books that didn't accomplish half as much as this one in terms of reader satisfaction. It's also one of those romances where the hero and heroine are not the only match made, as two other couples find each other, and new families are brought together.

An excellent cozy read. Now please excuse me, as I hunt for more Nancy Butler books.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Marley & Me

Author: John Grogan
Published: October 2005 (William Morrow)
Category: Memoir
Rating: 6/10

There was so much hype about Marley & Me that I think my expectations rose to unrealistic levels. The book isn't really about Marley the badly behaved Labrador retriever, but about John Grogan. The thing is, I didn't really care about Grogan, or his experiences beginning a family. Sure, some of Marley's escapades are funny, and I've been through some of them myself, having grown up with a rowdy beagle with a penchant for escaping at any given opportunity.

One part of this book really bothered me. After giving birth to their second child, Grogan's wife Jenny suffers from post-partum depression and she begins lashing out at Marley, saying she wants to get rid of the dog. Grogan even comes home one time to find Jenny beating Marley (ineffectually), screaming and crying. It just made me think about all those family dogs that are given up when newborns arrive, and Marley just happened to get lucky in his situation. He was so close to being given up by the family that took him in, and that was so sad.

Would you give away your child because he was being difficult? But yes, I know that most people would say that you can't use that kind of comparison. I'll use the example provided by an idiot I used to work with. Chuck had a cat, but then Chuck got a dog, and the cat didn't like the dog, so they gave away the cat. So it's easy to handle your problem like that, by giving it away? It's the most cowardly, loserly example of giving up and I can't stand when people do that. When you take these animals into your home, you promise to give them a home and they trust you. What choice do they have? It's not like they can reason with you or plead their case to you if you think it'd be easier to ditch them.

The serious tearjerking moment is in the last few chapters of the book, describing Marley's decline. I'm not sure if it's just from the story or thinking about my old dog who's approaching the end of his breed's lifespan. After reading the book, I didn't care any more for Grogan or his family than I did at the beginning. Marley was everything a dog should be: an unconditional best friend.

However, if you're looking for a great animal story, read James Herriot instead. It's funny and less fluffy, and I felt like I actually learned something after reading his books. After reading Marley & Me, I thought there was a possibility I'd lost a few brain cells because it really didn't go anywhere, and Grogan didn't seem like a real person until he had to deal with his dog dying.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Glory in Death

Author: J.D. Robb
Published: December 1, 1995 (Berkley)
Category: Romantic Suspense
Series: In Death #2
Rating: 8/10

These J.D. Robb books are really fast fluffy reads (with a more serious twist)! A famous prosecutor has been murdered and Eve is put on point again at the special request of her commanding officer, a close friend of the victim. It's a delicate case because it's personal to her boss's family and Eve isn't treated very well during the course of the investigation as another well-known woman is murdered, and an attempt is made on a third woman, but she's saved because another victim is stabbed by mistaken identity.

While Eve is under attack for lack of progress, she's dealing with her growing relationship with Roarke. Unlike the usual male, Roarke is eager for their relationship to go to the next step, and he's upset when Eve goes back to her apartment to sleep when he goes away on business. They practically live together in his mansion, but she's not comfortable with the idea of moving in officially, as it might take away her independence and she's afraid to let get that close to someone, as she was abused her own father.

To me, the crime portion of the book isn't as important as the story of Eve and Roarke, which is the constant in the series (so far). It serves as an interesting backdrop to the romance. The relationship reminds me of Christina and Burke of Grey's Anatomy, where the hero is more giving and girl-like in terms of romance than the heroine, who focuses so much on her job. Roarke decides to present Eve with an ultimatum: All or nothing. So they separate for a while and Eve suddenly finds that she's hurting without Roarke, and they get back together and she admits she loves him. Roarke, like an utter romantic, had already declared his love long before she did. And it certainly doesn't hurt that her boyfriend is a billionaire with the ability to jet off to foreign locales at the drop of a hat.

This was a great read and I couldn't put it down. I can't wait to read the next in the series, Immortal in Death.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Naked in Death

Author: J.D. Robb
Published: July 1, 1995 (Berkley)
Category: Romantic Suspense
Series: In Death #1
Rating: 8/10

This is my first Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb book and after reading Naked in Death, I wonder what took me so long to give her a try! I absolutely could not put down this book. I was also surprised that this book is set in the future, as the cover blurb did not hint at that and the cover image looks like a present-day police precinct with normal squadcars, none of the flying cars with autopilot mode described in the book.

A serial murderer is on the loose in future Manhattan, and Eve's point on the investigation. The murderer has an affinity for licensed companions (futurespeak for prostitutes/escorts). One of the suspects is Roarke, billionaire extraordinaire. It's just Roarke— no first name. I wonder if we'll ever find out. I bet it's something like Gaylord. He's not the stereotypical alpha male character, because he's quite smitten over Eve. His alpha nature comes out in his attitude when it comes to pursuing her, showing her his collection of firearms (they're illegal in the future, and owned primarily by collectors) even though he knows he has the same model weapons as the murder weapons.

Eve gives in to Roarke after a romantic evening of target practice, which is a career-endangering decision as she's the leading officer sleeping with a suspect. When she later questions Roarke following the discovery of a planted piece of evidence pointing bloody fingers at him, there seems to be a moment where their new relationship may die before it even started crawling. But Roarke is a different kind of hero, understanding that Eve's job is part of who she is and she was doing her job. So there's no drawn-out struggle of "this is who I am, why can't you accept it?" which was a breath of fresh air for me after reading romances where people don't communicate and the conflict is stretched as thin and long as possible and I'm wishing I could knock the characters upside the head.

Anyways, great story, characters, and setting. I can't wait to read more about Eve and Roarke!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Something Wonderful

Author: Judith McNaught
Published: April 1988 (Pocket Books)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 5/10

Arrogant nobleman gets rescued from certain death-by-highway-robbery by a young girl from the country wearing an old suit of armor and when all is said and done, must marry her. Sounds like a good start right? I certainly thought so, and it was a lovely start to what could have been a flawless romance. Unfortunately, the followthrough was not what I expected.

The cover blurb didn't tell me that Jordan Townsende, Duke of Hawthorne, would be attacked just four days after his marriage and assumed dead. He was survived by his wife, Alexandra Lawrence, new Duchess of Hawthorne, ignorant to society's rules of decorum. To be honest, I glazed over most of the part where Alexandra is on her own. To me, the building of the relationship between hero and heroine is vastly important, and it was jerked away from me just when it was getting good.

Jordan returns after heroically saving a bunch of people he was impressed with (sold to work on a navy vessel), about thirteen months after his disappearance. He finds that his wife is about to marry his cousin, Anthony, the new Duke of Hawthorne, and rushes in to stop the wedding. He also finds that his wife isn't all smiles about his return. Automatically, he thinks two awful things: 1. His charmingly innocent country girl of a wife is actually power hungry and wants to continue holding the title of Duchess of Hawthorne or 2. She's in love with his cousin for real.

While Jordan and Alexandra are hashing out the details of their marriage, someone's making attempts on Jordan's life... most likely the same person who got Jordan impressed a year before. Alexandra keeps going on with her "I will not love my husband even though I really love him" stance and Jordan barrels his way through re-romancing his wife. That means he's really brusque and arrogant all over again, not acting like the man Alexandra fell in love with. To compound the problem, Fawkes, the man hired to investigate the attempts on Jordan's life believes that Alexandra and Anthony have the most to gain by offing the duke. Anthony would gain the dukedom and the duchess.

Of course, Jordan believes Fawkes and doesn't bother discussing things with Alexandra, even believing that she's an accessory to the murder plot at the very end when he's faced with the true perpetrators. I wanted to smack him upside the head! And of course, it takes Alexandra's near-death to snap him back to a loving husband. Ugh. Talk about wanting what you can't have.

Agh! So frustrating and aggravating when it could've been so much better! It's not like the writing was bad; the story was awful.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Slave to Sensation

Author: Nalini Singh
Published: September 5, 2006 (Berkley)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Rating: 7/10

Singh has created a futuristic world (though not heavy on future technology so that it may as well be an alternate reality) where there are three types of humanoids. There are the Psy, which are humans with varying types of psychic powers (i.e. telekinetic, telepathic, teleporting, etc.). Then there are the Changelings, which are humans with the ability to change to a particular animal form. There are different clans that represent a multitude of species (i.e. DarkRiver is a leopard clan and SnowDancers are wolves). And then there are plain ol' humans. No special powers except their stupendous ho hum mundanity.

Anyways, Sascha Duncan is the daughter of a powerful Psy council member. She believes she's defective, as all Psy have been trained to feel zero emotion, and she's got all these feelings that she's had to hide all her life. After over two decades of this hiding, her shields are starting to fall apart, and being introduced to Lucas Hunter, head of the DarkRiver Changeling clan, doesn't help her situation at all. He's all about feelings and oozes sensuality and he and Sascha are having a hard time staying unattracted to each other.

Lucas has entered into a business deal with the Duncans and Sascha is to be the liaison. Normally, Changelings would avoid dealing with the Psy, but a serial murderer smelling like a Psy has been killing young Changeling women. When working with Sascha in close quarters, Lucas finds that she's unlike any Psy he's ever known or heard of, seeing that she displays emotions (though she tries to hide them), and she also has the hots for him.

Upon learning about the supposed serial murderer Psy, Sascha doesn't want to believe it, but she comes across information that there have been dozens of murderers amongst the Psy. The Council quietly takes care of the problems, erasing the minds of the less important criminals and controlling the more important ones by supplying them with fresh victims. The council hides these crimes so they can continue perpetuating the idea that suppressing all emotion is the way to live. With this knowledge, Sascha decides to help the Changelings and she figures it's a suicide mission anyways to hack into the Psy mind network (sort of like Professor X on X-Men!) and they'll kill her when they find out she's "defective."

I really like the way Singh writes and I loooooooved Lucas. He was a great alpha male character without being overly macho. I think the fact that there was an animal instinct behind all of his alpha male actions tempered the manliness. I didn't like Sascha very much as a heroine though. Too much of this "Woe is me, I'm broken and refuse to think that there might be a way to live through this," like Peter Parker.

Something I really noticed though was a similarity to some elements of Anne Bishop's Black Jewels Trilogy. At the end, they say that the new network of minds created with Sascha's help looks like brighly colored stars in the night sky, some shining more brightly than others. That's very much like the different colored jewels people wore in Bishop's world, and the different colors indicated the levels of power. Sascha also identified people based on their "stars" of Psy power, like when Jaenelle identified Surreal because she was the only gray-jeweled witch in the realm. Anyways, if you've read Anne Bishop, you won't have problems grasping this world created by Singh.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Fool Moon

Author: Jim Butcher
Published: January 1, 2001 (Roc)
Category: Fantasy
Series: Dresden Files #2
Rating: 7/10

To those who watch The Dresden Files on the SciFi channel, this book will appear as a bigger and better version of the show's "Hair of the Dog" episode. In the TV episode, the FBI agents investigating the case are the werewolves and they're committing all the murders because they're trying to break the curse, which involves killing a certain number of werewolves created by the one that wishes to break free. There was none of that in the book, and I thought that was better because I'd never heard of a way to break the curse and it seemed contrived just so the show could wrap up easily.

In Fool Moon a serial murder is running wild, killing people and using tools to make it look like it was done by a giant wolf. That's what the police believe, but Harry Dresden, called in by Lt. Murphy, knows better. The nice thing about the books is that Murphy acknowledges the existence of magic and the creatures associated with it. Bob (doesn't have a human form in books, just a voice from the skull) gives us a thorough education on the various forms of werewolves, including a type of werewolf-by-option, where a person obtains an enchanted belt of wolf pelt that enables them to change to a werewolf when they wish, rather than by the command of the moon.

The biggest thing that annoyed me was the repeat of the distrust Murphy has for Dresden. She had him arrested at one point and her dependence on really circumstantial evidence was tiring. It wasn't even the evidence that made her angry; it was the fact that Dresden didn't mention something that happened before the case even started, one of those miscommunication things that I hate in books. How was he to know it was relevant until a victim he knew turned up dead?

Overall, a nicely written fantasy/mystery. It was surprisingly complex, but maybe I feel that way because I watched the TV episode based off this novel. But the show is good. You should watch it!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Goddess of the Sea

Author: P.C. Cast
Published: October 7, 2003 (Berkley)
Category: Romance
Series: Goddess Summoning
Rating: 7/10

Air Force Sergeant Christine Canady ("CC") is about to start a several-month-long post in the Middle East when her plane goes down on the way to her destination. Fortunately for her, she summoned the goddess Gaea a couple days before she left during a solitary drunken birthday night. In her ritual, she wished for more magic in her life, and when she fled the plane wreckage into the Mediterranean Sea, she meets the mermaid Undine, daughter of Neptune and Gaea. They strike a bargain, and for CC to continue living, she agrees to switch places with Undine.

However, Undine didn't tell CC that a 'roided up merman named Sarpedon, who happens to be Undine's half-brother (eeeeeuw) is set on mating with her. He's macho and controlling, saying that Undine will be his, like she's chattel. To protect Undine/CC, Gaea gives her a human form, but she must return to the sea every three days to change back to a mermaid or she'll die. If Undine finds her true love, she can wear her legs permanently.

When the change to human form takes place, it's sudden and Undine is struggling to stay afloat when another merman, Dylan, rescues her and helps her to shore. He is kind to her, and realizes that this Undine is not the mermaid he's known since childhood, and that another soul inhabits her body, but he is attracted to this new soul. So Undine pretends to be a shipwreck survivor and is picked up by a knight named Andras and taken to a nearby monastery. As they are living in the medieval times, men are in charge, women are chattel, and beauty and magic are the work of the devil.

While Undine believes the handsome knight could be her true love, his views on women (they should be seen not heard, pious, dependent on their husbands, etc.) severely offended her modern-day woman's sensibilities. Plus, Andras's occasional bursts of irrational anger were frightening, and some of these incidents were due to Sarpedon's influence. He possessed the knight and used Andras's lust for Undine to his advantage, twisting it into something evil.

Undine turns to Dylan and finds her true love in him. It's a sweet just-add-water romance (ha ha, they're merpeople!) that comes out of nowhere without much of a foundation. And what follows over the next couple weeks is some far from traditional lurving. Merpeople sex, merman-woman sex, regular human-human sex. I can now say that after reading this book, I know how merpeople do it!

Too much manly oppression in this book. There was Andras, Sarpedon, and Abbot William. I know that they're not real people, but every time they said something about how women who act independent are wild and need discipline from their menfolk, I'd get really annoyed.

It all comes to a head when we have a battle royale between Sarpedon and Dylan with divine interference, as Gaea and Neptune appear to pass judgment on the participants in the story. The servant women who helped Undine are justly rewarded for their bravery and the manly jerks got their comeuppance. CC returns to her own time now that Undine no longer has to fear Sarpedon, and she finds her own happiness back in the future.

It was a sweet story, but I was annoyed during much of the book.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Rejected Suitor

Author: Teresa McCarthy
Published: April 2004 (Signet)
Category: Regency Romance
Rating: 6/10

This book had a lot of promise, but it got too complicated for its own good. Basically, Lady Emily Clearbrook's four older brothers have returned from the war and have decided to marry her off to a suitable gentleman. They are unaware that she was almost engaged to Jared Ashton, Earl of Stonebridge, three years prior, but due to the machinations of their father, Jared was set up to appear as though he'd compromised another woman, and they had to marry to save both their reputations. Emily's brothers are also unaware that she served as a spy called the Silver Fox during the war, and in the course of her missions, she indirectly saved Jared's life and took a bullet in the shoulder for her troubles.

Emily still loves Jared, and she is thrown in his way when her brothers send her to a more remote estate under the care of her great aunt Agatha, who also happens to be her boss at the War Office. Jared is amazed at how much he's still attracted to Emily, and at how angry she is with him. When it seems like the romance will take off, Emily is swept off to London for the season.

She keeps complaining that she doesn't want her husband chosen for her, but she gave up so easily. For God's sake, the woman was a spy, and she couldn't even stand up to her own brothers. That's what made this book so difficult to enjoy. And four brothers? That was too many and I lost track of the middle two brothers because they were so unremarkable. They more often served as yes-men to the eldest (the duke), and the youngest brother was on Emily's side sometimes, but followed the rest of the boys when he most needed to stand up for his sister.

Then it gets crazier, what with the addition of the jealous Susan Wimble, who thinks she's about to become engaged to Jared. Of course, Emily overhears this after Jared declares his love and asks her to marry him. She gets pissed and refuses Jared. Then they reconcile. Then she finds out that he didn't tell her about his hidden daughter, and refuses him again. Then she almost marries her mother's former beau (eeeuw), but Jared climbs through her window to convince her he's really trustworthy, etc.

After all the trouble and the announcement that there will be a double wedding (Jared and Emily with Emily's mother and her former betrothed), there isn't even a description of how the dowager duchess handles the announcement that she will get a chance with true love after all!

Too much back and forth for a 217-page regency! There was also a lot of male dialogue, what with four brothers and Jared taking much of the stage. I should've found a lot of it amusing, but it was a little over the top with the juvenile testosterone and I couldn't believe them calling each other "nincompoops."

Friday, April 06, 2007

Mr. Darcy's Diary

Author: Amanda Grange
Published: March 27, 2007 (Sourcebooks)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 8/10

First, I have to point out that I did not read this book as a die-hard Pride and Prejudice fan. I love the story, but I have not reread the book since my sophomore year in high school. Every time I mean to pick it up, I get about as far as Elizabeth going to Netherfield to nurse Jane back to health. So, as someone who's not a big stickler, I can say that I really enjoyed reading this alternative version of P&P. The format in which it's written is extremely fast to read, and I'd say this is a way for students to cheat their way around reading the real version of P&P, but they wouldn't be able to tell what's from the actual book and what's from Grange's version alone.

I've said before that I love epilogues, and Mr. Darcy's Diary provides a very satisfying account of events following the established end of P&P, even providing Lady Catherine's letter in reaction to her nephew's marriage. The language was abusive indeed! However, the letter doesn't ruin their happiness and we hear about how Elizabeth and Georgiana become great friends, and how the young Darcy girl blossoms in the company of her new sister.

One of the biggest problems I had with Linda Berdoll's interpretation of events post-P&P was the marriage of Georgiana Darcy to Colonel Fitzwilliam. In Mr. Darcy's Diary, instead of deciding Georgiana's choice of husband, we get to know Anne de Bourgh better and understand the root of her illness, which is quite believable, based on what we know of her overbearing mother. And we get to see Anne find a husband in her cousin (ugh), the colonel, and begin to stand up to her mother, which satisfied me to no end.

I do wish there was more about Caroline Bingley. Darcy does realize that she is not the genteel woman he thought she was, but I have to say that I thought there could've been more on that. Darcy just says that she sucks it up and pretends to be polite so she'll be welcome in Pemberley. I found that after reading Mr. Darcy's Diary, I disliked Caroline much more than before.
The diary entries gave me a peek into Grange's version of Darcy, and I don't think her idea is an unbelievable one. She doesn't present Darcy as a hugely emotional and passionate man pouring out his heart to his diary (I would've found that more unbelievable). Instead, I saw a man who was used to controlling every aspect of his life and struggling with his confusing feelings for Elizabeth Bennet... against his better judgment.

I really didn't want this book to end, as Grange's description of events following P&P were excellent. I melted a little when Darcy brings Elizabeth to her new home, and tells her that she is free to redecorate Pemberley as she wishes, but she says she will change nothing because the rooms remind her of her first visit to the estate. Awwww.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Lie By Moonlight

Author: Amanda Quick
Published: June 2005 (Putnam)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 9/10

It's another book where the heroine is a teacher! Miss Concordia Glade has recently taken a post at a charter school for orphaned young ladies. However, she soon catches wind that there is a darker reason for her four students' presence in the remote castle. Apparently, a London crime lord with aspirations to higher social standing is going to sell the four young ladies off as classy courtesans. Concordia concots a plan of escape - a plan that includes setting the castle on fire (they didn't mean for the explosions to be that effective) and a midnight flight on horseback.

Their plan seems to be going very well up until they reach the stables, when two unsavory men try to stop them, but Concordia kills one of them with her lantern (not realizing she'd actually kill him), and the mysterious Ambrose Wells, gentleman thief, dispatches the other and helps the ladies escape.

Both Concordia and Ambrose have dirty laundry in their armoires. Concordia is actually the daughter of two famous forward-thinkers. Her parents believed in equal education for men and women. They even had some sort of free-thinking hippie commune. Concordia changed her name so she'd be able to obtain teaching jobs, as no proper society family would want their daughters tainted by a woman from her background.

Ambrose, on the other hand, comes from a family of thieves and con artists, but they were all considered gentlemen because of their family name. His father was murdered and Ambrose escaped, starting a life on the streets. Then he was caught by a wise gentleman named John Stoner (heh, stoner) who wanted a pupil to teach this ancient Asian art called Vanza. So he became Ambrose's Obi-Wan (without the dying at the hand of Darth Vader) and made him his heir. Ambrose no longer needed to steal for his living and used his skills to help people. He would take on assignments, like the one that led him to Concordia, in exchange for favors, not money. For example, this assignment was from a parasol maker who wanted to know who murdered her sister. The police ruled it as an accident, but she knows there was foul play. Ambrose said that for his fee, he would probably need a parasol or two someday.

Ambrose kindly takes Concordia and her students into his luxurious home as his guests, as it is unsafe for them to go off on their own while the crime lord is searching for his stolen "property." Concordia, being an independent, forward-thinking woman, insists on helping with his investigation, and to ensure her participation, she "hires" Ambrose to find out what's going on, and demands that, as his employer, she get to go along. At this point in a so-so book, the heroine would bumble along in investigations, being as NOT slick as possible and get caught snooping in an office. Concordia is not so stupid, and very smart in her role as Ambrose's assistant, although there were a couple close calls, one in which she was almost raped. Ambrose saved the day, of course, and refused to let her participate again. She disobeys him anyway, and saves Ambrose's life.

And you know, Ambrose and Concordia have to discuss their findings and speculations in the library at night with no chaperones or students hanging about. And you know what follows when you're reading an Amanda Quick novel....

Supporting characters are well crafted. You'd think with four young ladies, they'd all blend together, but I didn't feel that way and I liked all of them. They were even similar to Concordia, since they were her students, and stood up for her romantic interests, telling Ambrose that he should marry her lest Concordia wind up like a sensation novel heroine, disgraced after being ravished. So Ambrose, knowing Concordia's independent nature, proposes an unconventional proposal. He lays the onus upon her, saying that Concordia should be the one to propose marriage to him. He even jokes when she asks to speak to him alone, that he doesn't think they should speak in the library, as she might ravish him again.

The ending is most happy and the solution to the mystery is a nice twist indeed. I loved this book.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Jack of Clubs

Author: Barbara Metzger
Published: March 7, 2006 (Signet)
Category: Regency Romance
Series: House of Cards Trilogy #2
Rating: 9/10

Captain Jonathan Endicott has returned from the war and doesn't quite know what to do with himself. He doesn't want to follow any of his older brother Ace's suggestions, or his wife Nell's for that matter. They suggest the usual things, like becoming a man about town, or an assistant to Ace's estate, etc. Jack has know interest in those things.

So he opens up a gambling parlor called the Red and the Black. He intends to use it to bring attention to the Endicotts' continued quest to find their long-lost sister Charlotte. He figures that he'll interview blond women responding to the posters around the city. He's also looking for some female companionship, but to avoid sleeping with a woman who could be his sister, he decides to hire only redheads and raven-haired ladies to work in the parlor, and he can flirt with any of those he chooses.

While Jack is preparing for his opening, he doesn't realize more responsibility is headed his way. Miss Allie Silver is escorting his new ward Harriet to his doorstep due to the wishy-washy will of one of his former fellow soldiers. Harriet was supposed to go to her grandparents due to a series of unfortunate events. Her mother was murdered by her uncle, and her father died in the war. She was supposed to go to her grandparents, but her grandfather just passed away and her grandmother was placed in a looney bin.

Of course, Allie is appalled at the idea of Harriet living in close proximity to such debauchery, but they have no choice. Jack also isn't too happy about this development, as he'll surely lose his license if a child is discovered in the public rooms of his house. However, the naughty, conniving little imp soon worms her way into his heart, and little does he know, but Harriet has a plan for Allie to marry Jack, so she can have a real family that can't ship her off on a whim.

Unfortunately, Jack's ladybird doesn't take kindly to the intrusion of teacher and pupil. She concocts a story that Allie is a former lover of Jack's trying to pass off Harriet as their bastard. The ladybird is so vicious that she leaks the story to one of the biggest papers in London, thereby ruining Allie's chances of finding another respectable teaching position. There are positions aplenty in the homes of less-than-honorable gentlemen, but Allie's smarter than that. So it seems as though there's no choice but to stay with Harriet in the house of loose morals.

Allie actually saves the Red and the Black from arson, rousing the house and helping to put out the fire in good time, and it's after this near-tragedy that Jack kisses her for the first time and they realize how much they're attracted to each other, despite the doubts and warnings in each person's mind. Jack even tries to send Allie and Harriet away to stay at Carde House so Allie can save what's left of her reputation.

Harriet is not to be thwarted by a change of location. She goes "missing," visiting Allie's estranged grandfather. Apparently, Allie's mother had the nerve to marry for love rather than fortune and prestige, and the grandfather has wanted nothing to do with Allie, having the paper declare her dead in reaction to the gossip provided by Jack's ladybird. In reaction to the falsehood he had printed, Allie stood up to her grandfather with a smart speech about being a true gentleman. Anyways, Harriet went to Lord Montford to convince him to give Allie the dowry that was intended for her mother, as Jack needs to marry someone with a fortune. The child is so cunning that you can't help but smile at her schemes.

And so there's a humorous and happy ending, with Jack proposing to an unwitting Allie, who thinks he's actually asking her to become his mistress. At this point, she figures she'll take what she can get, and agrees, thinking she's the new ladybird. The shortlived confusion is especially hilarious when Allie blurts out her surprise in front of Lord Montford, who's decided to welcome Allie back into the family.

An excellent reformed rake read :)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Last of the Red-Hot Vampires

Author: Katie MacAlister
Published: April 3, 2007 (Signet)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Rating: 7/10

This entry into MacAlister's "Dark Ones" books is a stand-alone novel and you don't need to read previous titles to understand what's going on in LOTRHV.

Portia Harding is touring the English countryside with her best friend Sarah, a best-selling author, researching paranormal phenomena. The only problem is: Portia is a die-hard skeptic, believing on things that can be proven with science. Think of Agent Scully on the X-Files, before she got abducted by aliens and all that stuff. However, Portia soon finds herself in possession of weather-controlling powers after some time in a faerie ring. Right after that, Theo North, a nephilim (son of an angel), is chasing after her and then supposedly protecting her. Of course, she doesn't believe him.

As a new virtue, Portia has to undergo a series of tests to see if she should be allowed into the Court of Divine Blood, which humans have a based their idea of heaven upon, and it is the opposite to MacAlister's Abaddon (Hell). I was really interested in the development of the idea of the Court, as we've read about Abaddon in many of MacAlister's paranormal romances, but no real mention of a heaven-type of place. Hopefully it will appear again in a later book, and we'll get to see it in a less-turmoil-filled light.

Portia is supposed to be a physicist, but I think there's a problem with trying to make your main character have a career that is so far removed from the author's experience. You have to make the character sound convincing in such a technical field, so you can't be too simple in your references to physics, but at the same time, when referring to really complex and obscure physics facts, the reader can't relate.

Anyways, she spent the first third of the book denying that anything magical or unexplainable by science could occur, even though a raincloud following you around is a pretty good sign of something odd. Once she admitted that there are some things beyond logical explanation, the book really took off.

Poor Theo gets turned into a Dark One as punishment for the unorthodox way Portia handled one of her trials, and so they've to to get his soul back through the 7 steps of joining. So amid Portia being accused of murdering a virtue (the one who bestowed the weather-control powers on her), they've got to get Theo's soul back and solve the mystery of the missing virtue.

The story was good, but Portia annoyed me for that first third of the book too much. Once she stopped being so stubborn, I was able to fully enjoy myself.