Monday, 11 June 2012

Book Review: Three Weddings and a Murder by Tessa Dare, Leigh LaValle, Courtney Milan, Carey Baldwin + Giveaway

Title: Three Weddings and a Murder - anthology
Contributing authors: Tessa Dare, Leigh LaValle, Courtney Milan, Carey Baldwin
Release Date: 22 May 2012
Publisher: self-published - Limited edition, will only be available during Summer 2012!
Purchasing Info: Goodreads, Author's Website, Amazon, B&N, All Romance, Team page

Grade: 4 stars

Novellus superbus!

Goodreads appetizer: The pleasure of your company is requested... ...at the most thrilling, sexy, event of the year.

Four delicious, dangerous tales of love...

"The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright" by Tessa Dare

Because of a foolish mistake in her youth, Miss Eliza Cade is not allowed "out" in Society until her three older sisters are wed. But while she's trying to be good, Eliza keeps bumping elbows—and lips—with the notorious rake Harry Wright. The passions he stirs in her are so wrong...but she just can't resist Mr. Wright.

"The Misbehaving Marquess" by Leigh LaValle

Having awaited the return of her husband for half a decade, Catherine Raybourne, the Marchioness of Foster, has no intention of reconciling with her misbehaving marquess. But when he insists he needs an heir—immediately—she must confront her own lingering desires. Can she protect her heart while attempting to win his once again?

"The Lady Always Wins" by Courtney Milan

Railway financier Simon Davenant has waited seven years for a second chance with his childhood sweetheart and best friend. He isn’t about to let his impending financial ruin destroy the opportunity. This time, he’ll do anything he can to secure her hand in marriage—even if it means losing her heart for good.

"Solomon's Wisdom" by Carey Baldwin

Bad-boy-turned-pediatrician Charlie "Drex" Drexler returns to Tangleheart, Texas hoping to reconnect with his old flame - but Anna won't cooperate, his dark past resurfaces, and his best friend's baby disappears. How will Drex and Anna mend their broken hearts while dodging bullets and racing to bring baby home safely?

**All proceeds of this anthology are donated to the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer**

My Thoughts: I am a BIG fan of Leigh LaValle and Courtney Milan, so when I heard they would contribute to an anthology I was excited! Even more when I heard the very titillating and promising title "Three Weddings and a Murder" (anyone else thought of Hugh Grant's Four Weddings and a Funeral? ;-) ).

Three Weddings and a Murder is an anthology featuring three historical romance novellas by Tessa Dare, Leigh LaValle and Courtney Milan, and a contemporary romantic suspense novella by Carey Baldwin. I'll start by reviewing the stories separately and will end with a general conclusion on the whole anthology.


The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright by Tessa Dare

The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright is the first novella in the anthology, and the very first story I read by Tessa Dare.

Eliza is the youngest of four sisters and must wait until her older sisters are married before she can have her time to shine and attend balls and experience courting.

Margaret had been responsible—therefore, Philippa kept her head in the clouds. Next came Georgie, the sweet one. Eliza had to be the spice.

Eliza is no shy, missish girl. She is a very strong-willed, stubborn and vivacious young woman. I found it a very refreshing change to have such a mischievious and willful heroine. She is not the usual gently-bred, proper and dull heroine, oh no, she is vibrant and outspoken and fierce. In short she was a joy to read:

“I’m not a child,” Eliza argued with the closed double doors. “I’m a grown woman. With accomplishments and bosoms and everything.”

The love interest was also quite the unusual hero. Despite being called Mr. Wright, Eliza and society believe him to be a rake without manners or scrupules. Yet we discover through the years and his every interaction with Eliza how much he respects her by protecting her reputation and giving her choices. We discover that despite appearances he is an honourable man (with bad boyish attributes) and his intensity just made him even more irresistible:

She promptly forgot how to breathe. “It’s like this,” he repeated in a low voice, just for her. “I’m not that sort of man. I don’t wait for the things I want.”

The highlight of this novella were the ping-pong sparring matches between Eliza and Mr. Wright which were so full of humour and light wit (and of course sizzling sexual tension):

“Stay here, and give my sister and Lord Brentley their privacy. And I’ll allow you to touch me. Any way you like, so long as my frock remains unsoiled and intact.” She forced herself to brave his gaze. “I know it’s what you want.”
“To protect your frock?”
“To put your hands on me.”
“I was wrong about you, Mr Wright. I abused you most unjustly.”
“And I enjoyed every minute of it.”

I loved how through this short novella Tessa Dare gave us a love story spanning through several years and we witnessed through brief flashes how Eliza matured and became a young woman from the girl she was at the beginning. How Mr. Wright made appearances through the years, being present in her life. And the ending was so very reminiscent of Mr. Darcy's monologue in Pride and Prejudice: *sighs*

He tipped her chin with a single finger, demanding her close attention. “Now, listen. I know Lessing was a decent fellow, and I’m sorry as hell that your sister must experience this sorrow. But understand this. I didn’t travel all this way from London to pay my respects. I came for you. Only you. Because you’ve suffered a loss, as well.”

Plot: 8/10
Characters: 8/10 The characters were interesting and unique, I would've loved them explored in more details in a full length novel.
Writing: 8/10
Ending: 9/10
Cover: 9/10 - I like it very much!

I give The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright 4 stars! (Read an excerpt)


The Misbehaving Marquess by Leigh LaValle

I immediately became an enthusiastic fan of Leigh LaValle after I read her debut novel The Runaway Countess. As most of her readers I was clamouring to know when we got to read the story of Cat, sister of The Runaway Countess' hero, so when I discovered that the novella penned by Leigh LaValle featured in this anthology was Cat's story I can tell you I was excited! But have no fear, The Misbehaving Marquess can very well be read as a stand-alone story.

Cat has been living a quite unfulfilling and lonely life ever since her husband has abandoned her and left 5 years ago. Since that night she hasn't heard a word from Jamie, so when she glimpses him in their drawing room she is shocked and nail spitting mad. But what is an even greater obstacle to overcome for her estranged husband isn't Cat's anger but the hurt his leaving caused. Cat isn't sure they can forget and forgive the past five years and rebuild their marriage, but Jamie is just as stubborn and won't give up.

The Misbehaving Marquess was once again full of those eloquent and beautifully descriptive images I grew used to in The Runaway Countess:
The man standing before her tilted his head to the side. “Good afternoon, Cat.” It poured through her, the sound of her name. His deep voice. Poured through her like church bells ringing into the hills, awakening those who would forget their longing, their anger, their terrible regret.

Both Cat and Jamie were wonderful characters, Jamie was a lovable hero and the reader felt Cat's pain and doubts. Leigh LaValle's writing is just as exquisite as I remembered and in The Misbehaving Marquess she brings such an emotional and moving tale you won't be able to resist being affected.
“Because I missed you. And I saw you everywhere. And I suppose I wanted to share a piece of my experience with you.”

Plot: 8/10
Characters: 9/10
Writing 10/10
Ending: 9/10 Their vows were beautiful, but I still don't see what was the need for the fire...
Cover: 9/10 - I like it very much!

I give The Misbehaving Marquess 4.5 stars! (Read an excerpt)


The Lady Always Wins by Courtney Milan

Though I have read only one novel by Courtney Milan to this day she has already become one of my favourite historical romance authors. Her writing is rich, evocative and enchanting, and The Lady Always Wins doesn't disappoint either.

It tells the story of Simon and Ginny, childhood friends and sweethearts who grew up together, fell in love when they were young but then Ginny married someone else because of circumstances. Now seven years later she is widowed and Simon comes back to claim Ginny.

Simon and Ginny were something else. There was such a deep bond connecting them, that despite the years they have spent apart they still knew everything about each other. All the little things as well as the more significant ones. They were truly made for each other, two halves of the same. The harmony, camaraderie and connection between them was both entertaining (reading about all their adventures and flashbacks to when they were 10 and 11 year old and how they became childhood friends was funny and so adorable) and poignant (reading how much heartache they went through by having wasted those seven years).
“Do you want me very, very badly then?” His other hand touched her face. Slowly—almost unwillingly—she let him raise her chin from contemplation of his wrist. His eyes seemed dark, and they glittered with some unspoken emotion. “Yes,” he said. “God knows I’ve wished it otherwise over the years. But yes. I have wanted you since I first knew what want was.”
He raised his head. “I never wanted to spend all those years yearning for you. But every time I tried to fit some other woman in my heart, I failed. There was no room for anyone else. You were already there.”

The Lady Always Wins was a wonderful story. Both light and moving, it constantly remained deeply romantic. I loved ever moment of it until the resolution of the conflict which I found too convenient.

I loved the characterisations of Simon and Ginny and how well fleshed out they were despite it being only a novella. And most of all I loved reading about their memories and all their secrets, and how every ordinary thing got a special meaning due to their history.

Plot: 9/10
Characters: 10/10
Writing: 10/10
Ending: 7/10
Cover: 9/10 - I like it very much!

I give The Lady Always Wins 4.5 stars! (Read an excerpt)


Solomon's Wisdom by Carey Baldwin

This was the last novella in the anthology and completely different than the first three ones. And due to this I believe it wasn't such a good idea to include this story or to put it last. It doesn't match the previous ones neither in tone nor setting, and due to its novella length it takes most of the story for the reader to get through the centuries and continents and get their footing.

Solomon's Wisdom is a contemporary romantic suspense novella set in Texas, US. Charlie a young pediatrician came back to his hometown after 12 years of staying away, having decided to convince his childhood best friend Anna to give him a chance. Of course it isn't as simple as that, since 12 years ago Anna declared her love for Charlie and he just up and left not coming back for 12 years, so she isn't ready to get over that in a blink.

But the romantic storyline in Solomon's Wisdom takes a backseat, leaving the central stage to the suspense plot. I won't reveal much of that only that until the end I didn't really see where Cary Baldwin was taking this, but seeing the conclusion and explanation everything came together and made sense.

I found it surprising how bipolar the writing style was: the descriptive parts flew smoothly and were richly developed:
Her pink lips twitched at the edges. Wait for it…ha! Like a field of prickly poppies answering the call of the morning sun, her expression opened and transformed into a thing of beauty—the best smile he’d seen since the day he’d left Tangleheart, Texas.
If it hadn’t been for Megan O’Neal, Charlie might have taken a different road in life. All these years, conflicting emotions toward the girl—jealousy and pity, resentment and compassion—had been lying abed, twisting in the sheets, cuddling and kicking just below the surface of Anna’s consciousness.
Lifting one hand from her shoulder, he traced her lips with his finger, softening her heart but not the pain.

but the dialogues between the characters read like a fractured puzzle, half words uttered between old friends without preambule or explanation, making the reader feel lost.

I also had ambivalent feelings towards the characters: not much was revealed about Anna (or Charlie) to make me feel like I knew them or what happened to them in the past, and I outrisght disliked the secondary characters. Both Simone and Nate appeared fake, playing a version of the perfect couple, perfect family while hiding the truth. And though it was stated several times, Simone just didn't sound like a loving doting mom, but rather a self-obsessed vain woman.

Overall I was satisfied with the conclusion to the mystery and due to Charlie's character and his intensity I was interested and invested in the romance part of the story as well:
“I love you, Anna. I always have, and I want a chance to earn back your trust. I want a chance to prove that no matter how sad and terrible the world around us becomes, I won’t walk away from you again. You love me, Anna. You told me so yourself. All you have to do is remember.”

Plot: 8/10
Characters: 7/10
Writing: 7/10
Ending: 6/10
Cover: well it doesn't really suit the last story...

I give Solomon's Wisdom 3 stars! (Read an excerpt)


Verdict: Three Weddings and a Murder was a delightful anthology. And though based on the title I was expecting a Regency/Victorian historical romance-sleuth mystery I was not disappointed. If I had to describe the four stories in a few words I would say Tessa Dare's story was light and fun, Leigh LaValle's emotional and sexy, Courtney Milan's sweet and heartfelt while Carey Baldwin's suspenseful and thrilling. I think the last story was light years away from the first three both in time period, genre and tone, so maybe it wasn't such a winning idea to include it, as I fear for readers who got used to the tone of the first three stories, the length of this last novella won't be enough to get their footing in this very different setting and story.

Overall I give Three Weddings and a Murder 4 stars!

Buy it:




GIVEAWAY RULES:

Leigh LaValle has generously offered an ebook copy of Three Weddings and a Murder to a lucky commenter!


All you need to do is leave a comment so I know you are interested :-)

Giveaway is open worldwide and ends on 15 June 2012!

Good luck!

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