Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Review: Lost in a Royal Kiss by Vanessa Kelly

Lost in a Royal Kiss (The Renegade Royals #0.5)
By: Vanessa Kelly
Publisher: Zebra Books


After reading the completely delightful "One Kiss for Christmas" by Vanessa Kelly in the A Grosvenor Square Christmas anthology, I decided to download the free (at the time) novella Lost in a Royal Kiss that introduces her upcoming series, The Renegade Royals. Anthony and Linnet's story opens in 1786 -- she's in love with him, he's in love with her (well, he wants her to be his wife -- and therefore in his bed -- at any rate *wink*), and neither is, as yet, willing to do anything to breach the distance between them. Nothing, that is, until a crisis forces this unlikely pair to join forces to save two children who've run afoul of one Ernest, one of the king's sons. Ernest made the mistake of seducing Chloe, his tutor's only daughter, thereby incurring the wrath of Dominic, an orphan who was taken in by the queen to be raised alongside her sons. In an attempt to save Chloe's reputation from ruin and Dominic from prison (or worse) for avenging her honor, Anthony and Linnet may finally discover that a future between them is more possible -- and more delightful -- than either of them had ever dreamed.

Novellas of this ilk have the unenviable task of illustrating fully-realized, meaningful relationships and compelling plots in an extraordinarily abridged fashion, and on balance Kelly succeeds admirably. I wasn't expecting her to touch on weighty issues such as ruined women and the political clout of royal princes in such a slim story, but she handles it with aplomb. The emotional depth inherent in Dominic and Chloe's travails lend weight to the storyline -- appropriate since the first Renegade Royals novel jumps ahead over twenty years, seeing Dominic assume the role of royal spymaster now held by Anthony. I LOVE the concept of this series -- the illegitmate offspring of royals fighting for position and place in a world where their familial inheritance is denied them by virtue of the circumstances of their birth. Kelly's writing sparkles with wit, excitement, and emotional intensity, and this is a promising introduction to her new series. Be aware that this story IS spicy, but I am thankful that Kelly heavily implies a history between her hero and heroine, giving me hope that future couples have relationships based on more than physical attributes. Secrets for Seducing a Royal Bodyguard releases in January!

About the book:

In this thrilling introduction to her Renegade Royals series, Vanessa Kelly transports readers to the court of King George III--where a London street urchin unwittingly plays Cupid, ushering in a new era--and ultimately a new kind of royal...

With her widowed mother working long hours as governess to the royal children, Linnet St. Clare must look after her siblings and run the household. Now she must add to her worries the fate of Dominic, a poor orphan who has inspired the wrath of the king himself. Clearly Linnet has no time to consider her own desires--much less notice the attentions of a certain handsome, powerful magistrate...

Sir Anthony Tait is at a loss for how to capture Linnet's interest. If only she would be still long enough for courting. Outright seduction seems the only answer. But will his kisses be enough to persuade her--or might Anthony have something to learn from young Dominic about matters of the heart? And in saving the boy's future, might Anthony and Linnet at last create their own?...

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

Happy New Year! Here's to a happy and healthy 2014!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: Glittering Promises by Lisa T. Bergren

Glittering Promises (The Grand Tour #3)
By: Lisa T. Bergren
Publisher: David C Cook
ISBN: 978-1-4347-6428-7


As Wallace Kensington's rags-to-riches copper heiress, Cora has quite unwillingly captured the imagination of the newspaper-reading public. And as the latest celebrity du jour to take in the delights of the famed Grand Tour, she's become the target of fortune-hunting kidnappers, endangering both her and her siblings and traveling companions. Joined on the remainder of the tour by her estranged biological father, Cora is torn -- determined to use the opportunities afforded by her new birthright to become her own woman, yet struggling with resenting Wallace Kensington's powerful sway over her life and future.

Freshly committed to a romantic relationship with Will, the group's young tour guide, Cora struggles to shed the ever-persistant nobleman Pierre's hope that his adoration is the support she truly needs to successfully navigate her new life of privilege. When Wallace unexpectedly gifts Cora with a sizeable inheritance and controlling interest in the mine discovered on her parents' land, the now-tangible wealth and its attendant responsibilities threaten to upset the fragile balance of Cora's newfound familial and romantic relationships. As the tour continues despite the group's brush with danger and unwanted publicity, threats once thought escaped forever resurface, and tensions within the group threaten to destroy newly-formed bonds. At the center of this maelstrom, Cora must decide once and for all the type of woman she's called to be, but over the cacophony of wealth, danger, and fear, will she be able to hear the still small voice of the One who longs to establish her life and identity on a bedrock of eternal truths?

Glittering Promises, the third novel in Lisa Bergren's Grand Tour series, brings Cora's tour -- and search for a lasting spiritual identity -- full circle in a dramatic fashion. Through the first two installments I've grown to love Bergren's glimpse into a colorful, lush world and way of life lost to time. Both Glamorous Illusions and Grave Consequences are masterful chronicles of the time period and an engaging, in-depth character study of one woman's journey toward emotional and spiritual wholeness. But as a conclusion to Cora's ambitious storyline, Glittering Promises leaves me torn.

Glittering Promises is every bit as richly-told as as its predecessors. Bergren is a master wordsmith and her ability to bring a time and place to life on the page in vibrant color is unparalleled. Cora's journey is, in short, an immersive experience and over the course of these three novels I feel as though the privilege, wonder, and transformative intent of such a tour has been brought to life on the page in a near-tangible manner. For those in search of rich, meaty historicals replete with detail and related in technicolor-prose, this trilogy is a must-read. Bergren has brought to life the wealth, power, and social tensions of the turn-of-the-century upper class with aplomb. And for those craving Downton Abbey-esque fiction, Cora's story shines in a sea of pale copies who seek to glitter but whose tales all too often lack the spark that brings a world of this type to vibrant life.

However, as a conclusion to Cora's romantic -- and personal -- journey, I must confess to being much less satisfied. On balance Cora remains one of the most likeable and relatable heroines found in fiction of this ilk, but by this, the third act of her coming of age, my patience with her oft-times headstrong nature wore thin. I can certainly understand being rocked to the core by the revelation of her true parentage, but her insistence on always thinking the worst of Wallace, of being so sure she knew best, was frankly irksome -- and given his character arc, tragic. And while she would certainly be entitled to struggle with fear, uncertainty, and questions, especially given the nature of the dangers she's faced, her repeated, blatant disregard for others' feelings (SPOILER: i.e., abandoning her siblings following their father's death) or instructions (i.e., abandoning the safety of a tour group to sulk, thereby making herself vulnerable to attack) smacked of a spoiled, emotional immaturity at odds with everything I'd come to love about the character in the previous two books.

And then there is the matter of her two would-be suitors. While I can appreciate Will having some qualms about Cora's insta-wealth, especially given the social expectations of the time casting men as the breadwinners of their families, he goes from being relatively competent and supportive to a neurotic, overly-possessive "romantic" interest. His trust issues, his continued refusal to take Cora at her word that she was through with Pierre were grating, troubling character changes that soured some of the sweetness that characterized the early days of their romance (SPOILER: and honestly made me wish they'd waited two or three years to marry and hopefully GROW UP first instead of marrying aboard ship en route home). And Pierre...apparently everything I'd understood about the character in two full books was a lie, as here is disturbingly unbalanced. That is a bait-and-switch I'll never understand -- I understand the need to resolve a love triangle, but having Pierre step aside in a gentleman-like fashion (and thus pave the way for his own happily ever after) would've  been much preferred to this new, and plainly unhinged version.

As the capstone to the story of a young woman's coming of age in extraordinary circumstances, Glittering Promises -- and indeed the Grand Tour series as a whole -- are a reading experience not to be missed. Using the time-honored Grand Tour as the vehicle for Cora's inner and outer transformation, Bergren has proven herself to be a master wordsmith, capable of crafting some of the most evocative and assured historical fiction I've ever had the pleasure of reading. The "travelogue" portion of this novel is something to savor, married to a well-meted spiritual thread that never overwhelms the narrative and feels wholly organic to the time and characters. While I have to wonder if I'd have been more satisfied with Cora and the resolution to her romance if it had only spanned two novels instead of three, I must applaud Bergren for her achievement here -- this is a gorgeously-rendered, thought-provoking trilogy, a classic coming-of-age tale with contemporary appeal and lasting spiritual truths couched in beautifully-realized, evocative snapshot of a compelling historical time. I cannot wait to see where she takes readers next!

About the book:

Wealth cannot buy peace...or direction.

For Cora Kensington, the Grand Tour was to be the trip of a lifetime. She discovered the family she never knew she had and may have even found the love she longs for in Will. Yet her life has just become infinitely more challenging...

Hounded by the stubborn pursuit of Pierre de Richelieu and journalists chasing the beguiling story of the newest American heiress, Cora fights to remain true to her past, reconcile her present, and still embrace her future. But as Will struggles with her newfound wealth, Cora begins to wonder if their love is strong enough to withstand all that threatens to pull them apart.

As she glimpses the end of the tour, Cora knows it's time to decide Who and what defines her...and who and what does not.

*My thanks to Litfuse Publicity for the tour opportunity, and my apologies to Litfuse and the author for being SO LATE with this review (I think it was due in November??). Click here to read what others had to say about Glittering Promises.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Review: A Grosvenor Square Christmas by Anna Campbell, Shana Galen, Vanessa Kelly, and Kate Noble

A Grosvenor Square Christmas
By: Anna Campbell, et al.
Publisher: n/a


When a friend shared the news on Facebook that A Grosvenor Square Christmas was currently free for Kindle, in the mood for some holiday romance I downloaded it -- and I'm so glad I did. While I'm unfamiliar with the previous work of the four authors involved, three of the four stories included were wildly enjoyable -- and for a free "purchase," that average is a priceless return on one's investment. :)

The stories span a nearly thirty-year period, threaded together by virture of all occuring at Lady Winterson's annual Christmas ball -- where legend has it that under the watchful eye of the famed hostess and her indefatigable butler, Philbert, one lucky couple a year will find lasting love amid the glittering lights and mistletoe.

The festivities begin with "The Seduction of a Duchess" by Shana Galen, a companion pieces to her Sons of Revolution series. This story features Rowena, the widowed dowager mother of that series' heroes, who unexpectedly finds herself granted a second chance at love at Lady Winterson's ball. Gabriel, her one-time footman -- and responsible for saving the lives of her and one of her sons from Madame Guilloutine years earlier -- is now serving England and a titled nobleman thanks to his work as the infamous spy, the French Fox. A heroine -- a grandmother no les! -- ten years older than her would-be lover? I am so there. A fun, fast-paced interlude with a hint of spice! 4/5 stars.

The second tale, "One Kiss for Christmas" by Vanessa Kelly, is utterly delightful. It features Nigel Dash, apparently a popular supporting character from her previous Regencies -- and after reading this story I can see why. Nigel is the antithesis of the alpha male hero -- good-natured to a fault and incredibly kind, everyone's best friend but never considered a serious romantic prospect. Long in love with Amelia, darling of the ton, Nigel finally decides to recast himself as a serious rival for Amelia's heart just in time for the Christmas ball -- with humorous, heartfelt results. Nigel is a fantastic "good guy" hero, and his story -- one of the longer offerings in this collection -- is a thoroughly satisfying gem. 5/5 stars.

I don't even know where to start with "His Christmas Cinderella" by Anna Campbell. I have to give her credit for reworking a classic fairy tale (always one of my favorite things), but any charm her retelling might have possessed is lost in the utter crassness of the story's beginning, introducing Campion and Lord Lachlan's love story (and I use that term loosely). Theirs is an attachment predicated solely on lust (at least, that is the only indication one gets given that the bulk of this story's page time involves their amorous escapades). No subtlety or charm here -- Campion comes across as a pathetically misguided woman, her handsome "prince" a bit too much of the rake for my tastes. The most laughable aspect has to be casting Lachlan's mother as Campion's fairy godmother, especially given the rather explicitly described nature and frequency of their "relationship." 2/5 stars.

The collection ends on a strong note with Kate Noble's "The Last First Kiss," which is ADORABLE. Tomboy Susannah is left bereft when Sebastian, her best friend (and the boy she loves), leaves for his Grand Tour. WIth her aunt's help she determines to transform herself into a woman he won't be able to resist upon his return -- which, after two years, coincides with the magical promise of Lady Winterson's ball. Seeing Sebastian awaken to the fact that his little friend has grown up without him into an alluring woman he doesn't know what to do with makes for a deliciously fun read. And after nearly three decades, Lady Winterson is poised to finally experience the magic of the ball herself. For both her and Susannah, one kiss promises to change everything...5/5 stars.

I thoroughly enjoyed three-fourths of this collection, which does indeed deliver on its promise of magical holiday romance. Kelly's and Noble's stories are particularly strong efforts -- great examples of wholly satisfying reads in a format where it is all too easy to be left wanting. Very well-done!

About the book:

Four breathtakingly romantic tales of a Regency Christmas from four bestselling romance authors. 

Down through the years, enchantment touches a tall gray house in Grosvenor Square. The legend of Lady Winterson’s Christmas ball promises true love and happiness to one lucky couple. Who will feel the magic this winter? 

1803 - The Seduction of a Duchess by Shana Galen 

Rowena Harcourt, the Duchess of Valère, never forgot the handsome footman who helped her escape the French Revolution. For fourteen years, Gabriel Lamarque has loved Rowena—now at Lady Winterson’s Christmas ball, has fate finally delivered a chance to win her hand? 

1818 - One Kiss for Christmas by Vanessa Kelly 

Nigel Dash is London’s most reliable gentleman, a reputation he never minded until he fell in love with beautiful Amelia Easton. Unfortunately, Amelia sees Nigel as a dependable friend, not a dashing suitor. At Lady Winterson’s famous Christmas ball, Nigel vows to change Amelia’s mind—by sweeping her off her feet. 

1825 - His Christmas Cinderella by Anna Campbell 

At the season’s most glittering ball, a girl who has never dared to dream of forever after discovers a Christmas miracle. 

1830 - The Last First Kiss by Kate Noble 

Susannah Westforth has always loved Sebastian Beckett – but he’s only ever seen her as a friend. When Sebastian takes his Grand Tour, Susannah transforms herself into a woman he’ll notice. Now Sebastian is back, just in time for Lady Winterson's Christmas ball – but the last thing he expects to see is his little Susie, all grown up...

You’re invited to join the whirling dance at Lady Winterson’s sparkling Christmas ball, where miracles happen and true love shines forever. How can you resist? 

Review: An Heiress at Heart by Jennifer Delamere

An Heiress at Heart (Love's Grace #1)
By: Jennifer Delamere
Publisher: Forever


Lizzie Poole's sole romantic indiscretion nearly destroyed her, cloaking her reputation in shame and forcing both her and her brother Tom to flee Europe for Australia following an ill-fated duel. Determined to live a blameless life henceforward, Lizzie never expected to find a woman in the wilds of Australia who might hold the key to her past. Ria shares an eerily similar face and form to Lizzie, so much so that when the two women begin comparing childhood reminscences they become convinced that they are half-sisters -- Lizzie the illegitmate offspring of Ria's nobleman father's affair with a servant.

The years pass and tragedy strikes -- and on her deathbed Ria extracts from Lizzie a radical promise that will change her life forever. She begs Lizzie to return to London as Ria, make amends with her estranged grandmother, the formidable Lady Thornborough, and in so doing reclaim the birthright denied her by the stain of illegitimacy. With nothing to keep her in Australia, and a burning desire to discover the truth about her parentage, Lizzie agrees. Arriving in London as Ria, Lizzie finds herself captivated by her would-be family's kindness and acceptance. The one thing she didn't anticipate were her blossoming feelings for Lord Geoffrey Somerville -- Ria's, and now her own, brother-in-law -- and as such, the one man forbidden to her by law. When a man from Lizzie's past threatens to destroy her by unmasking her scandal-ridden past, Lizzie must decide if she is brave enough to reveal the truth of her identity -- at the risk of destroying her relationship with her new family, and with Geoffrey, forever.

When An Heiress at Heart was released last fall, it caught my attention as being the sole inspy mass market release from Hatchette's Forever imprint. As such, I have to wonder if its trim size and release were perhaps overlooked by many members of its potential target audience. In a mass market-sized novel of this ilk I never expected to find a story as sparkling and well-developed as any trade-length romance. This is a remarkably assured debut that should mark Delamere as a rising star in the genre. 

From the opening pages of Lizzie's story I was captivated by its unique setting and premise. In my reading experience, the Victorian time period is often overlooked in favor of the earlier Regency, and to incorporate Australia and its reputation as something of a haven for the lawless -- or, as in Lizzie and Tom's case, those fleeing the law -- adds a refreshing dash of exotic color to the setting.

Delamere's characters are wonderfully realized, springing to vibrant life on the page. While Lizzie's assumption of Ria's identity is pure soap opera, such a trope has a rich literary tradition (i.e., Dumas's The Man in the Iron Mask), and as such can be wildly entertaining. I loved her tasteful, yet unflinchingly honest portrayal of Lizzie's unsavory past -- she is very much a fallen woman by the standards of the day -- a refreshingly honest portrayal of the emotional consequences of sin and the glory of forgiveness and redemption. Likewise Geoffrey is a multi-faceted hero, one in the unique position in "drawing room" romances of this type who was first a vicar, until tragedy forced him to assume the family title and its responsibilities. His abrupt change in circumstances provide a nice, organic opportunity for an examination of the tension between duty and desire, and legalism and grace.

An Heiress at Heart was a delightful surprise. It is no stretch to state that it is one of the strongest inspy romance debuts I've had the pleasure of reading recently. Delamere displays a commendable aptitude for pacing, characterization, and a knack for incorporating relevant historical data (here, the wonders of the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace, and the Victorian penchant for social reform) that deftly enriches the storyline. Peopling her world with colorful supporting players (I can only hope that Ria's cousin James takes center stage in a subsequent story!), Lizzie and Geoffrey's is a sweetly realized romance threaded with grace and a dash of gritty adventure that leaves me eager to read more of Delamere's work!

About the book:

A New Beginning

A youthful indiscretion has cost Lizzie Poole more than just her honor. After five years living in exile, she's finally returning home, but she's still living a secret life. Her best friend Ria's dying wish was for Lizzie to assume her identity, return to London, and make amends that Ria herself would never live to make. Bearing a striking resemblance to her friend, and harboring more secrets than ever before, Lizzie embarks on a journey that tempts her reckless heart once again . . . 

A committed clergyman, Geoffrey Somerville's world is upended when he suddenly inherits the title of Lord Somerville. Now he's invited to every ball and sought after by the matchmaking mothers of London society. Yet the only woman to capture his heart is the one he cannot have: his brother's young widow, Ria. Duty demands he deny his feelings, but his heart longs for the mysterious beauty. With both their futures at stake, will Lizzie be able to keep up her façade? Or will she find the strength to share her secret and put her faith in true love?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Review: Dating Mr. December by Phillipa Ashley

Dating Mr. December
By: Phillipa Ashley
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark


Emma Tremayne is out of her element but determined to survive. Fired after discovered that her boyfriend was cheating on her with her boss, Emma fled London and everything it meant -- success and a fast-paced job with an elite PR firm -- to the lake district and a job with the tourism board of Bannerdale, the small-town atmosphere a constant reminder of the life she lost. Her most difficult task yet involves the local mountain rescue team, whose base is in desperate need of updates and renovation. When Emma suggests a nude calendar -- the type of project that saw great success for a copter medic organization as a fundraiser and PR stunt during her London tenure -- the concept at first meets with catcalls and derisive laughter. But she manages to convince all of the team members of the fundraiser's feasibility except one Tall, Dark, and All Wrong -- Will Tennant, one of the team's senior members. She thinks he's a sexist playboy, he thinks she's an elitist snob, and with the future of the mountain rescue team on the line sparks fly as Emma and Will dance around an attraction that seems so wrong on paper it couldn't possibly work in real life...could it?

Dating Mr. December has been on my radar for years, ever since Lifetime released the Christmas film 12 Men of Christmas based on the novel in 2009 starring one of my favorite singers, the effervescent Kristin Chenoweth. That film transplanted the storyline to the United States from England and inserted a whole lot of Elizabeth and Darcy-esque romantic chemistry, resulting in a thoroughly enjoyable guilty pleasure and one of my favorite made-for-TV Christmas movies to this day. Thanks to that script and this novel's cover (which is ADORABLE), I expected the novel to have some measure of the Christmas-y feel that saturates the film. However, I couldn't have been more wrong as any holiday associations are limited to the novel's cover design and Will's status as "Mr. December" in Emma's calendar project.

For me this is a case of the film version of a novel surpassing it's written origins in nearly every respect. Will and Emma have their moments, and goodness knows each of them comes with the requisite amount of baggage found in chick lit of this ilk, but it is hard to remember the charming moments when they are overshadowed by lust and physical attributes. Now, I don't expect to find my personal morality in a secular novel, but when the bulk of a relationship rests on the mutual appreciation of each partner's physical attributes -- and that's IT -- their "romance" can sour. Will is into Emma, fine, but some of the assumptions he makes based on purely physical impulses, and then acts on -- particularly in her WORKPLACE -- are, in my opinion, way out of line.

When Ashley focuses on the emotional aspect of her characters' lives, I began to develop some sympathy for Will and Emma in turn and to think that perhaps this just might work. But the back-and-forth tension that characterized their relationship changed so rapidly, and so often, it was enough to give one whiplash. When Will and Emma finally resolve their differences, there is a welcome sweetness to their relationship -- but the tumult present earlier in the novel was more frustrating than engaging. Ashley does have a knack for peppering her story with colorful, appealing supporting players, but sadly that wasn't enough to make me quit longing for some of the charm and humor of the film to present itself on the page.

As a study in the differences between novel and film mediums Dating Mr. December provides some fodder for thought -- but as the type of engaging, effervescent chick lit that I crave when presented with a candy-colored cover and premise of this type rather than delivering, felt lacking in the extreme. I have another Ashley novel waiting on my Kindle -- perhaps I'll have more success with a story that doesn't already hold a place in my heart as a much-liked film.

About the book:

She doesn't need rescuing, she only needs a change of scenery...

After a disastrous discovery loses Emma Tremayne both her boyfriend and her high-profile PR job in London, she moves to the Lake District to recover her confidence and live a simpler life. She loves her new job with the tourist board, and she's settling into small town life just fine-until she ends up responsible for a fundraising effort that calls for twelve naked mountain rescuers...

Review: Tip of the Tongue by Patrick Ness

Tip of the Tongue (Doctor Who 50th Anniversary #5)
By: Patrick Ness
Publisher: Puffin


The fifth entry in Puffin's short story series celebrating eleven incarnations of the Doctor is perhaps my favorite yet in the series -- although the Doctor himself receives extraordinarily little page time. This story features the fifth Doctor as portrayed by Peter Davison. Following the popular reign of the colorful Fourth as played by Tom Baker, the Fifth Doctor has always struck me as rather boyish and quiet (the proper Edwardian cricket costume, celery accent and all helps)  by comparison (though I should note that I have limited experience with his on-screen adventures).

Ness sets his tale in 1945 Maine, where Jonny and Nettie, although only children struggle with the stigma of being two of the town's most notable outcasts -- Jonny as the son of a Jewish mother with a German last name, and Nettie, the product of the town's only mixed-race -- and therefore scandalous -- marriage. Jonny wants nothing more than to fit in and get the girl of his dreams, the spoiled Marisa, to notice him. Desperate to do so, he uses a few of his precious dollars to purchase one of the popular Truth Tellers, a small device that slips under the tongue and over the chin, and when worn speaks the absolute truth -- whether or not the object of the wearer's attention wants to hear it.

As is the norm with a Doctor Who tale, the Truth Tellers are far from the simple "toys" the townspeople think, and the Doctor and his current companion -- Nyssa, an alien aristocrat from the planet Traken, arrive to uncover the truth. While the story doesn't really paint a particularly colorful picture of the Fifth Doctor -- unless matter-of-fact observations and investigations were the norm? -- thematically I think this is one of the best and most ambitious Who-related stories I've read to date.

Tip of the Tongue touches on issues of racial and religious bigotry, elitism, and the desire to belong, all within a briskly paced short story that clocks in at just under forty pages. The character development of Jonny and Nettie is well-handled given the length restrictions of the short story format, and Ness colors their world with an excellent feel for the time period's mores and social viewpoints. A thoroughly entertaining, fast-paced entry in Puffin's 50th Anniversary Who celebrations, Ness has delivered a winner -- original, unique, and thought-provoking, akin to the Doctor's best adventures.

About the book:

In 1945, a strange new craze for Truth Tellers is sweeping the kids of small-town America. The Fifth Doctor and Nyssa soon arrive to investigate the phenomenon, only to discover that the actual truth behind the Truth Tellers is far more sinister than anyone could have imagined...

Author Patrick Ness puts his own unique spin on the Doctor, his terrifying alien enemies and time-travelling adventures.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Review: Mr. Darcy's Christmas by Elizabeth Aston

Mr. Darcy's Christmas
By: Elizabeth Aston
Publisher: The Story Vault


Earlier this month, in seeking to keep with the Christmas season I combed through my Kindle collections for Christmas-themed tales. In doing so I rediscovered this Pride and Prejudice-inspired story by prolific Austenite Elizabeth Aston. Aston's novels and stories expanding on the world and characters first introduced in Austen's classic have been on my radar for years, but till now I've never taken the opportunity to explore her fiction. I love the that instead of opting to retell Elizabeth and Darcy's story from one or both points-of-view, Aston instead fleshes out their post-marriage lives and world.

Mr. Darcy's Christmas occurs several years after Elizabeth and Darcy's wedding. England is again at war with France, and Darcy (unsurprisingly for a man of his influence and temperament!) finds himself increasingly called away from Pemberly to serve his country at the highest levels of government. But nothing will keep him away from home this Christmas, particularly with the pending announcement of his beloved sister Georgina's engagement.

One of the most eligible heiresses of the ton, Georgina met and captivated the handsome, wealthy Mr. Moresby right out from under Caroline Bingley's nose (much to the latter's chagrin). Moresby is highly respectable, a pillar of dependability and moral virtue -- all traits the once vivacious Georgina has found highly desirable since her near-disastrous youthful indiscretion with Wickham. When Colonel Hawkins, one of her brother's oldest friends, arrives for the festivities, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to the handsome and oh-so-considerate old family friend -- and questioning her choice of husband. As Caroline makes a bitter play to drive a wedge between Moresby and Georgina, the young Miss Darcy is faced with a choice -- let fear of the past shackle her to a loveless marriage, or lay her past to rest once and for all, and seize the chance to write a love story to rival her beloved brother's.

Within the pages of this slim novella Aston delivers a thoroughly entertaining glimpse into her expanded Austenesque universe. Laced with period flavor and Christmas charm, what makes this story shine is its simple, plausible insight into Georgina's character. Her desire to forswear any many reminiscent of Wickham, and thereby remind her of her greatest shame -- to avoid and no longer trust her feelings and judgment is a refreshingly solid basis for this charming character sketch. As supporting players Darcy and Elizabeth are now more mature but no less in love -- and the glimpses Aston provides of their marital relationship feels very true to canon. This novella is a delightfully Christmas-flavored treat, replete with Yule logs and all the trimmings of a Regency-era celebration. Mix with the threat of scandal, the promise of romance, and gentlemen in cravats and the result is a frothy confection of a story, a worthy way in which to while away a few winter hours.

About the book:

A joyful Christmas at Pemberley with Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth - until Caroline Bingley threatens Georgiana Darcy’s future happiness.

Set in the wonderful world of Jane Austen, this sparkling and witty romantic comedy takes us to Pemberley for an enchanted Christmas, where Mr. Darcy and his family enjoy the delights of the season, culminating in a ball to celebrate his sister’s engagement. But a serpent lurks amid the greenery and Yule candles, as spiteful Caroline Bingley sets out to ruin her dear friend, Georgiana.

Haunted by her near-elopement with Mr. Wickham, Georgiana, Mr. Darcy’s sister, plays safe when she accepts Francis Horsley’s proposal of marriage. As the Darcy family gather at Pemberley to celebrate Christmas, Caroline Bingley, in a fit of envy, spreads dark rumours about her friend. With the help of aloof and amused Sir Giles Hawkins, Georgiana finally finds her true Darcy spirit and fights to regain her reputation – and in doing so, finds true love.

Review: Home for Christmas by Annie Groves

Home for Christmas (Article Row #2)
By: Annie Groves
Publisher: Harper
ASIN: B005IH023K


Annie Groves's saga following four women on the London homefront during the early days of World War II continues in Home for Christmas. Picking up just a few short weeks after the conclusion of London Belles, which saw Olive, her daughter Tilly, and their lodgers Sally, Agnes, and Dulcie survive the first wave of Hitler's blitz on London, these five very different women find themselves newly bonded in a sisterhood forged by the hardships of war. Sally continues to bury herself in her work as a nurse at St. Bart's -- immersed in the horrific impact of the Blitz first-hand, she remains haunted by her mother's death and father's hasty remarriage. Agnes is thrilled to be "as good as" engaged to her boyfriend Ted -- the only blight on her joy the shadow of her past as an orphan and the obvious disdain in which Ted's mother views her son's relationship. The vivacious Dulcie finds security in her new-found friendship with her fellow Article Row residents, but struggles with her mother's rejection and chafes against wartime restrictions. Tilly, determined to forget Dulcie's handsome brother, blossoms in her work for the ambulance service, and catches the eye of a handsome American reporter newly-arrived to bring stories of the Blitz home to audiences across the sea. And Olive worries for all of "her girls," but particularly Tilly, as she fears the desire to seize a scrap of happiness in these uncertain times will lead one or more of the girls to irrevocable heartache, little realizing that it is perhaps her own heart in need of guarding most of all. 

Whereas London Belles, the first installment in Groves's Article Row series, was tasked with introducing five heroines from wildly varied walks of life, in its sequel roles and personalities are established, allowing Groves to shift her focus to the impact of the war on the homefront society as a whole as seen through the experiences of her heroines. While I enjoyed the nostalgic, sentimental feel of London Belles, that novel as an introduction to Groves's writing is not without its problems -- among them the aforementioned sentimentality and the arguably often glacially-paced plotting -- I genuinely felt invested in the characters' lives and experiences. I love the fact that Groves opts to explore in great depth the lives of women on the homefront, and how the war not only gave them increasingly wide opportunities in the professional realm but she invests great time and detail and explicating the war's emotional and practical effects.

Happily Groves's second outing to Article Row goes a long way toward ameliorating -- if not eliminating -- many of the issues that plagued the first book in the series. With London deep in the throes of the Blitz, Groves's character development is given the chance to shine, as -- having established the players -- she is now free to delve more deeply into the impact the war and its attendant fears and privations have on their lives. One of my favorite storylines is Tilly's sweetly developing romance with Drew, the American reporter. He is SUCH a gentleman and I loved how he gently persisted, determined to win her friendship first, and then her heart. Groves continues to develop Agnes's romance with Ted, and my heart just broke when she first met Ted's battleaxe of a mother, and celebrated when she finally received her longed-for ring. And though it may be the stuff of pure soap opera, I'm anxious to see how the ever-proper Olive's feelings for her very married policeman neighbor develop, as even in wartime such a whisper of scandal could ruin a single -- albeit a widowed -- woman's reputation.

Groves touches on the issue of changing moral views in almost every woman's life, but the focus on such comes in to sharp relief as concerns Sally and her struggles to reconcile her past with the possibility of a future with her doctor boyfriend George. As the war and the Blitz progresses, and casualties on the homefront and abroad mount, society -- particularly young women -- were faced with a choice: cling to a pre-war moral mentality, or bend and embrace a more carpe diem approach to the increasing uncertainties of life. Sally in particular is susceptible to this effect of war, as she is plagued by lost romantic opportunities in her past and faced with death on a daily basis in her role as a nurse (brought into stark relief in the aftermath of a harrowing train derailment). But bending moral views as regards intimacy between men and women is not without consequence, and here Groves hints at drastic changes -- and consequences -- to come, as women both young and old, as embodied by the likes of Sally and Olive, struggle to reconcile societal expectations with the pressing desires of the heart.

Home for Christmas is a wonderful, nostalgic glimpse into a world at war, improving in nearly every respect on its predecessor. While not without its faults (the flashback to Sally's earlier heartbreak feels shoe-horned in and overly long), its occasional "clunkiness" is forgivable in light of its improved  pacing, plotting, and character development. Groves is at her best when exploring the emotional, human toll of the war, and while her characters are simply drawn they are heartfelt and genuine. I like these women, I want them to triumph, but above that my vintage-loving heart appreciates Groves's writing as more than just a love letter to the time, but a tribute to the ordinary men and women who, in the face of the unimaginable horror of the Blitz, found in themselves the ability to become extraordinary survivors.

About the book:

Home for Christmas is a tale of four very different young women thrown together by war. Finding freedom and independence – as well as love, passion and heartbreak – for the very first time, a unique bond is formed as the hostilities take their toll on Britain.

It's September 1940 and the German blitz on London has just begun. The four young girls who live at No. 13 Article Row live under its constant threat. But life must go on…

Tilly and Sally both work at Barts Hospital where they witness the cruelty of war first-hand.

Agnes volunteers to work extra hours at her underground station to help with the nightly influx of people seeking safety from the bombs.

Dulcie, with her broken ankle, tries to make peace with her mother, following the news of the death of her sister Enid. But her grief-stricken mother doesn't want to know.

Sally returns to her painful past in Liverpool. But it's not seeing the man she once loved, nor her father and ex-best friend's child that hurt most…

As Christmas approaches, the arrival of the handsome young American Drew, ignites new life in the heart Tilly thought was broken.

As the bombs continue to rain down on a frosty London, perilous challenges lay around every corner. And all anyone wants this year is to be home for Christmas.

Sherlock S3 Prequel!

So THIS little bit of awesome dropped on Christmas Eve. :) :)

How To Train Your Dragon 2 trailer

I meant to post this trailer before Christmas, but time just got away from me (I hope everyone had a fabulous holiday!). It's no stretch to say this is easily one of my most anticipated films of 2014. :)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Review: A Study in Darkness by Emma Jane Holloway

A Study in Darkness (The Baskerville Affair #2)
By: Emma Jane Holloway
Publisher: Del Rey


Following her role in uncovering the forgery scandal that implicated the patriarch of the Roth family, under advice from the steam baron Jasper Keating, Evelina Cooper shuns the continuation of her longed-for Season and retires to the country and the (maddening) ministrations of her Grandmother Holmes. As the months pass and rumors dissipate, she returns to London, determined to make an attempt to reclaim something of the life and future her previous investigations imperiled. But when she arrives at the home of her Uncle Sherlock, she barely foils an ill-timed assassination attempt. Recognizing her one-time love Tobias Roth's -- now in the employ of Keating -- fingerprints on the trigger device, Evelina reluctantly acquiesces to her uncle's request to rejoin the Roth household, allowing her to re-establish her friendship with Imogen Roth all while seeking to ascertain the Gold King's plans for Holmes, the Roth family, and the country at large.

But returning to the Roth fold is more difficult than Evelina anticipated, and in a moment of weakness a careless blunder with Tobias places both Evelina's future -- and more worryingly, the fate of her beloved Uncle Sherlock -- in Keating's power. Desperate to redeem her mistake and protect Sherlock from the fallout of her foolish mistake, Evelina agrees to become the Gold King's eyes and ears in his attempt to implement a coup against the Blue King, the steam baron residing over London's poverty-ridden East End. Forced to return to the hardscrabble living she thought she'd left behind forever, Evelina loses herself in the East End in search of the Blue King's maker, the genius responsible for the machines and weapons that could turn the tide of a steam baron war. But a killer stalks the streets, and when an old adversary resurfaces with a tantalizing proposition, Evelina faces a difficult choice -- the life she's always wanted may just be the one she thought she'd left behind forever, and the cost of embracing her magical side may cost her more than she'd ever dreamed.

While I enjoyed Holloway's debut, A Study in Silks, despite its meandering plotlines and padded prose, its sequel is SO MUCH BETTER. I've never read a sophomore release that so improved on an author's debut strengths that it felt almost as if it had been written by another writer entirely. There were moments were I was tempted to wonder if pressing through to finish the first volume of Evelina's adventures was worth it -- and I'm happy to say that thanks to this installment my perseverance has been amply rewarded. Everything about this novel improves on its predecessor -- with tighter plotting, stronger characterizations, and oft-times chilling stakes, A Study in Darkness is a wildly entertaining steampunk adventure ride from start to finish.

Holloway took the risky move at the conclusion of Silks by taking both of Evelina's potential love interests and by their actions in the concluding chapters seemingly writing each off as a possible potential partner. She plays with the fallout brilliantly here -- for not only must Evelina come to terms with the apparent loss of two men, each holding a piece of her heart and representing very different -- yet equally alluring -- futures, but must face her own culpability, her own role in leading each possible romantic interest to the brink of destruction. Safely ensconced in the world of "respectable" society, her future seemingly assured by a social debut sanctioned by no less a personage of note than the Queen herself, in the aftermath of her adventures here is a humbled Evelina -- this is a woman undone. Her journey throughout this installment forces Evelina to confront her darkest dreams and most dangerous impulses, and when faced with the temptation of such power, she's left with a choice: embrace the darkness, or learn the grace to forgive both herself and others, respond to weakness in those she loves with mercy, and craft a future for herself that weaves the best elements of her less-than-savory past with the bright hope of her future.

World-building was one of Holloway's greatest strengths in her debut. Here she takes Evelina's world to dizzying new imaginative heights. I LOVED the glimpse into Nick's world as the fearsome captain of an airship without equal, powered by no less than an air deva of unimaginable power. The elements devas have more personality here, threatening to steal every scene in which they appear. And the glimpse of Evelina's magical capabilities, honed to previously unimaginable heights under Magnus's dark tutelage, provides a fascinating, fantastical counterpoint to the mechanical side of this steampunk version of Victorian England.

While Holloway builds suspense surrounding Evelina's illicit training with Magnus, she dives into the dangerous real-life history of late nineteenth-century Whitechapel by exploring the dangerous mystique of the Jack the Ripper slayings. I LOVED Holloway's steampunk spin on the Ripper killings -- just when I thought she was taking a straight historical approach, incorporating that unsavory, dangerous chapter of the East End's history in order to heighten the sense of danger surrounding Evelina's presence there, she pivots -- and the Ripper becomes a threat the like of which I'd never imagined. I was alternately enthralled as the mechanics of Holloway's plotting played out and genuinely, deliciously creeped out -- the Ripper was a twist I wasn't expecting, and the manner in which Holloway weaves the killer's actions and identity into both novels is just genius. Well played, Holloway, well played.

A Study in Darkness proves that Holloway is a force to be reckoned with in the world of steampunk fiction. She takes genuine, heart-breaking risks with characters I thought I knew, and with the reveal of the Ripper's identity proves that she's more than capable of weaving a heady web of red herrings and false clues that readers will love to lose themselves in. For those coming to the series thanks to the Holmes connection, Holloway's characterization feels pitch-perfect, and Evelina is proving to be a worthy heir to the Holmes name -- though more emotionally volatile than her famously logical uncle. While I enjoyed Holloway's debut I adored her sophomore effort, and with the heartbreaking conclusion of A Study in Darkness, I cannot wait to see how the long-simmering Baskerville Affair -- and Evelina's future -- plays out in the final installment, releasing at the end of December!

About the book:

When a bomb goes off at 221B Baker Street, Evelina Cooper is thrown into her uncle Sherlock’s world of mystery and murder. But just when she thought it was safe to return to the ballroom, old, new, and even dead enemies are clamoring for a place on her dance card.

Before Evelina’s even unpacked her gowns for a country house party, an indiscretion puts her in the power of the ruthless Gold King, who recruits her as his spy. He knows her disreputable past and exiles her to the rank alleyways of Whitechapel with orders to unmask his foe.

As danger mounts, Evelina struggles between hiding her illegal magic and succumbing to the darker aspects of her power. One path keeps her secure; the other keeps her alive. For rebellion is brewing, a sorcerer wants her soul, and no one can protect her in the hunting grounds of Jack the Ripper.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


As I said when I posted this on Facebook, if Moffat actually MADE a mini-episode like this, the internet would actually break. FOREVER BREAK.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Time of the Doctor trailer

And cue the pre-Christmas special tears...I'm SO excited to see Capaldi take over the role, but Matt Smith...he's been better than I ever dreamed! Eleven, you will be very much missed.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Review: The Roots of Evil by Philip Reeve

The Roots of Evil (Doctor Who 50th Anniversary #4)
By: Philip Reeve
Publisher: Puffin


The fourth entry in Puffin's yearlong celebration of Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary features arguably one of the most iconic Doctors -- the fourth Doctor, the whimsical one with the the wildly rumpled hair and colorful scarf as played by Tom Baker. I knew the Doctor was the Doctor thanks to that iconic scarf long before I ever fell in love with the show myself, and so it was with great curiosity that I approached Reeve's tribute to the fourth incarnation in The Roots of Evil.

Here the Doctor's companion is Leela, played by Louise Jameson during her run on the show. Leela has the distinction of being one of the Doctor's less conventional companions -- a savage warrior, descended from the survivors of an exploratory Earth ship that crashed on an unidentified planet at some unspecified point in the future. Reeve characterizes her as something of an alien primitive, less tech-savvy and "refined" than some of the Doctor's other companions, but extremely bright and self-reliant. The "natural" setting, involving a space station in the form of a sentient tree, is a serviceable showcase for Leela's survival instincts.

I'm unfamiliar with Reeve's other work, so I have nothing with which to compare this slim work, but as a Doctor Who story this was a fun entry in the fiftieth celebrations. I loved the more "natural" setting and the clever manner in which Reeve worked in the unseen -- but very much felt -- presence of Eleven's past actions impacting the future of one of his past incarnations. However, unlike other short stories in this series, I failed to get a clear sense of this particular Doctor's persona and mannerisms. There is the odd reference to the Fourth's scarf, but with my admittedly limited knowledge of his mannerisms, the characterization of the Doctor fell flat.

The Roots of Evil is a worthwhile entry in the short story series if for no other reason than Reeve's clever introduction of a possible paradox between the Doctor's fourth and eleventh incarnations. As a substantive introduction to Baker's Doctor, this story felt lacking -- particularly when compared to its predecessors in the series -- but in sum is still an entertaining, quick read with which to mark my favorite Doctor's fiftieth. :)

About the book:

When the Fourth Doctor takes Leela to visit an immense tree space station known as the Heligan Structure, little do they know that the tree has been asleep for centuries, dreaming of vengeance against a man in a blue box ... As the tree awakes, the Time Lord and his companion soon discover why they are such unwelcome guests.

Author Philip Reeve puts his own unique spin on the Doctor, his terrifying alien enemies and time-travelling adventures.

Review: London Belles by Annie Groves

London Belles (Article Row #1)
By: Annie Groves
Publisher: Harper


With England on the cusp of a second war with Germany, Olive determines to take assure the future both herself and her daughter, Tilly, by opening her Article Row home to lodgers. Left widowed thanks to injuries her husband suffered in the Great War, and short on income with the recent passing of her father-in-law, to the chagrin of some her neighbors Olive advertises for respectable working girls in search of clean, reasonably priced room and board. The all-too-eager to grow up Tilly, working in the financial office of St. Bart's, London's oldest hospital, discovers their first lodger in the form of Sally, a nurse from Liverpool who fled to London to escape the pain of loss and betrayal, determined to hide from her past. Their second lodger, Agnes, receives a recommendation from the minister's wife -- raised in an orphanage, Agnes stayed with the only home she'd ever known until it was forced to relocate to the country, pending Hitler's potential attacks on London. Olive's carefully laid plans for respectable lodgers seems set until wires are crossed and a room is promised to the bold and brassy Dulcie, a clerk at Selfridges, seeking to escape her East End upbringing and determined to ruffle Olive's maternal reservations at every opportunity. The group's disparate personalities, secrets, and dreams threaten to bring more drama and heartache to her home than Olive bargained for -- but as the country edges closer to the brink of war, the women of No. 13 Article Row slowly find themselves united in an unexpectedly rewarding sisterhood that may just be the key to surviving the coming storm.

World War II-era history is a period that holds endless fascination for me, and as such I am always on the lookout for new fiction that promises to shed fresh light on those pivotal years of the twentieth century. After Annie Groves's novels appeared in my Amazon recommendations several times, I finally decided to explore her wartime-era fiction (and I'm not gonna lie, I loved the candy-colored covers!). Groves is one of the pen names of prolific British novelist Penny Jordan, who appears to have produced fiction at a rate -- and with a resulting popularity -- to warrant being likened to perhaps Danielle Steel or Mary Higgins Clark (please be kind, those are my best guesses!). :)

While wartime history in general is always of interest to me, I find women's history in particular during this time period fascinating as opportunities for women to develop careers and lives outside the traditional realms of home and family flourished. With men volunteering -- or being conscripted -- in droves, opportunities for women in those jobs traditional held by men (i.e., factories, etc.) exploded. Where fiction of this ilk might typically choose to focus on a "Rosie the Riveter" type heroine, here Groves sheds welcome light on the lives of women on the homefront, seeking to survive and thrive under wartime rationing, bombing raids, and the restrictions that come with making one's home on an island under veritable siege from Hitler's blitzkrieg. Groves's wartime fiction is ostensibly in part based on family history and reminiscences, occasionally lending London Belles the flavor of a memoir. The characters inhabiting Olive's Article Row home come to life on the page with the gentle feel of the romanticized time period -- one is given the sense of revisiting history through the sentimental, sepia-toned lens of the British stiff-upper-lip sensibility.

I loved the unlikely group of women with which Groves populates her novel. From the oft-times overly protective, duty-bound Olive to Dulcie, the sultry Selfridges' employee always skirting on the edge of decorum, to Sally, a dedicated nurse whose professionalism in the workplace belies the personal wounds -- and stunted maturity -- haunting her personal life, the women of Article Row must navigate broken hearts and questions of morals while seeking to live in something resembling peaceful accord. Groves's characterizations might like the clarity and spice I generally crave in my fiction, but she her prose with moments of unexpected warmth and depth that make London Belles an enjoyable foray into the realm of popular British fiction.

Clocking in at well over four hundred pages, London Belles is overly long, in desperate need of editing to tighten the plot (if I had a dollar for every time the word "whilst" appeared in this book, I'd be a rich woman), and arguably overly sentimental, but for all that I enjoyed it and look forward to exploring more of Groves's backlist. If this novel is any indication, Groves's World War II fiction is going to prove the historical equivalent of contemporary chick-lit, and as such I am thrilled to have discovered her work. Despite the lack of polish in her characterizations, I genuinely liked Olive, Tilly, Agnes, Sally, and Dulcie, and I look forward to subsequent volumes and the opportunity to see these women grow and navigate the murky waters of rationing, the proliferation of black market goods, and the ever-present threat of bomb raids -- all whilst (I couldn't help it) coping with the changing mores of the time and the tantalizing promise of romance.

About the book:

London Belles is a tale of four very different young women thrown together by war. Finding freedom and independence – as well as love, passion and heartbreak – for the very first time, a unique bond is formed as the hostilities take their toll on Britain.

United by chance, bound together in times of need...

When tragedy strikes, Olive is forced to seek lodgers. Three girls come knocking at her door, each in need of a roof over their heads.

Sally has left Liverpool to work as a nurse in London and when she arrives she is a shell of her former self. Where once stood a vivacious, sociable girl, now stands one plagued by homesickness and a betrayal that is devastatingly fresh in her mind.

Dulcie is living the high life in the West End, a world away from her home in Stepney. Working at Selfridges gives her access to the most fashionable clothes and makeup, but at home she is the black sheep of the family; always second to her sister. So she decides it's time to make a bid for freedom.

Agnes grew up in an orphanage, having been left on the steps as a new-born baby. But with war looming, and the orphanage relocating to the country, she must now seek out a job and lodgings. But with change comes exciting new opportunities, worlds away from the life she's known…

As the women prepare for war, all of their futures hang in the balance. Soon their lives will change irrevocably and the home that binds the London Belles is no longer the sanctuary they once sought.

an actual, proper Sherlock trailer!!


All I've gotta say is, the explanation of how Sherlock survived that fall had better be worth the wait... ;-)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 trailer

I still miss Tobey's Spidey, but I'll be there (especially now that the trailer reminded me this was coming out...HA!!):

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Death Comes to Pemberly

I guess I'm finally going to have to read the book? The production looks worthwhile for the cast alone:

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Where I write about The Band Wagon...

For the November/December issue of Femnista I had the distinct pleasure of writing about one of my favorite films -- the gorgeous, hilarious, whip-smart and intelligent 1953 gem, The Band Wagon, starring two of my all-time favorites, Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. I hope you'll check it out!

Read here//Download here

Call the Midwife Christmas trailer!

While viewers in the US will have to wait until December 29th to see the new Call the Midwife Christmas special on PBS, if this new trailer from the BBC is an indication the wait will be worth it: