Saturday, June 15, 2013

Lady Vivian Defies a Duke by Samantha Grace

Synposis: Goodreads Amazon

Vivian Worth is in danger of being unmarriageable unless she can get a man she's never met to agree to the contract drawn up by their families. Luke, Duke of Foxhaven, is wary of the secret agreement his father made shortly before his death, but he travels to see the lady in question. He has no idea what to expect. What you can expect is a breezy, feel-good romance that disappears like movie popcorn - in other words, before you know it. It's a historical, so there is a meet-cute and a country house party, complete with rakes and spinsters.

Grace really shines with the main characters' motivations and desires. Vivian wants marriage and security, but she also wants to be true to herself. Unfortunately, an event from her past has tarnished her chances of a public courting and engagement. A lesser woman might fight unrealistically and by some lucky stroke all society accepts her as she is, like so many novels try to have us believe. Vivian knows that she has to pay a price for the indiscretion so she tries hard to be the kind of wife a man of her class would want even if she will live not as the lively adventurous girl she is. Vivian is a charming character who is easy to like, but her understanding of the strict world she lives in and her grasp of the concept of consequences raise her somewhere above the common romance heroine.

Her counterpart's complexity comes from a physical injury that has taken a psychological toll. Luke is not your typical useless aristocrat. The fresh weight of his family responsibilities chafes - Luke also has dreams and thought he had time to pursue them. In a way, he is just as confined to a narrow life as Vivian. How he deals with it and why are what make him a better man. What I liked about getting to know these lovely lusty people and how they get together is the light touch Grace has in telling what could be a Serious Angsty Drama. That would also be a good version in its own way, but Grace's style makes this a thoroughly enjoyable read. Some side characters are painted a bit broadly and loose ends are wrapped up a bit suddenly and predictably, but she gets it right where it counts.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Tainted Angel by Anne Cleeland

Synopsis: Goodreads Amazon

Recommended for: people who like romantic spy adventures, Regency/Georgian/Napoleonic period

When starting a new book, context plays a big part of getting into and staying into a story. So without detracting from the importance of a killer opening paragraph, it probably doesn't bode well that I kept wondering if I was reading a sequel of a series where a lot has already happened. Let me make this easier on ya'll who are looking at this fresh: this is a stand-alone where the characters have a lot of common backstory that you won't ever really know in full. Armed with this knowledge, the many references to the Flemish mission can be just so much chatter in the background. In addition to not being a sequel, Tainted Angel doesn't appear to be a beginning of a series either, so you can sink into the plot knowing the resolution is within reach. It's a refreshing change from all the trilogies and endless series that every new author seems obliged to put out.

Vidia Swanson is very, very good at her job as an "angel". Angels are covert agents, usually female, whose purpose is to inveigle secrets via pillow talk and the like. (Others in the spy genre call them valentines, honeytrappers or femme fatale.) Her assignments for the British Crown make the most of her insanely good looks so all business she conducts is high-profile. Her current target is a financier who is playing a double cross game with the help of Vidia. Another agent, Carstairs, seems to be caught in the crosshairs and Vidia feels a net closing in - a net she can't bring herself to resist. The plot pretty much revolves around whether, how, and why Vidia is playing that double or triple or quadruple cross. Her spymaster believes she has been compromised, or "tainted", and someone is either right behind her to arrest her for treason or is a step ahead of her anticipating the next move that might show her hand. Stakes are high when the mere appearance of guilt means the gallows.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

When in Paris... by Beverley Kendall

Synopsis: Goodreads Amazon

The payoff of finding authors that make you want to read everything they write makes slogging through some pretty bad ARCs worth it (even, *gag, shudder*, Stealing Harper). Beverley Kendall, whose wonderful companion novella I reviewed days ago, is one such a find. Everything I loved about Those Nights in Montreal (TNM) is found here, but she does it one better because this is a full-length, 283-pager! I thought TNM's length was so expertly pared that I was afraid this was just going to be a filler-filled longer version. I was totally wrong and happy to be so. Seriously, it's hard to find novels, particularly romances, that have good pacing, good characters, and a good plot. When in Paris... has got it all and does it among the best I've seen so far.

I was familiar with the couple in When in Paris... from TNM. Olivia's and Zach's personalities don't feature much in Becca and Scott's story, so I didn't know what to expect. Fortunately, Olivia and Zach and the rest of their group of friends are all solid, distinctive characters that are exposed gradually and naturally. Reading really does feel like getting to know each person, especially since the narration alternates between the two protagonists, and is in keeping with meeting new people during a freshman fall. Zach and Olivia have realistic and individual voices that really make an impression. They may be a bit more articulate and self-aware than the average college kid, but the expressions flow so well that once you start reading, it's a little shocking how quickly time goes. I hardly noticed my hour-long commutes on the train every day.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead

I have a strong aversion to starting series that are not completed because waiting for the next book will put me in an mental-emotional tailspin for about a week. This a wee problem when reading ARCs of a series unless it is that final installment. This book is coming out this week, so this makes waiting for the second book even more excruciating. It's probably not even mostly written yet! All the same, I couldn't resist the scifi/fantasy/mystery premise of this one and if you like your scifi lighter on the science, this will be a treat.

I've never read anything by Richelle Mead before so zero preconceptions here. It's hard to find credible science fiction. This is not Asimov, which is good because it would be so much blah blah between the armed fights, arguing, drinking, sex, traveling, parenting, and sarcasm in this book. While low on science - it's futuristic but not so far as to be alien to us - Gameboard of the Gods (GOTG) is an ambitious novel with intriguing ideas about the myriad tradeoffs of religion, technology, freedom, wealth and class, and loyalty to country, family, faith. How much autonomy are people willing to give up for superior safety, health or education? How loyal must people be to sign away part of their lives to protect their country? What would you expect to give (up?) in return for superhuman powers? How far would you go to protect your heritage or question authority? For anyone who likes to ponder existential questions, these Orwellian thoughts come fast and frequent throughout GOTG.

Those Nights in Montreal by Beverley Kendall

I think I'm pretty clear about how I feel about the New Adult/College Romance/Mature YA genre as it seems to be trending. Fortunately, Those Nights in Montreal is definitely not one of those. I think it must help that Beverley Kendall is an established writer who actually knows how to construct a story and bring characters to life in form recognizable to the average non-dysfunctional reader. This is a novella that has more life in it than a lot of the full-length novels that can't hold a plotline or develop rounded characters. I was pleasantly surprised how much the author incorporated into the story with detracting from the romance. Even the length of the story was just right.

Becca and Scott are exes who haven't quite gotten closure. They broke up a year ago and Scott begins working to win her back. They air their grievances and try to work things out. Becca thinks that sex has allowed them to avoid confronting their issues in the past (smart girl), so she puts a moratorium on that activity (hmm, good luck with that). Spring break rolls around and the couple joins two other couples at a vacation home in Montreal where their resolve and the status of their relationship is put to the test.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood

Synopsis: Oscar meets Iris and Eden, her brother, after listening to him play the organ at a church service. Oscar works at a nursing home and feels lost about his prospects. He is adopted into the siblings' circle where Eden dominance is challenged by Oscar's arrival.

Very occasionally, I come across a book that unexpectedly tears my heart out, rearranges its contents, and gives it to me back bruised but recharged. A little bit of spiritual resuscitation that knocks the clutter about and awakens a different perspective. This is such an exquisite thing - and one of the primary reasons I read. The Bellwether Revivals probably isn't going to be transformative in my life in a lasting way, but this temporary ground-shift is a literary high. It keeps me coming back for more even as I regroup from being laid flat.

The story revolves around a group of friends attending Cambridge. Of the group, two are siblings, Iris and Eden Bellwether. The two meet Oscar, a high school grad who works a menial job at a nearby nursing home. They are worlds apart, but Oscar joins their little "flock."