Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wicked Little Games

Wicked Little Games by Christine Wells

Lucas Christopher St. John Morrow, the Marquis of Vane, has wanted Lady Sarah Cole in his bed and in his life since he first met her but unfortunately she is already married. Her husband, Brinsley Cole, is a womanizing, gambling, wastrel who flaunts his affairs and basically treats his wife like garbage (although no physical abuse is hinted at), but still Sara refuses to give in to Vane, despite her own immense attraction for him. The one thing that Sarah feels she has going for her is her pride and the knowledge that she can hold herself above Brinsley because she does not engage in the horrible behaviors that he does. Brinsley has a trick up his sleeve and he offers Sarah to Vane for one night in exchange for 10,0000 pounds. Vane refuses and instead gives Brinsley the same amount in exchange for leaving Sarah completely alone but Brinsley tells Sarah she must go to Vane and sleep with him. Sarah is furious and determined to have it out with Vane but instead she ends up giving in to her own desires for Vane and the two have quite the night of passion. Sarah is upset with herself for what she has done and feels her pride has been dealt a great blow, but she is even more upset when she returns home to find Brinsley dead- murdered.

Sarah is the first suspect but she only gives them her alibi until those at the Home Office bring up the possibility that Vane killed Brinsley. Vane knows that if word gets out that Sarah will be ruined so he asks her to marry him and knowing she has no other choice Sarah agrees- with the stipulation that they have a passionless marriage. Sarah feels immense guilt that while she was sleeping with another man her husband was being killed ands he feels like the only way she can survive is by clenching onto her pride with both hands. And of course this is what necessitates not sleeping with Vane again. Vane is determined to change Sarah's mind, but he wants to ensure that she does it out of her own free will and not merely give in to seduction. Meanwhile Vane is trying to help Sarah find Brinsley's bastard son, Tom, whom Sarah wants to take care of as she feels responsible for the boy. In addition there is the matter of who killed Brinsley, despite the Home Office covering it up as a suicide. Vane knows that he wants Sarah but he does not want a wife who is still wrapped up in her feelings of guilt and fear over being baren so he lays his heart on the line and asks Sarah to give him everything.

I really liked the plot where both of them have been harboring this great attraction for each other that's been just simmering beneath the surface for years. I can imagine it would be really hard to pull this off successfully and without getting overdrawn and Wells does it very well. When the two are together the scenes are literally just soaked in yearning and I loved it. This book is very emotion driven and as I stated previously Wells has a way with writing these emotions that avoids being overly angsty while still making it clear that these two people have some substantial problems standing in their way. Wells is also great at writing some great sex scenes that are emotion driven and still manage to be incredibly hot; although I will warn that there is one scene that features some mild bondage and "punishment" in the form of multiple orgasms. Not really a warning I guess, more an incentive to go buy this :). I also found myself really enjoying the mystery surrounding who killed Brinsley as it was an essential part of the story yet did not detract, in fact contributed to, the development of the relationship between Vane and Sarah.

I spent quite a lot of this book wanting to seriously slap Sarah across the face. At first I was fine with the overwhelming guilt she felt and I completely understood that she felt she had to do "penance" as of course what she does was, in the world she was raised in, completely out of line. But I wanted her to get over it faster as she seems like such a strong individual and yet she was just bogged down with these feelings for this utter (pardon) @$$hole, and it was just too much like that woman in "Oliver" who sings that she still loves the man who abuses her and wants to kill Oliver. I am not quite sure how I feel about her equating pride, self-reliance, and her ability to survive with managing to stave off Vane's advances and not succumb to animal passions. But even though these emotions were overwhelming I liked that she, in the end, had to confront these feelings and move past them in order to have a great life with the man she loved. This coincides with Sarah's desperate search for her dead husband's love child and, although it might last a tad too long, when she really is forced to confront her feelings about this it was quite something to read about.

Rating: I really enjoyed reading this book although the emotions did sometimes get the best of me. Great character development, great relationship, and a really great book overall.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tempt the Devil

Tempt the Devil by Anna Campbell

Olivia Raines is the most famous courtesan in London and has a well earned reputation as being both maintaining serious distance between her and her lovers and for dropping her lovers quickly and brutally. Julian Southwood, the Earl of Erith, is determined to make Olivia his mistress as he wants only the best. Olivia is not so keen on the idea and her friend Perry, Lord Montjoy, warns her that Erith possess a serious threat to her heartless exterior, but she sees him as a challenge and accepts his carte blanche. Julian quickly realizes that their relationship is not going to proceed exactly as he planned when Olivia insists on her independence. He is even further infuriated when he discovers that Olivia has only been pretending sexual enjoyment with her lovers and he informs her that he will not be falling for her tricks. He wants to awaken sexual passion in her but it is not long after this that Julian learns that Olivia's past includes rape at the hands of a debauched lord and a bastard son she gave up for her cousins to raise as their own.

It is at this point that the two both begin to feel something more than the affection between a man and his mistress. Erith is drawn to the woman underneath Olivia's cold facade; the woman who still blushes at his innuendos and who hides such a tragic past and has lived her unconventional life with courage. Olivia's heart begins to melt as Erith treats her like she is equal to the high society ladies, shows that he is willing to do anything to make her comfortable and happy, and makes her forget her sordid past. Despite her promises to never allow any man to have power over her again Olivia falls in love with Erith and he with her and the two begin to ponder if any sort of future between them is possible. Despite her determination Olivia begins to have hope that the past really is behind her and, while recognizing that marriage is impossible, she wants something more. Unfortunately the hope that both of them have is shattered when Erith discovers Olivia in the company of his well-bred daughter and in his anger he says hurtful things that neither can forget. It is up to Erith to prove to Olivia that the past really is in the past and that hope is possible for both of them.

So courtesans are apparently quite the in thing in romance novels these days but I still really enjoy the novelty of not having an innocent 18 year-old virgin as the heroine. The book does kind of cut the corner by having Olivia remain sexually unawakened and thus paving the way for our hero to "awaken" her. I guess I'll need to wait a little longer for a satisfied and unapologetic lady of the evening heroine. I enoyed how strong willed both of these characters were. Although there were times when Olivia did show some signs of weakness both of these characters were able to hold their own and I can honestly say that there weren't any times when one had the upper hand over the other. This book is very emotion driven and Campbell certainly writes about emotions very well, although after a while it got to be just too much. I very much enjoyed the scenes involving Julian and his daughter and Julian's reflections on how he has not lead the most exemplary life and has so much to make up for. I also enjoyed that the book ended up with a HEA, but in an at least somewhat realistic manner.

The book is very wordy and scenes in the novel often last over several chapters and this basically means that there are not very many scenes altogether. Since many of those scenes were sex scenes it almost was like their relationship centered around their bedroom. I really would have appreciated shorter sex scenes (for the most part) and maybe more short scenes where they did "coupley" things together. The book also kind of runs with the theme of homosexuality being created through past abuse as there is a gay character who was abused by his father and he wonders if she is a lesbian because woman who suffer at male hands often turn to their own sex. I guess I discussed my feelings on this in my review of "The Seduction of Sara." At the same time I recognized that Campbell is a very talented writer and I can understand how some people apparently adore her books, I just did not like her writing style. It seemed drawn out, wordy (again), and really just seemed to have an air of depression over it. Maybe that was the subject matter and the characters always dealing with such wild emotions, but it just did not lead to a book that I "enjoyed" reading very much.

Rating: Despite reflecting on the almost overwhelming depression that weighs this book down I knew that I really just can not give this book less than three hearts because of it's interesting plot and well developed characters.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

All He Desires

All He Desires by Anthea Lawson

Miss Caroline Huntington is traveling around the Mediterranean with her friend, Maggie, in the hopes of securing funding for an orphanage on Malta. While in Crete Caroline meets with a horrible riding accident and suffers a dislocated elbow and a concussion and the islanders bring her to fellow Englishman, Mr. Alex Trentham. Alex has been living on Crete for years after having run away from England and he is not happy to have these people intruding on his life and he especially does not like having such an attractive and distracting young woman in his house. Caroline wants to continue on to Malta with Maggie to help her friend, but Alex informs her that it is imperative that she stay and continue her recovery on the island. Penelope Briggs is assigned as her companion and Maggie heads off to Malta, leaving plenty of opportunities for Alex and Caroline to spend time together. They go riding, climbing, caving, swimming, boating, and visit local points of interest and eventually succumb to their mutual passions. People begin to have suspicions that someone is out to get Caroline when accidents continue to befall her, but before he can be apprehended, Mr. Simms, escapes to Italy.

When Caroline is healthy enough she and her companion, Pen, leave for England and although Caroline desperately wants Alex to come with her. He refuses because there is something in his past that convinces him that Caroline is better off without him and that makes it impossible for him to go home. When Caroline goes home it is to discover that her uncle, the Earl of Twittingham, is planning to adopt her and her cousin, Reginald, is very upset about this as he has already spent his planned inheritance on gambling. He enlists the aide of the Viscount Keefe to woo Caroline and marry her so that the two can split her dowry between them. Alex finally follows Caroline to London when he believes she might be pregnant but leaves her again when he finds out it was a lie. Unfortunately Cousin Reggie's creditors have decided to take their pound of flesh out of Caroline and Mr. Simm's reappears in London. Alex is the only one there to save her and together they confront Alex's secretive past and must discover if together they can work past the mistakes that were made and move on in the future together.

Apparently Anthea Lawson is a husband, Lawson, and wife, Anthea, team that writes novels together and right away I was incredibly intrigued- I really want to know which parts were more male driven and which parts were more female driven. I guess this explains why, although they are far too few, the parts of the book that are told from Alex's points of view, are very well written and realistic. Caroline is a thoroughly likable character with an interesting past, a wonderful sense of self-assurance and purpose in her life, and a true knowledge of what she wants to make of her life. I like that she is so dedicated to her charity work, and is really and truly a part of making the orphanage/ school/ dispensary work and there was a wonderful moment in the book where the women she relies on for funding decide to fund a fountain of Neptune instead and Pen reflects that it is easier for them to argue about seals and statues then to think about the suffering that is really happening in the world. It was a wonderful reflection and also served to illustrate what a great character Pen was as well- so really how great these authors are at writing about people.

There was plenty of steam in this book and it was very well distributed throughout the book and there was some great buildup. It was also nicely done that the characters were so physically attracted to each other and yet it was obvious that both Caroline and Alex loved each other because they honestly knew the other was such a lovable person. I also did enjoy the roiling emotions that sprung up in both characters as they both believed that they were going to lose each other. I really enjoyed the writing in the novel until the last 30 or so pages after the rescue was made and they were making plans for the future together when the writing just got a little overdrawn and unbelievable, especially in regards to the dialogue with characters saying very unrealistic things. I am still a tad unsure of how I feel about Alex's "great secret." I know that the authors had to work a very fine line to make the secret at least somewhat bad enough to warrant his reaction and yet still be tame enough for him to be easily forgiven by Caroline and the readers. The secret very nearly made it there and really was the only thing it could have been given the circumstances. I also really enjoyed reading about the mystery/ kidnap side-plot as it was fitting and not overwhelming and led to some great actions on the part of our hero.

Rating: I really enjoyed this book although I did find it somewhat slow going at times. I could have done with better dialogue overall and maybe a more shocking secret. Overall a very great book.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Every Time We Kiss

Every Time We Kiss by Christie Kelley

Five years ago Lady Jennette Shelby accidentally killed her fiance, John, during a fencing accident on a wet morning. John begged his friend Matthew Harris to take the blame and protect Jennette's name and Matthew agrees even though he knows this will ruin him in the eyes of the ton forever. Jennette knows this too and she feels guilty but she agrees to go on with her life, pretending to be a happy and frivolous spendthift. But when Matthew unexpectedly becomes the Duke of Blackburn it is imperitive that he make his way back into the society that has scorned him for so long. When she finally comes into her inheritance Jennette decides that she will move to Florence to give Matthew a chance and hope that the ton forgets the past. Unfortunately it quickly becomes obvious that this is not going to happen anytime soon and Matthew desperately needs a respectable and wealthy wife to pay of his father and brother's gambling debts and restore his ruined houses. He makes it clear to Jennette that she either needs to find him or a wife or marry him herself or he will reveal who really killed John.

Jennette feels immensely guilty for the way that things have turned out for Matthew and she cannot have this secret get out as she apparently made a deathbed promise to her father that she would not bring scandal to the family name. So she agrees and things immediately get off to a horrible start as the first lady becomes terrified when she finds out who he is, the second turns out to only want him because she's already pregnant, and the third one's parents berate and scream at Matthew in front of the many guests at a house party. Meanwhile Matthew is coming to realize that he really only wants Jennette and Jennette is coming to realize that it is going to be very difficult to watch Matthew doing "married people" things with another woman. Not helping the matter is that they are both immensely attracted to each other and despite trying to deny it it was impossible for the two of them to stay out of each others' beds. Just as it seems that the two of them might be able to make things work a person from Matthew's past comes to try to ruin everything and once again Jennette is wracked with guilt. It is up to Matthew to convince her that it is their future that matters- their future together.

The overwhelming emotion I felt while reading this book was frustration and I did literally spend most of the book wanting to kick at least one of the characters in the ass. I had problems with the problems surrounding John's death as over and over and over Jennette declares that everything would have blown over if she had just admitted she did it. And yet she did not. And instead of trying to rectify everything by confessing (and I'm sure she had plenty of opportunities in the five intervening years) she keeps her mouth shut and goes along with the whole pretending to be a frivolous spendthrift. And then when it comes to finding Matthew a bride she just refuses to acknowledge that no woman who meets his demands will ever agree to marry him and yet she continues to throw women at him. While her guilt was bad enough for her to gush on about on nearly every other page it was not enough for her to actually finally admit that the only real way to solve all the problems that are bugging everyone is to just admit what happened and marry Matthew. I also really could not figure out why Matthew didn't just throw in the towel and either force her to marry him or finally tell everyone what happened- it would have served her right.

The very fact that I wrote that should make it clear that I did not particularly like Jennette and Matthew was not exactly any better. The guilt and regret completely overwhelmed the entire book and, while not leading to any fun bits of minor angst that is juicy and quickly over with, lead to a complete pall of depression over the whole novel. And that was more than a little frustrating as well. I also noticed that there were quite a few references to events that had obviously happened in Kelley's previous novel about Jennette's brother, Banning, and his wife, Avis. This was really to the point where I felt like I really would have benefited quite a bit by having read this book beforehand; something I do not appreciate. I unexpectedly liked the rescue that was forced to take place at the end (because of Jennette's guilt and insecurities) because it was not a kidnap plot and was not overdrawn; it was well written, quick, and did not involve dastardly villains out to destroy someone happiness. There was a villain in this book, Matthew's ex-mistress, and I enjoyed her parts of the story very much as she was an important part of the story, she certainly was a villain, and she was a woman so it was a nice change of pace.

Rating: I really was just immensely frustrating with this book and the large number of big misunderstandings and secrets (that could have easily been resolved or prevented) really impacted this story in a negative way. But it was not completely awful- the best I can say about it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How to Tame a Lady

How to Tame a Lady by Kasey Michaels

From their very first meeting Lady Nicole Daughtry and Lucas Paine, Marquess of Basingstoke, they are very intrigued with each other. The two engage in an interesting little conversation about puddles that confuses those around them but sends a message that they are like two peas in a pod. They both want to see more of the other and the fact that Lucas is a close friend of Rafe, Nicole's brother, and uses this to his advantage. He escorts Nicole to balls, on long carriage rides where he scandalously allows her to control the reins, and to the opera. It is at the opera that Nicole discovers that Rafe has been keeping a secret from her as he secretly meets with another man. Years earlier Lucas' father had been accused of treason and then shot himself before a trial could occur. The scandal has tainted Lucas and his family ever since but when a letter arrives informing him that the charges against his father were fake, Lucas is determined to find out what exactly this person means. So he agrees to go along with Lord Fayne's plans to help incite a riot in the hopes that the masses behavior would lead to more restrictive and prohibitive laws.

Nicole is horrified that Lucas would put himself in danger like that and it reinforces her belief that she never wants to fall in love or rely on another person for her sense of self worth. Her own mother has gone from husband to husband and in general behaves very scandalously in public; carrying on affairs and even encouraging Nicole to have sex with Lucas. Lucas is unable to go through with his plans as he is very sensitive to the hardships of being a member of England's poor right after the war and at a time of great weather upheaval. Lord Fayne is furious and threatens to go public with information that Nicole's mother gave him when they were engaged in an affair regarded Rafe's succession to the dukedom. The two escort Nicole's mother to Dover so she can spend the next year in Italy out of everyone's way and on the way home Nicole and Lucas take advantage of some privacy in an inn to reveal secrets and get to know each other a lot better. Together the two of them must find someway of preventing the Daughtry family secrets from being exposed and some way of stopping the mad revolt on London and if in the process they both realize they love each- then so much the better.

The first thing I noticed about the book was the awkward, confusing, and plain weird conversation Lucas and Nicole had. From the puddle discussion that intrigued them and left Nicole's sister, Lydia, and Lucas' friend, Fletcher, puzzled their conversations continued in the same vein. Maybe it was supposed to be banter, I do not know, but it was odd that it supposedly was part of the reason they intrigued each other so much yet ended up just being frustrating to me. And the heroine has what I have to call very severe mood swings; she's fun and happy being frivolous, she's full of anger at Lucas for something (oftentimes ridiculous), she wants to jump his bones, she's worried she'll end up like her mother, she's frivolous again, she's angsty over Lucas believing she's frivolous, etc... And the bit about her being frivolous was just too overdrawn although I guess since we were supposed to be comparing her to her bookish sister we were supposed to assume she was frivolous. Luckily they did not make her too frivolous as she, like Lucas, had feelings for the common man, and was at least self- aware enough to recognize her faults and to reflect on what she wants to improve and how she wants to live her life.

Even though I found most of the conversations I still liked that it was very obvious that these two had a lot in common and that their falling in love was very believable and very obviously meant to be. I was a bit surprised as I felt Michaels set the reader up for a romance between the sister, Lydia, but it did not happen and I was rather disappointed- hopefully someday soon. The side plot of the rabble of London was very well done and I really liked that it was a book about socially conscious people who did want to help and do what they could. And given that Lucas felt this way because the poor were often soldiers he had faught "with" against Napoleon it was far more believable and enjoyable to read about than society misses who want to found an orphanage because they're so helpful and nice. There was some very nice steam going on here and I liked how attracted to each other the character were put it was a bit of a letdown as it was set up very nicely but then disappointed with innuendos and allusions to what was happening.

Rating: I enjoyed this book as I enjoyed the romance and the plot, but found Nicole to be far from my liking as it was very difficult to really like her. And the heroine is a pretty important part of a romance novel.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Princess and the Pea

The Princess and the Pea by Victoria Alexander

When Cecily White learns that her dear friend has been thrown over by a British lord after his mother deemed her unsuitable she decides to teach the British a lesson by going to England, ensnaring this Earl of Graystone, and throwing him over. Jarred, the Earl of Graystone, needs to marry a wealthy heiress and is not too particular about a bride except where a purse is concerned. The same cannot be said for his mother, Olivia, who has continually set up "tests" for his prospective fiances; tests that all of them have failed. Jarred has forbidden his mother to meddle in his affairs anymore and heads up North to visit his business partner Quentin. Quentin and Jarred work together building horseless carriages, or automobiles, and Jarred knows that he must keep his involvement a secret or risk causing a scandal among the ton. When Quentin's aunt has friends visit, Jarred is drawn to the oldest daughter of the family, Cece, and the two spend the most fun times together, from riding the automobile through the countryside to unchaperoned nights in Paris. Not knowing that Cece is an heiress, he breaks up with her by note, knowing that he needs money for his title, even if it breaks his heart to let her go.

Cece is devastated when her penniless inventor leaves her waiting, but it only bolsters her plan to go to London and get back at the British. She is shocked when the first member of the peerage she is introduced to is none other than her inventor the Earl of Graystone. A quick discussion reveals that both of them have intense feelings for each other, but Cece is horrified to find that Jarred needs her money. Nonetheless she agrees, at least to herself, if not to Jarred, that she must marry this man she is in love with and hope that she can get him to reverse his ideas about keeping his involvement with the automobile secret. Before any marriage though Cece must prove herself to Jarred's mother who, despite his warnings, continues to create challenges. First there is placing Cece in a hallway with a lecherous old man, then placing her in charge of a dinner party with no chef and no entertainment, to finally revealing her son's involvement with automobiles to test Cece's loyalty. Everyone is ecstatic when Cece passes all her tests but the final test comes when Cece is forced to risk losing Jared in order to spare him from some very harsh truths.

I had very mixed emotions about Olivia. While all of her tests were undoubtedly reasonable in that they were all circumstances that any countess would encounter and need to deal with in the least scandal raising way possible, it still seemed a little... awful... that she continued to test Cece even after realizing the depths of her son's feelings for her. For her loyalty test she even admitted that it could end up breaking her son's heart, but it would be worth it. A little strange, but I was very glad that she didn't actually put a pea under Cece's mattress- that would have been way too much for me. However the problem with this plot was the fact that she hadn't put the other heiresses through these types of tests- her problems with the other girls include that one is going to become fat and another is too "flighty" with no mentions of actually seeing how they will do as a duchess like she does with Cece. Another aspect of the book that was a tad confusing; a character named Robin is introduced as a past love of Cece's mother, but after 50 pages he suddenly becomes Robert. Didn't detract from the story but I would have appreciated better editing.

There was brilliantly told little side story about Cece's mom is forced to confront a past lover whom she believed had abandoned her years before. It was amazing to read about a mature woman who is dealing with some incredibly confusing and hard aspects of her past and making a decision on how she wants her future to be. The story was told from many different POV's from Jared and Cece's to Jared and Cece's mother, Aunt Millicent and even some from Cece's sister Emily. Alexander does all of them excellently as usual. One of the things I liked most about their relationship was the sacrifices each of them was willing to make for the other, from Cece protecting Jared from some crushing news to Jared being willing to give up his title. Their love for each other was based on mutual passion and respect for each other and sharing a common dream. It was quite romantic and sweet really. My biggest problem was the epilogue that was more than a little disappointing because it imparted news about Emily's future that was more than a little depressing, even if I was supposed to be impressed or intrigued instead. Also- the type was too small.

Rating: I enjoyed the book even if I felt like it went on for just a tad too long and was more than a little annoyed at Olivia. The characters relationship was sweet and romantic.