Rachie3879′s #CBR5 Review #59: Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty

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I’m never sure how much to include in a review of a book from a series. With lighthearted (YA?) fare like Fourth Comings, the fourth (duh) entry in Megan McCafferty’s series about Jessica Darling, I assume that no one really cares if I spoil things from previous entries or not. Fair warning, some of my discussion will ruin things from the first three novels in the series.

Jessica Darling has graduated from Columbia University and is now attempting to enter the workforce and pay off her enormous student loans. She and her BFF Hope Weaver share a tiny room (they call the Cupcake) in a sub-letted Brooklyn apartment requiring Swedish (or is it Norwegian?) heritage of at least ¼ of the occupants of the house. She works part-time as a writer for a magazine no one reads, and part-time as a nanny for her niece Marin. The book starts off with Jessica helping Marcus, her long-time love, move into his dorm room at Princeton University. Things have gotten a little distant with our beloved couple, and Jessica aims to break up with Marcus that very afternoon. What she doesn’t expect is that he will propose in response, and give her a week to decide whether she’ll be his wife.

This, like all the rest of the Darling novels, is told from Jessica’s point of view; what differs here is that her audience isn’t herself. She isn’t writing in her diaries, she’s writing in a notebook she’ll hand over to Marcus at the end of the week. What’s funny with this approach is that you’re left wondering whether she’s being completely forthright about things (though I suppose you could wonder it about her diaries – who HASN’T fudged a little in journals?). My main issue with this approach is that sometimes Jessica writes about things that Marcus knows, but we don’t. So we don’t get the story of the Shit Fit night, when the couple really had it out. Marcus hates NYC, Jessica hates Jersey, and so they seem to be at an impasse.

The usual cast of characters round out the story. We get to know Hope a little better, though Jessica discovers a secret between Hope and Marcus that really throws her for a loop and so Hope is absent for some part of the writing. I do like her, though, and with her there you can finally feel some depth to a friendship that was mostly epistolic in nature before. We still don’t really know Marcus that well at this point, and this entry won’t improve on that much. Hopefully with the final installment (which I believe does have chapters from his point of view) we will. I did enjoy this fourth installment much more than the third, so hopefully McCafferty wraps up the series well in the next one.

Rachie3879′s #CBR5 Review #58: Somewhere I’ll Find You by Lisa Kleypas

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I waited too long after reading Lisa Kleypas’ Somewhere I’ll Find You to write up a review, so, fair warning: this review will be scattered and I’ve probably forgotten most of my thoughts and feelings on the story. This book is apparently the first in a series about the Capital Theatre and tells the tale of Jessica Wentworth (nee Julia Hargate), a renowned stage actress in 19th-century England. At an insanely early age, her father, in order to secure a title, promised her in marriage to Damon Savage, a Duke or Marquess or something like that. At the time they were four and eight, respectively. It isn’t really laid out that clearly but somehow a marriage ceremony takes place and then the two go their separate ways.

Refusing to be used as a piece of property, or submit to the will of a tyrannical husband like her mother, Julia flees at eighteen and becomes an actress. After many years, she is the toast of the town and is on her way to being the most successful stage actress in the country. In the meantime, young Damon worked his entire life to use the money his father had gotten from Julia’s dowry to restore the family estate to its former glory and then some. He has grown into quite a proud, severe man and spends much time wondering about where his ‘wife’ could have gotten to. He has been, for years, searching for his long-lost child bride in order to allow her to either annul the arrangement, or, take her rightful place as the wife of the Marquess/Duke/whatever Savage. Little does he know that the beautiful and captivating stage actress Jessica Wentworth, a woman he wants to see as his next mistress, is actually Julia Hargate.

I won’t go into more in the plot, as it is fairly unsurprising here and to be honest, rather uneventful. This hasn’t been one of my favorites of Kleypas. Julia/Jessica isn’t that appealing of a heroine, despite her advanced feminist inclinations. The problem with her, I think, is that she is so wishy-washy. NO I don’t want to stop acting, YES I want to get married and have a family, etc. I understand having conflicting feelings about a potential mate – on the one hand he is appealing, stirs feelings in her she’s never had, and is fantastic in the sack. On the other, however, he makes no attempt to hide that he hates her profession and wouldn’t be able to handle seeing his wife on the stage. Something she has worked for for a decade would just have to stop. But honestly – she KEEPS going over and over the reasons she can’t be with Damon. He doesn’t really help himself. He’s strong and hot and whatnot, but, he has no talent for wooing, and is somewhat arrogant. I didn’t really feel much for this couple.

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Rachie 3879′s #CBR5 Review #57: The Secret to Seduction by Julie Anne Long

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I was in the library looking for Julie Anne Long’s What I Did for a Duke, but the copy was checked out, so I took home the third and final entry of the Holt sisters’ trilogy, The Secret to Seduction. In this entry we meet the third of the daughters of Anna Holt, the mistress accused of murdering her lover and abandoning her three daughters to flee the country. Sabrina Fairleigh has been raised all this time by a country vicar and is quite the demure young beauty. She has struck up a friendship with her father’s young curate and it’s due to this growing attraction to the young man that she travels as companion with her friend Mary to the Earl of Rawden’s country estate, in the hopes of prodding this young curate (the Earl’s cousin) to propose marriage. I would say the guy’s name; it starts with G, but I’ve forgotten it and the book is all the way upstairs on my night stand so I can’t be bothered.

The Earl of Rawden, Rhys Gillray, goes by another name – The Libertine. He writes some of the dirtiest, most seductive poetry in all of England and is a famous rake. He is also, naturally, terribly good looking and rich, which we would also like in our love interests. Sabrina’s goodness and purity provoke the Earl out of his boredom; she challenges him and though she professes a lack of passion in life, seems to possess it with pride and temper in all her interactions with him. He decides he simply must seduce her; he longs for a challenge like a virginal vicar’s daughter. What he doesn’t expect is how much he really needs her once he kisses her, and how strong his attraction to such a woman would be. We surprisingly get their courtship out of the way fairly quickly; most of the novel is devoted to them actually falling in love for real and to wrapping up the story of Sabrina’s long-lost family and clearing of their mother’s name.

I liked this entry in the trilogy the best out of the three, but I also have a predilection for rakes, so that’s probably why. Sabrina’s sisters, Susannah and Sylvie, also married rakes but Rhys Gillray is in a class of his own and is quite entertaining. At the same time he’s also a jerk, so there is that to work through. Sabrina is interesting and I generally like her, though I feel like she should have seen through the façade of her father’s curate a little sooner. Rhys’ cousin “G” is generally douchetastic and it’s hard to imagine a woman as intelligent and observant as Sabrina would fall for his bullshit. The resolution to their family’s tragic history is neat and nice, though there seems to be room for more to be written on this story, judging from the way Long wrote some of that. I’m not sure where she’d go with it, because she has exhausted the sisters; perhaps this loosely ties into another of her books and I’ll encounter that later.

Rachie3879′s #CBR5 Review #56: Love in the Afternoon by Lisa Kleypas

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Next on my Thanksgiving holiday romance novel tour is Lisa Kleypas’ Love in the Afternoon, the fourth in the Hathaways series. I’ve read all but the first of them now, and though I’ll get around to that one, I am not in any rush. This entry into the series is the tale of the youngest Hathaway, Beatrix. Beatrix is an unusual young woman, even in comparison with her crazy siblings; one may appropriately call her a beast master, for there isn’t an animal in the world she hasn’t read about, encountered, or rescued and kept as a family pet. Most famous in this series of novels are her ferret and hedgehog, who have made numerous appearances in the series. Beatrix is much more comfortable around animals than people, and despite having many men interested in her, she has yet to settle down with someone.

Beatrix is spending an afternoon with her flighty and ironically-named friend Prudence when she discovers that Prudence is corresponding with a local war hero, Captain Christopher Phelan. She is bored with Phelan’s letters so she allows Beatrix to read one. At once, Beatrix is captivated by the man’s stories of the front lines in the Crimean war and begs Prudence to return the letter. Pru refuses, but allows Beatrix to write back and sign it on her behalf so that she keeps Phelan on the back burner should he return an eligible match. At first Beatrix, a woman who values honesty highly, balks at the deception, but eventually Phelan’s letters draw her in so much that she embraces the task. Their correspondence becomes Beatrix’s most-looked-forward-to activity, and then she realizes that she must stop before someone gets hurt; she has fallen in love with Captain Phelan, and he only thinks of her as the odd girl in the neighborhood that ‘belongs in the stables.’

Captain Phelan returns a war hero, determined to reunite with Prudence, the woman who wrote him the most wonderful letters and revealed to him the woman he wants to marry. Christopher is a damaged man, with what we would now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and finds himself uncomfortable in society. He encounters Beatrix, and unknowingly begins to befriend the woman he was corresponding with over those many months. In time, she works to repair the damage the war has wrought in the man she loves, at the same time hoping that he’ll realize the truth about the correspondence and forgive her deception.

I enjoyed this entry in the Hathaway series. I like the Wallflowers series a bit better than this one, but that is probably because Sebastian’s in those. Beatrix is a really endearing character; she is truthful, sweet and has insight into folks that few aside from her family give her credit for. She is brave and not at all the swooning weak damsel in distress type. Captain Phelan is a great hero; he’s really really really handsome but also damaged, and not to speak against my own sex, but few of us can resist a damaged man (at least in literature and TV, hopefully we work through that before allowing it into our personal life).  Their courtship through letters is charming, as is their renewal of it (unknown to half the couple) in person. This is definitely an entertaining entry from Kleypas (probably my favorite Hathaway so far).

Rachie3879′s #CBR5 Review #55: Proof by Seduction by Courtney Milan

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I went to the library the other day to return some things and wandered about the aisles; some ten minutes later I realized I’d stacked a half dozen books up (despite there still being two waiting for me on my nightstand). No matter, four of them were romances and I’ve read three of them in as many days. First off is Courtney Milan’s Proof by Seduction. Funnily enough it’s one of two romances I checked out with Seduction in the title. It IS quite a word, isn’t it?

Proof by Seduction is the tale of Jenny Keeble, aka Madame Esmerelda, a lower-class fortune teller with no legitimate extra-sensory powers. One of her most frequent clients, Ned Carhart, is a delightful but sensitive and damaged young man with serious need of supportive friendship and guidance. He gets this from Jenny, but not from his domineering cousin Gareth Carhart, Lord Blakely. Gareth is your typical man of stone; emotion isn’t something he values. Science and reason are Gareth’s forte, so when he hears about Ned’s frequenting of a fortune teller he decides he must prove the woman a fraud and a cheat so that his cousin will finally see the truth about the woman in whom he has such faith.

It’s not a surprise here that as soon as he meets Mme E, Gareth is incredibly drawn to her, though he struggles to reconcile this with his burning desire to crush her and publicly refute all her skills. Out of thin air, she predicts that Blakely will meet the woman he will marry at an exact time at a ball the next evening. What follows are a series of challenges Jenny sets forth, both in order to buy time and to see if Gareth will rise to the occasion.  Over the time of the book Gareth and Jenny find themselves more and more drawn to each other, and what’s left is for both of them to conquer their internal prejudices about love and relationships.

I enjoyed this book and the main characters separately. Together, they’re great as well, but sometimes it is hard to distance myself, a modern feminist woman, from what would have been normal behavior between the sexes during this time period, so I often found myself saying “Jenny, screw this, leave this asshole.” (If I failed to mention that, the book takes place in the 1800s in England.) Jenny is likeable, adventurous, and sees more in people than even she realizes. She often pinpoints what other characters are struggling with and calls them to account for it. Gareth’s lack of humanity, to her, isn’t a foregone conclusion. She recognizes what must have made him the way he is and encourages him (through her challenges) to make strides to change that. Gareth is a little more one-dimensional than Jenny; he basically is a man who suppressed the emotional, empathetic side of himself as a defense mechanism and bullies his way around the rest of life in order to escape emotional entanglements. He stubbornly clings to feelings of superiority throughout the novel, which makes him a little less appealing than our heroine here. Overall, theirs is a humorous and enjoyable courtship, and in the end, the heroine stands up for her wants and needs and everyone is happy, which is what we all want out of a paperback romance, isn’t it?

Rachie3879′s #CBR5 Review #54: Bad Monkey by Carl Hiassen

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Carl Hiassen’s latest novel, Bad Monkey, is the story of disgraced former Miami detective Andrew Yancy and his efforts to get his badge back after an unfortunate (and public) incident with a mini-vac and someone’s rear end. As is typical with Hiassen’s novels, Bad Monkey is chock full of quirky characters one would wish to encounter in any trip down to southern Florida.

Yancy starts out the novel just having been demoted to restaurant inspector, but with some remaining ties to law enforcement. It’s because of these ties that he ends up with a man’s arm in a cooler, next to his supply of popsicles he maintains for lengthy drives from the Keys to Miami. Fishermen came across the arm in a tour of the Keys and Yancy’s boss, the local sheriff, just wants it dealt with away from the public eye. But when the widow of the man who owned the arm acts a little too content with her new marital status, Yancy gets a little suspicious and starts his own investigation. He’s convinced the widow Eve murdered her husband to collect on his sizeable life insurance policy. If he can prove his hunch is right, certainly they’ll have to return his badge. Right?

The disgraced detective’s investigations take him from the morgue in Miami (where he meets a sexy coroner named Rosa) to a small island in the Bahamas (home of the voodoo Dragon Queen and the eponymous Bad Monkey, Dreggs), with a lot of antics in between.

I enjoyed this novel, though if I am being completely honest, it’s not that unique when compared with the rest of Hiassen’s oeuvre. That being said, don’t they always say to write what you know or find something you can do well and keep at it? Hiassen certainly does that with this book, and any fan of his former works will enjoy this lighthearted comedy/mystery. I was surprised by the twist he included in this one; usually you know what you’re getting with Hiassen’s stories. Yancy is a classic Hiassen hero. He has a dark sense of humor and a deep love for Florida’s natural beauty. The supporting cast in this story, of which there are several, are also familiar tropes in Hiassen’s works: a selfish developer skirting the laws to ruin the land for a profit, a scheming widow, a crazy local (this time a Bahamian voodoo practitioner known as the Dragon Queen), a dumb henchman with more brawn than brains, etc. All of the characters add up to an entertaining, light beach read.

Rachie3879′s #CBR5 Review #53: Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood by Abby McDonald

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Abby McDonald’s Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood is a charming young adult modernization of Austen’s second most famous novel, Sense & Sensibility. In McDonald’s version, Grace and Hallie Weston have just lost their father and due to the incredible selfishness of their stepmother Portia, are now penniless and evicted from their beautiful Victorian home in San Francisco. Luckily, their mother’s cousin has a guest house at his swanky home in Beverly Hills, and the family moves there, much to the dismay of Grace (Elinor) and the joy of Hallie (Marianne).

Any time you have a modernization of an Austen work, you’re starting at an advantage, at least in my book. Austen is one of my all-time favorite writers, and as such, her source material has generally made for good re-imagining, whether it is in film (Clueless) or other literature (Bridget Jones’ Diary). Essentially, McDonald would have to really mess up to ruin this story. She doesn’t; though I did find some of her characters and modern twists less well-done, I generally enjoyed this book. The interesting aspect of this particular version of the story is that unlike the original source material, Hallie is actually the more sympathetic/identifiable sister. Grace is such a wallflower sad sack that it’s hard to feel much for her. She has the same weight of the family maintenance on her shoulders that Austen gives Elinor, but with none of the bravery, aplomb and maturity. In fact, she’s the younger sister here and perhaps this was McDonald’s intention all along – to imagine a world in which the Marianne character shines instead. All I know is that I left this book thinking that Grace was a poor representation of the awesomeness that is Elinor. Hallie is actually more appealing than you initially expect; in her relationship with her musician boyfriend (the Willoughby character) she has the same ups and downs that most of us go through and it almost seems less crazy than Marianne’s shenanigans in the original. Perhaps this is because without the social conventions of 19th-century England, it feels less desperate and more familiar.

Another issue I took, generally, is that in a modernization, some of the plot contrivances become even less believable than in the original. For example, the idea that the two minor children would be completely uncared for in the event of their father’s death without a will is a little hard for me to believe. I assume there are laws and means for their needs to be addressed. In both the original and McDonald’s version, I continue to struggle with the appeal of the Edward Ferrars character (in this one he is called Theo). At least in the original material you can blame societal pressures on Edward’s lack of a backbone with regard to how his sister treats folks. In this modern version, however, it seems unlikely that someone would find Theo appealing when all he can say in response to his sister’s ill treatment of the Weston girls is basically that he doesn’t get it and oh how funny we both have crazy sisters. WHAT? I know one cannot choose their family and all that, but if I were Grace and the man that I had feelings for didn’t say a single thing in my defense to his sister, I’d cut my losses then and there.

Overall, this is an enjoyable, quick read. I think the things I found unappealing in the novel are perhaps just due to the nature of the story and its unlikelihood of happening in modern times. With Emma and Pride & Prejudice you have more easily-transferable plot ideas (being blind to your own faults, overcoming initial hurt feelings and hatred to discover love) and I think that’s perhaps why modernizations of those work better for me. If there are other Sense & Sensibility remakes I’ll have to see if they work better or worse than this one.

Rachie3879′s #CBR5 Review #52: It Happened One Autumn by Lisa Kleypas

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Lisa Kleypas’ It Happened One Autumn is the second of her Wallflowers series, but the last one I’ve read. In this installment, it’s Lillian Bowman’s turn to find a husband. Lillian is American and as such, not quite accepted into the British aristocrat crowd. Especially by Lord Westcliff, a stiff-upper-lip stodgy uptight type, who last saw Lillian playing rounders in her knickers. How inappropriate! The stage is set when Westcliff hosts a month-long party at his estate and feels it necessary to invite the Bowmans so he can work out a business deal with Lillian’s soap magnate father.

Westcliff hates Lillian. Lillian hates Westcliff. Both are really strong-willed individuals, but it’s obvious to everyone but the two of them that they secretly want to do bad things together. There’s not too much to say on this one that can’t be said of most romance novels, really. This isn’t to say I didn’t like the book. I quite enjoyed it actually, it’s just that it’s 2am and I read this a week ago, so I’m having problems coming up with eloquent thoughts at the moment.

I like Westcliff as a hero more than I enjoy Lillian. Really, Lillian seems pretty shrewish, and though that is a bit of a sexist term, it kind of applies. She is contrary just for contrary’s sake most of the time. I can appreciate stubbornness, but really, there is a limit. The idea I think Kleypas is going for is that two such strong wills can only work with each other, as anyone else would be too much of a pushover. It works. Their chemistry is good from the start; they don’t say ‘there’s a thin line between love and hate’ for no reason. Westcliff manages to find Lillian’s insane stubborn streak really charming and finds himself inexorably attracted to her. In fact, each time he’s near, he finds it nearly impossible not to want to rip her clothes off. I wish I had that effect on a man, though I suppose it’d have its drawbacks.

The stakes are raised when everyone’s favorite rake, SEBASTIAN, decides to do something particularly naughty and threatens the new found happiness between Lillian and Westcliff. I probably have issues, because I wasn’t that mad at him for what he did. Sebastian is the best. In fact I might reread Devil in Winter just because I need a better ending for him than the one Autumn provides.

PS – I made it to 52! Yay me. I’ve got one more in the bank that I’m too tired to write up right now, and I’m halfway to finishing another. I might hit my Goodreads goal of 55, or even more. First Cannonball Read complete, check!

Rachie3879′s #CBR5 Review #50-51: Ways to be Wicked and Beauty and the Spy by Julie Anne Long

ImageI finally got around to reading more Julie Anne Long books while I was on vacation, MrsJulien and Malin having strongly recommended her, and since they’re from a trilogy, I’ll review them together here. I mindlessly browsed in the library the other week, without my handy Goodreads app (I’d left the cell on my coffee table), so I was not aware that the two books I chose, Beauty and the Spy  and Ways to Be Wicked were from a series. Due to this, I read them out of order. But no matter, they were enjoyable all the same, and I’ll definitely check out the third and final chapter of the Holt Sisters Trilogy when I’m next at the library. I’ll also take my phone with me so I can remember I’ve been meaning to read What I Did for a Duke for ages now.

Ways to Be Wicked is the story of Sylvie Lamoureux, a prima ballerina with the Paris ballet, and Tom Shaughnessy, a bawdy theater owner slash Adonis. Sylvie has learned that she may have a sister living in London and so she flees from her comfortable life and domineering lover (a Bourbon prince, seriously. I need to refresh myself on my French history as I’m not sure how that worked out post-revolution. I used to know but I don’t now, it’s been 17 years). In a bit of a contrivance, she lands at Dover and immediately has to hide from said lover (Etienne, one of my favorite French names) and throws herself into the coach for hire (or whatever that’s called), and lap, of Tom Shaughnessy. Of course he’s intrigued by this spritely vixen and of COURSE she ends up needing his assistance later. At first they spar mentally, and he strives to remain free of entanglements with her; Tom makes it a point NEVER to get involved with his dancers so he hires her as one. Eventually, of course, they develop feelings for each other and sexy time and romance happen and the end.

There are more aspects of the story but the sideplots aren’t too heavy. I expect that is because most of the history of this family of women was laid out in book one and I started in the middle. In any case you get a taste of Sylvie’s back story as well as Tom’s, and some entertaining supporting cast. Strippers (or their predecessors, really) often make interesting characters. I like Sylvie because she isn’t innocent, she has a temper, and seems generally capable of getting shit done. Tom is a decent hero. He’s handsome, came from nothing, and seems fairly straight forward. It’s been a few days since I finished this one so I’m having trouble recalling any real stakes here, so I guess that’s my only quibble with this particular entry. Continue reading

Rachie3879′s #CBR5 Review #49: A Death in the Small Hours by Charles Finch

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Charles Finch’s A Death in the Small Hours finds our armchair detective, Charles Lenox, busy with his Parliament duties and fatherhood and definitely in need of a vacation. Luckily, as is often the case with rich British aristocrats in the 19th century, an uncle invites the Lenox family to spend some time in his home in the country near Bath. Of course, this being a mystery series, violence and murder happen in the uncle’s charming town and Lenox feels invigorated to be back in the detecting game once again.

Honestly, I’m having a little trouble coming up with things to discuss for this one. This book is the sixth Charles Lenox mystery, and is often the case with long-running series, this one is just ok. The series has been giving us diminishing returns ever since Lenox joined Parliament – once he hung up his sleuthing hat, so to speak, the reasons for his involvement in any case are a stretch. Much of this novel focused on Lenox’s preparations for his big speech to the members of Parliament, his pre-occupation and joy at being a new father, and his fond memories for an old estate where he spent many wonderful summers with his mother as a youngster. Very little is actually devoted to the mystery. The culprit is sort of a surprise and there aren’t that many clues that I really picked up on. This is odd considering Finch’s prose can be pretty obvious when it’s trying to point you in a particular direction. However, it seems to dance around things and at the last minute, hold back. Lenox waits until the last possible minute to do his big reveal, like at the end of a Poirot episode, but for several chapters before the denouement, he’d been telling his cohorts he knew who the killer was. As if I’d let someone just say that and walk away without a hint!

I was reading this novel on a plane and under easy distractions (a tropical beach in Cancun, deeeeeeeeelightful), so perhaps it was my fault for not having been as committed to the experience. I see that Finch released a seventh book just this week; I’ll probably read it but I do kind of hope it’s the last. Finch is a good writer generally, but I think we can all agree that once a series of novels goes beyond trilogy territory (with some few exceptions, of course), we’re talking just more of the same. My assessment is this – read this one if you dig 19th century British mystery stories, but you’re better off starting with earlier Lenox tales.