Saturday, December 27, 2008

Simply Love

Simply Love by Mary Balogh

Simply Love is part of the "Simply" series centered around the teacher's of Miss Martin's School for Girls and is related to the Bedwyn series as well, making this the knockout of all allusion-laden [to the author's previous works] books. Anne Jewell is a teacher at Miss Martin's and the single, unwed, mother of nine-year old Davy while Sydnam Butler is the heavily scared steward of the Duke of Bewcastle's estate in Wales. She is, of course, angsty over her status as an unwed mother, the fact that she was raped, and over her family's basic abandonment of her when she announced she was pregnant. He is angsty because the entire right side of his body is covered in massive scars, including a missing eye and arm, and feels he needs to prove himself to everyone and believes he will always be lonely. The two meet when the cousin of Anne's rapist (who is a friend) invites Anne to join him, and his wife, Freyja- who is Bewcastle's sister, at the Welsh estate and the whole gang (every Bewcastle and every Bewcastle spouse) plots to matchmake for the two lonely souls.

Oblivious to the other's plotting, the two find themselves drawn to each other and engage in, what is called on the jacket "an afternoon of exquisite lovemaking," but is really just a passionless excuse to alleviate loneliness where only one of them is actually fulfilled, seeing as how Anne had flashbacks to her rapist. Orgasm notwithstanding, Anne becomes pregnant and she and Sydnam get married. David is angry because he wants a "whole" stepfather and is inordinately obsessed with his "real" father and his "real" father's family. Anne and Sydnam embark on a honeymoon journey (from hell?) to meet his family and then later they go on to hers. This makes it so that Anne and Sydnam are NEVER alone without either the Bewcastles, his family, or her family surrounding them. Her family, despite having "forgiven" her for being raped and getting pregnant, has never made any attempt to visit her, and includes her ex-fiance who dumped her and then married her sister/ best friend. At the end we are left with a roomful of screaming and laughing family members, which is just so incongruous with the rather muted plot and characters and was not at all subtly or realistically introduced into the plot.

There was a reason I did not choose to read one of the Bewcastle books I hadn't yet read; because I had read enough of them as was getting tired of them. I felt that this book was more of an epilogue to her Bewcastle books, and she just used Anne and Sydnam as an excuse when she realized there was a character (Sydnam) still out there who could easily be connected to them. We have Wulfric, Alleyne, Morgan, Freyja, and Aidan's, as well as that of Kit Butler, happiness, and potency, thrown in our faces in nearly half the pages of the book. And I was not happy with any of the other characters in the book either. Her son, David, who is supposed to be nine, acts like a four year-old: and I would know as I work with three and four year-olds all day. He is is constantly chattering about everything and flits from topic to topic, loves playing with other children- including younger children, and he lets adults hold his hand and even pick him up. I will refrain from going into detail, but the prose was absolutely dreadful as well; maudlin, overdrawn, and unrealistic dialgoue throughout. Including a line where Sydnam (a man) says to his employer, "The sight of the moon on the water like this makes me almost weep with awe."

Anne and Syd are the two most depressingly awful characters I've ever read. I cannot figure out if we are supposed to sympathasize with her about how everyone thinks they know better than her how her life shoudl be run or not- because she never stands up to anyone. Even the scenes where she supposedly does hold her own are rather pathetic and end up making me more mad at her. Especially the scene where she "confronts" her family- and that whole thing ends up disastrously. Syd is less annoying; I found myself incredibly thankful that didn't confront his French torturers and forgive them. The book seems to be intent on providing, not necessarily a happily-ever-after, but at least a peaceful, forgiveness-full ever after, even if it's not warranted. The only thing that seems to hold them together was their shared loneliness and their ability to be incredibly calm even when the situation would warrant real emotion.

Rating: Didn't like the book, didn't like the characters (any of them), and didn't like how the only focus of the book seemed to be getting every family member, and friend, ever mentioned in the entire book, into a ballroom at the end.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Bridal Quest

The Bridal Quest by Candace Camp

Another installment of the Matchmaker series, this book features Lady Francesca Haughston who has been "hired" by her long-time friend Lord Rochford, to find a wife for his cousin Gideon Lord Radbourne. Gideon is the long lost heir, who has only recently been returned to his family after being kidnapped with his mother while still a child. Living in the slums of London has left Gideon without the social graces necessary to attract a bride his family would find suitable. Enter Lady Irene Wyngate who lives with her brother and his horrible wife, as well as her mother because her father failed to provide well for her or his widow. Irene has of course sworn never to marry because of the example her father set for her, and this is certainly a big sacrifice given the way her sister-in-law treats her.

Francesca, discerning the attraction between Gideon and Irene, enlists Irene's help in getting Gideon ready for the house party being thrown to introduce him to suitable brides. The cast also includes Gideon's flighty grandmother Pansy, his boisterous great-aunt, and his obnoxious step-mother Teresa. Our hero and heroine are thrown together constantly and to nobody's surprise Irene's resistance to marriage begins to weaken, much to the chagrin of Teresa who hopes her son Timothy will eventually inherit the Earldom. Cleverly enmeshed in the story is the mystery behind the supposed kidnapping of Gideon and his mother and the reader will no doubt be surprised by the outcome.

Despite my almost constant assertions that I dislike murder/ mystery side-plots Candace Camp does an amazing job on them. The mystery is a real PART of the story and the story could not be complete without it. This is a far cry from the way most romance mystery's are written. I also enjoy how neither of our protagonists are ever excessively mean, rude, or nasty to the other. Very near the start they realize they like one another and although they argue, there is none of the hatred that seems to appear in so many novels. The periphery characters are all well written and developed, and Camp seems particularly agile at written the nasty woman/en found in all romance novels. Of particular interest were Lady Haughston and Lord Rochford, who will no doubt soon be featured in a novel of their own and I will just say that the buildup has been done perfectly.

The side plot also serves to distract the reader from the fact the hero and heroine, despite many kissing scenes, only make love once. ONCE! And that is very near the end of the book and is a far cry from the best I've read. Much of the book seemed to be filler, and while I've found this is very common in romance novels, I noticed it quite a bit in this one for some reason. Perhaps it is not as well written or perhaps I was just not as interested in the two main protagonists as I usually am. Irene's constant assertion that she will never marry got old quickly and seemed to unnecessarily prolong the book. And it is of course, always a problem, when all through the book I can't help but wonder when the Haughston-Rochford novel will be coming out.

The book was satisfying and intriguing, but I was never able to fully connect with these characters for some reason. However, I can't give it less than 3 because of the side plot and periphery characters.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

One Night with You

One Night With You by Sophie Jordan

Jane Guthrie is a widow living with her husband's family who serves as protectors of the estate until her stepson becomes old enough to inherit. The family consists of two teenage girls she is supposed to basically serve as governess too and a lecherous man and a nasty lady and they all treat her as a servant. And she certainly doesn't have fond memories of her womanizing husband to keep her warm at night. Imagine her surprise to run into the former love of her life Seth Rutledge who had been her childhood friend. That all ended when he fell in love with her sister who promptly broke his heart in exchange for a better match. Jane manages to disguise her identity as Aurora and engages in a night of passion with him and promises herself it will be just one night of magic. Meanwhile Seth is wondering why he finds himself so attracted to two completely different women: the prim and proper Lady Guthrie and the smoldering Aurora.

The ruse is discovered when Jane goes to Seth to announce her pregnancy; a circumstance that unnecessarily infuriates him. Seth was in need of a wife anyway, preferably someone who respects and can get along with his blind sister, which Jane already does. Jane, Seth, his sister Julianne and his manservant Gregory all head up to his families house by the beach where tensions run high as Seth continues to ignore Jane while she, for reasons unknown given how he treats her, realizes she is in love with him. In a fun, and completely well done, side plot Julianne and Gregory discover their own feelings for each other. Jane is eventually forced to take drastic measures before Seth realizes his own feelings and the book is tidied up nicely in a 4- page epilogue.

Perhaps the best part about the book was that it had no side plot. No one was murdered, we never suspected anyone might be murdered, and no one was a spy! A miracle! Another plus in my opinion was the most unique "love" scene I have ever read in a romance novel and it might possibly serve as a spoiler. Before their marriage, Seth becomes angry with Jane and kisses her rather harshly, and she DOES NOT RESPOND! I have never read a romance where the female doesn't melt at even the slightest touch the hero bestows upon her. So a plus for something new and unexpected. And I'm a sucker for scenes where the heroine has to tell the reluctant hero that he's about to be a papa and this one did not disappoint. Roiling emotions, horrible accusations, shouting, and nearly as much angst as anyone could want. And the sex was hot. There were only a couple scenes, but what they lacked in number, they made up for in content.

The one thing about this book that irked me is very likely one only I could notice. I am a big fan of angst and this romance novel set itself up perfectly to provide an unprecedented amount of angst. He had been in love with her sister! There should have been more insecurity on her part about his feelings for her sister and lots of brooding on his part until he eventually came to realize that he ended up with the better sister. But I guess there's only so much angst that can be crammed into a book. I was also somewhat baffled by how horribly Seth treated Jane for most of their marriage until literally the last 5 pages.

The angst that did ensue, the very like-ability of the two characters, and the lack of boring subplot, except for the great extra romance, make this book a good, if not great read.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Governess Wears Scarlett

The Governess Wears Scarlett by Sari Robins

Abigail West is a 23- year old governess who has been ruined by her former lordly employer whom proclaimed love but predictably abandoned her once the heat was turned on. In an act of revenge her brother "Reggie" steals an important item from her employer who promptly puts a warrant out for his arrest he is forced to go into hiding. Abby gpes to London in the hopes of finding Reggie and luckily a placement officer takes a liking to her and places her with the newly titled, and widow(er)ed, Viscount Steele who serves as Solicitor General to the Crown, a fancy lawyer. She is instructed to take care of his wife's nephews.

Steele also serves as a masked vigilante, prowling the streets of London and coincidentally Abby has taken to roaming the streets as a widow in an attempt to find her brother. This leads to danger and Steele is more than happy to rescuer her, however since both wear masks, or veils, neither is aware of the others identity. Unhampered by society's rules, the two engage in trysts in an ally and later a dusty street vendors shop. Meanwhile in real life, both are feeling an tendre for each other but are unable to act on it, especially while it becomes obviously someone is out to hurt both Reggie and the two young boys Abby is supposed to be protecting. The director of London Underworld, numerous street ruffians, and a disgruntled relative are involved in the rather far-fetched plot that is tidily cleaned up in the last 25 pages.

I have three rather large qualms with this books: the complete "goodness" of the characters, the sex, and the discovery of their joint deceptions. Both the hero and the heroine are just too "good" at loving the children, at putting the children before themselves, at doing anything to make the children happy. This is how it should be of course, but to have it hammered into my head repeatedly, and to seemingly be the only reason for either character fall in love with the other, well that is just frustrating. As for the sex- their were exactly two scenes, which were admittedly very hot, both took place while masked, in unorthodox locations and while the characters did not know each others identity and while both were almost entirely dressed. Neither was an expression of love or deeper feeling, just physical desire, which is fine in a thin contemporary but in a 370 page historical I expect a few small scenes leading up to the culmination and at least a little mushiness. The truth of who they are is not discovered until practically the last page and instead of being angry, scared, hurt, wary, or any other of the wonderfully angsty emotions I would have loved, and expected from such a plot. Instead they were both ecstatic and nothing was brought up about the other sleeping with a complete stranger in a darkened alley.

One of the best parts of this novel is their relationship to other characters. Steele's deceased wife Diedre is neither martyred nor demonized as so many former spouses are in romance novels. Steele was deeply in love with her, yet does not constantly brood about her death and does not decry the idea of ever falling in love with her again. Diedre's father also plays a small, but interesting part of the disapproving father-in-law who one both loves and hates because he is so human but so flawed in ways everyone can sympathize with. Both the children in the book are wonderful as well; they are not pretentious as most romance novel children seem to be, yet they are not clowingly annoying 4-year olds. And Abby's relationship with her brother is amazing, especially at the end when she comes to an important realization about herself and him- it was beautiful to read and one of my favorite scenes. I can not decide whether I liked the "adventure" plot or not as I tend not to get into the murder/Bow Street/spy plots that haunt most romance novels, but at least it was a built in part of the story and not just thrown in there for added excitement.

Rating this novel was difficult, but then I realized the rating should ultimately come down to how the two characters were with each other and how much I enjoyed reading about them and their relationship.

Monday, December 1, 2008

My Dearest Enemy

My Dearest Enemy by Connie Brockway

Two novels in a row about crazy, but large and life-saving, inheritances. Lillian Bede our illegitimate, feminist, heroine with a chip on her shoulder. Avery Thorne is our world-exploring
hero and both are involved in Avery's uncle's too-crazy to be believed will. Lillian is left the manor that Avery believed he was to inherit, but the terms of the will are that she only retains possession of the manor for five years and if she hasn't made a profit during that time the estate goes over to Avery. Like any romance novel old blueblood the uncle also stipulates that she may forfeit the manor in exchange for a very nice allowance if she is willing to give up the her feminist tendencies. Ms. Bede of course refuses, Avery takes off to explore the world and the two begin a 4 1/2 year correspondence until Avery comes to claim what he expects to become his.

A very small portion of the book is dedicated to the years of correspondence and most of it does center around the few months the two are in residence together at the Manor House. The interactions between the two are often about the other residents of the Manor, including a persnickety feminist leader, a promiscuous spinster, an abused widow and her pre-teen son who idolizes Avery. Lillian has her own odd views of marriage because of her mother's experience with a poor husband who moved to Australia with her two children. For this reason Lillian is understandable wary of any marriage, much less with someone who stands to gain so much from marrying her. Her companions at the manor however harbor no such compunctions and make no secret of their desire to see the two wed. There is also a side plot of mini- disasters, such as a burning barn and a broken window that could have killed someone, that is, as usual, resolved rather quickly. It was interesting nonetheless because the culprit was someone I did not guess and usually these side- plots are pretty transparent.

The mater of Lillian's demons are certainly unusual, as most often the illegitimate woman, in a romance novel, would be reluctant to marry our hero for few of tainting HIS reputation, rather than of any fear for her own sake. The book does an excellent job of portraying the realities of illegitimacy during the end of the 19th century in England without having the entire focus being on the angst provided by such. Although her feminist leanings are drilled into the readers head repeatedly, little is written of what those leaning actually entail and the only other feminist in the book is portrayed as a self-righteous monster. Implied in the novel, or perhaps I am just reading more into this than I should have, is a romantic attachment between the abused widow and said feminist which is definitely a first for me in a historical romance.

The matter of them falling in love is entirely believable as well. The two are antagonists, as many such characters are, but their arguments an
d discussion are never hateful or outright nasty and insulting as so many heroes seem to be toward the heroines. He respects her intelligence, while admitting to a slight wariness of her feminist ideals, which is understandable given the times. Their are a couple steamy scenes and several less steamy scenes leading up to them which created a really nice buildup to the consummation. Their was definite heat between these two. One issue I have with this novel, and so many other in a similar vein, is the mushiness of one of the characters, in this case Lillian who squanders her money protecting castaway horses. I understand it is a writing tool used to help the reader understand why someone would fall in love with someone else, as "goodness" is hard to portray except by such techniques, but it does still tend to get on my nerves.

Overall the book was good, more readable than most, but not perfect. Both characters were impossible not to like and genuinely loved each other.
Final Score: