Fanciful Reader

a book blog about romance and more. . .

Category: review

Christmas Eve at the Mellops’

Tomi Ungerer’s charming book for children, Christmas Eve at the Mellops’, was originally published in 1960. It was reprinted in 2011 by Phaidon Press to bring the story to a new generation of children. Ungerer is known for classic picture books that he has written and illustrated such as Moon Man.

Christmas Eve at the Mellops’, is one of a few stories by Ungerer about a family of pigs. The style is very different from later works such as Moon Man with drawings that are similar to those of William Steig.

The story begins with the father, Mr. Mellop, reading an article about Christmas decorations. He shows his four sons, Casimir, Isidor, Felix and Ferdinand the article. One by one, each of the young pigs goes out to get a Christmas tree. The four brothers are sad when they return home to discover that each one had the same idea. So Mr. Mellop suggests that they take the trees to those in need such as prisoners and hospital patients. But they discover that the places they visit already have a Christmas tree.

Then they encounter a little girl pig who is crying, and follow her home where she lives with her sick grandmother. They find other sad and lonely pigs in various rooms in the house and realize that this is where their trees are needed the most. Not only that, the Mellop brothers bring necessities for the families in the house such as warm clothes, food, medicine, and wood for a fire.

The brothers return home in a very good mood and discover that Mr. and Mrs. Mellop have prepared a Christmas celebration with their own family tree, as well as lots of gifts and festive food.

Today, many of the illustrations and situations, such as the pig brothers bringing goods to a poor house or a drawing of a prisoner smoking a cigar, would not be considered. In the late 50s through early 60s when the Mellops books were first published, these situations were more acceptable and the whimsical drawings and funny situations were more unusual in children’s literature.

While my five-year-old enjoyed Christmas Eve at the Mellops’, this is a title that children today may not seek out on their own because of the wide variety of Christmas-themed books that are available. It is worth seeking out if you’d like a charming holiday story with a vintage feel.

TBR Challenge 2011: Kiss an Angel

The suggested theme for this month’s TBR Challenge was Christmas/Holiday themed-romances. Even though I have several dozen of these in my TBR pile, I chose a book that I happened to finish last week, that was nevertheless languishing in my TBR pile for quite a while.

First, here’s the synopsis from the publisher:

Pretty, flighty Daisy Devreaux can either go to jail or marry the mystery man her father has chosen for her. Arranged marriages don’t happen in the modern world, so how did the irrepressible Daisy find herself in this fix?

Alex Markov, as humorless as he is deadly handsome, has no intention of playing the loving bridegroom to a spoiled little feather-head with champagne tastes. He drags Daisy from her uptown life to a broken down traveling circus and sets out to tame her to his ways.

But this man without a soul has met his match in a woman who’s nothing but heart. Before long, passion will send them flying sky high without a safety net… risking it all in search of a love that will last forever.

The romance between Daisy and Alex was really sweet and had enough angst to make the HEA that much better. The above blurb characterizes Daisy as a spoiled brat, but I found that she showed her toughness from the first day she was thrown into the marriage with Alex and adapted very quickly to her new circumstances—living in a messy trailer and traveling with the circus. What was remarkable about Daisy’s character development was the way she bonded with the menagerie animals, and how she was willing to perform such hard physical labor in order to improve their living conditions.

There was nothing I disliked about the hero, Alex. I can only tell you I’ve lived in Russia and they seem to have a shortage of alpha males. The women, on the other hand, are Amazons—shrewd, smart, strong, and beautiful—probably to make up for the deficiencies in the male population. So most Russian heroes in romance seem a little far-fetched to me.

Can you believe this is the first book by Susan Elizabeth Phillips I’ve ever read? Even though if pressed to rate Kiss an Angel, I’d only give it about 3 stars out of five, I’ll definitely read more of her books.

TBR Challenge 2011: Cold Magic

Cold Magic by Kate Elliott (Book 1 of the Spiritwalker Trilogy)
Orbit, Sept 9, 2010

First, here’s the blurb from the publisher:

It is the dawn of a new age… The Industrial Revolution has begun, factories are springing up across the country, and new technologies are transforming in the cities. But the old ways do not die easy.

“I was not a bard or a djeli or an historian or a scribe and I was certainly not a sage, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t curious…”

Young Cat Barahal thinks she understands the world she lives in and her place in it, but in fact she is merely poised, unaware, on the brink of shattering events. Drawn into a labyrinth of politics involving blood, betrayal and old feuds, she will be forced to make an unexpected and perilous journey in order to discover the truth, not just about her own family but about an ancient secret lying at the heart of her world.

Cat and her cousin Bee are part of this revolution. Young women at college, learning of the science that will shape their future and ignorant of the magics that rule their families. But all of that will change when the Cold Mages come for Cat. New dangers lurk around every corner and hidden threats menace her every move. If blood can’t be trusted, who can you trust?

From one of the genre’s finest writers comes a bold new epic fantasy in which science and magic are locked in a deadly struggle.

I pre-ordered Cold Magic before its release last fall and have wanted to read it for a long time. Though I’m glad I finally finished it, it really wasn’t what I expected. For one, I was expecting more steampunk elements and more romance.

I mention the romance becuase I was reading it for the TBR Challenge hosted by Wendy the Super Librarian, where participants are mainly romance bloggers. This month’s theme was “series catch-up” and Cold Magic is part one of a trilogy.

There was plenty that I liked about the book. The first-person narration is something that always helps me get hooked right away. Cat, the protagonist, and her cousin, Bee, are both complex, likable characters. They’re brave, intelligent female characters who don’t veer at all into “Mary Sue” territory. The world building is very complex. I was especially fascinated with the African and Phoenician societies that populate Europe in this alternate history.

At times the combination of all the different cultures, the political machinations, and the spirit world and magic were almost too complex for me. This is probably why I read mostly romance and not a lot of epic fantasy.

Speaking of romance, there is one very swoonworthy scene at the end, and the relationship between Cat and Andevai, the Cold Mage who is forced to marry her, is one of the things that really kept me reading. Then Cold Magic ends with a total cliffhanger, where one of the pivotal characters in the book is introduced.

For that reason, I’m glad I already have Cold Fire in hand to continue the series. I’m looking forward to reading this and ever more complex paranormal/fantasy romance series!

Vanish by Sophie Jordan

Vanish (Firelight, #2)Vanish by Sophie Jordan

I had the chance to preview the new book in the Firelight series by Sophie Jordan, Vanish via Harper Teen on Netgalley. Today is the book’s offical release date, and I’m finally posting a review.

Though I’ve tried not to include spoilers for Vanish, there may be some for the first book in the series, Firelight. I don’t recommend reading Vanish unless you’ve also read Firelight, so I don’t think this will be a problem for those reading the review.

Vanish picks up immediately where Firelight ended. Cassian, fellow draki (and the mate intended for Jacinda by the pride) convices Jacinda to return to the pride in order to protect her family from the hunters, even though it means leaving her boyfriend Will, who’s happens to be from the same family of draki hunters.

Early into the story Jacinda’s twin sister, Tamra she manifests as a shader, one of the rarest type of draki. It’s still very much Jacinda’s story, though.

As the story continues, so does the love triangle–Jacinda is choosing between Will and her Cassian. I had the same problem with the romance with Cassian in this book as I did with Will in Firelight. That is, I didn’t really feel the chemistry between Cassian and Jacinda until they actually had their first kiss.

The biggest problem I have with this series is that the cliffhangers are so extreme. Vanish doesn’t really feel complete in and of itself. There’s one major issue that’s resolved in Vanish but I have a feeling it will be undone in book 3. Other than that, I really enjoyed Sophie Jordan’s writing. The love scenes in particular are very hot for a YA book, even thought the characters never go beyond 1st base. I’ll have to check out book 3 just to see what happens!

Good Girls Don’t by Victoria Dahl

Good Girls Don't (Donovan Brothers Brewery, #1) Good Girls Don’t (Hqn) by Victoria Dahl

Good Girls Don’t is the first of a trilogy of contemporary romances from Victoria Dahl about the Donavan Brothers Brewery. Below is the publisher’s summary:

Too much of a good thing…

With her long ponytail and sparkling green eyes, Tessa Donovan looks more like the girl next door than a businesswoman—or a heartbreaker. Which may explain why Detective Luke Asher barely notices her when he arrives to investigate a break–in at her family’s brewery. He’s got his own problems—starting with the fact that his partner, Simone, is pregnant and everyone thinks he’s the father.

Tessa has her hands full, too. Her brother’s playboy ways may be threatening the business, and the tension could tear her tight–knit family apart. In fact, the only thing that could unite the Donovan boys is seeing a man come after their “baby” sister. Especially a man like Luke Asher. But Tessa sees past the rumors to the man beneath. He’s not who people think he is—and neither is she.

I was happy to have the chance via Harlequin and Netgalley to review Good Girls Don’t. I had started one of Dahl’s historicals, A Little Bit Wild, this winter, but couldn’t get into it. I think the author’s voice works a lot better for contemporary than historical settings. I enjoyed this book overall though the heroine wasn’t my favorite. I’m sure many others feel the same way about ponytail-wearing perky blondes (speaking as a non-perky blonde myself). I could definitely sympathize with Tessa’s efforts to be a peacemaker in her family and this made her more likeable. There was really nothing I disliked about the hero, Luke.

What kept me reading was the sizzling chemistry between the leads, as well as the quirky characters and witty dialogue. The mystery about the break-in at the brewery was solved in a way that kept the story moving without taking away from the romance. I already have the next in the series, Bad Boys Do, and look forward to reading it soon.

View all my reviews

One Night in London: The Truth about the Duke by Caroline Linden

One Night in London: The Truth About the Duke
by Caroline Linden
Publication date: August 30th, 2011
Harper Collins/Avon

I’ve wanted to read a book by Caroline Linden for a long time and even have a couple of titles from her Regency spy series in my TBR pile. That’s why I was glad via Netgalley and Avon/Harper Collins to have the chance to read an advanced copy of One Night in London: The Truth About the Duke.

Based on the author’s previous titles, I was expecting another romantic adventure, but instead this book focuses on a custody battle and a disputed inheritance. Plots about inheritance are about my least favorite in historical romance, though they’re among the most common. Still, I found this an enjoyable read.

Lady Francesca Gordon is trying to get custody of her young niece, Georgina, believing that her stepmother is keeping her only for the benefit of the girl’s allowance. After a long search, Francesca finds a solicitor, Wittiers, who is willing to take her case. The moment that the Wittiers agrees, he’s called away on a more urgent case. Francesca discovers that Edward de Lacey, the second son of the late Duke of Durham, has secured the services of the Wittiers.

She then decides to use her influence with a newspaper publisher who has printed a scandalous bit of news that puts the inheritance of the Duke of Durham’s sons in question to persuade Edward to find her another solicitor. Edward agrees, and naturally, he and Francesca find themselves drawn to one another. It’s sort of a “tolerate” to “love” progression.

I really liked the Francesca as a heroine. She was headstrong without being overly feisty. Also though it’s mentioned that her forthrightness is due to her Italian heritage, this stereotype is not carried out to such an extent as in other books (such as Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart). I also thought the ending played out well, especially the subplots about Francesca’s would-be lover Lord Alconbury and her niece Georgina (the latter was especially heartwarming). Plus, unlike many historical romances the hero and heroine barely hold hands for the first half of the book. The “slow burn” progression made the book really stand out in my mind.

The inheritance plot is not really resolved and I assume it will continue in two more books about the remaining two brothers. While I’m not sure that I’ll read the rest of the series, I’m looking forward to I Love the Earl, a novella-length prequel to the One Night in London series. I’ve heard that it’s set in the less-common Georgian period which fascinates me.

The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn

The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Mira (Harlequin)

The latest book in the Lady Julia Grey series has the protagonists return to London after their Mediterranean honeymoon and stop in India in Dark Road to Darjeeling. Nicolas Brisbane is helping Lady Julia’s brother, Bellmont investigate a matter that they’re trying to keep from her. Believing that Brisbane is in some kind of trouble, Julia follows him to a spiritualist’s headquarters masquerading as a man. But of course Brisbane sees through her disguise and immediately tries to protect her from the danger he knows is lurking at the Spirit Club. After the seance, the medium dies in her room with Brisbane and Julia as the witnesses.

The killer, it seems, was one of those present at the seance. Brisbane reluctantly lets
Julia help with the investigation. The killer begins to threaten the Brisbanes. When the
threats escalates from blackmail letters to their personal safety, they flee to the gypsy
encampment on Hampstead Heath. The conclusion is thrilling and well thought out, and leaves the reader anxious for the next book in the series.

I enjoyed this book very much, and was really glad for the characters to return to London. The story was fast-paced and gripping. As someone who grew up reading Gothic romances, I liked the paranormal elements in the story. I also enjoyed the scenes at the gypsy camp–and especially Brisbane’s delightfully risque granny.

A continued source of conflict between Lady Julia and Nicholas is that she wants to help in his investigations, while he wants to protect her, and keep both of them shielded from his clairvoyant visions. Lady Julia’s efforts to help her husband verge on the ridiculous sometimes, like her experiments with gunpowder, and Brisbane often has to step in to save her from herself. Though this is sometimes frustrating for me as a reader, I think it’s also necessary to keep the story moving and provide some contrast to the couple’s frequent amorous pursuits. Though my dear husband would no doubt object, I wouldn’t mind having a Nicolas Brisbane of my own!

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley.

TBR Challenge 2011: Walk on the Wild Side

This month’s theme for the TBR Challenge hosted by Wendy the Super Librarian is “marriage of convenience.”
I chose Walk on the Wild Side by Natalie Anderson. While the h/h don’t get married in the book there is an accidental pregnancy that to my mind is similar to the “marriage of convenience.”
Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

A fling with sinfully hot champion snowboarder Jack Greene isn’t Kelsi Reid’s normal behavior…but one glimpse of his wicked eyes has Kelsi throwing caution to the deep blue sea (along with her clothes!). After all, who better to go crazy with than a man who deserves a gold medal for his prowess on the slopes and in the bedroom…?

Then Kelsi crashes down with a terrifying bump—of the baby kind. They couldn’t be worse matched—Jack is Mr. Right-Now, while Kelsi craves stability. But it’s hard to keep your feet on the ground once you’ve met the man who turns your world upside down….

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. I wouldn’t call it an “opposites attract” story in terms of personality but Jack and Kelsi definitely have incompatible lifestyles to begin with. Kelsi is a quirky character who enjoys wearing exotic color contacts to match her mood and wears long skirts partly to cover her extremely pale skin. Not what I think of as the typical Harlequin Presents heroine! Of course this book is in the HP Extra line which is known for a more modern feel.

Kelsi also has a very unique decorating style, and Jack allows her to have input into the redesign of her apartment when he purchases the whole building after discovering she’s pregnant. Yes, that’s one of those rich alpha-hero grand gestures that seems over the top but works well in Harlequin Presents land.

It was a very sweet story overall and I thought the author did great job of telling the story within a short word count. Though in real life I think babies are not that romantic, I would have liked to see a brief epilogue after Kelsi and Jack are married and have had the baby.

What about you? Do you like epilogues in romance novels, especially those involving babies?

Seduction and Scandal by Charlotte Featherstone

Seduction and Scandal is the first in The Brethren Guardians series of Victorian-set historical romances with mild paranormal elements. The series is based on a secret society whose task is to protect three artifacts that were brought to England during the Crusades. While some readers complain about the overuse of secret societies involving ancient artifacts in historical romances, I can’t get enough of them.

The heroine, Isabella Fairmont, has been saved from a life of poverty that was brought on by her mother’s indiscretions. Living in comfort with the family of her cousin, Lucy, she has more freedom and luxury to write stories such as the one that opens the book–a gothic romance in which the heroine is being pursued by Death.

At a ball during her first season, Isabella dances with the enigmatic Earl of Black. He begins pursuing her and they are drawn together despite the fact that Isabella is being courted by another man–the staid archaeologist Wendell Knighton. Because marrying for love and passion led her mother to poverty, Isabella resists her feelings for the Earl of Black. Isabella and Lucy are drawn into a mystery involving Wendell Knighton, the Brethren Guardians, and another secret society, the House of Orpheus.

As the story unfolds, Isabella and the Earl of Black find out why they are drawn together and why the face of Death in Isabella’s book resembles him so much. The conclusion of the book left me eager to read the next in the series, Pride and Passion.

I received an eARC of Seduction of Scandal from Netgalley, and have also preordered a print copy to share with friends.

Everlasting by Angie Frazier

Everlasting by Angie Frazier is the story of Camille, a 17-year-old girl living with her father in San Francisco. She is engaged to Randall whom she does not love, but has the funds to save her father’s shipping company.

On her final sea voyage with her father before the wedding, Camille finds a letter in his possession that reveals a secret that he had been keeping from her. Soon after reading the letter Camille begins hearing voices and the word “Umandu” and seeing a vision of a skeletal face, which occurs to warn her of approaching danger.

Camille is thrown together with Oscar, her father’s first mate, as they travel to Australia on the quest for a magical stone that is said to bring the dead back to life, Umandu.

It’s inevitable that Camille and Oscar will fall in love.The romance is definitely secondary to the Indiana Jones-type adventure but still very heartfelt. There’s only one main romantic scene, which is fitting for a story where characters are running for their lives most of the time. The book ends on a happy note though with a lot of loose threads. I’m glad that I only have a few weeks until the next book in the series, The Eternal Sea, is released.