Monday, March 30, 2009

Devil of the Highlands

Devil of the Highlands by Lynsay Sands

Evelinde's evil step-mother Edda marries her off to the Devil Lord of Donnachaidh, Cullen, in the hopes that her hated step-daughter will live a miserable life with a cruel husband. Fortunately for Evelinde her step-mother's plan goes awry when Evelinde discovers herself with an enormous attraction to her husband, who comes across as anything but mean and cruel. Despite some wedding hijinks Cullen is able to whisk Evelinde off to his Scottish keep where strange things begin to happen. Cullen has long been haunted by rumors that he killed his uncle, his father, and his first wife and in response has shut himself off from trying to prove to others that he is not an evil man. He wants his actions to speak for him (instead of words) but Evelinde just feels as though he is shutting her out and he is displeased with her.

Unfortunately things do not go very well as whomever (may have) killed his other relative's begins attempts to kill Evalinde. At first everyone is able to convince themselves that the attempts on her life are accidents but as things become more dangers and the attempts escalate in frequency Cullen is forced to recognize that he is in danger of losing yet another wife. He sets guards to watch her but she still manages to get into trouble; both of her own making (like when she sneaks into an angry bull's pen) and from her attempted murderer. There is, of course, a climax scene where everyone confronts the murderer and the good characters all have to save each others lives. And both Evalinde and Cullen admit their love and promise to work on some of the things that may have frustrated the other.

I am almost disappointed I liked this book so much as it appears that all of her other romances are vampire books, something I have no interest in. The mystery was so well written as to be an integral and important part of the story without being overwhelming and taking too much time away from the developing romance. Clues lead Evalinde in one direction and to be honest I was completely convinced too but it's a nice little twist or not so twist depending.The romance certainly developed well- there was an obvious, and well-written progression of feelings between both of the main characters that was utterly believable and engrossing. Cullen's first wife is not a villian, although there was a weird little spiel about how he loved her body and he loves Evalinde's body and he thinks women are crazy for being so self-conscious about their bodies.

Most clumsy and innocent heroines annoy me yet while Evalinde is both innocent and clumsy- she inadvertently exposes herself to the neighbors, she is far from annoying. Her clumsiness is endearing and not overdone and her innocence is apparent while not overwhelming. Which leads me to the awesome, if far to few, sex scenes. They are great; Evalinde and Cullen have great chemistry, and Sands is obviously talented at crafting HOT sexy scenes.

Rating: There was nothing about this book I didn't like. It was quick, it was fun, and I loved the plot (and the side-plot) and especially the characters and their romance.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Where the Heart Leads

Where the Heart Leads by Stephanie Laurens

Where the Heart Leads is the story of Barnaby Adair, third son of an Earl and private investigator (who has appeared of Lauren's other Cynster books) known for tackling members of the ton who have committed crimes, and Penelope Ashford. Penelope is the sister-in-law of a Cynster, the founder and chief director of the Foundling House, an orphanage and training school for East End orphans, and is determined to never give up her freedom and marry. When four of her boys are "kidnapped" from their homes shortly before Penelope is supposed to pick them up, she turns to Barnaby to help her find her missing orphans. He in turn enlists the help of his police sergeant friend Stokes who enlists the help of his "friend" Griselda who grew up in East End but escaped to open up her own millinry shop. The four quickly narrow the possibility down to a burglery school and then narrow their suspects down to a list of known burglery trainers and then set off to do "investigating" which involves going to East End markets and trying to subtly get information out of people.

Somehow, through reasons that seem to have no relationship to their investigative skills, the quartet does manage to uncover a large amount of information which makes the villian nervous and causes him to target Penelope. Barnaby gets protective, but fairly early on Barnaby realizes Penelope would make the perfect wife for him and thus embarks on a journey to convince Penelope that marrying him is a good idea- and all her idea. Penelope in turn thinks it a great idea to answer some of her questions regarding sex and takes it for granted that the affair will be no strings attached. Until Barnaby's dedication to her cause causes her to realize he is not just another airheaded ton gentleman. The investigation heats up until things unsurprisingly come to a head, but the villian, while introduced late in the book, comes as no surprised to anyone- he being the typical nasty romance novel villian. There is the typical confrontation/ catch the bad guy scene where Barnaby and Penelope are forced to confront their feelings for each other when their lives are threatened, admit their love, and live happiliy ever after.

My first Stephanie Laurens book (that I've reviewed) and it is far from her best. Usually Laurens can be counted on for at least steamy (if drawn out and melodramatic) sex and lots of it but even that was a disappointment. There were two total scenes and, even more so than expected, they dragged on incessantly to the point where they were not even sexy. Plus she has tons of inuendo; where the sex is implied (we come in as they're finishing or we leave just as it gets good) and to be honest I absolutely hate that. To make it worse kinky stuff is implied but never followed through on- major disappointment. Also I was disappointed that we only got one mildly steamy scene between Griselda and Stokes as I found their little side relationship more intriguing than Barnaby and Penelope's. And I do not like romance novels that constantly illude to the happy marriages of those couples the author has previously written about- something the Cynster novels almost all do.

The sumary was so full of the (supposed to be) side-plot because that was by far the majority of the book. The two were almost never together outside of the investigation and even their sex seemed to have been driven by needing comfort when the situation was becoming difficult. The plot was interesting and certainly different from the norm with no spies. It was great to read about a heroine dong something good for the community that wasn't at all annoying and seemed to be created solely for the purpose of having the reader "like" the heroine. The secondary villains were cool characters, well developed, and fun to read about, and it was nice that we got to read quite a bit about what was going on in their world while they were plotting. Even the children were well-represented; those who were developed avoided being overly pretentious or cute.

Rating: I did not like this book. It wasn't a romance novel in my opinion- it was 400 pages of kidnap plot with 50 pages of a poorly and slowly developing romance.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bold Destiny

Bold Destiny by Jane Feather

Bold Destiny is the story of Annabel Spencer, who has spent the last 8 years as the possession of Akbar Khan (in his harem basically), and Christopher "Kit" Ralston, a dissolute and disaffected soldier in British occupied Afghanistan. When Annabel, renamed Ayesha, is given to Kit for a night of passion to humiliate him (Akbar is proving that he has power over one of Kit's Englishwomen) and put her in her place, Kit becomes determined to "rescue" her from a life she insists she does not want to leave. The setting for out story is the contested city of Kabul which is British controlled but surrounded and inhabited by natives who have more sympathy or are outright members of the rebel tribes who have Akbar as their unofficial leader. The British are being governed by the most hardheaded bonehead who refuses to see reason or listen to the advice of those who might know better and chaos breaks out. Kit uses the maelstrom surrounding him to "kidnap" Annabel from Akbar, although she kind of does go willingly as she fears that raising a fuss will cause guards to kill Kit.

The two go to a more fortified area where Annabel has trouble reconciling her two personalities and draws a lot of attention to her and Kit's unorthodox relationship. The more fortified area comes under attack and the inhabitants become virtual prisoners of Akbar's army and Annabel becomes more and more convinced that "destiny will take its' course." Tensions run high and Annabel and Kit ease their tension through a series of arguments and sex and repeat. Eventually the "prisoners" evacuate and the long hard march towards freedom is grueling and deadly until Akbar waylays them and Annabel is forced to confront the issue of where her "essence" truly lies; with Akbar or Kit and the English.

The book certainly drew on a lot of historical details and according to the afterward most of them were pretty accurate so the author obviously did a ton of research. Unfortunately this did kind of make the book heavy on the historical facts and sorting out the incompetent generals from each other become kind of a chore. But it was certainly a nice little history, in an area where too few people know the history despite its' importance, wrapped up in a sweet package. Unfortunately it may have been a little too accurate as place and personal names became confusing and suffice to say that the history tends to be incredibly depressing. The ending was definitely a good part of the book, even if it was a long way in coming, being incredibly realistic for these two people but obviously the requisite "happy" ending.

The sex in the book was certainly plentiful but not of the best quality; too short or to euphamism filled or inuendo filled, but I will admit that I was glad we didn't have a sex scene between Annabel and Akbar. I don't want to sound squeamish but I will admit to being a little squicked by having our heroine be a ... harem slave (if that's accurate cause it certainly seems so). I've had no problem with mistresses or former prostitutes because they seem to at least have had some control over their sex lives, but our heroine was instructed on how to please a man who was basically her lord and master starting at the age 15! I can't resist being a little squeamish. And there definitely should have been more angst on both their parts over it; there was only one real instance where he found himself beginning to question how much a possession of Akbar Khan could ever really belong with someone else and it could have been a great source of angsty goodness. Although truth be told perhaps angst doesn't really have a place as people are dieing all around you.

Rating: Despite my squickishness I really liked the book and it was far from bland even if it didn't really seem like all that much of a traditional romance novel.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Her Secret Lover

Her Secret Lover by Sara Bennett

Antoinette Dupre is the heiress to a vast fortune now that her parents have died and this has made her victim number one for Lord Appleby. Despite outward appearances Appleby is broke and in desperate need of money so he tricks Antoinette into coming to London, compromises her, and when she refuses his offer of marriage he packs off to his new estate, Wexmoor Manor. Unfortunately Gabriel Langley is the rightful owner of the manor, but his father had been forced to hand over the deed when Appleby had threatened to reveal past indescretions about Gabriel's mother. antoinette has on her person a letter containing information about Appleby's deceased wife, but Gabriel is convinced the letter has information regarding his mother and is determined to take possession of it through any means necessary. Any means necessary means disguising himself as a highwayman, holding up her coach, and searching her person.

Antoinette and Gabriel are both immediately taken with each other despite Gabriel thinking that Antoinette is Appleby's mistress and Antoinette thinking Gabriel has been sent by Appleby to divest her of the incriminating evidence against him. Sexing ensues with neither side giving in which means neither side ever tells the other the truth about themselves (until the very end obviously). Our little mystery officially starts when Gabriel's childhood sweetheart sends a missive to Appleby informing him that his mistress is sleeping with Gabriel. Gabriel and Antoinette flee to try to figure out a way to stop Appleby from taking Wexmoor Manor and forcing Antoinette (or her sister) from marrying him. But when they're real identities are discovered the two are convinced they can't trust the other and they continue to question the possibility of a happily ever after.

I mention the sex first because there was a lot of it and it was all really good and I didn't have to wait 'til I was nearly done with the book to read them all crammed together. Unfortunately it seemed to be crammed in the first 2/3 of the book and the last third was dedicated to trying to escape Appleby's clutches. The villain plot was certainly interesting, obviously integral to the story and the romance between the two protagonists, and ended on a nice little twist ending even if it got a little far fetched by involving Prince Albert. The angst was also pretty nice as Gabriel realized he was falling in love with a woman whom he believed was sleeping with his mortal enemy and there were some pretty cool "Tell me I'm the best you've ever had," scenes if that's anyone's cup of tea. And although the "I Love You's" didn't flow until the end of the book Gabriel realized early on, and wasn't scared to admit to himself, that he wanted Antoinette as something more than a bedmate.

The only part of the book that I can think of that irritated me was that their true identities were not revealed to each other until 2/3 of the way through the book and it did seem like so much of their arguments, confusion, and loathing could have been avoided if either one of them had bothered to just tell the truth. The two were on the same side they just spent the majority of the book not knowing it and thus disliking each other and themselves for the attraction they felt. The periphery characters were great, even Mary the jilted childhood sweetheart and especially Gabriel's parents who were madly in love but not all the annoying love birds that populate romance novels (normally because the author has written about them in a previous book).

Rating: Not perfect and not the most intriguing of dialogue, but far from bland and definitely an interesting and sexy read.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Between the Devil and Desire

Between the Devil and Desire by Lorraine Heath

Between the Devil and Desire is part of "Devil" series telling the tales of Feagan's gang of thieving children, although we are not hit over the head with the happy stories of previous couples (quite an achievement IMO). This is the story of their leader, and Feagan's favorite, Jack Dodger, the debauched owner of a gambling den/ brothel, and Olivia, the newly widowed former Duchess of Lovingdon who had been sadly neglected by her much older husband. The two meet when the Duke's will is read and to everyone's surprise Jack is awarded all of the non-entailed property, including the house Olivia is living in, and guardianship of Olivia's son Henry. Needless to say the two do not get along as Olivia is convinced that everything Jack does is disreputable and Jack takes great delight in needling her- mainly by taking from her all the things she had assumed would be hers but were left to him instead.

The two are crazy attracted to each other. Which bothers both of them; Jack because he does not want to be attracted to a woman who would expect more from him than money. and Olivia because Jack is not the quality of person she is supposed to be consorting with and because she is a stickler for what is proper. The love begins to grow as Olivia realizes that her preconceptions about Jack are mostly false and as Jack showers affection on Henry, but the "good to children" plot is well written and doesn't seem as though it's just there to make the character seem likable (as is the case in many romance novels). Questions arise over why Jack's mother abandoned him when he was a child and why Lovingdon chose a man he barely knew to inherit his estate and watch over his widow and the "investigation" is conducted so as not to overpower the romance in the book.

It is hard to think of parts of this book I didn't like- it was one of those romance novels that is just a little bland all around; nothing that one particularly hates and nothing that one finds particularly memorable. The hero and heroine had quite a bit of dialogue going on, but for the first hundred pages or so most of it tended toward the needling and irritating sort. Some people like this "bantering" but there's a limit to how far it should extend and I never really understood how a relationship could be based on constantly trying to get someone's ire up. The most angering part of this book was the historical context the book was set in; as a widow Olivia is at the complete mercy of her husband's will and when he turns control of her son (and thus all of the son's inherited estates) and everything else he owned Olivia is forced to confront her own powerlessness and Jack exploits this, although the author is careful not to have him be too mean at least. However, the ending discover, while interesting and somewhat shocking, kind of makes one a little squicky (it would definitely be a spoiler).

The best part of the book was the character Jack Dodger, although to be honest I almost found him more interesting in past books in the series than in this one. His past is certainly interesting and discovering what had happened to him when he was younger certainly explained some of his behaviors and made him a more nuanced character. Olivia was a little blander but the book delved deeply enough into her past to make her into a complex and likable character. And of course I liked the miniature investigations that were a necessary and important part of both characters' life experiences that didn't take over the book. Normally I would complain about no sex until about 2/3 through the book, but there was enough build up and enough continuation of it throughout the book that it wasn't a disappointment. Reviewers on amazon have commented that the book goes better as it goes on, which is definitely true as that is when the protagonists start realizing they like each other and the book becomes very character driven. And last but not least the five-year old boy was not a precocious romance novel child, but a real five-year old coping with the loss of his father, an overprotective mother, and an intriguing new gentleman in his life.

Rating: The book was sweet, well written and easily digestible but not something I'm going to find myself thinking about in the future or referring back to.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

First Comes Marriage

First Comes Marriage by Mary Balogh

This is the first book in the Huxtable series, featuring Vanessa Dew (nee Huxtable) the widowed second daughter in the Huxtable family whose husband had been weak and died of consumption a little over a year into their marriage. Elliot Wallace, Viscount Lyngate (and a future duke) intrudes upon the Huxtable existence when he announces that Stephen, the only boy in the family and the youngest, has recently inherited an Earldom, since Elliot's cousin has recently died. Since Elliot's father had volunteered to be guardian to this cousin, when Elliot's father died, guardianship of the cousin and then later his successor, Stephen Huxtable transferred over to him. But along with Stephen Elliot realizes that he is also responsible for Stephen's three sisters, Margaret, the eldest, Katherine, the youngest, and most troubling of all, the plain, yet intriguing middle sister, Vanessa.

When Elliot realizes his future wife would be able to take responsibility for introducing the Huxtable sisters to society, he decides to kill two birds with one stone and marry Meg. When Vanessa catches wind of this she turns the tables on Elliot with her own proposal, which he accepts. Together the two, along with her entire family, embark for London, where she and her family have to be introduced to the royal family, introduce themselves to society, and settle into their new life. Unfortunately cousin Constantine decides to meddle by bringing Elliot's (ex) mistress into the picture, angst ensues, and the two have to come to grips with his past- after his father's death he discovered his father had an entire second family, and her insecurities about her looks. Through time, and effort- especially on her part, the two actually work through their differences and discover their love.

Like many Balogh novels there is no overwhelming passion that consumes our hero and heroine, but a slow buildup of their relationship as they get to know each other and (of course) fall in love. While it certainly takes away a lot of the steaminess of the more passionate novels it also makes it a lot more easy to follow and in a sense makes the love that eventually ensues seem a lot less like pure lust. Or as though the heroine loves sex with the hero and thus she must love him. There is also, as usual, quite a bit of angst, although there is far less than in many Balogh novels, due to her being married previously (and perhaps even in love with him?) and him having a (ex) mistress who has a terrible habit of showing up at inconvenient times. There is no overwhelming mystery to be solved and thus no great big resolution scene at the end where he has to save her life and in doing so they realize they love each other. Which I really like about her books.

I was very confused about Constantine- he is rather built up as a bad guy due to some discoveries Elliot made about him, but it also seemed as though he was being set up for his own novel. Vanessa's siblings, of course, are all set to have their own novel and they are all set up very well and I look forward to reading them. I also found the heroine rather odd- she is described throughout the book, by herself and everyone else including Elliot, as plain but she has a smile that apparently lights up the room and makes her unbelievably gorgeous. It was rather odd as that shows up in other novels- but never seems to actually exist in real life. The one aspect that I found particularly distasteful is during their brief spat when Elliot decides to "punish" Vanessa by making sex un-enjoyable. He doesn't force her and it's not described as painful, but it was still a little squicky.

Rating: Good book- easy to read, believable romantic relationship, fun side characters, good angst, no poor side-plot. But it was a typical Balogh novel with nothing to particularly set it apart.