Monday, March 26, 2007

The Duke by Gaelen Foley

I almost put this one down since I found it a bit disappointing a first. The couple doesn't immediately know each other and it's not until some chapters in the book that they are finally thrown together.

Belinda Hamilton has a stalker. Dolph Breckinridge is the nephew of the Earl of Coldfell and he is obsessed with Belinda. It has gotten to the point where he has ruined her family and has made her destitute, with the intention that she finally turn to him in her time of need. He obviously doesn't know Belinda. She had promised herself to a local boy who went off to fight the war but her hope for his return is dying because she is on her last dime. She has taken to selling oranges but even this is not enough to bribe the warden of her father's prison.

When the unthinkable happens, Belinda decides she will have to rely on the oldest profession in the book and cuts a business deal with the madame of a high hootin' brothel, she is taught the Art of Seduction and Pleasure in return for a percentage of her keep when she gets a protector. In this way, Belinda Hamilton becomes the most sought after courtesan in London.

Robert, The Duke of Hawkcliffe has just buried the woman he most loved, the wife of the Earl of Coldfell. Although the love was platonic, the fact that Lucy's death is a bit suspicious as Robert committing himself to find the truth. He already suspects Dolph and when he hears about the man's obsession with Ms. Hamilton, he seeks her out himself. What he didn't expect was his attraction to this fallen woman. Robert is known by all for his high standards of morals, but he is willing to put aside his prejudices for woman of Belinda's class and offer for her in name only. He is determined to get a confession out of Dolph and is not below using Belinda in any way possible.

Robert has a lot to overcome but his steadfastness and his honor, make him shine. You can easily see how Belinda falls in love with him. Robert's struggles with his sense of duty and his love for Belinda is so vivid that you can forgive almost anything! He has been emotionally scared by his parents lives, yet when he discovers the truth behind Belinda's past he learns to cope with his own baggage and becomes her strength.

I must take my hat off to Foley for bringing these characters to life. The only down side was the beginning, and yet by the end it's difficult to fault. Great story telling

Grade: A-

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Man In A Kilt by Sandy Blair

My reading group on Yahoo selected Sandy Blair as our Author of the Month in March and after looking at her backlist I decided to go with the first book in her highlander series. Although the story starts in modern times it takes us back to the past and keeps us there, which really makes this one a historical.

Beth Pudding is a caterer from NY and has never really known a home of her own. She was a foster child who was emotionally abused by the woman that should have mothered her. Her self image is in the toilet and will not leave her room before completely transforming herself under too much makeup. Beth has inherited a castle in Scotland but to claim the inheritance she will need to live in the ruins for 6 months. She is definitely willing and is settling in when she realizes that she needs to share her castle with the resident ghost, a ghost that has no problem stealing glances at her while she is bathing.

Duncan MacDougal, the laird of Blackstone, was cursed centuries ago to wander as a ghost within the castle and has been waiting all that time for the right person to break the curse. He believes Beth is strong enough to do so and after a boating accident sees Beth almost drowned, he makes the decision to put his fate in her hands by sending her into the past to his old self, the one alive and kicking, and barbaric to boot!

I had never read Sandy Blair but will be reading her again. Her writing is smooth and flows very nicely, a pleasure to read.

It seems that if Beth had not arrived in the past, Duncan would have died because his dead wife's sister wounded him and it got infected, but Beth knew enough of infections to help him get through the worse and saved his life. At first Duncan barely notices Beth who he thinks is his 4th wife, but her uncharacteristic behavior and her mutterings finally draw him to her. He sees her as plain, since she has no makeup to hide under, but he does eventually see her inner beauty and falls for her, hard.

I love how he is determined to get her with child so that she will stay with him, and she finally figures out how to break the curse but cannot help him pick the correct path.
Good humor and a fun story made this author worth revisiting.

Grade: B

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

I had been eying the Bartimaeus Trilogy for some time now but just recently found the books in audio format at the library. I was a bit weary because it was very much a fantasy book and it has to be a very good fantasy book for me to get into it, yet Stroud developed a series of characters that left me eager to read the other two books.

In this first installment we meet Nataniel, a young magician who just has not had much affection in his life, He part of a ruling class in a alternate reality England. The magicians rule over the commoners by enslaving demons that help them maintain order. Children are separated from a very young age and placed in the care of older magicians who take them on as apprentices. They are taught to forget their birth names because it is a source of weakness, if anyone finds out their true names it would give the person the power to repel any magic that the magician tried to yield against them. At the age of 12 they are registered as magicians and given a new name which would identify them within the ranks of society. Nataniel is the apprentice of Mr. Underwood who does a piss poor job at preparing him for the world of Magic. He is an unwanted annoyance to the senior magician but his wife cares deeply for Nathaniel, even though she will not stand up to her husband on his behalf.

After a dreadful incident several years past, where Mr. Underwood failed to protect Nathaniel against another magician, Mr, Loveless, Nathaniel takes his training into his own hands, in hopes to find a way to avenge himself against Loveless. What he didn't even stop to consider is that he was stepping into a mess that was larger than himself and that Loveless was into more than just humiliating young apprentices.

Bartimaeus is the actual star of this book. He is a Ginnie that Nathaniel has summoned to do his biding by stealing an amulet from Loveless. Bartimaeus is irreverent and sarcastic to anyone that stands in his way, he has no loyalties and has just one goal, look out for #1, him! I kept thinking that there was to be a change in his character, typical of most books where the unloved characters find a true friend and the selfish person turns a new leaf, but this never happened. Bartimaeus serves Nathaniel because the young magician has threatened to look his essence in the human plane for all eternity if he fails to due his bidding, and this extreme punishment was promised after Bartimaeus discovers Nathaniel's true name.

The book held onto it's intrigue until the last line was read, preparing us for the next installment which I am told is not such a page turner. Don't expect to fall in love with Nathaniel, because he is a spoiled brat that you just want to deck! He is a selfish little rascal who only cares for his revenge and never looks beyond the right now, which is what gets him and everyone around him into trouble. Bartimeaus lack of respect for anyone, is what really fuels this story. He has tons of one liners that have you shaking your head and giggling.

There is also the presence of a group of young kids that appear to be resistant to magic and at several times accosted both Nathaniel and Bartimaeus. The mysterious leader is a girl who we don't really know much about in this book but who's character will have a larger role in the next installment, Golem's Eye.

Grade: A
Format: Audiobook

Lady Rouge by Suzanne Enoch

Enoch has proven to be a jewel of an author and she did not disappoint with this reprint of one of her earlier books.

Christine "Kit" Brantley arrives at the door of Alexander Cale, the Earl of Everton with her father. Her mission to spy on the Earl and discover who is the mole that is giving away information on the smuggling that her father is engaging in. To do so she is masquerading as a young man, a disguise that she has worn for many years. In fact, it has been so long since she has taken off her male persona that she has forgotten how to act as the lady she is.

Alex has no problem seeing beyond her disguise and 24 hours have not passed before he uncovers her true gender. His question is, why is she in his home? He is determined to discover the answer to that question but Kit seems to challenge him at every turn and it's not long before his 'cousin' is outdrinking, outgambling and outswearing him and all his friends! He has sworn to her father that he is to keep her safe, and his honor compels him to keep his word, but she is getting under his skin and he is losing ground on his self control.

The story is full of delightful banter between these two characters. It's hilarious to see how the young ladies all appear to be falling for Kit, while she tries desperately to find information for her father who is actually smuggling a little more than just vitals. Although the story becomes a bit stretched when society finally discovers that Kit is actually Christine, the journey taken makes it bearable, especially when her past relationships with her family prove to be a bed of lies that have her questioning who really is she?

Fabulously spun tale that proves once again the talent that is Suzanne Enoch!

Grade: A

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Scot, The Witch and The Wardrobe by Annette Blair

Last of the original Salem Witch series. This is the story of Victoria Cartwright who swears up and down that she is NOT a witch but she speaks in rhymes and when she does... something is bound to happen!

She should have had a clue when she was the first to have been able to open the Wardrobe that has been passed down through generations. When she does, what does she find? A unicorn, OF COURSE! (How could a carousel unicorn fit in a wardrobe is beyond me!)

Rory MacKenzie recognizes the Unicorn when Vickie appears on TV at an Antique roadshow. The Unicorn was crafted by his ancestor and it is said to be what will end a family curse. So Rory heads off to America to verify that the unicorn is the real deal but what he finds is that Vickie is what REAL is all about. The only problem is that she distrusts him and he doesn't trust himself around her!

The banter between these two is to die for, but the constant self doubt in Vickie eventually gets to you, she definitely has self image issues and, although Rory is constantly trying to reinforce his feelings for her, she is a no go. I found that the triplets appearance in the book really didn't move the story along but kind of stood in the way of the smooth storytelling. Outside this book I would have loved the triplet's characters, but they really just stood in the way on this one.

This one is a great read though, and worth the time to pick it up. Rory is just a dream and although Vickie didn't do it for me much, I still really loved the witticisms that distinguishes this series as a whole!

Grade: B

Rebel Angels by Libba Bray

I don't want to forget mentioning the reading of the sequel to A Great and Terrible Beauty during the month of January.

This installment has us picking up the story of Gemma Doyle and her friends from Spence Academy just a few months after the previous story ended. Pippa was lost in our previous tale but not for good, since we find ourselves visiting her in the Realms where she has failed to cross over to the other side.

After destroying the stones that kept the magic under control, the Realm is in chaos and nothing is what it appears to be. The story takes place just over the winter break, where Gemma, Felicity and Ann have gone to London to spend the holiday's with their family.

The Rakshana has put in a bid to gain control over the Realms and have sent Kartik to convince Gemma that she needs to find the so called Temple and bind the magic. But are the Rakshana there to protect Gemma or are they following their own itinerary?
To top it off, Gemma finds herself being courted by a very amiable, but clueless young man, Simon.

This story grabs you from the start and has you holding your breath on every page. I cannot recommend this book enough! Libba Bray not only portrays a girl that is torn between her gifts and the duty she owes The Order but also the young woman coming of age in Victorian times. Gemma struggles with the manipulation of Felicity, her friendship with Ann who will always be of inferior class, and an attraction for Kartik that just is out of the question.

I just found out that the third book in this wonderful series is to be published in September of this year. It will definitely be a MUST read!!

Grade: A
Format: Audiobook
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