Saturday, February 28, 2009

Simply Irresistible

Simply Irresistible by Rachel Gibson

This book was apparently the a debut novel first published over 10 years but the pop culture references only extend to Hockey players and a reference to The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Georgeanne Howard, a very buxom Texas gal, is supposed to marry Virgil Duffy, a man over 40 years older than her, but instead runs off with John Kowalsky a hockey player on the hockey team that Duffy owns. The two have quite steamy night and then John leaves her at the airport assuming she's heading back to Dallas. Instead Georgeanna stays in Seattle and gives birth to John's daughter, Lexie, whom she manages to keep secret from him for seven years before he accidentally discovers her. Georgeanna believed that John would want nothing to do with Lexie seeing as how he abandoned her without a backward glance, but John definitely wants to be a part of Lexie's life and Georgeanna agrees on condition that John not hire a lawyer and take things at Georgeanna's pace.

Of course things don't go precisely as planned with John not holding up his end of the bargain completely causing Georgeanna to kind of go insane and try to withhold Lexie from John. Through it though the two can't keep their hands off each other despite intense arguments about Lexie and disagreements about how the past has played out and the two are learning about each other's past and how much they have changed in seven years. There are complications in the form of John's boss who is, duh!, not completely over being left at the alter and thus not too happy that his "friend" impregnated his fiance right after she ditched the wedding. The other complication is Charles, Georgeanna's new boyfriend/ something more, who treats her well, and gets her a kick ass job on a television show. A very small little extra to the book involves Lexie's best friend and business partner, Mae, and John's hockey-playing friend, John and it's very cute.

I liked both the characters immensely and the little girl Lexie. Both were flawed and while her issues with dyslexia were a little too dramatic, I was incredibly glad that Lexie seemed like a real six-year old girl, not one of those ever-present precocious kids that populate romance novels. And I have no problem admitting that I love the secret/ hidden baby plot and all the wonderful angst that it brings out and this was definitely no exception. Georgeanna has a few sexual hang-ups, but they do not get in the way of some really great sex scenes and it was certainly nice not to have to wait until page 200 to get to one. John is definitely a macho man, there's a scene where he talks about how he likes the pictures of Georgeanna pregnant because he likes to think that he put that baby there, which is something I can see turning off some people but it didn't really bother me as it fit in with his character and dealing with it was a part of their developing relationship.

One "issue" that some people might have is the skip of seven years where he overcomes his alcoholism and she learns to manage her learning disability. I was fine with this as I was reading a romance novel not a memoir, but it was just a wierd info dump when we came back from the break and it is not the only dump. Other dump include her weird emotional interpretations of his actions and how he makes her feel "different" and "special" for the first time and his musings on his first wife's suicide. Something I could not understand was how angry they both were about their sexual attraction to each other and how he uses it as against her in a way that makes her seem weak. As is the case in many romance novels the protagonists can tend to be a little mean to each other for my liking and argue a lot.

Rating: I really enjoyed so much about this book; even the "bad" parts weren't that big of a problem for me except for the little bits of meanness.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Autumn Lover

Autumn Lover by Elizabeth Lowell

Autumn Lover was one of the first romance novels I read back in High School and it maintained a special place in my memory for reasons that I am finding so difficult to fathom as I go back and reread it. The story is of Elyssa Sutton, the owner a Nevada ranch that is under constant threat from the deadly Culpepper gang and Hunter Maxwell, an ex-Confederate soldier, who has spent the last few years hunting Culpeppers since they slaughtered his children. Elyssa, known as Sassy, a nickname she hates, hires Hunter to be her foreman and the two of them get along worse then Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush. Literally- the two hate each other; he constantly calls her a slut and she hates him for doing so. Of course Hunter is scarred, his two children were murdered, and his wife was apparently the town whore so he assumes all woman are the same.

To make matters worse it appears as though Elyssa's "Uncle" Bill, whom Hunter assumes Elyssa is sleeping with, is aiding the Culpeppers and the gang is making repeated and escalating attacks on Elyssa's Ranch. Her horses are let loose, the ground is salted right before a rain storm, and then full out gunshots are aimed at Elyssa. Hunter continues to belittle Elyssa until he finds out she is a virgin (guess how), but when he "asks" her to marry him she refuses and he becomes dedicated to proving to her that she should marry him. His brother comes along to join in the Culpepper butt kicking and the culmination involves a lengthy siege and the discovery that Bill is not a bad guy.

Notice how I mentioned the animosity that existed between these two characters? That's because that was pretty much all I could detect of actual emotion for the first 200 pages of the book. It was amazing that this could be termed a romance novel at all. I can not for the life of me figure out what attracted Elyssa to Hunter at all. He's apparently physically attractive to her, but surely after a month of listening to him berate you and claim you're leading on the man who tries to rape you (seriously), surely that begins to not matter so much. And in the first sex scene between the two it would be possible to call the act rape- it's not black and white, but it's enough to make one a little nauseous. The buildup to the sex was good- i.e. the smaller "kiss-y" scenes, but the maybe rape was not a good culmination and the long-drawn out sex scene (liberally sprinkled with the word fire to play on the title) didn't make up for it.

On the whole I don't really happen to enjoy rancher romances, I much prefer regency books, but at least the author seems knowledgeable about the ranching way of life in the Post-Civil War era. The fighting between Elyssa's ranch and the Culpepper's was very exciting and probably some of the better parts of the book. The only other thing I can think of to count as a positive for this book is the angst that ensues because a)Elyssa loves Hunter, but he doesn' t love her b)Elyssa thinks Hunter only wants to marry her because they've had sex (a romance novel staple) and c)Hunter thinks Elyssa no longer loves him. But the book does set up the sequel "Winter Fire" featuring Hunter's brother Case, rather nicely. Although I don't remember liking that book quite as much as this one, the characters were never outright nasty to each other.

Rating: I remember liking this book so much, but the way Hunter treated Elyssa means I can't give it more than 2 Hearts.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Secret Desires of a Gentleman

Secret Desires of a Gentleman by Laura Lee Guhrke

Secret Desires of a Gentleman is the story of Maria Martingale, a pastry chef whose father had been the cook for the Kayne family, and Phillip Hawthorne, the current Marquess of Kayne. Twelve years ago Maria had been set to marry Lawrence, Phillip's younger brother, that is until Phillip convinced his brother to give up Maria and then payed Maria to leave with the promise she would never return. She had known that Phillip was protective of his family and would do anything to prevent his brother marrying a lowly servant and avoid scandal, but she hadn't know that Phillip had been harboring secret desires of his own for Maria and it was this that had made him get rid of her. Now Maria has opened up her own pastry shop right next to Phillip's residence (no building codes?) in a building Phillip happens to own. Fair being fair he allows her to keep working there but of course he gets a little hot under the collar.

Phillip is nervous that Maria intends to take back up with Lawrence, who is romancing the daughter of an influential businessman Phillip would like to have on his side. The book is filled with references to Maria and Phillip's past and how his feelings have never gone away. The problem that needs to be overcome is Phillip's arrogance, or snobbery, as he has to come to grips with the fact that he is falling in love with someone beneath his station. And Maria needs to come to grips with her belief that Phillip will always regard her as inferior. There is no "side-plot" just the growing relationship, which is both nice but also leaves the review, but definitely not the book, feel somewhat lacking.

Imagine how much amazing angst ensues when a man is forced to send away the woman he loves because he can not bear to believe she loves someone else. And then add her realization that he will never feel she is good enough for him and you get perhaps the best angst in a romance novel ever. A particularly fun bit of angst centered around a hair ribbon she had thought was lost, but was in fact taken by Phillip, who has kept it for fourteen years and taken it out every time he missed her. I know that probably wouldn't appeal to some people, but I thought it was great and showed a lot about Phillip and how much he was hiding and how much he needed Maria. I also liked the steamy scenes in the book- there were far too few in my opinion but the 1 (and maybe a half) was definitely good and the buildup to it was perfection.

This book also did a great job of showing both Maria and Phillip's perspectives on what was happening and explaining their motives. Most of the time it seems as though writers focus far more attention on the heroine's POV (which confuses me as wouldn't it be the male perspective that would be more confusing or interesting to the female readership), but a relatively equal amount of time was given to Phillip and that's a huge part of why he was just as relate-able as Maria. Lawrence- the main secondary character- was very likable and played the perfect role as he sorted through his emotions for Maria and discovered his brothers'. My weird complaint would be the time of the book; I couldn't really figure it out. Phillip wore a top hat and a cane and she wore a shirtwaist (which I'd never read about) so I was thinking it was early 20th century, but in reality I had no clue. Why couldn't she have just told us? Also- the cover? It... is not good.

Rating: I loved the angst and the characters, but I don't feel like it deserves five hearts. Still a great read.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Sins of Lord Easterbrook

The Sins of Lord Easterbrook by Madeline Hunter

The Sins of Lord Easterbrook is the story of Christian, Marquess of Easterbrook, and Leona Montgomery who has spent most of her life in China helping first her father, and now her brother, run the family trading business there. The two met seven years before our story opens, and we're giving an adequate amount of flashback material without it being overly heavy, when Easterbrook had misled Leona as to his identity and then disappeared on the night her father's trading ship was burned. He took with him her father's diary which detailed his ideas on the vast conspiracy among English traders in China who smuggled opium. Leona comes to London to find backing for her brother's failing trading business and discover who exactly the opium smugglers, whom she holds responsible for her father's death, are.

Leona is accompanied by her maid, Isabella, who is the bastard daughter of an Englishman official and his Chinese concubine, and Tong Wei a meditation zen artist with amazing martial arts skills who is filled with Eastern wisdom. She is surprised to discover the her former love Edmund is in fact Lord Easterbrook and of course the obstacles in between are insurmountable. She needs to go back to China to help out her brother while he is hiding a dark secret which is revealed early on and is laughably awful. He can "feel" or "read" people's emotions beyond what the normal human can. This of course is his curse, or the "sin" of the title. (I am not kidding) Of course the opium trade is a big deal so the higher-ups in London society do not want her poking her nose around in it. Chaos ensues, attempts on her life are made, and the day is eventually saved (to an extent).

Confused? So was I. No- so AM I. I do not know how they figured out which person to target, I do not know how this person figured out they were going to target them. I do not really know Easterbrook's connection to the opium trade. I do not really know a lot of the elements involved in the opium plot and by the end I was too bored with it to really care. At least this plot was an integral part of the story, not what I call a side-plot to flesh out the book for it's required 370 pages, but perhaps it should not have been quite so much of the story. Leona and Easterbrook were rarely ever together in a context outside talking about what was going on in China and with opium to the point where I was thinking they'd make better partners (journalists, police, business) then spouses. The best part about the opium trade plot was the two page author's note in the back of the book that gave a brief, but interesting and well-informed, summary of the opium trade/ smuggling between China and England.

Easterbrook's weird talent for emotion reading was crazily overblown. I know that it was a problem for him knowing how his parents really felt about each other, but for this to be the cause of seriously- EVERYTHING that's wrong with his life? His (former) opium addiction? His fear of procreating (i.e. getting married) for fear of passing on this debilitating disease to his offspring? Get over yourself! And all the bizarre meditation, Eastern wisdom stuff, got annoying REALLY quickly. What did this book have going for it? I would have said incredibly hot sex, because it did, and it certainly had a lot of it, but then I realized two things. One was that he was always in control- literally. Every scene contained the words vulnerable and/or submissive and I just found it odd. The second was that both of them openly acknowledged that sex was used to make them forget all the problems in their relationship.

I'm giving it two hearts because it was chock full of information but all the nonsense just got in the way instead of making the book stronger.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

To Seduce a Sinner

To Seduce a Sinner by Elizabeth Hoyt

The book is the second book in the series, The Legend of the Four Soldiers, which follows the lives of four soldiers who had all been taken and tortured by American Indians during what I presume is now known as the French and Indian War. To Seduce a Sinner opens with Melisande Fleming proposing to Lord Vale as he sits forlornly pondering why he has once again been left at the alter. We are quickly informed that Melisande has been pining for Lord Vale from afar while he of course has barely noticed her. Melisande uses as her excuse her age, her lack of physical appeal, and her boring and tight-fisted (but not mean) relatives for her proposal and the two are quickly married. Lord Vale had been the leader of his troops and had been spared the torture his men had suffered through, but what happened during the war still haunts him and obviously leads to much angst and drama in the book.

The little details of their married life together are perfectly written, from his reactions to her admittedly annoying little terrier, Mouse, to the more complex way they deal with the nightmares from his past. Vale knows that he had been betrayed during the war and the side plot of this story is him trying to figure out who it could have been. The only people who knew where he was going to be when his troops were taken were all part of the brigade and thus suffered along with everyone else, so finding the betrayer is tough going and when s/he is eventually revealed it is an expected surprise.

I absolutely loved this book. He is just the right amount of tortured soul, but she is as well so this is a story of two people who have been hurt in the past healing each other and it is completely believable. The angst is perfect, with her being upset that he shuts her out while she is secretly in love with him, and him constantly worrying about who killed him and how to deal with his burgeoning feelings for his wife. I will also admit that I admired the fact that the dreadful war that forms the basis for the books side plot is not the Napoleonic Wars as is the case for most of these books. I just can't think of a single part of this book I didn't like.

Aspects of the book that irritated other reviewers I actually loved. The dog, Mouse, is supposedly too irritating and unlikeable while I found him cute and true to the breed. The "dirty talk" during the sex was described by one as being laughable, but I LOVED it. The book had numerous, and I do mean numerous, incredibly HOT scenes, including two that are some of my all time favorites. Another thing to love about the book because it's just such an unusual thing: our heroine is not a virgin- and no, she wasn't raped, and no it wasn't awful. The book perfectly sets up the next book in the series without being just one overwhelming set-up and I will admit To Beguile a Beast is in my shopping cart all ready for when it is released in April.

Rating: Duh!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Courtship Dance

The Courtship Dance by Candace Camp

The Courtship Dance is the fourth and final book in Candace Camp's Matchmaker series, pitting the "matchmaker" of the previous three books, Lady Francesca Haughston, with her cohert Lord Sinclair Rochford. Fifteen years previously Francesca and Rochford had been secretly engaged until Francesca was tricked into believed Rochford was carrying on an affair. She called off the engagement, married a wastrel who wasted all their money and left Francesca a penniless widow, and Francesca eventually discovered their had been no affair at all. So Francesca dedicates herself to finding a bride for Rochford to make up for blowing him off fifteen years ago. All of this had been disclosed in the previous book in the series, but a good job is done of regoing over everything lightly so a newbie won't be totally confused and a veteran won't be totally bored.

The side-ish plot of this story involves a friend of Francesca's former husband who comes home to England once he no longer fears prosecution over killing a man in a duel. He carries a paper claiming that Haughston gambled away the house Francesca lives in and it now belongs to him. Like most Camp books the side plot is cute, short, interesting and provides some interesting scenes without getting in the way. There were no fully developed secondary characters though; a few people from the previous books were brought in, some potential wives for Rochford, and of course the villian, but no "real" secondary characters at all. The side plot drags on longer than it has to though when Francesca refuses to go straight to Rochford for help, although when she finally does his first attempt to right things is rather pathetic and even I could tell that it wasn't going to work.

My complaints about the book include a lateness of the sex scenes although I will admit that they are steamy and last a good long while. I also am partial to books that spend more time on the heroes P.O.V. and this book is sadly lacking. While Francesca is an incredibly likable character and I will admit I have been looking forward to reading her romance with Rochford- which I could foretell in the first book in this series- I did want more from Rochford. His character is barely developed at all, he just remains this strong, dark, rather silent mystery man who our very likable heroine falls in love with. He has perhaps 30 pages told from his POV which is unusual in Camp books so I wonder why she went down this route.

I am normally not a sucker for kidnapping plots but I particularly liked this one- I don't consider this a spoiler as when there's a villian in the book a small, easily- wrapped up kidnapping should be expected. Francesca struggles admirably well including a great part where she gets out of the carriage and goes running through the market place. Even if no one responds it was still great that she didn't just jerk against her bonds and wait for Rochford. And although we didn't get anything from Rochford, I loved Francesca. She is, as I said above, completely likeable. She's survived on her own by helping people move through society and her emotions are so dead on as she struggles to cope with her feelings for Rochford while sure that he will never forgive her for her spurning of him 15 years ago.

Rating: Probably deserves a 3 1/2 but will give it a 3 because I really would have loved more for Rochford so I could understand exactly why she fell in love with him.