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Historical

REVIEW:  The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig

REVIEW: The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig

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In October of 1806, the Little Season is in full swing, and Sally Fitzhugh has had enough of the endless parties and balls. With a rampant vampire craze sparked by the novel The Convent of Orsino, it seems no one can speak of anything else. But when Sally hears a rumor that the reclusive Duke of Belliston is an actual vampire, she cannot resist the challenge of proving such nonsense false. At a ball in Belliston Square, she ventures across the gardens and encounters the mysterious Duke.

Lucien, Duke of Belliston, is well versed in the trouble gossip can bring. He’s returned home to dispel the rumors of scandal surrounding his parents’ deaths, which hint at everything from treason to dark sorcery. While he searches for the truth, he welcomes his fearsome reputation—until a woman is found dead in Richmond. Her blood drained from her throat.

Lucien and Sally join forces to stop the so-called vampire from killing again. Someone managed to get away with killing the last Duke of Belliston. But they won’t kill this duke—not if Sally has anything to say about it.

Dear Ms. Willig,

I always eagerly anticipate a new Pink Carnation novel, partly to see who will be the main characters and partly to see what amazing title it will have. When I saw the vampire element in the description for “The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla,” I thought “How cool. She’s incorporated elements of a popular paranormal genre into a historical story at a point in time when it might actually have happened.” Well done. What wasn’t so well done for me was the way the circular dialog made the action seem like it dragged along.

As the book gets going, I was dismayed at the very cutesy opening and dialog between Sally and Lucien which reminds me a lot of the “around and around and around” stuff I last noticed in ““Night Jasmine.” Especially when they’re talking and arguing over the dead body of the young woman at Lucien’s sister’s coming out ball. They seem to stand there and discuss the situation for a good 15 minutes before doing anything. And unless it’s a very, very small dwelling, The Happy Home Life scene at Turnip’s house seems a bit too cosy for Lucien to be able to overhear what happens in another room parlor, smell the cinnamon from the kitchen and hear jam smeared Parsnip running from the nursery.

Still, the plot and possible reasons for French spies being involved in Lucien’s family’s murder is clever and realistic. I’m all over historical plots that actually use history in them and have it make sense.

But the first 2/3 of the book seemed to be little but Sally and Lucien twittering and nattering at each other and no doing. It’s very bubbly and very sparkly but it got maddening after a while when action got sacrificed for fizz. Forward motion in the plot lumbers along at a stultifying pace all in the name of more dialog that goes nowhere. I know this is a series that takes jabs at the overabundance of historical spies but even with that I have my limit of tolerance.

Yet just as I was wondering if I needed to start skimming, it clicked into place for me. I will admit to feeling exactly about Sally and Lucien as you wanted – namely that Sally is a yappy puppy, busy body and Lucien had been ignoring his ducal duty. How do I know this is what you were aiming for? Because Sally and Lucien call each other on it which leads to them beginning to examine their behavior and improve themselves. At this point, things definitely started looking up.

The way Sally charges to Lucien’s rescue is rather sweet and yay for the fact that she actually manages to do some good while charging. The villain’s identity and reasons for why he does as he does make sense and don’t appear out of the blue. And the stoat – I have to say I love the stoat plus the fact that we get to see lots of Turnip and Arabella.

I’m also getting more into the slow but steady relationship between Colin and Eloise. This little bit of story is crucial for them and I think the book ends in a great place with options and a twinkling future. Eloise might just have a dazzling career vs boring academia.

If this book didn’t totally rock my reading world, I have to say I’m stoked about whose story is next. I’ve been waiting for this one. C+

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  The Awakening of Poppy Edwards by Marguerite Kaye

REVIEW: The Awakening of Poppy Edwards by Marguerite Kaye

Awakening-of-Poppy-Edwards

Los Angeles, 1924

Broadway producer Lewis Cartsdyke has come to Hollywood with a business proposition for starlet Poppy Edwards. But as he’s watching her sing in a downtown club, dressed in a man’s suit that skims her lush curves, a much more wicked proposal comes to mind.

Poppy has fame, wealth and an aversion to love. Lewis offers the kind of passion she craves—delicious, sensual heat without complications. Night after night she abandons herself to sensation, promising she won’t lose her heart the way her sister did. But for Lewis, uncomplicated is no longer enough—and soon he won’t be satisfied until he’s claimed all of Poppy in blissful surrender.

Dear Ms. Kaye,

After finishing reading the companion novella to this one,“The Undoing of Daisy Edwards,” I dove straight into this one. Since they’re from the Undone line that wasn’t hard nor did it take long to finish them. Two sisters who’ve sworn not to fall in love – hmmm, what is she going to do differently?

Poppy’s book isn’t initially quite as dark as Daisy’s. Poppy didn’t lose a husband in the killing fields of France nor did Lewis fight there as Dominic had. But in their own ways, they’ve suffered too because of what happened during the Great War. Poppy and Daisy grew up to be so close that when Daisy almost collapsed from grief, Poppy felt it and watched in dismay as her sister shriveled into a shell of who she’d been. When Daisy was no longer able to work in their act, Poppy had to make her own way and chose to leave for Hollywood. Lewis was an ambulance driver and saw things that haunt him still. But he also wrestles with decisions he had to make, things he thinks he might have done wrong and the awful randomness of death.

Both Poppy and Lewis think they’ve found ways to cope with the fallout of the war – for Poppy she’s sworn not to risk the same kind of heartache that wrecked Daisy while Lewis has sworn to make something of the luck of his survival but still hasn’t actually allowed himself to remember and deal with what he lived through. But like Daisy and Dominic, it’s falling for someone and the peace they find from that which will bring them safely home.

I enjoyed the compact, direct, conversational style of the writing. It gives the novella a very immediate “feel.” As Willaful pointed out in Daisy’s novella review, the time and place are delicately hinted at rather being ladled on with a heavy hand. Poppy says how much she enjoys being able to squeeze fresh orange juice then go sit by her pool while she likens something to being lit up with an arc light – very southern Californina/Hollywood premiere-esque. Meanwhile Lewis just knows the bourbon he gets near the night club stage will be awful – due to Prohibition, while if he goes to the bar he’ll quietly get the real stuff.

The sex is hot from the start. Well actually it’s sizzling without having to be described in detail. I have no problems with Poppy being sexually aggressive in a historical as not only is the setting in the flapper 1920s but it’s also in pre-code Hollywood when things were normally wild. But what makes me think these two are truly compatible is that along with the smoking sex, they bond and fall in love in other ways. Both are interested in the technical aspect of making films and the promise on the horizon of talking pictures and Poppy starts to lower her guard when she lets Lewis into the intimate areas of her house – first the kitchen and then only after they’ve admitted their love – into her bedroom. At the point where sex turns into making love.

I was impressed by the fact that both novellas feel complete without seeming rushed. That the emotions are strong and well described and that I finished both feeling good about where the couples are. They make me look forward to the full length book to come. B

~Jayne

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