Tag: Historical

Retro Review: Shadow Music by Julie Garwood

Posted February 22, 2017 by Holly in Discussions, Reviews | 15 Comments

Retro Review: Shadow Music by Julie GarwoodReviewer: Holly
Shadow Music by Julie Garwood
Series: Highlands Lairds #3
Also in this series: Ransom
Published by Ballantine Books
Publication Date: 2008
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Historical, General
Pages: 438
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two-half-stars

Throughout her acclaimed writing career, Julie Garwood has captivated readers with characters who are compelling, daring, and bursting with life. Now one of the most popular novelists of our time proudly returns to her beloved historical romance roots–in a thrilling tale of love, murder, adventure, and mystery set against the haunting landscape of medieval Scotland.
For Princess Gabrielle of St. Biel, Scotland is a land of stunning vistas, wild chieftains, treacherous glens, and steep shadows–skullduggery, betrayal, and now murder. Prized for her exquisite beauty, the daughter of one of England’s most influential barons, Gabrielle is also a perfect bargaining chip for a king who needs peace in the Highlands: King John has arranged Gabrielle’s marriage to a good and gentle laird. But this marriage will never take place.
For Gabrielle, everything changes in one last burst of freedom–when she and her guards come upon a scene of unimaginable cruelty. With one shot from her bow and arrow, Gabrielle takes a life, saves a life, and begins a war.
Within days, the Highlands are aflame with passions as a battle royal flares between enemies old and new. Having come to Scotland to be married, Gabrielle is instead entangled in Highland intrigue. For two sadistic noblemen, underestimating Gabrielle’s bravery and prowess may prove fatal. But thanks to a secret Gabrielle possesses, Colm MacHugh, the most feared man in Scotland, finds a new cause for courage. Under his penetrating gaze, neither Gabrielle’s body nor heart is safe.
A gripping novel that delves into the heart of emotions–unyielding passions of love, hate, revenge, and raw desire–Shadow Music is magnificent gift from Julie Garwood and a crowning achievement in her amazing career.
From the Hardcover edition.

******As part of our 10 year anniversary celebration, we’ll be re-posting old reviews that make us cringe, laugh or sigh all over again.

Man, I love me some early Julie Garwood historicals. She lost me with her romantic suspense. I remember being so excited when she announced she was releasing a new historical. I’m still pretty disappointed it didn’t live up to my expectations. I wonder what would happen if I read it now? I might need to reread it and see if I still feel the same. 

This review was originally published January 8, 2008

This is less a review about this particular book and more my thoughts on the writing of Julie Garwood. Casee reviewed the book here. You can check that out for a plot summary and her thoughts, for they mostly mirrored mine.

Throughout her career, JG has remained a favorite of mine. Well, let me clarify. Prior to Killjoy she was a favorite of mine. Her historicals still call to me on occasion and I find myself picking them up at random, anxious to sink into an old, comfortable story, similar to how I might slip on my favorite sweats after a long day at work, or pop in a favorite DVD if I’ve had a particularly bad day.

But after Killjoy, not only did I think contemps were not her thing, I decided her writing itself deteriorated. The last novel I read by her was Slow Burn. While I enjoyed the basic premise behind it, I was sadly disappointed in the actual writing. Sentences were choppy, paragraphs seemed to bleed together, or go in odd directions that made no sense to me, dialogue was stilted, characters were half formed or one dimensional. I thought the plot was an awesome one, and had it been better fleshed out it had the potential to become her best written novel yet. But instead it fell far short.

After that, I decided not to read another of her contemps. I told myself, and others, that I’d buy her again if she went back to historicals, but otherwise I was done with her. I removed her from my auto-buy list and comforted myself with her old historicals, the ones that got me hooked on romance to begin with.

Then the announcement came. That yes, Julie Garwood, historical legend, would be returning to her roots. Love her older historicals or hate them, you can’t deny she’s a basic staple in romance. I was happy to hear she’d be returning, but somewhat apprehensive. Because although the moment I’d been waiting for had finally come, I was concerned about her actual writing style. The way she wove a story back when was unconventional perhaps, but still engaging. I didn’t think she’d be able to return to that, not after seeing evidence of her decline in her more recent novels.

I’m sad to say I was correct. She may have done quite a bit of head-hopping in her previous novels, but the focus remained on the two main protagonists. In this novel, however, she chose to write in a more narrative style than from one POV or another. So I was constantly pulled out of the story by her glossing over things, or seeming to sum things up. Very frustrating.

I’m also extremely unclear about how they H/H came to fall in love. There was hardly any interaction between the two, and what there was was disjointed and…once again, glossed over. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to her writing. A chapter would start out from one POV or another, and then half-way through she’d jump into a narrative style, summing things up rather than allowing us as readers to follow the progress.

I suppose it would be like me starting a story, in which I use rich, colorful detail and much humor only to say, once you’re engaged and intrigued, “Blah blah, yada, yada, you get what I mean” and then just leave it at that. Frustrating, no?

There were some good parts. When the POV was written from either the hero or heroine, I was drawn into the story. Unfortunately, those parts were few and far between, and when they did happen, they didn’t last long. The basic premise was also a good one, and classic Garwood. Sadly, the point of the plot was lost somewhere in the muddle of switching from one writing style to another, the jumping between characters and places (i.e., from the Barons in England to the clans in the Highlands to the heroine to the hero to the guards of the heroine to her father back to the barons to the king of England, etc, etc) and the mass amount of inconsistencies presented.

A lot of the reviews I’ve read for this book said the Priests provided a lot of comic relief, but I didn’t really see that. Sure, there were some amusing parts, but I think I assumed they played a bigger part in the overall story (with actual read time, I mean) and that just didn’t seem to be the case.

I’m sure I’ll end up buying her next book (assuming she continues to write historicals), just to see if she somehow improves…hmm, or perhaps that’s not the right word. Regresses into her old writing habits? Goes back to being the Garwood I knew and loved? I’m not sure. I have a feeling I’m going to be sorely disappointed when (if) that time comes, however.

On a related note: Ange, The Romance Groupie, posted about this book on Saturday. I mentioned my disappointment in the overall writing in the comments, and she responded with this:

Actually, I’ve noticed that many of the popular authors appear to be going down in the quality department. I’m wondering if it’s the editors, publishers, etc. that are ruining it. It just seems strange that so many great authors have gone bad in the last year or so. Is it just me? Are you seeing this trend too?

I thought about it some, and yes, I have to agree. Some of my favorite authors have seriously declined in the last few years. Could it be because of the publishers or editors? Or is it just simply something with them personally?

Regardless, I’m disappointed.

Even though I said this was less a review and more my thoughts on JG’s writing as a whole, I’ll still rate the book:

2.5 out of 5

You can buy it here in hardback or in eBook format here. When I bought it from Books on Board, they were offering a $5 cash-back incentive, bringing the total book price down to $9.95. I’m not sure if they’re still offering the promotion, but you could email them to see.

two-half-stars

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Guest Review: Only a Duke Will Do by Tamara Gill

Posted February 17, 2017 by Tracy in Reviews | 1 Comment

Guest Review: Only a Duke Will Do by Tamara GillReviewer: Tracy
Only a Duke Will Do by Tamara Gill
Series: To Marry a Rogue #2
Published by Entangled: Select Historical
Publication Date: February 20th 2017
Genres: Historical, Romance
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four-stars

Without a Season, Lady Isolde Worthingham captured the Duke of Moore’s heart at a country dance. But on the eve of her wedding, a scandal that rocked the ton and sent her fleeing to Scotland alone and unwed, leaves her perfectly planned future in a tangle of disgrace and heartbreak.

Merrick Mountshaw, the Duke of Moore, loathes the pitiful existence he portrays to the ton. With a scandalous wife he never wanted, who flaunts her many indiscretions, life is a never-ending parade of hell. When the one woman he loved and lost returns to London, he knows he can no longer live without her.

But vows and past hurts are not easily forgotten. Love may not win against the ton when a too proper lord and lady play by the rules.

Isolde and Merrick are so excited to get married.  He saw her on the dance floor at a country dance a year ago and knew that she was the one for him.  He wants nothing more than to get married to Isolde and start their life together.  Unfortunately Isolde’s friend is a jealous bitch and finds a way to drug Merrick and make sure that Isolde finds her in his bed.  The little bitch then goes on to force Isolde and her family to watcher her marry Merrick the next day while Isolde’s heart breaking.

Five years have passed and Isolde, who has been living in Scotland at a family property, decides that it’s time to face life again.  She knows that she may run into Merrick and her bitch of a friend who’s now his wife, but she decides that she wants to get married and have a family.  She knows that she can never love a man like she loves (yes, she still loves him) Merrick but she can be comfortable with a man and will be happy to have children.

Isolde doesn’t plan on having such strong feelings about seeing Merrick again but she’s determined to ignore her feelings and move on.  Many men are interested in Isolde, including Merrick’s best friend.  Merrick and Isolde obviously still love each other very much and both were betrayed horribly but as much as they love each other how can they ever be together when he’s still married to the evil bitch duchess.

This was a great story of love and betrayal.  The sadness and angst was heart-wrenching and I totally understood the pain that both Isolde and Merrick felt.  We only got to see Isolde and Merrick as a couple for a very short time at the beginning of the book before it all went to shit but in that short amount of time the author did a great job of showing us how much the couple loved each other. It was so sad to see them separated.

Merrick was a great character.  I really liked him.  He had been wronged so badly but despite that he was a great father to his son.  His wife was, of course, an evil witch but he couldn’t leave her because she threatened to spread rumors about their son.  He wouldn’t allow that to happen so he stayed miserable.  I had to give him props for his love for his child and putting him first.  He was a strong man and I really liked him.

Isolde was pretty damned strong as well.  To have to live with the betrayal of her best friend and then the man she loved.  Not fun.  Despite it all she wasn’t too, too bitter and I liked her a lot as well.

Overall the book was really good and one I recommend.  If you don’t like highly angsty books then you might not like this one but if you do then this will be right up your alley.

Rating: 4 out of 5

four-stars

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Guest Review: The Duke by Kerrigan Byrne

Posted February 9, 2017 by Tracy in Reviews | 1 Comment

Guest Review: The Duke by Kerrigan ByrneReviewer: Tracy
The Duke by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: Victorian Rebels series #4
Also in this series: The Highlander
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks
Publication Date: February 7th 2017
Genres: Historical, Romance
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three-half-stars

He is noble, notorious, and takes no prisoners...

They say that now His Grace, Collin Talmage, Duke of Trenwyth has only one hand, he might finally be a mere mortal, but no one seems willing to test the theory. Rich as Midas, big as a Viking, beautiful as Adonis, and lethal as a feral wolf, he is the English Empire’s golden son. But now he’s lost everything. Most of his family died in a terrible accident, his protégé and closest friend betrayed him on the battlefield, and his left hand was cut off while he was a prisoner of war. The only thing that’s kept him going until now is the memory of a night spent in the arms of a mysterious raven-haired woman almost a year ago…

Imogen Pritchard is a nurse by day, but a fallen woman by night. Seduced on the job years ago by a Duke who mourned for the loss of his family, Imogen has never shaken the memory of the man’s despair—or the fathomless depths of pleasure he brought to her. But as the threat of betrayals, blackmail, and secrets abound, Imogen and Collin are thrown back together in a dizzying swirl of dangerous games and earth-shattering desire. But can their love overcome the everything that threatens to tear them apart?

Imogen is a nurse who works at a hospital by day and then by night works as a serving girl at the Bare Kitten trying to pay off the debts that her father left when he died.  She’s just a serving girl and worked out with the owner that she would never be required to prostitute herself out as he had plenty of girls for that.

On a night that Imogen in working she services a group of soldiers.  When one gets a bit rowdy she’s saved by the new Duke of Trenwyth.  After a long night of him drinking and her sitting on his lap he pays the proprietor 10 pounds to spend the night with “Ginny” as she’s known there.  As it will wipe out about a 1/3 of her debt she agrees. She’s intrigued by and attracted to the new duke whose family had just died in a train crash.  She wants to comfort him and they share a beautiful night together.

One year later Imogen is working when she’s told that the missing Duke of Trenwyth is in the hospital with typhus.  Since she had it at one point she was immune so was assigned to him.  She takes care of him and soon figures out that he doesn’t have typhus and correctly diagnoses him.  When he awakens, however he doesn’t recognize her as she had worn a black wig when she was Ginny but really has blonde hair.  After a series of events where Imogen is let go from the hospital and then attacked the same night she is desperate and almost ends up a thief but for a kind patient who offers his help.

Fast forward to two years later and Cole, the Duke of Trenwyth has recovered and is still looking for Ginny.  He can’t forget her but can’t find her anywhere. On top of his frustrations is the woman next door who seems to be opening her home to criminals and prostitutes that she is attempting to reform but according to him it’s bringing down the whole neighborhood. He also believes that since she is young and her deceased husband was quite old that she took advantage of him.  Despite his annoyance with Lady Anstruther, his neighbor, he finds himself attracted to her and unable to do anything about it.

I’ve really liked the Kerrigan Byrne books I’ve read so far.  They seem to have interesting premise’s and intriguing characters – The Duke was one that had both.  First Imogen’s circumstances when the book first opens.  Not so unusual to see a woman working off her father’s debts but I liked how the author kept her relatively innocent until the duke came along.  Imogen ended up being an incredibly strong character who could give as well as she got – especially with Cole – and I admired her and the work she was doing to help the less fortunate.  She knew what it was like to be in a desperate place and she wanted to help those that found themselves in like circumstances.

Cole was a hard man to like.  He had serious anger issues after his capture and captivity and they manifested in strange ways at strange times.  I liked his possessiveness of Imogen but not so much his condescension toward her.  Imogen never let him get away with it and that I was happy about.  He was so set on finding Ginny that he couldn’t see what was right in front of his face.  Because he had changed so much Imogen didn’t feel that he was the same person he was before so kept her identity to herself.  It was a good push and pull romance, that’s for sure.

Now, that being said I did think that the book, at times, tilted toward the side of melodramatic and that was something I didn’t care for at all.  There was a lot going on in the book and there was a lot of introspection as well.  With all of that the drama got to be too much at times and I admit I found myself rolling my eyes a bit.

Overall it was a good read, and a good romance that I just had a few issues with.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

three-half-stars

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Review: Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James

Posted February 8, 2017 by Rowena in Reviews | 2 Comments

Review: Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa JamesReviewer: Rowena
Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James
Series: Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers #3
Published by Harper Collins, Avon
Publication Date: January 31st 2017
Genres: Historical, Romance
Pages: 384
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four-stars

All of Eugenia Snowe’s problems start when Edward Reeve, an arrogant bastard son of an earl, bursts into her registry office. He wants a governess and he wants her. She gives him the governess he demands, but she refuses to give herself.

No question that Eugenia enjoys crossing wits with the brilliant inventor, but she will never tarnish her reputation with an affaire, particularly with a man who doesn’t realize she’s a lady!

She holds her ground…until he kidnaps her.

Ward will stop at nothing to convince Eugenia that they’re meant to be together. He promises her heaven.

She gives him seven minutes.

Seven Minutes in Heaven is the third book in the Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers series by Eloisa James and it was a romance that was so easy to fall into and love.

Mrs. Eugenia Snow is a widow who owns a registry. That registry pairs up governesses with families that need good governesses. She’s good at her job but when Edward Reeve, the bastard son of an earl comes to her office and kind of bulldozes his way into her life, she’s taken by surprise. She knows that she’s lucky to have found love once before so she wasn’t expecting Ward. She wasn’t expecting to fall in love with not only Ward but with his young siblings.

Ward is desperate. He needs to find a governess for his two young siblings that he just found out about before their grandmother gets her way and takes them away from him. These two young children have been through a lot in their short lives and they need someone in their corner. They need stability and they need someone to take care of them. Ward isn’t the best choice for them but they’re his to take care of and he doesn’t care what he has to do to keep them away from their grandmother, he was going to fight to keep them and that is why he needs Mrs. Snow so much. He needs her to send one of her governesses to teach his siblings how to act, teach them life lessons and all the stuff they need to learn to prove that he’s a good choice as guardian.

When his siblings run off one more governess from Mrs. Snows Registry, Ward becomes even more desperate. He goes right off the crazy train and before we know what’s what, Mrs. Snow herself is staying at his place, acting as governess to his siblings and things are turning around. She’s good with kids and even though his siblings grew up in a colorful environment, thanks to their mother’s colorful life (his mother ran away from the aristocracy with a much younger man causing a giant scandal), if he has any prayer of keeping his siblings, he has to live a life on the up and up. It doesn’t matter that he’s the only person that wants the best for his brother and sister. It doesn’t matter that they want to live with him. What matters is the case coming up. What matters is sacrificing his own happiness for them.

Ward’s happiness is wrapped up in Eugenia Snow. Their relationship has grown by heaps and bounds ever since she came to stay with them. In such a short amount of time, she’s become important to him and the same can be said for her. The chemistry between them was sweet and it was strong but it doesn’t last as long as I was hoping because Ward doesn’t know who Eugenia is. He’s the bastard child of an earl so it made sense to me that he wouldn’t know who she is. How connected she is. He gave her up because he felt he had to and my heart hurt for the both of them.

Eugenia’s love for Ward and the kids really shines in this book. The way that she stood up for herself when she finds out why Ward turns her away. The way that she stood firm in what she thought was right, really worked for me. Eloisa James wrote a wonderfully romantic historical romance that hit me in the feels, made me laugh, sigh and cry a little bit. This book was great and I’m so glad that I read it.

Grade: 4 out of 5

four-stars

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Guest Review: Someone to Hold by Mary Balogh

Posted February 6, 2017 by Tracy in Reviews | 1 Comment

Guest Review: Someone to Hold by Mary BaloghReviewer: Tracy
Someone to Hold by Mary Balogh
Series: Westcott series #2
Also in this series: Someone to Love
Published by Jove Books
Publication Date: February 7th 2017
Genres: Historical, Romance
Buy on Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Humphrey Wescott, Earl of Riverdale, has died, leaving behind a fortune and a scandalous secret that will forever alter the lives of his family—sending one daughter on a journey of self-discovery...

With her parents’ marriage declared bigamous, Camille Westcott is now illegitimate and without a title. Looking to eschew the trappings of her old life, she leaves London to teach at the Bath orphanage where her newly discovered half-sister lived. But even as she settles in, she must sit for a portrait commissioned by her grandmother and endure an artist who riles her every nerve.

An art teacher at the orphanage that was once his home, Joel Cunningham has been hired to paint the portrait of the haughty new teacher. But as Camille poses for Joel, their mutual contempt soon turns to desire. And it is only the bond between them that will allow them to weather the rough storm that lies ahead...

Camille Westcott was once Lady Camille Westcott but now that her father has died and it’s been discovered that his marriage was bigamous, Camille is just Miss Camille Westcott.  Everything that she has striven for her entire life is now…gone.  She’s at loose ends to say the least and after leaving London and hiding in her maternal grandmother’s house for a while she finally decides that she needs to do something.  She decides to take a teaching position at the orphanage where her half-sister, Anna, grew up and taught as well.  She also takes Anna’s old room at the orphanage even though her grandmother lives not that far away.  She needs to do this on her own – be independent and learn how to live without all the comforts. Yes, it’s about changing from who she was but it’s also a bit of a punishment – at least that’s the way she thinks of it.

Joel Cunningham is a portrait artist that volunteers at the orphanage where he grew up.  He comes in and teaches art a couple of times a week.  When he sees that Camille is to be the new teacher he’s not happy at all.  Anna was his best friend and he even offered her marriage at one point and to see the sister that spurned Anna now taking her place makes him mad.  She’s all tied up and military efficient and after just having a teacher that wouldn’t let the kids be kids he thinks she’ll fail as a teacher.  Except when he first comes in he sees the kids engaged and happy and Joel starts to see Camille in a different light.  He is also commissioned by Camille’s grandmother to paint portraits of both Camille and her sister Abby so he is constantly observing Camille to find out who she truly is.  He finds that she’s so many different people all rolled into one and even she’s not sure who she is.

Joel and Camille start a friendship that soon turns to more but neither one of them is sure where it’s going, if anywhere.  When Camille’s large family descends upon Bath she gets an earful from a couple of different family members that give her a lot to think about.  Likewise, Joel, who grew up an orphan finds out who his family is which ends up changing his life forever.  The lives of both Camille and Joel are in such flux that neither one is sure where they’re going but they each know who they want with them as they go.

This was a wonderful romance that I very much enjoyed reading.  I wasn’t a huge fan of Camille’s in the last book as she was, let’s face it, a total bitch to Anna.  I can understand why that was but it didn’t endear me to her at all.  Despite that I knew that Balogh would show us another side of Camille and make me like her so I was excited to read her book.  I’m so glad I did.  It was an unusual romance but it was oh, so satisfying.

To say that Camille had no idea who she was after the big reveal of her illegitimacy would be putting it mildly.  She was at such loose ends but was determined to be independent.  She had turned down her half-sister’s offer of a quarter of her fortune but her grandmother had given her a large allowance.  Camille wanted none of it because she didn’t feel she deserved it.  She had tried her whole life to be perfect.  The perfect daughter, the perfect lady, the perfect everything.  Part of this was because of her father.  She wanted his love and figured if she did no wrong he would love her and forgive her for not being a boy (she was the oldest).  That didn’t end up happening and it certainly didn’t help her when her fiancé found out she was illegitimate.  He dumped her as well.  She needed to find out if she could be imperfect and still lead a good life.  With Joel she found a friend and confidante but it was still hard for her to let herself go and just…be.  He was also confusing in his affections so that turned her round and round.  I loved reading Camille’s transformation.  The realizations she came to and decisions she made about herself and her life were sometimes harsh but that made the end result so much more satisfying.  I ended up really liking her and who she had become by the end of the book.

Joel thought he knew exactly who he was – until the information about his family came to him.  He was then at loose ends himself because he thought he never cared to know about them but when he did he found he wanted more and more.  Unfortunately he didn’t have the opportunity to learn more after a while and that depressed him.  He found that he loved being with Camille despite his first impressions of her but he didn’t know how to handle his feelings towards her and made a mess of things.  Luckily he recovered in the end and got his HEA with Camille.  He took a little long, yes, but I thought he made up for it in the end.  He was in a state of flux too so I could cut him some slack.

The book told a lovely story about Joel and Camille finding themselves.  I loved the way Balogh brought them together and had them figuring it all out while falling in love.  It was an emotional book that I found to be sweet, tender, touching, funny and romantic – all the things I love. I can’t wait to see what Balogh brings us next in the Westcott series.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

four-half-stars

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