#109-110 Gabriel’s Inferno & Gabriel’s Rapture by Sylvain Reynard

One of the AWESOME things about being a book blogger is being able to converse with other readers/bloggers and form amazing friendships. My buddy Kelly of Reading With Analysis is one of the people I have been able to get to know through our shared love of books.  Kelly and I often shoot tweets and emails off to each other about books that we’re either starting or planning on reading.  Since we’ve found that our tastes are so alike, we often have the same thoughts on books upon finishing them.  When I told Kelly about Gabriel’s Inferno and Gabriel’s Rapture by Sylvain Reynard and how much I liked it, she instantly said she’d read it.  Upon completion we realized that for the first time in our bookish friendship, we had vastly differing opinions.  I’ve convinced Kelly to come on the blog today to discuss this book series with me!

Before we begin I have some quick notes!  My college roommate Ashley is actually the one that told me about Gabriel’s Inferno.  Ashley heard it being compared to Fifty Shades of Grey (review here) in a positive way.  Knowing how I felt about those books, she hesitantly passed the recommendation on to me.  We all know I pretty much hated Fifty Shades of Grey so I was a bit reluctant to try it.  I, however, am not one to say no to book/genre recommendations others give me because of one bad apple. (I stuck with the erotica genre and discovered The Siren (my review/Kelly’s review) and freaking loved it.)  Anyway – to make a long story short – I accepted the recommendation and finished both books in Reynard’s “Gabriel” series over a weekend.

Upon finishing the book and tweeting about it, I discovered a world of people who were NOT the biggest fans of this book.  Comments about misogyny, cheese platters (Cyndy, I’m looking at you), fan fiction, and Twilight were all thrown out.  I had NO idea what I was in for and immediately looked to my buddy Kelly to be on my side of the discussion block. The rest, well, read on and find out.

I’m letting Goodreads do the summary talks for us so that we can get right into the discussion.

Gabriel’s Inferno: Enigmatic and sexy, Professor Gabriel Emerson is a well-respected Dante specialist by day, but by night he devotes himself to an uninhibited life of pleasure. He uses his notorious good looks and sophisticated charm to gratify his every whim, but is secretly tortured by his dark past and consumed by the profound belief that he is beyond all hope of redemption. When the sweet and innocent Julia Mitchell enrolls as his graduate student, his attraction and mysterious connection to her not only jeopardizes his career, but sends him on a journey in which his past and his present collide. An intriguing and sinful exploration of seduction, forbidden love and redemption, “Gabriel’s Inferno” is a captivating and wildly passionate tale of one man’s escape from his own personal hell as he tries to earn the impossible…forgiveness and love.

Gabriel’s Rapture: Professor Gabriel Emerson has embarked on a passionate, yet clandestine affair with his former student, Julia Mitchell. Sequestered on a romantic holiday in Italy, he tutors her in the sensual delights of the body and the raptures of sex. But when they return, their happiness is threatened by conspiring students, academic politics, and a jealous ex-lover. When Gabriel is confronted by the university administration, will he succumb to Dante’s fate? Or will he fight to keep Julia, his Beatrice, forever? In Gabriel’s Rapture, the brilliant sequel to the wildly successful debut novel, Gabriel’s Inferno, Sylvain Reynard weaves an exquisite love story that will touch the reader’s mind, body, and soul, forever.

Kim: Upon finishing these books I heard from multiple people who know my taste in books that they were shocked I enjoyed them!  The term misogynistic got thrown around pretty heavily and I kept scratching my head saying, “what did I miss?”  I opted to do re-reads of the books prior to writing this review to get a fresh perspective and keep my eyes and mind open to what I missed on the first go around.

During my second reading I could definitely understand the misogynistic feelings, slightly.  I know some of my friends were unhappy with how Gabriel didn’t think Julia could function without his care and love.  This is the first aspect of the book I’d like to address.  Yes, Gabriel is at times COMPLETELY OVERWHELMING.  His need to make sure Julia is eating, has heat, has clothes, etc can be a bit much.  I chose to focus more on the aspects of him that were I think more important.  As overbearing as Gabriel could be at times, deep down he genuinely cared for Julia.  His respect of her decision to remain a virgin for the foreseeable future (due to events in her past) should be duly noted.  He also is completely supportive of her educational aspirations and does nothing but encourage her with readings she should expand her knowledge with, etc.  Yes, there is an overbearing aspect to Gabriel’s nature, but I think a lot of that has to do with his past, MAIA, and his addictions.

Gabriel had an INSANE drug problem in his past.  He used to get into coked out hazes and not even realize what was going on around him.  I won’t go into the details behind what MAIA means, but suffice it to say it’s that event that has him struggling to constantly protect those around him.  His past has scarred him in a way that being an overbearing “protector” is the only way he knows how to functionally love someone.  I want it noted that in both books he struggles so much with this part of his personality.  Julia’s presence in his life does bring this side of him out in full force, but the more she is in his life and the more he allows her presence and personality to calm him, the less overbearing he seems.

Kelly: Gabriel’s issues stemming from his drug abuse make sense, sort of.  I mean, it makes sense that he would carry around some guilt about some of the crazy nonsense that happened while he was hopped up on cocaine, and it makes sense that he would take steps to prevent himself from repeating any of those errors.  His past drug abuse does not explain his insanely protective attitude toward Julia, but her complete inability to do anything on her own might prompt this reaction in him.

Kim: Julia at first seems really weak-minded (which makes the overbearing aspect of Gabriel’s personality worse), but this too is due to the past.  Her ex-boyfriend has mentally messed her up so badly that she has no idea of her worth.  This is why Gabriel and Julia work in my eyes.  They both are scarred really badly from their pasts, but with the help of each other and the steadiness of their love, they can learn to overcome what others have done to them.

Kelly:  Julia is a weaksauce diddlehead.  The reader is told, repeatedly, that she’s brilliant, but there’s no real proof throughout the book.  Gabriel thinks she’s a moron when he first meets her, and it isn’t until he accompanies her home, finds out that she got into Harvard but couldn’t attend for financial reasons and sees her as sexually attractive that he begins to invent and flaunt her intelligence.  I mean, seriously, at the beginning he recognizes that she’s kind of special ed (leaving a condolence note for him and not noticing what’s written on the other side–Emerson is an ass–not to mention all the daydreaming in class, yada yada yada) and takes steps to get her kicked out of the Master’s program.  Then he takes her out to dinner and is all drooly over how sexy she is when she drinks wine.  Then he stands up for her when he overhears Christa (the bitchy fellow student) call her stupid, and from then on there’s no convincing him that she’s not the brightest star in the sky.  The problem is that she never actually acts all that intelligent, so his decision to view her as Ms. Smarty-Mc-Smarty just seems… odd.

Anyway, in addition to Julia’s weakness in the upstairs departments, she’s also got crazy baggage. Julia had a bad boyfriend in her past.  He was so bad, he, like, cheated on her and stuff, and he was, like, so mean.  (Just a warning to all the fifteen-year-old girls that I know… I don’t have very much compassion for the fallout of bad relationships.)  OK, so I have a few problems with Julia’s lingering issues from her bad boyfriend.  1.  Julia is 23-years-old at the start of this story, but you’d never know it by her level of emotional maturity.  2.  Yes, he was a bad boyfriend, but I don’t know any women who don’t have at least one bad boyfriend in their pocket, and none of them was destroyed by her bad relationship experience.  3.  I’m not kidding – destroyed.  Julia withdraws from everyone she knows and gets even more shy and insecure around men.  She can’t even stand to think her bad boyfriend’s name… He’s always him and he, like he’s Lord Voldythingy or something.  Have you ever talked to a fifteen year old girl about her relationship experiences?  That’s what reading Julia’s take on her relationship with Simon is like.  Ugh.  But she was 21 (or so) when their relationship ended, and 23 when she’s remembering it.  I kept wishing she would act like it.

Kim: I am 100% agreeing with you on the Simon thoughts.  Up until the incident with him at Thanksgiving (Simon runs into Julia’s house and physically assaults her) the worst thing he did was cheat on her.  Let’s talk real life here for a second folks. I’ve been cheated on. It sucks. You get over it. You move on. Seriously, it sucks, but the way to get the cheating bastard back is to pick your head up, move on, and find someone new.  Julia’s response to the relationship ending is equivalent to every person you know in your entire life dying at the same time. Add to that your house blowing up, all of your money and car getting stolen, and then some. Oh and the world is going to end in a day.  I’ve honestly never in my life read anyone taking a break up as bad as this woman did.  I’ve read books with the female characters having been sexually assaulted and they didn’t act like Julia.

Kelly: Yes!  Julia’s nonsense was one of my biggest problems with this book, but of course, a lot bothered me. (I could not be bothered to read the second installment of the story, so my comments are limited to Gabriel’s Inferno only.)  I guess it makes sense to start at the beginning, because that’s where the book lost me.  One of the biggest issues I had with the book was its inconsistent voice.  Our first introduction to Julia comes through the narrator who seems to use Paul’s POV in describing Julia (the frightened rabbit) and Christa (the bitchy cat), and Julia’s POV in describing Gabriel and Paul.  Julia is small, pale, delicate, rabbit-like; Gabriel is coldly, remotely handsome in a symmetrical way; Christa is a cat in heat; and Paul is good-looking and friendly. The narrator of this book has an identity crisis, and it shows up on page one.  I kept reading, hoping that the inconsistency issues were just a sign of unfinished editing business and would clear up eventually.  They didn’t.  In fact, they got worse.  After about a hundred pages, I started complaining, but by that point I wasn’t just annoyed about the writing.

Kim: I’m jumping in here to say dear god did I hate Paul.  If there is ONE THING I can say I hated from cover to cover, it was Paul. His incessant need of calling Julia his rabbit – I WANTED TO VOMIT.  If there is one character that I COULD agree with on the misogynistic front it could be Paul.  Seriously, he thinks Julia is incapable of holding a door open without him. He is constantly trying to shade Julia from anything that life could possibly throw at her.  It’s ok Paul, walking in the rain won’t kill her.

Kelly: I didn’t see Gabriel as being either more or less misogynistic than Paul.  Julia can’t manage to get her key in the lock around Gabriel (hardy har), so he steps in and does it for her.  He hates her bag, so he buys her a new one.  She can’t eat on her own, apparently, or only eats veggies and couscous, so he feeds her, etc. etc. etc.  He might not be so obvious about it as Paul (he calls her Julianne rather than Rabbit and never compares her to a children’s book character just waiting to be actualized by his manly love–penis–and it might originate from his inclination to protect her from the evil forces of the world (all that innocence destroying that goes on when a poor girl doesn’t eat enough steak), but it comes down to the same result.  Julia is helpless, so Gabriel steps in with a whole bunch of help, whether or not she wants or needs it.  Now, later, when he steps in and is all heroic during the Simon situation, he displays an acceptable level of protectiveness from an actual threat to Julia’s safety, but all the in-Toronto-in-the-beginning stuff is just annoying.

Kim: See, with the things that Gabriel did to/for Julia I got a different sense of why he did it.  Maybe I’m not explaining everything correctly, but Paul’s motives (in my opinion) seemed to come directly from his thinking that Julia couldn’t handle herself.  Even in class he is always trying shield her from Gabriel’s questions etc etc.  Gabriel on the other hand (again, in my opinion) does things for Julia because he loves her.  Once he realizes who she is his motives towards her change.  He wants to take her to dinner and feed her because he knows she really has no money.  Her bag breaks and he knows she can’t afford a new one.  He knows her reasons for being unable to attend Harvard (lack of scholarship) and wants to get her an amazing advisor so that she can get that scholarship.

Kelly:  Well, he wants to get her an amazing advisor so he can bump fuzzies with her.  It is true, sad to say.

Kim: Did you really get the sense that the only reason Gabriel wanted her was to have sex with her? Because I can honestly say (and maybe this is because I read Rapture too) but I never felt as though he was with her for sex.  Like he was hitting up that club and picking women up all the time.  Why would he leave that to be with a virgin who was afraid to become intimate with him because of a jackass ex-boyfriend from her past?

Kelly:  Some men have a… fascination with innocence.  Julia is an innocent character, and it’s her angelic innocence that draws Gabriel in, both during the long-ago encounter in the apple orchard and while he gets to know her in Toronto.  (Part of his anger with Paul is that Paul, not being a professor, is free to fuck the angel, and Gabriel is jealous that he can’t do the same thing.)  He respects her fear of sex, but the main reason that he’s OK with delaying her de-flowering is that it will work better with his timing.  They can date and pretty much live together until the semester is over and she’s no longer his student, and the instant that happens, her hymen is going to get burst.  Of course, that works for Julia, too, because by that point in their relationship she’s an eager participant, but it’s all about Gabriel being the one to pop her cherry, to give her knowledge of the relations between a man and a woman.  He’s going to teach her good, to learn her in all the sensual things that can happen between a man and a woman.  What man would rather have casual sex with random hussies that he meets in a bar than have an experience wherein his experience can so vastly outweigh that of his counterpart, where he can play the god who gets to make the angel real, make a woman out of her… ?

Kim: Yeah, I can see all that but I still question it because of what I know from Rapture. I know that you haven’t read Rapture and I apologize for those reading, but I’m going to do some spoilers here! In Rapture their relationship is discovered by the college board and an investigation is started.  To make a long story short, Gabriel agrees to take a leave of absence, cut ALL ties (I mean it) with Julia, and let her finish out her year and graduate.  Julia is forlorn over Gabriel’s sudden departure and upon graduation and her move to Boston to begin work on her PhD she and Gabriel get back together.  During their time apart she becomes a stronger person (this isn’t that hard, considering she’s pretty weak-minded to begin with) and actually doesn’t agree to get back together with Gabriel upon his return.  When circumstances allow them to get back together he tells Julia that he won’t have sex with her until their relationship is a.) more stable and b.) more permanent.  Julia balks at this at first, but agrees to accept his wishes just as he accepted hers to keep the beginning of their relationship slow.

Now I go back to my question about is he really with her for sex?  I can see your argument for book one, but as their relationship moves into this new chapter post-school scandal in book two I can’t help but debate it again.  This time it’s Gabriel holding back and wanting to slow things down.  Wanting to prove to Julia that he’s in this relationship for the long haul and that sex wasn’t the glue holding them together.  I have to give him some respect there.

Kelly:  Is it sex, or is it control?  Gabriel essentially has control over when they have sex in the first place, though Julia is in agreement with the timing.  It’s so romantic, after all, to lose one’s virginity in Italy rather than Canada.  Later, when he returns and wants to restart their relationship, albeit without sex, it’s still about him deciding when they will have a sexual relationship.  Gabriel is in control of the situation insofar as he has more knowledge than Julia does.  If you look at their relationship as a power construct, Gabriel holds more power for a few reasons: 1. he’s older, 2. he’s Julia’s professor, 3. he has more sexual knowledge than Julia does, more awareness of himself and of her.

Kim: I felt that in book two Julia really held the keys to the kingdom.  He’s ready to just pick up being together again when he comes back from the school induced separation.  Julia won’t allow it though.  Gabriel wants her to meet him to talk and she won’t do it.  She clearly says to him that she’s moving on with her life, as hard as it is without him.  It’s when all this happens that he tells her that he wants to prove his worth to her and prove that their love is something special and worth saving.  She makes that boy work to get back in her good graces.  The sex thing isn’t him withholding for control, it’s him withholding to show her that he can control himself and is worth taking a second chance on.  He’s trying to prove he’s in it for the long haul.

Kelly:  Well, not having read Rapture, I’ll have to agree with you.  🙂  I’ll revise my sex/control response to try to clarify what I mean about Gabriel just being with her for the sex.  I don’t think that’s it… I think it’s more about the intoxication of being with someone who is innocent.

Kim: That’s a PERFECT segue into the next thing we wanted to discuss.  The Twilight aspects of these novels! I had a more difficult time seeing the relationship, but Kelly didn’t! Take it away my friend!

Kelly: At about two hundred pages into the book, I asked Kim if this was some sort of half-cocked 50 Shades fan fiction, because it seemed to me to be Twilight fan fiction twice removed with lots of unnecessary cursing thrown in for shits and giggles (you like that?), and she told me that she had lately discovered that it is Twilight fan fiction.  I can totally see the Twilight fan fic tie-ins, but this book is fan fic of New Moon (except that Edward/Gabriel has drug-induced amnesia), not the first Twilight novel.  That means that emotionally, the reader jumps into a story that is full of unexplained melodrama (melodrama FOR DAYS).  You meet Julia and Gabriel, and Julia feels SO MUCH (too much, I thought).  She recognizes Gabriel in all his symmetrical splendor, and she keeps waiting for him to recognize her.  But he doesn’t   She’s going through all the Bella “OMG, he totally left me, and now I, like, totally can’t survive!” crap, but Gabriel’s right there, and we (readers) just met both of them and have NO IDEA what in the hell all this high drama and emotion is all about.  The first two hundred pages of the book were full of WTFery, to me, because I couldn’t figure out what in the hell these characters were feeling towards each other, and I also couldn’t figure out why in the hell I should care about their drama.

Kim: I can DEFINITELY see the New Moon plot line in Rapture. And the whole Bella/Edward obsessive relationship is obvious.  But besides that the Twilight comparisons weren’t as clear to me as they were in say Fifty Shades.  

Kelly:  OK, there’s the intense first meeting.  Gabriel is soooo angry, and Julia (and the reader) has no idea why.  To me, that was immediately reminiscent of Edward’s “I think I want to kill you” meeting with Bella.  There’s the well-meaning but slightly creepy friend, Paul.  (As an aside, I can hang with the Team Jacob stuff, because Jacob is kind of funny in the books, but no one is going to be on Team Paul.)  Gabriel’s whole “I’m dangerous, I’m obsessed with lust, sins follow me around” thing has shades of “I’m no hero, I’m a bad guy, you should stay away from me for your own good” Edward nonsense.

Kim: If a Team Paul ever showed up, I think I’d cry.

Kelly:  I would wear a Team Paul in irony.  No one would understand.

Kim: HA. Promise me you will never sell Team Paul shirts. I’ll accept one person’s irony. I can’t handle two.

Kelly:  I promise.  🙂

Kim: Excellent. I’m holding you to it.  So now before we sign off on these books I had one more thing I wanted to discuss – Dante.  So a big discussion point within the novel is Dante and his works.  A lot is referenced in regards to the relationship between Dante and Beatrice.  Now prior to reading Inferno and Rapture I had never read anything by Dante.  Just reading these novels and reading the Dante discussions within the book made me go out and buy The Divine Comedy.  I’m curious to learn more about the relationship between the poet and his real life muse Beatrice.  Did you become curious about them too, or is it just me? Much has been said (negatively) about the views of Dante and his works discussed in Inferno and Rapture.  Personally my stance has always been, if someone says something that makes you curious to do further reading, then it was a worthwhile thing to say. What do you think, Kelly?

Kelly: I read The Divine Comedy in high school and again after college. (I totally did not understand it the first time around… Not sure I quite got it the second time, either, but at least I got the impulse to read it out of my system.)  I don’t have a general problem with the Dante discussions in this book, but only one of them really had an obvious tie-in to the story or characters and was, somewhat predictably, the only Dante discussion that I enjoyed.  In case you’re interested, the Dante discussion that I enjoyed was the argument Gabriel and Julia have in class about whether or not Beatrice was just a bitch leading Dante on (and whether or not Dante was just an asshole).  For the rest of it, I was like, “Dante… *yawn*…” because if I was supposed to care about Gabriel and Julia and whether they would ever work out their issues or whether they would ever have sex (because that’s actually the point of the book, with the whole of Gabriel’s Inferno leading up to Julia’s deflowering), the Dante lectures were a bit distracting.  I thought the author could not quite decide whether to write an academic work about Dante, a young adult Twilight fan fic story, a romance novel, or an erotica novel, and she just decided to combine all her working drafts into one giant story that pretty much represents the worst of all four worlds.  (Well, to be fair, I’m sure she didn’t intend for it to be that bad… it just is.)

Kim: HAHA – You have a way with words my friend.  I think we’ve gotten our different viewpoints off fairly well for everyone.  I hope that whether you chose to read the books or not, you jump in on our discussion! We’re always down for talking with other book lovers!

Kim’s Rating: Inferno 3 out of 5 Stars, Rapture 3 out of 5 Stars

Kelly’s Rating: Inferno 1.5 out of 5 stars Rapture (didn’t read it, because I took the earliest exit off this crazy train.)

Gabriel’s Inferno by Sylvain Reynard
Penguin Group (2012)
Paperback: 560 pages
ISBN: 9781101614785

Gabriel’s Rapture by Sylvain Reynard
Penguin Group (2012)
Paperback: 432 pages
ISBN: 9781101614778

#77 A Review of Short-Straw Bride by Karen Witemeyer

Who doesn’t love a good love story?  All that I had to know about Karen Witemeyer’s Short-Straw Bride was that it contained a honest-to-goodness old-fashioned love story and I was sold (as you know, I’m quite the sucker for these types of things).  Anyway, without further pretense, I dove right in.

As far as the four Archer brothers are concerned, no one crosses their land without their express permission.  So, Meredith Hayes is rightly troubled when she overhears a man plotting to take their land.  What’s even more troubling to her is that one of the brothers, Travis, has a special connection to her.  Twelve years ago, she was rescued from the jaws of a steel trap by Travis, who has not let a day go by without forgetting the strong young girl he saved all those years ago.  When Meredith approaches the brothers to tell them about the plan to run them off of their land, she eventually ends up in a situation where the Archer brothers draw straws to see who will marry her!  Will this marriage of convenience eventually turn into something more?  What will happen to the Archer’s land?

OMG TRAVIS.  That is honestly all I have to say.  What a wonderful, beautiful, raw character. I love him!!  He is a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders and is living with the guilt of an event that happened years prior.  Deep down inside he’s a man who needs love and wants to give it, but has been hardened by extenuating circumstances.  When Meredith happened into his life the first time a small piece of that man inside was exposed.  Meredith holds on to the kindness he showed her and lives her whole life, loving him for it.  When the two are thrust into each other’s lives again, she vows to make sure that the man inside him is cared for and is able to break through the walls he’s put up around himself.  Theirs is truly a story about a giving love, full of hope, kindness, and selflessness.

I’m not a religious person by any means, but I do have to admit, the psalms and other biblical quotes did add to the story and character development.  Regardless of what religion you are, and how often you practice, you’ll still be able to enjoy the novel.  I still can’t get over how adorable this story was.  I’m adding the rest of Witemeyer’s novels to my to-read list for sure.  Her writing is crisp, sharp, and full of fun.  It has the perfect blend of humor and sincerity in it.  If you’re not already reading Witemeyer’s novels fix that ASAP.  Start with Short-Straw Bride, I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

5 out of 5 Stars

This is my thirty-fourth completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Short-Straw Bride by Karen Witemeyer
Bethany House (2012)
Paperback: 368 pages
ISBN: 9780764209659

Special thanks to Bethany House for sending me my review copy!

Playing Catch Up: Novella Edition

Continuing on with my trend of catching up on reviews, I present the novella edition!  A lot of the books/series I’ve been reading lately have had novellas attached to them, helping me increase my total reads for the year.  Even though they’re shorter in length I still believe they deserve to be counted towards my total goal.  (Some of them are really freaking good!) So, without further ado….

#70 Once Upon A Winter’s Eve (Spindle Cove #1.5) by Tessa Dare – summary from Goodreads:

Violet Winterbottom is a quiet girl. She speaks six languages, but seldom raises her voice. She endured bitter heartbreak in perfect silence. The gentlemen aren’t beating down her door.  Until the night of the Spindle Cove Christmas ball, when a mysterious stranger crashes into the ballroom and collapses at Violet’s feet. His coarse attire and near-criminal good looks would put any sensible young lady on her guard. He’s wet, chilled, bleeding, and speaking in an unfamiliar tongue.   Only Violet understands him. And she knows he’s not what he seems.  She has one night to draw forth the secrets of this dangerously handsome rogue. Is he a smuggler? A fugitive? An enemy spy? She needs answers by sunrise, but her captive would rather seduce than confess. To learn his secrets, Violet must reveal hers—and open herself to adventure, passion, and the unthinkable… Love.

The amazing thing about Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove series are the heroines.  At first glance they are a mish-mosh of odd women.  They’re shy wallflowers and women interested in science; they’re the women that don’t fit into “normal” society.  Dare gives these women a safe place (Spindle Cove) to come into their own, heal from the pain of being outsiders from society, etc.  It’s her use of the unusual heroine and their creative backstories that make this series so special.  Dare’s superb writing style is also something to note here.  This novella runs at an extremely fast pace, but Violet’s story is so enchanting that you don’t mind.  I can’t tell you about the hero of the story, as it’ll ruin the surprise, but suffice it to say he’s proof that the cards life deals to us aren’t always what we expect.  But, with time and an open mind and heart, we can learn lessons from each instance and grow.

Final thoughts: Add this novella AND this series to your to-read list. (Book one is A Night to Surrender and book two is A Week To Be Wicked)

5 out of 5 Stars

Once Upon A Winter’s Eve by Tessa Dare
Samhain Publishing, Ltd (2011)
eBook: 233 pages
ISBN: 9781609288822

#71 Forevermore (Jewel Trilogy #2.5) by Lauren Royal – summary from Goodreads:

England, 1667

Sensible Clarice Bradford is content in her widowhood. She has a pretty one-room cottage and a lovely little daughter, and the last thing she wants is another husband. Until one fairytale evening when she’s invited to a wedding at a castle…

Scottish gentleman Sir Cameron Leslie is smitten with the shy, English beauty at first sight. He’s fiercely drawn to the very strength and independence that make her unwilling to throw caution to the wind and bestow her heart on a younger man. Though passion flares between them, it will take everything Cameron can muster to reawaken Clarice’s long-forgotten dreams of true love…

Forevermore is part of Lauren Royal’s Jewel Trilogy.  The events take place after books one and two (Amethyst and Emerald) but before book three (Amber). Royal, as we’ve come to expect from her, gives us amazingly tortured characters that we can’t help but fall in love with.  

Clarice is a woman who was dealt difficult blows in her life.  She was married at the tender age of 15 to a man who was almost three times her age.  Not only was he much older than her, but you’re lead to believe he was physically and verbally abusive.  Years after his death Lord Cainewood (of Emerald) brings her a little girl who is need of a home.  Having always wished for children she takes the little girl in, vowing it will be the start to a happier life for herself.  It’s been a year since she adopted Mary and her life has never seemed happier.  Cameron, on the other hand, has led a sort of charmed life, living in Scotland and caring for his family’s ancestral lands.  Until seeing Clarice at his cousin’s wedding he realizes he’s never been in love (how sad!!).  Watching him try to win Clarice’s heart and squash her fears with his tenderness and kindness was joyful.  His scenes with little Mary were beautiful and made me love him even more!

Final Thoughts: If you haven’t yet added this series to your to-read pile you’re seriously missing out.

4 out of 5 Stars

Forevermore by Lauren Royal
Novelty Books (2012)
Paperback: 185 pages
ISBN: 2940014071192

#72 Darcy and Elizabeth: The Language of the Fan by Mary Lydon Simonsen – summary from Goodreads:

While Jane Bennet is recuperating at Netherfield Park, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are frequently thrown into each other’s company. Despite initial resistance, the pair find that their first impressions are changing, especially after Lizzy overhears a conversation between Darcy and Charles Bingley using the language of the fan. Darcy and Elizabeth: The Language of the Fan is a short story showing how two people come together through a series of comical miscues.

Those following the blog are well aware of the fact that I’m a huge fan of Simonsen’s writing.  She always comes up with new and creative ways to make us fall in love with Darcy and Elizabeth’s story.  Having read many Regency novels that employ the use of fans by ladies of respectable status, I’ve been curious about what all the motions of these fans meant.  It was really fascinating to have the “rules of the fan” interjected throughout the story as a plot device.

Once Darcy and Elizabeth become “friends”, they get on a conversation about tombstone markers.  Elizabeth tells him that Mr. Bennet enjoys walking through cemeteries looking for the most unique ones.  Reading the tombstone markers (that Simonsen later told me actually exist) were really funny, and they added a quirky humor to the story.

Final thoughts: Simonsen always leaves me wanting more, and that’s exactly how I felt upon completing The Language of the Fan.  Click here for more of my reviews of Simonsen’s books!

4 out of 5 Stars

Darcy and Elizabeth: The Language of the Fan by Mary Lydon Simonsen
Quail Creek Publishing (2011)
eBook: 25 pages
ISBN: 2940012938916

#73 Seven Day Loan (The Original Sinners #.5)  by Tiffany Reisz – summary from Goodreads:

A trained submissive, Eleanor will do whatever her master commands…even spend a week with a stranger. Daniel has been a recluse since his wife’s death, and Eleanor’s lover thinks spending time with her will be therapeutic–especially since Daniel is also a Dom.  Despite her defiant streak, Eleanor can’t resist giving in to Daniel’s erotic demands. But while she’ll let him have her body, she’s determined to keep a guard around her heart. Even if Daniel wants to make Eleanor his permanently….

Seven Day Loan is a prequel to Reisz’s The Siren , a prequel that I of course would read AFTER reading The Siren (oh well).  The biggest OMG” moment of The Siren is when you find out what Soren’s profession is.  His profession is discussed in Seven Day Loan hence why I suggest reading it after, making the reveal in The Siren more of a surprise.

ANYWAY – Seriously, you must read this. Daniel is heavenly.  The time he and Nora spend together is HOT and it definitely helps us get to know Nora just a bit more.  She is an enigma of a character, one that I’m anxious to keep learning about.

As expected Reisz’s writing style is exquisite and leaves the reader wanting more.  I can’t get enough of her stories and am greatly looking forward to the publication of book two in The Original Sinners series, The Angel, in September.  Reisz has a number of sequels to Seven Day Loan, as well as The Siren posted for FREE on her website.  Click here to read them!

Final thoughts: Read it. No, seriously. Read it.

5 out of 5 Stars

Seven Day Loan by Tiffany Reisz
Harlequin (2010)
eBook: 34 pages
ISBN: 9781426851599

#74 Bargain with the Devil by Enid Wilson – summary from Goodreads:

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Fitzwilliam Darcy learns of the debacle involving Elizabeth Bennet’s sister several months after he was rejected by Elizabeth, and volunteers to help find her sister, of his own accord.  But what if Miss Elizabeth had requested Mr. Darcy’s aid in just a few days after the disastrous proposal at Hunsford, and he was still very angry with her refusal? What if he decided to be ungentlemanly, and demanded a very particular reward from her in exchange for his assistance?  This steamy, funny Pride and Prejudice what-if short story explores that scenario with wit, emotion and intriguing plot twists that take this perennial favorite to another direction.

Oh man. Where are Austen’s characters that I fell so in love with? Elizabeth? Darcy? Hello? Are you out there? I ask because they were definitely not present in this novella.  For example, there was the inclusion of Elizabeth dressing up as a man to follow Darcy, who teaches her how to “scratch” herself like a man. The entire situation was odd and awkward.  Not only that, but the storyline with Caroline Bingley and black magic was off the wall.

The back and forth between first person and third person narrative made for choppy and somewhat confusing reading.  The actual writing has potential, with the help of some strong editing.  I kept wanting to break out my red pen, but that wouldn’t really help on a nook.

Final thoughts: Skip it.  Try reading Wilson’s Fire and Cross instead.

1 out of 5 Stars

Bargain With The Devil by Enid Wilson
Lulu Press (2011)
eBook: 73 pages
ISBN: 9781447530657

So, there you have it.  The second installment in my “playing catch up” posts.  I hope you enjoy reading these blurbs as much as I enjoy writing them!  Reading and reviewing these novellas has definitely expanded the variety of my reviews this year.  They are fun ways to experience a quick story that is great for those who don’t have the time for a full novel.  I definitely recommend that you add some of these to your “to read” piles at home.

As always, happy reading!

Playing Catch Up: Romance Edition

So if you’ve been following my progress of reading 110 books this year, you’ll know that I’m REALLY close to my 100th book.  In fact, I’m planning on finishing my 96th book today! You can also tell that I’m SO far behind on my book reviews. (Only on 63!) With that in mind I’m going to play catch up and do some mini-reviews on books I don’t feel like writing full reviews for.  Since I have a bunch of romance novels that still need to be reviewed, I figured I’d make my first catch-up post dedicated to them!

#64 – Lady Rosabella’s Ruse by Ann Lethbridge – Summary from Goodreads:

None of the women at an “anything goes” house party catches Garth Evernden’s jaded eye. The only one worth noting is a covered-up lady’s companion with an intriguing hint of exotic beauty the eighth Baron Stanford would like to uncover Rose is in fact posing as a widow to find her inheritance—without it, she and her sisters will surely perish! The baron is known for his generosity, and he is so very handsome! A new solution springs to Rose’s mind…surely becoming mistress to this rake would bring definite advantages?

So while the concept of the story was pretty interesting, the characters were a bit blah for me.  Rose was super whiny and caused me to grate my teeth after a while.  Garth had his annoying parts as well, but was nowhere near as annoying as Rose was.  The misconceptions that Garth and Rose had about each other got so aggravating at times that I just didn’t want to read anymore.  I think I would have been able to enjoy the book more without so many damn conflicts.  Seriously, it was one right after the other.  Misconceived notion #1, they make-up, she runs away, he finds her, they make-up, misconceived notion #2, she runs away, he finds her, they make-up, they part ways, misconceived notion #3, he comes back, she runs away, they find each other, etc etc.  It was extremely tedious after a while.

Final thoughts: There are better romances out there that spend more time developing characters and those characters love story.  I’d suggest reading those instead.

2 out of 5 Stars

Lady Rosabella’s Ruse by Ann Lethbridge
Harlequin (2012)
Paperback: 288 pages
ISBN: 9780373296781

#65 – Jonah’s Bride by Jillian Hart – Summary from Goodreads:

Bound by Duty – Army Major Jonah Hunter has spent his lifetime answering the call of duty, but when he returns to the Connecticut village where he was raised to be at his dying father’s bedside, he faces his biggest challenge yet; finding a bride. Jonah’s father’s dying wish is to see his oldest son married and settled down, and although Jonah has no desire to do either, he is duty bound to honor his father’s wish. While all of the village’s marriage-aged women are throwing themselves his way, Jonah is drawn to the one woman who wants nothing to do with him; the sharp-tongued, spinster Tessa Bradford.

As the village healer, Tessa has spent many days and nights in the Hunter home caring for the Jonah’s ailing father and watching as local women throw themselves at the Army hero. Labeled as harsh and severe, Tessa knows there is no way the village’s most eligible bachelor will be interested in her. But sparks fly between the unlikely couple. When Jonah proposes to Tessa, she must decide whether his offer was made out of love or simply because his father needs a nursemaid. Unwilling to be stuck in a loveless marriage, Tessa must decide if there is more than passion drawing her and Jonah together and if the feelings she has for him can ever be returned by the war-hardened soldier.

So I’ve read a few Jillian Hart romances by now, having never really been all that impressed by them.  I still trudged along though, hoping to find one that was pleasing.  I finally found what I was looking for with Jonah’s Bride!  Jonah and Tessa are adorable together.  When they were children Jonah used to pull on her braids and tease her, much to Tessa’s annoyance.  Obviously, we all know that when a little boy teases a little girl that he really likes her.  Fast forward years later to Jonah’s homecoming.  They are both in their mid to late twenties and the bantering that marked their relationship as children is still ever-present.  This bickering back and forth was actually really adorable to follow, knowing that deep down they both cared for each other.  To watch their love grow and blossom and be reciprocated by the other person was a treat indeed.

Final Thoughts: Read it.

4 out of 5 Stars

Jonah’s Bride by Jillian Hart
Jillian Hart (2011)
eBook: 548 pages
ISBN: 2940013019614

#66 – To Wed A Wicked Earl by Olivia Parker – Summary from Goodreads:

He’s on the hunt for a bride… Adam Faramond, Earl of Rothbury, needs to find a wife—immediately! —or his beloved grandmother will leave him penniless. But Adam, an unrepentant rake, would reform for only one woman, the woman he’s lusted after—and loved—for years. It’s rather unfortunate, then, that Miss Charlotte Greene would never consent to be the blushing bride of a rogue…or so he thinks.

Charlotte believes that the earl, the only man whose touch leaves her trembling, would never want a woman like her. Weary of her wallflower ways, Charlotte decides that a friendship with the earl just might give her the excitement she desires. Keeping their true feelings hidden, she and Adam plan a sham ceremony to placate the dowager. But when the “marriage of convenience” takes an unexpected turn, will Charlotte and her wicked earl finally reveal their irresistible, unforgettable love—and delight in a lifetime of passion?

Charlotte is an absolutely adorable and endearing wallflower.  She is truly kind, compassionate, and wanting of a friendship between herself and Rothbury.  Watching Rothbury try to hide his ever-growing feelings for Charlotte is absolutely precious.  The scenes that have the couple meeting Rothbury’s French grandmother are among my favorite in the book.  She speaks only in French about how Rothbury needs to marry Charlotte and get her pregnant.  Rothbury believes that Charlotte cannot understand French (she really can) and has conversations about her with his grandmother.  It leads to some humorous reactions on Charlotte’s part as she tries to keep a straight face.

Final Thoughts: Of anything reviewed in this post. This is the one you want to read.

4 out of 5 Stars

To Wed A Wicked Earl by Olivia Parker
Harper Collins (2009)
eBook: 384 pages
ISBN: 9780061905315

#67 – Ravished By The Rake (Shipwrecks #1) by Louise Allen – Summary from Goodreads:

Vivacious lady Perdita Brooke prides herself on her social poise …except when faced with devastatingly dashing Alistair Lyndon. The dreamy young man Dita once knew is now a hardened rake, who clearly does not remember their passionate night together…, however much it’s emblazoned on her memory! Now Dita has the perfect opportunity to remind Alistair of their sizzling chemistry. But soon she is in over her head. Provoking him is supposed to be a deliciously wicked game, with her holding all the cards—until Alistair reveals the ace up his sleeve!

Dita is a hellion of a woman and I absolutely love her!  She refuses to believe she can’t do something simply because she’s a woman.  She’s hopelessly in love with Alistair, frequently remembering their time together in her youth.  Alistair on the other hand is completely cynical towards love for reasons you find out late in the book and has no recollection of their time together.  The journey the two take in learning about each other’s pasts as well as how they fit into each other’s futures is an endearing one not without its trials and tribulations.

Final Thoughts: Read it.

3 out of 5 Stars

Ravished By The Rake by Louise Allen
Harlequin (2012)
Paperback: 288 pages
ISBN: 9780373296767

#68 – Seduced By The Scoundrel (Shipwrecks #2) by Louise Allen – Summary from Goodreads:

Shipwrecked and washed up on an island, Averil Heydon is terrified—and being rescued by mysterious roguish naval captain Luc d’Aunay doesn’t calm her fears! Virginal Averil knows that falling for Luc is dangerous, but the pull of their sexual attraction is deliciously irresistible….After her first taste of wild desire in Luc’s arms, Averil must return to society and convention. Except Luc has a shockingly tempting proposition for her—to flaunt duty, and give in to her newly awakened sensuality…

Definitely the best of the three books in the trilogy! Luc and Averil. WHOO. Luc is dangerous, mysterious, and damn sexy.  You could have written a book about him eating soup and I would read it.  What a fascinating character.  His journey for redemption is just amazing.  Averil’s journey to becoming a strong independent woman who can speak her mind is also a plus for this book.

Final Thoughts: DO IT! DO IT! DO IT!

4 out of 5 Stars

Seduced By The Scoundrel by Louise Allen
Harlequin (2012)
Paperback: 288 pages
ISBN: 9780373296804

#69 – Married To A Stranger (Shipwrecks #3) by Louise Allen – Summary from Goodreads:

Sophia Langley’s life is in turmoil. When she learns of her estranged fiancé’s death in a shipwreck, the last thing she expects is for his twin brother, Callum Chatterton, to make a shock proposal.  Her inner romantic objects to a marriage of convenience – and brooding Cal makes it very clear that’s all it can be. Yet to save her family Sophia accepts with trepidation – and a highly inconvenient trembling of desire for her reluctant husband.

I enjoyed the first two books in the Shipwrecks trilogy enough to anticipate the third.  Unfortunately, I was highly disappointed. I honestly never connected with Cal and Sophia, which made it difficult for me to enjoy their story.  The conflicts that threaten their happiness throughout the book never felt big enough to be the cause of such dramatic separations.  The only saving grace of this book was the ability to revisit the characters from the first two books in the trilogy.

Final thoughts: If you’re going to read the first two books in the trilogy then I’d say continue on and read this one.  Otherwise….meh.

2 out of 5 Stars

Married To A Stranger by Louise Allen
Harlequin (2012)
Paperback: 288 pages
ISBN: 9780373296842

So, that wraps up my romance-themed catch up post!  Since this has been so helpful in closing the gap between books read and books reviewed, I’m planning another catch up in the future that will be centered around novellas.  As for now, look forward to regularly scheduled reviews in the days to come and as always, happy reading!

#57 A Review of Homespun Bride by Jillian Hart

The old saying “true love conquers all” is one we’re definitely familiar with.  Jillian Hart takes it to a whole new level in her inspirational romance, Homespun Bride.  Set on the wide plains of Montana in 1883, we’re treated to a story of adventure, overcoming obstacles, and love that defies all odds.

Noelle Kramer and her Aunt Henrietta are in trouble.  On a routine carriage ride home from town they become stuck in a fast-moving blizzard.  Not only are they alone, but Noelle is blind.  Five years prior, she lost her sight in a carriage accident that took the life of her parents.  She and her Aunt fight their way through the storm, when their horse is spooked by an incoming train (steam locomotives are a new invention at this time) and she is nearly thrown into an icy river by the rearing horse.  Miraculously, she is saved from almost certain death by a strange man who happened upon Noelle and her aunt at the exact time of their accident.  In another twist, this man is no stranger to Noelle.  Thad McKaslin was Noelle’s beau in their younger years, and they even went as far as planning to leave town and elope together.  Sadly, Thad never showed on the proposed night they were set to escape together.  What Noelle doesn’t know is that her father ran Thad out-of-town believing that he was not good enough for his daughter.  How will this sudden turn of events after so much time change the two of them?  Will Thad still have positive memories of Noelle after what occurred?  How will they be able to put the past behind them?

For people who are looking for something wholesome, this is a great fit.  It’s a tale of love, redemption, and forgiveness more than anything else.  Noelle has no idea why Thad left her all those years ago, and has been living under the misconstrued notion that her love for him was inadequate.  Thad, on the other hand, could easily win her back if he told her the real reasons of his departure, but his love for her is so deep that he would not do so in order to protect Noelle’s vision of her parents and the positive memories she has of them.  Noelle and Thad are refreshing changes for this genre because of the abnormal circumstances of the heroine being blind.  Thad is a steadfast character who refuses to accept Noelle’s blindness as a hindrance to any type of future with her.  At times, Noelle’s constant doubts of her own abilities got to me, especially considering the fact that she was very independent despite her blindness.  She is clearly capable of doing many complex tasks, including teaching piano, and is constantly aware of her surroundings.  She doesn’t allow her family to let her be a victim, so it was confusing that she placed no such restrictions on her own thoughts, constantly second guessing her own abilities and skills.  Other than this, Homespun Bride was a tale about love conquering all.  Sweet, romantic, and endearing, this is one romance that will tug at your heartstrings.

3 out of 5 stars

Homespun Bride by Jillian Hart
Steeple Hill Books (2008)
ebook: 292 pages
ISBN: 9781426830655

#49-55 The Naked Nobility Series by Sally MacKenzie

You’re probably wondering why I’m reviewing a seven book romance series all at once.  Well, it’s for several reasons.  First, I bought the entire series as a nook bundle pack.  (7 books for $20 was a bargain I couldn’t pass up!)  Secondly, upon finishing the seventh book I felt as though my feelings on each of the seven books was fairly similar and I figured I’d be repeating myself a lot if I did individual critiques of each book.  Thirdly, I finished my 82nd book yesterday, and as you can see am only up to reviewing in the 50’s range.  I’m so far behind on reviews that bundling seven together is going to help me catch up that much quicker.  With all that being said….on to the reviews!

If you choose to read this series, know that the books were written out-of-order.  Somewhere around the time of the fifth or sixth book being published a list was put together of what years each book took place, essentially creating a chronological order in which to read.  That list (as well as year published) is as follows:

  1. The Naked Duke (2005)
  2. The Naked Baron (2009)
  3. The Naked Marquis (2006)
  4. The Naked Earl (2007)
  5. The Naked Viscount (2010)
  6. The Naked Gentleman (2008)
  7. The Naked King (2011)

Each book is written as a stand-alone novel, but they have interconnecting characters.  If you choose to read the series, I would highly recommend reading them in order!  The characters pop up in multiple books, so knowing their back stories helps add a layer to their continuing character developments.  I won’t go overboard and spit out plots of each of the books, but suffice it to say each book has the hero and heroine winding up in a situation that forces them to marry if they wish to keep their families out of the scandal pages.  The heroines don’t want marriages caused by scandal, they want true love.  The men, on the other hand, have no idea that the women they are caught up with are actually just what they need.  Will the men wake up in time to realize how perfect these women are for them?  Will the women accept them before the men declare true love?

So my biggest complaint about this entire series is each book’s ending.  Each book has a central conflict that builds and builds but doesn’t really get resolved.  For example in The Naked Baron (prepare for spoilers) Grace, the heroine, is being forced by her father to marry a man she does not love.  She spends the entire book fighting her conflicting emotions of submitting to this loveless marriage for her father versus her growing feelings for Baron Dawson.  She finally stands up to her father and tells him she won’t marry the man he’s chosen for her.  He proceeds to lock her in her room and pushes her arranged marriage to the next morning.  She escapes in the middle of the night and winds up finding Baron Dawson at an inn down the road from her father’s home.  He was on his way to find her and profess his love and tell her that he wanted to marry her.  The two find a priest at the inn and get married. The end. What happened when her father discovered her?  How was that conflict resolved?  What happened to her “other” fiancée? Each book is left with these unresolved conflicts that just bothered me.  Yes, we’re relieved that the hero and heroine get together, but if you’re never going to resolve the main conflict that has come between them, what’s the point of making the reader read so much about it?  I really would have loved resolutions to the secondary conflicts of each novel.

Even with this MAJOR upset (for me) with each book I did find them chuckle worthy.  The heroines are a bit ditzy, and their comments and observations on society and life are actually pretty funny.  In  The Naked Marquis there is a society for the betterment of women that basically meet and drink a ton of brandy together.  Aunt Bea (their semi-leader) was hysterical and just said anything and everything that popped into her head.  Not only was their comedy within the novels, but a surprising amount of action as well.  The Naked Duke has a sequence including a kidnapping and subsequent knife fight while The Naked Viscount has an entire mystery that needs to be solved complete with spying, orgies, and whole hidden underground mafia like world.

If you choose to read the series I would highly recommend my favorites:  The Naked Duke, The Naked Viscount, and The Naked King.  The heroes and heroines of these novels were my favorites and had the best storylines.  I’d recommend this series for those looking for light-hearted, quick reads.

3 out of 5 stars

These are my twenty-fourth through thirtieth completed reviews for the Historical Fiction Challenge

The Naked Nobility Series Bundle by Sally MacKenzie
Kensington Publishing Company (2011)
eBook: 1719 pages
ISBN: 9781420125689

#48 A Review of Emerald (Jewel Trilogy #2) by Lauren Royal

Lauren Royal’s Jewel Trilogy is hands down one of my favorite romantic book series’ that I have read to date. (See my review of book one, Amethyst) The only other series that can come close in my eyes is Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove series.  Both have really interesting hero/heroines that aren’t weak-minded and make the series worth continuing.  Not only that, but the plots are creative and different!  Enjoying the creativity that the Jewel Trilogy offers, I delved right into Emerald, book two of the trilogy!

A continuation of the tale of the Chase family of England in the 1660’s, Emerald details the life of Jason Chase, the Marquess of Cainewood.  On a quest to bring Geoffrey Gothard, a noted murderer to justice.  Jason searches the countryside, battles with Gothard, who escapes, inadvertently injures an innocent man, and finally passes out due to wounds sustained in the battle.  In Scotland, Caithren Leslie has a problem.  She must marry within the year in order to claim her estate, or else it will revert to her brother Adam, who has not been present for many years.  Caithren, dressed as a man, travels to find her brother and bring him back to sign away the rights to the estate, only to run into Jason on his quest to find Gothard.  Jason soon discovers that this “lad” is actually a lassie, and he surmises that she is the famed Scottish bounty hunter Emerald MacCallum, looking for Gothard.  Although at first Caithren wants to be rid of this “commoner” (Jason does not tell her he is of noble birth), she soon realizes that she is falling for him.  Jason, too, becomes enamored with this mysterious woman, and does everything in his power to not let her get away.  Will they unite?  Will either of them be able to capture Gothard?

I enjoyed the fact that the plot was not essentially driven by events that ultimately made Jason and Caithren get together.  The sub-plots of Caithren searching for her brother and Jason searching for Gothard created depth in a genre that I haven’t typically associated depth with.  Most romances that I’ve read are uni-dimensional, while with Royal’s work we see two individuals whose feelings change over time in response to external events.

As I stated earlier, our hero/heroine combination are anything but weak-minded.  Jason is a moral paragon, constantly trying to do right by those around him and see that justice is served to those who attempt to do wrong to those he cares about.  His entire journey is started because Gothard nearly killed a little girl who lives in the village that is under his care.  A five-year-old girl who is no relation to him still is worthy enough in his eyes to risk his own life in the pursuit of justice for her.  Caithren, on the other hand, is willfully independent and refuses to be backed into a corner by her father’s will.  She will not see her beloved land fall to her irresponsible rolling stone of a brother.  She sets out on her own journey to make sure that if the land cannot be hers without marriage, it falls to her cousin, who is equally deserving of it.  Royal’s creation of all of these characters is a testament to her creative mind, and is also a testament to the fact that romance novels can have just as much depth as any other genre out there.  I highly suggest that if you’re into historical fiction you give this a try, as the history alone is a blast to read, and the dash of romance makes it that much more fun.

4 out of 5 stars

This is my twenty-third completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Emerald by Lauren Royal
Novelty Books (2012)
eBook: 792 pages
ISBN: 2940014066990

#37 A Review of The Painted Lady by Felicia Rogers

I’ve said many times before that I think it’s important to read outside of your usual reading comfort zone.  In doing so it offers you an opportunity to try out new genres, authors, and subjects.  In keeping with that line of thinking I accepted the opportunity to review The Painted Lady by Felicia Rogers, a contemporary inspirational romance novel.

John Tillman has died from cancer.  His wife feels that his cancer and subsequent death was due to his workplace conditions, yet it will take a hell of a legal battle to fight the large corporation that employed John.  Enter Bruce Malone, the new “it” lawyer at Hampton, Hampton, and Hampton.  Malone agrees to take on Mrs. Tillman’s case, not knowing the extent to which Tillman’s employer has gone in order to cover its tracks.  Once he realizes what he’s up against, he prays for a miracle.  And he gets one too, in the form of Elizabeth Smith, a formerly dowdy secretary that has been transferred into his office.  How will this unlikely hero help Malone win his case?

Before I begin my review I’d like to go on the record and say that I am not a religious person.  Just because I’m not doesn’t mean I begrudge people who are.  I’ve reviewed inspirational books before (see my reviews of The Silent Governess and The Apothecary’s Daughter) and have never had an issue with the religious points of the story.  I want to make clear that I don’t have issue with that in this case either.  My issues with the book are strictly fundamental, and have nothing to do with the religious plot devices.  With that out of the way, on to my review…

For those who have read other reviews on my blog, y’all know that I take issue with weak female heroines.  From the beginning I found Elizabeth to be a weak character, which I just can’t stomach.  Elizabeth currently works as the lead secretary in a law firm.  She herself graduated college and law school and had been a lawyer for a short time before deciding the work and stress wasn’t worth it.  She quit, moved to NYC to live in a townhouse that her aunt bequeathed to her, and started working as a secretary for a law firm.  Now ok, you quit your job because of stress, that is 100% fine.  If you hate your job you hate 50% of your day, and that’s really no way to live.  What I take umbrage with is the fact that in order for her to keep this job she has to dress dowdy and gross, simply because her boss’s wife is jealous.  When she changes her dowdy appearance and dresses like everyone else she if at first fired (and does/says nothing), then eventually reassigned to work for another lawyer.  Now in my head that is 100%  sexual harassment.  She didn’t walk into work in a bra and thong, she went from long flowing skirts (think a hippie) to dressing in professional business attire.  Elizabeth just accepts her fate as “oh well, I shouldn’t have changed my appearance” instead of fighting her boss to make the claim that she was still dressed professionally.  That instance right there was the beginning of an ever-present downfall for me.

Issue #2 was the setting.  Multiple clues lead you to believe that the book takes place in Manhattan, near Central Park.  Multiple references are made of Elizabeth’s townhouse near the edge of the large park that she runs in every morning.  Maybe this is just because I grew up near NYC, but this makes me think of the Upper East/West Side.  Now for those of you who have never been to the UES it’s NOT a bad neighborhood.  The townhouses are beautiful, the view of the park stunning; it’s an overall really good place to live.  Judging from events that happen to Elizabeth, had I never been to NYC and never been to the UES, I’d think she was living in a ghetto where drug dealers walk the streets with guns pointed at everyone at all times.  One particular instance stood out to me.  Elizabeth misses her stop on the bus and realizes she’ll need to get off the bus and retrace her steps back towards her office in order to get home.  She gets off a bus (that has a mom and three children on it) and proceeds to wait for another bus because (and I quote) “At this time of day, no respectable person was on the subway.”  I’m sorry – you just got off a bus with a mom and three children.  How late could it be? Maybe 8pm? I’ve been on the NYC subway by myself after 11pm and have never felt like I was going to be knifed or held at gunpoint.  Elizabeth realizes that her only way to get home is with the subway, gets on it, and gets attacked.  (Oh did I mention this is all after she got attacked by a homeless lady on the street who pulled a knife out and stole her shoes?)  I was left with a really bad taste in my mouth with the way NYC was portrayed.

My final issue had to be with the way Elizabeth’s family was.  She’s in her mid twenties. (This is a guess because it isn’t exactly specified, but judging from the fact that she graduated from law school it’d have to be her mid twenties)  Her parents call her every Sunday at the exact same time, and if she isn’t home they freak out so badly that they literally almost get on a plain to fly up from down south to make sure she’s ok.  When she starts dating Bruce and things begin going crazy at the office she misses a few of these calls.  Her brother calls her telling her that her neighbor has been calling her mom giving her status updates on who has been seeing entering and leaving her house and the amount of time these guests have been staying there.  I’m sorry, you’re in your mid twenties.  It’s time to stand up to mommy and daddy and be a big grown up girl.  Her parents find out about Bruce and her mom FREAKS out.  They have so little faith in her and her stance on her morals that they actually FLY UP FROM DOWN SOUTH randomly showing up on her front steps one day.  They start grilling Bruce about how he’s going to take care of her etc and just interject themselves in her life.  She and Bruce attend the rehearsal dinner for a wedding they’re both in and when they arrive back home, Elizabeth’s mother literally walks to the car and knocks on the window asking if she’s “coming out yet.”  The overbearing parents were the nail in the coffin for me.  I don’t know anyone my age who still allows their parents that much control over their lives.  It just seemed highly unrealistic to me.

Even with all of the above, Rogers weaves a heartwarming story of redemption and saving together.  She finds a way to make the problems of everyone’s lives have a simple solution.  I will give credit where it’s due and say that Rogers’ character’s beliefs are inspiring, and those that enjoy inspirational novels will definitely find solace and comfort in that.

2 out of 5 Stars

The Painted Lady by Felicia Rogers
Astraea Press (2012)
eBook: 283 pages
ISBN:  2940014059268

Special thanks to Astraea Press for my review copy!

#32 A Review of Fool For Love by Marie Force

After devouring Maid For Love, book one in Marie Force’s McCarthy’s of Gansett Island series, I knew I had to continue reading about the lives of the Gansett Island folk.  I couldn’t get enough of Force’s fun and witty writing style, so I knew I was definitely in for a treat when I cracked open Fool for Love, the second in the series.

This time, Joe (Mac’s best friend from Maid for Love) is the main interest.  Seeing Mac happy and in love makes Joe’s heart-break, as he is the unfortunate victim of unrequited love.  The object of his desire is Janey, Mac’s younger sister, who is engaged to a medical student living in Boston.  All that changes, however, when Janey finds her fiance in bed with another woman after she travels up to surprise him.  Furious and hurt, she leaves in a hurry only to have her car break down.  She calls the one person she knows will help her: Joe.  She’s always viewed Joe as a “fifth brother” whom she could confide anything in and turn to when times got tough.  Joe jumps at the chance to help Janey, but he is wary of her recent break up, and feels even more pressure when Janey decides to stay at Joe’s to recuperate before she travels back to Gansett Island to tell her family of her break up.  Will Joe be able to handle having Janey, who he’s always admired from afar, so close to him (and single) for the first time?  Will Janey begin to view Joe as more than just a friend?  What will Mac have to say about all of this?

I would normally have thought that the plot of this book was ridiculous, where a girl who has been in a relationship for 15+ years finds out that her boyfriend has been cheating on her, jumps into another man’s arms, and begins a relationship with him in the same night that she discovers the infidelity!  In reality I think that you would need more time in order to get over the shock of this event.  However, Force somehow makes all of this work, and even makes it believable to boot.  Joe’s ability to start this relationship with Janey is never in question, he’s pined over her for ages.  And while at first hesitant and scared of becoming a rebound, he eventually realizes that he may never be able to get another chance to show Janey that he’s the one for her.  Janey, on the other hand, is at first confused and conflicted in her feelings for Joe and what her impetuous behavior says about the relationship she had with David for the past 15 years.  When all of those feelings and emotions the two are feeling come together it is volatile, giving the reader a great story to follow along with.

The way in which Force incorporates the characters from her first work in this series into the plot of this work creates a very close-knit and believable community that ties the works together.  As we read more about the lives of those on Gansett Island, we get a better picture of the goings on in the community as a whole, effectively making the island its own character.  I can’t wait to see what else Force has in store for this series, and I know that once I get to know even more characters from this island I’ll fall in love all over again.

4 out of 5 Stars

Fool For Love by Marie Force
Marie Force (2011)
eBook: 632 pages
ISBN:  2940012576842

#31 A Review of A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove #1) by Tessa Dare

I’m still fairly new to the world or romance novels. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of them out there.  What can I say? Women are suckers for romance and hot men.  Throw in some Earls and Dukes and you can pretty much bet we’ll swoon all over them.  When I found out about The Spindle Cove trilogy by Tessa Dare I was intrigued because it had all the important makings of a good romance and then some.  Dare’s unique approach to the female characters is what drew me in for the first in the trilogy, A Night to Surrender.

Victor Bramwell (Bram)  is desperate to get back to his military lifestyle.  He’s suffered having to take time away from his regiment to heal his leg which was shot in battle.  With many military men hesitant to give him back his post he finds a last hope in his father’s old friend, Finch.  Finch is an old military man himself and sees fit to bestow the title of Earl of Rycliff on Bram, as well as a promise of his regiment back if he will stay in Spindle Cove for a month and establish a militia.  This is easier said than done, however, as Spindle Cove has developed a reputation as a retreat for spinsters and those women who don’t typically conform to the strict norms of society.

This “Spindle Cove” haven was begun by Finch’s daughter Susanna after a childhood illness left her too weak to be what society expected of her.  During a season she spent in London, she saw other women needing a safe retreat and began inviting them back to the cove in the hope that it would become a refuge for those who were different.  Whether they were of frail constitution or not the model of a genteel woman of the time, the women that Susanna brought to Spindle Cove were grateful for her assistance.  Although Bram decides that he will have nothing to do with Susanna and her retreat, he becomes more interested in Susanna as time passes, realizing that he needs her if he expects his militia to be a success.  Although Susanna has sworn off men in fear of what it could do to Spindle Cove’s reputation, she realizes that there is a strong attraction between herself and Bram.  Will Susanna slowly warm to the inevitable chemistry that is growing between them?  Will Bram get the militia in line and win back his regiment?

Why am I recommending that you read this book? Simply put, it is Dare’s approach to the female heroine.  In no way shape or form is Susanna your typical romance novel heroine.  She’s not a dreamer, waiting for the right man to come along and make her whole.  She’s a strong, independent, brilliant woman, who cares for the lives of the women of Spindle Cove as much as she cares for her aging father.  Spindle Cove is more than just her refuge, it’s a part of her.  When her entire back-story was revealed I stared at my Nook in shock.  Dare has her go through a multitude of unfortunate events that lead her to becoming the woman she is.  Her willingness to help everyone in the town and take all of their problems and misfortunes on her own shoulders is extremely admirable.  Bram on the other hand, is not your typical hero.  He’s got a chip on his shoulder and a lot to prove.  His military upbringing has him scared to believe anything else is possible for him, including a family.  The way that Bram and Susanna need each other is so damn romantic.

There is absolutely NO WAY you can read this book and not fall in love with Bram, Susanna, and the other residents of Spindle Cove.  This book is filled with romance, danger, and intrigue, surely leaving you on the edge of your seat for the entire read.  I do want to point out that there are mature love scenes, but my are they good ones.  Keep your eye out for the lovemaking that happens underneath a large tree in the field.  Honestly, that scene is one of the best love scenes I’ve read in a romance novel to date.  Dare does a fantastic job at setting up the story for book two in the series, A Week to Be Wicked.  (Of course I downloaded it to my nook at midnight on its release date!)  So, if you’re in the mood for a fun and intriguing romance with characters that are different from the norm, definitely check out A Night to Surrender.

5 out of 5 Stars

This is my fifteenth completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare
Avon Books (2011)
eBook: 312 pages
ISBN:  9780062049841