Monday

My Highland Spy by Victoria Roberts

September 15, 2014
"Ti-i-i-ime is on my side - yes it is."

http://www.victoriarobertsauthor.com/

My Highland Spy is the first book in Victoria Roberts' new Highland Spies series and it also happens to be the first book by Ms. Roberts that I've read.  I was pleased with Ms.
Roberts' book and it won't be the last by her I will read.  Now, did the book blow me away? No. It was a charming book but there seemed to be a certain lack of any depth to it. 

I am always encouraged when I find a new author with promising talent. Sure this is not Ms. Roberts' first book - she has three other books under her belt - but for me she is a new author. I understand how hard it is to write a romance. One pours so much of oneself into those words - sleepless nights, doubts, sweat and then the nail biting moments when you give it to a friend to read or read it yourself and realize how much more work you have to do.  I'm saying that because I do not take criticism of books lightly, although I will admit I do have an occasional sarcastic word escaping my pen. I am often disappointed in authors who I have loved for ages and seem to have lost some of their magic. On the other hand, I can appreciate young authors who are finding their way and with just a little nudge can become really good. In the case of Ms. Roberts, I believe she needs to slow down her story lines and more fully develop her characters. While the characters in this book are engaging, they could have been so much more if more detail had been given to them - this book needed more atmosphere.

Let's ponder time. Time ponder one. This story takes place in the time period of James VI of England (June 19, 1566 – March 27, 1625) but it felt as if the characters were 21st century people dressed up in costumes. Usually in historicals we are bombarded with dress/costume details and in my opinion this time period was abundant with complicated clothing which identifies it. However, I never had a sense as to what any of these people were wearing unless it was a kilt. Incorporating clothing details would have been one way of establishing some kind of feel for the time period it was set in. Or - language. While we do have some Scottish brogue and even an abundance of Gaelic, the spoken/written English in this book sounds modern, unlike the interesting cadence of 17th century English. For example, just look at this sentence from Prince Frederick to Princess Elizabeth: "I beg of you, be not distressed."  There is no way that could be mistaken for 21st century language, and I still know what the meaning of that sentence is. While I would find it hard to read an entire book filled with 17th century language, there could have been a few words scattered here and there to enhance the feeling of the time period the author was going for.

Time ponder two. My Highland Spy takes place over a time period of a couple of months; however, the only reason I know this is because the author told me. If not for the occasional "time passes" inserted in the book I would not have realized that any more time than a few weeks had gone by.

Characters. Our heroine Ravenna is a spy and I'm not sure I bought into her being one. The courts of James VI and his predecessors were filled with intrigue, so one really had to be on one toes. There were numerous people who weren't and ended up on the block. Ravenna didn't use intrigue to spy - she was more of a Mati Hari kind of spy (and Mati Hari was not all that good at the spy business). Lurking behind a pillar doesn't mean good spying. So, she is sent to Scotland to "spy" on our hero Ruairi Sutherland and teach his son how to speak English. That's her disguise - teaching. It doesn't take long before Ravenna and Ruairi are in lust and kilts are flying by the wayside. But Ruairi has problems of his own, someone’s killing his cows.  He confides his troubles to Ravenna then finds out she's a spy - oh, will they ever have there happy ending?  There are some secondary characters running around in kilts being manly men.  One in particular, Fagan, is slugged in the face by Ravenna's sister, Grace - their book is next, should be great fun and I'm looking forward to their story.

I do not want to put any pressure on Ms. Roberts, but I am going to keep an eye on her and see to what heights she takes her writing. Overall, this was a pleasant read. Even though it's a "spy" story, there isn't too much distrust angst that last very long. If I had been able to feel the time period that this story takes place in, it would have taken this book to a whole other level. Just a little tweak here and there would have made all the difference. It would have made a simply charming story into a great story. However, I am interested in this series and I will be picking up the next book to see where Ms. Roberts takes me.

Time/Place: 17th century England and Scotland
Sensuality: Hot

Wednesday

Why Lords Lose Their Hearts by Manda Collins

September 10, 2014
Woe is me...

http://mandacollins.com/

This has been a frustrating week; beginning one book, not finishing it, beginning another book, putting it down. I went through four books and none of them grabbed me, and most were by authors I’ve never read before but was willing to give a try. Huge disappointments. So, when I opened up Manda Collins’ latest, Why Lords Lose Their Hearts, I started to be a little concerned when the book began to drag. I persevered though, because this is the last in her series of Wicked Widows and I wanted to see who the villain has been in this series!

Our romantic pair on this occasion is Perdita, the Duchess of Ormond, and Archer, the fifth son of a duke. Notice I said fifth son. Yes, bubba’s, there are four other brothers and they all have hero-like names and they all have different problems and they all make their appearance in this book. So, I see a new series with four new books in our future.

Archer, Archer, he’s our man – he’s our mighty beta man. You know just once, I’d like for a beta man to have a heroine who deserves him. One that realizes right at the beginning that this guy is really really nice and would do anything in his power to protect her. A heroine who can see that this guy is crazy for her. But, no, Perdita is a whiney woman who can never trust another man because her stinker of a husband abused her.  She loved her stinker man you see, so she can never ever trust another man, especially one she might have feelings for.  And, she can never, ever marry another man she might love, because then she might get hurt.  I guess one's feeling don’t get hurt if one never marries the person one loves - at least that’s what I got out of Perdita’s constant moaning and groaning.  I became quite irritated with her continued harping on trust and love and trust, especially since it’s so obvious Archer was such an honorable guy.

And, while we are on the subject of petulant Perdita, can you say stubborn? Someone is trying to kill her and she is ridiculously stubborn in doing what is best for her and for the people who are within 50 miles of her. Archer and all of the people from the previous two books in the series have to resort to kidnapping to get her away from the danger. Of course, that doesn’t really work, because the villain seems to be psychic, the villain seems to know every place she’s going and is always there before she is, with the help of minions. In the end when the big villain reveal is made, it was never made clear to me just how this particular person could have been so omnipresent. They are almost like Q from Star Trek. The ability of our villain to know everything and be everywhere stretched the bounds of believability for me and made the story less credible. 

If not for Archer, whom I loved, I would not have found anyone in this story to like. I wish Perdita had been a better heroine and I wish she had deserved Archer. I don’t understand what he saw in her; just because she was abused in her previous marriage doesn’t give her an automatic right to be an inconsiderate, grumpy, insensitive, stubborn ogress. Perdita didn’t work for me as a  heroine and that made it hard to read Why Lords Lose Their Hearts.

Time/Place: All over Regency England
Sensuality: Hot

Friday

A Woman Made for Sin by Michele Sinclair

August 29, 2014
Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…

http://michelesinclair.com/

Or in the case of A Woman Made for Sin, pay no attention to the blurb on the back cover. Why the back cover, you ask.  Well, let me tell you! On the back cover we are told that Lady Aimee Wentworth is tired of waiting around for Reece Hamilton, so she is going to force his hand and sneak on board his boat and have an adventure. That is my interpretation of what the back cover says. So, it’s a romance about Aimee and Reece, right? You wouldn’t know it by reading the story. It’s more like Aimee and Reece have been relegated to secondary characters in their own book. The largest percentage of time is taken up with Millie and Chase from A Woman Made for Pleasure.

Let me review some of the shenanigans in this tale.  I have never read any of Michele Sinclair’s books before and because I’m coming in on the second in a series I was a little lost as to what was going on. However, I was smart enough to catch on that the three women in the series are Aimee, Millie, and Janelle, also known as the Daring Three – but as it turns out they are all struck numb with TSTL syndrome. Janelle doesn’t have a big part in this book, thank goodness. For this outing she seems to be assigned the glare-at-the-man-who-has-done-wrong  part. And, that man isn’t our hero Reece, but Chase from the previous book. In fact, except for one flashback scene, Reece doesn’t put in too much of an appearance til around page 200. Before that we only see him wondering around his boat pondering why his crew is so odd and thinking he can hear a woman sing. Of course he can hear a woman sing – that would be Aimee. You see, Aimee dressed up in boy's clothes in order to catch a thief, then forced Reece’s crew to kidnap her. She received some bumps and bruises in the process, but because she is so plucky and pretty and charming she persuades allllll of the crew members to hide her from Reece until she can heal. Then her plan is to convince him she loves sailing and she was meant for him. Through pages and pages and pages we get to watch Aimee charm one crusty seaman after another… even zee temperamental French cook is charmed. Then during a storm (of course) she climbs the rigging to save the crew and is spotted by the oblivious Reece - and this is more than halfway through the book! For all of you who love l-o-n-g whankee-roo scenes there is a doozey of one in this book. After pages and pages of separation between Reece and Aimee, there is one–whole–chapter dedicated to tossing, sucking, biting, shucking, wrapping, and bouncing. It was a really big yawn. There is no chemistry between Aimee and Reece, there is no bonding, no friendship, no nothing. There is more chemistry between Aimee and the crew members. That would be because she spends time with the crew members - making friends, singing songs, swapping jokes, sewing sails, climbing yardarms, and just being an all-round pal.

Then there is Chase and Millie. In the first few chapters, Chase gets mad at Millie because of Aimee’s disappearance (Aimee is his sister). He sends Millie to the country. Well, as I mentioned before, Millie is part of the Daring Three. She actually seems like the leader.  She cannot sit back and let Chase find her dear friend Aimee! She must be the one to find her! She has a plan. She will disguise herself as a poor woman and work in a bar close to the wharf waiting tables. While she is there, she will make friends with all of the men. It was my observation that the Daring Three seem to be men magnets because whenever they enter a room all the men stop whatever it is they are doing and turn into slobbering, drooling boobs. Anyway, she is hoping one of the men in the bar will have seen Aimee being kidnapped. All the time she is slyly questioning men and they are alllll falling in love with her, she is also trying to make friends with a seamstress, some people at a boarding house, a kid that can read, and the other waitress. In the meantime Chase is back home pacing the floor and recruiting Bow Street Runners to find his sister and his wife. Chase and Millie are separated through almost the whole book, and their story/stories take up about 60% of it. So what we have is a romance about Reece and Aimee who are separated through most of their part and a much longer story about Chase and Millie who are also separated through most of the book. Throw into that mix a villain with a limp who isn’t caught at the end, which leads me to think this story is going to continue.

I was disappointed in this book. I was looking for a romance between two people, not an adventure story with four people who are separated throughout most of the book. I was hoping for better and I’m sorry to say I cannot recommend this book, unless you want to check it out of the library. For a romance to work for me, the couple in love need to be together for more than a chapter or two.

Time/Place: Regency England, Tavern, Ship
Sensuality: Supposed to be hot

Tuesday

Upcoming Historical Romance!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Authors with an asterisk*, I'm picking up! For more Upcoming Releases that aren't historical see Hey Delia!!! For: September 15, 2014 to October 14, 2014. *Author's name linked. 
Amanda McCabe

Betrayed by His Kiss
September 16
Amanda Scott

Moonlight Raider
Border Nights series
September 30
Anne Stuart*

Never Marry a Viscount
Scandal at the House of Russell series
September 23
Beatrice Small

Serena
The Silk Merchant’s Daughters series
October 7
Carole Mortimer

Zachary Blacks: Duke of Debauchery
Dangerous Dukes series
September 16
Cathy Maxwell

The Groom Says Yes
Brides of Wishmore series
September 30
Christine Merrill

The Truth about Lady Felkirk
September 16
Elizabeth Hoyt*

Darling Beast
Maiden Lane series
October 14
Grace Burrowes

What a Lady Needs for Christmas
The MacGregors series
October 7
Hannah Howell

If He’s Daring
Wherlock series
October 7
Jenna Kernan
Kathryn Albright
Lynna Banning

Wild West Christmas, anthology
September 16
Jennifer Ashley*
 

Scandal and the Duchess
Highland Pleasures novella
September 16
Jennifer Ashley*

Rules for a Proper Governess
Highland Pleasures series
October 7
Jodi Thomas

A Place Called Harmony
Harmony series
October 7
Karen Hawkins*

The Prince Who Loved Me
The Oxenburg Princes series
September 23
Kathleen Bittner Roth

Celine
When Hearts Dare series
October 7
Maya Rodale

What a Wallflower Wants
Bad Boys & Wallflowers
September 30
Mia Marlowe*

Once Upon a Plaid
Spirit of the Highlands series
October 7
Sharon Page*

An American Duchess
September 30
Suzanne Enoch*
Alexandra Hawkins
Elizabeth Essex
Valerie Bowman
Christmas Brides, anthology
September 30
Theresa Romain

Season for Desire
Holiday Pleasures series,
October 7

Talk Sweetly to Me by Courtney Milan

August 26, 2014
Let's make this short and sweet.

http://www.courtneymilan.com/

Courtney Milan has produced another short story that should have been longer. In Talk Sweetly to Me, Ms. Milan handles the subject of an inter-racial relationship and it only takes about two hours of the readers time to find out her solution to the problem.  While I applaud Ms. Milan's tackling the issue that an interracial relationship would have in 1882, it really deserved a full-length telling.

The characters of Rose Sweetly and Stephen Shaughnessy were fun and had the makings of a really dynamic pair - if only they had been given the space they deserved.

Rose Sweetly had a couple of issues to deal with for a woman in the 19th century. First of all, she was really smart, and I do mean smart. She loves math and she is used as a computer by an astronomer but she does not get the recognition she deserves. Secondly, she is a black woman, and for once an author didn't add a white mother or father to make her more acceptable to us. She is the wise one in the romance. She is the one who knows what a rough road is ahead for her and the man she loves. I liked Rose a lot. She was sweet, smart, loyal, and strong. She has also fallen in love with her rakish neighbor, Stephen.

Stephen is a charmer. He is a bit of a womanizer - he loves women and he never takes anything too seriously. He writes for a women's newspaper and was a secondary character in The Suffragette Scandal. Stephen has also fallen for his neighbor, so we walk into a romance already in process. I also liked Stephen a lot. He was soooo charming, a guy with a permanent twinkle in his eyes, a hard man to resist. If I had any problem with him it would be that he was portrayed as being oblivious to the issue of race. Rose's skin color was never ever a problem for him. I thought that was a little bit unrealistic. It was sort of explained away by his being Irish Catholic and because of the discrimination against the Irish, he doesn't have any bias. Just because someone is discriminated against doesn't mean they don't have any biases. I would have liked Stephen's character explored more than it was.

But hey, what we are given is a short story that only takes probably 2 hours to read if you are a slow reader. It is a sweet story about two people who are in love and are going to face numerous problems but they get a butterfly flying, unicorn hopping, birds chirping happily ending. It is a feel good story - I just wish it had been longer. These two characters had a lot of potential that wasn't realized.

I'll leave you with my favorite line from the book: "So yes, Mr. Shaughnessy. I'm not one of the people who will watch this happen in all it's glory. Women like me will have to content ourselves with glimpsing the phenomenon in smoked glass."


Time/Place: 1882 England
Sensuality: Warm/Hot

My Beautiful Enemy by Sherry Thomas

August 26, 2014
"Put on a happy face
Brush off the clouds and cheer up
Put on a happy face..."


http://www.sherrythomas.com/

Ah yes, a happy face - you all know what that is, don't you? Its a frown turned upside down! Evidently, the two main characters in this book didn't know that because these were two of the most depressing characters I've read about in a long time. No knock knock jokes coming out of their mouths.

Sherry Thomas is one of my favorite authors. Her writing is always beautiful, elegant, and well-thought out. In the case of My Beautiful Enemy, all of that is still there. It was just that the characters of Catherine, aka Ying-Ying, and Leighton were such sober characters I wanted to scream, "lighten-up!"

On top of that there were a number of moments filled with martial arts. I'm not a big fan of martial art films - once you've see one crouching dragon in slow motion you've seen them all - regardless of the photographic beauty. I must say the same about reading about kicks, flips, chops, hops, and swinging. I admit I did the same with these parts of the book that I do when there pages and pages of one sex scene - skip read. Too bad an author wrote all those lovely words just to have me skip over them. But reading about any kind of fighting in a book, whether its with a sword or the side of a hand, just isn't interesting to me. And actually, I would have to say this is more of an adventure story then it is a romance.

Then we have flashbacks. I don't normally mind flashbacks, I actually quite enjoy them, if they add to the story. The problem I had with the flashbacks in My Beautiful Enemy was just when Catherine and Leighton were connecting I was jerked back to their past. At least half of the book is told through flashbacks.

There is a prequel which I purchased halfway through reading the book. I understand that it adds quite a bit of character development to My Beautiful Enemy. I question as to why it wasn't included in the full length book because Leighton and Catherine were both in need of more character development.

So, while I still greatly admire Sherry Thomas and this book was full of lovely prose, the characters of Catherine and Leighton lacked romantic chemistry and were both too humorless for me.  As much as I love Sherry Thomas' work, My Beautiful Enemy didn't work for me.


Time/Place: 1880-1890s England/China/Turkestan
Sensuality: Warm/Hot
 

A Little Night Murder by Nancy Martin

August 26, 2014
Froth: Bubbles that form in or on a liquid, or something that is appealing but that has no serious value or interest.

http://www.nancymartinmysteries.com/

First things first. Just ask anyone who knows me...go ahead ask. Does SidneyKay like first- person narrative? After the shudder from the crowd the answer will be a resounding no. Well, guess what A Little Night Murder is written in! First person! Which shouldn't come as much of a surprise to me - really - in that most of the murder/mystery stories I've read they are first person. So when I opened this book, all it elicited was a slight groan followed by a sigh, then I plunged into the book. I will admit, the first person narrative didn't really bother me that much because the relationship between Nora and Michael had already been established. Sort of. What did bother me? This is the 10th book in the Blackbird Sisters series and I found myself lost in trying to catch up on all the relationships. What I thought might be a murder/mystery along the lines of Agatha Christie turned out to be something more along the lines of Rizzoli and Isles. In fact, that's what kept crossing my mind as I read A Little Night Murder - "you know, this would make a really good TNT/TBS/NetFlix/Lifetime series." While the writing was funny in spots, I found all the characters running through the book rather chaotic and a big distraction from the crime. I suspect if I had read this series from the very beginning, I would be a big fan, but I didn't. I came in on the 10th book and it doesn't stand alone well, but that's my problem.

Amongst all of the characters that inhabit this book, and there are a lot, are Nora; her fiancé, Michael; and her sisters, Emma and Libby. There are Blackbird relatives and Michael's relatives who show up. Then there are an assortment of friends, and since I've never read any of the other books in this series I don't know their relevance to the scheme of things. Then there is Nora's boss, Gus... more on him later. Separate from these characters are the characters who I believe are only there to be murdered or be suspects of same said murder. And, this batch of characters are a whacky bunch, especially the woman whose skin has turned blue (and she's trying to produce a play). But really, for me the murder/mystery story seemed to take a back seat to all of the rigmarole that was circling Nora Blackbird. That is one of the reasons this mystery didn't work so well for me - there was just too much chaos surrounding Nora. Maybe it was supposed to be funny, maybe not, but I did find it irritating.

Speaking of irritating, let's talk about Gus, Nora's boss. Nothing screamed sexual harassment more than this jerk. I'm not sure if we were supposed to think his antics were manly-alpha-male funny stuff or not, but if I had been Nora I would have filed numerous suits against this man. He was too close to being a possessive, stalker kind of guy for my taste.  And, he's her boss. He knows all the Human Resources laws that are out there, or at least he should. I have a feeling he's going to show up in future books, because he has a hankering for little ol' Nora. I found Gus to be really creepy and not a character that I found anywhere close to a charming alpha bad boy.

I also didn't care for the cliff-hanger sort of ending. SPOILER ALERT! Will those wedding bells ever ring for Nora and Michael? Yes, I know this is a series and it appears to be a continuous series, but I like closure in the stories I read, and there isn't any reason Nora and Michael couldn't be a man and wife detective team.

For other people this book may be what they are looking for. It was not a heavy-duty, scary, dark mystery. It was a more Sex in the City fluffy-frothy mystery, and that may work for some people. I might have enjoyed a froth-filled mystery if more of the book had been dedicated to the mystery, but there was too much peripheral drama surrounding Nora for me to truly enjoy this book. Sorry to say, A Little Night Murder was a disappointment.  

Time/Place: Current East Coast USA
Sensuality: None