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review 2015-02-08 01:44
#CBR7 Book 15: The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy by Julia Quinn
The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy - Julia Quinn

Sir Richard Kenworthy has less than a month to find a bride, and secure her hand in marriage. She can't really be an heiress or a diamond of the first water, because it's really quite imperative that she accept his proposal, no matter what. When he spots Miss Iris Smythe-Smith suffering behind her cello at her family's infamous annual musicale, he is intrigued. Very blond and pale-skinned, she should be unremarkable, but she's clearly good at playing her instrument, which can't be said for her other female relatives. He forces his friend Winston Bevelstoke to introduce him and becomes quite smitten, which wasn't really part of the plan.

Iris is surprised and not a little suspicious when Sir Richard seems so very taken with her. She's used to being overlooked and underestimated and spends most of her time out in society quietly observing others, quite content to rest among the chaperones and the wallflowers. Sir Richard flirts with her, he calls with flowers and insists on taking her for walks. He gives every impression of falling for her, but Iris can't help but wonder why his courtship seems so rushed. When he proposes after only a week's acquaintance, and compromises her with a kiss shortly after, she doesn't really have a choice but to accept him, but it's clear that he is hiding something and she's worried about discovering what it is.

Richard feels deeply guilty about forcing Iris into marriage, especially as after only a week, he has discovered that she is a much better wife than he could ever have dreamed of snaring with his whirlwind courtship. She's witty, clever, caring and loyal and clearly very forbearing of her family member's flaws and foibles, something he desperately hopes will mean that she might eventually forgive him, once she discovers the secrets that forced his hand in marrying her.

This is the fourth and final book in the Smythe-Smith quartet. It's by no means required that you've read any of the other books, although several previous Julia Quinn characters pop up for cameos or are mentioned, and your enjoyment might be increased if you know more about the extented romance universe in which Quinn sets her books. While I love most of her Bridgerton novels and her two latter Bevelstoke novels in particular (I also adore the running gag of the schlocky Gothic Sarah Gorely novels in her later books), her plots have seemed a bit on the overly melodramatic side in these last four books, and in The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy, I think it got almost too much for my disbelief to willingly suspend itself.

While I had my suspicions about some of the things Richard was hiding back on his estate in Yorkshire, I doubt that many would be expecting the full extent of his plans, because that was some soap opera level intrigue right there. There is a lot of the witty banter and light escapism that Quinn is so good at, but when the plot gets as ridiculous as this one did at times, it does spoil my enjoyment somewhat.

Iris was a lovely heroine, though and it's always nice to see romance protagonist who isn't stunningly gorgeous (although there is happily a lot more diversity in the shape and appearance of heroines nowadays). She's learned to be happy with being a wallflower and loves her large and boisterous family, for all their flaws. She's clever and quietly wry, and very much wants to be a good wife and sister-in-law, as well as a capable lady of her own estate. She's flattered by Richard's attentions, but because he's probably the first man to ever really notice her, she is suspicious and with good reason. She's deeply upset when she discovers why their courtship was so sudden, even more so because while Richard was underhanded and deceitful, they also find common ground and make a connection and when the truth comes out, Iris is worried that the affection she believed her husband felt for her is a lie as well. Since she is well on her way to falling in love with him, she feels doubly betrayed.

It's thanks to Iris' calm and quiet competence that the melodramatic plot doesn't spiral completely out of control, though, as once she gets over the initial hurt, she sets about to sort things out. It helps that Richard in no way is a bad man, and the secrets that he's concealing are not of his own doing. He's desperately trying to do the right thing in a difficult situation, but goes about it in a staggeringly foolish way. Unlike in Lady Windermere's Lover, which I read last month, where I thought the hero's actions were pretty much unforgivable and the heroine should have run off with her husband's best friend, I didn't think Richard was undeserving of Iris. The romance part of the plot was sweet and satisfying. I just wished the major complication of the plot hadn't been quite so overblown. I still enjoy Julia Quinn's books, but she may be slipping off my auto-buy list if this trend continues.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2015/02/cbr7-book-15-secrets-of-sir-richard.html
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review 2015-02-03 17:22
#CBR7 Book 12: Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
Girl, Interrupted - Susanna Kaysen

When Susanna Kaysen was 18, she went to see a new psychiatrist for a conversation after what appears to have been a suicide attempt. She swallowed a large amount of sleeping pills, then regretted her decision and wandered out into the street to get help. The psychiatrist claimed to have spoken to and evaluated Ms. Kaysen for more than three hours, Ms. Kaysen herself claims the meeting was barely half an hour. The end result was nonetheless that she ended up committed to McLean Hospital, a mental institution, for nearly 18 months, diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

The book doesn't follow a chronological narrative, but rather jumps around, in a series of vignettes and recollections from Ms. Kaysen's time in the mental institution and her thoughts about her own diagnose, treatment and the treatment of mental illness in the 1960s in general. She describes the ward where she stayed, the various girls who were in the institution with her, several of the doctors and nurses and a lot of the day to day life in the hospital. It is clear from some of what Ms. Kaysen relates that she was a troubled and conflicted young woman, she among other things had an affair with her English teacher, but whether she was so mentally ill that she needed to be institutionalised is unclear. From Ms. Kaysen's in-depth explorations of what actually lies behind the justification for "borderline personality disorder", quite a lot of young people just starting out in life fit into that profile and most do not end up heavily medicated and monitored in a mental hospital. Whether a confused and somewhat depressed young woman's situation was made a lot worse by incarcerating her and surrounding her with actually mentally ill women is also one of the questions the reader is left with.

I had only ever seen the film version of this, with Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. I saw it many years ago, and can remember not being all that impressed with it. When I saw the book was on sale in e-book recently, I recalled various Cannonball reviews over the years speaking positively about it, and decided to give it a try. Especially as it fit into several of my reading challenges this month, like the Monthly Key Word (girl) and the Monthly Motif one (which was Books turned into Movies for January). It's a quick read. I actually read more than half of it on my Kindle app on my way to and from visiting a friend a bit outside Oslo. I finished the whole thing in less than four hours. The Hollywood film was mainly a showcase for Angelina Jolie's acting than an interesting exploration of mental illness and society's willingness to remove things that make it uncomfortable from sight. I would recommend anyone who has just dismissed the book because of a negative impression of the film (like I had) give the book a try. It's good, really.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.com/2015/02/cbr7-book-12-girl-interrupted-by.html
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review 2014-12-27 21:52
#CBR6 Book 137: The Queen´s Fool by Philippa Gregory
The Queen's Fool - Philippa Gregory

Young Jewish girl Hannah Verde flees the Inquisition in Spain with her father after her mother is burned for heresy. They travel through Europe to England, calling themselves "Green" and making a new life for themselves as loyal Christians. Hannah´s father has a printing press and soon his skilled work comes to the attention of scholars like John Dee. While John Dee is visiting their print shop with his patron, Lord Robert Dudley, Hannah has one of her visions, seeing an angel over their shoulder. Her abilities make her a priceless resource for the Dudleys, who takes her to court and presents her to young King Edward as a "Holy Fool". Of course, they also want her to swear fealty to them. If she refuses to spy for them, they will reveal her Jewish origins and both Hannah and her father will be executed.


Besotted with the charming Lord Robert, enticed by the chance at independence and glamorous life at court, Hannah would much rather be a Holy Fool than work in her father´s print shop and at sixteen marry the young doctor´s apprentice her family have picked for her. Her loyalties are tested when she is sent to spy on the Princess Mary for the Dudleys, but grows to admire and love the rightful heir to the throne, even though she suspects the Duke of Northumberland of having sinister plans for the royal succession. When Mary becomes Queen of England, she keeps Hannah with her, trusting her visions as a gift from God. She too needs Hannah to work as a spy, however, keeping watch over the Princess Elizabeth and making sure Protestant plots to put the Queen´s sister on the throne are not successful. 


Throughout, Hannah´s father, and Daniel, her fiancee, are deeply worried about her and not at all happy that she is defying traditional female virtues by appearing in breeches and Fools´ motley, the pawn of powerful men and women with the power to destroy as easily as they can protect. As religious persecution in England becomes more aggressive, they flee to France. But Hannah feels unable to leave either the Queen she serves or the charismatic Princess she´s also grown so attached to. 


The Mama´s Cannonball review of this book convinced me to give Philippa Gregory another chance. I wasn´t all too impressed with her writing in The Other Boleyn Girl and even less so in The Boleyn Inheritance. I suspect that may be because I did part of my history degree on the Tudors, with Henry VIII and Elizabeth I as speciality fields. I´m more fuzzy on the details about little Edward and Mary I, however, and I know very little specific about the persecution of Jews throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, so this book was a lot more interesting to me. While I think it may be a bit anachronistic how independent Hannah wanted to be, how reluctant she was to conform to the traditional role of women of the time and how demanding she was of equality in her future marriage, Hannah did also serve a woman who ruled as Queen in her own right and a Princess who would go on to be the most fiercely independent woman in Europe. So as female role models go, it´s not surprising that she didn´t just want to conform, keep silent and be controlled like the chattel most Medieval women were treated as. 


I totally understand the popularity of "sexy history" like Philippa Gregory´s novels, The Tudors, The Borgias and Reign and when I´m able to turn off the part of my brain who screams about inaccuracies, simplifications, anachronisms and the like, I am usually a big fan. There are after all the attractive actors, the sumptuous costumes and tons of exciting intrigue. This book was incredibly engrossing. I am worried that a lot of people take the heavily fictionalised accounts of these historical events as fact (although I have trouble seeing how anyone can do anything but suspend their disbelief when watching Reign), but at the same time, it´s good that the history doesn´t become entirely forgotten. Hopefully some are inspired to find out the truth behind the fiction. As my final book for the Alphabet soup challenge of this year, I´m glad I picked something so entertaining. I may give some of the other Gregory books from time periods I´m more hazy about a try over the course of 2015.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/cbr6-book-137-queens-fool-by-philippa.html
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review 2014-12-27 17:28
#CBR6 Book 136: Zoya by Danielle Steel
Zoya - Danielle Steel

Zoya Ossupov, a young noblewoman, second cousin to the Tsar himself, lives a sheltered life of luxury in St. Petersburg. When the revolution breaks out, Zoya´s grandmother, who has seen which way the wind was blowing, bundles up the many garments they´ve sown jewellery into and Zoya and they flee the country through Finland. Having lost her father, mother and elder brother in only a few days and worrying about the safety of her cousins the Romanovs, who were placed in house arrest by the revolutionaries, Zoya has to make a new life for herself in Paris with her grandmother and the one loyal servant who came with them.


Going against the express wishes of her stately grandmother, Zoya auditions with the Ballet Russe and starts supporting their little family as a ballet dancer. The only other money they have is the pittance they can get from selling their family heirlooms, in a market already flooded with Russian treasures. Zoya rejects the elderly Russian prince and the young lodger that her grandmother tries to match her with. Her grandmother wants her to be safe, Zoya wants to marry for love. She falls for an American officer, but he´s old enough to be her father and believes she would be better off without him. Only towards the end of the first World War he realises that they cannot fight their attraction, and Zoya becomes a society darling in New York.


She´s blissfully happy until the Wall Street crash, suddenly widowed with two small children to support. Once again, Zoya´s willingness to work hard sees her safe and comfortable within a few years, and eventually she even finds love again. Then the second World War arrives, and both Zoya´s new husband and son are determined to fight for their country. Will another conflict cost her more of the people she loves?


I´m pretty sure that this is the first novel I´ve ever read by Danielle Steel, and having read it, I can see both why her books are incredibly popular among some readers, and completely panned by others. I´m not going to pretend that I thought this was great literature, some of the descriptions and info dumping was a bit heavy handed and the plot was possibly a bit too packed, but it was an entertaining book and it reminded me that I´ve always found the Romanov family and their fate fascinating (even before I watched Anastasia. So it´s spurred me to add two non-fiction books about them to my TBR list and they will be part of my reading list for CBR7. 

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/cbr6-book-136-zoya-by-danielle-steel.html
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review 2014-12-15 00:21
#CBR6 Book 135: The Promise in a Kiss by Stephanie Laurens
The Promise in a Kiss with Bonus Material (Promo e-Books) - Stephanie Laurens

Sixteen year old Helena de Stansion, Comtesse D'Lisle, is spending Christmas Eve wandering around the gardens of the convent where her sister is recuperating from illness when a man suddenly drops down into the convent garden pretty much on top of her. Assuming the man is fleeing from something clandestine, she lies to the nuns and the guards when the approach her to ask if she's seen someone on the grounds. As a thank you for protecting him, the handsome stranger gives her a kiss.

Seven years later, while in England trying to find a suitable husband, Helena discovers that the man who kissed her is none other than Sebastian Cynster, the Duke of St. Ives. Helena's autocratic guardian has signed a document giving her permission to choose her own husband, should his title, wealth and landholdings be equal to or surpassing her own. Helena is determined to get away from the demands of her guardian and want someone as different from him as possible as her husband. A nice, kind man who won't try to control her. One short meeting with St. Ives, and it's obvious that he is just as controlling and arrogant as her guardian, if not more so. He has also sworn not to marry, but delighted to see her again, offers to help her find a suitable match. Helena is convinced that he has designs to be her lover, and if he aids her in finding a biddable husband, she will be more easily seduced.

St. Cyr hasn't really forgotten Helena either, and while he is not announcing his intentions to find a wife publicly, the machinations of his tiresome sister-in-law has made him reconsider his vow never to marry. When he discovers that the lovely girl he met seven years ago is now a beautiful and spirited young woman, with a temper and an iron will to match his own, he's pretty sure he's found the woman he wants to share his future with. He pretends he wants to help her find a match so he can spend more time with her and get to know her better. He finally manages to convince her that he wants her as a wife, not just as a mistress, when further complications occur.

It turns out that Helena's guardian and St. Cyr have a history, and that St. Cyr once won a valuable dagger in a wager. Now Helena's guardian wants it back, and he intends for Helena to steal it, or her sister will be in terrible danger. Helena has to decide whether she will betray the man she is growing to love or the sister she adores.

I've never read any Stephanie Laurens, but a quick Wikipedia search shows me that she has written a truly staggering amount of romances, mostly focusing on the romantic exploits of various Cynster family members. This book is chronologically the first in the series and as such set in Georgian times, rather than the Regency. Sebastian and Helena are a fun couple and in some of their interactions, they reminded me of Falconbridge and Genevieve in Julie Anne Long's What I Did for a Duke. I suspect older, worldly, archly sarcastic nobleman and younger spirited woman will always bring that to mind now.

I bought the book in an Amazon sale more than a year ago, probably on the recommendation of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (I buy a lot of romance that way) and promptly forgot about it until this month's Monthly Key Word Challenge, where it qualifies twice (promise and kiss). It's also set around Christmas, which made it impossible to pass up. It's a fun read, even though the main complication in the lovers' way involves a misunderstanding that could have been much more easily solved through simple conversation and honesty. Still, when the truth is out and all the cards are on the table, I will give Laurens thanks, because St. Cyr reacts in a very logical way to Helena's secrets and the resolution is both action packed and exciting. Possibly a bit silly and melodramatic, but I enjoyed it a lot. I'm not sure I'm going to be actively seeking out more of Laurens' books, but if they show up in another e-book sale, I'm not ruling out buying more.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.com/2014/12/cbr6-book-135-promise-in-kiss-by.html
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