Memories Schmemories Part XII, Castles in the Air by Christina Dodd, 1993

The attack of the three armed heroine!!!

Look closely at this cover! Yes, this is every graphic artist's nightmare. At last, all those years studying art - parents paying for your tuition - you get your first cover art published! You're making money! You're famous! Oops!! You forgot to remove one of the arms from the heroine. I happen to be one of the proud owners of Christina Dodds' three armed woman cover Castles in the Air and I wouldn't part with it for a million gazillion dollars - However, the cover of the book is all that's saving it!

This is one of Christina Dodds' earlier works and it shows. The story is set in 1100's England after one of the many crusades. In fact Eleanor of Aquitaine has a small bit part. Nothing better than a queen for bit parts.

This story is a quagmire of secrets. She has secrets, he has secrets, his friend has secrets, the villain has secrets, his parents have secrets, the horse has secrets. And they're all dark sinful secrets, except maybe for the horse. We also have a number of kidnappings. The hero, Raymond, kidnaps his betrothed (Juliana) because she's been refusing the King's command to come to court to get married. My first reaction was: what woman in the 1100's would disobey any King's command? I had a problem right away with that. Then there is the kidnapping - she doesn't know him - she's afraid, who wouldn't be? But what happens? For some reason she jumps to the conclusion that he is a "castle builder." Of course, he pretends to be the castle builder. So, every thing is hunky-dory. I'm sorry folks, but if this guy kidnapped me (no matter his hunkiness), scared the crap out of me, threw me over a horse pommel, I wouldn't be riding back with him to fortify my castle. Puleese!

Now, let's talk a little bit more about the cardboard heroine, Juliana, shall we? She has at least three nasty men hanging around the castle who are constantly insulting her. Now, we are told she has backbone, but never once did I see it and never once did she even attempt to get these losers out of her domicile. Also, there is no chemistry between Juliana and Raymond, none - nothing - nada. And the sex scenes are like fireworks going off in the distance...we hear them, but we never see them.

And, then there is the villain. There is never any doubt that he is the villain - in fact, it is so obvious I first doubted he was one - but he was. He also happens to be one of those chatty villains. You know the kind - they have to give an hour-long dissertation about why they're going to kill you right before they kill you.

Leave us not forget the "misunderstanding" my children. It was just too silly for words and at a ridiculous place in the book. Why would you spend time arguing when you're racing around trying to save your daughter (the other kidnapping) from the clutches of the gabby villain? Maybe, you know, the villain's got to do his monologue so you need to give him time to get his humongous speech together. And don't get me started on the absurd scene with Eleanor of Aquitaine and the castle wall - groan.

As you can tell, this book didn't live up to my memories of it and if not for the three armed heroine on the front cover, it might have ended up in a yard sale.

Time/Place: 1100's England
Sensuality Rating: Don't Blink


Memories Schmemories Part XI, Bewitching, 1994 and Dreaming, 1994 by Jill Barnett

Two for the price of one!

I remember Bewitching by Jill Barnett with some fondness; it has always been one of my favorite funny books. Well, thank goodness there was more than fun in this book. Yes, there are still some laugh-out-loud moments - the kissing the window pane is one of Romanceland's all-time funny moments. I am still able to maintain a chuckle after turning a few pages. However, this story is more than just laughs. There are some really poignant moments in this tale.

This is almost a "Bewitched" type story with an uptight Darrin, this time Alec Castlemaine, Duke of Belmore (I like to imagine Alec is more handsome than either Darrin). Joy MacQuarrie is a cross between Samantha and Aunt Clara/Esmeralda. She's a witch who's conjuring leaves a lot to be desired - in fact, all of her spells are disasters. While Joy is a "joy" to watch, it is Alec who steals the show as he struggles with a wife who is a witch. And not only is she a witch, but she's a bad witch... not mean bad but "oops!" bad. His struggle with the gradual loss of perfection that he expects of himself and everyone around him is some really great writing. And the relationship with his mentally challenged brother, who he never knew he had, was filled with some really poignant moments.

Now, some people may want to give Alec a kick in the butt, but I found his fall from perfection simply delicious. If you want to laugh and cry at the same time, you should really read this book. It's one of Jill Barnett's classics.

Time/Place: Regency England
Sensuality Rating: Medium Hot!

Now, on to Dreaming, the sequel to Bewitching. This is the story of Richard, the cruel drunk, and Letitia, the accident prone stalker chick who has l-o-v-e-d Richard f-o-r-e-v-e-r and e-v-e-r. I remember thinking this book was hilarious when I first read it, but this time I found Richard to be needlessly cruel and Letitia to be painfully needy. Letitia's hero worship idolization of Richard was very painful to read, even though I think it was supposed to be funny. This time around I could only grimace. Richard's antics were those of a spoilt drunk frat boy bully, and the reasons for him being that way are never fully explained away.

By the way, this original cover is so much better than the horrible butterflies on white background reprint.

There is also a secondary romance that really deserved more than a few pages tucked in between chapters. It was over way too fast.

Do you know what saved this book from utter disaster? Gus the dog. Letitia's dog Gus stole the show. Gus caused all kinds of mishaps and they are hilarious. Gus hates Richard so much that every time someone says "Richard", Gus growls, even when he's sleeping. Can't say that I blame him. I think Gus might be my all time favorite Romanceland animal.

So, I didn't like either the hero or heroine... but I did like Gus!

Time/Place: Regency England/Pirate Ship
Sensuality Rating: Almost Hot


Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt

Lots and lots and lots of characters, oh my!
Even though Wicked Intentions takes place in England of the 1700's, it has the feel of the Victorian England of Charles Dickens' Oliver. This is the first book in the Maiden Lane series and I'm not sure how many books are planned, but there are certainly a lot of characters that were introduced and they all had pretty good storylines. There's Winter, Asa, Concord (not the grapes), Silence, St. John's, Mickey and the ghost of St. Giles. Of course one of the guys could be the masked avenger ghost, so that would only count as one book. I thought I knew who the ghost was, but Ms. Hoyt led me down the wrong path.

Anyway, this was a dark book with a gothic feel about it and I loved it. Lets see... we have Temperance, a pious widow who, along with her brother Winter, runs a foundling home in St. Giles neighborhood. She needs money to keep it running. She also has a big dark sinful secret... she likes sex! Not just any run-of-the-mill sex, but skanky sex, and she is ashamed, ashamed, ashamed. And she has a secret that involves sex. Then we have Lazarus, the handsome, silver-haired hero who doesn't like to be touched, which is why he ties his lovers to the bed when they do the big bounce. So, you see, this is a match made in heaven. Oh - I almost forgot the plot! Temperance needs money and a patron, Lazarus needs a guide familiar with the St. Giles neighborhood (you see, someone killed his mistress Jack the Ripper style), thus they have a reason to be together.

I found this book thoroughly fascinating with all of the characters running around; the secondary plots were little stories of their own and didn't have anything to do with the main plot, so probably some people will find this a distraction. I, on the other hand, found the secondary plots to be intriguing and can hardly wait to see what happens next. This book was rich with texture, the settings gritty and realistic, the characters well-drawn, and there were a number of things I didn't see coming.

I thought Ms. Hoyt's choice of names was interesting and very deliberate and could be a product of that time. I will have a problem when it comes time for Concord to have a story. I know I will think of fruit. Maybe we will just call him Con.

This is a dark intense love story and I can hardly wait for the rest in the Maiden Lane series. The next one, Notorious Pleasures, is coming in February of 2011.

Time/Place: 1700's England
Sensuality Rating: Spicy!

Three Nights with a Scoundrel by Tessa Dare

What a memory I have!!!

I was dreading reading Three Nights with a Scoundrel, because the hero, Julian, was a big whiny, sulky baby in the other two books. But what a surprise - I think out of the three books in the Stud Club series, he's my favorite hero. I had another surprise. For some reason, and I'm not sure why, I thought the heroine was blind, so when I started reading this my mind was in the "blind mode" and I kept thinking, "boy she's doing pretty good for a blind girl." Turns out she's deaf. It's like biting into a cherry pie when you're expecting apple. Anyway, I loved this book and had only a minor qualm toward the end of the book.

Let's talk about Lily. What a strong, wonderful heroine who has learned to live with her disability... and does quite well with it. She's a tender, lovely, honest woman who is not above a little machination when it comes to protecting the man who has come to mean so much to her, Julian. Ah, Julian, what a guy! And even though we have a strong female lead, this book is really Julian's. There is so much that's he's hidden and it's a joy to watch each layer of his character eventually exposed. There's some really poignant writing in this book; what a great couple! It was fun to watch Julian blunder his way down the murky road of love. And by the way, they confess they love each other about half way through the book and there are still some personal demons that have to be conquered before they can have their happy ending. Also, I bet you'll never look at a piano the same way again.

The weakest part in the book for me was the murder mystery solution. I was a little disappointed, after all the secrecy of the previous two books, that it was resolved the way it was. Not that I didn't like the resolution and what we find out about Leo... but I had guessed Leo's secret early on so that wasn't a surprise to me either. I don't know, I just wanted something more dastardly.

We do get visits from the other characters from the previous books and they blend nicely into the story, not just for the wrap-up picnic that so many series books have. Overall, this is a fast-paced read, a nice ending to a trilogy, and I was sad to see this particular one end. Loved the two main characters. I'm hoping we will see more from Claudia and Farraday - but that might be wishful thinking.

Now, you don't have to read the other two books to enjoy this one, but it helps because there is the continuing mystery that runs through all books. I highly recommend this book and if you hated Julian in the other two, you are in for a wonderful surprise in this one. What a touching story.

Time/Place: Regency England
Sensuality Rating: Hot!


A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James

Sometimes when you kiss a prince they turn into a snake.

I've read some rave reviews on A Kiss at Midnight and I have to ask myself...what's wrong with me? Everybody else likes this story, so why don't I? Am I in a mood? Well, maybe. You see, I'm not really keen on fairy tale stories and this is a Cinderella story with Ms. James' slant on it. And, if you haven't figured it out by now, "the character in disguise" plot is one of my many pet peeves. And by golly, we have a disguised heroine in this story.

Kate/Cinderella is disguised as her step/half sister, the plump Victoria, because her step/half sister plump Victoria has an infected lip because her dog Caesar bit her and she can't go to the Prince's ball because of that lip and she must go to the ball because she's pregnant and she must marry the Prince's dim-witted nephew, so Kate/Cinderella must pretend to be her so the prince will give plump step/half sister Victoria and dim-witted nephew permission to marry. So, even though she and her sister don't look alike, if Kate/Cinderella wears plump Victoria's purple, green and yellow wigs, no one will be the wiser.

Except, the snake - uh, Prince Gabriel - he catches on pretty much right away that the skinny girl isn't really the plump beauty who was the talk of the season. The snake - uh, the prince - wants Kate/Cinderella badly, even though the reason for his ball is that he is going to become betrothed to a Russian princess, Tatiana, because she has money and he needs money because he has alllll of these loony people living with him at his castle because his e-v-i-l brother kicked everyone out of the fake country and now he's poor so he must marry money; he must, he must, he must!

But even with all of that gyrating going on in this book, I might have liked it...except for the amazing tick-me-off moment. Yes, let me tell you about THE scene; the snake - uh, prince hides Kate/Cinderella in his bedroom and goes down to meet the Russian Tatiana. They eat, they talk, she's nice... then back to his bedroom for a some hot hanky-panky with Kate/Cinderella, then down to the Russian Tatiana for a dance, a waltz, then back to his room for some hot deflowering of Kate/Cinderella, then down to announce his engagement. The snake has the nerve to tell Kate/Cinderella during the wonderful, better-than-ever-deflowering that other women have told him his willy is too big.

So, I didn't like Gabriel. I must have skipped over the moment in the book where he became infatuated with Kate/Cinderella, because I never saw it or any chemistry at all between these two. The Russian Princess Tatiana was a nice person, so Gabriel's shenanigans were an insult to both her and Kate/Cinderella. Plus, all through the book we hear how much Kate/Cinderella wants a man who can be true to her, so what does she do? She must have Gabriel at least once before he gets married. I guess it's ok to boink someone if you've never been formally introduced to their intended. And she has the nerve to continually whine about her father's morals (oh, I forgot - plump half/step sister Victoria is actually the illegitimate offspring of Kate/Cinderella's philandering father).

Normally, I'm a big Eloisa James fan, but I was disappointed in this book. What I have come to expect from Ms. James is a lot of well-grounded characters that are featured throughout numerous books in a series. Through those series, we come to know them. However, I never felt I knew these people.

While this book is not part of a series it is part of a fairy tale theme that continues on February 2011 with When Beauty Tamed the Beast. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Time/Place: 18something England
Sensuality Rating: Hot


Last Night's Scandal by Loretta Chase

Leuu-cy, I'm hoomme!!!

All that was missing from Last Night's Scandal was Ethel Mertz. The imps from Mr. Perfect have grown up and got their own story. Yes, Olivia and Lisle. Of course, it's been so long I don't remember the story or them, but total recall was not necessary for me to enjoy this wonderful treat!

The correspondence from Olivia to Lisle is not only humorous, but an insightful look at her high energy personality. Her letters are filled with words that are CAPPED, underlined, crossed out and exaggerated, much like Lucy Ricardo's personality, and we can't help but love her zaniness. But Olivia is not a stupid heroine; she's just high energy, going from one brilliant idea to another. Lisle is at the other end of the spectrum - he's low-key, pragmatic and very much in control of every situation... unless it involves Olivia.

One of the funnier scenes in the book is when Lisle realizes his childhood friend has grown breasts - and from that moment on he never has a chance.

Lisle and Olivia balance each other out, although I couldn't help wondering if in twenty years they would grow tired of each other. Would Lisle find Olivia's brilliant ideas no longer charming? Would Olivia get tired of playing second-fiddle to Lisle's archeology?

So, Ms. Chase has created another delightful romp, and even if there are some slow moments in the middle of the book, for the most part this is a funny roller coaster ride toward the HEA. Oh yes! Watch out for the tender memento box scene. It will tug at your heart-strings.

Time/Place: 1830's Scotland, England
Sesuality Rating: Hot


Libertine's Kiss by Judith James

Pox Alert!

Why isn't there more talk about Judith James out there? It didn't dawn on me until I started to write this that she is the same author who wrote Broken Wing, which I never read but received rave reviews. Somehow this author has managed to avoid my radar... but no more!!! She's now on my list to look out for!

Libertine's Kiss is inspired by the life of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester - and if you're interested, there is an incredibly bad movie on his life starring Johnny Depp, The Libertine. Anyway, he (Wilmot not Depp) was a brilliant poet hedonist who died at the age of 31 from a combination of syphilis, gonorrhea and liver problems brought on by his drinking. So, this is another dark book, with a deeply disturbing hero. One of the problems I had with this book was the fact that it was inspired by Wilmot! When the hero kept saying that he and Charles (that's II to you) had only pox-free women in their bed, I found this statement hard to swallow. Puleese, William, you have a problem sleeping at nights, so your solution is have sex every night. But you are not a man famous for his constancy, so wouldn't you eventually run out of women that were pox free? That is what my mind got stuck on and that is one of the reasons I couldn't give this a higher rating.

I am enthralled with the time period, the British restoration is one of those times in history that is rich in texture and so overlooked by writers. There was so much going on and the morals, at least in the court of Charles II, were a tad bit loose (to say the least.)

William de Veres is a real rake, not one of those fake rakes. He's not cruel; he just can't tell Elizabeth what she wants to hear. The love story here is based on a childhood friendship, in which both William and Elizabeth find the missing part of themselves in each other. Later, even though they are surrounded by the licentious atmosphere of the court of Charles II, I found their feelings for each other to be quite tender. There was a silly misunderstanding and a bit of old Romanceland jealousy thrown in, I guess to add some tension, but it was not needed and it was a bit of a distraction from the otherwise wonderful romance. Warning! Not everyone is going to like William!

So, except for my problem with Wilmot as the inspiration, and the jealousy thing, this is a truly remarkable book and a fascinating look into a time in history that is disregarded by many. Judith James is definitely worth keeping an eye on: this is a solid romance. There is a wonderful secondary character, Captain Nichols, who gets his own book, The King's Courtesan, coming to a store near you Spring 2011. Looking forward to that.

And, Wilmot's poetry is scattered throughout the book.

Time/Place: Commonwealthl/Restoration England
Sensuality Rating: Hot