Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Love Affair of an English Lord

The Love Affair of an English Lord by Jillian Hunter

Chloe Boscastle was banished to the countryside by her older brother Grayson when she was caught kissing a Baron. Once there she gets caught in rainstorm and is rescued by Dominic Breckland, the Viscount Stratfield, and kisses him as well, only to have him be stabbed to death in his bed (while his mistress was present) a mere three weeks later. Unfortunately for the tiny town Dominic's ghost has been haunting the women- folk in their bedchambers at night, but Chloe is still completely shocked when Dominic appears wounded in her bedchamber late one night. Apparently Dominic was never really killed, he was stabbed and faked his own death, with the help of his friend Adrian, Lord Wolverton, to uncover the tangled conspiracies behind his death. Dominic is certain that his heir- apparent, his uncle Edgar is behind the attack on his life as he recognized his voice. Lending further credence to this belief is the fact that Edgar was present in India when Dominic's brother and Chloe's brother were killed by a supposed ambush. Dominic had been investigating the deaths and at the time he was stabbed all sources were pointing to Edgar.

So Dominic has been living in the walls of his estate while his murderous uncle has been making himself at home. The two are immediately attracted to each other and despite his wounded state Dominic has no trouble convincing Chloe of that. Chloe and Dominic begin a slow-moving affair that takes place whenever Dominic can sneak away without being seen, which is not very often. Dominic plans the big take down of his uncle, but not before a little hanky- panky with Chloe at the ball. Meanwhile Chloe's Aunt, and numerous other village ladies, have been holding meetings in an attempt to "lay" the ghost of Lord Stratfield... to rest. The big take-down is a little awkward to say the least and a tad drawn out, but I was glad that the book did not end on that odd note. Instead we get the introduction of Chloe's brothers (the ones who appear in the rest of the books in this series) and a little angsty-ness when Chloe and Dominic begin to realize the obstacles in their path. Eventually even Chloe's over-protective family is drawn to her side and everything works out wonderfully.

This was another romance novel where the protagonists just seemed to be in love without anything really developing. He shows up, he shares what happened with him and all of a sudden she's in love with him. And he falls in love with her because she's his strength and light during his time of darkness as he's hiding in the walls. It just seems to come out of nowhere as the two characters seem to know nothing about each other and spend very little actual time together. The sex was somewhat steamy and there was certainly a bit of it, or at least lead-ups to it, especially in the first half, but it all seemed alternately too rushed or too drawn out. I was very glad that we were given as much back-round information on the death of the brothers' and that it didn't become an overwhelming side-plot. As it was the conspiracy/ murder was enough, and definitely elemental to the story so it did not get too annoying.

There were a few really funny scenes, my favorite being the one where Dominic pretends to be Chloe when an ardent suitor comes to the window and he adopts a false soprano and dons a nightcap. Unfortunately this was negated by the weirdness of the scene that takes place right after they first consummated their love where a fight just seems to spring out of nowhere with very little actually having been said- and it did not flow well at all. It was disappointing because it would have been a great opportunity for some angst as she realized he couldn't stay with her, but instead just seemed to jump from point a to point z with no middle. This book was part of a series and there were times when I became a little annoyed by how much the author was throwing Grayson and Jane's happily-ever-after in our faces but I've definitely read worse attempts by an author to get people to read her other books.

Rating: It was very blah- but not even that satisfying of a blah. It was a very fast read that I was amusing and somewhat interesting, but I have no doubt that I'll remember little of it in a week.

Friday, April 24, 2009

To Romance a Charming Rogue

To Romance a Charming Rogue by Nicole Jordan

Years ago Eleanor Pierce broke off her engagement to Damon Stafford, Viscount Wrexham when she say him taking a carriage ride with his supposed former mistress. However she is unaware that Damon purposely created a situation he knew would cause Eleanor to break off their engagement when he realizes she expects her husband to love her. He is, of course, unable to return any loving feelings because he has shut himself off emotionally from other people ever since his twin brother died at sixteen of consumption and his parents both died in a tragic boating accident a few months later. He ran away to Italy, supposedly on a grand tour, but was actually there to open a sanitorium for those suffering from consumption. When he arrives back in England he discovers Eleanor engaged in a very promising courtship with Prince Lazarra from Italy and is determined to end their relationship through any means necessary and has no problem taking advantage of the overwhelming attraction between the two of them.

When Eleanor and Damon realize that Prince Lazarra's life is being threatened Damon accompanies them on their outings until a freak accident leads to Damon compromising Eleanor and being "forced" to marry her. Nobody is thrilled at this prospect except Damon who is still determined to guard his heart from Eleanor but is happy that at least her relationship with Lazarra is at an end. All the characters retreat to Eleanor's aunt's country estate for a house party where the "accident's" come to an abrupt end but the Bow Street Runners apparently continue their investigation- off scene. Meanwhile Eleanor engages the advice of a famous courtesan on how to win her husband's affections. She strings him along for awhile but ultimately fails in holding him off for long- as she is of course immensely attracted to him. I imagine our "climax" is supposed to be the juxtaposition of finding out the perpetrator of the attempts on Lazarra's life and the final confrontation between Eleanor and Damon over (the pathetic excuses on) why he refuses to give her his heart.

Like other Nicole Jordan books I have read, this one is crazy steamy- throughout the entire book we are titillated and briefly teased before consummation and it does not really let up for much of the book.Some of the most bizarre and, to be frank, poorly thought out and written, prose I have read. I dog-eared the pages where unbelievably unintentionally funny dialogue takes place, but had to stop halfway through as nearly every other page was bent. Favorites include; "My loins are full and aching for you," which is not at all sexy, and her assertion that she is saving herself until marriage which struck me as odd as all well-bred females in those days were supposed to do that. In addition the completely odd side-plot of attacks on Lazarra's life was ridiculous. It was not all that exciting to begin with as we barely cared for this character, but it did serve as an excuse for Damon to butt into Eleanor's life. But then it is dropped for nearly 150 pages until we discover that people have been covertly investigating and have discovered the (unsurprising) villian.

I have never been able to understand the immense appeal that "witty banter" holds for romance novel readers- at least I assume there is immense appeal seeing as how every romance novel is chock full of it. This one has enough for a dozen novels or more, and what is even more odd is that the characters actually acknowledge how much they like "sparring" with each other- referring to it as exhilarating. While I admit little jokey talk can be fun- if that is the only way two people ever seem to talk to each other it gets a little old and is certainly difficult to understand how they can even contemplate a life together. And unfortunately there is very little development of the romance between these characters so the author seems to revert to the romance novel staple (of poorly thought out books) that she JUST IS in love with him, which she realizes after much good sexin' of course, and he can't live without her vitality and zest for life.

Rating: Good sex does not make up for poorly written characters, dialogue, and ridiculous side-plot. I barely managed to keep myself from putting it down 200 pages (out of 400) in.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bride of a Wicked Scotsman

Bride of a Wicked Scotsman by Samantha James

Maura O'Donnel has grown up her whole life hearing the story of her family's stolen treasure whose loss meant slow destruction for the entire clan. She promises her father on his deathbed that she will rescue the "Circle of Light" from the pirate Black Scotsman who stole it two hundred years ago. Alec McBride, who earned the nickname The Black Scotsman from the Englishwomen whose hearts he's broken, knows nothing about a pirate ancestor, much less the mystical Circle of Light. Maura manages to trick her way into a ball where she knows Alec will be and (of course) at the ball both are dressed in matching costumes and are "drawn" to each other. Tricks ensue and the next morning Alec believes he has ruined Maura and has no choice but to marry her. This is just what Maura wanted as her plan all along has been to get access to Alec's Scottish estate to search for the Circle of Light.

Alec realizes that something isn't quite right, and the two tip toe around each other in Scotland. Maura trying to avoid any situations that would reveal her trickery, and thus her ultimate plan, and convinced that she will be able to walk away from the marriage once her task is complete. Alec, despite his misgivings, wants to make the best of his marriage, and his assumption that she is a fortune/ title hunter is quickly put to rest, as he gets to know his wife. The two spend so much time together that she has little time to engage in searching. Eventually she breaks down and informs him of the truth and then both of them agree to work together in pursuit of the Circle of Light. Our "climax" didn't involve any kidnappings, but there certainly was a moment of high tension and release, as well as a cute, if predictable, epilogue.

This was a fast read- the big type, and 350 pages and there weren't too many "slow" parts. It was fast-paced, fun, and breezy. I was nervous about the supernatural aspect, but it was surprisingly easy to digest and did not take over the entire book as it would have if either if the characters had possessed a supernatural power (and that totally annoys me). The Circle of Light part of the plot is, obviously, an essential part of the book that blends seamlessly into the novel, does not interfere with the romance, and does not take over the book. There is a nice little bit of angst as she battles her growing feelings for a man whose family brought destruction to hers and she feels guilty over her trickery. She is convinced that once he figures out the truth over what happened he will no longer care for her and she is distraught over this. And then of course there is a nice little bit of angst on his part when she does reveal the truth and he becomes convinced that she had just been pretending her feelings the entire time.

The romance is the central focus of the book and that makes a good romance novel to me. Despite the difficulties and awkwardness of their marriage Alec wants it to work and as a result, is incredibly sweet and loving towards Maura. The book does not get very steamy until close to the end, but the author does try to make up for it by giving us plenty, even if it is a little late. And at least it makes sense since Maura is trying to convince Alec that he had already deflowered her. I also enjoyed how the book resolved their living situation- we are informed throughout the entire book how much Maura loves Ireland, yet Alec lives in Scotland, but the author makes ending situation realistic, yet fulfilling. Last, but not least, I liked how we got plenty of information about what was going on from both his point of view and hers.

Rating: I never knew that I could enjoy a supernatural plot (even a mild one) and I liked the characters, and the romance was fun. It was a sweet but non-sticking novel.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Heart of Courage

Heart of Courage by Kat Martin

Heart of Courage is part of the "Heart of _____" series and this is obvious throughout the book as we are continuously hit over the head with happy couples Krista and Lief and Gray and Coralee. Our protagonists are Lindsey, the opinionated (another word for sassy?) writer and Thor, (seriously?) the uncivilized Viking and Lief's brother. The two have never gotten along well but of course sexual tension runs high. When Lindsey's brother, Rudy, is arrested for two murders, Lindsey is determined to clear his good name by conducting her own investigation, which of course leads to brothels, gambling dens, and dark alleys. Thor is appointed Lindsey's garden and it is not long before he's rescuing her from would-be rapists and discovering that her boyish figure (she is mistaken for a "lad" on several occasions by numerous people) holds more appeal than his usual voluptuous whores.

Meanwhile Rudy's case is getting more and more tragic as it becomes obvious someone is setting him up for the murder and notes begin appearing claiming that a childhood "friend" is responsible. Rudy, taking the cake for Too Stupid To Live, continues to go out and carouse with his dissolute gambling buddies, despite being under suspicion. As more people disappear and the clues lead them further to a suspect, as of course the police refuse to look past Rudy, Thor and Lindsey begin an affair. Thor tries to end the affair with Lindsey, convinced that he is not good enough for her and/ or that his large baby will kill her when she gives birth, and yet is horrified when Lindsey's parents try to marry her off to "eligible" men. No one should be surprised to learn that the book ends with a kidnapping and our hero riding to the rescue to save the day.

There are some seriously weird side-ish plots in this book. There are forged/ stolen stock papers that are retrieved, yet nothing is done about the other people who may have been targeted by the unscrupulous lawyer. And weirdest of all is a horse race Lindsey participates in in order to save the horses life and win the horse for Thor. Both of them were tied into the plot but far too much was made of them, especially in a book that already ran 40 pages over the requisite 370 (and in small type too). Then there is the completely horrible scene mentioned above where Thor rescues her from the would-be rapists and realizes she's beautiful naked; she is naked because the would-be rapists have ripped off her clothes and she is huddled in a corner in terror. That is not sexy.

The other weird scene is what I imagine the author means to be a turning point in the book where Thor goes from an overbearing meathead to an enlightened lover of feminism. Thor spanks Lindsey for going out without him (admittedly that was dumb after what happened last time she had gone out without him) and she berates him and agrees it was wrong of him and it won't happen again. But my opinion is still up for grabs on that one. The angst is in short supply but it is done well as Lindsey and Thor each battle their feelings for each other- Thor believing he's not good enough for Lindsey and Lindsey believing Thor is more into whores than her. The sex is hot, but the author seems to go for quantity over quality as the middle and end are littered with short little sex scenes. As with the last book the two characters seem to work together only in the confines of the murder investigation which turns out to be the scene stealer in this dense murder mystery.

Rating: I didn't like the book, but it was far better than The Perfect Wife. I wish we'd had less murder investigation and more Thor and Lindsey falling in love.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Visit from Sir Nicholas

A Visit from Sir Nicholas by Victoria Alexander

A Visit from Sir Nicholas opens 10 years before the majority of the story takes place as Elizabeth Effington and Nicholas Collingsworth, the heir to a Lord whose death is quite a ways away, fight their attraction to each other. Elizabeth, Lizzie to her friends, has presented a facade of frivolity (a word that appears much too frequently throughout the novel, to the world and it is only to Nicholas that she has felt able to reveal her true intellect and non-frivolous-ness. Nicholas has spent his entire life with the belief that he has to prove himself as his father was a wastrel and he does not want to merely rely on his uncle's generosity. He is set to leave for America the day after the annual Effington Christmas ball and Lizzie takes the opportunity to basically throw herself at Nicholas. However, Nicholas takes the high road, convinced that the best course of action is for Lizzie to marry her longtime "sweetheart," Charles, with whom she has been unofficially betrothed to since childhood. Lizzie leaves him humiliated, but manages to convince herself that she was not really in love with Nicholas, marries Charles, and is determined to never see Nicholas again.

Things do not go as plan as upon Charles' death seven years later, he leaves control of Lizzie's fortune, and that of their two sons, to Nicholas who returns to Britain three years later. Nicholas is initially ready to turn over control of the finances to Lizzie, who has done a great job, but changes his mind during their first meeting. Nicholas realizes he made a huge mistake and is determined to finally make Lizzie his. Unfortunately Lizzie has never completely gotten over the humiliation of his rejection. However, she has managed to get over her dead husbands betrayal, as she has already forgiven him (granted he is dead) for having an affair that lasted through half their marriage. Then the story becomes a little lengthy as Nicholas goes over and over the fact that he made a huge mistake, Nicholas is worried that Lizzie will never fully trust him because of what happened with Charles, and Lizzie becomes mopey about not wanting to admit that the last ten years of her life have been a mistake. Eventually the confrontation becomes over Lizzie learning to forgive herself, and her dead husband, and Nicholas, and moving on with her life.

This story had some amazing angst, which makes sense as the whole premise that the two leads made a huge mistake and must make ammends to themselves. And Alexander writes some great angst including some great scenes told from Nicholas' point of view where he reflects on what could have been. As is usual for most Alexander novels the dialogue is witty and zippy and all together fun, although there are times when the book takes the path down the witty banter disguised as arguing which both characters seem to like. Although the reasons behind why the two gave up on each other ten years ago may seem a little overdrawn and ridiculous, Alexander does an amazing job of delving into their inner thoughts and thus explaining their reasons. And I totally fell in love with Lizzie's kids, Christopher and Adam, who were entirely enjoyable, realistic, and just as well written as Lizzie and Nicholas.

Unfortunately the whole pretending to be frivolous thing just seemed a little overdone. While we see no real examples of her acting frivolous we are told, numerous times that she indeed does behave as though she's frivolous. In fact she manages to behave frivolously for seven years and convinces her husband that she has no business controlling her own finances so he leaves that responsibility to a man he hasn't seen in seven years. Adding that to the mistress thing makes it just to wierd that she so easily forgives him. For some reason I really do not get on the whole, "forgiveness" is key to moving on mantra that inhabits so many romance novels. Making it even odder is that fact that we meet the mistress, who lets Lizzie know that she, the mistress, and Charles had been soul mates and thus could not resist temptation. This prompts Lizzie to further forgive Charles and move on with her life. And said mistress happens to be friends wiht Nicholas and when Nicholas and Lizzie finally get together one of his conditions is that he will not give up old friends- which Lizzie readily agrees too. Personally, forgiveness does not extend far enough to allow your new husband to remain friends with your former husbands long-time mistress.

Rating: Their definitely could have been more sex, but the angst was some of the best I've read. I liked all the characters, but I couldn't get over the drawn out nature of the problems and the forgiveness bit.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Then Comes Seduction

Then Comes Seduction by Mary Balogh

Then Comes Seduction is the second book in the Huxtable series and centers around Katherine Huxtable, the youngest of the Huxtable females, and Jasper Finley, Baron Montford, a notorious rake. Jasper takes a bet from his dissolute friends on his 25th birthday as he is feeling a touch off ennui, and he has two weeks to seduce the eminently respectable Katherine Huxtable. A mere four days later Jasper is seconds away from winning his bet when he literally pulls back, informs Katherine of the truth of the situation, and leaves; telling his friends that he was roundly shot down. Katherine is humiliated and leaves town, Jasper escapes briefly to his own estate where he discovers an interest in running his own property, and the two do not meet again for three years. When they do the two are drawn to each other and rumors quickly begin to circulate.

Exacerbating the problem is Jasper's cousin (through his stepfather) Clarence Forrester who is one of Charlotte, Jasper's half-sister, three guardians. He is determined to have Charlotte come under the protection of him and his mother so that he can marry her and gain her fortune. He spreads the truth about the three-year old wager and Jasper and Katherine have no choice but to marry- for the sake of their families of course. On their honeymoon the two engage in their own wager; no sex (her idea of course) for a month and only to resume if the two fall in love. Looming ahead of them is the house party they are throwing for Charlotte's 18th birthday. The ball had been an annual event until Jasper's step-father came and swung his godly club of righteousness and did away with all the un-Godly things. These ungodly things include Jasper's father and by proxy Jasper himself. Needless to say Jasper's childhood was far from happy and thus he has shut himself off from society. Like most romance novel heroes he wears a mask that only our heroine can see past and Katherine does so with her beautiful willowy body and her listening skills. By the end Jasper has managed to: defend Katherine's honor by getting one better on Clarence, maintain guardianship of Charlotte, fall in love with Katherine and earn her love in return.

Unlike most other Balogh books this one starts from the beginning with the attraction and seduction part of the relationship and then goes into the soft, comfortable, falling in love part. Also unlike most Balogh books is the prevalence of several sex scenes- some of which are downright steamy; but there is still far too few and less than found in most other romance novels. It was certainly an interesting read as I discovered that Balogh is just as good at writing immense attraction as she is at the other stuff, and I enjoyed it. What made it even better was that she did not disappoint on her staples either; we still got the enjoyable build up of real emotions and the slight angst as our protagonists learned how to live with each other and worried about what the other was feeling. Balogh is, as (almost) always (see Simply Love), very skillful at letting her readers know how characters from previous novels are doing, without hitting readers are over the head with it, and at setting up her next romance novel- I am certainly looking forward to At Last Comes Love featuring the spinster eldest Huxtable sister, Margaret.

Jasper's sister Charlotte is probably one of the most annoying characters I have come across. Literally everything to her is exciting and new and she views the world with the wide eyed wonder of a newborn who can talk. And talk she does, "Oh! All the flowers, Jasper. The ballroom looks like a garden. And it smells like one too. And look at how the mirrors multiply them all many times over." She is by far the most innocent (I really wanted to write "dumb") 18 year-old in history. Clarence is the epitome of foolish romance novel villian: he dresses like a dandy, he is portly (larger people are definitely not appreciated in romance novels), he wants to marry to gain a young girls fortune, he's the definition of a mama's boy, and he was apparently something of a bully as a young boy (which we don't learn until the last 25 pages of the book surprisingly enough). The talk of baby-making got to be a little too much for me as first Katherine, and then later on Jasper, talk (seemingly) constantly about how much fun it will be to have a baby. At first it was sweet and showed that they were developing real feelings, but then it just got to be too much.

Rating: Sweet and easy to swallow with a better than average plot with a great show of developing the romance, but the book was slow and dragged quite a bit- perhaps 50 pages too long at 419.