Tuesday, December 26, 2017

In the Bookcase: A Literary Christmas Challenge 2017 Part VI

A Literary Christmas: 2017 Reading Challenge // inthebookcase.blogspot.com

Epiphany with TeaEpiphany with Tea by Renata McMann--Austenesque Short Story

After 10 years of marriage, Mr. Darcy knows his Elizabeth very well and knows she is about to win this argument. Elizabeth wants to bring her late sister's child into their home. Mr. Darcy refuses to have the son of George Wickham in his home but as he reflects on the day Elizabeth agreed to become his wife, he realizes being with Elizabeth has changed him.

This is a Pride and Prejudice variation that deviates a LOT from the paths Jane Austen chose for her characters. I do not like that. The original works because of the way the story unfolds. However, the author seems like a skilled writer and if I ignore the characters as eponymous Jane Austen creations and just go with the flow, I really like the story! It's very sweet and charming. It's also very unrealistic given the time period. I know most readers just want the characters to talk about their feelings instead of a BIG MISUNDERSTANDING but in Jane Austen's day, ladies and gentlemen didn't discuss things like feelings, hence the plot of the original novel. Anyway, this is a sweet little short story that doesn't have anything to do with Christmas but is rather heartwarming just the same.

In the Bookcase: A Literary Christmas Challenge 2017 Part IV

A Literary Christmas: 2017 Reading Challenge // inthebookcase.blogspot.com

A Regency Christmas IVA Regency Christmas IV by Mary Jo Putney, Sandra Heath, Mary Balogh, Marjorie Ferrell, Emma Lange

The Christmas Tart by Mary Jo Putney features a down-on-her-luck heroine and a nobleman with too many cares. When dressmaker Nicole Chambord is fired through no actual fault of her own, she’s kicked out on the streets on Christmas. With only a gaudy cloak and a few coins her in pocket, how will she survive? Sir Philip Selbourne has been working too hard since his father’s death. His friends decide he needs some Christmas cheer in the form of a woman warming his bed. When Nicole is propositioned by Philip’s friends, she weighs the offer. Can she go through with it? Philip wants nothing more than peace and quiet before he returns to work. When he finds a woman in his bed, the offer is tempting but is all what it seems?

The very beginning of this story sounded so familiar but none of the rest of it did! It was predictable but I liked it. Despite the premise, this is a clean story with only kisses and very mild sensuality. Philip is a saintly, swoony sort of hero. He loves his family and respects women. Nicole is admirable. I can’t imagine going through all the tough situations she’s been through in her life. She’s a very strong young woman and I really liked her.

In A Seasonal Stratagem by Sandra Heath, Leon, Earl of Holmwood, bets his friend he can seduce a kiss from the lovely Miss Rosalind Faraday, niece of a very respectable matron. The usual complications ensue. This story is pretty standard in the Regency canon. I’m not fond of heroes who try to seduce unsuspecting females –especially those who do it for a wager. Leon is no exception. The misunderstanding was typical and the ending predictable.

The Porcelain Madonna by Mary Balogh features a Christmas-hating hero, Darcy Austin (yes really, she went there), Earl of Kevern and a shabby genteel heroine, Julie Bevan. When the Earl spies the lovely young woman staring at the porcelain Madonna and Child figure in the window of the jewelers, he is enchanted. He is thrust into her company when he stops a young would-be pickpocket from stealing her reticule. Instead of allowing him to thrash the boy, Julie takes pity on the poor boy who surely must have a great need to steal. It is Charlie who continues to bring these lonely souls together again and again during the Christmas season. As they await a Christmas miracle, the Earl makes a startling discovery about himself.

This is by far the best story in the collection. It’s a real Christmas story about helping others, forgiveness and joy. There were lots of feels and I even teared up a little towards the end. I’m not sure about the historical accuracy of the figure and I really don’t think an Earl would do some of the things he does in the story, but it’s a sweet story. I really liked how the hero’s backstory wasn’t revealed until the end. I had already guessed what it must be but it still came as a revelation. This wounded gentleman captured my heart. Julie is an angel. She’s a little too saintly for my taste yet I did feel the same way she did about Charlie. She’s a Dickensian sort of heroine! This is a sweet, kisses only romance for Christmas.

The next story Christmas Rose by Marjorie Ferrell is a long tale about a couple who are unable to conceive and have grown apart. When Lord Holford returns home from Christmas revels, he discovers a woman leaving a basket on a doorstep. He is horrified to discover the basket contains a young baby! The mother claims she can’t keep the baby because her lover is on his way home from the Continent and she is desperate to keep him and his love. If he finds out there is a child, their relationship will be over. Lord Holford comes up with an ingenious plan, but will it work? His wife will need to think it was all her own idea if it is to succeed.

The first chapter was very sweet. Failure to conceive and adoption are not common subjects in Regency romances so it was refreshing to read about a different plot. However, the rest of the story derails from there. The misunderstanding is so annoying! Lady Lanford is an idiot. She obviously doesn’t know or trust her husband. They should just TALK to each other. He is a very nice gentleman and trying hard to please his wife. It breaks his heart that she is so depressed from her perceived inability to become pregnant. She repays his gift to her by behaving childishly and even her parents think she behaved badly. The story goes on too long and is too improbable. Give this one a miss if you don’t like silly wives and misunderstandings.

Warning: semi-graphic love scenes with the emphasis on how the characters feel.

The final story The Best Gift of All by Emma Lange seems to be based on Georgette Heyer’s A Civil Contract. (and shows why Georgette Heyer is the master of her craft). Newlyweds Philip and Megan Lindsay, Earl and Countess of Westphal have grown apart after only one week together. Philip resents his father and elder brother dying with deep debts that forced him to marry a cit’s daughter. While Philip has been with his mistress in London, Megan is back at the estate overseeing repairs. She both dreads and longs for her husband to return to her and to her bed. The memories of that week together make her blush furiously! When Philip returns, he brings a party of stranded travelers, including one who makes his family raise their eyebrows. He feels captivated by his fresh, youthful bride and knows he can easily seduce her. Is that enough?

UGH! I did not like this story. I hated this Philip. He’s a selfish, immature rat turd who doesn’t deserve a nice girl like Megan. I can see why he would fall in love with her but other than seeing him riding in the park, she doesn’t know him well enough to love him. Where Georgette Heyer paints a realistic portrait of a couple learning to live together and come together as a couple, this story features a randy hero and his equally lustful bride who continually think about going to bed together. That isn’t much to base a relationship on. I did enjoy the Christmas festivities and the lively, loving family but that was about all.

Warning: Graphic love scenes.

In the Bookcase A Literary Christmas Challenge 2017 Part III

A Literary Christmas: 2017 Reading Challenge // inthebookcase.blogspot.com

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chiaverini-- Historical Fiction/Contemporary Fiction/Contemporary Romance

In 1860, Henry Wordsworth Longfellow is more successful than ever. His poem about Paul Revere is about to be published and he delights in the comfort of his lovely home and family. His wife Fanny is the love of his life and his children, especially the little girls, are a delight. However, with the growing tensions over slavery and President Buchanan's inaction, the country may soon be headed to war. Henry fervently prays and hopes it will never come to that. Though he is an abolitionist, he is also a dedicated pacifist. As the world heads towards war, Henry's life will be shattered in more ways than one. As he plunges into depression, it seems nothing can bring him out-that is-until he hears the bells ringing on Christmas Day. In present day Massachusetts, Sophia is a public school music teacher in an underprivileged school. She is passionate about music and about helping children discover their own passion. Unfortunately budget cuts are looming and Sophia is about to be out of a job. She still has a position as choir director for St. Margaret's Catholic Church, which she loves. Lucas, the accompanist, is passionate about urban renewal and architectural design. His love brought him to St. Margaret's. He loves working with the kids, but mostly he loves being with Sophia. His love for her has endured years of friendship and relationship drama on both ends. His timing is always bad. He's worried she can never feel for him what he feels for her. Should he declare his feelings at last? Choirboy Alex Moran is thrilled to have a solo in the upcoming Christmas concert. If only his dad could see him sing. Mr. Moran is in Afghanistan and Alex misses his dad like crazy. The internet has been broken for a month and Alex hasn't spoken with his dad since before Thanksgiving. Alex's sister Charlotte, a brilliant straight-A student has her own worries. She worries about school and worries her mom is keeping secrets from her. Is the Army's internet really broken or did something happen to her dad? Laurie, Mrs. Moran, doesn't know what has happened to her husband. She fears the worst and can't bring herself to ruin the holiday season for the kids. Camille Barrett, wife of the late senator Paul Barrett knows how it feels to grieve a lost loved one. She was as devoted to her husband as her and they shared a passion for helping the people of Boston. Their shared passion for philanthropy and music led them to donate Paul's piano to the church. She loves to hear the children's choir singing and the piano playing. If only Paul were beside her still. Father Ryan is praying for his parishioners having a tough time this holiday season, especially Jason Moran. Jason is not just a parishioner, but Ryan's best friend from college. Will this holiday season be a happy one? Only Sister Winifred, who hears directly from God, believes it will be.

I have mixed feelings for this novel. The multiple points of view is a unique style that I haven't seen before, however, it bogs down the story and prevents the central plot from really shining. I didn't need to read backstories for the modern characters or know too many details about their problems. I wanted the story to focus on Sophia and Lucas and parallel Henry and Fanny's love story. I get that the story of the Morans loosely parallels the Longfellows as does the Barretts (more closely) and that's nice but unnecessary. There's just too much going on. The multiple points-of-view also make the story repetitive. We already know what happened so why repeat it? Why not pick up where the story left off? I expected the story to alternate between what drove Henry to write Christmas Bells and the modern love story. The conclusion to Sophia and Lucas' story and to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's story were both unsatisfactory because it took so long to get there.

This author also has a problem with "telling". She starts off great in 1860, sharing lovely details about the Longfellow home in Cambridge and their lives there. There are moments of greatness in the beginning and middle but I skimmed a lot of the war news because that was too much telling. I did want to know what happened to the soldiers in the story and stayed up too late reading to find out. I ended up skipping to the end to try to find out.

I really like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I loved his poetry when I was growing up-(what New England kid doesn't know "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere"?) -but didn't know a lot about him until I read Forever and Forever: The Courtship of Henry Longfellow and Fanny Appleton. Authors can draw on his journals and letters to make Henry come alive. He seemed to have been a kind and sensitive man who loved deeply and felt sorrow keenly. His love story is a true romance and a true tragedy. However, I felt Henry was a little overly sensitive and overprotective of his son. Having been a wannabe rebellious teen, I know how Charley felt and what he was going to do, even without consulting the historical record. Charley made some very valid points. I'm sure I would feel the same way as Henry though if I were a parent during the Civil War. The war was so horrendous I can't even imagine living through it.

The Longfellow family seemed like a charming, lively bunch. Fanny is portrayed as sensible but sweet and loving. I wonder how much time she actually spent with the children? Henry seems to have spent a lot of time with them but the story mentions the girls' governess frequently. My heart broke for Alice but I enjoyed learning more about what happened to her as an adult and I need to look her up. Annie's confession broke my heart and who knows what actually happened? I wonder if she had PTSD for the rest of her life?

The modern characters are hit or miss. There's only one chapter from Sophia's POV in the beginning. She seems like a modern day Fanny Longfellow-intelligent, kind and caring. Her feelings for Lucas seemed fairly obvious and since it's the 21st century, I don't know why she didn't talk to him about his feelings! He is a modern day Henry-sensitive, deeply caring and unsure of himself. I liked him a lot but again, I felt like he was ignoring the obvious and wringing his hands too much.

The story spends more time with the Morans. Alex is such a typical 10 year old boy. He has to be modeled after someone because he reminded me so much of my downstairs neighbor-also 10 with ADHD! The novelist never says Alex has ADHD but I'm betting he would be diagnosed with it in real life. Charlotte reminded me a lot of myself. I liked the siblings rivalry. It felt real to me. The lengthy backstory of Laurie and Jason is sweet but not at all necessary. He's a lot of fun and she's down-to-earth. I liked them but I didn't need to spend so much time with them to be eager to find out what happens to Jason!

I love Father Ryan! I never thought I'd say that about a priest, being a historian and feeling the same way as Liam. He's fun and lively and I get the sense he was a ladies' man in college. He is devoted to the community and helping the people. I did not need to read the theological debate about sports-boring and unnecessary to the overall plot! Who cares if God wants the Bruins or Penguins to win? (Go Bruins, obviously!) Also not necessary was his family drama.

Camille and Paul's story is all telling and no showing aside from the scenes where she is going through his office. Stop right there! Call an archivist! Those papers belong in the state archive! The details were wonderful and I felt Camille's grief. She serves as a catalyst for the final action but is otherwise not important to the plot. Paul, while a wonderful man and a uniquely caring politician, was also not needed. The piano was donated by a local son made good is enough.

I don't regret reading this novel but it was long and rambling. Tightened up and without the obvious deus ex machina, it would be a better story.

I wish I had an audio of this story. The Madison Children's Choir that inspired the novel doesn't have a video of them singing this song online. I found some but they weren't quite as described in the novel.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

In the Bookcase A Literary Christmas Challenge 2017 Part II

 A Literary Christmas: 2017 Reading Challenge // inthebookcase.blogspot.com

Mrs. Jeffries and the Three Wise Women (Mrs. Jeffries #36)Mrs. Jeffries and the Three Wise Women by Emily Brightwell--historical cozy mystery

Abigail Chase is furious with her husband's business associate Christopher Gilhaney for ruining her Guy Fawkes Night dinner party. He managed to insult every single one of her guests, all of whom left very early. As Gilhaney walks home through the mews he hears the noise of the fireworks and worries about drunken revelers. Little does he know he has a bigger problem! A mysterious masked person manages to shoot the cautious and street-wise Gilhaney through the heart! Inspector Nivens manages to convince Chief Inspector Barrows that the killing was a simple robbery gone wrong and he'll be able to solve the mystery in no time. Unfortunately for Nivens, it's not so simple and with the Home Office pressuring the police to solve the murder, Nivens is taken off the case. Witherspoon is now on the case. Witherspoon and the servants are upset their Christmas plans are about to be ruined. Mrs. Goodge, Luty Belle and Lady Canonberry notice no one else's hearts seem to be in the case. They can't let Inspector Witherspoon down. He doesn't deserve a black mark on his record despite the incompetence of Inspector Nivens. Can they convince everyone else to put aside their own selfish desires and help their dear Inspector crack the case?

I am so amazed at the author's ability to keep this series fresh. This mystery was so complicated and had so many suspects, I never figured out who the actual killer was. I was on the right track as to why but who could have been anyone. It did seem obvious in hindsight but it took Mrs. Jeffries quite a long time to get there! My big complaint with this novel is the length. There's a little too much of nothing to report and a bit too much repetition.

As always, the characters are a delight. I love Mrs. Goodge and her network of sources. They're very colorful. Luty Belle the stereotype annoys me but she has a heart of gold and I can't help but enjoy her. Lady Canonberry is so admirable. I liked what she said about fighting for what she believes in and I love how her relationship with Inspector Witherspoon is moving forward. They're very sweet together. The rest of the characters are annoying-on purpose. They behave selfishly, which is understandable, but as they are reminded-justice doesn't take a holiday. They do owe Witherspoon for their positions and for the kindness he gives them! HE doesn't want to work over Christmas any more than they do. I am impressed with the Inspector. He has come a long way in this series. He's more shrewd and less naive than he was when he started though still oblivious to the help he's given! I think even without the help, he could have figured it out eventually.

New characters are numerous. Let's start with the victim-Christopher Gilhaney. He seems like a very unpleasant, unlikable sort of man in the beginning. Then the reports about him get conflicting. He sounds like a complicated person. I admire him for his good qualities and how he was able to overcome his childhood circumstances. The Chases seem like a typical upper class married couple. They tolerate each other -he with good humor for the most part. She seems a bit irritating and bullying though. Mr. and Mrs. Bruce, on the other hand, barely tolerate each other. He married her for her money and their relationship shows just how that works out! I found them a bit over-the-top and unrealistic though, like characters in a movie. Miss Holter came as a bit of a surprise. She seems to be a soul sister of Miss Havisham! Mr. Webster was also a surprise. I suspected something different about him. Mr. Newton seems a bit too kind and conscientious to be realistic for the time. I'm not sure what to make of him, if he is a villain or not. The others are rather forgettable and I kept getting confused as to who was who.

If you like this series, you will enjoy this book a lot. If you're just beginning the series, this book works fine as a stand alone, though I would backtrack several books and not start here. Overall, a fun holiday read.

In the Bookcase A Literary Christmas Challenge 2017 Part I

A Literary Christmas: 2017 Reading Challenge // inthebookcase.blogspot.com

Christmas at Little Beach Street BakeryChristmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan--Women's Fiction

The description on the back of the book is so wrong and misleading! Here's the best summary I can give without spoilers. Christmas is coming to Mount Polbearne and business is booming for Polly's bakery. She's been so busy she hasn't had a chance to connect with Kerensa in awhile. Polly and Huckle are looking forward to a quiet Christmas together snuggled up under the covers, drinking hot chocolate and watching movies (with Neil of course). The village has other ideas. Not only is Polly expected to donate her baked goods to the village fair on top of regular holiday baking, Ruben wants Polly to cater his Christmas party. Cater for a bunch of demanding rich people? Um no! Then Polly learns some things that make her reconsider the offer while Huckle is urging her to step back, relax, take some time to work on their relationship-perhaps get married and/or start a family. Ghosts from Polly's past creep up until she's forced to confront her demons head on.

Jenny Colgan has a formula and if you like her formula, you'll enjoy this book. As with the others in the series, I had a problem with the relationship drama. I could have done without all that. I was expected a nice holiday story about a village coming together in a storm with some cute Puffin drama thrown in for good measure. This story is set at Christmas and has a theme of forgiveness but lacks Christmas charm. The drama went on longer than necessary and involves marital infidelity, pregnancy and Polly's past. I was interested in Polly's history and her parents' story but thought she was awful to Huckle, who is the world's best boyfriend. There isn't enough Neil in the story to please me. His eeps and antics are what makes this series my favorite of all Colgan's books.

Polly is super annoying in this book. She's over analytical, takes too much on herself and isn't a good friend and girlfriend. She gets guilted into being a good friend through something that is in no way her fault. Kerensa has always annoyed me and here she reminds me too much of Bridget Jones. Ruben is more than a putz. He's a self-centered, rich, selfish jerk and I don't see why everyone loves him so much. Huckle is the best character in this book. I love him! He's the sweetest and the best boyfriend to Polly.

New characters include Ruben's family who are all just awful. Polly's mom plays a big role too. I felt bad for her. She seems to have depression and anxiety that have held her back and given Polly a lot of issues.

It was nice to catch up with the gang and see what is happening in the village but this isn't my favorite of Colgan's books or even the series.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

In the Bookcase A Literary Christmas Challenge: Christmas Picture Books Part 1

A Literary Christmas: 2017 Reading Challenge // inthebookcase.blogspot.com

Christmas Picture Books 

An Alcott Family ChristmasAn Alcott Family Christmas by Alexandra Wallner

This book retells the first chapter of Little Women making it about the Alcott family. The moral of the story is kindness counts. Christmas presents come from the heart not from the store. Being an avid fan of Louisa May Alcott, I had to get this book for my nieces from the library before we head to Concord to do some Christmas shopping. I wasn't crazy about the plot or the illustrations. The plot is too sappy and I'm not certain it's even true. I appreciate the moral but in this instance, I found it a bit too much. In Little Women it's a bit less rosy.

I didn't care much for the illustrations. I think they're supposed to be folk art style but they look a little weird to me. May looks lumpy and what color is her hair supposed to be? Bronson is depicted as an old man with stark white hair. While this is probably accurate, it may be confusing for children. Why does the Daddy look like a grandpa or great-grandpa?

A brief bio33graphy of Louisa and a list of her best known books are at the end.

My nieces haven't read this yet.

A Little Women ChristmasA Little Women Christmas by Heather Vogel Frederick

This is an excellent adaptation of the section of Little Women following Beth's illness. If you know the story, you know what happens. Even so, this part of the book never fails to move me. The picture book author uses actual dialogue from the novel to pass on the lesson instead of hammering it home in her own words. I appreciated the more subtle approach and of course, any adaptation that uses original dialogue gets extra credit from me. My only quibble is that Beth is not the youngest daughter but the middle. It's an easy thing to misremember but if I was going to adapt such a beloved classic novel, I'd make sure of the details before I did it.

The illustrations are the real stand out. They look so realistic! The illustrations could almost be photographs. The clothing and hairstyles look appropriate to the time period and characters, for the most part. I do question Beth's ringlets but perhaps Meg styled Beth's hair for Christmas. Jo bears more of a resemblance to Winona Ryder than Louisa May Alcott but that's the illustrator's vision. I especially like how careworn the faces of Marmee and Father are without making them look elderly. Father looks like he's been to war and been ill, as is explained in the text. Orchard House stands in for the little brown house where the March family lives-everyone assumes Orchard House is the March family home because that's the museum. True fans know the Alcotts lived at The Wayside next door when the girls were the ages of their literary counterparts in the first part of the novel. (Minor quibble). I am excited to give my nieces a visual cue for Orchard House though so when they see the actual house, they recognize it as the March family home.

This is a must for introduction younger readers to the classic novel. 

Strega Nona's GiftStrega Nona's Gift by Tomie dePaola

This book doesn't have the usual charm of a Strega Nonna story. Half the book is an overview of Christmas customs in Italy. Most of them haven't crossed the Atlantic with our ancestors! (We just celebrate La Vigilia). Then the story really begins and it ends quickly. Big Anthony always means well but this time he was told something and did what he was not supposed to do for selfish reasons. Strega Nonna never finds out. I didn't like her gift. It seemed a little cruel though everyone seemed to enjoy it.

The Snowman and the SnowdogThe Snowman and the Snowdog by Joanna Harrison

A boy moves into a new home and in his eagerness to explore, he discovers an old hat, a scarf, a shriveled tangerine and some coal hidden in his new room, along with a photo of a boy and a snowman. The boy builds his own snowman just like the one in the photo. For good measure, he adds a snowdog. The snow duo come to life in a magical adventure.

Warning! The dog dies on page 2! This story has words to go with the pictures and therefore kind of lacks the simple charm of the original. The story is magical and fantastical-more so than the original. It is a sweet homage though. The pictures are more rounded and cutesy than Raymond Briggs' original illustrations but they're charming and cute.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Saturday, March 25, 2017

What I Read in December 2016 Part VII . . .

What I Read in December 2016 Part VII . . .

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit (Emmaline Truelove, #1)A Most Extraordinary Pursuit by Juliana Gray--Historical Mystery

The Duke of Olympia has passed away and with him, the old century seems to have died. Miss Emmeline Rose Truelove is uncertain about what the rest of the 20th century will bring now her beloved employer has passed on. Worried about her future, Emmeline is visited by an apparition of the late Queen (Victoria), who advises Emmeline to refuse the request of the Dowager Duchess. Emmeline is quite stubborn, much like the queen, and though she knows not what the request may be, she knows she has to accept. Emmeline is shocked to learn the Dowager Duchess wants her to go after the long lost heir, Maximilian Haywood, in Crete- in the winter. She is to be accompanied by notorious rake, Lord Silverton. The voyage to find Max will bring Emmeline in close proximity with Silverton, a man who makes his intentions very clear. The Queen is not amused and neither is Emmeline. When they arrived in Greece, they discover a mystery much greater and worrisome than they ever expected. Something sinister is afoot, but what is it and why is someone evil after them?

The story is sort of a parallel of the Greek myths of the Minotaur and Theseus. It involves time traveling bandits, mythology come to life and a huge suspension of disbelief. All this colors my opinion of the book. If I had known about the supernatural elements in advance, I probably wouldn't have read this book - maybe... I REALLY can't stand time travel and I'm not a fan of supernatural stories. The intrusion of the villains into the well-ordered Edwardian lives really jarred me out of the story. The language is a real problem. Is there another way to convey modern unsavory characters without resorting to the F- word? It's not fully written out but it's vulgar just the same. As a certain Dowager Duchess said "Vulgarity is no substitute for wit." Another thing that really annoyed me was little wink winks about Titanic and Downton Abbey.

The plot was very engaging once Emmeline and Freddie, Lord Silverton, got to Greece. I had a hard time putting it down but I was able to do it. I wasn't crazy about the romance element but the main character had sizzling chemistry shown, rather than told, through banter and I did like that. The secondary romance was completely bizarre and unexpected. It eventually dawned on me that the story was going to parallel the myth but the plot did not make any sense at all. I am sure Emmeline would never believe it if she hadn't seen it with her own eyes. The villains also left more questions than answers. There are even more questions created by Max's field of study, his uniqueness and the Institute itself. I assume these questions will continue and be revealed gradually.

The romance plots themselves are clean but this book would be rated TV-14 for dialogue, language, sex and violence. Lord Silverton is a rake and women fall at his feet. He has no problems taking a woman to bed and anything he does with them is behind clothes doors except for one brief mention of nudity and a whole lot of discussion that makes Emmeline blush. Then there's the Greek myth which also tells a tale of violence and passion.

I really liked Emmeline. I could relate to her very well. Mostly no-nonsense and practical, Emmeline has had a sheltered life living among Society but is not OF Society. She's aware of her position in life and how she needs to work for a living. She isn't pretentious or social climbing. She's also a hopeless romantic. I can relate to that too. She isn't very worldly but she knows enough to not fall for a man like Silverton. However, Silverton is not quite your typical rake. He reveals his innermost feelings and wishes to Emmeline and no one else, which made me quite like him. I was sort of rooting for him to succeed in wooing her but his actions throughout the story are opposite of his words. Emmeline values what she can see and what she sees is an unrepentant rake.

The secondary characters are numerous and none of them really play a large role in most of the story except for Queen Victoria and Emmeline's father. Her father is kind and loving and wants what's best for his daughter. The main secondary characters are Mr. Higganbothom, a scholar, who has a deep interest in some mysterious photos in Emmeline's possession. He may or may not be what he seems. Then there's Max. Max is introduced very late in the story. He seems like a nice fellow, a bit absent-minded maybe, with a very big heart. I don't really understand what he does or what happens to him because this story is clearly not a stand-alone. The third main secondary character is the mysterious woman. I don't get why every man falls in love with her. I understand the rescue complex. She is not very nice and I found her insufferable.

I may have to keep reading this series so I get answers to the questions but it's not really my favorite kind of read.

Read this if you love Tasha Alexander, Deanna Raybourn and Lauren Willig

What I Read in December 2016 Part VI . . .

What I Read in December 2016 Part VI . . .

Mischief Season: A Twins StoryMischief Season: A Twins Story by John Bemelmans Marciano, illustrated by Sophie Blackall--Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Emilio and Rosa are twins living on a farm outside the village of Benevento, an ancient town famous for its witches! Mysterious and bad things are happening on the farm. Rosa blames the Janara, the witches but Papa blames Rosa! Rosa has blamed witches on her own laziness one too many times. Papa doesn't want to hear another word about Janara. The twins and their cousins set out to find out how to stop the Janara.

This is a really cute story. The introduction by the demons explains the different types of witches in Benevento. The charming illustrations show the village as it looked even before the time of my great-grandparents who were from a nearby village. The plot moves quickly. At first it's ambiguous whether the mischief is Rosa's laziness or something supernatural but it soon becomes clear which it is. Very little overlaps with Primo's story so it doesn't feel repetitive when read out of order. I wasn't crazy about Rosa. She's lazy and eager to blame anyone else for her slacking. Not that I'm not lazy but I found her a little naughty, like her cousin Primo. Emilio is much more level headed! Amerigo Peg-leg and Zia Pia add to the quirky old world charm of this story.

This series is best for kids 8+. My second grade niece can read some of it herself and is eager to try on her own. Her 3 year old brother finds it too scary.

The All-Powerful Ring: A Primo StoryThe All-Powerful Ring: A Primo Story by John Bemelmans Marciano, illustrated by Sophie Blackall--Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Lazy Primo discovers a gold ring hidden inside a fish. He becomes convinced the ring is magic and will save him from the evil witch known as the Manalonga. He tries any number of things to prove the ring is magic but his annoying sister and cousins always seem to intervene. Then something horrid happens and proves to Primo the ring is magic, or is it? You must read Maria Beppina's book to get her side of the story.

This is a cute story for early middle-grade readers. Primo is a little naughty, a lot lazy and believes in superstition in order to avoid responsibility. Or is he? For children, Primo will be a likeable character and they will believe firmly in what they're told is happening. Adults might question whether there are such things as witches and adults might find Primo a not very good role model for their children. The plot engaged my attention enough to read it all in one sitting. I wish my Nonnie was still alive to ask her about the Manalonga, et. al. She grew up in a village very near Benevento about 100 years later.

The best part of the book is the illustrations. They are incorporated into the story as part of the book and not just to point out a few key scenes. The illustrations are so charming and fun. I also really liked the letter from the magical being that lends some credence to the villagers' superstitions. There's also a historical note and witch glossary in the back.

Beware the Clopper!Beware the Clopper! by John Bemelmans Marciano, illustrated by Sophie Blackall--Middle Grades Historical Fantasy

Maria Beppina likes living above her cousin Primo's family. It makes her feel like one of the family. Yet, she isn't sure her cousins actually like her. Maria Beppina is the odd duck in the family. She's the slowest runner, wears shoes and can read books. She is also very curious about The Clopper, the witch that chases children through the old Roman theater. Her father tells her to ignore such superstitions but Maria Beppina can't help but be curious. One day she decides to stop running ...

This is such a cute book. This is more of what I was expecting with Primo's story. There's a good dose of supernatural, which makes this story a little scary for young readers but I liked it. I was really curious as to what happened when Maria Beppina stopped running from The Clopper. I wasn't disappointed. The sweet story teaches a gentle lesson.

I really liked Maria Beppina. She's the sweetest of the cousins. I can relate to her being the slowest runner and the most bookish in a group. She seems to have a more gentle personality than the other girls. I liked the juxtaposition of her more citified father versus the superstitious villagers. I can relate to that because my great-grandmother was educated so I didn't grow up with the stereotypical Italian superstitions. (Though I do remember my great-aunt using an eel for warding off evil eye or something once). I wish my Nonnie was still alive to ask what some of the words mean. It was great to finally meet the demons who wrote the introduction! That was perplexing not to know who they were. My only complaint was the rehashing of what happened in Primo's story. It's both good- because this works as a stand alone- and bad, because I already read Book 2.

The illustrations in this series are so amazing! I just love the village. I wish I could show this book to my Nonnie. Like the twins she lived on a farm outside the main village. I wonder how much her village resembled the one in the illustrations. I like the full page illustrations and am curious to see how the framed ones go together like a puzzle. I can easily picture my ancestors now.

I can't wait to read the rest of the series and have my dad read these to my nieces and nephews.

What I Read in December 2016 Part V . .

What I Read in December 2016 Part V . . .

The Cryptographer (Second Sons, #1)The Cryptographer by Alice Wallis-Eton--Regency Romance (Kindle Freebie)

Aster Tanner works as secretary to Sir John at the Royal Arsenal. At first glance people think she's a maid. A second glance reveals she is a clerk filing away paperwork and orders for new supplies for the army. What no one outside the office knows is Sir John is a renowned cryptographer. With Napoleon on the loose, Sir John has his work cut out for him cracking secret codes so Wellington and his men can intercept and stop Napoleon. What no one besides Sir John knows is Aster often helps him with his work. She loves to exercise her mind and make order of the codes. When Sir John hints at the existence of a list of names of traitors, Aster is intrigued but knows such a code can never be cracked without a key. Major Lord Iain MacIntyre of the Scots Greys is given a mission. Find the French spy and find the list. Bored kicking his heels in Scotland, Iain ignores his father's orders to return home and take up estate management, Iain and his closest mates head to a sleepy village outside London to ferret out a traitor. He is shocked to discover Aster working in a cryptographer's office. Why is a lady working at all? What business has she there? Could she be the French spy? His physical senses say no but his brain says nothing about her makes sense. There's only one way to make her tell all-charm her into submission!

3 stars dropped from 4 because this turned out to be a Regency Historical and not Traditional Regency. There is too much feeling and lusting going on here and way way too much graphic content. The story was going great for a long time except for the hero's constant longing for Aster but quickly when downhill. There's one scene where the heroine explores her sexuality, a lot of violence and a love scene. I wouldn't have minded a fade to black love scene. In this instance it felt right EXCEPT FOR the usual misunderstanding that follows. That drives me crazy! I really don't need to be in the characters' heads. In fact I skipped over it and didn't miss it.

I really liked the concept of the novel. A female cryptographer? That's something new. It sounds plausible since Aster signs her name A. Tanner. I got caught up in the mystery of the list. I had to stay up late and finish this novel to find out, though the villain was obvious. Iain figured it out but needed confirmation. I was vastly disappointed that the story didn't conclude satisfactorily. I don't really want to read the next two books in the series to find out what happens to the villain. (More points taken away).

Aster is a really neat heroine. She's brilliant, she's tough, resilient, strong and best of all, a terrier lover. Her brilliant mind was so intriguing and I would have liked to try to solve some of the codes she breaks. She's intelligent enough to crack codes faster than most men. Aster enjoys her job but she also longs for love and family. She's a bit vulnerable in that respect and Iain's constant attentions discomfit her. I disliked her frequent blushing. I much preferred her relationship with Quinn. Aster's dog Macdougal, is my favorite character in the whole novel. Scottish terriers were my first love and the author nailed their personality. He's a fierce rodent hunter but will work for bribes; he's fiercely protective of his owner yet can be bought with food and attention. He has all the humans wrapped around his paw just like a certain fierce vermin hunting, people food loving terrier I knew and loved (and miss very very much).

I hate to say it but I really didn't like Iain. He has issues. He claims he never expected to inherit, he may not inherit for a long time- his father is hale and healthy- yet in a time period when anything could kill you, spare heirs shouldn't count their freedom before his older brother has a son or two or three. He refuses to see where his father is coming from and won't even acknowledge his duties and responsibilities. All he cares about is the army. He's kind of a brat at first. He kept wondering why a lady would work when the answer was obvious in the way she dresses. Why does he assume she is a lady anyway? Why WOULD a lady work? For the same reasons a man would, of course! This thought apparently never crosses his mind. Obviously everyone is born with a silver spoon in their mouth with no need to work. Yet, he needs to work because he has been a second son until a few months ago! I also really didn't like the way he set out to charm Aster. He deliberately dallied with her and oh well if she turns out to be an actress or a spy, at least he had some fun and can bed her without conscience. Quinn has more luck drawing her out simply by being a friend. Iain doesn't undergo significant character growth soon enough to please me.

My favorite male human character is Quinn. He's very sweet and acts just like a brother. I grew to love him as Aster did. I was hoping he would get his own chance at love in another novel and see he is the hero of the second book. I also loved Sir John. His OCD would drive me crazy but he's very kind to Aster, very amiable and above all - loyal. I loved him for all his good qualities. His plot takes an unexpected turn.

While I liked the concept of the novel, a lot of the execution left a lot to be desired. I'm glad this was a Kindle freebie. It would make a far better Traditional Regency where the hero and heroine work together to solve a mystery and the romance blossoms as a secondary plot.

The Unwilling Miss WatkinThe Unwilling Miss Watkin by Regina Scott--Regency Romance

Jareth Darby has returned from exile in Italy in order to reform his reputation and earn some money. Before his disapproving older brother Justinian will hand over the reins to Cheddar Cliffs, Jareth must make amends to the ladies he wronged in the past. Easy peasy! The ladies seem willing to forgive him, all except Eloise Watkin, the one he let get away in his callow youth. Eloise is furious. How dare Jareth return now? Five years ago when she was a 15-year-old schoolgirl, she fell madly in love with Jareth Darby. Eloise would have done anything for him, even give up her virtue in a hayloft. She nearly did until they were interrupted by a vengeful classmate, Cleo Renfield (The Irredeemable Miss Renfield). Jareth disappeared without a trace, leaving Eloise alone to face the consequences. She has spent a lot of time over the last year trying to make amends herself and now she is on the verge of a successful match. Should she settle for marriage without love or forgive Jareth for ruining her life? Is he really reformed?

This is a revised version of Regina Scott's early book Utterly Devoted. I put off reading it because I HATED Jareth in The Mistletoe Kitten and I really didn't care for Eloise in The Irredeemable Miss Renfield. However, when Regina Scott said this book was one of her most highly acclaimed books and her personal favorite hero, I had to try it. I can't say I loved it, there are a few problems with it, but I didn't hate it.

This book still needs editing. There are some minor typos in the Smashwords edition. The phrase "utterly devoted" is uttered way way way too many times (see what I did there). Given the revised title of the book, it did not need to appear more than once or twice. The plot was boring. It was fairly straightforward. The "villain" is a minor one without evil intent. The concluding events were over-the-top cheesy and heartwarming. I found the whole drama rather unrealistic.

I did like the parts where Eloise tests Jareth. The best test is when Eloise makes Jareth come to a home for reforming prostitutes to teach them how to resist being seduced. It's funny, sweet and very sad at the same time. If you think the Regency era was fun and lovely, read that section of the book.

I still don't like Jareth. I can't forgive him easily. He made a crude comment about Norrie, he seduced a teenage girl (thinking she was a teacher, but what gave him the right to seduce a teacher?) without a second thought. He's paid his price and he has grown up a lot. He has his good points but he just isn't the reformed rake for me. Eloise is also not my favorite. She wasn't very nice and now she's a saint. She's complicated. She had her heart broken and now she's built up walls Jareth intends to break down. She can't make up her mind whether to forgive Jareth or not yet she believes him when he tries to explain his behavior. That sounds like forgiveness to me. The one thing that bothers me about their relationship is that he is still hiding something from her at the end and he doesn't tell her where he intends to live or how he'll make money. She assumes he's wealthy and living with his brother.

I loved the cameos from Norrie, Cleo and Margaret, now all happily married. If you haven't read the previous books in the series, this one tells you who they marry (which is pretty obvious anyway but just in case you didn't want to know- beware!) I felt really bad for Portia. She's the main secondary character. She doesn't have a backstory but it's obvious what her backstory is from her actions. She shows Eloise what her life would have been like without Cleo.

I'm glad I completed the series finally, if only to see how the previous characters are faring.

What I Read in December 2016 Part IV. . .

What I Read in December 2016 Part IV . .

Christmas PuddingChristmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford--Historical Fiction

Paul Fotheringay is in despair. He has just written a best-selling novel! The problem? Everyone thinks his novel is so funny when it was meant to be tragic. He is in search of a new book and hits upon the idea of publishing work about a 19th century ancestress of Lady Bobbin, permission for which Lady Bobbin has soundly refused. Her irrepressible son Bobby finds a way to sneak Paul into Crompton Bobbin. His sister, Philadelphia, is stuck in the country bored to death and longing for romance. Sally and Walter Montheath are new parents and poor and need a little break. Luckily, their friend ex-lady of the evening, Amabelle Fortescue, has invited all her friends to a Christmas gathering at her rented country home Mulberrie- right near Crompton Bobbin. The characters lives intersect and they interact with unpredictable and amusing results.

This is a witty story about upper crust English men and women in the vein of Jane Austen. The writing is not so sophisticated or smooth as dear Jane's; nor does the story really speak to me or bear any relevance to my life. I enjoyed it as amusing, mostly mindless fun. The plot moves slowly- it's not an action filled story and there are way too many characters to keep track of. I kept forgetting who was who. None of them were all that appealing. The passages from Lady Maria's diary were a scream! Paul's reaction to them is amusing from the perspective of the reader.

The main character, if there is one, is Paul Fotheringay, a depressed writer in search of inspiration. He doesn't have much drive and is very passive. He let a teenager plan his life for him. I didn't care for his lack of backbone in dealing with a tricky situation. The next most prominently featured character is Bobby Bobbin, Lady Bobbin's son home from Eton for the holidays. He's crazy, irresponsible, selfish and massively irritating. Every scene he's in he is trying to thwart his mother, as all teens try to. Life is one big game to him. He doesn't experience any character growth. His sister Philadelphia is as dutiful and morose as Bobby is full of joie de vivre. I don't blame her. I think I would be depressed too if I had her life. She's not very bright and has high expectations placed on her. I liked how she thought she knew her own mind but didn't like how her story ended up.

Lady Bobbin is a disagreeable, eccentric tyrant. She's awful to her children and not really interested in her neighbors except when they come to hunt. With an outbreak of Hoof and Mouth disease, the hunting season is postponed. There is also the recent troubles (Great Depression) which put a damper on how things should be done. She's a terrible mother and completely out of touch with the world.

Amabelle is the matchmaker of the group. Married three times already, she isn't interested in marriage herself but likes to see others happy. She thinks she knows what's best for everyone. She has some good insights into the characters' personalities and marriage which I found interesting. I don't know if I would agree with her.

Some of the views expressed in this book are outdated but not excessive. The story is not as amusing as a P.G. Wodehouse romp and the only thing Christmas about it is the time of year it takes place. Fans of the English country house novel will enjoy this one.

Christmas Pudding and Pigeon PieChristmas Pudding and Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford--Historical Fiction

Pigeon Pie takes place during the early days of World War I. The main character, Lady Sophia Garfield, a Bright Young Thing, has been disillusioned in life. She's fallen out of love with her husband and he only sees her as a trophy wife to show off to his business colleagues. To make matters worse, he's fallen in with some weird religious cult from Boston and installed them in their home. Her lover has no thoughts of marriage, but that's fine because Sophia can't bring herself to be divorced, remarried and poor. When war is declared, Sophia thinks she knows exactly what it will be like. At first the reality is much different from expectations: a boring desk job instead of nursing and barely any fighting at all. Then she accidentally discovers a secret that could change the course of the war and bring Britain to her knees.

This story started off reaaaallly slow. It had too much telling and not enough showing. The first half or so is mostly exposition. Then when the plot picks up, it really picks up. I couldn't put it down. I did find it rather obvious and felt that some suspension of disbelief has to happen here, but that's what makes it almost funny. I say almost because it is a story about war. Sophia's inner monologues are funny (unintentionally on her part) and her godfather, Sir Ivor King aka "The King of Song" is a hoot.

The characters are hard to like. Sophia is trapped in a dull marriage. She's completely clueless about anything and her thought process sometimes sounds like a child's. Sophia is very shallow and thus happy or content. She isn't exactly a memorable heroine but she becomes a bit stronger and more interesting at the end. Her husband, Luke, is insanely boring and pompous. He has erroneous opinions about Germany and is as clueless as Sophia sometimes. His attraction to Florence and her bizarre cult is strange. Sophia's lover Rudolph isn't much of a lover. As boring and pompous as Luke us, Rudolph is carefree, happy and really bad at reading people and situations. He doesn't really care much about Sophia. I don't know why they are together. Sophia's rival, "Olga Gogothsy" (fka Baby Baggs) is a stereotypical catty rich woman who always wants to be the center of attention. I didn't like her any more than Sophia did.

My favorite character is Sir Ivor. He's as three-dimensional as Nancy Mitford could make him in this early novel of hers. I can easily picture him and hear him. He is the comic relief character. My love for him only increases as the story goes on. I also loved Millie, the French Bulldog. She's so cute!

I had a bit of a hard time reading some of the propaganda and period viewpoints in this book. There's more than the pre-war story because of the war situation and it's hard to read about the war in hindsight knowing what we know now. That shouldn't stop anyone from trying to read this story though. If you can make it past the first four chapters, the story picks up a bit in Chapter 5. 

The Romance of a Christmas CardThe Romance of a Christmas Card by Kate Douglas Wiggin--Historical Fiction

In Beulah, New Hampshire, one Christmas Eve, Reba Larabee, the minister's wife, is struck with inspiration seeing her friend Letty sitting by an open window keeping watch over her twin nephews. Reba intends to draw a picture of Letty's quaint sitting room and sell it to a greeting card company. Letty has been burdened with the care of one family member after another for most of her life. For the last three years she has had the care of her wayward brother David's twin babies. Unwanted and unloved by their father, Letty does her best but she wishes David would show some interest in his own sons. As the months change and Christmas rolls around again, surprises are in store for the good folks of Beulah.

This is a sweet Christmas tale very similar in vein to Lucy Maud Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott's children's stories. This one is an adult story, told from the perspective of adults, but with all the wholesomeness of the children's stories. It's a little less preachy than children's stories but still tells the tale of the prodigal son. The plot is predictable except the story ended sooner than I wanted it to.

I really liked Reba. She seems to have shaken up the town a bit with her energy and liveliness. She and her husband have such a sweet, loving relationship. I felt bad for Letty. She never has an opportunity to be selfish or do anything for herself. The townspeople are amusing for all their narrow-mindedness. They're very much flatter versions of Lucy Maud Montgomery's staunch Presbyterian Prince Edward Islanders.

The illustrations are beautiful. This edition has a couple of lovely color plates in addition to black and white drawings. The cover image is important to the story.

If you like Victorian moral tales, you will probably enjoy this one too.

What I Read in December 2016 Part III. . .

What I Read in December 2016 Part III. . .

A Suitable Wife (Ladies in Waiting, #2)A Suitable Wife (Ladies in Waiting #2) by Louise M. Gouge-- Inspirational Regency Romance

Lady Beatrice Gregory has been forced to seek employment as a companion in London due to her wastrel brother's immoral ways. Mrs. Parton has kindly taken Beatrice in but she doesn't treat Beatrice like a companion- more like the daughter of an Earl that Beatrice actually is. When Beatrice meets Mrs. Parton's neighbor, Lord Greystone, she's drawn to him because he seems to share her values. Greystone is striving hard to be the man his mother wants him to be and not the wicked man his father was. However, since a recent bout of illness, Greystone has been drawn more towards Christ's teachings and Christian charity. He has ideas about charity and educating the poor that his mother simply doesn't share. His mother would NOT approve of his growing interest in Lady Beatrice Gregory. Her brother is entirely unacceptable and his loss of his sister's dowry makes her ineligible to be the wife of any good man of the ton. Her brother's solution is to marry her off to his ... friend... Rumbold, a scoundrel of the first degree if there ever was one. Beatrice has no wish to marry without love and she fears her heart is taken, but will Lord Greystone ever marry a mere impoverished companion?

I started this book months ago and read a chapter or two at a time at the library before work. I realized early on the book wasn't worth bringing home. The plot has the tired old gambling brother story, which here takes center stage as the old story of the Prodigal Son becomes the prodigal brother. There's an added subplot about climbing boys, which I actually found the most interesting and one sanctimonious, priggish hero. The story started off well enough. I liked Lady Beatrice and her mischievous employer, who was obviously playing matchmaker from the get go. Lady Beatrice and Greystone have a good connection at first and the praying is kept to a minimum.

As the story went on, I began to intensely dislike Greystone. He's as priggish as he believes Lord Winston to be- even more so, since Greystone is a lot less confident and more snobbish. Greystone tries hard to rely on his religion as the solution to all his problems. Have a problem? Ask the Lord for help. Greystone is also constantly battling self-doubts. He's worried he will become as cruel as his father whenever he becomes angry or shows any spark of emotion. He can not possibly take a wife until he is convinced he will not turn out like his father. He tried to be sympathetic to a situation with a maid, but I thought the solution was pretty harsh. He was very kind to the climbing boys but he distanced himself from them by sending them off to his charity school. This action is more in keeping with a peer of the time than his religious convictions. From what I understand, religion was at this time, mostly out for members of the haut ton but would soon becomes in again as dissenting religions gained popularity during the Victorian period. However, for this particular character, the actions seemed unkind and unnecessarily harsh. Towards the end he takes some action and I liked the action sequence.

The villain was very very bad. He can not possibly redeem himself because he doesn't know Christ. However, Beatrice's brother only has to rediscover his religious teachings to realize he has behaved badly. This sort of thinking annoys me. His redemption seemed a little too quick and easy after being dissipated for so long. His character didn't really develop or grow slowly over time. He could have realized his ways without religion. He could have asked for help from Greystone, which would have made his development more interesting. Gambling and alcoholism are diseases that can't be fixed by praying for help or change. We know this now and so I think Melly would need more help than just discovering the error of his ways and rediscovering religion.

The historical details seem well done. I've read about climbing boys in Arabella and other Regency novels and what happens here seems to be accurate as far as Heyer's research. There's an especially gritty and sad scene towards the end that shows what life was like for women who did not have wealth or family background to protect them.

I've read other Inspirational Regency set novels and this one is just too heavy handed for me. I prefer more character growth and personal action.

Father ChristmasFather Christmas by Barbara Metzger--Regency Romance

The Duke of Ware needs an heir - and is not happy about it. If only there was some way to have the joy of raising on heir, without nannies and servants, without having to get leg shackled. That is a prospect that does NOT appeal to Leland Warrington When in his cups he hits upon the idea of adopting one of his late cousin's twin boys. The elder of the two is his heir unless he sires children of his own- which he won't be! When Graceanne Warrington reads the Duke's letter she is incensed! Take one of her sweet babies away? Never! (The entire village is hoping the Duke will take both devilish boys). Her Papa, a vicar dependant on the Duke for his living, thinks it is a tremendous opportunity for little Wellesley. Graceanne thinks over her dead body. When the Duke arrives in the village, Graceanne gives him a piece for her mind and her foot. Not only does this libertine want her baby, her wants her body! Graceanne would die rather than succumb this this man's wicked ways or let her sweet baby boy be turned into a wicked rake. However, she doesn't count on Leland's considerable charm. The three-year-old twins adore their new Cousin Collie and her sister Prudence can't stop batting her eyelashes. Is Graceanne the only one who sees the Duke's true colors - or is she mistaken?

This is not Barbara Metzger's best work, in my opinion. She did the same story, more or less, is short story form in one of the Christmas anthologies. I liked the shorter version better. This one goes on too long and has too many plot elements to keep it novel length. The story suffers as a results. There's the rakish hero, the young widow, and children plot; her strict pious Papa plot; her spoiled, headstrong younger sister plot - all bookended with Christmas celebrations. The Christmas scenes end up a bit repetitive but I liked learning about the Christmas traditions and gifts given. At least I would have if I didn't already know about them. Christmas just didn't charm me when here it is mostly about the selfish hero.

Instead of an amusing animal companion, she has a pair of mischievous 3-4 year old twins. My nephews are 3 and 4 and while they are loud and sometimes crazy, they're not like the boys in the book. However, my cousins probably would have been if they were closer in age. I didn't find the boys charming at all or as amusing as the usual animal companion. The boys were too young to be truly mischievous. Their antics are mostly told after the fact.

Leland is not an appealing hero. He starts off as a bit of a bully but he's kind to the children. He's generous with Graceanne but then in the misunderstanding section, he turns into a jerk again. I didn't like that he went off with a new mistress and had an intended after he fell in love with the heroine. He lusts after Graceanne more than truly loves and appreciates her.

I liked Graceanne. She's strong mentally and physically, and though she has a blind spot where her sons are concerned, she's a loving mother. I liked her attempts at making a merry Christmas despite her father's strictures. The way she handled her sister is admirable. I would have just slapped Pru for being a nitwit and then lectured her on being so incredibly stupid. Pru may be naive but she understand what she was doing more or less. Her plot is really unnecessary and just creates a big misunderstanding that doesn't really make sense. Mr. Beckwith is a horrible father. He's more selfish than even Leland and doesn't care at all about his family. His piety is just a front. He doesn't come across as sincere- just a bully who thinks she can tell everyone what to think and do. He believes he speaks for God. His wife had all my sympathy.

This book is technically a kisses only romance but there is a fair amount of sensuality. It's not as much as some of her later books though. There's also quite a bit of language here and the usual talk of mistresses/opera dancers/lightskirts, etc. and an unplanned pregnancy.