Friday, July 29, 2016

Marrying Winterbourne

Marrying Winterborne by [Kleypas, Lisa]

Marrying Winterbourne (Ravenels #2)- Lisa Kleypas
Avon Publisher
Release Date: May 31, 2016

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis:Savage ambition has brought common-born Rhys Winterborne vast wealth and success. In business and beyond, Rhys gets exactly what he wants. And from the moment he meets the shy, aristocratic Lady Helen Ravenel, he is determined to possess her. If he must take her virtue to ensure she marries him, so much the better . . .
Helen has had little contact with the glittering, cynical world of London society. Yet Rhys’s determined seduction awakens an intense mutual passion. Helen’s gentle upbringing belies a stubborn conviction that only she can tame her unruly husband. As Rhys’s enemies conspire against them, Helen must trust him with her darkest secret. The risks are unthinkable . . . the reward, a lifetime of incomparable bliss. 
Lisa Kleypas' newest historical romance, Marrying Winterbourne, is a brilliantly engaging book, returning us to London in the late 1800s. The more traditional landed gentry are clashing with the nouveau riche, trains get one places instead of long rides by horse, and Winterbourne's giant department store has become the place to shop for rich and poor alike. 
Self-made department store tycoon Rhys Winterbourne has it all: money, power, and success.  What he wants now is an aristocratic wife, and Helen Ravenel, in-law to his friend Devon, fits the bill perfectly. She's beautiful, accomplished, and can trace her family's heritage back for generations.  It doesn't hurt that Rhys is fascinated with her and desperately wants to possess her.  Rhys is dark, arrogant, far to used to getting his own way, and has learned to approach life in terms of buying and selling, bargains and favors.  Helen is his exact opposite.  Shy, quiet, unworldly, Helen is used to being ignored by her parents, taking care of others, and always trying to see the best in people.  You would think that a marriage like this would be disastrous.  You would think that Rhys would steamroll over Helen.  However, Kleypas is a master at taking two complete opposites and creating a strong and deeply loving relationship, and she does so again here.  It was wonderful watching Helen become confident in herself, not only with Rhys but eventually with others as well.  She blossoms into a woman who is no less strong for being quiet and discovers who she is and what she wants out of life- whether or not Society says that she should.  Rhys undergoes his own transformation into a man completely in love, who is forced to question some of his own motives and preconceived ideas about life and what he wants.  The two are definitely among my favorite characters- Rhys is one of those devils you just can't resist and I loved every interaction between them.
Kleypas excels with close-knit families of unconventional siblings, and the Ravenels will remind longtime readers of the Hathaway family.  They are learning to try and fit into the world of their birthright, but still  hold on to the qualities and ideals that make them unique.
Marrying Winterbourne picks up where Cold-Hearted Rake left off. While a new reader probably doesn't need to have read Rake to enjoy Winterbourne, it would definitely help. Kleypas continues to create a seamless world around excellent characters and readers will get lost in this newest book and be desperately waiting for book 3.  As Devil in Spring won't come out until February, I suggest reading Kleypas' Wallflowers quartet, since the teaser chapter promises that we'll be seeing some familiar Wallflowers, their rakes, and rakish descendants come Spring!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Don't Tempt Me

Don't Tempt Me- Lori Foster
HQN Publisher
Release Date: July 26, 2016

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis:Jason Guthrie has no time for entanglements—between helping out his widowed brother and teenage nephew and getting his hometown back on its feet, his days are spoken for. But his nights are another story… And when his lovely new neighbor, Honor Brown, reluctantly accepts his help in remodeling her house, Jason finds himself wishing his handyman skills could knock down the defenses she keeps building around herself. 
Martial arts teacher Sullivan Dean knows real danger when he sees it—even when it takes the form of the gorgeous blonde helping her friend move in across the street. After putting his wayward past behind him to focus on teaching control to troubled kids, Sullivan has learned to avoid party girls like Lexie Perkins. But Sullivan can't seem to keep his hands off the real woman behind that flirty charm—or keep his heart from landing at her feet…

I'm always excited when a new Lori Foster book comes out and Don't Tempt Me is another home run for Foster Fans to enjoy. This time we get not one but two developing romances.  The main story is Jason Guthrie and his new neighbor Honor Brown.  Honor has just bought the fixer-upper next-door and Jason is convinced that she's in over her head.  Honor is determined to stand on her own two feet and prove she can do everything herself.  

Honor's best friend Lexie isn't convinced Honor's making the right move with the house, but she can't argue with the view her friend has from the house!  Hot men anywhere you turn and none hotter than Honor's across the street neighbor, Sullivan.  He thinks he's got her pegged as a party girl with no depth, but she's determined to prove him wrong.

Like all of Foster's books, Don't Tempt Me is full of excellent characters that you hope to see get their own books in the future.  Even (currently) minor characters are full of depth and leap off the pages.  Honor is a tough character, determined to be independent and strong when she's being pulled in multiple directions by family and work.  She has a history that, once Jason (and the reader) find out about it, makes her actions much more understandable.  She's been hurt before and won't let it happen again.  Neither Jason nor Honor are really in the ideal place for starting a relationship, but Jason knows what they could have is special and he is determined to make things work.  He's a fun and strong man without ever becoming overbearing or too pushy, and it's easy to see how Honor can't help but fall for him!

I wish we could have gotten more on Sullivan and Lexie's relationship, but it never felt rushed or just thrown in for something else to happen in the story.  I loved the closeness between Lexie and Honor, and how Honor learns to redefine what family means. There are several great scenes where Lexie and Jason prove that family is always beside you, and the ones worth keeping are the ones who make the choice to stick around. Sometimes family is your blood, and sometimes it's by choice.  

A wonderful book that Foster Fans will love and will inspire those new to her work to be running to read everything else she's written! Can't wait for the next Guthrie brother to fall to Cupid's arrow!    

Monday, July 18, 2016

An Untimely Frost

An Untimely Frost (Lily Long Mysteries #1)- Penny Richards
Kensington Books
Release Date: July 26, 2016

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis: In 1881 Chicago, the idea of a female detective is virtually unheard of. But when famed crime buster Allan Pinkerton opens his agency's doors to a handful of women, one intrepid actress with her own troubled past is driven to defy convention and take on a new and dangerous role. . . Since the age of eleven, when her mother was murdered, the life of the theater is all Lilly Long has known. But after her innocence--and her savings--are taken from her by a seductive scoundrel, Lilly vows to leave the stage, enter the real world, and save others from a similar fate. Following in the footsteps of the country's first female detective, Lilly persuades Allan Pinkerton to take her on.  Lilly's acting skills are a perfect fit for her real-life role as a Pinkerton operative. But her first case is a baptism by fire as she is sent to the small town of Vandalia to solve the mystery of a pastor who disappeared with his family--and the church's funds. When Lilly arrives, she finds the mere mention of the reverend's name provokes enmity or suspicious silence. Lilly begins to uncover Vandalia's sordid secrets. But she'll have to deliver the performance of a lifetime to survive the final act of this drama.

Warning: Potential Spoilers

The first book in a new mystery series, An Untimely Frost introduces us to actress Lily Long.  Tricked by a seductive con artist, Lily decides to leave her adopted family and the world of the theater to make a difference in the "real" world.  A newspaper ad inspires her to apply for a position as a female detective at the famed Pinkerton Detective Agency.  In spite of the hostility of one of her employers and the skepticism of the other, Lily convinces the Pinkertons to hire her.  She is determined to use this opportunity to help other women find justice, and stand up for their rights in a world where men rule and women's voices are rarely heard.  Author Penny Richards does a wonderful job of bringing the reader into this world and making it come alive around us through her descriptions of the cities, trains, and surrounding settings.

I have to admit to as much skepticism as the Pinkertons at the idea that sheltered Lily could become a detective so easily. She receives no training from her employers but gets tossed into her first assignment- whether that was the normal practice or a way to convince her to quit I don't know.  Her first case seems relatively simple: find out where a former pastor and his family have gone and see if they want to sell their abandoned house.  Not surprisingly, no one in town is happy to remember the pastor after he took off in the dead of night with all the church funds.  But Lily encounters far more hostility than she expects and after receiving threats she starts to wonder what else there is to this story.  Lily possesses the two qualities that any amateur detective needs: sheer stubborn will and a suspicious nature.  Even when the case appears to be closed, Lily can't help but feel that there's more to the story- a suspicion that nearly costs her her life.

This is a series that I think will improve over time.  The only character that gets any attempt at depth is Lily, but there is potential for a few minor characters to become more flesh and blood in future books.  The mystery was not too complex (perfect for a first case) but I was left wishing that we'd gotten to see more about the villains.  They were, much like the book as a whole, a little too stereotypical to be truly satisfying.  But Richards' obvious talent for writing, research, and world development will hopefully expand into creating multiple, three dimensional characters and mysteries with more depth to them in future books.  

A decent, though slightly disappointing, start to a new mystery series with definite potential.     

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

Monday, July 11, 2016

When A Scot Ties The Knot

When A Scot Ties The Knot (Castles Ever After Series #3)- Tessa Dare
AvonBooks Publisher
Release Date: August 25, 2015

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis: On the cusp of her first London season, Miss Madeline Gracechurch was shy, pretty, and talented with a drawing pencil, but hopelessly awkward with gentlemen. She was certain to be a dismal failure on the London marriage mart. So Maddie did what generations of shy, awkward young ladies have done: she invented a sweetheart.   A Scottish sweetheart. One who was handsome and honorable and devoted to her, but conveniently never around. Maddie poured her heart into writing the imaginary Captain MacKenzie letter after letter . . . and by pretending to be devastated when he was (not really) killed in battle, she managed to avoid the pressures of London society entirely.   Until years later, when this kilted Highland lover of her imaginings shows up in the flesh. The real Captain Logan MacKenzie arrives on her doorstep—handsome as anything, but not entirely honorable. He's wounded, jaded, in possession of her letters . . . and ready to make good on every promise Maddie never expected to keep.

I've only recently discovered the joy that is reading books by Tessa Dare, and all I can say to anyone who hasn't tried her books yet is: start now! 

When A Scot Ties The Knot is the third book in Dare's Castles Ever After series- a series that doesn't have to be read in order for you to fully enjoy each book.  It's the story of Madeline Gracechurch, a shy woman more at home drawing or reading than dancing and visiting.  At age 16 she invents a mythical Scottish soldier to explain to her family and friends why she doesn't want to go to London and meet potential suitors.  Why look for Mr. Right when Captain McRight has already stolen her heart? She strengthens this fiction by writing him letters, assuming they will end up in some dead letter box somewhere and that will be the end of it.  Her family believes her story, no one bothers her about London Seasons, and she falls in love with her imaginary Captain Logan MacKenzie over years of letter writing.  Eventually she realizes that the only way to end the lies is to kill off her Scot.  So she's beyond surprised when the real Captain Logan MacKenzie shows up, having read all of her letters, at the castle she's inherited, ready to marry her.

Of course the real Logan is not quite what she'd imagined.  He refuses to believe he has dreams, hopes, or emotions.  He's naturally a little peeved that she killed him off.  He wants to marry her because he and the remaining Scottish soldiers under his command have returned from fighting Napoleon to find their sweethearts have married others, families have died or moved away, and their homes have been destroyed by the Highland Clearances.  Logan needs the castle and land Maddie promised in her letters as a new home for his men, and he's ready to blackmail Maddie to get his way.  After all, what would her family and friends think of the fact that she's been lying to them for years?  They agree to a marriage of convenience, and things promptly get, well, not convenient.

Maddie is a strong and independent woman who thinks she's a shy and weak wallflower.  She has a paralyzing terror of crowds and has let that dictate her entire life.  She's a wonderfully written character full of depth, intelligence, and humor.  She doesn't let Logan blackmail her because she cares about Society, but because she cares about what her friends and family will think, and because it would most likely damage her burgeoning career as an illustrator.  But she's also a romantic and has a hard time hating Logan, especially when she watches him with his men, or when he's talking to her, or when he's . . . anything.

Logan is a far more complex, and it's easy to make the mistake of thinking he's a shallow and underdeveloped character acting more as a prop for Maddie than as his own person.  But by the time you get to the end of the book you realize Logan is, if anything, an even more layered character and more affected by his past than Maddie.  

When A Scot Ties The Knot explores not only a wonderful romance between two people who believe they are very different, but also explores how we can trap ourselves into thinking we are one thing when we've secretly grown into something different, and how the dreams that we once had can change into something different (and maybe better) without our noticing.  How do you choose between new love and old dreams? It's a book of brilliant wit and humor, a beautifully described Highland setting, and more kilted soldiers than you can shake a sporran at.  And of course, a lobster named Fluffy who manages to steal the show without saying a word.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Ink and Bone

Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1)- Rachel Caine
Penguin Group Berkely, NAL
Release Date: July 7, 2016

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis: Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden. 
Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service. 
When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn.…

Warning: Potential Spoilers

Inevitably, Ink and Bone will be compared to Harry Potter, perhaps Hunger Games, and it's an apt comparison in many ways.  It's world is an alternate world with what we would call steampunk elements like automata figures, where alchemy is real and the great Library of Alexandria survived and flourished, and now controls all access to books and knowledge.  It's a world where we want to imagine the Library as a wonderful place but absolute power corrupts absolutely and those who run the Library are now corrupted and fanatical enough to go to any means to remain in control.

Jess Brightwell is the main character, a young man who has no interest in taking over his father's book smuggling business.  His father helps him get a place in the Library with the idea that he'll become the family spy, and Jess believes he'll be spending all his time surrounded by rare and precious books.  But it's hard work becoming a Librarian and Jess and his classmates are thrown into the deep end from Day One.  Their instructor, Scholar Wolfe, reminded me of Harry Potter's Snape (not a bad thing!). The students fill the rather stereotypical roles: smartest girl, best friend, love interest.  Most of the characters never become more than two dimensional, although the ones who rise above the rest, like Wolfe and Santi, are well worth waiting for them to develop.  The story picks up the pace and comes into its own when the students are sent to war torn Oxford to retrieve a cache of rare books before the city is destroyed.  The descriptions of the war zone and the devastation of Oxford are brilliantly done, and the story becomes more engaging and edge-of-your-seat as you wait to see what will happen next.  

I enjoyed Caine's descriptions of this alternate world- a place where it is illegal to own actual books, where there is no such thing as a printed book. The worlds of London and Alexandria are beautifully written and it was interesting to see the imagined changes in history that would have occurred because of the Library.  As flat as most of the characters felt for much of the book, I still found myself drawn to them, waiting to discover what would happen to them next, who's secret would be unearthed, and how that would effect the others.  It was touching to watch a group of very different students come together to form a close knit bond by the end.  

I had very mixed feelings about this book- sometimes I really enjoyed it, sometimes not. I hadn't thought I liked many of the characters, but then the emotional last few chapters made it clear that I was far more attached than I expected.  When I would get frustrated that the story wasn't exploring the Library in depth something would happen to show me how wrong I was.  There is depth and darkness that in many places sneaks up on the reader and it was only on thinking about the book for this review that I realized some of it.  Probably that means the longer I think about it, the more I'll find that I liked this book.  Definitely the sign of a well written beginning to a series!

The world of the Great Library is gritty, dark and full of secrets.  The question is always who can you trust, are first impressions the right ones, and how can secrets be kept from the all-seeing Library.  The ending is both heart-breaking and hopeful, and makes you wish the next book was published so you could get back to the characters and make sure they will succeed in their accidental mission- bringing down the Great Library and changing the world.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.