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.