All posts by flos56

The Dukes Secret Seduction by Donna Lea Simpson

The Duke of Alban, close friends of the King and Queen, is devastated to witness His Majesty losing his mind plus hanging out with the aimless Prinny has become such a bore. In need of a change of scenery, he decides to visit his Hunting Box in Swaledale and reconnect with his beloved Aunt Eliza who has a home on his Yorkshire property. The last time he had been with his aunt was to find comfort and heal after the betrayal of his wife who had not only run off with a courtier but drowned in a freak accident off the coast of Italy shortly thereafter.

Since Autumn was a good time for hunting, Alban decides to invite along the down-in-the-dumps Bartholomew Norton, a close boyhood friend who could also use some time away. Suddenly the group grows to four with the pushy Earl of Orkenay and the unfamiliar Sir John Fitzhenry, a young baronet, tagging along ready for a house party.

The Duke is in for a surprise when his discovers his aunt has become blind and Kitty Douglas, her companion, is not some old biddy, but a lovely young widow whose deceased husband had gambled away their funds forcing her to seek gentile employment. There’s an instant attraction, but the class barriers get in the way of any meaningful relationship. That doesn’t mean there can’t be a flirtation. Luckily, the forward thinking Lady Rebecca DeVere Severn and reticent Hannah Billings, two of Kitty’s friends, both widows, are also visiting, which is an extra inducement for the men to spend time at his aunt’s house.

Everyone pairs up, with Kitty having the attention of both the Duke and the Earl. While their compliments are flattering, the Earl’s attempts at seduction leave her cold, but an accidental touch from the Duke gets her juices flowing. From his letters to Aunt Eliza, Kitty has imagined the man of her dreams, but in person the two are at constant odds despite their mutual attraction. Neither gentleman has marriage in mind, but Kitty is not interested in a transient relationship. Misunderstandings and hurt feelings are inevitable before true love is revealed.

The Dukes Secret Seduction by Donna Lea Simpson was originally published in 2004 as The Duke and Mrs Douglas. Too bad the author didn’t take this opportunity to review her work and do some editing. While the story seemed interesting at first, it dragged on too long with too much repetition. There just wasn’t enough plot to sustain a full length novel, but it would have made an excellent novella. This is one your grandmother could read since a deep kiss is as graphic as it gets, although, for a Regency Romance, some of the language used in polite company would have been shocking. While Kitty was a naive, albeit likable character, the Duke was an obnoxious, self absorbed man who, in my mind, never quite earned redemption. His only saving grace was his love and solicitude towards his Aunt Eliza, especially since I wasn’t feeling the romance between him and Kitty. I wish the characters had been fleshed out a bit more to make their intentions (since everyone seemed to have an angle) more relatable. The mystery of their actions is briefly revealed towards the end of the book, almost as a throwaway thought. Too many lost opportunities!

Three stars (barely) and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant has created her own little world where each day is like any other with minimal variations except the weekends where she drinks enough vodka to remain in a stupor until it’s time to go back to work on Monday. Highly intelligent, she views the world from a particular point of view, judging the actions and behaviors of others, usually finding them lacking. A Type A personality to the extreme, her black or white perspective “colors” her approach to any given task, leaving her questioning the random actions of those she encounters in her daily activities. It is no wonder she remains alone, shrugging off the stares of her perplexed coworkers while toiling away at the low paying job she has held since her youth. Then one day Eleanor falls in love and realizes that she must try to “fit in” to establish a relationship. On her quest to acquire the appropriate accoutrements, she suddenly enters a new realm helped along by a randomly based relationship with a coworker who befriends her after they witness a tragic event and find themselves assisting an elderly gentleman in need of their care. This leads to a series of possibilities which might just change the entire demeanor of the stilted Eleanor (or not).

Ultimately, it’s the humor which raises this book to the next level. First time author, Gail Honeyman, has hit a home run in her debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. At times Eleanor’s thoughts mirror those of our own – “That much for a purse which is too small to hold anything but a tissue?” or “Another gift collection for another coworker on another special occasion?”. Her quirkiness makes her despicable characteristics somehow endearing and we start to root for her success, even though we all know she’s doomed to fail. And yet, . . . .

The author has the rare talent of forcing the reader to become emotionally involved, making us hope that somewhere out there is a life for Eleanor which is somewhat better than fine. Then when we think we have everything figured out, there’s a twist which changes our whole perspective. Kudos.

Now our only question to consider is who will play Eleanor in the upcoming movie and will they change the locale from Glasgow, Scotland to somewhere in the United States?

Five stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Next Person You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom

In today’s paper there is an article about a young couple who were recently married and killed in a freak roll over car accident on their way to their honeymoon. While there are many such incidents throughout the United States, what makes this one especially tragic is that these were two young people at the pinnacle of their happiness. Nothing is as sacrosanct as a bride and groom. I am silently sending my condolences to their families in this most grievous loss of life.

Perhaps that’s why Mitch Albom used a wedding to start off his newest novel, The Next Person You Meet in Heaven, a sequel to a book by a similar title published in 2003. My first reaction was “Oh, no! Not on their wedding day!” since obviously in order to have a tete a tete in heaven, you must be recently deceased. Albom takes us through that happy time and the series of events which followed sending both lovebirds to the hospital where extraordinary measures are necessary to perhaps preserve a life or two.

Then we are in heaven as the former spouse, sans honeymoon, meets the five individuals who most strongly influenced their past. Through the details revealed in their interchanges we get the backstory which led to this fateful day. Back in real time, we discover what happened to those impacted by the couple whose lives had taken such a tragic turn.

I have a copy of The Five People You Meet in Heaven sitting unread on my bookshelf (my brother gave it to me as a Christmas present, at my request, shortly after it was published). While it was obvious that this book was a sequel, with some common characters to both novels, you don’t need to read the first to understand the second. The language is simple, slowly revealing some reinterpretations of an earthly past which changes the viewpoints of everybody involved, including the reader. While one person might personally take offense at actions (or inactions) from various situations, when secrets are shared both discover that there are perfectly plausible explanations for everything. As understanding dawns, peace can be found, and what better place than heaven to achieve this “life” changing miracle. As the song says “Was blind, but now I see!”.

While Albom shares the Grace of God through his words, the story, almost a fairy tale, seems contrived. At times I want to shake the characters in frustration at their stupidity, or I wonder at the dynamics of some of the situations – “Now, really?” I also felt like Albom was being condescending, forcing us to learn a lesson which we might not want to hear. Yet, there were some interesting aspects to the story with several outlooks we might not have considered on our own. Ultimately, I anticipated the outcome and was grateful I guessed correctly since, despite the tragedy, I was able to leave with a good feeling deep in my soul. What more could you ask about a book with the word “heaven” in the title?

Three stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads

Eden Conquered (Dividing Eden, #2) by Joelle Charbonneau

Eden Conquered is the continuing saga from the book Dividing Eden by Joelle Charbonneau. Told by alternating narratives of twins Prince Andreus and Princess Carys, we continue the story of the once tight pair torn apart through the lies and deceit of those surrounding the duo as they battle out the Trials of Virtuous Succession after their father and older brother are assassinated. Someone must be crowned ruler, and Andreus, believing the whispers of the seer (and his lover) Imogen, is determined to be the next King.

In this second book of the series, racked with guilt over the death of his twin, Andreus takes the throne amidst the politicking of the elders, not knowing whose advice to follow as nobody in the court seems trustworthy. To make matters worse, the populist, which favored Carys, is unhappy with the current state of affairs and life is about to take a turn for the worse since the winds appear to be failing and without their strength The Palace of Winds will lose its protection allowing their enemies access to the Kingdom of Eden.

In the meantime, the still alive Princess Carys has escaped and is on the run with her childhood friend Larkin and two protectors (who are often at odds) Errik and Lord Garret. She is unsure whose advice to follow, doubting their loyalty despite her physical attraction to them both. As they travel, Carys discovers that her special powers are growing stronger, necessitating a need to develop some sort of control or risk destroying everything in her path. To complicate matters the Xhelozi, a sort of zombie like boogie men, are on the loose, traveling far from their normal realm as the prevailing winds which normally keep them at bay are losing the power to contain the beasts. Despite her difficulties, Carys, who had previously looked out for her twin brother, is concerned for his well being, conflicting with her rage and the need for revenge.

This book was a quick, easy read in spite of the many questions the reader might have surrounding this fantasy world. Unfortunately, giving away too many details would spoil the surprise ending, although I cannot believe this is the conclusion to the Dividing Eden series since there are numerous loose ends which need some sort of resolution and too many questions left unanswered. In order to fill in some of the gaps, Carbonneau wrote two short stories, Into the Garden, the story of Lady Beatrice, and Forbidden Fruit, featuring Graylem, the first which is a prequel and the second which occurs between the two novels. Definitely worth a look see.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Rovina Cai

First, imagine you are a whale, but not the whales in our oceans. You are the whales in a fantasy world who have developed the technology to breathe underwater, build ships, wear armor, and carry and shoot harpoons. Whales who can speak to humans. Whales who think and plan and hunt man. The same men who also hunt whales. It is war but the true enemy, for both man and whales, is Toby Wick, and it is Bathsheba’s destiny to confront this beast as a part of a great pod destined to meet and defeat this mythical devil.

While this adventure plays out the reader must imagine an upside down world where up is down and down is up. The sky is the abyss or the bottom of the world with the whales traveling up into the bottom of the sea where ships ride on the ocean upside down. For someone who is already directionally challenged, I felt a sense of vertigo throughout the tale, despite the numerous and enchanting illustrations by Rovina Cai

And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness is a futuristic fairy tale depicting an alternative universe which barely resembles anything familiar to our everyday world. While I appreciate the creativity demonstrated by Ness, this tale is a little too bloody for my taste. Despite the descriptive language, I never became fully engaged, although I kept on reading in order to make some sense of the bizarre details. In addition, I had a difficult time connecting with the any of the “characters”, even Bathsheba, the cetacean narrator. Ultimately, there is only so much you can do with the inky sea and a pod of whales, either literally or graphically, although the drawings do give some clues to help decipher the storyline. Despite its short length, Ness seems to take forever to get to the point.

Sorry, this one was not for me. Two and a half stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

An Hour Before Dawn: Memories of a Rural Boyhood By Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter’s narration about his childhood during the depression on a farm in Archery, Georgia – An Hour Before Dawn: Memories of a Rural Boyhood – is a charming autobiography which gives us a better understanding of our 39th President. I was impressed with Carter’s hands on work in all aspects of farm life, even as a young boy, and marveled at how the family survived lacking the amenities which we now take for granted, such as running water, electric lights, flushing toilets, and refrigeration. The simplicity of life required hard work and the hidden dangers threatened the life expectancy of the community. For example, it makes one wonder if the prevalence of pancreatic cancer in the Carter family might be connected with the arsenic they used as a pesticide. (At ninety three, Jimmy Carter beat the odds, although he recently had a melanoma which the doctors successfully treated).

While Carter has written numerous books, this one focuses specifically on the people who influenced his childhood, with a brief nod to his wife Roslyn, who grew up in the nearby town of Plains, and her support of his decision to move back to the farm, ending a successful career in the Navy to return to his roots.

Carter’s father was an industrious, hard working gentleman who carved out a successful career through his farmland, a concessions store, and various businesses, such as a sugar refinery, which provided the services necessary to make farming a self sustaining enterprise. While some landowners took advantage of the situation, Carter’s dad treated his workers fairly, and his integrity rubbed off on his son. One industrious sharecropper even saved enough to purchase a parcel of their land (which was eventually returned to the Carter homestead well after Jimmy’s father’s death).

Despite the respect Jimmy had for his father, it was the individuals who surrounded his life in those early years who shaped his character. He spent most of his time amongst the colored workers on the farm, with their children naturally becoming his best buddies. Carter didn’t realize the difference between the races, the separation by color in social situations was simply a part of southern living. He often slept over at the foreman’s house sharing a room with his son (who he considered his best friend), and it was Mrs Clark who taught him the moral lessons which influenced his life’s work.

As far as the title, an hour before dawn was Jimmy’s favorite time of day. A pleasant writing style full of humor and insights, I listened to the audiotape (an abridged version of the book) which was read by the author. Four stars.

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

If you didn’t notice the author of your most current read, it wouldn’t take long before you realized Clock Dance is an Anne Tyler book. Her stories always deal with the nitty gritty of life, focusing on flawed characters who both triumph and fail in their struggles, full of angst with a touch of humor thrown in to keep it interesting.

Willa Drake is a reactionary, not a rebel, but someone used to reacting to any given situation, trying to smooth out the cracks which get in the way of moving forward. First there’s her mom – a difficult woman (probably manic depressive) with wild mood swings who blows up at her family for relatively minor reasons, disappearing until her disposition changes. At one point when it looks like her mom is gone for good, the eleven year old Willa imagines successfully stepping up and filling the void to keep the family intact. This opportunity is over before it really begins, and the hinted abusive relationship continues, with Willa’s father constantly doing the “repaving” necessary to maintain a somewhat placid home life despite the strife. While Willa is able to adapt, her younger sister’s reaction is more rebellious, causing a rift between siblings which is never quite healed. Jump forward in time to Willa’s Junior Year in college, when she and her boyfriend, Dexter, are meeting her parents over the Easter break. We quickly discover that Dexter is domineering, firmly cajoling Willa down the path which is most beneficial to his needs, not hers. Ironically it’s Willa’s mother who calls him out on his selfishness, but the confrontation just pushes Willa farther along into a relationship which leads to more of the same – going along to get along – even if it means forgoing her own dreams. Once again, as a wife and mother, she finds herself placating husband and sons to keep the peace. Fast forward to 2017, with second husband Peter, a “retired” lawyer a bit older than 61 year old Willa (who he deferentially calls “little one”). I’ll let you guess the dynamics of their relationship.

Here is where the story gets interesting. Not particularly close to her two unmarried sons, Willa gets an unexpected phone call which sends her on a mission to Baltimore to assist her oldest boy’s former girlfriend who is in the hospital. Accompanied by a misgiving Peter, she goes to the rescue of this stranger who needs her help in caring for her precocious nine year old daughter, Cheryl (no relationship to her son). Kind of a convoluted mission, but one which just seems right. Finally we are able to see Willa crawl out from the shadow of others, possibly learning how to stand on her own two feet.

A marvelous character study of a wimpy pushover who we hope finds the inner strength to become her own person with an entire cast of quirky characters lending a hand in defining this journey. Tyler brings us back to her beloved Baltimore, as Willa, a somewhat petrified driver, learns how to navigate the streets as she chauffeurs her charges throughout the town. While this is a quick, simple tale, there is a lot of symbolism lurking throughout the narrative which will provide fodder for book club discussions.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.