Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

B Reviews

REVIEW:  Christmas at the Castle by Marion Lennox

REVIEW: Christmas at the Castle by Marion Lennox

Dear Marion Lennox:

I fell behind reading your releases in 2013, but when I saw you had a Christmas novel out in December I jumped on it. From the first couple of chapters I could tell that this was going to be a vintage Lennox, combining a fairy-tale holiday setting and story with a likable, no-nonsense heroine and a sympathetic, aristocrat hero.

Christmas at the Castle

Angus Stuart, Earl of Craigenstone and Lord of Castle Craigie, has a problem. The unwilling inheritor of his horrible father’s Earldom, he wants only to sell up the Castle and its land and get back to New York, where he has lived almost all his life. But his young half-siblings want one last Christmas at the Castle, and with the way their father mistreated them and their mother, he’s having a hard time saying no.

Scottish-Australian chef Holly McIntosh also has a problem. Her worthless fiancé stole money from their restaurant and ran off, leaving Holly with a mountain of debts and maxed out credit cards. She returns to Scotland and her beloved grandmother for a break and a frugal Christmas.

Angus needs a chef and housekeeper, and Holly needs money and a job. They strike a bargain, but that bargain almost immediately becomes more complicated when Angus tries to reassure his father’s widow, Delia, that the children will be fine at the Castle because Holly will look after them, he goes too far and blurts out that Holly is his fiancée. Holly agrees to the deception but on strictly business terms, and our tale is off and running.

Angus is not your average Earl; he hates being the Earl, he hates having to take responsibility for a Castle, family, and tenants he doesn’t know, and he just wants to get things settled and return to his investment banker American life. But he’s a very decent person, and while he’s just the Lord and not the Laird, as Holly’s grandmother Maggie observes, he’s not actively malevolent like the previous Earl.

Holly is forthright and unimpressed by Earls. She takes pride in her accomplishments as a chef even as she berates herself for having falling for her worthless ex-fiance’s deceptions. But although she agrees to the engagement pretense for the children’s and her grandmother’s sakes, she won’t turn herself into what the Earl thinks an Earl’s betrothed should be. Their trip to an exclusive boutique in Edinburgh (Maggie’s suitcases are, of course, lost by the airline) is a great sendup of the scene in Pretty Woman: the boutique’s salespeople are more than happy to kit her out, but she doesn’t want their twinsets and pearls:

She flicked over a price tag and gasped. ‘If you’re serious about spending thissort of money, or, if you’re serious about letting me be a fiancée, then I reckon I ought to be my sort of fiancée. Does that make sense?’

‘Yes,’ he said cautiously. ‘I think so.’

‘But you like this?’

‘It’s suitable.’

‘You haven’t exactly chosen a suitable fiancée,’ she reminded him.

‘I haven’t exactly chosen…’ But then he looked at the manager’s dour face and he decided enough was enough. He wasn’t about to discuss temporary engagements in public.

‘My mother will probably be coming over…for the wedding,’ he told the man consolingly. ‘She’s American but this style of clothing is exactly what she’d love. That’s why I brought Holly here. If I can leave my car here now, I’ll bring my mother—and her friends—in for a pre-wedding shop as soon as they get here.’

‘Certainly, My Lord,’ the man said heavily, casting a look of dislike at His Lord’s intended. ‘So your mother has taste?’

‘Yes, she does,’ Angus said and Holly smiled her sympathy at the poor man.

‘That’s put me in my place properly,’ she said and she reached out and took the manager’s hand and shook it with such warmth that the man’s disapproval gave way to something that could almost be a smile.

Their next stop is a more appropriate store, where Holly finds:

black leggings, blue leather boots that reached above her knees, a gorgeous oversized scarlet turtleneck sweater and a cute scarlet beret that should have screamed at her copper curls but didn’t.

Much better.

Of course Holly wins over Delia (and vice versa) and of course the children love her, and of course Maggie and her helpers from the village are able to turn a dark, miserable Castle into an inviting, Christmasy home. And of course Angus looks incredibly hot in his kilt. It’s a Christmas fairy tale, so you know how these things work. But the relationships feel real, and Holly and Angus don’t just fall into lust with each other, they talk and share confidences and become friends.

Not everything works perfectly; sometimes the Christmas spirit is a little thick. There is a dog, who belongs to the forcibly retired gamekeeper. They get their happy ending too. Everyone gets their happy ending, except the villain, whose villainy is played for understatement and who doesn’t get punished as badly as he deserves.

The way Angus resolves his obligations to the village and the earldom requires the greatest suspension of disbelief, and it will undoubtedly cross over into sugar-overload-territory for some readers. But this is Marion Lennox’s story, and she manages to balance the sweetness with a few down-to-earth characters. And I’m a sucker for a Christmas story, so it worked for me. Go into expecting to read about a Christmas miracle and it may well work for you too. Grade: B

~ Sunita


AmazonBNSonyKoboAREBook DepositoryGoogle

REVIEW:  Beguiled ( Enlightenment – book 2) by Joanna Chambers

REVIEW: Beguiled ( Enlightenment – book 2) by Joanna Chambers


A fleeting pleasure is the sweetest seduction…

Enlightenment, Book 2

David Lauriston couldn’t be less interested in King George IV’s first visit to Edinburgh. But with Faculty of Advocates members required to put on a minimal show of patriotism, David makes an appointment with his tailor for a new set of clothes—only to run into a man he hasn’t seen for two long years.

Lord Murdo Balfour.

Much has changed since their bitter parting, except their stormy attraction. And when Murdo suggests they enjoy each other’s company during his stay, David finds himself agreeing. After all, it’s only a temporary tryst.

Amidst the pomp and ceremony of the King’s visit, Murdo’s seduction is more powerful than David ever imagined possible. But when other figures from David’s past show up, he is drawn into a chain of events beyond his control. Where his determination to help a friend will break his body, threaten his career, and put at risk the fragile tenderness he’s found in Murdo’s arms.

Warning: Contains a lowborn Scottish lawyer with no love for the aristocracy, but more than enough passion for this highborn lord. Political intrigue, kilts, explicit m/m trysts, and men who epitomize “knight in shining armor”.

Dear Joanna Chambers,

We reviewed the first book in this trilogy here. As you can see, the first book set a pretty high bar for me, and for the most part I think the second part of the story was just as good. This *is* the second part of the story – it absolutely cannot read be as a stand-alone, because you will miss out on the plot and character development that happened in the first book, and I do not recommend that.

As the blurb states, the book takes place during the first visit of George IV to Edinburgh. I had not known before that such a historical event took place, but I was pleased that amongst my total ignorance I spotted a *very* familiar figure: Sir Walter Scott, whose books I devoured as a child and young teenager. I do not have a good knowledge of Scotland’s history, but even without having such knowledge it was easy to figure out when I was reading his books that Scott’s portrayal of Scotland was a much idealized one. I still adored his books, though, so I can understand why so many citizens of Edinburgh got swept in his enthusiasm, if what he wrote was at least a partial reflection of his real life charisma.

I was pleased to see that in “Beguiled”, the story continued to pay attention to the social issues of the time, and the feelings of those who were not happy with the current political and economic situation were somewhat shown. I always feel that it is a delicate balance for a romance writer to strike when she tackles difficult political/economical/social issues, because she still needs to tell a love story amongst everything else that is happening. I think so far in this series this writer has achieved a very nice balance in this book.

The social issues and problems which were present in book one have not gone away by the time this one begins, and of course they could not have – only two years have passed. I really enjoyed that David tried to change certain aspects of the system from within by working with the rule of law, but when push came to shove he would not hesitate to get personally involved to help a friend he cared about and push the boundaries a bit.

I also liked that only two years had passed since the men parted the ways in book one. I can easily believe that in two years they were not able to forget each other – the more time had passed the harder it would have been for me to suspend disbelief. I liked the changes in David, in this book; especially that he no longer viewed himself as somebody who would go to hell for his attraction to men. I mean, it makes all kind of sense to me in a historical that the men would berate themselves especially if they grew up in the Christian religion, but since there were men and women who managed to live their lives under the radar, I have to believe that these people eventually realized that no matter what the religious zealots say there is nothing wrong with them feeling attracted to people of the same gender. That is why David’s slow change was believable to me and made sense.

I thought that the romance between David and Murdo definitely advanced in this book – I mean, neither of them are thinking about their relationship as “together forever” yet (I say yet, because I certainly hope it will happen at the end of book three, not because I know that it will), but Murdo admits to himself and to David that to him this thing between them is something more than casual, and I got the impression that even at the end of book one David already had a strong feelings for Murdo.

I did wonder, though, whether Murdo had changed. I mean it was clear to me that he always had strong feelings for David whether he himself realized it or not: his actions spoke louder than words. But Murdo had never been depicted as thinking that he should go to hell for being attracted to men, so I thought his character’s evolution would be him realizing that he wants to spend his whole life with David, not just part of his life and I have not seen that happening yet. On the other hand, there is still book three to come.

I do think that I know Murdo better after this book, despite the fact that he is not a POV character, but overall I am still not sure whether I have a good grasp on his character, or on his world views. Here is one of the “political” conversations between him and David, for example. I mean, David’s views are no surprise for me, considering that he so vehemently defended the weavers in book one and his further interactions with Euan in the first book and this book, but is this how Murdo truly feels or was he just arguing for the sake of arguing? If these are his true feelings – he is a member of a privileged class after all – I know there is still time for him to change and I *know* from his actions that he is a good man. All I am trying to say that his character overall still feels a bit like unknown in my mind.

“Well – this is the Scotland I inhabit now, I suppose.” David gestured around them, at the elegant New Town with its clean lines and gas lamps and private gardens. “Rational. Modern. Just think – who lives in these houses?”
“I do, for one,” Murdo said, his white teeth gleaming as he flashed a grin at David.
“True, but most of them are occupied by merchants, lawyers, bankers. Professional men. Sir Walter might like to promote the fantasy of noble highland chiefs, but these are men of the new Scotland. And they don’t look to aristocrats to guide them. They’re more interested in what Adam Smith and David Hume have to say.”
Murdo snorted. “It sounds to me like you’re swapping one kind of privilege for another. Does it really matter whether our kingmakers are aristocrats or bankers?”
“Ah, but this is only the beginning.” David retorted. “One day we will have universal suffrage. And then how things will change!”
Murdo merely shrugged. “We’ll see. I have always found that men are defined more by their desire to do each other down rather than to lift each other up, but time will tell.”
“You are a pessimist,” David accused, smiling. “I think we are better than that.”
“I’m not so sure,” Murdo replied. “And I’m not sure the general population wants the changes you think they do.”

I thought it was especially refreshing that while neither David nor Murdo forget about how society treats the men who are attracted to other men, that they could be in danger if they ever publicly demonstrate their affection, that they do not forget that there were some people (or a lot of people) who were even more vulnerable than they were in many ways. As I am sure you can guess those people are women and I cannot tell you how pleased I was that a certain plotline revolved around that issue. I wish I could talk more about this plotline, but the blurb is silent on that matter and since I am trying hard to avoid spoilers whenever I can in my reviews, I should be silent too. I want to say that this plotline made me extremely happy, made me love David even more than I already loved his character and leave at that.

I loved the men together and certainly keep hoping that they would find the way to be together permanently in book three and I keep my fingers crossed for happy ending for Euan, because I really liked him.

Grade B.


AmazonBNSonyKoboAREBook DepositoryGoogle