Monday, March 26, 2012

Review of Brenda Williamson's Under Her Brass Corset

Title: Under Her Brass Corset
Author: Brenda Williamson
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: February 27, 2012
Rating: 2.75 out of 5

The title and cover of this novel are a bit misleading. Under Her Brass Corset appears at first glance to be a steampunk novel, but in fact it is more fantasy, with a few steampunk elements. While I found the premise of the novel interesting - an immortal captain falls for the young woman he’s been watching over since childhood - I found the book to be a bit disjointed. The book isn’t badly written; it just isn’t well written either, so I have a hard time recommending it.

Set in what seems to be Victorian England but is never really identified as such, the novel begins with Abigail Thatch making her way home alone, attempting to avoid any dangerous encounters. She meets Captain Jasper Blackthorn in what appears to be a fortuitous meeting, and there’s an instant chemistry between them. Abigail informs her new friend that her father was recently murdered during an attempted burglary, and she is unable to make the mortgage payments on the house, which will soon lead to foreclosure on her family home.

But after another burglary attempt is made, Captain Jasper Blackthorn discovers the object the thief was looking for - a globe that can point out the location of an elixir that grants immortality. The Captain is an immortal and has looked out for Abigail and her family for generations, and he realizes that this compass, long believed lost, can only attract more danger to the vulnerable Abigail. He steals the compass, little realizing that Abigail would follow him to his steam powered ship and climb aboard, insisting on joining him in his adventures. But the honorable captain finds this spirited young woman irresistible. Can he convince the skeptical Abigail of both his love and his immortality?

This novel started out with a great deal of promise. Abigail comes across as very brave in the face of daunting circumstances, namely her father’s death and the imminent foreclosure on her home. She’s very attracted to Jasper, and he is mysterious yet sympathetic. I was a bit surprised, however, by how quickly Abigail jumps into bed with Jasper. I just never felt very invested in the hero and heroine, and their romance, while steamy, didn’t draw me in. Jasper is supposed to be much, much older, yet he acts as though he’s only a few years older than Abigail. When I looked back over my notes about the book, the beginning of their physical relationship seems to be the point where the book goes downhill for me.

Once Abigail and Jasper are on his flying ship (one of the few steampunk elements in the novel), their physical relationship goes into high gear, despite Abigail’s refusal to believe Jasper’s assertions that he is immortal and that she’s related to the infamous pirate Blackbeard, who Jasper claims is also immortal. The action also picks up at this point. We learn about the elixir and its Avalon connection, and all that entails. I was surprised by what felt like a sudden shift in genre from steampunk to fantasy. I don’t particularly mind when an author mixes genres, but it felt awkward in this novel, since the book began in one genre then switched to another with little transition.

This wasn’t badly written, but it wasn’t as engaging as I had hoped. I would feel badly if a friend spent her money on this book, so I can’t really recommend it.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review of Marie Force's Fatal Flaw

Title: Fatal Flaw (Fatal #4)
Author: Marie Force
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: February 6, 2012
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

If you’ve read many of my reviews, you’ll soon see that I’m not a big fan of romantic suspense. Frankly, I’m a wimp! But this past summer I read Marie Force’s wedding novella Fatal Destiny and liked it so much that when I saw Fatal Flaw was available on NetGalley, I instantly requested it. It then sat on my Kindle for months. And I mean MONTHS!!! I finally got around to reading it yesterday, and now I can’t believe I waited to read it this long. Even though I haven’t read any of the first 3 novels in the series, I could pick up this book and follow along without any problem. And since there are a lot of narrative threads in this book, I think it’s fairly impressive that I could dive right in.  
Fatal Flaw picks up right after Senator Nick Cappuano and D.C. Police Lieutenant Samantha “Sam” Holland return from their honeymoon. On Sam’s first day back to work, she’s opening some of the cards sent after the wedding and finds one with a thinly veiled threat. She then goes to Nick’s office and scoops up all of his cards (and there are nearly 1000 between the two of them!) to see if hers was the only threatening one.
Sam then gets called out to a puzzling murder scene. A restaurant owner and his teenage employee were locked into the deep freezer and asphyxiated, but the murdered left the deposit bag for the night sitting on the counter. As Sam and her team investigate, they learn that both the owner and the teenager had no enemies to speak of, and the investigation seems to stall. But soon Sam finds herself dealing with a handful of murders – all of victims with no apparent enemies. She has to uncover the truth before this budding serial killer turns his eyes towards more personal targets.
There is a lot to like about this book, but the protagonists and secondary characters are what sell it for me. Sam’s a very appealing heroine. She’s tough but comes across as a very real person, since she’s experienced infertility issues and has to deal with her father’s failing health. Nick is a very sexy hero who’s very much in love with the police lieutenant, which makes him all the more charming. The secondary characters come across as real people as well, since they have their flaws but still make for a tight-knit support group for Sam.
The book is easy to read, with lots of action interspersed with various views of the different dramas occurring in all the characters’ lives. This kept me interested, but it also felt a bit like a soap opera, and I kept wondering why so much time was spent on the secondary characters instead of Sam and Nick. About halfway through the book I found myself wondering when we’d get back to the murders, because it seemed like we were spending more time on individual relationships than the suspense part of the novel. Additionally, the resolution felt a bit deus ex machina – Sam’s dad has been in a medically induced coma and as soon as he comes out of it and hears the details of her cases, he puts all the threads together and WHAMMY he solves the case.
That said, I found the book really engrossing. I loved reading about the various characters and their relationships, and while I’m usually not a romantic suspense fan, I really liked this book. I think that if you like thrillers or more “suspense” this might not be the book for you, but if you enjoy character driven drama, I highly recommend Fatal Flaw. I’ll definitely be catching up on the first three books in the series!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Review of Christa McHugh's A Waltz at Midnight

Title: A Waltz at Midnight
Author: Christa McHugh
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: February 27, 2012
Rating: 3 out of 5

I’ve always been a sucker for Cinderella stories, and the novella A Waltz at Midnight is no exception. This novella runs short, as it’s only about 21,000 words long, and it reads really quickly, no doubt because of the epistolary format. In fact, it reads more like an extended short story than a novella. The narration is broken up by letters between the hero and heroine, and while I enjoyed the different format, I quickly found myself focusing primarily on the letters and skipping the narration. That said, A Waltz at Midnight is a sweet love story, and I look forward to reading more of Ms. McHugh’s work.
The novella is set in New York just after the Civil War ends. Susanna Parkwell is from South Carolina, but when the war ends, she and her wounded Confederate soldier brother find themselves penniless. They’re working at their Aunt’s boarding house in New York and keeping low profiles in the hopes that no one will realize that the brother served in the Confederate army. The boarders are for the most part spoiled young ladies attending school, but one of the ladies has befriended Samantha and asks for her help rejecting an unwanted suitor.
Theodore Blakely is being forced by his father to court Charlotte. He’d rather be an artist than work in his father’s firm, so he decides to send Charlotte a rude letter in the hope that she’ll reject him, releasing him from his family obligation. Unfortunately, Charlotte enlists Samantha’s help in responding to the letter, and Samantha’s reply intrigues Theodore. He and “Charlotte” exchange a series of letters, managing to fall in love. But when he writes that he plans to meet the woman he believes to be Charlotte at a ball, Samantha and Charlotte scramble to find a way to send Samantha to the ball.
This was a very sweet romance, and Samantha’s letters to Theodore demonstrate a great deal of intelligence and spirit. Because of the brevity of the novella, the majority of the text is taken up by the letters, and I felt that the narration suffered in places in comparison with the letters. The story is fairly tame in terms of sensuality – the hero and heroine exchange one kiss – so this is a story you could easily recommend to your grandmother. I would like to see more of Ms. McHugh’s work, because this was a very romantic story with a setting I don’t usually enjoy reading about, yet it totally worked for me.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Review of Shana Galen's The Rogue Pirate's Bride

Title: The Rogue Pirate’s Bride (The Sons of the Revolution #3)
Author: Shana Galen
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: February 1, 2012
Rating: 4 out of 5

For some reason I’ve been in a historical romance reading slump lately. Actually, if you look at my last review, you’ll notice that I haven’t written any reviews in nearly 2 weeks, so I think it would be more accurate to say that I’ve been in a reading AND writing slump. I started Rogue Pirate’s Bride weeks ago, but just couldn’t get into it (for reasons I’ll go into below), but I finally went back to the book and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I’d read both the previous books in the trilogy and liked them both, but for some reason I wasn’t able to get into Ms. Galen’s last release, Lord and Lady Spy, which was a DNF for me. However, Rogue Pirate’s Bride was a lot of fun once I got into it, so I think I might try giving Lord and Lady Spy a second chance!

As Rogue Pirate’s Bride begins, Raeven Russell is in a tavern, dressed as a boy and looking for the infamous pirate Captain Cutlass. Raeven’s father is a British Admiral, and she’s grown up on his ships. Unfortunately for the pirate, he’s responsible for the death of Raeven’s fiance, and Raeven has sworn to avenge his death. When she confronts Captain Cutlass in the bar, he easily routs her in swordplay, but he doesn’t realize that she’s a woman until after the fight. He has her taken to his ship, where he’ll make her work as his cabin “girl.” Raeven manages to escape, however, and the two meet up again purely by chance 6 months later.

What Raeven doesn’t realize is that Captain Cutlass is no other than Sebastien Harcourt, Marquis de Valere. As a child the pirate was forced from his home during the French Revolution, and he believes all his family to have died. Since this is a trilogy about three brothers, we’re lucky enough to realize that Sebastien, or Bastein, is not the sole survivor and that he is a member of the aristocracy. Raeven attempts to avenge her fiance once more, only to find herself swept away on Bastien’s ship, as he has his own plans for revenge against another pirate. The couple set off sparks, and Raeven’s resistance to the pirate’s charms proves illusory at best, but there seems to be little chance for a future for the two of them.

For a historical romance to have any pretensions to accuracy, the heroine usually must be a young woman, and Raeven is only 19 at the beginning of the novel. At the beginning of the novel, she’s your typical spirited, impetuous heroine who’s so stubborn that she quickly verges into TSTL territory. I think this aspect of Raeven’s character is what initially turned me off from the book. She’s so insistent upon seeking revenge when it’s clear from the start that the pirate is more than a match for her. Her repeated attempts to board his ship started to get on my nerves, and when she finds herself stuck, I thought it was a case of just desserts.

However, Raeven’s character quickly redeems herself, and I really liked her once she spent an extended period on board Bastien’s ship. She’s an intelligent young woman used to getting her own way, but when she stopped acting like an idiot, she was very well suited to the hero.
Bastien is clearly a man of honor, as he doesn’t force himself on Raeven (no old skool bodice ripper here!). He’s also less of a stickler than one might expect of an aristocrat of the period, because he proves willing to listen to Raeven’s excellent advice, and he isn’t put off by her wearing unusual attire. The sparks between the two fly, as it’s clearly a “I hate him! I love him!” type romance.

I’m glad I gave the book a second try, because Ms. Galen managed to work out an intriguing ending to a sticky problem - how can an Admiral’s daughter marry a pirate? It made for fun reading, and I think one can make the case that Raeven’s character matures over the 6 months between the first and second meeting she has with Bastien, which is highly believable and made her a more interesting character.  On a side note, I like that on the cover she's the one holding the sword, although I'm sure Freud would have a field day with that (it's a really LONG sword, lol!).