The Vampire Viscount by Karen Harbaugh 2.5 stars
I was interested in reading this because I read somewhere that this was the first "vampire" Regency so I guess it has some historical value, but it was a little disappointing because there didn't seem to be much substance to the developing romance. Nicholas, Viscount St. Vire, is the eponymous vampire, searching for a "willing" and "virginal" bride. She must be both according to the spell in the ancient grimoire he found in order to, well, I'm not exactly sure what his goal is, but here are a couple of choices:
a. Preserve him from the insanity which infects vampires after so many years
b. Reverse the vampire curse and return him to being a mortal man
c. Both a and b.
Sheesh, sorry to say I'm not very sure which one led him to seek a bride because it changed throughout the book. At any rate Leonore Farleigh is sold to the Vicount St. Vire as payment for her father's gambling debts, they meet, they court, and they wed. Nicholas is a bit vain, a bit of a flirt, and seemed only interested in Leonore for the "cure" he sought.
I never got the impression he fell in love with her at all. Leonore falls in love very hard and because she believes Nicholas to be gravely ill, this added a mixture of angst and frustration. Angst because she truly loves him and can't imagine life without him and worries about his pale complexion and inability to withstand sunlight. Frustration because you know he's just deceiving Leonore about so many things. When his "maker", Mercia, reappears in his life to make mayhem, things really fell apart for me. I lost count of how many times Leonore offers to help him, begs him to be honest with her, etc, but when he does (finally!), she turns from him. She wishy-washyed (is that even a word?) around so much that I finally just lost patience and couldn't wait for the final confrontation to be over.
The HIghland Countess by Marion Chesney 4.5 stars
I loved this one because of its surprising depth of characterization, the way it grabbed my attention right away and wouldn't let go, the way the many characters in this book could have been stereotypical and boring but were not. Though Morag is a "virgin wife/widow", the reasons for her sterile marriage made sense to me. The old Earl, her husband and a hound dog who was apparently, uh, stymied by a lady's genteel manner and could only respond to serving wenches and scullery maids, had fathered illegitimate children all over the Scottish countryside but when it came to bedding his wife... Well, he did try at least. Lord Toby and Morag's star-crossed romance really added a lot of humor as well as tension and conflict, especially when Lord Toby believes Morag is more sexually experienced than she is. There is a very funny but frustrating scene (because of the repercussions) in which the old Earl demands Morag pull his abscessed tooth. When Toby, already half in love with Morag despite her married state, skulks around the earl's apartments and overhears a bed creaking, "grunts of exertion and the earl's wild groans culminating in a great shout of relief" and then Morag's laugh, he assumes the sweet, innocent Morag is really a lying, scheming, licentious harpy. Uh, Toby dude. Even if she was shaking the sheets with the Earl (AND SHE WASN'T), they're married for crying out loud. Yes, it's a BIG MIS, and yes, it causes the two to separate for several years, but it was written with such great fun, a big wink really from the writer, that it was more for comic effect and not nearly so frustrating as it could have been. The old Earl showed surprising compassion for Morag's broken heart, and I found myself liking him more than I thought possible.
The star of the book, however, is Rory, the old Earl's son by a maid who is adopted by Morag and the Earl and passed off as their son. Rory is a brat who terrorizes the serving staff and wraps Morag around his little finger so tightly that she can't see his faults. He lies and cheats with equanimity and without fear of retribution from Morag, and he's not above a spot of blackmail to get what he wants. The best description of the little 7-year-old terror was this line: "It was like looking into the hard,flat calculating eyes of a forty-year-old dwarf." He should have been the most disagreeable little fictional moppet I'd ever read and ruined the book for me (lesser evil children have done so in the past), but he did not. Rory was a little scene-stealer who eventually is redeemed very believably. I'm not sure he'll ever be a "nice" boy or man, but he would be a very interesting to know.
The Promise of Happiness by Betty Neels 5 stars
Because it's Betty Neels doing what Betty did so well: great Cinderella story for a truly heroic "thin mouse" of a girl, Becky, her Rich Dutch Doctor rescuer/Baron not-so-Charming, Tiele Raukema van den Eck (say that three times as fast as you can!), an old dog named Bertie, a cat named Pooch, a mean stepmother, and a serial-killer-in-the-making stepbrother named Basil, who apparently gets his kicks torturing and killing animals. This has some great "vintage Betty" moments like Becky overhearing Tiele telling his mom he's "not attracted to thin mice"and Baron not-so-charming ogling that thin mouse's behind a few weeks later, the evil other woman who didn't cause too much heartburn/ache, and a sweet proposal in a tea room under the watchful eyes of a "fierce dragon with a light hand at pastry." Loved it!
Sister To Meryl by Nerina Hilliard 2 stars
This one has everything except the kitchen sink: Spoiled rotten younger sister, (Meryl) deluded older sister (Christine) who really believes Meryl is angel, a not so asshat-y, very misunderstood & lonely millionaire playboy archaeologist (Julian Galveston) alpha hero (You are mine/You belong to me featured in his vocabulary several times) falling in love at first sight despite the "loathing" in her eyes, hero's "magnificent rearguard" defense against South American natives (This whole episode just made my eyebrows say hello to my hairline for some reason. It was so OTT in the melodrama and just so outlandish.), hero laying near death after being peppered with poisoned darts, suffering a cracked head, and then amnesia. Heroine's dawning realization of love over H's death bed and a grand finale of an almost BIG MIS that's quickly defused and honestly should have been taken care of long before the last 10 pages.
I think Christine's stupidity, bullheadedness, blind prejudice and willful, blissful ignorance about Meryl just turned me off from the beginning. Did I say she was intractable? It colored every interaction between Christine and Julian, and it was the flimsy reason behind all the misunderstandings. Oh, this one had all the HQ cray cray but very little satisfaction for me.
The Savage Marquess by Marion Chesney 4 stars
I enjoyed this so much! Marion Chesney (M.C. Beaton) has a wonderful writing style that made the pages zip by. Rockingham wasn't as savage as I imagined though he did drunkenly ride his horse through his front door and up the staircase (causing the horse so much distress that a horse-sized mess was deposited on the stairs), and he does throw things like an inkwell or three and, um, bacchanalian parties. That temper, his drinking, and his infamous parties has resulted in a constant turnover in household servants. Now he has no servants, no agency will send applicants his way, and his home is a pigsty. It's such a miserable hellhole even he can't abide in it for long. He wants to restore order to his home, have a house full of servants to clean up after him, and, yes, it's time he went about the business of begetting heirs. Somehow Rockingham must acquire a bride though no one wants him. Except Lucinda Westerville.
I loved Lucinda who appears at first to be merely a gentle, subdued, very quiet woman but she also has a spine of steel and quirky sense of humor. After Rockingham deserts her right after the wedding for partaying hardy in gay Paree, Lucinda rolls up her sleeves and tackles Berkeley Square, Number 205, like a Green Bay Packer tackling the running back of the opposing team during playoffs. First order of business is showing dear mama-in-law who the new boss is. When the Duchess of Barnshire, Rockingham's mother, descends upon the house, demanding the whereabouts of her son and insulting Lucinda, Lucinda lets her have it with both barrels:
"Your grace, your son went off directly after our wedding, leaving me alone in a house without either food or servants. I have much to do. I suggest you take your leave and I shall inform my husband on his return of your call. He will no doubt be pleased to explain his reasons for marrying me."
The duchess stood up, quivering with rage. "You are a nobody, my pert miss. A nobody. And if you had any hopes of cutting a dash with the ton, you had best forget it. No one will receive you without my approval. No one."
"Good," said Lucinda. "For Rockingham's idea of a pigsty for a home is not mine, and he has left me much work to do. Humphrey, the door. Her grace is just leaving." (92-93)
Lucinda has, as my mother always said, gumption. I like the way she began as she meant to go on. I admit I was a bit surprised by Rockingham's ex-mistress's bloodthirstiness, and the murder of a lady's maid as well as the attempted murder of another felt a little jarring in the midst of this Regency "romp." Lucinda and Rockingham have great chemistry together, and the way these two work out their differences and fall in love was a delight.
The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox 20 million stars
So there's absolutely no way I have inside me what's needed to do justice to this book. At least not right now. It's emotionally gripping and sad and lovely and filled with some of the most beautiful prose I've read in a long time. All I can say is that I read it in two sittings, the last one ending at about 2:00 a.m. this morning. It's a book that left me questioning and pondering some pretty heavy questions about heaven and hell and all points in between, God and Satan, good and evil, angels and demons, what it means to be human, what love is in all its forms. Plus, the structure of the book, centered around winemaking, its processes and its jargon, added so much to the central story of Sabron the vintner and his angel, Xas. At some point, I hope that I can write a proper review, but it's still too close in my mind and my heart. I hope you take a chance and read this marvelously unique and thought-provoking book.