Tag: historical fiction

October 6, 2017

Review | Vienna Waltz by Teresa Grant

Review | Vienna Waltz by Teresa GrantVienna Waltz by Teresa Grant
Series: Rannoch/Fraser Publication Order, #4
Publisher: Kensington, April 2011
Pages: 436
Format: Paperback
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Nothing is fair in love and war. . .

Europe's elite have gathered at the glittering Congress of Vienna--princes, ambassadors, the Russian tsar--all negotiating the fate of the continent by day and pursuing pleasure by night. Until Princess Tatiana, the most beautiful and talked about woman in Vienna, is found murdered during an ill-timed rendezvous with three of her most powerful conquests. . .

Suzanne Rannoch has tried to ignore rumors that her new husband, Malcolm, has also been tempted by Tatiana. As a protégé of France's Prince Talleyrand and attaché for Britain's Lord Castlereagh, Malcolm sets out to investigate the murder and must enlist Suzanne's special skills and knowledge if he is to succeed. As a complex dance between husband and wife in the search for the truth ensues, no one's secrets are safe, and the future of Europe may hang in the balance. . .

Realistically, there’s no way to learn the entire history of the world in the typical K-12, four-year college education. I get that. But when I come across historical events like the Congress of Vienna, portrayed in Teresa Grant’s Vienna Waltz, I wish we could.

A little background

From November 1814 to June 1815, Europe’s latest and greatest met in Vienna to work together to create peace in the war-torn continent. Among them were Austria, Britain, France, and Russia. One can only imagine the drama.

 

One like Grant. Her Vienna Waltz opens with the tsar’s paramour, Princess Tatiana, is found murdered in her apartments, Suzanne and Malcolm Rannoch, British attache, find themselves on the hunt for the killer. Haunted by their own rocky marriage of convenience, a building attraction, the whispers of Malcolm’s relationship with Tatiana, and not to mention the monumental task of navigating through sticky social situations, their mission is far from easy.

The dance has, in other words, begun.

Vienna Waltz would have caught my attention regardless, due to the prospect of a new piece of history to discover. But it was the drama, the need to know just how Malcolm and Suzanne turned out, that kept me reading. With the massive amount of characters that stole the spotlight, their story kept the novel grounded.

Unfortunately, like so many historical fiction novels, Vienna Waltz fell victim to the dreaded info dumping. Some details helped portray the atmosphere, the setting, the mood. But others became too much and, instead of bringing the story to light, weighed it down.

For those who like a little bit of intrigue with their history, Vienna Waltz will hit the spot.

3 Stars

Posted October 6, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 2, 2017

Review | Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Ann Fowler

Review | Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Ann FowlerZ: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, March 2013
Pages: 375
Format: Hardcover
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When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the "ungettable" Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn't wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner's, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick's Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.

What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel—and his witty, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, adopts daring new fashions, and revels in this wild new world. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera—where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein.

Everything seems new and possible. Troubles, at first, seem to fade like morning mist. But not even Jay Gatsby's parties go on forever. Who is Zelda, other than the wife of a famous—sometimes infamous—husband? How can she forge her own identity while fighting her demons and Scott's, too? With brilliant insight and imagination, Therese Anne Fowler brings us Zelda's irresistible story as she herself might have told it.

Out of the many famous literary wives scattered across history, Zelda Fitzgerald stands alone. An author, painter and creator in her own right, she has captured emotions across the decades: fascination, admiration, dislike, even pity. Yet even with a reputation like that, she is still so often overpowered by her famous husband.

I learned about F. Scott Fitzgerald in high school and, as any college student can tell you, had The Great Gatsby burned into my brain (luckily, I learned to love it, but that’s a different post). But I can’t remember a single teacher of mine mentioning Zelda.

Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald brings Zelda alive in the best way. She was funny, vibrant, slightly narcissistic, and oh-so-young. The last trait is the most memorable: when the

The last feature is the most memorable. When the novel begins, she’s a silly young debutante, the flower of her father’s eye and the cause of a twitch in her mother’s. It’s natural to act young, simply because she is. But as the story progresses and Zelda evolves, that same characteristic sticks to her like glue. For better or for worse, Zelda would be young at heart.

It’s a mixed blessing: her constant naivete allows her to see the bright side of things, to hope, but it also damns her, in a way only the reader can see.

Her relationship with F. Scott was nothing like the fairy tale I (or Zelda) expected. Two peas in a pod, of the same mind, cut from the same cloth – whatever metaphor works for you. The same attraction that drew them together was doomed to rip apart and reunite them throughout their lives. It was predictable, yet poignant.

That’s not to say there weren’t times I yelled at the words on the page, urging her to get the hell out of there, to not put up with his bull any longer. I begged her to not listen to his sweet promises or to come to her senses when another was broken. It was one of the most addicting dysfunctional relationships I’ve read in a long time.

In the end, Zelda was me, and I was her. I was with her in the last scene, through the epilogue. This naive young girl who never quite grew up changed my perspective, thanks to Fowler’s unique, enchanting storytelling.

4 Stars

Posted October 2, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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August 2, 2017

Review | Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

Review | Voyager by Diana GabaldonVoyager by Diana Gabaldon
Series: Outlander, #3
Publisher: Delta, December 1993
Pages: 870
Format: Paperback
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From the author of the breathtaking bestsellers Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, the extraordinary saga continues.
Their passionate encounter happened long ago by whatever measurement Claire Randall took. Two decades before, she had traveled back in time and into the arms of a gallant eighteenth-century Scot named Jamie Fraser. Then she returned to her own century to bear his child, believing him dead in the tragic battle of Culloden. Yet his memory has never lessened its hold on her... and her body still cries out for him in her dreams.
Then Claire discovers that Jamie survived. Torn between returning to him and staying with their daughter in her own era, Claire must choose her destiny. And as time and space come full circle, she must find the courage to face the passion and pain awaiting her...the deadly intrigues raging in a divided Scotland... and the daring voyage into the dark unknown that can reunite or forever doom her timeless love.

If Outlander was about finding your true love and Dragonfly in Amber about making heartbreaking decisions, Voyager tells of consequences.

Typically, “consequences” has a negative connotation. It’s used by parents to frighten their children into behaving, by teachers motivating their students into completing the homework. But in Gabaldon’s world, consequences are more than that. They’re the results of the love of Outlander, the tough decisions made in Dragonfly, and the turmoil of Voyager.

The love of Outlander

Watching Claire try to rebuild her life after Jamie was heartbreaking. I didn’t know if I would make it through those sections. But she grew a little bit stronger, page after page, and me with her. Even though I knew they had to get back together at some point, the distance of 200 years never seemed so long.

Despite their love, Claire had to assume Jamie had died at Culloden and he only had the faint hope that she had made it back to her own century. The only solution was to move on, keep building, and keep the other’s memory alive. While I understood it, I struggled with Claire returning to Frank and Jamie’s various adventures. They were supposed to be together, damnit!

The consequences of the first two books created an entirely different relationship when they finally reunited in Voyager. I liked the dynamic, the acknowledgment that time has passed, that need to rediscover.

I was a little worried about how I would relate to the characters after so long had passed, but Gabaldon made it as easy as stepping forward into their world.

The decisions of Dragonfly

Dragonfly is full of decisions. Decisions to go to France to stop Prince Charles, to fight on the Culloden field, to return back to the 1940s. Each of these decisions played a huge role in how Voyager unfolded. I was surprised at how frustrated I got with some of the characters’ decisions. Maybe it’s hindsight, maybe it’s foreshadowing, but I found myself hoping, desperately, that a particular character wouldn’t do this, wouldn’t do that. Kind of like when you wish the heroine in the scary movie would just MOVE AWAY FROM THE DARK, SCARY DOOR instead of opening it.

Yet, if they had, what kind of story would it have been?

I loved that Voyager brought some previous characters back into play (nope, no spoilers). They were entirely unexpected, but the plot twist increased the tension in an already tense end of the book.

The consequences of Voyager

Mainly, I was hooked. I had to know what happened, how they got there, and how on earth they were going to get out of the mess this time. It’s almost addictive, this need to delve back into the world of Jamie and Claire. I have the Drums of Autumn and The Fiery Cross on my shelves now, and it takes a constant strength to not run over, pluck up the next book and see how the romance of Jamie and Claire goes on.

5 Stars

Posted August 2, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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April 26, 2017

Mini Reviews | Historical Fiction

Mini Reviews | Historical FictionThe Dressmaker's War by Mary Chamberlain
Publisher: Random House, January 2016
Pages: 304

In London, 1939, Ada Vaughan is a young woman with an unusual dressmaking skill, and dreams of a better life for herself. That life seems to arrive when Stanislaus, an Austrian aristocrat, sweeps Ada off her feet and brings her to Paris. When war breaks out, Stanislaus vanishes, and Ada is taken prisoner by the Germans, she must do everything she can to survive: by becoming dressmaker to the Nazi wives. Abandoned and alone as war rages, the choices Ada makes will come to back to haunt her years later, as the truth of her experience is twisted and distorted after the war. From glamorous London hotels and Parisian cafes to the desperation of wartime Germany, here is a mesmerizing, richly textured historical novel, a story of heartbreak, survival and ambition, of the nature of truth, and the untold story of what happens to women during war.

During my latest historical fiction kick, I wanted to love this book so dearly. The cover was so beautiful and the story sounded so intriguing…but it was utterly uninspiring. Ada’s childish tendencies made her appear selfish and ignorant. While this would have been a great launching pad for her growth into a fantastic character, the character development was overshadowed by the powerful historical backdrop. In the end, Ada faded into the background instead of helping to tell the story of World War II.

 

Mini Reviews | Historical FictionMemoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Publisher: Vintage, January 1970
Pages: 434

A literary sensation and runaway bestseller, this brilliant debut novel presents with seamless authenticity and exquisite lyricism the true confessions of one of Japan's most celebrated geisha.
In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl's virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction—at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful—and completely unforgettable.

I’ve always heard excellent reviews about Memoirs of a Geisha and after finally reading it, I understand why. The powerful narration made it easy to hear the difference between the storyteller’s past and present, even the narrator’s occasional interjections. Combined with the fascinating history and culture of the geisha and a compelling main character, I can see why this book is a winner again and again.

 

Mini Reviews | Historical FictionThe Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester
Publisher: Pegasus Books, March 2016
Pages: 512

London, 1912.
The suffragette movement is reaching a fever pitch, and Inspector Frederick Primrose is hunting a murderer on his beat. Across town, Fleet Street reporter Frances “Frankie” George is chasing an interview with trapeze artist Ebony Diamond. Frankie finds herself fascinated by the tightly-laced acrobat and follows her to a Kensington corset shop that seems to be hiding secrets of its own. When Ebony Diamond mysteriously disappears in the middle of a performance, Frankie and Primrose are both drawn into the shadowy world of a secret society with ties to both London's criminal underworld and its glittering socialites.
How did Ebony vanish, who was she afraid of, and what goes on behind the doors of the mysterious Hourglass Factory? From newsrooms to the drawing rooms of high society, the investigation leads Frankie and Primrose to a murderous villain with a plot more deadly than anyone could have imagined.

In the midst of the girl power era, I’ve fallen in love with the suffragettes. These women turned convention on its head so we can work, vote, and be ourselves. So, therefore I wanted to love The Hourglass Factory just as much, but it wasn’t in the cards.

The novel started out strong enough with a vibrant atmosphere built out of beautiful attention to detail and descriptive that dropped me in the middle of London. The main character of Frankie was engaging, inspiring, and familiar. She’s the underdog you want to cheer for. But it started to take too long for anything to happen. Overwhelmed by minor characters grabbing possession of the story, The Hourglass Factory quickly lost its way.

 

Mini Reviews | Historical FictionThe Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel
Series: Empress of Bright Moon,
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark, March 2016
Pages: 395

There is no easy path for a woman aspiring to power. . . .
A concubine at the palace learns quickly that there are many ways to capture the Emperor’s attention. Many paint their faces white and style their hair attractively, hoping to lure in the One Above All with their beauty. Some present him with fantastic gifts, such as jade pendants and scrolls of calligraphy, while others rely on their knowledge of seduction to draw his interest. But young Mei knows nothing of these womanly arts, yet she will give the Emperor a gift he can never forget.
Mei’s intelligence and curiosity, the same traits that make her an outcast among the other concubines, impress the Emperor. But just as she is in a position to seduce the most powerful man in China, divided loyalties split the palace in two, culminating in a perilous battle that Mei can only hope to survive.
The first volume of the Empress of Bright Moon duology paints a vibrant portrait of ancient China—where love, ambition, and loyalty can spell life or death—and the woman who came to rule it all.

Thank goodness for GoodReads’ annual book contest, or I would miss gems like The Moon in the Palace. I loved the insight into another historical era I’d never heard of before. Together with the powerhouse of a main character, the dynamic Mei (later known as Wu Zetian or Empress Consort Wu), The Moon in the Palace is a must for historical fiction fans, whether or not you’re interested in Chinese history. Between the historical backdrop, the forbidden love, or the astounding atmosphere that dropped you into Mei’s shoes, you’ll find something to love.

 

Mini Reviews | Historical FictionMr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
Series: Maggie Hope Mystery,
Publisher: Bantam, April 2012
Pages: 358

London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.
Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary should be a great book. Set in WWII London, it follows American-British Maggie Hope as she works for Prime Minister Churchill in the early to mid days of the war. Sounds like a winner, right? Yet behind the historical drama of England in the midst of the war, I finished the book with a wanting feeling. It had a good premise, mostly good execution, so what was missing? My vote? The passion in the characters. They were all right, but with a bit of a push, they could have been excellent.

Posted April 26, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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January 23, 2017

Review | Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

Review | Dragonfly in Amber by Diana GabaldonDragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
Series: Outlander #2
Publisher: Bantam, August 2001
Pages: 743
Format: Paperback
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 With her now-classic novel Outlander, Diana Gabaldon introduced two unforgettable characters—Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser—delighting readers with a story of adventure and love that spanned two centuries. Now Gabaldon returns to that extraordinary time and place in this vivid, powerful follow-up to Outlander.  DRAGONFLY IN AMBER  For nearly twenty years Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland’s majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones... about a love that transcends the boundaries of time... and about Jamie Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his.   Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire’s spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart... in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising... and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves.

Claire Randall Frasier has lived the past twenty years believing that Jamie was dead. And finally, she has gathered the courage to go back to Scotland for the first time in nearly two decades to discover what happened to him at the Battle of Culloden.

Dragonfly in Amber is, quite simply, an emotional roller coaster ride. Gabaldon’s narrative switches between 1968 Claire, a woman who is trying to make it work after she loses the love of her life and 1740s Claire, trying desperately to stop the fall of Scotland. While the same women, these two characters are vastly different. It’s hard to believe t

While the same women, these two characters are vastly different. It’s hard to believe that 1740s Claire could be considered naive, considering what happens to her in Outlander, but she embodied it again and again as they worked to stop Charles. Yet naive doesn’t mean stupid. I loved how she stood up for herself and others in a society where women weren’t often allowed or encouraged to do so.

On the other hand, 1968 Claire was charming, engaging, and initially allowed a little of her sorrow to show. All naivete was gone, erased by the loss of her husband, a scar she hid well. It’s this Claire, this dynamic, fascinating character, that was the star of Dragonfly.

She was cool and composed on the outside, an exterior that hid rioting emotions: guilt, wistfulness, joy, and sorrow. It was only once she, Brianna, and Roger started their hunt for Jamie that this calm composure began to crack.

It’s been a while since a book made me feel the way Dragonfly did. From the battle scenes of 1740s Scotland to the drafty graveyards of the 60s’, Gabaldon tugged – no, YANKED – at the heartstrings.

Yet the second Outlander installment did have its faults. There were pages of information, large sections filled with what felt like the most minute details of the French court, the Scottish towns, and everywhere in between, that could have been summarized or possibly skipped entirely. Maybe this is more of personal preference; I wanted the story to get on with it.

In retrospect, that was a minor detail. The beauty of Dragonfly in Amber isn’t in the particulars of the setting or the descriptions of dress. Instead, it lay in Claire, a woman torn between two marriages, two times, and two worlds.

4 Stars

Posted January 23, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 28, 2016

Review | The Duke is Mine by Eloisa James

Review | The Duke is Mine by Eloisa JamesThe Duke Is Mine by Eloisa James
Series: Fairy Tales, #3
Publisher: Avon, December 2011
Pages: 367
Format: Paperback
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Destiny will be decided between the sheets in this all-new tale of The Princess and the Pea.
For Olivia Lytton, betrothal to the Duke of Canterwick—hardly a Prince Charming—feels more like a curse than a happily-ever-after. At least his noble status will help her sister, Georgiana, secure an engagement with the brooding, handsome Tarquin, Duke of Sconce, a perfect match for her in every way . . . every way but one. Tarquin has fallen in love with Olivia. Quin never puts passion before reason. And reason says that Georgiana is his ideal bride. But the sensual, fiery, strong-willed Olivia ignites an unknown longing in him—a desire they are both powerless to resist. When a scandalous affair begins, they risk losing everything—Olivia's engagement, her sister's friendship, and their own fragile love. Only one thing can save them—and it awaits in the bedroom, where a magnificent mattress holds life-changing answers to the greatest romantic riddle of all.

I’m not sure how I feel about The Duke is Mine. After falling for James’ other installments in the series, I was ready to love Olivia and her duke’s story. That isn’t quite what happened.

The other novels in the Fairy Tale series started with a bang, but The Duke is Mine took a long time to start. A long time. After reading page after page of dialogue between Olivia and her twin sister, Georgiana, I felt my interest waning. Then at Quin’s lackluster introduction to the story, I checked GoodReads to see if this installment was a dud. Surprisingly, reviewers raved about it. So I kept reading.

Although I am glad I kept reading, I wished The Duke is Mine picked up the pace much earlier. Until Olivia and Georgiana arrive at Quin’s home for his mother’s marriage competition (what else to call it?), the story slogged. It’s at Quin’s family home that both he and Olivia come alive.

All this said I loved Olivia’s feisty nature. She is stubborn as a mule but luckily more charming. Standing up to Quin’s mother, especially when she made no qualm about her perception of Olivia and her fiancee, must have been difficult, but she did it without a second thought. Her ability to find the fun in life was a quality lacking in not only Quin but society as a whole at the time.

Quin, on the other hand, needed to come alive much earlier to make a lasting impact. He was stuffy, aloof, and a little cold. Thankfully, James switches the narration between the two of them, giving us a chance to remember why we’re cheering for him. As his story comes out, it’s easier to see his kind, protective nature, but it would have been nice to have some explanation for his attitude earlier on.

My other issue with The Duke is Mine is the cheating. Olivia is engaged to another man. Quin’s mother has all but announced his betrothal to Olivia’s sister. It made it hard to hope for their romance when they were potentially hurting so many other people. I liked how James handled part of the situation, but View Spoiler ».

The romance was there, creating tension and atmosphere throughout the book. There were moments I loved and others I didn’t. The Duke is Mine might not have been my favorite of the series, but I enjoyed the rest.

3 Stars

Posted October 28, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 13, 2016

Review | The Beast of Clan Kincaid by Lily Blackwood

Review | The Beast of Clan Kincaid by Lily BlackwoodThe Beast of Clan Kincaid by Lily Blackwood
Series: Highland Warrior #1
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks, May 2016
Pages: 291
Format: Paperback
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A Highland warrior battles to reclaim his birthright in the first of a new series filled with seduction, revenge, and soul-stirring passion…
They call him the Beast—a hardened mercenary whose heart seems as cold as his icy blue gaze. They do not know his true name: Niall Braewick, son of the Laird of Kincaid. It has been years since he escaped into the forest the night his father was murdered. Now he has returned, ablaze with a vengeful hunger. He will gain the MacClaren chief’s trust, gather his clan, and take back his lands. And take the MacClaren’s daughter as well…
Though he pulled her from the river, saving her life, Elspeth has been warned to keep her distance from her father’s hired warrior. He is a barbarian—a shame, as he is far more compelling than the lechers and fools competing for her dowry. Little does she know that, like the castle itself, she is a prize Niall intends to claim…but will he extract blood for blood and possess what is his, or will his enemy’s beautiful, innocent daughter tempt him to forsake his dream of conquest?

The Beast of Clan Kincaid is out for revenge. Torn from his home at a young age, Niall Braewick has returned to avenge his family’s death and reclaim his clan. A meticulous fighter, Niall has planned out his subterfuge (acting as a warrior for hire) to win back the castle and lands. The only thing standing in the way? His father’s murderer’s beautiful daughter. He can’t get Elspeth out of his mind, and the feeling is mutual. As he tries to refocus and get her out of his mind, she finds her way to his heart.

Admittedly, my first impression of The Beast of Clan Kincaid wasn’t too favorable. In the first scene with Elspeth, her sister’s puppy disappears downstream. Everyone’s reaction? Oh, well. For me, that was just crass, especially with Elspeth’s “she’ll learn to get over it” reaction. Although Niall goes to find/save the puppy and returns him to the girl (major brownie points for him), Elspeth’s “eh” response made it hard for me to identify with her.

I’m glad I kept reading. Blackwood does an excellent job of portraying the politics of a Scottish laird’s court, especially one who still harbors feelings about what happened to Niall’s family. His mixed emotions, colored by history and perception, was one of the underdog golden elements of The Beast of Clan Kincaid.

I loved the depth and description that went into Niall’s character. The conflict of his need for revenge, to secure his home, and to win Elspeth created a fascinating character. His narration was compelling, engaging, and a new take on the Scottish romance.

Unfortunately, I felt like Elspeth fell flat. She didn’t have the same consistency of character: one moment she was fiery, fighting back against the (completely unsuitable) suitors who paid her court; the next, she was the dutiful, doting daughter who did anything her father told her to. I didn’t see her as the vibrant, vivid character Blackwood tried to create. That character would have brought the story to a new level.

Despite Elspeth’s lack of character, The Beast of Clan Kincaid was a good read. The vivid descriptions and intense emotions from Niall more than made up for her.

3 Stars

Posted October 13, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 2, 2016

Review | Tempt Me by Twilight by Lisa Kleypas

Review | Tempt Me by Twilight by Lisa KleypasTempt Me at Twilight by Lisa Kleypas
Series: The Hathaways, #3
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks, September 2009
Pages: 373
Format: Paperback
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He was everything she'd sworn to avoid.
Poppy Hathaway loves her unconventional family, though she longs for normalcy. Then fate leads to a meeting with Harry Rutledge, an enigmatic hotel owner and inventor with wealth, power, and a dangerous hidden life. When their flirtation compromises her own reputation, Poppy shocks everyone by accepting his proposal—only to find that her new husband offers his passion, but not his trust.
And she was everything he needed.
Harry was willing to do anything to win Poppy—except to open his heart. All his life, he has held the world at arm’s length…but the sharp, beguiling Poppy demands to be his wife in every way that matters. Still, as desire grows between them, an enemy lurks in the shadows. Now if Harry wants to keep Poppy by his side, he must forge a true union of body and soul, once and for all...

At first, I didn’t know how to feel about Tempt Me at Twilight‘s romantic hero, Harry Rutledge.

Scratch that.

For the first half of the novel, I didn’t know how to feel about Harry Rutledge.

He’s ruthless, especially when it comes to getting what he wants. A self-made man, Rutledge has created his success and is therefore fiercely defensive of it. He thrives on his business and vice versa. He has reached his wildest dreams: to make his mark among the rich and famous. So when he sees something he wants, he takes it.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Poppy Hathaway, it doesn’t work the way he planned.

I loved Rutledge at first. He was the hardened businessman, the one that never believed in love, especially not for himself. He was the reluctant underdog, the one fighting to win the chance at her hand. Then he made what I would consider some pretty bad decisions. I have to admit; I was close to putting this book down. But it was Poppy who saved both Rutledge and Tempt Me at Twilight.

Poppy is Rutledge’s foil in every sense of the word. Where he’s a tough-minded businessman, she’s a softer, family-focused woman. It’s this simple yin yang that adds life to both the narration and its hero. She makes him relatable, forgiving, even kind.

Like Poppy, I struggled with Rutledge, but also like her, I found the soft in him. It was the saving grace of Tempt Me at Twilight, the element that made me stay up half the night to finish it; that had me setting aside the book with a sigh when I finished. Their relationship creates this magic that brings the whole novel alive.

Despite the hiccups with Rutledge in the beginning, I fell madly in love with both him and Poppy. Tempt Me at Twilight brought all the charismatic, vibrant characters and the romantic storyline that made Kleypas a household name. And I loved it.

4 Stars

Posted October 2, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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September 25, 2016

Review | Lord Dashwood Missed Out by Tessa Dare

Review | Lord Dashwood Missed Out by Tessa DareLord Dashwood Missed Out by Tessa Dare
Series: Spindle Cove, #4.5
Publisher: Avon Impulse, December 2015
Pages: 144
Format: Paperback
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A snowstorm hath no fury like a spinster scorned!
Miss Elinora Browning grew up yearning for the handsome, intelligent lord-next-door…but he left England without a word of farewell. One night, inspired by a bit too much sherry, Nora poured out her heartbreak on paper. Lord Dashwood Missed Out was a love letter to every young lady who’d been overlooked by gentlemen—and an instant bestseller. Now she’s on her way to speak in Spindle Cove when snowy weather delays her coach. She’s forced to wait out the storm with the worst possible companion: Lord Dashwood himself.
And he finally seems to have noticed her.
George Travers, Lord Dashwood, has traveled the globe as a cartographer. He returned to England with the goal of marrying and creating an heir--only to find his reputation shredded by an audacious, vexingly attractive bluestocking and her poison pen. Lord Dashwood Missed Out, his arse. Since Nora Browning seems to believe he overlooked the passion of a lifetime, Dash challenges her to prove it.
She has one night.

Fueled by the rocketing emotions of a broken heart (and a few glasses of sherry), Miss Elinora Browning puts pen to paper to explain just why the dashing Lord Dashwood, childhood friend and longtime crush, missed out when he left her behind to explore the high seas. The last thing she expects, however, is to be face-to-face with him on her travels to Spindle Cove…or for the carriage to break down in the middle of their journey. Backed against a wall by Dashwood’s demands for clarification, her own heart, and the past, it’s up to Nora to show him just what he missed out on.

I’m not a huge fan of novellas. Normally there isn’t enough room to develop the characters, to create a believable story, a realistic world, to make me fall in love. Thankfully, Lord Dashwood Missed Out not only met but beat my expectations on each score.

Dare created their relationship so perfectly that I never questioned it. Dashwood and Nora’s conversations about their past, combined with their separate narrative flashbacks, built up their backstory and created the perfect environment for their story to continue.

While both Nora and Dashwood fit character stereotypes, there wasn’t much typical about them. While most of us have emotion-fueled letters to our exes in our diaries, most of us today don’t share them, let alone publish them. For a woman to take such a stand, especially against a member of the aristocracy, in that time period was something, and I adored Nora for it. Dashwood, in turn, was just as complex. I loved the surprising twists to his character, the romantic hidden behind the hard exterior.

Lord Dashwood Missed Out was clever, funny, and simply fun to read. I loved their story, and wished for it to be a full-length novel. I wanted more of the banter, the bickering, the romance, the friction that was constantly between Dashwood and Nora. By far, Lord Dashwood Missed Out is my favorite novella.

4 Stars

Posted September 25, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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August 18, 2016

Review | Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas

Review | Marrying Winterborne by Lisa KleypasMarrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas
Series: The Ravenels, #2
Publisher: Avon, May 2016
Pages: 416
Format: Paperback
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A ruthless tycoon
Savage ambition has brought common-born Rhys Winterborne vast wealth and success. In business and beyond, Rhys gets exactly what he wants. And from the moment he meets the shy, aristocratic Lady Helen Ravenel, he is determined to possess her. If he must take her virtue to ensure she marries him, so much the better…
A sheltered beauty
Helen has had little contact with the glittering, cynical world of London society. Yet Rhys’s determined seduction awakens an intense mutual passion. Helen’s gentle upbringing belies a stubborn conviction that only she can tame her unruly husband. As Rhys’s enemies conspire against them, Helen must trust him with her darkest secret. The risks are unthinkable… the reward, a lifetime of incomparable bliss. And it all begins with…
Marrying Mr. Winterborne

Please don’t hate me for what I’m about to say.

I didn’t love Rhys Winterborne.

know. Since I discovered Kleypas earlier this year (yes, I know, bit late to the party), I’ve fallen head over heels for her heroes, her heroines, her writing, hell, even her covers. But Marrying Winterborne? I couldn’t.

Since Rhys’ awful behavior at the end of Cold-Hearted Rake, I fully expected Helen to leave his sorry behind, well, behind, and find herself a good man. The way he behaves toward Kathleen at the end of the first series installment was so disgusting. But Marrying Winterborne picks up a few short weeks (week?) after, and Helen and Rhys fall back into a torrid affair.

To be fair, there were moments Rhys was heart-stoppingly romantic, and I’d hoped he’d left that nasty, controlling behavior behind. Then he ruined it by saying/doing something that made me want nothing to do with him. I couldn’t shake the feeling of controlling, hard man wrapped up in a layer of romance to make him appealing. The heady dose of possessiveness overwhelmed his character.

I had the same issues with Helen, but in a different way. I didn’t expect her to act as she did throughout the book, which tipped my entire perception of the series on its side. She didn’t develop as a character any further than she had in the first installment, a decision that I think really hurt her.

On the plus side, Kleypas’ writing was fantastic as ever, even as I struggled with her characters. Each scene was beautifully written, stunning, and vibrant. I loved the premise of the story and the ideas behind the characters, but they needed further development (and less aggression on Rhys’ part) to make Marrying Winterborne a winner. I’m not giving up on Kleypas…maybe Rhys just isn’t my style.

3 Stars

Posted August 18, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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