Posts Tagged ‘ historical ’

Review: The Champion

From what I could tell from reading the book, Carla Capshaw’s The Champion seems to be the third book in a series, with characters from previous books featuring heavily in this one.  It would have been nice if the netGalley blurb – or the author’s website – indicated such, so that I would have been warned of that beforehand.The Champion cover

Tiberia the Younger is in desperate need of help; with her hoydenish reputation and string of broken proposals, her father Tiberius has decided that no decent man will have her, and that the best way for Tibi to give some honour back to the family is to join the priesthood, despite her lack of religious leaning.  Having no desire to become a temple priestess Tibi runs away from home, seeking her cousin Pelonia, who should be newly arrived in Rome with her former-gladiator husband.

Unfortunately, Tibi arrives at the home of famed gladiator Alexius of Iolcos, Pelonia’s host, to find that her cousins are not expected to arrive for several more days.  While Alexius offers to protect Tibi from her father, at least until Pelonia arrives, the undeniable attraction between them almost seems more dangerous than Tiberius’ inevitable wrath…

Like many books that are part of a series, the author relies on you having read the earlier books; the relationships between Tibi and Alexius and the various other characters were passed over only briefly, and I didn’t get a real understanding of who everyone was until right near the end.

There were a few things, like the prospect of Tibi being sent to a temple, that felt insufficiently explained: both Tibi and Alexius reacted with horror at the revelation of which temple she would be sent to, but the reason for this horror was never revealed to the reader.  Ancient Rome is not really my area of historical preference, but I’m familiar with all of the major Roman deities and many of the minor ones, and the name didn’t have any significance at all.  It’s possible I’m missing a blatantly obvious reference, but if so, I don’t care enough to assign myself homework.

The official blurb didn’t fit too accurately with the actual content of the story.  The vast majority of the time is spent with Tibi and Alexius being very firmly Just Friends, with many long glances and wistful sighs but no hanky-panky or even stolen kisses.  Like so many heroines, Tibi is supposedly oblivious to her allegedly breathtaking beauty, and has no idea that a man might find her attractive.  Maybe this trope was cute the first hundred times.  And the one with the hero deciding he stands no chance with the girl because he’s “not good enough”, etc.

The end was rather anticlimactic, after the spectre of Tibi’s father’s wrath hanging over their heads, it reached a small crescendo and then… didn’t really go anywhere.  The last-minute drama right at the end seemed utterly ridiculous and unnecessary, and then any repercussions from that, social, familial or otherwise, were completely skipped over.  Tibi’s relationship with her sister was never really settled one way or another on-screen, and Tibi’s father received none of the comeuppance he richly deserved.

I liked the background of Ancient Rome, and the rather unique (in my experience, anyway) setting in and around a gladiator school.  I’m not sure how historically accurate all of the information was, let alone Tibi’s archery skills, but it was fairly convincing and I enjoyed seeing Tibi gain some self-confidence and grow through the story.

Unique setting aside, the underlying story was generic rake-meets-girl, misunderstandings-ensue romance with a strong Christian flavour, particularly towards the end of the book.  Again, something I wasn’t really expecting when reading a romance set in Ancient Rome.  But I suppose it’s different strokes for different folks, and Christianity is not really one of mine.  Perhaps if it had been less blatantly evangelical ‘oh look God does miracles’ at the end here.

Review: By Grace Possessed

The second in Jennifer Blake‘s new trilogy about the Three Graces of Graydon, By Grace Possessed is the sequel to By His Majesty’s Grace, which I reviewed earlier this month.  The third book, youngest sister Marguerite’s tale, is due to be published some time this month.By Grace Possessed cover

Lady Catherine Milton is the second of the Three Graces of Graydon, a trio of beautiful sisters believed to be plagued by a curse that kills any man who tries to marry them without love.  Between them, the sisters have lost fifteen suitors to death’s cold embrace, and felt quite secure that few men at court desired them enough to risk his life before the wedding night.  That was, rather, until King Henry VII gave oldest sister Isabel’s hand in marriage to one of his knights; Rand Braesford survived the curse, though whether it was because the marriage was arranged by the King, and not by Rand himself, that is the cause, or whether there are tender feeling involved, is best left to Baron Braesford and his blissfully happy bride.

Now that one Graydon husband has survived the curse, Cate and her younger sister Marguerite are back on the marriage market, whether they will it or not.  Henry is certainly planning to use this to his advantage, as he proves when a hunting accident strands Cate in the forest overnight with Ross Dunbar, the son of a Scottish laird held as a political hostage in London by the king.  With Cate’s reputation in ruins, a temporary betrothal to soothe the court’s gossip and please Henry seems the best solution… until a Yorkist uprising heralds the threat of invasion, and the king decides that Cate’s marriage to Ross will help secure England’s northern border…

Like the previous book, this story takes place in the early Tudor years, shortly after the end of the Wars of the Roses, and the political aftermath of that turmoil definitely lingers.  Once again Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York feature in the tale, and poor Prince Arthur finally makes his appearance.  The addition of Dunbar’s Scottish roots and the politics surrounding Scotland’s James IV and the Yorkist pretender to the throne add to the detailed setting and the intrigue factor.

Most of the drive in this story came from the characters, their reluctance to wed and eventual arranged marriage, rather than external forces.  Neither Ross nor Cate desires to be wed, and certainly not to each other – but the attraction is definitely there, even if neither will admit to anything beyond it.  But that’s not to say the romance was completely free from influence outside of the couple themselves; Henry and the power he wields over them is very present through the story, as is the influence of Cate’s unwanted suitor and the attempts on Ross’ life.

It did seem to me that Ross’ belief that Cate was behind the attacks on his life – or possibly conspiring with the aforementioned unwanted suitor, who Ross knew very well had already attempted to assault Cate – was stretched past the point of credulity.  While there weren’t any over-the-top ridiculous misunderstandings, they definitely suffered from a lack of communication; both of them refused to discuss or explain things that they probably should have, which would have saved them a lot of grief in the long run.  The ‘mystery’ of the attacks on Ross was not so much a mystery as it was his lengthy failure to realise and acknowledge the obvious.  The whole thing got rather tiresome after a while.

I did love the tie-in with the Battle of Stoke, and all of the excellent historical flavour, including the political power that Lady Margaret Beaufort, King Henry’s mother, wielded over her son and his court.  It was nice to see how Isabel and Rand were settling into married life after the events of By His Majesty’s Grace, though it did feel like they were present a little too much.  Cate and Marguerite featured very little in Isabel’s story, so it seemed unfair that Isabel (and Marguerite) got so much screen-time in Cate’s story.

Overall, delightful.  And no talk of murdered babies.  Definitely recommended.

Review: By His Majesty’s Grace

By His Majesty’s Grace by Jennifer Blake is a historical romance set in early Tudor England.  It is the first in a new trilogy, the second of which is currently in my TBR list and will have a review up shortly.

Lady Isabel Milton is the eldest of the Three Graces of Graydon, a trio of lovely sisters plagued by a curse that dooms any man who seeks to bind them to him in a loveless marriage.  A ward of the king following her stepfather’s death and Henry Tudor’s ascent to the throne of England as Henry VII, Isabel’s hand has been given as a favour to Sir Rand of Braesford for services rendered to the crown during Henry’s years of exile and the end of the Wars of the Roses.By His Majesty's Grace cover

Isabel is less than delighted by the prospect of matrimony, and fearful that the king’s flouting of the Graydon Curse will mean her sisters face a similar loveless future.  But she holds some hope that the supposed curse, invented by Isabel herself long ago, will once again works its magic and this betrothed husband will follow his predecessors into the grave before vows are exchanged.

And, indeed, it seems likely to do just that, when unexpected visitors on the eve of the ceremony bring shocking tidings – Braesford has been accused of murdering the king’s newborn illegitimate daughter, last seen with her mother leaving Braesford’s lands, and he and Isabel are summoned to London forthwith.  Whether the king really believes Rand to have killed the child, or whether he seeks to use his former squire as bait, only Henry seems to know.  And in the meanwhile, Sir Rand has every intention of availing himself of his lovely new bride’s charms, whether she thinks him a murderer or not…

I am, I will confess, a bit of a history geek at heart, and the Plantagenets and Tudors (technically the same family, I know, but let’s not get too technical here) are some of my favourite historical figures.  It seems like the Wars of the Roses is currently out of fashion for historical romance, and it was lovely to come across something besides generic pseudo-medieval and the later Georgian/Regency/Victorian periods.  I adored the inclusion of Elizabeth of York, Henry’s queen, and the references to both their chronicled was-it-romance relationship and young (but sadly doomed) Prince Arthur, though the latter is not yet born during this particular time-frame.

The murder-mystery was interesting, though there was no real plot twists or surprises apart from Rand ending up in the tower, which was spoiled in the official blurb, and the identity of the villain(s) was ultimately predictable.  But the setting was gorgeous, the characters endearing, the sex scenes very hot, and I greatly look forward to Catherine and Marguerite’s stories.  Definitely recommended.

Review: Prelude to a Scandal

I read this book in early December, and I’ve been trying to decide since then just how to review it, and whether I even wanted to.Prelude to a Scandal cover The concept behind the story was really interesting and pretty unique as far as I’ve seen, and I wanted to love it.  I really, really did.  I mean, just look at the cover!

But I just couldn’t.

My first problem is pretty trivial, but it cropped up enough to be annoying: I noticed in both Prelude and Once that the author seems to enjoy using the word verdant – and I can’t blame her, because it’s a fabulous word.  My problem is that I can’t tell from the context quite what she intends for it to mean.  I’ll make the obvious assumption that covered with plant life is not a serious possibility (though fun to speculate), so does she mean it as green or fresh or as some strange synonym for luxurious?  There’s no ‘sapphire’ for blue, and so on, and other references to something obviously green are just green.

But now there’ my big problem.  As I mentioned earlier, the premise of the story – the story of a sex addict before it was recognised as a condition and long before there was effective help – was immensely interesting, but to be honest, I don’t feel that it was effectively carried out.

I am not a therapist, but the ‘solutions’ to the hero’s sex addiction problem seemed to my mind to likely be ineffective.  The heroine vacillated between being understanding, unsympathetic and almost disgusted, and the whole ‘love story’ just didn’t convince me.

The side-story with the brother and his mistress felt excessive and unnecessary, and I feel it should have been left out all together.

An interesting concept, but ultimately the book fell flat for me.  I know other reviewers have loved the book and happily recommend it, but I just don’t and can’t.

Trigger Warnings for: Violence, rape, addiction, domestic abuse.

Review: Unveiled

Courtney Milan‘s Unveiled is the first in a new series about the Turner brothers.  Unveiled is due to be released in January 2011; its sequel, Unclaimed, starring Ash’s youngest brother Mark, is due out in Fall 2011.  I enjoyed Unveiled, and will definitely be keeping an eye out for the next one.Unveiled cover

Mr. Ash Turner is the  perfect stereotype of a self-made man, rising from an impoverished background to the pinnacle of wealth; he went to sea when he was a teenager, made his fortune overseas in India, and paid for his two youngest brothers to have the finest education money could buy.  And now he has his eyes set on a title – specifically the Duke of Parford’s.  Ash has waited decades for a chance to seek revenge on Parford, whose uncaring arrogance years before led to the dead of Ash’s younger sister, Hope.

The old duke is dying, and with both of his sons proved illegitimate, the Parford estate and the title must fall to the nearest male kin – Ash Turner and his brothers.  Satisfying though it was to embarrass Parford and his family in front of London Society and secure an even more advantageous future for his own family, Ash soon finds vengeance to be not nearly as satisfying as he had thought.  Perhaps he can find consolation in the arms of no-nonsense Margaret Lowell, Parford’s very attractive nurse…

I won’t just steal your title and your lands. I will run any bank that holds your funds into the ground. I will bribe your servants to slip nettles into your bed. I will hire trumpets to stand outside your home, every evening, where they will sound notes at irregular intervals. You will never have a solid night’s sleep again.

Unfortunately for his plans, Miss Margaret Lowell is better known as Lady Anna Margaret Dalrymple, Parford’s only daughter, and she has no interest in offering anything other than hatred.  Ash has ruined her family, her inheritance, and her reputation to settle a decades-old quarrel with her father, the Duke of Parford, proving the duke a bigamist and Margaret and her two older brothers illegitimate.  Whilst Richard and Edmund, Margaret’s brothers, attempt to gain support for a Bill of Parliament to grant them legitimacy, Margaret has been left at Parford Manor to pose as a nurse and care for her ailing father.  And to spy on Ash, when he arrives to survey his stolen inheritance…

This was a very interesting story.  The plot – disinheritance because of bigamy and attempted reinstatement by Act of Parliament – is not one that I’ve ever come across before, and I do love new concepts and settings.  The early Victorian era was a nice change from the generic Georgian Regency period that seems to be the historical romance setting of choice.

Ash was an interesting character, very determined to get his own way and have things go the way he planned.  Including having Margaret in his bed, even after he discovered who she was.  Might I just add that he has the best name I have ever seen on a Romance hero.

Margaret felt rather passive at times, and a little overwhelmed by her domineering father and her affection for her brothers versus her growing attraction to Ash.  I very much enjoyed the way she eventually shook off their hold – including Ash’s – and took her future into her own hands.

Both Ash’s brothers and Margaret’s brothers came across as ungrateful, rather spoiled brats.  I’m not sure if that was intentional, or my own prejudice against bratty younger siblings.

Overall, I enjoyed Unveiled a great deal, and will be looking forward to the sequel.  If you enjoy a determined hero, a unique plot and a refreshingly different setting, do make sure to pick this one up.  Recommended.

Review: Lust

Lust by Charlotte Featherstone is the first book in The Sins and the Virtues, a brand-new series of books that follow the stories of seven Fey princes, each cursed with one of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Lust is due to be released by Harlequin’s Spice line in January 2011.Lust cover

Centuries ago, the Queen of the Seelie Fey, Aine, was kidnapped by Duir, King of the dark Unseelie Fey.  Whilst in captivity she bore him twin sons, Crom and Niall.  Aine eventually managed to escape, taking Crom with her, but before doing so she laid a curse on Niall and on the other male children of Duir’s line.  Each Dark Fey prince was cursed with the personification of one of the Seven Deadly Sins, their nature shaped by that sin and forced to act upon its desires.  Thanks to Aine’s curse the Unseelie court is dying, and Niall, now king, was helpless to stop it until he discovered the key to unravelling his mother’s curse.  For each Fey prince cursed with a Sin has a counterpart, a mortal woman who embodies one of the Seven Virtues.  If they can find these women, earn their love, and bring them willingly to the Dark Court, perhaps the Seelie Queen’s spell will be broken…

Our first story, Lust, is the tale of Thane, one of Niall’s younger half-brothers.  Thane possesses the Sin of lust, and along with it an insatiable appetite for the pleasures of the flesh.  He and his siblings quickly track down the first three of the human Virtues they need to break the curse, and Thane is unable to take his eyes from Chastity Lennox, the third of the Duke of Lennox’s four beautiful daughters.

Chastity, as her name implies, is one of the embodiments of a Virtue, and Thane’s mortal counterpart.  She has spent all of her life cold and restrained, unmoved by the handsome faces and elegant compliments that make other female hearts flutter – until a chance encounter at a masked ball rocks Chastity’s world, and she finds herself responding to a man, however reluctantly, for the very first time.  A man who she quickly begins to suspect is not a man at all, but a Dark Fey seeking her soul…

Lust is part of the Harlequin Spice line, and very much deserving of the classification.  Lust is a very sexy read, with smouldering chemistry and red-hot sex scenes.  The combination of historical setting and fantasy elements is difficult to find, and certainly makes this book stand out from the crowd.  I spent several enjoyable hours whiling away the time with Lust, and will certainly keep my eye out for the rest of the books in the series to be released.

If you dislike fantasy elements or explicit sex scenes, then this book is not for you; it is very much an erotic romance., with heavy emphasis on the erotic.  However, if  you like your heroes mythological and your sex scenes smokin’ hot, then Lust comes highly recommended.

Review: Like Clockwork

Like Clockwork by Bonnie Dee is a light, enjoyable Steampunk Romance set in an alternate late Victorian-era London with an unusual heroine and likeable hero.Like Clockwork cover

Victoria Waters is a Society debutante turned inventor, part of the team that created the clockwork automatons that have replaced much of Britain’s working-class in various industries.  Originally intending for her creation to only replace those working in dangerous jobs or hazardous conditions, Victoria has been growing more and more disturbed as the cheap and efficient automatons have become a greater part of everyday life – particularly now that reports are coming to light of the automatons breaking down or malfunctioning and causing harm to humans.  She is on her way to air these problems, in fact, when she is kidnapped by an agent of the Brotherhood, a group opposed to the use of automatons and concerned about their impact on society.

Dash, the agent in question, is a former thief turned bookseller’s apprentice turned bartender, currently unemployed thanks to Victoria’s clockwork automatons.  He is surprised to find Victoria sympathetic to their cause, and a bond quickly grows between them, despite their differences of class and profession.

This one was difficult to sum up because, to be honest, not very much happens.  I love both the setting and idea behind Like Clockwork, but I dearly wish it had been longer, to give more time for both the characters and the plot to develop.  As it was, the few plot elements felt rushed and isolated from the relationship developing between Victoria and Dash, and the relationship itself lacked a lot of depth.  There is an explicit sex scene tacked onto the end in an epilogue – unfortunately, the sex felt obligatory rather than a natural progression of the story, and the short epilogue contained more plot, sadly glossed-over, than the main story did.

As it stands, this is a sweet short story that has the potential to be developed into something much greater, but it’s just not there yet.

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