AAR staffers Anne, Caroline, E.B, Keira, Maria Rose, Mary and Sara share their thoughts on some of their recent reads in another of our occasional series of mini reviews.
I looked forward to reading this Regency novella about a hero recovering from the horrors of war. Unfortunately, it read more like a textbook for show versus tell and often reads like an outline rather than an actual story. The hero and heroine don’t have a real encounter until about 20% into the book which, for a novella, is way too late.
Not long before James went off to fight Napoleon, Claire was his governess for a brief time before he became an adult. This is odd because a boy in his late teens would usually have been sent away to school. Now, James is the Duke of Fairfield, but he suffers nightmares as a result of his experiences in battle. Claire is still the governess for his “brood” of cousins, but we’re not told why they are living in his house. The estate is in financial trouble and desperate need of repair. James tries to find the strength to improve the estate, while his mother gets impatient with his inaction.
The crisis that finally brings Claire and James together borders on the ridiculous and comes completely out of nowhere. The whole incident was so over-the-top that I found myself trying not to laugh, rather than worrying for Claire’s health. But at least that scene held my interest – which is more than can be said for the rest of the story. The dialogue is flat, frequently clumsy and often pulled me out of the story. For example, “James knew the servants had been askance at what his mother had done.” Or “…he looked around, listening to the children caterwauling plaintively.” Someone needs a decent editor.
The story keeps referring to the duke’s “royal manor” and referring to him as a “royal.” But most dukes are not royals – the only exceptions are members of the Royal Family. Farfield is described as “an impoverished, tiny county.” but there is no county in England called Fairfield. Did the author mean to refer to a district? Or a “duchy”?
The idea of a story featuring a nobleman coming home with PTSD could have have been great. Instead, it results in a hero who lets his mother overstep her boundaries and a serious condition that is healed with just a few kisses and sweet words.
Note: This is listed as an inspirational romance in the Amazon store and marketed as a clean romance. While it is a clean romance, the faith of the characters doesn’t come up much at all.
Grade: D Sensuality: Kisses
The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer
This book is the clear low point of my Heyer binge. Reading it was a chore, like trying to jog in thigh-deep water while someone kept promising it would get better a little further on. The premise – the heroine, Elinor, marries the hero Lord Carlyon’s dying cousin in order to ensure Lord Carlyon does NOT inherit the estate and endure accusations of greed – is silly, but I can work with silly. Unfortunately, what happens next is a labored mystery about a missing piece of the Duke of Wellington’s correspondence with so many stupid decisions by the characters that you start to wonder if this is a horror movie instead of a mystery. Without giving the details, it also has the most unsatisfactory ending of any mystery I’ve ever read.
I didn’t like any of the characters. A young cousin is inappropriately enthusiastic about everything, including accidentally killing the cousin and being shot, in wearyingly repetitive slang (everything is “bang up,” “capital sport,” and “famous”). Elinor constantly whines about the bizarre situation she’s been thrust into without actually doing anything about it, and Lord Carlyon is a smug know-it-all who takes no measures to protect Elinor in the face of the attempted and actual murders of supporting characters. His ego bubble isn’t even dinged by failing to prevent a blow to the head which knocks her unconscious because, and I quote, “I dare say your head aches sadly, but it is only a bruise.” Then he tells her he loves her on the last two pages.
Well, I wish them a very happy future of her whining at him and him shrugging it off. For my part, I’m happy to wash my hands of them.
Grade: D+ Sensuality: N/A
Jack entertains – and the romance is delightful (I do love the way Ms. Burrowes writes dialogue between her leads) – but compared to her other books, this one fails to stand out. It’s good but far from great.
Sir Jack Fanning returns to his estate in Oxfordshire after many years (and adventures) in India, only to discover he cannot control his own staff. On a visit to his close friend Axel Belmont and his new wife Abby, he’s introduced to Madeline Hennessey. During the course of his afternoon with the Belmonts, several things about Madeline become clear to Jack: aside from the fact that she’s pretty and feisty (ahem), Ms. Hennessey is an expert at household management. He’s determined to steal her away, and the Belmonts, secretly matchmaking, barely object to his attempt to poach their best and favorite employee. But Madeline resists – she has problems (and secrets) of her own, and only agrees to a temporary arrangement when she realizes the Belmonts are willing to let her go.
Convincing Madeline to restore order in his household only solves one of the problems currently plaguing Jack; he’s also the local magistrate and at his wits end trying to discover the person/persons behind a recent series of seemingly random petty crimes. Complicating his investigation is an underlying sense that the ‘crimes’ appear to benefit – rather than harm – the victims and the town. Meanwhile, Jack finds himself distracted by and attracted to his housekeeper, and in spite of her obvious attempts to maintain a distance between them, he decides he wants her in a more permanent role in his life. Unfortunately for Jack, Madeline’s secrets (and her murky origins) – and an unwillingness to unburden herself to Jack – prove a formidable obstacle to a romantic relationship between them.
Secrets. Silly secrets. In Jack, secrets (oh, and an interfering mother) keep Jack and Madeline apart for the better part of the story and the time answers are finally revealed, they are a bit anticlimactic. An astute reader would have guessed what was happening long before Jack does – and frankly, as the plot device that keeps Jack and Madeline apart, the secrets are a bit too contrived and silly to support this full length novel. I love most of Ms. Burrowes’ books; I didn’t love this one.
Rating: B- Sensuality: Warm
Elene Fitzhugh is a termagant, well-versed in the use of sharpened daggers and a sharper tongue. With her long thick red hair hanging matted in front of her face, a shrieking cursing voice, and a reputation for having killed her first husband, men tend to stay as far away from her as possible, including the men of her demense.
Geoffrey, oh, Geoffrey de Burgh, warrior and scholar, he’s patience and courtesy incarnate. Elene mocks him by calling him Saint Geoffrey, but honestly, he deserves that sainthood. He draws the short straw when the king’s edict reaches his father that one of the de Burgh knights has to wed The Fitzhugh.
Geoffrey is this rare human, medieval or modern, who takes the plate he’s been served and does full justice to the food placed therein. He gives his marriage his all, not losing his cool or his courtesy even in the face of her insults, shrieks, threats to his person at knife-point, and lack of bathing or reading skills.
And in so doing, he shows Elene what it is to behave humanely to others. He shows her what it means to be strong and kind, to be humble and sexy, to be patient in everything and yet impatient in intimacy. And above all, he shows her what it means to respect and understand another person.
Geoffrey cracks that hard shell of defense with which Elene has surrounded herself by being the best person he can be. She watches him do it day in and day out and she learns slowly but surely. This gradual birth of Elene de Burgh into gracious lady of the manor and Geoffrey’s lover and helpmeet is very well presented.
My quibble with the book is how long in the story Elene’s tantrums and her looking evilly through her hair last. I felt very sorry for Geoffrey for much of it, while admiring his fortitude. I also didn’t understand his attraction towards her for the first half of the book. I did eventually understand why Elene was the way she was and come to admire her transformation, but I would’ve liked more time spent towards convincing the reader that the HEA was going to be a lasting one.
Grade: B- Sensuality: Warm
Maria Rose’s Reads:
This is the first story in the Sorcerous Moons series. It’s a planned three-book trilogy and Lonen’s War sets the stage for the romance between Oria and Lonen. It can be read as a standalone but the story arc is clearly meant to continue in the next two books. Clearly much thought has gone into this series as the world building is unique and the story definitely holds my attention right from the start.
This story tells of the Bara and the Destrye peoples, who are at war. The Bara are a magically influenced society with sorcerers and sorceresses who rely on their unique brands of telepathy to influence and strengthen each other. The perfect marriage bond is one in which the two people complement each other with their sources of magic. But those are few and far between. Princess Oria has long wanted to gain the powers her mother and sister have but so far has been unable to reach the ‘zen’ like state that it requires for her to become a full sorceress. But her time is up when the Destrye people attack. Suddenly she is thrust into a position of power and must make a truce with their leader as their attack threatens to overwhelm the populace. But Oria is also under attack from factions within her own land who would see her stay locked away in a tower until she comes fully into her power.
Lonen is desperate to protect his people from the vicious golems sent by the Bara people who are stealing their water. Along with his brothers and his father the king, they intend to destroy the Bara once and for all, stopping their evil attacks and the theft of their precious resource. But the slip of a girl, Princess Oria is like no-one he’s ever seen before, and despite his thoughts that there must be some trickery involved in her truce offer, he accepts. They are two people thrust into positions of power for their followers and must find a way to co-operate, especially when a third species enters the fray and threatens to destroy them both.
I really like the world-building of this story, the magic systems and the obvious differences between the two cultures. As is often the case, the fight between their two peoples is a result of the decisions taken by a few, and those decisions have wreaked havoc on Lonen’s people, and now Bara’s. Despite Oria’s external fragility, she is a strong character and I really enjoyed the relationship she has with her familiar, a small dragon named Chuffta. Though I would have wished for some romance between Lonen and Oria, they have definitely established a connection and must find a way to work together to save their people. I look forward to reading the next part of their story!
Grade: B Sensuality: Kisses
Shiloh Walker has come up with another entertaining and emotional romance in her Barnes Brothers series with Ruined in which Sebastian, the golden boy of Hollywood gets to play the hero in a way he never expected. While he’s had a crush on Marin, a close friend of his older brother (and a fellow actress he enjoys working with) for years, she’s been careful to stay clear of anything intimate with him, his easy playboy ways not what she’s looking for in a partner. But when Sebastian’s ex-girlfriend comes for a visit and ends up dead, with Sebastian having taken the knife from her abusive lover and killed him with it in turn, the physical scars he’s left with are no match for the emotional ones. Through his year of recovery from the trauma, Marin stands by him and is the only friend he can countenance being around him. With alcohol a complement to his pity party, his memories of some of what happens when she is around are fuzzy. But when the alcoholic fog clears, and he sets his sights on the future, he knows what he wants – and it’s Marin. But will his efforts be too little, too late?
Despite the traumatic nature of the attack that Sebastian is involved in, the overall story, while being emotional at heart, doesn’t descend into too much angst. Sebastian is definitely within his rights to struggle with what happened, especially when he is confronted by it in the mirror every day (his good looks are ruined by the scar on his face). As the attack takes place fairly early in the story, the majority of the plot deals with the aftermath and his relationship with Marin. From friends to lovers, their relationship is complex and fraught with memories and dreams. They’ve both secretly lusted after each other but neither made a move to change that, until Sebastian’s injury alters his view of the future. I like the way the story progresses, the steamy scenes between the two of the them as they struggle to figure out just what their relationship is, and how Sebastian becomes a man of much more depth than seen at the beginning of the story. There are a few scenes of misunderstandings and miscommunication that were sometimes frustrating for me as a reader and at times I wanted to give Marin and Sebastian a little corner time to talk things through. But overall I really enjoyed them as a couple. Plus, it is nice to see an older woman/younger man romance in a Hollywood type story (where it tends to be the other way around). Ruined is a solid addition to the Barnes Brothers series.
Grade: B Sensuality: Warm
Skinwalker by Faith Hunter
For readers who like Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels books and Patricia Briggs’ shapeshifter tales featuring Mercy Thompson, Faith Hunter has crafted an engaging paranormal/urban fantasy series based on the main character of one Jane Yellowrock, the last known skinwalker and vampire hunter extraordinaire. Skinwalker is the first book in the series and sets up a world of paranormal beings living amongst the non-magical in the Crescent City of New Orleans.
Jane Yellowrock is a skinwalker. She can change into pretty much any animal though changing into larger animals with more bulk is a little more complicated and her preference is for large cats. She also has an inner beast that at times fights her for supremacy, but they cooperate with each other in order to get the job done; the job being killing vampires. Since Jane is a vampire hunter by trade, it comes as some surprise when a vampire hires her to track down a rogue vampire in New Orleans. Jane’s go-to detective form is a mountain lion/panther and it is in this form she prowls the streets of the Big Easy in search of the rogue, that is not only killing people but seems to be making new vampires without permission as well.
Jane gets mired down in vampire politics over the course of her investigation and of course this puts her in danger more than once. Also in danger is a local man who thinks Jane may be horning in on his own investigation and it is this local man who provides one of Jane’s main sexual attractions of the story. A big dog vampire is the other and the reader wonders throughout the story just whom Jane might end up with. This is probably the most disappointing aspect of the book as the romance (or lack thereof) takes too much of a back seat for my taste. The mystery of the rogue vampire is slow to get going, but once the background is set up, it’s easy to settle in for an enjoyable ride. Jane is a little grumpy-sliding-towards-curmudgeonly and it takes a while to warm up to her, so readers should be advised to wait at least until the halfway mark in this book to judge the main character.
This author is not going to topple Andrews and Briggs from the top of the urban fantasy/paranormal/shapeshifter heap, but she definitely provides a distraction in between release dates for the above mentioned authors and has done a solid job of setting up her series. If readers like this first book, then there are nine more waiting in the wings.
Grade: B- Sensuality: Subtle
To Love A Wolf by Paige Tyler (5.76 at Amazon)
Members of the Dallas SWAT team are quite a bit different from other officers. They’re all werewolves, handpicked to serve, protect and use their special skills to keep the city safe. Officer Landry Cooper, formerly a Navy EOD Tech, has been working with the local FBI office to catch a serial bomber. When he gets caught up in a bank robbery during his off hours Landry is put on administrative leave after using too much force to stop it. Hiding the wolfish side of himself can be difficult in stressful situations; however it was his attraction to Everly Danu who was a hostage in the bank that made him slip up and catch the attention of Internal Affairs.
Everly is swept off her feet by the handsome SWAT officer who saved her life. He’s funny, easy to talk to and seems like the most open man she’s ever dated before. Her attraction to Landry comes easily but she’s a little scared by how quickly her feelings turn from lust into a deeper emotional connection. For Landry, that instant bond with Everly confirms his theory that she’s his ONE, a true mate for the rest of their lives. Of course Everly has no idea that he’s a werewolf and things get further complicated when Landry’s Navy buddy resurfaces in Dallas needing his help. Everything comes crashing down on Landry when Everly’s family discovers his secret and reveals the truth to her before he can. Will their new love survive her fears about his nature?
Along with the other books in Paige Tyler’s S.W.A.T. series, To Love a Wolf makes a point of keeping one foot firmly in reality while crafting a whole paranormal world. Landry is constantly having to balance the wolf within him with the man that he’s always been and there are great moments of action when Landry uses his knowledge of explosives and military tactics to save his teammates from the bomber who is terrorizing the city. New readers will enjoy how focused the story is on its characters and the lives they lead over the supernatural world they’re a part of.
Grade: B Sensuality: Warm
Fashion blogger Marley McMann is a little shocked when her father and brother arrive on her L.A. doorstep in the family’s old camper to take her on a cross-country road trip. A family vacation traveling Route 66 had been the dream of her late mother and Marley cannot pass up this last chance to bond with her remaining family before life keeps pulling them in separate directions. What begins as a sentimental journey very quickly veers into National Lampoon’s Vacation territory as Marley falls prey to the reality of living in close quarters with two rather slovenly men. She might have forgiven all the disgusting habits and her brother’s childish behavior until one prank has her mooning a passing hitchhiker who turns out to be Porter Smith, her brother’s best friend and the love of Marley’s life.
Porter probably should have said “No” to his best friend’s idea to join him and his family on their cross-country vacation. Being so close to Marley reminds him of the night he let himself get too close to her and ended up breaking her heart. Hoping that the time together might heal old wounds, Porter accepts her cold attitude and angry glares until he can apologize for the way things ended between them. As Route 66 takes them both far away from their comfort zones Porter and Marley begin the even longer road to forgiveness and possibly rekindling the affection they had for each other long ago.
The Mother Road is an entertaining and emotional trip through the choices people make to be happy and find that one person who understands them. Marley and Porter both made mistakes in the past that they regret but it’s seeing those decisions through more mature eyes that creates understanding. There is never a doubt that their love was stronger than their anger or fears, yet it takes the journey (both literal and figurative) for them to find the place where they can embrace that love. I have never laughed harder while reading a book than I did through Marley’s misadventures. From Truth or Dare games involving Funyuns, crazy hippies still preaching free love and the quest to find the perfect American hot dog, there is much to enjoy in this book.
Grade: A- Sensuality: Warm
Have you read any of these? Or what have you read lately that you’ve loved and/or loathed? Drop by and let us know in the comments.