Friday, December 31, 2010

The Proper Wife

The Proper Wife by Julia Justiss 1222

Viscount Sinjin Sandiford returns from years serving as Colonel during the Napoleonic wars determined to find a wife. His estate is in massive debt from his mother and father's spendthrift ways, but even though he's being forced into matrimony he wants to do it on his own terms. For years he was in love with his neighbor Sarah who was forced into marriage with the Marquess of Englemere, and he wants someone with similar qualities to her. Sarah was kind and understood the value of money and losing her was the hardest thing he'd ever done, but he admits that Sarah is happy in her marriage and she professes to want similar happiness for him. Even though he has never considered Englemere a friend, he offers to help Sinjin find a wife from among the middle class. Sinjin believes a merchant's daughter would be more likely to be helpmate, not as simpering and carefree with money as a noble wife. He knows for sure that Clarissa Beaumont, Sarah's friend, is precisely the wrong sort of woman for him. Clarissa is the darling of the ton and all has turned down several offers of marriage from the most eligible men in society. She dresses to her advantage and makes the most of the money that her family has and Sinjin sees her as a beacon of everything that is wrong with the ton.

Sinjin continues on his hunt for a middle class bride even while Clarissa's actions begin to chip away at the misconceptions he had harbored against her. She uses her popularity to help one of Sinjin's men who returned from war with a crippled hand and is being turned away by the young ladies of the ton. Suddenly Sinjin begins to think that the virtuous lady he had been contemplating for a bride is not precisely what he wants and that maybe impetuous and fun would be good things in a wife. There is a simmering passion between Sinjin and Clarissa that threatens to burst forth, which Sinjin discovers he doesn't mind at all. But she already knows that she wants something more with Sinjin and won't settle for anything less than his love. When Clarissa discovers a young woman who had been kidnapped and forced to work in a brothel, she decides that she needs to put a stop to what is happening. Things become dangerous when the baud goes after her and Sinjin rides to her rescue so that he can declare that he really does love her and they can live happily ever after.

Sinjin and Clarissa spent almost no time together in this book and probably around ten pages of their time together was spent without them fighting. They argued a lot and it was mainly about misunderstandings they had about each other or as a defense mechanism. He was convinced that she was a pretty bad person who didn't care about anyone but herself and she felt the need to defend herself against his attacks. There were times when it got really bad and they were really going at each other and I wondered how they could ever have fallen in love with each other. The love really seemed to sneak up on both of them and appeared out of the blue and was really not justified by anything that had happened in the book. There was a decent sense of attraction between the two of them and it simmered under the surface to burst forth at some very interesting moments. Unfortunately it seemed to be the only thing they did have going for them and it wasn't nearly hot enough to make up for the lack of quality get to know you time. A few kissing scenes and one very belated sex scene that was very lukewarm do not a relationship make.

This was especially a shame as there was a lot of promise with these two as Sinjin was so noble and judgmental and Clarissa so determined to present herself as frivolous even while she doesn't shy away from good deeds. I would have liked to read about them learning the truth about each other and having their relationship progress more naturally and have them fall in love and not just suddenly be in love. I did admire Sinjin for the way he faced his financial situation and was willing to do whatever he had to in order to make things right and that he was able to admit when his judgements about Clarissa were wrong and he revised his opinion. Clarissa was also great as society's belle who liked her admirers and looking good and still managed to try to do good in society. The plot involving the kidnapped girls was rather haphazardly done and lead to Clarissa acting in a very too stupid to live way. It was a noble cause, but I really wish it had been handled better. There was also a fun little side romance involving the officer she was helping. I really enjoyed Justiss' writing style as it was easy, descriptive and managed to convey both of their feelings, from both points of view, very well.

Rating: I really wish these two had spent more time together and I almost have a hard time categorizing this as a romance, but there weren't any major problems with anything in the book.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

When Harry Met Molly

When Harry Met Molly by Kieran Kramer 1220

Lady Molly Fiarbanks and Lord Harry Traemore have been enemies since they were young and Molly revealed that Harry had kissed his brother's fiance, Molly's sister Penelope, during a large Christmas party. Molly had been sent to a strict boarding school to rusticate and Harry to the army and while their siblings forgave each other and had a happy marriage, they never got along at any family functions. After years in the country and no real hope of making a good match Molly decides to elope with her father's assistant, Cedric, but while stopped at an inn they run into Harry and his ladylove, Fiona. Harry is competing in The Impossible Bachelor wager proposed by the Prince Regent; whoever of the five bachelors has the most Delectable Companion will win a year free of matchmaking and the four losers will draw straws to decide who will have to marry within two months. When Cedric takes off with Harry's mistress, Molly has no means of transportation and Harry risks forfeiting the wager and being forced to marry quickly

Molly agrees to pretend to be Harry's mistress at the party at his hunting cabin in exchange for Harry helping her find a husband during the season. With a lot of makeup and some new dresses Molly is almost ready, but Harry knows that there is more to being a mistress than looking the part. He starts Molly's tutelage with some kissing lessons that she is more than happy to participate in. Unfortunately the competition doesn't go as well as practice and all the other bachelor's seem to realize that something is not quite right with Harry's new mistress. Nonetheless Harry is an awe of the way that Molly manages to befriend the other mistresses and maintain her upbeat attitude about the competition even while participating in "bouncy" competitions. But Sir Richard Bell, another competitor, has harbored a hatred of Harry for years and he will not leave Molly alone and the two of them worry that he will blow Molly's cover. Neither knows how they will be able to leave the other when their time together is at an end, but Harry believes Molly deserves someone better and she believes that he does not want to marry. Both of their families and an enemy will stir the pot before they can have their happily ever after.

I was really looking forward to reading the book as it seemed like a very fun romp and I always like discovering new authors and luckily I was not disappointed. Molly was incredibly fun and lighthearted and even though it did sometimes come across as immature or a little too romantic, it made sense given her upbringing and it worked so well with her character. She was so upbeat and her befriending the other mistresses was so in character and showed how friendly and really just how great she was. It was made even better because Kramer's writing style showcased perfectly what Molly was thinking and was very in keeping with how she behaved throughout the novel. It was really the perfect style for this novel. Harry was also great because he was noble and cared so much about Molly and yet he did not believe that he was and tried to pretend that he was not head over heels in love. I liked their past as enemies and some of their fights were truly hilarious and yet it did not stop either of them from being able to move on and find themselves happy in the others' company. Every interaction these two had was interesting, fun, well written, and just wonderful to read.

The wager itself was a little ridiculous but one thing I have learned from these romance novels is that the Prince Regent was apparently quite capable of creating such a contest and requiring his poor subjects to subject themselves to it. The contests in the competition were really quite embarrassing and I loved that Molly threw herself into them whole heartedly and made sure the others were doing so as well. I wish there had been more of these competitions in the novel because they showcased how independent Molly was and how much Harry was coming to care for her as he worried about her feelings about losing and if they were embarrassing. There were quite a few sexy scenes that were very well done but no sex until the very very end and while that normally frustrates me it was really in keeping with the book and how their relationship progressed so I didn't quite mind it so much. The ending got a little crazy though as the evil Richard tried to ruin both of their lives and then both Molly and Harry were "forced" into doing things they didn't really want to do and it took of a lot of craziness for everything to work itself out and it was just a little too nuts for me at the end.

Rating: Amazing characters and a really fun read, but there could have been more sex and a less crazy ending and perhaps some more seriousness all around.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Promise

A Christmas Promise by Mary Balogh 1223 

Randolph Pierce, Earl of Falloden, inherited massive debts along with his title and he has postponed an engagement with a lovely young lady of the ton because he hopes to make a little money first. But John Trasnmore, a very wealthy coal merchant, buys up all of the debts and threatens to call them all in if Randolph does not marry his daughter, Eleanor. Eleanor has fancied herself in love with her distant cousin, Wilfred, for years but when he writes to inform her that their relationship has no future, she thinks she might as well fall in with her father's plan. She has had horrible experiences with members of the ton who regard her class as vulgar, and she harbors little hope that she and a titled gentleman can ever get along. John Transmore is dying and his last wish is for his daughter to marry into the ton and he survives just long enough for Randolph to promise to live with Eleanor for a year and to consummate their marriage on the wedding night. 

Things do not go well on their wedding night as she is defensive and he can't help but think that she is cold and emotionless. Before their marriage he had invited several friends up to his hunting lodge and he decides to keep those plans and allow Eleanor to invite her own family. Still feeling like she will never belong in the ton she decides to invite her entire extended family- partly to show Randolph that she is indeed a vulgar social climber. Randolph is at first put out, but it isn't long before he is enjoying seeing his new bride in such different surroundings; she is suddenly full of life and happiness. And she is beginning to see that Randolph is not so judgmental and he fits in so well with her boisterous family with no signs that he dislikes having them. Now they both know that they want something more out of their relationship but worry that the other will not feel the same way. It takes a wonderful Christmas Eve of merrymaking and joy and a little miracle for them to move past their bad beginning and into the future. 

I know that it is highly unlikely that the social classes really did intermingle back in the day, but I am still a sucker for romances that feature people from different hierarchies. Who doesn't like a little bit of a fairy tale? And of course it leads to some great emotional moments where one of them feels like he/she is not good enough and the other realizes that the separations in their class don't really matter. This book had so many of those elements in a tried and true plot device where the merchant father buys his daughter a title. What made this so well done was that the story was told pretty equally from both points of view so I was really able to see them as they both underwent changes and had new thoughts about their spouse and their relationship. Eleanor's excuse for giving in to her father's desire for her to marry a lord was a nice little difference from the usual and her relationship with Wilfred lead to some more great emotional scenes between the two of them as they argued over her old feelings. 

At times I was a little frustrated by how quick Eleanor and Randolph were to think the worst of each other, even after sufficient time together to have shown them both that they had been wrong about each other from the beginning. Eleanor especially was far too defensive and she really did come across as cold and unfeeling quite a bit and I found myself empathizing more with Randolph than Eleanor. In typical Balogh style the sex was incredibly bland and rather ambiguous as to whether Eleanor ever got any of her own satisfaction. And some of it was incredibly painful to read about as there was a complete absence of feeling and it seemed like they were both just trying to hurt each other. The Christmas element of the story was done very well with an emphasis on family and togetherness and not so much on the religious elements. Of course there were a couple little side romances going on that were quite fun and I wish we'd had a little more from them. As usual I liked her writing style and the book was certainly fast as it was only 270 pages long. 

Rating: A typical Balogh novel with a slow and muted relationship and very little sex, but it was well told and a fast read. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How to Wed a Baron

How to Wed a Baron by Kasey Michaels 1218

Justing Wilde, the Bad Baron, does what the Prince Regent tells him to as he needs to receive a full pardon for a duel where he killed a man who had slept with his wife. Even though he paid an enormous sum to the Regent he does not expect that to be the end of anything and his fears are confirmed when he is told he must marry the King of Austria's ward, Lady Alina. From the first moment he sees her coming down the gangblank off her ship, he knows that Lady Aline is special and that life will never be the same. Alina hopes to escape her aunt back in Austria after her father and mother both died when she was young, and she hopes to meet her mother's English family. Justin knows there has to be a catch and is not surprised to learn that Alina is the niece of the man he killed in the duel and that there is someone out to kill her. Her guard, Luka, informs him that she has a tenuous claim to a strip of land that is also desired by the Inhabar Novak. He figures out that he supposed to kill the Inhabar for going after Alina, taking the blame from the Austrian King and eventually be hung for murder by his own Regent.

He has to keep Alina safe and he engineers a complex series of instructions that leads him from one house to another, hiding with his friends and their wives. He meanwhile is running around the country trying to meet with the Regent himself and with the Inhabar and he rendezvous with her and her entourage while at a gypsy encampment. She can see that there is something Justin is hiding from her and even though he claims they cannot possibly have a happy life together, she wants to go through with their marriage- after they have settled all of the problems surrounding her. He is furious with himself as he knows he has to kill the Inhabar in order to keep the woman he loves safe, but he also knows that he in turn will be killed for doing so. He tries to think of ways for them to be together, but continues to make arrangements for her after he dies. However, things are not as they appear and there is someone who has been lying to them about Alina and only when Justin puts a stop to that man can he hope that Alina and he will be able to have their happily ever after.

I felt like neither Alina nor Justin was a completely developed character and there were so many holds in this story. We learned about them through the assassination plot but it really did not serve as a complete picture of who they were or why they fell in love with each other or why I should like to read about them. Alina liked pretty things, she found Justin very attractive, and in an act far too stupid to live, she stepped out of a carriage in the middle of a shootout because she though she could shoot back. I was willing to overlook that because it was supposed to show that she wasn't a simpering miss, but when that is all we're really shown of a character it's hard to remain interested. Justin is of course the tortured hero dealing with his dark past as an exiled lord trying to get back in his sovereign's good graces by killing traitors and enemies. He spent so much tim shipping her off to friends and running around trying to figure out what was going on, that I felt like he didn't spend enough time with Alina for them to fall in love, and not enough non- intrigue inspired time for my tastes.

The sex between them was very hot and well written, even if it was too brief and near the end was hinted at and then cut away before anything exciting happens- that really annoys me. In Michaels typical style there is a lot of banter in this book; between Justin and Alina, between Justin and his foppish manservant, Wigglesworth, between Justin and the Regent, between everyone really. I did not really like it in her previous works but in this one it served as some much needed lightheartedness in the midst of so much murder and mayhem. However, it did serve to make Justin seem rather frivolous and there were times I wanted him to hold a genuine conversation with someone that was not just about assassinations. Secondary characters, especially Wigglesworth, were absolutely wonderful and written about enough to be humorous but not enough to get annoying. I do wish there had not been so much wonderfulness surrounding characters from previous novels, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been. The murder/ assassination plot was very well done and had the most intriguing twist to it but it really did completely take over the book.

Rating: I didn't dislike the book, but I did not precisely have fun reading it because there was far too much I didn't like and not enough that I did.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Most Scandalous Engagement

A Most Scandalous Engagement by Gayle Callen 1216

Peter Derby owns a club that has recently come into ownership of a scandalous nude painting featuring an unknown society lady. When Elizabeth Cabot and her cousin sneak into the gallery to steal the painting Peter and his two closest friends know the subject of the painting must be one of those girls. Peter lays his money on Elizabeth while his friends each choose one of her cousins and they each set out to prove themselves right. Elizabeth had been a reckless child, always getting into scrapes, and always being rescued by Peter who lived nearby, even though his family was common while hers was part of society. Now she is the darling of the ton and intent on proving that she has left her scandalous past behind her, even while she is the one who posed for the painting. One of her suitors, Lord Thomas, threatens to tell the ton it is her in the painting if she does not marry him. To circumvent his blackmail she claims she is already engaged and enlists Peter's help by pretending to a sham engagement with him.

Peter agrees because he has harbored deeper feelings for Elizabeth for years, but always felt like she was too good for him. Now that he has his own fortune, he thinks that the two of them can finally have a future and sets out to prove to her that they would be perfect for each other. Of course they must pretend to be madly in love in front of the ton and pretend begins to become very close to truth. But Elizabeth has always fancied that she would marry William, her best friend's brother, and to keep herself from falling under Peter's spell she claims that their passionate interludes are merely practice for when she can use what he's teaching her on William. Everyone is worried that both of them are making a mistake; that Elizabeth is marrying beneath herself and that Peter will never be accepted into the ton he is marrying into, and both of them worry that the other is getting worried about these things as well and wants out. Both of them will have to be honest with the other about what they want before they can be happy.

This is the second in the scandalous series and carries on the story of the the nude portrait. The first installment was of average quality and this one was slightly better as I liked the main characters and the problems they faced more than the first, but it still had some of the same problems. Elizabeth's scandalous past is hinted at but not really shown and I couldn't help but feel a little mystified as to how a society lady would have ever posed nude for a painting. I don't know how she would have met this artist and how she would have gotten up the courage to do this and this really should have been talked about more. Unfortunately her wild behavior was a big part of her development as a character as she was working so hard to overcome her past and it was just hard to see this as we didn't really get a glimpse into said scandalous past. I enjoyed reading about her relationship with her mother as it was important and yet did not really take over they story and the secondary characters in general were well written and no overwhelming.

Peter was a more intriguing character than Elizabeth in general because he was fighting feelings of inadequacy and it's always great to read about someone who has harbored a secret longing for a long time. His attempts to make her fall in love with him were mainly physical, but I could still sense that these two had deeper feelings for each other. Their relationship progresses very naturally and quickly throughout the story and we were there every step of the way. They did know each other before the story started and so we missed out on a little bit, but I still felt like there was a good bit of development going on. Their wasn't a lot of sex per se but there was a ton of sizzling tension between these two that scorched the pages and I felt the entire book was very sexy. The mystery of the painting was not really a large part of the story because we knew from the beginning that she was the model and I liked that it was really just a part of the back round. There was the issue of Elizabeth being blackmailed into marriage and I also enjoyed how this element was carried through to the end and had a very satisfying ending.

Rating: More enjoyable than her last novel because I liked these characters better and side plots were enjoyable extras and didn't overwhelm.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wicked Nights With a Lover

Wicked Nights With a Lover by Sophie Jordan 1213

Marguerite Laurent leads a quiet life as an end of life nurse until one of her patients hires a fortune teller who foretells Marguerite's death, but only after she marries a man who is desperately in love with her. She is at first skeptical but when other things the fortune teller had predicted come true she worries that she has only a short amount of time left and has not lived her life to the fullest. When she goes to visit the fortune teller she is confronted by a very dark and handsome brute of a man who spends brief moments with her in a carriage, awakening passions she never knew she had, before disappearing. Ash Courtland grew up on the streets of St. Giles and managed to claw his way out of the gutter with the help of Jack Hannigan, the king of the London's underworld. He built quite a fortune for himself and Jack and he is furious when he discovers that Jack plans on leaving his half of the fortune to his three illegitimate daughters- after he marries them off to peers of the realm.

Jack is determined not to let this come to pass and he decides to kidnap one of Jack's daughters and marry her himself. Marguerite has no love for her father, but she does answer his summons, only to find herself kidnapped by the dark and handsome stranger she had met outside the fortune teller's house. Jack proposes a very reasonable marriage that offers her freedom and she can't deny her attraction for him, but she cannot get the prediction of her death out of her mind. She can't prevent herself from succumbing to Jack's overtures and spending so much time with him on the way up to Scotland she begins to think that this might be one risk taking. Jack cannot figure out why Marguerite cannot make up her mind about whether she wants to marry him or run away from him. When she finally makes her decision she is left with the knowledge she may have sealed her own fate and it is only now that she fully realizes how much she has to live for. She would do anything to prevent her untimely death so she can live a full life with Ash, even cheat fate.

 The novel is fairly short; although it is a full 374 pages it has large type, large line spacing, and each chapter ends with a blank page. I felt while writing this review that I did not have very much to right about and really the bulk of the review was just set up for them finally meeting and beginning their relationship. I loved that Marguerite was a truly independent woman with a career and was making a go of it, however I found the attempt to fill her life with friends a tad weak as neither friend made an appearance and it felt like it was an attempt to bring past heroines into this novel. However, it set up her meeting with her two half-sisters very well and that was an element of the story that was very well done, if a little too briefly. I am rarely one for paranormal plots and fortune telling falls into that category for me but here I liked that it was more just a fun little way to get Marguerite to take a chance on life and set up her full leap into her relationship with Ash. I did not like that it served as the major sticking point in that relationship as well, as it just seemed a little too crazy.

We got only a brief backstory into Ash and his demons and I liked it better that way as it was just enough for me to gain insight into his actions and his feelings about Jack's betrayal. He was really just a typical romance novel hero from the wrong side of the track who wanted the girl whose parents didn't like him. Their trip up to Scotland was fun and lively providing plenty of opportunity for the two of them to get to know each other and talk. However, Marguerite also went through some very quick mind changes with agreeing to marry him and then changing her mind several times. She made an unbelievable amount of escape attempts and was, of course, waylaid by Ash who wasted no time taking her in hand. There were also some issues involving Ash being so scared of his feelings that he made some big mistakes that lead to an overdone emotional mess at the end, complete with dead relatives beckoning from a white light. There was some decent sex between the two, nothing too exciting, but the two of them were very obviously attracted to each other.

Rating: A very fun and fast book with two interesting if not spectacular characters. The book was satisfying, but nothing special.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Scandal of the Season

Scandal of the Season by Christie Kelley 1130

When Anthony Somerton discovers that his deceased mother is actually alive and well and running her own brothel, he is distraught. He runs straight into the arms of the captivating orange seller and in a drunken stupor he has sex with her and while his memory of the night isn't the best he knows that he raped her. He asked for help from his illegitimate half sister, Sophia, a famous seer, who promises to tell him the orange seller's name if he helps her arrange marriages for her friends. When that is done, she reveals the name, but it is to Victoria Seaton, the plain and spinster-ish vicar's daughter who runs the orphanage. It does not take him long to discover that Victoria is actually Anne Smith, his lovely orange seller, and her status has changed dramatically since then. He thinks the only way she could have made enough money is through pickpocketing, which he knows she is quite adept at, and whoring herself and he wastes no time in enlisting her in his next government mission.

Anthony has been hired to go to a house party hosted by the Earl of Farleigh and intercept a note being given to Lord Hardy, but he cannot go without a mistress because Farleigh is intensely jealous of the relationship between his wife, who used to be a prostitute, and Anthony. Victoria agrees to help Anthony in exchange for money she wants to use for a good Christmas for her orphans, but she hopes that she can keep her feelings for Anthony under control. This is more difficult than she imagined as the two spend time together and when she learns he believes he had coerced her ten years ago, she sets him straight and admits that she had wanted it as well. As her feelings grow she becomes desperate to end their charade before she completely falls in love with him and so she decides to try to help him by getting closer to Hardy. Anthony is furious that she puts her life in danger, but admires her willingness to help him and he realizes that his feelings for her have changed. But there are still spies out there for the two of them to confront before they can safely admit their love.

Kelley has definitely been an up and down author for me as I have really enjoyed a few of her books, but she has also produced a dud in my opinion. So I really had hopes that this would turn out to be one of the amazing ones, but was unfortunately disappointed. I liked that Victoria had completely remade herself with the help of a madame and that her life was dedicated to charity- especially since she enjoyed her work with the orphan and did not do it out of some need to help the little people. I was a little confused as to how she would have friends in the upper echelons of society and I was a little irritated by how frequently Kelley's previous characters made appearances in this novel. Anthony was interesting because he had some really great family issues such as an illegitimate half-sister, a mother who rose from the dead, and an overbearing father. I would have liked to have heard more about these relationships and really more about what mad Anthony tick on the whole and how he became involved with secrative government plots and spying.

Victoria and Anthony's relationship was pretty much based on anger, frustration, and downright mean-ness, especially for the first half of the book. While this is pretty common practice, it bordered into icky territory when it came to some rather violent kisses, especially considering their sexual encounter ten years earlier. While it wasn't rape, the very fact that he thought it was, made it just as bad in my opinion because he continued doing it even when he thought she didn't want it. Overall I wasn't really a fan of their interactions, even when they got closer, I still felt as though it wasn't enough. Normally I like her writing style but it seemed rather sloppy here at times, like she was just trying to chug out another book. The spy plot was boring for most of it and it just seemed to be a half hearted method of bringing Anthony and Victoria together and I did not really get into it until the very end when there was a great little surprise that I had never guessed.

Rating: Definitely not Kelley's best work with sloppy writing and rather boring plot and angry protagonists.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Too Wicked to Kiss

Too Wicked to Kiss by Erica Ridley 1209

Evangeline Pemperton seeks sanctuary with Lady Stanton and her daughter, Susan, to escape from her abusive step-father after her mother's death. Lady Stanton agrees to help and Evangeline accompanies them to Blackberry Manor, home of Gavin Lioncroft. Lioncroft is the brother of a Duke but he has been estranged from his family and the ton after his parents untimely death in a carriage accident was blamed on him. Despite his unsavory reputation Lady Stanton still believes that marriage to him is the best that Susan can do after a public blowout with Francine Rutherford that left Susan an outcast. Lady Stanton enlists Evangeline's help in getting Lioncroft and Susan alone and then raising a hue and cry until Lioncroft has no choice but to marry Susan. But Blackberry Manor is not what anyone was expecting and Lioncroft is certainly different as well.

Evangeline has the ability to see people's past memories and future when she touches them and Lioncroft is the first person she cannot see into. So in addition to the immense attraction she feels for him, there is an added element of mystery and the sense that he is not as guilty as everyone believes. When his brother-in-law is murdered the night after Lioncroft and he have a heated argument everyone assumes that Lioncroft is the killer, except Evangeline. Lioncroft knows what it is like to be alone after being turned away by his entire family and when he finally has Evangeline in his corner, trusting in his innocence, he wants to offer her everything. However, with the threat of an execution hanging over his head he can't ruin her life by tying her to a murderer. When he discovers her secret he enlists her help in rooting out the true killer, but when her stepfather comes looking for her everything threatens to unravel. When the murderer is revealed, Lioncroft knows he must do everything to get justice so that he can finally offer Evangeline everything.

This is Ridley's debut novel, although when I bought it I thought I had already read, and liked, another one of her novels and was just confused. Evangeline's age is never revealed in the story but I have to imagine her as very young, and fairly immature, because she is constantly changing her mind and going back on what she said she would do. She trusts Lioncroft but then when she learns one little thing about him, she no longer does. She likes him, admires him, loves him, and then there's a little tiny needle and her balloon pops and she runs away. Unfortunately I felt like he was no better in this regard as he was taking every little thing she did as a sign that she didn't trust him, she didn't like him, she wasn't worthy of his admiration. None of these things were major or lasted long enough to be an important plot point and really just served as odd little jumps in the story and really did nothing for me. However, I did feel like the spent enough time together talking and getting to know each other and their was certainly a great attraction between the two.

When she was trusting and helping Lioncroft the romance reached really great levels because he was such an outcast and didn't think anyone would ever like him, so I loved that aspect of the story. There was not really much sex going on between the two of them and a few angry kisses that didn't adequately illustrate how great their attraction was throughout the rest of the book. Evangeline's ability to read people was unexpected and troubling for me as I never really go for romances where there's supernatural abilities. And of course they resulted in massive headaches on her part because no one could ever have such great powers and not have to suffer as a result. The murder plot was great because it really was a mystery and lead to some interesting moments where both of them were able to express how much the other meant to each other and how much they were willing to do for each other. It was also a great surprise who really killed the man and it lead to the discovery of some really great and well developed secondary characters who really made this story.

Rating: I think it says a lot that I did enjoy the secondary characters more than Evangeline and Lioncroft and thought both of them should have undergone some maturing, but the book was readable.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Nothing But Deception

Nothing But Deception by Allegra Gray 1205

The widowed Beatrice Pullington is quietly enjoying life, going to social events, spending time with close friends, and being a secret poet. She accompanies friends to the home of Lord and Lady Willoughmere to see an exhibition of Philippe Durand's work. As a famous international painter, Philippe no longer takes on commission and just paints those people and things that inspire him. Upon her deathbed her mother revealed the identity of his real father, a famous painter and English Lord, Lord Owen, so Philippe made a trip to England. When he sees Beatrice he knows that he must paint her and in front of the entire gathering he invites her to pose for him, causing quite a stir among the uptight ton members present. Beatrice is both scandalized and intrigued by the offer and agrees to pose for him. The two go to the ancestral estate of the Duke of Beaufort, her friend Elizabeth's husband, to find the perfect place for the painting and begin spending quite a bit of time together.

At a ball Beatrice discovers a coded message hidden in her pelisse and, believing it to be a love note, she decodes it and heads to the meeting arranged in the note. There she discovers that it is actually a French plot, coinciding with Napoleon's return to France, so she immediately tells the Duke of Beaufort who takes her Viscount Castlereagh. He enlists her to keep an eye out for any information she can give him about the men she saw, and meanwhile she goes about in society with Philippe on her arm. It is not long before she does indeed have more information to give to Castlereagh but unfortunately her identity has been revealed to those she is spying on and they quickly set out to silence her and anyone else who might know what she knows. Philippe is there to help her but he is upset that she was keeping her involvement in spying a secret from him and it makes him question their relationship. When he himself is accused of being a spy, Beatrice knows she must do all she can to set him free in the hopes that their relationship can survive and they can both finally give in to love.

Gray's debut novel, Nothing But Scandal, was a complete success and I absolutely loved the story of Elizabeth and the Duke of Beaufort. Many of the elements in that story that I loved were lacking in this story, specifically the emotional connection and the development of the relationship between two very well written, and likable, characters. I love the widow who finds love and passion after not experiencing that with her deceased husband and Beatrice played the part beautifully. She was friendly and personable and happy with her life, even though there was something missing. She played a dangerous game in the spy ring, and while she did make at least one careless mistake, I never felt like she was behaving in an overtly careless way. I felt like she was remarkably levelheaded throughout the book and carried herself well. Philippe was not quite as well done and I did not really feel as connected with him, partly because he was such an artistic person and really seemed to see the world as an artist would. While he also played the hero, I felt like there wasn't really much to him.

This brings me to my biggest problem with this book which is that I felt almost no connection between Beatrice and Philippe at all. He was just magically struck by her when he saw her at a party and from there everything just seemed to develop at an alarming, and un-justified, rate. They spent very little time together, they didn't really discuss anything but the painting, and I really just did not see how they were just suddenly in love at the drop of the hat. There was a decent amount of sex between these two and it was fairly hot, but because the rest of their relationship was so lacking, I would have liked for there to have been more. The spy plot was very well done, with lots of twists and turns and back stabbing, not to mention lots of opportunities to showcase Philippe's heroism and Beatrice's level headedness, courage, and intelligence. Unfortunately the plot did not exactly excite me, there was no big surprise at the end and overall, it just felt lacking. Elizabeth and Alex Bainbridge make frequent appearances throughout the book, but I felt like they added more to the story than did the main characters of the story.

Rating: I know Gray can do better than this, but this book was lacking in the relationship department and the side plot overwhelmed the story and was not even interesting.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman

Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman by Lorraine Heath 1212

Mercy Dawson arrives at the Duke of Ainsley's residence to tell the Duke and his family that Stephen Lyons, the Duke's brother, had had a child before he passed away. She is already in love with the baby boy and she tells them she is his mother so that they will keep her on as a nanny. She is shocked to discover that Stephen's death was a misprint and worries that he will reveal that there is no way she can be the baby's mother because their relationship never progressed to sexual intimacy. Stephen does not remember Mercy, in fact he does not remember anything that happened during his two years fighting in the Crimea, but he does not want to insult Mercy by telling her he does not remember her, so he claims the baby as his. His family immediately accept Mercy as one of them and it is not long before his mother is hinting that he should marry Mercy.

Stephen has always been a ladies man and has quite the reputation, but he has never contemplated marriage. Seeing Mercy with John, knowing how caring she was as a nurse serving in the war and hoping that she can make him remember what he can't and that she can make his life better, he decides that marriage to Mercy could be wonderful. She has always been in love with him, jealous of all the other women he showered attention on, and she agrees to marry him and can only hope that he will never discover the truth about John's birth. For a few months both are blissfully happy, even while Mercy is hoping that Stephen's attempts to remember what happened will come to nothing. But when they make an appearance in the ton Mercy is confronted by John's birth money who threatens to ruin their happiness. Mercy knows she must hide the truth from Stephen, but it cannot be hidden for long and Stephen feels betrayed and kicks Mercy out of the house and out of John's life. However, he cannot deny that they both made mistakes and that he needs Mercy in his life.

The first thing I noticed in this book was how very much Mercy idolized Stephen and how her feelings for this seemed to be set and unmoving even before the book started. She loved him enough to risk being ostracized, rejecting by her family, and ending up alone all because she was in love with him enough to take in his son. I don't criticize her taking John in, it was written as the only reason she was involved with him was because he was Stephen's son and a connection to Stephen that she so desperately wanted. Aside from her unbelievable feelings for Stephen, Mercy was a great character and her independence and confidence, she did go all the way to Crimea and serve as a nurse in a time of war, made her unwavering faith in Stephen all the more confusing. In everything else in her life she was strong and reasonable. Stephen was a great side character in the previous book, but I did not feel as though he really pulled off being a hero in his own right. He had his memory loss and he had his actions in the war, of course he's a great hero who put his men's needs above his own, but as a hero he didn't do it for me.

I cannot really put my finger on what it was about him that just feel flat with me, but I can say that I enjoyed the scenes where he was with John and learning how to be a father. Toward the middle, when he and Mercy were doing well, he was fun and interesting to read about and I liked reading about them getting along as their happiness made getting over the tragedy of finding out the truth more realistic. Him kicking her out when the truth was revealed was heartbreaking and cruel on his part, but I like that she was not able to wallow in misery for long and that people were rooting for her all along. There was some decent, but not really that hot sex between them that I almost skimmed over really. I like secret baby plots and the twist of having Mercy not be the mother added a great element to the story. I especially like the way it was accepted by everyone that Mercy was John's mother even though she did not give birth to him.

Rating: The book was decent and there were definitely elements I enjoyed. I wouldn't recommend it, but I'm giving it three because I didn't necessarily dislike it. A low 3.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Year of Living Scandalously

The Year of Living Scandalously by Julia London 1128

When Lily Boudine discovers that she is the new Countess of Ashwood she does not want to go and dredge up painful old memories of when she accused the town carpenter of stealing the Ashwood jewels, so she sends her cousin, Keira Hannigan in her place. Keira plans on just making sure everything is all set up right for when Lily finally comes, but things quickly become complicated when the real countess is needed to sign off on documents and try to keep Ashwood from going bankrupt. So Keira pretends to be Lily and everything goes along swimmingly until Declan O'Connor, Earl of Donnelly, comes to Hadley on the Green. Declan has known Keira her whole life so he knows perfectly well that the new countess is a fraud, but he agrees to keep her secret for now. Declan has not entirely forgiven Keira for the role she played in the rape and suicide of another young girl as she was with her beforehand and provided an alibi that prevented the townspeople from searching for her so their relationship is testy at best. Nonetheless neither of them can seem to stay away from each other or deny their physical attraction.

To make matters more complicated for Keira she begins to suspect that the carpenter who was hung for thievery may have been her aunt's lover and that her aunt's death may have been a suicide. She enlists Declan's help and the two of them begin to question those who knew her aunt and the carpenter and it becomes apparent that people who scared into secrecy at the time of the trial and that a grave miscarriage of justice occurred. On top of that a Danish lord has bought the plot of land adjacent to Ashwood and is threatening to take over the most profitable part of Ashwood and open up a competing mill that would ruin the estate. Everyone in town regards both Declan and Keira (whom they think is Lily) as very eligible and try to set them up with their own eligible relatives and it drives each of them insane with jealousy. Declan has always prided himself on his freedom and he has always regarded marriage as a threat to that freedom. Keira has loved Declan for years, but she does not want to be the person who takes away his freedom. But when her secret comes out, it is Declan who comes to her rescue and who realizes that marriage to Keira would be freedom in its' own right.

Keira and Declan had a history before this story began and there were existing feelings between them, however those were mainly rather frustrating feelings and through the course of the story it was the more loving feelings that we got to read about developing. Granted, the two still did spend quite a bit of time at each other's throats and rather angry with each other. Keira was strong, capable, and incredibly smart really and it was great that she had someone to lean on in Declan who served as her helper throughout a lot of this book. Declan's desire for freedom was a little overblown and came up as a random road block and I definitely wanted him to get over it a lot quicker. The two spent an adequate amount of time together for feelings to develop, but for such a long book (423 small-type pages) I felt like it should have been much more. I did like that we got both of their perspectives throughout the book and a fairly equal amount of page space to each of them. There were a couple of sex scenes, but they mainly sprang up from arguments that the two of them were having and out of anger really.

The book was incredibly dense and long and things beside the romance took up quite a lot of the page space, which was nice because they were well done, but as usual I would have preferred more about the romance. From the beginning it is clear that the jewel theft will pay a major role in this story and it does throughout the book. It was incredibly sad and I admired Keira's determination to see things set to rights and discover the truth about what had happened, both with the carpenter and regarding her aunt's death. I felt like this plot took up a little too much of the story and did, at times, take over from the romance and while I enjoyed this plot I found it a little overwhelming for a romance. The plot with the Danish lord played a fairly minor role (that will become much bigger in the next novel in the series) but it was really well done as it showed how capable Keira was and how she dealt with pressure. It also served as a nice method for Declan to come to her aid and comfort her when she was not feeling well. As usual London populates her novel with wonderful secondary characters and while there was no one major, everyone was well developed and they served as great accompaniments to Declan and Keira.

Rating: I did enjoy this book but felt like it was too long, there was a little too much going on, and that Declan and Keira spent too much time angry at each other.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Delicious

Delicious by Sherry Thomas 1127

Verity Durant is the most famous chef in England, both for her decadent food and for the affair she had with her employer, Bertie Somerset. At one time Verity had hoped to marry Bertie, but he believed he was too good for her and refused and she stayed on as his chef anyway. When Bertie dies, Stuart Somerset inherits the estate even though he had been born a bastard. His father had married his mother and he had become legitimate but his relationship with Bertie had been strained recently and Verity knew that they disliked each other. In flashbacks we learn that after Bertie refused to marry her, Verity decided to get back at him by engaging in an affair with his brother. But that one night turned into so much more and by the end of it Stuart knew he wanted to marry this woman whose name he didn't even know. Verity is shocked at how deep she has fallen and knows that if she cares for him she must leave him alone as marrying her will ruin his promising political career and the two don't meet again for ten years.

For ten years Stuart had been trying to forget the woman he spent one glorious night with and he finally decides it is time to marry a good young woman. But the first time he tastes the food that Verity prepares he is transported and he begins to think thoughts, lustful thoughts, he had never imagined thinking. Verity tries to hide her identity from Stuart and the two only meet in the dark or when a face is covered and it still so obvious that there is something amazing between the two. But there is still the difference in their station with her scandalous past and his future, and of course there is the problem of his fiance. Lily, Stuart's fiance, is spending more and more time with his secretary, the disowned son of a marquess, and the two of them have their own little fling going. Verity has a few dark secrets about her past and when Stuart finally discovers that she is the young woman from years ago he is horrified and despite his feelings for her he throws her out, determined to finally get her out of his mind. Of course that is impossible and he realizes that it is worth risking scandal, even his career, in order to be with the woman he loves- even if it means a few more secrets need to be revealed.

The first half of the book goes back and forth between the time around her first encounter with Stuart and when he inherits the estate and meets Verity again. In addition the book also has numerous references to things that had happened even before then and it takes a while to piece everything back together and really discover all the different secrets in the book. While at times I like to have everything just presented at once, Thomas is a master at weaving together intriguing time sequences and I liked slowly putting everything together until I had a complete picture. The secrets are also what make Verity such an interesting and enjoyable character to read about as she is older than the typical romance novel heroine and has quite a past. She is definitely not a virgin, definitely not naive or innocent, and yet she still holds out hope, even if she denies it, that one day a prince will come along who loves her. She is a superb cook and while normally descriptions about food (or clothing) don't really interest me, Thomas again blows me out of the water and made me really want to try the food. The food was really a character in itself and made the entire book very sensual in tone.

I also very much enjoyed Stuart's character and how he was trying so hard to fit into the elite political order at the expense of his own enjoyment of life and Verity is really the answer to that. It is her food that really brings him back to the living and causes him to rethink his priorities and believe that there is something worth more than becoming Prime Minister. Her whole life she had been thought of as unworthy by her family and Stuart came along and proved to her that she was special and he was willing to risk so much for her. The entire book was sensual even when nothing overtly sexual was occurring, but when there was it was almost explosive because it had been building up for so long. I really enjoyed the side romance between Stuart's assistant and his fiance because it was a good counterpoint to the complications surrounding Verity and Stuart's relationship. My biggest problem was the ending of the book because there had been so many problems about Verity and her family and yet in 15 pages or so everything was solved and made to rights. I felt like it didn't fit with what had happened in the story and made everything a little too perfect for the heartbreak that came before.

Rating: An amazing well written book with two mature and perfect for each other characters, that kind of went out with a spit at the end.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Portrait of a Lover

Portrait of a Lover by Julianne MacLean 1124

When Annabelle Lawson meets Mr. John Edwards on a train to Scotland she immediately senses a connection and decides to take the biggest risk of her life. For an entire summer she and Mr. Edwards meet secretly for fishing, paintings, and cuddles under the sky. She is heartbroken when she discovers that John is really Magnus Wallis, her adoptive brother's cousin and worst enemy. Magnus is in love with Annabelle but because he had been cast out of by the Whitby's he does not have much money and does not move in society. He thinks he is not good enough for her so he claims that he was merely using her and runs off to America. For thirteen years they both try to forget each other until Magnus comes back to England and wants to show one of Annabelle's paintings at an art gallery he recently acquired. She is wary of the meeting, but Magnus is not as he is determined to prove to Annabelle that he is good enough and that he is finally worthy of her trust and convince her to marry him.

It is not long before the two are back in their old rhythm of discussions and heated conversations with sexual overtones. He knows that her art is something special and his confidence in her abilities inspires her and awes her. But her brother, the Earl of Whitby, is in the back ground if not in person, marring their happiness with the knowledge that her brother will never accept a match between them. She takes a risk by escaping with him for a weekend and she knows that he is all she ever wanted in her life. There is so much bad blood between their families as she and Whitby have been told that his father was a murderous madman and that Marcus himself killed Whitby's older brother, while Marcus is resentful that the family kicked his father out for not being as strong as the old Earl expected. Marcus is a changed man and he no longer feels the need to be part of the ton, so when Annabelle offers to bring him into her world, he worries that she does not know him at all. Both must risk their pride and take a giant leap of faith for them to end up together.

These two were featured in Love According to Lily where Magnus was portrayed as a downright scoundrel and I was worried that MacLean would not really be able to resurrect him. However, MacLean does a superb job as she quickly puts to rest any fears that Magnus really was heartless. It was so clear that he loved her and that it was only his insecurities that kept him from staying with Annabelle. His situation was made even better because he eventually came into his own and became confident in himself that Annabelle's station and his lack of station, no longer mattered. He desperately wanted Annabelle to trust him and sometimes it became a little unbelievable that he expected her to trust him again after only a week or so of being reacquainted. I understood that his explanation to her was thorough, but it really made me dislike his character a little. I did admire that he was, for the most part, a self made man and it was a nice change of pace from the lords that populate most romance novels. I also admired his change of heart about being accepted by his family and how he was confident enough not to need their acceptance.

Annabelle was not quite as well rounded as her main plot line in this story was her fears about trusting Marcus again and she seemed to be searching for a reason not to trust him. At the same time this was a tad annoying, it also seemed very wise on her part as it showed she learned from her mistakes. I admired her loyalty to her family and how she did not want to just throw them over for the man she loved; she went digging and coercing in an attempt to get the two men she loved to find some common ground. Although I really don't consider myself much of an art aficionado, I liked that she had her own talent and that it didn't take over the book with talk of paintings. There was an undercurrent of sexual tension throughout the book and I really liked how it simmered just below the surface; it created some quite nice anticipation to the story. There was one extended sex scene that was quite sexy and hot and incredibly romantic. I also really liked that she featured characters from her previous novel in important, yet not overwhelming. It was clear that they were living happily ever after but it was in the back ground, and I did not feel like it was being shoved in my face.

Rating: I liked the emotions that really carried this book through and I admired both of the main characters, although the book could have used some more excitement.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Swept Away by a Kiss

Swept Away by a Kiss by Katharine Ashe 1125

Lady Valerie Monroe was exiled to America by her father, the Earl of Alverton, for her flirtatious and scandalous behavior but upon his death she is called back to England. While at sea she meets Etienne, a French priest, whom she feels far from fatherly towards. When her ship is taken by pirates she and Etienne are brought on board the pirate ship by their crazy captain who wants her to be more experienced before he finally rapes her. He sets up scenarios that he thinks will test the religious man's will power and lead to Valerie's corruption, but Etienne has secrets of his own. He is in fact Viscount Stephen Ashford and the ship they are on is his own and he uses it to hunt slave traders and disrupt their business. He knows that Valerie is something special but he is destined to live his life alone so when he finally regains control of the ship he leaves her in London with no plans to see her ever again. Back in England Valerie tries to move on with her life but she cannot get the French priest out of her mind until a house party in the country.

Valerie attends a holiday party given by Lord and Lady March, Stephen's godparents, and the two once again come face to face. Both pretend that they do not know each other and watch with jealousy as they each flirty madly with the other members of their party. Valerie is horrified to think that Stephen was merely playing her and has no true feelings for her while Stephen regrets the way things has to be but thinks it is for Valerie's own good that he is doing all this. It isn't long before Valerie begins picking up on some of Stephen's going on and realizes that there is something that Stephen is hiding from her. When she discovers a servant rifling through her possessions she decides that she is going to take the initiative and discover for herself what is going on. She discovers what Stephen does and that he is attempted to dig up evidence on one of the other guests at the house party. Wanting to help him, Valerie puts her own safety at risk, angering Stephen, but also forcing him to realize that Valerie is something special and that, while he has always thought of himself as a lone wolf, she is worth taking a big risk and sharing himself with someone.

This book was incredibly gloomy. I cannot think of a single instance where either of these characters could be considered happy or excited. They both spent the entire time mired in depression and sad thoughts and it took no time at all for me to start completely hating this. Romance novels do not have to be endlessly cheery, but there is a limit to how much doom I can take in any book and this book definitely crossed it. And of course being constantly depressed made it impossible for me to figure how either of these two managed to fall in love with the other. Seriously, who falls in love with someone who never smiles? I will also say that the situation on board the pirate ship bordered on the ridiculous with an insane captain who tied her up and then left her for Stephen to untie, thinking that Stephen would eventually sleep with her. Supposedly they both were sexually excited by this and I just could not figure out how they could become aroused in such a horrific situation where both of them (should have been) worried for their lives. Both acted TSTL throughout the ordeal on the ship really.

I wanted to admire Valerie for her ability to use her feminine wiles to manipulate people, at least when it was for a good cause, but because she was so depressed and unhappy about the situation it went from admirable to blah. Stephen's drive to end slavery was only partly explained and I felt like it could have been done much better as obviously slavery is something that a person should have strong emotions about. The two spent barely any time together, less still when they weren't both worried about a madman, and absolutely no getting to know you or being happy together time. They were both very attracted to each other and there was gloomy sexual tension throughout the book but even the sex was overshadowed by depression and thoughts on the slavery plot so I really could not get into it. I was excited somewhat by the plot to stop the slave traders and I liked that Valerie was able to get involved in order to help the man she loved. There was some nice betrayal going on as well but the plot was not really developed enough to completely get into. There were no major side characters to distract from the lack of character coming from the two main protagonist.

Rating: Fairly obviously this book was a major failure on all levels and I was just completely overwhelmed by this downer of a book.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Seduction Wears Sapphires

Seduction Wears Sapphires by Renee Bernard 1113

The second book in the Jaded Gentleman series features Ashe Blackwell, who was one of the men held captive in India and made a narrow escape with other countrymen with a stockpile of costly jewels. In India he fell in love with a native Indian woman who was killed for their relationship and he has spent his time back in England trying to lose himself in passion with every woman of the evening. This has not gone unnoticed by his grandfather who decides to take matters into his own hands by hiring a chaperone to look after Ashe and ensure he behaves for the entire season or he will leave the entire family fortune to Ashe's cousin, Yardley. Caroline Townsend is the granddaughter of a wealthy businessman but when she was cut out of the will she was left to fend on the charity of family members. She leaps on the chance to come to England to earn some money to start her college for young women.

She and Ashe do not get out on the best foot as he is mad about having to have a chaperone and she sees him as spoiled rake with no substance. He is not worried as he thinks that the ton will chew her up and spit her out but is stunned, and admiring, when she manages to hold her own and then some against all the dragons. She wants to keep her eye on him but there are times when she can't and she wants to know more about what he is hiding from her. He tries to get his friends to distract her, but instead ends up jealous of them and she realizes that it might be worth giving up her dream of a woman's college in order to be close with Ashe. He is convinced that he can keep things between them only on the physical level, but it is so much more for her as she is in love with Ashe. By the time Ashe discovers how much Caroline means to him it may be too late and he has to rush to prove to her that he does love her.

I was disappointed with Revenge Wears Rubies, the first book in this series, but was glad that Renee Bernard has gotten back on track with this one. Neither Caroline nor Ashe was precisely a mold breaker in the romance novel department but I felt like Caroline was definitely the more likable of the two. Her past and her secrets made for a really interesting character that I was rooting for the entire time. I wanted her to find a man who could love her and respect her for all that she had overcome and through founding the female college. Her forthrightness made her a darling of the ton and yet her inability to just try to get along with everyone rather annoyed me. She and Ashe spent far too much of the book bickering and basically not getting along. He was not as remarkable as she was; although he did have the dark past, I didn't feel like a rake who slept around and had a somewhat sad past, was exciting in a romance.

The book is very sensual and even when they are not having sex one, or both of them, are thinking about it, and there is lots of talk about how attracted they are to each other and lots of body parts are coarsely mentioned quite a bit. There was a lot of sex between them, mostly crammed into the last half of the book, and overall I really enjoyed it. I really liked that it meant that Caroline was taking a large risk with her future and yet her emotions for Ashe were so deep that she was eager to risk it. That was my main problem with the book; despite her being loads better than him it was her who fell in love with her faster and her who recognized her feelings for him. The ending was rather abrupt, which made sense considering the book was only 270 pages, and I wanted more from Ashe to prove his love. Previous characters made appearances and of course Caroline and Haley became the best of friends.

Rating: I really enjoyed Caroline but I wish that Ashe had been a more developed character and that the two had not spent so much time bantering/ arguing.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tempted by a Warrior by Amanda Scott

Tempted by a Warrior by Amanda Scott 909

Richard Seyton, Laird of Kirkhill, is called to visit his dying uncle, Old Jardine, because Jardine wants to talk to him about possibly inherited his estate. Jardine's son, Will, has been missing for several weeks and he wants to settle some things before he passes on. Kirkhill is not at all fond of his uncle and he does not know what happened to Will but he soon hears the rumors that Will's wife, Fiona, killed him. After meeting Fiona he knows that this would be impossible even if it is likely that Will certainly deserved death after everything he had done to Fiona. Fiona is furious when she discovers that Old Jardine is placing Kirkhill in charge of the entire estate, including herself, and her soon to be born son. She wastes no time acting on her feelings and behaves like a spoiled child, which irritates Kirkhill and causes him to make comparisons to his young and spoiled sister.

At the same time that he thinks she is too immature he is certainly attracted to her, but he has so much on his plate and with rumors about her involvement in her husbands disappearance circling, he is determined to stay away from her. Things are made more complicated when the English Earl of Northumberland threatens to invade Scotland and Kirkhill must prepare his own men and the men of Jardine's estate for battle. And his sister, Nan, is being a brat and refusing to marry the man of Kirkhill's choosing, whom she is in love with and who loves her for reasons I can't really figure out. There are also bridges to mend with Fiona's family who she has not seen since she eloped and of course they must figure out what happened to Will and prove Fiona's innocence. So with all this going on around them Kirkhill and Fiona still find time to fall in love and together work out all the crazy problems in their life.

My first thought in this book was how young Fiona was and how the book did almost nothing to make me think that her age was just a number and she was really mature. She behaved like the spoiled child he accused of her being and it was made even worse by his reaction to her as he threatened to throw her over his knee (like he would a child) and the constant comparisons to his sister's own unruly behavior. It really made him seem condescending to her and a relationship between them rather pedophilic really, although she was 17. So I guess that's one of the reasons I didn't really mind that there was no sex until the very end and even then it was not very good and was preceded by a few rather tame kisses. With so much going on around them these two had no time with just the two of them really and I did not really see how they managed to fall in love- it really just came out of left field.

But far and away the reason I did not really like this book was because the actual romance between the two of them seemed to be the fifth most important element in the story. First was the incoming battle of which there just seemed to be far too much planning and really made the story confusing as it mentioned lots of places and people who were unimportant and just blew through my mind. Second was what happened to Will which was certainly interesting and was an important and necessary element in the story. Third was his dealings with his family and how to deal with his sister and her insane antics, but more importantly him finally getting to know his mother to some degree. Fourth was her own dealings with her family which could have been interesting but seemed to turn into a big family reunion where we got to see how happy everyone from previous books is. And then... they fall in love.

Rating: This book was readable and the writing was well done, but I really just hated the romance aspect of it- or lack thereof.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mistress by Midnight

Mistress by Midnight by Nicola Cornick 1204

Merryn Fenner holds Garrick, Duke of Farne, responsible for her brother Stephen's death after Garrick shot him in a duel. Garrick's wife had been having an affair with Stephen and Merryn believes that in a fit of jealousy, Garrick shot him and then paid for a massive cover up. She works for Tom Bradshaw, a detective, and in her capacity as investigator she tries to dig up information about Garrick. Garrick has only recently returned to England after her inheriting the Dukedom and when he discovers that his father had bought up the Fenner estate once the line had died out. He is determined to make things as right as possible even though he doesn't expect his guilt over Stephen's death to heal itself. Merryn does not want to accept the money but her sisters, the wealthy widow Tess and Joanna Grant, agree to accept the money. Both of them were older and wiser when Stephen was killed and they don't harbor the same illusions and hero worship of him as Merryn does.

Garrick knows that Merryn is determined to bring him down but that does not stop him from being attracted to her or from feeling a deep connection between the two of them. And while Merryn wants to hate Garrick, she senses that he is truly honorable and begins to suspect that she may have misinterpreting things and that their is a deeper truth about the duel that no one has discovered. She is correct on this front as their indeed a secret about Stephen and Kitty and about the duel that resulted in Stephen's death and while Garrick thinks Merryn deserves to know he has been sworn to secrecy. One day the two are in the midst of an argument when a local brewing tank breaks and London is flooded, forcing the two of them into a derelict house for refuge. In the dark, alone for two days, Garrick and Merryn cannot maintain distance between them and by the time they are rescued they have no choice but to marry. While both admit they are in love with other to themselves, there are secrets to be revealed before either can trust the love they feel for each other.

As the completion of a series which I had heretofore loved I had high hopes for this novel, and while I did enjoy reading it, it did not live up to his predecessors. Merryn was far more irritating than either Joanna or Lottie and came across as remarkably immature in her hatred for Garrick and her inability to see anything bad about her older brother. She was also far too trusting and I found it her search for justice more rash than noble and her attempts to make things better often seemed to backfire in completely predictable ways. While I normally like bluestocking heroines as, let's be honest I would probably be one if I lived in those days, I felt like her intellectual capabilities were more for show than genuine interest and she went out of her way to be interested only in completely uninteresting topics. I did like that at the end she was wiling to use her sexuality to try to fix what she saw as problems in her relationship with Garrick and that when she did realize she loved him she wanted to get rid of any impediment in order to have a happily ever after with him.

Garrick was slightly more interesting, but still remained in my opinion, remarkably underdeveloped. He was a little too noble, a little too willing to keep his deep secret even when no one would have been hurt and so many would have benefited if he had simply told everyone. Far too much was made of this secret, and while it certainly was interesting, it spent far too long as an impediment to their relationship. As usual in books where the protagonists are feuding, I felt like these two did not spend enough time together where they were not arguing and really just talking in a congenial setting. There was quite a bit of sex throughout the book and it was very well written and very steamy and overall very obvious that these two connected on a very physical level. But it was also obvious that these two were connected on an emotional level as well and they both did want to have a healthy relationship. Joanna and Alex played an important role in this book, but it was nothing overwhelming.

Rating: Not quite as good as her previous two because Merryn was annoying, but still an interesting and worthwhile read.

Friday, December 3, 2010

One Wicked Sin

One Wicked Sin by Nicola Cornick 1117

Lottie Paliser is the most notorious woman in London after her many love affairs ended with a scandalous divorce from her very wealthy husband. Her extravagant lifestyle and spending habits have left her destitute and her entire family has refused to help her. With nowhere else to turn Lottie agrees to become a courtesan in a brothel but her past experience with sex is of no use and she is in danger of being thrown out after leaving several customers unsatisfied. Ethan Ryder is an Irish nobleman who is being held in England as a prisoner of war after being captured fighting for the French. Ethan is planning something big regarding all the other prisoners being held in England and he wants to create a distraction so no one will dig too deeply and Lottie is absolutely perfect. He hires her as his mistress and she agrees because there really are no other options open to her and because she is intrigued by the handsome man who spurned his titled father and ran off to fight for the French.

Ethan escorts Lottie back to Wantage where he is being held and quickly sets her up in her own little cottage. The two begin their affair on a very physical level and neither can deny that there is something more there as Ethan is sweet and attentive and Lottie is strangely reticent. Both of them enjoy this softer side to their relationship but Ethan does not believe he can trust Lottie and Lottie doesn't believe that Ethan wants anything more from her than a bed partner. Lottie is pulled in different directions when her brother offers her a way back into society if she agrees to spy on Ethan and though she agrees she does not want to betray the man she is coming to care for. When she learns that the English have imprisoned Ethan's son, Arland, in a nearby prison just to torment him she is even more determined not to bring harm to Ethan. Ethan is finding that Lottie is nothing like the coldhearted shrew he had been expecting and when she helps his son he knows that he is hopelessly in love with her. But when Lottie discovers that he is hatching the prisoner escape plan she must make a heartbreaking decision and risk losing Ethan forever.

Lottie came across as incredibly awful, shallow, and selfish in Whisper of Scandal and I was a little worried that Cornick had created a character she would not be able to redeem and make worthy of her own book. While I still did not remain convinced that Lottie was an entirely likable character, it was obvious that her divorce and the ensuing scandal had made Lottie recognize her past mistakes and genuinely want to make up for some of her past transgressions. Her past, with her father leaving her and her ex-husband spurning her for other lovers, went a long way toward explaining her promiscuity but not necessarily her flightiness and willingness to betray her closest friend. Her life as a courtesan is rather cloudy and I am not certain she went through with any of her contracts but I admit that I admired her courage and willingness to do whatever she needed to do to survive and I really enjoyed reading about her learning to open up and trust someone and her struggles as she chose between love and country.

Ethan was a new character to the series and not very easy to warm to until we start learning about his son but I very much admired him for fighting for his principles by joining the French. I admit I've never really been a fan of books where the French Revolution is so roundly villain-ized because, although it did take a dangerous turn, it had good intentions and was an important step towards equality in Europe. The most disconcerting aspect of this was his acceptance of Lottie's betrayal as I felt like he should have been much more upset at her for spoiling his plans. I really liked the development of their relationship and how it progressed from sex to feelings and how it was detailed so throughly and so evident throughout the book. Each of them wanted to make the other happy and there were just little moments that made that so clear. I was a little weirded out by the reappearance of Joanna Grant and how she and Lottie were now the best of friends and so happy to see each other after the way things had ended between them, but the other secondary characters were very well done.

Rating: Another really great book by Cornick with an unconventional heroine whom I thoroughly enjoyed reading about.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Whisper of Scandal

Whisper of Scandal by Nicola Cornick 1111

The widowed Joanna Ware has no grief over her husband's death as David Ware was a hero to the rest of England but abusive and a cheater to the wife he believed was barren. Although he left her no money upon his death she makes ends meet by being the darling of the ton and selling her decorative skills. Alex, Lord Grant, was David Ware's best friend and although Alex scorns the fame that David sought, he believed his friend when David claimed Joanna was heartless and a liar. He is not pleased when David tasks him with giving a note to Joanna on his death bed and even less so to discover to that Joanna does seem as superficial and uncaring as David had lead him to believe. Neither is happy to discover that David's last act was to appoint them both guardians of illegitimate daughter, Nina, on the condition that both of them go to the Arctic of Russia fetch her from the monastery where she lived.

Despite his mistrust of her and his outward dislike of her Alex begins to think that Joanna is far from the cold witch David painted her as. The more time Joanna spends with him the more she realizes that Alex is nothing like her husband even if they both are adventurers. Things become more complicated after the two share a kiss and while they both continue to not trust the other something has fundamentally changed in their relationship. Joanna wants Nina with a passion so decides to mount her own expedition to claim her and Alex wants to accompany her so that he can direct things and keep Joanna safe. Joanna realizes the only way to avoid complete ruination on the journey and provide a true home for Nina is to marry Alex and he agrees to a marriage with no strings or hold on him. But after a life threatening journey such a marriage is unacceptable to both of them and they must choose to take a chance on love.

I really liked Joanna as a character because she possessed so many seemingly incompatible qualities with a little bit of the cold, superficial, high society ton widow and some of the adventurous spirit of the more feisty romance novel heroines. It made her more real as she wasn't just a stereotype of a woman- she was more fleshed out. And through it all she was unapologetic about who she was, accepting that she had faults and that she liked who she was. Alex was not as well developed as Joanna in my opinion and the biggest thing he had going for him was that he was better than her deceased husband. While Alex's insistence on viewing Joanna through David's lies did get trying and I wanted him to start to think for himself, I liked the way his changing view of her progressed as he got to know her and it highlighted all the reasons that he was coming to fall in love with her.

I am not normally a fan of romances where the protagonists spend most of the book at arguing and this one saved itself from falling into that trap in the second half after their marriage when they were living on the ship and traveling. The adventure really allowed the two of them to spend some quality time together and get to know the other and moved being judging based on how David acted or what David had told them. There was a decent amount of sex between the two of them and it did get hot sometimes, but I felt like the sex definitely took a back seat to the emotional relationship between the two of them. The plot involving Nina was a little odd but obviously fit well with the story and I liked how it was solved at the end- it was heartbreaking, but so beautiful. The book also introduces the very unlikable Lottie Cummings, the heroine of the next novel who I imagine presents quite a challenge to a writer.

Rating: A wonderful heroine who I absolutely adored in a true romantic tale with a focus on the emotional development between the characters.