Monday

Goodbye 2014

"Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana." - Groucho Marx

Goodbye 2014. What a year! it certainly seemed to go by fast. During this year we bid a fond farewell to The Romance Reader website. TRR was one of the first romance book review sites to hit the worldwide web. It was an outstanding example of fairness, and influenced many present day sites. This year I said goodbye to Tracy at Tracy's Place aka Ahhhhhromance. After considerable reflection she decided to call it a day. Thank goodness I can still catch her on Goodreads and Book Binge. I do keep checking back to see if she's changed her mind. So far she hasn't.

Let's talk about me. This year I began two projects. One of those projects I forgot I was doing, however, my A-Team project is still going strong. In fact, because of my A-Team, my 2014 Outstanding list is larger than it would have been.

Farewell. Voices that have been taken from us this year: Aaron Allston, Maya Angelou, Benita Brown, Mary Rogers, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Mary Stewart, Leslie Thomas, Aimee Thurlo.

Welcome. Some debut authors who have crossed my radar: Sheila Athens, Ann Bennett, Kat Beyer, Elle Daniels, Kaitlyn Davis, Kelly Bowen, Sally Orr, Krassi Zourkova, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Maggie Hall, Catherine Finger, Charlee Fam, Rachel Lacey, Laura Johnston, Sara Raasch, Amy Ewing, Marcus Brotherton, Anouska Knight, Gabriel Weston, Tiffany King, M.P.Cooley, J.C. Nelson, Carrie Stuart Parks, Carolyn Dingman, Rachel Allen, Edoardo Albert, Julia Fierro, Kathryn Ma, Mary Rickert, Downey Greene, S.E. Green, S.R. Savell, A.J. Larrieu, Kate Breslin, Anne Leonard, William Shaw, Patricia Bradley. Congratulations!

Outstanding! These are some of my favorite books of the year - and this year my list is heavily populated with some old classics. In no particular order:
1. Julia Ross - The Seduction, 2002
2. Elizabeth Boyle - The Viscount Who Lived Down the Lane
3. Amanda Quick - Rendezvous, 1991
4. Jennifer Ashley - Rules for a Proper Governess
5. Lisa Kleypas - Then Came You, 1993
6. Lisa Kleypas - Devil in Winter, 2006
7. Bettina Krahn - Behind Closed Doors, 1991
8. Bettina Krahn - Caught in the Act, 1990
9. Courtney Milan - The Suffragette Scandal
10. Deborah Simmons - The Last Rogue, 1998
11. Suzanne Enoch - A Matter of Scandal, 2001
12. Caroline Linden - It Takes a Scandal
13. Meredith Duran - Fool Me Twice
14. Eloisa James - Three Weeks with Lady X
15. Mia Marlowe - Plaid Tidings
16. Joanna Bourne
- The Spymaster’s Lady
17. Joanna Bourne
- The Forbidden Rose
18. Joanna Bourne
- Rogue Spy
19. Joanna Bourne
- The Black Hawk
20. Elizabeth Hoyt - Darling Beast

Classics! Now for some fore-v-e-r and e-v-e-r golden classics. Instead of putting these on my 2014 Outstanding list, I decided they deserved a list of their own. These books always make me feel good. Even with the passing years and changing language, they remain close to my heart. They also represent what I consider some really fine romance writing. And I will read them again and again.


1. Mary Jo Putney - The Rake, 1998 (aka The Rake and the Reformer, 1988)
2. Laura London - The Windflower, 1984 (happy anniversary!)
3. Loretta Chase - Lord of Scoundrels, 1995
4. Judith Ivory - The Proposition, 1988
5. Deborah Simmons - The Vicar's Daughter, 1995
6. Lisa Kleypas - Dreaming of You, 1994

Disappointing. Disappointing is such an interesting word, don't you think? We.., I'm about to apply that word to a number of books I read in 2014. The following list contains books I was disappointed in for a variety of reasons. Maybe I had high expectations for a book and they weren't met. There are also some authors I hold to a higher standard and sometimes they just have bad days. Sometimes I've been misled by bombastically glowing reviews only to discover not everyone has the same taste. Of course, maybe just maybe I don't like it. Maybe the writing is sloppy, the characters cardboard, the hero a bonehead and we have a TSTL heroine. Whatever the reason here is my list of books I was disappointed in this year:

1. Victoria Alexander - The Shocking Secret of the Guest at the Wedding
2. Elizabeth Essex - A Scandal to Remember - short story from Christmas Brides
3. Valerie Bowman - It Happened Under the Mistletoe - short story from Christmas Brides
4. Robert Galbraith - The Silkworm
5. Manda Collins - Why Lords Lose Their Hearts
6. Michele Sinclair - A Woman Made for Sin
7. Sherry Thomas - My Beautiful Enemy
8. Nancy Martin - A Little Night Murder
9. Jude Deveraux - The Black Lyon, 1980 - a wallbanger if ever there was one
10. Miranda Neville - Lady Windermere's Lover
11. Loretta Chase - Vixen in Velvet
12. Louise Allen - Scandal's Virgin
13. Valerie Bowman - The Unexpected Duchess
14. Kasey Michaels - What a Hero Dares
15. Madeline Hunter - The Counterfeit Mistress
16. Jillian Hunter - The Countess Confessions
17. Manda Collins - Why Earls Fall in Love
18. Loretta Chase - The Lions Daughter, 1995
19. Loretta Chase - Captives of the Night, 1994
20. Laura Lee Guhrke - When the Marquess Met His Match


Now to the prestigious awards.
Mommie Dearest Award. No more wire hangers! As everyone knows there are a lot of angst-filled heroes and downtrodden heroines in Romanceville. Do you ever wonder why these people are the way they are? Well, it's because there are boatloads of horrible relatives to make them miserable. From the dominating mother, forcing marriage down someone's throat, to the evil uncle slipping poison into some virgin's tea, romance books are loaded with them. Lucky for us, 2014 was no different. For your perusal:

1. From The Shocking Secret of the Guest at the Wedding by Victoria Alexander we have Mrs. Channing. Mrs. Channing had a secret for 32 years. You see, she told her son Jackson his father died when he was two. And, she neglected to tell her husband (who she left shortly after the honeymoon) that he was a father. The worst part was that at no time did she ever show any contrition.
2. The guardians of Merrie from Caught in the Act, 1990. What a pair of conniving, murderous couple. They work really hard trying to separate Merrie and Jack. It's a good thing Jack is a manly man.
3. The mother-in-law from hell in Bride of a Scottish Warrior by Adrienne Basso.
4. The in-your-face mother from Meet the Earl at Midnight by Gina Conkle.
5. From Scandal's Virgin by Louise Allen, we have the mean mother who actually tells our heroine that the baby she had is dead. I guess that was supposed to protect her somehow. 

6. Two meanie mommies from Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner. I'm not sure which one of the mothers is the most horrible. The heroines mother who constantly browbeats her daughter - you're-too-fat-you're-stupid-you-can't-do-anything-right.  Or.  The hero's mother who had political ambition for her sons. She was domineering, controlling and had her hands up all of her sons' cavities deciding what allll their lives were going to be. It was almost too much. Two monster mothers in one story.

And the winner is Laetitia's mother from Eloisa James' Three Weeks with Lady X. What a truly horrible mother. She is all the Disney villains rolled into one - a truly obnoxious person who should never have been a mother (great job writing a mean person, Ms. James.)

 
Bonehead heroes. These guys irritate me. They are supposed to be our heroes, they are supposed to be men our heroines fall in love with. However, they can't forget the first women they ever loved or that bad woman who broke their heart by marrying their best friend - oh, boo-hoo alllll women are tarts. They use women, they are cold, they lie, and they are jealous, possessive, obsessive, and unfaithful. They jump to conclusions and their apologies are either non-existent or a pitiable "sorry." Here are my nominees for the Steve Morgan Bonehead Hero award: 

1. Cormoran Strike from The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowlings. Yes, I know he's a private eye not technically a romance hero, but he is a leading man. However, for me the days of Sam Spade - "all women are dame" is in the past. While I may consider Sam Spade a classic detective, and The Maltese Falcon is one of the best gumshoe stories ever, the Sam Spade mentality is a thing of the past and I expect better of the men of today. Cormoran Strike coldly uses women, and on top of that he's a know-it-all. He's a whiney poor-me-I-lost-a-leg-guy. He needs to shed the Sam Spade persona and come into the 21st century.
2. This year we have a Bonehead heroine in the form of Perdita from Why Lords Lose Their Hearts by Manda Collins. This woman just could not get past her distrust of men because of her horrible dead husband. Her blinders made it impossible for her to see the delightful beta hero standing in from of her. What a harpy.
3. Bonehead heroes can be oblivious, and that is what we have in A Woman Made for Sin by Michele Sinclair. For almost 200 pages our hero, Reece, wanders around his ship hearing a woman's voice. I'm not sure why it didn't click in his brain that there was a real live female on his shop - it's not as if he's a whacko, he doesn't normally hear voices.
4. Normally, we have Bonehead Heroes, but I would like to mention a Bonehead secondary character: Gus, Nora's boss in A Little Night Murder by Nancy Martin. Nothing says sexual harassment more than this guy.
5. Penthurst, our chest thumping, bossy, know-it-all hero from The Accidental Duchess by Madeline Hunter.
6. Let’s not forget Avery, our juvenile, jump-to-the-wrong-conclusion guy in Scandal's Virgin by Louis Allen. In fact, this book had numerous obnoxious characters. They were all irritating and this book almost hit the wall.
7. The Handsome Stupid Man, aka Gavin Norwood from The Counterfeit Mistress by Madeline Hunter. Gavin was a great secondary character, but when the time came for his own book it didn't work. This is an assumption kind of guy and all of his assumption were wrong - alllll of them.
8. Coming in a close second was Damien from Lady Windermere's Lover by Miranda Neville. Here is a guy who blames everyone but himself for his problems. He is spoilt, he is callus, he jumps to conclusions and he holds grudges. He has to be one of the worst friends ever. He almost won the bonehead award, but there was a real horrible stinker-hero this year, thanks in part to my A-Team Project. I have no idea what I was thinking in 1980 when I first read this book and actually liked it.


Our Bonehead Winner-ur-Loser for 2014 is Ranulf de Warbrooke from The Black Lyon by Jude Deveraux. Granted this book was written in 1980, the era of true bodice rippers, but even so this guy takes the cake. How anyone could find this jealous, possessive, violent rapist romantic is beyond me. The heroine is so innocent, so in love, never understanding what she did wrong - and, she did nothing wrong. All the problems are created by his pig-headed-jealousy - he is an abusive creep and he never should have been a hero.


Sidekick aka Secondary Characters aka Supporting Cast. 
   
Oh those great scene stealers, those characters we hope show up again in the next book. Sometimes they are good enough to have their own book. When this happens sometimes they live up to our expectations - Derek Craven. Sometimes they should never have a book of their own but do - Sebastian, Duke of St. Ives. And some we just keep hoping we will see again - Cat. Well, here is my 2014 crop of secondary characters who either stole the show or I'm hoping for a sequel or both.

1. The Duke of Montgomery, a seemingly frivolous fop, from Elizabeth Hoyt's Darling Beast. I want Montgomery's story to be next but I'm going to have to wait. Sigh.
2. Andrew, Sinclair's high-energy son from Rules for a Proper Governess by Jennifer Ashley. I thought the scenes with Andrew in them were very realistic. What made them even better was that they were in the pages of a book and not my living room. I loved the realistically drawn Andrews. He made me smile.
3. Sometimes secondary characters have very small parts in the book, but they are still capable of stealing scenes and that is what happened in Lisa Kleypas' Devil in Winter. MacPhee, the Scottish blacksmith was absolutely funny and his small comical part added to the story. His heavy Scottish brogue was wonderful and his interaction with our hero was a hoot.
4. Fagan from My Highland Spy by Victoria Roberts is already doing hero bickering with his future heroine, which makes me want to buy his book. He made a great supporting character, hop he can stand on his own.
5. We have a whole boatload of secondary characters in the ship's crew from A Woman Made for Sin by Michele Sinclair. This was a case when the secondary characters overpowered the story.
6. Baron Torgne Sigund from Behind Closed Doors by Betina Krahn - the bigger-than-a-tree-trunk guy was half of a very combustible team.
7. In It Takes a Scandal by Caroline Linden, it was nice to have an affectionate, loving family in the Westons. Their parents were portrayed as loving. The siblings were loyal one minute and bickering the next---just like real siblings. It was a refreshing change from the usual evil family fare.
8. Freddie from Heir of Uncertainty by Alyssa Everett. I loved Freddie; he was beautifully written. His honesty enhanced the story and gave it a bit of humor. Freddie's character allowed the hero to appear sympathetic and loving.
9. Only in the world of fiction can a ghost be a great supporting character. That is what happened in Plaid Tidings by Mia Marlowe. Yep, Brodie the ghost not only has his own mystery surrounding him but he is also the surrogate father of our heroine Lucinda. Brodie has always been there for Lucinda, and at time their relationship is very poignant. 


And the winners are, yes this year we have a tie. It's really not fair to the other secondary characters this year that I read two classic books with two all-time bestist of the best supporting characters...Derek Craven from Then Came You. And Cat from The Windflower, who never got his own story...ahem. I don't believe I need say any more about these two wonderful creations.

Garlic Breath Award. Gather 'round kiddoes...what does SidneyKay say about how to spot a villain? Look for a character with garlic breath and/or yellow teeth. Yes, yes, they are our villains. Here are some of the villains that slithered off of the pages this year...and some didn't even have garlic breath.

1. The omnipresent villain from Why Lords Lose Their Hearts by Manda Collins. He knew every place our heroine was going to be before anyone else, including her. If must have been his minions that made him so psychic.
2. This is one of the first time I've nominated an historical person in this category...let's give a round of applause to Elizabeth I as portrayed in Behind Closed Doors by Betina Krahn. This book is a sequel; however in this story time has not been kind to Elizabeth. She is now a jealous, vindictive, possessive, crafty woman who is downright scary in her obsession with the heroine.
3. Villains from older books showed up this year. First Francis Beaumont from Captives of the Night by Loretta Chase, a liar, pander, and drug addict who get his comeuppance and Ismal/Esmond from The Lion's Daughter by Loretta Chase. Ismal is a very evil, irredeemable villain in The Lion's Daughter. He shows up as the hero in Captives of the Night, but even the change of his name to Esmond doesn't make him hero material.
4. Coming in second is Jack from Falling for the Highland Rogue by Ann Lethbridge, a really spine-tingling creepy guy who doesn't need smelly breath to make him bad.


And, the winner of the Garlic Breath Award for best villain of 2014 is from another older book. This time it is Edward from The Seduction by Julia Ross. This guy is so creepy the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. He is a master manipulator, has so many moves that you really don't know what he's up to. Edward is a wonderfully sinister man created from the pen of a gifted author.

Gus Award. Once again there seemed to be a shortage of cute animals that caught my eye this year. Ho, those little balls of fluff or those mangy, slobbering, smelly mongrels or those disgruntled-don't-touch-me felines who almost steal the show. Yes, it's time for the scene stealing creatures that inhabit our books. (I'd say four legged but sometimes they have fins.)

1. The ferret from My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne is my first nominee. That little guy added a bit of humor while still managing to point the good guys in the right direction. Nothing handier than a ferret who can find somebody who's kidnapped.
 

The winner this year is Daffodil, the adorable little Italian Greyhound from Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt. Daffodil was just a jumpy, nervous, skittish wonderful addition to a great book.

Fasten your seat belts! It's time for the Timothy Toad award. What would we do without our Mr. Toads populating our books? Some of them are big-big-enormous, some are very very talented, angry, even red, hot, silky, soft/hard with giant bulbous purple heads...sounds appetizing doesn't it. Here are this year's stand-outs: 

1. Tristan, Sabrina Jeffries' hero from How the Scoundrel Seduces. Tristan's Mr. Toad has a mind of its own and so do his giant thighs. While Tristan may have a problem with women, his Mr. Toad doesn't pay Tristan any mind. Nope that guy is sending out all kinds of signals to our heroine, signaling her from across the room, waving his head - letter her know of his availability.
2. This year we have one of the most boring Mr. Toads ever.  From A Woman Made for Sin, no matter how hard he tries, after pages and pages of recreational activity Chase's Mr. Toad does nothing but make us fall asleep.
3. Then we have the Tree Trunk Mr. Toad from Behind Closed Doors by Betina Krahn. Just the thought of a giant throbbing tree trunk headed my way makes me want to run in the other direction. To say nothing of the bark. Ouch!
4. Then we have a disgusting, can't-get-love-without-a-drug Mr. Toad from Lady Windermere's Lover by Miranda Neville.
5. Let’s take a look at the interesting Mr. Toad from The Unexpected Duchess by Valerie Bowman. Not only is the Mr. Toad in this book a gymnast - all that flipping and flopping and plowing made me downright dizzy - but this Mr. Toad had a sidekick. Yep, he had a helper in the form of some big over-sized fingers. Yes-siree Bob, Derek had a handful of frenzied chipper-choppers, delving and digging whenever they could.
6. And, who could forget the Mr. Toad from Meredith Duran's Fool Me Twice! This amazing piece of equipment was made for one thing and one thing only and that would be whankee-roo-who; it didn't seem that Alistair did anything else with his Mr. Toad - like pee.
7. Then we have a Mr. Toad who is starting his own business. People who like to camp can go to this guy. The number of erect poles produced by the Mr. Toad from Wicked Little Secrets by Susanna Ives was simply amazing, just the thought of all those tents was astounding.
8. From The Countess Confessions by Jillian Hunter there's the Mr. Toad who thinks our heroine is a ventriloquist - really, conversation cannot be had when one's mouth is occupied entertaining you, Mr. Toad.


And the winner of this year's prestigious Mr. Toad award goes to the amazing Mr. Toad from Why Earls Fall in Love by Manda Collins. Granted this guy had some help and our heroine must have had quite a cavern in her valley. Timothy Toad and his cohorts were busy little fellas: tongues, fingers, elbows, kitchen sinks, and all of them thrusting, sucking, shucking; why, I could even hear an occasional echo. May there was even a lantern down there. Who knows they might even find Jimmy Hoffa.

Once again I have to thank you guys for making by days a little lighter. A number of you have provided me with some pretty big yucks and I bet I will find more of you in 2015.

2015. I'm happy for Deborah Simmons, who seems to have a new book out, It Had to Be You, even if it isn't a historical.  I'm looking forward to an upcoming historical release from Lisa Kleypas and keeping my fingers crossed that she still has that historical romance magic. Also, Courtney Milan is going to try her hands at contemporary romance. She is promising to continue writing her historicals. I hope she is able to keep her promise because I will be crying my eyes out if I'm not able to read at least one Courtney Milan historical a year.

“Hello, I must be going, I cannot stay,
I came to say, I must be going.
I’m glad I came, but just the same,
I must be going.”
- Groucho Marx

The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne

December 22, 2014

If I could write words that rhyme, I'd write an ode to Joanna Bourne. Lucky for you I can't.

http://www.joannabourne.com/

What a great adventure this has been. Wow! I've just finished the last book in the Joanna Bourne's Spymasters series, The Black Hawk. I cannot express my opinion in this matter strongly enough - if you  haven't read this series yet, what are you waiting for? Pick this series up and read, read, read! I don't know if the Spymasters are done running around stopping those nefarious villains, but, I did check Ms. Bourne's website and I suspect she has more tales up her sleeves.

On to The Black Hawk. We are dealing with characters who are not pleasant people. Adrian Hawkhurst and Justine don't fit into our standard conception of a romantic couple. There are times when our couple is quite unsavory and do some very distasteful stuff. Hawkhurst and Justine have been continuing secondary characters in the previous books and now its time for their story to be told - along the way some loose threads from the other books are tied.

Even though this was a fairly dark book, the characters have a chance to exhibit an occasional glimpse of humor. We need that glimpse of fun because these people have to do some pretty unspeakable things to survive.

For those of you who are not fond of flashbacks, don't let that prevent you from picking this up. The flashbacks play an integral part in the compelling voice of the work. This story is a real gem. The Black Hawk was an epic of sorts. It covers the time period of 1794 to 1818, but don't groan too loud; this story wasn't close to the boredom of War and Peace. This was an exciting story, both in its romantic storyline and in the exploration of a couple of horrifying times in European history - the Reign of Terror in France and the Napoleonic War.

Justine and Hawk's relationship was fully developed and lush in its beauty. As you can imagine, considering there was a span of 25 years covered in this story, there was a great deal of change between our couple. I can't tell you too much about what happened in this story - I don't want to spoil it. However, there are murders to be solved, plots to be uncovered and villains to be caught. Through the flashbacks we watch two very complex characters grow, love, betray each other, and finally find their happy ending.

This is/was a wonderful book and the fantastic news for us is that it is part of one of the best series' I've read in a long time!

Time/Place: 1794-1818 England/France
Sensuality: Warm/Hot!

Friday

Upcoming Historical Romances!!!!January 15 to February 14, 2015!!!!!

December 19, 2014
Authors with an asterisk*, I'm picking up! For more Upcoming Releases that aren't historical see Hey Delia!!! For: January 15, 2015 to February 14, 2015.
Bronwyn Scott

Breaking the Rake’s Rules
Rakes of the Caribbean series
January 20
Gwyn Cready

Just in Time for a Highlander
Scottish Borderlands series
February 3
Jillian Hunter*

Forbidden to Love the Duke
Fenwick Sisters Affairs series
February 3
Julia London*

The Devil Takes a Bride
The Cabot Sisters
January 27
Julia Quinn*

The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy
Smythe-Smith series
January 27, 2015
Karen Ranney

In Your Wildest Scottish Dreams
MacIains Trilogy
January 27
Kelly Boyce

Salvation in the Sheriff’s Kiss
Salvation Falls series
January 20
Laura Lee Guhrke*

Catch a Falling Heiress
American Heiress series
January 27
Lily Dalton

Never Surrender to a Scoundrel
One Scandalous Season series
January 27
Margaret McPhee

The Lost Gentleman
Gentlemen of Disrepute
January 20
Michelle Styles

Taming His Viking Woman
Viking series
January 20
Sabrina Jeffries*

If the Viscount Falls
The Dukes Men series
January 27
Sarah McCarty

Ace’s Wild
Hell’s Eight series
January 27
Shanna Galen

Earls Just Want to Have Fun
Covent Garden series
February 3

Wednesday

My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne

December 17, 2014

It had to happen eventually.
http://www.joannabourne.com/

After an amazing run on Ms. Bourne's Spymaster series, I have finally come up against one story that wasn't quite as good as the rest. My Lord and Spymaster is an excellent book and I do recommend it; however, it's just a tad bit off. By itself it is a good read, but when standing with the rest of the books in the series it is the black sheep of the family.

Let's take a look at My Lord and Spymaster. We have Jess Whitby, who doesn't seem to be part of the continuing spy system. She's just a pretty smart cookie and on top of that she is a mathematical genius. She has also managed to build up her father's shipping company without any help from him. In fact, her father seems to be a loser and has managed to get himself arrested.

Jess's connection with the spymasters circle is through the mysterious underworld boss Lazarus - he was there when she was young to play a surrogate father, sort of. Lazarus taught her the tricks of the trade, like pick-pocketing, picking locks, stealing, breaking and entering, murdering - those kind of things. You know I'm really undecided about the reoccurring character of Lazarus. At this point he seems to be a scary, nasty, thug who may have an occasional glimmer of humanity show through. So, I'm not sure about him, but I'm finding myself becoming more and more fascinated with him. But at this point he really isn't hero material - he is really a scary guy.

Now on to our hero Sebastian Kennett, a ship’s captain and the man mainly responsible for the incarceration of Jess' father. It will come as no surprise that there is a trust issue between Jess and Sebastian, but that doesn't stop this pair from falling in love with each other. As with all of Ms. Bourne's heroes, Sebastian is almost instantly smitten with Jess. Protecting her from herself and the people who are trying to kill her is his top priory. Also like Ms. Bourne's other heroes, Sebastian is an a-number one Alpha kind of guy - he uses passive aggressive gentleness to control his woman. Grunt.

There is a lot going on in this story and that may be some of the problem. There are just too many twists and turns going on - too many convoluted side plots to keep track of and that tended to be a bit of a distraction.

By the way, Jess has a pet ferret, Kedger, whom Sebastian refers to as a rat. There are some humorous moments between Sebastian and Kedger that had me smiling. It is Kedger who comes to the rescue of his beloved Jess in the end. Cute animal.

I have to say I wish allll of Ms. Bourne's books didn't end quite so abruptly. I think they need just a little bit more added. Maybe an itty bitty paragraph at the end would be helpful.

Bottom line: this was a good book, which I enjoyed reading. Jess and Sebastian make a delightful couple. I do recommend this story only with a  codicil - it loses a little when compared to the others in the series. However, don't let that stop you from enjoying My Lord and Spymaster.

Time/Place: 1811 England
Sensuality: Warm/Hot

Friday

The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne

December 12, 2014

Too bad Romanceland has been inundated with spies.

http://www.joannabourne.com/index.html

As I've said before, I try to stay away from Spy stories, mainly because at one time everybody and their brother was a spy; we were swamped with them. Besides that, some of them were just downright silly. I know I'm not the only reader who tries to navigate around the profusion of secret agents. However, as I am finding out, I almost missed out on some wonderful storytelling in the form of Joanna Bourne's Spymaster series.

The Spymaster's Lady is the third book in the series I've read and the second book in the series' timeline. Even reading them one right after another, and I've not grown tired of them. A lot of that is due to the dark secret gritty world Ms. Bourne has created. This book is an adventure to read, exciting to follow all the twists and turns down the paths that we are led.  Yes, sometimes we get lost and confused, but it's all great fun.

Even though this has some vividly drawn background and an extraordinary sense of place, it is mainly a character-driven story. And, not just the main characters of Annique and Grey but the secondary ones as well. In fact, alllllll the supporting characters in this book are colorful, well-developed inhabitants of the pages. It was wonderful being immersed for just a few hours in the many-faceted universe of Annique and Grey.

Since I'm glomming Ms. Bourne's work, I have become aware of a pattern. It seems to me that most of her characters have been in the underworld/spy/secret business since they were young. And, that is the case with Annique. Her parents were spies, and she was trained as a young child to follow in their footsteps. As a child, she had no idea the extent to which she was used by those around her or even what she was actually involved in. She was an innocent in the world of spies, at least when she was young. This also leads to some pretty poignant revelations later in the book when she finds out the depth of her parents' exploitation. Annique's age in this book is 19; however, she has the feel of someone who is more mature - she is a very old 19. She's devious, smart and pretty stubborn, which comes in handy when dealing with Grey.

Grey is quite a lot older than Annique (another pattern in Ms. Bourne's work) and he falls in love almost instantly. However, because he and Annique are playing cat and mouse, this isn't a normal romance. There is an abundance of tension, all kinds of tension - tension caused by secret plans, invasions, other spies, hiding, running, hiding, running and lust. Yes there is lust; however we do not have scene after scene of bedroom antics. What we have are two people who want each other very much and they talk about that desire. That desire is always simmering right below the surface. So, yes there are all kinds of wonderful tensions bombarding us from all sides, until the end when all that tension comes together in one big explosion.

I have noticed another pattern in Ms. Bourne's heroes: they all seem to know right away that the heroine is the woman for them and they don't seem to fight that knowledge. They are what I would call stealth seducers. They won't let up until they have the heroine enthralled - which might be really close to being possessive. Now, if I hadn't been glomming these books I may not have noticed these silent possessive seducers, but I have. However, at this point that doesn't bother me. I think that may be due to the fact that just when the hero becomes too quietly domineering, he backs off and allows breathing space for our heroine.

Overall, The Spymaster's Lady is another rip-roaring thrilling, story. I really don't like to gush - I'm really not the type of person who gushes, but I'm really enjoying these books.


Time/Place: England/France 1802
Sensuality: Warm/Hot

Wednesday

The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne

December 3, 2014

Glomming is great!
http://www.joannabourne.com/
For those of you who are interested in the Spymasters series by Joanna Bourne, a word of warning. These books were not written and published in chronological order. So, even though The Forbidden Rose was the third book released, it is actually the first book in the series. This is the order they should be read:  The Forbidden Rose, The Spymaster's Lady, Rogue Spy, My Lord and Spymaster, and The Black Hawk. Of course, the way Ms. Bourne has written this series means that she can squeeze another book anywhere into the series - pretty tricky, Ms. Bourne!

The time period in The Forbidden Rose is 1794, and is one of those underutilized time periods for romance. Maybe that's because it was such an alarming time to have been born in that it doesn't make for a good romance, especially if one were living in France. Just the moniker "Reign of Terror" says it all. In this book we don't have Napoleon; we have an even more threatening villain, Robespierre. This may not be a good time period for romance (although I think it is,) but it's perfect for daring-do, spies, intrigue, thrills, chills, and chases down dark alleys.

The Forbidden Rose has spymaster William Doyle, who is looking for a list. By the way, he's one of those big, big, big heroes who comes awfully close to buffoonery, but not quite. Then we have Marguerite de Fleurignac, who runs an underground organization called LaFleche. She has organized a number of people to help aristocrats in escaping France and the ever-present guillotine. Why she's doing this isn't made perfectly clear since she doesn't seem to have a particular fondness for any of the people she's helped. Nonetheless, she's helping them flee, or she was until her cover was blown and now she's the one fleeing. Unbeknownst to her, Doyle is looking for her father because of some crime her father committed (or at least the British think he did). Doyle and Marguerite join forces. He knows who she is, she hides things from him, she knows he knows who she is, he knows she knows he knows. Their relationship was very interesting to watch because even though they are keeping secrets from each other there is a level of trust that binds them together. The dialogue between the two of them was wonderful.

As with the Rogue Spy, when you read this book you will become absorbed in the exciting and colorful storyline. The secondary characters are a superb bunch of people, especially Hawker who in this book is twelve or thirteen. He is wise to the ways of the dark streets way beyond his chronological age. The dialogue that comes out of his mouth is both amusing and poignant. He is a child who never had a childhood and I'm looking forward to his story, which is the last in the series.

As with Rogue Spy, The Forbidden Rose is a well-developed story that is much more than just a romance. It is a deeply beautiful, thrilling narrative and it was a pleasure to read. I highly recommend this book and am looking forward to the next in the group.

Time/Place: England/France 1794
Sensuality: Warm/Hot

Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne

December 3, 2014
Enter at your own risk!

http://www.joannabourne.com/

Well, looks like I'm going to be glomming Joanne Bourne's Spymaster series. I'm not a big fan of spy romance books; I consider most of them to be filled with some of the most incompetent, stupid, undercover spy-secret-agents ever to fight against Napoleon. Based on most of these books, I often wonder just how Napoleon lost. However, it appears that Ms. Bourne's Spymaster series is a cut above other plodding, absurd spy tales. In fact, Rogue Spy was so exciting that by the end of the story I knew I had to go back and read the rest of the books in the series.

Rogue Spy is more than just a historical romance story. It is a story with a capital S. It is a thrilling narrative of two people falling in love, and along the way they weave their way through some pretty exciting intrigue.

Paxton is a spy who, when the narrative begins, is on his way to headquarters with his written confession of betrayal in hand. Evidently in a previous story it was discovered that he had been deceiving the English spy agency he worked for. It seems that he was a Cache', which is a group of orphaned French children who are trained by the Police Secrete of France and then implanted into strategic British families and used as spies. Another Cache' whose cover is about to be revealed is Camille Leyland, an English code breaker. Of course she is not English, she is also an abandoned child of the French Revolution and when she was young she was trained along with Pax, so Paxton and Camille have a history. Now they are thrown together to untangle the lies of a really bad guy. Let me say this about the bad guy - he's really bad. I was thrilled with his plotline because I had no idea where the "thriller" plot was headed. Ms. Bourne lead me down some pretty well-written alleys before the thrilling-nail-biting conclusion was revealed.

I loved Rogue Spy. I loved Pax and Camille, loved the secondary characters - they were all great! But what I loved the most was the great all-encompassing storytelling. I was sucked into a world of dark secrets, incredible intrigue, and thrilling action which I didn't want to end. I highly recommend this book.

Time/Place: France/England 1802
Sensuality: Warm/Hot

Monday

The Shocking Secret of the Guest at the Wedding by Victoria Alexander

November 22, 2014
"Mother the word that means the world to me."

http://www.victoriaalexander.com/

Let me get this off of my chest. I had problems with this book - it took forevvvvver to read. If my Nook was as cheap as a paperback it might have hit the wall. Besides the hamster-on-a-wheel plotline, there was another matter that I found irritating and it has to do with "possessive" words or the lack thereof.  There are three mothers in this story - three. Every single time those three mothers are thought about it is always "mother did this, "or" mother went there, "or" mother wore a hat, "or" mother kicked a horse." It is never "her" mother did this or "his" mother went there or "Teddy's" mother kicked a horse. Let me repeat, there are three mothers in this book! I had to read down through the paragraph/page/conversation to figure out which mother was being referenced. There are also fathers in the book, but only one has any children in the story so I could keep track of him.

Normally I love Victoria Alexander books. I love her sense of humor. Granted, there is a lot of 21st century vernacular in them, but that doesn't mean they aren't funny. Sadly to say the humorous moments in The Shocking Secret of the Guest at the Wedding were overshadowed by the lack of emotion from any of the characters in the book. I'm not sure what went wrong because at first glance this book should have worked.

Our hero, Jackson Quincy Graham Channing, a New York City banker finds out that his father isn't dead. Poor Jackson. For all of his 32 years he has been told that his father died before he was born. His mother and grandfather raised him - his life is all organized - he has a sort of fiancé - he's got a career - he's content. However, standing in the same room with him is his father - the one he thought was dead. To say his life is about to be disrupted is an understatement. It seems his mother has been keeping a secret; not only from him but from the man who is his father, Basil Channing. Needless to say Jackson and Basil are a little POed with Jackson's mother. Anyway, Jackson and Basil decide they want to get to know each other. They decide to go back to Basil's home in England, learn about each other and give Jackson the opportunity to become acquainted with the cousins he never knew he had.

In England is the Channing family, and they are also oblivious to the fact that Basil was married and fathered a child. They are also in the middle of planning a wedding with the help of our heroine, Lady Theodosia "Teddy" Winslow. Teddy is a wedding planner. Now, I had my doubts that a woman in that time period could be a wedding planner but I glossed over that. Anyway, Teddy is one of those stunning, long-legged, red-headed, lush heroines who instantly brings down stodgy heroes when they enter the room - and that's what happens in this book. That is also the only spark I could find in the book. I kept reading, plowing on, waiting for a connection, a spark - any kind of life springing off of these pages - but nothing happened.

Remember all those times we want our heroine and hero to talk to each other? Well Jackson and Teddy talk, they discuss, they plan, they harangue, they drone on and on and on. They have a pretend engagement - they love each other - Jackson wants to make it a real engagement - Teddy wants to be a professional, she can never marry - he loves her, he knows she loves him, she doesn't want him to know she loves him, she will be sad when he leaves on his adventure because she loves him. He talks to his father, she talks to her friends, her mother talks to her, his mother talks to his father. And let's not forget the Teddy's dead fiancé who shows up alive and well and in the mood for blackmail - which he has to talk about.

I never had a sense of any connection between Teddy and Jackson. They were just flat unexciting characters and Teddy was irritating in her "I want a career instead of a marriage with a man I love and who loves me" routine. I also never figured out what happened to drive Jackson's parent's apart; other than Basil wanting adventure, it was never fully explained. It also would have been nice if we had been able to see just how Basil and his wife were able to settle their differences. And, these were not just minor differences, these involved keeping a child from his father for 32 years.

Jackson is a beta hero and I usually love beta guys, but in this case he was more of a weenie than anything else. Maybe that could have been some of the problem. He just wasn't that dynamic. He was just all right, and heroes need to be more than just all right, even if they are beta guys.  The sensual chemistry between the pair was also missing. There are a few kisses and then some bed romping but it all seemed lackluster.

Sorry to say I can't recommend this book. Much to my surprise, it was a pretty bland offering from Ms. Alexander. Because of how much I love most of Ms. Alexander's books, this was a big disappointment. I'm not giving up on her; she's one of my auto-reads. It's just that this was a tedious read for me.

Time/Place: Bustle time in England
Sensuality: There is sex, however it's not sensual


Wednesday

Upcoming Historical Romances!!!

Authors with an asterisk*, I'm picking up! For more Upcoming Releases that aren't historical see Hey Delia!!! For: December 15, 2014 to January 14, 2015.
Amelia Grey

The Duke in My Bed
The Heirs’ Club of Scoundrels series
December 30
Bronwyn Scott

Playing the Rake’s Game
Rakes of the Caribbean series
December 16
Erin Knightley

The Earl I Adore
Prelude to a Kiss series
January 6
Jessica Peterson

The Millionaire Rogue
Hope Diamond series
January 6
Kathryn Albright

The Gunslinger and the Heiress
Heroes of San Diego series
December 16
Kelly Bowen, debut

I’ve Got My Duke to Keep Me Warm
The Lords of Worth series
December 16
Linda Broday

Texas Mail Order Bride
Bachelors of Battle Creek series
January 6
Margaret Moore

Bride for a Knight
December 16
Miranda Neville

The Duke of Dark Desires
The Wild Quartet series
December 30
*Rose Lerner

True Pretenses
Lively St. Lemeston series, ebook

January 13
Sara Luck

A Family for Maddie
December 30
Sherri Browning

An Affair Downstairs
Thornbrook Park series

January 6
Sophia James

Marriage Made in Money
The Penniless Lords series
December 16
*Tessa Dare

Say Yes to the Marquess
Castles Ever After series
December 30
Theresa Romain

Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress
The Matchmaker trilogy
January 6
Vanessa Kelly

How to Plan a Wedding for a Royal Spy
Renegade Royals series
January 6

Tuesday

The Seduction by Julia Ross - Project A-Team

November 11, 2014
Rook to CoQ10 - No, no, that's not right - it's Rook to Queen's Bishop four.

http://www.juliaross.net/

http://www.jeanrossewing.com/
Oh Ms. Ross I wish you were still writing. You do know, Ms. Ross, that self-publishing has come along since your last book. That means you only have to argue with yourself when
you're writing.

A long time ago there was a wonderful writer named Julia Ross who also wrote some traditional Regencies under the name of Jean Ewing Ross. I am the proud possessor of all of these books and I keep hoping that someday all of her books will be released in electronic formatting. There are all kinds of new generations of readers who could the experience the joy of reading one of her gems. However, at this time Ms. Ross has joined the ranks of "whatever happened to." Sigh.

As I read The Seduction, I once again marveled at the length of older books and this one was written in 2002, so it's not alllll that long ago. What could have happened in such a short time to change the length of books? We, the reader are missing so very much by not being able to read a story that is fully developed. It is always nice to pick up a book in which the author has been given plenty of space to expand their story.

The Seduction was a wonderful journey into storytelling filled with a variety of intriguing levels, all intricately intertwined together. This is a magnificent book. Is it perfect? Of course not. There were some things I had issues with, but not the writing, and overall this is a golden oldie. The romance world is a little empty because the voice of Julia Ross is no longer contributing to it.

The Seduction takes its time telling the story of the infamous rake Alden Granville-Strachan and the "I've got a secret" widow Juliet Seton. Ms. Ross is great in setting the scenes in the lush Georgian time period - the language, clothing, and surroundings are so well-drawn one can almost taste the era. Alden is a very sensual man; he loves women while at the same time using them. He wears satin, velvet and lace, but there is never any denying that he is allllll male. In fact all the frou-frou of the day only enhances his manly sensuality.

At the beginning of the story Alden is losing big time in a card game. Now, he seems to have a ton of responsibilities, so why he is in there throwing away his estate is never fully explained, but he is. He is the sole support of an orphaned child which makes him seem even more frivolous. Into this set-up slithers our shady villain Edward, and a wager is made. The wager involves Alden seducing our young widow within a week and returning with a locket she wears around her neck as proof. Alden has no other option but to accept this wager and he's off to the country. By the way, Edward is a very sinister villain. He's like a spider spinning his web, trapping his unwary victims within. While he doesn't have garlic breath, he does have discolored teeth so if there was even an inkling of a thought for a future hero in him - don't even think it, the teeth give him away.

Anyway, Alden has a plan - sort of. He appears in Juliet's garden only to find that she doesn't really seem interested in him. So, this calls for drastic action and drastic it is. He spots a bee and once spotting that bee he remembers a childhood incident in which he almost died from a bee sting. Well nothing can get the attention of a woman faster than a man falling down in a swoon at her feet. So, he deliberately encourages the bee to sting him and it does and Alden swoon's at Juliet's feet. Now, contrary to what you might think, Alden is really an intelligent man, he's just desperate. Juliet is forced to take care of an ailing Alden until he recovers. As luck would have it, Juliet falls under Alden's spell almost from the beginning, but she's no push over - she resists him for a long time. Actually, they don't even kiss until almost the middle of the book.

The book seems to be divided into two parts. The first part is the seduction and it is thick with steamy atmosphere as Alden challenges Juliet to a Chess game that of course includes another wager. The narrative changes from seduction in the second half of the book to more intrigue as the characters in the book move as if they were in a chess game. Some of the characters are more sinister and some are just pawns in the overall outcome of the book.  There are numerous secondary characters, all weaving in and out of the tale - each adding their part to the story.  There is no rush to tie up loose ends; instead each thread falls into place. 

This is phenomenal storytelling. Now, I did mention before I had some issues and I did. I found Juliet a hard heroine to like, so it was really hard for me to cheer her on. Even before Alden's eventual betrayal she had quite a fish-wife of a mouth about her. She had an axe to grind with just about everybody and this grinding went on just a tad too long for me. However, there are some incredible moments with her in an asylum that are pretty powerful.  Overall, this is a well-written book by a wonderful author and I wish she was still churning them out.

Time/Place: Georgian England
Sensuality: Hot!!