Saturday, November 15, 2014

Only Enchanting

Only Enchanting (The Survivors' Club, #4)Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mrs. Agnes Keeping, a young widow, lives quietly with her sister, a spinster music teacher, in the English village Inglebrook. She had married an older gentleman for comfort and convenience and doesn't expect or wish to ever fall in love. In fact, she rather fears it, thanks to her mother's scandalous behavior and consequent abandonment of the sisters when Agnes was a small child. However, when she goes to a ball given by her new best friend, Sophia, Lady Darleigh, Agnes accidentally falls in love with Flavian Arnott, Viscount Ponsonby. Thankfully, he doesn't live in the area, and she believes she'll never see him again. This being a romance novel, she of course sees him again five months later when he and the other members of the Survivors' Club journey back to Middlebury Park for their annual gathering.

Flavian was shot in the head and trampled by a horse while fighting Napoleon's army in France. He has recovered from most of his wounds, thanks the the ministrations he received at Penderris Hall, home of the Duke of Stanbrook, but he still suffers from gaps in his memory, stuttering, and unexpected flashes of anger--symptoms familiar to many of today's soldiers as well. One of those frustrating holes in his memory relates to his former fiancee who jilted him to marry his best friend after he was wounded in battle. News that she's widowed and finished with her mourning period inexplicably sends him into a panic, where only marriage to Agnes feels safe. The difficulty lies in stitching together enough pieces of the past to understand the present and salvage their future together.

Mary Balogh does such a fantastic job writing multi-dimensional characters. It's one of the things I like best about her books--you feel like the people in them are real, and you enjoy spending time with them.

My only quibble with book #4 in this series is that I could have used some sort of chart or character list to help me keep the names and relationships straight. I thought I had read all three of the previous novels, but thanks to Goodreads, I just discovered that I'd only read the first one...which helps explain why I struggled mightily to connect titles, first names, and last names. My husband is in the military, and I have the exact same difficulty with his colleagues--it's taken me years in many cases to link a face with the three separate things she or he might be called, according to the circumstances. I have often wished for a cheat sheet with my husband's friends & coworkers, and I definitely wished for one while reading Only Enchanting.

For readers' advisors: character and setting doorways. Mild historical swearing and eventually a couple of sex scenes.

I received a free e-galley copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Waistcoats & Weaponry

Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School, #3)Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book #3 is a fast-paced romp of a steampunk story with misbehaving mechanical servants, party crashers, werewolf pack politics, a stolen train, a love triangle, tangled loyalties, a power-grab conspiracy, disguises, revelations, desperate decisions, and so much more. This time, most of the story takes place away from Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies. A year has passed since the end of Curtsies and Conspiracies. Not long after Sidheag receives bad news regarding her family, Sophronia, Dimity, and Pillover head to Sophronia's home to attend her eldest brother's engagement ball. All seems to be going swimmingly until Sidheag and two werewolves show up, and not long after the werewolves leave, all the mechanical servants suddenly freeze in their tracks and begin singing. The confusion provides the perfect cover for Sophronia and her friends to escape and help Sidheag head north, but none of them has the slightest inkling what chain of events this will set in motion.

This series just keeps getting better and better! Now that I've gotten more of a feel for who/what "Picklemen" are, I have no complaints whatsoever. Well, aside from the fact that I now have to wait for the next installment to be written and published.

For readers' advisors: story, character, and setting doorways are all strong. There is no sex or swearing (what Dimity considers "bad language" hardly counts).

Many many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher who let me read a free eGalley copy in exchange for my honest review.

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Seventh Grave and No Body

Seventh Grave and No Body (Charley Davidson, #7)Seventh Grave and No Body by Darynda Jones
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am so frustrated with this series right now!  It used to be one of my favorites, but after the first few books, the novelty and humor of Charley's particular brand of cavalier recklessness started wearing off, and now it grates on my nerves.  There is zero character development in book seven.  None.  Charley does not learn from her (gigantic!) mistakes.  At. All.  I listened to the downloadable audiobook version in my car on my commute, and so many times I found myself quite literally yelling at my stereo, "You are an IDIOT!!  No!  Nonononono!  Stupid stupid STUPID!!!"  My fellow motorists must have thought I'd lost my mind.

You would think that Ms. Jones would have Charley grow up at least a little bit over the course of the series.  Use some common sense every once in a while.  But no, despite being hunted by 12 Hellhounds so dangerous they terrify even the uber-powerful Son of Satan (Reyes) and the Champion Gladiator Demon (Osh), Charley repeatedly sneaks out, trying to evade her self-appointed bodyguards, putting everyone's life at risk...even AFTER her folly nearly kills said bodyguards.

You would think that Ms. Jones would have Charley learn to use her newfound powers strategically.  But faced with a human villain in a house with a human victim, does she take advantage of her supernatural talents and friends, slowing time long enough to capture the murderer and free the prisoner?  No, instead she starts a fight with her protectors on the front lawn.

It's as though she goes out of her way to be self-absorbed and childish.  She never takes seriously Reyes' admonition to learn to use her special abilities to fight for her life against the Hounds, and in the climactic showdown, it's like she basically forgot everything Reyes taught her and just sat frozen and useless for most of the battle while everyone else was ripped to shreds.

One of my other pet peeves with this book is that you could create a new drinking game based on the number of times Charley says, "affianced," "sweet," and "It was weird."  Repeated words and phrases stuck out like sore thumbs in audiobook format, as did the excessive explicit sex scenes.  All of which really got in the way of the story.  When Ms. Jones got out of her own way and focused on the fast-paced story, the book was really exciting and enjoyable.

For readers' advisors:  story doorway.  Lots and lots of sex and profanity.  Some humor (or attempts thereof).

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