Fanciful Reader

a book blog about romance and more. . .

Category: review

TBR Challenge 2011: The Ice Princess

The Ice Princess (Princes Trilogy, #4)The Ice Princess by Elizabeth Hoyt

Once again, I chose a novella for the TBR Challenge Read. It turned out to be a very satisfying read. The Ice Princess is a little bit longer than other novellas I’ve read recently (about 1300 “locations” vs 900 for Harlequin Historical Undone books) and I think that made all the difference.

Coral Smythe, the heroine, is a madam who first appeared in the book The Raven Prince. Elizabeth Hoyt received many requests to write a story about Coral, which resulted in The Ice Princess.

The brothel where Coral works, Aphrodite’s Grotto, is owned by a cruel man named Jimmy Hyde. He offers Coral’s services for one week to the winner of a card game. Fortunately for Coral, the game is won by an honorable man–Captain Isaac Wargate, a handsome widower who doesn’t even wish to be in a brothel.

The inevitable happens–Isaac goes to Coral’s room to collect his prize. They slowly fall in love and must face challenges to finally be together.

This month’s TBR Challenge them was “ugly ducklings.” I couldn’t find anything in my collection with exactly that theme. There is one instance in The Ice Princess that touches on this theme but I won’t reveal it because it’s sort of a suspenseful moment in the story.

All in all, I enjoyed the story, and look forward to more books by Elizabeth Hoyt (Wicked Intentions and Notorious Pleasures are in my TBR pile).

TBR Challenge 2011: Temptation is the Night

Temptation is the NightTemptation is the Night by Marguerite Kaye

TBR Challenge 2011—Theme: Series Romance

It’s time for the first post of the 2011 TBR Challenge hosted by Wendy at Misadventures of Super Librarian.
I choose a book from the Harlequin Historical Undone line. I sort of cheated by picking such a short book for the first TBR 2011 challenge post. But since I’m still trying to finish Guns, Germs and Steel for my book club I haven’t had a lot of reading time lately.

Setting: England, 1924
It had been love at first sight when Jack Damarell, the Eighth Earl of Crieff, and American artist Lindsey van der Maier met on the steamer to England. Their marriage had been filled with white-hot passion—until Jack’s dark memories of the trenches drove them apart.
Now Lindsey has returned, and Jack has resolved to exorcise her from his heart with one final night of lovemaking to prove that reality couldn’t possibly live up to his memories. But can Jack hold onto his conviction when their sensual encounter exceeds his imagination?

When I first started reading this, I was a little disappointed that the story didn’t take place on board a ship. Can you think of a more romantic setting than a steamship? Also it seems like a transatlantic voyage would be the perfect length of time for the action of a novella to play out. All in all, the chemistry was very good between Lindsey and Jack, though I was confused about their motives at times. The writing style was at times a bit like many people’s negative stereotypes of romance novels. Think old-school Mills and Boon with a lot of sentence fragments. I thought this story suffered the most from filling in a lot of backstory about Lindsey and Jack’s failed marriage. I thought that the ending was perfect and sweet! It would have worked much better as a full-length novel, though.

I loved the 1924 setting and I wish there were more romance novels set in this time period. I’ve followed some discussions like the one on the AAR blog about the lack of post WWI romances. How about you? Which less-common settings would you most like to see?

A Christmas Promise by Mary Balogh

A Christmas PromiseA Christmas Promise by Mary Balogh

Weddings are supposed to be joyous occasions—especially when a couple seems as well matched as Randolph Pierce, Earl of Falloden, and his bride-to-be, Eleanor Transome. Ellie brings to the marriage a vast dowry, while Falloden, though distant, is handsome, tremendously desirable, and possessed of a title most young ladies can only dream of sharing.

Yet Ellie is not most young ladies. She knows that she must honor her dear father’s dying wish for her to wed the proud earl, but she dreads a lifetime in a union without love—and how can Falloden claim to love her when he married her only for her fortune? As Christmas descends upon the Falloden manor, the warmth of the season may yet melt away the trappings of duty and wealth, leaving behind only a man and a woman destined for each other’s arms.

A Christmas Promise takes familiar tropes and themes and presents them in a way that feels totally new and unique. I’ve heard Balogh’s books referred to as “high concept” and after reading several of them, I understand why.

A Christmas Promise had a lot more angst than other Christmas-themed romances I’ve read recently. I found that Ellie was more prickly than other “nouveau riche” heroines I’ve encountered. While this meant it took me a long time to warm up to her, in the end it made her seem more of a complete character–I don’t like it as much when such heroines are all sweetness and humility. On the other hand, I found Randolph to be a mostly honorable man from the start–perhaps only with the exception of his treatment of Ellie on their wedding night.

Possible spoiler ahead: I was glad that Balogh didn’t make the love triangle involving Ellie’s former beau Wilfred the focus of the story. Maybe if it had been a longer book this would have been explored in more detail.

This was a very quick read for me that felt a lot more complete and in all, a more satisfying story than any of the Christmas novellas I’ve read. I already have Under the Mistletoe, a collection of Christmas stories by Mary Balogh waiting for me to pick up at the library.

Which holiday themed book are looking forward to reading next?

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When you reach me, by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four mysterious letters change Miranda’s world forever.

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

“A Wrinkle in Time” is a book that my dad read aloud to me when I was 10 or so, and after finishing “When you reach me,” I really want to re-read The Time Quartet, because I remember it only vaguely.

This was a very engaging read that I finished in one sitting. I enjoyed the late-70s setting–it made the story stand out from a lot of middle grade/YA fiction that I’ve read recently. The voice of the protagonist was true to her age (from my perspective as a thirtysomething looking back) and I could easily relate to her.

While the book didn’t unfold quite as I expected it to, I liked the slow process of discovering who was sending notes to Miranda, seemingly from the future, and why.

I would recommend this book to middle-grade readers and up to anyone who enjoys sci-fi or books about time travel with a more realistic setting.

If you enjoy books about time travel as much as I do, which are your favorites, for children or adults?

The Blue Castle

The Blue Castle had been on my bookshelf for well over a year. Last week I finally dusted it off and finished it.
It’s the story of Valancy, a young woman who’s supressed in every way by her overbearing family. She has always felt awkward and out of place especially in comparison with her beautiful cousin Olive who kept Valancy close to her to use her as a foil.

Valancy describes the tiresome condition of her life in the first few chapters. She finds comfort only in the florid nature writing of John Foster, and in dreaming about the Blue Castle, an exotically beautiful place of her own invention.

Everything changes when Valancy is diagnosed with a terminal heart condition. She shakes off her timidity almost at once. One of my favorite quotes:

“The greatest happiness,” said Valancy suddenly and distinctly, “is to sneeze when you want to.”

Earlier in the story one of her relatives had admonished her for sneezing, because it was not ladylike.

Her relatives are shocked but take it in stride–they think she’s going soft in the head and pity her.
She moves out of the house and starts living independently, associating with those whom her family condemn as the worst sorts of people–including the mysterious Barney Snaith who is said to have a criminal past.

Because of the unromantic name and his looks–crooked eyebrows, generally rumpled appearance, pipe smoking–Barney is not the most appealing romantic hero to me. He certainly is nothing like the cover model on my edition of the book, who looks to me more like a J. Crew model circa 1988. But as the story went on, I was able to see him more through Valancy’s eyes.

The conclusion is predictable but satisfying. The way that Valancy is able to embrace life and enjoy the wonders of the natural world in her own version of “The Blue Castle” makes this book a truly uplifting read.