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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Review: The Devil's Heart by Cathy Maxwell

The Devil's Heart by Cathy Maxwell
Publication date: April 30, 2013
Publisher: Avon Romance
Series: The Chattan Curse #3
Goodreads | Amazon

This is a good conclusion to the Chattan Curse trilogy, and while it can be read as a stand alone, it's much better to read the trilogy in whole as there are recurring characters. I rarely read historical romance with fantasy elements, but this curse is rather interesting, and the characters are more than they seem.

As Lyon and Harry Chattan fall prey to the Chattan curse when they fell in love in the first two books, Lady Margaret Chattan is on a trip to Fenella's home in Scotland to put an end to the curse before her brothers die. During her journey, she is beset by ravaging storms and unpredictable events, one of which put her in a coma, to be found by Heath Macnachtan, the last of the Machnactan line, descendants of Fenella who cursed the Chattans. As he falls prey to Margaret's beauty, they must work together to solve the mystery of the curse before it's too late.

The book's pacing is slow at first, to finally pick up speed about half-way in the story. I didn't like the impetuousness of Margaret's character at first, when she just up and shot Heath in a moment of panic. Furthermore, Heath continued to help this beauty despite not believing in the curse, falling prey to physical attributes. Thankfully though, the characters are shown to have more depth as the story develops, and they are presented more than just the Unattainable (title bestowed upon Margaret by her admirers) and Laird of one of the poorest clans in Scotland.

Margaret hides a scandal in her past under a glacial mask of aloofness, never letting anyone get close to see her vulnerability, and stopped believing in love. Because of that, only her brothers saw past her mask, and for them, she gained enough courage to confront a witch and a centuries-old curse despite in constant fear of failing. This sets up our lonely and emotionally-weak heroine, who learns the meaning of true love with Heath. Heath sought an escape from his poor clan through the navy, and when his brother was murdered, he was forced to confront his heritage and an impoverished clan. With so much financial trouble, it would all be solved if he could marry rich Margaret, yet he doesn't want to be labeled as a fortune hunter. This back-and-forth arguing about marrying and proposals between them became tedious once they declared their feelings, so I must admit to some relief that the curse actually aided their relationship.

What I like about this book is that Margaret realizes "love is discovering that here, at last, finally, is a person I can trust, someone I know will never hurt me and yet will always be honest with me." Heath took a while longer to fall in love with Margaret's courage and inner determination, but as usual, it's a happy-ever-after.

The mystery aspect of this book, that of Heath's brother's death and the resolving of the curse, is nicely done. With fast-paced action and eloquent writing, I recommend this book to readers, if they can overlook some flaws in characterization and pacing. Cathy Maxwell's books are usually hit-or-miss for me, so I'm glad to note this one isn't a miss.

Rating: 4 tulips 

*I received an ARC from the publisher via edelweiss in exchange for an honest review

Friday, September 27, 2013

Review: Ruined by a Rake by Erin Knightley

Ruined by a Rake by Erin Knightley
Publication date: March 30, 2013
Goodreads | Amazon

Eleanor Abbington's first meeting with her new step-cousin Nicholas had him steal a kiss from her, a boy who's two years younger than she. Over the years, they've engaged in verbal and fencing battles, the latter's victory reward being a kiss. Eleanor, now at age 24, holds marriage in contempt due to her mother's unhappy marriage. However, her uncle is forcing her to wed his political associates to further his own bills, and she's resigned to that fate. It took Nicholas, who had just come back from the army as a commissioned officer, to help her gain back her determination and fighting spirit, as they tried to thwart her uncle's intentions.

This is an adorable tale of two bickering friends who, as adults, came to see each other as something more. Nicholas had harbored a crush on Eleanor for years, and it was nice to see him act the dependable man despite his young age. What love he didn't find with his stepfather he found with Eleanor, who came to see him as not a boy, but a man, a man she had grown to love.

The ending is a bit abrupt, and I would have liked a more satisfying retribution to the devious uncle, but given its length that's understandable. All in all, this is a quick and delightful read with two wonderful characters (I especially like the opening scene, how cute little Nicholas was in stealing a kiss).

There are also teasers in the back to Erin Knightley's Sealed With a Kiss novels, including Flirting With Fortune.

Rating:: 4.5 tulips

Review of Flirting with Fortune:

Review: A Lady's Lesson in Scandal by Meredith Duran

A Lady's Lesson in Scandal by Meredith Duran
Publication date: June 28, 2011
Publisher: Pocket Books
Goodreads | Amazon

Meredith Duran's writing has a way to make one feel, to experience vicariously through the characters intense emotions that transcend the pages of this novel. For that, I would rate her writing and accurate but gruesome depictions of London's seediest areas 10 stars on a scale of 5.

Duran's characters are also written with an astounding complexity and wit. Simon and Nell's thoughts are always true to their own way of thinking, Simon's as a cynical man looking for revenge, and Nell as a sentimental realist who dreams but cannot believe her good fortunes will last. A great part of the story is completely character-driven, as the plot is a simple one: Simon discovers Nell to be the long-lost daughter of his predecessor, so he devises a marriage of convenience that will provide him with much needed wealth, and take Nell out of being a guttersnipe if she can prove her inheritance. What follows then is a battle of wills, resulting in each discovering the other's charming and irresistible sides, and realizing, not without surprise, that their circumstantial differences may indeed be too wide to be overcome by mere love.

Due to both Simon and Nell's having been raised in a rather hostile environment, they undoubtedly have trouble trusting each other. Nell's wits have been honed by years of fending for herself on the streets, serving as a facade to her vulnerability and insecurities. Simon is just even tougher than Nell, having developed a harsh cynical outlook on life that does not go well with his being a nearly destitute aristocrat. Even as he begins to enjoy Nell's company, tutoring her in the ways of a lady, and succumbing to his sexual desires for her, he remains the cold, pragmatic aristocrat for most of the book.

Then, they get married, and a honeymoon period follows for a while, to only be disturbed by Nell's realizations of Simon's initial willingness to turn her out were the courts to deny her heritage. The last quarter of the book became more plot-driven, coupled with the characters' reluctance to say "I love you," which thankfully, was not prolonged. The change from Nell's trying to keep Simon due to her love, to her leaving him twice for "his own sake," heightened what I felt was the ubiquitous chasm of their stations; Simon's inability to comprehend some of Nell's behavior and beliefs, through no fault of his own but for the difference in their nurturing environment, became more apparent when he could not reconcile the depth of his feelings for Nell.

Perhaps it is the fact that Simon's confession of love to Nell seemed so visceral, so desperately made, that it loses plausibility when he had, in the span of just some pages ago, been a highly ruthless and pragmatic man, a model of Machiavellian principles. And after his earth-shattering confession, he was giving Nell the choice to leave him and pursue her freedom. While on one hand this was done as a show of trust, it appeared rather farcical given Simon's earlier exhibition of male dominance to keep Nell by his side. But, in the end, Simon resorted to noble idiocy, and gave Nell a reason to leave him while effectively trapping her to his world with her love:

"I have no interest any longer in playing the tyrant. But if you want me, you will have to take my world along with me." (p 1148/1178)

The indecisiveness of the two characters - Simon's noble idiocy and Nell's noble, but unnecessary self-sacrifice at the end of the book, appeared as an overly dramatic proving of love; a change in the book's hitherto splendid pacing.

Despite the above, this is a beautifully written story telling an incredible love that could well have served as a treatise on Victorian class differences, but for its dramatized theme -- whether love can bridge the gap between class differences -- I found the story's resolution too rushed and neatly done to be plausible. Nevertheless, I have so enjoyed being lured into this story by Meredith Duran's superb storytelling that I can't bear give this book any rating lower than 4 stars.

Rating: 4.5 tulips

Review: Lady Vivian Defies a Duke by Samantha Grace

Lady Vivian Defies a Duke by Samantha Grace
Publication date: May 7, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Series: Beau Monde #4
Goodreads | Amazon

We first met the hero, Luke Forest, in the previous Beau Monde book, Miss Lavigne's Little White Lie, in which he served as a helpful side character. Now, Luke has become the Duke of Foxhaven, and is seeking to disengage himself from his responsibilities as a duke, staring with cancelling his betrothal to Lady Vivian Worth.

Vivian is a spirited, bold, and somewhat reckless young lady. She's not given to conformity over stiff manners or propriety, and her childhood situation - the death of her parents - has contributed to her streak of independence. The first meeting between Vivian and Luke is humorous and engaging, she having mistaken him for another, and he believing her a dairy maid. Luke's initial mission to cancel his betrothal to Vivian is in conflict with Vivian's need to make a good marriage and not further embarrass her older brother, else she be sent off to a convent leaving no one else to care for her ailing cousin. Once Luke's good nature overruns his own mission, he proposes to find Vivian a husband, and through that process, he comes to want Vivian more as his own, as only Vivian is capable of healing the hurt in his heart.

What I love most about this book are the characters of Vivian and Luke. Vivian is such a delightful character whose charm and innocence bellies a sensitive and caring nature. For her family, she is afraid of failing to secure her marriage, but she cannot help "messing up" the proprieties, as they were. I absolutely adored Vivian, and she provided me with a few hours of laughter in her dealings with Luke. Luke's character also came as a surprise, for he is a most caring and considerate person, without a trace of the common aristocratic arrogance that's in most of his Regency peers. He suffers from the effects of a traumatic brain injury, which cause concentration problems among other things, and is hence the reason for his delegating ducal responsibilities to his brother, and believing he has no right to make Vivian his duchess. Later, his problems turns more psychological, as his own anger and fears of failure manifested physically to difficulty in reading, leading him to believe even less of himself. Of course, it was Vivian who finally convinced Luke of his worth, and in so doing, established a stronger emotional bond with him.

Were this the whole of the story, I would have given this book 5 stars. Unfortunately, halfway through the story, Luke's taking Vivian to his mother's party (in order to find suitors for her) led to a series of evil machinations from Luke's cousin that turned an otherwise wonderful romance into an annoyance. Not only did the story start to drag from then on, but the misunderstandings also impeded Luke and Vivian's relationship; I was glad when Luke finally decided to throw caution to the winds and believe in his love with Vivian, and more so when the manipulators came to light.

Ultimately, the first half of the book made me want to sing praises to Samantha Grace, while the latter half diminished my enjoyment of the story. Despite the extraneous plot twists, Lady Vivian Defies a Duke is a clever and enjoyable romance between two unique and engaging (though Luke was a bit vexing) characters. I look forward to Mrs. Grace's next book, as it will no doubt be a beautiful and fulfilling story.

Rating: 4 tulips

*ARC received from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Review: Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare

Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare
Publication date: May 28, 2013
Publisher: Avon Romance
Series: Spindle Cove #4
Goodreads | Amazon

Tessa Dare has proven herself a fantastic writer with her Spindle Cove series, and Any Duchess Will Do lives up to my expectations, though it's a close second with A Week to Be Wicked.

The premise is highly amusing. Griffin York, the Duke of Halford and the fourth richest man in England (I quote this) is breaking his mother's heart. The duchess desperately wants grandchildren before she falls into her decline, or worse, commit atrocious knitting crimes with nothing else to occupy her affections. She kidnaps Griff and tells him to pick any girl for her to turn into duchess material, upon which,if successful, he will marry the girl. To thwart his mother's scheme, he picks Pauline Simms, the local serving girl at Spindle Cove, and promises her a thousand pounds if she proves to be a disaster. Pauline is reluctant to leave her intellectually defective sister, but she takes up Griff's offer as it would help her achieve her dream of owning a circulating library. The duchess has one week to turn Pauline into duchess material, and dazzle the ton. Thus, the reluctant heroine takes on a reluctant duke, both knowing that nothing can come out of this arrangement, yet from the first moment they meet, passion flares between them, and they both become each other's salvation.

Kudos to Mrs.Dare for the complexity of the characters she developed in this story. Pauline has pride and a wonderful sense of humor, but she is also insecure and seeking the approval of others. For the first time in her life, she will succeed if she fails, and no one knows more about failure than she. But even to a simple serving girl, Griff's kindness and magnanimity is enough to make anyone fall in love with him, not to mention the smothering attraction between Pauline and Griff. Griff wants Pauline, but he also senses that she needs someone to break her fall, to protect her from all the hardships in life she's endured; in return, Pauline offered her undying love and devotion to Griff, mending a rift between him and his mother, and turned London on its heels.

Despite the book's focus being on Pauline, it is clear that Griff is the true protagonist of the novel. Griff's abrupt change from a dissolute rake to an emotionally confined, haunted man is the central struggle in this novel, and one that is foreshadowed frequently throughout the book, though not fully revealed near the end. He is a kind and admirable hero, considerate of others and noblesse oblige, but personally I admit to a slight frustration with Griff, for his vacillating between wanting Pauline and pushing her away. It is the same with his "deeply held secret;" he thinks about telling Pauline at various times throughout the novel, but decides not just as much. One moment he declines Pauline's offer to spend a night together, yet the next he is condoning an affair with her knowing he cannot marry her. This appears to be a rather callous on his part, akin to using Pauline to satiate his lust for her. At the end of the novel, however, he suddenly decides to marry Pauline, when just sometime ago he was adamant that he cannot marry her. I wonder at his abrupt change of heart, as even he realized he was in love with her by half of the book. What's more, his reason for wanting the Halford line to die with him is somewhat illogical, and rather thrown out of the blue, despite there having been a small hint at the beginning.

My assessment of the hero may seem harsh, but I felt it necessary to point out his somewhat incongruous characterization, as it had left me in confusion multiple times while reading. That being said, Griff and Pauline truly had a wonderful love, and the epilogue with the other couples from the first two books of the Spindle Cove series was a delight. I can find no fault with either the witty, hilarious dialogue, or the intriguing plot. Mrs. Dare is certainly on my auto-buy list now; her writing being one of the best in the genre. Readers will not be disappointed when they read this, as they will surely fall in love with Pauline and Griff's love story, as I did.

Rating: 4.5 tulips 

Reviews: Highlanders: The Warrior and the Rose\The Forbidden Highlander\Rescued by the Highland Warrior (anthology)

Highlanders: The Warrior and the Rose\The Forbidden Highlander\Rescued by the Highland Warrior (MacKinloch Clan, #3.5)
Title: Highlanders: The Warrior and the Rose\The Forbidden Highlander\Rescued by the Highland Warrior by Brenda Joyce, Michelle Willingham, Terri Brisbin
Publication date: June 1, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin
Goodreads | Amazon

HIGHLANDERS is a fantastic anthology by three original voices in Scottish historical romance. In all three stories, the romance is wonderfully developed and written with lyrical, moving prose.

Brenda Joyce's The Warrior and the Rose sets up the stage for her upcoming series, and focuses more on the historical background behind Clan Dougall (the Comyn family) and Clan Donald. Lady Juliana MacDougall is a brave and strong woman, whose goal was to protect her nephews in the midst of clan war, when Alasdair Og took them hostage. Juliana's display of courage towards Alasdair, and Alasdair's growing understanding that Juliana was just an innocent caught in the war lit the sparks between them. The conclusion of their love was sweet and provided an interesting interlude amidst the continuing war.

In The Forbidden Highlander by Terri Brisbin, Elizabeth MacLerie is in love with James Murray, who is equally in love with her but honor bound to marry her friend, Ciera Robertson. Ciera is also miserable in the arranged marriage, as she loves Tavis MacLerie, who in turn loves her. The mismatched couple is introduced within the first pages of the story, its setup complete, clamoring for a predictable ending. The resolution is naturally obvious, but having the characters already being in love by the beginning of the story does not leave a great deal to tell, aside from how much James was willing to throw away his betrothal in order to marry his love.

Rescued by the Highland Warrior by Michelle Willingham is my favorite out of the three. With the death of her husband, Celeste de Laurent, Lady of Eiloch, is given a fortnight by her devious brother-in-law and his wife to prove her pregnancy else be rid of a home. In order to protect herself and her younger sister from poverty, she decided to take a lover in order to conceive, eventually arriving at the MacKinloch keep, where she again meets her only love, Dougal MacKinloch. Dougal is bitter towards Celeste for abandoning a future with him, but as his clan grows fond of Celeste, he cannot help the streak of jealousy within him. While he understands Celeste's choosing to marry for security, it took him a long time to get over his bitterness and give their future another try. Celeste's mental fortitude is admirable, as is her ability to sacrifice her happiness for that of her sister's future. The love between Dougal and Celeste never diminished, and their ending was akin to two lost souls coming to find each other again; a sweet and moving story.

Rating: 4 tulips

*ARC via The Romance Reviews
TRR link:

Review: Lady Mercy Danforthe Flirts with Scandal by Jayne Fresina

Lady Mercy Danforthe Flirts with Scandal by Jayne Fresina
Publication date: June 4, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Series: Sydney Dovedale #3
Goodreads | Amazon

Jane Fresina brings readers back to Sydney Dovedale as two characters first introduced in her previous book, The Wicked Wedding of Miss Ellie Vyne, have their own happily-ever-after.

Lady Mercy Danforthe is a managing woman, who does it so well few have cause to complain. The only time she had ever let rash action reign over reason was when she hastily agreed to marry Rafe Hartley as a young girl of seventeen, a marriage that was declared void by her brother's intervention. In the five years since, she continued living the life of an aristocrat, though occasionally keeping an eye out for Rafe, such as when she masqueraded as an old woman to lend Rafe financial aid. Rafe has a farmer's soul, despite attempts from his father to turn him into a more polished man. As such, he tries to stay away from the aristocracy, especially ladies like Lady Mercy. But alas, fate conspires against him when his intended bride (who is Lady Mercy's maid, Molly Robbins) leaves him at the altar, and Lady Mercy is asked to "resolve the issue." What does Rafe realize? That he needs precisely Lady Mercy to step in and do right by him.

Lady Mercy, sister of the Earl of Everscham, is the very epitome of noblesse oblige. She's determined a course for herself as swiftly as she did for others, and voluntarily chosen to wed a boring man twice her age; preferring to devote her time to charities and the plights of unfortunate souls in the world, as well as matchmaking and giving advice to people. She's sensible, practical, and unduly stubborn when she has a new goal in sight, but she is also understanding and determined to end Rafe's self-imposed isolation from his loving family.

Rafe's constant fighting with his family gives him an air of inelegance, as he's always rebelled against the good wishes of his family due to some imagined inadequacy he feels. Mercy's leadership arose from her brother's inattention to her upbringing and her youthful loneliness, forcing her to confront and change the world rather than sitting forlorn in a corner, whereas Rafe just mopes and gets angry without intending any necessary action. He acts extremely childish for most of the book, pushing Mercy's help away, yet persisting in slating his lust with her. It takes him a very long time to simply say, "I want to be a farmer," instead of indulging in childish tantrums against his family without revealing his true intentions. I can't say there is much love between Rafe and Mercy beyond simple lust, but their relationship does grow, albeit slowly, to the point Rafe exhibits some strengthening of character at the end of the story. Regardless, Lady Mercy Flirts With Scandal is a relatively engaging read, if one doesn't require too much character and plot complexity.

And what will happen to Molly Robbins, now that she's decided a life as a farmer's life is not suited for her? Will she open up a dressmaking shop in London, and pursue a romance with Mercy's brother, Carver? I'm looking forward to reading Molly's story with Carver in the upcoming year!

Rating: 3.5 tulips 

*ARC via The Romance Reviews

Review: One Night with a Rake by Connie Mason and Mia Marlowe

One Night with a Rake by Connie Mason
Publication date: June 4, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Series: Regency Rakes #2
Goodreads | Amazon

The collaborative force of Connie Mason and Mia Marlowe is not to be trifled with. They bring delicious stories filled with passionate and intriguing characters, which is just the case in One Night with a Rake.

Lord Nathaniel Colton and his two friends, Lord Rhys Warrington and Sir Jonah Sharp, have been tasked with seducing the potential brides of three royal dukes to prevent their producing the next heir to the throne. Nathaniel's mission is to seduce Lady Georgette, so his defeat at Mauberge in the Napoleonic Wars would not be implicated with scandal, ruining his family's good name and his sister's chances for marriage. The only problem is, Georgette is the sister of his cherished and dead fiancée.

From the beginning, it is clear that Nathaniel is more than the roguish façade he creates, and the sum of his bedroom seductions throughout the ton. Underneath that devil-may-care attitude is a man who deeply cares for his family and will do anything to protect them, even if it means sacrificing himself in a dastard act for the crown. His devotion to his dead fiancée, Anne, is even more poignant and touching and reveals vulnerability in his character, making him more human, and thus lovable. It takes a strong woman to reach out to his soul and get him to live again, a woman like Georgette, who is a determined reformer trying to end prostitution, who nevertheless calls force heroic attributes in Nathaniel when she constantly gets herself in trouble. Nathaniel and Georgette's interactions are like icing on a cake, a delicious treat that is both sweet and engaging.

The story is fast-paced, and the plot neither drags nor moves too fast for character relationships to strengthen and develop. It was great fun to see Nathaniel regain the ability to love another after Anne's death, and especially how that is done considering he set out intending only on seduction. Georgette's forgiving him did not come to be as outlandish as in the act in the previous book, which is a boon to this book's crafting. Brava to the authors for creating such an enjoyable book; I look forward to reading the last in the trilogy involving Sir Jonah Sharp!

Rating: 4 tulips 

*ARC via The Romance Reviews
TRR link:

Review: How to Lose a Bride in One Night by Sophie Jordan

 How to Lose a Bride in One Night by Sophie Jordan
Publication date: July 30, 2013
Publisher: Avon Romance
Series: Forgotten Princesses #3
Goodreads | Amazon

Sophie Jordan's The Forgotten Princesses series features the illegitimate daughters of wealthy Jack Hadley, and Annalise is the "princess" this time. I find this novel to be weaker amongst the others in the series, but that could be due to the lack of much concrete action in the story (as opposed to tremendous tension and suspense). Nonetheless, Owen and Annalise are captivating characters and their romance is passionate, thrilling, and enchanting.

Annalise has lived a hard life working as a seamstress before she met her rich father. But despite her new wealth and betrothal to the Duke of Bloodsworth (what a forbidding name!), Annalise still felt herself to be a crippled ugly duckling, undeserving of her new fortunes. Her fears were further confirmed when her husband attempted to murder her on their wedding night, after which she was rescued and helped by Owen Crawford, the Earl of McDowell. As Annalise and Owen get to know each other and fall in love, Annalise began to put Owen before herself, attempting to sacrifice herself for his happiness. The recovery period for Annalise's injuries took the majority of the book; her journey from stranger to friends and finally lovers with Owen creating a poignant and gripping romance in the midst of internal conflicts. While the tribulations within the story are not so much due to plot, this is ultimately a character-driven novel where inner demons are battled and hidden courage found.

Annalise and Owen are truly wonderful characters with their own dynamics and troubles. Throughout this book, Annalise has grown out of her timidity into a strong and self-assured person, willing to fight for her love. Owen had come back from war a changed man; he lost her previous joyfulness and became solemn and taciturn, choosing to remain a shadowed beast and believing himself undeserving of Annalise's love. The transformation these two experiences - Annalise helping Owen reconcile with his brother and he teaching Annalise to defend herself - is the best part of this novel.

While the story's resolution seems a bit too fortuitous, the storytelling and character complexity place Sophie Jordan among the ranks of my favorite authors.
All in all, this book is a must-read for anyone loving some ample character growth mixed with a dash of adventure and intrigue!

Rating: 4 tulips 

Review: The Highlander's Desire by Margo Maguire

The Highlander's Desire (Highlander Brothers, #2)
Publication date: July 30, 2013
Publisher: Avon Romance
Goodreads | Amazon

This is the first of Margo Maguire's books that I've read, and while I applaud her for crafting an interesting story, the characters and plot respectively are not altogether thrilling or wonderfully paced.

The story start off introducing the feud between two clans, the Macmillan and the Macauley. After the Macauleys were bested in battle, the new laird Cullen Macauley offered for marriage the love of Lachann Macmillian, which prompted Lachann to swore against love. Six years later, Lachann has come to wed Laird Macduffie's daughter, Catriona, for political reasons, not knowing he'd requestion his vow against love when he falls for Anna MacIver, stepsister to Catriona and a servant in Macduffie's household.

Certainly, the setup is reminiscent of Cinderella, with the evil stepsister (just one, thank goodness) and an uncaring parent. Anna and Lachann are near opposites in their desires; he wanting a political marriage without love, and her wanting love but not a husband. Yet they are drawn to each other at first sight, and neither really tried to resist this desire for what they believe they must do. Alas, the path to love is never easy, as our villains attempt to thwart Anna and Lachann's romance with their own machinations. Cullen Macauley has come to compete with Lachann for the Macduffie lairdship, while Catriona repeatedly tries to hurt Anna with her nefarious but extremely petty schemes.

The characters are, in many ways, almost cookie-cutter and overly conventional. The villains have no depth as they are entirely unsympathetic. There is not much depth to either Lachann or Anna, despite what direct and indirect characterization reveal about their manners and wishes. Lachann is absurd in swearing against love for his lost love who was forced in a marriage-of-convenience, when the target of his rage should have been Cullen Macauley. Anna, on the other hand, just wants to escape her life and find love, yet she does not try to fight for Lachann's love, and even more by withholding crucial information on Catriona's personality, when she knows Lachann would be miserable in his planned marriage. I do not find this lack of trust between the characters to exhibit signs of true love, which leads to the plot moving at a slow pace - the characters are stuck in their own world of schemes and uncertainty, and blatant facts are ignored in favor of what is almost preferred ignorance.

But, for what it's worth, the story altogether is not bad, though it's hardly great. An attempt to reinvent Cinderella in a historical setting is always engaging, but when there is neither a fast-paced plot with myriad twists nor multidimensional characters, it can at best only achieve a good quality, though this one leans more towards mediocre.

Rating: 3.5 tulips 

Feature & Follow Friday #2

Alison Can Read Feature & Follow

Feature and Follow Friday is a meme hosted by Parajunkee & Alison Can Read

General rules to Feature & Follow Friday:

1. Follow the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts and any one else you want to follow on the list
2. Follow our Featured Bloggers - This week's feature is: Words and Tea Bottles and Musings of a Blogder
3. Put your Blog name & URL in the Linky thing.
4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments
5. If someone comments and says they are following you, follow back! 
6. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post! (Rules I've modified from Rookie Romance. :)

Q: Reading Nook Tour: Give us a tour of your favorite reading spots.

Well, I do nearly all of my reading in my room because it's the coldest room in the house ^_^  and has a great bed for night reading, as well as an office chair. I'm moving tomorrow (T.T) so here's a picture of my room in its to-sell state:
12877 Shirewood Ln, Jacksonville, FL 32224

Share some of your favorite reading spots?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Meme: Book Blogger Hop (#2)

Book Blogger Hop
September 27th - Oct 3rd: What weekly memes do you follow on a regular basis?

Well, I follow Book Blogger Hop (obviously), Feature and Follow, and Waiting on Wednesday. My friend Tin and I are thinking of starting a Throwback Thursday meme where we would introduce older books published in the 1980s and 1990s, but that's still in the works. :)

I'm welcome to joining new memes. Suggestions?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (#1):

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week an upcoming book I can’t wait to read is…
Between the Devil and Ian Eversea (Pennyroyal Green, #9)
Between the Devil and Ian Eversea by Julie Anne Long
Publisher: Avon Romance
Publication date: March 25, 2014
Series: Pennroyal Green #9
Summary (from Goodreads):

She might look like an angel... 

The moment orphaned American heiress Titania “Tansy” Danforth arrives on English shores she cuts a swath through Sussex, enslaving hearts and stealing beaux. She knows she's destined for a spectacular titled marriage—but the only man who fascinates her couldn't be more infamous...or less interested.

...but it takes a devil to know one... 

A hardened veteran of war, inveterate rogue Ian Eversea keeps women enthralled, his heart guarded and his options open: why should he succumb to the shackles of marriage when devastating good looks and Eversea charm make seduction so easy?

...and Heaven has never been hotter. 

When Ian is forced to call her on her game, he never dreams the unmasked Tansy—vulnerable, brave, achingly sensual—will tempt him beyond endurance. And fight as he will, this notorious bachelor who stood down enemies on a battlefield might finally surrender his heart...and be brought to his knees by love.

For someone who has read Julie Anne Long's books, you'll know why the next book in her Pennroyal Green series is highly anticipated. Enough said. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Review: The Governess Club: Bonnie by Ellie Macdonald

The Governess Club by Ellie Macdonald
Publication date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: Avon Romance
Series: The Governess Club
Goodreads | Amazon

The second novella in Ellie Macdonald’s The Governess Club series features Bonnie, a beautiful and kind-hearted heroine who is in ways like the Beauty to Sir Stephen Montgomery’s Beast.

In the wake of Claire (The Governess Club: Claire)’s betrothal to Mr. Knightly, Bonnie writes of her plight: her employers, Viscount and Viscountess Darrow, have died in a carriage accident, leaving their two young sons orphaned and the elder in possession of the title. Sir Stephen Montgomery is named the boys’ guardian, a task he takes to dislike for he neither had the patience nor special fondness for children, especially not when he is trying to solve a mystery: his friend’s murder. Stephen knows his friend’s death was no carriage accident, but a deliberate murder, so he is suspicious of the household, though his doubts of Bonnie quickly vanished:

             “The boys are suffering from severe trauma. They know me and I care for them. Henry and Arthur need someone they can trust. There is nothing admirable about it.” – Loc 189 of 2115

From the onset, Bonnie is far more likable than Stephen. Her character is that of a sweet yet resilient governess, who puts her charges first before herself, staying to care for them even when no wage is being paid. On the other hand, Stephen test Bonnie’s trustworthiness; he somewhat desires her, but mostly his thoughts turn to the mystery at hand. He initially comes off as a cold and unyielding man, knowing not how to care for young children.

            “You misunderstand me, sir. It is the children who do not leave me, not the other way around.”
            “Ridiculous. They are children. Call a maid or footman.” – Loc 161 of 2115

In the end, he still is. There are moments when Stephen seems to bond with the children through teaching Henry to ride and Bonnie, though those are short-lived as Stephen’s suspicions ruin what bonhomie they had built.
      “Well, I certainly fell assured that the man who has done nothing to gain out trust feels that I am worthy.” – Loc 488 of 2115

In essence, Stephen exhibits behaviors typically attributed to a scarred hero; he is coarse in mannerisms, unrefined and unsophisticated, while Bonnie, despite being a lowly governess (in the eyes of Regency society), has beauty of character far beyond that of Stephen. With regards to Bonnie and Stephen’s romance, it is very much instant love. That is, based on Stephen’s own thoughts and his actions, he appreciates Bonnie and lusts after her, but until the end he did not behave toward her any differently than when they were first acquainted. It seemed as if the lack of pages post-resolving the murder case had left Stephen with little recourse to go on if he wanted to win Bonnie back, and even then, he did not show the signs of a man in love, mainly a hero who needs to be with his heroine at the end. On that point, Bonnie was too accepting of Stephen’s mercurial thinking, one minute pushing her away, only to ask her hand in marriage on the last page. Naturally, given that this is a novella, it is understandable that the “love” between the characters must be rushed, but for the story’s over focusing on the murder mystery, the romance element was rather hastily put together, and not as refined as in Claire’s story.

Rating: 3 tulips

*Review copy provided by the publisher via edelweiss

Related reviews: The Governess Club: Claire

Review: The Counterfeit Mistress by Madeline Hunter

The Counterfeit Mistress by Madeline Hunter
Publication date: September 24, 2013
Publisher: Jove
Series: Fairbourne Quartet #3
Goodreads | Amazon

Marielle Lyon is a French émigré with secrets – secrets that make Gavin Norwood, Viscount Kendale, suspect her of being a spy for the French. Marielle has been playing a game of cat-and-mouse with her Gavin, whom she dubs Handsome Stupid Man, not knowing he might actually be the cat in their game.

Kendale is a man unlike many of his aristocratic peers. His years in the military instilled in him lasting independence and discipline, along with the tracking skills of a hound, which are useful in his independent work for the Home Office. Kendale is an interesting blend of the gentleman and the soldier; he is astute, perceptive, and dangerous, yet also kind and generous to Marielle, even when he planned to imprison her in his home for an interrogation. He knows Marielle is lying about her clandestine activities, and he is determined to find out the truth, even if he has to stalk her wherever she goes.

Marielle has crafted her current existence on lies and deceits, all for the sake of her father. Her masquerade as the niece to the Comte de Vence is questioned by all, and rumors of her as a spy lead to further questions when she treats them with disregard. She constantly dons a deliberate mask, never slipping up in any of her stories, never showing any outward vulnerability to her acquaintances. Yet her disguises are draining, and she is running out of time. In her mission for her father she is just as persistent as Kendale, if not more.

One of Marielle’s oft-used personas is that of a femme fatale. In spite of her being Kendale’s quarry, she maintains the upper hand emotionally for most of the story as she calculates seduction and flirtation to Kendale, who struggles to rein in his rampant desire for her. This makes her not only the most fascinating character in the story – for that we get to see her emotional barrier slowly crumble to pieces – but also the most dynamic character in both manner and action.

While Kendale is not as dynamic as Marielle, his character works well with hers. Together, these two will battle a cunning French enemy, make futile attempts to resist their mutual attraction, and slowly uncover each other’s secrets, until all that’s left are their hearts in unwanted discord, searching for harmony.

Undoubtedly, Marielle is the mystery that keeps the story alive, for it is her secrets that catalyze the plot and her interactions with Kendale. I should warn though, that the gist of Marielle’s secrets and her mission are revealed in tiny bits and pieces in the first half of the story; the plot of the first story may be confusing for some without the background fully explained – for example, we know who the villain early on, but we are not told the reason and mechanism behind Marielle’s mission and her true identity until much later. The effect of this device is either confusion or anticipation, and I suspect more the latter due to the story’s pacing.

My criticisms: I have read several of Madeline Hunter’s works, and in each the hero always seems to have a nearly irrational desire for the heroine, for reasons unknown to him. While that is no troubling matter by itself, it fails to act in accordance with the concise bedroom scenes that are without ample rising action in terms of sexual tension. Yes, the desire is written, but it is not felt through the characters, especially Marielle.

Despite all of the above, THE COUNTERFEIT MISTRESS is a book that hits most of the high notes of an intense spy novel with the soft notes of a woman too used to insecurity, joining forces with a cautious lord who slowly learns to let down his guard. It is replete with action, humor, and lots of delicious dialogue, albeit a puzzling plot for impatient readers. While this is the third in Madeline Hunter’s Fairbourne Quartet it can be read as a standalone. After this book I look forward to the last book in the Fairbourne Quartet, THE ACCIDENTAL DUCHESS, starring Kendale’s ex-friend the Duke of Penthurst and Lydia Southwaite in May 2014.

Rating: 4 tulips 

*ARC via Romance Junkies, though this review was written independently of Romance Junkies

Monday, September 23, 2013

I got a Liebster Award!


My friend Ki Pha at Doing Some Reading just nominated me for the Liebster Award!

Liebster Award is a way to help blogs you like with less than 200 followers. It’s a way to give them some deserved attention so our followers can discover them as well.

The rules:

- Link back the blogger that tagged you;
- Nominate 5-10 others and answer the questions of the one who tagged you;
- Ask 10 questions for the bloggers you nominate;

- Let your nominees know of their award!!!
So it’s my turn to answer some questions:
1)What are you currently reading?
Oh, that’s hard to answer. I’m reading about 10 books concurrently right now, from Karen Hawkins’s How to Entice an Enchantress to several ARCs of Avon books. About half of them I’ve listed on my Goodreads shelf. :)
2)What genre do you mostly read?
Historical romance ever since July 2012. But I do indulge on some classics from time to time.
3)How long have you been blogging/reviewing books?
I created a blog back in 2012, but did not actively start blogging until September 15th, 2013. So I’m still new to blogging!
4)What are some of your favorite reads/authors?
Here are some of my favorite reads/authors (not in any particular order):
Sherry Thomas’s Ravishing the Heiress
Julie Anne Long’s What I Did For a Duke
Tessa Dare’s A Week to be Wicked
Connie Brockway’s The Bridal Season
 Eva Ibbotson’s The Countess Below Stairs
5)What would be the title of your life as a book? (it would be nice to give a short explanation) 
It’d probably be something like “A Soul Lost in the Universe.” I think about the meaning of life and existence a lot, and while I know the answer is something I must create, I still overthink my future on many nights. That’s why reading gives me a reprieve from my own busy brain!
6)Who do you always think of as the hero when you’re reading? (which celebrity is always your vision of the hero in a book while/during you’re reading)
I never have a celebrity in mind as I’m reading. It usually is some faceless (not in a scary way ^_^) hero with a handsome physique like those on romance novel covers. I seem to always have some shape in mind but never pinpoint his exact looks. But the mystery is better that way, for me.
7)Which book would you love or hate to be made into a film/show?
I’d love to have Samuel Richardson’s Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded made into a movie – in fact, it was made into a British movie in 1974, but I can’t find that movie anywhere! – with a Hollywood cast of actors. I’d probably end up hating the film, but it’ll nonetheless be nice to have a film for that book.
8)Where would you like to go? (into a certain series, an era, a certain book, a town, an author’s head…etc?)
I definitely would love to go to the Regency era and experience the haut ton at its best and worst. Go take morning tea with ladies, listen to gossip about fashion and Lord Who and Lady Who’s affairs…yum. J
9)What will this blog look like in years to come?
After a few years I might design my own template (this was bought) and have graphics on both sides of the site. But for now, I can’t even begin to imagine what the blog will look like in years to come.
10)Which book do you recommended as a must read?
Gah, I have so many books to recommend! But for starters, in the genre of historical romance, definitely Tessa Dare’s A Week to be Wicked. 

I don't actually know any new blogs and a few of the blogs I've asked assured me they'll probably just let this thread die (You know who you are >.<) but if any blog would like nominations along with my ten questions, do feel free to comment. :)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Feature & Follow #1

Alison Can Read Feature & Follow
Q: What were some of your favorite picture books as a kid? If you have kids, what are your favorites to read to them?

I didn't read much picture books as a kid, but I do remember the few that I read, which were brought to me as a gift from the U.S. One is The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant:


I also liked fairy tales and read Grimm's Fairy Tales, those of Hans Andersen Christian, and the ones from Disney.

Meme: Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop

20th to 26th September: What is your favorite genre? List two of your favorite books in that genre.

Well, it’s hard to say. I really like historical romance, but I guess my favorite genre would be fiction, the big umbrella term. These are just two books that came to mind, though I have many favorites:

1. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
It's hard to say why I liked the novel so much, but for the time being let's say it is due to my appreciation for her stream-of-consciousness technique. I also like the doppelganger theme, along with a bit of existentialism mixed in.

2. The Ark Sakura  by Kobo Abe
 When I attempted to enter an essay contest for this prestigious summer program (which I didn't get in, by the way), I asked a friend of mine to tell me some 20th century literature that had an impact on him. My friend suggested The Ark Sakura and Cloud Atlas. I read the first, and quite enjoyed the novel's absurdist philosophy while mocking some aspects of men and Japanese society.  

I guess it's somewhat obvious I'm a fan of existentialism? 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Review: The Marrying Season by Candace Camp

The Marrying Season by Candace Camp
Publication date: April 23, 2013
Publisher: Pocket Books
Series: Legend of St. Dwynwen #3
Goodreads | Amazon

The last of the Legend of St. Dwynwen trilogy by Candace Camp features a few familiar tropes - friends to lovers, marriage of convenience - but nonetheless creates a good, though perhaps not superb, read. 

This was a satisfying read involving a marriage of convenience turning into something more. While the story has a few bumps in the middle and a rather abrupt ending, the first half of the book made up for its somewhat convoluted resolution. I may be of the minority of readers who like the heroine, Genevieve, more than the hero, Myles, for the fact that Genevieve has a far greater depth of character than the archetypal kind and charming Myles, whose exhibition of a myriad of pig-headed behavior lessened my esteem for him.

The story starts with the wedding of Genevieve's brother, Alec, the Earl of Rawdon(A Summer Seduction), and introduces the familiar cast of characters from the previous books who are heavily involved in this one. Genevieve is known as an ice princess, a cold beauty whose seemingly haughty demeanor and strict adherence to proper behavior leaves only faraway admirers. She is a childhood friend of Sir Myles Thorwood, and their teasing dialogue reveals a friendly relationship that is unlikely to be anything more. However, months later, Genevieve is placed in a scandalous situation, her fiance having cried off, and Myles steps up to offer his name in order to save her reputation. Neither wanted to marry the other, but both are convinced to make the best out of this marriage. Can love possibly enter the equation?

The spark between Genevieve and Myles ignited their passion and sustained the story to a blissful respite until the midpoint, when the question of the culprit who tried to besmirch Genevieve's reputation came up. Genevieve's cold demeanor has been thawing under Myles's care, and she has repeatedly shown herself to be kind and caring, even to spend hours playing with Myles's nieces and nephews. Genevieve's coldness is in actuality a facade, crafted under the guidance of her noble grandmother, and one she uses to hide her insecurities. Indeed, Genevieve so often disparages herself that she seems to lack confidence, actualizing the rumors of her coldness. Her devotion to her grandmother to make a match befitting their noble lineage and her loyalty to her brother show her to be a noble character. Her initial reason to refuse Myles, on the basis that he deserved better then a cold woman, also proved her to possess a heart. It annoyed me greatly that many people in the story kept on mentioning her not having a heart, when that is entirely false.

Myles, I felt, could have done with a bit more intellect. Sure, he was charming to begin with, and was kind to Genevieve, but he so often lashed out hurtful words and behaved like an idiot in the latter half of the book that I had trouble believing his laconic declaration of love in the end, literally on the last page. I also do not feel that he deserved Genevieve, as it took him a long time to see the true Genevieve, and harbored foolish notions of her only caring for a title.

The mystery aspect of the novel was left with an abrupt resolution (the culprit was also fairly obvious) with nothing on a due punishment or consequences. As it stands, I feel there were far too many love scenes and not enough on the rest to balance out the plot of the story, but perhaps a good epilogue could have remedied that.

Though this book has some flaws, it is fairly engaging and makes for a good afternoon's read. If nothing read, read this for Candace Camp's lyrical writing and lush imagery as they do make up in part for the deficiencies in plot and the hero.

*ARC via publisher via edelweiss in exchange for an honest review*

Rating: 3.5 tulips 


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