Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Ugly Duchess

The Ugly Duchess (Fairy Tales, #4)The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The Duke of Ashbrook informs his son, James, that James must woo and marry the duke's ward, Theo, or they will lose everything. The duke has already embezzled a sizable amount of Theo's dowry, and if her mother finds out, she will have him arrested. James is livid but is forced to agree to the plan, on the condition that upon their wedding day, his father signs the entire estate over to him to prevent any more financial disasters. James and Theo have been raised as siblings and are best friends, so when he begins to court her, both are shocked to discover their feelings are deeper than either knew. Two days after the wedding, however, Theo learns the truth and banishes both James and the duke from the house. She never hears from her husband again until the day of the formal ceremony in the House of Lords to declare him dead.

I was going to give this one five stars...until the last third of the book after James returns and is a total jerk. 1 star for that section. He's known all along that he betrayed his best friend and will have to work really hard to rebuild her trust in him and convince her he actually does love her, not her dowry, yet when he finally bothers to come home, all he does is humiliate her and run roughshod over her life, stripping away her freedom and autonomy. I HATED him for that. For not listening to her. For not ever really apologizing or demonstrating that he understood the vastness of her pain. James swaggered in and treated Theo like a possession, not a person, and never ever truly LOOKED at her to see the person she had become or what she had accomplished during those long years alone. Even while he was working to overcome her revulsion at all things sexual, all he did was lie to her and trick her. (And really, under the circumstances, she re-learned to enjoy sex WAY too quickly.)

This book made me so very very angry. I have enjoyed Ms. James' books in the past, but this one.... James (the author as well as the character!) needs to attend some of Alison Armstrong's workshops, especially the one called "Understanding Women"! Particularly the part about The Rage Monster and the proper (and only effective) method of apologizing to a woman.

Oh, and it's loosely a re-telling of the Ugly Duckling fairy tale.

For readers' advisors: story, character, setting doorways. Steamy sex scenes.

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The Duke Is Mine

The Duke Is Mine (Fairy Tales, #3)The Duke Is Mine by Eloisa James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Olivia Lytton has been raised since birth to be a duchess. Her father and the Duke of Canterwick were schoolmates who pledged to betroth their first-born daughter and son, respectively, so Olivia has always known who she'd marry. However, her fiance is a few bricks shy of a load and five years younger than she to boot, so she takes refuge in bawdy wit, to the despair of her mother and twin sister.

After an embarrassing encounter forced on the pair by their parents, Rupert heads off to war, determined to bring glory upon his family name before he marries Olivia. For her part, Olivia becomes Rupert's champion as she learns to appreciate his sweetness and realizes he had been deprived of oxygen at birth. With Olivia's future settled, she and her twin sister Georgiana head to the country where Georgie is auditioning for the role of duchess to Quin, the Duke of Sconce. (In other words, they attend a house-party hosted by his mother).

Unlike the frequently irreverent Olivia, Georgiana would make an ideal duchess, and the dowager agrees. Problem is, Quin cannot keep his eyes or his attention away from Olivia, and the feeling is mutual. What a tangled web!

I loved Olivia's sense of humor. Were I in her shoes, pledged to marry a man who could never be my intellectual equal and who would require a lifetime of care, I likely would become clinically depressed, but Olivia chooses to make herself laugh instead, and I admire that.

I also loved that you get to know and understand the characters better over time, which makes them more human and sympathetic. For example, Georgie may be perfectly behaved, but she longs to go to university, in an age where women simply weren't allowed access to higher education. Even the obedient child has a bit of rebel in her.

The overall story is a re-imagining of the Princess and the Pea fairy tale, and I enjoyed how Ms. James played with those themes. Apparently, though, the ending was also a tribute to The Scarlet Pimpernel...although it's been too long since I read it to catch those allusions.

Based on other reviews I've read, this is a book you either love or hate, and I loved it. Zany fun, and great for a day cooped up indoors with a nasty cold.

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways are primary, setting secondary. Some steamy sex scenes set in Regency England.

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dark Destiny

Dark Destiny (Dark Mirror, #3)Dark Destiny by Mary Jo Putney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The final book in the Dark Mirror trilogy opens where book two left off: Tory's 17th birthday party. Allarde and Mrs. Rainford get a vision of Napoleon invading England, so the Lackland students return to 1804 to stop this from coming to pass. They successfully thwart one major incursion, but soon Britain's magical defenses are stretched to the breaking point, and the Irregulars realize they will need help from their twentieth century friends if they are to prevent the French from landing on British soil.

There are romantic subplots, as everyone but Elspeth has a romantic interest that grows and develops over the course of the trilogy. Putney hints that Elspeth's love will appear later--perhaps another book? However, the various romances are not the focus of the story, which means a refreshing lack of angst. All the couples will face uphill battles in their relationships: Cynthia and Jack are from different classes, Nick and Rebecca are from different faiths, and Tory and Allarde face disinheritance. Should Putney choose to continue the series, I would be very interested in reading how they all overcome their various obstacles.

The second book is still my favorite of the three, but this one is very enjoyable as well, albeit less exciting. (Things move along slightly too easily somehow.)

For readers' advisors: character, story, and setting doorways. No sex, just a fair amount of kissing and heavy petting. I don't recall any swearing.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

A Kiss at Midnight

A Kiss at MidnightA Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Kate Daltry's father died only months after marrying his mistress, Kate was left alone with a tyrannical stepmother and Victoria, her sweet but dimwitted half-sister. The new Mrs. Daltry blackmailed Kate into staying on for years as an unpaid servant by threatening to dismiss any or all of the estate's servants and tenants. When one of Victoria's tiny Maltese dogs bites her in the lip and causes her face to swell, Mariana threatens to evict the vicar's widow and children in order to force Kate to pose as her sister and convince a prince to let Victoria marry his nephew. But Kate is nothing like Victoria, and the prince, who is betrothed to a Russian princess he's never met, is captivated by her lack of reverence for his title and his person. However much he desires Kate, though, he must marry an heiress in order to support his large household full of his elder brother's cast-off retainers.

This witty retelling of the Cinderella story, set vaguely in Regency England, is great fun, full of quirky, flawed characters I enjoyed getting to know. Might have to add this one to my Christmas wish list!

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways, with setting & language (great dialogue) secondary. Some racy sex scenes.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Far West

The Far WestThe Far West by Patricia C. Wrede
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the third book of the Frontier Magic series, Eff joins an exploratory expedition headed west to map uncharted wilderness and discover what is pushing the dangerous medusa lizards ever closer to the settlement lands. No one has ever gone quite so far and lived to tell about it--certainly not the ill-fated Lewis & Clark explorers many years ago. What they find threatens to destroy everyone and everything they know and love if they can't come up with a plan to prevent a massive magical cataclysm.

I love Patricia Wrede's books! Only 2 things keep me from giving this one a 5-star rating: 1) It's obvious from the start that Eff will go on the journey but it takes her a ridiculously long time to see that. 2) Marriage proposals without so much as holding hands or kissing or anything first?! Wrede does a great job with characterization and is a master of using a tiny phrase, gesture, or pause to speak volumes, and I'm not saying there should be some big romantic subplot, but it's just not believable even in the cultural environment of this story that anyone would leap from friendship to proposing marriage without so much as a kiss!

For readers' advisors: character, story, and setting doorways. Squeaky clean read. Written for teens but great for adults, too.

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When Beauty Tamed the Beast

When Beauty Tamed the Beast (Fairy Tales, #2)When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the nobility decide that Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, has impregnated Miss Linnet Berry Thrynne (he hasn't), she is an instant outcast from Society. None of her protestations of purity persuade anyone otherwise, particularly once she appears at a ball wearing an unfortunately designed gown and is seen being rejected by the Prince. What's a father to do but find a duke with an impotent son who would love an heir with royal blood, and marry the two off before anyone finds out she's not actually pregnant? Which is how Linnet comes to find herself accompanying a Duke in a carriage traveling to Wales to meet her betrothed, Piers Yelverton, Earl of Marchbank, known for his brilliance as a diagnosing physician and his horrendous temper. But Piers hates his father and has no intention of marrying, no matter how perfect the bride.

Ms. James freely admits she based Piers on the character of Dr. Gregory House from the tv show "House." Thankfully Piers has a bit more human kindness buried in his soul and doesn't resort to the mean tricks House uses on his friends and coworkers.

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways, with setting secondary. Some steamy sex scenes.

Oh, and I'd rate it 4 stars for the story, but negative 5 for the gag-inducing cover. What idiot designs these things anyway? I would not have read it if I'd seen the cover before I put the book on hold at my library. Sheesh! Whatever happened to "know your audience"?

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot

Violet Mackerel's Brilliant PlotViolet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot by Anna Branford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Violet is a sweet little girl who wants a blue china bird and needs to think of a BRILLIANT plot to earn enough money to buy it. It takes her a few tries and a generous gift before she succeeds.

It's a very short chapter book. Easily read in a few bedtimes. Large font and frequent illustrations. I'm not sure how old Violet is supposed to be. 5 or 6? Perhaps a little older, since she writes her ideas down in notebooks. The level of the language makes me think it's aimed at older elementary students, however.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

The Lady Most Likely...: a novel in three parts

The Lady Most Likely...: A Novel in Three PartsThe Lady Most Likely...: A Novel in Three Parts by Julia Quinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lady Carolyn Finchley believes a house party will be the perfect way to find her horse-obsessed brother Hugh, the Earl of Briarly, a bride. Trouble is, other gentlemen keep falling in love with the women on her list of potential countesses. Hugh may just have to take matters into his own hands and convince the woman he secretly loves to take a chance on him despite her poor opinion of matrimony.

Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway do a splendid job of weaving together three novellas into one virtually seamless story. Each author focuses on a different romantic pair meeting and falling in love at the same house party, with transitions between told from the viewpoint of their hostess. I picked the book up because Quinn is one of my favorite authors, and I was delighted to discover that James and Brockway are similarly witty.

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways, with setting secondary (Regency England). A bit of swearing and some increasingly steamy sex scenes.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life

Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life (Dork Diaries, #1)Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renée Russell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Meh. Not my thing. Silly middle school girl with a scholarship to attend a new private school tries to turn herself into a "cool" kid to make friends but ends up making friends with fellow library-book-shelving volunteers instead. It was refreshing that the cute boy she had a crush on was nice to her and didn't much like the stereotypical spoiled rich girl who was her arch-nemesis. I appreciated that the many manga-style cartoon drawings helped speed the story along so it was a pretty quick read. I'm sure tween girls love this series, but there was too much middle school angst for my taste, although Nikki's dramatics were obviously tongue-in-cheek, meant to highlight the ridiculousness of her "woes."

For readers' advisors: character doorway primary, story secondary.

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Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Day No Pigs Would Die

A Day No Pigs Would DieA Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robert Peck's semi-autobiographical novel of growing up in the Shaker Way in rural Vermont in 1940 is full of life lessons--some funny, some painful and violent, and some heart-wrenching.

Twelve-year-old Robert idolizes his father. Haven Peck may not know how to read or write, but he is wise in the ways of the natural world, a good neighbor, and a good man. He is steadfast in his determination to raise his son up to be a good man, too, and to that end teaches him how to take care of the animals, the farm, his mama, and his Aunt Carrie. On a farm, birth and death are everyday occurrences for which there is no escape. But in between the birthing and the dying is a whole lot of laughter, adventure, and love.

In my library, this book is shelved in the adult fiction section, but it really is a young adult novel for older teens. I picked it up because it was on a list of banned & challenged books, and now I'm wondering if it had been challenged in my district at some point in the past and moved from YA to adult fiction as a result?

For readers' advisors: language and setting doorways are primary, character secondary (there is not much in the way of plot--it's more vignettes). The descriptions of farm life are vivid and often brutal, particularly the rape of Robert's pig, the "weaseling" of the puppy, and the animal slaughtering. There are some swear words and some allusions to hanky panky happening down the road. The language is so evocative of a particular time & place it almost begs to be read aloud...which might be a good idea if you wish to read together and discuss as a family.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pirate Santa

Pirate SantaPirate Santa by Clay Clement / Mark Summers
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Well...the illustrations are nice.... The story, though, is puzzling at best. Santa doesn't, of course, deliver toys to misbehaving children, such as Ninja Boy and Pirate Girl (whose crime is being on a pirate ship??), so his cousin Pirate Cap'n Slappy gets really angry and decides to pick up shipwrecked toys from a mermaid and deliver them with the aid of magical dust stolen from Santa and sprinkled on talking sharks who want to be part of the crew. Which turns out to be Santa's plan all along.


I just don't even know what to say about this strange story. It tries to have a moral to the story (i.e. all children deserve toys), but the message is so mixed and bizarre that I got to the end thinking, "What the heck?" Doesn't help matters that the text is intended to be read aloud in a rhythmic sing-song, but the meter isn't consistent, so the flow trips and stutters all over the place. A good editor should have caught those errors and insisted on revisions.

I am thankful to NetGalley and the author/publisher for allowing me to view the eGalley copy.

Oh, and one interesting thing is that the authors are apparently the originators of Talk Like a Pirate Day, which I think is awesome!

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