3.5 star review

OpenLibrary Review – Mischief by Amanda Quick

Mischief

Imogen Waterstone has always prided herself on being a thoroughly independent young woman, but now she needs a man of implacable will and nerves of iron. That’s why she invited Matthias Marshall, infamous Earl of Colchester, to her home in Upper Strickland. Who better than the legendary explorer to help her lay the perfect trap?
Her scheme is simple, really: She plans to let it be known that when she inherited her uncle’s collection of antiquities, she also inherited a map to a fabulous ancient treasure. She’s sure that her enemy would risk financial ruin in pursuit of the mythical artifact. And to make doubly sure the scoundrel took the bait, she wants Colchester to pretend that he’s out to seduce Imogene so that he, too, could get his hands on her map.

Yet in all of her plotting, Imogene never anticipates Colchester’s violent reaction to her request or her own electrifying reaction to him. Neither does she expect that a malevolent threat would emerge from the labyrinth of London–sinister enough to endanger her and Colchester’s lives.

It was bound to happen sooner or later when I am on a comfort reading binge. Amanda Quick has been a shelter in the storm for me for a long, long time. I read them new, and I read them old, and I re-read them regularly whenever life happens. So it is actually kind of surprising that it has taken me so long to get back to her this time.

This is yet another one that is available on OpenLibrary, and again, I am reading my personal copy so I can not vouch for the scan (though all the ones I have borrowed form OpenLibrary have been good), and I highly suggest you borrow the PDF version and not the EPUB, unless you like playing the OCR text recognition atrocity game.

As with many of Quick’s books, the heroine belongs firmly in the competence porn category, along with a helpful dose of naivete and fresh faced innocence. Imogen is a blue stocking who was raised by her Original parents as something of a social experiment, and in many ways it shows. She is a confusing mix of over-educated bluestocking and completely uneducated socially. But she goes full tilt to whatever she believes in. Heroines like this are why Quick is comfort reading for me. It is pleasant to be in the head of a capable woman (rather than a damsel in distress) who also still has some happiness and lightness to her, who can see the good in life despite negative circumstances.

Colchester is the stock Quick hero, technically brilliant, removed from life, dark, and recognizing rather early how much he needs the heroine in his life. Quick’s heroes are stock wish fulfillment.

So basically I have blathered on about how stock and typical and cut from the same cloth Quick’s stuff is, which is true (Duh, comfort reading), but what gives it that little edge, for me, is how charming the characters are, and all the little details that suck me into their stories.

The problems are always different, but there is nothing that comes up that can’t be solved with a little logic and some fortitude, and love is transformative in lovely little ways. Quick’s books, especially the older ones, tend to leave me with a rosy little glow. I couldn’t say there’s any one thing in this one that makes it stand out more than her other historicals, it is just that it is just enough different to not be the same one, if you see what I mean. So, I’ll just bask in my after glow and drink my tea while contemplating the next one I’ll read.

Mischief

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3.5 star review

OpenLibrary Review – A Coral Kiss by Jayne Ann Krentz

A Coral Kiss

With twenty-two New York Times bestsellers and millions of readers, Jayne Ann Krentz is one of the most popular romance superstars of our time. Now treat yourself to her deft and incomparable brand of riveting and sexy suspense in her classic tale of a woman, a man, and destiny’s many unexpected twists.

Successful author Amy Slater had a life in need of mending. And Jed Glaze proved to be the right man for the job after the pair hit it off as fabulously good friends. Then one day Jed shows up with a mysterious injury of his own—and suddenly dark, confounding, yet utterly irresistible Jed becomes a lot more than “just a friend”.

Now it’s a time for not only mutual healing and delightfully sensuous nights but for sharing secrets that could prove a little dangerous for them both. On a jaunt to a Pacific island paradise, Amy and Jed will unearth the key to the unsolved murder that has haunted Amy’s nights—and discover how surprisingly and exquisitely fated two seemingly mismatched hearts can be.

Yeah, so reading Secret Sisters prompted a re-read. Luckily it’s available on Openlibrary so I have a good excuse for reviewing it here. (Why I need an excuse, I don’t know. I mean, it’s my blog, I can review what I want. But I never said I wasn’t neurotic.)

In any event, my usual Openlibraryu disclaimer applies, if you’re checking out the book from OpenLibrary, then you need to check out the PDF…unless you enjoy playing the bad OCR game. I can’t verify the quality of the scan because I’m reading my personal copy, but most of the time they do a good job.

Basically, I re-read this specifically because when I was reading Secret Sisters this was one of the books that came to mind when I was thinking “Wait this isn’t any darker, grittier, or edgier than…“. And I remembered liking it. So bear with me, because there are going to be comparisons between the two books. I can neither guarantee that if you haven’t read either book you’ll either understand the review or not be spoiled. I’ll try to be clear, that is kind of the point. And I’ll try not to spoil people. But no promises, feel free to step off the crazy train if needed. Also, I always have a bad habit of not referring to characters by name, and that is much more likely to be irritating here when I am actually talking about two or three sets of characters, mea culpa.

The first thing I noticed was how much more comfortable the dialogue felt in this older novel. That could be due to a couple of reasons. One, it could be due to the fact that I have read this before, maybe it feels more comfortable because I am more familiar with it. Or two, it could be because these characters already have backstory, which then the other component may be that it was a purposeful stylistic choice she made in the newer novel in deference to the fact that they don’t have as much backstory.

The second thing I noticed was how much more of the focus was on the characters and their thoughts and feelings in the older novel, compared to a greater focus on events and dialogue in the newer novel. I agree with Krentz’s assessment that the focus IS different in her latest novel. The older is more romance with suspense whereas the newer is more suspense with romance. Let me try that again. The older novel, the main focus is on the relationship, and while there is significant suspense and mystery, much of it is couched in how it affects the characters, their perceptions of each other, and their relationship. The newer book is more about the mystery and the twists and turns, and the relationship is more along for the ride, it wasn’t that is was merely appended, but that their relationship wasn’t the lens through which we viewed the mystery.

There are significant similarities between the two books though. For instance, both heroes are super masculine, highly capable, associatied with governmental investigations that give them negative views of the world, AND they each have one softening feature that leavens their character and that they rely on to ease the stresses of their lives. The newer book utilizes cooking while the latter has the hero make fancy bird cages as a hobby. Of course the older book the dialogue seems a little snappier and makes me giggle snort rather than it feeling defensive.

“When I decide to get an agent, I’ll consult you. In the meantime, no more sneaking around behind my back buying birdcages without my permission, understand?”

I don’t know, it just made me laugh.

As for our two heroines, they both have had traumatic pasts that impact their lives. I suppose one could say that having terrible events happen in childhood, as Secret Sisters does, makes it darker, but that isn’t my perspective. The thing that strikes me though, is how much more agency the character in A Coral Kiss had, she does creates action she does effect (or affect) the outcomes. The heroine in Secret Sisters has things happen to her and around her, but she does comparatively little to shift the events of the narrative. So while the more current heroine is nominally written more feminist, it seems more surface and window dressing. And the heroine in the older novel is written much more feminine and nurturing outwardly, but that again is more surface when underneath it all I’d say the older heroine is actually the stronger character, in this respect. It is an interesting dichotomy.

But here’s something remarkably, I don’t know, “meta” from A Coral Kiss. The heroine is a writer and the hero is thinking about her book.

“The tone had seemed darker than the others, not as adventurous and lighthearted in its dealing with the perils faced by the hero and heroine. In a way it had been a better book, richer in detail and characterization, but there had been an uneasy edge to it that set it apart from the others.”

How’s that for some sort of cosmic sign that I picked the right book to compare Secret Sisters to?

Things were going asking swimmingly, and I came to a screeching halt. How did I not notice this when I read it previously? How did I not remember it? The heroine slaps the hero because she’s pissed at him. I couldn’t believe it. I don’t mind the somehow dated sex scenes and dated man/woman interactions, but that’s almost a deal breaker. I guess my perspectives have changed, which in this case is all too the good. So I reminded myself this thing was published in 1987, so almost 30 years ago, a lifetime in the publishing industry, and was on my merry way.

In any event, bottom line, I disagree that there is anything darker in the new one. I think this is classic Krentz, the sort of thing she does so well, maybe with more emphasis on the suspense, but the overall bones are the same.

A Coral Kiss

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4.5 star review

OpenLibrary Review – Ransom by Julie Garwood

Ransom

This book is available on OpenLibrary, but since I am re-reading my own copy I am unable to vouch for the integrity of the scan.

This is the sequel to The Secret, and the hero of this book is the rough, tough and growly Brodick, featured heavily in that book. Don’t you just love a good growly hero?

Gillian the heroine is also a strong, capable, (are you starting to see a pattern in Garwood’s heroines?) and wily heroine, and there is a delightful friendship between her and another woman, which as I have previously mentioned, is an aspect I enjoy in my reading. But really? I have to be honest, Brodick is who makes this story for me. He’s such a delightfully crotchety and recalcitrant hero that I could just eat him up with a spoon. Also, the plot is much more exciting than the previous story.

This particular story is unique in that there are actually a couple of different mysteries to be solved, and you can definitely see in this story how Garwood was starting to transition to romantic suspense. Ransom was published December 1999 and then one month later, as far as I can tell, is when her first romantic suspense was published. And she’s only published one more historical since she started writing romantic suspense, the conclusion of this series, which neatly ties in to the contemporary romantic suspense series. There are actually a few Easter eggs for fans of her historicals in her current series.

There are also two romances going on here, which some people find the second a bit tacked on, but I appreciated the foil the two heroes provide for each other. The secondary hero, Ramsey, is a beautiful and much harried by women character. He is the obviously kind and compassionate to Brodick’s gruff, tough, and unrelenting. And the two are best friends, though they wouldn’t talk about their relationship like that. However, Brodick seems to be the more astute in understanding human nature, albeit perhaps only slightly. Ramsey is a very stupid man 😉

The crux of the story is that Gillian is on a mission to go into the highlands to find her missing sister and a box belonging to the king of England. There is a mystery tied to the box and the villain of the story, Baron Alford, needs to obtain it in order to cover his crimes, and is holding Gillian’s uncle hostage to ensure her cooperation. Meanwhile, Laird Ramsey is having unrest in his own clan as he attempts to merge a smaller, leaderless clan into his own (at their request), and a young boy has been stolen and brought to Baron Alford for nefarious purposes. So, Gillian decides to rescue the boy, bring him back to his family, find the treasure, and rescue her uncle. Fortunately for her, the child she rescues has Brodick for a protector.

And that is not even the half of it. Writing it out like that makes it seem preposterous and ridiculous, but let me tell you, somehow it all seems very reasonable while you are reading. The banter though, that does tend toward the comically ridiculous, but in a good way. It is funny, not laugh out loud funny, more giggling funny, but funny nonetheless.

Evil doers get their comeuppance, good guys win, true love prevails-even for the curmudgeonly, and all that jazz. This is a happy, fun book that that isn’t just about the two protagonists. It is another one that makes my comfort reads.

Ransom (Highlands' Lairds, #2)

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5 star review

OpenLibrary Review – The Secret by Julie Garwood

Secret

This book is available at OpenLibrary, however, I am rereading my own personal copy so I can not vouch for the integrity of the scan.

This is another Garwood historical with a strong capable heroine, which is something I always enjoy reading. But what struck me most about this book is that while it is a romance, friendships, particularly between women, is a large part of the plot. I can’t for sure say this was the first romance I read with strong relationships outside the romantic leads, but if not, it was probably close and it is the one that has stuck with me all these years.

Once upon a time, in a land that vaguely resembles historical Scotland, an English girl and a Scottish girl became friends before they ever knew there was reason for enmity. Judith was a solemn little girl with a miserable mother and a drunkard of an uncle for a guardian, but she had a loving aunt and uncle and that is how she ended up at a border festival to meet Frances Catherine. Frances Catherine had two names, because she was named after her mother and her grandmother who each died from child-birth and were not buried on holy ground because they were considered ritually unclean, and so her father wanted her names to remind god of those women. It also, quite naturally gave her a fear of child-birth. So Judith made Frances Catherine a promise to find out everything she could about child-birth, and to attend her when her time came. And that is where the conflict of the story comes into play. Frances Catherine wound up in the highlands and her husband’s promise is one that his brother, the laird, felt bound to honor it. He, like all the men in this piece doesn’t get that women can be trusted friends.

Needless to say, Judith comes as quite a shock to the system. Shocker of all shockers, Judith is a proto-feminist. She’s also something of a Mary Sue, good at everything and capable of making friends with everyone. But she was so unpretentious without being down on herself that I didn’t even care. And while the romance with Ian was very sweet, the star of this particular book was her relationships with all the women in the clan. Judith changes everything, but relatively gently, not coming into a different culture and telling the women what they are doing wrong. She just started making friends, presenting opportunities, and standing up to the men. If ever there had been a feminist uprising in historical Scotland, this is a way I could imagine it happening. There is even a very woman-power, female solidarity scene at the end that still gives me the warm fuzzies after all these years.

In the end Judith finds family, love, friendships, and makes a place for herself, all with her own irresistible charm and pragmatic take on life. I revisit her story again and again.

The Secret (Highlands' Lairds #1)
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5 star review

OpenLibrary Review – Queen’s Own by Mercedes Lackey

Queens Own

Once upon a time, when I was still in college, I went through a phase where I was too “grown up” for reading romance. So, I read a ton of fantasy and science fiction. I was also broke as all get out, and living in south-east Texas in the summer with only enough money for either food or air conditioning. Needless to say I spent almost all my waking hours in the university library, and I gravitated towards enormous books that gave me plenty of excuses to stay there for hours on end. And one such set of books were these gigantic hardcover books that I only later realized were trilogy omnibuses and not single books. Openlibrary doesn’t have a copy of Queen’s Own, but they do have the first two books in the trilogy which is more than  enough to determine if you are going to want to seek out the third. Or you can just wait until next month, when the complete trilogy will be released altogether in digital form for the very reasonable price of $7.99.

While this isn’t the sort of series I can read regularly, or even annually, I keep coming back to it every few years, and it always hits me just as hard. The very first time I read it, I was sitting in that nice cool library, grateful for air conditioning I could enjoy without cost, and feeling conspicuous for having been in there from opening to closing for the past week or so. It didn’t even matter, within a few pages I was sucked into the story. And on several occasions I sobbed openly in public, unable to help myself. They probably thought I was crazy, but I didn’t care about that either. These books still make me cry, even knowing what is coming, and in some places even more since I do know what is coming.

While this isn’t a romance, it does have a romance element, and a happily ever after, so don’t worry on that score. But what it really is, is the story of the journey of one girl. It sounds simple, just Talia and her life. But there is this whole fantastical, magical world she’s in, a history and a mythology, and of course Talia isn’t so simple. Magic and fantasy, a strong and yet vulnerable heroine, plotting and intrigues. These are not flat or one-dimensional novels. They feel alive. These books were published in the mid 80’s, so before there was Harry Potter, there was Talia. They aren’t for kids, at all, but if you are an adult who has loved Harry Potter, and you haven’t checked these out yet, I think they will be very well worth your while. This is a trilogy that spawned an entire world you can get lost in. But most story arcs are in discrete and manageable trilogies, so it is easy enough to step out and back in again as you please.

5 stars

Queen's Own (Valdemar: Arrows of the Queen #1-3)

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4.5 star review

OpenLibrary Review – The Bride by Julie Garwood

The Bride

For years and years, this had been one of my most often re-read books. I don’t read it so often now, as I have over time increased the number of books on my re-read shelf, but probably annually I pick it and the sequel back up. Yes, I have annual Julie Garwood gloms. They bring me joy and comfort. And it seems amazing that anyone shouldn’t have read it yet. But, it turns out that there are people who have not been turned on to the wonders of Garwood, and recently I stumbled upon a group that is about to do a read/re-read and discussion of this book. So I of course had to join in.

While this book is available on OpenLibrary, I am reading my personal copy so I can not verify the quality of the scan. This book was originally published in 1989, though I didn’t get my hands on it until probably the mid 90’s. Wow, that is around 20 years ago. And what I remember about it was how spunky the heroine is, that she successfully stood up to her husband, and I remember that she was capable and skilled. It was also laugh out loud funny for me. I remember laughing like a loon in the back of the library and being so grateful for that very innocuous white and gold cover. All those things were ground breaking for me. Sure, now you’ll find spunky, smart, capable heroines in funny romance stories littering the ground, but back then they were few and far between in my world. That may have been partially local area library selection, but I think mostly it was just the times, there seemed to be a real emphasis on damsels in distress romantic fiction. This was so not the same as everything else on the shelves, and I was absolutely enthralled. And just this week I FINALLY found the term to describe my joy. It is COMPETENCE PORN! “John Rogers, one of the producers of the TV show Leverage, coined the term to express how sexy it is to watch highly trained, super competent people doing what they do best. This is it, and I love it so hard.” So I now have a new description, a new tag (should I go back and retag my old reviews?), and a better way to describe and express what it is I like about most of the books that I read, even if they set other people off. This book may not ne the epitome of competence porn, but it was almost certainly my first taste of it.

We start with Jamie, who while she is the youngest child, manages everything in her household, except the setting of the guards and the collecting of the tax. Despite her duties, she is full of life and mischief. As so many times happens in life, when you live and work with people you can’t really trust, the one thing you don’t do, is the one thing that comes back and bites you on the rear. in this case, her stepfather has failed to send the tax to the king, which sets of a chain reaction that results in two of the young daughters having to be married to Scotsman. Jamie’s father thinks he’ll hide Jamie so he can keep her running his household in comfort, but a well meaning and lovingly interfering stablemaster makes sure Jamie gets her chance to leave, no matter how much she thinks she doesn’t want to or how much he’ll miss her himself. For a woman who has confused need and dependence for love, this is the escape she needs,

Jamie is highly competent, particularly for the time period. She can read and write, she’s bilingual, she’s a healer, and she’s an accomplished hunter and rider. And she’s kind of snarky and belligerent (in an old school way). And if she’s going to be shipped off to the Highlands, she’s going to make it her own.

“She started three wars her first week. Jamie’s intentions were quite honorable. She’d decided to make the best of her situation, accepting that she was married to a laird now. She would do her duty as his wife and take care of him and his household. No matter how difficult the adjustment might be for Alec, she wouldn’t shirk her duties.”

“The wars, coming one atop the other, actually crept up on Jamie. She wasn’t about to take the blame for instigating any of the conflicts. No, the blame belonged to the Scots, their ridiculous customs, their stubborn nature, and most especially their unbending pride. Was it her fault none of these barbarians ever made a bit of sense?”

So yes, she stumbled and blundered a bit, but with the best of intentions. And with a self-awareness that said she would do the right thing, despite any negative consequences she might experience. She just wedged herself in and did the work.

“One bite at a time she reminded herself. That was how she’d boasted to Father Murdock she could eat a giant bear, and that was how she was going to conquer Alec Kincaid.”

For his part, Alec went from being the grim and somewhat aloof laird, to a compassionate man who realized what Jamie was trying to accomplish, and developing not just grudging respect for her accomplishments, but love and joy in them. He was a good hero.

And for the time period this was published, there was some delightful and humorous banter. Jamie gives as good as she gets, and Alec starts treating her as an equal way before even he realizes it. I really enjoy these characters, and I feel like even now, these are characters and a story that hold up well to time.

As for the plot itself, there is a nice twisty mystery that even on re-reading, when I know what is going to happen, I don’t see anything that would really spoil the surprise, there are character conflicts, and character growth, a sweet love story, and an adorable plot moppet. It is a touch old school, but it holds up well, particularly due to the respect accorded to women.  4.5 stars.

The Bride (Lairds' Fiancees, #1)

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4.5 star review

OpenLibrary Review – Honor’s Splendour by Julie Garwood

Honors Splendour

Honor’s Splendour was probably the very last Julie Garwood historical I picked up. I think it must have been due to the blurb. Something about it didn’t appeal to me. But once I got into it, I rated it as highly as any of my other Garwood favorites. And then it fell off my re-reads radar for some reason. But once I started cleaning up my library for the switch to a Kindle Paperwhite, I just had to re-read it.

Honor’s Splendour is available at OpenLibrary, but since I read my personal copy I can’t verify the quality of the scan.

Now on to the review:

The first thing I want to note is that there is one gay character, and he is the villain and painted as a repugnant individual. I know that this (rightfully so) bothers many people, so I figured I would get that information out of the way first. However, it isn’t harped on, and his sexuality isn’t really the source or a component of his villainy, so I was able to get past that part.

The second is that a main character was raped. That isn’t precisely a staple of Garwood’s, in fact to my recollection this is the first and last time she’s used this plot. So I would rather readers not be surprised. It is not described and happened prior to the story’s beginning.

Ok, those notes out of the way, this is a really sweet story. The thing everyone harps on and sighs over, and rightfully so, is the opening scene. Madelyne steals everyone’s heart, including our erstwhile hero’s, when she risks her brother’s wrath to rescue him, and then warms his frozen feet on her bare stomach. It is one of the best opening chapters of any historical romance that I can recollect. In Duncan and Madelyne we have what should be Garwood stock characters. Duncan who is gruff and alpha but unwillingly kind. Madelyne who is beautiful, compassionate, smart, and brave, but thinks she isn’t. All the usual fare. And yet, these two are more than the sum of their parts. Duncan is so befuddled and sweet as he cares for Madelyne after an injury (and terribly adorable as he lies to himself about his own motives), and kind when he sets Madelyne to caring for his sister. And Madelyne has her own cute quirk, an obsession with Greek history and legend, in particular Odysseus.

There is mystery, intrigue, falling in love (times two in this case), and the villain gets his comeuppance. So if you can get through the hard parts, it is a really lovely tale, and well worth the read. 4.5 stars

Honor's Splendour

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