The Death and Life of Nicholas Linnear by Eric Von Lustbader

The minute I started reading this piece, I was in love. Lustbader references Sun Tsu’s The Art of War, but it is Eric who is truly the master of the Art of the Written Word. And in my infatuation of his craft, I couldn’t get enough of Nicholas Linnear. Let me express my dismay when I finished what I thought was the first chapter, only to discover that the story had abruptly ended. What a tease, I thought. Surely there must be more. Perhaps I only downloaded an excerpt. Alas, this brief encounter was too soon over. My appetite whetted, but no dessert. Hell, there wasn’t even a main course, just some hors d’oevers.

But all is not lost. Nicholas Linnear actually has more stories to tell, in truly complete novels. Lustbader was simply reminding us of their existence. I recommend that he give this short, short story away to his readers gratis. That will either introduce them to this character, peaking their interest to download the entire Ninja Cycle, or remind them of “stories past” so they can revisit the previously out-of-mind adventures of this protagonist.

Or, Eric Von Lustbader can finish the story we felt we had only begun to read.

Simply put, the “book” begins with Nicholas wearing a tuxedo, buried in a cheap coffin, and left for dead. And dead he will be if he can’t escape this trap. Obviously he does, since the title alludes to his life after this almost death. The rest of the time, we are subjected to a fast paced plot, as Nicholas attempts to discover the whys and wherefores of this murder attempt. Let me simply say that bodies fly throughout as we witness the finess and style of a Ninja Master. Any more discussion will ruin the experience.

Since this review has taken me more time to write then this selection took to read, I only give it four stars. Four stars for a tease of a download. Call it the revenge of a woman scorned.

I would like to thank Open Road Integrated Media for allowing me a free download of this short story in exchange for an honest review.

Alanna by Kathleen Bittner Roth

Alanna by Kathleen Bittner Roth is an historical romance from the pre civil war era which spans from San Fransisco to Boston to London to Scotland then back to Boston. If this seems kind of convoluted, then you have the correct feel for this novel.

Wolf is famous for his ability to track down missing people as demonstrated in Celine, the first novel in the When Hearts Dare series. Trevor, a self-proclaimed friend-for-life, convinces Wolf to return to Boston and solve the mystery of his own parentage. Twenty four years earlier, when Wolf was six, he was sleepily snuggling with his mom when they were both awakened by strange noises. After quickly being whisked under the bed with a warning not to make a sound, the petrified child witnessed the murder of his mother through the reflection of a mirror, his only memento a garnet earring. The next morning Wolf was whisked away, moving from one place to another throughout his childhood and ending up at an English Boarding School. An angry young man with no roots, Wolf hightails it out of there at the age of seventeen, hopping a ship to America where he experiences numerous alluded-to adventures, ending up in San Francisco when this book begins.

Reluctantly, Wolf agrees to travel back to Boston on Trevor’s brother’s Clipper full of goods to be delivered to China. The trip is long, the water rough at times, but the company is stimulating since the owner of the on- board merchandise is also a passenger, along with his wife and their beautiful daughter Alanna. The attraction between Wolf and Alanna is electric, to the chagrin of her parents, since their daughter is promised in marriage to their co-partner’s son. This politically expedient arrangement is not a love match and Alanna is determined to avoid this unwanted matrimony at all costs. Ironically, Allana was born in Boston a day before the murder of Wolf’s mother, in a house not far from the crime scene. The interplay between a rascally Wolf, the affable Captain Thompson, the hostile Mr and Mrs Malone, and the alluring Allana on this lengthy voyage makes for interesting reading and was my favorite part of the book.

After landing, Wolf is blocked from continuing his search and must hire others to complete the task, especially when the investigation is extended into London. Aided by Trevor, who has an English home with his wife, Celine, the mystery slowly unravels. And the key word is slowly. The rest of the book is an interwoven series of events involving a farm outside Boston, a martial arts trainer named Old Chinese, the high society of Boston, the Malones, Alanna, Captain Thompson and his family, plus at least one dog. Other characters also pop up, all under suspicion of dastardly deeds. Everyone has so many secrets it is hard to keep up, but the resolution of Wolf’s conflict is somewhat of a surprise. Unfortunately, instead of wrapping things up nicely, there is more angst before the final ending.

For a romance, there is a lot of interplay, but no actual sex until about two thirds of the way into the book. The culmination of the main characters passion is satisfying and often repeated through the rest of the story. I like the way Roth interweaves information from the first novel of the series into this book, just enough to whet our appetites for a future reading choice. However, although her characters are fully developed, their actions throughout the novel don’t jive with their original personas. There are too many inconsistencies. In addition, the story has a tad too much plot. I suggest streamlining or deleting some of the drawn out events. Whereas some authors don’t have enough action in their books, Roth over compensates and has too much busyness. Cut out the nonessential parts. The ending is a little far fetched, but it pulls all the events together nicely into a satisfying conclusion.

Despite my criticisms, I did enjoy this novel and look forward to reading others, including Celine, by Kathleen Bitner Roth. I give this book three stars.

I would like to thank Kensington Publishing Corp (Zebra Books) for allowing me to download this book for free in exchange for an unbiased review.

Lady Elinor’s Wicked Adventures by Lillian Marek

Lady Elinor’s Wicked Adventures by Lillian Marek, a Victorian Era Romance taking place in the 1850s, has plenty of action. Perhaps a little too much, but the plot, for the most part, moves along at a fast clip.

Lady Elinor Tremaine is a sweet, but frisky young lady who scorns the restrictions placed on women while being forced to constrain her actions (up to a point) to the parameters allowed by society due to her father’s diplomatic position. Is her behavior wicked or does her curiosity and love of travel lead her into situations where evil might occur?

Luckily, she has her brother, Pip or Philip Tremaine, Viscount Rycote, and his childhood friend, Harry or Harcourt de Vaux, Viscount Tunbury, to look after her, although she is perfectly capable of defending herself. When her mother, Lady Tremaine, decides her father, the Marquess of Penworth, needs to relax and spend some time away from English politics, Elinor finds herself along for the ride with her brother and Harry, who is drafted to facilitate the travel arrangements. The author Marek takes the time in her narrative to describe the sites the characters visit in their trip across the English Channel through France and into Rome. In addition, the political struggle of the battle to unify Italy is highlighted as a central theme when the Tremaines unintentionally become embroiled in the troubles of their Italian host family. Add an architectural dig of Etruscan artifacts, a thief willing to kill, and some romance to achieve the full impact of this novel.

Whereas some novels have too simplistic a plot, this story almost overdoes the action. Perhaps a little editing or combining events would solidify this novel. However, Marek is a master of character development as each player is brought to life. Lord Tremaine remains ever the diplomat with a capable wife who can easily manipulate any situation to her satisfaction. Nobody messes with Lady Tremaine. Their son, Pip, although romantically handsome, is something of a prig due to his insecurities. Pip would rather stay on his estate and be a simple landowner, yet he finds himself in the midst of intrigue. Elinor is as capable as her mother, yet she hasn’t found the right man to marry. Anyone she chooses to wed must show the proper respect of her abilities and refrain from treating her like a dimwitted ninny. Harry, has been in love with Elinor for years, but feels himself unworthy due to his parents’ scandalous behaviors. He believes Elinor deserves someone better. Yet, when Elinor realizes they have an electric connection which can only be love, she decides to find a way to convince Harry to reveal his true feelings. All this in the midst of their adventures. When the two finally culminate their relationship, the sex scenes are sensitive and not too graphic, leaving something to the imagination. Additional characters are equally well defined.

Although the book dragged in a few places, despite all the activity, I enjoyed reading this novel. I hope Marek decides to write additional stories with these same characters, especially involving the debut of Harry’s two younger sisters and their subsequent adventures.

I give this book three and a half stars.

Thank you to Sourcebook (Casablanca) for allowing me to download this title for free in exchange for an honest review.

What a Lady Demands by Ashlyn MacNamara

What a Lady Demands by Ashlyn MacNamara is Book 2 of the Eton Boys Trilogy, a series of books about three best friends and the way their paths intersect through their discovery of love. In Book 1, the honorable, upright Alexander Sanford experiences his own tribulations in the courtship of Henrietta Upperton, the intriguing sister of the main character from another book by MacNamara called A Most Devilish Rogue. Alex’s younger sister, Cecilia, faces ruin from her actions including the kidnapping of her nieces while under her watch. It is no wonder she fleas from her brother’s constant chastisement.

Now in Book 2, Cecilia is determined to win back her brother’s respect. She applies for a job as governess with Sanford’s former best friend, Richard Blakewell, Viscount Lindenhurst. As a young girl of fifteen she was infatuated by Lind’s handsomeness even though he was nine years her senior. At the age of twenty three, she desperately tries to convince Lind she is responsible enough for the post. Demonstrating the required obedience, loyalty, and an impeccable morality is a stretch, but Cecilia is determined to be successful, especially after she meets his crippled son, Jeremy, who needs all the love and support she can provide. Cecilia realizes something is not right when she discovers that there are only two remaining original staff, the housekeeper and butler, the rest having been summarily dismissed for flimsy reasons. The housekeeper is closed mouth and uncooperative, but Cecilia is able to pry from her bits and pieces of Lind’s story involving the death of his beloved wife and the near drowning of his son at the nearby lake. Between the guilt from this disaster and the horrible wounds Lind received during the Napoleonic wars resulting in a leg injury which limits his movements, his behavior towards others is rigid, stifling, and mean tempered. For example, the staff give their weekly reports by standing at attention while The Lord has his evening meal, even though they are bone tired at the end of the workday. This disregard for feelings extends to his son who is a lost soul at the age of five, not understanding his father’s lack of love. Cecilia does her best to resolve the inner conflict within Lind, so he can develop a relationship with his son and hopefully return her fond feelings. Complicating matters is attempts of blackmail by Eversham, the man who took her virtue, and Lind’s obsession for revenge on his former friend and classmate, Rowan Battencliffe, the main character in Book 3 of the series.

Ashley MacNamara has an easy way with words and describes exhilarating love scenes in her stories, but a good Regency Romance requires a little more. In this particular book it is difficult to identify the villain. Sanford is insufferable and unsympathetic to his sister’s plight. Eversham is just plain evil in his plot to ruin Cecilia. The reader is unsure of whether to hate or feel sorry for Rowan’s impending doom. This is because the main character, Lord Blakewell, is infinitely unlikable. He is mean, self-centered, with little regard to other’s welfare. His affair with Cecilia is not born of love, but his own need for comfort and lust. The fact Cecilia stays and tries to reform the bastard says a lot about her character. Yet our heroine is flawed as well.

Still, I recommend this novel for an interesting, fast paced story with plenty of action and some lively sex scenes. I give it three solid stars.

I also would like to thank the Random House Publishing Group (Loveswept) for allowing me to download this book for free in exchange for an unbiased review.

Dare to Love by Alleigh Burrows

If you like a good Regency Romance with some exhilarating sex scenes, then you’ll love Dare to Love by Alleigh Burrows. The story is, for the most part, fast paced and holds your interest throughout. There are a few sections which could have been eliminated or condensed, but they did not distract from the whole. I must admit, there were times I felt I had previously read this book, even though it is a new title, and there were few surprises in the plot line, nevertheless, it was an enjoyable romp.

Lady Nivea Horsham has secretly been in love with her older brother William’s best friend, Adair Landis, since the boys spent holidays at her home and included her in their dramatic play acting. They were the knights and she was the damsel in distress. Unfortunately, Nivea did not grow up to be a beauty. A little overweight and seemingly shy, after five years on the marriage mart she is destined to be a spinster. The noted rake, Lord Dare is asked to accompany Nivea to her family’s home in the country, but when the carriage wheel is damaged, they are forced to travel on horseback in order make it in time to attend her sister’s wedding. Since Nivea is on the shelf, there seems to be no need for a proper chaperone. (A little far fetched in my opinion). Thus begins the love story as Nivea reaches out to her childhood crush and he, at first aloof, gradually begins to respond to her ministrations. While Nivea is kindhearted and loving, Dare is nasty and cruel, due to his childhood in an abusive family. It takes most of the novel to break through his self imposed barriers to find the kind of man worthy of the love Nivea bestows. Most of the lose ends are nicely tied up and the future looks rosy for the reformed, newly annointed Marquess of Raynesforth and his bride.

The major problem with this story is that Dare is not a likable character. Yes, he’s devastatingly handsome, but his actions towards women are hurtful and his words lash out everyone, even his best friends. You wonder why anyone tolerates his presence. The fact that he was verbally abused and lashed with a whip as a child, easily explains his behavior, but it does not make his horrid manner acceptable. However, the brief flashes of his humanity gives the reader a reason to accept this character. Plus, he is an attentive lover, even though he rejects the women he seduces immediately after the act is completed. Dare’s continued attraction towards Nivea surprises his sensibilities and makes his behaviors ocellate between lust and rage. Despite the fact he considers himself a gentleman, his actions seem to defy this title. Dare is too busy avoiding the marriage mart to observe the niceties, including offering his hand to Nivea once he has taken her virginity. No, he believes she is the one who is trying to entrap him while she is simply confused, but supportive. Thus the push pull of their relationship.

The minor characters are well defined and add relevant details to the story. In fact, it is hoped they will appear in Burrow’s future literary endeavors, since this is her first novel. Nice job!

I give this book four stars.

I would like to thank Kensington Books for allowing me to download this novel for free in exchange for an unbiased review.

Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip

Well, Secret of A Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip has a happy ending, sort of, but the rest of the novel deals with the trials and tribulations of the main character, Spring Swallow who experiences a life full of drama. Even the so called “good times” are fraught with bad behaviors by the people around her. It seems that Spring Swallow flees one disaster only to land in another – first from marriage to a ghost husband, then to protect herself from enemies of her revolutionary husband, and finally to escape the clutches of her nasty husband addicted to gambling and other evils. Interwoven throughout Spring Swallow’s travels in 1930’s China (from Soochow to Peking) is the story of Auntie Peony, who teaches her the fine art of embroidery, and her adopted sisters, Purple, Leilei, and Little Doll. Spring Swallow has a natural aptitude in the intricacies of Sooxiu embroidery, the finest in the world, and it sustains her throughout her many difficulties.

Although Secret of a Thosand Beauties is an easy read, Spring Swallow’s journey gets a little cumbersome as her thoughts on life are too often repeated. It is also wearying reading about her many troubles. Too many. The most interesting character is Auntie Peony. She is the true Secret of a Thousand Beauties. In her youth, Peony, the master embroiderer in the royal place, has a forbidden love affair with the emperor. Bits and pieces of her life are slowly revealed, but there are some unanswered questions left dangling for the reader to puzzle out on their own. How much better to have told the same story from her point of view, with the “adopted” daughters a subsidiary storyline. That is the novel I wanted to read.

However, I did enjoy the Chinese proverbs, symbolism, folklore, and cultural idiosyncrasies sprinkled throughout the book, as well as the background on the importance that embroidery played in Chinese culture.

An interesting but slightly flawed storyline, to which I give three stars.

I want to thank Kensington Books for allowing me to download this book for free in exchange for an unbiased review.

Melt by Selene Castrovilla

In the novel Melt by Selene Castrovilla, Dorothy’s family has recently been relocated to Highland Park where she is just beginning to find some new friends when she meets Joey. Even though he’s from the wrong side of the tracks, they feel an instant connection. To Joey, she’s like a porcelain doll, but Dorothy assures him she won’t break. Yet this is not your typical good girl loves bad boy story. Joey has a big secret which can make a difference. Will Dorothy still want him once she finds out about his abusive pop? Can Dorothy melt away the divide which seperates them? Can she reach the inner Joey before it is too late? Will he let her? Will their parents get in the way of their romantic dreams?

This is a story which needs to be told. Domestic abuse has been a secret which society has kept hidden for way too long and Selene ably ferrets out the truth through the tale of her two main characters, Dorothy and Joey. Despite Joey’s past bad behaviors, you can’t help but like him and root for sweet Dorothy to be successful in her quest to reform his destructive ways. The style is a quick and easy read, alternating between each character’s thoughts and actions. A definite four and a half stars for a YA novel which grabs you from page one.

Thank you to the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) for allowing me to download a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

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