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review 2015-12-31 16:31
#CBR7 Book 156: The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean
The Rogue Not Taken - Sarah MacLean

Lady Sophie Talbot is the youngest daughter of a coal miner who it's rumoured won his Earldom in a card game with the Prince Rengent. Sophie was quite happy growing up in a little village in Cumbria, dreaming of marrying the baker's boy and one day running her own bookshop. Moving to London and becoming part of the ton was never her dream, and unlike her sisters, who seem to clamber to outdo each other with regards to being seen and being scandalous, she'd rather stay in the background and read. While she hates that the gossip papers have dubbed them all "the soiled S's" (all their names start with S) and the way they speculate about how her eldest sister landed a duke, she's also fiercely loyal to her family and when she finds her ducal brother-in-law in a compromising situation with a woman most certainly not her pregnant sister, she loses her temper and shoves him in a fish pond. In front of everyone in polite society. Lady Sophie, the quiet one, just caused the biggest scandal of the season.


Wanting to get away as quickly as possible, she tries to persuade the scoundrelly Marquess of Eversley, popularly known as "King" to let her ride along in his carriage back to the city. She believes she may be able to blackmail him, as she caught him climbing out a window and holds his boot hostage, but he just abandons it and her, rushing away. Desperate to be gone, Sophie instead bribes his footman into giving her his livery and stows away on his carriage, only to realise far too late that it's not going back to London, it's going north. Eversley has recieved news that his father may be at death's door and cannot resist a final chance to tell his father he is never getting married and fathering heirs. 


Strangely, despite being in ill-fitting livery, barely anyone but King actually recognises that Sophie isn't a boy, despite the fact that she's still wearing silk slippers (the footman's boots didn't fit). He's convinced she's trying to snare herself a husband by being caught in a compromising position with him, but she denies this vehemently and does her best to get far away from him as quickly as possible. Using undeniable cleverness to best Eversley, she manages to get coach fare north, she's decided to go back to her home village of Mossband to realise her dreams, never to return to the capital. But the coach is stopped by highwaymen, Sophie throws herself in front of a pistol shot to rescue a young urchin, and despite telling himself repeatedly that he wants nothing to do with Sophie Talbot, King has to go searching for a doctor so he's not left with a dead earl's daughter on his hands.


Sophie and King (the reveal of his real name is excellent) pretty much loathe each other at first sight. He believes her to be a title-hunting social climber, she thinks he embodies all the things she hates most about the aristocracy. He can seduce soon to be married women and escape half-dressed out a window without anyone raising so much as an eyebrow while she was publically shunned for trying to defend her sister's honour. He's rich, handsome, arrogant and keeps saying exactly the wrong thing, sometimes directly insulting Sophie, but much of the time doing so without even meaning to. They both keep trying to remind themselves how annoying they find the other person, as they are clearly extremely attracted to one another.


In many ways, this book reminded me of A Week to Be Wicked, probably my favourite Tessa Dare novels, and one of my favourite romances ever. There's a road trip element, there is a lot of spirited banter, the couple have sizzling chemistry and they keep having mishap after mishap, while stuck on the road together. Both the heroes are uncomfortable travelling in small, dark, enclosed coaches. Both the heroines are highly intelligent, bookish, overlooked by everone and clearly super awesome. This book has daddy issues, gunshot wounds, occasional plot moppets (who were mostly sweet rather than annoying), assumed names, a pretend engagement, some pretty sexy times in both a carriage and a hedge maze, allusions to Greek mythology and hero, who while incredibly skilled at putting his foot in his mouth, eventually fully acknowledges what a first class idiot he's been and grovels very satisfyingly. He's not wrong about Sophie being far too good for him, but he shows signs of improvement towards the end and he's certainly not selfish in the bedroom department, which is an definite plus in a romance hero.


At least until I re-read One Good Earl Deserves a Lover, this is totally my new favourite Sarah Maclean and Sophie is certainly one of my favourite heroines. I do have niggles about the plot (King could have been slightly less insulting all the time, the conflict with his father could have been very easily solved if they actually just had a CONVERSATION), but they are not enough to ruin the happy glow of such a fun romance. After the most recent Milan was a let-down, I'm glad that I got to end the year on such a high note, making this the book that completed my triple Cannonball.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2015/12/cbr7-book-156-rogue-not-taken-by-sarah.html
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review 2015-12-31 11:23
#CBR7 Book 152: Longbourn by Jo Baker
Longbourn - Jo Baker

Quick question - can you give me the name of a single servant in Pride and Prejudice? Despite having read the book multiple times and having just finished the audio version of the book, I certainly couldn't do it. Jo Baker has taken the classic novel and imagined what the lives of the invisible people behind the scenes, so to speak. The very essential people who wash the mud out of Lizzie's petticoats after she's been walking the countryside, who help the Bennett sisters do their hair, make the beds, empty the chamber pots, sweep the floors, cook the food, tend the horses, open the doors, run errands no matter the state of the weather, carry messages back and forth and make life so much easier for the main cast of Pride and Prejudice


There's the housekeeper, Mrs. Hill; her husband, the butler; the maids Sarah and Mary (who because the middle daughter of the family is also a Mary is forever called Polly instead). There's also the mysterious and newly hired footman, James. Their lives' work is to make things as comfortable and effortless for the family they serve, but they have hopes and dreams and pasts of their own. Sarah, orphaned at an early age and taken into the household after a stay in the poor house, especially dreams of travelling and seeing the country, not content to be a servant her entire life. She's suspicious of James, the ruffian who showed up from nowhere and was suddenly hired on as a footman. All the other servants seem to adore him, and Mrs. Hill dotes on him, but Sarah's sure he's lying about his past and is determined to figure out what he's hiding. Both James and Mrs. Hill are concerned when Sarah seems to form an attachment with one of Mr. Bingley's handsome and exotically dark-skinned footmen.


The servants, like everyone else, hope the elder Bennett sisters will make good matches, and worry when Lizzie spurns Mr. Collins, who after all will be their new master at some point in the future. They all think it would have been easier if he married a Bennett daughter, but can see he should have set his sights on Miss Mary, who was a much more suitable match for him.


While the Bennett women and all their acquaintances seem charmed by the dashing Mr. Wickham, the servants are not so easily fooled by his looks and easy charm. They recognise a predator when they see one and when he shows a very worrying interest in little Polly, James forgets all his hard-earned instincts to keep his head down and steps in to protect her. Wickham shows just how dangerous he can be and causes great upheaval in the household. Both Sarah and Mrs. Hill are shattered by the aftermath.


The book is divided into three parts, and the third part is the one that's the most removed from the main plot of the source novel. In this part we discover more of Mrs. Hill's past, her connection to James the footman and why he wished to keep his past hidden from everyone. It offered a perspective on the Regency period you certainly don't see in the romance novels, not just because it concerns the lives of the working classes, but because it's easy to forget when reading about balls and dresses and courting that the Napoleonic wars were also raging at the time. While so many romances are populated by officers back AFTER the Napoleonic wars, with varying degrees of PTSD, they rarely show any of the realities of the actual fighting, and certainly not what it would have been like for the foot soldiers. Longbourn, however, doesn't shy away from such unpleasantness.


This book is a very interesting take on what I think of as "literary fan fiction". I really liked the different interpretations of the already known characters from the beloved novel, as well as a fascinating look at all those servants who get completely forgotten about, but were oh so necessary for the wheels of society to turn. At first, I was worried I'd find the book boring, but I pretty much raced through it, just as invested in the lower born protagonists that I was reading about Lizzie and her sisters finding love. 


I'm not entirely sure I liked some of the choices Baker made in the book, however, and wish that Mrs. Hill's past could have been handled differently. I did like that Baker continued the story past the pages of the original, with glimpses of Lizzie's life as Mrs. Darcy and showed what life might be like for a maid at Pemberley. I can't really fault Sarah for the choices she eventually made, although I doubt I would have chosen the same if I were in her situation. There have been several very favourable Cannonball reviews of this in the past, I'm glad I finally got round to reading it.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2015/12/cbr7-book-152-longbourn-by-jo-baker.html
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review 2015-12-31 10:51
#CBR7 Book 151: Pride and Prejudice by Rosamund Pike
Pride and Prejudice - Audible Studios,Jane Austen,Rosamund Pike

Is there anyone, from barely discovered tribes in the South American rainforests, to nomadic tribes on the Mongolian steppes, who doesn't actually know the gist of the plot of this book? Just in case there are any people who have lived in a barren cave their entire life, I will attempt to summarise it the major plot beats.


Jane and Lizzie are the two eldest, prettiest and most sensible of the five Bennett sisters. Their mother is a silly and easily upset woman who wants nothing more than to see her daughters happily married. Their father would seem to mainly want to be left alone with his books (a household full of women, I can symphatize). There's also the stuffy Mary, and the boy-crazy youngest sisters, Kitty and Lydia. A rich and handsome young gentleman, Mr Bingley, moves to the area, and Mrs. Bennett is determined that he will fall in love with one of her girls. After he meets Jane, that seems very likely to happen, but after some promising encounters, the majority of the Bennett family make a dreadful spectacle of themselves at a ball and before anyone is even cured of their hangover, Bingley's two spiteful and snobbish sisters and haughty and supercilious friend, Mr. Darcy have convinced him that he imagined Jane's affection and persuaded him to return to London. Lizzie's none too surprised as she pretty much loathed Darcy at first sight.


Meanwhile Lizzie upsets her mother by refusing the proposal of the family's distant cousin, Mr Collins, who will one day inherit their house. He marries her spinster friend Charlotte Lucas instead. After some months of getting used to her friend choosing security and a home of her own at the price of being married to someone quite ridiculous, Lizzie comes to accept her friend's choice and goes to visit her at her new home. Here she runs into Mr. Darcy again and over the course of her six week long visit, she sees him quite a few times. She likes his cousin quite a bit, but is shocked speechless when Mr. Darcy proposes marriage towards the end of her stay there. He confesses that he does so against his better judgement and that he thinks her family are beneath him, but he loves her enough to overlook their difference in station. Lizzie, having recently discovered the truth behind his spiriting away Bingley and breaking Jane's heart, as well as believing Darcy financially ruined a childhood friend, wastes no time telling the man exactly how appalled she is and tells him to stuff his proposal. He's offended, but writes her a comprehensive letter explaining his side of the story with regards to the accusations she flings at him, and once Lizzie calms down sufficiently, she starts to wonder if she's owes the man an apology.


Six months later, when travelling in Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle, Lizzie meets Mr. Darcy again, here at his magnificent estate, Pemberley. He's like a changed man, amiable, generous to a fault, complimentary and insisting he wants to introduce Lizzie and her relatives to his younger sister. Having had time to think and consider everything she learned in the letter carefully, Lizzie's heart is already more receptive towards Darcy when a terrible scandal is revealed, involving the youngest Bennett sister. Any happiness with the proper and respectable Darcy seems sure to be doomed - just as Lizzie was considering telling him her feelings had changed.


I've read Pride and Prejudice countless times, first in Norwegian, later in English. I fondly remember waiting eagerly along with my mother for every new episode of the 1995 mini series, that for a very long time type cast Colin Firth as the romantic lead in all sorts of things, as he was the perfect Mr. Darcy. When I don't have time to watch the six hour mini series, the 2005 movie version starring Kiera Knightley and Matthew McFadyen will do nicely as well. I adored the modernised YouTube version made around the book's 200th anniversary, and the spin off book resulting from it. I still return to the original every few years though and each time I rediscover little bits that I'd forgotten in Ms. Austen's brilliant romance, which as well as having several satisfying happy endings, is a very clever social satire, using the eternally unmarried parson's daughter's observations of the people around her and the situations of ladies very much in her social sphere. While Austen has written many memorable book, this was the first of hers I read and it remains my absolute favourite. 


The new Audible audio version, narrated by Rosamund Pike, who played Jane in the 2005 movie version, is excellent. Ms. Pike has a lovely voice and manages to differentiate between the huge cast of characters with pretty distinctive voices for everyone, mostly to great success. It was a perfectly soothing and comforting listen in the hustle and bustle of the pre-Chistmas weeks. All the characters are so familiar to me, and having the book to listen to while running errands and trying to finish the last of the shopping made several stressful tasks go easier. If you've never allowed yourself the pleasure of reading Pride and Prejudice, you should consider the audio version for an extra treat. If you already know and love the book, get the audio, as I can't imagine a version that could be better.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2015/12/cbr7-book-151-pride-and-prejudice-by.html
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review 2015-12-25 17:22
#CBR7 Book 145: Season for Surrender by Theresa Romain
Season for Surrender - Theresa Romain

After Miss Louisa Oliver broke her betrothal to Viscount Matheson, her step-sister and former intended was subjected to quite a scandal, due to the gossipping ways of Matheson's friend, the dissolute Alexander Edgware, Lord Xavier. Matheson and Louisa's step-sister got married, and the scandal passed, but Xavier isn't really a favourite in the Oliver or Matheson family circles any more. So when Louisa, with her formidable aunt as chaperone,  receives an invitation to his house party, rumoured to be quite a raucous event, she's puzzled, but intrigued and accepts. Having accepted her likely fate as a spinster, she'd nonetheless like to experience a thrill or two, and what better way to practise flirting or stealing a kiss or two than at Xavier's wild party?


Lord Xavier was orphaned at an early age and has had the wealth and freedom to do as he pleased since for as long as he can remember. Drinking, gambling, debauchery and wagering, he's done it all, but it's starting to lose some of its charm. Yet he's known to never turn down a wager, so when his malicious cousin bets him that he can't make a proper lady of good family attend his house party, no matter how shocking, and stay the full two weeks, he accepts. He had never expected his cousin to pick the bookish Miss Oliver, whose reputation he's sure his cousin intends to tarnish. He needs to make sure that nothing too shocking occurs to scare Miss Oliver away, while guarding her virtue without being too obvious about it. 


Early on in the visit, Louisa overhears Xavier and his cousin speaking about the wager and realises how much is at stake about her presence there. She decides to teach both the men a lesson and pushes herself out of her comfort zone, engaging in the festivities with an enthusiasm that surprises everyone. Xavier tries to keep her from harm by distracting her with his large and comprehensive library, but finds what he most wants to do is spend as much time as possible with her there. Louisa discovers that if you're going to improve your flirting and kissing, there's no one better to practise on than a rake in want of reforming. 


My biggest problem with the first book in this series was that there just wasn't enough plot to fill a full novel. At least in this story, I didn't have to feel that, but there are still slow patches. The book starts a little before the house party with the wager, but the chief portion of the story is at Xavier's country estate, with a largeish cast of characters, among them Xavier's cousin, Miss Jane Tindall, whose mother is nominally the hostess of the gathering, but seems to spend most of her time drunk or asleep. Jane appears to be the heroine of the next book in the series.


Louisa is really quite happy with the idea of staying unmarried, but at the same time she's been organising the library at her new brother-in-law's house and several months of watching the newly-weds be sickeningly happy could make anyone feel a bit down, even someone who hadn't originally been engaged to the groom. Feeling very much the third wheel, she's quite relieved to be invited to a house party, even if the host is the duplicitous Lord Xavier. It doesn't take her long into her visit to discover that he wasn't quite as dastardly as to besmirch her step-sister's reputation to one and all, but he did confide in someone he shouldn't. Used to being in the background, quietly observing everyone else, Louisa is quite the study of human nature, and is amused to discover that much of Lord Xavier's behaviour is merely a clever veneer, applied to fool those around him that he's as carefree, rakish and dissolute as his reputation claims. She becomes determined to make him reveal the person he really is, and is willing to use any means necessary.


Lord Xavier does indeed do very little without planning and forethought. He has a series of numbered expressions that he pulls out at the appropriate occasions and having been quite bored by his lifestyle for a while, he's nonetheless careful to cultivate the appearance of being the consummate rake, because he can't yet imagine what sort of a person he could be instead. A victim of his reputation, he believes it would be impossible to change now. He's very aware of how easily Miss Oliver could be ruined by mere hints at impropriety, yet cannot keep himself away from her. Initially, he tells himself it's too keep her safe, but the more time they spend together, the more obviously the attraction between them grows. He still thinks she's far too good for him, and even tries to send her away to protect her, not that it does a lot of good in the long run. 


Theresa Romain remains an author who is perfectly decent, but who as of yet has not truly wowed me. I really did like this book, but I doubt that I'll particularly remember the details of the story in a month or so. Still, I keep seeing her books highly recommended, and can't seem to stop buying them in e-book sales, so I will continue to see if there is an exceptional book in her yet.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2015/12/cbr7-book-145-season-for-surrender-by.html
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review 2015-12-23 00:31
#CBR7 Book 143: Season for Temptation by Theresa Romain
Season for Temptation - Theresa Romain

James, Viscount Matheson has newly come into the title and wishes to marry a suitable young lady as quickly as possible, seeing as his sister, now widowed, was embroiled in a terrible scandal due to her philandering husband and a very public scene with a mistress before he died. Matheson's mother wishes him to restore the family reputation. So he is very pleased when he meets the quiet and pleasant Miss Louisa Oliver in the library at a society ball. Proposing to her after but a short acquaintance, he goes to see her family and is then introduced to Louisa's vivacious and lively step-sister, Julia Herington. After just a short time, James begins to fear he may have proposed too soon. 


Miss Louisa Oliver hated being out in society and felt that she really couldn't turn down the proposal of a Viscount, even though she's honestly not sure she's ready for marriage yet, if ever. All she really wants to do is stay at home with her family, reading and organising the library. Julia is overjoyed that her sister has made such a good match, and even more so once she actually meets James. She knows that her sister hates attention and scrutiny, but believes that James' wit and enthusiasm may bring Louisa out of her shell a bit more. She hopes she may one day meet a man as nice and agreeable as he.


Louisa manages to persuade James to postpone the wedding until Julia has had her season, and the two sisters go to London accompanied by a fearsome widowed aunt as chaperone. Of course James and Julia pine hopelessly for one another, all the while hiding their true feelings from Louisa, whom they both care very much for, each other and the world in general. Louisa, for her part, keeps having misgivings about getting married, getting more and more determined to break off the engagement the longer she has to spend in society. Will James be able to finally declare his love for the right sister?


This book was far too long for what was really a very simple plot. I'm pretty sure it could have been covered in a novella. Honourable and kind peer of the realm contracts betrothal with one sister, falls madly in love with the other. She returns his feelings, the first sister doesn't really mind, as she doesn't love him and didn't really want to get married after all. His mother, who is a meddlesome shrew, try to complicate matters to separate them, is not successful. 


There's quite a lot of time spent in libraries, which I don't exactly mind, because Louisa loves books and the organising of them, which I can thoroughly respect. She is shy, socially awkward, yet perfectly behaved. She knows that she may never make a match as good as a viscount, so can't really refuse a proposal, even though she feels nothing more than a general regard for Matheson. She's pretty much the polar opposite of her step-sister who is impulsive, exuberant, frequently speaks before she thinks and seems unable to be still for a second. The major complication here are that James and Julia are too honourable to do anything to hurt Louisa or act on their attraction towards each other (although they both tell themselves that they're just imagining the kind attentions of the other because of their infatuation). 


One thing the book cannot be criticised for is the romance progressing too quickly. Several months, if not nearly a year passes over the course of the book. There are tours of James' estate, that he's modernising. At one point, Julia turns her ankle and is convalescent for six weeks. Then there's her season, which seems to be well under way. The problem is just that nothing much interesting happens. Louisa tries to solicit James help in finding a respectable suitor for Julia. He seethes with jealousy and tries to sabotage the search while on the surface being forced to play along. 


The characters are perfectly pleasant, the story (if it were shorter) is diverting. It just dragged on. Romain is a good writer and uses chapter titles very amusingly. I was still waiting for the end to be in sight and for them to just "get on with it!" I'd heard many good things about this series on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and Dear Author, but based on the first book, I hope the sequels are snappier and have more plot or I'm not going to be able to get through them. 

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2015/12/cbr7-book-143-season-for-temptation-by.html
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