Review – Forever a Lord by Delilah Marvelle

First of all, Merry Christmas!  I figured I should get this post up sooner rather than later, and I’ve got little else to do during this lull of the day.  My kids are exhausted after all the drama and excitement of a Christmas morning.  All is quiet.  It is, quite frankly, a glorious moment, and I will enjoy it for as long as it lasts (not long).

Cover image, Forever a Lord by Delilah Marvelle

I’ve forgotten to include the publisher’s blurb on the last few reviews I’ve done (oops…), but this time, I remembered!  Courtesy of Goodreads:

He’s a fighter, not a lover.
But that’s about to change…

Lady Imogene Norwood lives a sheltered life of quiet respectability and routine…until she debuts at her first Season. There among London’s elite she meets the wild and broken Lord Atwood. And the very shy English rose suddenly realizes that a little chaos might just be what her heart desires.

Lord Nathaniel James Atwood doesn’t believe true love exists. Since scandal tore him away from his family at an early age, he has spent his life fighting for what he wants. That attitude has made him a rising star in bare-knuckle boxing, and now leads him back to London to reclaim the life that was stolen from him. But upon meeting the innocent Imogene, his beliefs are trounced…as guarding his heart against her proves to be the fight of his life.

The first half of this book is incredibly good.  From page one, it grabbed my attention and treated me to a fast-moving, emotionally compelling story.  The character development of the major characters (Nathaniel, Imogene, and her brother Weston, in particular) is strong.  I loved the idea that both Nathaniel and Imogene were victims of the terrible power of secrets, that power ever stronger when the secret is not one’s own.

A good portion of this story revolves around bare-knuckled boxing.  I’ll just come out and say it: I do not understand boxing.  I can’t fathom why anyone would want to step into a ring and beat the crap out of someone else (or get the crap beat out of oneself) for glory and cash prizes.  It seems a phenomenally stupid endeavor, to me.  I really thought I’d skim through the boxing sections, but I didn’t.  Marvelle brought her research to life in a fascinating way, particularly when she discussed the world through Imogene’s point of view.  I still think boxing is a stupid thing to do (and an even more stupid thing to watch on PPV), but I enjoyed all of the boxing elements of this story because they so closely tie to Nathaniel’s character.  Thanks to good writing, I happily read about jabs and hooks and spurts of blood spraying all over the ring.  Well done, Delilah Marvelle!

The second half of the book is not quite as strong as the first–it skips ahead a bit too abruptly, and there is not quite enough conflict to move the story along — but I was still a mostly-happy reader when I reached the end.  There were a few strange side-stories that might have been explained/explored in the previous two books of this series — but I wouldn’t know, because this is the first book I’ve read by this author — and seemed out-of-place and bewildering to me, reading this book as a stand-alone.  Nearly everything that related to Matthew, a secondary character and friend of Nathaniel, was just strange and did not fit in with this story (I just checked Goodreads: Matthew’s story is book #2 in the series).  If I had read this series from the beginning, I’m sure I would have loved the little mentions here and there of characters that I already knew and loved.  But I read this book expecting a stand-alone story, and instead, my enjoyment of this book’s story was continually interrupted by all these little WTF moments.  Those interruptions negatively impacted my overall experience of the book.

Aside from the somewhat jarring moments when the other stories intersected this one in abrupt ways, I had a great time reading this story, and I recommend it to anyone who (1) enjoys romance novels and (2) wants an intense, emotional story (rather than a romp).  I am adding Marvelle to my ever-growing list of authors to watch.

Forever a Lord was released on December 18, 2012 by Harlequin HQN as a mass-market paperback and e-book.  If you are interested in learning more about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information about Delilah Marvelle, please visit her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin HQN via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Jane Austen January

Portrait of Jane Austen in watercolor and pencil by Cassandra Austen (1773-1845), digitally restored and remastered by Amano1 Source: http://www.janeausten.co.uk/regencyworld/pdf/portrait.pdf via Wikimedia Commons

On Christmas Day in 1997, I received a collected volume of Jane Austen’s novels from my mother.  It is one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.  I had read Pride and PrejudiceSense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park several times, but this volume introduced me to the other books.  In January of 1998, I read all of the books, and in every January of the following years, I made it a tradition to read at least a few Jane Austen novels.  This coming January represents the fifteenth annual Jane Austen January, and I’m hoping to make it into a somewhat informal blog event.

This year, I plan to read Pride and PrejudicePersuasion, and Northanger Abbey, but I might add in Sense and Sensibility as well, depending on how much free time I have.  My goal is to write at least one blog post about each of the books and, I hope, to engage in discussions with other readers.  I’m totally open to discussing other Jane Austen works, but I probably won’t read more than these four books, so my comments will be limited to my last reading.  (It’s been a while since I read Mansfield Park and Emma…)

Every time I read these books, I discover something new about them, though whether that is due to my changing over the years, to the books’ being that nuanced, or just to my possessing a truly terrible memory, I’ll never know.

Is anyone game to join me in this fifteenth annual Jane Austen January?  Please let me know in the comments below.  (Lurking is also totally welcome.)  Discussions can take place on Twitter, if that’s convenient, and in the comments feature on this blog.  Check the side bar for my Twitter info.  Please also feel free to do your own thang with posts on your blog, if you have one.  I do this event every year, alone; this is my first attempt to bring other folk into the mix, so we’ll see how it goes.  🙂

Review – The Laird’s Choice by Amanda Scott

So, it’s been a while since my last post.  This season is always a bit busier at work and home, and I found myself in a bit of a time crunch.  I’ve also been reeling a bit after the horrific events of this past Friday in Newtown, CT.  My heart breaks for that community, for all those families, for the world.  When pondering those events, I found it easiest and most healing to come to no conclusions, to attempt no analysis.  I have no idea what would prompt an individual to act in such a manner, and I cannot want ever to understand such a thing.  Anyway, that’s where I’ve been.  I hope to be mostly back on schedule now, but we’ll see how things go.

Cover image, The Laird’s Choice by Amanda Scott

While I found nothing truly objectionable about this book, I also didn’t really enjoy reading it, but I suspect that lack of enjoyment has more to do with my personal pet peeves as a reader than with any real flaw in the book. The fact is, I’m just not a fan of historical fiction that has more history than fiction. I had a difficult time connecting to the characters, caring about their story, and that disconnect made it difficult for me to want to read the book. There were numerous occasions when conversation between characters would be derailed (I thought) by info dumps about history and/or events occurring beyond the scope of the story, and this hijacking of the story by the truly remarkable historical research just irked me.  Amanda Scott obviously did a heck of a lot of research, and her world-building of 15th century Scotland was lovely (if only I cared about that sort of thing), but there was not an equal amount of energy spent developing the characters.

I never was able to figure out who all the villains were–although that may derive from a combination of my terrible memory and the amount of time I spent reading this book (it’s easier to keep these details straight when one reads a book over a day or two rather than over two weeks)–there were so many Stewarts and Walters and some dude named Murdoch who had some sons(??), that I just couldn’t keep track of them, and they become one muddled group of “bad guys” without any sort of personal character.  Part of the trouble with this book is that the reader is never actually introduced to any of the bad guys. They are all just a menace lurking over some mountain or beyond a river.  As difficult as I found it to connect to the characters, I might have felt a very human response to their being in danger, but they didn’t really seem to be in any danger, not personally.  Since I was never given the opportunity to get to know the one character who was in some danger from that faceless mass of menace, I didn’t really care whether or not he met with an untimely end.

The ending was very etch-a-sketch (à la Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey, if you will allow the comparison).  There’s this huge intrigue plot that drives nearly all of the action in the book, and it all gets resolved in a throwaway epilogue (!!).  Since I wanted to stop reading the book about thirty pages in and kept it up through sheer force of will, it was more than a little disappointing to have the story end in such a slapdash, anti-climatic way.  This book is the first in a series, and it’s possible that the story will get taken up by subsequent books, but the ending was still annoying.

Now, that all sounds quite negative, but I’m certain that some readers will enjoy this book. Die-hard fans of historical fiction set in the Scottish Highlands will probably enjoy this one, as will any reader who likes a hearty helping of history with her historical fiction and does not mind if there is not so much romance.

The Laird’s Choice was released on December 18, 2012 as a mass-market paperback and e-book by Forever.  If you are interested in finding more information about this book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  You can also visit the author’s website at http://www.amandascottauthor.com/.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Forever via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Review – What an Earl Wants by Kasey Michaels

Cover image, What an Earl Wants by Kasey Michaels

From Goodreads:

Gideon Redgrave, eldest child of the late Earl of Saltwood, refuses to be humbled by the scandal that once tore his family apart. He’s built his life in London society around one rule: trust no one. So the last thing he wants is to play guardian and role model to a headstrong boy . . . or to engage in a battle of wills with the boy’s spirited half sister, who is fighting Gideon for custody.

Beautiful and bold, young widow Jessica Linden proves to be a formidable and passionate adversary. But the more they lock horns, the more Gideon realizes he’d prefer to have Jessica on his side . . . and in his arms. Especially now that a new threat—sprung from his father’s supposedly defunct secret society—is poised to destroy the Redgraves once and for all.

I can’t quite explain exactly why I enjoyed this story so well as I did.  When I started reading it, I worried that I would hate it, for the first two chapters; then I started to love it.  You see, both of the main characters engage in a bit of posturing in the first few scenes, and my initial impression was that I could not like them nor care about their story.  But, goodness, I was wrong.  Throughout both my first read last month and a quick re-read to prepare for this post, I was drawn in to the story and emotionally invested in the characters.

This story has quite a few elements that usually guarantee my happiness as a reader.

  1. There are dogs.  Actually, they are puppies.  And I loved them.
  2. There is an irreverent grandmother who has slept with just about everyone she knows and left them all terrified.
  3. There is a lot of showing rather than telling.  You know Jessica and Gideon are intelligent characters because they act like intelligent people.
  4. There is a very stupid young man.  I love those, almost as much as I love puppies.
  5. Gideon’s siblings are glorious.  When reading the first book in a series, it is always encouraging to know that the characters who will be featured in the subsequent books are interesting.  I am particularly interested in reading Kate’s story (Gideon’s sister).

I am ambivalent about intrigue plots in series novels.  On the one hand, it is sometimes annoying when an intrigue plot is not resolved within a single story–the novels that deal with the beginning and middle points of that intrigue plot always seem a trifle unfinished, and can’t really be read as standalone books.  On the other hand, it is always a trifle annoying when a series novel invents a new intrigue plot for every single book in the series (*cough* Stephanie Laurens *cough*).  What in the hell world are these people living in that there are murderers and kidnappers and white slavers and traitors and God knows what else lurking around every corner just waiting to snatch them up in a dangerous, but ultimately easily overcome plot?  Such a thing really pushes the limits of plausibility.

I’m quite happy to say that this book, while it introduces an intrigue plot that will be carried forward in the subsequent books of the series, does so carefully.  It makes sense on both a plot development and character development level that the intrigue is not solved in this story and will be developed further along with a new set of characters.  I like it when things make sense.

This book had me at the puppies, of course, who make their appearance in chapter three.  But it kept my interest with its subtlety, sly humor, and emotional punch.  There was one scene towards the beginning that raised my hackles for a moment, because it reminded me, just a bit, not so much of dubious consent but of the different ways in which men and women can look at a sexual transaction, each participating in the same situation but with wildly different internal responses and expected outcomes.  In a way, even though that scene was very uncomfortable for me to read, I loved the book all the more for including it (and for giving each character the room to analyze and recover from it).

What an Earl Wants was released on November 27, 2012 as a mass-market paperback and e-book by Harlequin HQN.  If you are interested in the book, please click on the cover image shown above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information about the author, Kasey Michaels, please visit her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin HQN via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

You know… Puppies!  (And a question: why do people get so crazy in the comments of YouTube videos featuring animals?  Honestly, people!)

Seriously… (in other words, one of the best things I’ve seen on the Internet this week:)

Review – The Prince by Tiffany Reisz

This review was seriously delayed by an attack of evil migraines (yes, plural).  The next time you see a migraine, punch it in the face for me.  Don’t worry: that migraine totally deserves it.

Cover image, The Prince by Tiffany Reisz

I adore that cover.  Anyway, as always, I begin with the plot summary courtesy of Goodreads:

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer…preferably in bed. That’s always been Kingsley Edge’s strategy with his associate, the notorious New York dominatrix Nora Sutherlin. But with Nora away in Kentucky, now it’s Kingsley’s chance to take her place at the feet of the only man he’s ever wanted — Søren, Nora’s on-again, off-again lover — until a new threat from an old enemy forces him to confront his past.

Wes Railey is still the object of Nora’s tamest yet most maddening fantasies, and the one man she can’t forget. He’s young. He’s wonderful. He’s also thoroughbred royalty and she’s in “his” world now. But Nora is no simpering Southern belle, and her dream of fitting into Wesley’s world is perpetually at odds with her dear Søren’s relentlessly seductive pull.

Two worlds of wealth and passion call to her and whichever one Nora chooses, it will be the hardest decision she will ever have to make… unless someone makes it for her…

Tangent: Perhaps the reason I hate plot summaries so very much is that I am consumed by a powerful jealousy – I want that job.  I want to write teasers like “…it will be the hardest decision she will ever have to make… unless someone makes it for her…” that hint at ominous doings.  But I don’t./tangent

Anyway.  I am attempting a thematic review of this book (in keeping with my previous Original Sinners series reviews).  I’m fairly certain I can write the review without including any spoilers, but if you’re itching to read The Prince and just haven’t gotten to it yet, it’s probably a good idea to read the book first and then come back to read my review (just in cases).

I unequivocally loved The Siren and The Angel.  I also loved The Prince, but not unequivocally.  Don’t get me wrong–it still earned the 5-star review it will get from me on Goodreads–but there were a few random elements that sort of poked me in a not entirely good way.  I figured I would get them out of the way before I delve into a discussion of some of the book’s themes.

  1. Zoolander.  There’s this moment towards the middle of the book wherein Kingsley ruminates about how folk think he’s handsome, and Søren definitely is handsome, and Eleanor is beautiful, but another character is just stunningly gorgeous.  And I’m sure I’m completely ridiculous, but when I read that line, this is what played in my head:
  2. I really hate cliffhangers, and this book ends with a big one.  Of course, my personal dislike of cliffhangers (I hated ’em in Harry Potter, too) has nothing to do with the book, but this is my review, and I’ll bitch about cliffhangers if I want to.
  3. Super-duper unsexy sexy sexy times.  (I think Anachronist at Books as Portable Pieces of Thoughts really has the best commentary on the unbelievably unsexy sex in certain parts of this book.)  Overall, I liked the book, but I was still shocked and slightly embarrassed to encounter explody spuge and seriously awkward conversation.  I get that those scenes had to be at least a trifle awkward (they would have been unrealistic, otherwise), but that doesn’t mean that all the awkwardness was even slightly pleasant.  Goodness.

So, caveats aside, The Prince is dark.  It is arranged in two parallel story lines that are intercut, with the “North” story (past and present) following Kingsley and Søren and the “South” story following Nora and Wes.  I enjoyed the intercutting because it helped the pacing throughout the story and gave me time to recover from some of the book’s darker moments.  I’ve seen some comments from other readers that read all of the “South” sections first and then all of the “North” sections, and I thought it was funny (not really ha ha, but a little) that those readers turned Reisz into Tolkien, just a bit.  On the whole, I thought the “North” segments were stronger than the “South” ones.  Kingsley absolutely shines in this book, and Wes seemed a trifle flat, especially by comparison.

If Søren bore a resemblance to the God of the Old Testament in The Angelhe seems to be the spittin’ image in this book, when he appears as a teen.  As an adult, Søren still bears a resemblance to God but it’s to the God of the New Testament (I think).  He makes sacrifices and has to deal with their consequences.  He loves, and he has to watch his loved ones battle it out and make mistakes, and he can’t really know how it will all end.  He’s a God who went from being in complete control to having to wait and hope that his people (person, really) will come back to him.  Uncertainty does not sit well with the Almighty, and neither does Søren handle it without considerable friction.  I loved every one of Søren’s scenes, even the brutal ones.

I am not sure if it is just a case of contrast, but I really disliked Wes in this book, and I was confused by Nora.  While Søren and Kingsley are confronting and, to an extent, reliving the past, Wes and Nora spend their time building an incongruous fantasy dream world and exploring the brutality of the thoroughbred racing world.  (I should point out that I enjoyed the latter explorations as they provided insights to both Wes’ and Nora’s view of her world in the underground.)  Perhaps this issue is just that a lot of the “South” scenes were written from Wes’ point of view, and I didn’t enjoy being in his head nearly as much as I enjoy Nora’s.  She’s funny; he’s sappy.

I recommend this book to anyone who read and enjoyed The Siren and The Angel and is tolerant of very dark subject matter.  There are some extremely intense scenes, and sensitive readers should approach with caution.  I am one of those sensitive readers, actually, but I found enough interesting material and often starkly beautiful writing to compensate me for the few panic attacks this book brought on.  Speaking of starkly beautiful writing, this book contains one of my favorite sentences of all time.  For that one sentence alone, I would give this book a 5-star review; but, of course, I found many more reasons for that rating.

The Prince was released on November 20 by Harlequin MIRA in both e-book and print format, I believe.  For more information about the author (including a selection of free bedtime stories that are well worth a read–but read The Siren first–check out the author’s website http://tiffanyreisz.com.  If you click on the cover image above, you can visit the book’s page on Goodreads and follow links to purchase through Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*