Sunday, January 10, 2010

Review: A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

Reginald Mason is wealthy, refined and, by all accounts, a gentleman. However, he is not a gentleman by title, a factor that pains him and his father within the Regency society that upholds station over all else. That is, until an opportunity for social advancement arises, namely, Lady Annabelle Ashton. Daughter of the Earl of Havercroft, a neighbor and enemy of the Mason family, Annabelle finds herself disgraced by a scandal, one that has left her branded as damaged goods. Besmirched by shame, the earl is only too happy to marry Annabelle off to anyone willing to have her.

Though Reginald Mason, Senior, wishes to use Annabelle to propel his family up the social ladder, his son does not wish to marry her, preferring instead to live the wild, single life he is accustomed to. With this, Reginald Senior serves his son an ultimatum: marry Annabelle, or make do without family funds. Having no choice, Reginald consents, and enters into a hostile engagement in which the prospective bride and groom are openly antagonistic, each one resenting the other for their current state of affairs while their respective fathers revel in their suffering.
A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh immediately caught my eye when I saw the above blurb. There's something about the story and the characters' actions that seemed different from other Balogh stories I've read.

We begin with Reginald Mason, a young man who is the epitome of the dissipated ton buck. He is more concerned with fashion and his matched pair of grays than he is with paying gambling debts or responsibilities. He is not Balogh's usual hero -- the man of honor whose family is most important and whose judgment is impeccable, if questionable when it comes to love. Instead, Reggie is meeting with his father who is giving him an ultimatum -- he must marry whoever his father chooses or his funds will be cut off. Things have gone too far.

We then meet Lady Annabelle Ashton, the beautiful daughter of an Earl who opted to run away with her lover -- a coachman -- instead of marrying the man her father chose for her. She is another departure for Balogh whose heroines are usually women of character willing to sacrifice themselves and their love for their families. But not Annabelle, she would rather be ruined than marry the wrong man. However, Annabelle is alone and has gone too far to have any real choices left opened to her. Her father is shutting her away in a Scottish country state, alone. After none other than Reginald Mason, Senior offers his son Reggie up for marriage, Annabelle must agree to marry this "lesser" man or end up as a shut-in in Scotland.

The enmity between the two fathers in the story is key. The Earl is arrogant and entrenched in the class system that makes him superior to Mr. Reginald Mason, Senior. Mr. Mason is a coal merchant and although his wealth is vast, he is considered presumptuous when he purchases the estate next door to the Earl. For thirty years these two men and their families ignore each other, and the enmity and resentment grows with the years on both sides. After all, the Masons are not considered good enough to be acknowledged by the Earl or his family -- not even in church. Mr. Mason, Senior has been waiting for just such an occasion to make the Earl pay for years of public humiliation.

This novella was quite short and a quick read -- 196 pages, 1.5 spaces between lines, slightly bigger font than usual -- yet, this little book is a complete romance. Reggie and Annabelle's characters and their story are both developed through a series of small flashback chapters weaved throughout the book. We go from the present to the past and get progressively close to the present as we reach the end, closing the circle and getting a complete picture. I don't usually like flashbacks in a book, but it worked beautifully in this little story.

This begins as an antagonistic relationship since the main characters are being forced into a marriage. Yet because of the way it is written, there's no question of believing Reggie and Annabelle's "happily ever after" when it comes. The class structure in the Regency era is central to this story and central to all the relationships. Ms. Balogh uses this exploration in class differences as the main conflict in the romance and it works quite well. There's a twist at the end that I won't give away, but it made me love this couple.

A Matter of Class is a little gem of a book that I've already re-read. I thoroughly enjoyed Reggie and Annabelle's short, but complete little romance. This novella by Balogh is a keeper for me. Grade A

You can visit Mary Balogh here.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

2010 Year of the Historical Reading Challenge

I've joined the 2010 Year of the Historical Reading Challenge hosted by KMont from Lurv a La Mode. I love history and romance, so where's the challenge? Well, for many years I gave up on reading historical romances, instead I opted to read other genres. There's a period of time between the 1980s and 1990s that's a blank for me when it comes to certain authors and books. The challenge for me is to catch up with authors and books from that period of time that appeal to me. I've accumulated quite a few and have them on my TBR pile, I just need to read them.

The other part of this Challenge I love is that it's historical not just historical romance. I've been meaning to return to reading one of my favorite genres, historical fiction. This is a genre I have a passion for and one I have neglected for far too long. I hope this Challenge will help me get back on the historical fiction reading horse again.

KMont's rules are pretty basic:

a) 1 book per month for a total of 12 books. Review posted last week of the month.
b) Books can be new releases, old releases or re-reads.
c) Historical romance and historical fiction (any historical period).
d) Adult fiction or young adult.

I'm ready. Let's see how well this goes for me. Below, I'll be posting a list of books read with links to reviews as I go along. This should help keep it all organized and easy to manage. :)

January:  Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger (WW II) Review here
February: Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas (Re-read) - Review here
March: Dark Angel/Lord Carew's Bride by Mary Balogh - Review here
April: Courting Miss Hattie by Pamela Morsi - Review here
          Her Colorado Man by Cheryl St. John - Review here
May: The Endearment by Lavyrle Spencer - Review here
June: Lavyrle Spencer: Morning Glory and Years - Review here
July: Love in the Afternoon (Hathaways, Book 5) by Lisa Kleypas - Review here
August: Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage by Jennifer Ashley - Review here
September: Lady Sophia's Lover by Lisa Kleypas (Re-read) 
                    A Separate Peace by John Knowles (Re-read) - Minis for both here
October: The Doctor's Wife by Cheryl St. John - Review here
November: Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt - Review here
December: A Bride in the Bargain by Deeane Gist - Review here

'In Death' Reading Challenge

The 'In Death' Reading Challenge is hosted by our own Christine from The happily ever after...

I was a bit reluctant to join this Challenge. I've avoided reading J.D. Robb for years! You see I've been a Nora Roberts fan for years, but I've always been a bit intimidated by the extensive backlist, and frankly there are other concerns. I'm afraid that because I love Roberts' writing I'll become obsessed with this series and won't be able to stop reading it -- and there are ALL those books to read! When would I stop?! Could I stop myself?! Or would I spend the rest of the year hunting used book stores, libraries and/or book stores trying to find the whole series? We'll see... we'll just have to see... I can become obsessive when it comes to reading the next book, and the next, and the next...

The bottom line is that it is high time I read this much acclaimed series. I have to start somewhere. I already have the first 5 books in my TBR pile and I'm ready to begin. I'll be starting at the beginning, so I have a long way to go.

Christine's rules are pretty simple. Read one book per month, post a review or commentary and link it to her blog post.

I'll be keeping track of all my reads and reviews below:

January:  Naked in Death - Review here
February: Glory in Death - Review here
March: Immortal in Death - Mini-Review here
April: Rapture in Death - Review here
September: Ceremony in Death & Vengeance in Death - Reviews here
October: Holiday in Death - Review here
November: Midnight in Death Novella



Thank you Christine for getting me to finally give J.D. Robb and this series a chance! :)

2010 Re-Read Challenge

The Books, Books and more Books: Re-Read Challenge 2010 is hosted by one of my favorite bloggers, Nath.

I didn't join the Challenge last year, I came to blogging too late to do so. But, I followed this Challenge from beginning to end. It became a favorite and every month I looked forward to reading reviews by those who participated. I loved reading reviews of books that I'd already read and I found new-to-me books and authors through this challenge. Visiting every single one of those bloggers who participated, weather I commented or just lurked, was fun and became routine.

I tend to re-read books that I love, my keepers and comfort reads. I think most people do the same -- and that love and comfort usually comes through in the reviews. I'm really looking forward to participating in this wonderful Challenge.

Nath's rules are very easy. Re-read and post a review by the last day of the month and post a link to the review at her blog. That's it! To make things easy for myself, I'll be using this post to keep track of my reads and reviews for the year.

January:  Duncan's Bride by Linda Howard - Review here
February: Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas - Review here
March: Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson - Review here
April: Three Sisters Island Trilogy by Nora Roberts - Reviews here
May: To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt - Review here
June: Mine to Possess (Psy/Changeling, #4) by Nalinin Singh - Review here
July: Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling - Review here
August: Rising Tides (Quinn Brothers, Book #2) by Nora Roberts - Review here
September: Minis: Lady Sophia's Lover by Lisa Kleypas, A Separate Peace by John Knowles, Almost Like Being in Love by Steve Kluger, Cullen's Bride by Fiona Brand, Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard - Minis here
October: Rising Moon by Lori Handerland - Review here
November: If You Desire by Kresley Cole - Mini here
December: A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist - Review here

I'm looking forward to participating in this Challenge. Most of all I'm looking forward to reading all future entries. Thank you Nath for hosting it again!

The 2010 Big Book Challenge

The 2010 Big Book Challenge is one of the most creative Challenges I've seen out there, and isn't that the coolest looking banner/button? I love it! Our creative host is the lovely Orannia from Walkabout.

This is a great Challenge, especially if you have a door stopper of a book laying around the house and don't know when or how to tackle it. This Challenge might be the one to help you do it. :) I have just such a book in my TBR pile and couldn't resist joining in.

Orannia's rules are quite easy. All you have to do is read ONE book -- a really BIG book with more than 500 pages, before the end of 2010. A review is not required and the book can be from any fiction genre. The book can be changed at any time, and anyone can join this Challenge at any time.

My choice for this Challenge is:

Title: Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: June 24, 2009
# of Pages:
Reading Start Date: August 26, 2010
Reading Finish Date: DNF

Title: Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows (Re-read)
Genre: YA Fantasy
Release Date: July 2007
# of Pages: 759
Reading Start Date: July 1, 2010
Reading Finish Date: July 3, 2010
Review: July 25, 2010 - Link to review here.

Title: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan 
Genre: YA Fantasy
Release Date: May 4, 2010
# of Pages: 516 
Reading Start DateAugust 17, 2010
Reading Finish DateAugust 21, 2010

Orannia made this a relaxed and fun Challenge -- no pressure. I love it!

2010 M/M Romance Challenge

Anezthezea from I Heart Paperbacks is again hosting the M/M Romance Challenge this year. This is the only Challenge I joined last year and I enjoyed it so much, I signed up for it again for 2010.

I used the Challenge last year to read books written by new-to-me authors whenever possible and it turned out to be a great experience. I plan to do the same this year. Plus, I have many books in my TBR pile still lingering from last year's Challenge -- time to read them.

2010's Challenge is easier. It doesn't have a 5 month deadline, instead the timeline is set from January 1st through December 31st 2010. There are different reading levels to choose from. You can choose 5 books or 20+ books. I've signed up for 20+ books this year again. Books chosen can be any length, sub-genre, or format. eBooks, paperbacks, young adult books, audio books, and re-reads are all okay. Lots of choices that makes this an easy and exciting Challenge.

I've decided not to choose my books ahead of time this year. Instead I'll be posting my books as I read them and my reviews as I post them below.

1. Fool for Love Anthology edited by Timothy J. Lambert and R.D. Cochrane
2. Best Gay Erotica 2010 edited by Richard Labonte selected by Blair Mastbaum
3. The Boy Can't Help It: Sensual Stories of Young Bottoms by Gavin Atlas
4. Fatal Shadows (Adrien English Mysteries, Book 1) by Josh Lanyon
5. A Dangerous Thing (Adrien English Mysteries, Book 2) by Josh Lanyon
6. The Hell You Say (Adrien English Mysteries, Book 3) by Josh Lanyon
7. Death of a Pirate King (Adrien English Mysteries, Book 4) by Josh Lanyon
8. The Dark Tide (Adrien English Mysteries, Book 5) by Josh Lanyon
9. Crossing Borders by Z.A. Maxfield
10. Cheating Chance by James Buchanan
11. Carbon and Ash by Chris Owen (Read-read)
12. Henry and Jim by J.M. Snyder
13. Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman
14. Bound by Blood (Soul Mates Book 1) by Jourdan Lane
15. Deceptions (Soul Mates Book 2) by Jourdan Lane
16. Sacrifice (Soul Mates Book 3) by Jourdan Lane
17. Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories by Sandra McDonald
18. Zero at the Bone by Jane Seville
19. A Strong and Sudden Thaw by R.W. Day
20. A Hidden Magic by Angela Benedetti
21. Unfinished Business by Angela Benedetti
22. Caught Running by Madeline Urban and Abigail Roux

Wish me luck!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

2009 Numbers & Goals Reached

This is my last 2009 summary and it was actually the toughest. Don't laugh (or go ahead and laugh) the following are just numbers, but I keep track of my reads on a simple list of books read throughout the year, in order of books read, by month. Trying to break that out into categories, etc... and weeding out re-reads and non-romance/pertinent books gave me a headache! I'll be better prepared next year.

Well, after taking out the re-reads and other books, these are the numbers.

Total books read for the year: 159

Contemporary Romance: 41
Historical Romance: 27
Paranormal Romance: 17
Urban Fantasy: 11
Sci-Fi/Fantasy: 9
Young Adult: 5
Mystery: 1
Romance Suspense: 1
Historical Fiction: 1
Erotica: 4
LGBT Fiction/Romance/Erotica: 43

My personal reading goals for 2009 were quite easy.

1) Read more Contemporary Romances and Sci-Fi / Fantasy.
I did well with this goal. I read 41 contemporary romances in 2009 vs. approximately 10 in 2008.

When it comes to Sci-Fi Fantasy I met my goal, but barely. I read 9 in 2009 vs. 8 in 2008. I bought lots of books and my TBR pile is bursting at the seams, but I never got to them. So this is a genre that I want to continue exploring in 2010.

2) Give Urban Fantasy a chance. Begin 3 UF series.
I thought this was going to be a tough goal to reach for me. It turned out to be an easy one. I not only met my goal, I exceeded it by starting and catching up on 5 UF series in 2009. I'm not planning on starting too many new series in 2010, but I'll definitely continue reading this new-to-me genre. I'm loving it!

3) Finally get to some authors that have been lingering on my list of authors to try. Read one book, and if I like it, go for the backlist.
Now this goal I reached and exceeded also. I read 52 new-to-me authors. Many of them in the LGBT genre during the M/M Reading Challenge, but most of them were authors I'd had on my list of authors to try for a while. It was a great year for new discoveries. 2010 promises to be another great one as I have more new-to-me authors on my ever growing list to enjoy.

That's it! The end of 2009... now I'll just look forward.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

December 2009 Reads & Minis

Here are my last reads of 2009 for the month of December. As you can see I didn't have much time to review or even give my impressions on most of them, but one. December was a busy, busy month and I found myself writing other posts and not reviewing my books! Now I'm behind, but I'll be catching up with these in January. So, here's my list such as it is.

1) Aftershock by Jill Shalvis - B

Another category romance in Jill Shalvis' firefighter series -- this is a Harlequin Temptation Heat -- I'm really enjoying these! This one is about Dax, the arson investigator that makes an appearance in some of the installments I already read, Flashpoint and Flashback. Again, Shalvis does a good job with this book. The relationship between the couple doesn't just happen, these two have to work for it. They meet under extraordinary circumstances, have a passionate encounter and then meet again a year later. Dax made for a likable and sexy hero, however the heroine wasn't easy to like, I thought. Some of her actions throughout the story were questionable and she let her fear and insecurities affect her decision-making one too many times. That took away from some of my enjoyment of the story. However, the book itself was well done and the HEA was a good one.

2) The Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold - A

3) Demon Night by Meljean Brook
Upcoming Mini

4) Deliverance by Aleksndr Voinov (Forbidden Love Anthology) M/M
Upcoming Mini

5) Simple Jess by Pamela Morsi
Upcoming Review

6) La Playita by Gavin Atlas M/M
Upcoming Mini

7) England's Perfect Hero by Suzanne Enoch - B

I enjoyed England's Perfect Hero. Lucinda and Robert were a very nice couple and once they got together, they had some wonderful scenes together. The one in the garden was an unexpected treat. I specially loved the hero in this book and how the relationship developed -- it wasn't rushed, instead I found it to be sweet and beautiful. I enjoyed the sexual tension and the attraction between them. Although I more than enjoyed the romance and loved the interaction between Lucinda and Robert, I thought the villain of the piece was quite predictable and was disappointed with that aspect of the book. I haven't read the previous installments in the Lessons of Love series, but I will be looking for them.

8) Wanting by M.L. Rhodes M/M - B+

This story was about a pair of college room mates who have been best friends for four years. A familiar theme but one that I enjoyed more than others. One room mate is gay and one thinks of himself of as straight, but this book is not necessarily a "gay for you" story. It's more of a coming to terms with the truth and coming out romance. Rhodes set it up very well. It's a short story but the characters, Jeremy & Ben (specially Jeremy), go through quite a few changes in this story and not all the changes are related to his coming out. I've always liked the way Rhodes makes her characters three dimensional even when she's writing a seemingly "over-familiar" plot in a short story format.

9) Heaven, Texas by Susan Elizabeth Phillips - B

This was an interesting read. The story of Bobby Tom, ex-football player, and Gracie Snow. These two made me laugh quite a bit in the story. I really don't know where I would place this book in my SEP list, but definitely not at the top of my favorites so far, although I did enjoy it. Bobby Tom is a likable, not so likable, likable/egotistical, likable, should get kicked, likable type of hero. Gracie had his number and still had the hots for him... which turned out to be a good thing all around -- a frustrating, enjoyable read. I laughed and wanted to smack Bobby Tom at the same time. But then Phillips tends to do that, she comes up with these thoroughly flawed characters and through character development sooner or later makes them sympathetic. In this case Gracie, the heroine, was the key. Still, it was not my favorite book from Phillip's backlist.

10) A Perfect Game by Reno MacLeod and Jaye Valentine (M/M)
Upcoming Mini

11) Breathing Room by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Upcoming Review

12) A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh
Upcoming Review

13) Her Secret Fling by Sarah Mayberry
Upcoming Review

14) Home for the Holidays by Sarah Mayberry - B+

My last read of the year was Home for the Holidays by Sarah Mayberry, a Blaze category romance. This book, as in many of Mayberry's categories, offers great characters. This is not your regular holiday plot either. The hero and heroine are a bit different, she's a mechanic who rides a Harley and he's a single father who has been a widower for two years. The plot is hot and amusing for most of the book and it felt as if I'd read a much longer book, so the development was excellent. I was a bit disappointed towards the end when I felt the author threw in an emotionally manipulative storyline that I didn't feel was necessary. It jerked me out of the story just as the book was about to end (last two chapters), but it didn't really take away from my enjoyment of the book as a whole. All in all a pretty enjoyable read.

December was actually an excellent reading month for me -- it exceeded my expectations. I read some beautiful books and unlike November, I didn't have any deep disappointments. How about you? How did your last month of the year go? Any good/great reads?

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010: To Beginnings!


Wishing you all the best

for the new year and

the new decade!

A toast...

To Beginnings. Cheers!