Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Almost Heaven by Judith McNaught

"Elizabeth Cameron.....The Countess of Havenhurst possessed a rare gentleness and fierce courage to match her exquisite beauty. But her reputation is shattered when she is discovered in the arms of Ian Thorton, a notorious gambler and social outcast.

Ian Thorton.....A dangerously handsome man of secret wealth and mysterious lineage, his voyage to Elizabeth's heart is fraught with intrigue, scandal, and a venomous revenge.

Destined for each other, yet wary of each other's motives, Elizabeth and Ian engage in a dance of suspicion and passion that tests the very soul of their star-crossed love. As a twisting path of secrets takes them from London's drawing rooms to the mysterious Scottish Highlands, Elizabeth must learn the truth: is Ian merely a ruthless fortune hunter at heart?"
(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

Looking for the perfect summertime read? Grab a glass of iced tea and relax with a Judith McNaught novel, and I promise you won't be disappointed.

Her books hook me right from the first page, and the plot is always tightly woven threads that all fall neatly into place for a satisfying ending. Her characters always seem to be three-dimensional and, of course, beautiful. Lavish settings with dukes and duchesses, exquisite ballgowns glowing in candlelight, and ladies and gentlemen waltzing the evening away....until a shocking scandal and the mother of all misunderstandings disrupts what would have been a delightful evening and a promising future. Their road to recovering from the scandal and finding their way back to each other makes Almost Heaven an entertaining and poignant read.

My only minor complaint with the storyline was the silly turn of events near the very end -- without giving away a major spoiler, the heroine, Elizabeth, must take the witness stand and decides to play the part of a witless chit (translation: too stupid to live) and I think it came across as very silly and unnecessary in an otherwise really delightful tale of star-crossed lovers.

4/5 stars

Title: Almost Heaven
Author: Judith McNaught
Pocket Books
517 pages
genre: historical romance

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Wicked Becomes You by Meredith Duran

"Gwen Maudsley is pretty enough to be popular, and plenty wealthy, too. But what she's best known and loved for is being so very, very nice. When a cad jilts her at the altar -- again -- the scandal has her outraged friends calling for blood. Only Gwen has a different plan. If nice no longer works for her, then it's time to learn to be naughty. Happily, she knows the perfect tutor -- Alexander Ramsey, her late brother's best friend and a notorious rogue.

So why won't a confirmed scoundrel let her be as bad as she want to be?"

(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

Wicked Becomes You by Meredith Duran was absolutely divine! Gwen Maudsley, a turn-of-the century London debutant, is everything society expects of her....genteel, well-mannered, wealthy, attractive, and kind-hearted. So what's wrong with this picture? She's been jilted -- twice -- and just can't grasp how she will ever come to terms with the gut-wrenching humiliation of two suitors backing out of their intended marriage to her. What's worse, her latest suitor, the Viscount Pennington, has literally bolted out of the door wearing a ring that belonged to Gwen's deceased brother, Richard, and it breaks her heart to think that she will never be able to retrieve her beloved brother's ring.

After her latest disaster at the altar, something inside of Gwen just snaps -- she's had enough of being the good girl that people take advantage of, and she realizes that it's high time to take control of her life and her independence. She never really loved either of her suitors, so why mourn? She's fabulously wealthy, so she really doesn't need a man to take care of her. It's time to say exactly what's on her mind, regardless of the consequences or what others might think. She pens a letter to the Viscount telling him exactly what she thinks of him, and fully intends to get her brother's ring back even if she has to hunt him down across the globe!

Meanwhile, dashing Alex Ramsey has watched as his best friend's sister has suffered yet another humiliation. He made a promise to Richard shortly before he died to watch over his sister...and Alex is obligated to honor the death-bed promise. Intercepting Gwen with her trunk and letter in hand as she plans to leave, Alex is both amused and intrigued with her new attitude, but decides her must follow her to protect her.

From the Moulin Rouge in Paris to the casinos of Monte Carlo, Gwen and Alex become involved in danger and intrigue, and along the way, discover that the feelings they develop for each other are also leading them down a very dangerous -- and interesting-- path.

Absolutely loved it! Alex is intense and romantic -- he's a hunky bad boy with a heart ;) -- and I truly wanted Gwen to find what will bring her happiness and independence. Lots of surprises and revelations.....highly recommended! This one is going on my keeper shelf, right next to Kleypas' Lady Sophia's Lover; it's that good!

5/5 stars

Title: Wicked Becomes You
Author: Meredith Duran
Pocket Books
402 pages
genre: historical romance

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Other Mr. Darcy by Monica Fairview

"When Caroline Bingley collapses to the floor and sobs at Mr. Darcy's wedding, imagine her humiliation to discover that a stranger has witnessed her emotional display. Miss Bingley, understandably, resents this unknown gentleman very much, even if he is Mr. Darcy's American cousin.

Mr. Robert Darcy is as charming as Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is proud, and he is stunned to find a beautiful young woman weeping brokenheartedly at his cousin's wedding. Such depth of love, he thinks, is rare and precious. For him, it's love at first sight. Alas, regaining her good graces seems an impossible mission, and he is left to hope that someday their paths will cross again."
(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

Fairview's The Other Mr. Darcy is a lovely little light read for fans of Pride and Prejudice featuring Caroline Bingley, a character from P&P that most likely didn't have a lot of sympathy from readers. As this tale begins, Caroline is devastated that the man she has harbored hopes of marrying for her entire life is happily marrying the love of his life, Elizabeth Bennet. She is horrified to learn that her breakdown has been witnessed by a gentleman. Thus begins the strained and unlikely relationship of Miss Bingley and Mr. Robert Darcy.

The author does a very good job of keeping all of the familiar P&P characters true to form, particularly Lydia, perpetually immature and self-centered, and Mr. Bennet, droll as ever. The focus, though, is on the journey and evolution of Caroline, who's a pretty tough nut to crack.

The catalyst for most of the story's action is a trip to Pemberley to cheer up the spirits of Eliza Bennet who is recovering from a health crisis. Caroline and her widowed sister, Louisa, are accompanied on the trip by Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Robert Darcy, and it is here that a piece of gossip at a weekend house party could seriously harm Caroline's chances with another man she hopes may become her betrothed. Mr. Robert Darcy, a true gentleman, steps forward with a plan to save Caroline from public humiliation.

Will Caroline ever drop her cold and haughty facade? Will she ever put aside society's expectations for her and look, instead, at her own heart's desires? The Other Mr. Darcy is a simple but charming tale of her self-discovery and path to finding someone who truly cares for her.

3.5/5 stars

Title: The Other Mr. Darcy
Author: Monica Fairview
genre: historical fiction
351 pages

Trade Wind by M. M. Kaye

"The year is 1859 and Hero Hollis, beautiful and headstrong niece of the American Consul, arrives in Zanzibar. It is an earthly paradise; it is also the last outpost of the slave trade. A passionate opponent of slavery, Hero is swept into a turmoil of royal intrigue, abduction, piracy, smuggling, and a virulent cholera epidemic. There in Zanzibar, the most cruelly beautiful island of the southern seas, she must choose her love and unravel her destiny." (from Goodreads)

my thoughts:

Trade Wind was an amazing book that was absolutely impossible to put down! I have never read anything by M. M. Kaye prior to this, but I've already added The Far Pavilions to my "read now" list. I discovered her books when I saw Lauren Willig's (The Pink Carnation author) recommended reading list and thought I would give them a try. (Some are out of print -- I started Trade Wind with a library book, but quickly found a used paperback copy as I thought it was a keeper.)

I enjoy reading novels with lush, exotic settings and adventures at sea, and this is what you'll get, and a whole lot more, with Trade Wind. Kaye's writing is rich in detail and historical background, and the storylines have depth and breadth and scope --- lots of food for thought here as the reader travels with Hero Athena Hollis, an idealistic American, to the island of Zanzibar in the 1850's.

This tropical paradise is a study in contrasts: it is an exotic paradise of shimmering sand beaches, crystal waters, and perfumed with the scents of blooms and clove trees....on the other hand, there is filth, squalor, and disease. The clash of eastern and western cultures and ideas is interesting and thought-provoking, and while there is no way to justify slavery, Hero comes to realize that her noble but naive mission of attempting to put an end to inhumane practices is not as simple as she had supposed. In addition to the African slave trade, Hero learns that the plight of women in the Sultan's world is a form of slavery and difficult for her to accept. Does an outsider have the right to come into another's culture and impose their beliefs and way of living? Under what conditions is it justified?

Hero's relationship with the notorious slave trader and confidante of the Sultan, Captain Rory Frost, is also an intriguing and controversial part of the book. I can't discuss too much detail as it is a major spoiler, but the reader gradually learns more about the captain's background and motivations, and it's up the reader to decide whether to be sympathetic or not.

An epic adventure....at times poignant....highly recommended!

4.5/5 stars

Title: Trade Wind
Author: M. M. Kaye
genre: historical fiction
Bantam Books
551 pages

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer

"Devil's Cub is one of Georgette Heyer's most famous and memorable novels, featuring a dashing and wild young nobleman and the gently bred young lady in whom he finally meets his match...Dominic Alistair, Marquis of Vidal, and virtuous Mary Challoner."
(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

A thoroughly enjoyable, wickedly witty tale of a wealthy, devilishly handsome rake, Dominic Alistair, who despite all odds, meets and falls for the person you'd least expect to capture his interest, much less his heart of stone. Although this was a sequel to These Old Shades (which I have not read -- maybe I should read the back covers a little more carefully, ha!) I really had no trouble keeping up with the storyline or the characters, but I'm sure it would have been helpful had I read the previous book.

Dominic Alistair is the son of the notorious Duke of Avon, and has his own dangerous and scandalous reputation for living in the fast lane....drinking, womanizing, gambling, dueling, and enjoying every minute of living on the edge. He is one of those characters that you just love to hate...he is arrogant, self-absorbed, and devoid of emotion. Despite his rakish reputation, there is no shortage of eligible ladies who are attracted to his rank and wealth, and would love to capture his attentions. Pretty and spoiled Sophia is just one of those debutantes who would love to get her hands on Dominic and become a marchioness...and she plots and schemes to figure out a way to do this.

Meanwhile, Dominic is banished to the Continent for becoming involved in yet another shocking duel, and Sophia sees her chance....an elopement with the Marquis! In an effort to save her foolish sister from what will surely be a disastrous affair, Mary Challoner interferes in the plan.....and winds up being abducted by the Devil's Cub, with all sorts of interesting complications -- and results.

What can be said that hasn't already been said about Heyer? Her writing is charming, funny, action-packed and just a joy to read. Can't wait to add more of her books to my collection.

4/5 stars

Title: Devil's Cub
Author: Georgette Heyer
historical fiction
Sourcebooks (2009)

Favorite Period Dramas

Mount TBR

Joanne's to-read book montage

On a Highland Shore
A Light on the Veranda
The Queen's Vow: A Novel Of Isabella Of Castile
The Edwardians
Maisie Dobbs
Howards End
Lady's Maid
Instruments Of Darkness
When Maidens Mourn
Where Shadows Dance
What Remains of Heaven
Where Serpents Sleep
Why Mermaids Sing
When Gods Die
Before Ever After
The Sugar Queen
Garden Spells
After the Night

Joanne's favorite books »