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TBR Challenge – Back to School and Some Catching Up to Do

gatheringstorm February proved to be quite the “challenging” month for me and I finished only four books that applied to my challenges. The good news is that reading three of those books helped me finish off my geography challenge. None of the books were standouts to me unfortunately, although A Gathering Storm by Rachel Hore was certainly the most memorable.

In Hore’s novel, Lucy Cardwell’s father seemed to have some sort of breakdown shortly after his mother’s death. He divorced his wife and seemed obsessed with some strange branch of family history. When Lucy sorts through his papers she finds out about an uncle she never knew she had. Intrigued she finds herself visiting her father’s childhood home, the once beautiful Carlyon Manor. The house has burned down but the village near it is still around and it is there that she meets Beatrice, an old woman who knows all the secrets of Lucy’s family. Starting in the 1930’s and ending shortly after the war we learn of a boy, a girl and a breathtaking adventure. While I loved Lucy and her modern day love affair, I couldn’t quite reconcile myself to Beatrice, who seemed to have been a rather selfish and self-absorbed young woman who didn’t quite appreciate the people around her.

– Maggie Boyd
I’ve made a start on the books I’ve so far chosen for the Back to School Challenge, although I admit, I’m moving fairly slowly, so far.

My first choice was inspired by this prompt:

Read a book where the hero or heroine is an astronomer, astrologist, astronaut, or is a “star” (e.g., a movie star, a famous athlete, etc.)

luckiestladyI chose The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas, in which the hero is a talented amateur astronomer and the heroine has long been fascinated by the stars. It’s a terrific read, full of Ms Thomas’ trademark sensuality and complexity. The hero and heroine – Felix and Louisa – are both living behind masks; he is outwardly The Ideal Gentleman, while being a manipulative bastard underneath, and she is intelligent and spirited, but hides it beneath a veneer of amiability.

Louisa needs desperately to find a wealthy husband in order to support her mother and sisters, so she has spent years turning herself into ideal wifely material. Felix, the product of a childhood in which he was used as an emotional football by his parents, learned how to be duplicitous and selfish at a young age, but instead of unleashing these particular qualities upon the ton in feats of orgiastic debauchery has instead led everyone to believe he is the perfect man. When he and Louisa meet, the sparks fly instantly – and he is even more drawn to her when he realises she has actually seen through his façade and wants nothing to do with him. It’s beautifully written and incredibly sensual; Felix and Louisa have a LOT of sex, but Ms Thomas has fortunately gone with the “less is more” option and not turned the book into a bonk-fest! I’m a huge fan of hers – as, it appears, are many AAR readers, given the popularity of this book in the recent annual poll, and I think this is one of her very best.

I skipped ahead to Day 5 of the challenge for my next book, which was Gabriel by Grace Burrowes, in response to the simple prompt to read the fifth book in a series. Gabriel is book five in the author’s Lonely Lords series and it pains me to admit that it’s the first of Ms Burrowes’ books I’ve read which has left me feeling disappointed. That’s not to say it’s a bad book – far from it. The writing is lyrical, the characterisation is strong and there is plenty of humour, a tender secondary romance and the eponymous hero is an absolute sweetie. But the premise of the story – Gabriel has allowed his family to believe him dead for the past two years while he attempted to discover who was behind the threats to his life – was allowed to fizzle out and when the mystery was finally solved, the answer was so lame that it threw a wet blanket over the whole book for me.

My aim for the next month is to read at least two books from the paperback pile by the side of the bed!

– Caz Owen
hideaway For the multi-blog TBR Challenge, our theme of the month was series catch up. Now, I have an embarrassment of riches on this one because I tend to be pretty lackadaisical about finishing up entire series of books. Since I have so many books to choose from, I took forever to pick out a book to read. In the end, I happened across Hannah Alexander’s 2008 release, Hideaway Home and decided to give it a whirl. I’ve enjoyed several of the Hideaway books published for Love Inspired’s contemporary suspense line, so I was curious about this World War II-era prequel.

Hideaway Home tells a homefront story from the end of the War. V-E Day has passed, and most people’s attention has shifted to the war in the Pacific. As the book opens, injured soldier Red Meyers is headed home from Italy to Hideaway, Missouri. It’s a difficult journey home for Red because he has not yet come to terms with his war injury and feels rather useless due to his limp. He had planned to marry his childhood friend and sweetheart, Bertie Moennig, but now he thinks he has nothing to offer her.

Bertie has her own troubles. All through the war, she had written faithfully to her beloved Red, and she has been both hurt and worried by the fact that his letters to her suddenly stopped. In addition, she had worked in a aircraft plant, but now feels compelled to return home following the mysterious death of her father. Though warned that she may not be safe at home due to suspicions surrounding what happened to her father, she feels determined to come home for his funeral and to keep the family farm running.

This book really was a mixed bag. On the one hand, the story was filled with all kinds of interesting historical detail. Instead of a history lecture, I felt like I really did get transported to small-town America in the 1940s, complete with references to the prejudices faced by German-Americans during the War and the hardships seen on farms recovering from the Great Depression. The mystery caught my eye as well. It’s not a high-action sort of suspense tale, but rather one of those stories where it quickly becomes apparent that something just isn’t quite right, but it’s not obvious right away what that is.

On the less positive side, Red and Bertie have a pretty blah romance. Their dialogue felt a little bit wooden and while Red’s injury could have been the setup for some compelling conflict, it just never really came together. Add in a rather abrupt ending to the suspense plot, and it all averages out to a C read for me this month.

– Lynn Spencer

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