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Kathryne Kennedy – “Enchanting the Beast”

28 Nov


GENRE: Romance / Paranormal
PUBLISHED: 2009

SERIES: “Relics of Merlin” series, #3

WHY THIS NOVEL: I noticed it for the cover, then the blurb suggested it was an older woman/younger man romance + it seemed Gothic.

Grimspell castle. With its dark, imposing stone walls, it certainly looked haunted. As a ghost-hunter, Lady Philomena was accustomed to restless spirits. But she found the dark, imposing nature of the castle’s owner far more haunting than any specter. London Society might not approve of shape-shifters such as Sir Nicodemus Wulfson, but firmly-on-the-shelf Philomena rather enjoyed the young baronet’s sudden interest in sniffing around her skirts. She’d even consider giving in to him altogether if not for a murderer on the loose–a beast that might just be Nico himself.

I only noticed after I’d ordered Enchanting the Beast that it’s actually part of a series and book #3 at that. But as far as I can tell, it didn’t matter that I missed the first two novels in this series, at least when judged by my enjoyment of this novel: I liked Enchanting the Beast and Kennedy’s voice. So much that I’m going to buy the other novels in this series and will look if Kennedy published more novels.

Enchanting the Beast does indeed feature an older woman/younger man romance: Philomena is 40, Nicodemus is 27. It’s also set in a Victorian England were magic still exists. Philomena is a ghost hunter and Nicodemus is a shape-shifter. (I just love the characters’ names.)

Shape-shifters are immune to magic and Nicodemus, Nico for short, is skeptical about Philomena’s (Phil) ability to communicate with ghosts. But nevertheless, he hires her to help his brother, Royden, who sees and is haunted by ghosts. Royden visibly suffers and his health deteriorates more and more. Something must be done.

What Nico isn’t skeptical about is his attraction to Philomena. He knows he wants her and even Philomena’s repeated rebuffs (the age difference) don’t deter him. Their romance was a delight to read, especially because Nico honors Philomena’s wishes to stay a gentleman even though his attraction to her grows and grows. I thought that refreshing because, after all, he’s a shape-shifter and in paranormal romances this usually means the beast takes over when it’s attracted to a woman. And even though Nico is as sensitive as a block of wood re ghosts (= he can’t see/feel them), after he believes in Philomena’s ability, he’s there to support her. He’s actually so attuned to Philomena, he knows when a ghost is around.

I liked Philomena. She was reasonable and logical, and she does indeed see and can communicate with ghosts. But because she can’t command them to appear or talk to her, she doesn’t mind faking it when necessary:

It appeared the late Lord Stanhope had chosen not to linger in the physical world.
Which didn’t make one whit of difference to Phil. Lady Stanhope had paid her for some peace of mind, and she would give it to her regardless. (2)

The ghost were sufficiently Gothic and although I had an idea about how the mystery would resolve, the denouement came with a twist to it. There were only two things that I thought needed more explanation:

1) Why did Nico’s brother remain at the castle even after Philomena arrived? She knows that ghosts (usually) are bound to a place and Royden became very ill because of their haunting. Wouldn’t she have thought of sending him away (sooner)?
2) [Spoiler] [highlight to read] Why did the ghosts scare Royden when they actually wanted his help? Was he that easily scared? [/Spoiler]

But these were small niggles and overall, I enjoyed reading Enchanting the Beast a lot.

Verdict: I liked it. (4/5)

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Elysa Hendricks – “The Sword and the Pen”

25 Nov


GENRE: Romance / Fantasy
PUBLISHED: Love Spell

WHY THIS NOVEL: I thought the premise interesting + I like to read about characters who are writers.

It was time. After penning ten popular sword-and-sorcery novels, Brandon Alexander Davis was ready to move on. Ready to stop hiding in his fictional world. Ready to start living a real life. There was just one problem: as he plotted the noble death of Serilda D’Lar, his fictional creation appeared in his study, complete with sword, skimpy leather outfit, indomitable will–and a quest. Was she nothing more than a crazy fan, or had Brandon finally cracked? This warrior woman whom he knew so well, so strong yet vulnerable, was both fantasy and reality. She was an invitation to rediscover all he once knew–that life is an incredible, magical journey and, for love, any man can be a hero.

I might have noticed this novel for its premise but I also admit that I thought “I hope it works.” I mean, a fictional character becoming real? The make-believe could be wobbly, especially because I was afraid it might be told “too funny” which doesn’t always work for me.

I needn’t have worried. First, I liked Elysa Hendricks voice. The writing is very smooth and flows easily. Second, Serilda, the fictional character becoming real, tells her story in her own voice. Her parts are written in first person (the first part is also titled “Serilda”). It works well for the story and I liked Seri’s voice (the name Brandon uses for her in his reality) a lot.

Seri catches on to what has happened quickly. She knows she’s in a different world and thinks Brandon a wizard who conjured her into his world. She also realizes that in her world she doesn’t exactly have free will, that she and all her friends and people she knows and meets there are just puppets.

Brandon thinks Seri a lunatic fan. The only thing that gives him pause is that she seems to know things about the world he created in his books only he, the author, could know. Could there be something to her claim to be his fictional character?

“Will you let me help you?” he [Brandon] asked.
The wizard’s offer touched me, and for a moment his disbelief in who I was made me doubt myself. Part of me wanted to cling to my identity, fictional though it might be; another part wanted to give it up, to become a real woman in this man’s strange and alien world. But, no.
I shock my head. It was my bad luck to have been created by a powerful yet inept wizard. “I can’t lie to myself. For you to help me–if that’s what you intend–you have to believe.” (41/42)

If I had one problem with the story, it was that I thought Seri and Brandon knew awfully fast that they were in love. But then, it needed to happen fast because there is a second part, titled “Brandon,” in which Brandon is thrown into Serilda’s world. (This structure reminded me a bit of Jude Deveraux’s A Knight in Shining Armor.) Now Brandon tells his parts in first person and while he knows what happened, Serilda doesn’t have any memories (or so it seems for quite some time). Note also that in her world, she’s mostly referred to as Serilda.

In the last finished version of Brandon’s novel about Serilda, Serilda dies at the end. When Brandon realized that what Seri told him was true, he tried to write a new (yet another) version of the ending but he doesn’t know how far he got before he lost consciousness and woke up in Serilda’s world. In the fictional world, people think Brandon a king and warrior and so he tries all he can to save Serilda, using sword and pen. But it looks like no matter what Brandon tries, the story seems to have its own mind.

I liked Seri/Serilda and Brandon, and especially Seri’s voice, but what compelled me to read on the most was the look at reality and fiction in this story, the metafictional layer of the novel if you want. A fictional character who’s a writer/author adds something special to a story, IMO – the distance to the real author seems to be less. In The Sword and the Pen, the premise of the story – a fictional character becoming real – enhances this because it takes what authors often say about their characters and story – that characters have their own ideas about how a story should go or they talk to the author and so on – and turns it into the story. I enjoyed this a lot.

The novel concludes with a third part, titled “Seri and Brandon.” It provides a very satisfying and fitting ending to the story and also gives a wonderful answer to the question about the power of love.

And I have to admit, at one time I was even a bit teary-eyed.

Verdict: I liked The Sword and the Pen. (4/5)

Juliana Garnett – “The Vow”

13 Oct

EDIT: Corrected the author’s name in the post title.

Garnett, Juliana - The Vow
GENRE: Romance / Medieval
PUBLISHED: Bantam Books, 1998

WHY THIS NOVEL: Jace recommended this author.

Sent by William of Normandy to quell a brazen Saxon rebellion, Luc Louvat believed his mission would be easily accomplished. For what foolish Saxon lord had any hope of triumphing against an army of seasoned Norman knights? But the great warrior was in for a shock..surprised first by the ferocious battle the wily old lord waged–and then by what he discovers when he meets his adversary face-to-face: no crusty, aging nobleman this, but an exquisite princess with a face as fragile as a flower–and a will as steely as the sword she wields. Suddenly Luc finds he’s waging a dangerous new war…aimed at the defenses of a fierce Saxon beauty who threatens to conquer his warrior’s heart.

The Vow is a leisurely told and subtle novel. The unifying element is of course the romance between Ceara and Luc. It marks the beginning and the end of the story. It also goes hand in hand with the suppression of the rebellion. But despite these clearly marked beginnings and endings, what happens in between seems only loosely connected and episodic in character. Reading The Vow was like watching a life unfold. The story covers quite some time and there is no rush between the major events.

Ceara and Luc meet when Luc is sent to end the rebellion. They soon realize they are attracted to each other although Luc is the enemy Ceara has vowed to hate and while Luc treats women well, he doesn’t like them because of his past experiences and is only interested in sexual relationships. Of course, Ceara and Luc are forced to spend time together and slowly, they fall in love with each other without descending into too much hate you-love you dynamics. Their love creeps up on them.

Along the way, there is a woman from Luc’s past who wants him for herself after he now is no longer just a mere knight (adding romantic conflict) and who shows up at Luc’s new castle together with Luc’s best friend. Then there is Luc’s brother who suddenly shows up and might or might not betray Luc again, Luc’s mysterious past, Ceara’s pet wolf, and of course the still simmering Saxon rebellion in the North with Luc and Ceara in the midst of it.

Ceara starts the novel as a young woman who accuses her father of cowardice because he swore fealty to William. After her father’s death, she can have her way. She’s a feisty package but despite that I never really understood why Ceara hated the Normans that much (beside her being a Saxon) I actually was okay with her. Her seemingly unfounded hatred of all things Norman might make her look feisty but she’s also a strong and often insightful woman. She knows what she wants and how to get it, and she isn’t chummy with everyone just because she’s the heroine:

“Do you dare risk being alone with me, my lord? I might be dangerous.”
Luc laughed softly at her testy tone. “You are most definitely dangerous. But I am a man who loves a challenge, unlike poor Giles. You have terrified the man.”
“Good. He is a spineless cur. I doubt he has ever used his sword for anything other than shaving, for he is as clumsy a cow as ever I have seen.”
“Nevertheless, you will cease tormenting him.”
“Why? It amuses me. And I have done nothing to him, save point out a few of his weaknesses. He will be a better man for it. You should thank me.” (79)

And for that I liked her. In addition, the story doesn’t gloss over the harsher aspects of war and rebellion and Ceara learns that not everything is as black and white as she believes at the start.

Luc has a past full of treachery (his father) and abuse. He starts the story as a mere knight. His order to crush the rebellion in the North is his chance to finally leave his tainted past behind and redeem himself. Luc’s determined to take it. He’s willing to deal fairly with those who swear fealty but he has no problems to take other, more drastic measures with those who don’t.

Even though I sometimes wished the romance and the rebellion plot would provide a more apparent focus for the story, The Vow is a well-written novel. I liked the way wolf imageries were used in the story, and I loved the way the characters talk and that characters were not always what they appeared (good/bad) to be. The Vow is a good medieval romance, especially because it creates a strong sense of history and atmosphere for that time.

Verdict: I liked it (4/5).

Ally Blake – “Dating The Rebel Tycoon”

13 Aug

Blake, Ally - Dating the Rebel Tycoon
GENRE: Romance / Contemporary
PUBLISHED: Harlequin Romance, 2009

WHY THIS NOVEL: I like Ally Blake’s voice.

As a gawky teenager, Rosie knew she never stood a chance with heartthrob Cameron Kelly. She had pigtails and glasses, and washed dishes by night to help support her and her mother, while Cameron came from one of the richest and most revered families in Brisbane.

Years later they meet again, and Rosie finds herself on a date with the devastatingly attractive billionaire! There’s something different about him–he’s darker, more intense, dangerous. But she’s determined to ignore his three-dates-only rule and get to the heart of the rebel tycoon…

This is the third novel I’ve read by Ally Blake. Although it didn’t blow me away either, I really like Blake’s voice and will continue to read her. I think this is the novel I did like best so far.

The blurb is actually a bit misleading because both Rosie (short for Rosalind) and Cameron (Cam) are commitment shy. If there’s one problem with this novel, it’s that I had trouble buying into Cam’s reason for being that way.

Cam has trust issues because when he was around seventeen, he discovered his almighty father cheated on Cam’s mother. So he knows “that even the most solid relationships ultimately fail beneath the weight of secrets and lies” (118). What I knew about this wasn’t enough to make me believe his “I do fun but I don’t do relationship” stance.

But even if there would have been more, I guess I would have had trouble buying into that idea. Is it really that you don’t believe in relationships because someone you loved, honored, respected cheated on the partner? Wouldn’t it occur to you once that you are your own person and responsible for what you do? (If not, it makes you appear a bit stupid, IMO.) Or maybe it’s the thought that the person Cam is with could cheat on him that makes Cam commitment shy. Either way, I didn’t think it a strong enough reason. But it did explain why Cam is estranged from his family.

I had less trouble believing in Rosie’s reason for why she’s not really looking for something solid. She’d seen firsthand what opening up to someone can do to a person. Her mother never was the same after her father had left them (not that Rose actually knew him). This meant a childhood for Rosie that rendered her invisible at home no matter what she did. Like being good at school for example which, by the way, was another place where Rosie felt invisible, especially with her crush on Cam. She was the poor student that went to school with rich kids thanks to a scholarship. So Rosie has more than enough experience with what it feels like to be left out and ignored (and a failed relationship would mean just that to her) so as a rule, she dates only men who for whatever reason can’t make a commitment.

So both Cameron and Rosie actually make their decision to stay out of serious relationships because of something they witnessed, not something that happened to themselves (they’d never been in a relationship that had failed). Yet I’m more willing to go with Rosie’s reason than with Cameron’s. Maybe it’s really because I’m not sure why Cameron thinks that way. I guess I would have had less trouble if he’d be afraid to be the one who gets cheated on. But that’s not really what it sounds like when he explains himself.

In any way, my impression that Cameron’s reason was a bit weak wasn’t a deal breaker for this novel. It’s more like a minor niggle that made me sometimes feel left out, but nothing more. And contrary to what you probably would expect from a woman with a background like Rosie’s, Rosie isn’t a shy person (though she has her insecurities). She’s an open person who knows herself pretty well. Rosie says what she thinks, she says how she sees things, and she isn’t afraid to look at the truth.

Together with her thoughts and feelings about her own father, it’s this that enables her to draw Cameron out and to get him to reconcile with his family. She finally makes him see that humans can make mistakes and that even he, who doesn’t want to hurt/disappoint anyone he cares for (his reason for staying away from other people), inadvertently hurts people by his behavior. Rosie shows Cam the value of talking openly about things. They (eventually) do this in their dealings with each other and Cam does it eventually with his family as well.

What I liked this novel for, and where it really shines, IMO, is in detailing what happens when you get to know someone. The reader really sees Rosie and Cameron dating. Their first date covers several chapters and they actually do talk. It’s not the “they talked for hours about…” thing. There’s flirting, there’s fun, and it’s clear that there’s always an undercurrent of attraction between them. So although the characters agree to a date for reasons that has nothing to do with pursuing a serious relationship – Cameron thinks to use Rosie as a distraction from the problems he has with his family and his father, for example – this attraction of course gets the better of them in the end.

Verdict: I liked it (4/5).