Review: Marrying Winterborne

Review: Marrying WinterborneMarrying Winterborne (The Ravenels, #2) by Lisa Kleypas
Published by Avon on May 31st 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 416
Goodreads
four-stars

“I can’t be a gentleman,” he said hoarsely. “Not even for you.”

“You don’t have to be a gentleman. Only gentle.”

FINAL DECISION: Absolutely and completely adored Rhys, who might be one of my all time favorite Kleypas heroes.   I knocked down the rating a bit because I didn’t like Helen as much and became somewhat annoyed by her keeping secrets from Rhys.  Regardless, I overall enjoyed the book very much and look forward to the next in the series.

THE STORY: Rhys Winterborne is a Welsh commoner who has managed to create an business empire for himself. To complete his triumph he only needs an aristocratic wife to give him an entry into society.  Everything is going well with his engagement to Lady Helen Ravenel until their brief engagement is called off by Helen after their first kiss.  Then Rhys is surprised when Helen comes to him to plead with him to continue their engagement.  The gentle and quiet Lady Helen Ravenel seems a mismatch for the brash Rhys but something about him attracts her. She knows that she does not want to end their engagement although he overwhelms her. Helen scandalously comes to Rhys alone and is willing to do scandalous things in order to ensure their marriage.  As she falls for Rhys, however, Helen realizes that she has a secret that might destroy any chance they have together.

OPINION:  I would read this book again for no other reason that Rhys is so wonderful.  A self-made man who has the arrogance and determination required to be so, Rhys is also forwarding thinking, willing to adapt and change and take risks.  Incredibly supportive, understanding and really willing to do anything for Helen, I simply adored him.  What surprised me and endeared him to me most was his reaction once he discovered Helen’s secret.  Who could resist a man like that?

For me, the weakness of this book is Helen. She begins as a product of tradition and the stuffy aristocracy, but seems willing to break the chains in order to be with Rhys. Then he proceeds to keep secrets from him (which obviously will not be able to be kept secret) and fails to trust in him.  My annoyance with her grew as she takes bigger and bigger risks but won’t tell Rhys the truth.  (In comparison, Rhys is a saint).  It felt to me that she only revealed the truth when there was no other option rather than trusting in Rhys’ love for her.

I very much enjoyed this book and would read it again, but my reaction to Helen keeps this from being an instant classic for me.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Oh, oh I can’t wait for the next book of the series.  The preview for the next book gets 5 stars.

CONNECTED BOOKS: MARRYING WINTERBORNE is the second book of the Ravenels series.  Because the relationship between Rhys and Helen begins in the first book of the series, it is better to read that book first.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Hot in Hellcat Canyon

Review: Hot in Hellcat CanyonHot in Hellcat Canyon by Julie Anne Long
Series: Hellcat Canyon #1
Published by Avon on May 31st 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 384
Goodreads
five-stars

“Somehow he’d forgotten the sort of pleasure that could be had in making someone happy for no reason at all.

“He frankly couldn’t think of the last time anyone else had tried to make him happy for no reason at all.”

FINAL DECISION:  Full of the emotional complexity, beautiful enthralling descriptions of love and stuggle and pain that readers have come to expect from Julie Anne Long, HOT IN HELLCAT CANYON is Long’s first contemporary.  Thankfully, the answer to the question of whether Long’s style could work in contemporary romance is an enthusiastic yes!

THE STORY:  Britt Langley is a waitress in Hellcat Canyon who has rebuilt her life in the protective womb of the small town.  Then a man walks into the diner where she works and threatens to blow her safe little world apart.  John Tennessee McCord, a small town boy, who grew up to be a Hollywood star, recognizes Hellcat Canyon’s small town atmosphere and finds himself pulled towards something there that he knows he has lost.  With a faltering career and an infamous breakup, J.T. seems to be guided to Hellcat Canyon by his broken down truck.  Two people who want no commitments begin an affair but find that what they find together is not what they expected.

OPINION:  I became a huge fan of Julie Anne Long through her Pennyroyal Green series. I found her books in that series to have a deeply emotional, lyrical quality with characters who are complex, clever and who always managed to capture my attention.  When I read that after her triumphant book THE LEGEND OF LYON REDMOND, Long was turning to contemporary books, I mourned a bit.  You see, I’ve been on this road before with authors who turn away from the very things that I loved about them to attempt a more popular genre.  So it was with not just a little trepidation that I began this book.

I’m happy to report that Long’s style has transferred beautifully to the contemporary genre.

HOT IN HELLCAT CANYON is not a modern version of Pennyroyal Green and yet there are similarities that I loved.  Long has a great ability to construct small towns with souls.  Hellcat Canyon feels like a place I might not have been but could imagine going with characters and relationships that feel classic and yet not stereotypical.  I laughed out loud at the owner of the local “inn” who collects cherub angels the quantity of which begins to drive J.T. crazy.  Yet Long does not leave this woman as a joke.  Her obsession is explained with sympathy which gives complexity to those quirky qualities which we all have.  I have a great fondness for books grounded in a strong sense of place and time. Hellcat Canyon is a place I feel I could visit and the reality of that place gives the book an automatic depth from which to build the relationship between Britt and J.T.

Britt and J.T. are both afraid of commitment. For different reasons, neither wants more than a short term affair when they first meet.  Painful pasts, fears and uncertainties plague both of them.  It becomes obvious, however, that despite their overt intentions, in their hearts, both are starving for love, protection, and acceptance.  The romance between them is beautifully constructed.  It is a story of small everyday moments, peaceful acceptance, and the intense joy of finding someone who cares for and about you.  Towards the end of the book J.T. gives a magnificent exegesis on love that captures for me the beauty of the relationship in this book: “But in real life, it’s the little things.  Maybe it’s peanut butter in the house because she knows you like it…And it’s in the silences.  In how you enjoy everyday things more, like reading, because she’s reading next to you.”

Not that there isn’t drama and angst in this book.  There are ex-girlfriends, and painful pasts and seemingly incompatible presents to be worked through for these two to find a HEA.  But the real essence of the book is the human experience of love and home.

I loved this book and I can’t wait to read about the couple in the next book in the series.  There seems to be some history there that ups the possibility for angst and drama.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Two words: billboard graffiti.  Read the book, you’ll understand.

CONNECTED BOOKS: HOT IN HELLCAT CANYON is the first book in the Hellcat Canyon series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars.

NOTE:  I received an ARC of this book in order to provide a review.  I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

five-stars

Review: This Heart of Mine

Review: This Heart of MineThis Heart of Mine (Chicago Stars, #5) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars #5
Published by Avon on February 5th 2002
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 432
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Witty Story of Two Kindred Souls

THIS HEART OF MINE is the fifth novel in Phillips Chicago Stars series. Molly Somerville is the younger sister of the owner of the Chicago Stars. She has always been so perfect except for times when she has changed her hair — and then a reckless, self-destructive person has emerged. Kevin Tucker is the quarterback for the Chicago Stars and Molly has had a long-time crush on him. The two end up together and Molly takes advantage of Kevin while he is asleep. She ends up pregnant and they end up married. That is where the romance actually begins.

This book is not for everyone. Molly, in essence, rapes Kevin while he is sleeping. This premise will probably turn off some readers. Having lived through the bodice ripper romances, however, this did not prevent me from enjoying the romance. There is also a miscarriage and its emotional aftermath that I thought was dealt with in a realistic manner. Ultimately, I enjoyed this story of two people who want love so much but are afraid of being hurt. Phillips has a way of making a story funny and yet serious. The characters in her story make serious mistakes on their way to happiness, but I liked the journey. A Story that can make me smile ans sigh at the same time is special indeed.

I’d rate this a 4.5.

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four-half-stars

Review: The Earl Takes All

Review: The Earl Takes AllThe Earl Takes All (The Hellions of Havisham, #2) by Lorraine Heath
Series: The Hellions of Havisham #2
Published by Avon on April 26th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-stars

“Don’t let her figure out that it’s me, the sneaky bastard who takes what isn’t his. Don’t let her realize that I’m not her husband.”

FINAL DECISION: I love how Heath creates situations between characters that seem impossible and then goes deep into the emotions of the characters to make a situation work out.  I thought this story would never work and yet Heath made it a lovely romance.

THE STORY: Edward Alcott returns from a safari with his dead twin but is himself masquerading as his twin.  It was his brother’s dying wish that Edward care for his wife who is pregnant. Edward intends on pretending to be his twin until his sister in law gives birth.  Pretending to be his brother is more difficult than he expected since Edward has been enamored of his sister in law for years.  Julia is surprised by the changes in her husband on his return.  He seems more wicked and bolder than the man she married.  As she falls even more in love, she can’t help but wonder what has changed her husband so much.

OPINION:  I often start a Lorraine Heath book thinking “there is no way she can make this work” sometimes I even hate the premise.  This book was difficult to imagine from the blurb of the book.  I couldn’t imagine that a relationship that begins with the hero impersonating his dead twin to his sister-in-law was going to work.  For the most part, the book did work. There were a couple of rough parts that called for more acceptance than analysis on my part, but I got wrapped up in the emotional journey of these characters that by the end, I was totally bound up with wanting their happy ending.

This book does demand some patience from its readers as (1) you have to accept that Julia would not recognize Edward’s impersonation of her husband and (2) you have to accept that she will ultimately forgive him for his deception.  Some readers might not be able to get past these hurdles, but accepting these premises allowed me to become absorbed by the emotional conflict in the story which is filled with love, guilt, pain and joy.

In the story, Edward begins as the typical rake, but we soon find out that he is hiding a love for Julia which he always believed was hopeless.  His masquerade of a thoughtless rake allowed him to mask his feelings.  By pretending to be his brother, Edward begins to lose control of those feelings and falls deeply in love with Julia.

I liked these characters and especially appreciated how Heath walks the line of Julia falling in love with both brothers without diminishing either of them.  This is a difficult task and is largely successful — even if I admit that I like Edward better.

The central conflict of the story becomes that even if Julia and Edward fall in love, the deception will have to continue because English law forbids a man from marrying his brother’s widow.  The resolution of this story might seem like a cheat to some, but I really liked that the solution, like the conflict itself, is based on historical fact.  Heath explains some of the real legal issues involved in her afterword.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Fans of Heath’s other series might see some familiar faces.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE EARL TAKES ALL is the second book in the Hellions of Havisham series.  It can be read as a standalone although the first book of the series gives some further background on the characters and their connection to significant secondary characters.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Because of Miss Bridgerton

Review: Because of Miss BridgertonBecause of Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #1) by Julia Quinn
Published by Avon on March 29th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 375
Goodreads
four-stars

Bridgerton Prequel Spinoff That Satisfies High Expectations

FINAL DECISION: A worth successor (although a prequel) to the fabulous Bridgerton series, BECAUSE OF MISS BRIDGERTON is good with the feel of the Bridgerton novel with a whole batch of new characters, a different time period, and a different set of troubles.

THE STORY: Billie Bridgerton is what might be termed a tomboy. The eldest child, she loves the family estate and helps to run it, although she is denied the opportunity to inherit because she is a girl. She knows she will eventually marry and everyone (including her) expects that she will marry one of the Rokesby brothers, lifelong neighbors. There are so many choices between the brothers, but the one brother Billie never plans on hitching herself to is George, the heir of the earldom and the one that Billie can’t help but bicker and argue with. The two can’t stand one another and yet when they are thrust together unexpectedly, they find that the sparks they strike off one another might hide a passion for one another.

OPINION: I am a big fan of Quinn’s Bridgerton series. As a result, I worried that this book would be a disappointment because so many of those Bridgerton books are classics. For me, BECAUSE OF MISS BRIDGERTON doesn’t meet the best books of the Bridgerton series, but it would fall smack in the middle of the series. It is sold and satisfying and at times hilarious.

BECAUSE OF MISS BRIDGERTON has the wit and humor and genuinely nice characters for which Quinn is famous. I am a big fan of the “adversaries” to lovers trope. This one has hysterical situations between Billie and George. The two have known one another forever and yet never looked at one another in a romantic fashion before. Quinn is well known as having couples who fall in love slowly and unexpectedly. This story realistically portrays two people who grew up together but for the first time see one another as a romantic partner. I loved that they have so much in common and have a deep respect for one another which comes from their familiarity with one another. The romance in this one takes some time to develop but ultimately is sweet and fulfilling.

WORTH MENTIONING: Fans of THE VISCOUNT WHO LOVED ME’s infamous Pall Mall game will find another fabulous — and yet different — game here.

CONNECTED BOOKS: BECAUSE OF MISS BRIDGERTON is the first book of the Rokesby series which is a prequel spin-off series to Quinn’s immensely popular Bridgerton series. This book can totally be read as a standalone even though there are lots of Easter eggs for fans of the Bridgerton series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Dream a Little Dream

Review: Dream a Little DreamDream a Little Dream (Chicago Stars, #4) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars #4
Published by Avon on February 1st 1998
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 400
Goodreads
five-stars

A Story of Love After Loss

DREAM A LITTLE DREAM is the fourth novel in Phillips’ Chicago Stars series. It doesn’t actually deal with the Chicago Stars team, but rather is a spin-off of NOBODY’S BABY BUT MINE. DREAM A LITTLE DREAM is the story of Gabe Bonner, the younger brother of Cal Bonner in NOBODY’S BABY BUT MINE. Two years ago, Gabe suffered the loss of his beloved wife and son in a car crash. If not for his family, Gabe would have nothing to live for. He has abandoned everything in his life and is merely existing. Rachel Stone has come back to Salvation, North Carolina. Rachel is the hated widow of a discredited televangelist, but now lives in serious poverty with heroine year old son.

Gabe and Rachel are two people who have been smacked down by life. Both have great pain that they have to deal with in their journey to happily ever after. This story is more poignant and less funny than the other books in this series. It is not always easy reading about the relationship that Gabe has with Rachel’s son. Gabe is not very nice. I appreciated the realism of the story. It is a longer journey for Gave and Rachel’s so than for Gabe and Rachel. I really enjoyed the story and I was happy to get an update on Cal and Jane. There is also a sweet secondary story involving the youngest Bonner brother Ethan.

I highly recommend this book.

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five-stars

Review: Heaven, Texas

Review: Heaven, TexasHeaven, Texas (Chicago Stars, #2) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars #2
Published by Avon on April 1st 1995
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 384
Goodreads
five-stars

Witty Novel About Opposites

HEAVEN, TEXAS is the second novel in the Chicago Stars series. It tells the story of Grace Snow who at the age of 30 is just beginning to live her life. She takes the job as an assistant for a movie company. Her job is to make sure that Bobby Tom Denton, one time star receiver, makes it to his first acting job. Bobby Tom, however, has no intention of listening to the mousy Grace. Grace is determined, however, and Bobby Tom for the first time in his life has met a woman that he cannot immediately win over.

Wonderful, wonderful novel. Phillips’ characters just leap from the page and the story while sometimes outlandish, is funny and heartwarming. I kept smiling throughout the book. At the same time, I thought the story was deep and emotional. The characters have to travel to reach their happy ending. This is a book to read again.

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five-stars

Review: Catch a Falling Heiress

Review: Catch a Falling HeiressCatch a Falling Heiress (An American Heiress in London, #3) by Laura Lee Guhrke
Series: An American Heiress in London #3
Published by Avon on January 27th 2015
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-stars

Hero Falls Long Before the Heroine

“He didn’t know that jaunt across the Channel would lead him on a quest for justice that would destroy a villain, turn his life upside down, and hurl a beautiful woman into his arms.”

THE STORY: Jack, Earl of Featherstone has come to America to help get justice for his friend and his wife. In the process of destroying the man who raped his friend’s wife, Jack has to rescue an unwitting heiress who gets in the middle. Linnet Holland thinks the man who she dreamed of has fallen in love with her and wants her. Instead, she ends up ruined by Jack who she doesn’t even know. Linnet refuses to allow herself to be forced to marry a rake and a fortune hunter after refusing other offers in a search for love. Jack is determined to convince Linnet to marry him because he realized when he kissed her that they have something special.

OPINION: There is something special about a book that goes against expectations. It is surprising when Jack ruins Linnet that she doesn’t immediately agree to the marriage. Instead, she insists on finding a match that is acceptable to her and goes about creating her own future. Jack and Linnet have a very combative relationship which is simply adorable. Linnet has been naive with her dealings with men and is determined to not succumb to Jack’s plans for her. They are a sparkling couple. What is especially interesting is the Jack becomes enamored of Linnet long before she is even willing to try to get to know Jack. Guhrke has a way of writing the reformed rake story in an interesting manner by making Jack’s character more original and singular than the familiar trope. My one complaint is that I thought the resolution of the story was too rushed and could have used an epilogue.

WORTH MENTIONING: Readers of HOW TO LOSE A DUKE IN TEN DAYS will be pleased to get the story of what happened between the last chapters of HOW TO LOSE A DUKE book and the epilogue. Those events are depicted in this book.

FINAL DECISION: This is a book where the action occurs more slowly than might be expected based on the quick events in the early portion of the book. This is a book where the hero and heroine actually have time to get to know one another before they end up committed to one another.

CONNECTED BOOKS: CATCH A FALLING HEIRESS is the third book in the An American Heiress in London series. This book can be read independent of others in the series, although the book overlaps with the events in HOW TO LOSE A DUKE IN TEN DAYS and reading that book explains a lot of what is going on in the beginning of this book.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

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four-stars

Review: How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days

Review: How to Lose a Duke in Ten DaysHow to Lose a Duke in Ten Days (An American Heiress in London, #2) by Laura Lee Guhrke
Series: An American Heiress in London #2
Published by Avon on April 29th 2014
Genres: Historical
Pages: 371
Goodreads
four-stars

Beautiful and Powerful Story of Love After Marriage

“Her marriage was perfect”

THE STORY: The Duke and Duchess of Margrave have a marriage of convenience. They agreed that Edie, and American heiress, would contribute her immense dowry, get the title, and take over running the ducal estates and that Stuart would go to Africa and never come back. Five years later, Stuart is nearly killed by a lion and realizes that he wants to try and build a real marriage with his wife. He returns to England and his wife is appalled. She has no intention of being close to any man, including her husband. Stuart offers Edie a deal, if she gives him ten days to try and win a kiss from her, he will agree to a legal separation if he fails.

OPINION: This book is a powerful story about pain and loss and recovery from deep wounds of all kinds. The way that Edie’s personal story is compared and contrasted with Stuart’s was especially illuminating. This book focuses especially on the power of love to heal, but there is also the power of choice and respect and trust. I was especially moved by Stuart’s reaction to Edie’s history and his determination to show her respect and earn her trust. I thought the story moved in ways that were unexpected and I came to really like the characters of Stuart and Edie. My only complaint was that their happy ending was cut a bit short. I would have liked more — maybe in subsequent book in the series.

WORTH MENTIONING: Readers should be aware that this book has depictions of rape and its aftermath.

FINAL DECISION: Although married, this book is really how Stuart and Edie get to know one another and fall in love. I thought the story was well developed and I would recommend it.

CONNECTED BOOKS: This is the second book in the An American Heiress in London series. It can be read as a standalone without missing anything.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

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four-stars

Review: When the Marquess Met His Match

Review: When the Marquess Met His MatchWhen the Marquess Met His Match (An American Heiress in London, #1) by Laura Lee Guhrke, Susan Ericksen
Series: An American Heiress in London #1
Published by Avon on October 29th 2013
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-stars

Glad I Didn’t Give Up On This Based On Some of The Negative Reviews

“Nothing causes more pain, frustration, and disappointment than unfulfilled expectations.”

THE STORY: Lady Belinda Featherstone is a matchmaker. Her own painful experience of having been wed for her fortune while she thought it was love. After the death of her husband, Belinda has made a name for herself finding suitable matches for young American women after he husband had gone through her dowry. When Nicholas Stirling, Marquess of Trubridge comes to ask her help in finding him a wife, Belinda sees him as cut from the same cloth as her husband and informs him that she will do everything she can to stop him. Nicholas has a reputation as a rakehell and is definitely in search of a fortune after having been cut off by his father the duke. Belinda and Nicholas are soon engaged in a battle of wits even while they have an attraction to one another.

OPINION: This is the story of two people who have been disappointed in their expectations of their lives. Such disappointments have made them both cynical and unwilling to trust again. It has also made them accept lives that are less than they could be.

Belinda’s past has given her deep scars. I found it almost painful to read the first half of the book since Belinda judges Nicholas so harshly. Once I understood her history, however, I could understand her fears that led her astray and she did end up changing and acknowledging her mistakes. By the end of the book, I believed that she had redeemed herself. Even better, Nicholas acknowledges that her judgment was not completely unwarranted and decides to change his own life.

I especially like how the book has a turn at the end that I did not expect. Belinda and Nicholas’s happy ending came in a way that I did not expect and I appreciated that fact.

I really ended up responding to this book because it challenged me as a reader more than I expected and the characters were not simple and easy to like. Readers who give this book an honest chance can experience a wonderful story.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book also introduces readers to the heroine from the second book and what an intriguing story is there.

FINAL DECISION: I recommend this book if the reader has an open mind and is willing to allow a character to grow and change.

CONNECTED BOOKS: WHEN THE MARQUESS MET HIS MATCH is the first book in the An American in London series.

STAR RATING: I give this one 4 stars.

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four-stars