Thursday, January 30, 2014

The White Lie by Andrea Gillies

The Salter family orbits around Peattie House, their crumbling Scottish highlands estate filled with threadbare furniture, patrician memories, and all their inevitable secrets. While gathered to celebrate grandmother's seventieth birthday, someone breaks the silence. The web begins to unravel. But what is the white lie? How many others are built upon it? How many lives have been shaped by its shadow? Only one person knows the whole truth. From beyond the grave, Michael loops back into the past until we see, beyond perception and memory, how deeply our decisions resound, and just what is the place—and price—of grandeur.

REVIEW: This mystery presents itself in an interesting way- the story is told from the perspective of the murder victim, and no one seems at all unclear on the identity of the killer. As such, the book really focuses more on the how and why than the the who, and reflects an interesting perspective of the murder victim aging and maturing as he haunts his home- he has a deeper understanding of and sympathy for its series of overlapping secrets.

That said, there are periods when the narrative starts to drag making reading a challenge. Also, the central mystery and revelations are nothing of the sort for an astute reader. I am not actually certain if they are supposed to be a surprise but it seems likely, and yet the suspense simply wasn't here. Regardless, the books is well-written and the story enjoyable. I felt engaged with the characters, especially poor Michael, even if I never really understood why his entire family was willing to allow his aunt's involvement in his murder to go uninvestigated.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Hidden White House by Robert Klara

In 1948, President Harry Truman, enjoying a bath on the White House’s second floor, almost plunged through the ceiling of the Blue Room into a tea party for the Daughters of the American Revolution. A handpicked team of the country’s top architects conducted a secret inspection of the troubled mansion and, after discovering it was in imminent danger of collapse, insisted that the First Family be evicted immediately. What followed would be the most historically significant and politically complex home-improvement job in American history. While the Trumans camped across the street at Blair House, Congress debated whether to bulldoze the White House completely, and the Soviets exploded their first atomic bomb, starting the Cold War.

Indefatigable researcher Robert Klara reveals what has, until now, been little understood about this episode: America’s most famous historic home was basically demolished, giving birth to today’s White House. Leaving only the mansion’s facade untouched, workmen gutted everything within, replacing it with a steel frame and a complex labyrinth deep below ground that soon came to include a top-secret nuclear fallout shelter.

The story of Truman’s rebuilding of the White House is a snapshot of postwar America and its first Cold War leader, undertaking a job that changed the centerpiece of the country’s national heritage. The job was by no means perfect, but it was remarkable—and, until now, all but forgotten.

An informative and delightful look at the 20th century reconstruction of the White House. As a native Washingtonian, I found this wonderful book about the reconstruction of the White House a definite must-read. Full of interesting tidbits about the behind the scenes process of rebuilding the President's residence, this book is both easy to read and a great insight into a little-known element of the history of our nation's capital. Highly recommended for any history buff or presidential scholar-to-be.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Dark Invasion by Howard Blum

When a “neutral” United States becomes a trading partner for the Allies early in World War I, the Germans implement a secret plan to strike back. A team of saboteurs—including an expert on germ warfare, a Harvard professor, and a brilliant, debonair spymaster—devise a series of “mysterious accidents” using explosives and biological weapons, to bring down vital targets such as ships, factories, livestock, and even captains of industry like J. P. Morgan.

New York Police Inspector Tom Tunney, head of the department’s Bomb Squad, is assigned the difficult mission of stopping them. Assembling a team of loyal operatives, the cunning Irish cop hunts for the conspirators among a population of more than eight million Germans. But the deeper he finds himself in this labyrinth of deception, the more Tunney realizes that the enemy’s plan is far more complex and more dangerous than he suspected.

This was the first I heard of Germany's secret war against the US before our entry into WWI- what a riveting story! The author used the personalities of those involved (on both sides) to pull the reader into the story. I was fascinated by how much work went into countering this early threat, and by how similar the circumstances and motivations are to those of today's secret warriors. Highly recommended!

Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley

Two sisters sit in the backseat of a car, bound at the wrists by a strip of white cloth. Their mother, Amaranth, drives for days without pause, desperate to get away from the husband she fears will follow them to the earth's end. Her daughters, Amity and Sorrow, cannot comprehend why they're fleeing or fathom what exists outside their father's polygamous compound. When an exhausted Amaranth crashes their car in rural Oklahoma, rescue arrives in the form of Bradley, a farmer not unfamiliar with loss and uncertain futures. At first mistrustful of the strange, prayerful trio, Bradley allows his abiding tolerance to get the best of him, and the four become a new kind of family.

I knew this book about a polygamous cult would be disturbing, but even so I was surprised by some of the elements of the story. This well-written look at three women trying to escape from the only life they have even known is compelling and moving. Watching Amity and Sorrow attempt to navigate what is to them a strange new world, I could not help but wish that things were going to progress well for them- even though I knew it was most unlikely. Given the subject matter, this book might not be for everyone, but it is an strong example of the genre. Not exactly the type of book one can claim to like, this novel is a strong read that commands the reader's interest from beginning to end.

Monday, January 27, 2014

After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman

When Felix Brewer meets Bernadette “Bambi” Gottschalk at a Valentine’s Dance in 1959, he charms her with wild promises, some of which he actually keeps. Thanks to his lucrative—if not all legal—businesses, she and their three little girls live in luxury. But on the Fourth of July, 1976, Bambi’s comfortable world implodes when Felix, newly convicted and facing prison, mysteriously vanishes.

Though Bambi has no idea where her husband—or his money—might be, she suspects one woman does: his mistress, Julie. When Julie disappears ten years to the day that Felix went on the lam, everyone assumes she’s left to join her old lover—until her remains are eventually found.

Now, twenty-six years after Julie went missing, Roberto “Sandy” Sanchez, a retired Baltimore detective working cold cases for some extra cash, is investigating her murder. What he discovers is a tangled web stretching over three decades that connects five intriguing women. And at the center is the missing man Felix Brewer.

Somewhere between the secrets and lies connecting past and present, Sandy will find the truth. And when he does, no one will ever be the same.

I have read several of Laura Lippman's works, and am consistently impressed by her abilities. This cold case mystery kept me guessing until the very end- always a sign of success in my book! I was especially delighted by the variety of female characters in the story, each of whom had a different outlook and set of motivations that informed her actions. A truly excellent read- one I handed to my mom the moment I finished!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hunting Shadows by Charles Todd

A society wedding at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire becomes a crime scene when a man is murdered. After another body is found, the baffled local constabulary turns to Scotland Yard. Though the second crime had a witness, her description of the killer is so strange its unbelievable.

Despite his experience, Inspector Ian Rutledge has few answers of his own. The victims are so different that there is no rhyme or reason to their deaths. Nothing logically seems to connect them—except the killer. As the investigation widens, a clear suspect emerges. But for Rutledge, the facts still don’t add up, leaving him to question his own judgment.

In going over the details of the case, Rutledge is reminded of a dark episode he witnessed in the war. While the memory could lead him to the truth, it also raises a prickly dilemma. To stop a murderer, will the ethical detective choose to follow the letter—or the spirit—of the law?

This latest addition to the Rutledge series is a complicated tour de force. Rutledge's hunt for a sniper picking off seemingly unconnected victims leads to an older mystery that dates back to the days of the war that so impacted his own life. Rutledge seems less tortured in this book than in other offerings, perhaps signaling that he is slowly coming to terms with his wartime experiences. Once I started reading, I was unable to put this one down. Highly recommended!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Meant to Be by Terri Osburn

Beth Chandler has spent her whole life pleasing others. She went to law school to make her grandparents happy. She agreed to marry her workaholic boyfriend, Lucas, to make him happy. And, despite her fear of boats, she took a ferry to see Lucas’s parents just to make them happy.

While suffering through a panic attack on the ferry, Beth meets a tall, sexy stranger who talks her down from her fear—and makes her heart flutter in the process. Soon, she has a new reason to panic: her gorgeous, blue-eyed rescuer is Lucas’s brother, Joe. But could she ever leave her fiancé for his own brother…even if Lucas is more focused on making partner than on making their relationship work…and even if Joe turns out to be everything she never knew she wanted?

This book was an enjoyable read with a great cast of characters. The heroine Beth was the least successful in my opinion because I found it hard to relate to her focus on putting the happiness of others so far above her own. That aside though, it was easy to see why Joe fell for her (though I never really understood why Lucas proposed in the first place). It is obvious that Anchor Island is going to play host to a series of romances which is exciting because I loved all of the characters that were introduced here in this series opener. A great start to what I hope will be a great series!

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Boomerang Bride by Fiona Lowe

Matilda Geoffrey had risked it all for love.

She'd left Australia to be with Barry—the man who had swept her off her virtual feet. Now, wearing a wedding dress, she's alone on Main Street in small-town Wisconsin, and things aren't working out exactly as planned...

In town for his annual family visit, Marc Olsen had never seen a bride quite like Matilda—staring into a storefront window, holding a tottering wedding cake and looking desperately in need of a groom. He doesn't have many warm feelings for his hometown, but meeting Matilda just as she discovers she's been scammed by her online "fiancé" stirs something in him.

Matilda is not the kind of woman Marc imagined himself with, and Marc is anything but the romantic hero that Matilda has always dreamed of. But as unlikely circumstances throw them together, can they let go of their misconceptions and risk their hearts for love?

I liked both Tildy and Marc, and enjoyed the idea of the contrast between Australia and small town America. What I didn't like was the heavy-handed approach the author took to hammering home that contrast at every possible opportunity. It was great to see Tildy acclimate to the town and the ways she was able to help out with the businesses and families there. I also like the sub-plot about the sheriff and Marc's sister. Marc was hardly likable at times, but in the end his story and motivations did make sense. All in all an enjoyable read- would have been four stars if not for the constant references to contrasts with life in Australia.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Best Man by Kristin Higgins

Faith Holland left her hometown after being jilted at the altar. Now a little older and wiser, she's ready to return to the Blue Heron Winery, her family's vineyard, to confront the ghosts of her past, and maybe enjoy a glass of red. After all, there's some great scenery there...

Like Levi Cooper, the local police chief—and best friend of her former fiancé. There's a lot about Levi that Faith never noticed, and it's not just those deep green eyes. The only catch is she's having a hard time forgetting that he helped ruin her wedding all those years ago. If she can find a minute amidst all her family drama to stop and smell the rosé, she just might find a reason to stay at Blue Heron, and finish that walk down the aisle.

Though I liked the underlying story here of a girl returning home to the site of her ultimate humiliation (getting left at the altar in front of essentially the whole town) and falling for the guy who was responsible for that humiliation, I found it impossible to love this book because the heroine was just so annoying. Faith acts like a flighty adolescent rather than an adult who channeled adversity into personal growth, and frankly I think Levi could do better. I also found the subplot about her father to be absurd- no one is so unaware of being the focus of another person's matrimonial aims. This would be a decent beach or snowstorm read, but isn't likely to spark a desperate desire to read more by this author.

The Accident by Chris Pavone

As dawn approaches in New York, literary agent Isabel Reed is turning the final pages of a mysterious, anonymous manuscript, racing through the explosive revelations about powerful people, as well as long-hidden secrets about her own past. In Copenhagen, veteran CIA operative Hayden Gray, determined that this sweeping story be buried, is suddenly staring down the barrel of an unexpected gun. And in Zurich, the author himself is hiding in a shadowy expat life, trying to atone for a lifetime’s worth of lies and betrayals with publication of The Accident, while always looking over his shoulder.

Over the course of one long, desperate, increasingly perilous day, these lives collide as the book begins its dangerous march toward publication, toward saving or ruining careers and companies, placing everything at risk—and everyone in mortal peril. The rich cast of characters—in publishing and film, politics and espionage—are all forced to confront the consequences of their ambitions, the schisms between their ideal selves and the people they actually became.

The action rockets around Europe and across America, with an intricate web of duplicities stretching back a quarter-century to a dark winding road in upstate New York, where the shocking truth about the accident itself is buried.

This fast-paced thriller centered around the possible publication of a shocking biography made for an enjoyable read for any bibliophile. The book pulls in characters from Pavone's The Expats but I found the storyline here much more compelling. Though the big surprise twist was no twist in my opinion, knowing it was coming didn't in any way negatively impact my enjoyment of the story. As always, bodies abound, and frankly many are dispatched with almost a gleeful note by the author- perhaps a faintly satirical element given the genre. Hayden would likely have been better off simply ignoring the entire disaster from the get-go, but he seems to crave complication for complication's sake. I was surprised we didn't get to hear more about the subject of the biography from anyone other than the supposedly anonymous author; more of Hayden and other's perspectives on him might have fleshed out his character. Still, this was all in all an enjoyable read.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Wanderer by Robyn Carr

Nestled on the Oregon coast is a small town of rocky beaches and rugged charm. Locals love the land's unspoiled beauty. Developers see it as a potential gold mine. When newcomer Hank Cooper learns he's been left an old friend's entire beachfront property, he finds himself with a community's destiny in his hands.

Cooper has never been a man to settle in one place, and Thunder Point was supposed to be just another quick stop. But Cooper finds himself getting involved with the town. And with Sarah Dupre, a woman as complicated as she is beautiful.

With the whole town watching for his next move, Cooper has to choose between his old life and a place full of new possibilities. A place that just might be home.

Generally speaking, romance novels focus more on the thoughts and actions of the heroine than on those of the hero, a trope that is completely reversed in this novel. In fact, the heroine doesn't make a meaningful appearance until page 167 of this book! That said, it was a rather refreshing change of pace to learn so much about Coop to better understand his attraction to Sarah. I also loved his involvement with Sarah's brother and his efforts to help him deal with a violent bullying situation. I would have given it five stars if Sarah had been equally well-fleshed out, but she simply wasn't making it harder for me to make a connection to her. Nevertheless, I liked the supporting cast of characters and will read more of this series.

This Holey Life by Sophie Duffy

Vicky is a reluctant curate's wife, struggling to come to terms with her own bereavement and her husband's new-found faith. Then, one Boxing Day, a knock on the door brings her annoying big brother, his teenage son and a cello into her life, turning her world upside down. With her small terrace house in Penge now fit to burst, Vicky struggles to manage her three children and the joys of everyday family life. As a new threat lurks behind every corner, hope appears in the most unlikely of circumstances.

When I first started reading, I wasn't certain I would be able to relate to Vicky and to her complicated life; frankly, I would have booted Martin out after the first night! Still, I kept reading, and found myself unable to stop. Vicky is a woman under siege, one battling with family history, the loss of a child, her husband's abrupt decision to embark on a life in the church, and the realities of her daily life. Vicky is a sympathetic character because she is real and because the way she works through her problems is real. I loved her daughters (especially Olivia), though her husband I was less a fan of her husband- in my opinion he should have been paying more attention to the impact of his choices on her life. Martin was a nightmare and frankly so annoying that I'm giving this 4 stars rather than 5- I simply can't imagine why Vicky tolerated his presence in her house, brother of no brother. Regardless, this is a excellent look at one woman's attempt to hold it together for everyone else and yet somehow finding that she's in the place that she always needed to be. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh by Stephanie Laurens

The Honorable Miss Mary Cynster always gets what she wants. As the last unwed Cynster of her generation, she is determined to remain in charge of her life and of the man she will marry. At the very bottom of her list of potential husbands is Ryder Cavanaugh, the daring and devastating Marquess of Raventhorne, an overwhelming and utterly unmanageable lion of the ton. But destiny has a different plan.

Ryder needs Mary as his wife, not just because she is delightful, fiery, and tempting, but because he values all she could be. When fate and circumstance hand him the chance, he claims Mary as his marchioness...only to discover what he truly desires is not just to take her hand in marriage, but to capture her heart.

This book is apparently the 20th in this series, though I have not read any of the previous offerings. Sadly this book is simply too long and frankly overblown. I found myself skipping over the love scenes because they were laughably absurd. The supernatural subplot of the necklace got barely any time, and the supposed mystery was no mystery at all- it was clear from the first attack on the hero just who the culprit must be. It a shame really because I liked both Mary and Ryder and think they were a good match given their independence and commitment to preserving it. The relationship certainly seemed to be an equal partnership but unfortunately reading this book simply became a chore as it droned on and on. Maybe better for those who already love the Cynster family; I however won't be rushing out to pick up others in the series.

Monday, January 20, 2014

To Make a Match by Liana LeFey

The spirited Lady Victoria Lennox longs for a husband, but she cannot wed until her prickly older sister, Amelia, becomes a wife—and Amelia seems intent on driving away all potential suitors. To avoid becoming a spinster, Victoria concocts a plan: a carefully arranged scandal will compel Amelia to marry. And to bait the trap, who better than the dashing Lord Julius Cavendish?

Yet Julius has little interest in stubborn Amelia. Victoria, on the other hand, he finds irresistible. Determined to make her his own, Julius adds a new twist to Victoria’s plan: his friend Lord Withington will act as Victoria’s decoy suitor, distracting Amelia from the very real courtship happening under her nose. All might be well, were not Withington immediately smitten with Amelia. He sees how tender and protective she is beneath the frosty facade.

As the perfect plan goes perfectly awry, each sister finds herself publicly betrothed to the wrong man. Can they undo the damage in time to make the perfect match?

This books was a severely over-complicated story that made little to no sense as it unfolded. I couldn't find it in myself to like either Victoria or Amelia, and certainly think the author missed the opportunity to make both sisters appealing by slightly modifying their presentation. The two heroes were more appealing, but frankly deserved better than the comedy of errors they found themselves embroiled in thanks to Victoria's machinations. I finished it because I started it, but I can't say I really enjoyed it.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Lord St. Claire's Angel by Donna Lea Simpson

Celestine Simons was of good family, but an untimely death and a shortage of funds forces the homely spinster to take a position as governess at the estate of Lord Langlow and his wife. Never one to bemoan her change in fortune, Celestine is content to spend her days raising and overseeing their children, knowing in her heart she will never have any of her own.

Lord St. Claire Richmond, Langlow’s brother, is a rogue and seducer, content to while away his days pursuing pleasure—and driving his brother and sister-in-law mad by reducing their female staff to lovelorn fools with his flirtations. When he learns on his annual Christmas visit that the drab Celestine was hired as governess solely to thwart his dalliances, he devises a scheme to both stir her heart and spite his family’s interfering ways.

But as his game unfolds, the cunning St. Claire discovers this conquest may be more challenging than expected when the thoughtful and intelligent Celestine begins to fire an ache in his own heart. And what began as an amusement to give the plain, timid miss an innocent thrill is turning into much more, as St. Claire realizes she may be the one giving him the thrill—and teaching him in a way only a governess can that real beauty lies beneath the surface and that true love is often found where you least expect it.

REVIEW: Though the rake falling in love with a plain governess is something of a trope, there were enough differences here for me find the story appealing. Celestine is not a beauty, and is in fact almost disabled by crippling arthritis. She suffers and has to work through the pain because she has little choice- I feel few Regencies highlight the terrible plight some women at the time faced, especially those in reduced circumstances forced to find a way to earn a living in a harsh world. I was prepared to cheer for Celestine to find love and someone to care for her, but I think she deserved better than St. Claire. Ultimately, the hero came across as too selfish and narcissistic for my taste- he set out to seduce her for sport, not caring at all what that might mean for her precarious place in his brother's household.

In the end, Celestine was the only character I was able to enjoy in this book; everyone else was selfish and heartless in my opinion, a disappointing fact given how eager I was to read this book. 3 stars because it is well written even though I didn't like most of the characters.

A Risk Worth Taking by Laura Landon

Griffin Blackmoor blames himself for the tragic accident that claimed his wife and young son. Riddled with guilt, he prays that during the Crimean War an enemy’s bullet will end the consuming torture he can’t escape. Instead, that bullet finds his best friend. Now there isn’t enough whiskey in England to make him forget all the people who have died because of him. But before he can drown himself in an endless sea of liquor, he must keep the promise he made his dying friend. Except that promise is sure to risk an innocent woman’s life—and his own battered heart.

When her brother’s sudden death leaves her destitute, Lady Anne Carmichael knows she must marry. Although her dark beauty earns her the attention of London’s most eligible bachelors, only one man can stir her soul with his kisses. Griffin Blackmoor is everything she swore she never wanted. So why does his love feel like exactly what she needs?

This books was disappointing because a perfectly good 4 star romance was undermined by a ridiculous 2 star "mystery" subplot. It was clear from early on who was out to get this couple, but despite Griffin's background in intelligence, he is seemingly oblivious to a solution that was staring him in the face. I know that using suspense to spice up a romance is a popular tool, but it has to be believable to make the book a better read. Anne was a little grating at times, but given her background that seems perfectly realistic, and it was interesting to see a character struggle with addiction long before that was a recognized thing. A decent read that could have been much better.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Intimate Surrender by Laura Landon

The bewitchingly beautiful Hannah Bartlett never meant to fall in love, and certainly not with a vicar. But when she meets Vicar Rafe Waterford, she discovers a warmth and tenderness she’s searched for her entire life. Not until it’s too late does she realize that Rafe holds more than the key to her heart; he possesses the power to destroy her—especially when he discovers who she really is.

For years, Vicar Rafe Waterford’s family has made every attempt to find him a wife and see him settled down. Yet, no lady has enchanted him enough to draw him into matrimony…until he crosses paths with the breathtakingly beautiful Miss Hannah Bartlett. Struck by her wit, her charm, and her heart overflowing with love and compassion, he relentlessly pursues her. But when he discovers the secret she’s kept from him, that she is Madam Genevieve, owner of London’s most famous bordello, their love is tested beyond all measure.

This book just never really came together for me. Neither Hannah nor Rafe were particularly appealing, and it was essentially impossible to believe society ladies accepted her despite her position even if they were childhood friends. I couldn't help but wonder why they hadn't tried to help her escape her situation over the years rather than just providing a space to spend a quiet vacation. Given Hannah's backstory, it was difficult to see why she would choose to continue in the life once she had the means to escape. Rafe was just rather boring, making it hard for me to connect to him or to their relationship. Not a successful offering in my opinion.

Friday, January 17, 2014

In Love With a Wicked Man by Liz Carlyle

What does it matter if Kate, Lady d'Allenay, has absolutely no marriage prospects? She has a castle to tend, an estate to run, and a sister to watch over, which means she is never, ever reckless. Until an accident brings a handsome, virile stranger to Bellecombe Castle, and Kate finds herself tempted to surrender to her houseguest's wicked kisses.

Disowned by his aristocratic family, Lord Edward Quartermaine has turned his gifted mind to ruthless survival. Feared and vilified as proprietor of London's most notorious gaming salon, he now struggles to regain his memory, certain of only one thing: he wants all Kate is offering—and more.

But when Edward's memory returns, he and Kate realize how much they have wagered on a scandalous passion that could be her ruin, but perhaps his salvation.

I'm not generally a fan of books that rely on hackneyed devices like amnesia to move the story forward, but this one was well-written enough to carry off the absurdity. Kate is a delightful heroine- intelligent, responsible, and honest. Edward/Ned is an unlikely hero given his background, but a great man despite his dark background. Watching these two come together despite their and society's reservations made for a great read. I will definitely be on the lookout for more books from this author.

Once She Was Tempted by Anne Barton


. . . or is it? The risqué painting owned by Benjamin Elliot, the earl of Foxburn, features a stunning beauty with sapphire eyes, golden hair, and creamy skin. Ben recognizes this particular English rose the instant he meets her-though she's wearing considerably more clothing. In person, the demure debutante is even more irresistible . . .

In desperate need of money for her sick mother, Daphne Honeycote had posed for two scandalous portraits. Now she must hide her secret to save the Honeycote family name. Ben's possession of one painting makes him an insufferable thorn in her side-and yet he may be her best chance at finding the canvas's companion. As she becomes drawn to the dark-tempered earl, can Daphne risk laying bare the secrets of her heart?

This was a surprisingly enjoyable Regency romance, one with an original plot (which is sometimes hard to come by in the genre). Daphne is a delightful heroine- a caring person who made a deliberate and shocking choice in order to save her mother's life. Ben is a tortured hero- one carrying the weight of a dead friend on his shoulders and determined to save that friend's brother from Daphne's snares. Of course, he gradually comes to realize that Daphne is not setting snares and is in fact a lovely person he needs to help. This was a great story that I found hard to put down, and I will certainly look for other entries in the series.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

To Please a Lady by Lori Brighton

Eleanor wanted a night of passion. James just wanted to survive. Instead, they found an unexpected and forbidden love that threatens all they hold dear.

With her stunning beauty and impeccable reputation, Lady Eleanor Beckett is a society darling to emulate, respected by everyone in the ton. But Eleanor’s seemingly perfect life is marred by a dark secret. Determined to know happiness and passion just once, she travels in disguise to a place she’s heard whispers about for years: the infamous Lavender Hills Estate, a brothel that caters to women. There, she meets the surprisingly kind, strikingly handsome, and completely inappropriate James McKinnon, a man who may be just what she needs to melt the ice surrounding her broken heart.

James McKinnon is content at Lavender Hills Estate. Affable and handsome, it’s not surprising that James is one of Lady Lavender’s most popular men. He found the path out of crippling poverty through Lavender Hills, and with the money he makes from his work, he is able to support his widowed mother and young sister. James is surprised to find he cares for Eleanor, the beauty with the sad eyes. After all, he’s never cared for a client before—caring interferes with business. Unfortunately, society would never accept a relationship between an escort and a lady.

Despite their stations, Eleanor and James can’t extinguish the passion they’ve ignited. Will they be able to break through the confines of London society, or will their forbidden love and complicated pasts destroy everything they care about—including each other?

This book is apparently the last in a series, and in my opinion doesn't work as well as a stand-alone; I felt like I was behind from the first page. Despite the interesting twist of having the hero be a gigolo, this book just never really captured me. The revelation that Eleanor's husband is abusive adds some much needed depth to the tale, but then the whole story descends into an almost farce. It is especially difficult to understand how James can continue to ignore the reality of his situation or why his friends haven't been completely honest and forthcoming with him about their true circumstances. I wanted to like this book, but ultimately finished it only because I had started it.

Love and Other Scandals by Caroline Linden

Joan Bennett is a breath away from being a spinster. She’s had four seasons without a suitor. After reading a shockingly sensuous book, Fifty Ways to Sin, Joan decides perhaps it’s time to stop being proper and start being sinful, while she’s still young enough to enjoy it. And what better partner than her brother’s drinking mate, Viscount Burke? He seems the type to know how to give a lady a lascivious adventure.

It seems that the viscount has qualms about trifling with a friend’s sister. That’s the way to end up betrothed. And he doesn’t want that—or does he?

This delightful Regency romance features an unlikely heroine- Joan is too tall, too outspoken, and too plump for the fashion of the day. Luckily for Joan, her brother's rakish friend Tristan is able to see beyond her unflattering dresses and hair to the sparkling personality beneath. Watching these two gradually fall in love is very enjoyable, even if the sudden illness departure of her parents seems a little too convenient. I would have liked to see more resolution of aunt Evangeline's love story (though perhaps that will come later in the series). I also thought that Lady Bennett's recovery from what sounded like consumption was a little quick and unrealistic. Regardless, the story is engaging- I loved the description of Tristan's surprise "drive"- and definitely makes me want to read the rest of the series as it is published.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

And One Wore Gray by Heather Graham

Callie Michaelson knows all too well the costs of war. Her husband gave his life on the battlefield, fighting for the North. Now Callie’s only defense is to hunker down and hope the war blazes right on past her Maryland farm. But when a dashing Confederate soldier falls on her land, Callie is inexplicably roused to help this desperate, surprisingly vulnerable, and heartbreakingly desirable man.

After suffering the sting of defeat, Colonel Daniel Cameron wants nothing more than to heal his wounds and rejoin his retreating cavalry unit. But the look in the silver-gray eyes of the stunningly beautiful Yankee widow tells him to stay—at least for one night of passion. In Callie’s bed, Daniel forgets all about the horrors he has seen. He also forgets that he is too deep in Union territory to trust any woman. And soon enough Daniel discovers that wounds of the flesh are nothing compared to wounds of the heart.

This second book in Graham's Civil War series focuses on Daniel, the second Cameron brother and the one who stayed loyal to the South. Picking up not long after One Wore Blue left off, Callie and Daniel's story makes for a wonderful read. Callie is a sympathetic heroine, one whose human compassion trumps her political views in a way that Kiernan's never did. Callie and Daniel are both war-weary, and eager to try to capture a little bit of happiness despite the horror and death that surround them. Both characters are appealing and the reader cannot help but wish them well. In my opinion, this is easily the best of the trilogy.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

One Wore Blue by Heather Graham

The privileged daughter of a Virginia plantation owner, Kiernan Miller can’t imagine that her idyllic life will ever change—nor her days in the company of her devastatingly handsome neighbor, Jesse Cameron, a boy who returns her desire, kiss by tempestuous kiss. Then Jesse commits the one sin that Kiernan can never forgive: He abandons his roots for the Union army. Though Kiernan marries another, a part of her will always love the rebel in blue.

To follow his conscience, Jesse Cameron must sacrifice his heart. He deserts his hometown, turns against his own brother, and rides away from the woman he loves. But he vows that it will not be forever. Now, bringing the war to Kiernan’s front door, Jesse has returned as the enemy, intent on winning back the widow with emerald eyes and sun-kissed hair—the beauty who has branded him a traitor.

This sweeping Civil War romance is the first of a trilogy of books that follow three Cameron siblings as they look for love while the country splits apart. The story was enjoyable as were the elements of Civil War life that it reveals. I would have given this one four stars if it hadn't been for the heroine Kiernan. Though her initial feelings of anger when Jesse chooses to fight for the North are understandable, her animosity toward him quickly becomes irritating. The book was saved by the hero Jesse who certainly deserves better than Kiernan Miller in my opinion; his honor and love and the desire he feels for her make the story. Regardless, the book was a good read and certainly makes me want to continue with the series.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

The White Queen is the story of Elizabeth Woodville, a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition, who secretly marries the newly crowned Edward IV. Elizabeth rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for her family’s dominance, but despite her best efforts, her two sons become pawns in a famous unsolved mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the lost princes in the Tower of London. In this dazzling account of the deadly Wars of the Roses, brother turns on brother to win the ultimate prize, the throne of England.

This book was a SantaThing choice and the first book I read in 2014. As a died in the wool Ricardian ever since I first read Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time a quarter-century ago, I confess I went into this book without an ounce of sympathy for the mail character Elizabeth Woodville. That said, the story was in fact quite well-conceived and hit all of the factual markers necessary to ground it in history. Elizabeth is a well-drawn and sympathetic character- a woman fighting for her family, her power and her love in a time of great historical turmoil. I was less enamored with the supernatural elements of the tale, though ultimately they were not enough to ruin my enjoyment of the story. Though I myself could still not take the Woodville side, and didn't like the picture of Richard that was painted in this novel, it was nonetheless an enjoyable read and a solid introduction to the time period.