Brave New Earl by Jane Ashford (The Way to a Man’s Heart, #1)

Miss Jean Saunders is a woman with a mission. When she hears how her deceased cousin’s child is being neglected, she finds herself at Furness Hall in Somerset, facing the distraught Benjamin Romulus, Earl of Furness, languishing in the library starring at a portrait of his late wife, unable to deal with the cause of her death, his son Geoffrey. Left to fend for himself, watched over by one of the servants and a young “wanderer” Tom, the five year old has the run of the house. His precocious, inquisitive nature gets him into all sorts of scraps and he appears all but naked before the “newly arrived “guest”, brandishing a tomahawk from his grandfather’s collection of native artifacts. Embarrassed, Benjamin realizes perhaps he hasn’t been paying attention to the details of his son’s life, too wrapped up in his grief to deal with much of anything. When his meddling Uncle Arthur shows up, it’s agreed that Jean will stay for awhile to help Benjamin get back on track, with the first order of business finding an acceptable governess to teach the tot some manners.

Jean, used to rotating from home to home, visiting numerous relations with extended stays, is adept at rolling up his sleeves and helping out. That’s why she is always welcome, but not back to the Phillipsons, Geoffrey’s maternal grandparents, who are relieved that the tyke is staying put and won’t be interfering with their settled lifestyle. Miss Saunders is an interesting character, if not an enigma, to the Earl, whose sensibilities are slowly awakened by her outspoken, witty ways. Jean, wealthy enough not to need a husband, has numerous unresolved issues from her childhood, but she, too, is drawn to the Earl as he slowly comes out of his shell. Romance ensues despite the antics of the little pitcher with big ears who seems to be everywhere and wants to explore everything.

Jane Ashford in Brave New Earl presents us with delightful characters, a tender romance, tons of humor, and room for some of the secondary players to shine in Book 2 of The Way to a Lord’s Heart series, as Arthur Shelton, the Earl of Macklin, continues on his quest to assist other aristocrats wallowing in grief.

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

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Big Nate: Revenge of the Cream Puffs by Lincoln Peirce

It’s baseball time for the sixth graders and the Cream Puffs want revenge. This time they are going to be champs, they have just one more game to win, but their star player is sick. Going through their entire pitching bench it is up to perennial screwup Nate to close the deal.

All our favorite characters are back at P.S. 38 in Big Nate: Revenge of the Cream Puffs as clever, smart aleck Nate Wright muddles through besting the teachers, acing detention, showing up the know-it-all girl at chess, and helping his team win the above championship, all reflecting the humor of Lincoln Peirce. Middle schoolers will relate and so will their parents as they relive the highs and lows of life in sixth grade.

Nate has his picture in the local paper after hitting a triple, becoming the hero who led his team to victory, but they can’t quite get his name “Wright” with each subsequent retraction containing yet another embarrassing misspelling.

Panels include details where Nate writes a romance novel and films a movie. Other themes deal with being lucky, prank day, and summer vacation. When at the end of the school year it is announced that all outstanding detentions have been cancelled, Nate quips “I like to think all of my detentions are outstanding”. Such are the yucks found in the pages of the Big Nate series!

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

You Never Forget Your First Earl by Ella Quinn (The Worthingtons, #5)

Geoffrey, Earl of Harrington, is clueless. Being self centered and single minded he doesn’t notice what’s happening in the world around him – not unless it directly impacts him and sometimes not even then.

That explains why he was still courting Lady Charlotte Carpenter when she was publically engaged to Constantine, the Marquis of Kenilworth, whose romance appears in The Marquis and I, Book #4 of the Worthingtons series. Any chance Geoff had while wooing his first choice for a wife disappeared when he took off back home to visit an impatient father, the Marquis of Markham, who insisted on micromanaging his son’s London life. Now Geoffrey has just a few weeks to find a suitable bride, a requirement for his job as an assistant to Sir Charles Stuart. His mate must meet certain requirements if she is to accompany him to Brussels. After all, not only does a diplomat’s wife have responsibilities, she also must be somewhat pleasing to the eye (since Geoffrey wants to enjoy his husbandly duties). After reviewing the “short list” of eligible young ladies he sets out to “meet” them at the next ball where he ends up eyeing Elizabeth Turley, best friends with Charlotte. Elizabeth is actually attracted to the stilted, cocky Earl, even though she feels like she is being interviewed for a position instead of being courted. She doesn’t want to appear too eager or marry someone just for the sake of convenience – either his or hers. Unsure if Harrington will come up to scratch, her brother, Gavin, convinces his friend Lord Littleton to provide some competition. Now Geoffrey has to put some effort into what turns out to be a whirlwind romance. With the help of Grandmama and Cousin Apollonia, he “makes a cake of himself”, but Elizabeth is worth the effort. Their passion in the bedroom is a bonus which makes him even more desperate for the upcoming nuptials.

Everything seems to be going well until Elizabeth overhears Geoff talking with his father. She’s devastated to hear her new husband agree that she has all the qualifications necessary to be an excellent hostess, without any mention of the love they had just proclaimed in their wedding vows. So for the rest of You Never Forget Your First Earl by Ella Quinn, Elizabeth decides to withhold her affection from an oblivious husband who is baffled about what he’s done to offend his bride. However, neither has much time to contemplate their marital difficulties since there’s a war gong on, so the two must temporarily drop their differences and rise to the occasion. With a battle as a backdrop, their squabbles seem insignificant and the ultimate resolution, while overly dramatic, does provide a satisfying conclusion.

I have mixed feelings about this Regency Romance from The Worthingtons series (#5). Parts of it were fun (especially when Harrington and Littleton were fighting over Elizabeth), some parts dragged (too much repetition with both protagonists agonizing over their relationship), and some parts were filled with minutia. These little details, which would ordinarily have been annoying, were at times fascinating, as Elizabeth packed up an entire household complete with horses, conveyances, and servants and traveled to Belgium.

Then there’s that one-sided “spat”, where Elizabeth freaked out when Geoffrey didn’t proclaim he had feelings for her on that day she inadvertently eavesdropped. However, if she had thought about it, the idea of love was not something a son would necessarily confide in his dad, especially a domineering man like the Marquis. Her anger should have been directed on the fact that her competency was considered her best feature, as if she were a hired servant.

Elizabeth didn’t need to fret about her abilities because she was a whizz at any task thrown her way. Her talents went beyond her organizational skills, and included the ability to take charge during times of stress and then, mere hours later, appear beautiful and composed at a ball. All this at the tender age of eighteen – a little far fetched, to say the least.

For fans of The Marriage Game series, Geoffrey runs into Septimius Trevor at the solicitor’s office who asks him to touch base with Colonel Lord Hawkesworth while he is in Brussels and remind him to write home more often. While Quinn explores a few details about the battlefront, that is not her main focus, although the anger of the French locals at the interference of the British in overthrowing Napoleon, is well represented.

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

Herding Cats: A “Sarah’s Scribbles” Collection by Sarah Andersen

Herding cats is one of those impossible tasks which would be idiotic to even attempt, but as a metaphor for life, Sarah Andersen graphically encourages the reader to keep moving forward and “Go make stuff” through a series of comic strips.

Sarah loves both cats and dogs who are featured throughout the book:

Cat shapes: Round, Long, Curve, Loaf
Dog shapes: Dog

Starting the day is tough for Sarah, who is far from a morning person:

“I will set my alarm for 7:30 and I will WAKE UP at 7:30! No snooze!”
Last panel: The comforter proclaims “BED OF LIES”.

Sarah tries to get a handle on her life:

4 panels with a clean room reflecting “a life of simplicity and order”.
Panel 5 – Later that week – “CHAOS, I AM YOUR MISTRESS.”

Then there is always retail therapy:

Before: Sad
After: Sad, but in a fabulous outfit

Other issues explored include anxiety, being an introvert, and tackling work assignments. There’s a tad of political commentary mainly surrounding a same sex relationship with her significant other.

The last portion of the book is a written commentary about the current state of art and the influence of the Internet, entitled Making Stuff In the Modern Era. Andersen laments that in the beginning she found the Internet a nurturing, inviting environment, but now it’s a “fire pit”. Part One: A Guide for the Young Creative, Being an Artist and the Internet, describes the prevailing situation facing young artists while Part Two: Artist Survival, provides advice on how to deal with the conflicts mentioned under the following five headings:
1. Growing pains are common and okay
2. Understanding criticism and harassment
3. It’s okay to have feelings
4. Go outside; the option is there
5. Don’t give up

The author presents comic style representations of Sarah dealing with these concerns providing the reader with some insight into her motivations for the “Sarah’s Scribbles” series.

Despite the above serious narrative, Herding Cats creates amusing comedic moments which are easy for the reader to personalize, especially if they aren’t a morning person, have a tendency to procrastinate, and love Autumn (like me). The illustrations, while not quite scribbles, are definitely lacking details, yet Andersen is effectively able (most of the time) to visually get her point across, hitched along with a chuckle and sometimes an outright laugh. My favorite comic strip pictures the angst of college students preparing for finals vs the calm of Sarah – “Me: No longer in school”. Been there, done that, appreciate the reminder.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for providing this temporary ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve

It happens! Not very often, but often enough. A plane crashes! Sometimes in your own “back yard”! I remember that midwinter’s night about nine years ago, bitterly cold and clear, when Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed in Clarence, NY, not even ten miles from my house, even closer to the Buffalo International Airport. Everyone knew someone affected, such as the cantor at the synagogue up the street, the wife of a professor at UB who was teaching a class I was taking at the Teacher Center on Asian Culture. We were discussing the Great Wall of China and I said that was on my bucket list, “what’s that,” he asked; awkwardly I realized my mistake as I explained the term, knowing it was too late for his wife to make such requests.

Pilot error! I thought about the pilots who didn’t realize how quickly those wings would ice up on a Buffalo winter’s evening or how important that they maintain control and not rely on the autopilot so as to avoid the danger of a stall. I thought of their families, their spouses and parents, their friends, and how they all suffered along with those of the other 47 on board (plus the older gentleman in the home where they crashed) on that fateful night just minutes from landing safely.

So when I picked up The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve, I was reading a scenario I had already mentally examined, yet living it through the eyes of fictional character Kathryn Lyons, whose husband was accused of committing suicide at the expense of the 103 passengers and crew on board the Heathrow to Boston flight. This is a heart wrenching tale, pulling the reader into the roller coaster of emotions which result from such a tragedy. Through a flashback of thoughts we are given the details of what appears to be the perfect marriage, yet there are little hints that something was somehow a little off kilter, just mildly, but in retrospect significant. In this way Kathryn starts to piece together the truth with the support of union rep Robert Hart who helps her navigate past the disruptions of the questioning reporters, the investigators from the Safety Board, and even the FBI, as well as assist her in creating enough semblance of normalcy to provide closure through a memorial service and the upcoming Christmas holidays. Kathryn can’t completely fall apart because she has her fifteen year old daughter Mattie to care for, although her grandmother Julie is there for support, just as she was when Kathryn’s parents tragically died.

Well written, full of angst despite some tender moments, and, while not altogether unexpected, there are a few twists and turns in the story that propels us through to the end. Paying attention to the little details might provide enough clues to answer some of the questions left after reading the open ended conclusion, especially since Shreve doesn’t let the plot drag on, but keeps it going just long enough to get the job done.

I would be remiss in not examining the life of the author, Anita Shreve, who died this past August at the age of 71 from a reoccurrence of breast cancer. Shreve, who grew up in Boston but spent her summers in Maine, believed that the focal point of any story should be the family home -“a house with any kind of age has dozens of stories to tell”. The particular residence in The Pilot’s Wife was an 1890s white-clapboard house with a mansard roof located on the coast of southern Maine reminiscent of the place where the author spent her summer vacations. Her love of this childhood spot extended to the sea, a setting which becomes like an additional character in the narrative. When Shreve overheard a conversation about a plane crash, she thought of her father, who was an airplane pilot, and couldn’t help imagining how she would feel if she were the pilot’s wife. That lead to this novel as well as the 2002 screenplay she wrote for the made for television movie.

Jack kept a lot of secrets from his wife, and ironically Shreve also had her share of secrets. Her husband Osborne, a childhood sweetheart she reconnected with in later years, confessed that she was so quiet about her personal life that even he didn’t know the names of two of her former three husbands. Perhaps the need for intimacy is why the author preferred to write her stories in longhand, feeling that it brought her closer to the subject matter than the use of an electronic device.

Her last book, The Stars Are Fire, which I recently read, takes place in the same relative locale in Maine with a vintage house and the sea also playing a major role in that story’s development. It is sad that there will be no further endeavors by this particular author whose name was thrust on to the public’s radar when The Pilot’s Wife was chosen for the Oprah Book Club in 1999.

A compelling read. Four stars.

How to Forget a Duke (Misadventures in Matchmaking, #1) by Vivienne Lorret

Vivienne Loretta’s writing style is perfect for capturing the essence of a Regency Romance and her newest novel, How to Forget a Duke, is the ideal example of how to get the job done, leaving the reader with that content feeling which comes from a happily ever after which seems oh so right.

Not that there’s a lot of action and excitement, just the blossoming connection between two seemingly incongruous people falling in love. Crispin Montague, fifth Duke of Rydstrom has a money problem. His cliffside castle in Sussex is in a constant state of disrepair and the monies from the estate can’t seem to keep up with the needs. His aunt, Lady Hortense, however, has promised some funds if he finds an adequate Bride, one that meets her approval. The 4000 pounds will do some good, but a wealthy heiress is what he needs, one who is willing to live in London, preferably at her own place, keeping her distance. Of course he can’t tell that to the Bourne Matrimonial Agency, all they need to know is that he requires a member of the Ton to be his wife.

Yet Jacinda Bourne, the private eye of the matchmaking company, knows that something is amiss, especially after she coerces his solicitor into revealing the details about His Grace’s financial shortcomings. Then when Crispin finds her trespassing in his study disguised as a maid, the two have a heated argument about the meaning of a contractual agreement versus what constitutes an invasion of privacy. Even worse, once Jacinda makes her escape, Rydstrom realizes she has discovered the name of the secret he is trying to protect. Unfortunately, by the time he reaches her establishment to ascertain the extent of her knowledge, her uncle informs him that the lady in question has left town on some sort of “quest”.

Crispin rushes to Rydstrom Hall to prevent Jacinda from once again intruding into his home, but when he does find the damsel she is battered and bruised with a nasty case of amnesia. Considering the fact that there’s a violent storm close at hand, the doctor and Miss Elmira Beels, a local townswoman from Whitcrest, along with Jacinda and the Duke, have to hightail it back to the castle until the weather changes. Doctor Graham determines Jacinda needs to stay put for at least two weeks but, although her memory is gone, her instinctual spying tendencies stay put leading to some altercations with Crispin who is unsuccessfully trying to keep her in the dark about his personal matters. This head butting leads to romantic interludes when their heated arguments turn to passion.

Book one of the Misadventures in Matchmaking shows a promising start to an interesting premise. The three sisters, each owning a different book in Jane Austin’s Emma trilogy gifted to them by their dying mother, believe in the power of Matchmaking, especially since their own mum married “the wrong sort” – her father, Michael Cartwright (Lord Frawley), a man who broke her heart when she discovered he had a second family. The girls, along with their uncle, are trying to make a go of the business, assisting members of the aristocracy in finding an appropriate mate. With the successful marriage of a Duke a feather in their cap, along with the patronage of The Duchess of Holliford, the group is sure to get more clients, leading to book two – Ten Kisses to Scandal.

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

The Traitor’s Game (The Traitor’s Game, Book 1) by Jennifer A Neilson

The Kingdom of Antora has been taken over by Lord Endrick, a self proclaimed king, Lord of the Dominion, who leads with an iron fist with the magic stolen from the Endorians who he conquered (along with the Halderians) in the war which won him the throne. The Dallisors, the rightful rulers, bow down to the power of their Lord, with Henry Dallisor, Endrick’s enforcer, responsible for much of the devastation placed upon the people of the kingdom who are now basically slaves to the whims of this evil overlord. Anyone who dares to complain is swiftly “taken care of” since the common townsfolk are considered expendable often rounded up with the rebels and executed for crimes they did not commit. The Coracks are waiting in the wings, ready for their chance to overthrow the government and the Halderons are keeping their heads down trying to stay out of trouble, although a few have their eye on the prize. The various factions distrust one another and it’s every man for himself. Unfortunately, all the Endorians have been wiped out by Lord Endrick, but if any were still left their lives would be in danger since their kind are hated by everyone for the evilness inherent in their magical powers.

Enter Kestra, daughter of Henry Dallisor, who has been sequestered for three years in Lava Fields after an unsuccessful kidnapping attempt by the Halderians. The event, however, has left her scarred, so her protector, Darrow, has taught her some battle moves, including how to wield a knife. When out of the blue her father sends the Dominion Soldiers to bring her home, Kestra is able to use her survival skills when her carriage is waylaid by the Coracks, but she is forced to give herself up in order to save the lives of Darrow and her lady’s maid, Celia.

Grey Tenger, the leader of Corack rebels, has a task in mind that Kestra is uniquely able to accomplish – finding the Olden Blade, the only weapon which can destroy the immortal king. This mythical object is supposedly hidden in her castle home and she has four days to find it or forfeit the lives of her “friends”. Accompanied by Simon and Trina, disguised as her protector and lady’s maid, they are there to make sure the job gets done. Yet when she arrives “home” she discovers her father has plans for her which threaten to interfere with her stated mission. Lord Endrick also plays a role in determining her future, although from the looks of things she, too, has become expendable in the vast intrigue of palace politics.

The plot of The Traitor’s Game is a YA Fantasy which advances via the points of view of both Krestrel and Simon. The two teenagers have somewhat of a past, since Simon. served as one of her slaves when they were young, but through a series of unpleasant events, he was able to gain his freedom. Their parting left an unpleasant taste in both their mouths, but their close proximity in some fretful situations has softened their mutual feelings of hatred leading to some romantic interludes as their mission progresses. Kestrel is headstrong, acting out without thought to the consequences which sometimes are quite swift and severe. Simon is conflicted, trying to remain loyal to the cause but questioning how he can protect Kestra while staying true to his oath of fealty. Trina, also a teen, is thoughtless and careless, but her determination to succeed at any cost makes her a worthy adversary. All three have daddy issues and each has their own agenda resulting in twists and turns as they move towards their mutual goal.

I thought this was, for the most part, a fast paced story with lots of action and unexpected detours. I didn’t mind the romance (a few kisses) since the two seventeen year olds were in a life and death situation which heightened their emotions, plus they were probably hormonal. The author, Jennifer A Neilson, took her time getting to the climax and, with only thirty pages left, I was afraid there would be no resolution at all, just a cliff hanger to be taken up in book two of the Traitor’s Game series (aptly named because everyone seems to turn on each other whenever it seems expedient). However, there was a somewhat satisfying ending which, although a little rushed and a bit confusing, was mostly unexpected.

I liked it! Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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