Tag Archives: Family

A Dream of Redemption by Bronwen Evans (Book Eight, Disgraced Lords series)

Clarence Homestead was too good looking for his own comfort and he avoided the admiring glances from the females he encountered. Little did he expect to catch the eye of Lady Helen Hawkestone, the sister of his patroness, Marissa Maitland, the Duchess of Lyttleton. Although Clary has considered the beautiful Helen an angel ever since their first meeting five years prior (when he was awaiting news of the fate of the wounded Marisa), he knew that his low born life and past indiscretions nixed any thought of a relationship. His focus was on serving Maitland and his wife who together had rescued him from a sleazy existence in a brothel. In return, he acted as Her Grace’s personal secretary and overseer of the numerous orphanages the couple acquired and “renovated”.

Yet when Lady Helen decides to get involved in this charitable endeavor, Clary balked, not only because of his inner feelings of attraction, but to protect the innocent twenty three year old from the sordidness of life on the other side of aristocracy. His instincts were correct when the newest acquisition revealed a manager who more than dabbled in the human trafficking of children. At Helen’s urging, they not only rescued the most recent abduction but put a stop, at least temporarily, to these nefarious activities.

Helen, as stubborn as her unconventional sister Marissa, refuses to accept Clary’s objections to a future together, despite the revelation of his disreputable upbringing. After placing herself in numerous compromising situations, the two finally succumb to their mutual passion. Despite Helen’s feelings, convincing her over-protective, hot-headed brother Sebastian, the Marquess of Coldhurst, to sanction their relationship is an insurmountable task. A twist of fate necessitating a life or death rescue changes the dynamics leading to a relatively happily ever after for a couple who prefer a quiet life in the country to the scandal mongering attitudes of London and The Ton.

A Dream of Redemption by Bronwen Evans is the eighth book in the Disgraced Lords series. While you don’t need to have read the other seven books dealing with the Libertine Scholars and their romances to enjoy this one, I would recommend reading book four, A Whisper of Desire, to familiarize yourself with Marisa and Maitland’s unlikely marriage as well as the gritty details of the circumstances surrounding their involvement with a den of inquiry and the unfortunate experience which followed. The dark tone begun in this book is continued in book eight, which deals with the seedier side of life instead of focusing on the frivolities of a season in London. Of necessity is the constant reference to marrying the “wrong sort of person” which would lead to ostracism not only by polite society but even ones own family (in fear of their reputations being tarnished by association). Although 1820 is just past the era of the Prince Regent, I would still call this a Regency Romance.

While this action packed plot had such potential, the constant repetitious back and forth between Cary and Helen detracted from the whole. A bit of consolidating/editing would have definitely improved the tale, despite several hot and steamy scenes between the two lovebirds which are sure to entertain. Catching up with some of the Libertine Scholars and their wives was a definite plus for those of us who have been along for the ride from the beginning. Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende explores three individuals whose lives inexplicably intersect via a freak winter storm, a sick cat, and a run to the market for diapers. There’s 60 year old Richard Bowmaster who is living in a fog after tragically losing his Brazilian wife and child. His coworker and tenant, 62 year old Lucia Maraz, has survived her own life of upheavals in Chili, escaping the danger by moving to Canada and emigrating to the United States. Finally there’s 23 year old Evelyn Ortega, an undocumented refugee from Guatemala assisting a disabled boy whose father is involved in questionable business practices.

When Evelyn “borrows” her boss’s Lexus for a quick run to the supermarket, she’s caught in the “wrong place at the wrong time” when Richard’s car skids into the rear of the vehicle. Panicking, she ends up at his home, terrified of the consequences when her temporarily out of town employer returns home. Somehow Louisa and Evelyn end up with Richard in his apartment huddling together through the night while a freak blizzard rages across Brooklyn and into the surrounding regions. It’s not just the minor fender bender, but what’s inside the trunk that has them all in a sweat despite the cold.

Thus begins a bizarre road trip to an isolated location far away from the boundaries of the “incident” to get rid of the evidence. Close quarters and fear create the perfect environment for confidences as the three tell their personal stories and develop an unbreakable bond through this illicit deed. Back in Brooklyn is the “rest of the story” providing closure long after the threesome have resolved their accidental dilemma.

I’d like to highlight Lucia’s tale involving the Military coup d’etat in Chili in 1973 where President Salvador Allende was overthrown by armed forces and the national police. It is not a coincidence that the author’s last name is also Allende since this leader was Isabel’s “uncle” which endangered not only her life, but those of loved ones. I’m sure this particular tale invoked some strong emotions from Isabel’s past when she was actively involved in helping those on the “wanted” list find safe passage, which is inherently reflected in the attitudes and behaviors of the characters in this novel.

There was a lot to take in (almost too much to absorb) as the atrocities in Lucia’s and Evelyn’s childhoods are revealed. It is almost impossible to imagine living a life of terror, waiting for someone you love to be killed, or worse, not knowing whether or not the missing are still alive – not to mention your own dangers in an unstable country. Intertwined is the scenarios of those loved ones who influenced the decisions of the trio.

Without maintaining a specific focus on the immigration issue which is currently stalled in Congress, the reader is still left to ponder the attitude of American society towards undocumented workers who have fled their beloved homeland in order to stay safe, as well as the belligerence towards their children who were brought up in this country and know no other home.

While these timely issues make this a must read book (please note the President mentioned the violent M-13 in his 2018 State of the Union Address), I did have difficulty with the choppiness of the story as the plot flipped back and forth between the three main characters revealing their backgrounds piecemeal. I actually cheated and skipped ahead to read each biography in full (one at a time) which gave me a better understanding of their motivations. Oops, sorry Isabel. Allende had the difficult task of condensing their lives into a relatively brief narrative when each of the characters could have easily filled the pages of their own book (including some of the minor players). The conclusion neatly wraps up the details with a bit of poetic justice and a touch of romance thrown into the mix.

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

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

If The Story of Arthur Truluv was a movie, you’d find it on the Hallmark Channel. Elizabeth Berg has created one of those melodramatic, heart wrenching, over the top dramas filled with the angst of loves both lost and found as three disparate characters find comfort as they form an unusual sort of alliance.

You have the teen girl who doesn’t know where her life is headed living with a father who has been disconnected from his daughter since the tragic death of his wife. Maddy doesn’t seem to fit in with anyone at school and even the new boy indicates he is not interested. Since everywhere she goes her peers whisper and mock, she skips school to spend time reflecting at a local cemetery. She’s not the only one who finds the locale soothing. It is here that Maddy meets octogenarian Arthur Moses, an elderly gentleman who every day brings a bag lunch to his wife’s gravesite to enjoy a meal with his long gone mate. Somehow the two form a connection and Arthur lets Maddy know that he’ll be there for her if she ever needs a friend. Then there’s Arthur’s elderly neighbor, Lucille, who spends her days sitting out on her porch keeping track of all the doings, collecting gossip the way some people collect stamps. Her opinionated manner is excused by her skill in the kitchen, freely sharing her creations with Arthur. Arthur, who mostly eats canned beans and franks (which he divvies up with his cat), sympathizes with the lonely woman as he eats her mouth watering butter orange blossom cookies. Somehow, through a series of events, the three end up facing the future together finding comfort and even happiness as they create a unique sort of blended family transcending the usual mother, father, child homelife.

Add in a kind hearted teacher who reaches out to his artistic, though lackluster student, a lost love who finds his way home, and a skeevy boyfriend who just wants a good time without any commitments, and you have a charming little story perfect for a rainy afternoon.

While the simplistic style fits the subject matter and the rotating point of view between the three main characters gives us a decent grasp of their motivations, I had a problem with the use of present tense to tell the story. Very few are able to use this technique successfully, and Berg, unfortunately, is not one of those authors, at least not in this book. Perhaps modifications were made before publication, since my copy was an ARC provided by Netgalley (in exchange for an honest review). I also felt the ending was too abrupt, I would have liked a little more closure, especially considering the book was only 220 or so pages (and give us some dates, not just clues from the headstones). Of note, however, were the sweet little vignettes from the graveyard, where Arthur was able to relate telepathically with the deceased and share bits and pieces of their life and death with the reader. Three and a half stars.

Ironweed by William Kennedy

When you hear the expression, the dead are always with us, it is meant figuratively, but in the life of Francis Phelan the phrase is literal. As a one-time grave digger, his dearly departed father (hit by a train) and shrew of a mother corpse are aware of his presence as he pays his respects to an infant son whose life was inadvertently cut short when Phelan’s slippery fingers dropped the baby on his head.

Francis began life as a talented young man who helped his neighbors and excelled at baseball, playing in the major leagues. He married and started a family, but life got in the way when during a union strike he killed one of the scab workers and ended up on the run. Eventually he returned home but with the death of baby Gregory he left for good, unable to face the consequences of his actions. Life as a vagrant became the norm, bumming drinks and cigarettes, hunting for a place to spend the night, wearing the same set of clothes until they fell apart at the seams with something as simple as a shoe lace becoming an expense beyond his means.

In 1938 jobs were scarce especially for drunkards who weren’t even allowed a cot at the Salvation Army (unless sober). Once again in Albany, Francis does a couple of day gigs to make a few bucks here and there which he wastes on booze. An angry drunk, there is still a bit of kindness in his heart as he places a blanket on a woman who ends up dead from the cold, and finds a place for his longtime friend Helen to sleep so she doesn’t meet the same fate. As he travels through the old neighborhood he is followed by the ghosts from his past giving him an opportunity to make amends for his numerous misdeeds.

Although beautifully descriptive with some subtle humor, Ironweed is definitely not a feel good book, filled with filth, sex, violence, and despair. Winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1984, I was taken aback at some of the crude, graphic sexual references despite their crass realism. Women do not come out on the good end of the stick, often using their “assets” for a hot meal and a warm place to sleep. The grittiness is a grim reminder that home and hearth are a privilege to be treasured.

William Kennedy wrote a series of books about Albany utilizing recurring characters or their descendants. A parallel book, Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game, involves a difficult predicament facing Phelan’s eldest son who meets up with his dad, convincing him that nobody in the family holds a grudge, then slipping him some funds and inviting him to stop by for a visit.

In Ironweed, Francis decides to purchase a turkey with these proceeds and arrives at his former home with this somewhat of a peace offering. His wife, Annie, remaining true to him over the past twenty two years, welcomes him back, no questions asked, for as long as he’s willing to stay. A visit to the attic locates a trunk filled with Phelan’s belongings, including a suit of clothes. Now cleaned up and snazzily dressed he saunters off to catch up with his derelict friends knowing he has an open invitation to return to his family if and when he chooses. Memories flood his mind as he visits old haunts, some not so pleasant, allowing a glimpse into his motivations even if they often lack commonsense. While the culminating events tug at ones heartstrings, there is a bit of hope that the future might hold some promise. (Spoiler alert: in Very Old Bones Phelan’s demise corresponds with his youthful endeavors – a fitting end of life passage.) Four and a half Stars.

Still Me by JoJo Moyes

The thing about author JoJo Moyes is she has the rare talent of making the characters in her novels come alive drawing the reader into the story and leaving them anxious to continue their relationship with these “old” friends.

That is why so many of us can’t wait to read Still Me, a continuation of the saga of Louisa Clark which began with Me Before You where she falls in love and “loses” Will Traynor, a quadriplegic in her care. In After You, Louisa tries to recover from her heartbreaking loss but her plans are interrupted by a life shattering fall from her rooftop where she meets Sam, the paramedic on the scene who assures her that she will survive this ordeal.

That’s the story of Lou’s life, one disaster after another, many due to her big heart which opens her up to the hurts of the world. While her relationship with Sam is definitely moving in the right direction, the voice of Will whispers in her ear to live big and experience life – “Live boldly, Clark” – so when the opportunity pops up to move from her home in London to New York City to be an assistant to a high profile businessman’s wife who has some emotional issues, Louisa packs up and heads out for a new adventure.

In Still Me, Louisa does not disappoint as she deals with her host/hostess and tries to find her place within the confines of Manhattan. Her task is not easy, but she has Nathan, the coworker from her time with Will, as well as a friendship with Ashok, the ever present doorman, and his family who are trying to save the local public library in Washington Heights. She even develops an uneasy peace with Mrs De Witt, the crabby neighbor with a pug dog who constantly complains about everything. Maintaining a long distance relationship with Sam is more difficult than either of them expected with complications at both ends, including Joshua Ryan, a dead ringer for Will who keeps popping up in unexpected places. Yet Louisa handles life with integrity remaining true to her own ideals and discovering an inner strength and fortitude which helps her through the ultimate crap life keeps throwing in her path. Her quirky sense of style, including a pair of bumblebee tights, somehow seems right in a city where everyone has their own point of view, and helps her find other fashion enthusiasts who appreciate her vintage tastes.

The reader also touches base with characters from both of the previous novels along with some new faces, allowing us to bone up on the “gossip” about their current doings. While you don’t need to be familiar with the first two books in the series, there are constant references to previous events which might be confusing to the first time reader. It is surprising that so much has occurred over the three year span between the beginning of book one to the end of book three, but the whirlwind of activity makes for some fine reading.

Even though I was able to predict a lot of the hassles Lou faced, there were still a few “ah ha” moments, but either way, as a lover of soap operas, I couldn’t wait to discover the details of the next chapter in her life (and I wasn’t disappointed). I am aching to discuss my favorites parts of this story, including the letters, but am resigned to wait for my friends to catch up and read Still Me for themselves. Five stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Lord of Pleasure (Rogues to Riches series, Book 2) by Erica Ridley

Michael Rutland, the Earl of Wainwright, commonly referred to as the Lord of Pleasure, is sick of constantly having his life appear as a caricature in the newspapers. It’s not his fault that women are taken not just with his title, but also his good lucks. All he does is try to be polite and complimentary to those he meets – so, why the fuss? And if he does consider a tryst with a woman of his acquaintance, it’s not with a debutante, but a more worldly woman, often a widow. He’s not the sort to take advantage or “ruin” a young lady. Yet, his critics accuse him of all sorts of things, mostly sordid. To make matters worse his best friends, Maxwell Gideon and Lord Hawkridge, have taken to displaying those very illustrations around his favorite hangout, the Cloven Hoof. Determined to change his reputation he vows to live quietly and keep his face out of the “comics” for forty days. Bets are made and the wager begins. No saint, he decides to attend the Duke of Lambley’s infamously bawdy Masquerade Ball for some discreet entertainment. Here he meets and becomes fascinated by Lady X. Of course, the rules of the establishment are “no names” (thus the masks) and neither Lambley or the amiable doorkeeper Phillip Fairfax are talking (see Lord of Chance, Book One of the Rogues to Riches series).

Then there’s Miss Camellia Grenville whose parents have just revealed she is to marry Mr Irving Bost from out of the way North Umbria. He’s coming in a month to start the marriage process, willing to make her his wife, sight unseen, based on her reputation as a good girl who never causes trouble – unlike her two hoyden sisters, Dahlia and Bryony. Despite having a father who is a Baron, the Grenville family seems to live on the fringes of The Ton, with their claim to fame the popular musicales they perform in their home. Middle daughter Dahlia runs a school for disadvantaged girls and has developed a distaste for Lord Wainwright when he inadvertently criticizes her endeavor causing her to lose some prospective critical funding. All three sisters band together in their hostility towards the earl who seems as frivolous as the scandal sheets imply. When they do meet, he is not given a warm welcome but asked to leave. The eldest daughter intrigues him with her bluntness versus the swooning he usually gets from females, even ones at the advanced age of twenty six. Little does he know that she’s the beautiful and alluring Lady X who is stealing his heart. Nor does she suspects he’s the bewitching Lord X who charms her each Saturday while she takes advantage of her last moments of freedom before the unwanted looming marriage.

Well written and intriguing with witty repartee and some interesting side trips, Lord of Pleasure is one of Erica Ridley’s better Regency Romances – Book 2 in the Rogues to Riches series. While the Musicales at the Grenville home featuring Camellia as the soloist, accompanied by her sister Bryony and brother Heath (Dahlia has no musical talent), have been repeatedly referred to as a must see event in the Dukes of War series, the sisters have never been front and center and the trio presents an interesting dynamic. The cluelessness which over shadows the entire affair provides a few head wags and while the Grenville parents seem heartless in marrying off their eldest daughter who would prefer to spend her days reading or huddling with her siblings, they truly love her and want what’s best. They even support, albeit reluctantly, their headstrong offspring in some outrageous life choices (see future books in the series).

While the author’s tendency to repeat the main character’s angst is evident, it seems under control and only mildly annoying and we won’t mention those parts of the book which don’t reflect the Regency period.

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

Forbidden Knight by Diana Cosby

Forbidden Knight by Diana Cosby is a sweet little Scottish Medieval Romance, short enough to read in an afternoon, long enough to be chockful of action. Mistress Alesone MacNiven is under the protection of the rightful King of Scotland, Robert the Bruce, when she comes across a group of men on horseback. Not sure if they pay allegiance to Bruce or his mortal enemy, Lord Comyn, she sends a masterful warning shot with her arrow, barely missing the heart of Sir Thomas MacKelloch. Leary of each other’s intentions, Thomas binds the maiden to keep her from escaping so he can verify her story of being the King’s healer. Once truths are revealed, the two find themselves on the way to safety in Avalon to avoid a disaster which would tear Scotland apart. Each has a series of secrets which affect their outlook on life and both feel a growing affection which doesn’t fit into either of their future plans. The road is not easy, not just because of the tough terrain, but also because the enemy is on their tail, and anyone who helps them also becomes a target. While this Medieval tale is full of violence, it is tempered with love as Sir Thomas and Alesone both attempt to reconcile their pasts. Although this is Part 2 of the Forbidden Series, you don’t need to have read the plot of Book1 to gain an understanding of the moral codes of the times.

Although well written and despite the exciting fight scenes, there was a little too much repetition in the intimacy department as the two lovers agonize over their feelings and despair that this is a romance which can never happen. With a lot of teasingly passionate moments, in the end there’s a nice twist which promises a happily ever after in spite of their doubts. The historical background regarding the Knights Templar and the strife over who will rule Scotland is an added plus.

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

This review also appears on Goodreads.