Monday, January 25, 2010

Secrets of a Duchess

Title: Secrets of a Duchess
Author: Kaitlin O'Riley
Genre: Victorian Romance
My rating (Max 10): 9.85

Ms. O'Riley's debut novel, Secrets of a Duchess, is a beautifully written Victorian romance with rich characterizations and an unusual story line.

Caroline and Emma Armstrong are orphaned with the death of their father and saved from penury by a titled grandmother they never knew. The Dowager Countess of Glenwood takes her granddaughters under her wing, teaches them how to be "ladies", and gives them a Season with hopes of marrying them off. Emma is outgoing, sweet, and pretty and has no trouble attracting beaux. Caroline is beautiful, intelligent, has a winning personality, but she doesn't want to get married and therefore "disguises" herself as a bluestocking.

At the Season's first significant ball, the Maxwell's, Caroline escapes the ballroom to the seclusion of a balcony. There, dressed in white and swathed in moonlight, giving her an ethereal glow, while she tries to figure out how not to attract a husband, she meets Alex Woodward, the Duke of Woodborough, who also doesn't want to get married. Alex is on the balcony hiding from the Maxwell's spoiled daughter, Madeline, who is determined to marry him.

Alex and Caroline have a friendly conversation during which they share their secrets about not wishing to marry and seal their new friendship with a kiss. The kiss ignites a longing in Caroline which she fights and a love in Alex which he embraces.

Alex makes certain the Maxwells know he will not marry their spoiled daughter, Madeline, then
goes in pursuit of Caroline who had instantly won his heart. Alex was determined to marry for love and regardless of her determination not to wed, he was determined to marry Caroline whom he loved and was certain he could make love him.

At the next major ball, the Talbots', Alex waltzed with Caroline twice, becoming the talk of the evening because the duke never danced with anyone once, let alone twice. That established the relationship between Caroline and Alex as far as the ton went. It was at this ball that the question which drove the rest of the narrative was revealed: Caroline Armstrong was hiding something significant enough to prevent her from marrying. From this point, the narrative drops hint after hint about the secret, until the reader is certain she knows what it is. Ms O'Riley, however, does a great job of throwing in a few plot twists to ultimately surprise the reader.

Ms. O'Riley's slow, steady development of the relationship between the hero and heroine, the conflict between Alex, Caroline, and Madeline, and the crescendo of Caroline's secrets drive the narrative and keep the reader interested and speculating about what is to come.

The secondary characters are nicely developed, their physical descriptions detailed enough to give the reader a good mind's-eye image. Physical locations are described thoroughly enough to summon a picture in the reader's imagination, but not so detailed as to be tedious.

The dénouement was nicely woven together, no deus ex machina was utilized to smooth the weave. Instead, the reader was treated to a suspenceful, twisted ending well worth the wait.

Secrets of a Duchess was an enjoyable read. I highly recommend it as one of those must read books that introduces the reader to an author who gives a fresh twist to Victorian Romance.

As always... Thanks for stopping by. Make it a great day!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sex and the Single Earl

Title: Sex and the Single Earl
Author: Vanessa Kelly
Genre: Regency Romance
My rating (Max 10): 9.95

The second in a series, Sex and the Single Earl is a stand-alone book. Its two main characters, along with some secondary characters, are introduced in Ms. Kelly's debut novel, Mastering the Marquess. Her debut novel was a wonderful introduction to a very talented new author, but the proof of how talented Ms. Kelly truly is, is this, her second book. It is even better than her first!

Sophie Stanton is an endearing heroine who loves deeply, feels intensely, is deeply loyal, and has an unshakeable sense of right and wrong. She is devoted to her family, especially her brother Robert, and she, "loves to distraction," Simon St.James, the Ninth Earl of Trask.

Simon is a hero I sometimes loved and sometimes wanted to shake some sense into. As an Earl, Simon was to maintain and care for his family's estates, but Simon was determined to broaden his responsibilities by investing in the woolen industry and becoming its biggest player. He was so ambitious, he often twisted his priorities and took for granted things he shouldn't have, most especially Sophie's love.

Sophie and Simon had known each other most of their lives. Simon always felt extremely protective of Sophie, but he never realized how much he loved her. It took a number of misadventures, some set up by his jealous ex-mistress, from which Sophie needed rescuing, until Simon realized how important she was to him.

A delightful cast of secondary characters, including spinster aunts Jane and Eleanor, brother Robert and his new bride Annabelle, and impoverished Toby and his beautiful sister Becky, move the always-interesting narrative along. The villains are unredeemable, especially Bathsheba the venomous ex-mistress, and add a sociological and historical depth to the story. Ms Kelly has obviously done impressive research.

If you are a romance fan, don't miss this one. If you are a Regency romance lover, you can't miss this one. Ms Kelly reveals and describes the underbelly of English society in a way Regencies never do. She introduces us to two abused and impoverished characters whom I hope she writes about in a book devoted to them. The "tour" of Bath is instructive--I haven't read about it since Austen's Persuasion.

I gave the book an almost perfect rating. If I had two things cleared up, I would have made it a 10:
1. What happened to Jem Taylor and Mrs Delacourt?
3. Did Simon exact any revenge on Lady Randolph?

Place this book on your must-read list. You won't be disappointed.

Even though I know the book would have a Dickensian bent to it, I hope Ms. Kelly writes a sequel to this book, telling the story of Toby and Becky two characters with too much potential to let their story go untold.

As always... Thanks for stopping by. Make it a great day!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A letter to Slade Debolt

Dear Slade Debolt
From the book Shameless
By Gayle Eden

Dear Slade,

I find you to be about the most perfect man I've ever read about. You are extremely handsome, you have a body that makes all women swoon in your wake, and yet it is your personality that is so completely endearing.

Your humility, loyalty, courage, patience, kindness, generosity, understanding, and tender loving nature are unparalleled. That you like animals a lot and have a good sense of humor only serve to make you more perfect. Your intense devotion to your nephew, and your deep ongoing love of your deceased father and brother and your tender love of Casey further make me adore you.

I know you used to be a rodeo bull rider and now you're a horse trainer. Bull riding seems counterintuitive because of your gentle nature. Training horses seems like the perfect fit. I am certain that once you marry Casey and have your personal life settled, your business will grow incredibly fast.

I am a huge fan of yours and wish you and Casey every happiness that you both so richly deserve.

Your fan,

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Title: Shameless
Author: Gayle Eden
Genre: Sensual romance
My rating (Max 10): 9.7

What can I say? I love this book. It is a small book, and I've read it at least four times. I love the hero and heroine and their love story is sweet and straightforward. It's nice to read a story about two people who meet, fall in love and decide to marry without complications.

Casey Roark returned to her home town after a ten year absence. In the time she was gone, she transformed herself from the ugly, overweight girl who had perpetual bad hair and always looked awful to a cute, thin, attractive woman. But she couldn't change the fact that she was painfully shy.

On her first night back, welcoming her to town was a billboard advertising her old high school nemisis for the office of mayor. Casey became so angry, she stopped into the dance hall, picked up a cowboy and had him relieve her of what she considered her last burden: her virginity.

It turns out, she picked up the town's perfect hunk, Slade Debolt who was drop-dead gorgeous both in face and body. As it turned out, Slade didn't do the one-night-stand thing any more than Casey did. But, for some reason, he did with Casey just that time. He treated her well and after the deed was done, as they had agreed, they parted company without knowing each other's names.

Anonymity didn't last long. Slade came into town every Saturday for supplies and caused such an uproar with the female population oogling him, Casey found out who her paramour was almost immediately. Slade was curious about the mysterious redhead and since they lived in a small town, he easily found out who she was.

Slade shadowed Casey for eight months, "bumping" into her, flirting with her, and finding out about her, but she ran away from him at his every attempt to engage in conversation. Finally, the rodeo came to town and gave Slade, a horse trainer who had horae stock in the competitions, the perfect opportunity to coral Casey into going to the event with him. One thing led to another and the imperfect Casey who wanted to be loved for the woman she was, fell in love with Slade who wanted someone to love him for the man that was underneath the perfect packaging.

The language is graphic. If you're sensitive to cursing and detailed descriptions of intimacy, don't read this. However, if you're looking for a romance between two really nice people, this is your book. It's a quick read, but thoroughly enjoyable. I graded it down only because the editing was poor.

As always... Thanks for stopping by. Make it a great day!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mastering the Marquess

BLOG: Mastering the Marquess

Title: Mastering the Marquess
Author: Vanessa Kelly
Genre: Regency romance
My rating (Max 10): 9.5

Ms Kelly has written a wonderfull debut novel, Mastering the Marquess.
It is a Regency period romance which demonstrates her talent as an author as well as her skill at research into the societal workings and mores of the ton and the machinations required to enter a young woman into a Season and secure her debut into polite society. The characterizations are rich, the narrative is quick-paced, interesting, and arresting.

Meredith Burnley and her half-sister Annabel have been orphans for about three years. Meredith has cared for her sister for years, since their mother died. Annabel has been sick and their uncle and cousin, villains both, threaten to put her in an asylum.

To avoid such a fate for her sister, intensely devoted Meredith steals her sister away to Annabel's estranged grandparents in London. It is there, at Stanton House, that Meredith and our hero, Stephen, Marquess of Silverton meet. For them both, it is love at first sight, but the difference in their social status, Stephen's mother, and the villainous Uncle Isaac and cousin Jacob and their machinations keep Meredith and Stephen apart.

There are two romances in this book, the main one is Meredith and Stephen's, and secondarily is Stephen's cousin Robert and Annabel's. Robert and Annabel are immediately drawn to each other and fall in love. Their romance is on course from the beginning.

There are two other characters, Stephen's best friend, Simon, Earl of Trask and Stephen's cousin Sophia who are too wonderful to be left behind in this book. I'm hoping that Ms. Kelly has their story in a follow-up book.

The narrative has heroes, damsels in distress, villains, and a Cinderella-type ending. Though she seems to pack a lot into the book, Ms Kelly has written it so well that all component parts are seamlessly woven together to create an engrossing, pleasing story.

I strongly recommend this book to all Regency Romance fans as well as romance novel junkies like me who appreciate a strong cast of secondary characters, a feisty heroine, a marvelous hero, and a love story to sigh over.

As always... Thanks for stopping by. Make it a great day!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Review: He Came Upon A Midnight Clear

Title: He Came Upon A Midnight Clear
Author: Cat Johnson
Genre: Contemporary romance
My rating (Max 10): 1.0

This is the first truly uninspired work I have read. It was a novella and therefore short, but I still had to force myself to finish it.

The narrative takes place at a mountain home that our heroine was house-sitting. She is avoiding a trip down the mountain to visit her parents for Christmas dinner. She doesn't answer her phone, nor respond to her answering machine messages. Ginny, the heroine, instead turns on her TV to watch a self-help show. The show encourages her to make a list of things she can do to change her isolation and loneliness.

The stage is now set for the most predictible, cliche story I've ever read. First comes the blackout. Then comes the loud noise from outside, an unsecured barn door, requiring Ginny to go outside and bolt it. Outside, in front of the barn, a very handsome, totally buff man, is semi-conscious, wet, half frozen, and suffering from, you guessed it, amnesia. More obvious stuff to come; Ginny has to bring him in, he has to shed his clothes, he needs her body's warmth because there is no heat and she can't figure out how to make a decent fire in the fireplace (she's obviously not a member of Mensa). One thing leads to another…

Next morning. the mysterious stranger has disappeared without a trace, making our heroine think she's had one super sexy dream. Our previously writer's-blocked author pens a book, which becomes a best seller immediately even though she is a first-time author with absolutely no name recognition, about that night. She has an epiphany and she now wants to be with her family. Pass a few completely insignificant pages and our heroine is within minutes of leaving the house she's been in for a year as the owners are momentarily returning. When who should drive up but mister-tall-dark-and-handsome who has regained his memory and kept the memory of their stolen night together and now wants to steal her away.

The pièce de résistance was the importance of their names. She was Ginny as in Virginia, as in "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." His name? Yep, minus the saint, his name was Nick.

Unless you're really bored and there is not another available piece of written fiction available, save yourself, pass this one by…unless you want to read quintessential example of a poorly written, uninspired, and uncreative romance.

As always... Thanks for stopping by. Make it a great day!

One Week As Lovers

Title: One Week as Lovers
Author: Victoria Dahl
Genre: Regency Romance
My rating (Max 10): 9.3

This is the third in a Regency series by one of my favorite authors, Victoria Dahl. No. I have not read the first two:
To Tempt A Highlander; and A Rake's Guide to Pleasure. However, I do intend to read both these books within the next few weeks.

The title of this book does not do it justice. There are so many facets to the story and its complex characters; a reader might think she was going to get a light and carefree narrative. One Week As Lovers is neither. It is the story of two childhood friends who are separated when they are adolescents and whose lives detour down different paths, finally coalescing as twenty-somethings when word reaches our hero, Nick, that his childhood friend Cynthia has just committed suicide.

Viscount Lancaster, aka Nick Cantry, leaves London, returning to one of his family's country estates to pay his respects to Cynthia's family. What he finds is a stepfather not grieving for his lost stepchild, instead worrying about how he would repay a debt to the notorious and evil lord he owed, a debt he was to have paid by giving his stepdaughter in marriage; and a heroine who has staged her suicide. but is very much alive.

There are several plot lines going at once. Cynthia has found a deceased cousin's journal which tells about buried treasure which she and Nick pursue. Nick worries about having to sell himself into a loveless marriage to achieve enough wealth to save his family. Cynthia and Nick pick up the relationship they once had as children and nurture it into a loving adult relationship, and Nick must figure out a way to save Cynthia from the evil Lord Richmond.

There are many heavy social problems touched on in this novel. It is not a light, airy, and thoughtless romance. It brings up the repercussions of child rape, parental emotional desertion, suicide, loveless marriage and the limited options for the gentry to save themselves from poverty.

There were not as many secondary characters as Ms. Dahl normally spices her novels with, but the few that were there were wonderfully written.

This is a Regency historical novel from a sociological point of view, examining mores and their echoes through a life. I read some reviews of this book and had to wonder if the reviewers actually read it. They called it a light-hearted romance. This story may have had some lighthearted moments, but it was by no means lighthearted. I encourage you to read this novel for its unique narrative and its unusual hero and heroine.

As always... Thanks for stopping by. Make it a great day!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Review: Lead Me On

Title: Lead Me On
Author: Victoria Dahl
Genre: Contemporary Romance
My rating (10 max) : 9.25

Lead Me On is the third book in a three book series, the first two being Talk Me Down, and Start Me Up. Though all the books are stand alones, it would help if you read Start Me Up before this book because it introduces Jane and tells her boss, Quinn Jennings' story.

Ms. Dahl's books are always full of a delicious assortment of characters who interact with each other with humor, pathos, and realism. The characters in Lead Me On are all that is found in previous books and so much more. They are flawed and most are from the trailer-park side of the railroad tracks.

The heroine, Jane, is a judgmental, conservative, and snobbish woman who is not very likeable upon first appearances. But, as the story unfolds, we learn that Jane is not really Jane at all, but a woman previously named Dynasty Alexis who completely reinvented herself, down to changing her name, in order to leave her difficult past behind her. Jane wears very conservative, nonflattering clothes, her hair is pulled tightly back into a bun, her intention is to draw as little attention to herself as possible, which includes her chosen "vanilla" name. She also dates only conservative, professional man who can give her the white-picket-fence kind of life. As the story unfolds, the back story of Jane explains her unbending attitudes and her obsession with changing herself and her life.

Jane's world gets rocked when big, tall, muscular, tatooed, dusty-t-shirt-wearing, ground-in-dirt -jeans wearing William "Billy" Chase walks into the Jennings office and into her life. Chase, as he is called, represents everything Jane does not want in a man except his joie de vivre and great passion. He has managed to put his difficult childhood behind him and has learned to cope with his father's alcoholism.

There was instant chemistry between Jane and Chase which she tried fighting against and he kept striving for throughout the book. Family complications and personal challenges kept the relationship from going to where Chase wanted. He fell in love with Jane, whose other persona he had known when they were younger. Jane resisted a deepening relationship even though, as the narrative progressed, she could not see that she had fallen in love with Chase who had quickly become her best friend.

Jane's stubborn lack of acceptance of the good man Chase was for prejudiced and ignorant reasons and Chase's insistence that Jane needed to accept him without his intense pursuit became grating at times. These two characters belonged together. By the end of the book, everyone had figured that out, including them.

I enjoyed Lead Me On. It read quickly, caught my interest immediately, and kept me interested the entire narrative. I love the secondary characters and Chase, and, through Ms. Dahl's skillful writing, I even learned to like Jane.

I highly recommend this book to any reader who appreciates the intricacies of family relations and cheers for a happy ending for two people whose paths have crossed time and again because of the generous hand of fate.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Review: Wishes

Title: Wishes
Author: Jude Devereaux
Genre: Fantasy romance
My rating (10 max) : 9.8

I have not previously read Jude Devereaux. Definitely, my loss. Her book, Wishes, was a delightful take-off on the Cinderella story. I've seen and read any number of these type stories and usually enjoy them for what they are, copies.

Wishes has a heroine, Nellie, who is over-worked and under-appreciated by her ungrateful family. But, unlike the fairytale princess-to-be, Nellie is overweight. She has a beautiful face, a sweet personality, and a kind heart. She loves her manipulative, abusive sister and never sees her for the vicious user she is; nor does she see her father, who substitutes for the wicked stepmother, as the penny-pinching, verbally abusive, slave master that he is. The book begins and ends with her ever-faithful love for the reprehensible pair.

The story mostly takes place in Chandler, Colorado in 1896. Jace Montgomery, our stand-in for Prince Charming, comes to Nellie's to be interviewed by her father for a job in his shipping company. He arrives an hour early so that he can meet the beautiful daughter that Charles Grayson had been touting. Jace wanted to meet Grayson's paragon of virtue and when he meets Nellie, he instantly falls in love with her. The problem is, Grayson never mentioned having two daughters. He wants to marry his youngest daughter, Terel, to the undercover shipping heir. She is the only daughter he ever talks about.

One misadventure after another, usually conducted by Terel, causes almost terminal problems to the relationship between Jace and Nellie.

Jace is not the usual princely type. He adores Nellie, but he is jealous and has a bad temper. He almost loses his would-be bride because he isn't aggressive enough in his pursuit.

As in most Cinderella stories, there is a stand-in fairy godmother, Berni. The book begins at Berni's funeral. Yes, funeral. I almost shelved the book, but I'm glad I didn't. It turns out that Berni's stint as Nellie's fairy godmother is part one of her redemption on her path to heaven.

I loved this book. I'm a sucker for Cinderella stories, but this one was unusual and special. It could have dipped into cliche after cliche, but it didn't. Its unique takes on the familiar story are endearing. A good love story with a fair dose of magic is always enjoyable.

It is an absolutely wonderful book with absolutely wonderful characters.

As always... Thanks for stopping by. Make it a great day!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Review: In Care of Sam Beaudry

Title: In Care of Sam Beaudry
Author: Kathleen Eagle
Genre: Contemporary Western Romance
My rating (10 max) : 7.0

In Care of Sam Beaudry is the first book in a series of two about the Beaudry clan. Though each book is a stand-alone, this book lays down lots of background information which helps the reader understand some of the more obscure details about Zach Beaudry in One Cowboy, One Christmas.

As this book begins, life in Bear Root is going on as usual: quiet. It is a small Montana town of just over one thousand people with a general store owned by Hilda Beaudry, a medical clinic where a relative newcomer, Maggie Whiteside, works as a nurse, a sheriff's office where Sam Beaudry works, a school, a courthouse, and a few more assorted buildings.

Early in the story, a seven-and-one-half year old girl, Star Brown, walks into Hilda Beaudry's store and announces herself as Hilda's granddaughter. Hilda was quite surprised by this pronouncement because, as far as she knew, she had two single, childless sons and no grandchildren. Hilda and Star bond almost immediately. They become almost inseparable throughout the story.

Star Brown came into Bear Root with her critically I'll mother, Merrilee. Sam learns the identity of Star's mother and realizes that she was his love when he was in his early twenties. They had broken up because Sam loved Merrilee, but she loved his friend Vic Randone, and both Merrilee and Vic loved drugs. Sam thought it much more probable that Star was Vic's daughter, but can't deny the resemblance, no matter how slight, between the little girl and himself, while there is none between Star and Vic.

Sam cannot understand why Merrilee had not contacted him years earlier, but she died leaving Star and a lot of unanswered questions behind. Sam suggests that he try to locate Vic, but the child is terrified of that man and negates that proposal.

Sam, Maggie, her son Jimmy, and Hilda unofficially adopt Star, integrating her into life in town. All is going well. Sam's and Maggie's romance is developing nicely. Star has adjusted well. Then Vic drifts into town looking for Merrilee and demanding that he be given custody of Star because she's his daughter.

It turns out Star has something Vic desperately wants. The end of the book is the unravelling of the mystery of what he wants and how he goes about getting it.

I enjoyed this book, but not as much as Zach's. There were too many pat answers, and it was too predictable. I liked the main characters, disliked Vic, and rooted for the success of the relationships between Sam and Maggie, Sam and Star, and Star and Hilda.

I recommend this book. It is a quick read and a feel-good story. It's not the kind of book you remember for a long time, but it is the kind of book that allows escape to a quieter, more peaceful, and less complicated life, at least for the duration of the read.

One Cowboy, One Christmas

Title: One Cowboy, One
Author: Kathleen Eagle
Genre: Contemporary
Western romance
My rating (10 max) : 8.5

I stumbled on Kathleen Eagle quite by accident while hunting for books about Christmas romances in the Kindle store. This book had received five stars from the reviewers, so I gave it a try.

As is my usual mistake, this is the second of two books about the Beaudry clan. The first is In Care of Sam Beaudry. Of course, I have not read that book, but I will do so immediately.

One Cowboy, One Christmas takes place on the Double D Ranch, owned and run by the two Drexler sisters. Their ranch is a sanctuary for wild horses that would otherwise be slaughtered. Their only helper, as the book begins, is Hoolie, an elderly cowboy who has worked the ranch since their dad bought it.

The story starts shortly before Christmas during a particularly frigid South Dakota winter. A bull riding rodeo cowboy named Zach Beaudry is driving to catch up with the next venue on the rodeo circuit when his pickup dies. He walks the long distance to the closest residence, the Double D, where, suffering from hypothermia, he collapses on the ranch's porch. Ann and her older sister, Sally, who suffers from MS, take the unconscious cowboy in and nurse him back to health. Once recovered, Zach begins working for the Double D as a way to pay Hoolie back for fixing and gassing up his truck.

When Ann first sees the unconscious Zach, she is shocked, remembering him from a romantic encounter they had eight years before. Zach senses something familiar about Ann, but he doesn't recall their interlude. Ann eventually reminds Zach about their meeting when she was a college student and he was at the height of his career.

As the relationship between Zach and Ann develops, Ann, who is also a high school teacher, takes on Kevin, a Lakota fourteen-year-old trouble-maker who was ordered by juvenile court to do community service work at the Drexler ranch.
Hoolie takes Zach under his wing, trying to train him
to become a true cowboy, while Zach takes Kevin under his wing, trying to teach him the cowboy code.

The list of characters is relatively short. The heroine is an everyday kind of woman, not the über perfect type, but just above average. The hero is a hunky cowboy in search of his identity outside the rodeo circuit.

The secondary characters are flawed, but good-hearted people who care deeply for the ranch and its occupants, both two- and four-legged varieties, and enrich the story with their insights and repartee.

The dialogue is crisp, spirited and realistic. The relationships between all the characters build at an honest pace and in realistic ways.
There is no great suspense, no intense drama in the book. It has the reader rooting for a happily ever after ending for all the folks at the Double D.

A completely enjoyable book that will make you laugh, cry, and just plain feel good, I highly recommend One Cowboy, One Christmas.

As always... Thanks for stopping by. Make it a great day!

My list of books read in 2010

I've signed on to many reading challenges for 2010. This post will be ongoing, charting my reading progress as I go.
I am a romance novel junkie. If you have any reading suggestions, please leave them in a comment below.

The following is my list of books read in 2010: Title, Author, Date Read.

1. One Cowboy, One Christmas
Kathleen Eagle 01.01.10
2. In Care of Sam Beaudry
Kathleen Eagle 01.01.10
3. Wishes
Jude Devereaux
In progress

As always... Thanks for stopping by. Make it a great day!