Book Review: The Knight by Monica McCarthy

The Knight #historical #romanceStripped of his lands by the English king who killed his father, James Douglas will do whatever it takes to see his clan’s honor and fortune restored. The ambitious young knight, whose dark visage, powerful stature, and ferocity in battle has earned him the epitaph “the Black,” knows he must use fear, force, and intimidation to defeat the English, put Robert the Bruce on Scotland’s throne, and restore the honor of the Douglas name. Nothing and no one will get in his way. Not even the lass who captured his heart in childhood and still holds it in her delicate hands.

Joanna Dicson has loved James Douglas for as long as she can remember. That she is “only” the daughter of the marshal of Douglas Castle has never concerned her. Yet even as James’s ruthless reputation grows, and despite the warnings of others to guard her heart—and her virtue—against him, Joanna never dreams he will turn on her. He loves her and would never hurt her. But when James returns to Douglas to force the English garrison from his castle, Joanna learns that their love is nothing against his ambition. His marriage—like everything else—will be a means of bettering his clan. Heartbroken and humiliated, Joanna is left alone with a secret that may destroy them both

#7.5 in the Highland Guard series and a novella, so this is short, and some back history/characterisations (especially those of the secondary characters) are short as a result. I have not read any other books in this series so dont know how this stacks up against any of the others.

There is some frank sexual talk, especially at the beginning of the book, so not for those who are of a sensitive nature!  After being away fighting, James returns to retake the castle, and finds Joanna at their usual meeting place. Things come to a head, when Joanna realises that the others were right – James will never marry her, as his ambition will make him marry someone of higher status and with money. However, he assumes that she’s willing to be his mistress, and cannot understand that she expected more, especially after losing her virginity to him. Little does he know, she is also pregnant with his child.

James takes it hard that he cant have his cake AND eat it – after all Joanna loves him and want sex with him, right? So why cant this work?  Joanna cuts off all contact, and James goes back out to fight for Robert Bruce, spending months away from home. When he is offered what he thought he wanted – the hand of Bruce’s youngest daughter in marriage – he realises he has to make a decision.  He is shocked to find out just what Joanna has been going through as a result of his actions, and starts trying to make amends.

This is a novella, so things do happen rather brusquely so I dont know if things could have been done better/differently if done as a book (would James have done more grovelling for instance?). Suitably distracting afternoon read, but not sure I’d be actively seeking out others in this series (though if one fell my way I wouldnt say no)

Book Review: Persy and the Prince by Jane Myers Perrine

Persy and the Prince #romanceMary Persistence Marsh left a life of high society, corporate law, and family pressures to become Persy Marsh, odd-jobber and do-gooder. She holds various jobs at a hotel run by the uptight, handsome Jordan Prince. After an uncomfortable run in, Jordan asks her out but they clash over many subjects, especially the employees’ demand for a safe pathway between the neighborhood and hotel.

Once Persy is robbed and hurt while walking home, Jordan changes his mind on the issue. He also loosens up long enough to allow Persy to install a successful recycling program at the hotel.

Persy meets Jordan’s parents at a party and is immediately fearful that Jordan wants her to become like one of the high society women he used to date and that she used to be. She breaks off their relationship, but realizes after Jordan is hurt that they may be meant to be together.

Received from Netgalley in exchange for a review. Author website is here.

Jordan meets Persy for the first time when she is trying to deal with the dog she is walking that is about to pee on the foyer floor of one of his hotels. He is almost instantly attracted to her, and finds himself asking her out on a date. The date doesn’t go off according to plan – they go to somewhere completely out of their comfort zones -and Persy puts Jordan even further out of his comfort zone by what she eats.

Persy has several jobs in the hotel (waitress, dog walker and casino worker in particular) with odd shift patterns, and after the disastrous first date, they keep bumping into each other, despite agreeing to avoid each other.

The pair find they cant help seeking each out, catching kisses there and there, even when they are on opposite sides over the provision of lighting in a hotel staff walkway. Things come to a head when Persy is attacked, which forces Jordan to make a decision.

Every time they meet, Jordan finds out something about Persy, including that she trained as a corporate lawyer, who prefers helping people, and refuses to conform to her mother’s need to be a true Southern Belle and be married to a rich man. When Persy attends a Prince social event as Jordan’s date, and meets his mother, she realises that perhaps there is too much at stake, and wonders whether she wants to get involved in that type of life again.

Jordan is not a classic leading man – there are times, even after he and Persy split up, when he comes across as an arrogant, preening man, who considers money and good looks are more important than a personality and principles.

Whilst there is some heavy petting there is no actual sex in this story – not even a cut away. The secondary characters are moderately developed, and are used to demonstrate Persy’s character and need to help others.

The ending is not traditional, in that there is no real ending! There is no marriage, living together etc which can be frustrating.  Whilst I enjoyed this book, i think that I preferred “The Mad Herringtons” by the same author.

Book Review: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

allquietPaul Bäumer enlisted with his classmates in the German army of World War I. Youthful, enthusiastic, they become soldiers. But despite what they have learned, they break into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches. And as horrible war plods on year after year, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principles of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against each other — if only he can come out of the war alive.

Whilst known as “All Quiet…” in English, the original German title is “Nothing New….”. I read this book as my nod to the centenary start of the First World War.  Whilst most World War films, books etc are Hollywood influenced, where the Brits and the Americans are the winners, this is a story told about the German soldiers sent to the front line.

Paul Bäumer , along with the rest of his 18 year old classmates, enlists with the army near the start of the war, and after some training, all get sent to the front. Before they are even 20, they have seen things they should never have seen and realised that what they were taught in school would never have trained them for the real world.

I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.

As the war gets worse for the Germans, more recruits are sent to the front, younger every time, with less and less training and only good for cannon fodder as they cant even tell the difference between the different types of basic artillery.

At school nobody ever taught us how to light a cigarette in a storm of rain, nor how a fire could be made with wet wood-nor that it is best to stick a bayonet in the belly because there it doesn’t get jammed, as it does in the ribs.

Paul has realised that bayonets are of no use now in fighting (only good for the enemy to hack off German noses from German corpses), and that fighting is now a matter of guns, grenades, tanks and planes.

It is a thin book – circa 200 pages, but each page is filled with lyrical but graphic descriptions of war, where whole platoons can live, die and be buried in a trench, spending days without food and little water, fighting for what is left with desperate fat rats.

This is as much about comradeship and family as it is about the fighting itself. Paul has an extended leave, and manages to return to his home town only to find how much he has changed – he can no longer get any joy from staying with his family, and is fed up talking about the fighting at the front with the people of the town. As the war goes on, more and more of the original 7 are lost through death and injury until only Paul is left and then…..

 

 

Book Review: Falling for the Prodigal Son by Julia Gabriel

prodigal sonA sweet summer romance set on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay

A wealthy heir …

All Sterling Matthew wants is to get his family’s resort back on sound financial footing—and then leave sleepy St. Caroline for good. He expected the inn’s staff to resist the radical business changes he has to make. What he didn’t expect was to find skinny, gawky Lucy Wyndham all grown up.

A woman who’s pulled herself up by the bootstraps …

For years, Lucy wondered whether she’d ever catch another glimpse of the tall, quiet boy she’d crushed on at the Chesapeake Inn’s summer camp for disadvantaged kids. Now he’s her boss—and the attraction is just as strong. When Sterling informs her that the camp must be eliminated to improve the resort’s bottom line, Lucy embarks on an ambitious campaign to save it—even if the price is her job … and her heart.

And a teenage infatuation that’s all grown up.

Received from Netgalley in exchange for a review. Author site here  

Lucy Wyndham returns from holiday early when she hears her boss, surrogate father and mentor is terminally ill.  She has worked at the Chesapeake Inn for 5 years as Marketing Director, and has never seen the boy she lost her virginity to 15 years before when she was a gawky camp visitor.

Suddenly, Sterling is back and running the show, having been pulled back by his mother threatening to disinherit him if he doesn’t. Lucy hopes he doesn’t remember her, and at first it seems so – until an accidental use of her old nickname makes the truth slip out.

The hotel is in financial straits and Sterling insists on various changes – including shutting down the kids camp so that the land can be used more profitably. Lucy knows how much the camp helps disadvantaged kids, and how many people have become successful after having their lives turned around at the camp. The two are at loggerheads, and both decide to seduce the other into changing their minds. Despite the great sex, nothing changes, and Sterling fires Lucy, only to regret his decision!

This is a decent and enjoyable variation on a theme and I stayed up late into the evening finishing it. The sex is occasional, and fades to black before it gets too explicit. The secondary characters are few but more than one dimensional when they appear – a couple of them have the potential to be worked into their own story. Lucy’s home town in Virginia is described in appropriately appalling terms, and you get to feel sympathy for Sterling, who, despite being from a wealthy family, doesn’t fit in with the camp kids, and is brought up by the hotel staff rather than his workaholic parents, so had a very lonely childhood.

Book Review: The Door in the Mountain by Caitlin Sweet

doormountainThe Door in the Mountain is a place where children are marked by gods and goddesses; a place where a manipulative, bitter princess named Ariadne devises a mountain prison for her hated half-brother, where a boy named Icarus tries, and fails, to fly, and a slave girl changes the paths of all their lives forever.

Received from NetGalley in exchange for a review. Author site here

This is a reworking of the story of the Cretan King Minos, his family and the most famous monster of all: The Minotaur.

Everyone wants to be  “GodMarked” (giving them fantastical powers) but not everyone gets so “blessed”.  Minos has an internal fire burning in him, and this can overspill sometimes with flames blasting from his skin.  Pasiphae, his wife, controls water. Her son, Asterion, is born of heat and gods, to become one of the most iconic of figures.  Icarus’ mark has him sprouting feathers, but ultimately is unable to fly, not matter how hard or often he tries.

Ariadne is not the sweetness and light the myths may have lead you to believe. She is unmarked, jealous and manipulative. She only gets worse as she gets older and her younger step brother develops his GodMark powers into becoming the bull he was destined to be.

Her parents are the worst type of dysfunctional – her father is going slowly mad, frequently confronted with his wife’s infidelity with her god, Poisden, every time Minos is with the bull-boy. Pasiphae realises her son is her most powerful tool, and flaunts his status in front of all who care to notice.  Ariadne has the chance of friendship when younger, but turns away from this due to jealousy, and it only becomes worse as she gets older. Meanwhile, Minos develops a way to deal with the Bull Boy (and all his other “enemies”), as well as waging war on the Athenians who killed his other son, which sets up the story of the Minotaur, the labyrinth and the biannual sacrifice of 14 Athenians.

I knew all the Myths and Legends as a kid (a LONG time ago) and whilst I remembered the important bits – bull, labyrinth, ball of wool so as not to lose one’s way, etc etc,  I had forgotten enough of the smaller pieces to appreciate that the author has taken some liberties, but none are to the detriment of this story.  I dont know if knowing the original myth is a help or not – it allows the reader to predict what happens next (and the likely result of the second/final book in the series) but then the author has made it different enough to beg the question “would it matter if you didnt?”.

It did drag a little at the end, but the author has left the story at a point where Theseus has turned up ready to confront the Minotaur.  Apparently pitched at the YA market, this is a challenging book – not because of any inappropriate scenes – but because of the need to see it through to the end. However with the publication and success of the Rick Riordian books and the followup films, there seems to be an appetite for a retelling of these stories

 

 

Sunday Salon: What I wish I’d known when I started blogging

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I started blogging over here in 2007 and whilst it doesnt have the same publishing rates or followers as my book related site, which I started in earnest in 2012. I thought I’d put down my thoughts on what I wish I’d known when I started blogging

  • That inspiration can and will be finite – that post wont come, fully formed, and ready to go in plenty of time
  • That just because you build it, doesnt mean they will come. Not without a LOT of prompting and active marketing over social media.
  • You don’t live in a vacuum especially if you want to succeed.
  • That Stats aren’t everything
  • That other bloggers can be fibbing (just a little) about their stats (moi? jealous? :))
  • That if you’re not that into what you’re blogging about, your readers are going to know and the posts are going to get harder to write
  • Only the few manage to quit their day job purely because of the revenue their blog pulls in – don’t expect to be one of them
  • Be prepared to change
  • Be prepared to take advice, or at least see what others are doing and go “there’s a good idea, I’ll try that one…..”
  • I found this post over on Book Bloggers International, about getting burnout on blogging – which includes some things NOT to do when you feel like giving up. (Spoiler Alert: Yes, you can give yourself permission to walk away…..)

So for the bloggers out there, no matter how long or short you’ve been blogging – let us know what you wished you’d known when you started – do you have anything to add?

 

 

Book Review: Married to a Rogue by Donna Lea Simpson

marriedrogueFrom the author of The Earl of Hearts comes a Regency romance celebrating the witty and romantic world that fans of Georgette Heyer have fallen in love with.

Lady Emily Sedgely, separated from her husband and bored to distraction after years of solitude in the wilds of Yorkshire, is stirred by a sudden thirst for life and eagerly returns to London for the Season. Back in the swirl of society, she quickly warms to the attentions of an ardent young Frenchman—until a chance encounter with Baxter, her estranged husband, leaves her as confused as ever about her heart’s true longings.

Baxter, the Marquess of Sedgely, was given to dark moods and an uncertain temper that doomed his marriage. Finding relief in travel, he spent five years gallivanting the Continent and has now returned to London with a comely young mistress—and a dangerous secret. Cavalier about his safety, he discovers a far greater concern—for just one look at Emily stirs a realization that while his life may be in danger, it is his heart that faces a more immediate peril.

When Emily’s young French suitor arouses suspicions that he may not be all that he appears and a unknown assailant makes several attempts on Baxter’s life, the two are driven to protect each other and surrender to a passionate reawakening—and neither will rest until they are safely in the arms of the only person they’ve ever loved.

Received in ebook from Netgalley in exchange for a review.  Author’s website is here

The story starts 5 years after Baxter and Emily have seperated and they see each other across a crowded theatre. Emily has spent much of the last few years marrooned in Yorkshire, where the solitude away from the London scene has not prevented her putting on some weight (which is referenced by everyone at every opportunity). Believing that Baxter is still on the continent, and that she is therefore safe from running into him, she returns to town for some company.

Baxter, who has been working for the government as a courier and part time spy, has returned to London with a mistress half his age, and his enemies trying to kill him.  He is bored of his mistress and is already trying to work out how to ditch her when he sees his wife on the other side of the theatre and begins to realise what he’s lost.

Their mutual friend Lessington seeks Emily’s help in protecting Baxter, hoping that her appearance will give Baxter something to live for and therefore take the attempts on his life more seriously.  Baxter realises that he has been cow-towing to his domineering mother too much and as a result, is much at fault for the failure of his marriage as anyone else. He failed to defended his wife in order to keep the peace with his mother, who takes every opportunity to denounce Emily as worthless (and fat).

Emily is courted by a young French Vicount, who tries to seduce her, though his motives are soon up for question. Emily, and therefore Baxter, get involved with Lady Grishelda May van Hoffen and her fears that she is to be “sold off” to a much older man by her slattenly mother, who is in thrall to “Captain” Dempster. There is much talk about sex within marriage, and the occasional safe (fade to black) scene between Emily and Baxter.

It is a multiple POV story, rather than from just Emily’s view, so allows for some of the secondary characters to be filled out more successfully than other accounts. It allows you some understanding of why Belle does what she does (because she doesn’t know any different, and she believes what she does is the only possibility). Lessington – Less – is a theatre producer and there is every hint that he is gay, if you only read between the lines.

The “May” story line is analogous to the Pride and Prejudice Lydia/Wickham story, where a young girl’s virtue is at stake because of a silly mother, and a young attractive man comes to the rescue.

Everything is soon pulled together and ends up as it should be.  This is a more challenging book than standard “fluff” romances and deserves the time and attention to complete, even if it takes longer than standard romances. Baxter is a little disappointing, in that he can court disaster as a courier for the government but ruined his marriage by not standing up to his mother to protect his wife.