Talk Sweetly to Me is the last Brothers Sinister addition, and this little novella was a lovely finale to the collection. Readers were introduced to S...moreTalk Sweetly to Me is the last Brothers Sinister addition, and this little novella was a lovely finale to the collection. Readers were introduced to Stephen Shaughnessy in The Suffragette Scandal, as the “Actual Man” that offers advice in Frederica Marshall’s newspaper. In Talk Sweetly to Me, Stephen has met his match with Miss Rose Sweetly, an extraordinary mathematical genius, who is quite opposite to Stephen’s carefree attitude.
Rose, like the all of the women featured in the Brothers Sinister series has a hard lot because of her sex. Rose is smart, but there are limitations imposed on her because she is a woman. Unlike the other heroines of the series, Rose has the added complication of also being black, which is more than difficult in 1882. Rose may be smart and reserved, but by virtue of the colour of her skin, Rose is immediately considered less. And no one explains the way society works more succinctly than Rose’s sister, Patricia:
“I love you, Rose.” Patricia sighed. “And I know you’ll make a good marriage, one as brilliant as mine. But you have to remember that most men who look at you won’t be seeing you. They won’t see you’re clever and amusing.” Her sister came forward and took Rose’s hand in her own. “They’ll see this.” She rubbed the back of Rose’s hand. Dark skin pressed against dark skin. “It doesn’t matter how respectably you dress or how much you insist. Most men will see that you’re black and they’ll think you’re available.” (p.11)
Patricia is concerned about Rose’s interactions with Stephen and worried that he might take adventure of Rose. Stephen has a bit of a rakish reputation and its understandable that Patricia is concerned for Rose. Luckily, Stephen does not have nefarious designs on Rose and is actually quite smitten with her, and even goes so far as to invent a reason for mathematical lessons with her to get to know her better. While Stephen doesn't completely understand the hardship that Rose endures because of the colour of her skin, he is intrigued by her reserved nature and bright mind.
Rose is just as smitten with Stephen, but she is more than aware of the difficulties that are ahead for them if there were to pursue a relationship, which make her very cautious in her dealings with him. Rose is not sure if she's willing to go through the future difficulties, and this uncertainty and vulnerability is what made Rose such a wonderful character. Both Rose and Stephen will need to determine whether their relationship is enough to overcome the inevitable difficulties and obstacles that will come their way because of their difference in skin colour.
Talk Sweetly to Me was another great novella by Milan, and I will admit that she is one of my favourite novella writers. The format is short, but Milan is always able to give you a satisfying and realistically developed romance despite the lack of pages. Talk Sweetly to Me was an emotional story, and I really liked that both Rose and Stephen were forced to really consider what they were getting into by pursing a relationship. Just because they care for one another doesn’t mean that they will be happy; Rose has to force Stephen to consider this:
“You told me the awkward difficult bit will only be the beginning,” she said. “But it won’t be. It’ll be difficult in the middle, over and over. It’ll be difficult at the end. It will never stop being difficult, and the only reason that you don’t know that is that you haven’t considered the possibility. At some point, Stephen, you’ll realize this is not a joking matter.” (p. 66)
I love that these considerations were included. So often in romance all obstacles are easily surmounted, and that’s great, I do love that aspect where anything can be overcome in a romance, but it’s also nice to read something and know that the characters really have thought about the consequences of their relationship and have made the decision to move ahead (or not) accordingly. For such a short book, I really do feel that readers are treated to a considered and realistically paced romance between Rose and Stephen. Ultimately, this was another great novella from Courtney Milan and I’m sorry to see the Brothers Sinister series come to an end. I can only hope that the author’s next series will be as thought provoking and unusual as this one has been.
The de Valery Code is Darcy Burke’s newest historical romance, and also a start of new series. I was quite a fan of Secrets & Scandals series, an...moreThe de Valery Code is Darcy Burke’s newest historical romance, and also a start of new series. I was quite a fan of Secrets & Scandals series, and I loved the adventurous premise of The de Valery Code.
Margery Derrington is an impoverished spinster living with her two aunts. Money is tight for this small family and they need to come up with some ready cash or Margery will be forced to marry to keep them afloat, a notion Margery does not want to contemplate until absolutely necessary.
Marrying for love didn’t interest her. Love didn’t interest her. Life was far easier to navigate if she kept that sort of emotion at bay. She’d buried her sentimentality deep after her parents had died. (p.6)
Luckily, Margery and her aunts stumble across a rare and possibly valuable medieval book by Edmund de Valery. While the family doesn’t want to part with such a treasure, the need for something to live on is dire, so Margery sets off to discuss the sale of the book with noted scholar, Rhys Bowen. Rhys immediately recognizes the priceless treasure that Margery carries, and hopes that the book will ultimately lead him to an Arthurian treasure trove, thus solidifying his name as a scholar of note. However, Rhys has no intention of sharing this information with Margery, and so a battle of the sexes ensues. I have to admit that I’m a little torn with this one. I was really looking forward to it since I had loved the other books by the author that I’ve read, but at the end of the book, I felt that there was something missing in the romance department. The adventure and the storyline themselves were great; I wanted to find out who was behind the attempted thefts of the book. I was less interested in Margery and Rhys as a couple.
What I liked about this one was the adventure and on-the-road romance theme. There were bits of humour between the two main characters that were great and entertaining. There is one particular scene where they keep meeting in the hallway that I thought was too cute. The instances with the flashes of humour were a big hit with me; however, they didn’t make up for my lack of interest with the hero and heroine. Perhaps had there been more interactions between Margery and Rhys like the meetings on the stairs I might have been more engaged with the romance.
For me, I just didn’t feel the connection between Margery and Rhys. They were both so stubborn for so much of the book, that I felt myself losing interest in their happily ever after. Margery in particular was extremely resistant to committing to a relationship:
She’d pushed him away at every opportunity because allowing him to get too close meant losing him would only hurt that much more. As it was, the thought of never seeing his eyes light at that precise moment of discovery, or hearing his warm laugh, stung deep. (p. 214)
While it was explained why Margery wasn’t interested in a permanent relationship, I just couldn’t help but be frustrated by the continued resistance. Generally, in the romances that I read, I tend to like those that spend more time with the hero and heroine as a couple as opposed to the bulk of the book focusing on the progression to that relationship.
Ultimately, The de Valery Code was a solid read and a good choice for fans of adventurous romances. There’s villains and a secret order of Arthurians that brought a nice element of suspense to this one. I’m certainly going to be back for the second book in the series since I’m quite curious as to the direction and the characters to be featured in book two.
Steel and Song is the start of a steampunk romance series. I enjoyed this first installment, but I’m not sure that I love it enough to commit to futur...moreSteel and Song is the start of a steampunk romance series. I enjoyed this first installment, but I’m not sure that I love it enough to commit to future installments of a series. The world building is cool and innovative; it was the romance that fell flat for me.
Tova Vanaskaya is an airwitch who has recently been drafted into the army. An airwitch is “born a gytrash, able to draw upon nature to wield magic. But riding the line between life and death meant that, inevitably, a gytrash would get too close to the death side” (p. 8). Airship captain, Piers Dashkov, has no choice to take on Tova as his airwitch; there are no other options. For someone like Piers, a disgraced Cossack, but a warrior-noble nonetheless, Tova is expendable and replaceable. He doesn't care about Tova, he cares about his mission to restore his honour. If that means Tova is killed in the process, so be it. The set up is intriguing but the gaping difference in social status between Piers and Tova do not make for an auspicious start to a romance.
Steel and Song was an exciting and action packed read. I quite liked the world building and I was intrigued by the complex, class-driven society the author created. I liked how this class-consciousness was used to add another layer of conflict in Steel and Song. The fact that Tova and those like her were used as weapons in a long war was horrible, but also recognizable when compared to actual history. Tova’s time in her prisoner camp was realistic and put me in mind of Nazi concentration camps. Add in the fact that Tova and the other gytrash are persecuted because of their abilities (ie. genetic heritage) and you can immediately see the comparison. Since I like history, this alternative storyline appealed to me.
However, what was lacking for me was the romance. Quite simply, I didn’t consider the relationship between Tova and Piers to actually be a romance. For the majority of this short novel, Piers and Tova are rather ambivalent towards each other, especially in the attraction department. Piers’ initial reaction to Tova is one of revulsion: “Damn. The Sami airwitch gave him the creeps” (p. 26). Tova is so obviously “other” to Piers, he doesn’t consider her as a potential lover, at least not yet. Tova is a little more aware, but for most of the novel, I couldn’t really see the romance between these two.
That said, I do think the author did a good job of not rushing the relationship between Tova and Piers. Piers especially needed to come to terms with his past before he could consider a relationship. By the end of novel, Piers and Tova aren’t really “in” a relationship, but they have the potential to form one. And therein lies my discontent with Steel and Song. I was reading this one for the romance, and I don’t feel like there was any real development of a romance outside of lust between Piers and Tova. While I can see why this instant lust fits the wartime atmosphere, I couldn’t help but look for something a little softer and romantic. Ultimately, this is my personal preference in a romance, so take my comments about Steel and Song with a grain of salt when it comes to the romance department, I am fully aware that I am picky about my romance reading.
If you’re looking for some great world building of an alternative history, Steel and Song is for you. If you’re looking for a cut and dry romance, you might want to stay clear until there are further installments to the series. I'm not sure how the relationship between Piers and Tova will develop, but I do find myself curious. There's some great potential here, only future reading will tell me.
I've never read a historical by Shana Galen before, and after finishing Love and Let Spy I feel that I’ve been missing out on some great reads. This w...moreI've never read a historical by Shana Galen before, and after finishing Love and Let Spy I feel that I’ve been missing out on some great reads. This was delightful and campy without going too far into the ridiculous. It's a play on the spy thriller and it's awesome. One thing to be aware of is that this is the third book in a series. While I don’t feel that it lessened my enjoyment or understanding of this one, I definitely feel that I need to read the two previous books.
The premise of this series from Galen has been spy movies. The parallels are obvious. Love and Let Spy features James Bond a.k.a. Jane Bonde (if Bond ever actually settled down with a gal). The two previous books took on Mr. and Mrs. Smith and True Lies. This obvious comparison shouldn’t work, and it just does. I love the sense of fun and humour these types of books demonstrate. Katherine Ashe did it in My Lady, My Lord, and Shana Galen excels at it in Love and Let Spy. I certainly wont turn down more books in this vein.
Jane Bonde is on the verge of being on the shelf. Unlike other young women, she’s not a wallflower, Jane has a very good reason for being unmarried at her advanced age of twenty-four: she’s a spy. While her contemporaries were dancing, flirting and courting, Jane was foiling dangerous plots and saving the fate of a nation.
She was the best. She’d never yet failed a mission. She was the operative sent in when other agents could not complete missions. (p. 81)
That’s all come to an end. Jane can no longer pretend that she’s off “at school” and the potential for unfounded and salacious rumours is ripe; hence, her uncle (and boss) decrees that Jane marry post haste. Uncle M has even picked the groom.
Dominic Griffyn is the illegitimate son of an actress turned Countess. Before his mother married the Earl, Dominic was dragged along through his mother’s less than desirable lifestyle. As a result, Dominic’s has a past that he’d rather forget. Unfortunately, his mother feels extremely guilty for putting Dominic in harm’s way as a child and is determined to him wed to the best. Dominic’s mother and stepfather insist that he wed Jane Bonde. Alas, their first meeting is not love at first sight; neither want to marry and both are fiercely guarding their own secrets. Dominic in particular has some difficult issues to deal with. He's not a spy, but his past has scarred him none the less, and marriage is not going to "cure" him:
He didn't want a wife who was unconventional. He didn't want a wife at all - not from the beau monde at any rate - another prim and proper miss who would look down on him because he was the bastard son of an actress. He'd lived all his life with the taunts and jibes of others because of his mother's career. If he ever were to marry, he wanted a wife who stayed home and...did whatever it was women did. They did not carry pistols and suffer knife wounds. (p. 128)
The decision of both to remain unmarried is rather complicated when Dominic stumbles upon Jane when she's on mission. Intrigued despite his better judgement, Dominic soon finds out that his betrothed is much more than meets the eye. Dominic suddenly realizes that perhaps the conventional wife is not exactly what he wanted.
What I loved about Love and Let Spy was the fact that Galen made Bond a woman. This is especially intriguing given the historical setting. Jane Bonde kicks butt and saves England all while falling in love. I thought the author did a great job playing around with this spy concept. It was Jane that was saving the day and out running Dominic. It’s not often that you see this and I appreciate that the author changed the genders up in her re-imagining of James Bond. While there were times that I logically considered that Jane was not a realistic character, I was happy to suspend belief and go with in the case of this novel.
While I did enjoy the spy elements and how Galen plays with the genre, the romance in Love and Let Spy was solid. Both Jane and Dominic had their hang-ups leading them to avoid marriage. There was more here than a spy adventure, there was also a romance between two people that have to come to terms with the impending changes in their life. Jane had to recognize that she could have more than a career and Dominic especially had to deal with his past and recognize that he didn’t need a conventional wife and that his past was not one that he had to live with, continuing to feel ashamed. This romantic aspect is what made me enjoy Love and Let Spy so much. It was more than an obvious comparison, it was it’s own story as well, with unique characters.
If you’re looking for historical accuracy, you wont find it here, but you will find an adventurous and fast-paced book. Don’t take yourself too seriously with this one, expect to have fun and enjoy! I'm looking forward to checking out the previous books in the series, in fact, they're already sitting on my book shelf, and I can't wait to see what the other does with the spy genre.
Strange Country is the final book in Deborah Coates rural fantasy trilogy. In the final installment all the threads all pulled together leaving reader...moreStrange Country is the final book in Deborah Coates rural fantasy trilogy. In the final installment all the threads all pulled together leaving readers with a satisfying conclusion, although I wouldn't be opposed to further books featuring Hallie and Boyd. Ultimately, this book is hauntingly written, showcasing a barren landscape in an exceptionally vivid way. Strange Country is not action-packed, but does it ever leave an impression.
The third book follows the events of Deep Down. Hallie has saved Boyd from the under; however, it came at the expense of his life. Boyd had to die and come back, and it's put a strain on their relationship. Boyd doesn't remember dying and he'd rather not. Adding further complication is Hallie's offer from Death. Death, having spared Hallie in Afghanistan, feels that Hallie owes a debt, and he'd like Hallie to take his place in the under. Hallie's afraid of having to make that decision since she's finally come to terms with the fact that she wants to stay, she wants to live and set down roots. At the same time, Hallie recognizes that if it comes down to staying and saving the world, she's going to help people because that's just what she does. This is the other element that's causing some strain in her and Boyd's relationship. However, it's not this conflict that propels Strange Country, but rather the death of several people who messed with magic when they should have left it alone.What I really liked about Strange Country was the author's decision to include Boyd Davies point of view in the narrative. In the previous two books, the story has been told exclusively from Hallie Michaels perspective. While I'm not sure this abrupt change-up always works in other series, it made sense for Strange Country as it served to bring two divergent plot lines neatly together.
What I liked about having Boyd's perspective in Strange Country was that readers are treated to how he sees Hallie and, for me, this helped me understand her as a character. With Coates writing style I feel almost detached from the characters and their emotions, and I think that works really well with her novels, but I liked that Boyd's point of view helped to bridge that gap. For example, Boyd reflects on his relationship with Hallie and what that means:
When he first met Hallie - which hadn't been that long ago, but seemed like a lifetime, like he'd always known her or been waiting to meet her - it had been clear that she didn't need anyone. It had also been clear that she could use help, whether she knew it or not, and he'd done his best to deliver. She'd appreciated it, but she didn't look for it. Over the last few months, they'd achieved an understanding about whom to talk to and whom to look for in a crowd, and whom to call when something happened. In a way, last night felt like they were back where they'd begun. He was pretty sure that if a challenge came along, say, this afternoon, Hallie would do her damnedest to keep him away from it. Not because she didn't trust him or believe that he could help. Not even - he didn't think - because she wanted to protect him, though she probably did; he knew he wanted to protect her.
She wouldn't keep it from him because she didn't trust him. She'd do it because she didn't trust herself. (p. 140)
I loved those moments where both Boyd and Hallie reflected on their relationship. Coates rambling style brought something new to their relationship, gave it a more realistic feeling. And through Boyd I felt that I came to have a better understanding of Hallie and her actions and motivations. Boyd obviously sees something in Hallie, he sees the way she always needs to act and think about the consequences later. Boyd and Hallie never really express all that much emotion about one another, but what is conveyed seems so big despite the lack of words. Emotions in this book are always restrained, but that doesn't mean that they are not there or don't figure into Hallie and Boyd's decisions. They relationship is a subtle one and I liked how it unfolded.
The way that the author includes magic in Strange Country is also worth noting. Again, this "magic" packs such a punch not because it's overt, but rather it's the subtle and matter-of-fact way it's included in this novel that made it all the more powerful. Not only do Hallie and Boyd have to content with magical stones but also with Death's offer for Hallie - for her to take his place in the under. When I write that out it sounds so strange, but when you read this book, these elements seem like such a natural and effortless inclusion in the book. Coates' descriptions of the fantastic elements of her story are never showy, they just are. The tone the author sets permeates the entire novel. Coates' characters and world flow together perfectly.
Strange Country signals the end of the author's trilogy, and I have to say I'm disappointed to be finished with Hallie and Boyd. I loved that this trilogy was so different from the usual stuff that I read. Generally, I gravitate to the happy and light books and this series was just not the case, but it worked for me. I do see a potential for the author to continue the series; however, with the end of Strange Country further books are certainly not needed. I will definitely be recommending this series to others, and I even think there is a strong argument that this will also appeal to readers outside the fantasy genre. Strange Country was much more than a fantasy novel; it was a well crafted story that includes the fantastic so subtly that I think you can safely recommend this to a much wider audience. Anyone who enjoys books set in a small town with a mystery element will find this book readable.
Another wonderful, thought-provoking historical romance from the awesome Courtney Milan; she really can do no wrong when it comes to romance. The Suff...moreAnother wonderful, thought-provoking historical romance from the awesome Courtney Milan; she really can do no wrong when it comes to romance. The Suffragette Scandal concludes the Brothers Sinster series, although this is one more novella forthcoming that features a character introduced in Suffragette Scandal. I’ll be sad to leave the series, but I can’t wait to see what this author dreams up next; I depend on her for great romances that make you think. Every time I pick up a Milan book I always expect the usual historical romance fare, and each and every time I am blown away with how out of the ordinary her tale unfolds, and her latest is no exception.
Frederica “Free” Marshall is a young woman of twenty-six and the owner and editor of the Women’s Free Press: By women – for women – about women. She certainly has challenges being an independent woman in 1877, but she doesn’t let that stop her from pushing away until she gets small freedoms for herself and other women in the world. However, as strong and independent as Free is, there are some who would go to any lengths to shut her down, especially since she turned down their “gracious” offer to become their mistress, and surprisingly Edward Clark was not that man, meaning Milan effectively turns the conventional and expected into something new and so much more meaningful.
Edward Clark is a forger and also the brother of James Delacey (the guy that propositioned Free) who is intent on ending the Women’s Free Press by any means necessary. Unfortunately for James, Edward has no intention of letting that happen and decides to help Free foil his brother that left him to die. Of course, Edward did not expect to be bowled over by Free:
Every time he thought he knew what to expect from her, she upset his expectations. He Felt buffeted about, unsure of his footing.
Also, she liked boxing.
God, this was bad. Very, very bad. (p. 47)
It may be bad for Edward but it’s certainly very, very good for readers.
The events in Edward’s past have made him cynical about life in general and he’s sincerely unconvinced that Free and women like her will ever accomplish their mission:
“Maybe in a hundred years of women voting, you might manage a single female Prime Minster.” He gave her a rough smile. “But just the one, and even so, people will never take her seriously. If she’s stern, they’ll blame her menstrual cycle. If she smiles, it will be proof that women are not strong enough to lead. That’s what you’re setting yourself up for, Miss Marshall. A lifetime of small wins, of victories that land like lead in your stomach. Your cause may be just. But you’re delusional if you think you can accomplish anything. You’re pitting yourself against an institution that is older than our country, Miss Marshall. It’s so old that we rarely even need to speak of it. Rage all you want, Miss Marshall, but you’ll have more success emptying the Thames with a thimble.” (p. 94)
Despite his belief in the fruitlessness of Free’s mission, he never once disrespects her and even comes to realize that there is value in the small victories. And that transformation, my friends, is what makes this so much better than your average historical romance. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly do not need thought-provoking romances every day of the week, but I loved that this was a refreshing change.
The Suffragette Scandal has all the hallmarks of a Milan novel. There’s the signature humour and wit, the fantastic historical details, and a strong romantic relationship that’s founded on something more than lust. I absolutely adored The Suffragette Scandal and I highly recommend it, as well as its predecessors. Luckily enough, the heroes and heroines from the previous books also make cameo appearances in this latest installment.
The very last thing that I have to comment on is the author’s choice to populate her novel with characters outside the usual social classes. While there are upper crust characters, I love that the author takes a risk and moves to the working class in her novels and novellas. The era that the author writes in was a time of change and I love the fact that Milan conveys this in many of her works, but has done so especially in the Brothers Sinster series. Suffragette Scandal was not filled with balls and fripperies, but instead took a closer look at everyday life, which is, again, a refreshing change in the historical romance genre.
Ultimately, I hope I have convinced someone to give Milan a try, I promise you wont be disappointed. And now, I must go and re-read some other Milan books, perhaps starting with The Duchess War, still my favourite of the Brothers Sinister series.
I moderate the nonfiction book club at the library where I work. I'm not much of a nonfiction reader, so at times this is a challenging task for me, e...more I moderate the nonfiction book club at the library where I work. I'm not much of a nonfiction reader, so at times this is a challenging task for me, especially picking the books to discuss for each monthly meeting. For July I decided on Orange is the New Black. I knew that it was a t.v. show, but beyond that, I was simply thinking practically. Book club sets cost money, and since Orange is the New Black is popular, I was pretty sure that it would at least get used again.
I didn't expect to like Orange is the New Black, but as soon as I got through chapter one, I was hooked. This was a great memoir and one that I found well written and perfect for readers who do not normally gravitate towards nonfiction (my hand is raised here). Kerman combines thought provoking information about the American prison system with engaging anecdotes from her time at Danbury Correctional Facility. There was a great balance between the info and Kerman's own experiences, and it was that combination that kept me flipping through the pages.
Orange is the New Black opened my eyes to the harsh realities of prison life, which often seemed contradictory. On one hand, prison didn't seem as bad as I expected. Kerman seemed to adapt well and conducted her stay in prison with poise and wisdom. But when you looked beyond Kerman's matter-of-fact tone, that's when you really understood how illogical the prison system really is. I think the scene that struck me the most is when Piper is attending a seminar to prep her and her fellow prisoners for release. Teaching the women about health was a correctional officer who worked in food services at Danbury:
The guy from food services was very nice and very funny. We liked him a lot. He told us that it was important to eat right, exercise, and treat your body as a temple. But he didn't tell us how to get health care services that people with no money could afford. He didn't tell us how we could quickly obtain birth control and other reproductive health services. He didn't recommend any solutions for behavioral or psychiatric care, and for sure some of those broads needed it. He didn't say what options there might be for people who had struggled with substance abuse, sometimes for decades, when they were confronted by old demons on the outside (p. 249-50).
I was shocked to learn that prisoners are given virtually no support in returning to the world outside of prison. How is this rehabilitative? To me, it seemed like most prisoners were set up for failure from the get-go. Unless a prisonor had the type of support system that Piper had, the world outside of prison can be a very scary place. Imagine being locked up for 15 years and smartphones are invented by the time you come out, how do you cope with that?
Orange is the New Black got me thinking about issues that I'd never considered before. This issue about the actual purpose of prison formed a large part of the discussion when the book club met at my library. Some people felt little sympathy for the prisoners, but most recognized how broken this system seems. Many of the "characters" that populate Kerman's book could definitely make it in the free world, and many wanted to, but without someone supporting them on the outside, many were doomed with failure.
Ultimately, I was surprised in reading Orange is the New Black. I didn't think I would like it, and I was worried that it would be a pity party offered up by the author. Kerman never once decried the fact that she was sent to prison. She admitted that she had committed a crime and was willing to accept the consequences, and I admire the author for that. This book was well-written and gets you thinking about a segment of the population that I don't think is on many people's radar. That fact that I'm thinking about the book and the issues that it raised days after finishing reading it, is a mark of how engaging I found this book. I don't have any interest in watching the Netflix show, but I am curious about how Canadian prisons stack up in comparison. Some future research my be required on my part.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a romance by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. For the last couple of years, I haven’t really been interested in contemp...moreIt’s been a long time since I’ve read a romance by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. For the last couple of years, I haven’t really been interested in contemporary romance (historicals all the way!); however, when I had a chance to grab a review copy of Phillips’ latest I decided to give it a shot. I loved her previous novels, so I was looking forward to checking out something new from her. Heroes are my Weakness wasn’t what I was expecting, and I totally loved it.
The other novels that I’ve read by Phillips have been relatively light, so far my favourite has to be Call Me Irresistible. Heroes are My Weakness takes a departure from the lighter aspects of romance and Phillips tosses in a lot more suspense and a sinister atmosphere. Happily, this doesn’t mean the Phillips trademark humour has departed (Annie has hilarious conversations with her puppets, after all); it just doesn’t take the front stage or at least shares the stage with a suspense plot.
Following the death of her mother, Annie is a bit down on her luck. She’s a broke, failed actress, turned puppeteer. With no other choice, Annie is forced to go to the only place that will provide her with a roof over her head: their old cottage on an isolated island in the middle of the winter. Ah, the romance of it all…
Returning to the place of her childhood summers, Annie is forced to confront the boy she once cared for, Theo Harp. Theo also happened to have tried to kill her once upon a time and the years don’t exactly seem to have changed this horror writer for the better in Annie’s eyes:
He descended slowly. A gothic hero come to life in a pearl gray waistcoat, snowy white cravat, and dark trousers tucked into calf-hugging black leather riding books. Hanging languidly at his side was a steel-barreled dueling pistol.
An icy finger slithered down her spine. She briefly considered the possibility that her fever had come back or her imagination had finally shoved her over the cliff of reality. But he wasn’t a hallucination. He was all too real. (p.24)
If this was how you encountered a guy you haven’t seen in eighteen years and he also happened to try to kill you, wouldn’t you also be feeling a bit of trepidation?
So, not only does Annie have to deal with someone she’s genuinely scared of, she also has to find the legacy that her mother has told her about and deal with whoever is trying to force her from her temporary home, and just maybe, she’ll find out what really happened with Theo all those years ago. Is he really the villain or could he just possible be the hero after all?
When I had initially started reading this book, I wasn’t sure about it. The hero had tried to kill the heroine (or so it seems), and I wasn’t sure how Phillips was going to turn THAT around. It didn’t help that the suspense was kept up for a large part of the beginning of the book as readers do not get a peak into Theo’s mind. I have to admit, I had my doubts about Theo’s innocence. How could this hero possibly be Annie's weakness? This gothic suspense was a bit unusual, but I think it really worked here and I certainly didn’t want to put the book down.
As for whether or not Phillips turned the romance around, well, of course she did, this is a romance after all. But it was done wonderfully, full of wit and angst of which I can say no more or else ruin the entire story. The suspense storyline fit well with the overarching romance and completely suited the desolate winter setting. It was wrapped up neatly, but readers will have to keep in mind that this is not a mystery novel, it is a romance and that constantly remains the purpose of this book, as such the mystery element was not overly complicated.
Ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised by this one, but I would certainly be one board with more from Phillips in a similar vein. I may have been missing out a bit when it comes to the contemporary romance genre.
The Sacred River was a lovely historical novel, beautifully written, and totally evocative of colonial Egypt. It was a somber novel, filled with the t...moreThe Sacred River was a lovely historical novel, beautifully written, and totally evocative of colonial Egypt. It was a somber novel, filled with the themes of death; however, it ends with rebirth, bringing a sense of hope to the final chapters.
The novel focuses on a short period for three very different, but related women. First, we have Harriet Heron, a young woman, who has been bedridden for most of her life due to asthma. When her doctor hints that there’s very little that he can do for her, Harriet begs him to recommend to her parents that she should travel to a warmer climate to help her breathing. Harriet has long had a fascination with Egypt and would love to explore the city of Thebes before she dies.
Harriet’s mother, Louisa, is convinced that traveling to Egypt will help her daughter so she cautiously takes on the adventure without the accompaniment of her husband. What Louisa doesn’t count on is the resurrection of her past during the journey. A past she desperately doesn't want anyone to kow about.
Lastly, Louisa’s sister-in-law and Harriet’s aunt, Yael, is also joining the ladies on the journey to Egypt. Yael is the last person to ever want to go on a spontaneous adventure, but her brother insists and Yael finds herself growing in the foreign city in an unexpected way. A staunch charity worker and devout woman, Yael finds herself learning much about the city and gaining a sense of freedom that she's never before experienced.
The Scared River wasn’t really what I was expecting. I was thinking that this would be more of an adventure story, and to an extent it was, it just was an adventure of personal growth rather than the conquering of terrain. Each of the three women begin the novel as somewhat pathetic creatures, but through their respective journeys they each learn something about themselves and what they learn allows them to go forward into a new life.
On an intellectual level, I loved the use of the imagery in the novel: the use of the Nile as a symbol for a journey, and the scarab for rebirth. The theme of death kept the novel somber in tone, but the rebirths of all the characters at the end left you with a feeling of hope. For me, the structure of this novel was beautifully rendered. There was no question that this was a well-written novel.
However, on a less intellectual level, I wish I hadn’t had to leave the book just as things were changing for the characters. For most of the novel, I was waiting for Harriet, Louisa and Yael to come to realizations unique to their situations, and at the end they all got to that point, but readers aren’t treated to what happens after that. While I think part of the point of the novel was to end on the idea that life has changed for the three women, they have all experienced a rebirth varying degrees; I personally would have liked to know what their new life was like. But then again, that’s just the kind of reader I am. As it stands, I’ll just have to appreciate the beauty of the symbolism of this one.
In terms of the characters, they were all interesting, but I felt that I connected with Harriet the most. Perhaps it's the that I'm closer in age to Harriet and have also been fascinated with Egypt, but it could also be the fact that out of the three, Harriet seemed to stand the best chance of really moving forward. Harriet was also the closest to death because of her asthma, and her gaining new life in Egypt, gave me the sense of hope that she can have a new and full life ahead of her.
Ultimately, The Sacred River was a wonderful piece of armchair travel and I feel like I was given a sense of Egypt in 1882. The historical setting was what immediately drew me to the title, but the crafting of the novel is what had me hooked. It’s not a happy or light book, but one that gets you thinking about the various manifestations of journeys that life can take.
I enjoyed this final installment in the trilogy - I'm happy to finally know who was behind it all. It was sweet and romantic. Full review on my b...more3.5/5
I enjoyed this final installment in the trilogy - I'm happy to finally know who was behind it all. It was sweet and romantic. Full review on my blog soon...
Updated, July 23, 2014:
I have to admit that I'm a bit picky with my historical romances and generally I will not pick one up if it features a widow. I'm not really sure why, but as soon as I read that in a description, I just feel put off. That said, I made an exception for Manda Collins' Wicked Widow trilogy because I adored her Ugly Ducklings series, especially How to Romance a Rake. So with some trepidation I read the first two books in Wicked Widows. The first one was great, I was less enthralled with book two, but Why Lords Lose Their Hearts was the best of the bunch.
Perdita is the widowed Duchess of Ormond, and as readers learned in book one, Perdita, her sister Isabella, and their friend, Georgina, were all present the night that the Duke of Ormond died. In fact, they appear to have a had a hand in ushering the duke off into the afterlife. Not that they didn't have good reason. Ormond was abusing Perdita, and had been since the honeymoon period of their marriage faded. On this particular evening, Ormond threatened Perdita's life and the ladies had to do something to stop him. Now that Perdita is free from her husband she has been considering marrying again; however, she no longer trusts her own judgement and is unwilling to marry for love. If she didn't suspect that Ormond would hurt her, how can she trust that she can make a better decision the second time around? Unfortunately, Perdita's husband hunt is complicated by threatening letters, indicating that someone knows what truly happened to the duke and means to make Perdita pay.
Coming to Perdita's aid is the former and current Duke of Ormond's man of affairs, Lord Archer. Archer has pretty much been in love with Perdita since he's met her, and now that she is free to remarry he's starting to press his suit. Perdita certainly feels an attraction to Archer, but she'd rather have an affair and marry someone that she doesn't actually care about. To an extent, I think Perdita's opinion is reasonable, but I couldn't help but view as a little demeaning towards Archer, and you can't help but hope that Perdita will come to this realization on her own. Nothing like a death threat to bring two people together.
Archer is extremely patient with Perdita. Now that he's aware of the abuse that she suffered at the hands of her first husband, he does feel guilty but he thankfully never goes into overbearing territory, allowing Perdita to come into her own independence once again. If you're looking for a beta hero, Archer is your man. These types of heroes are why I like Collins' historicals. She doesn't write super overbearing alpha males, which is a nice change in a genre filled with the domineering rakes. So if you're looking for a more balanced romance, Why Lords Lose Their Hearts is the romance for you.
I should also mention the intrigue plot that cropped up in the final installment of the series. Readers of the first two will know that all three women that witnessed the death of Ormond received threatening notes. In Why Lords Lose Their Hearts we finally learn who the mastermind is behind the "I know what you did last season" notes. There are several suspects offered up, and it's not till the end that suspicions are confirmed. I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of the intrigue element, I'm perfectly happy for my romances to be about the hero and heroine falling in love and not investigating a mystery. So I personally wasn't that invested in the intrigue plot and I could have done without it. I'd really like to see the author write something with less intrigue, since I think she conveys a great emotional relationship in her romances, sometimes I feel like the mystery gets in the way.
Ultimately, Why Lords Lose Their Hearts was a nice conclusion to the trilogy. All the loose ends were tied and everyone got their happy ending. You couldn't go wrong with this one if you're looking for a romantic read with a side of mystery.
*Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley. (less)
An Inconvenient Kiss was an unusual historical romance as it wasn't set in the ballrooms of the ton, and I enjoyed this change of pace immensely. It w...moreAn Inconvenient Kiss was an unusual historical romance as it wasn't set in the ballrooms of the ton, and I enjoyed this change of pace immensely. It was lush and exotic and the perfect summer escape read.
Georgianna Phillips was enjoying the season and batting off the suitors when one indiscretion forced her from her charmed life. When Georgianna refused to name the man that kissed her, she was shipped off to France to live with her cousin. Over the years Georgianna has managed to make a life for herself and her cousin by assisting their grandfather in writing his travel journals. She has seen far more of the world than she would have as a sheltered young lady, but rumours of her wild lifestyle continue to follow her, giving her an unwarranted reputation.
When her grandfather decides to visit India, Georgianna is forced to deal with her past when Simon Ashford is ordered to usher her around the city. His real mission, outlined by Georgianna's brother, is to make sure that she stays out of trouble and bring no more scandal to her family's name. The problem is that Simon was the man Georgianna kissed, and she refused his subsequent proposal of marriage (who want to marry out of duty anyway?). However, neither has forgotten their connection and an Indian adventure might just be the perfect way to rekindle their romance.
An Inconvenient Kiss was a fun read. I loved the Indian setting and I'm fascinated and interested in colonialism during this period. While An Inconvenient Kiss didn't recognize the negative aspects of the British in Indian, the atmosphere was one I enjoyed reading about. I think the character's attitude's towards this new land was fairly common. Georgianna's grandfather was an explorer, and while they wanted to showcase local customs, they were always aware of their audience and the dark side of British colonialism doesn't sell. That said, the author did a fantastic job of creating an exotic atmosphere. India became more than window dressing, which I think is frequently the case in historicals set in a foreign land.
Setting the locale aside, I was left with mixed feelings about the romance. It's clear from the start that Georgianna and Simon have chemistry and the antagonist relationship when they meet again was great, but it got old quickly. The lack of trust on Georgianna's part was frustrating since Simon did all that he could to prove himself to her. I would have liked to have seen Georgianna's trust issues resolved a bit sooner and I think it would have made this a stronger romance overall.
I also had an issue with Georgianna's brother, Nath. He was absolutely terrible to her and always the first one to believe the rumours about her scandalous past, despite the fact that there was absolutely no basis in fact for them. Naturally, Georgianna is not to pleased to be back in her brother's proximity. She's more than aware that her brother isn't out to protect her but the family name. Yet, but the end, the two seem to have teamed up and reached a reconciliation. For me, this seemed out of character and to have very little basis on any real forgiving feelings between the two of them. I was really interested in the brother-sister relationship and would have actually have liked Georgianna to have knocked some sense into Nath - someone needs to. Perhaps there's another book in the works with Nath learning his lesson?
Lastly, I feel I have to mention Georgianna's beauty, mainly because it was brought up so frequently throughout the novel. From the start, Georgianna is considered a beauty, one that attracts the male gaze, and because of the way she looks, everyone assumes that she's free with her favours. On one hand, I liked the fact that it was brought home that you can't judge a person on their appearance; however, I felt the mentioning of Georgianna's beauty got a tad repetitive. Everyone was falling over themselves in Georgianna's presence and I'm just not sure I'm convinced that so many people (ie. men) would be so foolish. Simon was obviously set up as the only sensible option and a refreshing change for Georgianna.
Ultimately, this was a fun read. The adventure in the Indian jungle was amusing and the entire book was fast-paced. While I thought there were some areas for improvement, I do think this is a great book for some escapist reading. The author is one that I will continue to watch for.
Eliza Lawrence has been a secretary for the Evensong Agency ever since leaving her job as a governess for a rambunctious family. She enjoys the order...moreEliza Lawrence has been a secretary for the Evensong Agency ever since leaving her job as a governess for a rambunctious family. She enjoys the order and the regimented structure of the secretary job. More importantly, she loves the independence that working affords her and her mother, for whom Eliza is the sole provider since the death of her father. Eliza has no desire to work as a governess again, but it seems that's exactly what she must do when her employer is desperate.
Soon Eliza finds herself installed in the home of artist, Nicholas Raeburn caring for his illegitimate daughter, Domenica. While Eliza develops an instant relationship with Domenica, she abhors her father. Nicholas has a bit of reputation. He doesn't care what others think and he was completely happy in his previous dissolute and creative lifestyle before he took over the care of Domenica. While Nicholas doesn't want to give up all his freedom, he realizes that he needs to change some things for the sake of his daughter, and a starchy governess is definitely not what he needs. In fact, he's completely happy to let Domenica run wild and isn't fond of having restrictions placed on his daughter. So when Eliza arrives and attempts to do just that, sparks fly. I have only recently discovered Maggic Robinson's historicals, but after reading In the Heart of the Highlander, I was hooked. These Edwardian-set historical romances have been a lot of fun. I love the more modern setting (as opposed to the Regency era) and the effect that this has on the types of characters that can feature as the hero and heroine. They're not all dukes and duchesses, indeed here, we have a common governess and a noted artist, not your usual romantic leads.
The romance between Eliza and Nicholas was very much a case of opposites-attract. Eliza was very straight laced and fairly single minded about what was right and proper. Meeting Nick proves to be a bit eye opening for her:
She waited, listening for footfalls on the stairs. There weren't any. Putting her bag down, she rang the bell again.
And waited some more. Perhaps she should go down the basements steps and go in by way of the kitchen. Someone had to be down there, surely. It was almost teatime, and Eliza had not had lunch in her haste to pack and save the day. She wouldn't turn down a biscuit, would be happy to share one with her new charge.
Third time was the charm, they said. Eliza gave the bell a vigorous - well, vicious - turn. If no one answered the door, she would go back to the Evensong Agency and await instructions.
Her resolved proved unnecessary. The door opened, and so did Eliza's mouth.
The man before her was no butler. For one thing, he appeared to be wearing pain-stained silk pajama bottoms, something no self-respecting butler would wear, even to sleep in.
And nothing else.
Eliza really has a very difficult time comprehending Nick's lackadaisical attitude towards life; that carefree attitude is just not one that she can understand or afford to adopt for herself. Considering the time period and the relative vulnerability of Eliza as a working independent woman, I found her views to be wholly realistic. And to be honest, I was often frustrated that Nicholas didn't understand that about her; he couldn't wait for her replacement to be found:
No, she wouldn't be here long, and good riddance. Nick was not about to be lectured in his own house by this bourgeois little prude.
While Eliza does bend in view of the world and recognize that people's actions are not black and white, I never really felt that Nick appreciated her point of view. I thought Eliza had to compromise much more than Nick did, and I wasn't really satisfied with this aspect of the romance. I felt that Eliza had legitimate concerns and they were never fully recognized or appreciated by Nick.
As for Nick, he was a different sort of hero to read about, and I have to admit that the "artist" is not a "type" that appeals to me. He just seemed a little too self-absorbed and uncaring about the consequences of his actions. While I felt Eliza changed and developed throughout the novel, I never got that impression from Nick and I think it would have made their romance stronger had that aspect been more fully fleshed out.
Ultimately, I liked this book. The romance had it's strong points and I loved the sense of humour and wit that appeared throughout the book. From a personal reading perspective, the "artist" characterization didn't appeal, but that doesn't mean I wont be back for more from the author. In fact, I now find myself anxiously awaiting The Unsuitable Secretary.