Tag: Contemprary Historicals

Guest Review: Lord of Always by Cynthia Wicklund

Posted October 23, 2010 by Book Binge Guest Blogger in Reviews | 0 Comments

How does a good and honorable man atone for misdeeds when he was neither good nor honorable? How does he tell the woman forced to marry him of the supernatural event that transformed his life, that cleansed him of the darkness? Above all, how does he convince his wife that he loves her, that he, too, is worthy of being loved, when all she feels for him is hatred?

Evan Richmond, a spoiled, debauched aristocrat is confronted by an obligation he can’t ignore. He must marry, and Brenna Hilliard is to be his bride. On his wedding night, he committed an unforgiveable deed, stirring the wrath of something beyond this world. In the guise of a raging storm, he is struck unconscious. When he awakes, his life is forever changed, for he no longer carries the soul he was born with. Another has taken its place. Thus Brenna is faced with a choice. Does she reject her husband because of what he has always been–or love the man he is becoming?

This is a complicated story that begins in Ireland where Lady Brenna Hilliard was born, daughter of an English lord and his Irish mistress. Her birth was legitimatized when her father’s wife dies and he married her mother. Now Brenna’s father is dead and her older half-brother, a man who hates her because of her mother and his father’s infidelity, has decreed that the Irish holding will be sold and that she will honor an old agreement to marry Brenna to Evan Richmond, son of an earl and his father’s neighbors in England. In the midst of her mourning and grief, her pain at being wrenched from the only home she has ever known, and facing a loveless marriage, Brenna arrives in England. She is graciously received by her soon-to-be in-laws, and her reception into the home went relatively well–that is, until Evan Richmond and his obsessive, compulsive, possessive, self-centered twin sister Evangeline appear and the situation goes south very quickly. Brenna hopes against hope that she can have some kind of relationship with a man who clearly disdains her from the outset. Yet his betrayal on her wedding night nearly broke her spirit and she must find a way sistain her personal sense of self, her dignity, and to live with a man who would stoop to such depths of wickedness.

But unbeknownst to Brenna and even to his twin sister, an ancient soul that had been condemned to dwell between Heaven and Hell, in retribution for his evil life hundreds of years earlier, has now come to dwell within Evan Richmond and Evan’s soul has departed to be purged and cleansed of its evil. The man who began the evil acts against Brenna on their wedding night was vastly different when he emerged from his coma. He looks like Evan on the outside–walks and talks like him, but has no appetite for the evil deeds and companions that were the substance of his life. He rejects them as well as his sister, and slowly but surely she slides toward insanity. One of the great sadnesses in this novel is the broken hearts of Evan’s parents as they see what their daughter is and what she eventually becomes.

This is a remarkable story that is, on the one hand, a very good historical novel and, on the other hand, a curious journey into the fantastic. Whose soul really resides inside Evan Richmond? And can this new person be a person that Brenna can love and claim as her true spouse? This story is full of surprises, dark and shadowy characters, parents who have to face their own failures and a woman who has to discover her own inner resources in order to manage her life in the coming years. It is also about the reclamation of a soul, albeit an ancient one, that has “learned his lesson” and has returned to a full earthly existence, living now in the life of Evan Richmond.

This novel touches on a question many have asked: Can the human soul really be reclaimed? Ms Wicklund has crafted a story that taps into the concerns all human beings have that the soul lives on and that it perhaps can live a redemptive existence. It is a creative way of using fantasy to create a scenario, a possible way of seeing the radical changes we sometimes witness in people who think and act in destructive ways. The characters in this novel are strong, real, feeling and thinking individuals. There are no lightweights here. The reader can easily empathize with Evan’s parents as they watch his twin slowly abandon her connection with reality. You can also be a part of Evan and Brenna’s story as they try to establish some way of muddling along together. There is hope, betrayal, disappointment, loss, renewal, and light at the end of the tunnel. It is about the stuff of which life consists and in this story I would find it hard to believe that we couldn’t all find ourselves in one way or the other.

Ms Wicklund has written a story that is totally readable, well-written, well-researched, creative, with a plot that is unusual and a story line that moves along well toward its conclusion. The characters fit the story and the dialogue keeps the readers interest while the internal dialogue doesn’t overwhelm the external action of the story. Historical fiction fans and romance fans will find much to hail here. The thread of fantasy that runs throughout adds spice–just enough to take this story out of the ordinary. It is one I have come to like a great deal and it is on my re-read list. I look forward to future work by this very adept author.

I give this story a rating of 4.75 out of 5.

You can read more from Judith at Dr. J’s Book Place.

This book is available from Cerridwen Press. You can buy it here in e-format.

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Review: Undertow by Moira Rogers

Posted October 7, 2010 by Holly in Reviews | 0 Comments

Genres: Anthologies (multiple authors), Paranormal Romance

Holly‘s review of Undertow (Building Sanctuary, Book 2) by Moira Rogers

Victor left behind a life of crime to focus on a new vision–helping his alpha build an island sanctuary for werewolves. Harsh experiences prepared him for the hardships involved, except when it comes to dealing with the young female refugees of the brutal Boston pack–especially Simone, who rouses his inner wolf like no other. A woman he must resist, or risk becoming just the latest man to make demands on her.

Born to wealth and privilege, Simone lost everything when she fell for the seductive whispers of the textile heir who turned her. Once adrift, now she is fired by a new sense of purpose–the chance to broker peace between werewolves and European wizards. Yet even as Europe beckons, her instincts–the same ones that led to trouble before–keep drawing her back to Victor.

During a sailing trip to the mainland for supplies, Victor finds it impossible to hold himself aloof from the warm, engaging Simone. And when a winter storm traps them together during a full moon, she breaks through his walls so easily and completely, the question is no longer how he’ll stay away, but how he’ll let her go.

This book is the second in a series of prequels to Rogers’ Red Rock Pass series. Although I don’t feel it’s necessary to read these books before reading the Red Rock Pass series, I would highly recommend reading A Safe Harbor, the first book in this series, before reading this one. Many of the details of the first novella are vital to the story here. I don’t think you’ll have as great an appreciation for the characters if you skip A Safe Harbor. As it was, I had to set this one aside in favor of a re-read of the first book to catch up.

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about Victor after reading the first book. In it, he was angry, bitter and never minced words. Although I can like that in a man, I wasn’t sure Victor had enough redeeming qualities. I should have know Rogers wouldn’t disappoint me.

Although Victor is gruff and outspoken about the things he dislikes, he’s a very honorable man with strong convictions. His sense of right and wrong is very defined, and he knows his responsibility is to take care of those who are weaker than himself. Since many of the new wolves on the island they’re setting up as a sanctuary were abused in one way or another, his instincts have been battering him like crazy to step up and make them feel better. He’s wanted Simone from the beginning, but he won’t pursue her because he thinks she’s with someone else. He doesn’t want to risk her happiness by forcing his suit if she doesn’t want it.

I liked that he held himself in check because he wanted Simone’s happiness above all other things. I did wish at times he’d say “screw it” and toss her over his shoulder, but that would have gone against everything he believed in and I wouldn’t have loved him as much as I did.

Simone wasn’t an alpha wolf, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t strong. She wanted Victor and she pushed for him to see her as a woman, not as a wounded victim. It wasn’t easy, but she told him how she felt and chided him for hiding his feelings from her. I did find myself becoming impatient with her over her residual guilt for not saving everyone from their original tormentor. Although I understood her feelings, it was hard not to become frustrated when it was obvious there was nothing she could have done. Luckily she had friends who were willing to point this out, so it was a minor thing and not something that took away from my overall enjoyment.

I really liked Simone and Victor together. They had chemistry in spades. It was obvious to everyone – the reader included – that they were meant to be together. It took them a little longer than the rest of us to figure it out, but I enjoyed watching them get there.

There was no outside conflict here. I liked that the demons they had to fight weren’t flesh and blood, but borne of events from their past. I do wish we’d gotten more of Victor’s history. It seemed like there were things he was holding back. I really wanted to see him open up and share his thoughts, feelings and past with Simone.

Overall this is a sweet story of two people coming together to find love, acceptance and understanding. I wish it had been longer so the relationship could have been more fully explored, but enjoyed it for the most part.

4.25 out of 5

The series:
A Safe Harbor: Building Sanctuary, Book 1Undertow: Building Sanctuary, Book 2

Check out my review of A Safe Harbor here.

This book is available from Samhain Publishing. You can buy it here in e-format.

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Guest Review: Sloane Hall by Libby Sternberg

Posted October 1, 2010 by Book Binge Guest Blogger in Reviews | 1 Comment

Judith‘s review of Sloane Hall by Libby Sternberg.

In 1920s Hollywood, young John Doyle learns the craft of cinematography when a stupid mistake costs him his job. On a tip, he heads to Sloane Hall, the estate of a famous silent screen actress, Pauline Sloane, where he lands a position as chauffeur. Sloane Hall first offers him peace as he enjoys the bounty of the luxurious home, then unrest as its beautiful namesake returns and starts preparing for her first talking picture. Despite his best efforts to resist, John falls hopelessly in love with his employer. His future brightens, however, when she appears to return his affection, leading to plans for a secret wedding—until other awful secrets intrude, leading to heartbreak and separation. A story of obsession and forgiveness, Libby Sternberg’s Sloane Hall was inspired by Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

This is a fascinating historical full-length novel that is set in mid-1929 and beyond, during the transition between the silent film era and the “talkies.” The main character, John Doyle, is a young man who has weathered a very difficult childhood, complete with parental abuse from which he extricated himself and his mother by beating his step-father to death and being sent to Canfield, a juvenile detention facility. This story is told in the first person so has biographical flavor. And throughout the narrative, John retreats from the daily grind of his life by reflecting on the experiences he had at Canfield, remembering the abuse he encountered there with the first superintendent, and then his learning and positive support he received from the second man who assumed that post. These reflections not only give him a mental “time away,” but also serve as a way of processing what is happening to him at Sloane Hall.

The other main character in this story is Pauline Sloane, stage name for a lovely but troubled movie star named Eleanor Brickman. She is popular with silent movie fans, attempting to make the transition to sound films, mercurial, beautiful, sassy, sexy, an alcoholic, troubled, and emotionally unstable. Her agent is her half-brother and is very good at what he does, but he also drinks too much and has wrapped Pauline in a web of Hollywood “spin” in order to make himself indispensible. However, Pauline (or Ellie as she asks John to call her) is drawn to John from the very first, giving him wide-eyed looks and fluttering lashes, simpering smiles and swaying hips, so that the poor guy is lost from the first. Slowly but surely they become involved sexually. John, however, can never come to peace with the fact that he is a servant and no matter how much he loves Ellie, he feels used by her. He wants to leave her employ numerous times, but can’t face living without being around her. His experiences with his alcoholic mother give him superior insight into the little lies alcoholics tell themselves and others in order to justify their drinking, and he would often simply refuse to be around her while she was drinking.

Ultimately, their personal relationship comes to a head but rather than moving forward as they both expected, Ellie’s half-brother interferes and the relationship is ruptured, seemingly for good. John leaves, broken-hearted and without a place to go, becomes a train-hopping bum, and after being beaten almost to death, arrives in Montana where he finds his mother’s cousins who take care of him and with whom he lives for nearly a year.

This is truly a Hollywood story–the flim flam of the movie industry, the parties and hard drinking and drug use, the competition between big stars, the “spin” that is woven around their joys and disasters. It is a heart-rending tale of two people who are, as Ellie often commented, ” . . . trying to be good . . .” and who are simply looking to be loved and at peace within themselves. It is a story of loss and gain, betrayal and forgiveness, kindness and cruelty. It embraces the best and the worst of the human spirit, and exposes the reader to authentic friendship, family dynamic–even the worst of families–and the artificiality of tinsle town.

Ms Sternberg has written a beautiful novel in that it is so well crafted, the narrative sufficiently descriptive to be helpful, introspective enough to give insight into John’s insecurities and triumphs, and helpful in understanding how his early experiences influence his decisions and choices. The plot is classic–struggle, achievement, conflict, and resolution. The story line begins in such a way that the reader has a full understanding of John’s roots and early experiences, his initial failures in Hollywood as an apprentice camera-man, his willingness to be a jack-of-all-trades for Ellie and her housekeeper, and his journey back from the lowest point in his life. The characters are enticing–they are each unique and I think are rather iconic as being representative of the kinds of people we all encounter, whether in such a context as Hollywood, or just Main Street, USA.

This is truly a love story, but it is Love, Rocky Road Style. It brings the reader into the bowels of the story and it did not let me go until the very end. My only criticism: I would have loved an Epilogue. But perhaps that is not in keeping with the author’s ending. In any event, it is an entertaining novel and contains much information about the realities of that era. While the author owns up to taking some liberties with the historical reality, I found that this was so limited as to be negligible. I think romance fans, especially those who enjoy the historical setting of the early 20th century, will find much to like in this novel.

I give it a rating of 4.5 out of 5.

This book is available from Five Star. You can buy it here.

You can read more from Judith at Dr. J’s Book Place.

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Guest Review: Tempted By A Warrior by Amanda Scott

Posted July 1, 2010 by Book Binge Guest Blogger in Reviews | 0 Comments

Judith’s review of Tempted By A Warrior by Amanda Scott

Before her marriage, it was whispered that Lady Fiona Jardine was a young woman no man could control. Now the rumors are more threatening. Her cruel and womanizing husband has vanished into the battle-scared Scottish Borderlands without a trace, and everyone thinks Fiona is to blame.

Sir Richard Seyton, Laird of Kirkhill and a powerful knight and baron, is honor bound to be Fiona’s guardian until her husband is found. Kirkhill strives to keep her safe while her enemies plot to prevent her from every being the mistress of the Jardine lands. But can he protect her from the desire that ignites at their slightest touch? For with suspicion mounting and tensions along the borders rising, surrendering to their passion could cost Kirkhill and Fiona their very lives.

Amanda Scott has been called the “Mistress of the Scottish romance” and this third novel in a series does her the credit due to an expert in her field and one who knows her way around a word processor. Set in the conflicted and dangerous 14th century, rife with wars and skirmishes between the clans and the northern English lords, Fiona knows that her life is probably not going to get any easier. Having eloped with Will Jardine as a silly and gullible 15 year old when she fell for his flirting eyes and sexy good looks, she has endured the most difficult two years of her life. Her husband is a cruel, unkind, self-centered, spoiled and thoughtless man, whose irresponsible behavior to Fiona as well as to their servants and tenants is blessed, even encouraged by his dying father. Now Will has disappeared and Fiona is in the last trimester of her first pregnancy. At 17 years of age she has aged, but her spirit is still sassy, rebellious, bitter, and wary after the brutality she has endured and the dicey future she knows may be her destiny.

Richard Seyton has been brought to her home. He is Will’s cousin and a laird in his own right. He has been given the guardianship of all Jardine holdings at the death of Will’s father, made guardian of her baby, especially if it is a boy, and made trustee of Fiona which means that now someone else holds the power of life and death over her. She is bright, mouthy and beautiful, but her youth gets her in trouble on a regular basis. Lord Kirkhill, however, is a man of honor, integrity, and responsible to his promises as he comes to take over the Jardine properties and the lives of all its people. He must solve the mystery of Will’s disappearance, try to make the Jardine holdings prosperous once again in spite of possible war and invasion, and deal with his growing attraction to Fiona.

Like most historicals set in this time period, it is impossible to tell any story without taking into account the messy politics of the times. The clans are always jockeying for power and land, and the Clan Douglas is no different. Add in the aggression of the northern English lords and their greed for land and power, and you have a political kettle of “stew” that is always set at “simmer.” Will’s cruelty has separated Fiona from her family and her support system – even back then abusers were predictable in their systematic dismantling of outside influences. This is not an uncomplicated novel. The plot is well thought out, the characters are well developed, and the reader has an opportunity to come to “know” Fiona and her family, those who care for her and her baby, and those who seem to want to do her harm. The story flows well and is not one of those that seems to have “dead spots” – places where there seems to be so much “fluff” that doesn’t add to the story, that I just zone out and start reading a word here or there and flipping pages. That is not the case here.

If you love the Scottish-based romances and you appreciate Amanda Scott and her great writing, then you will love this book. As a person with a great deal of Celtic ancestry of various kinds, I truly appreciate the passion and color of this mysterious people. Scott has brought it all to life in a marvelous novel.

I give a rating of 4.75 out of 5.

You can read more from Judith at Dr J’s Book Place

This book is available from Forever. You can buy it here or here in e-format.

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Guest Review: Highland Surrender by Dawn Halliday

Posted June 10, 2010 by Book Binge Guest Blogger in Reviews | 1 Comment

Tracy’s review of Highland Surrender by Dawn Halliday

Determined to put his roguish past behind him, the Earl of Camdonn arranges to marry the proper Lady Elizabeth. But when an accident lands the Earl in the expert hands of a beautiful Highland medicine woman, all well-laid plans are thrown to the wind- and, just as in the old days, his passions run high…

Ceana MacNab has terrible luck with men. Resigning herself to the healing arts, she has steeled her heart against love. Then fate sends Cam her way. Even though he’s a well-bred Earl-and Ceana a low-born Highlander-their all-consuming passion may lead the way to lasting bliss.

Cam is on his way home after being in England for 5 months. He’s anxious to be there and introduce his household to his English lady betrothed, Elizabeth. But when they are almost home they are set upon by Highwaymen and Cam is shot. He is rescued by Ceana who is the local healer. Instantly Ceana and Cam have an attraction to each other. They have some pull that seems to cloud everything, including their judgement.

In the attack Elizabeth is taken from the carriage. She is thrown in the bushes and found by Cam’s stable master, Rob. Rob takes Elizabeth back to Camdonn castle but as with Ceana and Cam, Elizabeth and Rob feel a strange pull towards each other.

What happens when both Elizabeth and Cam figure out that they are in love with other people? And what happens when Elizabeth’s evil guardian and uncle finds out about Elizabeth and Rob?

This was the continuation of Cam’s story that began in Highland Obsession. Cam is trying to do what he feels is right and trying to forget what happened with Sorcha (when he kidnapped her from her marriage bed). He is determined to marry Elizabeth – even when he starts having these feelings for Ceana. But when he can’t deny himself any longer and goes after Ceana – she refuses him as there is a curse on her family and she cannot marry for fear that Cam would die. This certainly lends a more paranormal feel to the story, but while it was interesting I didn’t feel it added too much.

Then there’s Rob and Elizabeth. Elizabeth, for fear of retaliation from her evil uncle, is the perfect hostess and lady. She says the right thing and does the right thing but that’s not really who she is. She’s a little bit wild and when she starts having feelings for Rob and he for her she discovers that there’s way more to sex than she ever thought.

I enjoyed this story, I think, more than I did the first book in the series. I found Cam and Ceana, Rob and Elizabeth’s attraction to be very sweet and romantic at first. It was like a star-crossed lovers story and I very much enjoyed it.

Elizabeth’s uncle was just a mean bastard and I understand fully why she feared him but I thought that that part of it was taken just a tad bit too far. The beating of the ladies maid in order to keep Elizabeth in line was quite distasteful to me – but obviously it was to Elizabeth as well.

Overall I enjoyed the romances in this book. I’ll definitely be reading more from Halliday in the future.

This book is available from NAL. You can buy it here or here in e-format.

Rating: 4 out of 5

You can read more from Tracy at Tracy’s Place

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