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I've read that Outlander was originally marketed as a romance novel because the publisher didn't know what else to do wReviewed 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....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Dragonfly in Amber is no ordinary romance novel. In fact, in spite of its romance and paranormal elements, it is far more of aReviewed for THC Reviews Dragonfly in Amber is no ordinary romance novel. In fact, in spite of its romance and paranormal elements, it is far more of a historical novel than anything else in my opinion. This book basks the reader in lush descriptions of 18th century European history, from the political intrigue in the courts of King Louis XV of France, to the everyday life of a merchant, to the inner workings of hospitals of that time. Then it sweeps the reader along, back to the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and eventually into the Jacobite Uprising of 1745 in which Bonnie Prince Charlie tried unsuccessfully to retake the throne of both Scotland and England. The author made liberal use of real historical personages from King Louis and Prince Charles to their courtiers, advisers and Scottish clan chieftains. Diana Gabaldon constantly amazes me with how she can realistically weave fictional characters into real historical settings and bring it all to life in such a way that it is a joy to read and never a bore. Even everyday things become special in her world. I was especially fascinated with the insights into medical treatment in that era, including the use of plants and herbs for healing. Claire works for a time, at an indigent hospital in Paris where all manner of “healers” volunteer their time and “medical services” to the patients. In many ways, it is amazing to see just how far we've come since then, but I was also intrigued by the use of what appeared to be acupuncture in one scene and the use of a small dog to sniff out infections in another. Of course, both of these are still quite useful in medicine today. There is also a tangled web of ancestral ties that will certainly keep readers on their toes. All in all, Diana Gabaldon simply has a wonderful way with painting word pictures that just swept me up in the story and made me feel like I had indeed been transported back in time.
Just because I think that Dragonfly in Amber is stronger as a historical novel, does not mean that the other elements were in any way lacking. It still has the beautiful romance of Jamie and Claire at its core. These two characters have simply enthralled me in a way that many characters in traditional romance fail to do. Jamie and Claire are absolutely perfect for each other, and in this story have settled into a very comfortable marriage in which it seems like they have been together much longer than they have. To me, this has always been part of the beauty of their relationship, in that they are the best of friends while still being passionate lovers. Even when they talk about the mundane things of life or engage in fun lighthearted bantering it expresses a deep intimacy. Jamie and Claire trust each other implicitly and even when that trust seems to have been compromised, they still find their way back to each other. This is a couple who epitomize the word, soulmate, and who would literally live and die for one another, and theirs is a love that spans both space and time and will never end. In my opinion, this is what true romance is all about, but for anyone seeking hot steamy love scenes, they won't really be found in this book. Most of these parts are fairly non-explicit and don't contain a lot of detail, but that certainly didn't matter to me, as the relationship is always the most important thing for me in any romance. There are even a couple of side romances in the form a heartbreakingly tragic relationship between a couple of Frank Randall's ancestors and a sweet budding connection between Brianna Randall Fraser and Roger Wakefield, who are very important characters in later books.
The other element that was incredibly well-done is the time travel. Diana Gabaldon has written a scholarly article outlining her own theories of time travel, and it certainly is borne out in this book. I found Jamie and Claire's attempts to alter history to be very intellectually engaging. It presents a didactical argument as to whether it would be possible to change history if time travel were a reality, something which I love to ponder. It also asks the question of whether a person could cease to exist if that history was revised. There was also a great little rabbit trail where Claire mulls over the effects of time travel on germs and disease which I found to be a fun thing to speculate about too. The one thing I would not have wanted to do, is hold the fate of so many people in my hands the way Jamie and Claire did, due to their knowledge of the future. Many times over the course of the story they had to make really difficult choices, and even did some things that might be considered somewhat immoral or unethical, and contemplated doing far worse for the sake of the greater good. Of course, they never came to these conclusions lightly, and I love how Ms. Gabaldon brought out all the gut-wrenching emotions that were associated with that decision-making process.
Jamie and Claire are two characters I won't soon forget, and I greatly look forward to reading their further adventures. Jamie is the ultimate hero who is both brave and vulnerable, and a fierce warrior but a gentle lover, a man who Claire calls “the sun.” He is selfless and chivalrous, willing to sacrifice himself for those he loves including the men under his command, and his word is his honor, something he would never dream of breaking no matter what. I love that Jamie has a sensitive heart underneath his tough exterior and isn't afraid to cry or show his true feelings. Sometimes he says some of the sweetest, most beautiful things that make me swoon. With his wry, teasing humor, he is also one of the funniest characters I have ever read. Even in the midst of the most dire circumstances, he can often make me laugh. It was absolutely hilarious (although extremely fortuitous) the amount of mileage he got out of his La Dame Blanche story about Claire, as was his confrontational “conversation” with the little dog at the hospital where Claire worked. At the same time, Jamie is still a very tortured hero who is frequently tormented by demons, both real and emotional, as a result of the abuse he suffered at the hands of Jack Randall in the first book, which led to some very intense moments in the narrative. Claire, for her part, is probably the strongest heroine I have ever read. She is an incredibly intelligent woman who always uses her wits to survive and who isn't afraid to stand up to anyone including clan leaders and even royalty. Because of her modern sensibilities, she sometimes bucks the convention of the time, but by maintaining a strong backbone, she also manages to garner the respect of nearly everyone who meets her. Still, since the book is told primarily in first person from Claire's point of view, her vulnerabilities are readily apparent to the reader. There are moments when she is truly afraid and when her emotions even get the best of her, and of course, she wears her undeniable love for Jamie on her sleeve. Claire and Jamie are just so well-matched that I could hardly bear the times that they were apart in the story, and when they came back together it was like electricity shooting off the page. Their final scenes together in Dragonfly in Amber were some of the most beautiful and poignant, but also the most heartbreaking ever to be penned. They literally left me in tears, which is a somewhat rare effect for a book to have on me.
There are just so many things to love about Dragonfly in Amber, I don't think I could possibly name them all, and there are even a few things that were a bit bothersome. On the up side, there was a widely varied and diverse cast of supporting characters from the real-life players who were mentioned earlier to plenty of fictional ones as well. Jamie's sister and brother-in-law, Jenny and Ian, who I love, appeared again along with their family. Even though he rarely has much to say, the dour Murtaugh is always a welcome addition. Jamie also takes in Fergus, a young pickpocket with the heart of a lion, although I have to admit that the historical realities for a child like him left me feeling extremely heartbroken. Jack Randall's younger brother, Alex, and Mary Hawkins, a teenage girl who Claire meets in Paris, also play important roles, as does Master Raymond, a mysterious little man who runs an apothecary shop. In addition to the strong character palette, there is plenty of intrigue that should keep readers guessing, as well as lots of adventure and excitement. On the down side, there is a quite a bit of sometimes rather gruesome violence, including sexual assault, and some vivid depictions of various war injuries which some readers may find cringe-worthy, though certainly nothing that was out of place for the time period. Most of these things did not bother me, but there was one graphic description of hanging, drawing, and quartering which left me with a queasy stomach, so sensitive readers may want to skip that part. The early parts of the book move at a rather languid pace, but there were always little side stories that made it interesting and held my attention. Overall, though there was nothing I could say I truly disliked about the book, and in fact, it was even better the second time around as this was a re-read for me.
Unlike Outlander which can be a satisfying read by itself, there is a cliffhanger ending to Dragonfly in Amber, so new readers of the series will probably want to have a copy of the next book, Voyager, on hand before starting. When I first read books 1-3 over a decade ago, I don't think I could have waited for the sequel to come, so I'm glad I didn't discover the series until the first three books had already been published. Dragonfly in Amber has forever earned a place on my keeper shelf next to its predecessor, Outlander. I can't wait to read the remaining books in the series, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, and A Breath of Snow and Ashes, as well as An Echo in the Bone, the newest Outlander book which is due to hit store shelves this September. With her amazing talent and enthralling writing style, Diana Gabaldon has also earned a place among my favorite authors....more
After finishing Always to Remember, I was left with a sense of almost sheer perfection. This unique book is far more thReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
After finishing Always to Remember, I was left with a sense of almost sheer perfection. This unique book is far more than a mere romance. It is a morality tale of a man making a stand for what he believes, and facing the scorn of an entire town because of it. This story asks and in my opinion, answers quite well the difficult question, “What truly constitutes courage?” It is about love and hate. It is about true friendship. It is about loyalty to one's convictions. It is about redemption and forgiveness of wrongs both perceived and real. Most of all, it is about people finding a way to come together in harmony in spite of their differences. Always to Remember is a story that really delves into the complexities of the human heart and mind with a depth that I don't often see in a romance novel, yet it never feels dark. As I read the book, it evoked so many different emotions and reactions: tears and sadness for all that Clay had suffered and the level of hatred that some human beings are capable of; joy and laughter for the humor that can be found even in the most difficult times; sighs of appreciation for the swoon-worthy romance. This book truly had it all, and I can't think of a single thing I disliked or would have changed.
I thought the characters in the story were incredibly well-rendered. I'm not sure that I have ever read such a kind, gentle beta hero as Clay was. He had suffered tremendously for being a conscientious objector to the Civil War, a genuinely tortured hero in both body and mind. He exhibited a depth of courage that made an entire town rethink what courage really means. His loyalty to both his beliefs and those he loves is a rare gem. If it wasn't for the fact that I know selfless people like Clay actually exist, I would almost be tempted to say that he was too good to be true. I found his virginal status to be both intoxicating and endearing just like Meg did. I also loved his artist side. The descriptions of Clay carving the monument brought it to life in a way that made it seem like a character itself. Meg was a bitter angry woman after her husband and three brothers were killed in the war, and she hated Clay as much as everyone else in town. It was sometimes difficult to read her direct biting words to him that were born out of her hatred, but even though I didn't agree with those sentiments, I never felt like I didn't understand her. I think this was all part of the beauty of the message that the book was trying to convey. Underneath it all, Meg was definitely a kind, caring and compassionate person, and as Clay, slowly and unbeknownst to her, chipped away at the rock surrounding her heart, she was able to show that side to him. The amount of growth that Meg went through from the beginning of the story to the end was phenomenal and believably written. In my opinion, Clay and Meg were two characters who complimented each other perfectly.
Always to Remember also had a great cast of secondary characters. Meg's grandmother-in-law, Mama Warner and Dr. Martin, the kind country physician, were about the only two people who didn't hate Clay, and they were always full of wisdom to impart to those who would listen. Clay's younger brother, Lucian, hated him every bit as much as the other townspeople, but when realization hits him, he too, grows and changes in ways he never would have guessed. Clay's ten-year-old twin brothers, Josh and Joe, are an endearing combination of vivacious wit and wisdom beyond their years. They had me laughing out loud at some of things they said, and on the occasions when they seriously spoke their minds, it never felt out of place or too mature, just that they had been well-brought up to understand and appreciate the finer points of life. Even though Meg's husband and Clay's best friend, Kirk, had been dead for months, his spirit played a pivotal role in the story through his letters and words he had spoken to both of them in the months and years before his death. I really liked that he was a strong part of the story and that Meg had truly loved him. Meg's brother and father, as well as most of the townspeople, hate Clay with a passion and throughout the story do some very despicable things to him, yet even they were important, in that they allowed Clay an opportunity to show his mettle and the power of forgiveness. All in all, this was a wonderful group of characters who really brought to life the warmth and closeness of the typical frontier community.
Always to Remember was my first read by Lorraine Heath, and I don't think I could have chosen a better book with which to begin. I really enjoy Civil War stories but don't often find them, so it is always a pleasure to read one when I do. I thought that Ms. Heath found a great balance, and I appreciated that she never politicized the subject matter in any way. Those who chose to fight were given equal status with those who chose not to, and neither side was ever demonized for the sake of making a point. In my opinion, this was simply an amazing story that has left me thinking about it long after turning the last page, which is something I love in any novel. I had this book on my to-be-read list for quite a while, and I'm now asking myself why I waited so long to read it. I borrowed this from the library, but will certainly be getting my own copy of this wonderful book for my keeper shelf. I can't wait to check out Lorraine Heath's backlist to see what other gems she may have written....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Raven Prince was an enjoyable read which I thought had some rather unusual elements. As I read the first chaptReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Raven Prince was an enjoyable read which I thought had some rather unusual elements. As I read the first chapter or so of the book, I was reminded of one of my all-time favorite romances, Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels. While The Raven Prince does bear some resemblance to Lord of Scoundrels, it is still very much it's own distinctive story. Much like their counterparts in Lord of Scoundrels, Edward can be rather temperamental and boorish, while Anna is very plucky and unconventional. They share a few moments of sharp, witty bantering, but I wouldn't have minded seeing them go toe-to-toe a few more times than they did. I can certainly appreciate attractive people, but the ratio of impossibly beautiful characters in romance novels to those found in the real world, is so disproportionately inflated, I can't help getting bored with them sometimes. I actually found it refreshing that Anna's very first impression of Edward was “ugly,” and Edward's first impression of Anna was “frumpy.” I think this allowed the author to send a subtle message that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and “love truly is blind,” because once these two started falling for one another, they were each thoroughly beautiful to the other, something to which I can really relate. I have only come across a couple of authors I can think of who have a tendency to write more mature characters, so having Edward and Anna be a little older was a very pleasant change as well. She was 31, and I initially had the impression that he was nearer 40 until it was revealed late in the story that he was 34, although I had to do the math to figure out his age.
Elizabeth Hoyt has a slightly different writing style in that she doesn't seem to reveal all of her character's insecurities, vulnerabilities and motivations right away. Most authors have a tendency to let the reader in on these things up front, and then the story centers around them making peace with those things and finding healing if the pain is deep. With Edward and Anna, Ms. Hoyt leaves the reader with the sense that there are mysterious things lurking beneath the surface that can't be seen, but she takes her time, revealing them one-by-one when the situation seems ripe for it. This does give the story a more languid feel which may not work well for readers who prefer a faster pace, but I thought that it was an interesting approach. The story also has a very angsty quality to it, I think, in large part, because of Edward's intensity. I found a certain beauty to it though, an emotional depth that was somehow different from other stories I've read. Edward and Anna have both suffered emotional pain in their lives, yet both seem to be fairly comfortable in their own skin and not harboring major neuroses. Once again, I thought this was a unique blend which made the characters very complex and multi-dimensional.
Edward had his moments of intensity, but I don't think that I would quite classify him as tortured. He had times of what I would characterize as personal reflection that would sometimes reach an emotional high, but he always came back down rather quickly. Edward was quite temperamental though, having scared away several male secretaries, before hiring Anna. He could occasionally be prone to throwing things in a fit of anger, but was probably equally likely to express himself with sarcasm. Some people don't want to be around him, not just because of his temper, but also because he is badly scarred from the smallpox, so he always respects anyone who doesn't mind his scars and can hold their own against his boorish behavior. It becomes readily apparent as the story progresses that Edward's bark is really worse that his bite. I really liked Edward's complexity of thinking, how he fell hard for Anna, but was conflicted both in his feelings for her, especially after he discovered her deception, and his sense of duty to his family line. Watching him try to figure things out and understanding what he was feeling and thinking made him a very interesting character to read. Another thing that made him quite appealing to me was his combination of erudition and earthiness. He was obviously a very intelligent man, but one who wasn't afraid to go out in his fields and come back covered in muck. Edward also made my geek list because he seemed more comfortable alone or out on the land with his tenants than in social settings, and he was extremely knowledgeable about agriculture, having written a number of scholarly papers on the topic, as well as lecturing at the Agrarian Society. In fact, he could sometimes get so wrapped up in his work that he would become oblivious to the time and what was happening around him. I've always loved smart men, but that, in addition to all of his other qualities made him positively irresistible.
Anna was a very spirited heroine that I liked very much too. I loved how she was never afraid of Edward's temper, and always handled him quite deftly. She was strong and fairly confident, but the few times she allowed her insecurities to get the best of her, she realized her mistake pretty quickly and came back fighting. She is also very kind and caring, doing what she must to make sure her elderly mother-in-law and their orphan maid are provided for, and she even takes in an injured prostitute when no one else would have, even though her actions set tongues to wagging. What I think I liked most about Anna and the whole story though, is how she discovers her attraction for Edward, and boldly decides to be naughty just once in her life to get what she think she wants. She seduces him in disguise at the brothel he frequents, because she simply can't bear the thought of him bedding anyone else. Yet even though she thoroughly enjoys the experience, she is terribly conflicted afterward. She feels a bit of guilt for having deceived Edward, but most of all she realizes that the physical pleasure wasn't all that she truly desired. I loved that the author brought out these feelings in Anna. It was exactly what I was thinking and feeling at that moment in the story, and I would have been quite disappointed if Anna hadn't felt that way too. Everything worked together to make her a very relatable character for me.
There were a number of great secondary characters in The Raven Prince as well. Edward's estate manager, Felix Hopple, was a hoot with his flamboyant clothes, but we find out later that he is also a rather shy, sweet man. Edward's valet, Davis, is another fun character. He's a feisty old man who rarely works and constantly goads Edward into threatening to fire him. Their interactions were quite amusing. I also enjoyed Edward's initially nameless dog, and the little rabbit trail of Anna trying to help him think of a suitable name. Anna's mother-in-law is a sweet old lady who is always very supportive of her. I also liked Pearl, the prostitute Anna rescued, and her sister Coral. They became the catalyst for and the confidantes of her naughty exploits. There are a couple of ne'er-do-well characters who try to stir up a bit of trouble for Edward and Anna after they discover what Anna did. Last but not least there were Edward's two friends, Harry and Simon, who become the heroes of the next two books in the series, The Leopard Prince and The Serpent Prince respectively.
There were a couple of other elements of The Raven Prince that I particularly savored. Each chapter begins with a snippet of a fairy tale with the same title, which Anna had found in Edward's library. I'm sorry to say that I'm not up on my Greek mythology, but I discovered through other reviewers that this is apparently a re-telling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. I liked it every bit as much as the main novel and found myself eagerly waiting to get to the next chapter to discover what would happen next in that story too. Ms. Hoyt also has a talent for writing deeply sensuous love scenes that are like a sweet treat for the imagination. I thought that everything was very tastefully done, but sensitive readers should know that these scenes do get rather spicy and the use of a handful of explicit words that I've rarely seen outside the erotic sub-genre (and which some may find offensive) do push the traditional historical envelope a bit. Ultimately, my only complaint about the book which kept it from a perfect five stars was that the first ¼ or so of the book moved a little too slow and I felt that the initial attraction between Edward and Anna in those pages was a bit too subtle and not quite palpable enough to suit me. Once I got past that section though, it became a very engrossing read. Overall, The Raven Prince was an excellent debut novel from Elizabeth Hoyt, and one I very much enjoyed reading. It was my first book by Ms. Hoyt, but it has earned a spot on my keeper shelf and has left me quite eager to continue The Princes Trilogy. ...more
The Shadow and the Star is a very dark story that could have benefited from a few more lighter moments. Still, I was able to find a stark beauty in itThe Shadow and the Star is a very dark story that could have benefited from a few more lighter moments. Still, I was able to find a stark beauty in it's raw emotional intensity. I have to give kudos to Laura Kinsale for her willingness to tackle a topic as difficult and painful as the abuse and prostitution of children with great compassion. Having the hero be the one who had suffered this abuse makes the story rather unique to the genre. The actual abuse scenes are little more than brief snippets, and in my opinion, are non-graphic and handled in a genteel way. Yet, sensitive readers should know that the psychological fallout of Samuel's past abuse is incredibly intense. I was also able to appreciate the uniqueness of the ninja training and Japanese cultural references, again something that is not often found in romance. I do enjoy a book that goes beyond the normal standards of it's genre and is written with enough intelligence to make me think. That said though, there were times that the cultural references went a bit too far beyond my understanding, yet did not fully engage my interest enough to drive me to do my own research about the topic. There were some scenes and details, not just in the cultural realm, but overall, which I think could have been pared down for the sake of picking up the pace a bit.
The Shadow and the Star contained many wonderfully written elements. Ms. Kinsale has a talent for writing intoxicatingly sensual scenes that are created by a mere look or the barest of touches. There were also some beautifully romantic moments which were created from the simplest of things, such as the first gift that Samuel gave to Leda. This scene fairly made me swoon. I also thought that the initial love scene between Samuel and Leda was very well done and quite awkwardly realistic considering that both characters were virgins, which in itself is another unique story element. Ms. Kinsale also has a very nuanced writing style in which there is much left unsaid that must be read between the lines. At times this was another unique and wonderful element in the story, but admittedly this is not the easiest style to follow, and there were times that I felt like perhaps I missed something, especially at the end. Samuel had spent the better part of the book in emotional turmoil, struggling to reconcile his passions and desires as normal human responses. I never quite understood how, when, or where this finally happened. I have the sense that the answer was to be found somewhere in the symbolism of the events surrounding him, but as much as I tried to conjecture about it, the point at which Samuel was able to reconcile his feelings was never fully clear to me. Because of this, I found the ending to be pleasant and happy, but not entirely fulfilling.
A couple of things about the story frustrated me a bit though, with one being the lack of communication between the hero and heroine. There were several times throughout the story when one of them would think of something they wanted to say to the other, yet for one reason or another, the words never passed their lips. I can't help but wonder if the story might have been richer and fuller if they had simply said what they were feeling. There was also never any discussion between these two characters about Samuel's past beyond a mere admission on Leda's part that she knew. I know that they were both rather shy characters, but I still thought that it might have added depth to their relationship if they had discussed their feelings surrounding this issue or just simply had discussed their feelings in general. Leda didn't seem to have any difficulty droning on about insignificant things such as home furnishings, but when it came to the truly important things, such as saying, “I love you.” or expressing a need for intimacy, it seemed like she felt that these were improper topics of conversation. I think it might have been even nicer if Samuel had gotten to a point that he trusted Leda enough to tell her of the past abuse himself, rather than the knowledge of it having come from Tess. Another thing that bothered me just a little was the mystical, magical aura surrounding certain parts of the story. There were times that Samuel reminded me more of a Jedi than a flesh and blood man which seemed a little out of place in a historical romance and better suited to the paranormal genre. I also have to admit to being a bit unnerved at the strangeness of Leda's “dear sir” formalities with Samuel even after they were married and in the midst of passionate moments. I'm afraid I just can't imagine calling my husband by such a title.;-)
The characterizations were extremely well done exhibiting a great deal of depth. I adored Samuel as the hero. I guess I have a certain preference for brooding, tormented heroes, and Samuel definitely fit this category. Underneath his seemingly cold, distant exterior beat a kind, gentle and loving heart. I liked the way that the author used Samuel's ninja training to empower his character. I found his avenging angel persona to be very sexy and appealing, and would have liked to have seen more of these types of exploits in the story. I loved the way that he was able to shut down the child prostitution rings so neatly and quietly, with no fanfare, and never resorted to any kind of violence. I think it would be impossible not to like a character such as Samuel who possessed such intelligence and ingenuity while being drop-dead gorgeous. His character's emotional intensity was heart wrenching, but gave him so much humanity. Considering the dark nature of Samuel's character, I thought that the overall story would have been more balanced if Leda had been a bit more vibrant and passionate rather than being so reserved, proper and somewhat intense in her own right. For all of her supposed French blood, Leda didn't really act very “French”. I have found that most of the very best romances featuring tormented heroes, have a lighter heroine. In this respect, I thought that Ms. Kinsale's “yin and yang” were a bit off. That said though, Leda was still a very likable character. She was every bit the lady in spite of her non-titled status, being very graceful and composed. She had scruples that she lived by almost religiously. I also like that she was described as rather plain-looking, but best of all, she was kind, gentle, trusting and understanding toward Samuel and never pitied him for his past, only saw a strong, remarkable man. She was also able to intuit his needs and never left him even when, in his fear, he tried his best to drive her away.
Many of the secondary characters were also well written. I really enjoyed all of the flashbacks to Samuel's post-abuse childhood with the Ashlands, and his times training with the family's old butler, Dojun. I found Dojun to be a rather confusing and ambiguous character though, because most of the time, he seemed to be a loving father-figure to Samuel, offering him a way to build confidence and empower himself, but by the end of the book, it seemed that Dojun had given Samuel the training for rather selfish reasons. Again, perhaps this was simply one of those read-between-the-lines nuances that I was missing. Kai was a lovely and lively but rather complex character, who at times seemed rather childish and shallow, though not annoyingly so, and at other times seemed very responsible for her age. Readers also get a good look at where Gryphon and Tess are about two decades after their own love story took place in The Hidden Heart, and it's nice to see that they are still passionately in love.
While I have not seen any official series designation for any of Ms. Kinsale's books, The Shadow and the Star is basically a sequel to The Hidden Heart. As I mentioned, The Hidden Heart is Gryphon and Tess's story, and they play fairly significant roles in The Shadow and the Star. Samuel first appeared briefly in The Hidden Heart as a child who, at the time, was still in the throes of horrible abuse. I rarely read series or interconnected books out of order, but I made an exception in this case, as I was unable to find a copy of The Hidden Heart at my local library. The Shadow and the Star was the first time I had read a book by Ms. Kinsale, but I liked it well enough that I would definitely like to acquire a copy of The Hidden Heart, so that I can go back and fill in the beginnings of this story, and would also be open to reading other titles written by her. As it was though, I believe the two books stand well on their own, as there was enough back story given that I didn't feel lost at any point. Enjoy might be a bit of a strong word for a book that is as hauntingly intense as The Shadow and the Star, but I can say that I appreciated the story a great deal. Though we may not wish to face the reality of such evil in the world, it does exist, and I found that the story really made me think about that on a very deep level long after turning the last page. If you are looking for a book to escape reality this one is definitely not it, but if you are looking to broaden your horizons with a story that expresses a beautiful uniqueness and incredible poignancy and depth then I would highly recommend The Shadow and the Star....more
After reading the synopsis for Annie's Song, I wondered how an author might write a mute character and keep the story iReviewed 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....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Serpent Prince was a fabulous wrap-up to an already wonderful series. It carried a lot of weight and depth that kept my miReviewed for THC Reviews The Serpent Prince was a fabulous wrap-up to an already wonderful series. It carried a lot of weight and depth that kept my mind engaged throughout. The story is a study in contrasts with a very potent mixture of light and dark, innocence and eroticism. Lucy is the lightness and sweetness to Simon's darkness and pain. Simon hasn't known anyone as virtuous and kind as Lucy since the death of his brother, and he subconsciously senses that his “angel” can bring the light of her goodness and decency into the black abyss of his soul to save him. It is also about the redemption of a man who was so consumed by the pain of the past and a thirst for vengeance that he felt he was beyond saving, and a gentle reminder of what it truly means to be patient and forgiving in the face of wrongdoing. The Serpent Prince is also a lovely story of two people discovering their true selves and in doing so, finding the one person who is perfect for them, that they can trust completely and to whom they can reveal that true self, warts and all. Overall, this was a beautifully written book that, in my opinion, went beyond mere romance into the realm of what it truly means to love someone unconditionally with all your heart and soul.
In The Raven Prince, I fell in love with Edward's intelligence, earthiness and even his temperamental nature. In The Leopard Prince, I fell for Harry's calm, quiet, everyman persona. In both of their books, Simon is portrayed as a dandified peacock, and I have to admit some skepticism on whether I would like him as a hero. Now after reading his book, I can honestly say that in spite of his perfectly powdered wig, exquisitely embroidered waistcoats and gaudy red-heeled pumps, this dandy is one of the sexiest heroes I've had the pleasure of reading. I don't think I'll ever judge a book by its cover again.;-) Simon is an utterly charming rogue who seems to hide who he really is behind all the pomp and circumstance of his outer facade. He also has a tendency to babble a whole lot of nonsense for the same reason. Yet, Simon is thoroughly quick-witted and poetic but can be oh-so-naughty with words, skillfully weaving double entendres into his conversations and bantering like a pro. Underneath that devil-may-care facade though, lurks a deep, dark pain and a man who is utterly consumed by his plans for retribution against his brother's murderers. I thought that the author did an amazing job with conveying the toll that the revenge was taking on Simon, and how it was completely ravaging him, both physically and emotionally. In spite of the intensity of his anger toward those who wronged his family, Simon can still, at times, be a thoroughly vulnerable and broken man who has a heartbreaking need for Lucy's presence. It is like he is a drained and starving man who just soaks up her love and light and purity and wants to take it into himself to cleanse his bitter soul. Even though Simon deeply yearns for Lucy, there are times that he seems to be afraid of corrupting his perfect “angel” and is almost embarrassed by the intensity of his desire for her. For all his worldliness, occasionally he could even be brought to a blush by merely being around his lovely wife. I thought this was absolutely adorable and an ingenious way for the author to convey the goodness in him. All in all, Simon is a larger-than-life character who really stole the show in this book.
Opposite an ostentatious and deeply wounded character like Simon, Lucy could have been a shrinking violet, but I thought she held her own pretty well. She is the plain country girl who stands out in stark contrast to the sophisticated ladies of the ton with whom Simon usually keeps company, but that is what makes her so perfect for him. Unlike Simon she has had a good life with fond memories of a gentle, loving mother, and although her father is a blustery former sea captain, it is obvious that he loves her dearly too. She draws on that background filled with affection to become a rock in Simon's life and keep him grounded through his trials. She is also an artist who can see beneath the surface disarmingly well which really frightens Simon but doesn't stop him from wanting to get closer to her. While Lucy's life has been nice, it has also been a bit dull, but she didn't realize how much so until Simon came into her life with his flamboyant charms and awakened her to what she had been missing. Lucy was always extremely generous toward the people in the village where she grew up, and she was equally unselfish with Simon right from the start, always willingly giving everything he needed without question. That's not to say that she is doormat though, because she does fight for what she believes is right and when Simon tried her patience one too many times with his unwillingness to change, she took drastic measures which become the wake-up call that he so desperately needed.
There were many things to like about The Serpent Prince, including what I consider some very swoon-worthy romantic moments. Early on, Simon and Lucy exchanged some sweet, innocent looks and touches that conveyed so much meaning. Then the timing of Simon's marriage proposal was actually a surprise to me. Even though it ended up being one of his flurry of words that never quite got to the point, I thought it was very romantic nonetheless. It is also rather rare these days for a couple in any romance genre to wait until their wedding night to consummate their relationship, but Simon and Lucy did just that. Except for one moment of weakness, Simon behaved like a perfect gentleman refusing to even touch or kiss Lucy for fear of giving into temptation and despoiling his bride before the wedding. I thought this was really sweet because it showed that the anticipation of the act can build much better sexual tension that giving into lust in the heat of the moment. As I mentioned earlier, Simon seemed afraid of corrupting Lucy and this was quite evident in the sexual realm. Even after they were married, he sometimes played coy with her, but she was always completely responsive to his sexual overtures. This is where that combination of innocence and eroticism came in, creating a very beguiling and heady brew. The love scenes are an area in which Elizabeth Hoyt really excels in her writing. All of them, including a scene where Simon verbally relates his fantasies to Lucy, were thoroughly sensual and erotic without ever truly crossing that boundary.
I also liked the inclusion of another fairy tale with the twist being that the hero got to tell it this time. Unlike the tales in the last two books, it was quite dark and dreary, but ended up suiting Simon and his personality perfectly. In fact, I thought that the overall darkness in tone gave the book a slightly Gothic flair. As to things I didn't like, there was virtually nothing. I might have liked to see the author explore Simon's childhood a bit more, but what was there explained his behavior quite a bit. The ending was perhaps a tad rushed. It might have been nice to draw it out a little longer or have an epilogue, but it was fine the way it was too. I thought that having it end on Christmas day was actually a nice touch. What better time of year for forgiveness and new beginnings? Overall, The Serpent Prince was a fabulous ending to the Princes Trilogy, that has earned its spot on my keeper shelf right next to its predecessors The Raven Prince and The Leopard Prince. I've noticed that Ms. Hoyt has been working on a short story sequel, The Ice Princess, which she has been adding a chapter at a time to her website and is free to her readers. Not being one who likes to torture myself, I will probably wait until it is complete before reading it, but I look forward to checking it out along with Ms. Hoyt's other works....more
I absolutely loved Lord of Scoundrels. This was my first reading of a Loretta Chase novel, and I will definitely be seeReviewed 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....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" After reading numerous rave reviews, I have been quite anxious to start Lisa Kleypas' Wallflowers series. However,Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" After reading numerous rave reviews, I have been quite anxious to start Lisa Kleypas' Wallflowers series. However, when I first began Secrets of a Summer Night, I found myself wondering if I was going to like it as much as some of Ms. Kleypas' other works. Initially, the story had a much lighter feel than the author's other books I had read to date, with the relationship between the Wallflowers seeming a little like chick-lit (not exactly my favorite genre) in a historical setting. Also, the first third or so of the book is primarily devoted to introducing each of the Wallflowers and their individual situations that have caused them to be passed over by potential suitors, as well as detailing the pact between them to help find husbands for each other and building their collective friendship. During this time, there wasn't much interaction between Simon and Annabelle and in fact, Simon only had two short point-of-view scenes which made it difficult to get to know him or to believe that these two were going to fall madly in love. I shouldn't have worried though, because this is Lisa Kleypas we're talking about, an author who has rarely disappointed me. About 150 pages into the story, things really took off, and from there Simon and Annabelle's romance built slowly and believably into a beautiful tender relationship and a dramatic conclusion that really solidified their love for me.
During the early parts of the book, I found myself having mixed feelings about Annabelle. I was sympathetic to her plight of being penniless and desperately needing to marry a wealthy suitor to take care of her family, but her lack of a dowry preventing any nobleman from asking for her hand. Not only was she stuck in this endless loop, but she was also rapidly approaching spinsterhood and the prospect of having no other choice but to become the mistress of a peer in order to survive. My only problem with Annabelle was that she had Simon, a man who was wealthier than most aristocrats, doggedly pursuing her for two years after a brief stolen kiss, but she rejected his offers to dance and openly disdained him that whole time, mainly, it seemed, because she didn't view him as a worthy match due to his low birth. I thought this made her appear rather snobbish, a decidedly un-endearing quality. Annabelle also seemed to have the idea that Simon only wanted her as his mistress, but contrary to what the cover blurb stated, I never really got that feeling from him at all and felt that if she had taken the time to get to know him, he might have surprised her with what he had to offer. Annabelle also was prepared to do literally anything it took to win a marriage proposal from a titled gentleman even if he was a poor match for her. Due to these character flaws, I ended up staying on the fence about Anabelle for more than half the story until she finally came to her senses and realized that her actions would be hurting someone else. When she did the honorable thing, I developed a more definite liking for her which only grew as she herself grew and changed throughout the rest of the novel. I loved how she went though some soul-searching and struggled a bit with not quite fitting in her own privileged world anymore, but neither did she fit in Simon's more provincial one. In the end though, her act of heroism and the changes in her attitude convinced me that she would no longer be looking down her nose at anyone else merely because of the circumstances of their birth.
As I mentioned earlier, I didn't really feel like I even began to know Simon until over a third of the way into the book. At this point, Simon and Annabelle's first major interaction occurs when she is in the throes of a medical crisis, and his cool head saves the day. Also Annabelle (and the reader) begin to see his kindness and concern show through in his gentle ministrations. From there, the author does the very best thing she could have done for her hero by showing in every word and deed just what a great guy he actually is. Simon is another one of Lisa Kleypas' self-made heroes who had come into a fortune through ingenuity and hard work. He was born the son of a butcher, but is occasionally welcomed into the world of the upper-crust because of his wealth. Simon isn't really tortured like many of Ms. Kleypas' other heroes, but he was rather mysterious and a mischievous flirt. To say that he is quite self-assured just might be an understatement. There were a couple of times that his behavior bordered on being just a wee bit too cocky for my taste, but thankfully it only happened once or twice and the rest of the time his arrogance was rather endearing. Overall, Simon was another wonderful hero to come from Ms. Kleypas' fertile imagination. I just loved how protective he was of Annabelle and her family and how he just simply wanted to spoil her with all the nice things that she had been denied for so many years. It may have taken a little while to learn about Simon's character, but once I did, I totally fell for him just like nearly every other Lisa Kleypas hero I've read to date.
The four Wallflower girls, Annabelle, Lillian, Daisy and Evie have an interesting relationship dynamic and the latter three are all good secondary characters. Lillian and Daisy are sisters and wealthy American débutantes looking for titled husbands who would be worthy of their financial status, but are rather rough around the edges for English society. Lillian is very feisty and seemed to have a bit of a chip on her shoulder, particularly concerning Marcus, Lord Westcliff, her soon-to-be hero. I'm hoping that she will go through a similar transformation as Annabelle in her own story, the next in the series, because out of all the Wallflowers, she seemed to have the least scruples. Daisy seems to be a little bit of a tomboy, being the one most excited about their game of Rounders, an early form of baseball. I'll be interested to see how her character develops as the series goes on, as her book is the fourth one. My absolute favorite Wallflower so far is Evie. She is a shy girl with red hair, freckles and a stutter, who appears to be set upon by controlling relatives, but who also seems to notice and understand far more than most people give her credit for. I can't wait for her book, which is number three in the series.
The one other secondary character who plays a strong role in Secrets of a Summer Night is Marcus who is best friends with Simon. I had previously gotten a pretty good feel for his character in two other Lisa Kleypas books that are not a part of the Wallflowers series, Again the Magic and Worth Any Price. In both of those books, as well as this one, he presents himself as rather uptight and arrogant, but he always makes some grand gesture that proves what a good heart he has underneath his blustery facade. I'm really looking forward to reading his and Lillian's book, It Happened One Autumn. It was also nice to get a glimpse of Gideon and Olivia who represented the secondary romance in Again the Magic. While there had been enough of a wrap-up to their story in that book to leave me with the feeling that they would have an HEA, I was pleased to see them quite happy and engaged in Secrets of a Summer Night. Although they didn't play a role in the story, there was brief mention of Lord St. Vincent, the hero of the third Wallflower book, The Devil in Winter, and Harry Rutledge, the hotel magnate who becomes the hero of Tempt Me at Twilight, part of the spin-off Hathaway series.
Secrets of a Summer Night may have gotten off to a somewhat slow start for me, but overall, it turned out to be another enjoyable read from Lisa Kleypas with a strong (if not perfect ;-)) hero and heroine. Hopefully, now that the groundwork for the Wallflowers has been laid, there will be earlier and more prominent focus on the romance in the remaining books of the series. For now, Secrets of a Summer Night has earned a spot on my keeper shelf, and I'm eagerly looking forward to reading the remaining books in the series, It Happened One Autumn, The Devil in Winter, Scandal in Spring, and A Wallflower Christmas very soon....more
Prince of Dreams started off with an excellent, engaging story that was hard to put down, but like it's predecessor in the Stokehurst series, MidnightPrince of Dreams started off with an excellent, engaging story that was hard to put down, but like it's predecessor in the Stokehurst series, Midnight Angel, it tends to loose steam during the second half. The book is arranged in four sections, and the first two sections are full of the deep, dark emotions that have become a Lisa Kleypas trademark. Prince Nikolas is quite possibly the darkest hero that Ms. Kleypas has written and that I have read, yet I found him to be thoroughly fascinating. He was not unlike Emma's wounded animals in his unpredictability, one moment being manipulative and cruel, the next tender and gentle. The reason I was able to like Nikki in spite of his dark nature is that I felt the author gives the reader sufficient insight into his psyche to understand what truly makes him tick, and he certainly had good reasons for behaving the way that he did. I was also able to give him some measure of respect, because unlike dark heroes in some other books, he never tried to force himself on Emma sexually nor did he ever physically abuse her in any way. Unlike some readers, I wasn't overly disturbed by Nikki's interest in Emma from the time she was only 13. If taken in historical context, one has to realize that girls were sometimes betrothed and/or married at a young age. Also, Nikki had minimal contact with Emma over her teen years, never outside the supervision of her parents, and he never acted on his interest until Emma was a grown woman old enough to make her own decisions.
I also thoroughly enjoyed Emma during the first half of the book, as she was still every bit the free-spirited young girl that we had met in Midnight Angel, only grown up now with a few new eccentricities that made her all the more delightful. She still harbors the same insecurities about her height and appearance which I found very relatable in the previous book. As an animal lover, I really enjoyed her menagerie and her involvement with stopping animal cruelty. I really enjoyed watching Nikolas and Emma find solace in their shared friendship and then trying to relate to each other in the context of marriage, when Nikki was so resistant to accepting or giving love. It was also nice to watch Emma mature and realize the meaning of true love.
I felt the problem with the story came about with the time travel aspect in section three, and then when Nikki returned to his own time in section four, the whole dynamic of the story changed. The time travel section was a nice little love story on it's own, but I never felt like Ms. Kleypas gave the reader any reason for Nikolas allowing himself to fall in love with the past Emma other than the legend fulfilling itself or perhaps him being alone in a different time and place with no familiar faces other than hers for comfort. It seemed like this whole section was simply a plot device for returning Nikolas to Russia, since he was in permanent exile and unable visit his home country any other way. Once Nikki returned to his own time, I felt the story fell rather flat. He was no longer the fascinating, complex character he had been during the first half, having been magically transformed into a “prince of dreams”, doting on Emma and openly declaring his love. There was also a complete role reversal as Emma became the cynical, jaded and distrusting one. Though understandable considering Nikki's past behavior, this side of her faded rather quickly, again with little explanation. The ending had a few interesting developments and some mild excitement, but it wasn't really enough to make up for the previous weaknesses I've mentioned. I simply have a preference for watching characters work through their dark pasts or any other difficulties they might face without the use of “magic” plot devices.
While Prince of Dreams was an improvement over its prequel, Midnight Angel, as with that book I still would not recommend it to first-time Lisa Kleypas readers. Try one of Ms. Kleypas's other books first and save this one until you've become a fan like me. It is also much better when the prequel is read first, since Nikolas and Emma played pivotal roles in that story, and while Luke and Tasia from Midnight Angel did not play a huge part in Prince of Dreams, they were still seen several times. For a book with a similar storyline including a dark, brooding hero who suffered childhood abuse, try Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels. The two books reminded me a great deal of each other, but Lord of Scoundrels was done much better in my opinion....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I've been a long-time fan of Julie Garwood, but have been so distracted lately by exciting new books and authors that I have nReviewed for THC Reviews I've been a long-time fan of Julie Garwood, but have been so distracted lately by exciting new books and authors that I have not picked up one of her books in nearly two years. Thanks to a new reading challenge in which I am participating, I was finally spurred to re-read Honor's Splendour, and was immediately reminded of all the things that made me start glomming Ms. Garwood's backlist in the first place. She has a talent for combining a good romance with a strong plot, action, humor and characters that I can truly care about, to create a really good story. The composition, to some degree, is done in the typical style of 1980's romance writing, which isn't too surprising since it was first published in 1987. Still, it is a romantic classic that consistently makes many reader's favorite lists over twenty years later. While I can't say that Honor's Splendour is my personal favorite Garwood book, it is a good read that I would certainly recommend. For me, Julie Garwood is just one of those comfort authors whose good (or even just OK) work still surpasses that of some other authors even on their best days.
There are several things that kept Honor's Splendour from the very top of my favorites list. It is one of Ms. Garwood's earliest romance novels (her third), and in my opinion, it still shows a bit of the novice that she was at that time. There are some very long passages of prose and, while they do progress both the time-line and the plot without taking up a lot of space, it made me feel like the story was being told to me instead of the characters acting it out. There were also some parts where I was having a difficult time imagining the setting and felt that more environmental descriptions would have been helpful. I thought I had recalled Ms. Garwood's books being on the steamy side, but either my memory has deceived me or this one just wasn't quite as hot as some of her others. I found that the love scenes became progressively more sensuous with each one (I really enjoyed the late night “swim” in the lake), but still by more modern standards, they were fairly short and only moderately descriptive. While I didn't necessarily need more tawdriness, some of the scenes just seemed to lack that extra bit of spice that really shows the reader a deep emotional connection. In a couple of instances, I think this could have been rectified with a little more “whispered sweet nothings” dialog, and more sexual tension leading up to their initial consummation would have been nice too. Additionally, I am not a huge fan of the love/hate relationship. Thankfully there was enough tenderness to keep it from being overdone in this book, but Duncan and Madelyn still emotionally held back from each other a little too long for my taste, and their confusion over their feelings for one another seemed a bit forced to me. Finally, although Madelyne's fevered hallucinations and loss of inhibitions in that state made for some exceptionally funny and amusing moments, I would have preferred for her to relate the traumatic events of her past to Duncan when she was in a more coherent state. I think it would have packed a greater emotional punch and built even more trust in their relationship, which to me, is extremely romantic.
Duncan and Madelyne are a classic Garwood hero and heroine. Duncan is what I like to refer to as the “tender alpha” or the “alpha with a heart.” He definitely has some dominating tendencies early in the story, but he is always patient and has a tender spot in his heart for Madelyne. Duncan's sweet side was solidified for me when he watched over Madelyne while she was ravaged with fever, and I loved how he snuck into bed with her every night without her knowing. He is also very much a man of few words and has very little dialog in the beginning of the story. In fact, Duncan often seemed to be overshadowed in this regard by his two brothers which is never a good thing. As the plot moves along though, he learns to lighten up a bit, talks more readily, and really comes into the fullness of his character. Madelyne is gentle, klutzy, and has just enough sass to stand up to her arrogant husband. I really liked her journey from the shy virgin to embracing her passionate nature, and found it to be very believable and well-crafted. There are so many romance novel heroines who make the unrealistic jump from timid virgin to instant sex-kitten, so this element of the story was greatly appreciated. I also thought it was sweet that Madelyne was able to charm everyone in Duncan's castle, man, woman, child and beast. The only problem I had with Madelyne is that for about the first 2/3 of the story, everything about her is just too extreme. She is extremely clumsy, extremely talkative, extremely bossy, extremely stubborn, extremely self-conscious, and extremely insecure. I'm used to a heroine embodying one or two of these characteristics, but having Madelyne imbued with all of them at once and in such an extravagant way, made her seem more like a caricature to me. At least she exhibited enough humor and sweetness to prevent her from becoming completely annoying, and for the final third of the book, she is much more even-tempered and finally comes into her own as well, finding her confidence. It was at this point that I really warmed up to both characters a lot more and ended up liking them both quite well.
There are other things that I really enjoyed about Honor's Splendour, one of which is it's strong cast of supporting characters. If this book had been written in the current glut of series romances, I'm absolutely certain that Duncan's two very eligible and honorable brothers, Edmond and Gilard, as well as his loyal vassal, Anthony, all would have made great heroes for future books, but it was written so long ago, it is incredibly doubtful that would ever happen. I also enjoyed Duncan's sister, Adela, and her beau, Gerald. Because of what Adela had been through, I found both characters to be very sympathetic, and the humor of their relationship mirrored that of Duncan and Madelyn. Madelyne's uncle, Father Berton, though heard about a lot, doesn't actually appear until near the end of the book, but I liked him a lot too, and Madelyne's evil brother, Baron Louddon, makes a great villain. Julie Garwood has a great sense of humor, and I often found myself smiling or chuckling during my reading of this book. I especially got a kick out of the parts where Duncan teases Madelyne by purposely pushing her buttons. I also loved the creative sweetness of their first meeting and how Madelyne captured Duncan's heart through the simple but unselfish act of warming his feet. As I mentioned earlier though, the last third of the story was my favorite part. I felt that the romance built gradually and became even stronger the further it progressed. I also liked the bit of royal intrigue which lent a mild air of suspense to the ending. The denouement itself was perhaps a tad bit rushed as the comeuppance of the main villain doesn't occur until the final pages, but overall it was pretty good. All in all, Honor's Splendour was a good read which turned out to be a nice way to reintroduce myself to a favorite author....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I ended up having a difficult time rating Texas Glory, because I really enjoyed almost everything about the story,Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I ended up having a difficult time rating Texas Glory, because I really enjoyed almost everything about the story, but was rather frustrated by one element. As with her other books that I've read, Lorraine Heath once again showed her masterful understanding of the human psyche by creating relatable characters and taking them on a believable journey of self-discovery. The road that takes them there is not always perfect and filled with bliss. The author makes her characters go through some heartache along the way too, which helps them to grow and change in a positive way. In the end, I felt like everything was perfect, even the bad stuff, because it all happened for a good reason. In this way, Ms. Heath manages to bring an amazing amount of depth to both her characters and her stories, making them a joy for me to read. The one and only thing that bothered me about the book, is how distant Dallas and Cordelia are from each other pretty much right up until the end. The previous book in the series, Texas Destiny, had this intense and vibrant romantic quality to it that was brought about through the personalities of the hero and heroine and how they interacted with each other. Dallas and Cordelia are just two very different characters whose personalities didn't really lend themselves to that more swoon-worthy quality. Even during their more romantic moments, it still felt like there was a barrier between them, making it difficult to feel that really deep connection. Both could be head-strong, stubborn and pretty clueless, especially Dallas. This led to a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunication that didn't get resolved until it was nearly too late, and it caused them to not be able to fully embrace their love for one another until the end. Normally this would drive me crazy in a romance novel, but I found myself being a little more forgiving of it in this book. I think it was mainly due to the author allowing the reader into Dallas and Cordelia's thoughts and feelings, so that I could understand them even though I still wanted to shake some sense into them at times. They would frequently think of the “right” thing to say or do, but then for various reasons wouldn't, which left me thinking, “just say it” or “just do it.” Overall, I really liked Dallas and Cordelia's story, but without that more intense romantic element, it felt like a little something was missing.
Considering that Dallas had a 13-year misunderstanding with his brother, Houston, in Texas Destiny that was mainly due to fear and a lack of communication, I'm not too surprised that he had so many misunderstandings with his new bride. Dallas just doesn't truly know how to communicate with people and simply ask for things. He only knows how to give orders, which was something he learned from his father and his time as a teenage officer in the Civil War, trying to earn the respect of his soldiers. In the beginning, Dallas is so straight-froward he scares Cordelia, which makes him mad at himself and the situation. Then that anger came out directed at Dee, which make him even madder, creating a never-ending cycle. Dallas is a rather gruff, intense, and clueless alpha who stubbornly insists that he doesn't need love and the only thing missing from his life is a son to share his empire with. Usually guys who are this alpha end up annoying me, but Dallas actually made me laugh sometimes because he honestly didn't initially recognize the feelings he's having for Dee as love. It was pretty fun watching him try to figure it all out. While Dallas could be a little irritating sometimes, it was clear that underneath it all he had a heart of gold and was an honorable man who could be trusted at his word. He was also good with kids, playing the doting uncle to his niece, Maggie, and later, a father-figure to the little street urchin, Rawley. Dallas may have been a hard man, but he was also a fair man and one I could easily respect especially as he started to grow.
At the start of the story, Cordelia has been so sheltered by her father and brothers, it has gone beyond mere protection into the realm of mental and emotional abuse. She is a virtual prisoner in her own home until her father barters her away to Dallas in exchange for land and water rights over which the two families have been fighting for years. Dee comes to the marriage a timid shell of a woman who hides away in her room, preferring to escape into a book. She is frightened to death of Dallas, because of all the terrible things her family has said about him. As she observes him interacting with his family, she begins to wonder if her father and brothers were wrong about him. When Dallas realizes that he should have courted Dee and given her a choice in marrying him instead of trading for her, he becomes extremely patient, giving her time to get accustomed to him and being married. He also gives her the freedom that she had always longed for, and listens to her ideas, doing everything he can to support her and bring them to fruition. Dee ends up being the perfect mate for Dallas, because underneath her shy exterior lurks the heart of a lion and a savvy businesswoman who compliments him in every way. I loved how she stood up to her family when she finally realized who the better man really was.
Texas Glory had a great cast of secondary characters. I really enjoy the family closeness of this series, and how the other Leigh brothers have significant supporting roles and aren't just window dressing. Houston and Amelia (Texas Destiny) were back along with a new addition to the their family, little Maggie who was as cute as a button. I had wished for an epilogue at the end of Texas Destiny, but everything I needed to know about them was revealed in this book. It was wonderful to see them still so passionately in love. Austin (Texas Splendor) is in this one too, and his was a heart-breaking ending which makes me very eager to read his story soon. It was great to see Houston, Amelia and Austin picking up the slack to make Cordelia feel at home until Dallas got a clue about how to put his bride at ease, and it was hilarious to see Dallas jealous of Houston and Austin but too bewildered to understand why. The abused little boy, Rawley Cooper, touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I was so glad to see him find some peace and happiness after experiencing so much grief and heartache in his young life. Precious, the prairie dog that Cordelia made her pet, was hysterical mainly because of the reactions she evoked in Dallas. Of course there was Dee's family too, but only her brother, Cameron, was truly worthy of any attention. The rest were worthless weasels (and that's putting it nicely), along with Rawley's father, all of whom made some pretty nasty villains. Since Dallas had finally realized the dream of building a town in west Texas, there were plenty of colorful townsfolk too. All in all a great cast of characters that really brought the story to life.
Since Cordelia spent a lot of time afraid of Dallas, and Dallas spent a lot of time being clueless, theirs was not a grand passionate romance in the traditional sense, but there were plenty of sweet, touching moments to keep me reading and mostly satisfied. Their relationship was a more realistic one of two strangers coming together, slowly learning about each other, and then falling in love. It is also about two people who really needed to find themselves in order to be happy together, and in Dallas's case, he had to discover what was truly important in life, as well as learn that what he thought he wanted and needed to feel complete wasn't what he really needed at all. There were a few events in the story that were somewhat predictable including a very sad tragedy, but as I also correctly foresaw it was a necessary catalyst to give Dallas a wake-up call and led to many positive things happening later on. In spite of some frustrations with Dallas and Cordelia's stubborn natures, I found Texas Glory to be a tale with plenty of thought-provoking, emotional depth and complex characterizations that made it an enjoyable read, and ultimately, I decided it was worthy of being placed on my keeper shelf right next to its predecessor, Texas Destiny. I can't wait to read the final book of the trilogy, Texas Splendor, but once I do, I think I'll be a little sad to let his wonderful band of brothers go....more
I have really loved most of Lisa Kleypas's novels I have read to date, so it truly pains me to not be able to give this book a higher rating. This isI have really loved most of Lisa Kleypas's novels I have read to date, so it truly pains me to not be able to give this book a higher rating. This is one of the first four books that she wrote, and the writing style is so different from her later works that it almost seemed like it had been written by another author. The story is very heavily character-driven with very little plot. The conflict is mainly of an internal nature, driven by secrets and love triangles, with no real villains to speak of. I had a really hard time liking the characters. The heroine is very contradictory, almost to the point of seeming to have multiple personalities, for about the first 2/3 of the book, before finally settling into a steadier persona. The hero is sometimes kind and gentle, but at other times is a bit too stubborn and dominant for my taste. The two of them end up spending a large part of the book arguing about various things, often ending in an anger turned to passion moment, which isn't really my cup of tea either. The story is really heavy on the historical descriptions, especially details of the political climate between the North and South following the Civil War and the newspaper business, which I thought bogged down the pace. I love learning things about history from my novels, but I thought it was a little too scholarly and heavy-handed here. While there were some mildly romantic scenes, in my opinion, it was seriously lacking in the depth of emotion and passion for which Lisa Kleypas has become know. I'm sure there are some people who might enjoy this book, but I literally had to force myself to finish it in small doses. I couldn't really recommend it for anyone other than hard-core fans who are collecting her books, but I definitely will not be one of them. I'm really glad I borrowed this one and didn't pay the going OOP price for it....more
I found myself having a love/hate relationship with this book. I really wanted to like the story and the characters, but there were many things I dislI found myself having a love/hate relationship with this book. I really wanted to like the story and the characters, but there were many things I disliked about both. I will admit that Laura Kinsale is a talented author who writes with intelligence, but I think perhaps her writing style is a bit too intense for my taste. I love tortured heroes, but in my opinion, Gryf's torment was overdone to the point of being depressing. I prefer to watch troubled souls change and grow throughout the course of the story to overcome their adversity, but Gryf was not like this at all. Instead he became more and more miserable as the story progressed, until magically everything suddenly turned into wine and roses in the last few pages. There was a part of me that truly sympathized with him, but another part that was incredibly annoyed with him. I did mostly like Tess. At least she had some spunk, pursued Gryf when he didn't want to acknowledge his feelings, and fought to save him from his worst enemy, himself.
I thought that the story had some pacing issues. Sometimes it was so interesting I didn't want to put it down, yet other times I found it to be pretty dull. I became exhausted by the on-again/off-again relationship of the hero and heroine. They would get together at the beginning of a chapter and be separated again by the end. I found this to be very frustrating, and it continued throughout the entire book. In spite of all the annoyances though, I seemed compelled to keep reading, but I have a feeling it was more because I was anxiously awaiting anything good that might happen to these two characters than anything else. This is definitely a character-driven story that doesn't have a great deal of plot, yet spans a rather epic 2-3 years from beginning to end. Readers who like dark, intense romances may enjoy this, but for me it was a humorless tale that was no walk in the park....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" For the second time in as many months, I have been gifted with a little gem of a read that I don't often see mentiReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" For the second time in as many months, I have been gifted with a little gem of a read that I don't often see mentioned in romance discussion circles, yet I found it to be so unique in both content and presentation that I can't imagine it not satisfying any romance reader who is looking for something different from the norm. A Bed of Spices is an inter-ethnic story of forbidden love between a Jewish man and a Catholic woman who literally risk their lives just to be in each other's company much less realize the fulfillment of that love by marrying. They are also from opposite sides of the tracks, for Solomon is the son of a merchant, while Rica is the daughter of a nobleman. In addition, both characters struggle frequently between their passionate natures and the puritanical ideology of the time, and whether their feelings and desires for one another are right or wrong. If the main characters aren't unusual enough, the story has an out-of-the-ordinary setting as well. While most medieval romances take place in England, A Bed of Spices is set in and around the bustling city of Strassburg, Germany against the backdrop of the Black Death no less. This made the story quite fascinating, but until reading it, this was certainly not an environment which I would have thought to be conducive to a good romance novel.
While this book is anything but politically correct, it is very historically accurate, actually teaching me things I didn't know, particularly about Jewish history. I had known that there were other historical persecutions of Jews besides the World War II Holocaust, but I didn't realize that there were other instances of widespread genocide of Jews. In fact, nothing short of another holocaust took place in the mid-14th century when Jews were ignorantly accused of causing the Plague (although greed and religion also played a part) and were executed by being burned alive (a literal meaning of the word holocaust). The Jews of that time also had to wear a yellow patch on their clothes to denote their ethnicity. All of these elements in the story both fascinated and horrified me to the point that I had to do a bit of study on the subject myself. In my mind it is the mark of a good author for them to be able to draw me into the history of a novel so much that I not only learn something from reading it, but want to know more. The other thing in this book that is very un-PC is the inequality of women. Women, even nobles, were typically uneducated and unable to read. Young ladies were pledged in marriage at a very young age, which is illustrated by a vassal of Rica's father asking for the hand of a 12-year-old girl, though he was one of the kind secondary characters and said that he would wait a while to actually take her as his wife. I thought it was rather ingenious that the author doesn't specifically state Solomon and Rica's ages, leaving it up to the reader to imagine whatever age they felt appropriate, but I got the sense that Rica herself was probably no more than a teenager. There is a secondary character who was raped at the tender age of six, and because of her non-virginal status, is thought of as a whore by some of the men in the story, and women in general are ingrained with the idea that they alone are responsible for inflaming the passions of the men around them. I was fully able to reconcile all these things in the historical perspective in which they are presented, but any reader who considers themselves a true feminist should definitely be prepared for some brutal reality in this book. In addition to the actual history, I was impressed with the author's use of a more realistic grammar and syntax for that era. While I know that it wasn't entirely accurate (it would be very difficult for the average person to understand real Middle English in modern times), I thought that it did lend another air of authenticity to the story.
Aside from all the uniqueness in the plot, I absolutely fell in love with the two main characters, Solomon and Rica. Solomon is a sweet beta hero who is very tender and loving and isn't afraid to show his true feelings to Rica. Instead of the typical knight hero of medieval romances, Solomon is a physician in training, and quite well-suited to that profession, in my opinion. He is a very gentle soul which is evidenced by the grief he feels at the the loss of life due to the various medical conditions and diseases of the time. He also possesses an unquenchable thirst for knowledge of the human body as well as why and how certain individuals are able to survive the Plague. He is one of the few men in the story who doesn't try to exert his dominance over the women, instead appreciating Rica as his intellectual equal which is a large part of what attracts him to her in the first place. In addition he does not think himself too good to learn medical knowledge from Helga, a renowned herbalist/midwife in the area, and he is in constant appreciation and awe of the general beauty of all the women around him. Rica is a very strong, capable and intelligent young woman who was fortuitous enough to have been educated by the castle priest who couldn't contain his enthusiasm for teaching, and since there was no male child in the family, Rica became the beneficiary of his knowledge. She too has a hunger to read and learn and wishes that it were possible for her to attend university like the men. Rica is an all-around admirable heroine who is kind and gentle, but also independent and filled with fiery passion.
Since the history of the story isn't romanticized at all, it can sometimes feel rather intense and heavy. Even Solomon and Rica's relationship is constantly tinged with danger and bittersweet moments, yet their love and the joy they share in each other's company stands out as a beacon of light against the dark backdrop of pain and sorrow around them. I loved that Solomon could always tell the difference between Rica and her twin sister, Etta, and near the end when I thought one of those cliched misunderstandings was going to get in the way, low and behold, he actually figured things out for himself which was utterly refreshing. Both characters have very deeply complex family relationships, mainly with fathers and siblings, but I always felt like I understood everyone involved even if I didn't agree with them. Helga, who was like a second mother to Rica and Etta after their own mother died, was a wonderful character, as was the kind vassal, Lewis. Rica's twin, Etta, was a very heartbreakingly tragic character, but I liked that the author kept an air of mystery surrounding her so that the reader is never quite sure if she is sane or not. Rica's suitor and Etta's love, Rudolf, is also mysterious in that one moment he would seem like a good, pious man and the next he would exhibit hints of evil. Although Rica and Etta played a game of who's who with the other characters in the story, I appreciated that the author made sure the reader was always in the know, otherwise it would have gotten very complicated.
Even though I really enjoyed A Bed of Spices, there were a few small things that kept it from quite being sheer perfection for me. Some passages were rather simplistically rendered, and I thought that a bit more details in those areas would have added more vibrancy to the narrative. There were also some repetitive word choices in a few places. I thought the author did a very good job with conveying the sexual tension between Solomon and Rica when they were together and their unrequited longing for each other when they were apart, so I found myself wishing that there had been just a little more steam when they finally consummated their relationship. Normally sweet, non-explicit love scenes are perfectly fine with me, but in my opinion, the mildness of this one didn't quite fully communicate the intense passion and deep emotional connection they seemed to feel for one another. Also, the author was very clear that Solomon and Rica's mutual attraction had an intellectual as well as physical basis. This was an element that I really appreciated and found to be very believable, but there wasn't quite as much demonstration of that cerebral connection as I would have liked to see. These are relatively minor complaints though, which didn't significantly detract from my enjoyment of the story, and I can't help but give it a few extra points for its historical significance and depth of characterizations. Overall, A Bed of Spices was a wonderful book which I would highly recommend to any romance reader looking for something out of the ordinary which breaks the typical romance novel mold. This is another one of those out-of-print books which I sought out through library channels, but will now be looking for a copy to own for my keeper shelf. This was my first read by Barbara Samuel, but it has definitely left me open to trying out other books by her. Barbara Samuel's most recent release was written as Barbara O'Neal, and she has also authored a number of category romances for the Silhouette imprint as Ruth Wind....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Lately, I've allowed myself to become distracted from some of my favorite authors, so it has been quite a while siReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Lately, I've allowed myself to become distracted from some of my favorite authors, so it has been quite a while since I've read a Lisa Kleypas novel. Where Dreams Begin has been on my TBR pile for nearly two years, and I believe that was due in part to it rarely being mentioned as a fan favorite which led me to believe that it probably wasn't one of her stronger efforts. Now that I've finally read it, I'm kicking myself for not picking it up sooner. In my opinion, Where Dreams Begin is every bit as good if not better than Ms. Kleypas' other works (that I've read to date), and I found it to be a real pleasure to read. I thought it embodied her trademark style in both plot and characterizations, and although perhaps not quite as steamy as some of her later books, it was still plenty sensuous. There was also quite a bit of lightly humorous bantering between the hero and heroine that really livened things up, and lots of sweet, tender romance. Where Dreams Begin was an all-around wonderful story about a proper lady who is tasked with making a silk purse out of a sow's ear, only to find out that it's the roughness around the edges which make her hero so attractive to begin with.
Zachary was yet another of Lisa Kleypas' heroes who begins as an ordinary low-born man, but uses his intelligence, diligence and determination to work his way into a hard-earned fortune. He is a real diamond in the rough with a heart of gold who has never forgotten his humble roots and is constantly working for the betterment of the lower classes much to the consternation of the upper classes. It is often said that one can tell the measure of a man by how he regards his mother, which to my way of thinking makes Zachary a virtual saint. He has a huge heart behind his enormous bank account and treats his mother like a queen and his sister like a princess, and can't help spoiling both Holly and her daughter, Rose, too, when they come to live with him. Zachary is more of a father-figure to Rose than her blood uncles were after her father died. He absolutely adores this little girl from the moment they meet and the feeling is mutual. Their scenes together positively melted my heart. Zachary may be as sweet as pie and take the utmost care of the women in his life, but he is a completely incorrigible, unrepentant rogue until his love for Holly literally brings him to his knees. In business, Zachary has a take-no-prisoners approach and a reputation for doing anything it takes to get the job done, and he also has a natural knack for bending others to his will to get what he wants without being overly arrogant. Described as an “ape” by a member of the nobility, this hulking man was not considered particularly attractive by the standards of the era, but he certainly was incredibly appealing to Holly, and I'm sure will be to most readers as well, myself included. It might have been nice to have a little deeper insight into the hardships that Zachary endured which made him the man he was in the story, but overall, he was yet another delectable hero to come from Lisa Kleypas' talented pen.
Holly was no slouch herself. She was a strong and courageous woman who carried on with life after the death of her beloved husband even though she felt like rolling up in a ball and dying herself. Even though it has been three years, Holly is still grieving her husband's passing when she and Zachary meet and share an accidental but incredibly passionate kiss. I loved how she took a chance and followed the desires of her heart when Zachary offered her employment as a social etiquette tutor to him and his family. It took a lot of spunk to risk becoming a social pariah for living under the roof of a man who was looked down upon by the ton in order to better her daughter's future. Not to mention, the backbone it took to keep a rake like Zachary in line. Holly was incredibly prim and proper, having had an extremely loving marriage with her first husband, albeit a somewhat puritanical one. By comparison, Zachary's dark sexuality is almost overwhelming for her, but I liked that she was up to the challenge. He may have made Holly blush to her toes on occasion, but I admire her for never shying away from his hot-blooded nature and for embracing her own unexplored passions that were lurking beneath the surface right from the start. I also liked that Holly had a sense of humor and was often amused by Zachary's blunt comments rather than being offended by them. I did feel like shaking her a couple of times when I felt like she was taking a little too long to come to her senses and realize that Zachary was perfect for her, but at the same time, I understood her fears and reluctance. Ms. Kleypas did a good job of conveying Holly's continuing grief over the loss of her husband and her confusion over keeping promises that she had made to him on his death bed, but I did get a little impatient while waiting for her to come to terms with everything and accept that she could fall in love again.
The secondary characters were great too. Little Rose was just as cute as a button, and in my opinion, rendered in a very age-appropriate way. She really added a lot to every scene she was in. Zachary's sister, Elizabeth was a vivacious young woman looking for a love of her own, but not feeling that she was good enough to land the kind of husband she wanted. Zachary's mother, Paula, also felt unworthy of the station to which she found herself elevated by her son's wealth. She was a very shy woman who found directing servants to be a difficult adjustment after having worked in jobs that were even lower than they were. Holly and her husband, George's best friend, Vardon, ended up being a wonderful man who deserved his own HEA. Ms. Kleypas mentions on her website that she might write a story for him someday if she can find the right one. There was even a surprise cameo by the handsome, young Dr. Jacob Linley who played a strong role in the Bow Street Runners series and has his own little story in Against the Odds, a novella from the Where's My Hero? anthology. All in all, I thought it was a very nice well-rounded cast.
There were many memorable elements in Where Dreams Begin. Ms. Kleypas managed to seamlessly weave lots of information on social etiquette into the story which I found to be quite interesting. I really enjoyed the shrewd negotiations that took place between Zachary and Holly for her employment, as well as their bantering in general. Most of all, I loved how Zachary and Holly simply enjoy each others company, while slowly building a friendship, and how Zachary comes to the realization that he would rather spend a quiet evening with Holly than go out carousing in town. The only thing that could have made this better is if the reader had been made privy to more in-depth conversations between them which I thought would have added a more intimate feel to their relationship. The sexual tension was good with several “almost” moments to fill in the long stretch between their initial smoldering kiss in the first chapter and their next which didn't occur until about 2/3 of the way into the book. I'll admit I became somewhat impatient, but the author made up for it with plenty of sensuality in the last third of the story. I've never been a fan of anger turned to passion moments, so I have to commend Ms. Kleypas on her writing of a couple of these scenes. Even when Zachary and Holly had been arguing, their anger never spilled over into their lovemaking. Instead it was every bit as tender as if they had started from a calmer place, which I loved. I don't want to give away too much, but there were some wonderful moments in the final chapters that were both sweet and intense, which really conveyed the depth of love this couple shared. Other than the few minor complaints I've already voiced, Where Dreams Begin was a really lovely book that allowed me a few blissful hours of escape from reality. In my opinion, this is one of Lisa Kleypas' most undervalued works, and one that has certainly earned a place on my keeper shelf....more
The Devil You Know is quite possibly the most truly romantic book I have ever read. It is a poignant story of love in tReviewed 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....more
Lord of Fire was a fabulous book that has a little bit of everything: heart-pounding action and suspense, spy intrigue, history, and best of all, swooLord of Fire was a fabulous book that has a little bit of everything: heart-pounding action and suspense, spy intrigue, history, and best of all, swoon-worthy romance. Galen Foley's writing style contains a richness of detail that vividly brings to life the world she has created, making me feel like I had actually been transported to another time and place. It is apparent to me through reading her books and looking at her website that Ms. Foley is meticulous with her historical research, and it definitely shows in her writing. I also loved that the author kept me on my toes throughout the story. Every time I thought that she was going to resort to some well-worn plot device, she surprised me. There were many times I thought that Lucien and Alice were going to have the “big misunderstanding,” but then not long after a confession would be forthcoming. They did have a few quarrels, which can often be irritating to me, but in this case, I found them to be genuine issues that a couple in their circumstances might actually have to face, rather than just petty bickering. Even though there were a couple of things that I predicted would happen early on, it did not detract from my enjoyment of the novel, because there were plenty of things that didn't go as I expected. I normally am not a fan of love at first sight stories, but Ms. Foley managed to make me believe in this couple's love for one another and a lasting happily-ever-after, even though they had only know each other for a short time. She accomplished this by creating a deep emotional connection between Lucien and Alice, as well as between the characters and the reader, by having them get to know each other fairly intimately before sharing physical intimacies. Admittedly, the love scenes are few, but I found the sexual tension to be exquisite and laden with tender emotions. All in all, Lord of Fire was a very well-rounded story that kept me excited about reading it.
Lucien and Alice were a wonderful and perfectly matched couple. In spite of his charming personality, Lucien is a tortured soul. Working deep undercover as a spy for the Crown, he lives a dark, rather solitary existence. Personally knowing someone who has done deep cover law enforcement work and having heard some of his stories, I felt that the aloneness and soul-searing intensity of Lucien's work was very realistically rendered. It was a fabulous contrast of dark and light, and doing things you really don't want to for the greater good. Lucien loved his twin, Damien, deeply, and their recent estrangement over Lucien's choice of professions has left him feeling more alone then ever. Yet, Lucien has always felt like he was living in his brother's shadow and never quite measuring up. When Alice unexpectedly shows up in Lucien's life she brings the light of her innocence and goodness into his darkened world, making his heart long for things he thought lost to him forever. When Lucien used trickery and manipulation to keep Alice at his country estate, I wasn't sure I would like him, but aside from that one lapse, he behaved in a gentlemanly way for the remainder of the book, which endeared him to both me and Alice. I thought Alice was a very well-balanced heroine. She was kind, caring and intuitive, understanding Lucien in a way that most people didn't, and he reciprocated in kind. She also had spunk and spirit, speaking her mind to both Lucien and her sister-in-law, Caro, when the circumstances warranted. There were a few time when Alice's spunk led her into potentially dangerous situations, but I felt like I generally understood her reasoning and that she was usually just trying to protect those she loved. Overall, I found Lucien and Alice to be a delightful couple who were a pleasure to read.
The palette of secondary characters was varied and interesting. Lucien's rogues were charming and entertaining. The main villain, Claude Bardou, was irredeemably evil, bringing a dangerous menace to the story. There are a couple of other foreign spies, an American double-agent and a Russian woman, who added a bit of extra intrigue. Alice's sister-in-law, Caro, is very well-rendered as a flamboyant, self-centered woman who rarely thinks of anything but her own pleasures, and has little interest in even trying to be a good mother to her three-year-old son, Harry. Harry is a sweet, endearing child who charms nearly everyone with whom he comes in contact. In addition to these, there are a whole host of other supporting characters who for the most part play small roles, but manage to add a great deal of depth to the other characters and the narrative. The most realistic and intriguing of the secondary characters though, is Lucien's identical twin brother, Damien. These two rogues may look alike, but their personalities are opposites, with Lucien being a charming, smooth-tongued devil and Damien being more staid, reserved and uncomfortable in social settings. Most interesting of all is the sympathetic portrayal of Damien as an honorable man and wounded war hero suffering from severe PTSD. I was so fascinated by Damien that I can hardly wait to read the next book in the series, Lord of Ice, in which he becomes the hero.
Lord of Fire is the second book in the Knight Miscellany series. It is preceded by The Duke, which was another wonderful book. I wasn't sure that Ms. Foley would be able to equal it, but I was mistaken. As much as I enjoyed The Duke, I actually liked Lord of Fire slightly better. The remaining books in the series are Lord of Ice, Lady of Desire, Devil Takes a Bride, One Night of Sin and His Wicked Kiss. I love Ms. Foley's writing style, and think that she has found a great balance between descriptive prose and beautiful dialog. With two keepers in a row, she has definitely earned a place on my favorite authors list. In fact, I have already ordered a copy of Lord of Ice and will be anxiously watching for it to arrive in my mailbox, so that I can read sexy, tortured twin, Damien's story and continue this enchanting and thoroughly romantic series....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" With The Leopard Prince, Elizabeth Hoyt has authored another solid story in the Princes Trilogy, and has once agaiReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" With The Leopard Prince, Elizabeth Hoyt has authored another solid story in the Princes Trilogy, and has once again, shown her talent for creating unusual characters in a unique situation, as well as an ability to write a good mystery. Ms. Hoyt continues her “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” theme with two rather ordinary characters. Georgina is described as a plain woman who is certainly no beauty. She is a bit too tall for a woman, has untamable curly red hair, and is a firmly on the shelf spinster, although she has the good fortune of being not only a titled lady but also a land-owning, independent woman of means thanks to an inheritance from a feminist-type aunt. Harry seems to be fairly unexceptional too. He has striking green eyes, but aside from that, he is never characterized as being gorgeous or fawned over by the ladies. He's missing a finger, and he's not even particularly tall. He's just plain Harry, and a common land steward to boot, so not someone that most people, especially an aristocrat, would even take notice of. Yet George does and thinks that he's quite handsome, and Harry can't seem to help but think she is beautiful as well. I loved the “opposite sides of the track” theme too, except in this case, it was a sort of reverse Cinderella story, a real rarity in romance, and one that I appreciated even more because the author never did anything to make Harry a more palatable match. Harry and George just were what they were, and had to work things out in spite of their class differences. The mystery of the sheep poisonings was very well done too, with lots of twists and turns. I went back and forth between several different potential culprits, and as the field narrowed, I finally did guess correctly, but not until very close to the reveal. Overall, The Leopard Prince was a very well-rounded story that sucked me in right from the first few pages, and kept me engrossed throughout, making it very difficult to put down at times.
Regardless of their differing social stations, I thought that Harry and George were perfect for each other. Harry is a very reserved man, but George has a pretty good knack for reading him in spite of his quietness and frequently guarded expressions. “Still waters run deep” is a phrase that seems to fit Harry well. He may be good at hiding his true feelings, but when he lets them be known, he is an incredibly passionate man. George is a woman with a fun sense of humor. She sometimes acts like a ninny, because it wasn't fashionable for a woman to be intelligent. When she's playing dumb though, she often says some funny and endearing things. George also talks a lot, which is in stark contrast to Harry's reticent nature, but she manages to draw him out enough for them to get to know each other on far more than just a superficial level. I thoroughly enjoyed the “dance” that Harry and George perform with him asking her what she wants and her at first, not quite knowing, and them when she figures it out, being a bit coy. These interactions as a whole built an absolutely exquisite sexual tension between them. George learned very quickly though that she needed to just be brave and tell Harry what she wanted, and once she did, the fireworks went off in a big way. Ms. Hoyt definitely knows how to write beautifully sensual love scenes in which the characters give of themselves in equal measure, creating some breathtaking love play. I was particularly impressed with the intimacy of one scene where Harry and George simply lie there after making love and share their thoughts and feelings. Sometimes it's the little things that really count. To sum it up, I just loved how George saw Harry as not merely a servant or a poor man, but a man worthy of her love, and I loved how Harry saw George as beautiful even though she's plain.
The Leopard Prince has a pretty large cast of secondary characters. George has three brothers and one sister. At first it seemed that her sister, Violet, was going to be a troublemaker, but I figured out pretty quickly what her problem was. Other than Violet's one slip, George's siblings were surprisingly supportive of her and her relationship with Harry. Everything was out in the open and handled with honesty. Harry has some very complex family relationships which I can't say much about without giving things away, but suffice it to say that the ones who mattered the most were equally supportive of him. There was the evil Lord Granville who has a vendetta against Harry, and Granville's spineless son who would do almost anything to gain his father's approval but sadly receives nothing but loathing in return. A number of villagers, tenants, and servants also play a part as either confidants or purveyors of information on the sheep killings. Last but certainly not least, Edward (The Raven Prince) and Simon (The Serpent Prince) put in an appearance to assist their friend, Harry, in his hour of need. I'm still left wondering about their seemingly unlikely alliance and whether there might be more to it than a simple bonding over a shared passion for agriculture. Now that I'm starting to get a feel for Elizabeth Hoyt's writing style and how she has a tendency to reveal things later rather than sooner, I sense that there could be something else that she hasn't yet shared about these three men.
There were a couple of other things of note which I really enjoyed about The Leopard Prince. First, it seems that Elizabeth Hoyt has an affinity for fairy tales, as do I, so I loved her inclusion of another one, also titled The Leopard Prince, in this book. George relates it to Harry in snippets throughout the story. It was rather humorous how Harry was always so incredulous about things that happened in the tale. I thought that Ms. Hoyt writing it this way was rather ingenious, because on the one hand, it may have been Harry just being a typical man who doesn't believe in such nonsense. On the other hand, it was pretty far-fetched sometimes, making it seem like George was just making it up as she went along, although she swore she wasn't. The other thing that I thought Ms. Hoyt did a good job with was bringing out all the angst, uncertainly and difficulties that would have been inherent in a servant/employer romance. In such a situation in that era, it would be natural for others to think that Harry was either after her money or merely her paid stud, but I liked that George never once thought that he was a gold-digger and more importantly, she never wavered in her belief of his innocence when he was accused of terrible crimes. It was equally understandable that Harry might feel rather emasculated to be married to a woman who had full control of the purse-strings, but even though the gesture was initially misunderstood, George went to great lengths to show her trust in Harry which was quite romantic.
Overall, The Leopard Prince came very close to perfection for me, but there were two small things that kept it from a perfect 5-stars. One was how Harry and George kept running away from each other because of their differing social statuses. I had no problem with giving each of them a pass the first two times, because they were both filled with self-doubt and doubts about whether they could ever make their relationship work publicly. However, when George did it a third time, I got a little frustrated with her. I thought that she should have stayed and communicated with Harry about their troubles instead of leaving him, especially given the circumstances. I was also a little disappointed that there wasn't a more solid plan for dealing with their differences, merely an acquiescence on both their parts, but all's well that ends well I suppose. George's actions did give Harry the opportunity to show just how much he loved her, giving a satisfying HEA ending. The other bothersome thing was that I didn't feel the author gave a good enough explanation of why Harry ended up as the scapegoat in the poisonings, nor why Lord Granville hated him so much. The reasoning ended up being little more than vague, hazy notions that I thought could have been better clarified, but ultimately, neither of these things detracted too much from my enjoyment of the novel. All in all, The Leopard Prince was another engaging story from Elizabeth Hoyt that has earned a spot on my keeper shelf right next to its predecessor, The Raven Prince, and with two winners in a row, Ms. Hoyt now has a spot on my favorite authors list as well. I'm greatly looking forward to the final book in the Princes Trilogy, The Serpent Prince.
Note: The depictions of the love scenes in The Leopard Prince are on par with most hotter mainstream romances, but some readers may be offended by a few explicit words which I rarely see used outside the erotic sub-genre....more
"3.5 stars" I didn't realize until after reading Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels that it was part of a series, and when I discovered this, I decide"3.5 stars" I didn't realize until after reading Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels that it was part of a series, and when I discovered this, I decided to go back and pick up the books that I had missed. Since Lord of Scoundrels is one of my all-time favorite romance novels, I had high hopes for The Lion's Daughter. Unfortunately, it got off to a really slow start for me. Nearly the entire first half of the book is about the hero and heroine's extremely long (or at least it seemed that way) journey through Albania. This part of the story is also heavily laden with historical facts and details about the country and the political climate at that time which in my opinion, only served to bog down the pace even further. I was just about to set the book aside and read something else when the journey came to an end, and that is the point where I felt the real story began. Up until then, I had a hard time becoming invested in Varian and Esme's relationship or believing that they were truly falling in love, but after that, both characters started showing more vulnerability which improved them quite a bit.
Esme was a little difficult for me to like throughout the entire story though. Early on, she was just so stubborn and indifferent that she seemed almost emotionless. She had a major inferiority complex when it came to her looks and made several hot-headed decisions based in part on believing things about herself that simply weren't true. Even though Varian was a libertine who had frittered away his family fortune, I still found him to be more charming and likeable in the early part of the story than Esme was. When his vulnerabilities started to show it only increased his likability, but overall I still found him to be just an average hero, not really a stand-out. The political intrigue in the book could have been really interesting, but I thought that it was overdone to the point of being incredibly complex and confusing. Even though the story got off to a very slow start and could have been much better overall, the last half had enough excitement to hold my interest and make it worth my while. If I had read The Lion's Daughter first, I don't know if I would have continued the series, but already knowing that at least one other book in the series was phenomenally good, makes me interested continuing it....more
"4.5 stars" In my opinion, many erotic romances have a tendency to suffer from an overabundance of sex and underdevelopReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
"4.5 stars" In my opinion, many erotic romances have a tendency to suffer from an overabundance of sex and underdevelopment of plot. Fortunately, Caine's Reckoning has no such issues. It has an interesting and engrossing storyline while still maintaining the steamy sexuality that tends to mark erotic romances. The overarching plot of the series, that of eight mostly unrelated but sexy alpha men who have banded together as a “family” to fight evil and injustice, reminds me in some ways of J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Although I have to say that since one features sexy cowboys in the old west and the other sexy vampires in a contemporary urban setting, the similarities for the most part, end there. The individual premise of Caine's Reckoning was interesting as well. Between the heart-stopping romance, Desi's struggles to overcome her past, some wild west action, and a light mystery surrounding one of Desi's abusers and his motives, I had a hard time putting the book down. After reading several reviews for this book, I was expecting it to be very violent. While there were a couple of shoot-outs and one short 2 ½- page nightmare sequence that contained an explicit sexual assault, I found that most of the violence was left to the reader's imagination, and wasn't much worse than many other books I've read. That's not to say that it would be easy for everyone to read, and for this reason, I would caution sensitive readers about the content. I think that it simply didn't bother me as much, because in my opinion, the author didn't delve quite as deep into the emotional fall-out to Desi's psyche as some other authors with similar characters have done, and Desi was a very strong heroine as well.
I thought that Desi was an admirable heroine, a young woman who had suffered unthinkable abuse, and yet had never truly allowed herself to become a victim. When the story opens with her courageously fighting her captors like a hellcat while the other women sat passively by, I immediately liked her. Later when she showed tremendous vulnerability, it only endeared her to me further, as did her ability to frequently blush in spite of her “experience.” I also found her to be relatable as a young woman who had been raised as a prim, proper lady, but who always felt a burning passion inside trying to surface. It wasn't until she started stubbornly holding herself at arms length from Caine's gentle, loving overtures, that I had a bit harder time with her character, but ultimately, her actions were understandable in light of her past. Some stubborn heroines can tend to annoy me, but that wasn't really the case with Desi. I think I just spent most of that part of the story worried that her willfulness would cause her to do something really stupid, but when she exhibited intelligence and ingenuity in the end, she truly earned my respect. I also thought that when Desi was finally able to fully let herself go and surrender to Caine, trusting him completely, their resulting lovemaking was both darkly passionate and thoroughly beautiful and romantic, a heady combination indeed.
Caine was an incredibly appealing hero. Having lost his family at a young age, like all of the Hell's Eight men, he has a dark tortured past too, but it wasn't explored in as much detail as I would have liked. I suppose that is understandable though, as there shouldn't be too much darkness in one novel, or it would become depressing. Actually, I thought that Caine had a wry and sometime self-deprecating sense of humor which I enjoyed, and which also helped to lighten things up a bit here and there. He is a very dominating alpha male, but he has a heart of gold and isn't afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve when it comes to Desi. He also pampers her in the most thoroughly romantic ways, and has some of the most swoon-worthy lines I think I have ever read in a romance novel. I absolutely loved the way that he is completely committed to their marriage and being faithful to Desi right from the start, even though he had no intentions of getting married anytime soon and basically only agreed to it out of a sense of honor and duty. Even though Caine's every instinct is to dominate, he puts his own needs on hold and shows Desi an unbelievable amount of patience. I liked that Caine was very intelligent and intuitive when it came to Desi's needs. Time and time again, Caine proves that he is an honorable man who can be trusted with anything and who is the epitome of a true gentleman, a diamond in the rough. Even though I'm raving about him, Caine did have a few impatient moments when he allowed his desires to get the best of him, but I was still able to admire him because he immediately recognized his mistakes and admitted he was wrong. All in all, I thought he did pretty well for a guy in the old west who didn't have access to a psychotherapist for his wife.;-) Caine is definitely a hero I'll remember for a long time to come.
Though Caine's Reckoning was good enough to earn a place on my keeper shelf, it wasn't quite perfect. There were several scenes, a few of the love scenes in particular, that I thought were a little too verbose. I'm all for whispering sweet nothings during lovemaking, but sometimes it seemed like they were carrying on an entire conversation. In my opinion, it made these scenes feel rather forced, like the author was trying too hard to convince me of the character's passion and feelings instead of showing me. I think a few more descriptive details and a little less chattiness in these scenes would have made them flow a bit more naturally. There were also several scenes involving dialog, especially among multiple characters, where I had a difficult time determining who was speaking. Going back and reading the passages a second time usually cleared things up, but having to do this multiple times throughout the book was rather distracting. I would have to say that Desi's ability to overcome her past, not only the abuse but the sexually repressive atmosphere in which she was raised, was a little too quick, taking mere weeks instead of the months or even years that any real woman would have likely needed. However, since this is fiction and it was good otherwise, I can allow for a little creative license. I was also a little disappointed that the mystery surrounding the ringleader of Desi's captors was not fully resolved nor justice fully exacted, but I think this was meant to be something of a cliffhanger ending that is going to carry over into a future book or books. Overall, though this was a very good novel that I would definitely recommend.
Caine's Reckoning is the first book in the Hell's Eight series. It introduces the eight members of the group, some with brief background information and some only by name, but one, Sam, is given a slightly more detailed background and more scenes. He becomes the hero of the next book in the series, Sam's Creed. The third book, Tucker's Claim, is due out next spring with another, currently untitled, volume to follow by the end of 2009. Though she is not directly on the canvas in Caine's Reckoning, Desi's twin sister, Ari, is mentioned and does play a part in the mystery that was left unresolved. I suspect that she may become the heroine of a future book, possibly paired with Tracker, since he was the first to volunteer to search for her. Unfortunately, if my assumption is correct, it could be a while before readers get to experience their story. Caine's Reckoning was my first read by Sarah McCarty, but I am really looking forward to continuing the Hell's Eight series and checking out the other books that she has written too.
Note: This book contains explicit language, violence (as mentioned in my review), and sexual situations, including mild domination/submission, spanking and anal sex, which some readers may find offensive. However, considering the subject matter, everything was handled very tastefully in my opinion....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews With Lady of Desire, Gaelen Foley has racked up another solid story in the Knight Miscellany series. From what I can tell so fReviewed for THC Reviews With Lady of Desire, Gaelen Foley has racked up another solid story in the Knight Miscellany series. From what I can tell so far, Ms. Foley seems to be an author who is consistently good. Her attention to history and details really help to bring her stories vividly to life. I really enjoy her exploration of topics outside the social aspects of the ton, which deftly bring to life the more realistic side of life in that era. Her descriptions of life in the rookery and some of the social and political issues of the time give voice to a different segment of the population, as well as a stark reminder that unfortunately some things never really change. However, in spite of my appreciation for the author's strong writing style, I found the storytelling in Lady of Desire was not quite as much to my liking as its predecessors in the series. The story got off to an explosive start, but then seemed to loose some steam especially through the middle, and while the ending satisfactorily wrapped everything up, I felt that it was a little too simplistic. I realize that when a person believes that death is imminent, they can do some rather unusual and extraordinary things, but ultimately, Billy's ready forgiveness of his father for a lifetime of hurt and abuse, just didn't quite ring true to me. Billy had felt thoroughly unloved and unlovable all his life, and to have just a few words be able erase all that, was a bit too easy in my opinion. I did like Billy's realization that even the bad things in life can bring about good if we let them, but again, I felt like his revelation came about a bit too quickly with no real introspection to show how he came to that conclusion. I was also a little disappointed that Lady of Desire, like it's predecessor, Lord of Ice, was somewhat light on the actual romance. There were just so many things going on in the story that I thought the plot itself in many ways overshadowed the relationship development. At times it felt like a historical novel with romance in it rather than just a romance, but readers who have a preference for that sort of thing should really enjoy this book.
I had been extremely intrigued by Billy when he made his first appearance in Lord of Ice. For a thief lord, he was very charming with an air of danger about him that was very appealing. I was immediately certain that he would play a significant role in a future book(s), and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that he would be the hero of this story. I loved Billy's early scenes with Jacinda in the rookery. I was instantly mesmerized by his scrumptious bad boy looks and persona as well as his Robin Hood style of robbing the rich to give to the poor, but when he took up his rightful title as Lord Rackford, I felt like he changed a little too much, loosing that aura of mystery and danger. At one point, Jacinda muses about how she has truly made a gentleman out of Billy, but it was a pity because she “rather liked him as a heathen,” which is exactly how I felt. I did enjoy the scenes where he sneaks back to the rookery though. His sly, cunning scheme to exact revenge on his former gang rivals had me grinning from ear to ear. Typically I would feel a great deal of sympathy for a hero with a past as tortured as Billy's, and although I did to some degree, it wasn't as strong as with some other characters of this type that I've read. I think this was because Billy was an extremely intense alpha who rarely allowed himself to be vulnerable. Even in those infrequent moments when he let his guard down a little, I couldn't help but feel that he was still holding something back. I suppose this was understandable given his past abuse and harsh life in the rookery, but in the end, not wholly satisfying to me. All in all, Billy was a very interesting hero, just not my favorite kind, but again readers who enjoy this type of character should really like Billy.
Jacinda was a strong heroine who was a cross between a sweetheart and a spitfire, but many times I felt like her character was rather uneven. I really liked the gentleness and intuitiveness that she exhibited with Billy in various ways throughout the book, and I was also impressed that, unlike her brothers, she never seemed to be overly bothered by her mother's scandalous exploits in life. In fact, although Jacinda was determined not to cheat on her future husband, she otherwise embraced her mother's legacy, but often her own desire for love and passion made her afraid of becoming like her mother. Being the youngest and only daughter in the Knight clan, with all of society including her brothers watching her every move and expecting her to make the same mistakes that her mother did, I could understand Jacinda feeling trapped and wanting her freedom. What bothered me though, was the way she tried to go about getting it. She had blown off a potential marriage to Ian Prescott, a very nice family friend, because she knew there would be no real affection between them besides brotherly love. Yet she was eager to gain a marriage proposal from another man she didn't love and who was more than three times her age. This was all in the hopes that he would die quickly, giving her the freedom she craved, which all seemed a little callous and a bit contradictory to other parts of her personality, especially when she continued this reckless pursuit even after her feelings for Billy had become readily apparent. Luckily she came to her senses before it was too late, but all the pulling away that was going on from both character's perspectives made it a little difficult for me to get a good grasp on their relationship and feelings for one another.
One thing that I have really enjoyed about Gaelen Foley's writing so far is that she pulls together a full complement of secondary characters with heroes and heroines from both previous and future books in the series appearing in nearly every one, and oftentimes their role is more significant than a simple cameo. Robert and Bel, Lucien and Alice, and Damien and Miranda from the first three books all played a part in Lady of Desire, with Lucien in particular being fairly important since Billy had been one of his underworld contacts. Also Lizzie and Alec had pretty substantial roles, and although I was a bit saddened to see their affections for one another dashed, I already knew they were not going to be a couple since each has their own future story. In fact, the bookish Lizzie becomes the heroine of the next book in the series, Devil Takes a Bride. The only Knight sibling who doesn't show up is Jack, who is still “missing in action.” Lady of Desire is preceded in the Knight Miscellany series by The Duke, Lord of Fire, and Lord of Ice and is followed by Devil Takes a Bride, One Night of Sin and His Wicked Kiss. Even though I had a few issues with Lady of Desire, it will not stop me from continuing the series. Gaelen Foley just seems to be one of those authors that even when her work isn't quite spot-on for me, it is still infinitely readable and better than some other authors on their very best days....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I love fairly tales, and Touched by Fire was a novel with a sweet fairy tale quality to it. The hero, Colin, has dReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I love fairly tales, and Touched by Fire was a novel with a sweet fairy tale quality to it. The hero, Colin, has dreamed of being a DragonSlayer since he was a mere boy, and the heroine, Sarah, has been dreaming of a “gallant knight” with sherry-colored eyes who would come whisk her away from her loneliness and love her for who she is. Colin and Sarah had a magical first meeting and an instant attraction, which is something I usually don't care for much, but it really worked for me here. I think my liking of it was partially due to the enchanted atmosphere, but mainly because although they may have been instantly in lust with one another, they took the time to build a relationship instead of heading straight for the bedroom. I love the way that Colin and Sarah were always looking deeply into each other's eyes. I thought it was very romantic and helped to build that magical attraction even more. It also became a primary mode of communication between them. Sometimes it was difficult for them to communicate verbally, especially Colin, but their eyes always spoke volumes to each other. Both Colin and Sarah tend to hold back quite a bit, especially early on, because neither one really feels worthy of the other. I usually prefer for one character to be a bit more overt and persistent, and Sarah finally started actively pursuing Colin about a third of the way into the book but still doubted herself at times. It was definitely a difficult, uphill battle for her, but one that was well worth the fight.
Colin's biological father was a notorious and violent highwayman who had raped his mother. The old earl had claimed Colin as his son to preserve some dignity for his wife and spare her further disgrace, but he despised Colin and made sure that he knew his real parentage by constantly telling him that he carried the same evil that was in his father. Having had these lies drilled into him from the time he was just a boy and seeing the fear and grief that his mother suffered, left Colin fearful of himself and determined that he should never marry or have children. In fact, he had spent the better part of the last ten years as a soldier and spy in the Peninsular War, in hopes that he might die a hero's death and end his bloodlines. Now he is back in England and being forced to marry to save the beloved orphanage of which he is the patron, and that he felt was the only way to redeem himself. I really liked Colin's hobby of studying dragon lore, and how the dragons became a metaphor not only for the physical dangers in his life, but also for his emotional demons. Initially, I thought that Colin was a beta, because he is such a sensitive and wounded individual who truly believes that he will hurt the woman that he marries. As I read further though, I could definitely see alpha tendencies as well in his extreme protectiveness of Sarah and others. He was willing to sacrifice himself to save the orphanage, and didn't hesitate to rescue a young girl who had been sold into prostitution. He also has the heart of a lion and the courage of a warrior to have put himself on the line as a soldier. It takes Colin a long time to realize the truth and understand that his fears of propagating evil are unfounded, but when he finally does it's a beautiful thing.
Sarah is the daughter of a gambling hell owner who has her own share of demons to battle. She is a wealthy woman, but has lived with the censure of society all her life because of who she is. All she has ever wanted is be a part of the glittering social set, but girls like her don't get invited to balls and parties. After her father died, Sarah became very lonely, but the only men who come to call on her are nothing but fortune hunters. She dreams of a man who will simply love her for herself. When Sarah meets Colin she is convinced that she has found that man, but when Colin seemingly rejects her at every turn or sends her mixed messages, Sarah doesn't know what to think. She spends quite a bit of time going back and forth between thinking she isn't good enough for him but not being able to stop dreaming about him. Sarah sees something in Colin's eyes and actions that tell her there is more to him than he lets others see and that he truly does care for her. The one thing that Sarah's father, the consummate gambler, had taught her was that a Banks never looses, so she finally sets out on a determined quest to win his heart.
I loved that Colin and Sarah were both virginal characters, a rarity in romance. Their first love scene was far from idealistic, but it was realistic considering that both of them were very inexperienced. Colin also allowed his fear of himself to get in the way, causing him to make a highly unusual and unromantic request of Sarah which made the scene all the more uncommon. However, the experience changed Colin's whole outlook on life, and made him absolutely determined to pleasure Sarah the next time, and him taking the time to learn what he needed to know was quite romantic as were their remaining love scenes together. Another thing I thoroughly enjoyed about the story was Colin's butler, Giles, who was more of a father to him than a mere servant. It was hilarious how he was trying to covertly play matchmaker, and then coerced Sarah's funny little maid, Iris, to get into the act as well. Giles was probably the most well-rendered secondary servant character I've read since George Kemball from Liz Carlyle's books.
I honestly didn't realize until about halfway through the book that Touched by Fire was essentially Kathleen O'Reilly's debut novel (she had previously authored only one short story in a Harlequin Duet that was released one month earlier), and in my opinion, it was a very worthy early effort. There were a few minor things here and there such as wording and transitions that showed a bit of greenness but nothing that really detracted from my overall enjoyment. Ms O'Reilly has a very subtly emotional writing style that seems to speak volumes. It moves a little slowly in places, and I can see how it might not be for everyone, but her writing really pulled me into the story and wouldn't let go. It was rather like watching a richly drawn dramatic indie movie, punctuated with moments of humor and levity. Touched by Fire was my first read by Kathleen O'Reilly, but I enjoyed it so much, it earned a spot on my keeper shelf. I'm a little disappointed to say that it is her only historical romance to date, but in spite of that, I'm eagerly looking forward to diving into her contemporary backlist soon....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I usually enjoy stories that break from the norm of historical romance, and Longing is just such a book, exhibiting a number oReviewed for THC Reviews I usually enjoy stories that break from the norm of historical romance, and Longing is just such a book, exhibiting a number of unique qualities. The typical Victorian romance would probably be set in England amidst the backdrop of ton balls and house parties, but Longing is set in a small industrial village in Wales. Although the hero owns a large, ornate castle, very little of the action takes place there, and except for a couple of brief afternoon teas, none of the usual social trappings occur. The majority of scenes take place in the humble confines of the town of Cwmbran (Coom-bran), and better yet, the beautiful hills surrounding it. The heroine has a stunning voice and competes in a music festival, which surrounded by the loveliness of the hills, kind of reminded me of The Sound of Music. I really felt like Mary Balogh captured the allure of the land and the culture of the proud people of Wales. Longing also has a strong historical element, detailing the Chartist Movement, the first and largest organized labor movement of its kind, which was meant to bring about political and social reform particularly for the workers in mining and industry. I can see how these topics might not be very exciting to some readers, but since I've always had an interest in politics and social issues, it was rather intriguing to me. The author even included a couple of the real-life organizers of the movement as characters. I really liked how the author took a middle-of-the-road stance, showing the good and bad on both sides of the issue. Of course, there were mine owners who didn't want to give the workers basic rights and better pay for fear of loosing profits, but there were also those among the Welsh, known as Scotch Cattle, who attempted to strong-arm anyone who refused to follow their cause by terrorizing them. Overall, Longing was a very different sort of historical romance and in many ways that was a good thing.
I must say that the book was very aptly titled, because nearly everyone in the story, particularly the hero and heroine, experiences a deep longing or Hireath in the Gaelic language. Mary Balogh has a slightly different writing style than what I'm used to, almost what I might call a more literary style. There are certain elements in her prose, such as some repetition, which in other hands would probably annoy me, but Ms. Balogh's writing has a very lyrical quality to it which draws out the feelings of yearning so that the reader can palpably sense them. Admittedly though, this also gave the story a rather languid pace, when at times, I would have preferred for things to move a bit faster. I'm a big fan of love-overcomes-all stories, but this one just took a little too long to get there for me. The hero and heroine pine for each other and for the things they believe they cannot have right up until the last few pages. When taken in the proper historical context, I can't exactly fault them for waiting so long, and in the meantime their interactions were very tender and sweet. One of my favorite scenes was after the music festival when they were crossing back over the mountain and took a moment to revel in the simple, quiet pleasure of each other's company. Ms. Balogh may have a more subdued method for conveying emotion, but I found it to still be pretty powerful nonetheless.
Sian was the illegitimate daughter of an English aristocrat who had been raised in relative luxury compared to how she lives at the beginning of the story. She is cramped into one small house with her grandparents and widowed uncle, and after the death of her husband, has also braved the hardships of working in the coal mines. Sian is a woman who is caught between two worlds, not feeling like she completely belongs in either one, but striving hard to be accepted by her mother's people. Then Alex, the owner of the mine and ironworks, comes to town and shakes up her well-ordered world by offering her a position as governess to his young, vivacious daughter, which she eventually accepts because a part of her misses that easier life. Sian was a pretty stubborn lady which at times served her well by giving her incredible strength to endure extreme difficulties and stand up to those who would bully her. At other times, her obstinacy was somewhat annoying, particularly when she kept insisting to herself that she could never be a part of Alex's world and therefore belonged with another man. Overall though, I understood Sian's actions most of the time and had to admit having respect for her even when she was making choices that I probably wouldn't have.
Alexander inherited the village of Cwmbran and all it's industry from an uncle who had no heirs. Previously, Alex had lived a quiet life on a rural estate in England, and when he comes to Wales for a change of pace, he doesn't really know anything about running a mine and ironworks but is determined to learn. He is an idealist who truly believes in mercy and justice, and is very open-minded to the plight of his workers. He wants to help them better their lives, but on a much smaller, more local scale than most of the Welsh people are hoping for, so he is constantly running up against stubborn opposition to his ideas, both from them and from other mine owners in neighboring valleys. Alex also takes his responsibility to his workers very seriously with the obligation weighing quite heavily on his shoulders. I really admired his commitment to social justice and change and his determination to keep going even though he sometimes felt like it would be easier and everyone would be happier if he just went back to England. Alex was a very sensitive, gentle man especially with Sian and his daughter, Verity. He was much more of a beta hero, in my opinion, although he did have a bit of an alpha protective streak, but was very controlled in meting out punishment. He was also a fabulous hands-on father. The only thing that bothered me slightly about Alex was that he offered more than once to make Sian his mistress, but I thought the author did a good job of showing that he was merely a product of the era and social station into which he was born. It was abundantly clear that he loved Sian to distraction, and I do believe that if it wasn't for the social strictures of the time, he would have had her down the aisle in a heartbeat. Overall, Alex was a very appealing hero, and I'm not sure I could have resisted the way Sian did even when he was only offering for her to be his mistress.
The main thing in this story that wasn't really my cup of tea was the unexpected love triangle between Alex, Sian and Owen, a Welsh ironworker who had been courting Sian for a while before Alex came to town. I'm simply not fond of love triangles in general, but this was something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I felt that the scenes with Sian and Owen at the beginning took away time that she could have been spending with Alex, and I also felt that Sian was perhaps giving up a little too easily by accepting second best. On the other hand though, I grudgingly concede that it did add a lot to the conflict and the sense of “longing.” This whole part of the story was very complex with Owen not being quite what he seems in the beginning, but also never quite being the villain either in spite of him doing some pretty bad things with which I strongly disagreed. This being the case, my feelings surrounding the love triangle element were pretty complex as well. In some ways, Sian's back and forth between Alex and Owen frustrated me even though I knew her feelings for each of them was very different, yet at the same time, I understood it in a way as well.
In spite of a few elements which I normally don't care for, Longing was a fairly pleasant read. It was something of a Cinderella tale, but with much more realism than the average fairy tale type story. Because of it's uniqueness, it managed to feed a different part of my brain than some other romances, while still being equally enjoyable. Longing was my first read by Mary Balogh, and even though I've seen some mediocre ratings for it, this book turned out to be a good choice for me. I've heard many favorable things about Ms. Balogh as an author, so I look forward to checking out more of her books soon....more
"4.5 stars" The Duke is the best book I have read in while. I really enjoyed this Cinderella-type story of a young woman who was reduced to a penniles"4.5 stars" The Duke is the best book I have read in while. I really enjoyed this Cinderella-type story of a young woman who was reduced to a penniless state by a greedy, obsessed suitor and the gallant duke who became her rescuer. Even though I liked this book very much it was not quite the perfect, grand romance I expected. Instead it bore a bit more resemblance to the historical reality of that era. That's not to say I didn't like it. It simply was different than what one might expect from a romance with this theme. I really admired Belinda. She had so many wonderful qualities, it wasn't difficult to see why Robert would fall in love with her. What I liked most about her was that in spite of being the victim of rape (and several unethical schemes) she never allowed herself to be victimized. Instead she took control of her life and courageously stood up to those who had done her harm. I also greatly respected her choice to maintain some shred of morality even though she had chosen to become a courtesan. Robert was a gentle and patient man who tried to live a virtuous life in an attempt to overcome the black mark his mother had left on the family name by having multiple lovers. In the beginning of the story, he seemed more beta than alpha, but when his protective nature came out, he could be frighteningly vicious. He was a little hard-headed at times though, which could be a bit frustrating to read, but in the end he fully realized Bel's true worth and put his heart on the line in the most romantic of ways. It was great to see him break out of the box he had been put into and truly feel free.
I really liked Gaelen Foley's writing style. Some of the situations she presents are very complex and nuanced making me think about them long after I finished the book (in fact I still am), such as what type of life circumstances might have caused a woman to choose the life of courtesan or how difficult it would have been for two people of highly differing social stations to marry. The author also had a way of holding back emotions at times, which I think may have been intentional, as it gave me a sense of the insecurity that Bel was feeling in her relationship with Robert. While the love scenes were not plentiful, they were very sensuous, beautifully expressing the building emotions between the two characters. I liked the way that the author was able to weave in several real-life historical figures as secondary characters, and there was a political element that for once was actually interesting instead of being dry. The story kept a steady pace, more than holding my interest. In fact, every time I had to put it down, I could hardly wait for the next opportunity to read. This was my first book by Gaelen Foley, but it was impressive enough that I could see her becoming a new favorite author in the future. I've already picked up Book #2 in this series, Lord of Fire and am definitely looking forward to reading it....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Oh my goodness! Devil Takes a Bride is one of the best books I've read in quite some time. Gaelen Foley has done it again, witReviewed for THC Reviews Oh my goodness! Devil Takes a Bride is one of the best books I've read in quite some time. Gaelen Foley has done it again, with yet another engrossing installment in the Knight Miscellany series. Devil Takes a Bride has now become my favorite book in the series to date, and that's no easy task since all of them have rated 4-5 stars for me. Ms. Foley is masterful at painting word pictures that make me feel like I'm right there and part of the story. It was much like watching a movie playing out in my head, complete with slow-motion action scenes. I think she is able to make me see all of these things so vividly in my mind's eye, because of the richness in her characterizations and the detailed descriptions of the settings and actions, and I definitely consider her to be an incredibly talented author to do this. Devil Takes a Bride is a near-perfect novel with thoroughly likable main characters, dastardly villains, suspense, sweet and sensuous romance, and an action-packed ending, and to top it all off, everything flowed together with the smoothness of an ocean current. I didn't find a single plot hole, and if there were any to be found, I was simply too absorbed in this amazing story to notice. The best thing about it was that there was nary a misunderstanding or TSTL moment to be found. Devlin and Lizzie are both described as having above average intelligence, and they both actually put their brains to good use. There were a number of times that danger, problems or mysteries arose in which a weaker author probably would have taken the easy way out by allowing the characters to be clueless and act stupidly in spite of their intelligence, but every time, Dev and Lizzie always put two and two together to figure things out and make good solid choices. I cannot tell you how utterly refreshing this is, and it made me respect both the characters and the author a whole lot more.
For me, Devlin was the epitome of the romantic hero. He is described as having long dark hair, a tanned and well-muscled body, and he even sports a piratical gold earring. Dev is the perfect blend of proper English gentleman and exotic savage gained from his years of adventuring around the globe. Outwardly, he is charming and intelligent, but within his gorgeous body, he harbors a dark tormented soul and an unquenchable thirst for revenge borne from the tragic murder of his family twelve years earlier. He has vowed never to love again, because all he knows of love is the pain of loss. Still, Devlin can't help but care, if somewhat reluctantly, for his aged Aunt Augusta who was his lifeline after his parents deaths, for his valet and best friend, Ben, and most of all for Lizzie. He sees in Lizzie a kindred spirit who understands him in a way no one else does except Aunt Augusta and Ben. Devlin is, without a doubt, a thoroughly masculine alpha male, but he isn't afraid to exhibit just enough vulnerability to also make him thoroughly human, which is a combination I can never resist.
I relate to Lizzie so much, because she is a lot like me, with a just little less fear and a little more spunk. I adored her all throughout the first four books when she was just a shy, bookish companion to Jacinda Knight, but in Devil Takes a Bride, Lizzie definitely comes into her own. She has always been rather invisible, caught between two classes and never really belonging to either, but in this book she earns all the love and attention she so richly deserves. What's even better is that Dev (and Alec) realized how much she merited her moment in the spotlight every bit as much as I did. I have to say that in those earlier books in the series, I had really liked Lizzie with Alec. In my opinion, they made a great couple, and I thought that for sure they would end up together eventually. I was rather sad when Alec hurt Lizzie so badly at the end of book #4, but Dev turned out to be far more than just a consolation prize. Until reading her book, I don't think I would have guessed the kind of passionate spirit Lizzie had within her. Alec's thoughtlessness had nearly jaded her completely toward men, and the determined bluestocking had decided to make it on her own for the rest of her life, until Dev came along to stir up her emotions again. Lizzie is simply a wonderful combination of gentility and tenderness toward anyone who needs it, intuitiveness and intense passion toward the man she loves, and ardent fortitude toward the world at large, making her one of the most perfect heroines I have ever read.
The secondary cast was equally as well-developed as Dev and Lizzie. Since Alec and Lizzie had unfinished business, so to speak, I was not at all surprised to see him resurface in Devil Takes a Bride, being his usual charming self, except now with a jealous streak added, after he realized what a huge mistake he'd made. I adored Aunt Augusta, a bit of a bluestocking in her own right, who was tough-minded enough to have made her way in life quite nicely after the death of her husband, and yet still thought the sun rose and shone with her much-favored nephew, Devlin. Even though she thought she had failed in guiding him through his grief, she actually did far more for him that she may have known. I only wish she could have had more scenes. Ben was also a wonderful characters, and I was very impressed with the author's choice to place a freed American slave not only in the position of Dev's trusted valet, but his most treasured friend as well. She even gave a hint of a blossoming interracial romance for him by the end of the book. Mary Harris was another strong female character whose courageous actions saved lives on more than one occasion. She was much like Lizzie in that she was tender-hearted enough to raise a child who wasn't biologically hers for twelve years, yet spunky enough to take on the bad guys almost single-handedly. The young girls, Sorscha and Daisy brought innocence and light to the story, and Aunt Augusta's spoiled cat, Pascha, was a hoot. Even the trio of dastardly villains, while certainly not likable, were rather intriguing in their own way. Each had very different personalities which blended seamlessly into the motives for their evil deeds.
Devil Takes a Bride is quite simply one of the best romance novels I have ever read, with all the elements there to make it great. There are many marvelous scenes in the book such as Dev and Lizzie's first sensual interaction which was filled with tenderness and a deep trusting intimacy that was a joy to read, or Dev finally coming to terms with his parent's deaths which was heartbreakingly cathartic. I can't really say that Gaelen Foley is known for her humor, but there was even a pretty good dose of that in this book. I'm not usually a fan of love triangles, but Ms. Foley managed to make one that was so endearing, I couldn't help but like it. Devlin and Alec's antics in vying for Lizzie's affections brought tears of mirth to my eyes. There was also a scene in which Devlin kidnaps Lizzie that was equal parts wry humor and dark sensuality, a heady combination. The only small issue I had with the book is a long passage of dialog that comes right before the consummation of Dev and Lizzie relationship, where Dev confesses his true involvement with the villains and the whole story of his family's deaths to Lizzie. I thought that the passage was equally as well-written as the rest of the book and the placement made sense, as the couple's long drive to the countryside was a perfect opportunity for conversation, yet it still seemed to interrupt the sexual tension of the moment. Overall though, this was a very minor thing in an otherwise wonderful story. Devil Takes a Bride is the fifth book in the Knight Miscellany series, and all the Knight siblings, their spouses and families put in an appearance, with the exception of the still errant Jack. Jacinda and Billy (Lady of Desire) and of course, Alec (One Night of Sin) actually have secondary roles, but none of the others have any dialog except for a very brief conversation between Lucien and Alec in the epilogue. Devil Takes a Bride was a well-rounded, engaging read that I cannot recommend highly enough, and one which I had an extremely difficult time putting down. Gaelen Foley is one of the most consistently good romance authors that I have found to date, and I'm eagerly looking forward to continuing this series, and reading about Alec's HEA very soon....more
I am a big fan of Lisa Kleypas's writing, and Suddenly You is yet another worthy effort from her but not my favorite ofReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
I am a big fan of Lisa Kleypas's writing, and Suddenly You is yet another worthy effort from her but not my favorite of her books. I have come to respect Ms. Kleypas as a writer who creates intelligent prose and unique sub-plots in her work. While Suddenly You begins with a very unique premise for the hero and heroine's first meeting, I found much of the rest of the book to be standard soap opera plotting with a lot of repressed feelings and misunderstandings. I have also become a fan of the deep, dark emotions found in many of Ms. Kleypas's other books and which I feel she is masterful at writing. While this book certainly was emotional, it did not quite touch me to the core like some of her other works. I think part of the reason for this is the more sarcastic, sharp-tongued banter between the hero and heroine which sometimes worked for me and sometimes didn't. I also don't tend to be a fan of romances that begin as casual affairs. I like to feel that the characters are “in” love before they “make” love, and while one could tell that they cared for one another, I didn't actually sense real love until later in the book. It was also a little sad to see Charles Hartley get dumped, as he was such a lovable guy for a secondary character, but of course we know that Amanda isn't in love with him, and Jack has to win out in the end.
While the book does have some weaknesses, in my opinion, it also has many strengths. Fans of progressive, independent heroines should really like Amanda. Sometimes, these types of heroines can become abrasive and annoying to me, but I found Amanda to be a good balance of nice and naughty, sensitive and independent. Underneath his hard exterior, Jack was a kind, loving hero. One scene from the book that I absolutely loved is when Jack tells Amanda all the things he “prefers” about her, with her intellect being at the top of his list. He eventually succeeds in convincing her that she is beautiful in spite of her imperfect body, a storyline to which I think most women can definitely relate. Being a very progressive thinker himself, Jack is ultimately very supportive of Amanda's ideas and treats her as his equal. There were also a couple of plot twists toward the end of the story that I enjoyed, one of which was rather humorous and the other, though sad and tragic, added much more depth to the characters' relationship. The pacing of the book was good, and as always, Ms. Kleypas does a wonderful job with descriptive details. The love scenes were positively scorching, so much so that I was surprised the book didn't catch fire while I was reading it.;-) Even though this book did not quite measure up to some of Ms. Kleypas's other works for me, it was still a very enjoyable read....more
I had very mixed feelings about this story. There were things that I liked about it, but there were other things that really frustrated me and came peI had very mixed feelings about this story. There were things that I liked about it, but there were other things that really frustrated me and came perilously close to giving it wall-banger status, something that is highly unusual for me. It was a primarily character-driven story with nearly all the conflict being of an internal nature. I found the plot to be interesting but very predictable. While there were some emotional romantic moments, they were just too few and inconsistent. The love scenes were very hot and steamy, but just lacked a certain emotional depth. I think this was partly due to the back-and-forth, will-they-or-won't-they nature of the story which became rather tiresome.
I liked Edward and Florence, but didn't really feel that their characterizations were consistent and sometimes they just weren't relatable to me. Florence was a sweet simple vicar's daughter who was extremely naive particularly when it came to things of a sexual nature, but yet was very willing and even eager to participate in sexual intimacies that were out of the ordinary. She almost instantly went from innocent girl to hot sex kitten, something which I thought stretched the bounds of credibility. I felt like I generally understood Edward as the brooding, aloof hero, but what I never could really grasp was his compelling need to protect Freddie. What under other circumstances would have been an endearing bond between two brothers, ultimately felt like obsessive behavior on Edward's part. Also his assertion that Florence was Freddie's last hope of regaining some respectability in society just didn't ring true. It seemed to me that any young woman could have filled the position as Freddie's wife, considering that he never lacked female admirers. In the end I just found Edward too passive for me to be able to fully respect him. I actually liked Freddie more, because I never felt like he was trying to hide behind false pretenses, and admittedly he was a rather charming scene-stealer. This was my first read by Emma Holly and although I can tell she has talent as a writer, it is possible that her writing style simply may not be for me. However, I'll wait until I've read the sequel, Beyond Seduction before making further comment.
Note:Beyond Innocence reads much like a traditional historical romance, but in my opinion the sexual content and explicit language (both of which some may find offensive) rather pushed the boundaries of what most readers would consider traditional, giving it a mild erotic feel. There is also one passionate M/M kiss which, again, may offend some....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Gallant Waif ended up being one of those books that I had a somewhat difficult time rating. The writing itself is excellent anReviewed for THC Reviews Gallant Waif ended up being one of those books that I had a somewhat difficult time rating. The writing itself is excellent and well-deserving of having been a finalist for the Rita Award, but the push-and-pull relationship wasn't entirely to my liking. The hero and heroine of Gallant Waif have a love/hate romancethat is about as tempestuous as I've read to date. This is something that I usually don't care for, but somehow it didn't annoy me in quite the way that most stories of this type would. I think this had a lot to do with both characters still being very sympathetic underneath the armor of their obstinacy. The author gives a lot of insights into why they think the things they do about each other, which in context, made a lot of sense to me. I still felt like shaking both of them on occasion though, because most their problems boiled down to a lack of communication and sheer stubbornness on both their parts. The softer moments are rather few and far between and didn't last long enough for me, but are very romantic when they happen. The vast majority of Jack and Kate's interactions are spent arguing. Sometimes their quarrels are laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes they are merely heated disagreements, and still other times they actually say things that are emotionally hurtful, occasionally deliberately although usually not. Whatever they happened to be wrangling over though, it all seemed to be a carefully choreographed dance to keep each other close while still holding each other at arms length and stubbornly denying their feelings. Although there were times that I wished that one or the other would lighten up a little, I strangely still understood them for the most part which is how I know that this novel was so well-written.
Jack isn't quite as intensely tortured as some heroes I've read, but he does have a tendency to brood a lot and drink too much. He was severely wounded during the Peninsular Wars and came home with his once handsome face now seriously scarred and a bum leg that prevents him from dancing or riding. Jack's father died just before his return having disinherited him for his choice of fiance, leaving Jack with only a run-down country estate and 500 pounds to his name. Then his shallow fiance broke off their engagement because of his scars and near-penniless state. All of this has left him understandably cynical, so when Jack's grandmother brings Kate to his home, he is trying to hide away from the world and drink himself into oblivion.
Kate is orphaned and penniless herself, with her father having been a poor vicar. He and her brothers were all killed in the war. Kate is considered by society to be a gently bred lady, but having traveled with the army on the Peninsula, she has seen and experienced the darker side of life. In fact, some unfortunate things happened to her during that time which make her believe that she is un-marriageable and have made her prefer a reclusive life away from society as well. I liked the dichotomy of her struggling to face what she believed was the reality of her future and still dreaming of getting a Cinderella-style HEA. Her father had also resented her, because of her mother dying while giving birth to her, so Kate never had her father's love, nor was she as well-educated as most ladies would have been. Her education was more one of experience, but she was a strong young woman who didn't shy away from hard or difficult work. When Jack's grandmother, who was godmother to Kate's mother, hears of her plight and comes to whisk her away, Kate resists, only to find herself thoroughly tricked and kidnapped by the old lady. Once she is safely ensconced in Jack's country home, she energetically throws herself into righting not only Jack's household but Jack himself. Of course, she initially doesn't realize that she's having a desirable effect of a different sort on Jack.
In all honesty, I'm not really used to both the hero and heroine being so emotionally damaged. Usually, when one character is severely battered in body and/or spirit, the other one is a little lighter. While it often takes a wounded person to understand a wounded person, I think I tend to prefer that one character be strong and understanding while also being less angsty. Jack and Kate carry about equal baggage, so they are both very emotionally intense while also both being incredibly stubborn. I will admit that it made them perfect for one another in some ways, because they were both willing to say what needed to be said when the other one needed a kick in the pants. On the other hand it was that angst and stubbornness which made them butt heads so often. It also kept them apart until the very end of the story, and diminished some of the emotional connection for me.
The one good thing about Jack and Kate's obstinate natures was that it created a situation that was ripe for sharp, witty bantering. I loved how sometimes Kate would verbally bait Jack, and then he, the military man who was used to ordering people around, would suddenly become flustered and not know what to say. These exchanges had me in stitches, and I have to say that I haven't had a book make me laugh like that in quite a while. I also liked Jack's grandmother, Lady Cahill. She was one of those really feisty old ladies who could definitely go toe-to-toe with both Jack and Kate, and without the support and behind-the-scenes manipulation of her and Jack's friend, Francis, I'm not sure they ever would have given in to their feelings for one another. In my opinion, the book could have used a little more dialog, especially of the non-combative type. I think that having three, prominent, hardheaded, alpha-type characters in one story was perhaps a bit too much, but fortunately, I still liked them all anyway. Also, as a side note, this story has no love scenes at all or any other particularly objectionable elements which should make it suitable for a wide range of romance readers. It was obvious that Jack and Kate both had very passionate natures, so I was slightly disappointed by this, but not overly so. Readers who like a good love/hate romance between two willful but likable characters that lead to both funny and emotional moments, should really enjoy this one. Even though I tend to like my romances a little more on the softer side, I actually enjoyed it too, which I think is mainly owing to Anne Gracie's superb writing skill. This was my first book by Ms. Gracie, but I will definitely be checking out some of her others as soon as I can....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Bride Thief was a delightful read in so many ways. It was utterly romantic, as sweet as the honey Samantha used in her hanReviewed for THC Reviews The Bride Thief was a delightful read in so many ways. It was utterly romantic, as sweet as the honey Samantha used in her hand creams, and frequently made me laugh out loud. This story was a fun, fairy-tale fantasy with an eccentric, plain-Jane spinster heroine who finds her hero in the form of a man who carries off would-be brides from unwanted arranged marriages. The Bride Thief was a charming tale that had a refreshing lightness and certain aura of innocence about it, with even the darker, more dangerous parts managing to carry some weight without being too heavy. With only one actual love scene, there isn't a lot of heat in this one, but I found that one scene to be just a little bit daring while also being sweetly sensuous. Jacquie D'Alessandro is masterful at creating a strong emotional connection and sexual tension with mere looks and gentle touches, and I've yet to find another author who does this quite as well. In addition, I absolutely love Ms. D'Alessandro's sense of humor. I found myself laughing every few scenes for the entire first half of the book. Eric being jealous of himself every time Sammie waxed romantic about the Bride Thief was hilarious, and Sammie's creative way of getting out of her arranged marriage, as well as a conversation with her three married sisters about birth control nearly had me rolling on the floor. Ms. D'Alessandro definitely has a knack for spinning tales that find a great balance between entertainment and emotion.
Eric and Samantha were two of the most wonderful characters I've read in a while. Eric perhaps carries a bit too much guilt over not being able to stop his beloved sister's miserable arranged marriage, but it's also what drives him to be the Bride Thief and makes him a compassionate and progressive-thinking hero. He has a heart of gold and treats all the women in the story with kindness and respect, even the ones who aren't as deserving of it. He is also a very understanding man who sees beyond the outward eccentricities (read: geekiness) of both Samantha and her brother, Hubert, and in fact, finds both them and their scientific pursuits to be genuinely fascinating. Overall, Eric was very kind, caring, loving and a whole host of other adjectives. I don't think there was really anything not to like about him. To say that Samantha is an unconventional heroine would probably be an understatement. She is physically plain, right down to dressing in a very ordinary way and having poor eyesight that requires spectacles. She'd much rather be observing nature, inventing things with her brother in their lab, or studying the stars through their telescope than attending balls and soirées, not to mention, she's a firmly on-the-shelf spinster. While she's OK with the idea of not marrying and doesn't believe anyone would ever want an oddball like her anyway, Sammie does keep a diary in which she writes romantic stories about the true love of her fantasies. She is also very honest and plain-spoken, and I admired her boldness in just telling Eric that she wanted to be lovers and continuing to pursue him even after he'd turned her down once out of a sense of honor. All in all, I related to Sammie very well, and can't think of anything that I didn't like about her.
The secondary characters were very entertaining and likable as well. I found Sammie's close family connections with her parents and siblings to be very endearing. Sammie is always patient with everyone including her melodramatic mother with her amusing planned fainting spells. It also went the other way with Sammie's three sisters adoring and protecting her in spite of the fact that she is their complete opposite. I also loved Sammie's interactions with her teenage brother, Hubert. They were certainly two peas in a pod, who probably understood each other better than anyone else ever could. At first it seems that Sammie is a protective, motherly figure to Hubert, but eventually the reader discovers that Hubert is equally protective of Sammie, which I thought made for a beautiful reciprocal relationship. Eric's connection with his own sister, Margaret, runs just as deep, and when she returns home after the death of her evil husband, their scenes are laden with emotion. There is also Eric's loyal stable master who is more like a father to him and is initially the only person who knows about his masquerade as the Bride Thief, as well as the magistrate, Adam Straton, who is determined to apprehend the Bride Thief but is also an honorable man who has harbored a deep love for Margaret for years. Overall, it was a very well-rounded supporting cast with personalities ranging from outrageously funny to deeply touching.
I have to admit that after finishing The Bride Thief, I had a rare moment of indecision on how to rate it. I really loved the story and wanted to rate it a bit higher, but there were a few things that I thought could have been improved. The pacing was a little slow and uneven in places, and I found a small continuity error in which Hubert's age changed from fourteen to sixteen and then back to fourteen again. There was also some repetition in details, some of which could be cute and fun like the running thread of Eric and Samantha coming up with words to describe each other that all began with the same letter, but another of which had the characters almost constantly sighing over one thing or another. Although this was a pretty minor thing and it did always fit with the scene, I just thought that perhaps a little more creativity was in order. In the end, I think the thing that bothered me the most was that Eric and Samantha began the story with a very stark honesty to their characters which I found extremely refreshing, but then the major conflict devolved into the cliched misunderstanding which was a bit disappointing. In spite of the minor detractors that kept it from just missing keeper status, The Bride Thief was definitely a solid 4-star book that was an absolute joy to read. Anyone looking for a lighthearted, escapist fantasy that is a breath of fresh air should look no further, and after two lovely reading experiences in a row from Jacquie D'Alessandro, I'm certainly looking forward to continuing my exploration of her work....more