Monday, April 30, 2012

The Duke's Undoing by GG Vandagriff

Review by Heather B. Moore

Award-winning historical novelist GG Vandagriff (Last Waltz, Foggy with a Chance of Murder, etc.) has turned her sights to the Regency era. Since I've enjoyed reading this genre over the past couple of years, I was excited to pick up Vandagriff's new offering.

The Duke's Undoing is a sweet romance, instilled with plenty of adventure, humor, and even a bit of danger. Like all classic regency novels, I always enjoy the over-the-top secondary characters who care nothing except for their reputation--or perception of what is "right and proper." They add a great conflict to the hero or heroine who decide to defy convention and marry the one they truly love.

Yet, this isn't the typical story of a lowly maid in love with a duke. In fact, Elise, the heroine in the novel, is well situated, but she has one major flaw. She is on her third engagement when the story opens. Anyone familiar with the Regency social mores knows that one failed engagement was enough to sully a woman's reputation, meaning she'd mostly likely retreat from London society and live out her days as a secluded spinster.

But Elise's first fiancé is tragically killed in battle. Her second fiancé, while a dashing fellow, turns out to be quite insane--schizophrenic more specifically. He alternates between a loving fiancé to a self-possessed fiend who has no qualms of kidnapping Elise.

Exhausted by having such bad luck twice, Elise turns to the more conventional arrangement and becomes engaged to George. But as fate would have it, George has a wandering eye and it lands on Elise's best friend, Violet. Elise, knowing she'll be shunned by society if she breaks yet another engagement--especially for something that most women are forced to overlook--decides that she'd rather be alone than stand between her best friend's future happiness.

At great sacrifice to herself and her reputation, Elise cries off the engagement.

This is where the Duke of Ruisdell enters the story. With secret motivations of his own, the duke offers Elise protection from the ton's critical eye, and offers her a false proposal. Elise and the duke decide that is the only way to get Gregory, her former fiancé, to make his intentions known to Violet, who is desperately in love with him.

But as they move through society together, giving everyone a false impression of their love for each other, something deep with both of them starts to grow into a genuine attachment.

One obstacle after another is thrown into their paths, driving them farther and farther apart, until--even knowing that a Regency Romance MUST have a romantic ending--I was starting to doubt . . .

Vandagriff masterfully recreates a setting that has become so intriguing to millions of readers since the first society-parodies were written by Austen. Vandagriff's description of the homes, ballrooms, clothing, mannerisms, and food are excellent and pull the reader quickly in. The characters are vibrant and unique, and I love a heroine who is unexpected. Elise is just that. She is compassionate, even to the point of becoming ostracized by her "own people." She is courageous and looks toward the future no matter her trials, never giving into despair. She is willing to risk everything for those she loves. Yet her flaws run deep, and she is the first to admit them. A true heroine in every sense!

Banana Split by Josi Kilpack

Review by Heather B. Moore

If you haven't read Josi S. Kilpack's culinary mysteries, you are in for a huge treat!

Sadie Hoffmiller is NOT at it again. In fact, she is taking a much needed break and living in Kauai for a few months to recover from her recent traumatic events. So when Sadie discovers a dead body in the ocean, she interviews with the police, then puts it out of her mind. It's time to focus on her own healing and working through her crippling anxiety. But when a young boy, Charlie, appears at her doorstep asking if she was his dead mother's friend, Sadie slowly starts to change her mInd. It seems that the case has been closed by the police, yet the answers not really found to the cause of Charlie's mom's death.

Author Josi Kilpack does an excellent job with the setting and creating a believable plot. The Sadie Hoffmiller series continues to be one of my favorites.