Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Care and Taming of a Rogue

The Care and Taming of a Rogue by Suzanne Enoch

Captain Bennett Wolfe has returned from a three year excursion in Africa to find that everyone believes he is dead. His second in command had stolen all his journals and notes, left him for date, and published a very one-sided account of what happened in African using said notes and journals. Needless to say Bennett is not happy but his friends, Jack Clancy and the Duke of Sommerset, quickly inform him of the benefits of at least pretending to play nice until he can really prove his allegations. He finds this idea ridiculous until he finds that spending time in the company of one Phillipa Eddison may be just what he needs to district himself from the injustice of what has happened. Unfortunately Bennett has had little experience in polite company and Phillipa is far from pleased when he boldly announces that he wants to see her naked. Bennett realizes he needs to court this level headed beauty who has somehow gone unnoticed standing in the shadow of her blonde and vivacious sister. Unfortunately he has little knowledge as to how to go about this and his first attempts are miserable failures- until Phillipa decides to help him along.

Everyone in town thinks that Bennett is one step away from being a savage jungle man and his reputation is not helped by bringing his monkey, Kero, along with him everywhere or by the way his first step in courtship is to bring Phillipa two dozen red roses. Despite her insistence on a typical courtship Phillipa does not last long when Bennett is intent on seducing her and her capitulation is the only real reason why Bennett decides to go along with said courtship. However while everything may be going along smoothly in the romance department Bennett is becoming increasingly frustrating with the way the Africa Association continues to believe that David Langley wrote those books and does even bother to demand the journals he supposedly kept. Despite his insistence that she not bother herself Phillipa volunteers to help Bennett by going undercover and trying to discover the journals, which were really written by Bennett and will prove that David definitely did not write that book, for Bennett. The real climax comes as out characters look like they are about to have their happily ever after and both of them need to discover if either of them can step outside their comfort zone and try something new- for the one they love.

I enjoyed reading this book but not exactly as much as I thought I would when I was first introduced to the characters. Obviously the beginning is very intriguing and I did realize that I would become heavily invested in having David Langley revealed as a thief, liar, and perjerer, and that held true through the whole book. Unfortunately this did get in the way as there were fairly large sections of the book where this plot was put on the back burner and I found myself really wanting them to get back to it. So I really was much more interested in that than in the romance. But there was an element of the romance plot that I really enjoyed. Many romance novels that feature adventuresome heroes have him settle down to a staid life at the end and it really is not discussed much during the book. Here- what will happen when/ if Phillipa and Bennett happen- is a matter of great concern to both of them as Bennett does want to travel but he knows he wants to be with Phillipa and not risk her safety in the wilds, while Phillipa is rather fearful of travel but does not want to be the woman who steals away from Bennett something that he truly loves.

There was a decent amount of steam in the book and Bennett was definitely very desperate to get into Phillipa's bed and I like that we knew it was not just because he had been without female companionship for so long. However it was a little weird when he compared her appearance and full dressing with the bare-breasted women of Africa. I really like that the book set up a comparison between Bennett, who is supposedly so savage, with Langley who is supposed to be the sophisticated English gentleman and they do this quite skillfully by sharing that Langley has an extensive collection of stuffed animals. As far as romantic development went the book was a little lacking. At their first meeting Bennett knew that he liked Phillipa immediately because she was different; a bluestocking who liked to read and did not overly concern herself with her appearance and did not chatter endlessly about nonsense. After that there really is not much change in how they view each other; Phillipa thinks of Bennett as the great adventurer and she is the overlooked beauty with a brain. I would have liked some real issues to come up with them and maybe for them to spend some time together not about Langley or the journals.

Rating: I certainly enjoyed the revenge plot but really found absolutely nothing special in the romance department at all.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Courtesan's Scandal

A Courtesan's Scandal by Julia London

Grayson Christopher, the Duke of Darlington, is not at all pleased when the Prince of Wales request that he escort Kate Bergeron around town. Kate is a courtesan that the Prince has "purchased" from her former protector, a cloth merchant, but he does not want his wife, whom he is trying to divorce, to find out about her. Disguising her as Grayson's mistress is the perfect solution as he knows that Grayson is far too upstanding and conscience of social standing to ever try anything. Grayson does not even try to disguise his dislike of this duty when he meets Kate and he is very startled, and very intrigued, when she calls him on it and turns the tables on him by claiming that she wants even less to do with him than he does with her. He escorts her to the various functions the prince requests of him- all places where the prince will be so he can play with her in the linen closet and comes to realize there is so much more to Kate than he had first assumed. She regards life with an openness he has never observed before and she makes the most of everything, even forgiving all those who slight her.

When their time is officially up Grayson knows that he can not simply walk away from Kate but Kate knows that she cannot go back on her word to the Prince. But the man who first treated her as the dirt beneath his feet has suddenly become the first man she has ever felt desire for and she too wants to spend more time with him. As Grayson's family, and his former mistress, grow increasingly concerned, the two of them begin spending time together that has not been approved of by the prince, ice skating, going to museum and tea stores. The prince is not the only person who is enraged to find out that Grayson and Kate are growing very close. Grayson's ex-lover, who is married, is determined to get back at him for leaving her with her aging and barren husband. There is his family warning him that he cannot allow this "whore" to ruin his family's good name, and her friends warning her that Grayson is a peer and would never risk his reputation for her. But as the walls begin to close in on them, in the form of royalty, family, close friends, and obligations, they both need to realize that love might be worth a little sacrifice and a whole lot of scandal.

I knew from the first scene in this novel that I was going to absolutely adore it. Grayson is such a stickler and to read about him coming apart over a woman he feels is beneath him, is just so much fun- especially as he comes to realize that she is not beneath him. And I love that Kate is really a courtesan. I know that other authors have done this route and covered it up by having her turn out to be a twin of the courtesan, but London makes no bones that Kate really does stay on as a man's mistress for money. Granted she does only do it because she has no other way of supporting herself, she does not enjoy it, and wants nothing more than to leave this life and open up a bakery. This also makes it far more believable, and not annoying, that she works hard for the less fortunate and her background makes her cheerful outlook and hopeful attitude so much more inspiring and interesting than if she had been a pampered miss. However there were definitely times where her "integrity" got on my nerves as even when she was in very desperate straights she refused to sell the jewelry the prince had given her because she felt she had not earned it. Not very practical of her really.

The whole book is romantic development and Grayson undergoes some immense changes in his outlook on life and Kate has to overcome her insecurities and her past. I enjoyed the realistic portrayal of his family's horrified reaction to Grayson being involved with a courtesan as surprisingly enough it seems the "outsider" family who scorns society's mores seems to be more common in romances today than a typical ton family. I know I have gone on about a writer's way with words and I will say that London certainly has a magical way with them- the interactions between Kate and Grayson were amazing and I absolutely loved reading them. In addition all the other characters, including the villian-ish person, were written superbly as well and she did a great job telling the story from both point of views. There was quite a bit of steam and the two had an immediate and striking attraction to her each other and I loved that it was an extension of their feelings for each other and was both HOT and romantic. And of course the situation called for quite a bit of angst between the two and I loved it as it was fun but not overwhelming.

Rating: Absolutely loved this book. Very well written, amazing characters, and such an interesting change to read about a woman who really is a courtesan.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel

Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel by Lorraine Heath

Midnight Pleasures is an addition to Heath's series about Feagan's gang of child thieves and tells the story of James Swindler, the youngest of the bunch. Eleanor Watkins goes to London after her sister Elisabeth commits suicide. Eleanor reads her journal and discovers that she had been led down quite the scandalous path by Lord Rockberry and Eleanor is determined to get revenge against the man who corrupted her sister. Rockberry at first thinks he is being followed by a ghost but then goes to Scotland Yard where he enlists the help of their best man, James Swindler, to follow the young woman. Eleanor knows she is being followed and she is not quite sure how to deal with this new development before James rescues her from three men set on nefarious deeds. That first night that James escorts her home he is eager to drop her off and get on with his life but when he sees her the next day outside her rented room something is different. Suddenly she smells better, she talks to him, she is interested in him, and James can not help but want to spend more time with this young lady and he takes her to gardens, on a balloon ride, to see fireworks, and sightseeing around London.

It is not long before James realizes that this is more than just a job to him and he enlists the help of his powerful friends to give Eleanor one happy night at a ball. The night turns out magical and Eleanor knows that she wants the night to be even more special so she accompanies James back to his rooms where everything is as perfect as they both imagined. Unfortunately during this romantic interlude Rockberry is killed and his brother says he saw Eleanor at the house leaving her as the only suspect. James is quick to speak out as Eleanor's alibi for the evening and he knows and is prepared to accept the consequences, in fact he's not at all upset to marry her. But before questioning can really begin Eleanor disappears and when James finally manages to track her down, with lots of help from his highly placed friends, he discovers that Eleanor has been keeping quite the secret from him. Now it is up to James, and those highly placed friends of his, to see to it that the woman he loves, the woman who makes him happy and whom he knows he wants to spend the rest of his life with, does not ended up rotting away in jail... or worse.

Heath is definitely trying to inject a darker quality to this book than to her other books in the series. They all have had some gloom and doom elements as they were former thieves who had lived a hard life on the streets, but it was taken to a new level here. From the opening I was left with the immediate impression that this was going to be more of a mystery than a romance. Although the novel did turn out that way I actually kind of liked it and the mystery and the romance were blended very well. This was a murder mystery (maybe two really) that I really enjoyed and it had that added benefit of a nicely written romance thrown in. Heath did an amazing job at this mystery and I there were some really surprising twists and turns thrown in that I did not disclose in my summary as they really made the book as good as it was. There were extra surprises and people who turned out to be far more complex than I had originally thought and the book itself really played out so nicely. I can also say there was a nice little side romance at the end there which was nice as I was a little worried about that character (although I can't say who without giving anything away).

This book was book-ended by two amazingly well written novels and that really did not work out well for this novel as for some reason I have just never really thought of Heath's writing as particular good really. It's fast, really very fast, and fun for sure, but it really is just not as intriguing and detailed and beautiful as both Kleypas or London. There was quite a bit of love making in this novel which was good as the rest of it did tend to get a bit dark, but it was honestly rather boring and I actually ended up spacing out for some of it oddly enough. This ended up being a problem for sure as I really felt as though the romance and buildup of their relationship was sorely lacking here. It just happened wham bam I'm "drawn" to her ma'am. As part of a series this book features quite a few reunions of the other members of Feagan's gang and it definitely started to get more than a little irritating. I found it especially odd that James had had this great love for Frannie darling and yet one day spent with Eleanor was enough to cure him of this decade long infatuation.

Rating: This book was very good as far as mystery and adventures went but really could have used some work on the romantic elements.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Tempt Me At Twilight

Tempt Me At Twilight by Lisa Kleypas

Tempt Me At Twilight is the third book in the Hathaway series and features Poppy Hathaway, the third Hathaway daughter who wants a quiet, respectable man to love and live with in the country. She believes she has found the love of her life in Michael Bayning, son of the Earl of Andover, but his father is set against the match and although Michael believes he can change his father's mind the rest of the Hathaway clan is not so sure. While trying to get a love letter back from a rogue ferret Poppy runs into Harry Rutledge, the reclusive, wealthy, and very intriguing owner of the hotel the Hathaways are staying at. Harry is immediately taken with this obviously intelligent, outspoken, and beautiful young lady and wastes no time putting a stop to young Bayning's sorry attempts at courting Poppy and sets out to win her for himself. After Michael is forced to break Poppy's heart her family escorts her to a ball to prove to the ton that all is right in the world. Poppy is still sad and seeks comfort from Harry who takes her out to the balcony and wastes no time in promptly ruining her in front of the hosts and Michael Bayning.

Although her family makes it clear she does not have to marry Harry, Poppy sees little alternative and agrees to a match. Right before the marriage Michael confronts Harry with what he had done and Poppy is very hurt and promises that she won't allow Harry to win her love from her. It is not her love that Harry wants, it is her attention, her smiles, her laughter, the sense of peace and happiness he knows she can bring. The marriage gets off to quite the rocky start as Harry tries to control Poppy's interaction with the staff, buy her off with expensive diamonds and carriages, but he wants Poppy to want him as much as he wants her before they make love. The staff at the hotel is the first to notice the change that Poppy has fostered in their employer as Harry begins to care more for others around him and his general demeanor is happier. But Harry is still worried that Poppy will always harbor feelings for Michael and this makes him wary of trusting her with his own heart and he closes himself off from thoughts that he wants her. It is up to Poppy to show him that he is the one she wants- him that she loves.

Poppy really is that genuine free spirit that captures the closed off heart of the man who went unloved as a child and believes he is incapable of feeling or being loved. And it actually was believable here and Harry articulates his feelings about Poppy bringing light and happiness into his life so well (or at least Kleypas does) including one terribly romantic scene where he compares her to the balance wheel of a watch because she is the part that keeps him ticking. It was beautiful. There was some slight and very well written angst on both their part as Harry worried about Michael and Poppy worried about Harry being incapable of love and trying to control her life. As with the rest it was perfectly paced and timed and not at all overwhelming. There was a significant amount of steam, perhaps not quite as much as other Kleypas novels and it did tend to be relegated to the end of the book but it ended up being for the best as they were able to develop a romantic relationship first. There is also a very brief side plot that ends up in a kidnap and rescue- but it's done a little differently than usual and it makes for a very fun and interesting read.

Kleypas does three things in her novel that normally annoy me beyond reason, but she manages to do it in such a genuine way that I actually end up enjoying the way these elements really contribute to the story. First Kleypas brings in lots of characters from previous novels in this series (and mentions another series' characters as well) such as Amelia and Cam Rohan and Merripen and Win. But Poppy's family is such an important part of the book, and really such an important part of her life and development that it makes sense, and blends in so well the rest of hte novel to have them make several apperances. While we are more than informed that everyone has lived happily ever after she does it with a deft hand so I do not feel like I'm being slapped over the head with it. In addition Kleypas makes the entire Hathaway clan "odd balls" or "outsiders" to the rest of the ton. Many authors try to illustrate how their characters are different and unique by painting them in this light and it just comes across as false, but with the Hathaways it really works because they are really different and unique from the rest of the ton. And lastly Kleypas very intriguingly sets up the next novel/s in the series in a way that I don't feel like I need to buy them to find out more, but like I really WANT to read them.

Rating: Absolutely adored this book! Wonderfully written, totally believable and lovable characters, great plot, and just overall very skillfully done all around.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Earl Claims His Wife

The Earl Claims His Wife by Cathy Maxwell

On their wedding night, Brian Ranson, the Earl of Wright, told his wife, Gillian, that he was been in love with his childhood sweetheart Jess and intended to remain faithful to her. Gillian was crushed as she had believed herself in love with her husband and she was even more hurt when he promptly went to war and left her with his judgmental and cold parents. Finally after four years Gillian could not stand her living arrangements or her non-existent relationship with her husband so she left them all to move to her cousin estate where she acted as mistress. Just as Gillian is beginning to fall in love with another man, a Spanish baron named Andres, Brian shows up to take his wife back to London. He has plans to gain a position in Lord Liverpool's war cabinet and needs the help of a wife to do so. Gillian agrees but she has high hopes that eventually she will be able to convince the high ups in London to grant her a divorce. Brian has no intention of letting this happen, but he goes along with his wife for now. On the way to London Gillian's feelings for her husband begin to thaw as he reveals himself to be far from the cold, heartbreaking, villian she had painted him as.

It only takes that one night for Gillian to realize that she never really got over her love for Brian and she agrees that she too wants to start over and make everything better. Unfortunately Brian has not been entirely honest with her; yes he does want a new start with the woman he deeply regrets treating so shabbily but he neglected to tell her that he was caring for the son his ex-mistress sired with his own father. Gillian is devestated to know that Brian has played her for a fool again, but she agrees to spend 30 days helping with the sick infant, but after that Brian will try to help her obtain a divorce. Once again Brian has no intention on following through but he is quickly coming to realize that he needs Gillian by his side. He can not fathom how he threw this beautiful, intelligent, strong, independent woman aside for a woman who turned out to be false and he wants to prove to her that he really is worthy. But as Gillian and Brian realize that they're in love with the other the past comes back to haunt them in the form of an ex-mistress and a Spaniard and both are forced to trust the other and risk their pride to see if love is still possible.

I admit that I did spend quite a bit of the novel hoping that Brian would get a big dose of comeuppance as leaving your wife on your wedding night, after telling her you're really in love with another woman, is deserving of one massive slap. However, Maxwell did an absolutely stunning job of making Brian into a very sympathetic man who had been young and foolish and, upon realizing his mistake, genuinely dedicated to winning back the woman he had given up. I was shocked that my feelings about revenge changed so drastically and really it is just a testament to Maxwell's ability to really develop a character. Other proof of this includes Brain's change of heart over accepting a position as ambassador to Holland. Just a really great character and very well written on Maxwell's part. I did find it odd how quick Gillian was to throw Andres away after truly believing that she was in love with him. She certainly agonized over it but it just seemed like something a little off character for one who was normally very self assured and knew what she wanted and how to go about getting it.

One thing I did wonder about though: if the child had been Brian's how would Gillian have reacted? It would have been interesting, but I am very glad I did not have to find out because raising a man's child, whom he had with another woman while married to you, that just could not be romantic and I am very glad she did not try to make it so. As expected from readings of other books by this author there was some mild steam, not all that hot, but a quite good expression of the character's feelings for each other. I was a little upset that making love became a way for both of them to avoid very real, very necessary, discussions and there were times when he used her desire for him against her. There was some very fun bits of angst when they both begin to believe that the other did not return their feelings of love and really just some great introspection into the characters' thoughts and feelings. There were some appearances by some previous books' characters but they weren't entirely overwhelming or just an excuse to show that everyone really does life happily ever after. She does make mention that Lord Liverpool's marriage was quite the romantic love match and I wonder if that was artistic license or really based in historical research?

Rating: This book was very fast and just featured some amazing character development. I don't know exactly what made this book so awesome, but I really enjoyed reading it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wild Conquest

Wild Conquest by Hannah Howell

Pleasance Dunstan has lived her life in the shadow of her very beautiful younger sister. But even Pleasance almost rebels when her family tells her that she needs to throw over Tearlach O'Duine just because her sister has suddenly decides that she wants him, conveniently after he has already shown a preference for Pleasance. But the kicker comes when her sister Leticia requests that she break into Tearlach's room at the inn to steal some love letters she wrote for him and a silver tankard she gave him as a gift. When Tearlach finds her in his room he is still upset at her for throwing him over and believes she did it because she thinks she is too good for him. So he decides to get even by pressing charges, never imaging that her family will utterly abandon her to her fate and even turn against her by painting her as a common thief and a whore at the trial. To save her from prison Tearlach decides to take her on as his indentured servant for a year. Pleasance is furious, but knows that with the whole town against her telling the truth will do nothing. So she heads off into the wilderness with Tearlach who imagines he will certainly enjoy having a woman grace his bed, do his chores, and take care of his half-Indian sister, Moira.

Pleasance knows that her reputation is lost anyway but she still does not want to immediately fall into Tearlach's bed, and he certainly tries his best to get her there. Tearlach is determined that he will not fall for Pleasance again as he has already pegged her as a spoiled, pampered, Englishwoman (although she is a colonial) and knows that she thinks she's too good for him. So he plans to keep distance from her- keep her actions in his bed at night completely seperate from her duties as his servant during the day. But this is not enough for Pleasance who falls in love with this man despite his admittedly shabby treatment of her at some instances. She knows she needs more from him than he seems willing to give, and she decides that she will try to win him over before her year with him is over. First Pleasance is forced to come face to face with Tearlach's greatest enemy, his sister Moira's father and his mother's rapist, and face him down. When her brother Nathan comes to take her away Pleasance accompanies him and it is up to Tearlach to make the grand gesture and go after her- if he can admit that he truly needs her, and not just as a servant.

I really wanted to like this book so I kept trying to overlook some of it's flaws but one thing I could not overlook was how repetitive it got and how ridiculous the characters were. Tearlach has to save Pleasance from being raped not once but twice, she and he argue about how he treats her numerous times, he goes out hunting and gets gravely injured not once but twice, and he leaves Pleasance and his sister alone at the house after he knows that some madman has been spying on them while they made love in the barn. And I can not really figure out how/ why she falls in love with him or why she continues to succumb to his advances despite his shabby treatment. He really does treat her really horribly and she talks about how it makes her feel like a whore to sleep with him and he makes no attempts to help her get through this. This book is filled with times where real, very important conversations, are cut short by lovemaking. I also could not help but want to just sock Pleasance in the face for the way she acts when it comes to her family. I was really hoping that just once in the book she could... get back at them some way for their just atrocious treatment of her.

I was glad the book did not drag on, and indeed it was very short (only 330 pages) and certainly a lot happened. There were escapes, kidnappings, a madman trying to break into a house and being shot, attempted assaults, and a daring rescue! I couldn't tell if there was too much to fit into such a small book and began to think that without all of that I would have been left with a book with far too little romantic development between the characters. It is far easier to determine why Tearlach fell in love with Pleasance than she with him. She works hard, she treats him well, she is kind to his illegitimate sister, etc... and in exchange he sleeps with her and makes it clear that she is his servant and he does not want to marry her. However it was certainly fun to read about him battling his emotions as they come through the forefront and as he tries to convince himself that he doesn't really love Pleasance. There was quite a bit of angst caused of their supposedly unrequited feelings for each other and there was an amazing amount of steam although it is not precisely what I would call hot. I really enjoyed the end and the resolution at the end was really perfect.

Rating: I really enjoyed reading something from a new author and Lord knows I REALLY wanted to really like this book and I did, but there was so much about it that frustrated me.