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Review: A Bed of Thorns and Roses by Sondra Allen Carr

One of the aspects of the e-book experience that I enjoy most is the ability to sample a book before you buy it. Sampling serves two very valuable purposes for me as a reader — first, it prevents buyer’s remorse, and second, it gives me something to do while I wait.

So there I am, sitting at the gas station waiting in line to pump gas, and I go to the Kindle app on my phone to find a sample to read. Unfortunately, the one I chose this particular time was A Bed of Thorns and Roses by Sondra Allan Carr.

I say “unfortunately” because I somehow ended up sitting parked at a Speedway for an hour before I could tear myself away long enough to drive the hour or so home. And then I was tempted at least twice to pull over on the side of the road just to read.  Needless to say, it’s a good thing I didn’t have to work the next day, because I was up all night reading.

Now that you’re hooked, here’s the book’s synopsis, courtesy of Amazon:

Heir to a wealthy robber baron, Jonathan Nashe had every advantage money could buy until a tragic fire left him horribly disfigured. Now he lives secluded in his isolated country mansion, his scientific research his only solace. When declining health threatens to rob him of even this small comfort, Jonathan is forced to choose between his work and his privacy. Reluctantly, he hires a secretary. Though distasteful, sacrificing his privacy soon proves the least of his concerns; he never expected to sacrifice his heart as well.

But Isabelle Tate guards the secrets of her past as vigilantly as Jonathan hides the scars beneath his mask. Can they confess their growing love for one another knowing that to bare their deepest feelings, they must also bare their deepest shame?

There was no way I wasn’t going to be intrigued at the very least by this book. Although it’s not marketed as such, it’s clearly got that Gothic vibe I love so much. And blame it on a children’s book version I had as a girl, but I’ve always been a sucker for a Beauty and the Beast story. A Bed of Thorns and Roses delivers on that score. And as one Amazon reviewer points out, this isn’t a one-single-rakish-scar-on-the-hero’s-otherwise-gorgeous-face kind of story, either.  In this respect, the book almost hews more closely to Phantom of the Opera territory, mask included. But A Bed of Thorns and Roses is much more than a fairy-tale rehash. It’s an excellently written, intelligent and emotional.

Happily-ever-after doesn’t come easily for Jonathan and Isabelle. These two don’t spend the first half of the book veering between bickering and mental lusting, nor is there a lot of created drama. Their interactions move believably from painfully uncomfortable to guardedly pleasant to frank enjoyment, and their reasons for being suspicious of each other and of doubting that they can have a future together are both reasonable and believable.

I keep repeating the word “believable” for a reason. Despite the book’s fairy tale origins, both characters are so believable, Isabelle especially. Unlike many historical (or contemporary) heroines who, despite their ever-so-humble upbringings, are always well-educated and know just what to do in any situation, Isabelle’s ignorance is both refreshing and incorporated into the plot. And for once, we have a “beast” who is not also a worldly, experienced rake. Jonathan is educated, but socially and emotionally inexperienced. The best scenes in the book are when the two are learning together, such as my favorite scene, a picnic that I refuse to say anything more about for fear of spoiling it.

My quibbles with A Bed of Thorns and Roses are small but pronounced. The first, one mentioned in several Amazon reviews, is a secondary relationship between Jonathan’s doctor/friend/mentor Richard and Isabelle’s sister which just seems extraneous. Another is that we only get bits and pieces of these experiments that are so important to Jonathan — I really expected that to be an integral part of his and Isabelle’s development. The third, which I can’t get into without revealing too much, concerns Isabelle’s secret. Suffice to say there is the Big Secret, and a smaller secret that goes along with it. For me, the Big Secret was enough; the smaller secret just seemed to gild the lily. But again, these are quibbles.

I give A Bed of Thorns and Roses 3 out of 5 clever disguises. Go ahead — download the sample and try to resist A Bed of Thorns and Roses. If you find yourself sitting at the gas station for hours, I’ll take the blame.

Buy the book:
A Bed of Thorns and Roses: A Gilded Age Beauty and the Beast Romance

Is a great big Gothic-y romance right up your alley? Try these:

Sea of Secrets by Amanda DeWees

Classic Gothic Romance


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Quick Goodreads Review: Curricle & Chaise by Lizzie Church

Curricle & Chaise by Lizzie Church
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Synopsis (edited):

…Of course, it was entirely natural that two young ladies of 19 and 7 would feel bereft at the loss of their mama, but to Miss Lydia and Miss Susan Barrington their change in circumstances demanded a total and somewhat painful adjustment to their whole way of life…
…It is 1810. Lydia, now penniless, is forced to seek a home with an aunt and uncle who have no interest in her whatsoever. But there are plenty of others with an interest in her – including the handsome but selfish son of the family – her cousin Charles – and two elegant brothers who live nearby.
Each, in his own way, poses an intriguing challenge to her. Luckily Lydia is well able to look after herself but she gets into a number of scrapes which almost cost her any chance of happiness before finally managing to sort things out in the end…

Fans of Regency romances and Jane Austen alike will appreciate the author’s effort, if not the actual execution.

Like the traditional Regency romance, “Curricle & Chaise” features a warm romance that’s a pull and tug for most of the book. Like a Jane Austen book, the story features a large ensemble cast and continuous play on the manners of the Regency period.

However, the book is neither fish nor fowl as far as Regency or Jane Austen clone goes. Although the language is spot-on for an Austen-alike, as is the soliloquy-and-dialogue-heavy structure, the story itself too light and frothy to mimic the insight of Austen. As a Regency, it falls flat, with little to no action to move the story along  — it reveals itself almost painfully as a self-published title during the middle section, which could have used some judicious editing.

Still, the book’s a pleasant, if unmemorable read for those who enjoy period-correct Regency-set historicals.

Curricle & Chaise

Lizzie Church

Amazon Digital Services, January 2012

View all my reviews


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Book Review: Thief of Shadows by Elizabeth Hoyt

Cover blurb (warning: according to Hoyt’s website, this could contain spoilers for the other books in the series):

A MASKED MAN . . .

Winter Makepeace lives a double life. By day he’s the stoic headmaster of a home for foundling children. But the night brings out a darker side of Winter. As the moon rises, so does the Ghost of St. Giles-protector, judge, fugitive. When the Ghost, beaten and wounded, is rescued by a beautiful aristocrat, Winter has no idea that his two worlds are about to collide.

A DANGEROUS WOMAN . . .

Lady Isabel Beckinhall enjoys nothing more than a challenge. Yet when she’s asked to tutor the Home’s dour manager in the ways of society-flirtation, double-entendres, and scandalous liaisons-Isabel can’t help wondering why his eyes seem so familiar-and his lips so tempting.

A PASSION NEITHER COULD DENY

During the day Isabel and Winter engage in a battle of wills. At night their passions are revealed . . . But when little girls start disappearing from St. Giles, Winter must avenge them. For that he might have to sacrifice everything-the Home, Isabel . . . and his life.

Thief of Shadows is the type of book that frustrates me to no end: beautiful prose, an engaging storyline, likeable, believable characters, and yet… something is missing. Sometimes I can’t even identify what’s missing, and it nags me for days after I’ve finished the book (or, more often, declined to finish the book). In the case of Thief of Shadows, I know exactly what’s missing: a satisfying ending. Why? I have a theory, but first, here’s what I can say about the book without giving salient parts of the plot away:

  • Winter Makepeace is as delectable a romance hero as I have ever read. Brave, yet surprisingly innocent, tough yet tender, Winter Makepeace is what makes this book work, and it gives nothing about the plot away to say that it’s almost gilding the lily to force the character of the Ghost of St. Giles onto Winter. A much better book would have had Winter openly owning the exploits of the Ghost of St. Giles, as hiding seems out of character for him. More on this later.
  • Romances with children often fall prey to plot moppet syndrome — i.e. the children only exist to further plot along, and add nothing whatever to the rest of the story. It’s a fine line, to write a romance that relies on child characters as heavily as Thief of Shadows does, without resorting to plot moppetry, and while Hoyt pulls it off most of the time, there are instances when the children are nothing more than plot devices.
  • The villain(s) are one of Thief of Shadows’ biggest problems. If your book hinges on the actions of a villain, then the motivation of the villain should be clear. While Hoyt does a fairly good job of filling that in for one villain, another’s actions are never fully explained, and I believe that could be because that character is being reserved for use in another book (again, more on that later).
  • Lady Isabel Beckinhall… sigh. I’ve rarely been more conflicted about a heroine in a romance novel than I am about Lady Isabel. To say much more would be to unwittingly give away plot points, but two things I can discuss really bothered me. First, Lady Isabel’s attachment to the children’s home is never fully explained, and seems at odds with other aspects of her character, and two although Hoyt would have us believe, as the blurb states, that Lady Isabel is always up for a challenge, she does the exact opposite on more than one occasion.

Almost everything that is wrong with Thief of Shadows is a direct result of series-itis. As book four of the Maiden Lane series, so much of the book is concerned with setting up plot points for the next book in the series that the plot of the book itself suffers. Winter’s story is circumscribed because his story is part of a larger whole, and in the end, he’s disappointing because he has to sacrifice a large part of his identity so that a character in a book to come can benefit from this.  One of the books villains is more or less defanged, and I suspect its because he can’t be too bad, else he won’t be a believable hero in a later book. A subplot that is only tangentially related to Winter and Isabel’s story is inserted into the book in order to set up the next book, and, as such, serves only as a puzzling distraction from the story at hand.

For people who enjoy reading books that are part of a larger series, maybe these problems won’t matter as much. And I don’t even mind interrelated books; Mary Jo Putney’s Fallen Angels series/interrelated books are among the best romances I’ve ever read. But what sets those books apart from Thief of Shadows is the fact that none of those books suffer for being part of a series. You can read them separately without ever feeling that you’re missing anything, or without the feeling that characters from the other books are intruding upon the main characters’ story. Thief of Shadows, however, feels constricted for being part of a series. Winter and Isabel (but Winter, especially) deserved better.

I can’t give Thief of Shadows more than 3 harrowing carriage rides.

UPDATE: Looks like I’m not the only one who felt let down by this book. Musing Sally over at Ravishing Romances was also underwhelmed. Check out her review.

Thief of Shadows by Elizabeth Hoyt

Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (June 26, 2012)

Did you like this book, baby doll? Here are two more books that are similar to Thief of Shadows (and actually better, in my opinion):

Untie My Heart by Judith Ivory

All Through the Night by Connie Brockway


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Book Review: Some Kind of Magic by Theresa Weir

A book doesn’t have to be perfect to be enjoyable. If the writing is above average, if the characters come alive, even a lackluster plot can be interesting. Such is the case with Some Kind of Magic.

Synposis:

Claire is celebrating her birthday, having just been dumped by her gigolo of a boyfriend, and wishing something exciting would happen during a long, snowbound Idaho winter. Her friend Lizzy gives her a voodoo doll and a pair of S&M handcuffs as a birthday gift, and it’s not long before Claire has an opportunity to put both to use — on her way home from her birthday bash, such as it is, she’s taken hostage by an injured prison escapee. But is Dylan really what he seems?

I actually read Some Kind of Magic when it was released in the mid-to-late 1990s. I was a teenager then, and remembered loving the story. Time had dimmed my memories of this book, however, and I was anxious to re-read it when I saw that it was available as an e-book on Amazon.

If I wasn’t quite as thrilled with the book the second time around, I credit the fact that, as a more sophisticated reader, I saw problems with the plot that I could not have recognized when I was younger.

Still yet, so-so Theresa Weir is still better than 99% of contemporary romance novels.In fact, if this book were by anyone but Theresa Weir, I’d likely be raving about it — the problem is, if you’ve read any of Weir’s other novels, such as Cool Shade or Last Summer, then you expect nothing less than perfection. Some Kind of Magic doesn’t quite deliver, but it’s an entertaining read nonetheless. Despite an uneven (and at least in one spot, contrived) plot and some wishy-washy behavior by the hero and heroine, Weir’s talent elevates Some Kind of Magic to an enjoyable, if imperfect read. Weir’s gift is creating characters so believable that you feel like you know them, and Dylan and Claire no exception. Both are engaging characters, due almost wholly to Weir’s uncanny ear for dialogue; even when they’re frustrating, Dylan and Claire are fun to read. No one writes a tortured hero quite like Weir, and if Dylan doesn’t always behave the way he should, he always behaves in a way that’s believable for his character.

If you’re looking for a light, quick read that will have you laughing aloud even when you’re scratching your head about plot points, pick up Some Kind of Magic. I give it 3 out of 5 pairs of warm sweatpants. Even if you don’t typically read romance, you’d have to be a joyless sort not to like Theresa Weir’s romance novels, which can be counted on for quirky, out of the ordinary premises and memorable characters. You simply can’t go wrong with anything by Theresa Weir.

Did you like Some Kind of Magic, boo? Here are a couple more books like Some Kind of Magic:

In the Midnight Rain by Barbara Samuel/Ruth Wind

Chain of Love by Anne Stuart