Monday, April 28, 2014

The Unexpected Duchess by Valerie Bowman


Lady Lucy Upton’s tongue may be too sharp to attract suitors but her heart is good, and when her painfully shy friend Cassandra needs help she devises a brilliant scheme to help her discourage an unwanted suitor, the Duke of Claringdon. Lucy will hide behind the hedgerow and tell Cass just what to say to discourage the Duke of Claringdon…but it turns out that he’s made of sterner stuff than either of them anticipated. And Lucy is shocked to discover that tangling with the tenacious man is the most fun she’s had in ages.


Lord Derek Hunt made a promise to his dying friend to marry the demure Cassandra, and for a man who wants nothing more than peace and quiet after the horrors of war, she’ll make the perfect bride. If only the impudent Miss Upton will let him court the girl! Doing battle is the last thing on his mind, but bantering with Lucy behind the bushes is too tempting to resist. And in The Unexpected Duchess, the spoils of this war just may be true love…

This delightful twist on Cyrano has one young woman using her more erudite friend to discourage an unwanted suitor, or so it seems at least in the beginning. In truth, it is clear from the opening pages that Lucy and Derek are meant to be together, especially given that his intended bride is in fact in love with another man. I loved the feminine friendships in this book and how these women worked together to try to find the best for each other. Derek is a wonderful hero- perhaps a little rigid in his concept of duty, but he eventually comes to his senses so I forgive him. Having outspoken Lucy portrayed as a bit of an outcast from Society seemed much more realistic than the normal portrayal of a unique character as the darling of the Ton, and I loved the way Derek took Lucy's side when battling criticism from her parents. I assume we have two more books coming to sort out the romantic lives of Cass and Jane, and I for one can't wait to read them!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Fool My Twice by Meredith Duran


Running for her life, exhausted and out of options, Olivia Holladay wants nothing more than the chance to make a home for herself. So when she realizes that the infamous Duke of Marwick might hold the key to her freedom, she boldly disguises herself as the newest and bravest in a long line of the duke’s notoriously temperamental housekeepers. Little does she know that the wickedly handsome Alastair de Grey has very different plans for her...


As his new employee, Olivia is a fearless upstart. As a woman, the daring redhead is just what Alastair needs to rouse him from darkness to the siren call of revenge. He has suffered a betrayal so deep that he will use whatever means necessary to destroy his enemies—even his brazen and beautiful domestic. But his vengeful plan fails to account for his single weakness: an irresistible and growing passion for the enigmatic Olivia.

This was a truly enjoyable read- exactly what the genre is all about. Olivia is an excellent heroine; a clever young woman trying to take back control of her life after a traumatic attack. Alastair is a troubled heroine, haunted by the betrayal of his late wife on both a personal and political level. Watching these two come together to save each other from their pasts makes for a wonderful read. My only quibble is that Alastair's reaction to his wife's betrayal seems rather extreme once all the details eventually emerge. Regardless, an excellent read for any romance fan.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Never Tempt a Duke by Virginia Brown

He could not forgive her deception. She could not resist the desire they shared. When a scandal forces them to marry, their passions lead to dangerous secrets.

Deverell regarded his beautiful bride dispassionately. He had begun to think—hope—he could find in her what he’d never had before. That had disintegrated into ashes when she tricked him into marriage. Now, the wedding breakfast done, the revelry just beginning, she gave him a nervous glance from where she stood near the arbor. He returned her gaze, took note of the wreath of baby’s breath and pink roses atop her head, the Belgian lace train cascading from her shoulders and draping loosely over her bare arms before falling to the hem of her gown, and felt nothing. She was beautiful; fairy-like; virginal. Deceitful.

A changeling, he told himself. She’d undergone so many transformations since he’d first met her that he wasn’t certain who she really was. Except that now she was his wife. Deverell excused himself from Craven and strode to his bride; saw her instant wariness as he approached. The past fortnight had not endeared him to her, no doubt. Fitting enough, he supposed, since her actions had not endeared her to him either.

“So, my lovely bride,” he drawled, taking one of her hands and drawing her away from her companions, “I trust all has gone according to your wishes.”

Apart from the others, she tried to pull her hand free but he held it firmly. She flicked a glance at him from beneath her lashes, a maiden’s trick that had never worked on him. He’d had ample time to study the female strategy. Yet he had still been conquered by treachery. A galling admission of defeat.

“If it had gone according to my wishes, your grace,” she retorted, “I would be quite far from here, I assure you.”

“Somehow, I doubt that, my sweet,” he said softly. He lifted her gloved hand to his lips as if to press a loving kiss to her palm and murmured, “I think you’ve had things your way far too long.”

As much as I wanted to love this book, I just couldn't get behind the central romance between the two main characters. The book started strong with 17 year old American twins Nick and Alyssa conspiring to fool their new guardian in England. While Nick runs away to sea, Alyssa poses as a boy to save herself from being shuttered away in an oppressive religious school. Sadly, this portion of the novel is the most interesting; once Deverell discovers the deception, things head steadily downhill.

Deverell is not an appealing hero- autocratic and quick to anger, he unreasonably blames Alyssa for tricking him into marriage even though it is clear she is innocent. I simply couldn't understand how or why Alyssa was in love with him, other than the fact that she never recovered from her teenage crush. Alyssa never seemed to fully grow up and take a stand for herself which made her a little one note for my taste. I was especially disappointed that the initial closeness of the twins was quickly written out as Nick become a rather unappealing young man.

Characters aside, the mystery element was also a bit of a let down. The ancient family history was very confusing and never really fleshed out. Deverell's refusal to share his thoughts puts his wife in incredible danger toward the end of the book, and then he leaves her in danger for long hours simply to follow through on his plan? Not very well-done on his part in my opinion.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Escape by Mary Balogh

After surviving the Napoleonic Wars, Sir Benedict Harper is struggling to move on, his body and spirit in need of a healing touch. Never does Ben imagine that hope will come in the form of a beautiful woman who has seen her own share of suffering. After the lingering death of her husband, Samantha McKay is at the mercy of her oppressive in-laws—until she plots an escape to distant Wales to claim a house she has inherited. Being a gentleman, Ben insists that he escort her on the fateful journey.

Ben wants Samantha as much as she wants him, but he is cautious. What can a wounded soul offer any woman? Samantha is ready to go where fate takes her, to leave behind polite society and even propriety in her desire for this handsome, honorable soldier. But dare she offer her bruised heart as well as her body? The answers to both their questions may be found in an unlikely place: in each other’s arms.

This is a wonderful straight historical romance. No mystery or thriller elements here, just a quietly moving, character driven novel. I was especially drawn to the honest look at the painful aftermath of war, both for the soldiers and the families they left behind. Benedict is a strong and determined hero, one who struggled to rebuild himself after horrible war-time injuries. He is a member of the Survivors' Club, a group of wounded soldiers home from the Napoleonic Wars, working hard to reclaim some semblance of a normal life despite their physical and mental wounds.

Samantha is the recently widowed heroine of this story, struggling to come to terms with her rapidly changing life. After years of nursing her injured husband, she is finally looking forward to a bit of freedom only to discover her controlling father-in-law has other plans for his wayward family. She is looking for a home, and a sense of peace after too many years of coping with the aftermath of war.

Watching these two heal and come together to carve out a new life makes for an excellent read, one that I think will appeal to any reader. This backstory calls to mind the sacrifices made by soldiers and their family through out history, and adds a sober element to this compelling read. This book is the third in the Survivors' Club series and works perfectly as a stand-alone- though after reading it, I'll certainly be on the lookout for the first two.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Broken by Shelley Coriell

He took her life, but left her alive.

Three years ago, reporter Kate Johnson was the first victim-and only survivor-of the Broadcast Butcher. Scarred both physically and psychologically by the brutal serial killer, Kate lives life on the run, knowing that one day, he will find her and finish what he started.

In the pursuit of justice, you sometimes have to step outside the law.

Agent Hayden Reed spends his life chasing monsters. The only way to stay sane is to detach, but the second the Broadcast Butcher case crosses his desk, Hayden knows this is the case that might just cost him his soul. To catch this vicious murderer before he strikes again, Hayden must find Kate and earn her trust. For it's her darkest secrets that hold the key to stopping this madman once and for all . . .

This fast-paced romantic thriller certainly kept me guessing from start to finish! I loved Kate- a strong heroine who takes control of her own life after a vicious attack, then returns to put herself in danger once again in order to catch a killer. She is upfront about her feelings, and her distrust of law enforcement is based in her own negative experiences which helps lay the groundwork for some of the tension between her and Hayden. Hayden is another enjoyable character with his devotion to the law and a determination to catch this serial killer. It was of course unprofessional to get involved in a sexual relationship with a witness, but since this is a romantic thriller, I'll simply let that pass.

I also enjoyed the cast of secondary characters, and thought this was a good introduction to a new series. I am definitely interested in reading more of The Apostles Series in the future.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Truth Will Out by Jane Isaacs

"Everything's going to be okay."
"What if it's not?" Suddenly, she turned. For a split second she halted, her head inclined.
"Naomi, what is it?"
She whisked back to face Eva. "There's somebody in the house..."

Eva is horrified when she witnesses an attack on her best friend. She calls an ambulance and forces herself to flee Hampton, fearing for her own safety. DCI Helen Lavery leads the investigation into the murder. With no leads, no further witnesses and no sign of forced entry, the murder enquiry begins.

Slowly, the pieces of the puzzle start to come together. But as Helen inches towards solving the case, her past becomes caught up in her present. Someone is after them both. Someone who will stop at nothing to get what they want. And as the net starts to close around them, can Helen escape her own demons as well as helping Eva to escape hers?

This second book to feature Helen Lavery is a much stronger offering than the series debut, and is a true thriller that keeps the reader on edge through to the end. Widowed Helen is a strong and complicated character, trying to carve out a police career while raising two sons. It was lovely to gain insights into her character through the details about her recent romantic entanglement, and to see her gaining confidence in her investigative skills. There were points where I felt that Eve's story was unfolding rather slowly, bu overall the story was engaging and enjoyable. This series seesm to have found its footing, and I'm looking forward to future offerings from this author.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Innocent Sleep by Karen Perry

Tangiers. Harry is preparing his wife's birthday dinner while she is still at work and their son, Dillon, is upstairs asleep in bed. Harry suddenly remembers that he's left Robin's gift at the café in town. It's only a five minute walk away and Dillon's so tricky to put down for the night, so Harry decides to run out on his own and fetch the present.

Disaster strikes. An earthquake hits, buildings crumble, people scream and run. Harry fights his way through the crowd to his house, only to find it razed to the ground. Dillon is presumed dead, though his body is never found.

Five years later, Harry and Robin have settled into a new kind of life after relocating to their native Dublin. Their grief will always be with them, but lately it feels as if they're ready for a new beginning. Harry's career as an artist is taking off and Robin has just realized that she's pregnant.

But when Harry gets a glimpse of Dillon on the crowded streets of Dublin, the past comes rushing back at both of them. Has Dillon been alive all these years? Or was what Harry saw just a figment of his guilt-ridden imagination?

This wonderful story about a parent's ultimate despair is less a thriller, and more a portrait of a family suffering to overcome the loss of a child and the guilty knowledge that the loss was avoidable. I enjoyed the mixed narrators and the way they slowly reveal facts that explain the complicated reality of this troubled couple. The story is engrossing, especially as the threads begin to unravel. That said, I was ultimately unable to find it in myself to like Harry or to understand why Robin stays with him despite everything he has done. I also wouldn't consider it a thriller in the typical sense up until the very end despite the psychological tension. I would have given this 5 stars if not for the ending which felt both rushed and unsatisfying.

The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths

Every year a ceremony is held at Norwich Castle for the bodies in the paupers’ graves: the Service for the Outcast Dead. Ruth has a particular interest in this year’s proceedings. Her recent dig at Norwich Castle turned up the body of the notorious Mother Hook, who was hanged in 1867 for the murder of five children. Now Ruth is the reluctant star of the TV series Women Who Kill, working alongside the program’s alluring history expert, Professor Frank Barker.

DCI Harry Nelson is immersed in the case of three children found dead in their home. He is sure that the mother is responsible. Then another child is abducted and a kidnapper dubbed the Childminder claims responsibility. Are there two murderers afoot, or is the Childminder behind all the deaths? The team must race to find out—and the stakes couldn’t be any higher when another child goes missing.

Another excellent addition to the Ruth Galloway series, this mystery kept me involved from the first page to the last. As always, Ruth is a delightfully awkward character, especially as she tries to navigate the complicated world of reality TV. The historical and modern day mysteries are beautifully connected and sensitively drawn- sometimes a difficult balance when addressing crimes against children. As always, the secondary characters in this series help add both depth and levity to a sometimes bleak narrative. Highly recommended for those familiar with the series- for new readers, definitely read these in order rather than starting here!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

Welcome to Little Wing.

It’s a place like hundreds of others, nothing special, really. But for four friends—all born and raised in this small Wisconsin town—it is home. And now they are men, coming into their own or struggling to do so.

One of them never left, still working the family farm that has been tilled for generations. But others felt the need to move on, with varying degrees of success. One trades commodities, another took to the rodeo circuit, and one of them even hit it big as a rock star. And then there’s Beth, a woman who has meant something special in each of their lives.

Now all four are brought together for a wedding. Little Wing seems even smaller than before. While lifelong bonds are still strong, there are stresses—among the friends, between husbands and wives. There will be heartbreak, but there will also be hope, healing, even heroism as these memorable people learn the true meaning of adult friendship and love.

This heartfelt novel is an astonishingly good read- one with an unexpected emotional depth. The language is spare, much like Little Wing itself, and captured this reader from the first pages. Unwinding slowly, this story slowly goes nowhere really- this book is more a study in characters than of action, but I found I couldn't put it down. The picture of these four men and their small Wisconsin town is beautifully drawn, and the ties that bind them together are the same that many of us feel for our childhood friends and homes. It is hard to explain- there is nothing I can think to say in this review that would capture the beauty of this book; I really think you have to start reading to find the allure. Highly recommended!