Friday, June 14, 2019

The Pleasure of Your Kiss (Burke Brothers: Book One): Teresa Medeiros


“Legendary adventurer Ashton Burke has roamed the globe for ten years trying to forget the spirited woman he left behind in England.  His devil-may-care pursuits are interrupted, though, when he reluctantly agrees to retrieve his brother’s kidnapped fiancĂ© from a sultan’s harem.  Too late, he discovers his quarry is none other than Clarinda Cardew, the very same girl who made off with his jaded heart.

 

“The last thing Clarinda wants is to be trapped in a palace of sensual delights with the man whose irresistible kisses still haunt her sleepless nights.  She quickly realizes that allowing Ashton to rescue her may put her yearning heart in even greater peril.  In a journey both tantalizing and treacherous, Ashton and Clarinda resume the impetuous steps of their dangerous dance only to discover the most seductive pleasure of all may be love itself.”

 

This was a new one for me since I’ve already read a majority of this author’s other works.  One of the best parts of her works is the worlds she creates.  She really draws you in with vivid imagery and experiences which enthrall all of your senses.  I hadn’t yet read a book of this genre set in such a far-flung corner of the British Empire, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  For me, part of the charm is usually losing myself in the elegance and beauty of England/Great Britain because I’m such an Anglophile.  Despite my reservations, I was sucked into the lush and exotic world of Clarinda’s kidnappers.  The palace and its luxuries with its foreign ways and manners and food captivated me.  All of the secondary characters were interesting and unique, each with his/her own big personality.  The uniqueness of the setting made this book fun and special, allowing it to stand out in a genre of relative sameness when set during this time period.  It provided an exciting backdrop for the development of a unique love story.

 

Clarinda was a strong, brave female lead.  I thought she behaved admirably well given her lot in life (and her kidnapping…and having to adjust to life in the harem).  Her struggles felt believable and her backstory seemed to provide enough support that her strong personality was in-character.  Her friendship with Poppy was entertaining and provided a bit of levity in a situation where the female lead could have given in to far too much despair and hopelessness so as to make this a much less “fun” read.  I particularly liked Poppy as well – she had a sweet disposition and an innocence which I found endearing.

 

Ash(ton) was everything you’d expect from a swashbuckling, exploring, Indiana Jones-esque male lead.  We encounter him just as he’s about to be put to death for a perceived slight against a very powerful man, only to have his life saved at the very last instant.  When the reason for the timely rescue becomes apparent, Ash isn’t so sure he’d rather not have perished by the firing squad.  He’s sent on a mission to save the last woman on earth who’d probably rather he’d died than rescue her.  His struggle to come to terms with both his past and present were amusing and realistic.  Ash, while dashing and adventurous, had a bit more to him than a “flat” traditional male lead in this genre.  He came with his own issues and complexes.  What I found particularly interesting was the change in relationship between Ash and his brother, Max.  The backstory and Ash’s childhood speaks volumes to his character and seems to have helped shape him in a believable way.  I will, however, say that I would have liked to have read a touch more from his point of view.  He’s such a bold, exciting character that I couldn’t help but want more!  I think Clarinda’s perspective ended up swallowing most of the story.

 

Ash and Clarinda have loved each other for most of their lives.  They grew up on neighboring estates; Ash, a duke’s second (disappointment of a) son, and Clarinda, the daughter of a wealthy, self-made man.  What began as a childhood rivalry eventually blossomed into a passionate young romance.  Ash, determined to make his way in the world – determined to make something of himself so he’d be worthy of Clarinda rather than just an impoverished second son – decides to join the navy.  Horrified that he’d think of leaving her, Clarinda chases after him.  What begins with tears and hurt ends in a passionate embrace the two would remember for the rest of their lives.  The years pass and Clarinda sees neither hide nor hair of Ash (except for the tabloids detailing his heroic adventures).  Convinced he’s abandoned her, she finally decides to accept the marriage proposal of Max, Ash’s older brother – wealthy, stable, staid, intelligent, and ever-practical.  She’s on her way to meet Max for their wedding when she and Poppy are abducted by pirates and sold in a slave market into the harem of an obscenely wealthy, handsome young sultan.  While there, Clarinda is groomed and trained in all the ways of the sultan’s harem.  After months, she and Poppy begin to despair of ever being rescued and returned home…that is, until a dashing ghost from Clarinda’s past makes a surprise appearance.

 

What follows is a tantalizing romance of opposing wills.  Both Ash and Clarinda are nursing old wounds, but still find themselves drawn toward one another by a powerful force that seems to transcend time and distance.  Will Ash be able to save Clarinda from the sultan’s harem and deliver her back to his brother?  For that matter, how can he stand by and allow his brother to marry the one and only woman he’d ever truly loved?

 

I found the plot entertaining and very fun and different from others in this genre/time period.  It was refreshing!  I enjoyed reading this and it was a relatively quick read.  I’ve already begun reading the second in this series and it’s shaping up to be another lively read!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Where Shadows Dance (Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery, Book Six): C. S. Harris


“Regency London, July 1812:  How do you set about solving a murder that no one can reveal has been committed?

 

“That’s the challenge confronting C. S. Harris’s aristocratic soldier-turned-sleuth, Sebastian St. Cyr, when surgeon and anatomist Paul Gibson illegally buys the cadaver of a young man from London’s infamous body snatchers.  A rising star at the Foreign Office, Mr. Alexander Ross was reported to have died of a weak heart.  But when Gibson discovers a stiletto wound at the base of Ross’s skill, he can turn only to Sebastian for help in catching the killer.

 

“Described by all who knew him as an amiable young man, Ross at first seems an unlikely candidate for murder.  But as Sebastian’s search takes him from the Queen’s drawing rooms in St. James’s Palace to the embassies of Russia, the United States, and the Turkish Empire, he plunges into a dangerous shadow land of diplomatic maneuvering and international intrigue, where truth is an elusive commodity and nothing is as it seems.

 

“Meanwhile, Sebastian must confront the turmoil of his personal life.  Hero Jarvis, daughter of his powerful nemesis Lord Jarvis, finally agrees to become his wife.  But as their wedding approaches, Sebastian can’t escape the growing realization that not only Lord Jarvis but Hero herself knows far more about the events surrounding Ross’s death than they would have him believe.

 

“Then a second body is found, badly decomposed but bearing the same fatal stiletto wound.  And Sebastian must race to unmask a ruthless killer who is now threatening the life of his reluctant bride and their unborn child.”

 

This installment in the world of Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries was one of my quicker reads by Harris.  I thought the plot twists and sheer number of suspects did a very good job of keeping the truth behind the murder of Alexander Ross well hidden from the readers, as well as ensuring a good pace to the plot.

 

Sebastian is called to Gibson’s surgery after the anatomist discovers a very suspicious wound inflicted upon a corpse which he obtained through dubious means.  Little does Sebastian know that investigating the hidden murder will not only reveal massive secrets within the government, but it also puts Sebastian’s own life at stake, and that of those he cares about.


Still struggling to come to terms with the fact that Hendon is not his true father, Sebastian remains firm in his resolve that he’ll not allow his own child to suffer the stain of illegitimacy – he finally convinces Hero Jarvis to accept his hand in marriage, much to the chagrin of both their families at odds over politics and personal vendettas.  Unfortunately for Hero, tying her name to a well-known aristocratic sleuth means she becomes a target for those trying to dissuade and distract Sebastian from his meddlesome crime-solving.  Sebastian must manage his perceptive, nosy, hesitant-bride-to-be all while ensuring his own hide is kept safe as he skillfully maneuvers between social and political circles.  Diplomats, shipping magnates, ambassadors, military notables, foreign spies, and even the Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs all rank somewhere amongst his seemingly-endless list of suspects.  He discovers there are far more lies, subterfuge, and exchanges of gold and secrets taking place within the Regency government and between England and other Continental nations during this tumultuous wartime.  But which of his suspects is the most likely to have wanted Ross – a seemingly well-liked gentleman professional, loyal to both his government and his lovely young betrothed – dead?  And what do the United States have to do with all of it?  Whoever it was nearly got away with the murder…had it not been for Gibson and his body-snatching contacts.

 

As the bodies begin to pile up, Sebastian must determine which – if any – of them are related…and figure out just how many killers are out there before time runs out.  The ensuing manhunt risks Sebastian’s life and the stability of his own country’s government.

 

I found this book to be intriguing and entertaining.  It is, of course, another murder-mystery, so it is certainly not without its gruesome gore.  This is another book that’s not for the faint-of-heart or weak-of-stomach.  The violence and death aren’t gratuitous, just a present aspect of this series and genre – I just wanted to provide fair warning so you’ll know what you’re getting into!  I didn’t see the ending until it exploded right in front of me.  The twists and turns kept the author’s aim well disguised and made me want to keep on reading.  The only shortcoming to this was that I don’t feel like I really, truly appreciated Sebastian’s brilliance in this book.  The beauty of the other books was watching his mind work out the murders and leads.  It’s clear that Harris is capable of revealing just enough to keep the readers guessing because this is what she managed to do with the other books in this series.  For this book, all the pieces seemed to fall into place after the fact, so it almost felt too convenient or the thought process too hidden to actually appreciate from my standpoint.  This means that this book was not my favorite one in this series, though I did still enjoy it.  I like the rollercoaster I experience while reading these books and following Sebastian’s investigations, but I wanted to feel more “involved” than I did while reading this installment.

 

I look forward to watching the characters’ various relationships develop:  Sebastian and Hero, Hendon and Sebastian, Sebastian and Lord Jarvis, even Sebastian and Kat (who was, for the most part, very absent from this book).  One of the greatest successes of this series is Harris’s ability to weave together hints of romance and very personal emotions with the murder-mystery.

 

Happy reading!

Friday, June 7, 2019

Laughing IS Conceivable: One Woman's Extremely Funny Peek into the Extremely Unfunny World of Infertility: Lori Shandle-Fox


"This little ebook was written by a humor writer and former stand-up comic while she was in the shoes of her one fertility treatments -- uncertain of the outcome.  It has been downloaded by 1000s of fertility patients and professionals who believe that, even in this overwhelming, emotionally, mentally, financially, & physically draining time in a person's life, laughter really is the best medicine."


***I FINALLY get to post this review!  I originally wrote it on 12/18/17 and now, on 6/7/2019, I am finally allowed to post it!  When I read this book about a year-and-a-half ago, I had no idea I'd have to postpone this review for such a long time.  I picked it up right after we were told that the next step in our fertility process was IVF...and I was devastated.  I felt so broken, so useless, and so lost.  Why was conceiving no problem for so many and yet I was "unworthy"?  I was desperate (as was my husband) to find some way to cope with this all while maintaining the level of privacy I/we wanted to maintain throughout this infertility process.  This book is marketed to women in my situation.  Re-reading my review below, I didn't seem all that impressed.  I think, perhaps, I wasn't in a very receptive place (I was just downright angry and miserable), or maybe it was because I hadn't actually begun my own IVF process yet.  We didn't start prepping until early 2018 for what would turn into 2 IVF egg retrieval cycles.  Recalling what I do about this book, I think I would have appreciated some of it a lot more had I been going through IVF -- I don't know if I would have cracked up like some of the other readers did, but maybe I would have connected on a different level.  The book did do one thing:  it helped me not feel so alone.  I wasn't the only woman suffering through this and I won't be the last.  If you're more of a private person (like myself) and/or you don't have anyone close to you with whom you can share this experience or who can connect with you, then this is a good place to start.  It may help you feel just a little less lost and a little less hopeless.  Here is what I wrote back in 2017:




I’m planning on keeping this review private for the foreseeable future, mostly because reviewing this short book is a very personal revelation.  I picked up a little postcard advertising this book while in the waiting room at my fertility doctor’s office.  My husband and I have been trying to conceive since our wedding 1.5 years ago, but no luck.  I had a surprise PCOS diagnosis 1 year ago and, after countless tests, a surgery, monitoring, and numerous procedures, still no luck.  The last couple of months have been particularly stressful and painful for me and it seems only to be getting worse.  My poor, distraught husband has asked me to speak to someone about our difficulties in the hopes that it would make me feel better – for many reasons, I/we have decided to keep these issues private, if only to save ourselves from having to discuss every individual failure each and every time.  I feel it’s a very private matter and it’s no one else’s business.  Anyway, this book is supposed to be geared toward women in my situation; it’s marketed as having a sense of humor about the whole issue of infertility and all the crap we have to go through just to try to accomplish something our female bodies are supposed to do naturally.  Speaking first-hand, I can say this is a very personal, very raw, very difficult topic.  I was hoping that this book would do exactly what it was intended to do:  add some levity to the very serious and often heartbreaking situation of infertility.


This was a very quick read – much quicker than I thought it would be…I read it in less than 24 hours.  It was easy to read and well-organized.  While I found my mouth twitching at some of the scenarios and I highlighted several very relatable passages, it was not the crack-me-up, laugh-out-loud book I was hoping for.  Reading reviews on Amazon, it seems like the reviews are, for the most part, on very opposite sides of this spectrum.  People either cried from laughing so much, or they found it boring and filled with complaints rather than anything helpful or uplifting.  I am one of the rare middle-gounders.  I can sincerely appreciate what the author was trying to do.  It was reassuring to know I wasn’t alone in this (though I knew I never actually was, it was a way of seeing into someone else’s journey without feeling nosey or having to explain my own issues to put us on equal ground).  I didn’t crack up.  I think the closest I got was a small chuckle.  I think this could have been a much longer book; especially because it seemed like the author underwent a lot of treatment.  I get that it’s her choice to include as many or as few of her experiences as she wants, but I was given the impression that the book, itself, would have been longer.  I think it would have been more “helpful” had it been longer because she could have included more of her trials.  Maybe that’s just me.

Would I recommend this book?  I suppose.  I can see how it might help some women/people going through similar situations.  It does remind you that you're not alone, you're not the only one experiencing these feelings and this pain, but I did not experience the same solace other readers felt.  I say give it a go if you want!  Who knows?  Maybe it'll help you more than it helped me.  Happy reading (and good luck to all)!

What Remains of Heaven (Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery, Book Five): C. S. Harris


“The latest request for help from Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin—from the Archbishop of Canterbury, no less—is undeniably intriguing:  The bodies of two men have been found in an ancient crypt, their violent deaths separated by decades.  One is the Bishop of London, the elderly Archbishop’s favored but controversial successor.  The identity of the other seems lost in time, although his faded velvet attire marks him as a gentleman of the eighteenth century.

 

“To Sebastian’s consternation, the last person to see the Bishop alive was none other than Miss Hero Jarvis, a woman whose already strained relationship with St. Cyr has been complicated by a brief, unexpectedly passionate encounter.  Not only that, but it soon becomes obvious that her powerful father had reasons of his own for wanting the Bishop out of the way.  In an investigation that leads from the back alleys of Smithfield to the power corridors of Whitehall, Sebastian amasses a list of suspects that ranges from some of the Prince Regent’s closest cronies to William Franklin, embittered son of famous American patriot Ben Franklin.

 

“Then the second corpse is identified, and Sebastian finds himself confronting the well-guarded secrets of his own family’s history.  Now each step he takes toward the killer brings him closer to a devastating truth that could ultimately force him to question who – and what – he really is.”


Here's my last belated May review!  It feels so good to be caught up again!


I seem to be on a bit of a C.S. Harris kick lately – not that this is a bad thing, but I typically try to “mix it up” more than I have been.  I think I’m going to have to force myself to branch out and find some more reading materials and new authors.  If I’m smart about it, I’ll start compiling a list of new and interesting books and authors because I will be going on maternity leave in a few months (yay!) and there’s a chance it could be sooner with my medical history, so I’ll have to find a way to occupy myself so I don’t go stir-crazy waiting for baby boy to arrive.  What better way to pass the enforced downtime than putting my feet up and enjoying the escape into some amazing books?

 

Now, to the review:  As usual, C.S. Harris enthralls and entertains with her dark (and sometimes disturbing) Regency murder-mysteries and her captivating hero, Devlin.  Still mourning the loss of his love, Kat, Sebastian struggles to come to terms with his new existence – little does he know that life as he knows it is about to be dealt an even more crippling blow as he dives into the investigation of the murders in a country crypt.

 

I feel I must issue a warning.  While all of the books in this series involve horrible murders and some gruesome autopsies, I admit that I found this book to be particularly off-putting when I attempted to read it during my lunch breaks at the office…  The repeated descriptions of the mummified cadavers in the crypt – while brilliantly done in vivid detail – were stomach-turning (and I really cannot blame it on my slightly weakened pregnancy tummy).  All I mean to say is that you should be forewarned.  This book is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach (and I like to think I’m not particularly squeamish).  If you can get past this, then the rest of the book is quite interesting.

 

As usual, Devlin is a fascinating, intelligent investigator.  He doesn’t allow threats to deter him from his mission, no matter that his own life may be at risk.  His inquiries seem to take him all over London and the countryside as he tracks a seemingly endless list of suspects.  His investigations uncover the hidden past of a seemingly-Godly bishop, the depravity and general dislike toward the man who is now the murdered corpse in the crypt, and a dark secret from Devlin’s own family history.  Aided by Paul Gibson and his urchin-turned-tiger, Tom, Devlin doggedly follows his leads, all while dodging a man from his past who seeks vengeance against Devlin for a perceived slight when they were both in the army.  He also (somewhat reluctantly) seeks out the assistance of Hero Jarvis, though he knows doing so might very well endanger the investigation when her own father is on his list of suspects.  Doing so brings him closer to Hero…and to the realization that she may be keeping a very, very big secret from him.

 

What Devlin discovers about the murders involves old family secrets, the American Revolution, and the determination to keep those secrets hidden, no matter the cost.  What comes to light not only changes Devlin’s life, but the lives of those around him in irrevocable ways.

 

I enjoyed the suspense and the many twists and turns of this story.  Devlin, as per usual, is a captivating lead.  He’s intelligent, intense, flawed, and charming.  His sense of right and wrong is like his religion, something he seeks out with such fervor that it spurs him on when other, weaker men might have given up or refused to continue on.  The settings are vivid and the story is fast-paced and wildly interesting.  I didn’t see the ending until it hit me in the face.

 

Not to give away any spoilers, but I am pleased that Devlin finally learned about his family’s big secret – we readers have been privy for some time now and I am extremely interested to see where this takes Devlin.

After Midnight (Lords of Midnight, Book One): Teresa Medeiros *UPDATED*


“The eldest and most sensible of the three Cabot siblings, Caroline is naturally concerned that her sister Vivienne has lately been keeping company with the infamous Adrian Kane, Viscount Trevelyan, the enigmatic nobleman whom most of the ton firmly believe is…a vampire!  Surely, it is nonsense.  And yet…  The brooding gentleman inhabits a dark castle and is never seen in the daylight, embarking nightly on mysterious excursions to who knows where.  And from the first moment Caroline encounters the handsome, hypnotically compelling viscount, she is shaken by a fevered desire for the man that borders on the unnatural.  She must know Adrian’s secrets!  But each step that draws the inquisitive beauty deeper into his shadowy world pulls her closer to a sensuous surrender, for the power of his passion is impossible to resist.  Is he man or monster, champion or villain?  And will a yearning heart lead Caroline to disaster…or to love?”

 

Here's another May read I've finally managed to review!  And it's a re-read!  You can find my original (rather horrible) review of this book from August of 2008 HERE.

 

Caroline is driven by a fierce determination to see her younger sisters safe and secure, even if it means sacrificing her own food, clothing, and happiness.  After the death of their parents, she takes over the care and management of her siblings and does everything within her meager power to keep them safe and comfortable.  Her own dreams and ambitions are put on hold so that her sisters might have a better chance at making it out in the world.  Vivienne even inherits the beautiful clothes and adornments that were meant for Caroline’s own coming-out.  While in Town, Vivienne meets and, apparently, captivates one very mysterious suitor.  Viscount Trevelyn has a dark and mysterious reputation, but this does not seem to deter Vivienne’s aims to marry him.  The youngest Cabot sister, however, feels very differently.  Portia has always been flighty and prone to fantasy.  When she discovers Vivienne is being courted by a man purported to be a vampire…well, that sets her imagination aflame.  Caroline must juggle keeping Portia in line and ensuring Vivienne is happy with the match (because, surely, vampires are not real).  She doesn’t, however, take into account her own feelings.  The first time she meets the intensely-handsome, golden-haired viscount, she does not realize to whom she is speaking.  She finds herself inexplicably drawn to him and his sense of humor.  Little does she know, she’s enchanted by the very man her sister is to wed.  As they grow closer, Caroline and Adrian are playing a very dangerous game.  She gets to know Adrian and, rather than have her questions answered, a Pandora’s Box seems to be opened and she’s swallowed by his dark, mysterious world.  Could her sanity be slipping, or is there a very real possibility that the rumors about Adrian could be true?  Could he really be a vampire?  Or does he shield darker secrets from the prying eyes of the ton?

 

I enjoyed this book very much the first time around almost 11 years ago (wow, I cannot believe it’s been that long!) and I did like it this go as well; however, perhaps not as much.  I wasn’t as sucked in as I was last time.  I don’t know if I should attribute this to the fact that I knew to expect the twists and turns, or because it’s not as fantastic as I’d once believed it to be.  Don’t get me wrong, I still very much enjoyed the style of writing and the characters.  I think the difference probably lies in my tastes.  This is a more traditional vampire story and I tend to stay away from these.  If this is something more to your tastes, then you’ll likely enjoy it more than I did.  Its best qualities are probably the surprises.  It’s not as straightforward a plot as you might first believe!  Medeiros is artful in her stealthy approach, carefully crafting a storyline that will keep you interested:  not everything is as it seems.

 

As for the characters, themselves:  I feel like we got to know Caroline much more than Adrian.  For me, books of this genre suffer a bit when this happens.  We female readers are supposed to fall for the male leads.  When they’re less-developed, this becomes more difficult to accomplish.  We learn snippets about Adrian’s past, but the biggest focus is his relationship with his younger brother, Julian.  This redeemed his development somewhat, but I found it a bit lacking.  Most of what we come to know about him is secondhand rather than from Adrian’s own memories or emotions.  I wanted just a bit more from him and I probably would have been more satisfied had I gotten it.  I realize a lot of this had to do with the fact that Medeiros needed to keep us in the dark about various plot twists, but I feel like more could have been revealed once these twists finally came to fruition.

 

Caroline has a much better-formed backstory.  I appreciated her tenacity and self-sacrifice.  She was a young woman bent on doing whatever it took to take care of her sisters and I definitely admired this.  However, this did not make her a pure, flawless character, which I appreciated.  I don’t like when characters are too perfect, and I think most of you will agree with me.  There have to be some imperfections or they don’t feel real enough.  The fact that she began to fall for her sister’s intended was certainly a flaw and her struggle made her more likable.

 

I liked this book and will probably reread the second in the series as well.  If you’re a fan of vampire romances and period romances, then this one will be right up your alley.

Devil’s Daughter (The Ravenels, Book Five): Lisa Kleypas


“Although beautiful young widow Phoebe, Lady Clare, has never met West Ravenel, she knows one thing for certain:  he’s the rotten bully who terrorized her late husband while at boarding school.  But when Phoebe attends a family wedding, she encounters a dashing and impossibly charming stranger who sends a fire-and-ice jolt of attraction through her.  And then he introduces himself…as none other than West Ravenel.

 

“West is a man with a tarnished past.  No apologies, no excuses.  However, from the moment he meets Phoebe, West is consumed by irresistible desire…not to mention the bitter awareness that a woman like her is out of his reach.

 

“But before long, Phoebe sets out to seduce the man who has awakened her fiery nature and shown her unimaginable pleasure.  Will their overwhelming passion be enough to overcome the obstacles of the past?

 

“Only the Devil’s Daughter knows…”

 

Here's yet another May read I'm finally getting around to posting!

This book was another collision between the Wallflowers and Ravenels series by Kleypas.  The way in which she’s able to weave threads of past and present for her characters is masterful and, not to say the least, fun!  I personally really enjoy seeing generations of characters interact; it reminds us that these characters we come to love so dearly in these three-hundred-or-so pages continue to live on even after we close the book.  Their pasts come to haunt them and the lessons they learn can impact their own children.

 

This story follows West Ravenel, younger brother of Devon (his book is the first in the series) as he continues on his newfound path of determination and hard work on the Ravenel lands.  He’s come a very long way from the lush we first meet in book one.  He’s cleaned up his act, whipped himself into shape, and even managed to create profit from his elder brother’s once-miserable lands.  He’s an innovator who isn’t the least bit afraid of getting his hands dirty.  This, however, doesn’t mean that the rake in him has been completely done away with.

 

Meanwhile, we met Phoebe in Pandora and Gabriel’s book (the first instance of the collision between the Wallflowers and Ravenels).  She’s Gabriel’s sister; a woman honor bound to follow her dear, late husband’s wishes and determined to raise her two young sons in a happy, healthy environment.  She struggles a great deal with moving on after the loss of her partner and best friend, but her struggles are only made more confusing and difficult after she meets West amongst the bustle of Gabriel and Pandora’s wedding…because West was once the boy who tormented her husband so terribly that he had to be removed from school.

 

Phoebe is determined to hate West, but it isn’t long before she comes to realize that the children we once were are not necessarily the people we come to be.  Despite her best efforts to put him off, West slowly begins to charm her, unknowingly finding the chink in her armor when it comes to her two little boys.  All the while West struggles to come to terms with the reprobate he once was and the new life he leads.  He feels tremendously guilty for his sins and seems to try to atone for them with a life of backbreaking labor and long hours.  He finds himself drawn to his beautiful, red-haired houseguest…and things between them inevitably heat up.  West finds his senses of right and wrong at war with one another.  What if his past comes back to haunt him?  People may praise him for his current accomplishments, but what if his former depravity bites them all?  What sort of example does that set?

 

Both Phoebe and West must come to terms with their own pasts and have to realize they can only have a future if they learn to live in the present.

 

I found West charming, as usual.  He’s been a common thread throughout the series and I’ve always enjoyed his playful sense of humor and razor-sharp sarcasm.  It isn’t often that we get to see a character grow and develop so much in a series within this genre, and I think it truly did take every book for him to finally become the man he was in this installment.  The progression was both believable and entertaining.  I can’t, of course, forget about Phoebe.  I thought she was going to be a depressed little mouse, but I had a pleasant surprise when she turned into a witty firecracker.  Certainly, I knew she had to be one if she was going to be any sort of match for West’s huge personality.  I admired her devotion to her late husband and her sons, but I think it appreciated her ultimate realization that she had to be happy if she was going to make anyone else happy.  This felt like a realistic development (and something that so many people seem to forget).

 

I found the romance to be moving and passionate.  The development of their love story was captivating and fun – I found myself laughing aloud several times.

 
Overall, I’m very pleased with this installment in the series and it just might be one of my favorites.

Where Serpents Sleep (Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery, Book Four): C. S. Harris


“London, 1812.  The brutal slaughter of eight young prostitutes in a house of refuge near Covent Garden leaves only one survivor—and one witness:  Hero Jarvis, reform-minded daughter of the Prince Regent’s cousin, Lord Jarvis.  When the Machiavellian power broker quashes any official inquiry that might reveal his daughter’s unorthodox presence, Hero launches an investigation of her own and turns to Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, for help.  Still struggling to come to terms with the loss of his lover, Kat Boleyn, and the resultant estrangement from his father, Sebastian is at first reluctant to agree.  But the callous violence of the murders—combined with the opportunity to provoke his archenemy, Jarvis—prompts him to act.

 

“Working in uneasy alliance, Hero and Sebastian focus their efforts on one particular victim of the carnage:  Rose Jones, the terrified nineteen-year-old girl, with the unmistakable accent of a gentlewoman, who died in Hero’s arms.  As they unravel a dangerous thread of lies and deceptions, Hero and Sebastian follow a trail of clues leading from the seedy brothels and docksides of London’s East End to the Mayfair mansion of a noble family with dark secrets of its own to hide.  Risking both their lives and their reputations, the two must race against time to stop a killer whose ominous plot threatens to shake the nation to its very core.”

 

This is another May read that I'm finally getting around to posting...

Here we have yet another installment of the Sebastian St. Cyr Mysteries, and this one definitely did not disappoint.  This book takes place several months after the conclusion of Why Mermaids Sing and we find Devlin still grasping to come to terms with the life altering revelation at the conclusion of the last book.  His life and his love are forever changed and he isn’t sure how or if he can move on from the woman he was so certain he would marry – the woman he’d loved for years.  He’s taken to living the life man who has nothing for which to live.  He drinks himself into a stupor, eats and sleeps very little, and has become a shade amongst men.  To add to this, he is unable to face or forgive his father for his secrets and Devlin blames him for the demise of his hopes and dreams.  It seems that nothing can wrench Devlin free of his despair…until Hero Jarvis, daughter of Devlin’s enemy, seeks out his assistance.

 

Though we lose Kat as a foil to Devlin’s point of view, we gain Hero’s unique perspective.  She is, in fact, the catalyst for the investigation contained within this plot.  Reform-minded Hero is busy working on a theory that most prostitutes do not pursue their lifestyle willingly or out of some lack of morality, but, rather, that extenuating circumstances force them to sell their bodies or risk death or injury.  She’s busy interviewing a woman who has sought refuge in a home set up by the Quakers as a way to help get women off the streets and train them for a new way of life.  While performing her interview, the home is invaded and the women are killed.  Hero and the woman she knows as Rose are able to escape to the alley, but Hero is the only one to leave alive.  Hero knows there is more to the attack than it seems.  When her father brushes off her concern and makes her promise not to go to Bow Street, Hero realizes there’s only one man to whom she can turn.  She seeks out Devlin and, using his animosity toward her father to her advantage, she convinces him to assist in her investigation.  Though reluctant at first, Devlin finds some solace in the familiarity of investigating the brutal murders.  What he discovers involves deep dark secrets of a noble family, a woman who was not who she seemed to be, and a nefarious plot against the government which could have horrible consequences.  He quickly recognizes the asset he has in Hero’s quick mind and determined nature.  Though they are at odds most of the time, both know they have a powerful ally in uncovering the motive and murderer(s) in one another.  It becomes apparent that the person who committed these crimes is willing to continue to kill in order to cover his trail and Devlin knows this means Hero’s life could be in grave danger.  She refuses to heed his warnings, determined to crack the case and see justice.  This, unfortunately, brings both Devlin and Hero to a point where neither of them may see the light of day again.  And, if they happen to survive by some miracle, their lives will forever be changed.

 

This fast-paced plot was well-written with a ton of twists and turns.  Each time I thought Hero and Devlin were moving forward in their investigation, there were still more layers to come.  Though the plot wasn’t my favorite in the series – I didn’t find it as captivating, though I’m uncertain why – I thought the interplay between Devlin and Hero was particularly interesting.  They never got along well, so asking them to work so closely together provided some entertaining repartee.  Hero is a strong woman determined to remain self-sufficient and undeterred by the pressures of both her father and society.  She is headstrong and very intelligent, which makes her a very good foil for Devlin.  Though he’s always recognized these qualities in Hero, even Devlin seems surprised with just how much she’s able to contribute to the investigation.

 

Together, they slowly unravel the mysteries of “Rose” and the complex underworld of London’s prostitution houses.  The network of cutthroats and chillingly calculating proprietors, lies and secrets make for a difficult journey for these two investigators.  Their jobs aren’t easy and a multitude of traps and danger lie in wait for them.

 
The conclusion was explosive and one I could not predict.  I really look forward to seeing how this will influence upcoming books in the series.  I ardently hope that we’ll get to see more interactions between Hero and Devlin!