All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Keep Me Posted by Lisa Beazley

Keep Me PostedKeep Me Posted
Lisa Beazley
Text Publishing
2016, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Cassie and Sid Sunday, once as close as sisters could be, have drifted apart. Cassie’s struggling as a stay-at-home mother to twin toddlers in Manhattan, while Sid lives an expat’s life of leisure in far-off Singapore. It doesn’t help that Sid spurns social media while Cassie is addicted to her iPhone.

So when Sid suggests they reconnect the old-fashioned way—through real, handwritten letters—Cassie is on board. Intimate and honest, their correspondence becomes a kind of mutual confessional and renews their bond. But Cassie’s made a big mistake—one that their relationship, not to mention their marriages, might not survive.

Keep Me Posted is a fresh and funny debut about the struggles of keeping in touch, keeping it real and keeping it together.

I love writing letters even though these days I have no one to write them to! Writing letters have been replaced by email, texting, instant messaging, facebook, instagram etc. A thousand and one ways that are easier and quicker than writing longhand letters and posting them. When I was 11 and in grade 6, my parents sold their house and we moved 6hrs north. My best friend and I wrote letters for years, exchanging probably hundreds. It’s been a while since we wrote to each other – around the time we started university we switched to email and now we keep up to date with each other’s lives via facebook and interact on the odd occasion via private message on there.

I miss the letter writing!

So books that revolve around this sort of thing are always of interest to me. I like a good epistolary novel and I like ones that include things like letters, emails, texts, etc. They always are a fun way to show a picture, to round out a story and that’s how people communicate these days. So I was immediately drawn to this book because the idea of it sounded so good. I’d love someone to suggest writing letters to me but I don’t have a sister and my brother is very much a texting person!

Cassie and Sid live very different lives – Sid is living with her husband in Singapore as an ex-pat, her time filled by hiring staff and hopping around Indonesia for various yoga retreats. Cassie shares a cramped New York brownstone with her husband and their twins, Cassie unwilling to give up their apartment’s fantastic location for something a bit more spacious. Whilst Sid’s life seems glamorous, aided by the in-home help that everyone has in Singapore, Cassie is struggling a little with being a stay-at-home parent and a chance meeting with her ex leaves her wondering what might have been….and sends her on a potentially dangerous path.

The letters are supposed to be private. But Cassie wants a way to keep a record so she scans each one she writes before she sends it and then each one she receives, so that they can be saved in order, making up one long story. Unfortunately what was supposed to be a private record, for Cassie’s eyes alone, suddenly becomes public and goes viral. Although the wider public doesn’t have enough information to identify the letter writers, there’s certainly enough incriminating evidence for friends and family to and it only needs one person to put names to the letters. Cassie knows she needs to confess – both to her husband and her sister, that their personal business is out there for the public to read. But in doing so, she could lose two of the most important people in her life.

Oh, Cassie! I did feel for her, because she thought that she’d done enough to keep the letters private and the way in which they became public wasn’t her fault but she did choose to keep a record of the letters! Without also telling her sister Sid, who was spilling her most personal and intimate thoughts and details of her life in her return letters to Cassie. It’s one thing to potentially splash your own dirty laundry across the internet but in this case, there was collateral damage as well. I thought it was quite interesting that it was Cassie, the one who is supposed to be savvy with technology (glued to her iPhone, kept a blog etc) that ended up accidentally broadcasting everything.

As much as I did feel for Cassie and her ‘oops’ moment, I also found her a bit frustrating. I get the whole ‘what might have been’ thing, I think everyone has those moments, especially when they are struggling with the little things. Running into an ex-boyfriend can trigger those sorts of things but Cassie does go a bit further than just wondering, putting herself into the position where they’d be crossing paths again and again…. And then when she knows that word has gotten out there, that things have become public, she takes so long to tell her husband. And the way in which she does it….doesn’t flatter her at all. It’s much less than he deserves really and I don’t blame him for being furious and humiliated and not wanting to listen to her. Why should he? Cassie seems to expect immediate understanding and forgiveness, not just from her husband but basically from everyone else she talked about in her letters. Now obviously they were meant to be private, for Sid’s eyes only but….they ended up public. And that means you have to deal with the resulting fallout, Cassie. Not just expect everyone to basically get over it.

I enjoyed this book…..I loved the letters between the sisters and the way in which the relationship between them was explored. I would’ve liked a little bit more from Sid to be honest, to balance out the Cassie. The only part of the book that didn’t really work for me was the ending. It felt so neat, almost too good to be true. Like the book spent a lot of time telling me these things and then almost reversed them for the ending in order to tie up all the loose ends. They felt ‘too’ tied up, like everything worked out super perfectly without a single solitary lingering issue. It just didn’t feel particularly believable for me, nor in keeping with the rest of the book.

7/10

Book #73 of 2016

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Review: The Untamed Earl by Valerie Bowman

Untamed EarlThe Untamed Earl (Playful Brides #5)
Valerie Bowman
St Martin’s Paperbacks
2016, 304p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

AN INDECENT PROPOSAL

Lady Alexandra Hobbs, the daughter of the Duke of Huntley, has intended to marry Lord Owen Monroe since she first glimpsed him from the window of her bedchamber, back when she was just a girl. But the duke has already chosen Alex’s infamously spoiled elder sister, Lavinia, for Owen. And now there’s no turning back.

Owen has spent most of his bachelor years drinking, gambling, and skirt-chasing. He won’t see another pound from his parents, however, until he’s engaged to Lavinia. Desperate, he accepts an offer from her innocent and spirited–and absolutely beautiful–sister Alex: She will
turn him into a perfectly tamed suitor, and show him how to woo the shrew. But when Alex’s true motives come to light, will their bargain lead to recriminations–or to a romance that defies everyone’s expectations?

I requested this book before realising it was fifth in a series – something I seem to do a lot! Luckily I had no trouble sourcing the first four books on iBooks. To me, this is a situation when ebooks just come into their own perfectly. There’s no need to go traipsing around to various bookstores or libraries trying to track down previous installments in a series only to discover that you can find 2 and 4 but no one has 1 and 3 or something similar. Instead you can just download them 1 after the over and get to reading, to catch you up to where you should be for the release of the most recently book. And in this series, that’s book #5, The Untamed Earl.

The titular Earl is Lord Owen Monroe (actually heir to the earldom) the brother of Cassandra Monroe from book 2 so he’s someone the reader has seen in a few previous books. Lord Owen is a bit of a wastrel, gadding about drinking, gambling and chasing women. His father has had enough of Lord Owen’s footloose and fancy-free ways and threatens him with what every heir fears the most – the suspending of the family coffers until he toes the line. Owen won’t get another cent until he secures the engagement of Lady Lavinia, a famously pretty but savagely tongued daughter of a Duke.

Lady Lavinia’s younger sister Lady Alexandra has admired Lord Owen from afar for years and now that she’s out she wants to finally have her shot. When she hears that her father has picked the man she wants for herself for her spoiled sister, Lady Alexandra seeks to sabotage it by pretending to actually assist Owen in his endeavour. This puts the two of them into close proximity, which is exactly what Lady Alexandra wants. She knows that he and her sister are not at all suited and that’s not a fate she’d wish on her worst enemy, let alone the man she truly wants for her own.

Alexandra is such a fun character that I think she carries most of this book. She’s the younger, more down to earth sister and she’s endured a lot of suffering and being overlooked because of the way her sister has been cossetted and spoiled, which has ended up in her having a very unlikable character. Alexandra is the polar opposite and I found her to have a wicked sense of humour as well as a strong independent streak which leads her to go after Owen herself. She knows that she’ll probably get found out that she’s not exactly ‘helping’ him court Lavinia but by then she hopes that she’s spent enough time with Owen that he recognises that there might just be other options for him.

The two of them do have a pretty enjoyable chemistry and I liked their secret meetings (ostensibly so Alexandra can help Owen, and in return he agrees to pay her some token attention to make her look attractive to other young eligible bachelors). Importantly, I could see Alexandra fitting in perfectly with the little group that has slowly grown in the previous books – the Duchess of Claringdon, her friend (and Owen’s sister) Cassandra, the Countess of Swifdon and several others and I do like how the friendships and the group has evolved in the books to include more and more people, most of which are not typical ton types. Probably Owen and Alexandra are the closest to being standard ton families where a marriage between their offspring wouldn’t raise much of an eyebrow.

I went back and forth on Owen – when he’s with Alexandra, he’s quite fun. Roguish but not in a ruining virgins kind of way. But in his scenes with his father, I kind of just wanted to slap him and tell him to man up. His family are pains, I remember from Cassandra’s book but honestly he’s nearly 30 or something and his daddy has to threaten him with cutting off his allowance in order to get him to finally agree to get married and get about furthering the line to inherit the earldom. He’s positively whiny when he gets his money cut off, despite the fact that he’s had ample warning that it’s time to stop spending and wasting money and actually start taking on a little bit of responsibility. A lot of the time the heroes have inherited their title and are at least busy in some way managing their estates or whatever whereas Owen really does nothing at all except spend money and drink at his club. I feel as though Alexandra will definitely make Owen mature the way that he needs to but also the two of them will continue to have fun.

Another fun installment in this series….and it set up the next one perfectly.

8/10

Book #69 of 2016

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Review: Dirty by Kylie Scott

DirtyDirty (Dive Bar #1)
Kylie Scott
Pan Macmillan AUS
2016, 275p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The last thing Vaughan Hewson expects to find when he returns to his childhood home is a broken hearted bride in his shower, let alone the drama and chaos that comes with her.

Lydia Green doesn’t know whether to burn down the church or sit and cry in a corner. Discovering the love of your life is having an affair on your wedding day is bad enough. Finding out it’s with his best man is another thing all together. She narrowly escapes tying the knot and meets Vaughan only hours later.

Vaughan is the exact opposite of the picture perfect, respected businessman she thought she’d marry. This former musician-turned-bartender is rough around the edges and unsettled. But she already tried Mr. Right and discovered he’s all wrong-maybe it’s time to give Mr. Right Now a chance.

After all, what’s wrong with getting dirty?

Every now and then, a book just ticks all the boxes you have. For me, Dirty was one of those books. From the very first page until the last, I was hooked. And even though it wasn’t perfect, it was written with flair and humour and I could utterly overlook things that might normally bother me a bit.

Lydia Green is about to get married – literally about to walk down the aisle. She’s wearing the big white dress and all. Then she’s sent a picture of her groom in a very compromising video clip with someone else – someone very unexpected as well. She flees over a fence and finds solace in the bathroom of a nearby house, sitting in the tub for hours….until Vaughan Hewson wants to take a shower.

Vaughan is at a crossroads and his return to his family home, a place that brings pain and bad memories, is supposed to be brief. When he finds a crying bride in his bathroom he offers her solace and security, drawing her into his world.

This book has one of the funniest ‘meet-cute’s I think I’ve ever read. Lydia is crouched in the bathroom and Vaughan arrives and is about to take a shower when, ripping back the curtain he encounters Lydia and Lydia encounters…. a part of Vaughan. I actually think that it’s quite hard to make a scene like that work and be hilarious and it’s a testament to Kylie Scott’s comedic timing and Lydia’s voice that this scene comes together in the way it does. I think Lydia has had enough shock for one day that encountering Vaughan in the buff just isn’t on her radar. She’s just….. matter of fact about the whole thing and for me, that was sheer brilliance.

Lydia has always gone the safe route before, wanting to be respectable and feel worthy. She was engaged to someone that she felt epitomised that, unable to see that the two of them had a relationship that was full of flaws and red flags from a long way out. Vaughan is definitely not the type of man that Lydia would normally go for – he’s a tattooed rocker who has left the road behind briefly and is working as a bartender for his sister. He’s also not particularly settled in life, longing to be back on the road, living a band life. For Lydia, who seems to crave precisely the opposite sort of life, it’s clear from the beginning that whilst there may be a simmering chemistry between them, there are some obstacles that make a long term option look a bit bleak.

But this is a romance, so not too bleak. Vaughan realises that sometimes, sacrifices need to be made and the thing you think makes you the happiest might not actually be. I really enjoyed the evolution of Vaughan and Lydia because it began with friendship. After her disastrous wedding day, he learns she has no where to go and so he offers her a place to stay, as long as she needs. They become friends, acknowledging the attraction between them but navigating it somewhat slowly which works for me. I really appreciate authors who take time to lay the groundwork for something long term, something that gives me a way to see how a couple will move through different stages of life and their relationship. I think Scott does a good job of this with Vaughan and Lydia.

As this is the first in a series, we’re introduced to Vaughan’s group of friends as well as his sister Nell, who runs the bar the series takes its name from. I found myself pretty invested in Nell’s story and I really hope she gets a book of her own. Her story plays out as a significant portion of this book and becomes more and more messy as this book goes on. Her and Pat though – I ended up so invested in them! They are intense and kind of make my heart break a little.

As firsts go, this one is a really good hook – for me, it was as good as Lick, the first in Scott’s other series and it vaguely crosses over here with a cameo appearance from one of the Stage Dive members. But it doesn’t need that, it stands well on its own. Vaughan is refreshingly free of douchebag behaviour, an interesting contradiction of bad boy looks but a tender heart. From the very first he’s understanding about Lydia and then helpful and protective and he’s really the way in which Lydia finds somewhere to belong.

Dirty is smart, sexy and very funny. Definitely a fave of mine for this year and it has me excited about the possibilities of future books.

9/10

Book #70 of 2016

AWWC2016

Dirty is the 25th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016

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Review: The Secrets Of Lizzie Borden by Brandy Purdy

Secrets Of Lizzie BordenThe Secrets Of Lizzie Borden
Brandy Purdy
Kensington Books
2016, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In her enthralling, richly imagined new novel, Brandy Purdy, author of The Ripper’s Wife, creates a compelling portrait of the real, complex woman behind an unthinkable crime.

Lizzie Borden should be one of the most fortunate young women in Fall River, Massachusetts. Her wealthy father could easily afford to provide his daughters with fashionable clothes, travel, and a rich, cultured life. Instead, haunted by the ghost of childhood poverty, he forces Lizzie and her sister, Emma, to live frugally, denying them the simplest modern conveniences. Suitors and socializing are discouraged, as her father views all gentleman callers as fortune hunters.

Lonely and deeply unhappy, Lizzie stifles her frustration, dreaming of the freedom that will come with her eventual inheritance. But soon, even that chance of future independence seems about to be ripped away. And on a stifling August day in 1892, Lizzie’s long-simmering anger finally explodes…

Vividly written and thought-provoking, The Secrets of Lizzie Borden explores the fascinating events behind a crime that continues to grip the public imagination—a story of how thwarted desires and desperate rage could turn a dutiful daughter into a notorious killer.

When I saw this on NetGalley, it really intrigued me because everyone knows the childish rhyme about Lizzie Borden giving her mother 40 whacks and then her father 41. But despite that, I realised that I didn’t really know a lot about this notorious figure so a fictionalised telling of her life worked well for me. I wasn’t bogged down by facts I already knew but yet anything that I was curious about I could look up later.

This story is told from Lizzie’s point of view, holding up two defining moments of her life, both of which where she’s covered in the blood of a woman. Firstly her mother, who dies of some sort of hemorrhage when Lizzie is just three years old and then the blood of her stepmother Abby some thirty-odd years later. In between is a life of deprivation, misery, bullying and unnecessary poverty. Lizzie’s father was an imposing, austere man who perhaps scarred by his own childhood poverty, seemed to set about making sure that never happened to him in adulthood with a single minded zeal that saw him accumulate wealth and clutch it tightly in his fist. So desperate was he to make a buck that when he ran a funeral parlour-type business he frequently relieved the dead of their valuables before they were buried, cut the feet off corpses to fit them in shorter, cheaper coffins and sold their teeth to a dentist who used them to make dentures. Despite the fact that he could’ve easily provided well for his two daughters, Lizzie and Emma (who was older by 10 years), he chose not to in what seemed to be a selfish desire to keep them dependent on him as well as to care for him presumably in his old age. He could’ve settled them with dowries, found them husbands but instead they became spinsters, still living in the family home in their thirties, pandering to his every tight-fisted whim.

There’s no doubt that this narrative paints Lizzie as someone to sympathise with. She’s heartbreakingly lonely. Her only friend is her sister, who at 10 years older, resents their new stepmother with a religious like zealotry and wastes no time recruiting Lizzie to her side. Abby, a large woman who enjoys cooking seemed like the type of woman who would’ve taken both of them and loved them fiercely and it seems that she tried with Lizzie. She was rebuffed at every turn as Lizzie, threatened with being a traitor to their mother’s memory by Emma, feared her sister enough to make sure she never responded to Abby’s overtures. Abby’s life seemed one of misery too, taking solace in the cakes, pies and biscuits she liked to bake and eat. She grew rounder, never had any children of her own, only two resentful stepchildren and a self-important husband, although it did appear that he did treat Abby quite well. Apart from Emma, Lizzie really has no one else in her life apart from Bridget, their maid who always finds a kind word for her. Her one fledgling friendship ends badly, she is constantly shouted down by her father that any boy interested in her only wants his money and that she’s worthless, useless and silly. Emma is paranoid about all the money their father has hoarded going to Abby instead of becoming rightfully theirs and her poisonous attitude seems to slowly eat at Lizzie. But it’s something surprisingly simple and Abby’s reaction to it that this book uses at the catalyst for Lizzie snapping.

I think that given the right circumstances, people are capable of anything. In a way I see Lizzie portrayed here as a battered daughter and sister, constantly put down and put upon by others. Staring down the barrel of that times one thousand, she lashes out in not just an attempt to escape her fate but also vent some thirty years of frustration. I think there’s been an attempt to find some sort of reason for why she did what she did – after all there has to be a reason because well bred thirty year old spinsters don’t just snap and bludgeon their parents to death with a hatchet. That’s how she’s acquitted in part, because people can’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that she could possibly have done it. Ladies just don’t do that sort of thing. The trouble is, it’s such a terrible thing, even taking into account Lizzie’s portrayed life in this story. It’s easy to find sympathy for her but……not to the extent where you can understand the actions.

All in all this is an interesting story although it did seem to take me quite a while to get through it. It felt very long although the page count here doesn’t seem to indicate that. There’s still quite a bit of story to go after Lizzie’s acquittal and I felt that in a way the constant examination of her sexuality ended up dominating the story. I understand it came from her loneliness and desire to be loved as well as showcasing her naivete but at times it felt quite repetitive.

7/10

Book #74 of 2016

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Review: Truth Or Date by Portia Macintosh

Truth Or DateTruth Or Date
Portia Macintosh
Carina UK
2016, 243p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Falling for the man of her dreams…

Ruby Wood is perfectly happy playing the dating game – until she has a red-hot dream about her very attractive flatmate, Nick. He might spend every day saving lives as a junior doctor, but he’s absolutely the last man on earth that fun-loving Ruby would ever date!

The solution? Focus on all of Nick’s bad points. And if that fails, up her dating antics and find herself a man! So what if she manages to make disapproving, goody two-shoes Nick jealous in the process…

Only, after a series of nightmare first dates, there’s still just one man on Ruby’s mind. Maybe it’s time to admit the truth and dare to ask Nick to be her next date?

Ruby works in a coffee shop in Leeds with her best friend since childhood, Joe “Millsy” Mills. She shares a flat with Nick, a doctor and although the two of them got on okay when viewing the place, not long after moving in it quickly fell apart. Nick is a neat freak with a vegan girlfriend who likes the tea towels folded a certain way and he definitely did not approve when Ruby set fire to the bathroom during their housewarming. Ruby is a bit of a mess, glued to her phone and her dating app. Usually her and Nick’s interactions are short and snippy so when Ruby finds herself having a romantic/sexual dream about Nick, it’s cause for confusion. And panic. And then perhaps the feeling that maybe Nick might be right for her after all. There’s the problem of that girlfriend though…

I’m in two minds about this one. On one hand – it’s very funny. There are a lot of really funny moments and Millsy is pretty good value for most of the book but he does do some pretty dumb things towards the end. I liked Ruby, with her pink hair and her willingness to keep throwing herself into the world of online dating even when each date pretty much turns out to be horrid. She’s putting herself out there, which is pretty brave – sometimes I think that if I were 10 years younger and had to rely on this sort of thing to find a partner, I’d end up dying alone with thirty cats.

And perhaps therein lies my problem. I’m not mid/late twenties anymore, I’m staring down the barrel of mid-thirties and there’s only so many pages I can read about characters going and getting trashed in a trendy bar. At times Ruby and Millsy seemed like a couple of eighteen year olds doing their first year of being able to drink. Both of them worked in a coffee shop and although Millsy had a pretty sweet deal with a free apartment, Ruby didn’t and I was a little confused as how she managed to have enough money to pay her bills and go out every night. She says she doesn’t earn enough to live alone and that she needs to keep sharing with Nick but honestly, if she laid off the cocktails a couple of nights per week, it seemed like she might’ve been able to afford a place on her own with ease.

I love enemies-to-lovers and I love opposites attract so the romance portion of this should’ve ticked all my boxes…. and it might of, had there been any you know, actual romance. I know this is chick lit but the premise does revolve around an unlikely pairing and yet Nick and Ruby just didn’t share enough scenes together. There’s a pretty funny one earlier in the book where Ruby employs Nick to help her with a certain task before one of her dates and occasionally they bicker and argue as one is arriving home/leaving to go out but really, they just don’t seem to interact that much. The chemistry flickers in a couple of scenes and I think that really could’ve been developed into something pretty awesome but it never lasts long enough to. Ruby is always on her way out to her next date, or meeting Millsy in a bar or something whilst Nick is staying in to eat vegan delights with his girlfriend. Also the way in which Nick’s girlfriend was dispatched felt a bit clumsy. It was like the author got 3/4 through the book and thought “oh right, this girlfriend of Nick’s. Can’t really have him cheat on her with Ruby, because Nick is a stand up nice guy, so got to get rid of her someway….oh…um….oh right! Yeah, this completely unlikely and implausible situation here will do. Done!” I had a really hard time buying it

This is a fun and quick read, super light and fluffy. However for me, I’d just have loved some more interaction between Nick and Ruby, something to give me a reason to get behind wanting them to get together. There was some good groundwork laid but it didn’t feel like it was capitalised on enough and developed further.

6/10

Book #72 of 2016

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Review: Dueling With The Duke by Robyn DeHart

Dueling With The DukeDueling With The Duke
Robyn DeHart
Entangled Publishing
2016, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

England, 1838

Gabriel Campbell, Duke of Lynford never intended to carry that title, but when his reckless brother gets himself killed in a duel over a woman, Gabe has no choice. Now he’s sworn off love, blaming the woman that broke his brother’s heart and led to his untimely death.

Lilith Crisp, Lady Thornton, knew from a young age that pretty girls grow up and get married off to the highest bidder. Being paraded around London as her husband’s trophy has taught her some unique skills and now she can manipulate any man for his darkest secrets.

Gabriel’s position in the Brotherhood of the Sword leads him directly to Lilith’s door. For Gabe, Lilith is the one woman he’s always wanted, and Lilith is now forced to deal with a man who seems immune to her charms. But a secret about Lilith’s niece brings them together to face a danger that threatens not only their lives, but the fate of England’s Crown. Resisting Lilith is getting more and more difficult and Gabe finally recognizes that he can’t keep blaming her for his brother’s fate. Finding love means forgiving the past and that might be the one thing they simply can’t do…

So my devouring of all things historical romance continues with this book I requested from NetGalley. Now apparently it’s the second in a series and I could easily figure out what the first book was and who it involved from this one but I didn’t really feel as though I lost anything in the experience for not having read it before this one.

Years ago Gabriel, then just a mere younger brother of a Duke and Lilith, a Lady having her Season met outside at an event and connected over the stars. However then Gabriel’s brother swept in and Gabriel, knowing how these things go, gracefully bowed out. Unfortunately Lilith was also being courted by an Earl and the Earl challenged the Duke to a duel, the Duke lost (both the duel and his life), Lilith married the Earl, Gabriel became a Duke and blamed Lilith for everything. Now Gabriel has reason to believe that the Earl is consorting against the Crown, which Gabriel is charged to protect through his role with a secret group known as the Brotherhood and now he gets to question Lilith and perhaps punish her for the death of his brother.

Backstory over with, Gabriel finds his determination to punish Lilith challenged by a) his desire for her and b) the fact that he finally begins to see that Lilith had no real control or even role in any of the events that happened in the past. Her father needed money, Lilith was a valuable tool because she was young and beautiful and he was happy to marry her off to the highest bidder, which ended up being the Earl who was also a cruel man.

Although I did enjoy this book, I did feel that it was a bit short and that it didn’t really delve deep enough into the issues it set up. Gabriel is a notorious celibate, his fellow Brotherhood members refer to him as ‘the Priest’ because he’s apparently never tempted. Whether this is because being tempted by Lilith cost his brother his life or whether or not no girl has interested him like Lilith (or perhaps a combination of both) I’m not sure. The point is, quite a few references are made to it early on, which is both interesting and refreshing because heroes in historical romance are nearly always notorious rakes, ruining (or supposedly ruining) girls left right and centre. So I did find the fact that a Duke was celibate and made no attempt to hide it, unusual. It seemed to be set up that Lilith would test this, make him feel some sort of conflict but this doesn’t really play out at all. Gabriel basically capitulates immediately and it no longer becomes any sort of issue, or really anything at all. It seemed a bit pointless in the end. It would’ve been nice if Gabriel had of showed more of a struggle, especially as he believes early on that Lilith is the reason for his brother’s death. This isn’t true but that is something that Gabriel almost seems to realise without it being addressed properly either.

I found the plot revolving around Lilith’s niece a bit fanciful but probably not the most far-fetched thing I’ve ever read. I think it’ll probably continue on in the 3rd book, which seems nicely set up by this one. I’m a bit curious to see how it plays out so I think I’ll hopefully read the next one. I wouldn’t mind going back and reading the first one either, simply because I like making sure my series reading is complete!

6/10

Book #71 of 2016

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Mini Reviews: Playful Brides 1&2 by Valerie Bowman

Unexpected DuchessThe Unexpected Duchess (Playful Brides #1)
Valerie Bowman
St Martin’s Paperbacks
2014, 384p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {courtesy of the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Is there any greater surprise than falling deeply, madly in love?

In This Battle of Wits

Lady Lucy Upton’s tongue may be too sharp to attract suitors but her heart is good, and when her painfully shy friend Cassandra needs help she devises a brilliant scheme to help her discourage an unwanted suitor, the Duke of Claringdon. Lucy will hide behind the hedgerow and tell Cass just what to say to discourage the duke…but it turns out that he’s made of sterner stuff than either of them anticipated. And Lucy is shocked to discover that tangling with the tenacious man is the most fun she’s had in ages.

Kisses Are the Best Weapon

Lord Derek Hunt made a promise to his dying friend to marry the demure Cassandra, and for a man who wants nothing more than peace and quiet after the horrors of war, she’ll make the perfect bride. If only the impudent Miss Upton will let him court the girl! Doing battle is the last thing on his mind, but bantering with Lucy behind the bushes is too tempting to resist. And the spoils of this war just may be true love…

Sometimes, ok, quite often, I request or receive books for review that are part of a series. They might be bk 3 or 5 or whatever and nearly all of the time I’ll want to read a series in order, especially if the same characters continue to recur throughout. So when I accidentally requested the 5th book in this series not realising that it was a 5th book, I found the rest of them on iBooks and they looked pretty fun so I decided to read them all.

The first book introduces the reader to Lady Lucy Upton, a very sharp-tongued daughter of an Earl. Lady Lucy is beautiful but most men have felt the lash of her cutting remarks and have retreated. She has two very close friends – the demure and stunningly beautiful Lady Cassandra (also daughter of an Earl) and Miss Jane a bookish wallflower. When the ton’s newest Duke attempts to court Lady Cassandra, whose heart belongs solely to another, Lady Lucy comes up with numerous plots to get him to go away….only the thing is he might be perfect for Lucy.

At first I had a few issues with the Duke’s pressed/forced (?) attempt at courting Lady Cassandra, who was willing to try all different sorts of schemes with Lucy in order to get him to stop. However when he explained the reason for it, I began to understand, especially placed within the context of their time and situation. He honestly did think he was doing the right thing, even though the two of them were totally unsuited. They were both nice so could’ve probably had a perfectly acceptable life – if Cassandra wasn’t so in love with someone else and the Duke wasn’t fast falling for Lucy. The two of them were perfect together and it was fun watching them realise it and overcome the obstacles that had been put in place for them to get their happy ever after. It set up several of the future books very nicely as well.

8/10

Book #63 of 2016

Accidental CountessThe Accidental Countess (Playful Brides #2)
Valerie Bowman
St Martin’s Paperbacks
2014, 320p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

CAN A SCANDALOUS CHARADE

For seven long years, Lady Cassandra Monroe has waited for the man of her dreams to return from the war. Unfortunately, he happens to be engaged to her flighty cousin. What Cass wouldn’t give to take her cousin’s place! When he mistakes Cass for Patience Bunbury, a fictitious friend her cousin has invented to escape social obligations…even with her future husband, Cass thinks this is her chance.

LEAD TO TRUE AND LASTING LOVE?

After defeating Napoleon at Waterloo, Captain Julian Swift is not quite ready to settle down and enter into his unwanted arranged marriage—especially when the real object of his affection turns out to be a beguiling beauty he meets at a party. Patience Bunbury is witty, independent, passionate…and, unbeknownst to him, the cousin of his current fiancée. When the truth about Cass comes out—and Julian discovers that their courtship is anything but accidental—will he surrender his heart to a woman who really is too good to be true?

Readers got to know Cass quite well in the previous book, in particular the fact that she was in love to someone she couldn’t have, Captain Julian Swift who not only nearly died fighting but was engaged to her cousin. When Julian returns against all odds, Lucy Hunt Duchess of Clarington comes up with a scheme to give Julian time to get to know Cassandra in person, rather than just through the letters they’ve exchanged while he was away at war. She’s sure that given the right setting, Julian will return Cassandra’s feelings.

Okay this one was a little crazy. I liked it but I think it relied too much on the reader having to let a lot of things go: such as the fact that Julian wouldn’t recognise Cassandra, such as the fact that no one would slip up referring to them as different names and about seven million things revolving around the party Lucy organises to be held at her parent’s country house. There are so many close calls and so many people randomly turning up uninvited as well as some tenuous situations that rely on people keeping their mouths closed who in that kind of social situation, probably just wouldn’t. Lucy’s schemes can quite often be outrageous and the fact that she’s now a Duchess hasn’t stopped her wild ways but so much just seemed a bit crazy, especially as really, there was no need for all this subterfuge! Despite the absurdity of the situation, Cass and Julian did have some really good moments but I kept getting distracted by the weird plot that was going on. What I really like about these books is the friendship the women have – Lucy, Cass and Jane. They’re unusual for their time and all quite different but the trio does work very well.

This one was okay – not as good as the previous and the third and fourth really intrigue me so I’m hoping this is a rare weaker installment.

6/10

Book #64 of 2013

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Review: What We Find by Robyn Carr

What We FindWhat We Find (Sullivan’s Crossing #1)
Robyn Carr
Harlequin MIRA
2016, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Join Robyn Carr, #1 New York Times bestselling author of theVirgin River and Thunder Point series, as she explores the healing powers of rural Colorado in a brand-new story of fresh starts, budding relationships and one woman’s journey to finding the happiness she’s long been missing

Between the urban bustle of Denver and the high-stress environment of a career in neurosurgery, Maggie Sullivan has hit a wall. When an emergency, high-risk procedure results in the death of a teenager, Maggie finds herself in the middle of a malpractice lawsuit—and experiencing levels of anxiety she’s never faced before. It’s in this desperate moment that Maggie’s boyfriend decides he can’t handle her emotional baggage, and she’s left alone, exhausted and unsure of what her future holds. One thing is certain, though: she needs to slow down before she burns out completely, and the best place she can think to do that is Sullivan’s Crossing.

Named for Maggie’s great-grandfather, the land and charming general store at the crossroads of the Colorado and the Continental Divide trails have been passed down through the generations and now belong to Maggie’s estranged father, Sully. Though raised by her mother and stepfather after her parents divorced, Maggie has always adored Sully—despite his hands-off approach to fatherhood. When she shows up unannounced in Sullivan’s Crossing, he welcomes her with opens arms, and she relishes the opportunity to rebuild their relationship.

But when Sully has a sudden heart attack, Maggie’s world is rocked once again. Consumed with his care, she’s relieved to find that Cal Jones, a quiet and serious-looking camper, has been taking over many of Sully’s responsibilities as he recuperates. Still, Maggie is suspicious of this mysterious man’s eagerness to help—until she finds out the true reason for his deliberate isolation.

Though Cal and Maggie each struggle with loss and loneliness, the time they spend together gives Maggie hope for something brighter just on the horizon…if only they can learn to find peace and healing—and perhaps love—with each other.

I love a good series and a few years ago I spent a lot of time binging on Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series. There was a lot of books in that series, somewhere close to 20 and I loved the whole community that she developed. I tried the spin off series, Thunder Point and I have to admit, it just didn’t grab me in the same way but I was willing to give a new series (removed from those two) a go and overall I think it was a pretty good start.

Maggie is a neurosurgeon who is going through what could only politely be termed as a bit of bad luck. She’s being sued, the partners of her practice are being investigated, she’s suffered a personal tragedy and on the back of that, her boyfriend breaks up with her. She flees responsibility for a while to visit her father Sully. Maggie loves her father dearly but still carries around with her a lot of issues about their separation in her childhood and his sporadic parenting thereafter. When Sully has a heart attack not long after Maggie arrives, it brings a lot of these fears and resentments to the surface as she struggles to understand things that happened years ago.

Maggie is also preoccupied from the start with one of the guests at her father’s camping ground, named Cal Jones. She doesn’t really have much of a reason to be suspicious about him but for some reason she makes all sorts of assumptions about him, most of which couldn’t be further off the mark. A long running joke is Cal telling her he’s “just Cal” and refusing to tell her what it’s short for. She tries different versions of names that Cal could be short for, occasionally googling variations in order to find out anything about him when he continues to play his cards very close to his chest. I enjoyed that a lot, and I felt like Cal brought out a side in Maggie that she desperately needed to embrace. In fact all of Sullivan’s Crossing did that. She’d spent so long studying to become a doctor and working in a high pressure environment that sometimes it felt like she must’ve not had fun or relaxed properly in years. Although she’s taking time out because of bad situations, it gives Maggie the chance to live life at a bit of a slower pace. She’s pretty uptight (evidenced by her inability to grasp what Cal is doing just hanging out). I thought the slow reveal of Cal was really well done – there are some little hints dropped to the reader that Maggie isn’t privvy to until much later when Cal finally decides to tell her exactly what he’s doing in Sullivan Crossing and why. I wasn’t sure about them together at first, their earlier interactions lacked a bit of chemistry and they seemed to go from Maggie’s suspicious looks to sharing drinks by the campfire (and more) quite quickly. But the longer it went on, the more I warmed up to it.

I am pretty interested to see where this series goes – the setting was good, perhaps the best part. Robyn Carr does do setting up a small community and building the characters within very well so I’ll definitely continue on.

7/10

Book #62 of 2016

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Review: The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

The Midnight WatchThe Midnight Watch: A Novel of The Titanic and The Californian
David Dyer
St Martin’s Press
2016, 336p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

As the Titanic and her passengers sank slowly into the Atlantic Ocean after striking an iceberg late in the evening of April 14, 1912, a nearby ship looked on. Second Officer Herbert Stone, in charge of the midnight watch on the SS Californian sitting idly a few miles north, saw the distress rockets that the Titanic fired. He alerted the captain, Stanley Lord, who was sleeping in the chartroom below, but Lord did not come to the bridge. Eight rockets were fired during the dark hours of the midnight watch, and eight rockets were ignored. The next morning, the Titanic was at the bottom of the sea and more than 1,500 people were dead. When they learned of the extent of the tragedy, Lord and Stone did everything they could to hide their role in the disaster, but pursued by newspapermen, lawyers, and political leaders in America and England, their terrible secret was eventually revealed. The Midnight Watch is a fictional telling of what may have occurred that night on the SS Californian, and the resulting desperation of Officer Stone and Captain Lord in the aftermath of their inaction.

Told not only from the perspective of the SS Californian crew, but also through the eyes of a family of third-class passengers who perished in the disaster, the narrative is drawn together by Steadman, a tenacious Boston journalist who does not rest until the truth is found. The Midnight Watch is a powerful and dramatic debut novel–the result of many years of research in Liverpool, London, New York, and Boston, and informed by the author’s own experiences as a ship’s officer and a lawyer.

I’d been hearing about this book and seeing it around lately so I was very pleased to be able to score the opportunity to read it. Everyone knows the story of the Titanic – the ship that was supposed to be unsinkable, which hit an iceberg and then proceeded to sink rapidly on its maiden voyage. There were a number of problems – the ship was not carrying anywhere near enough lifeboats for the passengers and the number of crew, families were separated due to the women and children first rule. The Titanic had a number of very high profile passengers on board, some of the cream of society as well as people from all walks of life looking to make a change or take a holiday. Only 705 survivors of the ship’s 2200+ passengers and crew were rescued by the arriving RMS Carpathia, after the Titanic sank.

What I never knew until this book was that there was another ship in the vicinity when the Titanic struck the iceberg – the SS Californian. I don’t know how I’ve never heard of this before but the SS Californian was some 20-30 miles away from the Titanic when she sank and several crew members aboard saw the flares the Titanic were sending. White flares, which mean one thing only – a ship in distress. However despite the fact that the captain of the California was informed of the flares and of the strange angle of the ship in the water, he chose not to go to the ship’s aid and investigate what was happening. He told the crew to attempt to contact via Morse and when contact could not be established, seemed to believe the ship was signalling in some other way or putting on a show for the passengers despite the fact that the flares were emphatically not coloured and that they were “all white”, the colour fired when a vessel is in distress.

There’s something horrific about the idea of that, let alone the fact that it’s truth. The fact that another ship was within easy distance of the Titanic, spotted not only her flares but the uneasy way she was sitting in the water and then the fact that she vanished entirely. If the captain had gone to her aid immediately it’s likely that they could’ve saved a large number of people, probably not all but many, many more than did survive. The Midnight Watch is a fictional retelling of the story of the SS Californian and an examination of just why the ship’s captain chose not to take the warnings of the flares seriously from his officer on the midnight watch and declined to investigate further. There are many things he could’ve done – arranged to have woken the ship’s communication officer to attempt to establish contact with the ship would’ve been a good first option but given that white flares mean an SOS call, every captain that sees them should respond immediately. It’s possible that because the Californian had already struck ice earlier that night (and had in fact attempted to warn the ships in the area, including the Titanic about it which led to a sharp dismissal from the Titanic’s communications officer) that the captain was reluctant to put the ship on a course that he believed might endanger them. However, in all of the excuses and half truths and outright lies, he didn’t really mention that as a strong reason. He seemed to stick to the belief that he believed it was a much smaller ship and that the flares were either celebratory or an attempt at company signalling, despite the fact that they were white, perhaps the most important fact.

This book uses the viewpoint of a journalist who specialises in bringing life to the victims of tragedy to tell its tale and the way in which he chooses to tell it ends up being utterly remarkable. It really highlights the unevenness of the survivors – a large portion of the women and children in first and second class survived, whereas a very high number of the women and children in the third class perished. There was also a high percentage of men who perished, many from the lower classes on the ships because they were herded down when the ship began to sink, not up towards the decks. It shone a light on the lack of equality as well as the lack or organisation and order. Lifeboats were loaded with room still left in them, people (men) being shot for trying to secure a position on a boat. Dyer was able to weave in the suffragettes and feminist movement as women pushed for the vote as well using a heavily flawed character of a journalist known for ‘chasing the bodies’ when something terrible happens.

This book was fabulous – it took a fascinating and devastating event with some little known facts and built a story out of it with characters that feel frighteningly real. Scary (in a good way), thoroughly researched, very well written and the sort of book that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to just about everyone.

8/10

Book #60 of 2016

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Review: To Win A Lady’s Heart by Ingrid Hahn

To Win A Lady's HeartTo Win A Lady’s Heart (Landon Sisters #1)
Ingrid Hahn
Entangled Publishing LLC
2016
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {courtesy the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

He has secretly admired her from afar…

England, 1811. When John Merrick, the Earl of Corbeau, is caught in a locked storeroom with Lady Grace, he has but one choice—marry her. He cannot bear to tarnish any woman’s reputation, least of all Lady Grace’s.

She has lost everything but her dignity…

Lady Grace Landon will do anything to help her mother and sisters, crushed and impoverished by her father’s disgrace. But throwing herself into the arms of her dearest friend’s older brother to trap him in marriage? Never.

Corbeau needs to prove that he loves her, despite her father’s misdeeds. After years of being an object of scorn, not even falling in love with Corbeau alters Lady Grace’s determination to not bring her disrepute upon another. However, if they don’t realize that the greatest honor is love given freely without regard to society’s censure, they stand to lose far more than they ever imagined.

At the moment I am basically like “give me ALL of the historical romance!” I can’t get enough of it, so I requested this title off NetGalley. It’s the first in a series – even better! I really enjoyed it and I think a lot of that enjoyment came from the whole situation with Corbeau and how his feelings for Lady Grace were laid out for the reader.

A few years ago, Corbeau had intended to court Lady Grace however she was privy to some information that made her gently turn him down, not wanting him to ever question her character in the future. Her father had gambled everything away and Lady Grace, her mother and her younger sisters were left in a situation that basically required them to ‘rely upon the kindness of friends’. Many of those options are now running out and during a harmless game at someone’s home, Corbeau and Lady Grace are discovered together. Alone.

Of course it means they have to marry which complicates things so much – for both of them. Since Lady Grace gently rebuffed him, Corbeau has found it difficult to be around her, because he still wants her so much. Now he’s aware that they have to marry in order to save her reputation and that he could be very well saddled with a wife he desperately wants, but who doesn’t seem to want him. Lady Grace in turn does like Corbeau a great deal, however she is so very conscious of her situation that she doesn’t ever want Corbeau to feel as though she had discovered how easy it would be to rectify if one was caught alone with an Earl.

I felt as though this book did a great job at really representing what it would be like to be thrown into an awkward engagement when the two participants had a past and some baggage. They have some very good interactions but there are some painful ones too, uncomfortable ones. Lady Grace makes no secret that she wants to end the engagement, that she doesn’t want to force Corbeau into marrying her because having been the object of scandal, she doesn’t want to bring that down upon someone else. However he convinces her to give him some time and Corbeau is not exactly the sort of person who is at all times, concerned with an impeccable reputation. He has his own secrets as well. At times they can be very sweet together and I did feel for Corbeau. Lady Grace is so very stubborn, so proud that she’s willing to risk happiness and basically everything because she’s so burdened by her responsibility for her family’s situation. I actually got a bit annoyed with her the further the book went on because she kept ignoring what was right in front of her, what she was feeling and continued to be hung up on what had happened in the past. Being the oldest hadn’t placed the burden of taking care of her family on her shoulders, Grace had done that herself. I was really hoping she’d come to her senses but it took her a very long time. The ending was nice though.

I enjoyed this and will definitely continue with the series.

7/10

Book #61 of 2016

 

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