I've read that Outlander was originally marketed as a romance novel because the publisher didn't know what else to do w...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
I've read that Outlander was originally marketed as a romance novel because the publisher didn't know what else to do with it, but this book is no ordinary romance novel. It doesn't follow any typical romance formula and is a real genre bender that doesn't fit neatly into any one category. Outlander has a swoon-worthy hero and dozens of truly romantic scenes that should be sufficient to satisfy even the most discriminating romance reader, while it's time travel aspect and a few references to witches and fairies should be of interest to readers of fantasy and paranormal stories. At it's heart though Outlander is a historical novel rife with details of 18th century life in the Scottish Highlands both inside and outside a castle or large estate. It also recounts some of the events leading up to the Jacobite Pretender's Uprising of 1745. Diana Gabaldon is an amazing writer who delves deep into her character's lives and the history surrounding them, painting an extraordinary picture that truly transports the reader to another time and place.
Claire is an incredibly strong heroine, who can sometimes be a bit brash and sassy, but deep down she is a kind and caring person at heart. She adapts amazingly well to a new time and place, much better than most people ever would if faced with the dilemma she was. Claire is a very intelligent woman who uses every ounce of knowledge at her disposal to reverse her predicament, while helping others, especially with their medical needs, and bringing a much needed modern perspective to ancient methods. She somehow finds the courage to made difficult choices in an era when choices were sometimes few or non-existent, especially for women, and to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. Claire is stubborn and persistent even in the face of nearly impossible odds. Best of all she is a pillar of strength to her beloved Jamie as much as he is to her, and she has a powerful underlying passion that matches his own for her.
Jamie, in my opinion, is the best romantic hero ever to be penned by an author. He exhibits both physical and mental strength, as well as a strength of character, that go above and beyond any ordinary romantic hero. His word is his honor, and his commitment to that honor is moving beyond words. If only there were more men in reality who could be so easily trusted and taken at their word. Jamie shows a deep respect, not just for Claire, but for all the women with whom he comes in contact, a true gentleman in every sense of the word. On the outside, Jamie is tough as nails, enduring more physical pain than any one person should ever be expected to, while on the inside, he is kind, gentle and sensitive, often instinctively knowing things that others don't. He is thoroughly intelligent and well-educated and often beautifully poetic in his speech. He is lighthearted and self-deprecating, never taking himself too seriously. I loved the way he was always teasing Claire. Jamie is simply a wonderful character, a man who loves selflessly and with his whole being.
There is much to enjoy about this book. Together, Jamie and Claire make a formidable couple, and it is obvious from the outset that they are soulmates. Their absolute trust in each other, basically from the moment they meet, is in and of itself, romance at it's finest. There are no contrived misunderstandings between them, only naked honesty, which brings an openness and vulnerability to both characters that is breathtaking. I love the way the author creates a beautiful friendship between these two characters before they end up at the altar and of course then become lovers. What's even better though is how that friendship continues to blossom and grow deeper and deeper even after they are married. The intimacy level of these two characters is something I rarely see in a novel, and most of it has little or nothing to do with sexual interludes. During the times when Jamie and Claire were apart even for short periods of time, I simply couldn't wait for them to be reunited, as the two of them together absolutely electrify the pages. All the secondary characters are extremely well-crafted and surprisingly well fleshed out, even those who play only minor parts. The setting is beautifully rendered as well, almost becoming a character unto itself. The time travel aspect adds an extended element of intrigue, and Ms. Gabaldon has certainly taken the time to think through the ramifications of such a feat if it were indeed possible. Every scene simply adds to the richness of detail in the book, and there is nothing that I felt was excess. The author's care in seamlessly weaving all of the elements together is evident all throughout the book.
While there are many things to love about this story, there were a few events that bothered me just a bit. There was a scene in which Jamie beats Claire with his sword belt for disobedience. The scene in and of itself actually did not bother me much, because I fully understood his reasons for doing so and he later took a vow never to do it again. What did bother me was his admission that he enjoyed it. The admission was made in a fairly lighthearted manner. In light of that, I suppose it might have been meant as humorous, but perhaps it was too subtle for me to fully appreciate. Even so, I might not have thought much of it except for the fact that the villain in this story is a brutal sadist. For that reason, I found myself a bit annoyed at having the hero of the story exhibit even a hint of such a tendency. There were also a couple of scenes of what I would term rather intense and rough lovemaking, one of which began with Jamie behaving in a dominant manner, and neither of which were quite to my taste. They just seemed a bit out of character for Jamie, who up to this point, and following, was always a gentle and considerate though passionate lover. I will allow though for the fact that Jamie apologized for the first incident and admitted equality after the second. Finally, there was a scene in which Jamie related a prior incident with a secondary character in his youth, which by today's standards would have been nothing short of an act of child molestation against him, but which was treated rather casually by all involved. I wanted to reconcile this in a historical perspective, but as hard as I tried, I simply couldn't. I also feel compelled to warn sensitive readers that there is an incidence of brutal sexual violence near the end of the book. It is not played out in real-time, but instead is related a bit at a time through dialog and implication, but still is immensely palpable in the intensity of it's aftereffects on the psyche of the character who was the victim. I'm not usually overly squeamish about such things, but I have to admit to having some difficulty reading these passages. More than once, they brought tears to my eyes.
In spite of the things I have mentioned though, Outlander is still by far one of the best books I have ever read. I have to give Ms. Gabaldon extra points for all of her attention to details. It is a joy to read such an intelligently-written and meticulously-researched novel that is so rich in detail. It went far beyond my expectations for a debut novel for any author. It even sparked my interest in learning more about the time and place that is depicted in it. Outlander is the type of book that is so engrossing and compelling that it makes one want to read straight through without ever putting it down, though it's epic length makes that somewhat unfeasible. This was my second reading of the book, and it certainly won't be my last. It has a earned a permanent place on my keeper shelf along with it's sequels Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, and A Breath of Snow and Ashes all of which continue Jamie and Claire's story.(less)
The Devil You Know is quite possibly the most truly romantic book I have ever read. It is a poignant story of love in t...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
The Devil You Know is quite possibly the most truly romantic book I have ever read. It is a poignant story of love in the face of seemingly impossible odds, redemption, and facing the pain of the past so that recovery can begin. There is so much to love about this book, I hardly know where to start. The beautiful romance of the hero and heroine began as a beautiful friendship, yet it was a somewhat different friendship than what has been present in some of Liz Carlyle's other books, as the initial development of it was off-canvas. I also found it wonderful that yet another of Ms. Carlyle's heroes found peace and a sense of belonging in the warmth of Chatham Lodge, the lovely country home full of an eclectic mix of characters that played such a big part in My False Heart. The story contains one heart-stopping romantic scene after another that fairly made me swoon: Bentley (with Kem's help of course) pulling together a beautiful wedding in only a day; Bentley laying his head on Freddie's tummy and talking to their unborn child; Bentley holding and worriedly watching over Freddie while she is in the throes of morning sickness; Bentley and Freddie picnicking in his favorite spot in the whole world while discussing their future, just to name a few. The story is packed cover to cover with non-sexual scenes just like these which express the main character's love for and devotion to each other in wonderfully creative ways, as well as beautifully sensual and passionate love scenes. There are also some really adorable and heartwarming scenes such as the ones between Bentley and his nieces and nephews (he's wonderful with kids), and Bentley's brother, Cam laying on the floor of his library talking with his wife while kittens are crawling all over him. Everything simply comes together to create a beautifully crafted story.
I think Bentley Rutledge is now my all-time favorite romance hero, and the Rutledge brothers together top my list even though they are two very different characters. As Frederica tells him near the end of the story, he is “the sweetest, kindest, most perfect man” ever. Even as a mere secondary character in three previous books (Beauty Like the Night, A Woman of Virtue, & No True Gentleman), he could easily steal every scene he was in. I have to admit that I liked Bentley so much in the other stories that I had a little trepidation about whether the author would get it right when she wrote Bentley's own story. With it being in Ms. Carlyle's capable and talented hands, I should never have worried. She wrote the perfect story for him. The image Bentley projects in public is that of the jaded blackguard, a dissolute rake, but even in the earlier books, I knew there was much more to him than meets the eye. There are just so many layers to his character, that I don't think any other author I've read has created a character with so much depth. I have read that Bentley is Ms. Carlyle's favorite hero, and it most certainly shows in the care she used in crafting him. He is an incredibly genuine character that came to life so vividly, it almost seems that he truly exists somewhere. Most of the people around Bentley think that he is something of a failure and a screw-up who never thinks about his future, because that is the only side of himself that he usually allows others to see. He frequently sabotages himself, because he subconsciously doesn't think himself worthy of happiness and success. He has heaped guilt upon himself for a horrible incident from the past for which he clearly bears no responsibility, a tortured hero in the truest sense of the word. Yet, when he is thinking clearly, he is an incredibly intelligent man with a tender, sensitive heart who has so much to offer to anyone who takes the time and effort to recognize his true worth.
Frederica is just such a woman. Even though she didn't want to marry Bentley at first because of his reputation, she had to admit that he was the sweetest man she had ever known. To convince her, Bentley had offered a six-month trial marriage, but it didn't take long for Freddie to realize that she wanted nothing more than a lifetime with this wicked charmer. When Bentley's moods turn black and he starts disappearing for long stretches of time, Freddie is patient and understanding, gently encouraging him to open up to her about what troubles him. Although Bentley is not very forthcoming at first, Freddie is a highly intelligent and intuitive woman. She slowly begins to gather bits and pieces of information and eventually puts together the puzzle that is Bentley's past. When all is finally revealed, she shows an incredible sensitivity toward him, and yet also exhibits unflinching strength and courage in the face of unspeakable evil. I also like the strong yet gentle hand Freddie takes with her occasionally errant husband, making it clear that she won't put up with any disrespectful or irresponsible behavior on his part. As an illegitimate orphan, Freddie has had some difficulties of her own to overcome, but she was raised in a household brimming to the rafters with love and is able to bring the light of that love into Bentley's dark and tortured world, giving him a much-deserved new beginning.
The Devil You Know was a veritable reunion of characters from Ms. Carlyle's past books, which gives her fans insight into where these characters are anywhere from a few to several years down the road. Freddie first appeared in My False Heart and from that book readers can also become reacquainted with Elliot and Evie, as well as secondary characters Winnie, Gus, Theo, Michael, Zoe and the servants of Chatham Lodge and Strath House. Elliot's former valet George Kemble, who also was first seen in My False Heart, makes a couple of appearances in The Devil You Know lending much-needed assistance to Bentley in acquiring appropriate formal attire for a ball and making wedding plans on extremely short notice. Kem also appears in A Woman of Virtue, No True Gentleman, A Deal with the Devil, and The Devil to Pay. From Beauty Like the Night there is Cam, Helene and Catherine as well as the secondary characters of Ariane, Basil, Joan, Queenie, and the servants of Chalcote Manor. Catherine also appeared in No True Gentleman along with the eccentric, fortune-telling Signora Castelli who put in another appearance in The Devil You Know. Also from No True Gentleman, as well as A Woman of Virtue, there are Cole, Robert, and Stuart. Other characters from the aforementioned books are also present in the background and mentioned by name, but have no dialog.
It is rare that a book touches me so deeply that I laugh out loud or cry. The Devil You Know was just such a book. There was a scene in the book which showcased the Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus concept that was straight out of a romantic comedy. I was so amused by it that I had to tell my husband about it and was still laughing about it in my mind hours later. Then, the last couple of chapters of the book brought tears to my eyes, because they were just so incredibly moving and unforgettable. I truly felt that Bentley's self-destructive behavior as a reaction to his past was very realistically rendered. When I am in the midst of reading a book, I often think ahead to how I would like the story to progress. When the story actually goes the way I envisioned, I know I have just read a truly good one. It isn't a matter of the book being simple or predictable. It's a connection of the reader to the author and her characters, which is something I rarely feel as strongly as I did while reading this book. The Devil You Know is the type of story that stays with the reader long after the last page has been turned. In fact, I found myself heartily wishing there was more. It is a rare piece of literary perfection about which I can honestly find absolutely nothing to criticize. It exceeded all my expectations and has forever earned a place on my keeper shelf to be re-read many times in the future. If you have never read this book, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Note: While none of Ms. Carlyle's earlier books seem to be officially considered a series and each seems to stand well on it's own story-wise, I would caution that reading her later books first may give away spoilers to her earlier books. Such was the case when I skipped one book and was left wishing that I had read it first. My suggestion for readers like myself who don't like any spoilers would be to begin with Ms. Carlyle's first book, My False Heart, and continue reading them in the chronological order in which she wrote them. It is also my opinion that the reading experience would be greatly enhanced by doing this, because Ms. Carlyle's character web is so complex. The entire backlist, in order, can be found on her website.(less)
I absolutely loved Lord of Scoundrels. This was my first reading of a Loretta Chase novel, and I will definitely be see...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
I absolutely loved Lord of Scoundrels. This was my first reading of a Loretta Chase novel, and I will definitely be seeking out other books written by her in the future. Jessica was an extraordinary heroine who had a near perfection that one does not often find in a romance novel. Independent heroines can often become irritating to me, but Jessica was a thorough delight, a wonderful mix of charm, wit, strength, and heartfelt devotion. In spite of his utterly debauched nature early on, I still found Dain to be a completely sympathetic hero. I thought it was really sweet that Dain could be so worldly and yet so insecure as to be reluctant to bed his new bride. I also loved the vulnerability he showed when he really started opening up to Jess. Jessica's grandmother, Genevieve, was a delightful secondary character who was full of wit and charm herself. The settings and characterizations were very well drawn, and the pacing was wonderful. Lord of Scoundrels is the third book in the Scoundrels series, and introduces us to Vere Mallory, the Duke of Ainswood, who becomes the hero of book #4, The Last Hellion. Comte d’Esmond, who is the hero of book #2, Captives of the Night also plays a small secondary role. I believe that Captives of the Night and Lord of Scoundrels basically take place simultaneously, but Captives of the Night was written first. The first book of the series is The Lion's Daughter. I found Lord of Scoundrels to be a thoroughly enjoyable book, that has definitely earned a place on my keeper shelf.(less)
After reading the synopsis for Annie's Song, I wondered how an author might write a mute character and keep the story i...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
After reading the synopsis for Annie's Song, I wondered how an author might write a mute character and keep the story interesting without the usual use of dialog. In the case of Catherine Anderson, the answer is, quite simply, incredibly well. Annie is probably the sweetest, most guileless heroine I have ever read. She is full of childlike innocence and takes joy in the simple things in life. Ms. Anderson gives readers a lovely picture of how Annie views everything around her through her thoughts and expressions until she eventually learns to communicate. I loved watching Annie grow from a languishing, childlike state to absolutely blossoming into a mature lovely young woman under Alex's tender care. She brings so much joy and life to Alex's previously lonely existence.
Alex is a wonderful beta-type hero who is strong and protective of Annie and the baby, but at the same time is gentle, sensitive, loving and compassionate. He is incredibly intuitive of Annie's needs and always tries to see things from her point of view and think of her first. I also loved the fact that Alex exercises a great deal of self-control over his lustful inclinations toward her, and when the love scenes finally do happen they are very tender yet thoroughly sensual. Alex isn't perfect though. He does make some mistakes every now and then, but the important thing is that he always learns something from them. Alex also harbors conflicting emotions toward his brother in spite of the heinous things he's done. I thought these qualities made Alex all the more real and brought out his humanity in a way that I loved. I've always been a fan of imperfect heroes, and Alex is one, but in a different sort of way than most other imperfect heroes I've read. I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that these two characters are completely honest with each other. There are no lies or secrets between them, and when misunderstandings and conflicts arise they actually communicate in spite of the fact that one character is deaf and mute. What a novel idea! ;-)
Annie's Song is by far one of the best books I have ever read. The story is unique and so exquisitely rendered as to be at once both heart wrenching and heartwarming. There were some passages that brought tears to my eyes and others that made me laugh. The characterizations are beautifully drawn giving the reader deep insights into the lives of the hero and heroine as well as everyone around them. The characters' emotions are brought to life so vividly that the reader can feel all their pain and fears as well as their joy and happiness. The plotting of the story is very tight, with the author even presenting plausible and realistic reasons for why Annie's parents never had her medically examined even though they were obviously financially well-off enough to do so.
This is a slow, sweet love story in which most of the conflict is of an emotional nature, but the narrative maintains a steady pace throughout. The author explores the social issues of historical attitudes toward people with disabilities, especially those of a mental nature, as well as physical and emotional abuse of a child and recovery from rape. I felt that these issues were dealt with very sensitively, but readers who are easily bothered by such topics should know that they are really the driving force behind the plot. In my opinion, the story was absolutely wonderful, an expression of true love in it's purest form with two people unselfishly giving of themselves to each other. This is the first book I had read by Catherine Anderson, but I will definitely be seeking out others by her in the future. I cannot recommend Annie's Song highly enough, and it has certainly earned a place on my keeper shelf.(less)
Beauty Like the Night is a beautifully written love story with the added bonus of a mystery. I believe that most, if not all, of Liz Carlyle's books c...moreBeauty Like the Night is a beautifully written love story with the added bonus of a mystery. I believe that most, if not all, of Liz Carlyle's books combine these two elements, and she does a wonderful job with both. I really enjoy romances in which the hero and heroine either begin as friends or develop a friendship before marrying. In my opinion, Ms. Carlyle is masterful at writing these friendships and bringing to the story a sense of warmth and deep intimacy that goes far beyond the physical realm. She also writes a good mystery. If I spend most of the story trying to solve the mystery and figure out who the villain is, while suspecting characters who end up being innocent, then I know the author did a good job. Such was the case with Beauty Like the Night. The romance was truly romantic, because Cam and Helene had been the best of friends and had experienced the beauty of young love before being cruelly torn apart. They then had a second chance to rekindle both their friendship and their love. The mystery was truly mysterious, because I did suspect other characters besides the real villain. Also, though different scenarios came to mind, I never fully figured out what Ariane had seen that caused her to stop talking until it was revealed in the story. Cam's brother, Bentley's psychological complexities added additional intrigue to the story as I tried to figure out what drives him to do some of the things that he does.
Aside from history, one of my main interests is psychology. I was fascinated to find a historical novel that made use of psychology. Until reading this book, I hadn't even realized that psychological treatments similar to what we use in modern times were even practiced in that era. Ms. Carlyle even made mention of a real historical figure in this fledgling field, Philippe Pinel, along with some factual information on his practice. I was very impressed with her use of such an unusual topic in a historical romance, and the care that she seems to have taken in researching it. Ms. Carlyle has a truly intelligent writing style that is borne out by the fact that I was able to learn something new from reading her work. I have seen a few reviewers who were critical of the psychology element as being anachronistic, but my own research bears out it's accuracy.
The characters in Beauty Like the Night are incredibly well written from the hero and heroine to the secondary characters. Camden Rutledge just made my all-time favorite romantic heroes list. On the outside he may be quiet and serious, but on the inside he has the heart of a poet and burns with passion. He is thoroughly masculine without being arrogant or self-centered. Cam is loyal and faithful even when those around him are not, and he is a hard worker who takes his responsibilities very seriously. His undying devotion to his daughter and his belief that the so-called experts are wrong about her condition only make him more appealing. Even his cat, Boadicea, adores him, and he talks to her often. I think that Ms. Carlyle's use of children and pets always brings great warmth to her characters and stories. Helene was a wonderful heroine, the perfect foil for Cam's reserved nature. As a teenager she was a nearly reckless free-spirit, but even in her more mature adult form she still exhibits that lightheartedness accompanied by a newfound strength of character. I loved that she is strong and worldly enough to so deftly handle men who make unwanted advances, and later showed her spunk and spirit against the villain. She also impressed me as a woman who had made a career for herself in a society where there were few options for women. I really appreciate Ms. Carlyle writing slightly older heroines who have been able to find a niche for themselves outside of marriage or the usual historically limited professions for women.
Some key secondary characters were surprisingly well fleshed out. Among them was Cam's daughter Ariane, who was an incredibly intelligent and brave little girl. The author does a wonderful job of letting the reader inside her thoughts and feelings even when she cannot speak, and keeping her insights and actions on an age-appropriate level. Reader's are given an introduction to Cam's sister, Catherine, who is light, breezy and full of life, while obviously being strong and capable. She also seems to go against the female stereotype of her time, being more comfortable on horseback or handling estate duties than doing interior decorating. In my opinion though, the most intriguing and well written of the secondary characters is Cam's brother, Bentley. Underneath his alternating facades of the seductive charmer and the rebellious, indifferent rakehell is a young man full of fascinating complexities. I was truly impressed that the author was able to write a supporting male character with such depth who didn't overshadow Cam. It is obvious that Bentley's story is far from over, and readers are given a glimpse of the hero he will eventually become.
Liz Carlyle's books contain many interconnected characters, but she considers her stories to be more of a “community of characters” than a series. That said, there are two characters from Beauty Like the Night who continue on to future books. Catherine Rutledge Wodeway becomes the heroine of her own story in No True Gentleman. Likewise, Bentley Rutledge becomes the hero of his own story in The Devil You Know, but prior to that is also seen in A Woman of Virtue and No True Gentleman, both of which will likely add more layers to his already complex character. Beauty Like the Night was a wonderful book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I would highly recommend it, and it has definitely earned a place on my keeper shelf. Ms. Carlyle is a very talented author, and I am looking forward to reading more of her books in the future.
Note: While none of Ms. Carlyle's earlier books seem to be officially considered a series and each seems to stand reasonably well on it's own story-wise, I would caution that reading her later books first may give away spoilers to her earlier books. Such was the case when I skipped one book and was left wishing that I had read it first. My suggestion for readers like myself who don't like any spoilers would be to begin with Ms. Carlyle's first book, My False Heart, and continue reading them in the chronological order in which she wrote them. It is also my opinion that the reading experience would be greatly enhanced by doing this, because Ms. Carlyle's character web is so complex. The entire backlist, in order, can be found on her website. For readers who aren't as particular about spoilers and prefer to read in smaller sets, Ms. Carlyle's books can also be grouped by families. Beauty Like the Night would be the first book in the Rutledge Family group.(less)
"4.5 stars" Baby Love is a wonderful book that is reminiscent of a grown-up fairy tale, a Cinderella story. As the hero...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
"4.5 stars" Baby Love is a wonderful book that is reminiscent of a grown-up fairy tale, a Cinderella story. As the heroine, it has a young woman who has known the meaning of hard work since she was only fourteen, when her father passed away leaving her with the responsibility of caring for an ailing mother and baby sister. Then an incredibly evil stepfather entered her world bringing nothing but heartache and abuse. When she finally is able to make her escape, she meets up with a scruffy, drunken bum. She briefly entertains a fantasy that he will be her frog that will turn into a handsome Prince Charming. Imagine her surprise, when she discovers that he is really a gorgeous, multi-millionaire rancher who wants nothing more than to give her the happy ending she so richly deserves. Actually this description is a charming underlying element in the narrative, but far too simplistic to express the wealth of complexities and underlying emotions in this beautiful story. It is, at it's heart, a story of two souls, each deeply wounded in their own way, who find hope, love, comfort and healing in each others arms. Catherine Anderson is masterful at creating tight plotting, even with somewhat cliched elements, to bring about a heartwarming story.
Rafe Kendrick is a rather dreamy but tortured hero, just the way I like them. I think nearly every woman wants to believe that men like Rafe actually exist (and of course they do, but seem to be a rare breed). I found it to be an incredibly endearing twist to have Rafe fall hopelessly in love with Maggie at first sight, while it took her a little longer. He has a history of being a romantic, as he fell in love at first sight with his first wife as well. It was also a refreshing change to have the hero be the sort of guy who doesn't sleep around with lots of women before finally finding one who captures his heart. Before Maggie, Rafe had only been with one other woman, his first wife, and he loved her very intensely. He was a man of deep emotions who was a kind, gentle, compassionate caregiver to Maggie in every way, both physical and emotional. I love the way that Rafe held himself back from making love to Maggie, giving her time to heal emotionally and learn to trust him. He helped her to do that by indulging in romantic courting rituals even though they were already married. One of my favorite scenes is when Rafe reassures Maggie that her body is still beautiful in spite of the flaws and imperfections that have been brought about by childbirth. Another favorite scene is when he wraps Maggie in his arms while she is nursing the baby, which I thought was a wonderful family bonding moments. I also love it when the hero finds his pregnant or nursing wife beautiful, because so many women are self-conscious about their bodies during that time. I think the thing that endeared me to Rafe the most though was his acceptance, without reservation, of Maggie's past and most especially her son, not hesitating to give Jaimie his name and be a father to him in every way that counts.
Maggie was a wonderful heroine who was not unlike many women who find themselves in abusive situations. The fact that she endured and survived such horrifying abuse and eventually found a way to escape showed a great strength of character in my opinion. She was also never whiny or clingy, always stubbornly insisting on doing for herself as much as possible even to her detriment. She also insisted on paying her own way, nearly driving Rafe to distraction when all he wanted to do was help her, never expecting anything in return. I think that Maggie's devotion to her infant son, Jaimie, who was conceived and born out of incredibly difficult circumstances was nothing short of amazing. Also her love and sense of responsibility for her young sister, Heidi, and her mentally childlike mother was very heartfelt. Yet her conflicted feelings about her own lost childhood because of that responsibility were very realistic and relateable. I love the way that Maggie grew and changed throughout the story, in the end finding strength she never knew she possessed and using her wits to help save herself and her baby from a very dangerous situation.
In Baby Love, Ms. Anderson has woven a wonderful cast of characters from the hero and heroine right down to the supporting characters who are believable and well-written. The Kendricks especially create an amazingly warm and loving family that anyone would be proud to call their own. As heartwarming as the story is though, it is still very heart wrenching as well. As a warning to sensitive readers, I would say that this story is primarily driven by the emotional conflicts of the death of family members, including young children, and the aftermath of horrific abuse. While neither subject, in my opinion, is given a graphic treatment, there is enough descriptive detail to make the reader's heart break for both characters. Sometimes though, heartbreak can make for a wonderfully inspirational story, and Baby Love definitely fits the bill, while also being extremely well-written. One example of this great writing was that early on, Rafe's care and concern began to border on control, leaving Maggie feeling palpably fearful and me a tad uncomfortable as well. True to form though, Ms. Anderson explains his behavior believably, and also gives him a wake-up call and increased self-insight, which was another thing that I loved about his character. There were a couple of minor things that I might have changed though. The description of Rafe's courting of Maggie immediately following their marriage was too brief to suit me, and I thought would have been even more romantic if some of the things they did together had been explored in more detail. There was also one scene in which Rafe lost his temper and said some rather ugly things which were difficult to read, but that I understand were probably necessary to propel the conflict to another level. I have seen other reviewer complaints about having to suspend disbelief in order to read this story, which to some degree is true, but for any reader who is an imaginative and hopeless romantic like I am, this book should be just the thing.
Baby Love is the first book in Ms. Anderson's Kendrick/Coulter/Harrigan series. In it readers are given a strong introduction to Rafe's brother, Ryan, who is just as sweet as Rafe and becomes the hero of the second book, Phantom Waltz. The remaining books in the series up to this point are: Sweet Nothings, Blue Skies, Bright Eyes, My Sunshine, Sun Kissed, and Morning Light, with Star Bright due out in January. Ms. Anderson also has a historical series tied to members of the Coulter family. I have to admit that historical romances are my real reading passion and I don't tend to read a lot of contemporaries, but if they are well-written, I am open minded to trying almost anything. Ms. Anderson is one of those rare authors who is so good at her craft that I can't seem to get enough of her stories no matter which genre they fall into. Baby Love is a story that was simply so good that at times I could barely put it down. I would highly recommend it to all romance readers no matter what their usual genre preference is. It has certainly earned a place on my keeper shelf, and I am eagerly off to read Ryan's story now.(less)
"4.5 stars" My False Heart was the first book Liz Carlyle wrote and the first book by her that I have read. All I could...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
"4.5 stars" My False Heart was the first book Liz Carlyle wrote and the first book by her that I have read. All I could think of throughout the story and especially after finishing it was that if this is her debut novel, I can't wait to see what else she has to offer in her later works. Ms. Carlyle wrote two absolutely wonderful characters in Elliot and Evangeline, as well as a full complement of secondary characters from friends and relatives to servants. I loved watching Elliot change from a bitter, vengeful, unhappy man to one who had finally found his heart's desire, as well as watching Evie finally learn to rely on someone else instead of feeling like she was all alone in her responsibilities. Elliot was made even more appealing by the inclusion of his daughter, Zoe, and the fact that he loved her deeply, but didn't know how to show it until he met Evie. His interactions with Zoe after that were endearingly awkward, and full of humanity. I adored Evie's eclectic family unit. It was easy to see why Elliot's cold heart was so warmed by all of them. Ms. Carlyle's characterizations made me wish that such a place and family actually existed, so that I might become a member of it too. I found the children to be particularly delightful, and there were even a few adorable pets who played minor roles in helping to set the tone.
All the characters, including the secondary ones, were amazingly well fleshed out. The author makes liberal use of lengthy passages of prose to give readers thorough insights into the characters thoughts and feelings, and to explain their back stories. Ms. Carlyle is masterful at creating truly romantic situations and sexual tension. Even the simplest of kisses became a thoroughly sensual reading experience. The author gives a believable interpretation of two people slowly falling hopelessly and desperately in love. Ms. Carlyle is also masterful at writing completely beautiful and romantic love scenes. She gives the reader the sense that Elliot and Evangeline truly love one another and are not merely lusting after each other in a physical way, as is unfortunately the case with many romance novels. I felt that the characters gave their initial decision great care and consideration and truly gave more of themselves to each other than just their bodies when they made love.
Often, stories that rely on secrets and misunderstandings to create conflict between the hero and heroine can become tedious and annoying, but I found that Ms. Carlyle does such a wonderful job with these elements that they became a believable part of the plot. I like the way that the author slowly feeds the reader bits and pieces of back story as well as the mystery element. It made me keep wanting to come back to the story to find out more about the characters and what happened next. The mystery was done so well that I did not figure it out until shortly before it was revealed in the story and even then, I wasn't sure I had it right until I actually read it. I loved the way that Ms. Carlyle intricately wove many of the secondary characters into the plot, much the way that a spider weaves her web. This made the story much more interesting, as they would often pop up in unexpected places, sometimes adding to the mystery. I really appreciated the author's use of intelligent, as well as historical, words and phrases. I like a story that makes me think, and this one certainly kept me on my toes, with not only it's rich vocabulary, but also it's extensive cast of characters and intricate plot. Ms. Carlyle's use of lush descriptive details transported me to another time and place, making me feel like I was right there watching the events unfold and could feel every emotion that each of the characters felt. Occasionally, I thought that some of the detailed prose could have been pared down just a bit for the sake of conciseness and to pick up the pacing just a little, but overall, I enjoyed the languid nature of the story. I think it really helped to build a believable illusion of the hero and heroine falling in love instead of rushing into it.
While Ms. Carlyle does not seem to officially consider her books to be a series, many of her stories, not surprisingly, have interconnected characters. My False Heart introduces us to Frederica d' Avillez, Evangeline's cousin, who is just a little girl in this story, but who grows up to become the heroine of her own novel, The Devil You Know. It also introduces readers to George Kemble, Elliot's intriguing multi-talented valet, who has such a vast network of acquaintances that he can find out almost any piece of information his employer or anyone else might want to know. Kem currently appears in five more of Ms. Carlyle's novels including A Woman of Virtue, No True Gentleman, The Devil You Know, A Deal with the Devil, and The Devil to Pay. My False Heart was a wonderful book about which I can find little to criticize. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and am anxiously looking forward to reading more of Ms. Carlyle's books as soon as possible. This story was a truly phenomenal first effort from a writer who is clearly incredibly talented, and the book has definitely earned a place on my keeper shelf.
Note: While none of Ms. Carlyle's earlier books seem to be officially considered a series and each seems to stand well on it's own story-wise, I would caution that reading her later books first may give away spoilers to her earlier books. Such is the case when I skipped one book and was left wishing that I had read it first. My suggestion for readers like myself who don't like any spoilers would be to begin with My False Heart and continue reading the books in the chronological order in which she wrote them. It is also my opinion that the reading experience would be greatly enhanced by doing this, because Ms. Carlyle's character web is so complex. The entire backlist, in order, can be found on her website.(less)
"4.5 stars" Season for Miracles is a tender, heartwarming Christmas love story. Sometimes it is nice to read an uncompl...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
"4.5 stars" Season for Miracles is a tender, heartwarming Christmas love story. Sometimes it is nice to read an uncomplicated, character-driven story, and this book definitely fits the bill. It's all about facing the obstacles that life throws in one's path, and making the best decisions you can to overcome them. I thoroughly enjoyed the charming, small-town feel of the Bethlehem, New York setting. I had thought that it was probably a fictional town, and was surprised to discover that such a place actually exists. Marilyn Pappano has created such a warm and inviting atmosphere, it will likely make the reader wish to live there too. The town has a soul-healing quality generated by it's residents and the three guardian angels who watch over and help those in need. I found this story and it's characters to be inspiring and uplifting, giving a true sense of the awe and wonder of the Christmas season and that miracles really do happen. It brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion.
The characters are all absolutely wonderful, with not one evil character in the entire book. Emilie was a very sympathetic heroine who has been through a great deal in her life, and yet never truly has let her difficulties get her down. I loved her commitment to her family, and felt that she was making her decisions the best she could under the circumstances, always with them in mind. Nathan also had a less than ideal upbringing, but in spite of that was a kind, loving and sensitive beta hero. Also, after his first wife and best friend's cruel betrayal, Nathan had little cause to trust anyone, yet he freely opened his heart to Emilie and the children and to the love that the residents of Bethlehem showed him. The children, Alanna, Josie, and Brendan, were beautifully rendered secondary characters with each child having his or her own vivid personality, and each personality being consistent with how children might act in the circumstances in which they had been raised to that point. I liked that the children weren't always perfect angels, sometimes fighting with each other just like all brothers and sisters do. This just made them seem more realistic. The residents of Bethlehem, especially elderly neighbors, Agatha and Corinna, were a joy to read and were the true expression of the town's warmth and charm, really bringing it to life. A reader couldn't ask for a more eclectic and endearing cast of characters.
This story is just so lovely there really isn't anything to truly dislike. It would have been nice if the romance between Nathan and Emilie had been explored a little more deeply. There were times that I felt like the children and the rest of the story overshadowed their relationship a bit, but there were still some lovely scenes between them. There were a few passages of dialog where I felt the author wasn't clear as to which characters were speaking, as well as a few passages where the perspective changes from one character's thoughts to another without full clarity as to which character is thinking which thoughts. It wasn't too bad though, and things became more clear after a second reading of the passage. There were also a few places where Ms. Pappano's general wording could have been a little more clear and concise, but again it wasn't particularly difficult to follow. Overall, this was just a wonderful story in almost every respect.
This was the first book I had read by Marilyn Pappano, but it certainly won't be the last. From very early on, I felt like the story had the feel of a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Hallmark had indeed made the book into a movie also titled, A Season for Miracles, which I am very eager to watch. Season for Miracles is the first book in Ms. Pappano's Bethlehem series, a group of stories which all take place in the tight-knit community for which the series is named. The remaining titles in the series are Some Enchanted Season, Father to Be, Gabriel's Angel (a novella from the Yours 2 Keep anthology), First Kiss, Getting Lucky, Heaven on Earth, Cabin Fever, and Small Wonders. The first two books in the series both center around the holiday season. Season for Miracles was an enchanting keeper of a book which I hope to make a Christmas tradition. I am also looking forward to reading the other books in the Bethlehem series, as well as exploring the non-Bethlehem books that Ms. Pappano has written.(less)
Phantom Waltz is a slow, sweet love story that expresses true love in it's purest form, a selfless giving of two people...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
Phantom Waltz is a slow, sweet love story that expresses true love in it's purest form, a selfless giving of two people to each other in every way. Except for a couple of incidents, there isn't much action to speak of. Most of the conflict revolves around overcoming the heroine's disability and her emotions surrounding it, just good old-fashioned character driven romance. I must say that Catherine Anderson is masterful at character development, creating both primary and secondary characters that are easy to like and care about. There were lots of incredibly romantic moments, such as Ryan and Bethany's first date and kiss, Ryan arranging for them to dance, and their private exchange of vows in the wilderness to name a few. There were also a few laugh-out-loud funny moments, my favorite of which was their flirtatious exchange at her family's ranch supply store, when Ryan was looking for his “missing parts”. You have to read it to see what I'm talking about, but it had me rolling on the floor. Also Bethany's cat who makes friends with Ryan's bull is a hoot. Although, there were parts in the story where Ryan and Bethany could have communicated better, I was generally impressed with their openness with one another and with their families, often talking freely about subjects that would make many people cringe with embarrassment. I like stories in which the main characters are friends before becoming romantically involved, so it was very enjoyable to read about the building of Ryan and Bethany's friendship. One of Ms. Anderson's trademarks that I really like is that her characters aren't prefect and they make mistakes in their relationships, but they usually seem to learn a valuable lesson and gain self-insight in the process. It makes for a lot of character growth throughout the book which is something I enjoy immensely in story-telling. Other than one incident involving Bethany near the end of the book which I have detailed below, I found the character growth in this story to be satisfying.
I couldn't help but adore all the Kendrick men, Ryan, his brother, Rafe (Baby Love) and their father, Keefe. They all seem to fall hard, love fiercely, and protect their women with a vengeance, just the way I like my heroes. Both Ryan and Rafe were willing to lay down their lives for the women they loved which I find incredibly romantic. I liked the way that Catherine Anderson created love and romance in this story not just for the young, but also the young at heart. I thought it was really sweet that Keefe and Ann Kendrick were still madly in love and enjoying a healthy sex life after some thirty odd years of marriage. It was also adorable that the hardened ranch foreman, Sly, had fallen in love with Maggie's mother, Helen (Baby Love). Even though Bethany's parents played a smaller part in the story, they also had been married for many years and had a committed, loving relationship.
Bethany was a very interesting heroine. I had never read a heroine who was a paraplegic before, and I have to give Ms. Anderson kudos for writing a character who was so unique. I came away from reading this story feeling like I had learned something about paraplegia and had been given at least a small sense of what a person who is confined to a wheelchair must feel like. It was an eye opening experience, and I love any story that is intelligent enough to teach me something new. Bethany had a great personality too, a wonderful mix of shy, sweet innocence and sass gained from being the only girl growing up with five older brothers. Although she at times felt imprisoned by her wheelchair, she still had a certain zest for life which was understandably irresistible to Ryan. Even though I found Bethany to be a likable character, there were a couple of things about her than bothered me a bit. One was that I felt she was a little too tense, and took too long in my opinion, to simply let go and enjoy the attention that Ryan was lavishing on her and to realize that for him, seeing her happy made him happy too. There was also a part where Bethany was talking to virtual strangers about her sex life, in an attempt to figure out how to please Ryan, when I thought that she should have been communicating with him directly. While the whole scenario created both some amusement and some conflict which brought interest to the story, I just felt like a little more openness and honesty between them might have been in order. Eventually it happened, but just not quite soon enough to suit me. In addition, her reaction at the end of the book to a major crisis kind of frustrated me. I had thought by that time she had finally released her fears and reservations about their relationship and had accepted that she was not a burden to Ryan, so when she did an abrupt about face, it really took me by surprise. Even though there was a part of me that understood that Bethany thought she was doing this for selfless reasons, one could definitely make a strong case that there can be a fine line between selfless and selfish, and it seemed to me that her decision was made more out of fear than love. I just really like stories in which love overcomes everything including fear, which eventually it did, but I would have preferred that it had taken a different path to get there. The book still had a happy ending though, and all's well that ends well, I suppose.
Ryan was an incredibly wonderful and dreamy hero who was completely accepting of Bethany's disability, always seeing the person and not just the wheelchair. He surprised her from the first day they met, and the surprises never seemed to end. Even though he wasn't 100% honest about his future intentions toward her, I thought it was very sweet how Ryan backed off on any kind of physical interactions, including kissing, in order to build a loving friendship with Bethany first. From there he completely wowed her into accepting his proposal by creating solutions to any and all arguments she might make against marriage and treating her like a princess. He was incredibly kind and patient with her always, but especially as they explored her fears and concerns over her possible sexual inadequacies due to her disability. Ryan was very creative, using pure ingenuity to come up with all sorts of ideas and inventions to make Bethany's life easier and more fulfilling, and most of all restoring the freedom she had craved since her accident. Best of all he put his life on the line for her, which is something I couldn't imagine any woman being able to resist.
Phantom Waltz is the second book in Catherine Anderson's Kendrick/Coulter/Harrigan series. Readers get to visit with Rafe and Maggie and some of the secondary characters from Baby Love, the first book, and see where they are a couple of years later. We also get a good introduction to Bethany's brother, Jake, who becomes the hero of the third book, Sweet Nothings. Bethany's other four brothers are also mentioned and each of them gets their own book as well. The remaining books in the series in order are Blue Skies, Bright Eyes, My Sunshine, Sun Kissed and Morning Light, with the next installment, Star Bright, due out early next year. While there were a few things about Phantom Waltz that I thought could have been better, I still enjoyed it quite a bit. It was a sweet and gentle story full of truly romantic scenes. At this point, I have read and enjoyed enough of Ms. Anderson's books that she has definitely earned a place on my favorite authors list.(less)
"3.5 stars" This was the first time I had read a novel by Marsha Canham, and although there were, in my opinion, some w...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
"3.5 stars" This was the first time I had read a novel by Marsha Canham, and although there were, in my opinion, some weaknesses in the story, I was not entirely disappointed. The historical settings, including the brutality of medieval warfare, are described in rich detail, including the appearance of some real historical figures and the use of some medieval terms and dialog. I have a great appreciation for history, and it is clear that Ms. Canham did her research well. In fact, I came away from reading this book with a desire to learn more about certain aspects of the history described. However, for all the depth contained in the history, I felt that the characterizations were rather lacking. I would have liked to see a deeper exploration of the characters and what made them tick, as well as more back story. For instance, at the end of the prologue, we see Ciaran apparently being accosted by two Saracens after walking off the battlefield and fully expecting to be killed, but the author never clearly resolves who these men were or how Ciaran got out of this situation. Another aspect I would have liked to see more deeply explored was the lengthy and loyal friendship between Ciaran and Marak. We are not given much insight as to what sparked that friendship, or what made it so long lasting.
I think that perhaps the best drawn character in the book is Marak. I found him to be an intriguing and romantic character in spite of his physical flaw, indeed he was a joy to read, but sometimes it seemed like he nearly overshadowed Ciaran. I thought that Marak had more and better dialog with Amie than Ciaran did. Also, in general, the dialog seemed a bit unbalanced. In places, it was so beautiful in its raw intensity as to be poetic, and yet in other places I felt the story and characters would have benefited from the use of more dialog. For example, the author gives us a look into both Ciaran and Amie's thoughts after they make love for the first time. Both seem to harbor some insecurities at this point, and I felt that their relationship could have been deepened considerably by a bit of dialog expressing their thoughts and feelings to each other. Another mild disappointment for me was that although Ciaran and Amie obviously develop a deep and abiding love for each other, it is never really expressed in words. I suppose to some extent the dialog deficiencies could be chalked up to Ciaran being a man of few words, but still I've read other introverted heroes who have more to say while still maintaining their brooding state. I was also disappointed that Ciaran and Amie basically had an affair while she was still bound in marriage. While I certainly didn't feel any sympathy for Odo after the way he had treated Amie, I just found myself wishing that the author had waited until Amie was free of any legal obligation in that regard. Lastly, I felt like the emotional problems that Ciaran and Amie both faced were resolved a little too easily. I have a personal preference of watching characters like these work through the issues and grow throughout the story. In my opinion, this type of interaction can really help to flesh out the characters. Also, while the early parts of the book were rather slow, the ending seemed a tad bit rushed. As I got down to the last few chapters, I started to wonder how the author was going to resolve the story in such a short space, but it did ultimately have a reasonably satisfying ending.
While it may seem that I have a lot of criticisms of this book, I still found My Forever Love to be an enjoyable and worthwhile read. I certainly did not come away feeling that I had wasted my time like I have on occasion with other books. Ciaran and Amie were both very likable characters. While Ciaran is not a particularly dark and brooding hero, he does harbor a lot of psychological pain (PTSD) from his time in the Crusades. Although some might disagree, I found the fact that Ciaran was not a lust-crazed hero and had maintained his celibacy for such a long time to be rather refreshing and irresistible, though I have to admit a little disappointment over the circumstances in which he gave it up. I had expected something completely different. I also loved his compassion and the fact that he chose to do the right thing even if it went against the laws of both man and church. (By the way, for anyone not familiar with Gaelic, his name is pronounced like our more modern day name, Kieran [KEE-uh-ran]). For all the suffering and abuse Amie endured, she still did not become bitter or loose her sweetness of spirit, and yet she was also a woman of strength and courage. A great balance that is difficult to strike in a heroine. I also appreciated the forthrightness of the hero and heroine. There were no lies, games or silly misunderstandings. Granted Amie initially tried to conceal her identity, but only briefly, and after that they were completely honest with each other. There was also a very romantic though minor plot point that I liked in which the relationship between a pair of secondary characters is revealed. The overall storyline was enjoyable and engrossing. Prior to reading this novel, I was not even familiar with Ms. Canham's name, but I liked the book well enough that I would be open to reading more titles by her in the future.(less)
After reading several of Liz Carlyle's books, I have come to the conclusion that she, in my opinion, simply does not wr...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
After reading several of Liz Carlyle's books, I have come to the conclusion that she, in my opinion, simply does not write a bad story. Some are better than others, but I have not yet found one that I didn't like. Such is the case with No True Gentleman. It was yet another worthy effort from Ms. Carlyle. The story hooked me in right at the beginning with the murder of a lady of ton. As usual the author kept me guessing about the solution to this mystery right up until the big reveal. The middle section of the book moved a little slower for me, but it had a truly wonderful ending. I thought the climax was very exciting, and the final pages showed a hint of humor as well as Ms. Carlyle's talent for writing beautifully romantic scenes. One of my favorite aspects of this book was the exploration of a romance involving class differences between a titled lady and a middle-class man who is rather rough around the edges. Even though there were a couple of plot devices used to make this pairing more plausible and acceptable to society, Max chose to live a very simple life and truly hated all the conventions associated with trying to be a proper gentleman. Yet Catherine fell in love with him anyway, and it was Max who felt unworthy of her. It is also rather rare, when one of the main characters had a previous spouse, for that person to have been likable, and for those characters to have shared love in their marriage. I really like when authors are able to believably pull this off. It was a refreshing change for Catherine to have been in love with her first husband, Will, and still missing him at the beginning of the story, but yet she had room in her heart to love Max. It was just a different kind of love and a very different relationship that they shared.
In spite of it being a likable story, there were a few weaknesses in my opinion. One was that until close to the end of the story, I did not feel that I could fully understand or become involved in the emotional issues that seemed to be plaguing Max. I think the story might have benefited from the author revealing more of Max's past and his emotions surrounding it earlier on. It also would have been nice if Max and Catherine had had more discussion of his family, his past, and his feelings surrounding their differences. I think this was part of the reason that some of the story moved slowly for me, but another reason was Max and Catherine's romance beginning as a casual affair. Of course this made for lots of steamy sensuality, but few of the heartwarming romantic moments and building of friendship between the two main characters that are present in some of Ms. Carlyle's other books. Because of the limited communication, I didn't feel that a deep friendship was ever truly built and the beautiful romance didn't really happen until toward the end when both characters were beginning to accept that they were falling in love. In the past, I have really enjoyed the child and animal characters in Ms. Carlyle's other works as they usually help to create a deep sense of home and family. Unfortunately, the only child character in No True Gentleman, was the street urchin, Nate, who was a very cute, likable and well-written secondary character, but didn't really add much in a familial sense. I did really like Max's dog, Lucifer, a lovable canine who could be sweet and docile one minute and viciously protective the next.
I really enjoyed the hero and heroine. Max's simplistic way of life was sweetly endearing, and I loved his sense of justice and fairness and his compassion for people of the lower classes. I also found his need to be out amongst the masses, doing hands-on work instead of just pushing papers, to be very attractive as well. Also, I just adore a hero who is an animal lover. And of course, what woman could resist a man who whispers endearments in a romantic foreign language during lovemaking. Catherine was another of Ms. Carlyle's independent and unconventional heroines. She seems to be the perfect mixture of her two brothers, Cam and Bentley. She showed Cam's commitment to responsibility in that she was apparently the brains and discipline behind the running of her late husband's estate, and she is an expert horsewoman who prefers the outdoors and the country to the stuffiness of London society. Yet, she shows a bit of Bentley's mischievousness when she climbs over the wall at Max's apartment to secretly visit him. Readers who dislike clingy heroines will not find one in Catherine. In fact, she stubbornly drives Max to distraction by keeping her distance, patiently waiting for him to come to terms with the possibility of them having a future together. All in all, these are two wonderful characters whose passion rules their hearts and whose stubbornness leads them into a few heated moments.
Ms. Carlyle continues her web of interconnected characters in No True Gentleman. Max and his dog, Lucifer, first appeared in A Woman of Virtue, while Catherine and her brother, Bentley, made their first appearances in Beauty Like the Night. Incorrigible rakehell, Bentley, added another layer to his character by showing off his thoughtful and sensitive side with Catherine periodically throughout the story, making him one of the fullest and most satisfying secondary characters I have ever read. He also appeared in A Woman of Virtue and gets his own story in The Devil You Know. The intriguing and multi-talented antiques dealer, George Kemble, who was formerly a gentleman's gentleman, also appears in My False Heart, A Woman of Virtue, The Devil You Know, A Deal with the Devil, and The Devil to Pay. Kem is another well-rounded secondary character who is fun to read and always full of surprises. Also making an appearance are Lord and Lady Delacourt, aka David and Cecelia; Cecelia's brother and stepson, Harry Markham-Sands and Giles Lorimer, respectively; and Catherine's aunt, Isabel, Lady Kirton, all of whom were first seen in A Woman of Virtue, except for David who was the hero of that story, but was originally conceived of in A Woman Scorned. Overall, No True Gentleman was yet another fun and enjoyable story to come from Liz Carlyle's fertile imagination. She is truly a talent and an asset to the romance writing profession.
Note: While none of Ms. Carlyle's earlier books seem to be officially considered a series and each seems to stand well on it's own story-wise, I would caution that reading her later books first may give away spoilers to her earlier books. Such was the case when I skipped one book and was left wishing that I had read it first. My suggestion for readers like myself who don't like any spoilers would be to begin with Ms. Carlyle's first book, My False Heart, and continue reading them in the chronological order in which she wrote them. It is also my opinion that the reading experience would be greatly enhanced by doing this, because Ms. Carlyle's character web is so complex. The entire backlist, in order, can be found on her website.(less)
A Woman of Virtue did not seem to have quite the emotional depth of Liz Carlyle's other books that I have read to date,...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
A Woman of Virtue did not seem to have quite the emotional depth of Liz Carlyle's other books that I have read to date, but it was still a fun and enjoyable read. As with her other books, Ms. Carlyle has combined romance with a mystery. The romance part was generally light and breezy, beginning with the hero and heroine bickering like cats and dogs. Sometimes I can find this type of relationship irritating, but here it was handled well, in my opinion, and it didn't take long before these two realized that they had always loved each other. The mystery was pretty well-done too. I wasn't pulled into it quite as much as I have been with other mysteries I have read, which I think was a result of the author not dropping quite enough clues along the way. The thing I really liked about it though, was a surprise villain, as I didn't even guess who it was until shortly before it was revealed in the story. There are a couple of things that I missed in this book that were present in some of Ms. Carlyle's other works, one of which was her masterful use of children and pets to set the tone and create a family atmosphere. Unfortunately, the only children who made an appearance were Cole and Jonet's, but it was very brief and they didn't add much to the story. The only pet was Max's dog, Lucifer, and since Max was a secondary character, Lucifer didn't get a great deal of attention or add much to the story either. The other thing was that although A Woman of Virtue had plenty of beautiful sensuality, I thought it was a bit lacking in the gorgeous romantic interactions and the building of a deep friendship between the hero and heroine that Ms. Carlyle has previously been so talented at creating.
I found the main characters to be very likable. David may have been a rake, but underneath it all he was a kind and gentle man, who had really only ever loved one woman. He had a rather dark secret that he had kept hidden for years that caused him some emotional angst. I found his vulnerability over this and his fear of being rejected to be very human and endearing qualities. I also appreciated his understanding that the only way to have a real and lasting relationship with Cecilia was to be completely honest. I loved his protective nature toward all women. When he rescued a prostitute who was being assaulted, I just knew he was a great guy. Cecilia was free-spirited and head-strong, rarely listening to David, but she was also an intelligent and capable woman who was able to do bookkeeping at the mission and to be very helpful and fearless during the murder investigation. I also admired her for her willingness to do hands-on work at the mission, something that women of her station rarely did. She also had a mischievous and manipulative streak in her, but she only used it for the greater good, never on David. I love how she schemed to get a huge donation for the mission out of one of the more distasteful characters. She also had a wonderful intuition about many thing, but especially about David, regularly sensing his needs and emotions. I also loved how these two characters exhibited a great deal of trust and honesty with each other, and were never pushy or needy.
Some of the best and most intriguing characters came in the form of the supporting cast. In A Woman of Virtue, Ms. Carlyle has continued her intricate web of characters from previous and future books. I just can't seem to help but love Bentley Rutledge who was first seen in Beauty Like the Night. He projects the aura of an inveterate blackguard, but is really a character who is full of intriguing complexities which this book continued to build on. I don't think I've read such a wonderfully rendered secondary character as Bentley. He simply steals nearly every scene he is in, leaving the reader longing for more. Bentley appears again in No True Gentleman and finally gets his own story in The Devil You Know, which I am greatly looking forward to reading. Also visiting, as David's temporary employee, was George Kemble, the enigmatic, multi-talented valet who was first seen in My False Heart. In A Woman of Virtue, readers discover a few more of Kem's talents, leaving one wondering if perhaps he might be more that what he seems. Kem currently appears in four other novels: No True Gentleman, The Devil You Know, A Deal with the Devil, and The Devil to Pay.
Other characters who put in an appearance were Cole and Jonet Amherst, the hero and heroine of A Woman Scorned, giving readers a look at where they are a few years later. While I have not yet read A Woman Scorned, I am fairly certain that David made his first appearance in that book as well. A Woman of Virtue also introduces readers to Maximilian de Rohan, the police inspector who becomes the hero of No True Gentleman, and Giles Lorimer, Cecilia's stepson, who becomes the hero of A Deal with the Devil. There are also brief introductions to the more minor characters of Harry Markham-Sands and Isabel, Lady Kirton, who also have roles in No True Gentleman, as do Cecilia and David. Even though A Woman of Virtue was not quite as good as some of Ms. Carlyle's other books for me, the entire cast of characters and a fun, passionate story made it a very enjoyable read. I have read enough of Ms. Carlyle's books now that I can certainly say she has earned a place on my favorite authors list, and I would read any of her works in the future.
Note: While none of Ms. Carlyle's earlier books seem to be officially considered a series and each seems to stand well on it's own story-wise, I would caution that reading her later books first may give away spoilers to her earlier books. Such is the case with A Woman of Virtue which left me wishing that I had read A Woman Scorned first. My suggestion for readers like myself who don't like any spoilers would be to begin with Ms. Carlyle's first book, My False Heart, and continue reading them in the chronological order in which she wrote them. It is also my opinion that the reading experience would be greatly enhanced by doing this, because Ms. Carlyle's character web is so complex. The entire backlist, in order, can be found on her website.(less)
Sandra Hill is a mischievous author who has a talent for blending comedic elements with some great romance and sensuali...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
Sandra Hill is a mischievous author who has a talent for blending comedic elements with some great romance and sensuality. She is very good at creating play-on-words that lead to lots of hilarious misunderstandings, and she also has a penchant for funny t-shirt slogans that don't make much sense to a tenth century Viking. Truly, Madly Viking had many humorous moments that had me smiling and even laughing out loud, but it also had very tender moments that had me misting up. The story got off to a bit of a slow start for me, but about 1/3 of the way through, I was pretty well hooked. I think the slow start was because there wasn't quite as much of the “fish out of water” feel to this book as there was in the first book of the series, The Last Viking. I was also somewhat disappointed that Ms. Hill seemed to recycle some jokes and minor plot points and characterizations from the previous novel, as well as repeat some things throughout the book, but in the end there was enough new material to hold my attention.
The characterizations were very well drawn. Jorund at times seemed a bit too perfect for my taste (I have a personal preference for the more imperfect heroes) and a little too chauvinistic, but it wasn't overdone to the point of being annoying. Underneath it all he had a loving, tender heart of gold toward both Maggie and her daughters, and best of all, he really respected Maggie, so it was pretty easy to see why she would fall for him. I also enjoyed Jorund's attitude toward public service, and his realization of how much personal satisfaction he received from helping others. I loved Maggie with all her insecurities and inhibitions (What woman can't relate to that?), but Jorund had a way of making her feel truly beautiful. Maggie's daughters, Beth and Suzy, seemed a little beyond their years at times, and I found them to be most endearing when they were just being little girls. The mental hospital patients were a hoot, yet the reader could really sympathize with them in their individual situations.
Truly, Madly Viking is the second book in a series about a time-traveling trio of brothers. In this book, readers are treated to a reunion with Rolf and Meredith, as well as a few secondary characters from book #1, The Last Viking, and given a look at what their lives are like now. We are also introduced to the third brother, Magnus, who becomes the hero of book #3, The Very Virile Viking. Ms. Hill's Viking II series actually contains a total of six books basically written in two trilogies, with books #4-#6 being Wet & Wild, Hot & Heavy, and Rough & Ready. Truly, Madly Viking had some weaknesses and admittedly isn't the typical romance fare that I tend to like the most, but overall, there was enough originality, humor, and tender, heartfelt moments to make this an enjoyable read for me. If you're looking for a lighthearted romp with lots of laughs then look no further.
Update: Two more book have been added to this series, Down & Dirty and Viking Unchained. (7/13/08)(less)