Tuesday, 24 July 2012

His Unexpected Family by Debut Author Robyn Thomas

His Unexpected Family
His Unexpected Family
by Robyn Thomas     ****

This is a lovely romance about second chances and new starts from debut author Robyn Thomas.  Set just outside Melbourne, Australia and in Melbourne itself, the story is about young widow and new mother Renata, Ren, and her husbands friend and adventure seeking colleague Cole.  Cole comes looking for Ren to help deal with his guilt over the death of Danny, who died on a climb Cole arrived too late to join. Cole's brother Nate died at the same time causing alienation with his family.

The instant attraction between these two is complicated by Ren's feelings of inadequacy over the large amount of debt Danny left her with. Cole too is not looking for permanency so their relationship is a constant dance around guilt from the past and unacknowledged hopes for the future.  Ren is wary of becoming involved with another man like her husband who would never be satisfied with a home life and must be always seeking out new thrills. Cole is constantly aware of the shadow of Danny and the type of man he was as he starts to see himself with a future based around this small family of Ren and her daughter Char.

This is a very sweet story and the hero and heroine are well drawn and very likeable people. At times I felt the emotional depths were skated over a little and we didn't really see much complexity and inner workings of the protagonists considering the issues both were dealing with.  As such it was a lightweight and very enjoyable read.  I recommend it to anyone who wants a sweet not overly hot read with just a nice touch of sizzle.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

If Ever I Review You...

Ten Things I Review About You.  Give or Take.

I've been doing a lot of reviewing lately and it occurs to me that because I have some peculiarities, it might be wise to let people know what they are getting into when I review their book or if they read my reviews.  Especially as I notice there are some concerns over Reviewing practices going around the Twitterverse, Blogosphere and Goodreads. Once we have things clear you can take or leave my reviews.

When I review a romance novel, particularly of the Harlequin Mills & Boon persuasion, I am looking for something very particular that I don't look for in 'mainstream' fiction.  For this reason, I score these books just a little differently.

I use four of the stars to score the book on writing, style, story, and the usual things.  The fifth star is about the HEA.  As in My Happy Ever After. It is purely about how I feel when I get to the end of the book. Yes it is subjective and that's why I think it only fair to make it quite clear that when I review a book I am using one of those stars to score My personal HEA based on FEELINGS.

Because I read these romances to make me feel good.  They are my Prozac, my stress relief, the medication I turn to after a rough day or week.  So it is very, very important to me how I feel when I finish the book.  I want to feel REALLY good.

It's not about whether I cry at the end, though there is nothing more cathartic than a good weepy Happy Ever After when the real world is offering you less pleasurable reasons to cry. In fact I count it as a plus if I get that involved with the characters.

I think I'm pretty easy to please when it comes to a romance, give me an interesting story, protagonists I can engage with and a Happy Ever After and I'm good for the most part.

But there are some things that will impinge upon how I score that last star.  And this is where my own peculiarities come into play.  For a purely stress free read that resolves everything to my total satisfaction some key ingredients come into play.

These are not secrets to anyone who knows me and reads my blog.  I've always been upfront about them.  For instance I like virgins.  That's not to say I won't find a non-virgin heroine satisfactory but it is a small part of the mix that gives me my feel good read.  I prefer a hero who hasn't been obviously sleazing around with a stack of mistresses or one night stands.  At least not recently.  I don't demand a virgin hero, but I prefer not to have his ex's in my face. Or hers for that matter. Once again that isn't set in concrete, but on the whole I prefer a misogynist to a philanderer.

Then there is the fidelity thing.  This particularly comes into play in one of my favourite tropes, the reunion romance.  I prefer it if both the hero and heroine have been faithful to each other once they actually have sex with each other.  I've read stories where they don't remain faithful and enjoyed them, but...it's going to have to be a pretty spectacular story to get me over the ick factor enough to feel REALLY good at the end.  Not impossible, but not common in my experience. I don't mind thinking he's been unfaithful throughout the book, but I get a nice little bump on the satisfaction meter if all is revealed at the end and there was NO infidelity.

This all comes down to my conviction that a really heroic hero is not ruled by his libido and has the capacity to remain faithful to his true love, no matter what the odds.  That if he cannot have the heroine, he doesn't want anyone.  If he cannot do this, there is always the faint chance that he will fall down on that in the future. It leaves a shadow. Shadows impinge on my HEA.

I will always mention in a review if there was something that made me uncomfortable in this way. I will not leave a question mark about the writing or technical excellence of the book.  Usually that commentary will be somewhere down near the end of the review where I give overall views on what I've read.

All this being said.  Your mileage may vary.

Huh?  Yes.  There are variables. Sometimes it's not about what happens but how it happens.  And it isn't always obvious.

I'll give you an example surrounding two Sarah M. Anderson Desires I read this week.  Just take a look at the blurb for 'A Man of Privilege.'   I will be talking about things that may constitute minor spoilers but should not impinge upon the actual storyline.  Stop reading now if this worries you.

A Man of PrivilegeThe heroine in 'A Man of Privilege,'  Maggie Eagle Heart, is introduced up front in the book as a former prostitute and drug addict.  The hero, James Carlson needs her as a backup witness in a corruption case that is going to be his stepping stone to a political career.

Right there you are thinking. 'Dammit, that star just went right out the window on that one.  A non-virgin and a prostitute.  No way is prudish Fiona going to let that one pass.'  Actually that wasn't a problem in the context of the story.  I love a woman who has been strong enough to get over something horrendous like that in her past and comes out of it pure and wholesome.  It could have been a no brainer, but Sarah made me love and appreciate her.   Maggie was as good as a virgin because she was strong and she didn't sleep around even though she could have.  Having nothing to lose, so to speak ;-].

I loved this story and I was just dying to give it the five star treatment.  Then the modern world caught up with me later in the book.  The nonchalance of the casual affair and the civilised aftermath. Yup, it was that darned hero who mucked it all up.  If he'd kept his thoughts away from the past and not compared our little Maggie with his ex-lovers we would have been home and hosed.   So what did he do, you ask?  It was a simple thing that no one else in the whole universe would have been bothered by.  But it bothered me.

A Man of His Word by Sarah M. AndersonYou see there was this ex-girlfriend.  Sure the assumption was he'd slept with her in the past.   It's what people do, but I could have overlooked it.  Shut my eyes, put my fingers in my ears and gone LALALA really loudly.  But here we were, on the last stretch of the book.  This woman had been mean to Maggie and then he explicitly tells us through the medium of his internal dialogue, he'd slept with her back when they were dating.  Hell James, you slept with that snarky b*tch.  T.M.I.  I did not want to know that.  I already knew you'd been with the other chick cos you'd ruined my perfect ending for 'A Man of His Word' by being all macho with the heroine's new love.  

I have enough trouble trying to remember who used to sleep with who in the real world I inhabit.  It's not comfortable because not everyone stays friendly and nice like Rosebud and James.  They are more like snarky Pauline. Nuff Said.  Don't bring the stresses of my real world into my fantasy world.

This being said, the books are a fantastic read with the most wonderful heroes and incredibly brave strong women.  I gave them four stars because they were perfect in every other way.  The writing, the story.  Just wonderful.  If I could have given them another half a star I would have but Goodreads doesn't allow for partials.

This being said, I am always painstakingly honest in my reviews.  I will say if there is something I struggled with so readers can judge for themselves.  I will say what I loved and what I hated.  Rarely is there something I hate. I will always try and give credit where credit is due.  I am willing to be pleased and I appreciate how lucky I am that so many authors write things I love.

I can understand that knowing all this you might not want to have me review your books. Allowing for my peculiarities and the weight I put on a subjective feeling based on personal foibles may not suit some writers.  It's up to you.  I'll keep reading and reviewing.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name - Ida Pollock

One of my favourite of the vintage authors is Ida Pollock who wrote under a multiplicity of pseudonyms.  The very nicest of comfort reads, I include reviews here of a number of recently read books.

From Wikipedia
Ida Pollock, née Crowe (born 12 April 1908), is a British writer of several short-stories and over a hundred romance novels under her married name, Ida Pollock, and under her numerous pseudonyms:Susan Barrie, Pamela Kent, Averil Ives, Anita Charles, Barbara Rowan, Jane Beaufort, Rose Burghley, Mary Whistler and Marguerite Bell. She is also an oil painter, who has been selected for inclusion in a national exhibition in 2004.[1]
Ida and her husband Lt-Colonel Hugh Alexander Pollock DSO (1888–1971), a veteran of war, Winston Churchill's collaborator and editor, had a daughter Rosemary Pollock, also a romance writer. Ida's autobiography, Starlight, published on 15 November 2009, tells the story of the start of her career, her marriage, and the relation of her husband with his ex-wife Enid Blyton.
Pollock has lived in LanreathCornwall since 1986.

So Dear To My Heart  1956    ****
Susan Barrie

I'm particularly partial to Susan Barrie heroes. Not quite alpha but not really beta, they are charming and handsome, well groomed, tall and lean. Mostly dark haired and dark eyed. A little cool, a little distant but capable of passion when roused. Not of course that we see more than a few kisses in these older vintages.
Dr Leon Hanson is a famous Swiss surgeon, called upon to use his considerable talent to cure Lisa Holt, a young pianist with an injury to her hand. She is accompanied by her less vibrant but very sweet sister Virginia. You can see where this is heading can't you?
It is the sweet sister who catches the eye of the distinguished doctor but complications in the form of a young Englishman and an attractive young female friend of the doctor contrive to multiply misunderstandings.
This is not a fast, angsty read but a sweet meditative story of a love that is formed almost immediately by two people of different social and cultural backgrounds but goes unacknowledged because of misunderstandings and misapprehensions.
I love this kind of book at the end of a day that has been full of real life angst as a pick me upper. It soothes like Prozac with the only side effect a couple of missing hours from the day.

Castle Thunderbird  1965     ****
Susan Barrie
A classic governess tale with the heroine Noel travelling to Austria to be a companion to the sixteen year old ward of the hero Gerard de Freer. In a fairytale Austrian Castle.
The fly in the ointment is the bad tempered old friend of the family Harriet. She is Gerard's housekeeper and the bane of the servants lives. Her ambitions are clear and of course young Noel is immediately singled out for trouble.
Add in some other gentlemen who seem rather quicker to appreciate the attractive young heroine and we have plenty of misunderstandings and hurt pride and feelings. Until Harriet carries her jealous temper too far.
Another lovely sweet story from a favourite vintage author.

The Quiet Heart   1966   ****
Susan Barrie

Alisoun Fairlie is the step mother of three young people not much younger than herself.  After the death of her husband she continues to caretake Leydon Hall until the arrival of the new owner.

Charles Leydon has a lot of ideas about changing Leydon Hall and for Alisoun, his arrival brings the fear of homelessness for her and her family.  When the rather hard businessman falls ill it is her task to nurse him back to health with the assistance of the housekeeper and her two older stepdaughters, both of whom fall under the spell of the handsome owner.

It is not the attractive older girl, Marianne that seems to appeal to Charles but Jessamy, with her limp caused by childhood polio.  Alisoun must watch their developing friendship with a strange feeling of helplessness.  When he insists on buying Jessamy a car and arranging for treatment for her limp it seems obvious his plans for the future include the sensitive young woman.

How Alisoun finds her happy ending is a sweet and tender tale of a young woman who has never known real passion even though she had been a married woman.

Moon at the Full  1961    ****
Susan Barrie

When the rich Liane Daly loaned Stephanie a flat in Paris to recuperate from a recent illness, she had no idea how Stephanie's life would be changed.

Because the flat was not actually hers and as Stephanie settled into the luxurious apartment, the real owner arrived.
What could a young and rather naive English model expect of a man who's family crest bore the motto 'Black is the Knight and blacker is the heart.'

The Comte Leon de Courvalles was certainly very dark in colouring, suave and a little jaded, his smile sardonic.  I'm loving him already, never mind how young Steve feels about this sophisticated Frenchman.

How he feels about Steve is something that she finds most puzzling.  Especially when he gives her a job as his social secretary.  Monsieur le Comte is taking a cruise and on that cruise will be some very lovely potential brides.
What seems to be a developing friendship is soon tested when a glamorous actress on board involves Steve in a questionable exchange of messages. Luckily a young Englishman on the cruise is there to comfort her.

Cruising through the Mediterranean and then traversing the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean, Steve watches as one by one the potential brides fall away until only the troublesome actress is left in the running.   They say romance and cruises go together but Steve is pining for the wrong man entirely.  Until danger on the high seas brings everything to a head and the true nature of Leon's heart is revealed.

Star Creek  1965     ****
Pamela Kent
This is a modern (for 1965) take on the Jane Eyre franchise. Pamela Kent is another pen name for Ida Pollock who also writes as Susan Barrie, Barbara Rowan and several others. 

Helen arrived at Star Creek after her father's death to the casual guardianship of his old friend and former pupil Roger Trelawnce. The setting is an old house overlooking the sea at Cornwall, historically connected with smugglers.

Roger is a former surgeon, now retired and running the family estate after losing his right arm in an accident. He is fiercely independent and always immaculately turned out. And rather susceptible to the sweet young thing flung into his household.

Helen is drawn to the rather enigmatic Roger, until she discovers the resident of the forbidden part of the house is none other than Mrs Valerie Trelawnce, beautiful, volatile and unstable. Helen befriends the woman, torn between her attraction to Roger and concerned about his lack of love towards the lovely young woman.

When Helen finds Valerie is romantically linked with the rather unsavoury cousin of the house, Peregrine Trelawnce her feeling are even more confused.

Drama involving a wild storm, mysterious caves and secret tunnels plays it's part in bringing the story to a climax and the HEA.

Mountain of Dream  1958    ****
Barbara Rowan

 A Swiss Hotelier, Pierre Larouche, is the hero of this tale of a young English woman who falls in love with the mountains and wants to stay on after a holiday. A temporary job as secretary of Pierre is the ideal method to achieve and extended stay until his permanent secretary recovers from an accident.

Pierre is of course all those things that a charming Pollock/Kent/Rowan/Barrie hero should be. Much admired by the ladies and there is one in particular, Freda, the daughter of a fellow hotelier who is doing the running.

Which doesn't cheer up young Patricia, even after a wonderful day on the mountains with Pierre that culminated in a kiss. The very next day disaster strikes with Pierre hospitalised and the attendance at his bedside of the wealthy heiress.

The lies of this young woman and the attentions of another rival to Pat's hand almost end the burgeoning romance but Pierre responds to the challenge with typical panache and some timely grovelling to bring us our HEA.

Mountain Magic  1964    ****
Susan Barrie

Kurt Antoine is an Austrian Hotelier.  He meets Toni when she's stranded on a ledge on a mountain walk and offers her a job.   Toni's existing employer is a rather unpleasant woman and when her honesty is called into question she quits and takes Kurt up on his offer.

Unfortunately the Manageress of the Hotel where Kurt installs her has a rather different view of her employer bringing strange and attractive young women into the hotel.  Putting her in the most  unpleasant room and giving her the most unpleasant jobs, Toni is exhausted and humiliated.

Her plight draws the attention of an English visitor and with Kurt so taken up with the attractive manageress, it isn't surprising that she allows Philip Gresham to take her about.  Especially when it seems Philip knows Toni's estranged uncle.

All this makes it rather difficult for the relationship between Kurt and Toni to develop but somehow it does and finally all is settled.  A small hiccup at the end leads the way to a smooth and certain HEA.

Another Susan Barrie review appears in my May blogs.