Monday, March 28, 2011

Thunder and Roses by Mary Jo Putney

Thunder and Roses is the first book in the Fallen Angels series, and was my first full length read by author Mary Jo Putney.

Those of us who are fans of historical romance know that over the past decade, the genre has been flooded with so many books that it’s hard to find anything unique, and in fact, there are many times you can predict exactly which naive but curious little chit will be ruined by what scandalous event that will take place at precisely the stroke of midnight – or shortly thereafter because the rake/rogue/libertine is almost always late. Well, you get the idea. Fortunately, while there was some predictability to Thunder and Roses, Ms. Putney also gave us plenty of unique events and characters so that I found this story fresh and out of the ordinary. Skinny dipping with penguins in an English estate pond in the springtime? You’re not going to find that in many historical romance novels.

This story begins when Clare, a Methodist school teacher from the village, comes to Nicholas and asks for help improving the dismal lives of his tenants, but Nicholas, bitter from years of rejection and a horrible betrayal, could care less about what they need. He doesn’t want to be there, doesn’t want to deal with anything, let alone someone else’s problems, but Clare won’t be dissuaded. So what’s a heartless rake to do? He makes her an offer he’s certain she’ll refuse: Come live with him for 90 days, and he’ll do whatever Clare thinks is needed to make the village and the lives of its inhabitants better. And while sex isn’t part of the bargain, she has to pretend to be his Mistress and allow him one kiss per day at a time and place of his choosing.

Clare knows that to accept Nicholas’ terms will ruin her reputation, but the people need help and she has enough faith in her friends and the other villagers to believe that they’ll never scorn or judge her once she explains the situation, so, much to Nicholas’ dismay, she accepts his ruinous offer, certain that she can’t be seduced by his kisses.

There were many things that I found entertaining about this story, but I’m not going to go into details other than to say it was interesting to see what life in an English coal mine was like and to learn about the hazards of the job and the technological advances that made the mines a much safer place to work.

Overall, despite one painfully obvious and less than climatic event at the end of the story, I really enjoyed Thunder and Roses.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe


Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin needs to spend her summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation. But when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie's grandmother's abandoned home near Salem, she can't refuse. As she is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the family house, Connie discovers an ancient key within a seventeenth-century Bible. The key contains a yellowing fragment of parchment with a name written upon it: Deliverance Dane. This discovery launches Connie on a quest--to find out who this woman was and to unearth a rare artifact of singular power: a physick book, its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge.

As the pieces of Deliverance's harrowing story begin to fall into place, Connie is haunted by visions of the long-ago witch trials, and she begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem's dark past then she could have ever imagined.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with the Salem witch hunts. Even as a young girl in elementary school, I read books, watched movies and loved listening to stories about the witch trials and the events leading up to them. So when I saw The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, it goes without saying that I just had to have it.

We first meet our heroine, Connie Goodwin, as she’s about to answer the final question in her qualifying exam at Harvard; “Would you please provide the committee with a succinct and considered history of witchcraft in North America?” Now, Connie is an incredibly intelligent woman, trying to impress a panel of equally intelligent – if not more so - Harvard professors with her knowledge of American Colonial history. The dialog and accompanying narrative reflected the importance of her answer, and for a brief time I found myself kind of lost in the “educated” explanation. However, once we get past that part in the story, which didn’t last very long, I easily fell into the flow and the feel of Katherine Howe’s writing.

I’ve found that sometimes when an author tackles a fictional retelling of factual historical events, it can end up boring and text bookish for the reader. I think it takes skill to stay true to the details without putting the reader to sleep. Thankfully, Katherine Howe pulled this off beautifully.

I was quickly pulled into the story and felt very much a part of Connie’s journey to find Deliverance Dane’s missing Physick Book. The glimpses into the past we were given as we moved between 1991 and the late 17th and early 18th centuries flowed very well, and I really feel like the author did a brilliant job of taking us from one time period to another, as we moved from chapter to chapter.

Along the way, Connie meets Sam, and a romance develops between them. I really enjoyed that aspect of the story because Sam was a great character, but I wish we could have seen a little more relationship development between them, so that I could have felt the depth of her emotions for him during certain parts of the book. However, that said, I thought the author did an excellent job of making his a character someone I cared about even though we didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time with him. And a note for those who might be interested, while we know that Connie and Sam do have a sexual relationship, there was nothing sexually explicit in this book.

Overall, this was a great story that I couldn’t put down. It had me imaging what it would be like if I had lived during this time period, and answered questions I’ve long had. And I even shed a few tears over what it must have been like for the families of the accused.

I’d love to get my hands on something else along the lines of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, and will be keeping my eyes open for more by this author.

Click here to purchase The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane from Amazon

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Scoundrel in My Dreams by Celeste Bradley

I had not yet read anything by Celeste Bradley, so when this book arrived in the mail to be read and rated as a 2010 Readers Crown selection, I wasn’t at all sure what to expect. And, because it’s the third book in a trilogy I knew nothing about, I decided that to be fair to the author I’d pick up the first two books, Devil In My Bed and Rogue In My Arms and read them first. As I said, I wasn’t sure what to expect and in the end, truly enjoyed them. And now, having read Scoundrel in my Dreams I can say, without a doubt, that I’ll be reading more by this author.

Words that come to mind as I sit here trying to describe this story are tragic, triumphant, adorable, sensual, funny, sweet, passionate, and very, very sexy. Jack is a tormented man, and his deep, dark secret truly is dark. Because of this I’m able to understand and forgive some of his actions, and my heart broke for the man he was, the man he wanted to be, and the man he ultimately became.

Because of my unabashed love for Jack from the previous books, Laurel could have come across as a bitchy, spoiled, undeserving heroine to me, but I found that I was able to connect with her and see where her anger and sense of betrayal was coming from. I appreciated how the author took the time to make sure I was able to feel that side of Laurel, because without that, I’d never have been able to accept her as the happily ever after that Jack was so in need of.

Their story is such an emotional one, filled with hope and anguish, love and betrayal, sadness and joy and a passion like I’ve seldom seen in a historical romance. Jack now holds a place of honor on my Top Heroes shelf, and I’ll remember him for ages to come.

One of my very favorite things about this trilogy as a whole has turned out to be Melody, not the child, but the woman whose story we see in bits and pieces throughout all three books. Lementeur, affectionately known as Button, a well known London tailor who had created the wedding gowns for the brides in this series, became a very close friend of all three families over the years. Now, as Melody is preparing for her own wedding, Button is there telling her the stories of Uncle Aiden, Uncle Colin and her own parents. In Devil in my Bed, he’s telling her Aiden and Madeleine’s story, in Rogue in my Arms he recounting Colin and Pru’s story and in this book, of course, Jack and Laurel’s story. It was such a touching, unique way of giving us a front row seat to this fun, heartwarming tale.

I can only hope, but I’d love to get Melody’s story, fully told, and watch her own happily ever after as it unfolds.

Just a note - This book could be read as a standalone because the author did a great job of giving us the important details from the previous books. Any reader coming into this story with no previous knowledge of the characters or the plot would have no trouble following along, however, I found that by actually reading Devil In My Bed and Rogue In My Arms and having become so thoroughly invested in those heroes and heroines, Scoundrel In My Dreams was an absolute delight to read and a huge part of that is because in those earlier books we learn how much Aiden and Colin love Jack, and why, so by the time we got to his book, his character had already become someone we cared deeply for. To truly understand Jack’s tormented soul and to get to know the other characters whose hopes and dreams depend on the outcome of this story, I’d strongly encourage you to read the first two books, in order, before beginning this one.

5/5 Stars

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rogue in My Arms by Celeste Bradley

Rogue in my Arms is the second book in the Runaway Brides trilogy and picks up right where the first book, Devil in my Arms, left off – with the ongoing search for Melody’s mother. This time, it’s Sir Colin Lambert who has come to the conclusion that Melody must be his child, the product of a tumultuous affair between Colin and Miss Chantal Marchant, a flighty, eccentric stage actress, several years earlier. Colin had been quite enamored of the woman, but one evening when he'd gone to see her, she ended their affair with what was clearly – though not to Colin – an overly dramatic, tragic excuse for why they could no longer be together. He was devastated, but reluctantly let her get away. However, now that there was the chance that Melody was their daughter, he was determined to track her down and marry her.

As Colin is about to set off on his search, he meets Miss Prudence Filby, a common, lowborn seamstress who also wants to find Chantal Marchant because the untrustworthy actress owes her money for some costumes that Prudence had sewn for her. Since they were both after the same thing, and knowing he’d need help caring for Melody, Colin hires Miss Filby to come along as a temporary nanny. She, her eleven year old brother Evan, Colin and Melody set out to find Miss Marchant, and the events that take place along their journey kept me smiling and laughing and even fanning myself.

The bottom line – This was such a happy read. I enjoyed this story even more than I did the first book, and part of the reason for that is because we got to revisit the previous characters who had all come to love Melody and were hoping that Miss Marchant would turn out to be Melody’s mother. They needed this to be, because if Melody was indeed Colin’s daughter, then she would be a part of their lives, always. And the alternative, Melody ending up with another family, or in an orphanage, meant they’d never get to see her again, and that wasn’t something any of them wanted to even think about.

I finished this book very thankful that I had the third and final installment to this trilogy sitting right beside me, because I too had fallen completely in love with Melody, Little Milady, and wanted to – no, needed to – find out what was to become of her and the crazy, loveable cast of characters in the Runaway Brides series.

But more than anything, I wanted to get to know Jack.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Devil in my Bed by Celeste Bradley

Devil in my Bed is the first book in the Runaway Brides trilogy and my first read by author Celeste Bradley. I went into this trilogy with no idea of what to expect from this author, and I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed.

We’re introduced to an adorable little girl named Melody, when Aiden de Quincy finds her sitting on the front steps of Brown’s Club for Distinguished Gentlemen, a London club where he resides when he’d rather not be at home with his mother, the Dowager Countess, and his cousins who have come for a visit.

Melody has only a small satchel with her few belongings and a note pinned to her coat that reads:

The mony stopped coming from the mother. I can’t keep her no more. The father can take her now. Don’t know his name. He’s a memmber of Brown’s.

After reading the note and surmising her age to be about three years old, he realizes that Melody might just be his child, the result of an affair he’d had some years earlier, an affair that left him with painful memories of the woman who laughed at him when he asked her to marry him. He’d left Madeleine Chandler that day, vowing to himself to forget her and move on with his life, but the memories of those months together weren’t quite so obliging. And now, this new adorable development has him rethinking that vow and searching for the woman who still holds his heart, determined to reunite mother and child and make Maddie his bride.

As I said, this was my first book by this author, and it took me a bit of time to get into it. There were things I definitely loved about this story, and yet at times those same things, in different situations, didn’t work for me. There were moments I was laughing at loud at the ridiculous actions of both Aiden and his almost friend Colin, whom I came to adore, and of course Melody, affectionately nicknamed Little Milady. Her innocent comments and curious nature made for some very sweet moments, but from time to time I felt they were overdone.

Ms. Bradley gave us a great supporting cast in Sir Colin Lambert, Aiden’s friend, Sirs Bartles and James who spent most of the book engrossed in their never ending chess game, Sir Aldrich who wasn't as blind or deaf as he pretended to be, Wilberforce, Brown’s all too observant Chief of Staff, Bailiwick, the shy footman and finally, Sir John Redgrave, also known as Jack, who had gone off to war and returned a broken man. And even though we don’t meet Jack in this book I still came to care a great deal for the man he was and the man he became.

The bottom line – Despite some predictable situations and the occasional too-sweet Melody moments, I really enjoyed this story. Yes, in my opinion it does suffer from a case of the FITs (First in the Series syndrome) but not so much that I had to skim or skip through it. In fact, by the end of the book I felt a deep affection for all of the characters and immediately started reading the second book, Rogue In My Arms.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Rebel by Julianne MacLean

Short stories can be a great way to be introduced to an author’s writing, but are often times lacking in much depth of emotion, storyline or character development. I think it takes real talent to be able to draw the reader in and leave them desperate for more, and with The Rebel, Julianne MacLean did just that.  In fact, as soon as I finished this story, which is the prequel to her new Highlander Trilogy, I went online and put the first book, Captured by the Highlander on hold at my local Barnes and Noble and will be reading it as soon as I have it in my hands!

If the rest of Ms. MacLean’s books are as good as The Rebel, I’ve just found myself another auto-buy author.