Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Seduction of Sara

The Seduction of Sara by Karen Hawkins

Sara St. John, Lady Carrington, has been widowed for nearly a year after her husband, Julius, died after suffering a carriage accident while naked with his mistress. Sara had been desperately in love with her husband but her love had quickly withered and died after numerous dalliances, and she is determined never to allow herself to fall in love or give anyone the power to hurt her the way Julius did. Nicholas Montrose, the Earl of Bridgeton, has returned to England after numerous dissolute years in Paris after being banished by his cousin after trying to steal his fiance to gain her dowry. He knows he can never marry or produce children as he suffers from crippling migrains and he knows he will follow the same path as his mother did- he will turn to laudanum and eventually kill himself because of it. When Sara's brothers determine that she has spent the last year since Juilius' death creating far too much scandal they cut her off and banish her to Bath, which just happens to be the same place where Nicholas has taken up residence after winning an estate there at the card table. To escape her brothers' clutches Sara decides to marry, but her search is not going quite as planned.

When Nicholas and Sara first meet it is certainly lust at first cite and Nicholas decides that the innocent looking widow will quickly become his mistress. Unfortunately for him Sara is looking to become a wife and he watches her try and fail several times to coerce men she deems suitable into marriage. Eventually he offers Sara help in her endeavor but his assistance soon ends with her in a very compromising position just as her brothers storm in. They demand he marry her and to Sara's confusion he agrees and procures a special license to ensure it happens fast. Sara is nervous about marrying a man she knows so little about but knows she can make the best of it if they both try. Nick is equally sure that a marriage between them will never work out and he continually pushes her away and out of his life. He never wants her to see him when the headaches and laudanum have taken over his life and he goes to drastic measures to see to it that she gives up on the idea of saving him. But when he has completed his task Nick realizes he has just pushed away the only chance of love and happiness he's ever known and must win her back.

I could quickly tell that I would enjoy this book far more than Hawkin's MacLean series which were a tad too fluffy and fast for even me. Not mention there was that weird little curse where they controlled the weather. I really liked Sara and the way she was determined to take control of her own life by shucking her brothers' completely overbearing control. However, I did feel as they she went about it in a way that actually played right into their hands. Although she was trying to find a husband who would let her live her own life, it still seemed as though she was bucking the system by... giving in to the system. A tad confusing. One of the men that Sara attempts to marry faints as she tries to kiss her and Nicholas reveals later that it is because he is not attracted to woman (he's gay). While breaking this news to Sara he also imparts that this man is "a man who has forgotten he is a man." I understand that at the time period that was probably a very accurate belief, I have read other novels where a side- character's homosexuality is handled in a much better way. I don't need complete historical accuracy as also at the time said man would have been guilty of a punishable crime.

One of the first things I realized about this book was that Hawkin's was at least at one time, a much better sexy writer than she is now. A common thread among the MacLean's was a near total abscene of sex, and although it wasn't exactly superb or super steamy the sexy in this book was far better and much more prolific. A hero with a secret malady he is convinced will lead to his ruination and so he pushes the woman he loves away. It is quite an annoying plot to be honest as the reader knows that if the damn hero will just open his mouth and take the woman into his confidence she will tell him it doesn't matter and the two will live happily ever after. It was equally annoying here and it was made even worse by the horrible trick he used to push her away. Despite the fact that it "did not mean anything" it still was a nasty thing to do and Sara should really have put him through his paces a bit more. I know very little about the migraine headaches Nicholas suffers from but I do know that there is no quick fix for them so I was glad that the book ends on a bit of a question as to that little issue- although we do know he's not going to die of them, we don't know that everything has been magically cured.

Rating: Fun, fast, enjoyable, a little bit frustrating and annoying. A satisfying read.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Heart of Christmas

The Heart of Christmas

A Handful of Gold
by Mary Balogh
Verity Ewing recently moved to London with her widowed mother and younger sister because said sister has an illness that requires competent and expensive medical treatment. To raise money for this she has taken a job as an opera dancer and told her family she is a companion to an older lady. Unfortunately the money does not quite make ends meet so she agrees to accompany Julian Dare, Viscount Follingsley, to a hunting cabin for the week of Christmas. It does not take long for Julian to discover that she is not the experienced light skirt he had anticipated and he, and the other people at the cabin, are pleasantly surprised when Verity takes over planning for a very joyful Christmas. As Julian spends time getting to know this happy, faithful, and caring young woman he knows that Christmas week will never be enough. But Verity knows she is not good enough for the heir to an earldom and takes over leaving Julian to find her and prove that the happiness found on Christmas lasts far beyond that one day.

The story was enjoyable and lasted the perfect amount of time for a Balogh story. There was the typical inherent goodness found in all her heroines present in Verity as she is just completely childlike in her appreciation of Christmas and in her reaction to the first snowfall. She takes in weary travelers, she decorates the cabin for Christmas, and delivers a baby and it was not long before I wanted this young woman to do something a little naughty. She was an opera dancer and she did agree to become a courtesan but her motives were so pure and noble it kind of negated that bit of naughtiness. However at least it explained why Julian fell in love with her as she certainly was pure and happy, while I can't really figure out why she fell in love with him- it just sort of happened. I would also warn that this book comes very close to be a little too Christian for me as there is lots of talk about Church, prayer, and the Christ child. I like it better when Christmas is just about love and family. Short, satisfying, and only a tad annoying.

The Season for Suitors by Nicola Cornick
Clara Davencourt was mortified when she proposed to her brother's friend Sebastian Fleet, Duke of Fleet, and he turned her done. Despite his immense attraction to Clara Sebastian is too old for Clara, he is ten years her senior, he is a dedicated rake, and he has promised himself that he will never marry. Years ago when he was young a tragic accident occurred and his younger brother Oliver died and Sebastian blames himself. So of course he can not be trusted to love and protect Clara or to remain faithful to her. When Clara enlists Sebastian's help in keeping fortune hunters away he finds that it is him who needs to be kept away from Clara. They both know that they have no future together yet neither can keep their hands off of each other. Sebastian knows that he needs Clara in his life but is determined that he needs to stay away from her so he makes a last ditch effort to move to the continent but Clara confronts him before he can leave. Now it is up to her to convince him that love is worth the risk and up to him to realize that this young woman he's admired for years is worth taking that risk.

I enjoyed this novella much more than the one that came before it. It had much more substance and the heroine was not as annoyingly good and child-like. And I loved that she knew what she wanted throughout the book and went after it. I do wish we had had more of them getting to know each other as, with all books that pick up after the character's have met, the falling in love originally seemed to have been done off book. Granted the situation where she went and asked for help staying away from rakes was ridiculous and his blaming himself for his brother's death was overdrawn but I guess she needed something to bring them together and then cause a possible wedge between them. I got the feeling while reading this I was supposed to know back ground on Martin and Julianna's (her brother and his wife) but I did not know any and that got a little frustrated. As usual with Cornick's writings I loved reading the inner musings of both Sebastian and Clara as they were both just completely in love with each other and yet very torn about how the other felt and how/if they could/ should admit their feelings. The pacing in the novel was done very well and there was some subdued steam at the very end of the book.

This Wicked Gift by Courtney Milan
Lavinia Spencer has been trying to hold her family's lending library business together while her younger brother tries his best to destroy it and her father remains bedridden and sick. When Jamie's problems end up with Lavinia losing her Christmas funds a handsome patron from the library comes to the rescue. William White has been coming to the lending library for over a year and has never managed to make his move on Lavinia- until now. He demands that she sleep with him to repay the debt he feels she owes him; only to discover she did not owe him anything. But it is too late and both Lavinia and William are thrown together with William trying to hide his feelings and Lavinia trying to get him to embrace them. William refuses to let himself hope that Lavinia can ever be his because his family name was ruined and he has very little money. Both characters have been making mistakes in their lives and together they are able to make amends and move on together.

Both characters undergo tremendous emotional growth through this novel and it was absolutely wonderful to read about. Lavinia learns how to trust others and put more stock in her younger brother and that was really just so amazing to read about how their attitudes towards each other changed. William had been convinced he was irredeemable because of how he "forced" Lavinia to sleep with him, and reading about him slowly coming to realize that there is always hope and that the gift of love is never forced really completed him as a character. I will say that the whole "falling in love" part was a little wham-bam and all of a sudden they were both saying they loved the others, but at least it was explained better in this short story than in most others of this length. There was quite a couple sexy scenes and they were very well written if somewhat tinged with a hint of hopelessness at the beginning. I especially enjoyed that the money issue was resolved in a reasonable and fairly realistic manner instead of having him end up inheriting a dukedom or something else ridiculous.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What Happens in London

What Happens in London by Julia Quinn

When Olvia Bevelstoke's gossipy friends inform her that her new neighbor, Sir Harry Valentine, killed his fiance, Olivia can't resist doing a little spying to find out what he hides. Harry knows from the beginning that he is being spied on by the very attractive daughter of the Earl of Rudlend, but he can't figure out why. When Olivia realizes that Harry is completely aware of her exploits she is humiliated but determined to pretend she has no idea what had occurred. Things don't go precisely as planned when the two meet up at a random ball and they verbally try to run circles around each other. Both are left exhilerated and excited over the encounter although both claim to dislike the other. Shortly thereafter Harry receives word from the war office that his new assignment is to watch out for Prince Alexei, a Russian Prince who has taken a shine to Olivia and who has ties to Napoleon sympathasizers. Harry is more put out over having to spend more time with Olivia then he is with his new assignment, but on his very first excursion he runs into Olivia and realizes there is more to her than meets the spying eye.

Unfornately Harry can't let on to Olivia his true mission so he has to stand somewhat idly by as Alexei makes pitiful and apparently obscene (in Russian) attempts to court her. Harry and Olivia's romance is conducted through ballroom dancing, hiding from the Prince in said ballrooms, through morning calls to Olivia's house and, most fun of all, through some late night window chats where they read to each other. Not to long in to his investigation of the Prince, Harry receives the abrupt news that the whole thing has been called off and he is somewhat confused, but glad he can now devote himself to winning Olivia's affection. Things all come to a head the Russian ambassador's ball as both Olivia and Harry admit their feelings for each other and make plans to marry. Unfortunately someone still believes the Prince has feelings for Olivia and kidnaps her in an attempt to gain a large ransom from the royal. Harry is distraught and determined to save Olivia so the two can have the life they had imagined for each other just hours before.

I have read plenty of Julia Quinn and have never precisely understood why she is considered one of the best romance writers, nor why her books tend to be $1 more than most other romances. While I'm still not precisely an avid fan, this book went quite a ways to explaining why so many people like her, even though I can't see how they could from her other books. For one thing this book did not contain the typical large dose/s of references to previously happy couples that her other books do (the Bridgertons) although it does contain some fun little allusions (such as the Smythe-Smith musicale) that were sprinkled in and more fun than heavy-handed. This had everything I had been expecting from such a well-loved author. A great progression as the characters moved from outright dislike to a mutual respect and enjoyment of one another's company to admitting they loved each other. And she did it so realistically too as they got to know one another and spend time with one another. It wasn't riddled with sparring or outright animosity just some lively (and not annoying) banter/ jokes that progressed to something more.

Apparently Quinn is known for her "feverish love scenes" and while I have read at least one of her books that possessed these (When He Was Wicked) this was certainly not one of them. The kissing scenes were rushed and the ONE actual steamy scene was 320 pages into the book and over far too quickly without being anywhere near hot. This wasn't my main problem with the book though as the development of their relationship was enjoyable enough to make up for this. What I found weird was the completely bizarre, out of far left-field, was the kidnap at the end. I could not figure out what point that played in the novel except to stretch it out into the requisite 370 pages. Completely unnecessary, but I did manage to forgive her a little bit as the few pages following, where Olivia is forced to realize that there's quite a bit about the man she loves that she doesn't know, are quite good and the perfect amount of angsty. I was glad that the Prince Alexei/ kidnap/ Russian side plot weren't completely overdone and didn't overwhelm the novel, even if it did seem a little awkward in the book.

Rating: I very much enjoyed this book and, while annoying, the kidnap plot didn't throw me off all that much. Wish there had been more steam though.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Daisy's Back in Town

Daisy's Back in Town by Rachel Gibson

Daisy Lee Monroe, nee Brooks, is back in her hometown of Lovett, Texas, because she has something very important to discuss with her old childhood friend, Jackson, Jack, Parrish. Fifteen years ago Jack and Daisy had had quite the steamy, yet hush-hush relationship, until his parents died. Wanting space Jack had pushed Daisy away only to have her show up and announce her marriage to their best friend, Steven Monroe. Now after two years of medical treatments Steven is dead of brain cancer and Daisy has finally decided to tell Jack that the reason she left all those years ago, the reason she married Steven so abruptly, is because she was pregnant with Jack's son. Now Nathan is fifteen and Daisy realizes that she has waited far too long. Unfortunately Jack is no more inclined to listen to Daisy Lee than he was on that long ago night when she and Steven broke his heart. Daisy is terrified of what Jack will do when he finds out, but that doesn't stop her from remembering all the happy memories she shared with Jack, and the memories that she shared with Jack and Steven.

Jack is not all happy to have Daisy back in his life drudging up memories he never wanted to confront again. Despite her best attempts to get Jack alone he does an admirable job of dodging all her attempts at telling him the truth until one night, after a wild time at the bar, they end up in bed together. Suddenly both know that everything between them that they had believed to be dead, was far from gone. But when Nathan shows up at Jack's shop and Jack realizes what Daisy had done, he is even more mad and more convinced than ever that Daisy is not a woman he could ever love again. He is determined to get to know his son even if his means of doing so isn't exactly to Daisy's liking. The more he gets to know Nathan the more he realizes that Daisy, and to some extent, Steven, will always be an important part of his life, both past and future, and maybe it is time to let go of old hurts to move on with his life. Daisy has plans to return to Seattle, but the more time she spends with Jack, and the more she sees Nathan getting to know his father, the more she contemplates making some drastic changes of her own- if Jack is willing to forgive and love her again.

This is my second Rachel Gibson and her second secret "baby" plot. I know that this used to be a romance novel staple but maybe because it is no longer quite so common I actually tend to enjoy them. I love the angst and unruly emotions it creates from the anger to the love to the frustration. Just as in "Simply Irresistible" Gibson does an excellent job dealing with this surplus of emotions from Jack's anger and resentment tinged with quite a bit of lust, to Daisy's regret and fear also tinged with quite a bit of lust, to Nathan's confusion and hope. This is just something Gibson obviously does very well which is quite good as this book was very character and emotion driven. In a secret child plot I imagine it is always important for the author to adequately portray how the male forgives and falls in love with the woman who kept his child from him and how the woman forgives herself and reconciles herself with her (possible) mistake. And to do this all in a way that doesn't become overdrawn or maudling and keeps the ready still completely sympathetic to both protagonists. Gibson does this wonderfully- although I won't mind reading a non-secret child plot from her.

Fortunately I felt as though this book was different enough from "Irresistible" that it was not at all a problem for me at all. They were two completely different books although both featured quite a bit of Texas twang and kitsch. There was more than a little too much Texas-ness for me in this book from the country music to the "Don't Mess with Texas" and such T-shirts, to the big-hair and drawls. And to be honest I didn't find it very flattering to Texans either- unless everyone in Texas really is a caricature of everything you see about them on TV. There was a fair amount of steam that was made even better because it was driven by all that pent up lust and emotions that Daisy and Jack had been harboring for each other for fifteen years. I liked how Steven wasn't made out to be a villian and how Daisy never really says she made a mistake or regrets her decision because it was obvious that Steven was a really great guy who was probably just a little misguided. And I liked how her moving back to Lovitt wasn't accompanied by great talks about how much better Texas is than Seattle and how much she'd missed small town life and blah-di-blah.

Rating: A very good book with very sympathetic, realistic and well written characters with some wonderful all encompassing emotions.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Four Dukes and a Devil

Four Dukes and a Devil

The Irish Duke by Cathy Maxwell
After her parents died Susan Rodgers was forced to make a living for herself preparing girls for marriage. A huge tool in her recruitment box has been her knowledge of the Order of Precedence which states that the Irish Dukes come last. She shares this knowledge, secure that no Irish Duke will ever challenge her and is shocked when Roan, the Duke of Killeigh, comes to confront her. Both are swept up by the challenge the other presents and it is not long before Roan is trying to convince the beautiful spinster to marry him. Susan is terrified that Roan should be looking for a woman of his own station, but he manages to convince her that she is the only woman he wants. An incredibly short mini-novella, not much happens in the way of relationship development in the story. It is certainly a fun and entertaining read, but too much was crammed into too few pages. There is a brief steamy scene at the end that, while good, the space may have been better used showing the reader why/ how exactly these two came to fall in love with each other as a few stolen moments at very crowded balls doesn't really explain it very well.

The Duke Who Came to Dinner by Elaine Fox
Gray Gilliam's sudden decision to take a walk on the wild side ends badly when a dog runs off with her clothes while she's skinny dipping. Luckily the only person who notices her nude midnight bike ride through town is Sam Gregory, the owner of said dog. Gray is trying to loosen up while on vacation in Massachusetts and on a trip into the town's local dive has her leaving with Sam. Unfortunately back at her place the residential "ghost" decides to take matters into his hands and the night ends with some haunted visitors. The story was certainly better developed than "The Irish Duke" and the relationship really had time to really grow. The two spent quite a bit of time together and made a really good couple. I liked how it ended on a hopeful note, rather than on the completely finished note as it made it obvious that Gray and Sam were going to spend more time getting to know each other. The ghost story seemed a little blah and extra little nonsense, but the steamy scene, while not super exciting, made it obvious that when given more room to breathe, Fox is a great, sexy, writer.

Devil to Pay by Jeaniene Frost
Blake has been possessed by the an evil demon and is determined to kill himself even though the demon is doing everything he can to ensure that Blake does not do so. When Elise finds him reeking of death and blood she is drawn to him and brings him back to her lair. She is a vampire and has no fear of the demon but she wants to help Blake get rid of this evil force that has taken over him so she takes him to her sire, Mencheres. The only way he can think to get rid of the demon for good is to bring Blake out to the deserted salt flats and kill him with no living thing around to ensure that the demon does not possess another being. Elise is terrified of losing this person she is drawn to like she has not been drawn to before, but she is faced with the harsh truth that it may be the only way to get rid of this demon. I am not really much for demons and other-worldly creatures in my romance, but it was certainly exciting. Elise and Blake spent so much time together it was easy to see that they had enough time to "fall in love." There was quite a bit of action, some angst, and some nice steam. Despite this book being fairly good I would not have liked to read a full-length novel about this.

Catch of the Century by Sophia Nash
Victoria Givan is escorted her three orphaned charges to their apprenticeship when she is nearly run over by the a carriage. John Varick, the Duke of Beaufort, feels a sense of responsibility for the four travelers who seem intent on walking 60 miles and he offers them a ride. A night at a coaching inn makes it clear that the two can not be trusted to keep their hands off each other. When he discovers that their planned accommodations are ruins he then corrals them into staying at his house where Victoria and John do their best to avoid each other and temptation. That is easier said than done and after being bitten by a snake Victoria fears dying a virgin- a problem John is more than happy to rectify. The incident forces John to realizes that he wants the maddening and beautiful Victoria in his life for good, but Victoria fears joining John's hoi-paloi world and runs away. It is up to John to find her and convince her that she matters more than any society matron's opinion. Very fun and definitely the perfect length with nothing left out. I feel too much more of their argumentative banter would have gotten on my nerves and the reunion of past-novel characters would have been too frustrating. More a turn towards what I really like to read.

Charmed by her Smile by Tracy Anne Warren
India Byron is desperate to get rid of an unwanted suitor named Peter Harte and enlists the help of the first man she stumbles upon to kiss her. She was unaware that her savior is none other than the Quentin, the Duke of Weybridge, who has quite the reputation as a the ton's most notorious rake. Quentin has been suffering from a bout of ennui and spending time with this spunky, talkative, and very clever young lady may be just what he's looking for. Despite hitting it off so well Quentin is reluctant to make their relationship real even as they continue the ruse at a house party in order to ward of Peter's advances. Quentin is determined to keep things between them away from talk of marriage, even as he is coming to realize that India may mean so much more to him than he was expecting. I think it really says something when I felt like an 80 page short story was too long and I kept waiting for it to end. So many of the parts I wish had been expanded, such as them really getting to know each other and talking were washed over while other things (so unimportant I don't remember) were dragged out. There was steam, but this was the only story that didn't feature a "completion" and it certainly had plenty of angst.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Stranger's Kiss

Stranger's Kiss by Mary Blayney

Lynford Penniston, the Duke of Meryon, is still grieving from his wife's death after more than a year and regrets never having told her how much she meant to him. Unfortunately he has important business to take care of: Revenge, no justice, against the Duke of Bendas, who arranged to have his sister Olivia kidnapped so she would be forced to marry his grandson William. It nearly cost Olivia her life and the duel Meryon and Bendas fights ends with Meryon even more upset with Bendas and a young groom dead. Elena Verano is a renowned singer whose famous violinist husband has been dead for over a year when she travels to England for the debut of her ward, Mia. Nothing has prepared either of them for the sparks that ignite when they find themselves alone in a darkened room. They find themselves sharing their grief with each other as they commiserate on lost love and wasted chances and share a torrid kiss before even having introduced themselves. What Meryon doesn't know is that Elena is the disowned daughter of his enemy, the Duke of Bendas.

Their relationship progresses slowly as Elena wants to get to know Meryon before they both jump in to bed and although Meryon has no problem dancing with her and accidentally ending up in the same shop as her, he is not as eager to wait. Those around Meryon wonder at his new infatuation with the singer who is so different from his wife as Elena and Meryon share heated discussion bordering on arguments. Getting tired of waiting Meryon invites Elena to dinner only to have several of his members of his family drop by unexpectedly. The two finally do end up at Meryon's second home in the city and while Elena is excited at the prospect of seeing where things might go Meryon ruins things for her when he asks her to become his mistress. Elena is distraught at the idea of running her life around what a man wants and she breaks things off with Meryon. He realizes that he has made a tremendous mistake and wants to make it up to her, but he is still determined to go through with his revenge against the Duke of Bendas. Neither is sure if their feelings for each other will survive the planned revenge.

I enjoyed reading about a woman who had already "grown up" and had a real career, or at least a VERY good hobby. It was a nice change from the typical 19-22 year-olds, or the 26 year old spinsters who have dedicated their lives to doing "good works" for the poor. Elena definitely had her head on straight and I loved her pitch-perfect reaction to Meryon's proposal that she become his mistress. Now that I'm working with kids though it got a little frustrating reading about how she let her ward get away with so much and seemed to have absolutely no discipline strategies (any teacher out there will know what I mean). A part of the book that confused me was both Meryon's and Elena's relationship with their deceased spouses. I get the feeling that they had intense feelings for their spouses, but that there was something a little off about the relationships. I'm glad the book didn't make either of them into villians or anything, but a little more backround about what exactly was wrong wtih those relationships, and how Meryon and Elena's relationship is different, would have been very welcome.

The revenge/ justice plot against Bendas was more than a bit of a letdown. He seemed like a truly godawful man and just once I want a hero not to go all noble and actually kill the g-d d--n villian! He certainly deserved it. I also couldn't get behind her singing: I have never really understood that whole talent that is absolutely moving and incredibly and stops everyone in their tracks and the hero/heroine can't help but fall in love. Elena is not described as having the best voice but apparently it is supremely moving and... maybe I am not cultured enough, but I just don't understand it. Luckily there seemed to be enough other, more realistic and understandable, basis for their relationship as the first scene where they meet is quite touching. The two really do mesh quite well as they share their lives with one another and it is very easy to see that Elena pushes Meryon to become a better, more conscientious person. The sex in the book was neither hot nor bland, rather a mixture of both and a tad rushed through most of it. It was a good look into how they interacted so it wasn't throwaway but it wasn't something to look forward to either.

Rating: A good, if mediocre book, with nothing overly awful or overly wonderful. I'll give it three hearts, but really it was a tad long for a book that didn't seem to hold much substance. So really a low three.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Scandals of an Innocent

The Scandals of an Innocent by Nicola Cornick

The Scandals of an Innocent is the second in "The Brides of Fortune" series and the same back round applies so I recommend reading at least some of my review of The Confessions of a Duchess. Alice Lister is a former serving maid whose eccentric employer left her 80,000 pounds after her death so Alice is prime hunting material for all the fortune hunters who have flocked to Fortune's Folly. Lord Miles Vickerey was intent on wedding her to pay of his enormous debts, and after Alice had begun to fall for him he quickly dropped her to pursue a wealthier heiress. When that doesn't pan out he runs off to London and takes up with a courtesan, but is sent back to Fortune's Foley to pursue the escaped criminal Tom Fortune. Since he recently inherited the Marquis-ship of Drum he is faced with even more debts and decides to renew his courtship of Ms. Lister and he has a trick up his sleeve. He threatens to expose her late night thievery of a wedding dress if she does not agree to his marriage and left with the threat of leaving her mother and her friend Lydia Cole, who is unmarried and pregnant, she agrees.

However, her inheritance is not without stipulations and Miles must prove himself honest and upstanding in all his dealings for three months in order for Alice to inherit the money. Alice is convinced he will never survive, but Miles is equally determined to get his hands on the money. The two announce their engagement, to the delight of Alice's mother and the horror of Miles' and Alice's lawyers come up to Fortune to take stock of how "honest" Miles really is. And surprisingly enough Miles does begin to change in very subtle ways even as he attempts to convince himself that he is only doing it to fool the lawyers. Unfortunately his act is very convincing and despite her determination not to, Alice finds herself beginning to fall in love with this new and improved Miles' once again even while she warns herself that he will do nothing but break her heart. It seems that he is indeed once again destined to break her heart, but maybe he will instead end up saving her from the real villains of Fortune who eluded capture by pinning their crimes on Tom Fortune, but will now do anything to stop their identity from being revealed.

I can not think of a single hero who started a book so absolutely unlikable and remained so for quite so long. He left her for a woman with more money and freely admits to wanting Alice purely for her money, and although he is attracted to her and lusts after her, the money is far more important. The blackmail scene made him almost unforgivable as he just kept pushing and pushing her and it was painful to read as he had such an upper hand over her and she had literally nothing to keep herself from falling for his plot. I kept waiting and waiting, and while his feelings for her certainly did begin to grow beyond lust and greed, it was slow and it seemed that, for well over half the novel, he was just as bad as he allowed Alice to believe. While Dexter in "The Confessions of a Duchess" had his mean moments, it wasn't this all pervasive and it was clear throughout it all that he loved her and was just striking out at her for her "betrayal" of him. This is definitely not the case in "Scandal." It got so bad that around the time where his mistress enters the picture I had to put the book down for awhile and read something else. Even though I know he didn't invite her to the event it just seemed like it was one time too many where Alice was just forced face to face with Miles' disrespect for her (as he had taken the mistress after throwing her over).

Miles' awfulness is what made Alice, who had appeared so likable and level headed, not to mention quite an amazing friend, so utterly unlikable in this book. She knew the whole time she was falling in love with how awful Miles' was and she STILL fell in love with him. I really just did not understand that. Or how she could give up her virginity to him minutes after being confronted by said mistress and being told that he had very seriously contemplated sleeping with a maidservant from the village. Some of my favorite parts of the book were reserved for the characters other than Miles and Alice. I was glad we got to learn more about what was happening in Lydia Cole's life after Tom Fortune had impregnated and abandoned her. There was also a very brief side romance between Alice's lawyer, Gaines, and Miles' sister, Celia that was very cute and made Celia seem like a heroine far more worthy of a novel than Alice. The ending was quite shocking as not only had I not suspected the real villains of the crime, I didn't even know the identity of the villain was up for grabs! So kudos for quite the little shocker there.

Rating: The book had its' moments, even some between Miles' and Alice, but Miles' behavior and downright awfulness overshadowed the book.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Wicked Lord at the Wedding

A Wicked Lord at the Wedding by Jillian Hunter

Six years before our story officially begins Eleanor Prescott was accompanying her father as he doctored to the wounded British soldiers in Spain. While in Spain she attracted the attention of the very handsome and impulse Baron, Sebastian Boscastle. The two briefly courted and fell madly in love with each other and he asked her to marry him. Unfortunately before the wedding he was gravely wounded in a battle and he never completely recovered. His mental instability lead to a disastrous wedding and he abandoned her on her wedding night to go off back to war. The next three years were followed by infrequent and short visits while the following three years were filled with complete estrangement. Sebastian returns to his wife after learning that she is the Mayfair Masquer, a masked man who has been sneaking into women's bedchambers and, depending on who you ask, doing quite inappropriate things with them. He is determined to win back his wife and bring her back in line. The two enter into an agreement that he will aid her in her quest, but Eleanor is not competely trusting of her estranged husband.

In an attempt to gain a sense of adventure in her life, since her husband is off doing exciting war detail assignments, Eleanor is recruited by the Duchess of Wellington to become an operative in her little spyring. Eleanor's mission is to capture a series of letters that have been written to various women in England. These letters are supposedly written by a woman claiming to be the Duke's mistress and the Duchess fears what would happen if the contents were released to the public. The capture of these letters becomes a contest between Eleanor and Sebastian as they struggle to best each other while at the same time quickly falling back into their roles as husband and wife. Sebastian becomes increasingly concerned for Eleanor's safety after she is caught trying to steal letters by an infamous courtesan and evidence soon comes out that the plot against Wellington may in fact endanger his son. Sebastian is determined to do his duty to England and to keep his wife safe, and in the process he manages to stop the entire plot and win his wife's love- for good.

If my summary seems oddly detached it is merely a byproduct of the writing in the novel itself. Something about this book completely prevented me from feeling the story from either Sebastian or Eleanor's perspective. It seemed more like typing than writing to me and seemed, for lack of a better phrase, rather emotionless. A generous amount of time is given to Sebastian's point of view, which I appreciated as many novels don't give adequate space to the hero's POV, I feel that this might have contributed to the problem. I will admit there were nice bits where Eleanor reflected on how she would ever get back to trusting Sebastian again, or Sebastian wondering how he could manage to repair his broken marriage, but the incredibly odd spy/ masquer plot utterly overwhelmed any semblance of the romance this book (supposedly) contained. Another contributing factor may have been the fact that most of their actual "falling in love" occured before the meet of the story and the story was really about them reconnecting- as they worked to find those letters.

The side plot was a whole 'nother problem. I found it completely ridiculous. I was supposed to be excited about some stupid letters a mad woman had supposedly written to a bunch of other women about a supposed affair with the Duke of Wellington. Even though these letters were false I was supposed to be completely involved in a plot to discreetly get rid of these letters to ensure that the contents of the letters didn't become public knowledge. Even after the horrible plot against the two young boys was unconvered (90% through the book making it even more ridiculous) I could not for the life of me bring myself to care on whit about these letters. This was unfortunate as these letters, the capture of these letters, and talking about these letters consumed the vast majority of this book and the vast majority of the time Sebastian and Eleanor spent together. And I could not understand the drama surrounding this plot- literally five trustworthy people knew Eleanor was the masquer so I couldn't figure out why everyone feared the mob would come to her house to arrest her. And despite some mighty sexy banter there was very little follow through and what little there was, wasn't very good.

Rating: A far from satisfying read with a terrible sight plot, undeveloped characters I couldn't care about, and next to no steam. However, it was fast and, at very rare times, a little interesting. And of course it was still better than "The Perfect Wife."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Seduced by His Touch

Seduced by His Touch by Tracy Anne Warren

Seduced by His Touch is a very loose sequel to Tempted by His Kiss and follows the story of Cade's brother, Lord John Byron. Despite his previous luck at the card table Jack finds himself at the losing end of a 100,000 pound pot to Ezra Danvers. Danvers offers Jack a deal; marry my daughter and not only will he erase that 100,000 he'll throw in an additional 120,000. The only catch is that Grace Danvers is a 25-year old near spinster giant with red hair and a penchant for frequenting lectures on flowers. Danvers warns Jack that Grace can never know about their agreement and that Jack must make Grace fall in love with him or she won't agree to marry him. Jack immediately sets about following Grace to her favorite haunts and making himself very well known to her. Grace is startled and a bit wary when the brother of a duke starts paying so much attention to her, but is quick to recognize that Jack is not your typical nob. Their courtship takes its time and Grace falls in love with Jack as he makes her forget her insecurities about her station in life and her looks. Their first love scene takes place while Grace if just a tad bit inebriated and he asks her to marry him.

Grace spends the majority of their courtship ecstatic and extremely excited about spending the rest of her life with a man she is head-over-heels in love with, and whom she hopes is falling in love with her. Her hopes are dashed when she sneaks into Jack's room for a surprise and stumbles across his agreement with her father. Immediately she feels like a fool for ever believing that a man like Jack could ever love her and regrets having told him that she loves him. She agrees to continue with the marriage but makes him promise to buy her a house she can live in after an appropriate amount of time has passed. Jack agrees, but is fairly confident that he can change her mind. For the beginning of their marriage Grace manages to hold onto her icy facade but it isn't long before she finds herself succumbing to Jack's advances in the bedroom (and out!). When Jack acknowledges that this half of a marriage is not working for him and he wants everything he had with her beforehand again, Grace worries about placing her trust in someone who has betrayed her once before.

I really enjoyed Warren's writing style in this story. There was a lot of emotion in this story and she did a superb job of getting it all down without becoming maudlin or slow as it seems emotions in romance novels so often do. And boy are there some great emotions! Grace as a the excited bride to be was so much fun and I was so drawn into her happiness I was dreading the (inevitable) moment she would discover the truth behind Jack's courtship. But Grace as the betrayed lover/wife was just as fun as I read about her struggling to keep Jack out of her heart because she was so scared of being vulnerable and getting hurt again. My other favorite part about Grace was the way she dealt with becoming a new member of the ton: by admitting that she needed help and receiving assistance from her new husband's family. So much better than reading about her struggling and being ridiculed; there was quite enough angst in this book as it was. Jack's emotions are not quite as easy to decipher as Grace's as Warren doesn't spend quite as much time on his but what little there is (I would have liked more) was just as well written as the rest of the book.

I feel like I've read this plot before so it is far from the most original story line, but I tend not to mind as long as the author does some new things with some great new characters. Grace and Jack aren't exactly new: the gorgeous heroine who is still insecure about her looks, and the redeemable rake who made a bad call at the card table. I'm not sure what she could have added to make them a little more fresh (aside from the red hair which I do like) but they are a little too familiar. I spent the first half of the book extremely glad that this hadn't turned into a love fest between Grace and Jack's family and a refresher on how great our protagonists from "Tempted" were doing, but unfortunately about 1/2 way through his family, and our former friends, start showing up a bit too much for my taste. I am still unsure how I felt about the sex in the book as it was both plentiful and plenty steamy but I had an issue with the way that after the marriage it was seen as her "surrendering to him."

Rating: there were definitely elements of this book that I completely loved, but I would not classify it as anything particularly special or memorable. Except for the angst which was superb and very very juicy. Still- a fun and well-written read.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Devil in My Bed

Devil in my Bed by Celeste Bradley

Aidan de Quincy had fallen in madly in love with Madeleine Chandler and was crushed when his marriage proposal was brutally rejected. He swore never to see her again but when a three-year old girl shows up outside his club claiming one of the members is her father Aidan has to find Madeleine in order to discover if young Melody is his. Madeleine had turned Aidan down because of her very secretive past: she faked her death to escape an abusive and controlling husband and swore never to marry again. The child is not hers but when Aidan comes calling she is desperate to escape her husband's crony and she claims the child is hers. The ruse continues when she moves into Aidan's club and shares a room with both him and Melody. It is not long before the sparks begin to fly between Aidan and Madeleine the two quickly resume where they left out. Aidan is wary of trusting her again but he is smitten by this new "family" of his and can't help but begin planning for their future together.

Realizing that things are quickly spiraling out of control and that the secrets will just continue to pile up between them Madeleine knows it's time to tell Aidan the truth and things do not go well. Aidan is crushed that she is not free to marry him and seems to completely miss the whole abusive husband aspect of her story and kicks her out. Once outside she is quickly kidnapped by her husband who holds her hostage in the attic of the club. He is quite the crazy and gets off on the idea of watching (through a peep hold) as she starves to death. When Aidan and his friend Colin realize that something is not right with Madeleine's disappearance all the club members and staff pitch in to find her and bring the bad guy to justice. What ensues is confusing and chaotic and I can't really figure out what happened, but to no one's surprise everything turns out fine, even if it would have turned out fine quite a bit earlier if Madeleine had not HAD to open her mouth and play the noble heroine.

Why can't anyone in a romance novel just take the easy route? Why couldn't Madeleine, when everything seemed as though it was going to be settled and end perfectly for everyone, have to go and open her mouth? I just don't understand why it was necessary for her to explain everything to everyone. She needed to explain it to Aidan, and us of course, but she had to have known that the constable would be within his rights to throw her in jail for her role in the whole fiasco. Why did she have to be "noble" and tell the truth? Was it really noble for her to risk getting her ass thrown in the slammer and in the process abandon Aidan and Melody? No. Stupid, stupid, stupid. As I mentioned earlier the whole rescue plot was very confusing and I couldn't figure out what window which person was hanging out of and who was aiming a gun at who, who was kidnapped by whom and why. And it was quite amazingly far-fetched with guns, kidnaps, window ledges, suicides/ murders, literally everything crammed into one book.

The whole thing also could have been over quicker if Madeleine had told Aidan the truth earlier, say when they first met, or if Aidan had not been such an ass when she was trying to tell him that she'd had an abusive husband. What kind of person throws a woman out of his life as she's telling him about a husband who used to beat her? So I was disinclined to feel that bad that she'd lied to him. The kidnap/ crazy husband plot took the greater part of the second half of the book and got a tad overwhelming as it was confusing (have I mentioned that?) and in a 320 page book was quite the page taker. I was interesting to say the least, but I would have liked more romantic development between Aidan and Madeleine. Melody was a very well written 3 year old, if a tad bit more eloquent than many of my acquaintance. Normally I wouldn't complain about book length, but in a 326 page book with large-ish type, it just seemed like there was not really all that much of a book- maybe because the characters didn't really go through the meeting each other part.

Rating: A semi- enjoyable-ish book, but, despite the short length and the fast pace, I couldn't bring myself to care about the characters or the kidnap plot.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Surrender of a Siren

Surrender of a Siren by Tessa Dare

At the end of "Goddess of the Hunt" we learn that Lady Sophia Hathaway has abandoned her sedate life and her fiance, Toby, to find adventure and Surrender picks up with Sophia bargaining her way onto Mr. Grayson's, ship bound for Tortola where she has struck up a correspondence with Lucy's cousins on the island. Giving a false name and claiming to be a governess Gray knows that everything isn't all as it appears with his new passenger but that doesn't stop him from being immediately charmed, among other things, with Ms. Jane Turner. But recognizing her innocence in the ways of the world he is determined to stay away from her and does all he can, including being incredibly blunt/ mean, but Sophia knows that this could be her chance at passion. Seeing as how she ran away from England to escape a passionless union with a man who couldn't see past her virture and purity, she takes things into her own hands to seduce Gray. While doing so she ingratiates herself with his crew by composing beautiful pictures of the sea and portraits for each of them.

Gray is also distracted by his brother Joss who is Captain of the ship Sophia and Gray travel on as Joss is still bitter over several "betrayals" Gray pereptrated against him, how overprotective Gray is and the death of his wife. When Gray learns that Sophia has lied to him more than he expected he is furious but that can't stop him from desiring her. When his crew commandeers a burning ship and places the incompetent captain in the brig he takes her aboard the new ship where he realizes that her lies don't matter and that it's only important that they spend the rest of their lives together. However, Sophia is terrified that when he learns the truth about her he will have no choice but to abandon her. Gray is determined that his sister Bell be given a grand London season but having a completely ruined and ostracized sister-in-law will not stand Bell in good stead. When the two ships land in Tortola everyone is arrested as the 2nd ship's captain has pressed piracy charges and Sophia tells Gray that they have no future even as she plots to save him from a hanging. Said pirate charges and the ensuing drama is the most fun part of the book, but Sophia is still worried that perhaps Gray won't love her once he discovers the truth.

It seems as though Sophia left one man because he couldn't see past her purity, virture, beauty and downright lady-ness for someone who is just as entranced by all those things. Although he briefly is a little freaked out by her virginity he quickly gets over it and into the "you're mine and only mine" stage. The only difference between Gray and Toby is that Gray doesn't stop, as Toby did, but continues on in the seduction. I wouldn't necessarily say that makes Gray better, especially seeing as how Toby planned on marrying her from the beginning and Gray has no such intentions until the end. Sophia has a talent though as she is an exceptionally talented artist and of course our hero is entranced by said talent and the way her drawings "captured the boy Davy was and the man he would become." I do not even understand what that means- literally it just sounds ridiculous. Not being an artist myself a painting is a painting and while movement can be portrayed in a painting his reaction just seems crazy.

This book was much much slower going than "Goddess of the Hunt" and many of the problems other saw in that book I found present here. If Lucy was somewhat of a risk-taker/ denyer of reality than Sophia takes the cake. She laughs after almost being dragged into shark infested waters, she continually teases and flirts with Gray even after he has repeatedly told her he doesn't want her, and she literally waits until the last possible second to tell him the truth when it would have served everyone better if she'd just done it when they admitted their love! As with Goddess this book is extremely hot, even more so than Goddess really with some lovely lovely little bits in there, but all the angst in it is just plain annoying. All the angst and so many of the problems in this book just arise from Sophia being too scared to tell the truth even when she should know that she can. And he gets angry because when she illustrates her very risque novel she uses his likeness for the gentleman! It was just too much for me. Even if the great courtroom pirate scenes were so much fun the book just didn't do it for me.

Rating: So much potential with such great characters behaving so stupidly. It was between a 2 and 3 and I'll give it 3 because, despite my rantings above, the book was not horrible, just had so much misplaced potential.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

My Wicked Marquess

My Wicked Marquess by Gaelen Foley

When Max, the Marquess of Rotherstone, returns from France after Napoleon's defeat he is determined to find himself a respectable wife. His reputation is in tatters as he is a member of the notorious Inferno Club which is presented to the public as a club for dissolute rakes. What nobody knows is that the Inferno Club is in fact a cover for the The Order, a powerful organization that has spent the last century trying to keep the "Prometheus Council" from taking control of the world. When presented with a list of possible suitors Daphne Starling immediately stands out to him as the Patron Saint of Newcomers. The feeling intensifies when he meets her and finds her beautiful and possessing a quality that draws him to her. He wants to bring that light and happiness into his own life and he knows that only Daphne can prevent the darkness from overtaking him. For her part Daphne is drawn to the dark, mysterious and incredibly handsome Marquess, but does not like the way he attempts to take control of everything; including her.

When Max repeatedly refuses to be completely honest with her she breaks everything off with Max. Since his childhood when his father sold him to the organization, knowing full well that his son could be killed, Max has tremendous issues regarding trust and love, but he realizes that he will have to take a chance with Daphne. When he finally announces his feelings for her she reciprocates and the two get married. Just as things begin looking very favorable for the happy couple, fate intervenes and Daphne discovers that Max has been hiding something from her. She is determined to get the truth from Max and he is equally determined to keep it from her- for her own safety. One Max's fellow Order members, who had been (believed to be) killed by the Prometheans, shows up in London and no one is sure if he has gone rogue or transferred allegiances. This debacle forces Max to make a final choice over where his allegiance truly lies: with the beautiful new wife with whom his future lies or with The Order who held sway over his past.

I have always found the heroine who just magically "draws" the hero to her with her beautiful smile to be rather silly and more than a little unbelievable. Foley manages to pull of this feat admirably well as we get a beautiful inner monologue from Max detailing exactly how he is drawn to Daphne; he sees her as a relief from his dark life and her smile makes him feel like a hero. It was simply amazing to read. I was quite surprised by how drawn into the Promethean/ Order plot I was and while the book does set the reader up for the next book in the series as a romance novel (and boy is that quite a set-up: it's a kidnap plot) I also want to read it to find out where this Promethean/ Drake/ Inferno Club plot goes. The big information dump about the history of the two organizations was a tad overwhelming, not to mention a conspiracy theorists wet dream, but still entirely engrossing. I loved both Daphne and Max. Daphne was genuine and confident in herself and Max was brooding and mysterious (but with quite an adequate reason) and was looking for the woman who could bring happiness back into his life.

I loved her writing style for the most part and she has quite the way with words, but there were definitely times when she was more than a little too descriptive for my tastes. I don't mind it for clothing, but for food and furnishing I was more than a little bored even though I know some people might like that. My other problem was with her interchangeable use of names and titles for Max's friends in The Order to the point where I was left with sometimes little idea with who was being talked about. There were quite a few steamy scenes and although some of them were a little abrupt several of them were incredibly HOT, such as when Daphne takes control and "seduces" her husband, and very emotion drive as the two of them take comfort from each other and the sex is really an expression of the love and trust they feel for each other. There is one occasion where he uses sex to manipulate her feelings, and while it did not bother me overly as she quickly realized what he had been up to, I know others really dislike this romance staple.

Rating: I adored this book and the characters as well as the side plot. My little peeves with the books were minor and did not at all take away from the sheer awesomeness of the book.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

His Chosen Bride

His Chosen Bride by Alexandra Bassett

When Nathan Cantrell left the army he expected to come home to his happy childhood home, The Willows. Unfortunately he finds out that his father has left him a home mortgaged to the hilt by his next door neighbor Sir Harlan. Severely stressed by this turn of events Nathan decides a good dip in the river will do him good and it is there he meets a fascinating and provoking water nymph. When he goes to confront Sir Harlan over the debts, Harlan makes him an offer: marry one of his three daughters in exchange for cash and the releasing of the mortgages. Nathan is not pleased especially when he learns that Harlan's daughter's are Violet, the self-important widow of a marquess's heir, Abigail, the sickly and drab middle daughter, and Sophy, the flirt barely out of the schoolroom. But he is dumbstruck when he discovers that Abigail is in fact the water nymph from the pond! Abigail isn't too happy with this turn of events as she becomes convinced that Nathan is trying to seduce her sisters and believes that it is Nathan holding something over her father's head.

Nathan desperately wants to convince Abigail to marry him, but is terrified she'll find out about his deal with her father. Meanwhile Abigail has been using her "sickly" excuse as a means to stay home and write her gothic novels, which she publishes under a pen name and are quite well read. Things progress fairly nicely until Nathan comments on the Georgianna Harcourt "silly" novels. He tries to patch things up, but it is only a misunderstanding that makes Abigail believe they have a chance. She believes Nathan has written her a poem, but it was in fact written by Freddy for Sophy. When that's cleared up she is once again furious at him, but her father has gone and annoucned their engagement anyway. When she discovers the bargain Sir Harlan struck with Nathan Abigail runs off to London to stay with her Aunt. Nathan uses the opportunity to follow her and hit her aunt up for an investment in his wool-producing factory. Eventually Abigail realizes that she is punishing herself as well as Nathan by holding her grudge and as the two race to save her father's paecocks they're both able to admit that they're in love.

Bassett has only written one other book, "My Favorite Marquess," which takes place after this and features the top-lofty Violet finally meeting her peer, and the two are similar in many ways. The characters in "His Chosen Bride" are perfect: well-developed, fun, interesting, frustrating, and incredibly readable. Each of them by themselves is such a great character it makes scenes where out two main protagonists aren't even there seem like great reading. I loved Sir Harlan's bizarre obsession with birds, Violet and the butlers snobbery, Sophy's flirty ways, Freddy's attempts to become the next Lord Byron, and Aunt Augusta's crazy flightiness. The dialogue is beautifully written with some great banter, and while I know I complain about characters who seem to communicate only in banter and sparing, this is done very well and is mixed in with some real conversations. The mix-ups with the letter and then with Abigail's identity as Georgianna Harcourt were fun and entertaining and not at all drawn out to the point where they became more irritating than fun.

The only complaint I have with this book is the, almost, complete lack of steam. The scene at the beginning where the two meet while swimming makes it very obvious that Abigail and Nathan are VERY attracted to each other and definitely brings up hope that this will be a very steamy book, but alas it was not to be. There were a couple very brief kissing scenes and in the last two pages there is one even more brief sex scene that wasn't at all hot. The relationship was very realistically developed and I wish the author had fulfilled this part of their relationship as well as she did everything else between these two. The book wasn't as fast paced as many romance novels are these days, but I believe this is because the author spent more time developing all the characters and exploring their interactions and feelings for each other.

Rating: I absolutely loved this book and the lack of sex was the only bad thing I could think of as being less than perfect. Really wish the author would work on this. Also really wish the author finally gets around to publishing Sophy's story, although no word as of now as to when this will happen.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Laird Who Loved Me

The Laird Who Loved Me by Karen Hawkins

During the season Caitlyn Hurst and Alexander MacLean engaged in a heated, brief, and very tempestuous affair that ended when Caitlyn's plans to trick MacLean into marriage ended up with Alexander's brother, Hugh, married to Caitlyn's twin sister, Catriona. Despite the marriage working out very well for both parties MacLean is determined to have his revenge against Caitlyn so he convinced his onetime paramour, the Duchess of Roxburge, to invite Caitlyn to a house party where he intends to completely ruin her. However things don't go precisely as planned (as usual in a romance novel) and from the get go MacLean and Caitlyn have quite a difficult time of keeping their hands off each other and he can't help but getting jealous each time another man watches her, touches her, makes her laugh, etc.... He is struck with the urge to posses her and claim her as are most romance novel heroes. Caitlyn feels guilty over the way thing worked out between the two of them, but believes that, because everything worked out, that MacLean needs to forgive her.

MacLean and Caitlyn can't help but challenge each other and it isn't long before the two of them make a wager, although Caitlyn was definitely prodded along by MacLean who knows she can't resist a challenge. The each will choose 3 tasks for the other to complete and if MacLean wins Caitlyn will be his mistress (openly) for two weeks and if Caitlyn wins than MacLean will propose on bended knee- and Caitlyn has threatened to accept. Both enter with the intent of "revenge" or pride but it isn't long before they both realize their feelings are changing, even if they try to deny it. Caitlyn feels bad when one of MacLean's tasks injures him and MacLean finds his opinion of Caitlyn as the frivolous school-girl vanishing as he witnesses her determination, hard-work, and friendliness with the servants. As they unsuccessfully fight their attraction to each other and rethink what they each want from the other, MacLean is terrified that he will fall for Caitlyn and marry her only to have her regret marrying an old man and other people in the party aren't eager to see them get their happily ever after.

While officially a stand alone anyone who hasn't already read "Sleepless in Scotland" (Hugh and Catriona's story) will inevitably be missing quite a chunk of backstory as many references are made to Caitlyn's follies that lead to Hugh and Catriona marrying, but it isn't really explained at all. If one can get over this than it won't be too much of a problem, although there are also many references to the MacLean curse (of controlling the weather) which is not explored as in depth in this story as in the other MacLean stories (something I did not mind at all as it always just seemed a little ridiculous). Another aspect of this story that the book keeps referring back to is their passionate little affair back in London; it is literally brought up constantly. However, don't bother reading Sleepless as that's not even talked about in that story either. This was a definite no-no for me; referring to a past between the character's in fine, but I feel like we missed so much of their courtship right off the bat. The book also refers to the vast age difference between MacLean and Caitlyn and while we know Caitlyn is 23 we never learn MacLean's real age.

I like the amount of time spent on MacLean's issue of being older than Caitlyn; oftentimes in this circumstance the hero would spend a paragraph thinking about the age difference, but in this book it really is an actual issue because he had had a friend who had committed suicide after marrying a much younger woman who no longer loved him. I also enjoyed reading about MacLean's struggles with his emotions about Caitlyn and their progression from bitterness to confusion to lust to admiration to (finally) love. Unfortunately Caitlyn's emotions weren't as heavily explored and by the end I was kind of left with the feeling that Caitlyn certainly enjoyed MacLean's body I couldn't really sense any deeper emotions. And for a couple that spends nearly every waking second thinking about gettin the other naked there is very little steam; a few semi-hot kissing scene, 1 very brief sex scene, and a whole lot of talk about his cock getting hard looking at her ass; lots of talk and very little action. And of course the cover- it is not good.

Rating: Aside from MacLean's POV parts where he's thinking about Caitlyn I liked very little of this book. it was remotely satisfying so it's not a one but it's definitely not up to a three.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

And Then He Kissed Her

And Then He Kissed Her by Laura Lee Guhrke

The first book in the Girl Bachelor series, And Then He Kissed Her is the story of Ms. Emma Dove, the very competent secretary to Lord Harrison Marlowe, the most successful publisher in London. For five years Emma has been Harry's lifeline; buying presents for his family for all major occasions, as well as presents for his mistresses, kept his appointment book and made sure he kept the appointments, and generally kept his office and his staff from falling apart. Having grown up with her controlling army father and her fastidious governess aunt, Emma is a near expert on proper behavior and has tried for years to get an etiquette book published. Harry has repeatedly turned down her manuscripts claiming they weren't quite up to snuff, but Emma is horrified when she learns that Harry has never actually read more than a couple paragraphs of any of her books. On her 30th birthday Emma realizes that she has spent her entire life waiting and decides to take matters into her own hands. She quits her job at Marlowe publishing and gets her book published as a serial at a rival newspaper.

Harry is furious and yet he can't help but admire, not to mention feel intensely passionate about, the new Emma who is proving so much better than the stern, uptight spinster she had always appeared. For reasons he can't fathom he finds it impossible to get Emma out of his head and is determined to get her back into his life. He buys out the newspaper Emma now works for and both find their new working relationship much improved over their previous one as the two are now on more equal footing. Harry is frustrated over Emma's morals standing in the way of a romantic relationship between them and challenges her to give up her aunt's propriety. Emma knows that Harry is determined never to marry after his disastrous first marriage ended in divorce but she decides now is the time to embark on the "spring of her life" and the two spend two months together until Emma figures out that being Harry's weekend illicit affair isn't enough for her; she is ready to admit what she wants and what she wants is to spend the rest of her life with the man she loves.

Harry and Emma are wonderful characters and both were written so skillfully and their characters develop so much throughout the course of the novel. Emma is forced to confront her past of an uncaring father and an overly rigid aunt while Harry's development from the dissolute rake to a man desperately in love are both realistic and incredibly enjoyable to read. The two are perfect foils for each other as they each challenge the other to become better people, deal with their problems head on, and fall in love with each other. The scenes between the two cover the full range of emotions from gut-wrenching to laughing to passion to crying and are just so beautiful. As usual Guhrke does a stand up job writing from both Emma and Harry's point of view and the reader is always well informed about what each of them is thinking and just like everything else, it's very well written. Even the fact that they'd worked together for five years without anything happening doesn't stand in the way of my enjoyment (as it might) because her character progression is just so brilliant.

Unlike many of Guhrke's earlier works this one contained quite a bit of steam even if it did happen to be packed quite heavily towards the end. There was one very interesting scene involving peaches and honey that was especially fun and overall Guhrke just really stepped up this element of story writing. (Unfortunately this was actually written prior to the other two books I've reviewed- so perhaps a more adequate statement would be that she started slacking off. Hopefully that won't continue.) Guhrke seems to inspire quite mixed emotions among readers who either love her writing or hate her. For this review I once again read the reviews on amazon and can say with assurance that I had no problems with everything people who gave her poor reviews for. Almost all the problems had to deal with the characters actions, mainly Emma's, but Guhrke did such a splendid job giving the back ground of both protagonists, showing how and why each of them changes and grows as a person that their actions and reactions are really not at all difficult to understand.

Rating: A very character driven novel with a strong plot that absolutely sparkled. This really was a 4 1/2 heart book, but I do reserve 5 hearts for absolutely perfect books and while this book is VERY close, not quite.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Don't Tempt Me

Don't Tempt Me by Loretta Chase

Zoe Lexham was kidnapped when she was 12 years-old while her parents were traveling around Egypt and spent the next 12 years as the pampered 2nd wife of the favorite son of Ushri Pasha. She learned how to run a household of eunuchs and woman, how to navigate the dangerous female back stabbings in the harem and how best to please a man. Zoe was Karim's favorite toy and he showered her with jewels but he was impotent so Zoe is virginal. When Karim and his father die Zoe takes the opportunity to run away and claim the life she was meant to live. Once in England she find that the harem didn't prepare her at all for the life of an English lady. She can't stop from saying and doing things that would scandalize the proper members of the ton such as openly talking about her breasts or throwing herself under a falling carriage to rescue a boy. Lucien de Gray, Duke of Marchmont, has regarded Lord Lexham as a father figure- ever since his own parents, and then his older brother, died. He takes it into his head to repay Lexham by using his influence to bring Zoe out into society.

It doesn't take Marchmont long to realize he has his hands full trying to make her ready for society, but first he needs to tackle the rampant stories regarded "The Harem Girl." It doesn't help in the least that he has immense difficultly keeping his hands off the very provocative Zoe whom he quickly discovers adheres to the motto "proper on the top and wicked on the bottom." He finally achieves what everyone else regarded as impossible and Zoe is very successfully presented to the queen but it proves too much for him and he finally marries her a mere 30 days after their first meeting. For the first time in his adult life Lucien finds himself caring for someone beside himself and wanting to make someone else happy. He is forced to begin taking on responsibilities, instead of foisting them off on his servants as Zoe comes in and shakes up his household. When Zoe discovers that things are not as tranquil as they appear it causes an uproar that puts her in danger of her life and tempts Marchmont into taking away the freedom Zoe risked her life for back in Egypt.

I liked the idea that the two had been destined for each other since childhood and would have ended up together, albeit as much much much diferent people, as they were both connected and drawn to each other at a young age. This is also tied in with the idea that it was only after Zoe disappeared that his life became so boring or at least uninspiring. At least his progression is realistic as his life changes so dramatically when Zoe re-enters it and when she moves into his house and it just makes sense that he too would change. However Zoe is a different story; she kicks at him, she throws things at him, she runs away from him, she punches him repeatedly while he kisses her (despite the fact that she even admits she likes it- something that drives me NUTS!)- basically does things we all learn not to do long before we're 12 and something she definitely would have learned in the world of the harem. It just made her seem childish and very easily got on my nerves. The chemistry between them was hot enough, but far from spectacular and the book was missing the passion of most Chase books.

The book's plot had enormous potential and certainly led to some funny scenes involving Zoe's overly proper and very prudish sister's, but I feel as though the very fact that Zoe was a virgin was kind of a letdown. If she'd wanted a truly scandalous former Harem Girl, surely a little prior action would have been required. (See Bold Destiny by Jane Feather) My favorite scene was one involving Marchmont and Zoe being discovered in a very compromising position by Zoe's sister Priscilla and Zoe's maid who use an umbrella to beat the two off each other. There was very little, if any angst, in the novel, but it did not feel as though the book was lacking because of that. The lacking came from other sources; the lack of sparkle in the dialogue, the not so well written steamy scenes, Zoe's childishness, Marchmont's inability to rouse any sympathy, and a villain and a murder plot that seemed as if they had just been thrown in there to take up the requisite 370-ish pages.

Rating: By far my least favorite of all Chase's novels (I've read 4) that lacked all the of the wonderful things one would expect from her books. All in all, unspectacular but still somewhat satisfying.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Someone to Watch Over Me

Someone to Watch Over Me by Lisa Kleypas

When Grant Morgan discovers that the floater in the river is notorious London courtesan Vivien Duvall he is excited at the prospect of getting revenge on the woman who humiliated him by claiming that she had rejected his advances. Things don't go precisely as planned though when Vivien wakes up with no memory of what happened to her when she was attacked and left for dead and no memory of her life at all. It is Grant who reminds her that she was a prostitute available to the highest bidder and Vivien is horrified. Her actions are far from those he and his staff expected from a courtesan as she appears modest, grateful for the help the servants offer, and, contrary to what he had been told, ashamed of her past and the idea of having sex for money. But he still goes on to tell her that he and she were lovers, although he does tell her that they don't need to resume that part of their relationship immediately. Her un-whore-like behavior is quickly changing Grant's mind about this woman he had previously despised.

It doesn't take long at all for Grant to know that he's made a horrible mistake even if he does refuse to admit it to himself. With no clues as to what happened to Vivien Grant interviews her former clients and decides to "shock" her would-be-murder with a surprising experience at a ball where Vivien discovers that she had been pregnant. After the ball Grant admits that he's fallen for Vivien and simultaneously discovers that there is no way his Vivien is the real one (she's a virgin!). Conveniently Grant also discovers a letter the real Vivien had written to a cottage and when he arrives he discovers the real Vivien. Victoria, as he now knows her to be has been left in the keeping another Bow Street runner while Grand does his investigating and it isn't long before Grant is forced to rush back to London to rescue Victoria from the man who had mistaken her for her twin sister. A heroic rescue attempt ensues and when all the cards are lain on the table Victoria is the one left with the decision to make: whether she is going to move on with her life or stay stuck in the her lonely cottage.

Surprisingly enough this is the first Kleypas I have reviewed on here as she was at one point my favorite historical romance writer. While that has changed I still have a soft spot in my heart for her and read all of her books that I can get my hands on. Her books are universally satisfying, sweet, well-written, and interesting and fast enough for a fun read. This book contains all of those elements as well as some great characters. I had never before realized though that her steamy scenes are so ... formulaic is the only way I can think to describe it. My guess is that if I lined them all up and read the scenes one right after teh other I would notice immense similarities- something that many authors do, I'm sure, but it just seems so obvious in this novel. Nothing too exciting in that department here. There is, of course, a great little bit of angst over Vivien being a possible whore and Grant possibly not wanting to be with a woman he believes is a whore.

There seems to be an okay now in romance novels for prostitutes and courtesans to be acceptable heroines (To Seduce an Angel by Mary Balogh, Your Scandalous Ways by Loretta Chase) but Kleypas does a kind of two-step around this problem by making it obvious from the beginning that there is some sort of mix-up. We know from the get go that we are going to discover there is a mistake and that Vivien is going to turn out to be as sweet and innocent as she seems. Throughout the book we are left in no doubt that Vivien Duvall is the worst sort of whore (not one with a heart of gold) as she breaks hearts, runs through money, plays with men's affections, is completely full of herself, and (gasp) may have terminated a pregnancy). But I did like that Grant fell in love with the new and improved Vivien before learning that she wasn't in fact Vivien even if I was a little irritated by Vivien's wishy-washiness over Grant's marriage proposal.

Rating: Mediocre in every way, except for the hero whom I love love love, but ultimately a fun and fast little romp.