Audio Review: Midsummer Magic by Catherine Coulter

midsummer magicHero: Philip Hawsbury is no longer the second son. When his older brother died, he became the next Earl of Rothermere. Now his father is on his deathbed and Philip must fulfill a longstanding promise his father made to impoverished Alexander Kilbracken, the Scottish Earl of Ruthven. He must marry one of the daughters – Viola, Clare, or Frances.  He has no desire to wed anyone and would prefer to stay in London with his mistress. Now how can he proceed to do both?

Heroine: Frances does not want to be married off to Philip or really anyone sight unseen. She’s certain he’s going to be an arrogant Sassenach. She’s the apple of her father’s eye and has a premonition that her father would like to see her marry the man. Since she must be present and participate, she decides to do so in the worst way possible. While her sisters, Clare and Viola, vie for the young earl’s attention, she’s going to make herself ugly, aloof, and a shrew. Little does she know that she presents the perfect image of a wife for Philip – who wants to fulfill his father’s promise, but leave the missus behind at Desborough Hall while he pursues his London life unchecked and unencumbered.

Review: This book comes from the era of the “bodice-ripper” / “forced seduction” and has the flaws that associate with that period of romances. The hero for instance is not a worthy hero by today’s standard’s. He’s shallow and doesn’t learn to love the heroine in her disguise, but rather falls for her [beauty] when it comes off. He’s also either a product of his times or an idiot because he doesn’t think wives should be treated like mistresses and in so believing makes zero attempts to please his bride when he and she do their “duties” to conceive.  But it’s supposed to be acceptable and tolerable because both characters don’t know any better. Baloney. He also likes to pretend he’s the wounded party in all of this, which is very aggravating.

When he’s not being an irritating jerk he at least remembers the cream (which is not saying much.)

It should be noted that the heroine’s characterization starts off great – she’s feisty, stands up to her father, and tries to trick the hero with a “clever” ugly duckling disguise. But then this tom-boyish, heart of gold (she walks miles to visit her father’s tenets,) strong heroine gets replaced by someone else entirely during their “honeymoon” stage. She’s uncertain, quiet, mousey, and timid – and not just for the appearance of keeping up her disguise.

So what did work for me was the beginning and the initial set-up.

Narrator: Anne Flosnik as usual had a wonderful performance. She is one of the reasons I stuck with the story to the end.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Buy: Midsummer Magic (Magic Trilogy), Midsummer Magic (Audiobook)

Excerpt: A Race for Love by Ann Black

araceforlove_200x300Blurb: Sara struggles to find her place in the fast-paced world of Thoroughbred horse racing, but will the arrival of a new trainer cost her everything she’s worked for?

Fast horses, strong personalities, and the thrill of mixing business with pleasure fill Sara’s world as an exercise rider. Her real desire, though, is to ride her favorite stallion, Cat, to victory in a race. There are two problems with this dream. The first lies in the fact she is a woman who wants to be a jockey. The second is a new, sexy horse trainer named Carter.

While Sara struggles to stay focused on her dream, Carter fights to prove his past doesn’t define his present. Will a tornado, a wounded jockey, a rich rival, and a horrible accident ruin everything, or can Sara cross the finish line in A Race for Love?

Buy: A Race for Love

Excerpt:

“How could this have happened?” Mr. Abbott questioned.

“Well, you know the horse is temperamental—” Carter started.

“Was he off before Corte got on?” Mr. Abbott asked.

“No. Sara didn’t have any problems with him today. He was a little stronger, you know, because of the mud, but they managed alright. Actually, they had one of their best workouts. But she understands his quirks. To be honest, Corte didn’t take her advice and they fought with each other the entire go ’round.”

He paused again. “Well, you know we were lucky getting Corte. After all, this is the busiest weekend of racing with the Golden Mile, the Florida tracks still in season, and the East Coast tracks starting their spring meets.” He shook his head. “No, I don’t know of any jockey in need of a horse to ride in the Golden Mile.”

Sara could hear Mr. Abbott’s voice raise on the other end. She figured he had started to put some pressure on Carter, knowing that he and Cat’s other partners had a lot to lose if the horse didn’t run in the race. Not only would they lose out on the chance of taking home a $500,000 purse, there were other perks that came from winning this race, including points toward the Triple Challenge.

“Well, I’ll see what I can do,” Carter told him before ending their conversation. When he hung up, he looked like he had just lost his best friend. Sara had never seen him so whipped. For the first time since she met him, he seemed vulnerable.

“You know I won’t be able to find another jockey,” he said. “Even if there were someone available, once word gets around what happened to Corte we might as well forget it. No one will want to take a chance on getting hurt with this only being the first leg of the Triple Challenge, and two more races in the series yet to run. Nope, our horse is probably already pegged for dumping jockeys.”

Carter paced the aisle. Between the filly that had colicked the night before and having to scratch her, and now Cat with no jockey, it had been a bad turn of events for the young trainer. “Why the hell couldn’t Corte just have listened to you and tried to get along with the damn horse instead of letting his anger show so Cat could feed on it!”

Sara reached out and touched his arm, trying to calm him down. “Carter, I think there’s only one option now…” She paused, gathering her thoughts. “I’ll ride Cat in the Golden Mile.”

Carter pulled away from her and focused his look. His face became skewed like he had just bitten into a sour lemon. “That’s not an option!” he snapped.

Sara bristled at his abrupt response. After all of this…did he still think she wasn’t a capable enough rider? “I can’t believe you! I don’t think that either you or your good old boys have a choice at this point. I seem to be the only one that can make it around the track in one piece on Cat,” she fumed.

“Sara, I never meant that you weren’t good enough. God knows I’m not that stupid or blind. I’ve seen you with that horse and I know that he’ll run for you, and probably better then he would for anyone else. It’s not that at all.”

He reached out and pulled her close to him. Her first reaction was to resist his touch. “Damn it, do you have to be so obstinate?” At his outburst, she stopped fighting him and listened to what he had to say. “You can’t blame me for wanting to protect you. Even if Mr. Abbott agreed to let you jockey in the race, I would never forgive myself if something happened to you. I know you’ve developed a relationship with Cat. But to be honest, he’s kind of a nut and I’m sorry if I don’t want the woman I’m in love with to get herself killed just for a stupid horse race.”

Buy: A Race for Love

Bio: Ann Black is a former newspaper journalist, and worked in the media for over 25 years. She is well-published in the non-fiction genre—including several books in the equine industry. In addition, she has had numerous poems that appeared in anthologies and chapbooks. She has been a horse owner for over 35 years and maintains a small horse farm in Michigan.

Review: How to Marry a Rake by Deb Marlowe

how to marry a rakeHow To Marry a Rake is a spin-off from The Diamonds of Welbourne Manor.

Back story: Mae loved Stephen and followed after him as often as she could. He never pushed her away, reveling in her attention. Then she manipulates him into a kiss and he tramples on her infatuation with a sharp rejection. The next day she and her parents set sail for Europe.

Hero: Lord Stephen Manning is determined to make a success of his brand new racecourse Fincote Park.  To do that he’s got to get a race set up to inspire the racing community to travel far and wide to come. He thinks he can get that match with Earl of Ryeton’s horse, an unbeatable race champion, Pratchett.  The last thing he needs is an encounter with a girl from his past.

Heroine: With a newly mended heart, heiress Mae Halford returns from Europe ready to face the ton and make a splash. It’s only a matter of time before her father marries her off to the first gentleman to ask for her hand so she’s made a plan. She’s going to find her own husband and she’s going to do it the only way she knows how, by being someone else… at least at the start, so she doesn’t scare them away like Stephen.

Second chance: Stephen requires Mae’s help to find a stolen horse. They strike a bargain. Her help collecting gossip and leads from places Stephen can’t get at for his help finding her a husband and eliminating the gentlemen who wouldn’t like and/or fit her.

Review: How To Marry a Rake is a fun, flirty, fantastic read! There’s a second chance romance, a hero who realizes his own flaws, a mystery involving a stolen horse, and characters you can root for. If you love regency romances, don’t miss out on this one.

Rating: ★★★★½

Buy: How To Marry a Rake

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Review: Bella and the Merciless Sheikh by Sarah Morgan

I just finished reading this amazing Sheikh category romance by Sarah Morgan. Oh my goodness, this is a book to glom! There’s so much to love about the book…

The Heroine: Bella Balfour has the public image of a bad girl. Her recent media explosion landed her smack dab in the desert for a forced retreat as punishment. If you looked sassy up in a dictionary you’d find Bella there. She’s perfect and her terrible jokes are pretty funny if only because you can image the hero’s eye-rolls in response. Her father couldn’t have picked a better spot to strand her because the resort took away her laptop, cell, ipod, makeup, and hair products. The threat of another cup of herbal tea and more hours spent in boring introspection and meditation are enough to inspire a jailbreak.

What I liked about Bella is her very believable transformation from the spoiled socialite into the fiercely independent woman. Without the armor of her bad girl reputation, deep vulnerabilities are exposed. Bella is keenly aware that nobody likes her, that she doesn’t have any true friends, that men only want her for sex. For once she’d like to be desired for herself, flaws and all. When she’s back inside city limits all she wants is to be given a chance to prove to herself and others that she’s not a mess.

The Hero: Sheikh Zafiq Al-Rashid loves the 5 days he gets every year to vacation in the desert and put aside his responsibilities. It’s the only time he gets to relax and enjoy peace, quiet, and most importantly solitude. This year his trip to a quiet oasis is foiled by a chance encounter with an unconscious dehydrated woman and a horse… his most prized mare to be exact. Determined to rescue and then punish the horse thief, Zafiq is unprepared to handle a conscious Bella.

What I liked best about Zafiq as a Sheikh hero he was that he prized self control above all else and realized in the face of Bella that he had never truly tested his control. A quality he thought he had a lot of ended up being something he had surprisingly little of. Usually the heroine is the virginal miss who appears so virtuous until she’s tested by the hero and winds up having very loose morals in most cases. So the fact that it’s reversed (even if the quality in question is different) is wonderful. I liked how it came to play in the category.

He also hates socialites because of how his father acted around his stepmother. He finds love to be a weakness and has literally expunged from himself as many emotional ties as possible, with the exception of perhaps his siblings. He doesn’t understand how to act like a man in love or how to act in a relationship and it’s bittersweet at times to see his reactions to Bella. He can be as merciless and arrogant and prickish as any alpha hero, but inside he’s just a lovable uncertain mess.

Don’t miss out! Go grab yourself a copy!

Rating: ★★★★★

Buy: Bella and the Merciless Sheikh

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