Monday, January 31, 2011

How to Live Through a Bad Day: Seven Powerful Insights from Christ's Words on the Cross by Jack Hayford

How To Live Through A Bad Day Seven Powerful Insights From Christ's Words On The CrossHow To Live Through A Bad Day Seven Powerful Insights From Christ's Words On The Cross by Jack Hayford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this book a few years ago, because it definitely had a message I needed to hear. I was in a very stressful job and I was dealing with a coworker who seemed out to get me, to undermine every support system I had in that job, and to turn everyone against me. Since then, I’ve taken this book to work with me and kept it handy. I’ve even started reading it a few times. Today, I read the whole book. It is a remarkable thing how the Holy Spirit can prompt you, direct you exactly where you need to go. I needed to read this book right now.

This book is structured around the representation of Jesus’ time on the Cross, containing seven lessons that are taken from Jesus’ actions and words on the Cross. The seven principles are as follows (taken directly from the book):
1. Forgive anyone--no, everyone--who seems set on ruining your life.
2. Though beset yourself, focus on encouraging others who are struggling and uncertain.
3. Be sure you are sensitive and loving, certain to take care of those who are near you.
4. When seemingly impossible questions come, aim them at God, not at man.
5. Whatever your adequacy, never be above making known your need for help.
6. Embrace the certainty that God’s “finishes” always have a purpose and an end.
7. Surrender everything to God and let go.

The beauty of this book is, Mr. Hayford doesn’t introduce anything new here. He just prompts the reader to consider what has been laid out before all Christians. We read about Christ’s crucifixicion, and we thank Him for it, remembering that it was done for our salvation. However, here we are urged to look at what He did, and what it means for our life beyond our salvation from sin. It was as if a lightbulb went on for me. I always knew that Jesus was well aware of everything He did. He chose to go to the Cross. He did it for those who would believe in Him. I also knew that He is my model for how I should live my life. Jesus urged all His followers to take up their Crosses and to follow in His footsteps. That is one of the toughest jobs a Christian will have. Because we embrace His suffering when we take up our Crosses. We embrace the scorn that He himself felt. We embrace the abuse that the Lord suffered. We won’t actually be crucified, at least most of us Christians in a modern world. But emotionally and socially we will face scorn and derision. It’s just part of living in this world as His followers.

What this book teaches me is that there is a way to look at these events and allow them to speak to my spirit and to show me how to glorify Christ, and even more profoundly, how to use the lessons that Jesus gave me to triumph over those daily sufferings.

I will say here and now, forgiving someone, truly forgiving someone, is one of the hardest things a person can do. Yes, even Christians. We build walls around our hearts, and when someone manages to get past those defenses, and to hurt us, all we can think about is how wrong that person is. Well, it’s obvious that they wronged us. But, as Jesus said, “They know not why they do it.” What Mr. Hayford pointed out was that a person can sin intentionally against another, but deep down, they may not realize how much they hurt us, or the consequences of it. Even if I have trouble with this, I know one thing, Jesus forgave me what I have done, what I continue to do, what I will do, and he didn’t make qualifications. He forgave me because that is what love is. I have to keep praying for God to give me His forgiving heart, because forgiving is a supernatural work. But, if anyone can give me the ability to do so, it’s Him. And in the end, I am better off, because my heart is not weighted down by bitterness and hatred for another. I am lighter and freer to live my life, if I can let go of my unforgiveness for others who have wronged me.

Helping Others
I have found this to be very true. When I spend my time focusing on how sucky things are for me, it just becomes this vicious cycle that brings my spirits ever lower. But, if I get out of my own head, and turn my focus away from what’s wrong with my life, and reach other to others in need, that balm of healing does its work. I truly believe our job is to help others and to fellowship with others. It’s not an easy thing for me at times. I am a loner, and I am an introvert. However, I know that God gave me a spirit to help others, even if it makes my life uncomfortable, and many of my troubles come from putting myself out there for others, when I’d be better off staying in my own quiet little corner of the world. In the end, despite the agonies that result, the payoff is so rich. To know that you helped someone, to know that you ministered as the Lord ministers to you…that’s a good feeling. I didn’t see the movie, but it’s definitely “Paying it Forward,” and the returns are great, in the end.

Using Your Suffering to Aid Others Who Suffer
I learned years ago in biblical lessons about why God became Jesus and came to earth. He did it so he would know intimately what His children go through in this world, in this life. Jesus was fully human, but also God. He suffered as no person on earth has, on the Cross, and he refused to take the easy route. He knew beforehand how He would suffer, which is why he prayed in the Garden of Gethesemene for God to take away his Cup. In the end, He didn’t shirk his duty. He took everything on Himself willingly, and He did it for this reason. He did it out of love for us. So, when you feel as though God couldn’t possibly know what you are going through, remember that He does. And turn that around. When you see someone going through something awful, and you’ve suffered in your life, reach out to them, and minister to them in their time of need. You might not exactly have gone through what they have, but you know what it’s like to feel pain and agony, so use that experience, and how you got through it to help someone else. Yes, I have heard this before, but it’s good to be reminded.

God Wants You to Come to Him With the Tough Questions
Just like Jesus cried on the Cross to God, “Why have you forsaken me?”, Christians (and I believe those who are truly seeking the Lord but haven’t found Him) have the privilege to do the same with the Lord. Don’t run away from God when you feel ugly about things, when you are in the deepest, darkest agony. Cry out to Him, and ask Him why you are suffering. You might not get an easy answer, but you will gain the peace of Christ, which surpasses all understanding by approaching Him and communing with Him. The Lord will never turn away one of His children who earnestly seeks Him and calls onto Him for His help. The word of God backs this up in many, many scriptures. Whenever I am in my darkest moods, I remind myself of this, and it is so true. And remember, that Jesus did this very thing on the Cross. Remember that no matter where you are, how deep and dark the depths of your suffering are, God is with you. He said He would never leave or forsake His Children, and He meant it. He said that those who call on the Lord would be saved, and I believe it. Sometimes we are so wrapped up in the excruciating intensity of our pain that we just forget that He is there because we are hurting so bad, but He is right there with us, wiping away our tears.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Others For Help
This is very hard for me. I don’t like to be perceived as weak. I like to keep my vulnerabilities hidden. Because I have learned that people will often attack you when they see you are weak. But, the Lord made it clear that we need each other. That’s why the Lord calls His believers the Body of Christ. Together we are able to function as a better whole. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t carry our own weight. Remember that Jesus carried His Cross, although others helped Him on the road to Golgotha. And He also asked for a drink before He said His last words. Mr. Hayford states that Jesus did this as a lesson. He wanted to show that even the Lord was not too strong to ask for help when He needed it. So should his children. If you are truly suffering, don’t go off like a wounded animal about to die, when you might need to be around friends and loved ones who can minister to you. Let them know you need their help. It might even be something small. If you need some time alone, ask someone to keep an eye on things for you while you take the time to regroup. Sometimes our way of helping others is allowing them to feel as though they can help you, that they are important to you. My sister is a wise woman. I will lay my troubles out for her, and she knows just what to say. Sometimes I might feel silly expressing that something bothered me when it probably wouldn’t bother a ‘stronger’ person. Well, us Christians have to remember that we are strongest when we admit our weakness, because His grace is sufficient for us. And the Grace of God is the truest strength. So, even when I feel silly, I will tell her my troubles, even if I could just share them with God and not lose face. But I must remember that, just by asking for her advice, I am following the Lord’s example, getting the help I need, and often hearing His words speak through her. God didn’t put us on earth by ourselves. We have each other to help us. Don’t be too proud to ask for help when you need it.

No Matter Who Starts Something, God Will Finish It
In the Bible, there is a scripture that says that “He who begins a good work in your will be faithful to complete it.” I remind myself of that when I feel my most inadequate. Fear of failure is a heavy weight on my soul at times. When I feel I am not doing what God wants me to do, I go to Him, and allow Him to remind me that He will give me all I need to do His work. This is just one part of what the Lord intended us to know when he said, “It is Finished,” on the Cross. There is also the message that all the sufferings that we are afflicted with in this life, they will end. It is just a season in time. The Lord will take care of His children and get them through the most terrible circumstances, and we will come out of it, purer and refined, stronger. The other lesson is probably more clear. That when Jesus suffered on the Cross, he crucified sin. He took away its power and the fear of death for believers. Because Jesus suffered that separation from God due to human sin, we don’t have to. He is the bridge to God, and because of Him, sin has lost its eternal power and grip on us. So remember, when you feel that your sin has alienated God from you, that Jesus’ acts on your behalf has made it impossible for sin to keep you away from God. Its power truly is finished. Keep those messages close to your heart. Those bad days, they will end. And while they are lasting, you are never alone. God is there with you always.

Surrender All Things Into God's Arms
I have a bad habit of fixating on things. It can make for sleepless nights and lots of stomachaches. This book reminded me that God can deal with the stuff I'm not equipped to handle, no matter how much I analyze and reanalyze things. Some things are beyond my control, but nothing is beyond His. Just like Jesus commended his spirit into God's hands, I can surrender my being to God and allow him to take care of me. And he will exactly that.

This was a short book. But it has a great lesson, if not a reminder, for Christians. On your bad day, go back to the Cross and look at what Jesus wants us to remember about His time on the Cross. It will get you through that bad day, and you’ll come out of it even stronger.

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The Gladiator by Carla Capshaw

The Gladiator (Love Inspired Historical)The Gladiator by Carla Capshaw

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a beautiful book. I have long been wishing to read a Christian romance that delivered such a rich story as this. I loved how the love story was full, and it was as much about the love between Pelonia and Caros, as it was also Pelonia’s love for Christ, and how she was able to come into Caros’ life and to help him to heal and to come to know Christ. Ms. Capshaw did such a great job of showing this without it being preachy. The message of God’s love and how it gave Pelonia strength and how it could heal Caros’ deep emotional wounds was rich. The narrative never came off as pedantic or filled with spiritual public service announcements. It truly was about people of faith living their lives. There weren’t any easy answers. Pelonia had a struggle sometimes to act true to her faith, putting her faith in God to help her and to be her strength, which is the experience of all Christians. She didn’t realize that her actions showed the truth of her message. Caros saw how her faith was her foundation, how it gave her peace, and he came to want to know her God, who had made her such a beautiful, peace-filled person.

Caros had the traits that I love in a good hero: he was strong, but gentle, loving, possessive. He was very masculine, and he was a good man, even if he had lived a rough life, and done things he couldn’t forgive himself for. I could easily see why Pelonia fell in love with him. I could also see how the Lord had brought those two together.

I also liked the developing secondary romance between Quintus, a slave who is being trained as a gladiator by Caros, and Adiona, Caros’ seemingly hardened widow friend. In a way, she is like a male version of Caros. She seems hard and cruel, but down deep, she hides wounds that keep her from living a full life. I have a feeling that Quintus will bring love into her life.
The setting of this book took me back to Rome in the period of the early Christian church. It was very disheartening to see how Christians were treated, murdered for their faith and called deviants. It called me to stand strong in my own faith, considering that people were martyred by the thousands back then (and still are in parts of the world). The least of my worries is facing humiliation or being scorned by people because I believe in Jesus.

I really want to thank Ms. Capshaw for writing this book. She ministered to me so fruitfully. I needed the lessons in this book, as they strengthened my faith, but also took my mind off my own troubles. It was a good lesson that you are never beyond God’s grace, and God has a plan that he will see through. It may not make sense, but His will can’t help but be done; and you are a part of His plan in whatever way that is unique to you, because you are precious to God. Ms. Capshaw did a better job of showing this message than I can in this review, and I’m glad of that. I am so happy I had the chance to read The Gladiator, and I look forward to reading more of her books. If someone asks for a recommendation for a good Christian romance to read, or a romance that is just plain fulfilling for any romance or historical fiction reader, I’d be happy to recommend this one.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Storm of Shadows by Christina Dodd

Storm of Shadows (The Chosen Ones, #2)Storm of Shadows by Christina Dodd

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Although this wasn't perfect (but what is perfect in life?), I enjoyed it a lot. I liked the messages here, about grabbing onto love, even if nothing is guaranteed; facing your fears head on; choosing to do the right thing, even when walking away or being selfish is easiest; and finding value in something you might have overlooked. I could go on.

I feel that Ms. Dodd is finding her feet in the paranormal genre. I thought the first in this series, Storm of Visions, was rather awkward, the world-building taking precedence over the romance. I did not feel that way with this book. I felt there was a smooth integration of romance and paranormal storytelling here. Some things are still a bit shaky, but I think this series will become more solid with each book. Even still, I like the different sort of story she has here. The Chosen Ones, banding together to fight the Others. The pervasive presence of evil that the Chosen Ones face (both in human and supernatural form). I like how they were abandoned and unwanted, but have incredible gifts that can tip the balance of power. I'm still coming to know each Chosen One, yearning to know what their role will be, and that will keep me reading. I want the answers, and I want to see who they end up with!

Aaron was infectiously likeable as a hero, despite the fact that he didn't always come off as favorable in the narrative. He burned with raw intensity, but had a confidence, an urbane polish that allowed him to be utterly at home in high society and academia, even if he looked like a warrior in his GQ finery. However, he had some self-knowledge to face in this story. His beginning was heartbreaking and horrifying, and the path of his life wasn't an easy one by any stretch. He had to fight for everything he had in life, not always making the right choices. Aaron had to come to like and respect himself, and that journey made him so loveable. His chemistry with Rosamund was very appealing. Rosamund also did a lot of growing in this book, as well. I was glad that Ms. Dodd tricked me a little. I have some issues with makeover stories, and I was kind of worried this would turn into one where the heroine has to become a glamorous swan to be worthy of the hero. Not so. Long before her makeover, and long after, Aaron noticed the real Rosamund, the one he fell in love with, and it was kind of funny that he was annoyed that she seemed able to overlook him. Rosamund is a real, 100% bonafide nerd. I loved her for it. She is so immersed in her work and studies that she forgets about things like buying new clothes when her old ones get faded and frayed, she has no clue how to flirt, and I like how Aaron has to fight to earn her attention. It's a nice change. Deep down, though, Rosamund did notice Aaron, but it scared her, because her attraction to him had the power to rip away the barriers against hurt she had built when her mother and father died. It was easier to bury herself in the past, and to avoid love and emotions, but Aaron made that impossible for her. I love to read about intelligent, learned heroines, and that's definitely Rosamund. However, she is clueless about real life, and it was very endearing, others having to help her with the normal stuff, even though she is extremely smart about antiquities and ancient history. I liked that Aaron liked her knowledge and her intelligence. He didn't want to throw that away just for the outer package, although he did recognize the unpolished beauty she had from the beginning. So, with both the hero and the heroine in this book, I loved them, flaws and all. Like people in real life, I was able to care about them, even if they did things I didn't like. I thought they were a great couple together.

Dodd has a way of writing a delicious hero for this reader. Aaron wasn't so different. His layers appealed to me. I loved how protective he was of Rosamund, how she confounded him, how he was completely jealous of the other men who were all over her. He knew the real Rosamund, and that was the woman he wanted, and he wasn't afraid to fight for her. When Rosamund comes to accept how much Aaron means to her, in a pivotal, heartbreaking moment, I was completely plugged into this book, waiting to see what would happen next.

It's nice to read concise, straightforward writing, and that's Ms. Dodd's writing style. Even for its simplicity, the deeper levels were here. The mythology/lore was intriguing, and a little horrific at times. The story of the prophetess, and her ugly journey, where it led; the Sacred Cave, and how that related to Aaron from his birth, very fascinating elements. The people that Rosamund and Aaron encounter on their quest, and the dangers they faced. It kept me reading, even though the romance also appealed.

Although the paranormal aspects still need some polishing and developing (in my opinion), I thought this was a very enjoyable read, and the romance was wonderful. It's just short of five stars (because I am pretty picky about rating paranormal romance), but it definitely earned a 4.5/5.0 star rating.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

The Last of the Winter Roses by Jeanne Savery

The Last Of The Winter Roses (Zebra Regency Romance)The Last Of The Winter Roses by Jeanne Savery

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked this one up because I love ugly duckling stories, and I was intrigued by the fact that the ugly duckling of the Roses, as they were called, was the one Rose that St. John Worth wanted. I didn't realize that they had a turbulent history until I started the book. Ardith thought St. John's proposal five years ago was a joke that he had planned with two of his drunk cronies. It broke her young, insecure, love-struck heart. At that point, she abandoned any attempt at a season and fled to her Aunt Sibley, an independent spinster who raised her to be the same. Five years lady, she is a woman of consequence, with an independent life as Aunt Sibley's heir. She is content running her estate, raising horses, and taking care of the tenants and the country folk who are in need of medicine but don't trust the local doctor. She's managed very well to avoid St. John and any other suitors. However, when she leaves her sister's house, who has just given birth to her third daughter, she ends up caught in a bad snowstorm, and is forced to see shelter at St. John's house. Unfortunately, he is there. From that point on, she'll find him very hard to avoid.

I ended up loving this book. It just had that certain something that kept me turning the pages. There is built in angst and pathos for Ardith's situation. She is tall, dark, lanky, strong-featured, and not feminine enough compared to her older, prettier, blond, perfect sisters. She has given up on the idea of marriage because she feels she lacks those qualities that a man would want in a bride. St. John's cruel trick was the final factor that convinced her of that fact. And then, there is the fact that she has come to treasure her independence. Her father doesn't know what to do with her. He's not even allowed through the gate of her estate, nor is St. John. She has total autonomy. However, St. John's renewed presence in her life makes her second guess her determination not to wed, and that he was just playing a trick on her.

I really loved and felt for Ardith. She was very insecure about her charms as a woman, and it was clear why as I saw how her family treated her. As if there was something wrong with her and she'd never measure up. Even her father made jokes about her not being pretty or womanly, although he admired her pluck. I liked that she was a capable woman. She was very skilled at healing, running an estate, and was a much admired and respected horse-breeder. When she showed her doubts at her lack of beauty or social charm, I didn't find it annoying, because it wasn't in a self-pitying way. She had made the most of what she had, and she had determined to have a good life, even if she wasn't going to be some man's beloved, beautiful society wife. The secret hurt that she'd experienced from St. John felt very real to me. Even more so because it was a misunderstanding, but her low self-esteem, caused by the way her family treated her, made it worse.

St. John was a dear from the beginning. I felt bad for him, because he truly loved Ardith. Even five years later, he was very much in love with her, but stayed away out of respect for her. When he got his chance to woo her, his chance at finally having her as his bride, he didn't let the opportunity pass him by. He wasn't afraid to use whatever means available in his arsenal. I loved how he stood up for her with Ardith's overbearing, but very thick-headed father. He even fell out of sorts with him because he wasn't going to back down, and was willing to defend Ardith, even if it put him in her father's bad graces. I appreciated the fact that St. John loved Ardith for who she was. He wanted her in his life, and was willing to make compromises to make sure she was happy in their life together. Even so, he was no pushover. He showed determination and a sense of grace and honor in his pursuit of Ardith. He was very patient, even when Ardith was stubborn to trust in him. He understood the uphill battle to win back her trust and was in it for the long hall. He was a really good man. A man any woman would be glad to have as her beloved husband. I was cheering for him to win Ardith's heart back into his keeping.

Another aspect I enjoyed was the humor. I love the way that a good trad regency brings in the funny aspects of the speech and the everyday interactions of the characters. Ms. Savery captured the feel of the period very well. She used a few phrases that were new to me, but I forgot to write them down to look them up, but they made me feel she had done her research on this period, going way beyond just window-dressing. Poor Ardith's hands were full managing her sisters' issues, since her father was pressing for a grandson, even willing to bribe the first couple who gave him one. Her sisters (except the one who just gave birth) fled to Ardith for protection when their marriages were under strain from their father's edict, and it was funny seeing how Ardith's loyal gatekeeper showed no respect for title or rank in turning away both Ardith's dad, St. John (who won him over with his devotion to Ardith), and her sisters' spouses. This book was laugh-out loud funny in more than a few scenes. Ardith's dad was not an intelligent man. And he was so set in his ways. He just had no clue how to deal with a stubborn, independent daughter like Ardith.

This book was a nice breath of fresh air. An impulse buy from the clearance rack that more than paid for its spot on my keeper shelf. I am usually lured in fairly easy by the plain Jane theme, especially when the hero is smitten and wooing the plain Jane, so that got my attention. But the good writing and engaging story and characters kept my interest. I'd definitely recommend this one.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Messenger by Robert W. Chambers

The MessengerThe Messenger by Robert W. Chambers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this one with the Classic Horror Lovers group (albeit late), and I enjoyed it. Mr. Chambers took the time to establish the mood, the setting, and the characters. I like the way each person was given particular traits that brought the characters to life. He also established the Breton setting very well. The people are steeped in superstition, which the protagonist (Dick) frowns and dismisses. However, he would be wise to heed their warnings.

The scenes in which the 39th skull, the skull of the Black Priest, somehow continues to find it's way uphill out of the mass grave were quite scary. Also, when the masked priest shows up outside the window of Lys, Dick's wife. As were the climactic scenes and near the finish. I was sure that Dick and his wife were a goner. Oh, that last scene was quite creepy.

I liked how Chambers kept me guessing. He built up my expectation for tragedy, learning that Dick and his wife were so in love, and expecting a happy event. I was scared to keep reading, because I was sure the Black Priest was going to carry off poor Lys. I liked that Lys hung fast to her faith and didn't fear death, and her faith seemed to inspire Dick. Her actions, which seemed really superstitious, helped to save the day, which I am grateful about.

I have to say I enjoyed Mr. Chambers' writing, although some of the history aspects were a tad dry. I like his ability to build tension, and his romantic/melodramatic elements. I will be reading more of him.

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The Bride by Julie Garwood

The Bride (Lairds' Fiancées, #1)The Bride by Julie Garwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm not feeling very literate today, so I am going to compose this review around a list of reasons why I loved this book.

Reasons Why I Loved The Bride by Julie Garwood

1. Jamie is a great heroine. Okay, she might have some Mary Sue-ness going on, although I hate using that term. She is really gorgeous, very nice, oh-so sweet, great at pretty much everything, giving, and self-sacrificing. However, she's totally loveable. For me, that's the opposite of a Mary Sue, because Mary Sues are characters that the writer tells you that you should love, but you don't. Julie Garwood has a way of writing heroines that it is impossible to dislike. Jamie is self-deprecating, and she has enough quirks that I wanted to give her a hug. I love her quick temper, because it usually ends up causing me to laugh instead of annoying me. I thought it was hilarious how she was always giving Father Murdock shillings to pay for indulgences when Alec got on her nerves (because he was sinning in her mind). She was very good at making lemonade out of lemons, and had a way of dealing with people that was fair but also had the people wondering what hit them. When Alec hurt her feelings, I wanted to hurt him. I was like, "Why are you being mean to this sweetheart?" Her heart is so big, that you just want to be friends with her, which is always a plus when it comes to characters in the books I read and enjoy.

2. This was a fun medieval didn't seem terribly inaccurate. Julie Garwood and I both know that she was playing some things for laughs. She's not trying to get me to buy this book, hook, line and sinker as 100% historically accurate, and that's fine. I found the setting to be believeable, and I was able to plausibly accept that Jamie could have lived back in the medieval times and married Laird Alec Kincaid. Good enough for me. Normally, I prefer books that are more historically accurate, but Julie Garwood is an author who gets the "Get out of jail free card" because her books satisfy in so many ways even if they aren't necessarily spot on in that way.

3. Alec might be the big, arrogant, "I know everything, and I will have things exactly the way I want them", but he was a really good guy. He learned pretty quickly that he loved his wife, and wanted to see her happy. He wasn't bossy and obnoxious. I found his arrogance endearing, in fact. He was tough and dangerous, as a Highland laird should be, but also warm and loving. Great combination!

4. Jamie and Alec were a great couple. The passion was sexy and hot, but also sweet. I liked that they both grew as people and grew together. As usual for a Julie Garwood hero, Alec thinks he is in charge, and that has his marriage all figured out, and Jamie will adjust to doing things his way. Ha-ha! Nope. Alec came to realize that his life was better for the chaos that Jamie brought into it. He was willing to give on things to keep his wife happy, although he was no pushover. That is not to say that Jamie wasn't willing to meet him halfway and adjust her life to his. She did plenty of that.

4. I love the fact that this book made me laugh, had its poignant moments, and had a little suspense. The suspense wasn't a huge part of the story, which is just how I like it. I'm not real fond of historical romances that are mainly suspense anyway.

5. Scottish Highlander books are just awesome to me. Yes, I realize that the Scottish Highlands aren't really like this. But, I enjoy my happy time with hot men in kilts with Scottish burrs, and claymores, and I'm a happy girl.

6. Like most of the Julie Garwood books, The Bride took me to that happy, warm and fuzzy place. There were plenty of 'sighworthy/happy joy-joy' moments, which made for an uplifting read. It was so lovely to read this book, and enjoy the zany results when Jamie and Alec met. It was like two storm fronts colliding head on, but the results were fruitful and delightful.

I've run out of steam here. But, I'm cool with that. Somehow, I thought I had read this book, because my memory is kinda bad at times, and I read every historical romance my library carried growing up. So, I assumed I read this one. But, I'm pretty sure I didn't now. So, I'm glad this was the January read for the Lisa Kleypas group. This was such a fun, loveable read, and it's yet another Julie Garwood book that's going on my keeper shelf.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

The Raven Prince (Princes Trilogy, #1)The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Raven Prince was a sweet, sensual, delectable book that I've had sitting on my tbr pile for years now! In a way, I don't regret that, because I read it at the right time. This lovely story took what could have been dark and melancholy subject matter, and made something upbeat and whimsical, yet no less moving.

Anna and Edward are characters that get shoved into closets and overlooked when it comes to romance novels. They are both over thirty. Neither is drop-dead-gorgeous. Neither are shining diamonds of the ton (who usually bore me to tears anyway). Neither is especially wonderful to the world--except for me. I prefer reading about the misfits, the 'ugly ducklings' and 'raven princes'. I liked the fact that although both Anna and Edward have had some very tragic, lonely times in their lives, neither of them are particularly whiny about it. They have moved on to live their lives, even though deep down, they hoped for better. Anna was married for years to a man who made her feel inadequate because she never conceived, even going so far as to cheat on her. When he dies, she settles into widowhood, supporting her mother-in-law on his dwindling investments. In fact, she reminded me of the story of Ruth and Naomi from the Bible in how she cared for her mother-in-law and loved her. The time comes for her to get a position, and there are few to come by in Little Battleford. However, the mysterious Earl of Swartingham needs a secretary, and his estate manager, Hopple, is desperate enough to hire a woman.

When the two meet, there is a connection. Not exactly love at first sight, but something that develops into much more than what an Earl should feel for his secretary. I liked that both Edward and Anna looked past the superficial to what mattered in life. Anna saw Edward's smallpox scars, but more importantly, she saw a strong, beautiful man, even if he was a bit surly. Edward saw a vivid, attractive women although she had a plain face to the rest of the world. He liked being around her, talking to her, being with her. He liked her for who she truly was, giving her an acceptance her deceased husband had denied her.

Ms. Hoyt managed to take some aspects that wouldn't have appealed to me and to build a lovely romance. In theory, I didn't like the idea of Anna meeting Edward in Aphrodite's Grotto, pretending to be a lady of pleasure. I hate the idea of prostitution, and I especially hate when the hero in a romance book that I am reading goes to a brothel. What Ms. Hoyt did here was pretty cool. If she was going to have Edward go to a brothel to deal with his unseemly, lustful urges for his secretary, why not have his secretary be the woman he slakes those urges on? Those love scene were very well-written and "fan-yourself-now" steamy.

Anna discovers passion for the first time, and has to pay the price of passion--the knowledge that it is gained without knowing she is loved by the man she is with. Edward enjoys his time with the mystery woman, but his mind always goes back to Anna. Why does she come to mind when he's with this other woman? How can he feel such passion for her when his mind is fixated on Anna?

I liked how Ms. Hoyt deals with the double standard that society holds to regarding prostitution. A woman is the one who is sullied, but men are just doing what comes naturally. It drives me crazy! Anna helps a sick prostitute and has to deal with a bit of social stigma because of it, because that woman is dirty and beneath her. I was glad she was brave enough to do what was right, showing what a 'good woman' truly is. I do have to say I didn't like some of the double standards that Edward showed. His anger at finding out Anna was his mystery woman, and the way he put her on the "pure, innocent" pedestal, but had no problem slaking his urge on the professional woman who he always called whores. It's just my personal issue with the subject. I hate prostitution, but I hate it because I don't think a woman should have to use her body that way. Even moreso, I hate the hypocrisy of society when it comes to prostitutes. They didn't get 'sullied' by themselves. So, I particularly liked when Anna tells Edward off when he lectures her for taking in the sick prostitute, Pearl. The way I look at it, the oldest profession would go out of business if people didn't pay for sex, so it goes both ways for me, with a higher burden put on people who pay for sex. Anyhoo, societal rant aside...back to review.

I liked the subtle humor here, a light touch that brightened this story and kept it from being too melancholy. As much as I like angst, sometimes it's nice to have a fun read that's also deep and manages to move me at the same time.

I don't think I have much more to say here. I really enjoyed this book. I liked Ms. Hoyt's ability to write clearly, beautifully, but never floridly. She captures the Georgian era, but isn't heavy-handed about it. I knew I was reading a historical romance, and I believed in the setting. I definitely want to read more of her books (good thing I have been accumulating almost all of them over these few years). The elegant simplicity of her prose made this a swift and enjoyable read. This was historical romance that was enjoyable from beginning to end--I never felt the plot drag or my attention start to wane with this book. Although some of their moments of blindly holding on to misconceptions and fruitless determinations frustrated me, I never lost respect or liking for Anna and Edward. I could see that they had built barriers to love out of fear of heartbreak, and to keep themselves safe from further loss. Because I felt like I knew and cared for them, I found their passion very hot, but it also was a sweet, deep love story, so it satisfied me on both levels. In fact, I loved the characters for all their imperfections; I felt that they were normal, relatable people who deserved a happy ending. I was glad I got to see them get their happy day in this book.

Thanks to my Secret Santa Julie for selecting this book as one of my Christmas presents to read for the Lisa Kleypas group!

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Man With the Golden Torc by Simon R. Green

The Man With the Golden Torc (Secret Histories, #1)The Man With the Golden Torc by Simon R. Green

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Five stars stands for awesome, and that's what this book is! I loved it. I was a little worried that I wouldn't like it as much as the Nightside series, but boy was I wrong.

This book takes my love of James Bond spy movies and supernatural stories and makes a wonderful hybrid, but it has Simon R. Green's own stamp and spin on it. He incorporated all the humor which will make me laugh out loud, the angsty moments, and some thrilling/scary/downright horrific moments as well.

I loved Eddie! Although I still love John Taylor from the Nightside series, I think I like Eddie more, because I got to see him as a fully developed character who evolved over the course of this book. He started out kind of arrogant, so assured of his place in the world. He got a painful wakeup call, and I experienced the gauntlet of emotions he faced as he realized his family wasn't the court of knights in golden armor that he believed they were. I think Eddie really rolled with the punches, dealt with a lot here, and came out on top, the hard way. He's a good guy. He cares about the world, about people. He truly believes in protecting the innocents and fighting the good fight, even at his own personal cost. Even though he can kill without remorse when necessary, he doesn't kill wantonly, and he's never a bully. Even though he doesn't fall in with the party line and play the good little soldier like his family demands, he's very loyal, and family matters to him. Because he's able to think for himself and he loves his family at the same time, he was the best guy to deal with the rot destroying his family from the inside out.

Mr. Green always surprises me with the concepts he integrates into his stories, and I love that about him. The underlying origin of the family's power really surprised (and horrified) me, but it makes sense at the same time. I like how he built this story on the legend of the druids. I respect how Mr. Green brings in uniquely British folklore, legends, and storytelling in his stories. It's one of the things that keeps me coming back. And his sense of humor doesn't hurt either.

Molly was a good companion for Eddie on his journey. She helps him to see that all is not as it appears. At the same time, he helps her to see that not all organizations that smack of the establishment have to be a bad thing. The world does need an organized force who can deal with the nasty supernatural threats, because that power vacuum will be filled, one way or the other. I loved their back and forth, sometimes trading insults, sometimes compliments. It was very well-done flirting that played excellently into this story. Their romance fits and compliments this story wonderfully.

I loved this trip through England, Simon R. Green style. Although John Taylor takes me on a tour of the Nightside, and I am happy to merely observe that bizarre, creepy, horrific world from the detached view of my book; I am fully Eddie's sidekick on his dangerous journey to find out why he was declared Rogue and to do something about that. It had all the high-octane elements of a Bond action flick, but with fantastic supernatural/arcane elements. I loved the references to legends and lore, and a few Lovecraftian nods thrown in for good measure. Like the Bond movies, this book has the cool gadgets, even cooler because they are supernatural. Eddie's Uncle Jack, called The Armourer, could give MI6's Q a run for his money.

Mr. Green did not let me down with this book. I have found yet another male-lead urban fantasy series that I simply must keep up with and add to my keeper shelf. Although I could probably write Mr. Green a crazy fan letter after reading this novel, I will let this semi-gushing review suffice!

Casting Wish List:

Jamie Bamber as Eddie Drood: Jamie Bamber

Lucy Brown as Molly Metcalf: Lucy Brown

Jim Broadbent as Uncle Jack, The Armourer: Jim

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Beauty and the Greek by Kim Lawrence

Beauty and the Greek by Kim Lawrence

My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

Beauty and the Greek immediately went to the top of my HP to-read pile when I got it in the mail. I liked the idea of the admin assistant who is hopelessly in love with one brother, and who gets help from the other brother to snare her man, and falls in love with him in the process. I am not a big fan of the 'makeover/Pygmalion' theme, because I believe that people should be loved for who they are. However, I am not adverse to it being handled the way Ms. Lawrence did in this book. In the case of Beth, Theo didn't really pay attention to her because she was his brother's AA, she dressed very prim and proper-like, and she treated him with very noxious disdain. One day, after being talked to very nastily by her (which is usual, but it was just more than he was willing to put up with that day from an employee), he is about to give her a set-down, when he notices that she is crying. This happens to be the day when Theo's brother Andreas proposes to Theo's ex, Ariana, who is a piece of work who cheated on Theo when they were together. In other words, not a woman he'd want his brother to marry. When he realizes that Beth is 'in love' with Andreas, and he sees the potential she has, really quite pretty with beautiful hazel eyes, thick dark hair, and a sexy, slim but curvaceous body that she hides behind grandma suits, he decides that he's going to help her get Andreas' attention.

I liked that this plan allowed Beth and Theo to spend some time together. After being played by Ariana, Theo has closed his heart off to love. His relationships are all with career women with no interest in anything beyond satisfying sex and themselves. Beth stands out because she's honest and real (and appealingly sweet, although that's not his normal type). She's not afraid to tell him off, and he admires her loyalty to his brother. They have a blistering attraction that makes hanging Beth out as bait for his brother inspire some serious jealousy in Theo. As for Beth, she can't reconcile why she would be so attracted to Theo when she's been in love with Andreas.

I really liked Beth. I admired her devotion to her ailing grandmother. Her conservative dress and morals made sense, considering she was raised by an elderly woman who instilled her own values into her young granddaughter. Theo seemed kind of arrogant at first, but he wasn't dismissive and cruel about Beth as much as I was expecting. He was more matter-of-fact, saying that she wasn't going to get Andreas' attention without 'gilding the lily,' since Andreas went for the cheap and available-type girls. Theo really won me over when he ministered to Beth after her loss that she suffered. That gave me a few 'sigh' moments. I loved the first time they made love. It was hot but also tender, and it was just what Beth needed at the time.

This one is hard to rate because the writing seemed a bit disjointed at times. On the other hand, I stayed up really late trying to read it, even though my eyes were practically rolling back in my head, I was so tired. That's a good sign. Moreover, the things that make books by this author appealing were apparent. I thought the ending was very sweet, and Theo turns out to have a very romantic soul. It was more than clear how much Beth had come to mean to him, and I love a hero who can make the gestures that speak louder than words, although he delivered the words beautifully as well. Theo and Beth are such a good couple, and I had a smile on my face when I finished this book. It had the elements that make a good modern romance for this reader. How can I not give this book at least 4.25 stars considering that it left me more than satisfied?

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Leaving Home by Leigh Michaels

Leaving Home (Harlequin Presents, No. 900)Leaving Home by Leigh Michaels

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very competent book, and I enjoyed reading it, but I felt that too much time was spent on Brodie's internal dialogue, so I couldn't rate it quite as highly as I would like to, since I think Leigh Michaels is a very good writer, and I liked the story idea.

What I liked:

*I really liked Drew's character. He's everything that I admire in a man: hardworking, honorable, steadfast, loving, caring, not a pushover. He was 33-years-old, and he had a mature attractiveness that appealed to me. You could look at him and say, "Now here's a man." Compared to Brodie's ex, there was no question of who was the better man, although it took a while for Brodie to see that. I liked how he didn't ever try to force or push Brodie into anything. He had loved her for a long time, but he was willing to let her go if that was how she could be happy. I think he was very patient with her, considering her earlier immaturity and some potentially bad decisions she was going to make.

*I liked how Ms. Michaels showed Brodie's transition from spoiled girl to mature woman. At first, I was worried that I wouldn't like her. She made some assumptions that she could have her cake and eat it: get married young, drop out of school, live with Drew, have him pay for her and her husband's support. Really? However, she grew up, and I really liked her from that point on.

*For some reason, I love that guardian falls in love with his ward storyline. I admit that it could be creepy, unless the author has a mature hero like Drew that you can respect and trust to do the right thing.

*What can I say? I am a sucker for unrequited love. It was very clear from the beginning that Drew loved Brodie, but he never was selfish in his love. That's true love to me.

*I have to give Ms. Michael's kudos for touching on domestic violence so well. Brodie's ex was about to hit her when he found out she didn't have money of her own. She broke up with him, and he found himself a sweet (and shy and browbeaten by her rich father) young thing who was very rich. He started hitting on her, and beat her up so badly after they got married, she had bruises on her face and all over when she comes to Brodie for help. This was pretty dark subject matter, but it's very real life. I was glad that Brodie wasn't the kind of girl to stand for that, and Drew wasn't going to let anyone hurt her like that. And I liked that she helped out the girl her ex married to get out of that ugly situation.

*Small town life: the good and the bad. It was well-presented here. Brodie was in a weird situation. She was living with Drew because his father was best friends with her father. They were really penniless, but people thought of her as a rich girl. When her fortunes change, it was interesting to see how the town treated her.

What I didn't like:

*The over-dependence on Brodie's internal monologue drug down this story for me. I would have liked to see more interaction and dialogue between Brodie and Drew because they had good chemistry together. I realize the older HPs didn't really show the hero's VP very much, but I think Drew was much too interesting to spend so much time focused on Brodie's thoughts. More of Drew could have been conveyed through action, although the glimpses of his psyche were very tantalizing.

*That it took Brodie most of the book to figure out she wasn't in love with her ex, and that she loved Drew. I realize only a short time had passed, but I would have liked it better if there was a more gradual realization of how much Drew meant to Brodie.

Overall conclusion: After analyzing this book as I reviewed it, I think I will go ahead and bump this up to 4 stars. I think readers who enjoy the guardian/ward relationship theme will like this book.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Taken for Revenge, Bedded for Pleasure by India Grey

Taken For Revenge, Bedded For Pleasure (Harlequin Presents)Taken For Revenge, Bedded For Pleasure by India Grey

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

With Taken for Revenge, Bedded for Pleasure, India Grey gave me what I wanted in a rainy Sunday Harlequin Presents read. There is fiery passion, intense emotions, painful self-discovery, and the union of two lost souls whose families have been enemies for fifty years.

Olivier Moreau appears to be the standard Harlequin Presents hero at first glance: devastatingly handsome and virile, rich, powerful, and utterly ruthless. He was without question a sexy man, but not especially likeable initially. I liked that Ms. Grey peeled away the layers to this cold, manipulative man and allowed me to feel for him, to come to believe he was worthy of being loved by Bella.

Bella is the damaged, lost, rich girl. She never felt like she had anything of value to offer her powerful, politically active, aristocratic family. She was used by her last boyfriend, and he exposed her and the Lawrence family to pubic ridicule in a way that lead to her attempting suicide. Since then, she has been trying to rebuild her life and her sense of purpose, one step at a time.

For Olivier to settle on Bella as the instrument of revenge would presumably cause automatic hatred, if not dislike for him. However, with the manner in which this story unfolds, I didn't feel that way towards him. I wasn't sure how much I liked him, but somehow I could understand his drive for power, when he'd lived under the thumb of the aristocracy and saw how his father, Julien, had been destroyed by the Delacroix family, because of his affair with their matriarch, Genevieve, who is Bella's grandmother. Julien created a painting in which he poured all his love and devotion for a woman who was forbidden to him. He also lost his chance at fame as a painter when he injured his hands in a fire set by a Delacroix, trying to save the painting that was the work of his life. So he was left with nothing. Olivier lost his father before he'd ever known him, growing up with a shell of a man; and his mother left when he was two. Olivier doesn't understand what love is. He only understands power and control. His pursuit of Bella is seemingly driven by revenge, but something about her calls out to him. It only makes seducing her a more pleasurable duty in his mind, but no more than that. Clearly, his behavior is far from honorable initially.

As this book unfolds, there is a very complex tangle of emotions and motivations present in the relatively short 184 pages. I wondered where things were going to go, and it wasn't predictable. Surprisingly early on, Olivier seemed to grow a conscience, and had a self-loathing for his actions that surprised me. I am used to the heroes in these books being so unforgiveably arrogant and blind to the truth, until they receive a last-minute epiphany. In this story, it's more of a gradual, and believeable evolution in Olivier. Instead of thinking Bella is not good enough for him, he knows he's not good enough for her.

Bella has a vulnerability that I found distressing at times. She never quite managed to grow a thick skin, despite what had happened to her. She was a little too honest in expressing her emotions and the allowing of them to show, despite coaching herself otherwise, for my comfort. But maybe this was as her grandmother said. She wasn't meant to be hard and cold, unfeeling, and empty, like she tried to be. As her grandmother told her early on in the book, she was meant for love and life. Perhaps that was what helped Olivier to turn away from the dark path he had dedicated his life to. To choose love and a sense of emotional connection, for once.

This book is rife with evocative imagery and the passion between Olivier and Bella simmers off the page. I loved the descriptions of high class, glitzy London, and even more, the French countryside. It was most enjoyable seeing Olivier out of his big city environment, revealing his French pastoral roots, cooking freshly picked mushrooms with wine and rice, or an herb omelet. I freely admit my love for men who cook.

Although I am admitted fan of this line of books, it's especially rewarding when I read one that has a lot of substance along with a fun, drama-filled read. I thought that Ms. Grey created a very vivid hero in Olivier, a man who I grew to like as I watched him struggle to realize what was truly of value to him. I would feel hesitant to see a fragile flower like Bella, a girl that I couldn't help but like and feel protective towards, end up in the hands of a cold-hearted bastard like the old Olivier. Fortunately, he showed glimpses of who he truly was deep down, encouraging her to be her sweet individual self, and choosing her as the most important thing to him, in ways that weren't necessary to his plan for revenge. So, in the end, I was more than happy that they found their happy ending together.

After reading this book, I'm going to add India Grey to my roster of authors who I can look to for delivering a satisfying, evocative, and satiating read in the Harlequin Presents line. This book proves her mettle. Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

The Iron Duke (Iron Seas, #1)The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to hand it to Meljean Brook. She created a wonderfully-detailed and fantastical world in this book. If a reader is wondering what 'steampunk' is, I will definitely point them towards this book. I was very impressed how she integrated nanotechnology into her world-building, and the nanotech fit very well in this universe. There are some aspects that seem rather dystopian, despite the fact that this is a Victorian-like setting. The use of robotic technology has some great applications, but some are rather horrific. In this story, a large degree of the world, particularly Europe and associated continents, has been subjugated by the Horde, which I intepreted to be the Mongols (as in Genghis Khan). Many of the major cities of Europe are under occupation or have been razed to ruins. Zombies roam the unoccupied territories, humans who were infected by nanobots that caused them to become vicious, cannibalistic monsters. However, many regular humans are infected with nanobots that enhance them in many positive, and some negative ways. The problem is that the Horde can control those humans, called buggers, with radio signals. In this world, the Horde are hated and despised, which creates a lot of problems for the heroine, Mina. She is the product of a Horde "frenzy" in which control of her mother's body (via control of the nanobots by radio signals) was overtaken by the Horde, and she engaged in a Horde orgy, resorting in Mina. She was so horrified at the sight of her half-Horde baby that she gouged her eyes out. Yeah, right away, I knew this story was going to be kind of dark.

I was very impressed with the meticulous world-building and attention to detail in this story. In addition, there are several major players who all want a say in the future of England, and the rest of the world, grabbing any kind of power or edge they can to gain that. This book has everything: mechanically-enhanced humans and animals, pirates, zombies, giant sea monsters, airships, you name it. However, it was so well-done, it never came off as over-the-top. While this book probably wouldn't work for straight romance fans, or even some fantasy/science fiction fans, I loved it, because I got a kick out of how imaginative and unique this Victorian world was. Despite my enjoyment, this wasn't an easy read for me. I often had to reread certain passages to make sure I was getting a clear understanding (that's not due to Ms. Brook's fault, but to my inexperience in reading a lot of science fiction-type literature and not having a head for political intrigue storylines). That's okay, because I wanted to get a full grasp of this book, and it certainly enhanced my enjoyment.

In my opinion, Ms. Brook didn't let her romance fans down. The love story between Rhys and Mina is equally important. I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of The Iron Duke when I started this book. When he showed up, I was not disappointed. He's a very unique character, which some aspects that I had not encountered in a hero thus far. I loved his vitality, his ruthless nature, his determination. Mina has a pull on him that compels him throughout this book. He is the kind of man who will move mountains to get his woman, which definitely works for me. Even outside of that, I respected him for his strength in enduring a very rough past, his determination to do what was necessary and to protect others. He might have seemed self-absorbed (he put importance on protecting what was his, whether it was his ship, the sailors, on it, or his properties and subjects as the Iron Duke). He didn't really like the ceremony of being a Duke, but he took the responsibility seriously, because that was the kind of man he was. He wasn't a smooth, refined character, which is fine with me. When he considers his feelings for Mina, they are described in a very rough way, but the emotions behind them are pure, and he definitely shows his love for her, not just physical infatuation.

As for Mina, I couldn't have liked her more as a heroine. She's tough, really tough. But she's not hard or frustrating. Any armor she has, I can't fault her for it. Because of her heritage as half-Horde, she is despised by many in London. They try to attack and harm her physically, so she has to have a bodyguard at all times, the hulking but gentle Constable Newberry. Those who don't hate her, fear her because her features remind them of the Horde. This aspect of the story hit home with me. Prejudice of any kind always does. Being judged by your features, your heritage, the color of your skin is wrong. Even if there are many of your heritage who are bad, that doesn't mean that you are. Because of being a woman and half-Horde, Mina has to work four times as hard just to be respected for her abilities as a Detective Inspector, and she's not afraid to do that. Rhys determined pursuit is a huge problem for her. She knows that their involvement is just going to cause more fodder for the distrust and lack of respect that the public holds for her. Even if she's very attracted to him, and he reaches her carefully guarded heart.

The relationship between Rhys and Mina develops very well. They start out as untrusting allies, with a reluctant attraction. As the story progresses, they come to respect and understand each other, and the love blossoms between them naturally. And their passion is red-hot. Rhys is a primal, demanding lover. However, he doesn't force Mina. Understanding what her issues are about being in control of her passions, he patiently works past those issues, and it's a beautiful thing to read. He won't be the kind of guy who whispers sweet, elegant words in a woman's ear. But he shows and tells a woman how much she means to him in simple, but effective ways. That definitely speaks to me. As for as Rhys and Mina getting their HEA, just being in love wasn't enough. They had to deal with the issues that they faced with their enemies, and the society they lived in. Although the romantic in me loves when a couple can easily surmount obstacles and be together, the realistic knows that's not always a simple thing. I like that Ms. Brook didn't allow their problems to just blow away in a puff of smoke because Mina was a "great person" and Rhys was the powerful "Iron Duke." However, I was completely satisfied with the romantic conclusion in this story, which I am very glad to say.

My experience with steampunk is fairly limited, but I love the ideas and the concepts of this genre of fantasy/science fiction. I highly recommend this novel to a reader who wants to experience this genre. Although this is not a simple world, there's a very fascinating world here that Ms. Brook created. The complex textures--Victorian setting, science fiction, fantasy, pulp fiction, adventure, romance, seafaring/pirate elements--just made this an even better read for me. This was a thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing book, and I will be looking out for the forthcoming books in the Iron Seas series with great expectation.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

For the Blood is the Life by F. Marion Crawford

For The Blood Is The Life (UNCANNY GOTHIC VAMPIRE TALE)For The Blood Is The Life by F. MARION CRAWFORD (1854-1909)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, now that was a good, old-fashioned horror story. It definitely does live up the challenge of chilling my blood. It was very atmospheric, and written to great affect. I could almost imagine how it must have been for poor Angelo each night when he was preyed upon by the creature, and I felt as though I could see the mound that the two gentlemen are discussing, and how creepy that must have been for them. I also felt sad at the injustice against poor Cristina, and how she wreaks her vengeance. Crawford doesn't explain how or why the creature rises to prey on Angelo, but I don't feel it was necessary. This story was completely successful in delivering an elegant scare. I read "The Upper Berth" by this author, and it was very scary. This one is quite fearsome as well, although very different. Mr. Crawford knows his way around a scary story. Yes, indeed. He's going on my list of the best classic horror writers.

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Friday, January 07, 2011

Craving Beauty by Nalini Singh

Craving Beauty (Silhouette Desire No. 1667)Craving Beauty by Nalini Singh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once again, Nalini Singh worked her magic on me. At first, I wasn't sure what to think. Hira was so mercurial, frigid ice princess one moment, vulnerable, exotic girl-child another, saying hurtful things to Marc. I was thinking I would be disappointed with this story. However, I began to see that Hira was protecting her heart from more damage like what had been inflicted over many years by a father who was a real misogynist, who treated her mother terribly, and restricted Hira's life severely, despite maintaining the appearance of being a loving husband and father. She had been treated like she had nothing to offer besides her beautiful looks and gorgeously-curved body. Her father used her as a business pawn, forcing Marc to marry her if he wanted to court her. Of course, she didn’t know that Marc wanted a real relationship with her. She thought he just wanted a sexy trophy wife.

As the book unfolded, I could see why she kept Marc at such a distance, and was so icy to him, although I hurt as Marc did. By the end of the story, I loved Hira, and I admired her for the strong woman that she was.

As for Marc, I loved him pretty much from the beginning. In fact, I wanted to take him and give him a long, fierce hug. He has a lot of the traits I just adore in a hero. He was a fierce, strong man, a real survivor, but with a gentle loving heart that hid behind steely, cold armor. He'd been abused really badly by his lousy alcoholic parents, who sold him to a thief. He lived on the streets, and was wounded grievously more than once, which was why he had scars on his face and body. I adored this man. Like Hira, his scars were badges of honor to me. This man worked his way up from nothing. Truly, he did have a chip on his shoulder against beautiful women. A stupid rich girl played a cruel joke on him, teaching him he wasn’t good enough without his money and power. Since then, he kept his heart protected. He felt inadequate because of his scars and his ignoble Bayou origins. But, like Hira, being a man who pulls himself up by his bootstraps and makes something of himself, being a strong, powerfully magnetic man spoke highly to me. She called him her fierce desert chieftain, and I felt this was a fair assessment from her viewpoint of admirable men (unlike her father). Also he is very possessive. Another plus in a hero. It gives me tingles! Golden boys born with silver spoons in their mouths don’t resonate with me the same way. If you like Lisa Kleypas's self-made heroes, you would probably like Marc. He definitely gave me that vibe, which always have the power to turn me into a melted pile of hormonal goo. Marc really was the perfect package for a hero to this reader.

Initially, this seemed a little melodramatic, (which ain't necessarily a bad thing since I like drama), but I wasn't sure what to make of it. Hira's innocence and unwordliness seemed too over the top. I had to readjust my worldview and consider how truly inexperienced and sheltered Hira was. Once I got my vantage point straight, I was all in. The intense, honest emotions and the heart-wrenching angst of Marc and Hira's pasts, and how they reach out to orphaned children to give them love (I cried on those scenes and the ones about Marc’s tortured past), and the fiery passion between them (which had me fanning myself as I read), well this was an irresistible package that won me over!

I can't say that all people would enjoy this book. Even those who are fans of Nalini Singh’s newer works, the Psy/Changeling and Guild Hunter books, might not necessarily love this book. However, I believe that the elements that make her a favorite, auto-buy author to me are very apparent in this lovely romance morsel. I’m very glad I got the chance to read this one. It’s going on my keeper shelf with my other Nalini Singh books.

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The Medusa Prophecy by Cindy Dees

The Medusa ProphecyThe Medusa Prophecy by Cindy Dees

My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

Mission Status Update


7 January 2011

Operator has completed mission of reading "The Medusa Prophecy" and is now completing written analysis.


*This was a great book. I loved the premise. I ate this group of female Special Forces soldiers up. I loved their camaraderie, their team spirit, and how they worked hard how to show the boys how it's done. Although I am no soldier myself, I think women soldiers can kick some serious butt and I'm cheering them on.

*Karen was a good heroine. At times, she was a bit frustrating, but I have to give her props that she managed so well, under the effects of a very devastating, lethal drug. I loved how kickbutt she was. She had a complex about being a large woman who was strong, and had been treated as a She-male, butch, and all those nasty terms that piss me off. She was a big, well-muscled, strong, sexy heroine worthy of being called an Amazon. The Sami people thought she was the reincarnation of the Norse war goddess Freya, which is a pretty darn awesome compliment.

*On the hottie hero front, Anders Larson checks out with all cylinders flying. What a man! Sexy as heck. An Olympic athlete skier, a bad@$$ warrior, sweet, loving, and man enough to appreciate a strong woman. He loved Karen for what she was, and thought she was sexy as hell. Let me make this clear that this is not a romance. It is an action-adventure story with a good romance. As an action-adventure junkie, that's alright with me, and Anders is hot enough to keep me warm in below zero weather! There is no sex, but the chemistry between Anders and Karen in this story from when they first meet and there on, and when they fought to see if Anders was man enough to date her was seriously hot! I imagine they will definitely burn up the sheets when they get together.

*Action level was very good. Of course, I could have used more, but the extreme cold weather setting and seeing these soldiers work their magic made up for it.

*Interesting look at the native tribe of Northern Norway, the Samis. They are commonly known as Laplanders and they are nomadic, existing off their hunting and raising of herds of reindeer. I would like to learn more about them.

*The plot about the dangerous designer drugs was interesting. I'm ambivalent about the terrorist angle. Hasn't there been enough finger-pointing at this particular type of culprit?

*I am definitely going to read the rest of this series. The Medusa team is freaking awesome. I'm excited to read the other women's stories.

Final Recommendations: Cindy Dees knows how to write action that is believable and guaranteed to make an action/adventure fan happy. Even though this is not romance, she had a great romance going here, which I don't doubt will be a lasting one for Karen and Anders. Although I don't have a military background, I found the military aspects to be realistic. I don't have any complaints. This series is the way to go for a reader who wants to read about women who are getting the job done, earning their title as women warriors and kickbutt heroines, with some hot guys thrown in for good measure. Overall rating: 4.25/5.0 stars.

Signed: Team Medusa Arctic Norway Operation Observer (Identity Unknown)

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

If Winter Comes by Diana Palmer

If Winter Comes (Reader's Choice)If Winter Comes by Diana Palmer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm smiling as I write this review, because this book was a Blast from the Past. I recently watched the American version of "Life on Mars," and I have started to feel more fondly about the 70s. After all, I was born in this decade, even though I still resent being teased about committing the fashion error of wearing bell-bottoms after they went out of style (I couldn't help it! My grandmother made them). I envisioned this book as a movie from the 70s, complete with the requisite 70s score playing in the background, lines delivered in the typical cadence that actors used in this period. It wasn't an unpleasant thing, since I was in the mood for something old school. Yup, this book definitely has that scent of the seventies. The hero wears velour shirts, brown slacks, and ruffled dress shirts. He smokes in public, and people say things like 'heel'. There's even a photostat of incriminating evidence mentioned. For the youngings, that was a way to make copies way before laser copy machines were around. Yes, it's dated, but I don't mind. I like to reach for the vintage romances like nobody's business. After all, just because something's old doesn't mean it's no good anymore. That's why we call them classics.

There are elements of this story that I'm glad that Diana Palmer doesn't rely on as heavily nowadays. The numerous old 'little girl' and 'child' comments are a bit grating. I really don't like the patronizing attitude that men can have towards women, especially when they are considered 'pretty young things.' I think that Carla deserves the respect due her, even if she's twenty-three. She's a very good reporter, and she is definitely a professional. Her father owns a paper back in her small town, and she knows journalism from the inside out, even if she's a newbie at her paper in the 'big city'. I liked her spunk, although I think she was a bit too vulnerable to Bryan. I admit, it's nice to read a contemporary where the heroine doesn't 'sleep around', which are not as common nowadays. At times, Bryan was hard to like, saying some pretty mean things to Carla. I realize he was guarding his heart, so I'll give him a little leeway, especially when he makes up for it. I liked that he was sensitive about being 'middle-aged,' pushing forty.

The news and city politics elements show Ms. Palmer's background in journalism. They flavor this book, perhaps a little too heavily initially, as they made it hard to get into the story initially. Politics and journalism are two things I don't have that much interest in, personally. However, it gave Carla and Bryan some depth, as professionals in this arena, who find themself completely in love with each other. With the sixteen-year age difference, the fact that Bryan is the mayor who's been implicated in a land scandal, and Carla being the reporter on the story, and the fact that Bryan's first wife made him very leery of marriage, there are plenty of obstacles in their relationship. In her usual fashion, Ms. Palmer brings Bryan very close to losing the woman he loves to get over his stubborn insistence not to show his love back to Carla. Although I think Carla was more vulnerable than he, Bryan does show enough chinks in his armor for me to be satisfied with the conclusion of this story.

This one gets four stars because it was charming, and I like love Diana Palmer's style. She delivers a very good, intense, but sweet romance when I need to read one.

Don't read this book if:

*You hate the 70s

*You hate the older man/younger woman theme

*You dislike inequalities in power between the hero and heroine

*Don't like an innocent heroine

*Don't read books that don't have a steam rating above 'warm'

*Hate politics and reporters

Read this book if:

*You like all the things I mentioned above

*Nostalgic for the 70s (boom-chicka-wa-wa)

*You are a Diana Palmer fan

*Would like a book that is sweeter or are looking for a palate cleanser from all the sexually over-descriptive and permissive storylines

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Monday, January 03, 2011

Polar Quest by Alex Archer

Polar Quest (Rogue Angel, #16)Polar Quest by Alex Archer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Polar Quest was pretty good. This was my first book to read in the Rogue Angel series. Considering that it is #16, I wasn't lost. The idea of Annja being chosen by Joan of Arc's blade is a nice touch. Thus far, this series reminds me of "Witchblade" meets "Tomb Raider." Since I love both comic book series, that's fine with me.

Annja's likeable. She's pretty intelligent, and knows how to get herself out of a tight fix. She's not invulnerable, and gets hurt quite a bit in this story. I like that she's got a sense of right and wrong, and is willing to put herself in jeopardy to save the day. She can hold her own, which is always great in a heroine!

Garin is an interesting character. Apparently an ongoing antagonist/frenemy of Annja who is constantly trying to seduce her. I like that sort of character who's straddling the wall of bad and good. He reminds me of Vandal Savage from the DC Universe, and Ian Nottingham from "Witchblade." Their flirtation livened up this book. He sounds kind of sexy. I definitely hope to see more of him.

I admit this was a bit slow at times, a lot of talking and dialogue to push the plot along. I guess I was expecting more action. There were some good moments, but I would have liked more. This was more of a suspense story than straight-out action/adventure, which is fine if that's my expectation, but it wasn't. I think this would have been rated higher if there was more action. Even so, it was a good story. I loved the Antarctic setting. Those aspects felt very realistic and well-researched. Believe me, Annja doesn't run around in the book with her boobs hanging out like she is on the book cover. She'd get a nasty case of frostbite with the 50 below weather!

For the things that appealed to me outweighing what didn't appeal, I'm going to round this one up to four stars.

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The Yellow WallpaperThe Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second read of this story, and I gave it four stars this time. It's a very well-written story. Ms. Gilmore crafted this tale in such a way that you feel as twisted as the narrator does. It's clear that mental illness plays a major role in the mindset of the narrator. But, there is a little shred of doubt (at least in my mind) that there might be some otherworldly component. It's hard to tell, because we are seeing things through her perceptions, which are clearly not rational.

I think there is a powerful message here. Husbands often had way too much control over their wives. Probably still the case. The husband in this story treated his wife like she was a child. He dismissed her thoughts and needs, and constantly told her what was best for her. He didn't treat her like a partner. I think that his treatment of her played a role in her deterioration.

I read about the author, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, on Wikipedia. She was a feminist who crusaded to help women in the time period in which she lived. I could see how she masterfully threaded some real-life themes into this story. It would give any reader something to think about, and I imagine it made a few people, particularly men, angry at the time in which it was published.

This is considered a feminist work. I don't think that you have to be a feminist to appreciate this message. As an egalitarian, I definitely felt this message. I felt sympathy for this woman. I think that she felt caged in and didn't have her needs met, and something inside of her twisted until she left sanity behind. It's quite a sad thing that the people who loved her contributed by their gentle neglect. If she had been listened to, and really heard, maybe things would have gone differently.

This is just my perception of this story. No doubt, a different reader will glean a dissimilar meaning from this work. In my opinion, The Yellow Wallpaper is a story that should be read more than one time. I feel I encountered more subtext and layers upon the second read. I'll keep it on my Kindle, because it's one I would like to revisit.

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Ruthless Game by Christine Feehan

Ruthless Game (GhostWalkers, #9)Ruthless Game by Christine Feehan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, dear! My jones for the GhostWalkers is much, much worse after this book. I love how each of these books is different. It makes sense, since people are unique, and therefore, each relationship would have different nuances to it. However, you would think when it comes to military men and the women they love, there would be a sameness to these books. To me, there wasn't. Each couple stands out differently to me. I had really high expectations for Kane and Rose's story. It's such an intriguing idea, since Kane and Rose were paired in "Mad Scientist" Whitney's GhostWalkers breeding program, and last we heard, Rose was pregnant and on the run. Poor Kane was clearly tortured about his part in that situation. I knew there was going to be some built in angst and tension. I loved the execution here. Instead of Kane and Rose being adversaries, at each others' throats, they were a united team. Pretty much from the beginning, it was clear they would stay together, come hell or high water; the problem was getting through a sea of adversaries to find their safe place together. But Kane knew something that Rose didn't. He had a team of men and women who would die to protect them and keep their child safe.

If you are a fan of pregnancy and baby storylines in romance, you will love this book. I certainly did. I especially loved how Ms. Feehan still managed to write a fantastic action-adventure story, but incorporate the heart-melting moments of mother, father, and child bonding. Kane is such a good daddy. He even delivered his child, even though he felt that being a rough soldier with no idea about parenting made him the least likely candidate for the job. All those bonding moments between Rose and Kane, Kane and the baby, and Rose and the baby, and the three of them, made this book for me. I loved Kane's discussions with his baby, regarding being a good soldier and taking out enemies, and how great Mommy was! Okay, this is probably not going to work for readers who don't like the whole happy family vibe. Kane and Rose and their child form a beautiful family, and it's not even in the traditional way that sometimes gets shoved down our throats by the conservative voice of the media.

I loved how Kane and Rose made sense together. It was great how their pairing turned out well for both of them. In a sick and twisted way, that Whitney is quite the matchmaker. He might have paired the GW couples for his own agenda, but the results turned out fantastic, nine times in a row. They had an intimacy that wasn't just about physical attraction. Kane is a very caring, gentle, loving man. He doesn't see himself that way, but I was glad that Rose saw that in him every early on, and it turned out that she choose him as her breeding partner for that reason, along with his formidable warrior prowess. They are both so loveable, and multi-layered people. Rose is totally kick-butt, but sweet at the same time. She might be pint-sized, but she is an incredible warrior in her own right. She totally earned my respect in how she handled herself in numerous dangerous situations her and Kane found themselves in.

As always, Ms. Feehan delivered high-octane, fantastic action sequences. I loved those parts of the book just as much as the romance and the family moments. Kane and Rose have more enemies than they can count on one hand. For those who have an interest in the escalating situation with the Mexican drug cartels, I think Ms. Feehan did a great job of integrating that into this story. I wish there were really GWs who could deal with those cartels and teach them what it feels like to deal with someone who won't stand for their bullying and terrorist tactics.

Of course, I was sold on the GhostWalkers books even after Shadow Game, but I was a little apprehensive when the story seguewayed over to a new team. However, I am eating my words. I love the Urban Warfare team. In a way, they are even more bad@$$, because they do their magic in environments that are fraught with obstacles. I am already loving the members of this team! Mack wasn't quite as abrasive in this book, and Javier really gets the spotlight. I am glad that we get to see Rhianna more in this book, and I am telling you, Javier and Rhianna's book is going to be smoking hot. I can already see the formidable chemistry between this pair.

I freaking love this series, and this book has made me love it even more. I was sad when I finished Ruthless Game. I just wanted to keep reading. I even reread a little of it last night when I should have been going to sleep. There are a lot of sigh-worthy moments in this book, and the action is crazy in all the best ways. I loved how Ms. Feehan didn't create conflict by breaking up this wonderful couple, but made the major source of conflict about them adjusting to their family life in a very dangerous world, where the GhostWalkers will always have powerful enemies, but nothing that they can't handle. None of those forces can prevail against the teams and the families that these unique men and women have formed together, and the powerful bonds of friendship, love, and unity. I can't say anything more without spoiling, but Ms. Feehan could write these book well into the future, with all the fascinating layers and story threads that are unfolding with each book. Let's just say that the world better look out for the next generation of GhostWalkers!

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Saturday, January 01, 2011

Reckles by Anne Stuart

Reckless (The House of Rohan, #2)Reckless by Anne Stuart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This veteran historical romance novel-reader asks this question: Do we really need any more rake heroes? No! They make me yawn and roll my eyes. But wait! What about Adrian, Viscount Rohan? Okay, maybe we can have a few rake heroes, as long as they are masterfully brought to life as Ms. Anne Stuart did with Adrian.

Yes, yes, yes! I know you will wave a hand at me and say, "You like all her books, so your opinion isn't really valid." I guess if you feel that way, you should probably stop reading this review. But, if you want to hear me out, then keep reading.

Once again, I was in raptures. Adrian is a man who doesn't deserve a woman like Charlotte. He knows it, she knows it, we know it when we're reading this story. Heck, Ms. Stuart knew it. But, I wanted him to have Charlotte so bad. Usually when the hero is an arrogant dog, I want the heroine to take his heart and stomp on it into a mushy consistency that resembles a tomato dropped from the second story of a building. Yes, I am vindictive like that. With Reckless, I was reading feverishly, anxious to see how this predator would get his prey. Adrian was so bad, in a very good way. I loved the cat and mouse game he played, how he stalked Charlotte into the garden of no return (at least if you wanted to stay celibate). I love bad boys, but I usually love the bad boys who are physically dangerous, not the skirt-chasers. But this is one bad rake that I really loved.

Another reason that I wanted Adrian and Charlotte to get together so much was because Charlotte was so in love with him. I thought she should have this man she pined for so badly (but always in a dignified way). I didn't want her heart broken, or for her to be used and abandoned, but I wanted her to have a little happiness in her life. In the scenes where Charlotte's loneliness and feelings were so poignantly displayed by Ms. Stuart’s writing, I felt my heart clench. Charlotte didn’t wear her heart on her sleeve, but Adrian knew and so did her cousin Lina. She was the consummate wallflower, awash in her isolation, in a world of perfect budding beauties; her on the wrong side of thirty, six-foot tall, and freckled, and penniless to boot. Normally I want to give the heroines who chase after the rake a good slap on the back of their head to bring them to their senses. But, in this case, I wanted them to end up together. Even so, I liked the fact that in this book, Adrian pretty much did all the pursuing; it was just up to Charlotte to surrender, and boy did Adrian make that an easy thing to do.

Their scenes of intimacy were so sexy, and so beautiful. It’s hard to describe. You could think of it as sex scenes, but there was another level there. A connection that was forming between them that I oftentimes find missing with other books with this theme. Those stolen interludes were gratifying to me, even if I knew that their time together was illicit and might end badly.

I loved that this was just the beginning of their courtship. Adrian had to go through a sea change. It’s easy to say that the right sex partner will change a rake’s heart. I don’t believe that, and I never will. But, I could totally believe that Adrian’s time with Charlotte had changed him. Something clicked inside of him when it came to Charlotte. I wonder if she was there in his mind the whole time, but she was marked ‘off-limits’ for whatever reason; and when he saw her at the Heavenly Host Revel, he decided he was going to take what he truly wanted, and damn the consequences. Even though it was so wrong of him to seduce Charlotte, I ain’t mad at him.

Being a stubborn knucklehead, Adrian does some stupid things in his relationship with Charlotte, and they both know it. I loved how Charlotte wasn’t afraid to stand up to Adrian and tell him he was being stupid. She wasn’t like putty in his hands, well at least not all the time. That powerful attraction between them held sway, but not to the point of idiocy; and, as I always demand in a good romance, it was mutual. If Charlotte was a fool for love, so was Adrian.

The secondary romance was so good. I loved Lina and Simon together. I wanted to cry for Lina and for what she’d gone through in her marriage, and how it had sent her into a very disagreeable (at least for me) lifestyle. I can’t decide if I would have liked it better if she enjoyed it or not. If I don’t like promiscuous heroes (and I don’t), I definitely don’t like lascivious heroines. With any topic that is not to my taste, it has to be done well, and it was here. I loved and respected Lina, even if I didn’t like the choices she made. This character was in Anne Stuart’s hands, and I was sighing and hoping that she would get her HEA. I loved Simon too. I liked that he called Lina on her nonsense, and she did the same for him. She opened his heart to love, and he did the same for her. They had a powerful attraction that opened the door for something more. I could totally see this couple having a happy life together, because they had a connection that surpassed the superficiality of their disparate roles in society.

I can’t say there is anything I didn’t love about this story. I mean, the suspense part wasn’t that necessary to the romance (in my mind), although it tied into the story. I don’t read romance of this sort for suspense, so I was more fixated on the progression of Charlotte/Adrian and Lina/Simon’s romances than that aspect. I loved seeing Francis, now Marquess of Haverstoke, and Elinor, his Marchioness, again, who are Adrian’s parents. I like how Francis is now a stern father, and Elinor a loving, indulgent mother. It was kind of interesting seeing Adrian getting called on the hot seat in front of his father. Made me laugh!

Gosh, I adored this book. It was a rapturous romance, and with a theme I usually don’t like. I am just not into rakes. But, some authors can deliver a story of a rake and the good woman who turns him around so well, that I am in, hook, line and sinker. Anne Stuart is my favorite author of all time for a reason. I think I’d better shut up now. I may end just babbling incoherently about how happy I feel when I read one of Ms. Stuart’s books. She only gets better (which is quite a feat), in my humble opinion. This one definitely goes on my best of 2010 list.

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