Friday, April 15, 2011

Review: Eleven Scandals To Start To Win A Duke's Heart

From Goodreads: Bold, impulsive, and a magnet for trouble, Juliana Fiori is no simpering English miss. She refuses to play by society's rules: she speaks her mind, cares nothing for the approval of the ton, and can throw a punch with remarkable accuracy. Her scandalous nature makes her a favorite subject of London's most practiced gossips...and precisely the kind of woman the Duke of Leighton wants far far away from him.

He swears by reputation.

Scandal is the last thing Simon Pearson has room for in his well-ordered world. The Duke of Disdain is too focused on keeping his title untainted and his secrets unknown. But when he discovers Juliana hiding in his carriage late one evening--risking everything he holds dear--he swears to teach the reckless beauty a lesson in propriety.

She has other plans, however; she wants two weeks to prove that even an unflappable duke is not above passion

My thoughts: Juliana is a great heroine...she has her struggles, her issues, but she's also very strong and very independent, particularly when thrown into a situation (new family, managing the Ton) beyond her planning, desire or control.  Simon is also a fabulous hero...he most definitely has a passionate streak, but his need to do his duty by his family, above all else, has been driven into him since such an early age that it overrides (at least often overrides) his own desires.  Juliana and Simon are a perfect match though, as they bring out the best and the worst in each other, trying to find that middle ground.  I enjoyed their story very much.  Characters (and story lines) from other books were woven in well to bring everything together, and this was a fitting end to the siblings' stories.

I can't begin to describe how excited I was to dive into this book.  I think my only disappointment when I was done was that I was done...and the trilogy was complete.  I thought this was a great finale, although I'm left hoping there are more books to come involving some of the other side characters, because I'm left feeling like some stories were left out.  If I had one complaint, it's that I didn't feel like things were wrapped up when it came to the storyline involving the mother...that one still feels like it's hanging out there.  Overall though, this is a fabulous trilogy of books and I'm looking forward to seeing what MacLean publishes next!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Quarterly Update

We are already a quarter of the way through the year is flying by (of course I'm pretty sure I say that every year).

I'm doing very well on the reading challenge front.  As of today (so going slightly into this next quarter) I've read 55 books as part of the 2011 reading challenge.  My original goal was to read 100 books in 2011...since I seem to be on pace to surpass that in about 2 months, I upped the goal to 200 books...that may be more of a challenge :)

Of those 55 books, only 4 are from my stash (I need to work on that!), 18 are audio books and 33 are library books (support your local library!).  I've managed to post 27 reviews, of varying length, with a few more to be posted once we're closer to release date or I get caught up.

I haven't been as successful on my craft projects...although I have gotten a few done!  I've been slacking since early February though, and I need to work on getting caught up on the ones I've got started/in pieces.  I'm just about done with my first two crocheted baby blankets though, which have been fun (but take way longer than scarves!), and I've got several quilt blocks cut, just not finished.  Those are toward the top of my uber-long unfinished project list.  I'll probably never get caught up, since I keep adding to the list (the new niece needs a few more blankets according to her big sister), but just getting a few finished and having that sense of accomplishmentt might spur some more activity on this front.  I just haven't had a ton of motivation here, but since that seems to come and go, I'm sure it will be back before too long.

It's going to be a crazy busy month or so here, so I won't set any real goals for myself, but I do hope that when I do another look back next quarter I've managed to read a few more books from my stash and finish a few projects!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Review: The Restorer

The Restorer (The Graveyard Queen, #1)The Restorer by Amanda Stevens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Goodreads: My name is Amelia Gray. I’m a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts. In order to protect myself from the parasitic nature of the dead, I’ve always held fast to the rules passed down from my father. But now a haunted police detective has entered my world and everything is changing, including the rules that have always kept me safe.

It started with the discovery of a young woman’s brutalized body in an old Charleston graveyard I’ve been hired to restore. The clues to the killer—and to his other victims— lie in the headstone symbolism that only I can interpret. Devlin needs my help, but his ghosts shadow his every move, feeding off his warmth, sustaining their presence with his energy. To warn him would be to invite them into my life. I’ve vowed to keep my distance, but the pull of his magnetism grows ever stronger even as the symbols lead me closer to the killer and to the gossamer veil that separates this world from the next.

My Thoughts: The Restorer is the first in a series from Amanda Stevens called The Graveyard Queen. This was the first I'd read one of Stevens' books, and I have to say, I'm hooked. A great combination of ghost story and mystery, with a hint of romance and a dash of southern charm, I thoroughly enjoyed this read and am going to be anxiously counting down to the next release.

The story itself is strong for almost the entire book. Amelia has lived her life by her father's rules, as they keep her "safe" from the world of ghosts. Walking a thin line, she's carved a niche for herself with a career as a cemetery restorer, yet is somewhat lonely. When bodies start turning up in a cemetery she is restoring, she's thrown together with a darkly handsome and intriguing police detective - James Devlin. Dangerous to her in ways she doesn't understand, yet drawn to him in the same way, Amelia is trying to deal with the issues surrounding Devlin (play on name here (devil) or is that just me), and being the next possible target of a murderer.

It's a great story...lots of fabulous descriptions that have you shivering (especially if you hate spiders like me), an intriguing look into an area most are unfamiliar with, good characters and in general, a good mystery. There were a few things that detracted a bit for me. The ending is a big was wrapped up all way to quick. This was one that the book had been so well set up that I didn't feel it was running long at all...but then everything just sort of came together and fairly out of the blue. I felt like there were a few loose ends as well with some characters, but those might have been on purpose as we will find out perhaps in later books. I also felt like there are still a few too many mysteries surrounding Amelia's parents and family. It appears clear that this is going to be a focus later, but in this book, just a bit more would have been good. Also, the romance part is not overly strong here...the unrequited attraction became a bit much for example, but that didn't really detract from the story overall. that's more of a warning for those who will go in expecting a true romance and HEA...let's just say that this is definitely set up as the first in a series and the reader is left with a lot to look forward to in later books.

I'm not usually one to make comparisons, but I think that if you are a fan of the Deanna Raybourn books, you'll like The Restorer. Similar sort of dark, ghostly mystery theme (although very different overall) with an underlying romance that is by no means the focus of the story. Stevens has set up a great series with The Restorer and I'm looking forward to The Kingdom in November.

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Review: The Vampire Dimitri

From Goodreads: Dimitri, the Earl of Corvindale, should be delighted that the headstrong Maia Woodmore is getting married. His mortal ward and houseguest has annoyed – and bewitched – the Dracule nobleman too long, and denying his animal cravings grows more excruciating by the day.

Miss Woodmore's family has a rather...complicated history with the immortals and she herself possesses a keen sensibility far beyond mere women's intuition. Marriage will give her safety, respectability, and everything else a proper young lady could wish for. Everything, that is, except for passion.

In the looming battle between Dracule factions, all pretenses will shatter as Maia and Dimitri come together in an unholy union of danger, desperation, and fiercest desire.

My Thoughts: See my earlier review of Book One - The Vampire Voss, for other thoughts on the Dracule.  Book Two takes place in large part during the EXACT same time frame as Book One.  So there is a lot of background information that is repeated as to the setting, the battle between Cezar and the other Dracule, Cezar's desire to use the Woodmere sisters to get back at their brother, etc., etc.

This book focuses on the eldest sister, Maia, who is for the most part a very strong, likable heroine, who takes on a lot of responsibility for her family, sometimes unnecessarily I think.  As a result, she tends to be a bit managing, a bit bossy, and a bit domineering.  These are not necessarily bad traits though.  Dimitri, the sisters' reluctant guardian, is desperate to break Lucifer's curse and has dedicated his life to finding a way.  In the meantime, he avoids society, human contact and anything smacking of a relationship whenever possible.

I did enjoy seeing the relationship between her and Dimitri grow, and seeing her move out of her comfort zone even faster than Dimitri would take a risk.  The idea of love being scary rings true, and the fear of taking that risk and being hurt, let to a lot of drama and angst in the relationship, but it played out well and I like Maia and Dimitri as a couple (even if Dimitri came across as an arrogant jerk 1/2 the time--it somehow worked and you didn't dislike him because I think you could see it was his way of protecting himself).  I sort of felt like Maia's former beau got short shrift after being portrayed as such a kind guy all the way up to the point where he's not, but it definitely added a twist to the story the way that issue was taken care of.  Overall, I liked the relationship aspect of this book better than the first.  This one felt like it was one that we actually saw develop from start to finish, seeing each of them grow and evolve into what we end up with. 

This book saved itself for me in the last 1/2 to 1/3 of the pages.  The first 1/3 I essentially skimmed because I felt it was nothing was essentially the same as parts of the 1st book in the series, The Vampire Voss.  It wasn't even, for the most part, the same scenes from a different perspective so as a reader you were finding out something new, it felt like pages were just cut and pasted.  That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but for the 1st 1/3 of the book, I was not engaged.  Part of my problem might have been reading them back-to-back, and if I'd stepped away for a few weeks before diving into book 2, I may not have felt that the repetitiveness was an issue.

That changed though, once we moved past the point in time where book one ended, and the story picked up.  I think the problem was that books one and two have two sisters as the heroines...and their stories were simply too intertwined in time and space and events.  I don't have these same fears for book 3 - the Vampire Narcise.  We've only seen Narcise a few times in the previous books and there's more to her story than the brief snippets we've seen.  I've actually already started Narcise's story, and I'm so far about 1/3 of the way in and liking it the best of the 3 so far!