Friday, January 29, 2010

Mastered by Love

Mastered by Love by Stephanie Laurens

Royce Varisey, also known as Dalziel, is the newly minted Duke of Wolverstone and is quite wary of returning to his ancestral home as he and his family have been estranged for nearly two decades. When Royce decided to run a spy ring to stop Napoleon his family was very disappointed in him taking up a profession. Once at home it becomes clear to him that the person really in charge of the estate, who knows the ins and outs, whom the tenants love, is Minerva Chesterton. Minerva had been taken in by his parents after her parents death when she was very young and she has been living as the chatelaine of Wolverstone for many years. It is to her that Royce finds himself turning when he needs help on how to behave, what repairs to make to the estate, and how to deal with guests and with his tenants. At his father's funeral all the important members of the ton, as well as his very extended family, take up residence in his castle and he learns that it is imperative that he find himself a bride. Apparently the prince regent is thinking of having the Dukedom revert back to the crown if a direct heir is not provided soon.

Royce knows that he is destined for a loveless marriage, as the Varisey's are incapable of love, but when forced by the grades dames to choose a bride, he realizes that he wants his bride to be Minerva and sets out to win her even if the only way is to first seduce her. Unfortunately this backfires as Minerva is a virgin and she does not want Royce to make her an offer out of obligation and refuses to believe that any proposal he makes will be tainted. So Royce decides that the best mode of attack is to continue with her seduction but also sets out to prove that the two of them work so well together and that they would make a great team together running Wolverstone. But before leaving London Royce was unable to take care of the Last Traitor- a member of the ton who had been selling secrets to the French and cost many English lives. Royce doesn't know that this traitor has followed him to his estate and just as it looks as though Minerva and Royce are about to live happily ever after, this traitor decides it's time for one more try at destroying Royce.

Anyone who claims that romance novels are formulaic, with the same plot and the same characters must have been talking about Stephanie Laurens. Literally every single one of her heroes is exactly the same. They're wealthy but have an important job working for the crown in some sort of spy type profession and they're very masculine, and possessive. There will be tons of sex (some might say too much) with liberal references to his primitive feelings and actions with some references to her submissiveness and his power. There is always a main focus on the romance but with a side plot, always involving kidnapping and it is this kidnapping that finally forces the hero to admit that, while he has always known he cares for the heroine, he is actually IN LOVE with her. At least in this one we were presented with a different heroine as I had gotten tired of her rich, titled ladies who are so heart warmingly good that they go out to improve society through charity. While I didn't like her name, Minerva was quite likable as an actual working woman (to an extent) who was genuinely important to others and was quite skilled at her job. But other than that- true to type through and through.

I almost feel that while reading Stephanie Laurens novels I can read the first 100 or so pages, get to know the characters and what makes them (slightly) individualistic and (slightly) different than their counterparts, and then just fill in the rest of the story. The Last Traitor plot really went completely unmentioned for most of the book until at the end, and it was certainly quite unimportant really. Laurens novels are all just a little too long and perhaps if she cut out one (or five) of the dozens of sex scenes (I know it's unusual for me to say that) or really the entire kidnap plot altogether with the last traitor thing the book would have fit a little more nicely. So I liked Minerva immensely- far more so than most other Laurens heroines, but I'm beginning to think it would be really nice for her to go out of her comfort zone and write about a courtesan or something. Basically someone outside the large circle she's built for her characters (partly so I wouldn't have to read about them all getting together to save the day at the end of every novel).

Rating: A typical fill in the names Stephanie Laurens novel. I want to give it a two but I actually did not enjoy it. Perhaps that's why she continues to write them this way- because they're still enjoyable-ish.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Wicked All Day

Wicked All Day by Liz Carlyle

Zoe Armstrong is the illegitimate daughter of the Marquess of Rannoch and while she is quite the beauty and her family does not treat her differently than her legitimate siblings, no one in the hoity toity ton will let her forget her roots. Knowing that she will never make an ultra proper marriage Zoe has consigned herself to be the premier flirt of the ton. Rannoch has been very lenient with Zoe but she has been out for five years now and he has grown tired of her behavior, so he tells her she must either get married or move to Scotland with the sheep. Our of desperation she makes quite the mistake and ends up caught in a very compromising position with a (very distant) cousin of some sort. Robert Rowland is a carefree rake and he is not at all pleased to find himself engaged to Zoe, but his brother Stauart, the Marquess of Mercer, is even more upset. Mercer has spent his entire life getting Zoe and Robin out of scrapes but he's always felt as though he's on the outside looking in. He doesn't realize until it is too late that Zoe is more to him than just a family friend and he doesn't think there is anything he can do to put a stop to this marriage.

Neither Zoe nor Robin is excited about this marriage but when both their families head up to the Mercer estate to escape scandal, Zoe tries to make the best of it while Robin decides to get drunk and go whoring every night. Everyone knows this is not a love match but that does not make Mercer feel any better about lusting after his brother's fiance. Once again he is thrust into the role as Zoe's protector as he comes to her aid when she feels helpless and desperate. He has always thought of Zoe as a flighty young girl but watching her deal with this crazy situation forces him to acknowledge that he has never really known Zoe. In the same vein Zoe has always thought of Mercer as the stern, judgmental older brother figure and now, when she learns about passion from him, she knows that there is so much more to this man. Before they can figure out what to do Robin is gravely injured while riding a horse and their plans are thrown all up in the air. Zoe can not abandon Robin after he is scarred and left with a limp, but Mercer is not at all amenable to losing the woman he has always loved to his brother. Both need to throw off their expectations, their gloom, and find that love can work through the most dire of society's consequences.

I absolutely loved the premise of this book: a man in love with his brother's fiance and fighting his honor to do the right thing with his desire for her. And of course a woman fighting her attraction for a man she believes is absolutely wrong for her and knows she can't have. I knew that such a plot would necessitate quite a bit of angst but I was unprepared for the gloom that seemed to hang over the novel. There were some parts where Zoe just seemed to wallow in depression and it seemed so out of character for someone who was constantly grabbing life and being wild. Mercer was not exactly likable as the brooding did get a little much for me, but at least his actions as the honorable and tortured older brother is not a complete surprise. Robin was also in this book quite a bit and I was more than a little annoyed at what how utterly awful he got with his drinking. Carlyle tells this story very well from Mercer and Zoe's point of view and making how they're feeling very clear and explaining their motives and she also does some brief scenes from the point of view of Robin, Evangeline- Zoe's stepmom, Rannoch, and Jonet- Robin and Stuart's mom.

I very much enjoyed this book up until Robin's horse accident when it really did get to be a little too depressing for me. I felt as though this book dragged on quite a bit at the end and it was indeed very long for a typical romance novel. Unfortunately I wanted to grab both Mercer and Zoe and shake them and tell them to get over everything and just admit they loved each other and get married. There were some obstacles in their way but I really could not understand why they could not just get over them. Mercer's ex-mistress was vindictive, but they could get over that. Robin and Zoe obviously did not love each other so that should not have been a problem and no one in either of their families would have minded at all. As usual Carlyle is quite adept in writing some very great steamy scenes, although there is very little build up in this novel as they kind of explode on each other. I absolutely loved that part of the book, but I wish both of them had not been so gloomy and wracked with guilt about the whole thing.

Rating: A very promising premise that ends up bogged down in far too many words (there is a reason why romance novels usually cut off at 370 and not 421) and it just ends up depressing and gloomy.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

With Seduction in Mind

With Seduction in Mind by Laura Lee Guhrke

Daisy Merrick is constantly getting fired from various jobs for being to blunt with her employers/customers; such as telling a woman in a dressmakers shop where she works that no that color does not look good on her to telling a lawyer that no she is not required to sleep with him because she's his typist. Sebastian Grant, the Earl of Avenmore, is a renowned author whose work has deteriorated immensely from his widely praised early works to quick hack jobs that are just as widely derided. After her latest disaster at work Daisy decides to apply for a job at her friend's husband's publishing company, Marlowe publishing. She submits her own novel and begs for a job and while he reads it he sends her to review Sebastian's new play. She gives him a scathing review and the play lasts last then a week, making Sebastian furious with the upstart reviewer. Since Daisy's novel is not quite ready for publication, but shows promise, Marlowe decides that Sebastian should help Daisy polish up her writing while she keeps him on task so that he can finally finish his very overdue promised manuscript.

She follows him to his estate where he is very reluctant to get any work done- until Daisy offers an incentive: for every 100 pages he rewrites she'll give him a kiss. Daisy convinces herself she's doing it to improve the admittedly lackluster romance scenes in her novel while Sebastian is just doing it because he can't help but find the tall red-head with a "luscious bum" completely desirable. Sebastian is a recovered cocaine addiction and Daisy is the first thing since cocaine that makes writing fun and easy for him and when he begins to feel they're getting too close he runs back to London where he finds that he can't write without Daisy there. So when he heads back to Avenmore his new plan is to completely make Daisy his but he is still convinced that happy endings are impossible and that Daisy will never be more to him than an inspiration and a good bed partner. Despite knowing Sebastian's feelings about love and happily-ever-after's Daisy can't help but fall in love with Sebastian and it is only when she is forced to confront his lack of true feelings that she runs away. Sebastian needs to confront his fears of "addiction" and his own beliefs about love before he runs after to Daisy to win her back.

The first half and second half of this book were like completely different novels. The first half was slow and not in the build up to a really great relationship that most of Guhrke's admittedly slow first halves are like. There wasn't enough of the two characters together in the first half and indeed until the two moved to Avenmore all their interactions were just flat. Most of, perhaps all of, Guhrke's novels are soley focused on the relationship developing between the two characters and there is not a lot of background plot or extra-ness getting in the way. It does not make the book feel lacking or anything but it does make writing a truly complete 370 page novel very difficult and it shows in this book with the flat first half. I tend to like this lack of extra-ness in books as long as it really forces the author to flesh out the relationship and I feel like many authors are not able to do this. Guhrke does it very well in most of this novel. Once the two got to Avenomre and started working together and kissing and such the book improved immensely and I did not put it down until I had finished (except for a class of course, but even that I did very reluctantly).

All the Lady Bachelor books have featured women who are friends from their days staying at the boarding house on Little Russell street but this was the first time any mention was made of all the men in the books knowing each other. St. Cyres (my least favorite), Phillip the Marquis of Kayne, and Marlowe are apparently acquainted, if not exactly bosom buddies. It didn't detract from the story but it was just a little bit jarring and odd to me that all these male friends just happened to marry women who were also friends. At least Guhrke is very good at not continually hitting us over the head with her previous characters' happiness- although Maria (Secret Desires of a Gentleman) does make a brief appearance and we do hear about Emma (And Then He Kissed Her). As with most of the good stuff in this novel the sex and build up is relegated to the last half of the book and while not super steamy or plentiful is very well written and quite good really. The last half is also filled with some delicious angst as Sebastian guilts about taking Daisy's innocence and while Daisy worries about having fallen in love with a man who she knows will never return her feelings.

Rating: I probably would give the first half a two and the second half a 5 but I can't give a book a 4 with such a dreadful first half even if it did turn into a winner eventually. I would recommend skimming through the first part and tuning in when they go to Avenmore.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Lady of Persuasion

A Lady of Persuasion by Tessa Dare

Sir Toby Aldridge is not at all happy to see that his former fiance and her dashing new knighted husband have returned to London. However he is very happy to make the acquaintance of Gray's half-sister Isabela Grayson who is quite a beautiful lady. While at a ball the two are immediately taken with the others extreme attractiveness and Toby decides a nice way to get a little revenge on Gray would be to seduce the woman right out from under him. By the time Toby finds out that Isabela is Gray's sister, not a lover, he knows that he could never hurt her that way. Isabela has revealed to Toby that she is looking to marry a man of influence so she can be a lady of influence and work her good deeds around the nation (such as the abolition of slavery). When Gray confronts Toby he proposes to Isabela, both because he desires her and because he can't help but like the way she views the world. Isabela says yes in the hopes that Toby can become her man of influence and help her improve the country.

To make Isabela happy Toby agrees to run for MP of his district, even though he has no intention of winning, or trying to do so, but he just wants to keep his new wife enamored of him. Isabela is very excited that her new life with her husband can be filled with good works but she can't help but feel guilty of her new wealth, her husband's spending vast amounts of money on her, and especially guilty of pleasure in the bedroom. Isabela loves what Toby does to her but she fears that she will go mad with love like her mother did for her father. Toby meanwhile is determined to keep up the pretense of running for MP because he wants Isabela to fall in love him. After being jilted by two woman he desperately wants a woman to love him for him even with all his faults. For now Toby knows that Isabela looks up to him and believes that he can do no wrong and he is terrified that when he inevitably disappoints her she will withdraw all affection from him. When everything hits the fan Isabela feels betrayed by Toby and Toby is horrified that Isabela does not love him now that she has discovered his flaws. The two of them are forced to confront their own flaws and work together to make each other better.

Once again Dare writes, with remarkable deftness, two characters that I absolutely love. Both are so flawed and perfect at the same time and work so hard throughout the novel because they both just desperately want to protect themselves and be loved. Toby tries so hard and yet it is the very fact that he's trying hard that makes it so difficult to love him and it's only when he can be fully comfortable with his own faults that Isabela can love him. And Isabela is so amazing as the philanthropic gentle-woman as she is so genuine in her desire to save the world and very principled. Her fear of going mad by loving Toby too passionately is, while crazy, totally believable given her past and it creates some quite interesting steamy scenes. The book sets it up that Isabela has so much passion in her that she's been repressing and is scared to let it out which is why she likes when Toby takes control from her/ orders her/ ties her up in bed. It is also tied in to her desire to please others and do good works. It makes sense and it works in the book and is definitely mild and does not play out for the entire book as Isabela certainly holds her own too.

There was quite a lot of Sophia/ Gray and Jeremy/ Lucy from Dare's previous books but for reasons I'm not entirely sure of it did not bother me. Maybe because their appearance was natural and did not really interfere with or take away from the story of Isabela and Toby. It probably also had to do with the fact that I absolutely loved those characters. In addition there is a little side romance between Joss, Gray and Isabela's half-brother who is half African, and Hetta Osborne, a female physician who is friends with the whole gang. While the book was not exactly fun there were certainly some very fun scenes including those involving judgmental society matrons and mad political candidates who believed the country was still in the midst of the Revolutionary War (where America gained independence). Some of the greatest moments in the story were those where Isabela and Toby were together as they each were such a perfect foil for the other: Toby all light and happy and charming and Isabela intense and charitable and fearful.

Rating: An excellent book that is the best of the three books in the series. Loved the characters and the plot and the wrap up and basically everything.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Undoing of a Lady

The Undoing of a Lady by Nicola Cornick

This is the third and final installment in the Brides of Fortune series which has ranged from very good to almost completely awful. Nathanial, Nat, Waterhouse, the current Earl and future Duke of Waterhouse, is set to marry Flora Minchin in order to gain her dowry. He needs this dowry to pay off the man who is blackmailing him with threats to disclose his sister's promiscuity. Elizabeth, Lizzie, Scarlet knows that Nat will be unhappy with this marriage and kidnaps him on his wedding night to stop it. Things go a bit awry and the two give in to some quite explosive passion. Lizzie is humiliated as she realizes, after giving in to her lust, that she has been in love with Nat for years. Knowing that he does not return her feelings, she flees the scene, secure in the knowledge that Nat will marry and they can pretend nothing happened. As an honorable gentlemen Nat begs off on his wedding to Flora and begins to seriously pursue Lizzie despite his surety that she will make a horrible wife and the two of them will be miserable together. Not only is marrying Lizzie the "right" thing it does not hurt that doing so will give him leave to succumb to his lust for her whenever he desires.

When Miles Fortune, Lizzie's brother is killed, she is the prime suspect until Nat comes to her rescue by revealing that she was with him on the night he was killed. This is enough to make it necessary for the two of them to get married and while Lizzie is horrified of being married to a man she loves who does not love her in return, Nat is excited at being able to slake his lust. This lust appears to be the only thing going for them for quite a while and Lizzie becomes even more depressed that she will never be able to win Nat's love. She acts out on this depression and fear by becoming more and more outrageous, drinking heavily, and flirting like mad. She finally reveals to Nat that the two of them need to spend more time together and get to know each other again while keeping their hands off of each other. Things appear to be going fine until Lizzie discovers that Nat (may have) been lying to her the whole time about his reasons for marrying her as he (may have) married her to get revenge on Tom, Lizzie's brother, for blackmailing him. Lizzie runs away and Nat goes chasing after her and it is up to the two of them to decide if they can learn to trust and love each other.

This book had a lot of loose ends to wrap up, from Lydia Cole who is pregnant with Tom's illegitimate child, to what will become of the antiquated taxing laws that have been plaguing the resident of Fortune's Folly, to what happens to Flora Minchim. For the most part these are wrapped up fairly well and I will admit that part of the reason I read this so close on the heels of the horrible "Scandals" was because I was dying to know how everything ended up. And the little mystery of how Miles was killed was certainly quite intriguing and solved in a very believable, if unexpected and a little out of left field, way. Once again Cornick spins her wonderful way with words and delves into the inner workings of her characters minds very convincingly and skillfully. Nat is far from the wonderful hero and he behaves horribly sometimes, but he is still worlds better than Miles the ass. Nonetheless I found his giving in to the blackmail to be a little ridiculous: not only is he a man of the law but he knows that Tom is completely untrustworthy and will no doubt either ask for more money or reveal the truth about Celeste anyway so it was stupid of him to give in.

Lizzie was the spoiled selfish brat that Nat accused her of being in the beginning and it was fun to read about her very brief and late-coming transformation to a slightly more mature woman. Unfortunately she continued to act like, I'm sorry, an idiot for a decent portion of the book. I hate to make a spoiler but to give an idea of how ridiculous Lizzie behaves: She rides a horse through a gentlemen's club naked with nothing but her not so long hair to cover her. There's a difference between being upset and being stupid and Lizzie definitely pushes, if not crosses, this line. Perhaps one of the most interesting elements of the book was the sex. The two of them definitely enjoyed this aspect of their relationship and their coupling often bordered on violent. One scene in particular was confusing and just plain weird as it involved a riding crop- not S/M by any means but still perhaps a little too weird for many people. Nonetheless one of my favorite parts of this book that wasn't developed enough IMO, was the romance between Flora Minchin and Alice's brother Lowell Lister- very sweet and wrapped up too quickly.

Rating: Pretty much smack in the middle of her other two books with fairly likable characters, a fun little mystery, and great side characters.

Monday, January 4, 2010

To Desire a Devil

To Desire a Devil by Elizabeth Hoyt

Lady Beatrice Corning is the niece of the current Earl of Blanchard, who gained the title five years ago when the previous earl died with no living heirs. Things get a little crazy when Reynaud St. Aubyn, the son of the late earl, shows up unannounced after seven years of being presumed dead. His entrance is startling and paves the way for those who want the current Earl to remain in his seat to claim that Reynaud is incapable of holding the position. The only one in the Blanchard household who truly understands Reynaud is Beatrice and she finds herself drawn to this dark and angry man who is so different from the young man in the portrait over the mantle whom she has admired for so many years. Beatrice and her friends have been hard at work trying to get a bill through Parliament that would provide pensions to former soldiers in the army and Beatrice's Uncle Reggie is part of the conservative Tory party that plans to vote down this plan. Beatrice hopes that if/when Reynaud gains back his title he will join the struggle to provide a living for the returned heroes, but it do not seem likely that this will happen. Despite Beatrice's attempts to win him, Reynaud remains selfish and unconcerned with others, thinking only of gaining back his title.

Even while he is drawn to this perfect example of English womanhood Reynaud is suspicious that Beatrice's loyalties lie more with her uncle, the pretender to the earldom. This does not stop Reynaud from regarding Beatrice as his and he wastes no time in staking his claim and making it well known that Beatrice belongs to him. Beatrice is still worried that Reynaud will never be able to forget his harrowing past as an Indian captive or be able to open his heart to loving feelings again, but that does not stop her from falling in love with him. Even after the wedding has been finalized Beatrice cannot let go of her fears especially when it comes to her uncle and she worries that Reynaud will throw him out and he will vote against the pension bill. Finally crunch time arrives, both for Reynaud and for the bill and those in power fight to claim that Reynaud is mad and that the bill is a waste of the crown's money. Beatrice can only wait and hope that everything works out for the best and that Reynaud finally acts like the man she has always known he can be.

I have been looking forward to this book for what feels like forever and had incredibly high hopes as I was judging Hoyt on "To Seduce a Sinner" and "To Beguile a Beast" which were both phenomenal in every aspect and remain two of my all time favorites. I realize that my expectations were probably too high as this book was very disappointing while at the same time I know that it actually wasn't a bad book. I can't put into words exactly what I was expecting but this book definitely did not live up to those expectations. I didn't like either Beatrice or Reynaud all that much except when it came to their actions regarding the Veterans Bill as neither was exactly likable. Renyaud was a bit of a moron to be honest- he was willing to marry to prove that he was sane, but he wasn't willing to remove his earring or cover up his tattoos with some makeup. (Reynaud has 3 birds tattooed around his right eye- which do NOT show up in the stepback picture. Although the stepback is amazingly hot.) The best scene he had- the only reason I don't completely write him off- was his speech about the bill and his amazing and heroic actions at the very end.

Beatrice is incredibly lustful for Reynaud and there are many times in the book when necessary arguments/ discussions between them are waylaid by his seduction and it got irritating after a little while as it was so obvious and I wanted Beatrice to be smarter than that. There were quite a few steamy scenes (although very little build up) but these were also quite disappointing. Hoyt is a master at super HOT scenes, but this book just fell flat- still more steamy than many romances writers, but once again did not live up to expectations. My favorite parts of the book revolved around other characters. Vale and Lady Vale were brought back once again although I was surprised we did not see much of the new Lady Munroe. Uncle Reggie was written superbly as the well meaning, slightly confused, but really very loving and lovable despite his faults. Especially wonderful to read was the story of Beatrice's friend Lottie who leaves her husband because she believes he treats her like she is just another possession. I found it sad that I wanted to read mroe about them than I did about Beatrice and Reynaud.

Rating: Not at all a bad book, but I can not get over my disappointment. If I hadn't read her other entries in the series I might not notice, but it is hard to go from "Seduce" to "Sinner." Undoubtedly deserves 3 but I have to give it a 2.