Saturday, January 17, 2009

Book review: The Lady Grace Mysteries: Keys by Jan Burchett & Sara Vogler

The Lady Grace Mysteries: Keys by Jan Burchett and Sara Vogler (Published by Random House UK, January 1, 2009)

Keys is the eleventh book in the Lady Grace Mysteries, a series written in the form of the diary of Lady Grace Cavendish, a teenage girl who is goddaughter and Maid of Honor to Queen Elizabeth I. Grace solves mysteries at court with the help of her friends Masou, who is one of the Queen‘s fools, and Ellie, who is her best friend despite the fact she is Grace’s servant.

Queen Elizabeth I and her court have just arrived at her palace of Hampton Court. Grace and Ellie are out walking the Queen’s dogs when they stumble upon a terrible sight - a man who has just been murdered. The man is Nicholas Urseau, the royal clockmaker. From the start, most people at court believe the murderer to be Mr. Urseau’s apprentice, Charles Doute, because he was found next to the body. But Grace has her doubts. Charles seems heartbroken at his master’s death, and she fears an innocent man may be punished or even killed for a murder he didn’t commit. She decides that if no one will believe her about Charles Doute’s innocence, she must solve the mystery herself. Enlisting the help of her friends, she sets out to solve yet another puzzling mystery at court.

Keys was another enjoyable read in the Lady Grace mysteries series. Although it would be most enjoyed by readers who have read earlier books in the series, the plot in this book can stand on its own. I recommend this book, and others in the series, to young readers who enjoy historical fiction, as well as to older readers with a special interest in reading books set during this time period.

Book review: Envy: A Luxe Novel by Anna Godbersen

Envy: A Luxe Novel by Anna Godbersen (Published by HarperTeen, January 27, 2009)

Warning: this review contains some spoilers if you haven’t read the first two books in the series.

It’s a new year and a new century in Manhattan, February 1900. However, the lives of its wealthy residents are not as happy and carefree as it would appear, and are filled with tragedy, blackmail, and secrets and lies that must never be revealed.

Elizabeth Holland is still struggling to cope with the loss of her true love, Will Keller, and her mother’s insistence that she keep up the appearance that all is normal by appearing in society. Elizabeth’s sister, Diana, is heartbroken that her own love, Henry Schoonmaker, has married Penelope Hayes instead of her, not knowing that Henry agreed to the marriage to save Diana’s reputation. Meanwhile, Penelope has the husband she always wanted, but she finds it came at a price she didn’t want to pay, as her marriage is painfully unhappy and her husband resents that she prevented him from marrying his true love. Fearing Henry will leave her, she schemes to separate him and Diana forever.

I loved the first book in The Luxe series, but was rather disappointed and frustrated by the second book, Rumors. However, I did feel book three was an improvement over book two, although still not as good as the first book. According to this book, there will only be one more book in the series, and this book does start to move things towards a conclusion. I would recommend this book to readers who read the first two books and want to find out what happens next to the characters.

Book review: Frontier Courtship by Valerie Hansen

Frontier Courtship by Valerie Hansen (Published by Harlequin/Steeple Hill, March 11, 2008)

Nineteen-year-old Faith Ann Beal promised her dying mother that she would take her younger sister Charity and head west to find their father, who had gone to California in hopes of striking it rich in the goldfields. And with nothing left of the small Ohio farm where she grew up, Faith had no choice but to keep that promise. But she didn't expect how hard the journey would be, especially for two young women on their own.

Connell McClain is traveling the trail in search of his fiancée, Irene, whom he sent for a year ago. Connell and Irene grew up together back east, and now she has agreed to come west to marry him after the death of her parents. However, Irene never made it west, and now Connell is terrified something may have happened to her. When he encounters Faith at Fort Laramie and saves her from a drunken brawl, he agrees to help the young woman and her sister, in order to protect them from an unscrupulous wagon train master as he continues his search for Irene. Neither Faith nor Connell expect the romantic feelings they begin to have for one another, but can they fulfill their obligations to others and still find happiness together?

This was an excellent romance that fans of western historicals and inspirational romances are sure to enjoy. Faith and Connell are wonderful characters, and I loved the setting of a covered wagon train traveling west. I'd highly recommend this book and I look forward to the author's other Love Inspired Historical romance, about Faith's sister.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Book review: To Catch a Pirate by Jade Parker

To Catch a Pirate by Jade Parker (Published by Scholastic, May 1, 2007)

After the death of her mother, sixteen-year-old Annalisa Townsend leave England and sets sail for the Caribbean in 1720, where her father is to be the governor of a small island named Mourning. Shortly before they reach their destination, however, the ship is attacked by pirates. Annalisa is discovered hiding in the hold by James Sterling, a young pirate. When he tries to steal her necklace, all that is left of her mother, she begs him not to. He agrees in exchange for a kiss, and she expects never to see the disturbingly handsome young pirate again. But after arriving at their destination, Annalisa's father is accused of allowing the pirates to steal the gold that was to be used to build a port on Mourning, and sent to jail.

One year later, Annalisa has acquired a ship and a crew and set out in search of James Sterling. James has run into trouble of his own, having been marooned by his former captain, Crimson Kelly, for having let Annalisa escape during the pirate attack. Annalisa is determined to find James so that he can lead her to where Crimson Kelly hid the treasure her father was responsible for, so she can reclaim it and free him from jail. What Annalisa doesn't expect is for her unsettling feelings for the young pirate to resurface, and soon she finds herself in danger of falling in love with him.

This book was nothing spectacular, but it was good for what it was - a fun historical romance about pirates. If you like this kind of story, it's the perfect summer read - it's not a very long book, but it's enjoyable while it lasts. It has a cute love story, and teenage girls who love pirate stories are sure to enjoy it.

Book review: Parade of Shadows by Gloria Whelan

Parade of Shadows by Gloria Whelan (Published by HarperCollins, October 16, 2007)

It's 1907, and sixteen-year-old Julia Hamilton lives an uneventful life in London, though she dreams of seeing distant places and having exciting adventures. Her mother died of an illness when Julia was very young and her father is often traveling in his work for the British Foreign Office. When she learns her father is to take a trip to the Middle East, she begs to come along, and to her delight, her father agrees.

On the journey, Julia befriends Graham Geddes, a handsome young student from Oxford whom she learns is to be part of their tour group. Graham shows her the sights of the exotic city of Beirut - and also awakens her to the political unrest in the region. Graham is sympathetic to the Young Turks, who wish to reform the Ottoman Empire, a position Julia's father strongly disagrees with. Julia is attracted to Graham but feels torn between him and her father. Their fellow travelers, and even their tour guide, seem to have hidden motives as well.

Parade of Shadows was another excellent historical novel with a unique setting by Gloria Whelan. Julia was a wonderful character - she starts out as a sheltered young girl, but during her journey she matures and becomes more aware of the world around her. In light of the current situation in the Middle East, it seemed particularly relevant to read about the political unrest that existed there a hundred years ago. I'd highly recommend this book to young adult readers who enjoyed the author's previous novels or who enjoy historical fiction

Book review: Homespun Bride by Jillian Hart

Homespun Bride by Jillian Hart (Published by Harlequin/Steeple Hill, January 1, 2008)

Seventeen-year-old Noelle Kramer was filled with the hopes and dreams of first love, believing that in Thad MacKaslin she had found the man she would spend the rest of her life with. But on the night they were to elope, she learned he had left town without a word, and she believed she would never see him again. Although her heart was broken, she planned to marry another and at least have a home and family of her own, until a tragic accident left her parents dead and Noelle blind, destroying her plans for the future.

Now, five years later, in the winter of 1883, Noelle lives a quiet life with her aunt, uncle, and cousins. Her blindness has caused her to give up all her dreams of love, marriage, and children. On their way home from town during a blizzard, Noelle and her aunt are almost killed by a runaway horse, but a stranger saves them - a stranger Noelle soon realizes is Thad MacKaslin, who has returned to their hometown of Angel Falls, Montana. And although both Noelle and Thad try to deny it, they still have feelings for each other. Has God given them a second chance at love and happiness together?

This book was one of the most enjoyable historical romances I've read in a while. Fans of western and inspirational romances are sure to enjoy this story of two people who had given up on a future together but are given a second chance to realize their dreams. The love story was incredibly sweet and emotional, rather than so many romances which focus on the physical romance but neglect the emotional side of a relationship. I'd highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy a sweet and emotional romance without all the graphic scenes.

Book review: My Story : Pompeii by Sue Reid

My Story: Pompeii, a Roman Girl's Diary by Sue Reid (Published by Scholastic UK, May 5, 2008)

Thirteen-year-old Claudia is more fortunate than many of the people living in the Roman city of Pompeii in the year AD 78. Her father is a successful businessman who owns a bakery. As a result, the family is able to own their own home and have slaves to help them out. But Claudia is often not content with her life. She would much rather write in her diary then learn about the duties of a Roman housewife from her mother.

Besides her unhappiness at learning household tasks, Claudia also has more serious worries. The city experiences several small earthquakes, and there are omens and prophecies of doom. Claudia fears something stirs in Mount Vesuvius, which looms over Pompeii. And all she can do is wait and wonder what is to become of herself, her family and friends, and the city she has lived in her entire life.

Written in the form of Claudia's diary, this book brings to life the final year before Pompeii's destruction during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Although at times the language seemed a bit modern for a diary written by a girl in ancient times, the book still does a good job at accurately describing both the everyday life of a middle class girl in ancient Rome and the events leading up the disaster. Readers who enjoyed other books in the My Story series are sure to enjoy this fascinating look into a place and time long gone but not forgotten.

Book review: Ever by Gail Carson Levine

Ever by Gail Carson Levine (Published by HarperCollins, May 6, 2008)

Olus is the Akkan god of the winds - but at just seventeen years old, much younger than all the other gods and goddesses, he doesn't fit in and often feels lonely. So he decides to spend some time among the mortals of the world. He travels to the nearby land of Hyte, and becomes particularly fascinated by a mortal girl named Kezi and her family.

Fifteen-year-old Kezi lives a comfortable and carefree life. She is a gifted weaver of rugs, and she loves to dance. But her carefree life is shattered in one terrible moment. Her mother becomes deathly ill, and desperate to save his wife, her father makes a terrible oath to make a sacrifice to the Admat, the all-powerful god of Hyte, if his wife is spared. And in order to protect her aunt, who saved Kezi's life as a child, Kezi fufills the oath and will become the sacrifice. Now, Kezi has just thirty days to find a way to save her life. Olus, who has fallen in love with Kezi, believes he can save her by helping her become immortal, and to that end the young couple sets off on a series of quests that will test their courage and their love for each other.

Ever was another wonderful fantasy adventure by Gail Carson Levine, told in the alternating voices of Kezi and Olus, giving us a glimpse into both their minds. As with her other books, she has created an exotic and believable world filled with wonderful characters. I highly recommend this book to fans of the author's other novels, as well as to young teens who enjoy romantic fantasy novels.

Book review: Yuletide Treasure by Lauraine Snelling & Jillian Hart

Yuletide Treasures by Lauraine Snelling and Jillian Hart (Published by Steeple Hill, November 1, 2008)

This book features two short historical romances set at Christmas time. Although not a part of the Love Inspired Historical line from the same publisher, Steeple Hill, this book is very similar in style to that series.

The first story, The Finest Gift, is by Lauraine Snelling, is set in 1910 Minnesota. Arley Hooper is a plain young woman who has little hope for suitors and busies herself with the children at the orphanage. When she decides the girls deserve a dollhouse for Christmas, she enlists the aid of woodcarver Nathan Gunderson, who makes her believe that maybe she can find love.

The second story, A Blessed Season, is by Jillian Hart and set in Montana Territory in 1883. Bounty hunter Rafe Jones has taken on the task of finding an abandoned girl's long-lost mother for Christmas. Even his hardened heart cannot resist a young child's holiday wish. His search leads him to Cora Sims in the town of Angel Falls, Montana. Although Cora is most likely not the girl's mother, she develops an attachment to the child, and Rafe finds himself growing attached to Cora herself. Can this spinster and hardened bounty hunter find love together?

These two stories are a wonderful read for the holiday season, or anytime, for fans of sweet historical romances. I highly enjoyed both stories, although I particularly enjoyed reading A Blessed Season because it gave me a chance to revisit the setting and characters of my favorite Love Inspired Historical novel, Homespun Bride by Jillian Hart. I'd definitely recommend this book to readers of the Love Inspired Historical line.

Book review: Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle

Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle (Published by Henry Holt, April 29, 2008)

Seventeen-year-old identical twins Persephone "Persy" and Penelope "Pen" Leland are not quite like most upper-class young ladies in Victorian England. The girls were born with the gift of magic, and their governess, Miss Allardyce, or Ally as the girls call her, has educated them in the magical arts along with reading, writing, and history. Now the time has come for the girls' debut in London and their first season, where they will hopefully attract suitable husbands. Pen is eager to make her debut in society, but Persy, who is shy and bookish, wishes she could go against what is proper for a wealthy young lady and become a teacher.

Shortly after their arrival in London, however, more pressing concerns arrive. The twins discover Ally has been kidnapped, and that her captors hope to use her in a plot to gain control of the British throne. Meanwhile, shy Persy is finding herself falling in love with her childhood neighbor, Lochinvar Seton, who shares her love of books, reading, and education. But she doesn't believe he could ever find her attractive over Pen, the outgoing and social twin.

Bewitching Season is an absolutely wonderful debut novel from Marissa Doyle. The writer seamlessly blends magic, romance, and history against a realistic backdrop of 1837 London. I highly recommend this book to readers looking for a magical and romantic trip to the past, and I can't wait to read the sequel, which will be released in 2009.

Book review: Ransom My Heart by Meg Cabot

Ransom My Heart by Meg Cabot (Published by Avon, January 6, 2009)

In England in the year 1291, Finulla Crass, the adventurous daughter of the village miller, is determined to help her older sister, Mellana, who is pregnant out of wedlock and needs a substantial dowry in order to find a husband who will marry her despite her condition. The sisters come up with a rather unconventional plan - Finnula will find a wealthy man, kidnap him, and hold him for ransom in order to obtain the money Mellana needs. Finnula decides her captive will be a young earl, Hugo Fitzstephan, who has returned from the Crusades with quite a large fortune.

Hugo Fitzstephan is nothing like Finnula expected, however. The young knight is disturbingly handsome, and Finnula, who prefers hunting and riding to household tasks and is determined to never marry again after her first husband died before their wedding night, finds herself fighting her attraction for Hugo. Meanwhile, Hugo could escape at any time, but plays along as Finnula's "hostage" because he is curious about - and rather fascinated by - this unconventional young woman.

Ransom My Heart is an enjoyable and lighthearted medieval romance with an entertaining relationship between the main characters. It's not super heavy on historical detail, but I loved that it was different from most romances set in this time period, in that it had a unique storyline and featured a heroine who was a commoner rather than the typical sheltered young noblewoman. This book does have a bit more mature content than Meg Cabot's young adult books, however, so I wouldn't really recommend it to her younger fans. Historical romance readers as well as older teen and adult fans of the author are sure to enjoy this book, and I highly recommend it to them.

Book review: The Season by Sarah MacLean

The Season by Sarah MacLean (Published by Scholastic, March 1, 2009)

Unlike most young ladies from titled families in Regency England, seventeen-year-old Lady Alexandra Stafford, daughter of the Duke of Worthington, is not looking forward to her debut in London Society. Neither are Alex's two friends, Ella and Vivi. Alex dreads the thought of marriage, as she is an independent thinker and feels most men just want a pretty wife with no thoughts of her own.

Gavin Sewell, their neighbor, is a close friend of Alex's three older brothers and Alex's childhood protector. Gavin's father, the Earl of Blackmoor, recently died under mysterious circumstances, and now Gavin has inherited his title. Gavin has many doubts that his father's death was truly an accident, especially after his home is robbed. Alex has her suspicions too, and wants to help Gavin. But in the process, despite her opposition to marriage, Alex finds herself losing her heart and falling for Gavin, but she is unsure what his feelings for her are.

Even though I am a few years older then the target audience, I really enjoyed this book. It reminded me a lot of the historical romances I enjoyed as a teenager, such as the Sunfire and Avon True Romance series. I'd highly recommend this book to teen girls who enjoy historical romances, as well as older readers who still enjoy young adult fiction. It's a light, enjoyable read with a good blend of romance, history, and mystery.
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