The Earl’s Temptation by Emma Leech

The Earl’s Temptation by Emma Leech

This is the second book in a series but can be read alone. The story takes place in The Earl's Temptation1814 France and Celeste is a beautiful orphan and Countess de Valrey but in name only because of the French Revolution. She works in a brothel and is gathering firewood for her attic room when she discovers a shipwreck. Mimi is a brain-injured veteran who gathers the smuggled goods. Celeste discovers one of the smugglers is alive and takes him to her room to nurse him back to health. Alex is the Earl of Falmouth and wants to repay Celeste for her kindness by taking her away from the brother. She wants to escape because Monsieur Pelletier wants to buy her. They escape early in the morning and pose as husband and wife. They are both in love with each other but Alex thinks at 36 he is too old for 18-year-old Celeste and keeps turning down her advances.

Leech knows how to build the sexual tension and also tug at the heartstrings as she tears the would-be-lovers apart. First when he insist she have a season and enjoy her youth by sending her to his two aunts. Everyone else, including his brother Lawrence and sister-in-law Henri know they are meant to be and plot for them to be united. When the reader thinks they are just about to be together, Leech tears them apart again using a vicious former mistress.

The Regency romance has all the elements of the genre with titled nobles, lost inheritance, a ball, and rescue attempts. Leech has also brought to very dear characters to life that we root for from the beginning to the end. This is a must read for every Regency romance lover.

Leech’s other historical romance novels include The Rogue, Scandal’s Daughter, The Devil May Care, and Nearly Ruining Mr. Russell.

Walks Through The Mist by Kim Murphy

Walks Through The mist (The Dreaming series Book 1) by Kim Murphy8754059

If you like “Outlander” and time travel stories with a lot of history, this is a book you will want to read. The historical time period is 1609 to 1630 and focuses on Jamestown and the Paspahegh and local tribes.

The author has done her research to be as historically accurate as possible and covers a lot of information without weighing down the story. Phoebe Wynne has arrived in the present time in a mist and was hit by a car. Detective Lee Crowley is trying to figure out who she is. He has his own mysterious past because he is Native American but was abandoned at the age of two and adopted by white parents.

His ex-wife, Shae is a psychiatrist and treats Phoebe who slowly begins to recall her life in the 17th century. Phoebe’s recollections are in historical order and interwoven with her relationships with the people in the present. She has a special attachment to Lee which is revealed in the end. Don’t peek and ruin the ending.

Murphy is balanced in her depiction of whites and their treatment of women and the tribes or “savages” that they kill as they encroach on their land. This is the time of Pocahontas, and she is mentioned because the Paspahegh are related to her tribe.

Much of the story is violent with Phoebe losing loved ones or being whipped at her father’s command and then as a witch because she is a healer, but the descriptions are realistic and balanced with scenes of family and loving relationships.

If you want to learn about how life was in the 17th century in a balanced and accurate manner instead of what is written in history books, this is a must read. The characters are fully developed and the minor ones add to the story. It is well-written, carefully paced, and has a very satisfying ending. And there is a sequel that sounds equally exciting.

 

The Future Widow’s Club by Rhonda Russell

The Future Widow’s Club (Bless Her Heart Book 1) by Rhonda Russell51d3jojakTL

This is an author to read. She has published more than 45 books but this was the first one I read and it was an excellent choice. Russell hits all the bases when writing a mystery romance. We have a sympathetic heroine in Jolie who is married to a cheating, lying, bum Chris Marshall who seduced her after she broke up with the love of her life, Jake when he hesitated to marry her.

Chris has stolen money from her family and friends in the small town of Bless Your Heart, NC, and she has been trying to recoup the money Chris has hidden in their joint business and repay the investors before she files for divorce. She also has been gathering evidence of all the women Chris has slept with during the two years they have been married but sleeping apart. When Chris slaps her and leaves her face bruised, Jake accidentally hits him by opening a door too quickly for Chris to avoid. It also spurs the women of the town to take action.

Russell has introduced the circumstances leading to the mystery of a very unsympathetic victim and shown the chemistry and lover of two people who made a mistake and can’t be together. The reader can’t wait to find out how the story ends. Jolie is invited to join the Future Widow’s Club, a support group for women with awful husbands. Jolie follows their advice and adds $100,000 to Chris’s life insurance, buys widow garb, and looks into a pre-burial plan for Chris a week before Chris turns up dead in his shower. Jolie looks awfully guilty even though she has an air-tight alibi, and Jake is the detective on the case. It’s details like this which make Russell a skilled storyteller.

Russell also adds plenty of humor with a severed member of Chris’s body turning up on the town square statue, and the three founders of the Future Widow’s Club enjoying their own antics in the town. She adds a surprise ending that leaves the reader satisfied and all the details tied up.

If you’re looking for a book to read, this is it.

Pretty Little Secrets by Sara Shepard

Pretty Little Secrets – A Pretty Little Liars Collection by Sara Shepard 2011

IMG_4411Publishers always want authors to write holiday books. Not only does Shepard write a Christmas holiday story, she shakes up her style by writing novellas for each of the four characters. So instead of bouncing back and forth with different points of view, we have one pov for a fourth of the book. The story takes place after the first four. Mona or –A is dead and Ian is in jail but all four of the girls are nervous and keep seeing someone who reminds them of Allison. The stories are also tied together by Aminospa, an energy drink that is more than an advertisement placement in each story. Shepherd uses this book to give us more insight into the family lives of each character and why they are so messed up.

Hanna has lost her best friend Mona but what can she say? Mona tried to kill her. She’s always losing someone she loves. Now Lucas, her new love, is going on a family vacation with another family and Brooke is all over Lucas. Then her dad, Isabel and the perfect Kate move in and Hanna starts to eat. We learn Kate was friends with Naomi and Riley, Ali’s old friends before the fab four. Hanna joins a gym to get back into shape and meets instructor Vince. Dinah competes for Vince, but Hanna gets her revenge.

Emily’s family has accepted her lesbianism but her mother is upset her baby Jesus was stolen from the church nativity. They suspect the Merry Elves and she forces Emily to dress as Santa and spy on the elves – Cassie, Lola, Sophie and Heather. She befriends them instead and realizes their lives are as messed up as hers. When Emily joins the gang for a major holiday prank, we know nothing good can come of it but Shepard surprises us again.

Aria joins her dad and brother Mike on a special outing to celebrate the winter solstice but a pregnant Meredith shows up and ruins it. Aria heads home alone but her first boyfriend in Iceland, Hallbjorn, shows up hiding from the law because he tried to save puffins. They head to Atlantic City to elope. Yes, Aria wants to marry him. As part of the wedding package, they go to a show where two panthers are in the act and Hallbjorn is enraged by their mistreatment. With winnings from gambling, he buys Aria a snake ring, and they get married. She wakes up alone in bed and the reader can guess where animal rights activist Hallbjorn has gone.

Spencer, Melissa and her arguing parents head to Florida for the holidays and stay in Nana’s mansion. They run into Mrs. DiLaurentis there. Spencer has memories of Ali in Florida. The sisters, who appear friendly, compete for tennis star Colin. Melissa encourages her to break Colin and his girlfriend Romona up only to claim Colin herself. Melissa really is the sister from hell. But in Shepard fashion, even enemies can be friends – temporarily – and the sisters join forces for a special act of revenge.

Ali’s Pretty Little Lies by Sara Shepard

Ali’s Pretty Little Lies by Sara Shepard 2013

IMG_4413 (2)So if you’ve read or seen Pretty Little Liars and are confused about Ali’s character, this is the book to read. Shepard wrote lots of books in between, and if you’re a true fan, you’ll probably want to read them in the order they were written. But this book clears up a lot of mysteries—which can be a good thing if you’re confused and a bad thing if you like figuring out secrets yourself.

This book is written from Ali’s point of view leading up to the first book. Many of the scenes from the first book are repeated but from Ali’s point of view. It’s a faster read than the first book, which had four POV and personally, I found it difficult to keep the girls apart.

Shepard knows how to create a complex character and supporting cast. She leaves many things unanswered and has written countless sequels to feed us more information in each of them. There are plenty of people to hate, but she creates enough sympathy for the four main characters that you root for them. In this one, you were rooting for Ali as well or was it….

Spoiler alert – for those who want to discover the secrets, don’t read the rest.

Allison and Courtney are twin sisters, and both think the other is evil. From Courtney’s viewpoint, Allison manipulates their parents into thinking Courtney means to harm Ali, and they have her committed to a hospital for the mentally ill for paranoid schizophrenia. When she visits home three years later, she is able to switch places with Ali and takes on her identity, ditching Ali’s current friends and making news ones of Aria, Emily, Spencer, and Hanna who don’t know Courtney well enough to realize she isn’t Ali.

Shepard does an excellent job of sharing Courtney’s fears and need to keep anyone from finding out her secret and being sent back to the mental hospital. Shepherd builds Ali’s growing desperation and reveals her reasoning for the manipulation and hateful remarks she makes in the first book as well as her skewed definition of friendship. She has to be perfect, but she wants them to come to her with their problems so she can solve them.

Courtney leads Aria past her father’s car to reveal his affair to hide the fact her mother is having an affair with Spencer’s father. She sabotages Hanna’s romance because her own is ruined with mystery older boy Nick.

The real Ali threatens her during a visit to the hospital and convinces everyone she is well enough to return home a few days before “Ali” graduates from junior high.

Courtney has been recording everything in Ali’s diary since taking her place three years ago, and Ali reads it, hiding the diary to use as a reference when she takes her rightful place. That explains how –A knows so much about the four friends in the first book.

Courtney doesn’t write about Nick in the diary. He met Ari at camp and strikes up a romance with Courtney. Unfortunately Nick sees Ian kissing Ari against her will and breaks up with her. He makes a cryptic message about knowing a psycho girl, and we briefly meet Ari’s friends from the mental hospital, Iris, Tabitha and Tripp. We also learn Jenna knew both twins. In addition it is revealed that Spencer’s dad is also Courtney and Allison’s father which makes Melissa a half-sister and we know how she hates Spencer so why not add her to the list of people who would do Allison/Courtney harm.

Shepard is good at giving readers plenty of enemies to pick from. Ali has help when she kills Courtney and leaves her in the hole for the gazebo, but her partner is not revealed. Courtney smells cigarette smoke and she recognizes the voice but doesn’t say if it’s male or female. Shepard likes to tease her readers.

In a great twist, Ali forgets to take the ring and friendship bracelet Courtney was wearing and her parents believe she is Courtney, especially when she tells them she is Ali, and Ali can’t be found. They haul her off to the hospital where she remains for three years and the first book continues with the mysterious messages from -A.

Unbelievable by Sara Shepard

Unbelievable – A Pretty Little Liars Novel by Sara Shepard 2008

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I didn’t read the third book “Perfect” but like most soap operas you can fill in the missing information.

The story begins with Hanna hit by a car and taken to the hospital. Her friends all received texts telling them to meet her at the parking lot because she knew who –A was.

-A tells Sean about Aria seeing Ezra and Ezra loses his job. Aria has to move in with her father and Meredith, and her brother Mike hasn’t forgiven her for not telling him about Meredith.

We find out that Spencer followed Ali outside of the barn and she pushed her, but we find out later she didn’t kill her. Spencer also has won a big award from using her sister Melissa’s paper but no one seems upset about it. Melissa is actually nice but when Ian comes into Spencer’s room, creepy isn’t a bad enough word for him. They want her to win and get all the awards. This is not the Brady Bunch family where honesty was valued above all else. But Spencer proves to be more of a Brady than we thought later on. Melissa tells Spencer she doesn’t have it in her to kill, but we all know who does, huh Melissa?

Emily is sent out to Iowa to rid herself of lesbianism and goes out on the town with her cousins who then blame her for leading them all astray. She gets on a bus and returns home where all is forgiven, and they accept Maya as her girlfriend. Only she met a new girl in Iowa and is confused by who she really loves.

Hanna recovers but can’t remember what happened at the party where she had a fight with her BFF Mona. Nerdy Lucas kisses her and warns her not to trust Mona. Mona is also getting texts from –A now and they plan a welcome back party for Hanna.

Aria is taking an art class with blind Jenna who tells her that Ali and her planned the rocket accident to get rid of her brother, who was molesting her. She makes a cryptic remark about Ali having trouble with a sibling and Jason remarks he has a messed up family. There are other clues in the book that hint at a darker secret not revealed in this series. Yes, I peeked and read a book published much later about the night of Ali’s death from her viewpoint.

-A warns all the girls not to tell the police but Aria tells Wilden with Mike’s urging.

Everything comes to a climax at the party and someone dies.

If you’re going to write a series like this, Shepard is a good author to study. I would suggest a flowchart with all the interconnecting characters because a lot goes on in each book and affects the next book. Little clues like Ali’s trash on the curb when Maya moves in makes anyone a suspect for using the information in Ali’s diary against her friends. She also has characters switch from good to bad so you don’t know who to trust. And the messages are sometimes warnings, but also directions that are tests or set ups for the girls. You hate the spoiled rich girls, but they’re nice compared to some of the other characters. Shepard knows enough to keep the real -A a secret and keep the series going on and on.

 

 

Flawless by Sara Shepard

Flawless by Sara Shepard 2007 – A Pretty Little Liars Novel

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I don’t normally read sequels unless I love the first book, but Shepard had me hooked with Pretty Little Liars and I wanted to know what happened to our four spoiled rich girls and if –A was revealed.

It begins with creepy Toby Cavanaugh, the brother of Jenna, who was blinded in a freak fireworks accident. He keeps appearing in their lives and the girls are sure he’s –A who keeps sending messages to the girls. In this book, the messages are more menacing.

Shepard knows how to build tension and intensity. She also knows how to create sympathy and loathing for her four main characters.

Aria and her brother see their father renewing his affair with MFA student Meredith. Aria is pressured to confront her mother about the affair by –A and attends Meredith’s yoga class and then visits her apartment.

The boys are featured more in the second boy with Sean, who is the virgin pledged ex-boyfriend of Hanna, showing an interest in Aria.

Hanna’s father tries to make nice with her and plans a big dinner with his new wife and stepsister Kate, who sets her up to look like she’s using drugs. Her mother is sleeping with cop Wilden without needing to. So Hanna, who hoped for a reconciliation with her family, is more alienated than ever.

But Spencer is even more alienated from her family than Hanna. Spencer stole her sister Melissa’s boyfriend Wren in the previous book, and she sleeps with him. She goes out with Andrew and then alienates him when he overhears her talking to Wren on the phone. Spencer hears Wren is a player and she keeps calling him until he breaks up with her over the phone. Then her evil sister Melissa brags about sleeping with him one last time to ruin Spencer’s life. Makes me glad I don’t have an older sister.

Emily had planned to quit the swimming team to be with Maya, but the coach makes her captain. Ben threatens to tell others about her being a lesbian and attacks her in the hallway. Toby Cavanaugh comes to her rescue and they attend the big charity party together.

The party is the big climax with Spencer, Hanna, and Aria trying to find Emily who is with Toby. They think she is in danger, but you’ll have to read the book to find out.

There are two more books in the series.

 

Perfect and Unbelievable are remaining books.

 

Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard

Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard 2006

Pretty Little LiarsThese books were made into a television series which I did not see so I read the book without any preconceptions. A lot of characters are involved in the story and I kept a list to try to keep them straight. The story begins when five best friends are in the eighth grade and the leader of the group, Alison DiLaurentis disappears.

The story picks up three years later after the four remaining friends have drifted apart.

The POV bounced back and forth between the four main characters and notes may be necessary to keep the characters’ storylines straight.

Aria Montgomery along with Alison witnessed her professor father making out with a student. He moves the family to Iceland for two years to repair his marriage. Aria changes her image from dork to sophisticated young lady. Before school begins she meets Ezra at a bar and they hit it off. Unfortunately, Ezra is her AP English teacher.

Emily is into swimming and Ali was her best friend and knows a secret about the “Jenna Thing” which is revealed only partially in the end. She always thought she liked Ben but when Maya St. Germain moves into the old DiLaurentis’s house, her feelings for Maya confuse her and causes a scandal when Ben catches the girls kissing. Also throw in the fact Maya is black and Emily’s parents reveal they are prejudice and don’t want her to be friends with the new girl.

Spencer was Ali’s next door neighbor but not as good as Ali in sports. Spencer is never as good as her older sister, Melissa, except for distracting Melissa’s boyfriends. When Melissa brings home her fiancé Wren, he has more interest in Spencer and trouble follows. Her parents practically disown her.

Hanna was the ugly duckling in the group and “not it” along with Mona Vanderwaal. Hanna and Mona become the hot girls at school in Ali’s absence. They also enjoy shoplifting. Hanna’s boyfriend has taken a virginity pledge and the pair borrow his father’s BMW and wreck it. But Hanna’s mother has a special way of keeping Hanna out of trouble.

Throw a bunch of preppy boys who also attend the exclusive Rosewood Day School and you have plenty of subplots to sort out.

The ending of the book sets up the sequels that follow.

The characters do bad things, but you can’t help but feel sorry for them because under all the pretty exterior are girls who are hurting and want to be loved. Writers could learn from the complexity of the characters who don’t have to be pretty, perky, and perfect to be a leading lady. Add flaws. In fact the plot was pretty thin, and the story relied on the backstories that introduced the four friends and the troubles they faced to keep you turning the pages. It is soap opera at its best with trouble following every character no matter how hard they try to avoid it. There is no happily ever after ending for this book, and I can’t wait to see what trouble they fall into in the next book.

 

The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker

The Frog Princess by E.D. BakerIMG_4297 (2)

This is a variation on a fairytale, “The Princess and the Frog” with Princess Emeralda “Emma” being ungraceful and unsure of what she wants at the age of 14. Her mother has invited Prince Jorge to the palace hoping they will become betrothed. Emma escapes to the swamp, her favorite place to hide. She meets a talking frog who claims to be Prince Eadric and if she kisses him, he’ll turn back into a prince. She refuses and visits her Aunt Grassina in the castle tower. Grassina is a witch and has attempted to teach Emma a few spells, but she messed them up. When Grassina leaves for a few days, Emma visits her swamp, and the frog convinces her to kiss him. But Emma is wearing a bracelet from Grassina that reverses the spell and Emma turns into a frog.

The story focuses on Emma and Eadric as frogs as they learn to love eating insects, staying away from predators, and breaking the spell. Emma and Eadric argue most of the time but become friends. They also make friends with a bat and snake who help them return to Grassina.

It’s a fun twist on an old fairytale and Emma’s introduction into magic which is the focus of the next book.

 

Longshot into the West by Keith R. Baker

Longshot Into The West by Keith R. Baker

Longshot Into the WestI have noticed that men write a lot of detail and for history buffs who wants to learn about the Pinkerton Agency and the West during 1862-1863, this book will appeal to them.

Plenty of real characters are sprinkled among the fictional ones.

Baker shares backstories for most of his main characters, and they read like family histories recorded in family genealogy accounts.

The basic story is about Rob Finn, a Union sharpshooter who works for Alan Pinkerton and is given an assignment to go west and find out if gold is being shipped to the Confederacy by the knights of the Gold Circle.

The story focuses more on the journey than any story plot. He hires Lonnie, a free black man, and a young William Cody as a guide. They experience a buffalo hunt and Indian guides replace Cody, who wants to join the Union army. Rob is mauled by a bear and is treated by the Indians for a brain bleed. They meet Henry Plummer and hire him to oversee gold shipments, completing his mission. Back home he has to resolve personal matters with his stepdaughter and choose one woman to marry after his sweetheart marries another.

Baker conveys the events in a matter-fact manner like a family history or memoir would be written, but it doesn’t contain the elements of a story with a conflict, climax, and resolution. Those looking for a history lesson will like the book. Those looking to connect to Rob may be disappointed.