Posts Tagged ‘ book review ’

Review: Natural Born Charmer

Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a cute, modern chick-lit romance with an arrogant hero, a stubborn heroine, a wonderful cast of supporting characters, and smart banter that will make you laugh.Natural Born Charmer cover

Abrasive, utterly practical Blue Bailey has a serious case of wanderlust.  As well as some serious abandonment issues.  After dropping out of art school she’s made her way around the country, painting stifling portraits of children and pets to put food on the table and build a nest-egg for herself.  A nest-egg which was stolen by her activist mother to fund Virginia Bailey’s latest crusade, leaving Blue with no home, no money, and nothing to do besides dress up in a sweaty beaver suit for money and try to murder the ex-boyfriend who stole her car and her last hundred bucks.  In that order.

What Blue needs is a knight in shining armour.  Not the gorgeously vain fashion-plate celebrity who tooled along in his six-figure car and rescued her from potential dehydration.  Dean Robillard, star quarterback for the Chicago Stars and all-around stylish, is a natural born charmer in every meaning of the word.  He spent his formative years with a drugged-out mother and an utterly absent father, out of sight and out of mind, but now he’s a celebrity everyone loves him.  Except for Blue, apparently, who seems to think he’s gay and is quite content to coast along on his money train for as long as he’s willing to put up with her company.

Neither one of them is quite sure how Blue ended up staying on with Dean and his estranged mother in his Tennessee farm house, or why she’s still sticking around when more family members start staggering out from the closet to join their fun-filled group.  Dean has no interest in being in the same room as either parent, never mind the same house as both, and he certainly doesn’t want to play big brother to the kid his father actually acknowledges.  But eleven-year-old Riley is something of a natural born charmer herself, even if Dean wishes she and her father would just go far, far away.  And stay there.

“Once again, my three-digit IQ separates me from the pack.”

Natural Born Charmer is actually the second of Phillips’ books that I’ve read; the first, Nobody’s Baby But Mine, was a middle-of-the-road modern romance that had some cute moments, but didn’t particularly stand out from the crowd or possess any particular charm.  I wouldn’t have been surprised to find it in the grocery store or at a yard sale.  Charmer, on the other hand, has that missing je n’est ce quoi by the bucketload.  It’s smart, witty, funny, and I loved the interaction between all of the significant characters.

Dean’s relationship with his parents is refreshingly screwed up, though perhaps not completely beyond redemption.  It was interesting – and entertaining – to watch it change and evolve with time and proximity, and to explore along with them whether there was still time enough to mend old hurts and grow together.

Far from being a token plot child, Riley is a strong character in her own right.  She begins the story timid and reticent, emotionally bruised by the death of her unloving mother and the utter lack of affection that anyone in her life has shown her so far, and over the course of the book blossoms into a mature young lady with a growing sense of her own self-worth.  Riley was utterly charming, and I loved watching her mature and bond with her family, though some of the scenes focused on her are utterly heartbreaking.

“I’m still not sure how he managed to overcome my aversion to aging frat boys.”

If I quoted every piece from this book that made me laugh or smile, we’d be here all day.  And some of it just doesn’t work well out of context.  Blue has a biting wit and is refreshingly honest, and she and Dean have some lovely banter between them.

The drama and conflict in this book was entirely internal, from and between the characters themselves, rather than any outside force, and it was refreshing and lovely to read.  I have complained in the past that the majority of romances I read include some mystery or other drama purely to throw the characters together, and this story avoided that completely.

One small detail that I am less keen on – the end was sickeningly cutesy, and quite frankly, I would have been happy of the epilogue had been missed out all together.

All in all this was a lovely story and I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes modern romance or so-called “chick lit”.

Review: Valeria’s Cross

Valeria’s Cross by Kathi Macias and Susan Wales is a fictionalised account of the life and death of third century Roman empress Galeria Valeria, daughter of Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus and wife of Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus.

The story of Galeria Valeria is a dramatic one, a tale of love and loss, temptation and sorrow, drawn across a vivid background of political maneuvering and the weight of history, the glory of the Roman Empire, and the harsh realities of the Great Persecution.

Valeria is a princess, born to the Emperor of Rome and his wife and raised in the lap of luxury.  Whilst her father is campaigning in Gaul (France), Valeria and her mother are sent to the imperial palace on the Egyptian isle of Elephantine, today part of the city of Aswan.  There Valeria meets the fictional young Mauritius, a captain of the Roman Army’s Theban Legion, and quickly falls head over heels in love with him.  But Mauritius is called away to Gaul, and Valeria’s dreams come tumbling down around her.

Anyone familiar with the tale of the Martyrs of Agaunum will know what reportedly happened to the Theban Legion: they were executed as martyrs whilst on campaign.  Mauritius was amongst those killed, and once word reaches Valeria she falls into a deep despair.

Fate has only begun to play with the Roman princess.  Whilst still in mourning for her dead love, Valeria’s father marries her to Galerius, the general believed to have orchestrated the decimation of the Theban Legion, who Valeria has hated since she first laid eyes on him.  But things do not go quite as Valeria had planned – her husband seems kinder now than he ever was before, and she soon finds herself yearning for his touch and enjoying his company.  She quickly comes to love his infant son, Candidianus, as her own, and her feelings for Galerius himself soon deepen.

But Galerius is not always a kind man, and with his prodding the Emperor, himself a pagan follower of the ancient Roman gods, begins the Great Persecution and causes the deaths of thousands of Valeria’s fellow Christians.  Valeria must reconcile her love for her father and husband with the grave indignities they commit upon her religious brethren, and upon Valeria herself…

This is not a romance novel.  As with many tales based on historical figures, this book does not have a happy ending.  It is strong on the religious (early Christian) element, and may not appeal to all audiences.  A lot of people die, and most of them are executed in one way or another.

While not an expert by any means, I am something of a history geek, and I enjoyed the way historical events were brought to life and embellished upon.  The details of the conflicts and wars that took place during Valeria’s life were mostly glossed over – normally I dislike “tell, not show”, but in this case, I am quite happy this book did not turn into a large list of who fought who when and what happened.  I found the brief amounts of information conveyed the general sense of the Roman political climate, without overloading the reader with details they would not care to know about.

The language used throughout is modern and easy to read, and the authors go to great pains to attempt to explain some of the cultural and political concepts without providing another source of information overload.  I did find some of the modern word-choice and phrasing rather incongruous in a historical setting, though I realise that often doesn’t bother other readers.  It bothered me quite a lot that about a third of the way through the book, the characters change from using ‘Gaul’ to using ‘France’, when the inclusion of Gaul in the Frankish Empire dates around a century later than the book’s timeline, and the establishment of the Kingdom of France itself didn’t take place for another 500 years or so.

Overall, this book was enjoyable, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, with emphasis on the fiction.

Review: Breath of Magic

Now, I’m not normally a fan of time travel romance, but Breath of Magic by Teresa Medeiros might have changed my mind.  Just a tiny bit.  I loved her Charming the Prince, a medieval romance take on Cinderella, and I’m glad I was willing to give this story the benefit of the doubt based on past experience.Breath of Magic cover

Arian Whitewood is the daughter of a French courtesan, plagued by rumours of witchcraft and devil-worship in the small Massachusetts town where she and her Puritan step-father live.  Though the details are exaggerated, the townspeople’s fears are true – Arian can work magic, with the help of a magical amulet than once belonged to her mother.  The amulet saves Arian’s life when she is tried for witchcraft and ‘ducked’ into the pond to drown, and instead of breathing water, she finds herself flying through the air in New York City, three hundred years into the future.  After her broomstick has an unfortunate run-in with a chimney and catches fire, Arian finds herself crash-landing into the arms of billionaire bad-boy Tristan Lennox.

Tristan is a renowned skeptic, and not the least bit amused when his well-publicised “magic contest” – one million dollars to anyone who can prove that magic exists – is interrupted by a lovely slip of a girl on a flying broomstick, of all things.  Though it’s clearly a hoax, it will take time for Tristan’s scientists to find the trick and prove it; until then, he finds himself reluctantly enjoying the company of the strange young woman he thinks a charlatan and a fraud.  And Arian finds that perhaps there’s something more important than getting home to be killed for witchcraft…

There’s no complicated plot or arching character development, but that only meant the story was straightforward.  The characters and plot weren’t particularly believable – this is a time-travel romance, after all, and suspension of disbelief is de rigueur.

Tristan started off the story gruff and quite unpleasant.  It was nice to see his cold shell slowly thawing as Arian wormed her way inside his defences, and the struggle to align what his heart feels with what his head thinks.  IT was interesting, if sometimes cringe-inducing, to follow Arian’s attempts to adapt to the twentieth century and all the ways society and technology has changed since her time in Puritan Massachusetts.

While not a stunning literary masterpiece, this story is a light and enjoyable piece of fluff that was perfect for lightening the dreary chill of a late autumn afternoon.  Recommended.

Review: The Spurned Viscountess

The Spurned Viscountess, by Shelley Munro, is a gothic romance novel at its finest.  Smugglers, murder attempts and secrets abound in this charming tale set in eighteenth century Sussex.The Spurned Viscountess cover

Having lost his memory three years ago, Lucien is not at all sure that he’s the missing George St. Clare, Viscount Hastings, despite the old Earl of St. Clare’s insistence.  He’s willing to play along in order to seek out the mysterious Hawk, a smuggler who murdered his wife and unborn child, but an arranged match and a second bride were not part of the plan.

Rosalind Chandler has a gift; she can read the minds of others when she touches them.  Rosalind desperately wants a husband and children, but due to her power, and the rumours that she is a witch, her only hope of marriage lies in the betrothal contract arranged by St. Clare and her uncle when she was a child.  Regardless of the fact that her prospective bridegroom has no interest in marrying her, and demands that she cry off.

Even after the wedding Lucien shuns her company, far more interested in tracking down the local smuggling ring than in bedding his new bride.  Which Rosalind would very much object to, if she weren’t busy trying to survive conveniently-arranged accidents and find out more about the notorious smuggler known as Hawk, who terrorizes the village and seems to wish to harm her husband.  Lucien has no desire to work with an interfering young miss who gets into scrapes every which way she turns, but he soon finds his heart softening towards her, much to his dismay.

After urban fantasy and the hordes of Regency romances I’ve been reading lately, this step back into the early eighteenth century – 1720, to be precise – was both welcome and refreshing.  Unlike many romance novels where the dramatic plot is mainly outside impetus to throw the characters together, this almost felt like a gothic mystery novel that just happened to have a romance included.  Whilst the main characters do bond over the story’s dramatic events, an equal amount of conflict came from the relationship between them, from mis-reading each other’s emotions and responses, and from Lucien’s reluctance to become involved with Rosalind while he still mourns his late wife.

Rosalind herself began the story timid and afraid of her eccentric new family and their gloomy castle, but quickly seemed to find her backbone and take what actions she felt were necessary to secure her future, and to provide Lucien with his help whether he wants it or not.  In a lovely twist on the stereotypical hero-rescues-heroine trope that has frustrated me before, this time it’s Rosalind who puts the plot together and does the rescuing whilst Lucien stumbles blindly into danger.

I enjoyed the development of the relationship between Rosalind and Lucien, and the slow building of affection and trust between them.  The secondary characters were interesting, though some of them lacked some development, and parts of the Dramatic Plot were a little odd.

Overall I liked this book and would recommend it.

Review: What a Rogue Desires

What a Rogue Desires is the second book in Caroline Linden’s series about the Reece family.  This is the story of David and Vivian; it follows What a Gentleman Wants, and is followed in turn by A Rake’s Guide to Seduction.What a Rogue Desires cover

Following their reconciliation in Gentleman, Marcus Reece has entrusted his twin with the Exeter holdings while he and his new bride Hannah tour the continent for several months.  Aware that he has been a scapegrace in the past and come very near to ruining the lives of those he holds dear, David is determined not to muck things up this time.

Of course, things never quite go as planned.  No sooner does he leave the Exeter estate in Kent to return to London than David’s life seems to spin out of control.  One of his horses gets a stone in its shoe, forcing a rest stop at a country inn, which in turn leads to David taking a place on a mail coach to London when there are no horses available for neither love nor money.  Then, to add insult to injury, the coach is robbed, and the highwaymen take David’s copy of the Exeter signet ring.  The pocket watch he might have forgiven them, but the ring has far more sentimental value than financial, and David is determined to get it back.

Eminently practical Vivian Beecham doesn’t particularly enjoy the life of a thief, and certainly wants better for her younger brother, Simon.  But with both parents long dead and no other family to ask for aid, there were few options but to join one of the gangs of thieves in London’s disreputable St. Giles district.  Now they have graduated on to highway robbery, with the very attractive Vivian playing  the part of signal man and get-away distraction whilst the others do the actual robbing.

Unfortunately, this time they picked the wrong coach; Lord David Reece is willing to do anything in his power to get back his signet ring, and knowing all of the fences and pawnbrokers in London’s less reputable areas certainly helps with that.  He lays a trap for the thieves; it doesn’t take long at all before Vivan quickly falls right into it, and finds herself a prisoner in David’s house until she tells him where to find the missing ring.

Well, at least her ‘prison’ provides a comfortable bed and hot meals.  It’s not enough on its own to give up her secrets and betray her brother, but David Reece can be very persuasive when he wants to…

I have to admit, I didn’t like this book as much as I did Gentleman and Rake.  I love the idea of the heroine being a thief, and was looking forward to see David fall in love, but there were a few points that stretched my suspension of disbelief, and I wasn’t at all comfortable with the major plot point of Vivian being kidnapped and held against her will by the hero, who she’s supposed to (and does, else this wouldn’t be a romance) fall in love with.  YMMV.

I did like the relationship between Vivian and Simon, what little we saw of it, and was disappointed that there was no interaction with the rest of the Reece family.  With Rosalind and Celia (David’s stepmother and sister, respectively) at the Exeter estate in Kent and Marcus and Hannah on the continent somewhere, the whole development of the relationship between David and Vivian seems to happen in its own little Twilight Zone bubble.

The extraordinary lengths David goes to in order to get a piece of jewelry back seems quite excessive.  Yes, it’s the Exeter signet ring (though not the actual piece, Marcus still has that) and yes, it’s a symbol of Marcus’ trust in David to leave him in charge of the Exeter holdings, but… something about it just rung hollow, I suppose.  It doesn’t really justify kidnapping and imprisoning someone, threatening them with the Bow Street runners and jail, just to get a  ring back.  From what we saw of Marcus in Gentleman, IMHO he’d probably prefer that David actually take care of the Exeter holdings, rather than chase around looking for a ring.

I don’t know.  Overall I enjoyed this book, it was well-written and I liked Vivian (and the sex scenes were v nice) but I’m not at all happy with the kidnapping and imprisonment aspect, and the ending seemed a little too easily wrapped up when David has been shown so far to struggle with being respected and not a good-for-nothing.  It also struck me as odd how Vivian can apparently pass as a lady of (impoverished) quality when she was raised in what is essentially the slums by a working-class mother and then a kidsman.  One of these things is not like the other.

If you’re intending to read the series, I would suggest you pick this up as well as the other two, and if you can get back the whole ‘kidnapping/imprisonment’ aspect, the book is rather enjoyable.  With the caveats above, I do recommend it.

Review: What a Gentleman Wants

What a Gentleman Wants is the first of Caroline Linden‘s books about the Reece family.  After falling in love with A Rake’s Guide to Seduction, when I got my Amazon gift certificate last week I just had to go buy the two earlier books for my kindle.What a Gentleman Wants cover

I was not disappointed.

Lord David Reece, wastrel younger twin of the duke of Exeter, has spent most of his life so far getting into trouble and spending above his budget.  An accident during a carriage race through a country village finds him with a broken leg, forced to rely on the hospitality of the no-nonsense Mrs. Hannah Preston whilst he reassesses his goals in life.  Newly-widowed Hannah is raising her daughter alone, and will soon be forced to give up her independence and move back to her father’s farm once the village’s new vicar arrives.  David soon finds himself growing fond of both Hannah and her daughter, Molly, and decides that they could be the answer to each other’s problems.  A wife will give David the respectability he currently lacks, and marriage will give Hannah a future that doesn’t include drudgery on the  family farm.

Unfortunately, David’s change of heart doesn’t last very long.  Once the new family arrives in London David leaves ‘on business’, and Hannah is left alone to find out the truth: rather than cry off before the wedding, David has played a cruel trick on both Hannah and his brother.  Instead of signing his own name on the register, David wrote another…

Marcus Reece never wanted a wife, let alone a presumed adventuress after the family fortune.  He’s spent most of his life bailing David out of one scandal or another, usually with a liberal application of money, and at first it seems like this latest scrape will be as easily solved as the first.  Until he finds out that David has involved their stepmother, Rosalind, in the deception, who arrives in London believing that Marcus has married and determined to match-make the ‘estranged newlyweds’ back together.

For Rosalind’s sake Marcus convinces Hannah to continue the deception, until the now-disappeared David can be found and they can arrange a suitable ‘separation’ from their unwanted marriage.  Which means that Hannah will have to play duchess for the ton, and they will both have to act the part of besotted newlyweds…

Having started the series out of order and read Rake, Marcus and David’s younger sister Celia’s story first, I was more than a little confused when the beginning of the story had David courting Hannah, and not Marcus.  I don’t imagine many other people will have that problem.  It was interesting to see the relationship between David and Marcus and between Marcus and Celia, neither of which were dwelt on much in Rake, as well as the obviously mutual affection Rosalind has for both her stepsons.

On the subject of relationships, I would have liked to see more of a connection/friendship develop between Marcus and Molly, Hannah’s daughter.  I have the feeling it was “told, not shown”, though I can’t with any accuracy pinpoint exactly what gave me that impression.  Molly almost seemed to be forgotten about in some parts of the story, or just referred to in passing, though when she was included I liked her a lot.  It would have been nice to see more of her, though I do appreciate that she wasn’t just a precocious Plot Moppet™.

Since it’s one of my pet peeves, I appreciated that again, there was no Virgin Widow.  There were definitely sex scenes in this book, though towards the end, and they were quite enjoyable.  Of course, the sex was far better with the One True Love than with the late husband, but in every romance novel the sex scenes between the two main characters are always far better than anything before.  Even their earlier sex scenes.  I suppose it could be worse; there could have been Christine Feehan-style marathon sex sessions.  (Don’t get me wrong, I quite enjoyed the earlier Carpathian novels, but sometimes I like some character development to go with my sex scenes.  They don’t have to happen at the same time, though.)

Hannah and Marcus didn’t do as much growing as characters as Celia and Anthony did in Rake; since they’re both adults and the book takes place over a much shorter period of time, this doesn’t matter so much in their case.  I would have liked to have seen more of the fondness develop between the two of them before jumping to the L word, but I suppose there isn’t room in one book for everything I want.  If I thought I might be indulged, the list would never end.

I did find Hannah’s sentiment for her late husband oddly lacking – did she love him, or was she just very fond of him?  I didn’t really get a strong impression either way, which is perhaps why I’m a little confused.  Molly didn’t seem to miss him at all, despite the confusion over two ‘new Papas’, so I suppose I’m leaning towards the latter option.

Overall, I enjoyed this a lot, and am looking forward to finishing Rogue to complete the set.  I wonder what the odds are of more Reece books – perhaps even Rosalind and the father’s tale?  Highly recommended.

Review: Moon Called

Moon Called coverAfter my failed attempt to read A Magic of Twilight (boo, hiss), I decided something a little less epic fantasy and a little more towards the romance end of the spectrum would perhaps be more suitable.  Since I enjoyed the Raven Duology so much, I settled on another of Patricia Briggs’ books that I haven’t read, Moon Called.

This is the first in a pretty standard ‘hidden world’ paranormal series; it takes place in modern times, but there are supernatural creatures living alongside (or with) humans that the majority of the world’s population are not aware of.  In this case, the humans are aware of at least one supernatural population, the fae, though in this book that is mainly background information.

Vampires, werewolves and witches… oh, my…

Merecedes Thompson is your regular everyday small-town mechanic.  Who happens to be a skinwalker – based on the Native American legend of shaman who could turn into animals – and lives next door to the Alpha of the local werewolf pack.  Did we mention that Mercy was raised by werewolves, and her former-employer, still-friend Zee is a fae metalwright?  Let’s not forget the vampire with the Mystery Machine van and the Scooby Doo ringtone…

Battling the paranormal is not Mercy’s usual style, but when a new teen werewolf in town leads to her neighbour being attacked and his teenage daughter kidnapped, she finds herself getting involved in some kind of crazy scheme to… well, no one’s sure quite yet, but it’s bound to be Bad.  A trip back home to the town she grew up in – the home of the biggest, baddest werewolf in North America, who just happens to be the father of her childhood sweetheart – goes less than brilliantly, particularly when said sweetheart ends up tagging along with Mercy and werewolf Alpha Adam on their quest to find Adam’s missing daughter.  A quest that is becoming more complicated by the minute…

It is, quite frankly, nice to find a heroine in a paranormal tale who isn’t a vampire, witch or werewolf.  Or two or more of the above (Jaye Wells, I’m looking at you).  Even if she does still have a ‘special’ element, being the only walker that she knows of apart from her long-deceased father, and the only walker a lot of people have ever met.  Despite this, Mercy seems fairly practical and relatable.  At least in the start of the book.

Moon Called is the first in a series, and it does show.  The major plotlines in the book are wrapped up by the end of it, but a lot of the characters still feel fairly flat and unsympathetic.  Hopefully this will be resolved with character development in the following books.  There are some nice little touches here and there to give life – metaphorically speaking, in some cases – to the minor characters that seem to be oddly lacking in some of the main characters.  It amused me to find out that Marsilia reads in the same position that I do; this little note made me relate to her a bit, which made the fact that her ‘humanity’ is just an act a little more jarring than it was for certain others (yay vagueness from trying not to provide too many spoilers).

One of the problems that I had in this book was that it seems to fall into the same problem that every other ‘paranormal’ story I’ve come across has – Everyone Wants To Do The Heroine!  This is more pronounced in the second book than the first, but for someone who claims she’s not very attractive, Mercy seems to receive an awful lot of male attention.

And speaking of male attention, have I mentioned yet that I hate love triangles?  Because I do.  I really, really do.  Particularly when you know that there’s no chance they’re going to end up in a triad or a polyamorous relationship.  And these love triangles (or polyhedrons, in some cases) are everywhere in paranormal fantasy/paranormal romance!  I will refrain from complaining any more about that, because there’s probably enough fodder in my burning hatred for love triangles to earn its own post at some point.

But there is a love triangle.  Which I could see as soon as the third person was introduced.  Argh.

I liked the interaction between Mercy and Adam, regardless of the will they/won’t they aspect of the relationship.  I did not like Mercy’s interaction with childhood sweetheart Sam, who came across as condescending and disrespectful of the fact that Mercy is no longer a love-sick teenager.  Quite frankly, I can’t see any of the positive qualities that Mercy seems to see in him, he was useless for much of the book, and I pretty much feel that he should have just stayed at home.  YMMV.

Other than the issues that I’ve mentioned, I didn’t have any big problems with this book.  There’s no sex, so anyone looking for sex scenes will be disappointed, and there isn’t very much romance.  Some of the characters need more development, which is a common problem with novels intended to be the first of a series.  I hate love triangles.  The vampires are not sparkly.

Overall, this book is a good, light paranormal fantasy that can be read on its own or as the first in a series.  The author’s paranormal universe is interesting, and hopefully she will take it to interesting places and provide more information and detail as the series advances.  Recommended.

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