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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Review of A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James


A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James

I am seriously going to have to enter a 12-step program to get over my addiction to A Duke of Her Own. I cannot stop re-reading this sucker. I just re-read it for the third time in a matter of weeks.

It doesn't look like anything special (cheesy pastel romance cover).

It doesn't sound like anything special (book blurb on the back turned me off--I hate books where the hero is trying to choose between 2 women, and the whole duel thing sounds trite).

But Holy Christ On A Crutch, this book is pretty damned close to flawless. The only other time I have finished a novel and thought, this is a totally perfectly written, constructed, and characterized book, was when I finished Loretta Chases' Lord of Scoundrels. A Duke of Her Own has everything that I adore in a historical romance...incredible characters, a beautiful story, lots of humor, sexy interludes that create a nice slow burn throughout the novel, and a wonderfully satisfying ending. 

Thank you, Eloisa James for the most exquisite dialogue, with banter so sharp it cuts like a knife. The dialogue between the hero and heroine is wicked, funny, sexy --it literally sparkles with energy. In fact, in my not so humble opinion, James' dialogue is right up there among the best written in a historical romance novel. 

Thank you, Ms. James, for a perfectly constructed novel....the pacing is perfect, the characters are original, the writing is flawless. 

Thank you, Ms. James, for creating Villiers...a flamboyant, and yet very masculine, smart, fascinating, commanding, sexy hero.

Thank you for Eleanor, who is one of my favorite heroines ever! I love the scene in the orphanage where she kicks butt. I love the scene with Mrs. Busy where she is caressing her riding crop while kicking butt. I love the scene where she is plopped on the floor in her beautiful gown, playing knucklebones with Villier's bastard son, and growing more competitive by the minute! I love....well, every scene. But the scene at the end of the book with Oyster her pug is so freaking great, that I think I have re-read that scene about twenty times (so far). Absolutely. Wonderful. Thank you!

Thank you to all of the readers and reviewers who recommended this book, so that I read it in spite of the cheesy cover and off-putting book blurb, including Carolyn Hughe's Romance Reviews

This book is part of a series, which I found rather uneven. However, this book can totally stand alone (although to truly appreciate the depth of Villier's chess obsession, you may want to read the others in the series, too). Eloisa James definitely saved the best for last, because A Duke of Her Own is perfection. Grade: A+++++ (OK, just one plus!)

Happy Back To School To All, and To All, A Good Night (I've got Santa on the brain! hee hee), 
Penelope

Thursday, August 27, 2009

RELEASE DATE FOR SWEET INSPIRATION...WOO HOO!


I got some very, very, very, very good news last night. I have been anxiously awaiting the release date for my first novel, Sweet Inspiration, which will be published in e-format by The Wild Rose Press. I was hoping it would be published for this Christmas season (it's a holiday story about the eldest son of Santa Claus who is a master pastry chef!). The official release date is 12-2-09! Yee haw, baby! Merrrrrrry Christmas, Everyone! In celebration of this glorious news, I decided to print an excerpt from my book. 

First, here's the book blurb.....

SWEET INSPIRATION by Penny Watson

What if the legend of Santa Claus is in fact, true? What if Santa has five big strapping sons who help him run his empire? Five single, sexy sons looking for romance...

Nicholas Klaus is a master pastry chef, a strict disciplinarian, and the eldest son of the legendary Santa Claus. One look at cafe owner Lucy Brewster sends him into an unexpected tailspin of lusty desires. When Lucy is injured, Nicholas makes a decision that catapults both of their lives into turmoil....

Lucy Brewster, the free-spirited proprietor of Sweet Inspiration, has a flair for concocting sugary confections but no time for adventure. She gets more than she bargained for when she awakens in the North Pole...rambunctious elves, a fitness-obsessed Santa, and the man of her dreams. Does she have what it takes to become the next Mrs. Klaus?


*****

EXCERPT FROM SWEET INSPIRATION

Nicholas carefully folded his coat over the back of a café chair and watched Lucy giggle with the children, as the puppy (lucky bastard) licked her face like an ice cream cone.  He could barely contain his irritation.

            First of all, a dog had no place in a dining establishment. What the hell was the woman thinking?  Secondly, if a customer attempted a last-minute order change, Nicholas would firmly instruct him that all orders were final five days prior to the gathering.  How could one efficiently run a kitchen without rules?  Thirdly, and most importantly, Nicholas could smell gingerbread.  Cookies.  And they were burning.  Lucy was oblivious.  And her young assistant with the nose ring was leaning over the front counter watching the puppy, utterly clueless about the impending culinary disaster.

            Nicholas tapped his foot impatiently, waiting for someone to remember the cookies.  He knew by the scent that the cookies were browning, probably a bit too dark around the edges.  Still waiting.  Now the assistant was snuggling with the puppy, and an old man was regaling Lucy with some ridiculous story.  Oh, the hell with it. 

            Nicholas marched into the kitchen, which was surprisingly clean, found a pair of oven mitts shaped like Laurel and Hardy, and removed the cookies from the oven.  He found wire racks in a cupboard and lined them up on the counter.  Although the cookies were a tad dark, they were still salvageable.  Thanks to him.  Using a spatula, he carefully transferred each gingerbread man to cool on the racks.  He washed and dried his hands at the sink, and turned around to find Lucy and her nose-pierced assistant staring at him in disbelief.

            Lucy stepped up to him, hands on her hips.  “Just what do you think you’re doing in my kitchen?  I don’t remember inviting you in here!” Lucy asked him incredulously. 

            “Yeah!” added the assistant.  Clearly not the brightest bulb on the planet.

            “Since you and your assistant were too busy to tend to the kitchen, and an entire order of gingerbread was about to go up in smoke, I thought I would lend a helping hand.  No need to thank me.”  Nicholas smiled and raised his left eyebrow in a manner his brother Sven insisted was infuriating.

            “Thank you?  Kandy and I are more than capable of looking after the kitchen.  We do not need your help, Mr....?”

            “Klaus.  Nicholas Sebastian Klaus.  Is your assistant really named Candy?  How... charming.”

            “It’s Kandy Kane, with a K, not a C.  I’m a performance artist.”  The young woman gave him a rather lukewarm smile.

            “Fascinating.”  Nicholas turned to Lucy, who looked ready to murder him.  Good going, Nick, how are you supposed to seduce her now?

            “I run my own kitchen up north.  I assumed you wouldn’t mind a little help, since you were...momentarily distracted.  Have I told you that your sugar cookies are divine?  They are, truly.  I was wondering if we could discuss the subtle flavor profile...”

            Lucy crossed her arms, glaring at him.  “Mr. Klaus, while I appreciate your concern for my cookies, I can assure you I do not need any more help in my kitchen.  Why don’t you sit down with a cup of cocoa, and I’ll bring you some gingerbread cookies.  Nice and dark, just the way I like them.”  And then Miss Lucy Anne Brewster raised her right eyebrow in an utterly patronizing manner.  Nicholas simply could not help himself.  He raised his eyebrow right back.  Two can play at this game.

            A young man rushed into the kitchen, grabbed the performance artist and began to thrust his oddly pierced tongue into her mouth.

            “Oh Kandy, can you ever forgive me?  Let’s get married right now.  Vegas, baby, what do you say?  I want our bambino to have a daddy.”  Nicholas noted that in addition to his creatively pierced face, tongue-boy also sported a nice assortment of tattoos, all of candy.  Peppermints, butterscotch balls, M-and-Ms, and of course, candy canes. 

            “Oh Ray, I missed you.”  Miss Kane began thrusting her tongue right back at him.

            Nicholas turned to Lucy.  “Ray?  That’s not too original.”

            Lucy shrugged.  “Ray, as in Ray-of-Sunshine.  They’re both performance artists.”  Then she turned to her assistant and tapped her on the shoulder.

            “Kandy, you are forbidden to leave me right now.  It’s the middle of our busiest season, and I need you.  You and Ray can get married after the new year...”

            “But I don’t want to wait, Miss Brewster.  I love him!”

            Ray licked the side of his girlfriend’s face, and both Nicholas and Lucy shuddered.  “Yeah, and I got tickets for us to see Celine Dion, your favorite, honey.”

            Lucy watched in disbelief as her assistant bundled up in a parka, plopped on a red Santa hat, and flew out the door with the gangly boy.  Nicholas bit his tongue to keep from laughing.  Served the woman right for hiring such a flake in the first place. 

            Leaning down close to Lucy’s ear, he whispered, “Need a new assistant?  I just happen to know the perfect gentleman for the job.”

*****

Please stop by and check out my Penny Watson website. I'll have updates soon with reviews and interviews. Happy days!

Penelope

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I'm Back!!!


I'm back from a very relaxing week in Rhode Island! I actually went kayaking for the first time in my life....loved it when I was kayaking with the current, not so hot when I was going against the current. Phew! My son perfected a hilarious impression of me attempting to get into the kayak without tipping, and plopping my big fat ass down into the seat! The whole family roared with glee at his antics....grumble, grumble. Well, I didn't tip, did I? Anyway, my bag o' books for vacation reading included The MacCarrick Brothers Trilogy by Kresley Cole (If You Dare, If You Desire, and If You Deceive--liked them a lot), 2 installments of the Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost, One Foot in the Grave and At Grave's End (loved them a lot), and finally Eloisa James' A Duke of Her Own, which was shockingly, amazingly, ridiculously wonderful. So good in fact, that I read it twice. Other books in this series have been a bit uneven for me, but this book was close to flawless. Reviews coming soon....

Big thanks to Victoria Morgan for her reviews of Love Walked In and The Time Traveler's Wife. It's always fun to get together with The Quirky Ladies and exchange books. We bring tote bags filled with books and share the love. Coming up this week....the forth book in the Huntress Series (Destined for an Early Grave) and the new Karen Marie Moning book, Dreamfever.  And, of course, back to school shopping. Last year when I took my daughter clothes shopping for kindergarten, she turned to me in the dressing room and said, "Mom, this is the best day of my life." Which basically does not bode well for my checking account this week. 

Friday, August 14, 2009

Guest Reviewer Victoria Morgan Checks Out Love Walked In


Victoria Morgan, historical romance author extraordinaire, talented artist, and fellow Quirky Lady member, has a second review for us this week. Thanks, Vicki! It's Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos. Thanks again to Vicki for entertaining us this week while I lounge on the beach!

*****

From: Victoria Morgan....


Another favorite romance of mine is Marisa de los Santos' Love Walked In. Set in Philadelphia, Cornelia Brown is young, hip and fun. A romantic, she's a fan of the old black and white movies such as The Philadelphia Story in which Cary Grant is her ideal man. The manager of a coffee shop, Cornelia's life changes one ordinary day when a man walks into her cafe. He's backlit by the autumnal late-morning sun as in a real Orson Welles shot. So begins Cornelia's relationship with Martin Grace, a Cary Grant charmer with whom Cornelia believes she in love. It is not until after Martin surprises Cornelia with an introduction to his 11 year old daughter, Clare, that Cornelia learns what true love really is.

Clare has been abandoned by her mother, a party planner suffering a mental breakdown. Brave and heart-wrenchingly courageous, Clare struggles to survive on her own before seeking her father's help. In a blind panic, Martin then turns to Cornelia. Toss Cornelia's gorgeous childhood friend, Teo, into the mix, and you have the ingredients for a delightful story rich in emotions that have you both laughing and crying.

The book is told in alternate chapters between Cornelia in first person and Clare in third person. Clare and Cornelia's characters complement each other, strengthening one another as they open their hearts to each other and to love.

The author is an award-winning poet, and you can hear her gift as she writes with a lyrical prose. The characters spring from the page, the dialogue is full of humorous banter, and the story is about the courage and bravery in dealing with life when it takes a detour and spins out of control.

Love Walked In is indeed a love story, but it's about finding love in many different situations and relationships. It's a remarkable story, and I give it a solid A. This book has a sequel, Belong to Me, but it didn't resonate with me as strongly as this edition. But that's for another blog.

Oh, and if Hollywood doesn't trash this script up, the movie rights have been purchased by Paramount and Sara Jessica Parker is slated to star in and co-produce the film.

As Penelope would say, let's lift our mango martinis in a toast to the hope that Hollywood doesn't muck this one up!

Victoria Morgan

*****

Thanks, Vicki for this awesome review. Do you realize both books you reviewed this week have characters named Clare? Hmmm....very interesting. Also, I cannot stand Sara Jessica Parker. Oy. The Hollywood-ization of our favorite books is not going well. Sounds like a good blog post! I'm off to get my mango martini and hopefully watch a beautiful sunset over the Narragansett Bay. Ciao!
Penelope

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Welcome Guest Reviewer Victoria Morgan: The Time Traveler's Wife



Since I am presumably away on vacation right now, watching my children boogie board on the Narragansett beaches, my fellow Quirky Lady Victoria Morgan is here to entertain my legions of fans (hee hee) with her review of The Time Traveler's Wife. Big thanks to Vicki for stepping up! Love ya, babe. And now, without further ado, here is the review.....

*****

From Victoria Morgan:

I love reading Penelope's chatty reviews and adding her top grade selections to my growing list of 'must reads,' so this is a privilege to share a favorite romance of mine.

I've chosen Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife due to its recent movie release--just in case the movie takes a wrong turn as so many books-to-movie scenarios do. I'm still having nightmares over what they did to Sophie Kinsella's Confessions of a Shopaholic... But that's for another blog titled "Why the hell does Hollywood buy the rights to a NYT bestseller only to chuck plot and characters that clearly worked, hence its bestseller status, and transform it into a watered-down, pathetic version of its former self, the title being the only connection to the original." What is up with that???? As Penelope would say, Jesus H. Canola.

Right.

I digress...back to the review I'm here to share.

Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife is one of my all time favorite love stories. From the very first line, I was sucked into this unconventional romance. The heroine, Clare, begins: "It's hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he's okay. It's hard to be the one who stays." And that was it. I was hooked, ready to ride out this unusual and extraordinary journey.

Set in Chicago, Clare and Henry's story begins with a bit of confusion as the reader works to unravel its strange timeline. The book is told in alternating points of view between Clare Abshire, an artist, and Henry DeTamble, a librarian and an involuntary time traveler. Henry suffers from Chrono Displacement Disorder, which means that he suddenly disappears only to find himself in the past or the future, alone and naked. He is usually dropped to a time of significance in his life. Sometimes, Henry assists his time traveling self during these strange passages.

When Henry first meets Clare, he's 28 and she's 20, and Clare exclaims that she's known Henry all her life, while Henry has no memory of Clare. It is not until he is in his forties and time travels back to meet a 6 year old Clare, that he understands her statement. Hence, the book's confusion as the reader works to understand its unconventional timeline, but it's well worth having the patience to do so.

The rewards are worth it. Niffenegger's writing is poetic at times and her story is clever, inventive and poignant. Henry and Clare are great characters, well drawn, brave and strong. They learn to appreciate what they have as they struggle to build a normal life, getting married, having a child and holding onto each other despite the disruptions wrought by Henry's abrupt disappearances.

Their wrenching love story pulls at your heart. It's about a love that is a prisoner of time, yet still triumphs. I give it an A+! Here's hoping that Hollywood does it justice and brings Clare and Henry alive for us. That would be a rare treat indeed.

Victoria Morgan

*****

Wow! This book sounds fantastic. Thanks so much to Vicki for this wonderful review. Not sure if you are all aware of this little tidbit, but Eric Bana is in the movie. That's right, Eric Bana. My number one source of inspiration. I was going to add some photos of Eric Bana from The Time Traveler's Wife, but I got irked that all of the photos also had Rachel McAdams in them, and her perky little face was grating on my nerves. Since I couldn't cut her out of the photo, I decided to just include some completely gratuitous photos of Eric from the movie Troy. (Right now Vicki is thinking...."What the ???????" hee hee...sorry, Vicki, I just couldn't help myself....)





Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Blast From The Past: No True Gentleman by Liz Carlyle


No True Gentleman by Liz Carlyle (2002)

This is one of my favorite re-reads. It is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! I am seriously in love with Maximilian de Rohan....how's that for a name! Dark, brooding, moody, sexy....yowzah! This book really transcends the romance genre...it is something much more than one would expect. Carlyle's prose is rich and nuanced, and this book is not a fast read-sort of romance novel. It needs to be savored like a fine wine, and it is well worth it. In the same way that I need to adjust to Annette Blair's unique style of writing each time I read one of her books, Carlyle's voice as a writer is also something unique and special. This is a romance novel for the intelligent, curious and demanding reader...just the way I like them!

Carlyle's characters are nothing short of amazing. The contrast between Max, the dark and introspective investigator, and Catherine, the proper English widow, is wickedly delicious. Everything about this book is spot-on...the structure of the story, the unfolding of the mystery, the revelations about the characters, and the masterful writing. The love story is at times wicked, touching, sensual, intense and emotional. Wow! It's absolutely amazing.

The secondary characters are also fascinating, and many have their own stories, also (although this book is by far my favorite). I must admit that there are quite a few romance novels that I find enjoyable to read, but I can't remember the character's names the next day. This one stays with you for a while. It is fascinating. I don't think this book is for everyone...some readers may find the pace too slow, the prose too rich...it is certainly a more complex book than many romance novels I have read. I honestly think this book is a treasure. I defy you to read this one and not fall madly in love with Max. He is not your typical romance hero, but he sure is a memorable one. Grade: A+
Perfectly pleased as punch,
Penelope

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mango Martinis and Romance Novels....A Great Combination!


I just made myself a delicious martini, compliments of Gauchos Churrascaria Brazilian Steak House on Commercial Street in Portland, Maine. (I loved this martini so much that I emailed the restaurant and Luz Nieves responded with this kick-ass recipe). By the way, if you live anywhere near the Portland, Maine area, I totally recommend this restaurant...it's a blast! Waiters wander around with huge slabs of meat on a spit and big scary knives, and then proceed to fill up your plate with melt-in-your-mouth beef (and other proteins)--vegetarians might want to avoid this place!!!!  Here's the recipe....

Mango Martini from Gauchos
2 oz. mango nectar
1 oz. mango rum
splash of cranberry
 
Drink it nice and frosty cold, and serve with a romance novel (or two). I am about to enjoy mine with an old favorite, No True Gentleman by Liz Carlyle. I have a feeling that when The Quirky Ladies taste this baby, it's going to be the signature drink for our writer's group. Very tasty!
Here's to a happy cocktail hour!
Penelope

Friday, August 7, 2009

Review of Mastered by Love by Stephanie Laurens


Mastered by Love by Stephanie Laurens
Nooooooooooo! Why, Stephanie, why?????

OK, to say that I am massively disappointed by this book would be an understatement. I have enjoyed the Bastion Club series quite a bit, although the last one (The Edge of Desire) was not my favorite, and some of them have felt repetitive, not unlike the Cynster series. However, Dalziel, the head of the spy organization in this series, was a really cool character. Dark, mysterious, brilliant, loyal. I was super excited for this final installment of the series. Finally, Laurens has a character she can really sink her writing chops into. Develop a cool story line with intrigue and danger. Create an amazing heroine who can match Dalziel with her intensity and cleverness. Did Laurens do these things?? Noooooooooooo!

Here are the reasons this book is in dire wall banger territory....
First of all, I realize that Laurens is recycling the same story and the same alpha male characters over and over again, but this time it has gone too far for me. A Fine Passion dealt with the exact same theme....father dying, coming home to take over the family estate, heroine already there running the show, etc. etc. I mean, come on!!!! With Dalziel's history, could Laurens not come up with something a little more interesting or original for a story? Jesus H. Canola. Also, right from the onset of this book, Dalziel comes off as a jerk. He wants to bed Minerva (whose name sounds like a shrivelled up ninety year old grandmother!) to "slake his terrible temper"????? What the....? He basically is a horny, self-absorbed ass. This is the incredible character who has saved countless lives, sacrificed so much for his men and country? I am so not buying this.

Also, reading Laurens' sex scenes is like chewing on a hunk of cardboard. Tasteless and boring. I just skip over them, frankly. They are all exactly the same, nothing original or sexy whatsoever. If the sex scenes in a romance novel are not sexy, this is basically the kiss o' death for the book. There is absolutely no spark, no chemistry here at all. It's pathetic. Dalziel is supposed to be so masterful, brooding, dark....should be easy to project these qualities into a sex scene, but it is not happening.

The worst disappointment is the story line. And it had so much potential. Laurens could have developed a dark and dangerous plot for this amazing character, but instead she plucked one of the most boring plots known to mankind. His dad died and he has to take over the dukedom. Some days he checks out bridges that need to be repaired. Some days, cottages that need to be repaired. Oh My God! This is the master spy leader!!!!!! And Minerva is no better. A competent chatelaine??? Great, wake me when it's over.....

And the unknown traitor!!! We have been waiting to discover his identity for so long....and he turns out to be a cuckoo cousin of Dalziel who is completely psychotic and babbling. What a bunch of horse shite. There is no way that this babbling buffoon would have been brilliant enough to avoid discovery during the war. And the worse part? Does Dalziel get to save the day? Nooooo.....Minvera, chatelaine extraordinaire, whips a knife out (which she just happens to have strapped to her thigh during her wedding day!!!!) and takes him out while Dalziel stands there. Crimeny. I am close to freaking speechless, and as you know, that is a rare occurrence in Penelope land.

I am most flabbergasted that many people think this book is good. I seriously cannot fathom it. I am usually pretty forgiving with my reviews and grades (grade inflation is alive and well at Penelope's!), but this one is too disappointing for me. Stephanie Laurens had the potential for something very cool here, and she totally blew it. Since my worst grade is a C, that's what it's getting. I will no longer shell out the big bucks for her hardcovers, and I'm hoping that her new series (The Black Cobra Quartet) will pump a little bit of life back into her books. But I'm not holding my breath. I am keeping Stephanie on my favorite author list since I still adore her older books, both the Cynster series and the original Bastion Club series. Oh please, please Stephanie....I hope you recapture the old magic again! Sigh.
Grade: C
A Very Sad Penelope

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Review of Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost


Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost

Oh My God! Thanks to Mandi at Smexy Books I decided to check out the Night Huntress Series by Jeaniene Frost. I just read the first installment, Halfway to the Grave. This is a paranormal romance series about vampires, and Holy Mother! I am in love!!!!! I am in love with this author, I am in love with Bones the vampire, and I am totally digging the snarky first person heroine of this story, Cat, even though I sometimes have difficulty with snarky first person heroines. But not this time. This time it works like a charm.

I sucked this book down like a pint of blood. Okay, so here's why I think Jeaniene Frost is amazing...first of all, her name is cool. Second, the pacing of this book is fierce...could not put it down. Third, the love story totally works. You feel for Cat who is struggling with her identity (she is half-vampire) and her attraction to Bones, a full vampire who has coerced her into helping him snag baddie vamps. You also are rooting for Bones, who is obviously falling in love with Cat, but understands where her trepidation is coming from. Fourth, Frost's paranormal world has some new twists that make it interesting, especially after reading 10,000 vampire books (these vamps can walk in sunlight, for example). Fifth, all of the characters in this book are fascinating, the good, the bad, the undead moonshine-loving ghouls. Sixth, the final climatic scene in which Bones rescues Cat from the FBI guys rocks out! Explosions! Shattering glass! Bones walking down the middle of the highway like an avenging angel! Oh yeah!

Other bonuses: The blood and guts stuff was not overly disturbing (you know me, weak stomach, etc. etc.). Also, the cover is very sexy (as are the other covers for this series). Nice. And the mix of ass-kicking, conflict/plot and sexual tension is perfectly balanced. I am seriously impressed with this author. She has got it going on.

My only beef (pun intended) was that I wish there had been more sex scenes, because Bones and Cat together are combustible-hot! 

Bones is freaking fantastic...he just jumped to the number one spot for best hero of 2009....his sarcastic, sexy, English vampire is completely addictive. Of course, I am about to order the whole rest of this series from Amazon and devour it like a blood-sucking fiend. For any of you paranormal romance fans, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is superb!
Grade: A+
Wishing I Lived in the Amazon Warehouse,
Penelope