Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Windflower by Sharon and Tom Curtis *****

The Windflower was written under the pen name Laura London, but the actual authors are a husband and wife team named Sharon & Tom Curtis. The Windflower is on the Top 100 of 2007 at All About Romance, and according to the author of the review there, "one of the most beloved historical romances" - and it's got pirates too!

As I started reading it, to be honest, I thought it was a joke. The prose is so overwhelming as to be quite deep purple, in my opinion. Indeed, when one of the metaphors was how Merry recovered from something or other and was likened to an upholstered chair, I laughed out loud - it was indeed a joke. Were these two authors laughing at the reading public, trying to see how far they could go with lush, never-ending sentences, layered adjectives, parenthetical phrases galore?

No, I guess not. It took me a while - and it's a long book, for romance: right at 500 pages - to get into the mood and the essence of the book. Yes, I do believe they tried to push the very limits of what the romance reading public would tolerate, and in doing that, apparently exceeded their goal while at the same time pleasing the hordes. Yes, by the time I got to the end, I was thoroughly in love with both Devon and Merry, and Cathcart, and Cat and even Morgan Rand. However, Morgan comes across as something of a "deus ex machina" - I mean, not exactly out of the blue, but the coincidences of his participation really stretch the imagination.

I would almost call the book pure fantasy - it even starts with Merry's recurring dreams of a unicorn. This unicorn is so sexually blatant in her dreams - his horn "poised and thick". After they stared at each other in one dream, she thinks, "He wants me to ride him." Oh, honey, does he ever! The pirates, the ones the AAR reviewer calls "the most realistic to be found in romantic fiction" are about as realistic as Hansel and Gretel's witch. They are a merry lot, with intriguing pasts, and they come to love and cherish Merry, who - yes, it's true - remains a virgin til her wedding night some many moons later. Oh, yes, very realistic. For fiction. Pure and total fiction, with no basis in fact at all.

But it's loads of fun too - swashbuckling adventure almost as wonderful as Marsha Canham's (but not quite). The virginal heroine doesn't start out brave and courageous, wanting to protect all mankind. In fact, she's scared out of her wits all the time, constantly thinking "this is it!" about her virtue and her very life. Although she grows to love Devon, she's always scared of him - it does come across as Stockholm Syndrome, saved only by her fascination with him at the beginning of the book, before he's become her captor. Devon, our devilish rakehell of a pirate, is, of course, a duke who likes to play at pirating with his bastard half brother the real pirate. Rand, the real pirate, is widely implied to be a sodomizer - lots of speculation about his beautiful boy pirates who accompany him, including Devon. Maybe he's supposed to be bi-, though, as he's always wanting a woman too.

The characters are richly drawn, if you can blast your mind through the prose with multiple adjectives, adverbs, clauses and other grammatical excesses. But you have to take several leaps of faith with the authors - could a gently-bred 18-year-old virgin actually survive 2 weeks stranded with a corpse on a deserted Caribbean island? How coincidental could it be that Rand had been in love with Merry's mother and (SPOILER ALERT) always intended for Devon and Merry to marry, even though it supposedly was an accident that she was brought aboard The Black Joke (heh heh, Black Joke, get it)?

Ok, plot redux: there's our American heroine Merry - already described - who is forced to go to England with her maiden aunt accompanied by a British officer, during the second war America had with England (of 1812-1815). Because of a series of events, she is moved into the officer's cabin and he sleeps on deck. Devon sends Cat (boy pirate) to steal something from the officer, and he steals Merry as well. Merry is a talented artist who draws portraits for her brother in support of the war effort, including a quite accurate one of Devon, so she is determined to keep her real identity a secret from him forever. Therein the conflict between the two - he assumes she's the officer's mistress and wants details, and she assumes if he finds out who she is and what she did, her brother and she will both be killed.

Lots of intrigue and swashbuckling ensues as Merry is kept aboard The Black Joke (heh heh) for months, and attempts 2 or 3 very credible but almost fatal escapes. She learns to dress in men's clothing, and the pirates teach her all kinds of things over the months before Devon decides enough is enough, and hauls her off to England, apparently to face trial. But over the course of the story, the only thing realistic is their growing relationship (if you discount the whole Stockholm Syndrome thing, that is) so that when it finally, FINALLY - and I mean they make you wait and wait and WAIT and build tension til you could SCREAM with it - finally they get to the declarations of love and the HEA, with only one more, rather scary conflict to resolve in the last dozen or so pages. At last, HEA.

The AAR reviewer mentions that there are several people hoping for a sequel. The book is so out of print as to be practically impossible to get, so I don't think anyone should hold her breath for that. I don't know if I could swashbuckle my way through more of their writing, myself.

Still, one more on the AAR Top 100 of 2007 down, and still a few to go - and I enjoyed it in the end, and give it 5 stars/favorite if not "keeper" status. Hmmm, no notable pets, and I wouldn't call Devon besotted, although I wondered how Raven and Cat managed, because I thought they were both besotted with her and yet they kept their distances.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Prince Charming by Julie Garwood *****

It took a wonderful, wonderful book to make me want to blog again! This morning I finished Garwood's The Wedding, which I had been reading just a few pages at a time for several days, and since it was Sunday and I had no plans, I decided to pick up another Garwood title.

Garwood has a sort of pattern of writing - she uses similar settings and situations in many of the books I've read. Not the plot, necessarily, but similar phrasing, similar situations. She often has the heroine trying to change the hero to be more like her father - well, that's an oversimplification, but it seems the heroine is forever thinking that the hero doesn't know how to... show love, or greet his wife, or some such, and that she will have to show him how it's done, or how her father and mother were. I'm not explaining it well, but my point really is that Prince Charming took a "charming" detour off that route!

For one thing, it's set in post-Civil War America, whereas so many of the books I've read have been medievals. Apparently she has a trilogy set in the West as well, and I have read the first one in her contemporary series, but this was especially different since I had just finished The Wedding this morning.

There are some plot points in here that many romance readers cringe at - the arranged marriage to a stranger, a will that has provisions, and children. The fish out of water - rugged American hero, prissy Brit aristocrat heroine. Even a secret child, although it isn't the heroine's. But somehow Garwood made all these plausible, and wonderful, and wrote a story with depth and intrigue (well, sorta) and plot twists. Ok, some of the plot twists got solved a little too easily - but still, the story was wonderful and I enjoyed my day very much, just reading (with somes stops for a meal or 2).

Taylor is the heroine - raised by her grandmother who is now on her death bed, her biggest fear is that her uncle, who will inherit the title, the land and the funds, will find a way to take guardianship of her 2 young nieces, recently orphaned in America. Her second biggest fear is that he will also take guardianship over her. Her grandmother finagles a marriage to an American, in exchange for the sum of money he needs to pay ransom for his younger half-brother. Oh, it is all too complicated to explain here, but in the book it made a lot of sense - and the opening was brilliant.

Lucas Ross is the bastard child of an American mother and a British titled aristocrat who only cared about his actual heir, the oldest son. His bastard son, and his 3 other sons from his marriage don't matter to him, but the boys do matter to Lucas. He came to England to pay the oldest brother a ransom to let the youngest one go free. Since he's never planned to marry anyway, this marriage of convenience works well for him - escort the silly twit to Boston, and get an annulment before heading back to Montana.

Oh, if only romance writers would leave these poor heroes alone to do as they planned!! Taylor isn't any more desirous of the marriage, and looks forward to getting to Boston, getting rid of this American husband, then getting her sister's twins and heading West to hide forever from the evil uncle. But grandmother - now smiling down at them from Heaven, no doubt - managed to truly find a Prince Charming for Taylor - a man who couldn't leave her or the twins or the half-breed boy found taking care them either. Not to mention the single, pregnant woman Taylor befriended crossing the Atlantic.

I laughed and smiled and was worried and figuratively on the edge of my seat throughout the book (since I was mostly on the futon, I wasn't really on the edge, but... you know). It was a nice long book, too - over 500 pages!

I've pretty much given up on any challenges this year - I don't know if it fits in any of the ones I was involved in before fate took a twist for me, and moved me back to Houston. Working, and that damned Mafia Wars (so addictive! I cannot stop!), are both keeping me from my passion for reading. But today I indulged, and I'm glad I did. Maybe it's the first of many more reviews and challenges and reading.

5 stars and it's a Favorite too!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A to Z Challenges 2009

2010 UPDATE: looks like I didn't make it but I'll start another for 2010.

Another popular reading challenge is the A to Z Challenge - read a book in 2009 that starts with each letter in the alphabet, or by an author whose last name starts with each letter of the alphabet.

I'll try one of each for 2009.

A - Almost Heaven by Judith McNaught - ***
B - Blue Dahlia by Nora Roberts - ****
C - The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer - *****
D - Deep In The Valley by Robyn Carr - ***
E - Everyday, Average Jones by Suzanne Brockmann - ****
F - First Lady by Susan Elizabeth Phillips - *****
G - Get Lucky by Suzanne Brockmann - *****
H - Heaven, Texas by Susan Elizabeth Phillips - ***
I - It Had To Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips - *****
J - Just Over The Mountain by Robyn Carr - ****
K - Kill and Tell by Linda Howard - ****
L - The Love Potion by Sandra Hill - ****
M - My Dearest Enemy by Connie Brockway - *****
N - Nobody's Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips - *****
O - One Night for Love by Mary Balogh - ****
P - Pegasus Descending by James Lee Burke - ****
R - The Reluctant Viking by Sandra Hill - ****
S - The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale - *****
T - To Taste Temptation by Elizabeth Hoyt - ***
V - A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons - **
W - What I Did For Love by Susan Elizabeth Phillips - ***

A - Andersen, Susan - Hot and Bothered - ***** audio
B - Burke, James Lee - Pegasus Descending - ****
C - Carr, Robyn - Deep In The Valley - ***
D - Delinsky, Barbara - The Passions of Chelsea Kane - ***
E - Enoch, Suzanne - Before The Scandal - ** (haven't blogged it)
F - Foster, Lori - Treat Her Right - ***
G - Gibbons, Kaye - A Virtuous Woman - **
H - Hill, Sandra - The Love Potion - ****
I - Ivory, Judith - The Indiscretion - ***** (a relisten on audio, 2/23/09)
J - James, Judith - Broken Wing - ****
K - Kinsale, Laura - The Shadow and the Star - *****
L - Lorrimer, Claire - Mavreen - ***
M - McNaught, Judith - Almost Heaven - ***
P - Phillips, Susan Elizabeth - First Lady - *****
Q - Quinn, Julia - When He Was Wicked - *****
R - Roberts, Nora - Midnight Bayou - ****
S - Singh, Nalini - Slave to Sensation - ****
W - Weldon, Susan - Spring Rain - *

And some ideas for Z titles from a Shelfari discussion:
Zach by Ana Leigh
Zemindar by Valerie Fitzgerald
Zinnia by Jayne Ann Krentz