3 star review, DNF

August TBR Challenge 2016 Double Header – Defy Not the Heart by Johanna Lyndsey & Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

TBR Challenge 2016

Topic: Kicking It Old School (publication date 10 years or older)

Defy Not the Heart

Reina seethes with rage over her fate: taken captive by the knight Ranulf — a golden giant of a man — who has pledged to deliver her to the nuptial bed of the despised Lord Rothwell. She will never accept such bondage — and Reina offers herself to her kidnapped instead, offering to make Ranulf a great lord…if he agrees to wed her.But the brave knight desires much more than a marriage of convenience from this proud, headstrong lady who treats him with scorn yet makes his blood run hotter than liquid fire. She must come to him of her own free will — or Ranulf will take her. For the passion that consumes them both cannot long be denied — even though gravest peril surely awaits them on the heart’s trail to a destines and turbulent love.

This one has been on my TBR for some time, and it seems to be one of the few Johanna Lindsey books I can not remember having read during my teen Lindsey binging period. It has been published and then republished (multiple times) since 1989-so it fits comfortably in the TBR Challenge parameters. And just this past fall it was brought to my attention again, and once again slipped off my radar-I even had it checked out from the library and forgot to read it. I was going to do a different book for this challenge, but I figured NOW is the time.

This should have been my jam. Heroine starts out in armor defending her home. Hero has a cat. I hear good things. But alas, by the 5th chapter I was STILL trying to force myself to read it. Even reading the last chapter didn’t entice me to continue reading. I didn’t even get to any of the good parts when I had to quit. Something about the was the author used language just put me right off and had me crinkling my nose and curling my lips into a sneer.

I tried, really I did. I don’t remember if this is the way Lindsey has always written, or if this is unique to this particular book, but it really didn’t entice me to go back and reread anything. And pleasure reading really shouldn’t be this hard, so I finally gave up.

Defy Not the Heart (Shefford's Knights, #1)
But, since I got an early start on this one and had the time, i went ahead and tried for a second one.
Cold Comfort Farm

This was another recommended read, it is the oldest book on my TBR (published in 1932), it was immediately availalble from the library, and I was hoping a change was as good as a rest.

When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex.

At the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years.

But Flora loves nothing better than to organize other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand. A hilarious and merciless parody of rural melodramas, Cold Comfort Farm (1932) is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time.

I don’t know exactly what I just read, but it was unexpectedly delightful. Somehow much of it puts me in mind of my childhood memories of the Anne of Avonlea series…though I read those so long ago anyone with current experience could likely rightfully dispute me. The rest of the book is filled with onomatopoeia and ridiculousness. Half the words aren’t really words, and the rest of the words don’t often make sense when put together….if you stop and think about it. So whatever you do, don’t think about a bit of it and let the imagery the paint pictures in your mind.

So what that the cows might lose legs, and hooves, and their horns? Just enjoy how Flora cheerfully goes about managing everything in her midst until everything is just so. She plots and maneuvers with the best of intentions until everything falls perfectly into place, and then is left lonely and bereft. So what is a managing female to do but fall instantly in love with the man who won’t tolerate her managing, and him with her?

I suspect that there is much I am missing in this. But it seems the type of thing one can either read surface or deep, and enjoyment is possible at either level. I am not in raptures over it as some seem to be, but it was cute. And while I won’t likely be re-reading it, I do think I will recommend it to others. It is definitely unique if nothing else.

Cold Comfort Farm

Standard
3 star review

Review-If He’s Noble by Hannah Howell

If He's Noble

New York Times bestselling author Hannah Howell delivers adventure and instant attraction in this all-new Wherlocke Family novel…

For Lady Primrose Wootten nothing has been ordinary since her father the Baron died and his wayward family filled the estate with greed and treachery. Primrose knows if she can just track down her brother, he can send the odious relations on their way. But instead she finds this enormous, powerful stranger, and forgets entirely what she was doing in the first place…

Sir Bened Vaughn isn’t much afraid of a pistol. But he is a bit afraid of the woman holding it, who stirs up something so primal he’s not sure he can shake it off. Vaughn is an honorable man, and he knows he has no right to desire Primrose. Yet he does have an obligation to help her, and as they learn more about her brother’s disappearance, he realizes that means staying by her side…wanting her all the while… and wondering how much longer they can resist temptation…

So a little less than a year ago when THIS book came out, I binged, and binged, and binged, and binged, and binged, and binged (yes, that is 6) to prepare for this book and then I rather didn’t care to see another Wherlocke ever again. For some reason though this popped back to my attention and I figured maybe it was time to try to finish this off. Plus the 21rst Murray story is coming out in September, and I think I would feel guilty if I didn’t read this one first. Yes, I am strange.

What we have here is the epic trek. Primrose and Bened trek about all over the countryside killing people and foiling kidnapping and murder plots while searching for her brother. It is a romp. I actually expected a ton more “I am not good enough he/she is too good” etc, but there was only a little. What there was more of was adult like contemplation of the ramifications of their possible affair, which was a pleasant change from the usual fare.

There really wasn’t any mystery so this was more action oriented and on that it delivered fairly well. Primrose was charming and capable, and slightly ridiculous. Bened was stalwart as a good historical hero should be. And there was a ridiculous little plot pet of the man-eating purse rat variety.

I liked this one fairly well. No one was cheating, there were no protracted ridiculous separations, and there were happy endings all around (you know, if you consider bad people dying a happy ending, which I do). I hope if there is a next book it will be Modred’s, but I suspect it will be the brother’s.

If your local library has copies of these, I recommend them as a pleasant way to pass the time.

If He's Noble (Wherlocke)

Standard
4 star review

Review – The Last Hellion by Loretta Chase

The Last Hellion.jpg

She Needed to be Tamed . . .

She was a breathtaking firebrand, and Vere Mallory, the notorious Duke of Ainswood, had never seen anything like her. Although he thought he was rescuing Lydia Grenville from the cluches of a renowned wastrel, he quickly discovers she is angry at his interference! Amused by the sultry hell-cats’s fury, Mallory vows to teach her some humility — in life and in love.

He Was Just the Man to Do It.

Lydia Grenville was fuming. She was determined to savewomankind from disreputable rakes like the infamous Mallory, not to succumb to his scandalous charms. She finds herself overwhelmed by the scintillating sensations he brings to her body, but when she discovers that he has bragged that he’s going to “tame” her, Lydia vows to fight his advances . . . but nothing prepares her for the surrender she finds in his arms.

Ah, how Loretta Chase surprises me. Whereas Lord of Scoundrels enthralled me, Captives of the Night came just shy of boring me, so I didn’t have high hopes but was happy enough to read it, if you see what I mean. Kind of like cold pizza it is still enjoyable enough in its way. That was my expectation, but Chase knocked it back out of the park again, maybe a smidge below  LoS, but close. This one is also available on OpenLibrary with the usual disclaimers.

Lydia Grenville was an Amazon, both in deed and in person. You know who she kind of reminded me of? Helen from Catherine Coulter’s The Courtship. I had to give up on Coulter because you never knew when you would run into a so-called “hero”and “love” story that were absolutely stomach churning, but this one I remember with delight because of its Amazonian heroine, and the current amazing heroine may be prompting a reread of a book I literally wore the spine out of so many years ago.

Vere I simply wasn’t looking forward to though. He made a showing in Lord of Scoundrels that did not endear him to me. But, as seems to be Chase’s way, she turned that initial impression on its head. He was maybe not right, but he did have his reasons for behaving the way he did, and in the end I had empathy.

Rather than being focused on the mystery, this one mainly focused on the relationship as LoS did, and it really, really worked for me. Their courtship was almost as unusual as unusual as Jessica’s and Sebastian’s, though not nearly as violent.

We have some nice twists of mystery, delightful character growth, and most loose ends of the series were tied up. It was also delightful to see Jessica’s brother Bertie grow up some and find some happiness, he wasn’t an interesting enough hero to carry his own book, but the slice of Bertie we got was ridiculously sweet. We also get to see just how she weaved in characters and events from all the books, supporting characters just are never what they seemed, and Francis Beaumont was an interesting if despicable thread throughout. The only complaint I have about the series as a whole is that there seems to be a thread dangling in the form of one Andrew Herriard, and I desperately wish we knew what happened to him (if he popped up anywhere else, some please enlighten me).

This is an altogether lovely series, and this one the delightful cherry on top. I can’t believe I waited so very long to stumble onto Chase, but am glad to have some back list to glom. Especially since she seems to have a delightful feminist flair for her heroines. Each of them have been strong-willed, not in the least mishish, and perfectly willing to either go toe to toe or be devious sneaks as needs must. I find them delightful.

The Last Hellion (Scoundrels, #4)

Standard
3 star review

Review – Captives of the Night by Loretta Chase

Captives of the Night.jpg

Leila Beaumont is a gorgeous and talented portrait painter trapped in a loveless marriage with her profligate husband, Francis. Though long ago, Francis very much played the hero, rescuing and wedding the orphaned 17-year-old Leila – Francis’ more recent hedonistic lifestyle of drinking, drugging and womanizing has not only earned him quite a few enemies in London, but lost him the love of his wife.

When Francis turns up dead in the Beaumont townhouse, right after a loud and vitriolic argument with his wife, Leila is seen as the primary suspect, innocent though she is. Because of Francis’ many enemies and victims, government officials instigate a quiet investigation, many of whom fear fallout from Francis’ numerous blackmail and extortion schemes.

The man they call on – the sexy blue-eyed Comte d’Esmond – is a man of many talents who has spent the past ten years as one of the government’s most trusted covert operatives; a man who also has a dark and treacherous past.

Neither Leila, nor d’Esmond is especially happy to be working together – their relationship is one of intense attraction accompanied by intense resistance. Leila had long ago given up on the idea of love and saw her husband as a means of propriety in London, but now she finds the dangerous Esmond’s seductive charm nearly irresistible.But work together they must: Esmond, with a carefully hidden identity that would shock Leila to the core and Leila with her own secrets to keep…

It’s danger that unites them and it’s danger that chains their hearts: Esmond’s virility and bold touch enflame Leila’s blood…and draw her into the most irresistible intrigue of all…truly passionate love.

I read these out of order, being captivated by Lord of Scoundrels I had to go back, but fortunately my library had the entire series available for immediate checkout. It turns out though, that books 2-4 in the series are somewhat intertwined. While this one does start out before the events of book 3, if I am reading it aright, it actually spans past book 4. So I am not entirely certain how it is book 2 in the series, but whatever, just know it is possible to read them out of order and be able to follow along, but perhaps for the way the characters in this story (in my opinion) suffer by comparison, it might be best to read them in order.

And I hate to say it, but this one just doesn’t quite come up to LoS’s level. Don’t get me wrong, it is good, quite good, and Loretta Chase has a hell of a way of turning a phrase, writing interesting characters, and mysteries. I don’t know, it just didn’t hit me quite the same way. Maybe it is that I read them out of order?

In any event, Leila is a strong willed and self possessed woman. She’s almost a little too perfect perhaps. She’s artistic and wickedly clever, almost preternaturally so. The Comte d’Esmond is almost ridiculously opaque, though Leila figures him out soon enough. There was a reasonable degree of chemistry there I suppose, they just didn’t come close to extremes exhibited by Jessica and Sebastian. Kind of like fuzzy copies, Leila just wasn’t near the tyro that Jessica was, and while Esmond had his own sad story, he just couldn’t tug my heart strings like Sebastian did. Perhaps if I had read the first book in the series (something it turns out I have no interest in doing), I might have had more sympathy for him…or maybe not.

What really shined though was the mystery and how they just kept turning through suspects and incidents and intrigues, like a a two headed snake that was eating itself, it kept me racing through the pages. I simply had to find out what happened next.

I don’t know what to say, overall it was middling so there’s just not much to say, it is good enough that it wouldn’t put me off reading her if I had started here, but I don’t think it is her strongest effort and it won’t be going on my re-reads shelf.

Captives of the Night (Scoundrels, #2)

Standard
4 star review

July TBR Challenge 2016 – Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase

TBR Challenge 2016

Topic: Award Nominee or Winner

Lord of Scoundrels

DETERMINED LADY

Tough-minded Jessica Trent’s sole intention is to free her nitwit brother from the destructive influence of Sebastian Ballister, the notorious Marquess of Dain. She never expects to desire the arrogant, amoral cad. And when Dain’s reciprocal passion places them in a scandalously compromising, and public, position, Jessica is left with no choice but to seek satisfaction …

LORD OF SCOUNDRELS

Damn the minx for tempting him, kissing him … and then forcing him to salvage her reputation! Lord Dain can’t wait to put the infuriating bluestocking in her place — and in some amorous position, And if that means marriage, so be it! — though Sebastian is less than certain he can continue to remain aloof … and steel his heart to the sensuous, headstrong lady’s considerable charm.

This particular month’s challenge was RITA Award Winners and Finalists, and it turns out I actually had several to choose from on my TBR.

This particular book has been on my TBR since I discovered Doc Turtle’s analysis at SBTB. This won’t be my first Loretta Chase, as that honor goes to Mr. Impossible, which was fantastic. I was actually fortunate enough to get this book digitally from the library, so whoohoo for saving money (and it turns out it is available from Open Library), but Lord of Scoundrels is actually the third book in the series, and I do not have time to read the others first, so I am jumping in and hoping for the best. It is a generally well liked book so I’ve got my fingers crossed, and since it is so well and often reviewed, and more than 20 years old, I shan’t apologize for any possible spoilers, you have been warned.

The story starts with a rather unhappy marriage and an even unhappier young Sebastian. Seriously, there ought to be a law against some people procreating. So he grows up hard and crude, and stunted emotionally. He has no faith in women or love and is basically an awful, awful person with a ton of self loathing.

Jessica Trent on the other hand is what turns this book from historical to wallpaper historical in my opinion. She is simply out there. Basically Chase plopped a contemporary (albeit slightly insane) heroine into a historical, AND I JUST DO NOT EVEN CARE! Seriously, Jessica is a trip and makes the story. She’s acerbic and strong willed, devious, and supremely competent. She’s runs circles around her brother Bertie, bowls over the hero, and takes the insults and stupidities of Sebastian’s rakish friends like Vere Mallory in her stride. And she doesn’t belittle herself for being a normal human being. In short, she’s my idea of delightful.

And their “courtship” can best be summed up in their most common phrase to one another “I should like to see you try.” Irresistible force meets unmovable object doesn’t even begin to cover it. It is a series one one ups and misunderstandings that are epic in their proportions. Meanwhile, they are both actually being very upfront and vulnerable to each other, though they each suspect the other’s motives and can’t see that fact.

Their “courtship” culminates with Jessica shooting Sebastian, so naturally enough he HAS to marry her, there is no other way for him to top that. At which point our protagonists finally get some extended time to work through their issues, and Sebastian in particular starts seeing the world and himself through a very different lens, which changes everything. And naturally they fall in love and live happily ever after.

So what if that sounds trite, it isn’t, and it is seriously delightful. My only issue I think comes from jumping into the series at a mid point, because it seemed as though there were characters that I should already know. However, going back and reading the blurb for Captives of the Night (book 2), it looks like that actually happens AFTER Lord of Scoundrels, so I am a little confused. In any event, following completion of LoS, I immediately checked out books 2 & 4, so I should get that all cleared up in my mind fairly shortly.

Lord of Scoundrels (Scoundrels, #3)

Standard
3.5 star review

May TBR Challenge 2016 – Uprooted by Naomi Novik

TBR Challenge 2016

Topic: Something Different (outside your comfort zone, unusual setting, non-romance etc.)

Uprooted

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

150 year old hero with teen girl, yeah, that is outside my comfort zone, and I rarely read straight fantasy except for a few authors I’ve kept around for a long time. And NA/YA rarely goes well for me. But this was so well reviewed by people whose opinions I usually agree with, that it has been languishing on my pile. But then I came across another review last month, that left me feeling blegh about starting this one. And on top of my current slump, I approached it with some trepidation.

Warning: There will be spoilers. I don’t feel bad because this book has been out for a good long while.

But it was, well it was in turns delightful and horrid really. For the first third of the book there were no romantic urgings or longings, no heat or tension between the two main protagonists, just one young girls’ journey of self discovery-love, hate, jealousy, need, and personal growth. And the magic, both technical and lyrical in its turns kept me captivated. But if you need a well-defined magic system in place this may not work for you, here-at least the way Agnieszka does it, it is more art than anything else.

That’s not to say that it was perfect. Besides the grossly May December romance that was blooming, there was something in the voice of the novel that I just couldn’t quite like. You know how Katniss’ voice in the Hunger Games was somehow a step remote and cold? This was about two steps farther than that. And the way Sarkan treated her was abominable and never really reconciled. The way the initial scene with Prince Marek where he attempts to rape Agnieska and when she successfully defended herself Sarak got bent out of shape AT HER, and his solution was to let the would be rapist think he’d succeeded, that rankled entirely throughout the book. I was also set to be upset about how her “womanly” magic was so often denigrated throughout the story-but the longer I looked at it the more it seemed that the rest of them were so bound by rules that it showed more a lack in them than in her, so that worked out okay in the end for me.

But still, it kept me hooked so I almost didn’t care that I was perturbed at the voice and some of the characters. But most lovely thing of all, for my piece of mind, the one thing that kept me from being completely irate, the moment the tension did appear between our two protagonists, they separated. And Agnieszka was left to fumble, and fight, and learn her way through the next half of the story. And she received her own autonomy and freedom by being put on the lists in her own right. There’s adventure, death, and betrayal that she makes her way through before the two are reunited. Basically she did some much-needed growing up, so that I thought her less of a child, and this is key-was no longer in any way under Sarkan’s power. And in many ways I was able to see Sarkan more as a lonely stunted man. This is a fairy tale, so of course they were going to end up together. And I could have done without that aspect to be honest, but at least it didn’t squick me out as much as it might have.

But the reason for the sorcery and The Wood, and the way it all played out? That was, if not entirely to my liking (it was almost inexpressibly sad) it was entirely engrossing and not at all what I was expecting. And THAT was the happy(ish) ending that really worked for me. Girl getting guy? Yeah, somehow that part of the ending left me feeling a trifle saddened in a way that I am finding difficult to articulate. I think I honestly didn’t want them together. Don’t get me wrong, they meshed in a way that I think set a foundation that will last. But female friendship and love that lasts through every hardship and even seeing the ABSOLUTE worst in the other, that is the kind of priceless I don’t often get and was what made it work for me.

So, do I recommend it? That is hard to say. I overall enjoyed reading it and don’t feel it was a waste of my time. But I am glad to have been able to check it out of the library rather than spending money. And despite the fact that I am a massive re-reader, I doubt that I will re-read this one. Though I do I agree with others that it may actually be worth rereading, that there are layers yet to be plumbed. So it is a tricky one. But in general I think yes I would recommend it, with the caveats that if you want any of the following then this isn’t the book for you: real romance, real YA/NA, a really wrong hero groveling, or a strong and consistent magical system. Otherwise, if the idea of a fairy tale sounds like it might hit the spot, this might be a good choice.

Uprooted

Standard
3 star review

April TBR Challenge 2016 – Taking the Heat by Victoria Dahl

TBR Challenge 2016

Topic: Contemporary

Taking the Heat

Passion this hot can’t be faked…

All revved up for bright lights and steamy nights, writer Veronica Chandler chased her dreams to New York City. When she hit a dead end, reality sent her back home to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Saving her pride and her new gig—writing a relationship advice column!—requires some faking. No one can know the truth about her big-city flop or her nonexistent sex life. But the town’s irresistibly rugged librarian is determined to figure her out… and give her hands-on lessons in every wicked thing she wants to know.

Gabe MacKenzie’s heart might be in Wyoming, but secretly his future’s tied up in his family’s Manhattan legacy. Getting down and dirty with Veronica is supposed to give him a few memorable nights—not complicate his plans. But the thing about heat this scorching is there’s just no going back… and it might be too hot for either of them to take.

I don’t read a ton of contemporary, but some way, somehow, this was the series that reminded me about libraries, and got me into borrowing ebooks from the library.

I’ve enjoyed this series because it is about grown-ups, about women I could see being friend with and going out for a Girl’s Night with. But this particular book, it felt a little NA. We have two main protagonists who while a little older than the NA crowd, are still desperately trying to figure out their futures, and not being honest with their families or themselves about what they want.

The only thing that saved it for me was that it was punny and the banter was hilarous and dorkily hot. Plus, hunky male librarian? Yeah, that will cover a host of sins, including said hunky librarian being a lying, misrepresenting, polecat.

But the “Girls” are still a ton of fun and I can absolutely imagine girl’s night out with the bunch of them. The only problem is there’s not more page time with them.

What makes this story though is Veronica, she starts out so timid and afraid and SHE decides to grow and change and implements everything on her own and for herself. But since we readers already know that Gabe is a lying, misrepresenting, polecat, it just makes it kind of awful in a lot of instances.

In the end we have the power of love and change and the story was left on a we’re giving this a chance and not declarations of undying love and matrimony. So it DOES work, it just wasn’t completely successful for me. But it was well written, often very funny, ans the sex scenes were delightfully realistic (for the most part). It is worth the read if you are a fan of the series, but while it probably could be read as a stand alone, I don’t advise it because I don’t think it is the best of the bunch. Start with the first novella, it is the best.

I don’t know if this is the end of the series or not, but since I am still holding out for Jill’s book, I’m not marking this as a closed/ended series.

Taking the Heat (Jackson: Girls' Night Out, #3)

Standard