Category Archives: Romance Books

Hasty Death (Edwardian Murder Mystery #2) by Marion Chesney Book Review

Hasty Death

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Hasty Death by Marion Chesney

Series: Edwardian Murder Mystery #2
Author: Marion Chesney
Publisher: Minotaur Books (January 2013)
ISBN: 9781250022493
Page Count: 240 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb83_thumb1_thumb    

Synopsis:

Lady Rose Summer is delighted to finally be able to experience life as a simple, working-class girl.  She and her maid, Daisy, leave her parents’ comfortable home for a drafty boarding house and begin work as typists at a local bank.  Unfortunately, life as a working girl is not at all what Rose thought it would be.  So it is with a sense of relief that Rose greets the news of the murder of Freddy Pomfret, a society acquaintance.  Now Rose has the excuse she needs to return home to her comfortable living and use her social status to investigate the crime with Captain Harry Cathcart.  It is fairly obvious that Freddy was blackmailing at least three people, but who were they?  And which one of them killed Freddy to keep their secret safe?

Review:

Marion Chesney has created an intriguing pair of detectives in Captain Harry Cathcart and Lady Rose Summer.  While Cathcart is the younger son of a baron, he is looked down upon by his societal peers because he actually works for a living (out of necessity as he doesn’t stand to inherit anything in the way of funds from his family).  Lady Rose Summer, on the other hand, is the only daughter of a wealthy earl.  Though Edwardian Working Girlsbeautiful, Rose lacks charm and the ability to fit into society.  Rose’s parents despair of ever being able to marry off their daughter and are threatening to send her off to India to marry her off to a military man.  Cathcart persuades them to let Rose have her little working adventure and gets one of his friends to hire Rose and Daisy to work at a bank.  What Cathcart doesn’t realize is that Rose manages to ferret out the truth in regards to her working arrangements and is stubbornly determined to stick it out, no matter how much she secretly doesn’t like working.  Rose hates the drafty boarding house she lives in and doesn’t have enough money to purchase warm water, good food or anything that she deems a basic necessity.  What Rose is slowly coming to realize is that what she considers necessities are actually luxuries.  The living conditions of the working class at the time were certainly dreary and it must have been a struggle to keep working hard every day just to stay alive with no hopes of something better.  It made me appreciate my little apartment and all of my little comforts – we really have come a long way!  

I got a good laugh out of Rose’s adventures during the beginning of the book and knew it was only a matter of time before she gave in and returned home, just as Cathcart predicted she would.  I was a bit surprised when Cathcart worked with Rose to come up with a solution Typists & Secretariesto keep her from being sent to India, however, as it involves a fake engagement between the two of them.   Cathcart is getting steady work investigating for the society lords and ladies.  He now has his own office and regularly consults with Scotland Yard, but Cathcart’s achievements do not impress Rose’s parents in the slightest.  In fact, his willingness to work makes Cathcart even less desirable as a son-in-law!  Still, beggars can’t be choosers and Rose’s family seem quite happy to have someone – anyone! – take Rose off of their hands before she gets the family involved in a scandal that they cannot recover from.  An engagement was serious business in Edwardian England and you could not simply break up after the announcement was made without damaging someone’s reputation.  I’m not sure what else could have been done to keep Rose in the country, but I hope that Cathcart realizes he has feelings for Rose quickly or she will slip through his fingers.    

The mystery is more of a subplot than the main storyline in this book, but it still added a nice touch to the plotline.  We met the victim, Freddy Pomfret, in the first book, Snobbery with Violence.  He seemed to be a rather silly society boy with social aspirations.  Before his death, Freddy was in the market to buy a title, but where was his money coming from?  Turns out that Freddy deposited 10,000 pounds into his bank account just before he died.  With no property, no job, and no recent inheritance, it is obvious that Freddy was blackmailing at least three people.  It will take a great deal of creativity and tact to persuade the lords and ladies involved to reveal their secrets to Cathcart.  Indeed, it seems that the blackmail victims are perfectly willing to let the Edwardian Menmurder go unsolved rather than risk embarrassment and social consequences.  If the story had stayed focused on this mystery, I would have been content.  A little bit of sparring between Rose and Cathcart, some heated discussions about proper behavior for a lady in Rose’s position and a budding romance between their servants, Becket and Daisy and I would have been positively delighted with this book!  Unfortunately, Marion Chesney had to drive the story all over the place!  Blackmail leads to kidnapping, which leads to Rose’s commitment to a mental institution, then a daring rescue by Cathcart, ending with a house party planned as a trap for the villain (which goes hilariously wrong).  Add in a wicked doctor who pursues Rose across the countryside and an extra body that they must dispose of and things get a little complicated!  It was rather a lot to cram into such a slim volume and, while I enjoyed Rose’s madcap adventures, Hasty Death was not really what I expected of the second book in the Edwardian Murder Mystery series.

After reading this book, I am not at all convinced that Cathcart and Rose will end up together.  They are perfect for each other, but Rose is not convinced and keeps fighting with Cathcart over everything.  A much more satisfactory romance is developing between Becket and Edwardian LadyDaisy, who will have to come up with some creative solutions to find a way for two servants to marry.  Daisy cannot work as a lady’s maid after she is wed and Becket is hoping that Cathcart will offer him a full-time position as a fellow investigator rather than as a valet/butler.  I am rooting for these two to get together and think they are absolutely adorable!  I just wish that we got to learn more about Becket’s background.  I know a great deal about Daisy, but next to nothing about Becket and it is most vexing.  One of my favorite scenes takes place at the end of the book and it doesn’t feature any of the main characters.  Instead, it shows the practicality of the villagers and the difficulty that the police force is facing during the early 1900s.  

While the story is a bit far-fetched, Marion Chesney’s characters are delightful.  She has a real talent for subtly influencing the reader so that we unconsciously love the “good” characters and jeer at the “villains” even before we know which side they are really on.  If you are prepared to overlook a few far-fetched plot twists and are looking for a light-hearted historical romance with a touch of mystery, you will be sure to enjoy this series.  

Content:

This book contains multiple murders, but there are no gruesome descriptions of the dead bodies.  The main characters keep information from the police and actively cover up some crimes.  Blackmail, breaking & entering and other crimes are committed.  There is a mental institution that is briefly described, as well as some questionable medical practices.  There are scenes of drinking and smoking.  Discussions of extramarital affairs, mistresses, potential engagements and other romantic subplots are common.  Nothing takes place between the two main characters beyond some embracing and kissing.  There is some mild language, but it is in keeping with the historical setting and is not offensive.  Recommended for ages 15 and up.

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Snobbery with Violence (Edwardian Murder Mystery #1) by Marion Chesney Book Review

Snobbery with Violence

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Snobbery with Violence by Marion Chesney

Series: Edwardian Murder Mystery #1
Author: Marion Chesney
Publisher: Minotaur Books (January 2013)
ISBN: 9781250022486
Page Count: 240 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

Synopsis:

Captain Harry Cathcart has acquired a reputation as the go-to man for discreetly solving problems among the upper crust in British society.  When Lady Rose Summer is on the verge of receiving a marriage proposal, her father asks the Captain to look into Rose’s suitor’s background.  After uncovering the would-be fiancé’s dishonorable motives, Rose breaks off her association with him in a spectacular fashion and ruins her chances of making another match.  Still, the daughter of an earl is sure to attract someone given the right circumstances so her father ships Rose off to a house party for wealthy heiresses and penniless suitors.  But when one of the ladies is found dead in her bedroom, the hosts scramble to cover the fact that a murder may have been committed in their home.  They turn to Captain Cathcart to quietly look into the matter, but a gentleman can only gain so much information from society ladies.  The Captain soon finds that, despite his personal feelings, he has no choice but to ask Rose for assistance in solving the crime.

Review:

Snobbery with Violence is a delightful mystery set in the Edwardian era (1901 – 1910).  It is the turn-of-the-century in England and times are beginning to change.  Captain Harry Cathcart was injured in the Boer Edwardian GentlemenWar and returns home with a limp and no prospects.  He is the impoverished younger son of a baron and is stuck in a kind of no-man’s land when it comes to work.  Cathcart’s blue blood will not feed him nor keep a roof over his head, but if he stoops to actually working, he will no longer be welcome in society.  Cathcart manages to stumble across a career when he helps a lady with a spot of blackmail and finds that he is now the one who all of the lords and ladies turn to when they need a delicate matter handled quickly and discreetly.  Now that Cathcart is being paid by the lords and ladies who should be his equals, he is seen as no better than any tradesman of the time and viewed as a social inferior.  It is interesting to note that the sign of true wealth for a long period in history was the ability to do absolutely no work at all other than signing a few papers put to you by your trusted estate managers or lawyers.  Cathcart doesn’t care about society at all so he is not bothered by his change in circumstances and is perfectly willing to work to support himself.  Indeed, he finds his work as a kind of private investigator to be interesting and challenging and looks forward to solving more complicated cases in the future.  I really liked Cathcart’s character.  He may seem gruff, stubborn and rather stodgy, but there is something very romantic about him, like Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy.  Cathcart works quite hard at putting on a face of indifference to others, but he has a soft heart and is often impulsively kind.  I love the scene where he meets Becket, a man who is literally starving to death when Cathcart finds him and offers him a job.  Becket quickly became one of the most fascinating characters in the series as he is a real man of mystery.  Becket has a long list of skills and abilities that prove invaluable to Cathcart’s investigations, but the reader has no idea how the man acquired these skills.

Lady Rose Summer was not quite as fascinating a character.  She is very intelligent and well-known for her encyclopedic knowledge of many subjects, but is not very well-liked for it.  Rose is rather passionate about the women’s suffrage movement, but is forced to abandon her fellow suffragette after her picture appears in the newspaper.  When Rose confronts her would-be fiancé in public, it is Rose’s reputation that Suffragettesuffers, not the man’s, as certain indiscretions are expected of men, while women are just supposed to overlook them.  Rose is beautiful and rich, but has no ability to flirt and so struggles to attract beaus.  To make matters worse, Rose is completely unaware of how lucky she is to be born to wealth and privilege and wants nothing more than to become a working girl as a secretary or a typist.  I did not enjoy listening to Rose whine about how constricting her life is, though undoubtedly I would feel the same as Rose if I had lived in that time period, as she has no idea what it is like to struggle to support yourself.  Being a working girl isn’t all it is cracked up to be, after all!  For all of Rose’s charms and abilities, there is just something off-putting about her and I did not necessarily want her to be Cathcart’s romantic interest.  Rose’s maid, Daisy, is much more interesting than Rose herself in this first book.  Daisy is a former actress and Rose is training her to be a lady’s maid.  Daisy is a hoot as she has no idea how to act properly in society, but offers some invaluable insight into life below stairs and among the wilder aspect of society.  I can see a budding romance blooming between Daisy and Becket and hope that they will be able to pursue the relationship.  Servants were not allowed to date or marry in this time period so it should be interesting to see what happens to them in future books.

Marion Chesney presents an engaging mystery, but it is the characters and the time period that really shine in this book.  I can see that Cathcart and Rose are going to have a complicated courtship and it should be interesting to see how they come together in the four books in this series.  Cathcart and Rose come from different strata of London society and they definitely have different outlooks on life.  Cathcart works within the status quo, while Rose dreams of making great changes.  The Edwardian era was a time of great upheaval in England and presents whispers of changes that will come in the future.  The working class are no longer content to put up with incompetent or uncaring landlords and are demanding better conditions and treatment.
Edwardian Makeup LookWomen want the vote and the right to retain their properties and monies after they marry.  Power is shifting between those who are born into aristocratic families and those who have a lot of money.  The one thing that hasn’t changed is that the wealthy and influential can change the course of an investigation.  Cathcart gains so many well-bred clients because they would do just about anything to protect their secrets and, thus, their reputation.  They would never dream of turning to the police or Scotland Yard and work with the investigators under duress.  Cathcart seems to be on good terms with Inspector Kerridge from Scotland Yard who is sent to investigate Mary Gore-Desmond’s death, but both of them are painfully aware of the fact that the lords involved can force them to stop investigating at any time.

Snobbery with Violence is well written and is an engaging, enjoyable read.  I love a good historical mystery and though this book is primarily a romance between two disparate characters, the murder subplot was a lovely bonus.  I have high hopes for this series and look forward to reading more about Cathcart and Rose’s adventures in the future.

Content:

This book contains scenes of murder and violence.  Descriptions are fairly tame and do not include any gruesome details.  There are scenes of drinking and smoking.  Extramarital affairs, cheating spouses, seductions, and wagers on future seductions are discussed openly and are viewed as quite common.  There is some mild language, but it is very much the swearing of the time and is nothing of note in our day.  There is a great deal of discussion about the differences between the upper and lower classes, as well as commentaries on poor working and living conditions.  Recommended for ages 15 and up.

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Spellcast (Crossroads Theatre #1) by Barbara Ashford Book Review

Spellcast

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Spellcast by Barbara Ashford

Series: Crossroads Theatre #1
Author: Barbara Ashford
Publisher: DAW Books (May 2011)
ISBN: 9780756406820
Page Count: 433 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Ratingimage_thumb85_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

When Maggie lost her job in Brooklyn, NY, she has no idea what to do next.  Panicked, Maggie decides to take her severance pay and escape for a little while.  With no firm destination in mind, Maggie finds herself stopping in Dale, Vermont.  She impulsively auditions at the nearby Crossroads Theatre and finds herself cast in all three musicals that they are putting on that summer.  Remembering how much she loved acting, Maggie sublets her apartment and moves to Dale for a few months.  They begin with Brigadoon, then move to an original musical named The Sea Wife and conclude with Carousel.  Along the way, Maggie will rediscover herself, heal old wounds with her father and find a bit of magic with the Crossroads’ director, Rowan Mackenzie

Review:

Spellcast is a charming bit of fantasy-romance for those of us who enjoy musical theatre and acting.  I myself am not a great actor and have only participated in local theatrical events, mainly as a dancer or a Brigadoon Rehearsalchoir singer, but I understand the concepts.  There are some brief introductions to the stage for amateurs, but they are brief enough that professionals should not get bored.  I loved learning about the cast and crew and found all of the characters fascinating, if a bit overwhelming.  There are so many people to keep track of!  I know if I was actually in the cast, I would have no trouble keeping people straight, but I am better at face recognition than remembering names so I found the book’s cast of characters a bit overwhelming at times.  There is no cheat sheet at the front or back of the book, either, so you might have to flip back to the front of the book to the first couple of chapters to “meet” the characters with Maggie again and remember who they are.  As the book proceeds, you will quickly uncover that it is really the crew that the book focuses on and that you can let the cast’s names wash over you.

Rowan Mackenzie is the most fascinating character in the book.  I won’t spoil the book and reveal anything about him that you get to discover while you are reading, but it is going to be obvious from the get-go that Rowan is no ordinary theatre director.  He is able to take a group of amateurs and turn them into performers in a matter of days.  Rowan also seems to cast people in the roles where they will have the most Selkie Girlopportunity for growth rather than where they are most suited.  This provides some challenges for Maggie, as she struggles with her role of hopeful Nellie in Carousel.  Maggie resists growing in the book for a long time and then finally is able to find some peace with her past.  The journey takes awhile for her and she hurts a lot of people along the way, but change is never easy.  Hal, who run Hallee’s, a lingerie store in town, with his partner, Lee, does makeup and costumes.  Reinhard helps direct and acts as a kind-of father-figure to the group.  Alex handles the music, Mei-Lin terrifies them into following her choreography and sweet Helen offers them peace after rehearsal is over.  There is something magical about the Crossroads Theatre, but I was a bit shocked when I found out what the magic was an where it was coming from.  That story is rich, well-developed and incredibly interesting!

Most of the story deals with the magical aspect of the Crossroads and how people like Maggie find themselves mysteriously drawn to it, but a good deal of the book deals with performing.  If you are not familiar with the musicals being performed, Barbara Ashford does a splendid job at recapping the story and briefly describing the characters that are involved.  If you are not familiar with the songs and/or have never seen Carouselthese musicals performed, they are readily available online and I strongly recommend that you take the time to watch/listen to Brigadoon and Carousel as it will really enhance your enjoyment of the book.  The Sea Wife is an original musical composed by Rowan and Alex so, obviously, you cannot look up the music for that one.  However, the author describes the musical in just as much loving detail as she does in the other two so it really comes to life.  At first, I agreed with Maggie and was very disappointed that they were performing Carousel, as it is not a musical that I enjoy watching or remembering.  I particularly do not enjoy hearing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” which every famous singer insists on recording a version of.  I really bonded with Maggie over her dislike of “Clambake Nellie” as she calls her character because she sings the “Clambake Song,” “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”  It was a learning experience for me, along with Maggie, as we came to understand how Carousel is about hope and not just a depressing story about an abusive husband and a hopeless romantic of a wife.  Not that I suddenly discovered a love of Carousel, but I feel that I look at the story in a whole different way.  This musical in particular proved to change the cast and crew in the most remarkable ways.

Spellcast is well written and you will find yourself captivated in the first couple of chapters.  There is not a lot that happens in the book, but Barbara Ashford has a way of writing to make you feel that there is a lot of action, even though it is just some wonderful character development.  Barbara Ashford’s greatest strength is her ability to Rowan Treecreate memorable, loveable characters.  You do not love them because they are perfect, but because they are imperfect.  I grew to love the characters in Spellcast and was sad to reach the end.  I was also absolutely devastated, but unsurprised by the ending.  If you pay particular attention to Rowan’s musical, The Sea Wife, you will realize that it is foreshadowing the future and that the author is trying to brace you for the inevitable ending.  I was heartened to see that Maggie created a new future for herself, however, and was absolutely delighted to discover that there is a sequel – Spellcrossed!  I cannot wait to see if my same beloved characters come back and to spend another summer in the magical town of Dale with its special Crossroads Theatre!

Content:

This book contains stories of torture, imprisonment and death.  There is nothing too explicit or gruesome described, it is mainly left for you, as the reader, to imagine.  Sex out-of-wedlock, extramarital affairs, illegitimate children, homosexual relationships and unconventional families are all part of the character group.  There are scenes of drinking, smoking and mild drug use (marijuana).  There are some scenes of sensuality and descriptions of orgasms.  There is some language.  Recommended for ages 16 and up.

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The Paris Secret by Angela Henry Book Review

The Paris Secret

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

The Paris Secret by Angela Henry

Author: Angela Henry 
Publisher: Carina Press (January 2011)
ISBN: 9780373062485
Page Count: 371 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

Maya Sinclair is on her own in Paris after her boyfriend dumped her in favor of returning to his ex-wife.  Refusing to let their tickets go to waste, Maya cashes his in and heads off to enjoy herself in the most romantic city in the world.  Unfortunately, her mysterious roommate, a snotty college professor, is brutally murdered on their first night and Maya appears to be the prime suspect.  Maya tries to direct the police to find Simon Girard, a French journalist who was arguing with the professor the day of her death, but finds herself swept up into a secret society in search of a book that holds the secret to eternal life.  Can she trust Simon or is he a murderer who also happens to be an amazing storyteller?

Review:

I read the synopsis online for The Paris Secret and was excited to read it – until I noticed who the publisher was.  Carina Press, which is an imprint of Harlequin Books, specializes in romance, but prints a wide variety of genres.  I was expecting something a bit more serious a-la-Dan Brown and so found myself disappointed with the rather superficial version found in The Paris Secret.  The main reason is that I found Maya Sinclair to be a bit unlikable and rather superficial.  She is mixed race, but does not know who her parents are and grew up in a series of Palace of Versaillesfoster homes.  Maya is beautiful and seems obsessed with clothes and food.  If the Paris police pulled me in for questioning on a homicide, I wouldn’t head out to see the Palace of Versailles the next day, I would be down at the American Embassy or trying to book the first flight home.  Also, Maya helped me realize why most authors don’t spend a lot of time discussing clothing and food while their characters are off on grand adventures – it is boring.  Who cares what you are wearing if the fate of the world is at stake!?  Maya’s love interest, Simon Gerad, is a very handsome, rather mysterious French journalist who wants Maya’s help in solving his brother’s murder.  He has some ties to wealthy, well-placed people, which really helps the investigation along.  I would have been suspicious of him, too, but Maya waffles between running to Simon and running away from him.  I just wanted her to make up her mind and move forward, but we had to go through the romance subplots to get to the more interesting parts of the story.   I felt that the romance between Maya and Simon was forced and pushed into the book rather than part of the story as a whole.  The book would have been a great deal stronger if the author focused on the relationship with an adventure subplot or an adventure with a smidgen of romance rather than trying to balance the two of them unsuccessfully.

The back story that Angela Henry used was quite fascinating and really interesting.  She used the story of Louise-Marie Therese, the Black Nun to great effect.  In The Paris Secret, Angela Henry declares that Louise-Marie Therese was the illegitimate daughter of Queen Maria-Theresa of Spain, wife of King Louis XIV of France, and her black servant.  Louise-Marie Therese was spirited away to a convent when she was young and was kind of forced into dedicating her life to the church as a nun.  Apparently devastated that she had no place in court, Louise-Louise-Marie ThereseMarie Therese fell in love with and tried to marry the son of a duke, but found her plans frustrated by the king himself.  Returning to the convent, Louise-Marie Therese was put in charge of a precious book, the Mutus Liber, which held the secret to eternal life.  While there is no conclusive evidence to support the fact that Louise-Marie Therese was the illegitimate daughter of Queen Maria-Theresa of Spain, many believe that she was and it is clear that Louise-Marie Therese herself believed she was the daughter of a queen.  I am not sure if the ill-fated affair with a nobleman’s son has any basis in truth, but the Mutus Liber is real, as was Louise-Marie Therese.  I love when authors take real events and historical characters and breathe new life into them by rearranging a few facts.  This back story was much more fascinating than Maya and Simon’s and I found myself waiting for each new installment with great anticipation.

I also enjoyed this retelling of the alchemist’s stone.  After Louise-Marie Therese died, she passed the Mutus Liber onto one of her relatives, who passed it onto another relative and on through the family line.  At some point, the book was hidden and a crucifix was created Mutus Liberthat held the clue to where the book could be found.  The crucifix was found in the possession of one of the last of Louise-Marie Therese’s line and an intellectual society, called the Society of Moret, was created to investigate the crucifix’s secrets and to try to locate the book.  They have had the crucifix for years and made little headway.  Now the secret appears to be out and someone deadly is looking for the crucifix and the book that it is protecting.  As the bodies pile up, it becomes evident that they are dealing with someone who wants more than the power of eternal life, but I could not figure out what and I was not wholly satisfied with the author’s explanation at the end of the book.

Ultimately, I found this book to be interesting, but uneven and not quite as entertaining as I was hoping for.  Maya was not a very sympathetic or interesting protagonist.  I needed some more character development for Maya and Simon to leap off the pages and become interesting me.  Louise-Marie Therese captured my imagination early on, however, and kept me reading.  I was also hoping for some more descriptions of Paris, but did not get much aside from some breaks for Paris France Eiffel Towerfood, wine and sex.  So now I know that the apartments and hotel rooms are small, the food is delicious and you can easily trip while walking on the streets due to the uneven cobblestones.  Where can I sign up for the next trip?  Not.  I also felt that the author was introducing a lot of characters that did nothing for the story or played such small roles that I was not sure why the author was introducing them.  While I appreciate the fact that there would be a lot of people unrelated to a conspiracy that would be involved on the periphery in real life, they take up too much space in a book and should have been left out.  The Paris Secret is solid and has a few sparkling moments, but, for the most part, was a bit plodding and by-the-book romantic-suspense.

Content:

This book contains scenes of murder.  Maya finds several bodies and some of them are described, though none in great detail.  Characters are bludgeoned, have their throats slit, are poisoned, and more.  Extramarital affairs, illegitimate children and prejudice are part of the plot.  There are scenes of drinking, smoking and sex (nothing too explicit, but a few details are included).  There is some language.  Recommended for ages 16 and up.

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As You Wish (Time of Transition #2) by Gabi Stevens Book Review

As You Wish

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

As You Wish by Gabi Stevens

Series: Time of Transition #2
Author: Gabi Stevens
Publisher: Tor Books (May 2011)
EAN: 9780765365040
Page Count: 308 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating:image_thumb84_thumb1

 

Synopsis:

Reggie Scott has resigned herself to being a Groundling, a person with no magical powers, even though she was born to two Arcani or magical parents.  She has built up a successful bakery business and is happy with her life until everything changes on her 27th birthday.  It is then that the three fairy godmothers swoop down on Reggie’s shop and proclaim her one of the next fairy godmothers.  Now Reggie is destined to become one of the most powerful members of the Arcani world.  Unfortunately, her new powers come with some serious complications.  Reggie’s peaceful life is over as she becomes involved in curses, a plot to overthrow the magical Council, deals with a jealous sister and a meddling mother, and tries to handle her strong attraction to one of the most powerful and wealthy men in the Arcani world, Jonathan Bastion.

Review:

I always enjoy a good paranormal romance so this series caught my eye.  This was a fresh, sexy take on the fairy godmothers.  Gabi Stevens created a solid backstory to anchor the magic and the world of the Arcani.  We learn that, in the dark past, some humans enslaved magicians to do their bidding and some magicians enslaved humans to do all of their work.  In response, a trio of Three Godmothersgodmothers was created by Merlin himself to run interference between the humans and the magicians.  To understand how the humans or Groundlings live their lives, each fairy godmother is born without magical abilities.  They do not gain access to their magic until their twenty-seventh birthday, when the current trio of fairy godmothers show up and offers them a selection of three wands.  One of the wands will ‘speak’ to the new godmother and they will become part of the new trio.  Then they will become part of the Arcani or magical world.  It is the responsibility of the fairy godmothers to grant wishes to make Groundlings happy, but not enough to be noticed.  Reggie sees wishes as little sparkly crowns above the heads of other humans.  If she concentrates, she can then hear what the wish is and find a way to grant it.  Reggie is involved in too many dangerous subplots to have the opportunity to grant too many wishes in this book, but those that she did grant were quite creative and lifted everyone’s mood, including mine.

Reggie is an interesting character.  She was born and raised in the Arcani world so she knows all about magic and spells, though she was never really able to feel like part of it.  Reggie even attended an Arcani school until she was a teenager and escaped to a Groundling school.  Both of her parents are powerful and prominent members of the Arcani community who focus their time and Make a Wishattention on Reggie’s younger sister, who was born with regular magical powers like most Arcani.  Reggie lives her life on the fringes of the Arcani world.  She runs a successful bakery that serves both Arcani and Groundling clients.  I loved her two bakers – Joy and Tommy – who added a special touch to this book.  Both Joy and Tommy have some intellectual and developmental disabilities, but are quite capable of working and living a full life.  I rarely see characters with disabilities included in books in a positive way so this was a refreshing part of Reggie’s life that I enjoyed learning about.  Reggie is a sweet, sensitive young lady with a rather refreshingly naive outlook on the world.  She sees the best in everyone and I really enjoyed seeing the Arcani world through her eyes.

Jonathan Bastion and Nate Citadel are the handsome heroes in this book.  Jonathan is the son of a prominent wandmaker and commands a great deal of power and respect in the Arcani world.  He was quite the playboy until he dropped out of sight about seven years ago.  Then Jonathan appears at Reggie’s family party and Reggie falls in love at first sight.  Jonathan is gorgeous, kind and appears to be interested in Reggie, too!  The two share some sweet times Magic Wandstogether and Jonathan is pretty supportive during all of the madcap adventures that Reggie gets herself into.  Nate is a mysterious customer of Reggie’s who helps her gather information and provides a safe haven to Reggie when she needs it most.  He is always wrapped up so Reggie has never seen his face and he has a tendency to growl when he is upset.  Nate helps Reggie steal a book from a guarded library, evade the guards trying to take her into custody and is a loyal friend.  It is Jonathan that Reggie is romantically involved with, but it is Nate who captured my heart.  I could tell that there was some kind of link between these two, but I didn’t really know what it was until the end of the book.

I did not read the first book in the series, The Wish List, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of As You Wish.  There are a few mentions of the hero and heroine from the first book here and they make a couple of appearances, but you do not need to read these books in order to understand what is going on or Magic Wandenjoy it.  I loved the world that Gabi Stevens has created with her Time of Transition series.  The Arcani can shapeshift (very painful), store their wands and other valuable objects in a magical void (where they can recover items at any time – eliminating that pesky problem of where to put your wand when not in use!), and have interactions with other magical creatures.  I particularly enjoyed meeting Alfred, a surly gnome who takes over the day-to-day bakery operations after Reggie becomes a fairy godmother.  I know that there is only one more book in this series, as it follows the traditional romance trilogy format, which is a real shame as this Arcani world Gabi Stevens has so many options!  There are all kinds of potential storylines in this fantasy world and I look forward to reading more by this author.  As You Wish is well written, entertaining, and has a sweet romance between the main characters.  If you enjoy paranormal romance novels, you should definitely check out this series!

Content:

This book contains a few rather explicit sex scenes.  The sex scenes are discussed in a couple of pages worth of details and, while not trashy, they are pretty graphic.  There is some violence in this book, including a fairly tame torture scene towards the end.  Characters are shot, stabbed and hit with damaging magical spells.  There are also scenes of drinking and smoking.  There is some swearing in the book, though nothing too graphic.  Recommended for ages 15 and up.

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Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl Book Review

Prisoners in the Palace: How Princess Victoria became Queen with the Help of Her Maid, a Reporter, and a Scoundrel

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Prisoners in the Palace

Author: Michaela MacColl
Publisher: Chronicle Books (October 2010)
ISBN: 0811873005, EAN: 9780811873000
Page Count: 368 pages
Format: hardcover

Target Age Group: teen
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

 

Synopsis:

In 1836, well-bred young ladies looked forward to a debut in London society where they hoped to snare a wealthy gentleman as a husband.  Seventeen-year-old Elizabeth “Liza” Hastings was anticipating her debut season when both of her parents died in a tragic carriage accident.  Left penniless, Liza is thrilled when a message from her solicitor sends her to Kensington Palace where she has a chance to serve the future queen, Princess Victoria!  Unfortunately, Liza’s hopes of becoming a lady-in-waiting are dashed when she arrives at the rundown palace where she is interviewed to become Princess Victoria’s new maid.  Humiliated, but desperate, Liza accepts the position and soon finds herself spying for the princess!  Liza’s new duties should include nothing more exciting than arranging hair, assisting with baths and tightening corsets, but she finds herself consorting with newspapermen in Fleet Street, hunting down prostitutes, and learning flash patter like a common thief!

Review:

Prisoners in the Palace is a compulsively readable historical fiction book with a romantic subplot.  It is pretty lighthearted and frothy, with plenty of artistic license, but thoroughly enjoyable!  I could not help but compare the story in this book with the movie The Young Victoria and I must say that I came to love Young Victoria MovieVictoria (played by Emily Blunt) and Albert (played by Rupert Friend) in the movie and did not get quite the same feeling after I read this book.  Still, this doesn’t mean that I did not enjoy the book, as I most certainly did!  In the movie, Victoria is seen as a rather serious young lady who makes do with what small frivolities she is permitted.  She seemed quite capable of taking over the country when her uncle, the King, died, but still made a few bobbles as she learned the ins and outs of ruling an empire.  In this book, Victoria is presented much less seriously and a great deal more realistically.  Princess Victoria is a Princess Victoria at 16young girl of sixteen in the book and is like many children born to privilege: completely aware of their own self-importance, egocentric, focused on their own lives without acknowledging the impact of their actions on others, more interested in their hobbies and pursuits than what is going on in the world around them, and very focused on the moment.  While Victoria is not as likable in the book as she was in the movie, I feel that the author really captured what Victoria could be like if she was a typical teenager of her time.  While I may not have liked Victoria as much after reading this book, I did respect her a bit more for becoming more than she could have been.  Victoria matures quite a bit as the book progresses and learns the consequence of poorly thought out actions, which led to wiser decisions in the future.  Victoria’s mother did her daughter no service by treating her like a young child throughout her teenage years and it is rather amazing what Victoria was able to accomplish later in life considering the great handicaps she started out with as far as her learning and exposure to other people was concerned.

Many of the events in this book are historically accurate and the author does Victoria and Her Mother the Duchess of Kentinclude a nice little note at the end about what major events in the book really happened and who was a real, historical figure and who was made up for the purpose of this book.  She also included some of the sources she used to create this book should the reader be interested in reading more about Queen Victoria afterwards.  I love that the author included this as it gave me more of an insight into what inspired the author and how much to believe.  Michaela MacColl based a great deal of Princess Victoria’s character on her journal entries from the time.  This would make complete sense if Victoria was anyone else.  However, the Duchess of Kentprincess was not allowed to write in her journal with ink, she had to write her entry in pencil first and then, once it was approved by her mother, the Duchess, she wrote over it in ink.  If Princess Victoria was a typical teenager, I am sure that she learned quickly to edit her true thoughts and emotions and to write what she felt like her mother most wanted to hear, especially since she was required to write in her journal every night!

Even though some of the events were moved around and taken out of historical context, most of the main events in this book actually did take place.  Most of the characters are also real or are based on real characters.  The glaring exception to this is the main character, Liza, who is completely fabricated.  I am sure that many women were left in her position, penniless, orphaned and forced Eavesdroppingto take any position that they could to survive, but Liza is not on the historical records as having served Queen Victoria at any time in her life.  Still, Liza was a very likable character and I loved seeing historical London through her eyes.  Liza is fearless and does not let the social restrictions of the day keep her from doing what she thinks is right.  She hunts down the maid, Annie, who previously held her position, only to discover that Annie is now a pregnant prostitute.  Liza also ventures into Fleet Street, a male dominated area where the publishers printed single-paged sensational stories full of vicious, mean-spirited gossip.  Even though everything Liza does and everywhere she goes furthers the story and keeps the plot progressing, the author effortlessly includes descriptions and insights into what it must have been like to live in London in 1836.  These were my favorite parts of the book and I found myself riveted to the pages and unable to put the book down!

For those of you who have seen the movie, The Young Victoria, or any film dealing with Victoria’s years as a princess isolated in Kensington Palace by her Kensington Palace in 19th Centurymother, the Duchess, and her mother’s constant companion, Sir John, the major plot will come as no surprise, though the author does add her own stamp and interpretation to the story.  However, there are still some lovely surprises inside so you are never quite sure what will happen next!  Annie becomes a pivotal character as it is obvious she knows something damaging to Sir John, but, even though she has lost everything, she is still too terrified to testify.  Inside Boy, a young boy who lives in a cupboard inside the palace, unbeknownst to anyone besides Liza, offers valuable information and insight into the darker world around them.  Will, a newspaperman who prints scandalous stories about Princess Victoria, is likeable despite being a reporter.  He is Liza’s love interest and was a good choice for her.

There were a few things that I did not like about this book.  One of them was Liza’s acceptance of a position as a lady’s maid, even though it was for Princess Victoria.  There was a very strict class structure in England at this time and, once Liza became a servant, albeit a high-ranking servant, she could never reenter society again.  If she had chosen to become a teacher or a governess, Liza still would have been considered part of society, though at a lower ranking, Lady's Maid Doing Hairbut becoming a maid shut that door forever.  I understand that the author needed to get Liza entry to the house, but I just did not believe it, especially since Liza was hoping that, once Princess Victoria became Queen, she would reward Liza for her services and elevate her to her previous position.  While it is true that the monarchy could elevate people as they chose, I feel that Liza would always have been looked down on and I do not believe that Liza would not have known this rule.  The author did such a great job explaining the hierarchy of the servants, the distinction between the servants’ quarters and the royal section of the house and even spent time describing the door that separated the servants quarters from the main house (complete with doorknob, wallpaper and fabric covering) so I feel that the author knew this and decided to disregard it so that Liza and Victoria could befriend each other and create the story.

Another aspect of the book that I did not find very believable was how frequently Liza threw Princess Victoria’s name around to get entry to less savory areas and people.  It is true that Victoria and Albert’s reign was the time of the highest morality, but I still believe that Victoria would have been or Victoria Ridingshould have been a bit more cognizant of the impact her carriage and servants would have in certain areas.  There were definitely areas of town where no one who was anyone would want to be seen, but Liza blundered about on her “business” for Princess Victoria and used her royal connections to visit reform houses for ex-prostitutes and blood-soaked suicide scenes.  I get that these girls were teenagers, but they knew their actions would reflect poorly on them in society and went on their merry way regardless.

The part of the book that bothered me the most was the last part of the story, where Sir John was left alone in the house with Princess Victoria and a handful of servants.  While I believe that the Duchess would have done just about Sir John Conroyanything to secure power over the throne of England, I cannot believe that she would have done this, knowing full well how it would taint Victoria’s reputation ever after.  I agree that Sir John makes a terrific villain, all the more so because he is a real villain, but I not feel that the author portrayed him well.  One of the most interesting things about Sir John was his subtlety.  He charmed, flattered, cajoled and eventually got what he wanted.  I always felt like Sir John would be a great snake, he is vicious and deadly, but he is willing to try persuade you to his way of thinking before he struck and took you down.  Sir John bided his time for years to get his hands on some of Victoria’s money and power.  While time was running out, I do not believe that Sir John would so clumsily show his hand by assaulting either the princess or her maid physically or damaging her reputation.

If you enjoy a well-written historical drama that is fast-paced and fun, you should definitely give this one a try!  I enjoyed it a great deal and found it easy to swallow in one sitting.  The writing is smooth, addictive and evocative.  The book itself is also quite lovely with a wider than normal page, nice spacing and a great layout.  Chapter headings, black-and-white borders on each chapter Prisoners in the Palace Open Dustjacketheading and a unique font for each Princess Victoria and Liza’s hand while they write in their journals round out the high-quality publishing.  The cover is unique and quite stunning, ensuring this book a solid presence in stores and on bookshelves in homes.  This book is a lot of fun, even though it uses quite a bit of artistic license to embellish upon factual events.  Check this book out for your teenage daughter and then treat yourself to a movie to bring this period in history to life!

Content:

One of the characters becomes pregnant out-of-wedlock, becomes a prostitute, and appears to commit suicide.  Rape or being forced is discussed and Liza is grateful for a lock on her door.  There are a few lewd glances and some mildly steamy sequences while Sir John tries to persuade Liza to bed him.  Theft, poor living conditions, abortion, and physical abuse are discussed and addressed.  Women are struck by men and mistreated.  There is nothing that too detailed or explicit so the book is still appropriate for younger readers.  Recommended for ages 10 and up.

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Round Robin by Jennifer Chiaverini (Elm Creek Quilts #2) Book Review

Round Robin

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Round Robin by Jennifer Chiaverini

Series: Elm Creek Quilts #2
Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (October 2009)
ISBN: 1416593047, EAN: 978-1416593041
Page Count: 320 pages
Format: hardcover

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

 

Synopsis:

Sarah and Sylvia have successfully turned Elm Creek into a quilter’s retreat.  Women from all over book week-long vacations to come and learn a new skill or refine abilities they have been honing for decades.  After several successful sessions, the Elm Creek Quilters (previously known as the Tangled Web Quilters) decide that there is something special missing: a beautiful quilt for visitors to admire as soon as they walk through the doors of the manor.  The women decide that the perfect quilt is a round robin quilt, where each quilt sews a portion and then passes it onto the next quilter.  As each woman in the quilting group takes their turn sewing their section, they struggle with important decisions in their lives that spill over into their designs.  As the quilt is slowly completed, life in Waterford will never be the same for these women.

Review:

I struggled a bit to get through the first book in the series, The Quilter’s Apprentice, but I am glad that I pushed through it as this book was much more interesting and fast paced!  Instead of focusing solely on one character, this book spends time on each of the women in the Elm Creek Quilters group.  Sarah and Sylvia, the focus of the first book, still get the majority of the time and their stories are intertwined between the other women.  Sarah is struggling to fulfill her promise to Sylvia: that she would try to reconcile with her mother.  When Round Robin Quilt for Elm CreekSylvia invites Carol, Sarah’s mother, as a surprise for Sarah, Sarah becomes extremely stressed about living up to her mother’s impossible expectations.  She also worries that Matt, her husband, is growing away from her and they seem to be fighting quite a bit more as Matt is not comfortable being financially dependent on Sylvia.  Sylvia, though she reconciled with Agnes, her sister-in-law, still feels alone and, as she grows older, she starts feeling weird aches and pains.  Sylvia feels guilty for trying to force Sarah to reconcile with her mother as she sees her plan backfiring and doesn’t know what to do to help.  And then there is sweet Andrew, a boy who was Sylvia’s younger brother’s best friend, who has finally returned to Elm Creek after all these years – could there still be a spark of romance left for these two lost souls?

Diane is the first person to take the quilt after Sarah starts it.  Diane has her hands full with her two boys and her husband, but she loves her family and wants them all to be happy.  When her oldest son, Michael, is arrested for skateboarding in a public area, Diane is horrified!  Why can’t Michael be more like Todd, her youngest son?  Todd excels at school and sports and is well-behaved with a lot of friends while Michael is the complete opposite!  However, as Diane and her husband try to come up with an appropriate punishment for Michael, they learn that there is no where that you can legally skateboard in town so what are Michael and his friends supposed to do?

Bonnie, owner of Grandma’s Attic, feels that her life is comfortable and happy.  She has been married to Craig for nearly 28 years.  While their relationship has changed over the years, Bonnie believes that everything is solid between the two of them.  Their children are fully grown and have moved out and both of them Round Robin Quilt Pamare focusing on their careers.  Bonnie has been under a lot of pressure at work as a new fabric discounter store pulls business away and she doesn’t know what she will do when she gets too old to run the store any longer as none of her children want to move back to their small college town and run a quilting store.  Caught up in her own problems, Bonnie doesn’t notice Craig acting differently until she stumbles across some emails he has written to another woman.  Devastated, Bonnie must make the decision as to whether to fight for Craig or to let him go.

Judy was the character that I knew the least about and I had even forgotten that she was part of the quilting group until I read her chapter!  When Judy gets the quilt, it was like meeting a completely new character that I did not know anything about.  Judy is Vietnamese-American and never knew her biological father, an American GI, who abandoned her mother and their daughter at birth.  She is happily married to an amazing man (at least I thought he was amazing as he was super helpful and took turns making dinner and watching their baby!) with an infant daughter of her own when she gets a letter in the mail that changes her world.  Judy discovers that she has two sisters and one brother that she never knew about and that one of them, Kristen, wants to meet her.  Judy isn’t sure that she wants to meet her father or his other children at all, but she decides to give them a chance.

Carol, Sarah’s mother, gets a section next even though she didn’t sew part of the round robin quilt.  This was an interesting chapter as it provided some valuable insights into Carol’s motivation and her relationship with her daughter, Sarah.  Carol definitely had a rough childhood and had to give up on all of her dreams as she grew older.  She married a man she didn’t love, but who loved her, and Round Robin Quilts Gracethought she could be happy, only to throw it all away for a chance at happiness with another man.  After Carol’s affair fizzled, her husband wanted nothing to do with her and transferred all of his love to their daughter, Sarah.  While I understood Carol’s character more after this section, I didn’t like her anymore and I didn’t really respect the decisions that she made nor her decision to not share the truth with Sarah, who might have accepted the olive branch from her mother.

Gwen gets the quilt next and she thinks that everything is going according to plan.  A successful professor and single mother, Diane has a great relationship with her only daughter, Summer, who is graduating from college that summer.  Gwen is so proud that her daughter was accepted to a prestigious graduate program even as dreads Summer’s departure, knowing that Summer will probably not move back to Waterford afterwards.  When Summer gives her mom some surprising news, Gwen handles it poorly and tries to force Summer to do what Gwen wants her to do without respecting what Summer wants.

Agnes decides to do applique work for the center block of the quilt and we finally get to hear her side of the story.  I was the most intrigued with this back story and couldn’t wait to see what really happened at Elm Creek while Sylvia was gone.  The story was both an amazing love story and a heartbreaking loss.  Agnes fell in love with Richard, Sylvia’s younger brother, right away, but her family did not want her to marry him.  Sylvia thought that Agnes was a spoiled brat and a snob and, in many ways, Sylvia was right, but Agnes was also terrified and alone in a home where no one seemed to like her.  I loved seeing events from the first book through another set of eyes and almost wish that this section had been included in the first book as I think that we all would have understood Sylvia and Agnes better with this section.

Okay, so, as you can tell, this book tackles a lot of subjects and spends 30 – 40 pages on each story.  This almost gives the book a feel of a short story collection, but there are enough intertwining subplots – not counting the quilt – to keep the book cohesive.  Friends’ and families’ stories overlap and connect in unique and satisfying ways.  It was lovely to continue with Sarah’s and Sylvia’s.  I grew to like both of them in the first book and was relieved that they still were the focal point in this book.  While I am not sure that I liked where the author took these two characters, I do feel that they are the heart and soul of Elm Creek Manor and don’t feel that there could have been a successful sequel without them.  I have to say that I was worried what the author would do with the sequel Round Robin Quilts Rosemarieand think it was really smart to spend time focusing on the other women in the quilting group.  I loved getting to know more about them and to see them as they struggled with significant events in their lives.  The only drawback for me is that some of the stories were pretty sensational, like Judy’s and Bonnie’s.  They had these huge, life-changing events they were facing compared to more ordinary, everyday events in the other women’s lives.  Sylvia and Sarah already had pretty dramatic stories to continue and so I would have appreciated something that was a bit more grounded and realistic.

Regardless of my feelings about the book, it is well written and is much better than the first!  The writing felt a lot more effortless and the transitions between the flashbacks and the present were much smoother.  The stories are connected and I didn’t see the dramatic splits and awkward connections that took place in the first book in the series.  This is a great series to enjoy reading with your sisters or your mother or grandmother as it is all about women and the connection that they make in their lives.  I confess that the more I read, the more I am inspired to try quilting on my own!  The author lovingly describes each quilt, each block and each skill that the quilters apply and learn.  Ultimately, I am glad that I pushed through the first book and feel that this author has so much more that she can do for this series.  I look forward to reading more about the history of Elm Creek Manor and the ladies who quilt there.

Content:

This book has characters who have extramarital affairs, have out-of-wedlock children, face prejudice, and make mistakes in life.  Everything is written in very tasteful, roundabout language so you can gloss over the details with younger readers or discuss the realities of life with older readers.  Recommended for ages 13 and up.

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A Town Called Valentine by Emma Cane Book Review

A Town Called Valentine

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Town Called Valentine by Emma Cane

Series: Valentine Valley #1
Author: Emma Cane
Publisher: Avon (January 31, 2012)
ISBN: 0062102273, EAN: 9780062102270
Page Count: 384 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

Synopsis:

After a miscarriage and a brutal divorce, Emily Murphy nurses her old car back to Valentine Valley, a small town nestled in the Colorado Mountains.  Too proud to accept alimony from her jerk of an ex-husband, Emily desperately needs the money she can raise from selling the property that she inherited from her grandmother.  But the previous tenants trashed the restaurant, her car broke down and she has no transportation, she has no money for a motel room and she is forced to accept help from Nate Thalberg, a stranger whom she made out with on a pool table at a local bar.  Much as Emily would like to avoid Nate, that is simply impossible in such a small town.  He always seems to be there when she needs help, but why is he being so nice to her?  Everyone keeps telling Emily that Nate is a love-’em-and-leave-’em kind of guy so what does he really want?

Review:

This was a charming little romance tale.  The story in and of itself was not particularly unique or special, but I found myself falling in love with the town of Valentine Valley.  It is a quaint little town that locals cannot wait to grow up and leave, but out-of-towners cannot help but visit.  The town survives mainly off of tourism and pulls in a huge crowd of young lovers who propose, get married, Romanceand celebrate engagements in this romantic town.  Naturally, most of the local business cater to these visitors so romance is everywhere you turn!  Everyone knows everyone else and they are all up in your business.  I don’t live in a small town so it sounds like a lot of fun, but I am sure that there are aspects that drive you crazy!  I really enjoyed getting to know all of the locals and look forward to reading more of this series set in Valentine Valley.  It was the little details about the town and the local businesses that made this book something unique and fun to read.

It took me a while to warm up to the main character, Emily Murphy.  Sure, she had a struggle growing up and in her early married years obviously did not go well, but that doesn’t give you the right to treat other people who are just being friendly like dirt.  Emily’s mother was really standoffish, especially after her father died.  Her mother was killed in a car accident so Emily never really did get to learn a lot about her childhood and her grandmother who left her the property in town.  Her ex-husband wanted children and, since Emily couldn’t give them to him, he divorced her and basically left her with nothing.  She has a huge chip on her shoulder and is not about to let anyone get close.   Then Emily finds out that the man she always thought of as her father was not her biological father so she goes on a hunt to figure out which local Valentine Valley man could be the one.   During the first section of the book Emily is very abrasive, especially around Nate, and I couldn’t really figure out why he wanted to try to get close to her, but I grew to like her as the book went on.  Emily has a lot of strength and a lot of love to offer, she just has really low self-esteem and a lot of self-doubt.  It was nice to see her grow into a true heroine and to enjoy the ties that she made with other people in Valentine Valley.

Nate was an intriguing hero.  I was not at all sure what he saw in Emily (aside from the physical attraction), but I am glad that he gave her a chance as they cowboy_sunset1were a perfect match for each other.  Nate is just about killing himself to get everything done and keep the family ranch afloat, but he doesn’t realize how hard that is to maintain or what it makes his siblings feel like.  He needs to learn to accept help and to understand that, even though he is adopted, he is just as beloved as his father’s biological children.  Nate’s dog, Scout, was just as charming as Nate was and it was delightful to see him featured in so many scenes.  I really fell in love with this cowboy and thought he was an intriguing mix of a Western fantasy come to life and smart businessman of the present.

My favorite characters were actually the supporting characters.  You first meet the widows, one of whom is Nate’s grandmother, at the little boarding house where Emily stays when she moves to town.  These old ladies are busybodies and they don’t even try to hide their nosiness, but they are lots of fun and made me smile.  Monica, who owns the flower shop next door to Emily’s restaurant, was a true friend and a great mix of vulnerability and self-confidence.  Brooke, Nate’s sister, rounds out the trio of single ladies and I cannot wait for each of them to get their own book and to see who they fall in love with!

The only real complaint I had with this book is that I felt like the author had to pull out all the stops to keep the story going.  A bitter divorce, an adopted son uncertain of his father’s and brother’s love, sterility, starting a small business, performing extensive repairs on a run-down old building, trying to balance work and family life, working too much, family problems, searching for your father’s identity, trying to forgive your mother’s mistakes, etc.  Where is she going to go in her next book?  It seems like all of the most obvious plot lines have been used!  Even though the book throws a bit of everything at you, it is still a fun book to read and I found myself eagerly flipping through the pages.  I wish the ending had been a bit more rich and not quite so abrupt, but I am assuming that there is more to come so hopefully we will see glimpses of Emily and Nate in the future books of the series. If you are looking for a sweet little romance that takes place in a small town with a hint of mystery, this may be a good one for you.

Content:

This book contains some sex sequences, all of which are written in a tasteful manner, but with quite a bit of detail.  This book deals with broken marriages, promiscuity, child neglect, sterility, miscarriages, one-night stands, and adopting children.  There are a few instances of mild language and violence, but nothing to explicit or offensive.  Recommended for ages 14 and up.

* This book was provided for free for review purposes.

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The Springsweet (Vespertine #2) by Saundra Mitchell

The Springsweet

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

The Springsweet by Saundra Mitchell

Series: Vespertine Series Book #1
Author: Saundra Mitchell
Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books (April 17, 2012)
ISBN: 054760842X, EAN: 9780547608426
Page Count: 288 pages
Format: hardcover

Target Age Group: young adults
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

Synopsis:

At seventeen years of age, Zora Stewart believes her life is over.  Her fiancé is dead and she is left rudderless and clueless as to how to continue to live her life.  After six months, Zora is permitted to begin wearing colors again and to reenter society, but it is now more than a year later and Zora still clings to her grief.  Zora’s mother and friends are sick of it and try to push her back into life, but Zora doesn’t want to fall in love again so contrives to ruin herself at a ball, forcing her exile to West Glory, Oklahoma Territory where she will live with her aunt.  Zora’s romantic views of the West are dashed as she is robbed on the stagecoach, rescued by a stranger and forced to stay unchaperoned with him on his homestead and then eke out a living on her aunt’s claim while living in her small one-room dugout.  The only bright spot to her miserable life is that discovers she possesses a talent for sensing water.  In a time and a place where water literally means the difference between life and death, can Zora find a way to use her gift to help others and give meaning to her own life?

Review:

I did not realize that this book was the second in a series until I finished it so I can assure you that you can read this book out of sequence and still enjoy it just as much.  The only thing that you will be a little bit in the dark about is stories Victorian Mourningfrom Zora’s past as she mentions a beloved cousin and her deceased fiancé, which are discussed in more depth in the first book (I assume).  I felt like I should know these people, but I clearly understood what was going on so it was not a big deal to read this book first.  The setting was lovely, but a bit peculiar.  It was interesting to see how a society lady would react to living on the prairie, what was then the very edge of civilization, in the Oklahoma Territories.  Zora struggled to perform everyday, ordinary tasks, such as drawing water and hoeing weeds, with her corset on.  And yet Zora felt so vulnerable without the undergarments on that it required quite a bit of adjustment for her to try to adapt to life on the frontier.  Zora was not at all ready for the life that she unknowingly chose, but she was a trooper and tried to help her aunt and her little niece as much as possible.  It was Oklahoma Territory Land Rushinteresting to read about what a normal day would be like in the 1800s as a new settler and how little surprises made such a difference in your day.  Finding a nest of eggs means a hearty breakfast instead of a small bowl of porridge.  Helping a neighbor raise a barn is a good excuse to visit and to do a different kind of work for a day.  Settlers may turn a blind eye to local villains knowing that there is worse out there that could replace them.  Old prejudices die hard, but there was some freedom for different races and colors in the new territories.

Zora Stewart was an interesting character.  She was so certain her life was over that she has no idea how young she truly is until she was given another chance at love and life.  I wish I could say that her special ability made her more interesting, but she used her abilities a handful of times in the book, mostly towards the end, so it really was not as integral a part of the plot as I had assumed based on the book’s description.  Towards the end of the story, Zora Springand her aunt decide to advertise her ability and to charge a fee for it so that they can try to save enough money to buy some livestock and improve their own lives.  These scenes were some of the most touching in the book for me.  One family is given the gift of life when Zora finds a spring of sweet, clear water on their dying property; another wants to drain his neighbor’s pond and use their water as his own; the last is given the bitter news that there is no water on his claim and that he has sunk all of his money into a barren wasteland.  Even though Zora’s talent was not the focal point of the book, it did dictate some of her decisions and made her a less-than-typical society miss of the time period.

As with most young adult books, the author of The Springsweet falls into the trap of creating a love triangle where there really isn’t one to try to give the story more depth.  Zora must choose between a handsome, young gentleman who follows her from Boston and a local settler who is reviled by Zora’s aunt and others.  Hmmm, let me think.  Who will she choose?  The tall, dark, handsome, charming and well-educated Theo or the brash, confident, golden Emerson.  Zora’s choice is so obvious that it is fairly laughable that the author even Love Trianglepresents the other as an option, but whatever, I guess it is normal to have two amazing men chasing after the heroine in books these days.  That said, I did enjoy the sweet little romance between Zora and her Romeo.  I wish that there could be another book to tell us more about their lives and how they get on as they are just barely getting started when the book ends rather abruptly.  It will be interesting to see where the author goes with her series from here…

The Springsweet has some gothic overtones, but they are subtle and this is not what I would deem a gothic romance.  Theo and Zora meet in a graveyard with none other than Edgar Allan Poe.  The lovelorn, grieving young woman and supernatural aspects also would lead you to think this is a more traditional, gothic romance, but the setting itself does not lend to a this genre.  You do not have the strictures of society or the brooding villain to make this a true gothic romance, but it was an interesting little romance with gothic touches.  It was not at all what I was expecting when I picked it up, but I enjoyed reading it and will definitely check out other books by this author.  I loved her writing style and think that she could make just about any topic appear interesting and important.

Content:

This book contains discussions of death, suicide and dying.  There are some mild discussions of morals, sexual intercourse and childbirth.  There are a few scenes of mild violence and some scenes of prejudice.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

* This book was provided for free for review purposes*

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Lost and Found by Jayne Ann Krentz Book Review

Lost and Found

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Lost and Found by Jayne Ann Krentz

Author: Jayne Ann Krentz
Publisher: Jove (October 2001)
ISBN: 0515131741, EAN: 9780515131741
Page Count: 368 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: 3/5 stars

Synopsis:

Fantasy Man.  That is how Cady Briggs thinks of Mack Easton.  For now, he is only a sexy voice on the phone and a tantalizing flirtation on the computer.  But their latest business finally brings them face to face and Cady is not at all disappointed.  Mack specializes in finding missing antiques and artistic treasures for high-paying clients.  He needs Cady’s expertise in recognizing the real thing and her connections to the arts and antiquities world.  Cady needs the thrill and excitement that working on cases with Mack gives her.  Their first meeting leads to a night of steamy passion, but misunderstanding quickly drives them apart.  It is only the sudden death of Cady’s Aunt Vesta that brings them back together again.  Cady is sure that Vesta was murdered to prevent a high-profile merger from going through, but she knows that no one will believe her.  So she hires Mack to act as her fiancé and help her investigate before a killer gets away with murder…

Review:

I was set to love this book, but it just fell short of the mark for me.  I loved the idea so much more than the execution that I ended up being quite disappointed.  I was expecting so much more from the arts and antiquities background, but it was just that, background.  We never really got to learn about any of the antiques or how an upscale gallery, such as Chatelaine’s, is operated.  I do love a romantic mystery where I can learn a bit about something new and had high hopes that I would get a bit of an insider’s view here, but it wasn’t to be.  Still, there are some good details about a few pieces and how high-end forgeries are made, which I found very interesting.  I also loved the little glimpses into how Cady authenticated pieces.  She had a real knack for feeling the difference between real pieces and good-looking fakes.  The few moments that the reader gets to learn about antiques are mainly located in Vesta’s vault, where she houses her collection of antique boxes.  It sounded like an absolutely amazing collection and the descriptions presented in this book whetted my appetite to see items like this in real life.  I wonder if the author has seen boxes such as these in real life, which inspired her to include this collection, or if it was the best way to hide secrets.  This was such a tantalizing glimpse into the past, but I wish there had been more!

I liked Cady and Mack, but there just seemed to be a missing spark in the relationship as well as in the story.  Cady seemed like a pale imitation of Jayne Ann Krentz’s usual quirky, fun female heroines.  She is afraid that she will end up just like her Aunt Vesta, alone, unloved and eccentric.  Cady has a terrible fear of the water and suffers from panic attacks, which she strives to keep under control with deep breathing and yoga exercise.  She does not want to work at Chatelaine’s and is convinced that Aunt Vesta only left her controlling shares in the company so that Cady would continue her investigations into the company that Chatelaine’s is set to merge with.  Mack is a bit more intriguing, but only a bit.  He lost his beloved wife six years ago to a drunk driving accident and has since raised his daughter alone.  Now that his daughter, Gabriella, is a freshman in college, Mack is feeling a bit lost and lonely.  He is intrigued by Cady, but cannot seem to find a way to forge a relationship with her.  The investigation presents him with an opportunity to insinuate himself into Cady’s life and he takes full advantage.  Mack’s military background and information-gathering skills allow him to help with the investigation in unexpected ways, but he is nowhere near as dangerous or mysterious as most of Jayne Ann Krentz’s heroes.

Most of the secondary characters are normal, real people and do not have that special something that Krentz typically imbues her characters with.  Cady’s family are all-too-normal for a wealthy family and I kept waiting for something suspicious or bad to come out about them, but that never happened.  Instead, the mystery really is straight-forward this time and the villains are unexpectedly easy to spot.  I kept waiting for a surprise or a sudden plot twist that never materialized.  Still, the book was an enjoyable, quick read that I finished without too much effort.  It is not one of Krentz’s more memorable or exciting efforts, but it is still well written and a lovely romance to read.  Unfortunately, I have been reading quite a few Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick books lately and this one does not hold up in comparison.

Content:

This book contains scenes of death, drinking, alcoholism, cancer, theft, panic attacks, fraud, attempted murder, and violence.  There are some sex scenes between the two main characters, but they are written in a tasteful, not-too-graphic manner.  Recommended for ages 16 and up.

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