Monday, May 31, 2010

The Wicked Duke Takes a Wife

The Wicked Duke Takes a Wife by Jillian Hunter 227

Harriet Gardner was rescued from the streets by the Boscastle family after being discovered attempting to rob the Duchess of Sedgecroft's closet. They took her in, trained her to behave like a lady and gave her a job at their finishing school for young ladies. Lord Griffin Boscastle is the newly minted Duke of Glenmorgan and he is also the newly minted guardian of his late brother's illegitimate daughter Edlyn. When he takes her to the finishing school he and Harriet make quite the impression on each other as Harriet almost sets him on fire and he rattles her very precarious composure. When his old Aunt Prowlis decides that she wants Harriet to be her companion she debates it but decides to go. Griffin is worried that he won't be able to keep his hands off her, but he is determined that he, or his Aunt's crazy actions, can eventually convince her to quit and leave. Unfortunately Griffin still feels a major sense of obligation towards his brother's fiance and everyone believes that he should court her and fulfill the marriage contract.

Upon meeting Lady Constance no one is very happy: she is selfish, cold, and incredibly boring. Aunt Prowlis and Harriet agree that she is not at all appropriate for Griffin and despite the fact that it is also obvious that Griffin has no interest in her, they engage in a minor ridiculous plot to cinvince him not to marry her. When Griffin and Harriet succumb to passion at a garden party some very racy sketches appear in all the gossip rags and Aunt Prowlis is upset that he is ruining her companion's reputation. Harriet and Griffin begin to sneak away whenever possible to make love but Harriet does have plans to eventually leave. When Edlyn is kidnapped everyone's plans are thrown up in the air and everyone is distraught. Griffin enlists the help of Bow Street while Harriet revisits her former friends in London's underworld and soon everyone is out looking for the lost teenager. It is Harriet's own father back from the dead that finally solves this little mystery and Harriet and Griffin can go on with their lives and live happily ever after like the rest of the Boscastle's.

I mentioned in my previous review of Hunter's book that she has taken to writing oddly emotionless romances. Really there is no other way to describe her writing as there seemed to be nothing between these characters. She did not compensate for this by doing an amazing job of having the characters think endlessly of what the other will look like naked. Despite the lack of good ruminations and build up that usually lead to good sex scenes this book very much surprised me by having some really quite delicious sex scenes. I liked Harriet's character superficially as she was certainly interesting with quite the intriguing back ground, but she was definitely not developed enough. Griffin was really rather boring as he was not developed at all and I had no idea what he was thinking, despite the fact that a bit of the story is told from his P.O.V. There was a brief mention that Harriet fell in love with him because he was powerful and took such good care of his family but I was really hoping for a bit more in a romance novel. However I was happy she accepted his proposal the first time and it wasn't dragged on and on because she felt she wasn't worthy.

It is obvious that Aunt Primrose is supposed to be the eccentric and blunt yet lovable and fun crazy old lady of the story. Unfortunately she fails miserably on all accounts except for the bluntness and that really just makes her seem old, mean, and nasty. The big conflict in the story is supposedly that Harriet, and nasty Aunt Primrose, is worried that Griffin is going to marry horrid Lady Constance. However this is just absolute bull as from the very beginning he makes no bones about the fact that he cannot stand Constance so really there is no suspense in that direction. I was just so caught up in the fact that Harriet and Griffin were discussing marriage while Edlyn was missing that I didn't really have time to worry about what had happened to her. The dialogue was stilted at best and once again there were several instances where it was obvious Hunter thought she was writing fun banter, but it just came out flat and irritating. And have I mentioned how annoying Aunt Primrose's character was? Cause yea- I really hated her and she was such a nuisance.

Rating: Not entirely hate-able and at the very least it was short (although it was so boring it took me a week to read), but unless something very unexpected happens this is my last Jillian Hunter novel. Two atrocious books in a row definitely earns one heart.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Rule's Bride

Rule's Bride by Kat Martin 511

When Howard Griffin discovers he is dying he wants to make arrangements for his daughter, Violet. He decides that the hardworking Englishman who has done so well with his company would be a perfect husband for her so he offers him half the company if he marries her now and then comes back to get her when she is old enough for the marriage to be real. Violet is already infatuated with the handsome man and, although sad about her father's passing and her husband having to go back to England, she is hopeful that her father chose well. Three years later Rule Dewar is living his life free and easy in England although he is beginning to feel a strong sense of ennui and wants something to give his life meaning. No sooner does the thought enter his head than Violet shows up from America. The skinny girl he remembers is now a petite and well-filled out young woman and he cannot wait to make the marriage real. Unfortunately Violet has found herself another man and promptly asks Rule for an annulment.

Rule has no intention of granting her request but gets her to agree to a temporary one-month stay so that they can get to know each other. Although Violet believes herself in love with Jeffrey, a man she met back in Boston, and she wants to marry him, she does not make it one month before the possibility for an annulment is ended. However she still wants a divorce and she wants Rule to agree to sell the company to someone who will not sell arms to the South during the inevitable upcoming war between the states. She knows she is falling in love with Rule but she knows that it is an emotion he is unlikely to return. They find a buyer for the company but before things can be completely worked out he is murdered and Rule is the prime suspect. They enlist the help of Rule's well-connected friends and families to help them discover who really killed the buyer and why they are trying to set Rule up for it. Rule wants to keep Violet safe but of course she insist on accompanying him during the final confrontation where Rule realizes that he does know what love is and it is what he feels for his wife.

Violet knows her mind and goes after what she wants but she obviously has some problem with the follow through as she does end up succumbing to Rule eventually. Rule is more interesting and nuanced throughout the novel as he quickly adapts to wanting and needing his wife in his life. Ennui always strikes me as a tad weird and irritating among people who have so much money that they're literally bored with it, but Martin does a great job turning into just one more reason why he is so welcoming of his new bride and it is not really annoying at all. There is plenty of sex between the two of them, but it is rather short and rushed and not all that hot. I wish it had been more explicit and a little lengthier, however I did like how emotional it was. The murder plot was incredibly interesting and I was mostly at a loss for most of it as to who the real murderer was so Martin certainly built the suspense up nicely. I also liked that someone who could easily have been portrayed as a total villain was more nuanced than that.

Previous characters from the other books make plenty of appearances and it definitely borders on annoying-ness how quickly Lizzy and Beth are to accept Violet into their circle of sisters. I'm glad they weren't mean or anything, but they were just a little too warm to be that believable. At the beginning of the book Violet claims she wants out of the armament business b/c she doesn't want to arm friends against other friends, but later on as the book moves she says that she doesn't want to support the South because she is against slavery. Obviously I agree with the second reason more (remaining neutral is the same as siding with the wrong side sometimes) but I wish that had been more clear as it made Violet look a little wishy washy. There was a great side romance involving Violet's cousin Caroline and Rule's best friend, Luke, that was simply wonderful and very emotional and added a lot to the story. It was a nice short little addition that served as kind of a counterpart to Rule and Violet's relationship as they kind of had the opposite problems as them.

Rating: A very romance driven book that satisfied on almost every level. Reading about the development of their relationship was great and very well done.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reese's Bride

Reese's Bride by Kat Martin 221

Eight years ago Reese Dewar and Elizabeth Clemens promised each other that they would one day get married and make a life together in Reese's Briarwood estate. But shortly after enlisting in the army Reese returns home to find that Elizabeth has married the Earl of Aldridge and in a fury he unleashes his fury on her and vows to never feel anything about her again. He is convinced she left him to gain a title and a fortune. Her marriage to Aldridge was cruel and he showed no affection for their son Jarred. When he dies Elizabeth believes that her in-laws are trying to kill her to get ahold of Jarred's fortune. With nowhere else to turn Elizabeth runs to Royal for protection and despite the dreadful memories her arrival bring to the surface, Reese's honor prohibits her from turning her and her son away. Elizabeth harbors a dark secret and she is terrified of revealing the truth to Reese: Jared is actually his son and she had really only married Aldridge because she had been terrified and her father had finally managed to pressure her into it.

In addition to his duties protecting Elizabeth, Reese receives notice that his friend Travis is being investigated as a possible Russian spy. Reese knows that Travis is no spy but he has angered the wrong man in government and his mother was a Russian ballerina. Reese, Royal, and Royal's friends set out to prove that Travis is innocent and to find a way to stop Elizabeth's in laws from harming her or her son. Reese decides the best way to protect Jarred would be to marry Elizabeth and adopt Jarred and after the wedding all the old feelings the two had felt for each other begin to come back full force and a new passion that had not been there before is nearly overwhelming. When threats against Jared's life continues Elizabeth begins proceedings to have Jared abdicate his title and eventually tells Reese that he is the real father. The situation with Travis is cleared up quite uneventfully when Rule sleeps with the accuser's wife and finds out some interesting secrets. When the abdication request is denied, the situation with the in-laws is left for a bloody late night fight where Reese has to defend his wife and his son. However it is only when he can move on and admit his love for Elizabeth that the little family can truly be happy.

I feel as though many of the problems I had with this book were also present in "Royal's Bride" although they were heavily overshadowed there by the great plot, well written characters, and the sexy romance. Because the characters here underwent next to no actual character development, a stagnant romance, and a side plot that did not draw me in- these problems became far too obvious. The dialogue was stilted and unrealistic at best and I marked several pages down as "What did s/he just say?" I understand people used to talk differently but no- no one ever spoke like that and if they did I do not want to read about them. The Oarsman, friends of Royal's from his Oxford days where mentioned and described in detail throughout the book making me wonder if she thought we had amnesia or if she did. Doing this also made me wonder if she was setting herself up for another series and if so it is one I do not care to read. Another thing both book had copious amounts of was "gentle, caring, and kind" women who all formed a great bond and became the bestest of best friends. It was a little to saccharine.

In addition there were quite a few problems that were unique to this book. Because the character's had known each other for years the whole falling in love thing seemed to have taken place behind the scenes. Normally I'm left rather confused as to why the heroine fell in love with the hero but in this book I had the opposite problem. Elizabeth left him and married a man who mistreated her and his son and yet Reese can't get over his feelings for her. Meanwhile Reese is forgiving, he really steps in and saves the day and proves himself to be a top notch father. While the side plot in Royal's Bride was interesting and unique the "find the spy" plot here was just too pat and I am getting sick of spy plots. Contributing to this was the way underdeveloped "romance" between Travis and a random woman named Annabelle that really just came across as a space waster. I know Jared was described as a little young for his age but I swear he acted much more like a four year old than an 8 year old even accounting for the changes children have undergone in the last 150 years.

Rating: I know I had almost nothing good to say about this book but I did not absolutely hate it. It had it's very brief entertaining moments but they were far outweighed by ridiculous bad-ness.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Royal's Bride

Royal's Bride by Kat Martin 215

Royal Dewar promises his father on his death bed that he will restore the family fortunes by marrying Jocelyn Caulfield. Over the next year Royal learns that his father had been duped by a professional con artist into making several bad investments and Royal is determined to recoup these loses. But first he must make arrangements for his wedding. Lily Moran is Jocelyn's cousin and she is sent ahead to make Bransford Castle inhabitable and from the beginning both Lily and Royal know that there is something between them, but the two know that nothing can come of their connection. Jocelyn is spoiled and used to holding on to everyone's attention so he is frustrated when her fiance seems like he could not care less about her. She knows that Christopher Barclay will not turn her down and she begins an affair with him. Even knowing that her cousin is cheating on Royal and has no intention of ever remaining faithful to him, Lily believes that the best thing for everyone is for Royal to marry Jocelyn because he needs the money.

However Royal still wants to find out what happened to his father's money and he enlists the help of Lily's Uncle Jack. Together they come up with a scheme to trick the con artist, Preston Loomis, out of the money that he stole and it involves Lily pretending to be the Gypsy fortune teller Tyesa. The scheme means Lily and Royal spending more and more time together and it is not long before they give in to their passion. When they are discovered by Jocelyn, Lily is kicked out of the Caulfield home, and Royal resigns himself to a loveless marriage. Luckily the scheme to get Loomis to give up his money works and Royal does get some of the money back, but realizing that he has been had Loomis vows revenge on those who tricked him. Meanwhile Jocelyn is coming to realize that Christopher is not merely a quick affair for her, but that she is coming to love him. When Loomis finally takes his revenge Lily and Royal are both kidnapped and together they must figure out a way to escape alive and hope that at the end of it they can always be together.

Royal and Lily were simply perfect for each other and I was completely drawn into their romance from their beginning. I love the idea that they were in love but duty kept them apart and it makes from very great emotion and angst. The characters spend a great deal of time thinking on each other and going over the reasons that they can't be together and I loved it. It was almost a little Cinder-ella esque with Lily being the poor relation bordering on servant. Lily's past isn't quite on the up and up and Royal is so great; taking it in, but completely accepting of Lily and the person she is. There are a couple of arguments between the two and they were so real and packed with emotion. Luckily it was not all longing glances as the two of them did manage to steam up the pages quite a bit, and there was even a scene between Jocelyn and Christopher, and they were very hot, very emotional, and very fun. However one sexy scene after the two of them have been beaten up and kidnapped was a little off putting for me.

Jocelyn was a very well nuanced character as it was obvious that she was spoiled and selfish, and while her actions certainly seem reprehensible, I could not help but empathize with her plight and I was very much pulling for her to come out on top. Very skillful on Martin's part to have a half- villain who isn't evil, but certainly requires a deft hand to make likable. In addition I really enjoyed the plot involving the stolen money because it was an integral part of the story, it served to bring the characters closer together, and (SPOILER!) it made the happy ending at the end more realistic than Royal just deciding he didn't need money after all. The kidnapping was certainly intriguing and although I knew they'd come out on top in the end I still found myself excited. It was resolved quickly enough, it didn't drag out but it wasn't wrapped up neatly in two pages either- a perfect compromise. I am very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series featuring Royal's brother, Reese (Reese's Bride: review coming soon).

Rating: Very enjoyable book with great characters, great romance, and a great little mystery side plot. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

At the Duke's Pleasure

At the Duke's Pleasure by Tracey Anne Warren

This is the third book in the Byron family saga and features the eldest brother, Edward Byron, the Duke of Clybourne. Edward has been engaged to Claire Marsden since he was 12 and she was an infant, while he has always planned on "one day" going through with the wedding, he has continually put it off. Finally deciding that it is time to begin fulfilling his duty and marry, but he is very surprised to find that Claire does not feel the same. Claire had worshiped Edward and looked forward to their marriage until the day she overheard him in the garden calling her a child and proclaiming he had no interest in her. Now she is determined to protect herself and her heart from Edward and sets out to get him to call of their wedding by behaving poorly. From interactions with a courtesan to curricle races in the park to cutting her hair off and gambling in a famous gentleman's club, Claire is certain that eventually she can get Edward to call of the wedding. Edward knows that something is up but he is equally determined to marry Claire because it is his duty and because he very much wants the lovely young lady.

Even while pushing Edward away Claire finds herself succumbing to his sensual manipulations whenever the two of them are alone. She knows that she is giving him a terrible amount of power to hurt her in the future, but she cannot help herself. Meanwhile Edward has been disappearing and backing out on planned outings and Claire is worried that he is engaged in an affair. But Edward is actually trying to track down "Wolfe," a French spy who has been passing information to the French for years, and who is responsible for his brother Cade's torture while he was on the continent. Making one last desperate attempt to get Edward to call off the wedding Claire agrees to a ride in the park with a notorious rakehell who has already ruined one innocent young woman. Edward is furious and goes riding after Claire and in the aftermath she reveals her feelings for him. Edward is ecstatic and quickly moves up the wedding, but he still needs to fulfill his obligations to the crown. Fed up with Edward's disappearance Claire follows him into the lion's den and it is up to Edward to save her and prove that he can make her as happy as she has made him.

I have always very much liked how Tracy Anne Warren writes- it's descriptive and fast without being fluffy or overdrawn. The romantic development was very much underdone. I find that more and more I am left wondering why a heroine fell in love with the hero. We were told multiple times that Edward was handsome and yet he does very little that would clarify why she fell in love with him. I could see why Edward had fallen in love with Claire to some extent as she was adventurous and caring but I wish that had been developed more as well. For a while the Wolfe plot was completely separate from the romance, and thus seemed completely unnecessary, but near the end I really started to get into it and see how it worked towards the romance. It really led to some nice juicy emotions and angst as Claire worried that Edward was having an affair and did not love her.

The sex was very delayed in this book and was a little smashed into a small portion of this book, although it was very well written. I was a tad thrown by the brief spanking scene that was not really worked in to a sex scene and was really a punishment for her admittedly outrageous behavior. He apologies profusely and apparently it didn't hurt too much, but I just felt like he was treating her like a child. This flows nicely in to Claire's behavior while she is trying to get Edward to call off the wedding. I tried to understand her way of thinking but I cannot figure out how she truly believed she could do all these things, get him to call off the wedding, and her parents, or another man, would still take her back. She was doing things that would leave any unmarried miss completely scorned by society and all she could think was that at least she would not be married to a man who did not love her. I don't usually comment on the cover but this one is just crazy- it seriously looks as though the woman's neck is twisted to an incredibly painful degree.

Rating: I am aware that it seems as though I found so much to dislike in this book, and I need to work more on describing what I did like. I did enjoy this book and will continue to look forward to more book's from this author and about this interesting family.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Taming the Highland Bride

Taming the Highland Bride by Lynsay Sands 213

Merewin, Merry, Stewart, has been taking care of her father and two of her brother's every since her mother died. The three men are heavy drinkers and are often mean drunks so Merry is left to do damage control and to see to the running of the Stewart lands. Despite this none of them particularly like Merry and are more than happy to see her go when her betrothed returns from the crusades. Unfortunately her first meeting with Alexander d' Aumesbery does not go very well as he had drunk a bottle of whiskey in preparation for having a tooth pulled. Merry is left with the belief that Alex is just like the men in her family but the marriage goes through. Something goes wrong with Alex though as on their wedding night as despite not drinking he ends up passing out. Determined to ensure that the marriage cannot be annulled, or even worse if her husband were to die and leave her with no claims at being a wife, she decides to fake losing her virginity. In the process she leaves a big stain on the sheet that convinces everyone Alex had been a brute.

Alex is horrified at what he believes he did to Merry on their wedding night but he does not remember any of it. He decides to go visit his sister Evalinde to make sure that she is faring well with her new husband and he brings Merry with him. On their journey Alex discovers that his new bride is capable, strong, very independent, and very much fun in bed. Unfortunately someone is trying to harm Alex and it does not take them long to discover that his attackers want to both kill Alex and make him very randy (sounds better than horny). Alex, Evalinde, and all the servants believe that it is their stepmother Edda, but Merry has trouble placing a woman in the villains role since she has grown up in a world where women are the heroes and men are the villains. Some suspicion does fall on Merry as the attacks did not start occurring until after she and her party have arrived but Alex can already tell that his new wife would never do that. The whole party returns to Alex's stronghold to figure out what has been happening, but they will both need to work together to do so.

Both Merry and Alex are incredibly great characters although I especially felt as though Alex could have been developed more. Merry is explored in fairly great detail as we learn about her life and how she really became the woman she is, but Alex's background is really relegated to him having been in the crusades. This book makes tremendous strides from her last Highlander novel in the sex department. This book has plenty of steam and a lot of it is very hot. In addition it's romantic, important, and really just quite funny. I very rarely literally laugh out loud at anything but there was one scene that I just could not help myself. When Edda comes in to explain the wedding night to Merry there follows the most amazingly awesome analogy ever as she compares a man's penis to a chicken neck. The conversation was truly hilarious. Plus I also found myself somewhat surprised to find a romance novel that featured early ejaculation! And I thought did a great job dealing with it- it was not a big deal and the two just moved on and made love.

Sands is very good at writing murder mystery plots that are fun, fast, and truly contribute to the plot and the development of the relationship between the hero and heroine. This one is no different as it really served as a catalyst for bringing the two of them together and really forcing them to confront their feelings for each other. It is not at all overwhelming and lends itself to the story very well. I was also very pleasantly surprised at the way this mystery resolved itself as it was a big (not really huge though) surprise and Sands really does a good job at spreading the suspicion over a fairly large number of people so it is hard to guess exactly who it is. This book also revisits Evalinde and Cullen from "Devil of the Highlands" and I did become mildly irritated (very mildly) at the look how happy we are, but it did not last all that long and at least I really liked those characters from when I had originally read about them. There were a few other instances that made me just roll my eyes, such as when Alex reflected on how the elderly woman, Aunt Biddy, had such a charming twinkle in her eyes. Just a few little jarring moments in the writing.

Rating: Really enjoyed this story but I wish there had been more depth in the form of depth of emotion or romantic development.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Proof by Seduction

Proof by Seduction by Courtney Milan 210

Gareth Carhart, the Marquess of Blakeley, is determined to prove that his cousin is being taken advantage of by the gypsy fortune teller Madame Esmerelda. He is a completely rational and scientific man who lives his life relying solely on the evidence he can proof with his five senses- and needless to say a fortune hunter does not fit into this world. Jenny Keeble was left with little choice when she was abandoned by her protector but to try to make her own way in the world. She had been educated at a prestigious finishing schools where she had been ostracized by her more well connected peers and with no parents to speak of her choices were either to become some rich man's mistress or lie. Ned Carhart had come to her deeply depressed and, like all her other clients Jenny had told him what she knew he wanted to hear- and it worked; he got better and believes his life is worth living. But Gareth does not trust her so he enters a wager with her that if she does not successfully pick out his future bride than she will admit to her falsehoods.

But something happens between Gareth and Jenny as Gareth realizes Jenny has some fundamental spark inside of her that he has been lacking ever since his grandfather began to train him for the marquesship. Jenny sees the best in people, helps people become better person, and truly believes that Gareth is not better than her. With strong rational Gareth in her life Jenny comes to understand that while she has been helping some people there is a definite sordidness about taking money from people to tell them what they want to here. Jenny contemplates giving up her profession while Gareth contemplates allowing himself to feel something for another person, but Ned is still determined to prove that Jenny really can tell the future. His plan go horribly awry and in the culminating events Gareth tries to save Ned from himself and in the process discovers that he really wants nothing more than for Jenny to be by his side- keeping him from closing himself off to the world.

Wow- I really cannot believe this is a debut novel because it is seriously outstanding on every level. The writing is superb, from the conversations to the action to the truly great internal musings of the character there were so many paragraphs that I had to read twice out of sheer awesomeness. The characters absolutely blew my mind as they were so well developed, likable and sympathetic yet obviously flawed, and just completely perfect for each other. Gareth struggles with issues about his title and while normally heroes who have split- personality disorders (he doesn't really) seriously annoy me (and seem a tad ridiculous) but Gareth's problems separating his stressful life as Lord Blakeley from the man who enjoys studying scientific hypothesis are well written and not at all overdone so I can sympathizes without becoming frustrated. Jenny is a working woman- something I always admire in a heroine- and I love that she has been able to move past her lonely life at school to this woman who does so amazingly well with other people.

Jenny extroverted personality and ability to see the best in people is the perfect foil for Gareth's severely rational and scientific mind and vice versa. This makes their romantic relationship so enjoyable to read because the two complement each other and really throughout the book just serve to make the other a better person. Gareth thaws, loses some of his hauteur, and begins to look at life from a different perspective while Jenny learns that there are people she can trust and depend on without ever feeling inferior. And to cap it all of in wonderfulness this book is seriously super hot- these two really have trouble keeping their hands off each other and Milan writes them perfectly- full of passion and romance simultaneously. Even the side characters in this book are superb and the interactions between them and our hero and heroine really go a long way into developing both the characters and the plot of this book. Ned's little machinations led to quite the conundrum and apparently Milan is delving more into that her next book- which I am super excited to read!

Rating; Should be fairly obvious from my review. Absolutely loved every aspect of this book from the writing to the characters to the relationship to the romance to the sex- EVERYTHING!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Seduced by a Rogue

Seduced by a Rogue by Amanda Scott 208

When Robert Maxwell is sent by his brother Alex, the sheriff of a Scottish county, to assess the value of Laird Dunwythie, he knows that convincing the proud man to hand over control of the county's tithes to the king is not going to be easy. He does not intend to find himself so incredibly drawn to the laird's eldest daughter, Mairi. Mairi does not at all like that Rob is trying to take the duty that her father's family has yielded for generations in order to increase power for the Maxwell clan. But Rob Maxwell's eyes are clear blue and his voice calm and assured and long after her father has turned him away Mairi finds herself thinking of him. Alex berates Rob severely when he returns with news that he has been unsuccessful and on his way to his own home, Trailinghall, he comes up with an idea to kidnap the lady Mairi and use her as leverage, not necessarily a hostage, to get her father to agree to the Maxwell demands. Mairi is furious but she has learned through years of experience with her stepmother that giving in to your temper never solves the problem so she tries to make the best of things.

Robert intends to use Mairi as a bargaining chip to get her father to agree to his demands, but he does not expect Mairi's independence, her control over herself, and her self assurance to win him over. Rob becomes Mairi's connection to the outside world and the more time they spend together the more convinced she becomes that Rob is not the evil Maxwell her father had led her to believe. He knows that nothing can become of any relationship between them but neither can really help the feelings that have sprung up between them. Dunwythie is furious when he realizes what has happened and he immediately goes around the country rallying support for his cause; both to get his daughter back and to prevent the new taxation rules from being enforced. Alex is not any happier to hear about what Rob has done and he demands that Rob hand Mairi over to him, but Rob knows that Alex is thinking about the possibility that Mairi is very likely to inherit her father's estates and what he can do to prevent this. Things come to a head between all the characters and Rob and Mairi need to decide if love can flourish even when it seems their families would prevent it.

Mairi was a difficult character to read because she was often portrayed as in control of her emotions, and I really liked that she wasn't pouting, but she did throw things. I did really like that she never became overwhelmed, depressed, or scream about her predicament. Granted it was a crazy situation but it was nice that she wasn't just another "feisty" heroine who wins the hero over by being "sassy." This was because she had been raised to keep things bottled up inside her and it was even more enjoyable because it was only with Rob that she learned to express herself and not have to worry about the consequences. I really liked Rob's character because of how he tried so desperately not to care what his family thinks and believes that he is showing them all up but really he is desperate for them to love and want him as much as he loves them. However he is only 25! I really can't say why I have no problems with younger heroines (Mairi's 19) but really young heroes just don't really add up for me; perhaps because women mature faster than men? Unfortunately there was very little sex in the book- maybe one or two scenes and neither of them were particularly hot.

I really enjoyed the plot involving Mairi's inheritance because it really added an interesting element to the story and because it really played into the development of their relationship. Robert has to "choose" between Mairi and his family and there is the possibility that if Mairi inherits Rob will always be "lower" on the hierarchy than his own wife. Scott does a great job writing her character's emotions and really in depth details of what they are thinking and their motivations and does it equally well from Mairi and Rob's POV. I easily became confused while reading this book.Although there was a map provided it seemed as though many of the places mentioned were not mentioned on it and there were no rivers on it which was a shame as several rivers were mentioned. There was also a glossary but I wish there had been a list of characters as well as some of them had more than one name or very similar names and there were quite a few secondary characters. I also really liked the build up to her next novel featuring Mairi's half- sister Fiona.

Rating: Really enjoyed this book and the side plot but I really wish there had been hotter steamy scenes. Great side plot, great characters, great writing.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Scoundrel's Kiss

Scoundrel's Kiss by Carrie Lofty

Gavriel de Marqueda has left his life as a warrior to become an initiate in the religious Order of Santiago. His novice master charges him with "saving" a young Englishwoman who is up for auction as a slave. Ada of Keyworth (no last name) has found herself in this prediction because of an addiction to opium she has had since she was tortured back in England. She turned to opium to dull the physical pain and to help her forget that her sister chose a man, the man who had captured Ada and given her over to be tortured, over her. Ada ran away to Spain where her addiction has spiraled out of control and to pay for it she stole scrolls from a noted scholar. Gavriel is haunted by his past when he was a slave to his controlling father who used him as a mindless killing animal in his quests for power. He knows that it is hopeless but he is determined to earn his way into the order. Unfortunately their departure from the auction house lea aves much property damage in their wake and Ada's debts still unpaid and Gavriel and Ada depart on their own into the night.

Together the two of them battle their way to Toledo where Gabriel's Order is headquartered. Gavriel is surprised to find that there is a group of people after them and he suspects his father has finally found him and wants him to finish off the task he had failed: he is supposed to kill King Alfonso. Gavriel spends weeks with Ada helping her through her withdrawal and watching her become a lively, intelligent and incredibly happy person. And Gavriel too begins to change as he begins to believe his life may not be filled with loneliness and regret but he is still convinced the way to salvation is through the Order. This makes is more difficult for him when he is no longer able to fight the attraction he feels for Ada. But treachery lurks in those that they least expect and it seems like the entire world is conspiring against the two lovers. Gavriel cannot bear that he has finally met a woman who can forgive his past sins and love him and he might lose her. Together Gavriel and Ada must fight off their many enemies and prove to each other and to the world that they will do anything to be together.

This book is incredibly character driven and there really is so much information and back ground given on what makes these characters who they are. Ada is brilliantly written as a very flawed, very empathetic, and very likable heroine despite said flaws. I don't like info dumps of previous happenings but I also don't like being confused- I guess I can't have it both ways. Not having known anyone recovering from such severe addiction I cannot testify to the realism of Ada's experience but Lofty does an excellent job showing how, despite her addiction, Ada is a very complex character and more than a match for Gavriel. I liked Gavriel even better because he is so obviously tortured by a nightmarish past and wants so badly to make a better life for himself. Reading about these two working together and really healing each other, making each other feel better and become better people, was just really so amazing. These two fought their attraction for each other but in the end they are explosive together- I only wish they had been so more often.

The relationship between Gavriel and Ada was definitely the main focus of the book and I never found that it was being overpowered. This could easily have been the case as the secondary plot involving Gavriel's father and treachery and King Alfonso really permeates the entire book. It was certainly engrossing and for quite a bit of it I had no idea (in a good way) what was really going on and was quite surprised. Apparently it is fairly historically accurate, with some minor changes, but the Spanish setting and the travelling and the twist and turns really made this book so epic in a sense. I don't really "like" the violence but I did like how, while still being noble and working for the greater good, our protagonists, including Ada (!!!), aren't scared to do what they have to in order to survive. This book is a stand alone but it is quite obvious that it is part of a series of books. At first I was rather confused but eventually I was able to piece together what had happened previously so I could understand what had happened.

Rating: This book was excellent in a different way than most books I rate highly. It was not fun or fast, but it was engrossing and I absolutely loved how well Lofty writes these two characters. LOVED Ada and Gavriel.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Lady's Pleasure

A Lady's Pleasure by Renee Bernard

When Julian Clay, the Earl of Westleigh, calls Merriam Everett a whey-faced widow she decides the best way to get a small measure of revenge is to secretly seduce the man. She enlists the help of a famous Madame, learns many different tricks of seduction, and attends a masquerade ball intent on seduction. She knows that Julian is dressed as Merlin and lures Merlin into a shadowy alcove where the two engage in a very heated tryst that spins Merriam's world on its head. Never with her husband had she even imagined that sex, the world, could be so pleasurable. She has lived her entire life as "Merriam the Mouse" and this one naughty foray is supposed to last her the rest of her life. She is horrified when she discovers that it was not Julian she had seduced, but Drake Sotherton, Duke of Sussex, certainly is not. He can not get his tempting seductress out of his head and goes to great lengths to find out her identity and who she had intended to seduce. Although Julian had once been his best friend, Drake believes that Julian slept with and then killed Drake's wife before Julian turned around and convinced the ton that Drake had done the deed.

Thinking that there is something going on between Merriam and Julian, Drake decides to take care of two things as once: he will take Merriam as his mistress both to slake his lust and to keep Julian's pawn in his sights. Merriam is at first reluctant to give up her respectable life as a widow, but she can not deny the very powerful attraction she feels for Drake so she agrees to his proposal. They agree to spend a "decadent Season" together, going to opera's, buying fancy clothes and jewelry, hosting a ball, and spending a lot of time with their hands all over each other. Merriam regrets that she has not been entirely honest with Drake over her original intentions at the masquerade ball while Drake feels guilty that he has embroiled Merriam in his plans for revenge. The more time they spend together the more they realize that one decadent season might not be enough for either of them, but it gets ardour and harder to reveal the truth. On the night of their ball Merriam plans to to reveal her feelings to Drake and Drake plans to bring his plans to fruition. Both of them will have to come to grips with their pasts, their enemies, and love each other.

I absolutely loved Merriam because she was so well written as a woman torn between her past and being this staid, predictable, and repressed widow and giving in to her desires. She goes through passion, embarrassment, pride, power, anger, and happiness during the book as she takes these immense risks and really becomes such a different person than she had been her entire life. Drake as well underwent some really amazing changes throughout at the book, and it was made even better, because he changed so much because of Merriam. So obviously character development deserves an A+. The romantic development in the story was a little less well developed as, while the two certainly had hot sex going for them, I would have liked more of them getting to know each other outside the bedroom. Reading the parts from their points of view made it obvious that they will both very lovable, but I felt there should have been more about what each of them liked about the other. As usual I would have preferred a bit more of the story told from Drake's point of view, but what was there was certainly very good.

I really enjoyed that the plot with Julian was integrated so well in to the romance and the relationship between Drake and Merriam. I know it took up a lot of room in my synopsis, but it was not at all overwhelming and served as a great plot point for some brooding on Drake's part. I was admittedly expecting more of a blow up at the end, especially when Merriam discovered what Drake had believed her role in the whole thing was. The sex was smoking hot and very inventive, and it was also interesting because it was an integral part of the romantic development and Merriam's amazing transformation. There's sex in a carriage, sex in a shadowy alcove, some mild spanking, self-pleasuring, and a very fun little menage fantasy. My only complaint about the sex would be the frequent use of the word creme to describe Drake's sperm: I don't know what it is but that word just really jolts me and is not at all sexy. An interesting note of this book was that there really was no outright "villain" and nothing was black and white- even those who were "bad" had reasons and were portrayed with a very deft hand.

Rating: I really enjoyed this book, especially Merriam, and it really could have been perfect with more romantic development. I think this book deserves 3 1/2 heart, but I will give it 4 because it really was more than a middling book.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Sinful Surrender

Sinful Surrender by Beverley Kendall

Millicent "Missy" Armstrong has been in love with her brother's best friend, James Rutherford, since she was a young child. Before her first season she officially revealed her feelings for him and in response Rutherford had very little to do with her for the next three years. There paths do begin crossing again and Missy's brother, Thomas, decides that the best way to cure Missy of her infatuation is to show her what a rake and heart breaker James is. The decision certainly makes Missy incredibly jealous and upset with James, but it does not stop her from going weak in the knees every time James is near. James is also very attracted to Missy and has a very difficult time keeping his hands off of her. Despite his claims to want nothing to do with Missy he hates the thought of her marrying someone else or even of another man touching her. He does not succeed very long in not touching Missy and the two are groping each other every chance they get. One night while dreaming of Missy, James is visited by Lady Victoria, who seduces him while he is VERY heavily intoxicated- he has no memory of the event in fact.

Shortly after this event he succumbs to his desires when Missy shows up at his doorstep and it is quite explosive. James is unable with what he has to do as Thomas has made it VERY clear that James is not allowed near Missy, much less allowed to marry her, but James knows that this is what he must do. Unfortunately Lady Victoria reappears claiming to be pregnant with James' child. James is devastated but he knows what he must do. Missy is horrified when she learns that James is getting married and that he is expecting a child with another woman. She vows that she will get over James and move on with her life, but she can not stop herself from wanting him and throwing longing glances at him whenever he is near. Luckily James finds out that Victoria has tricked him and she is carrying another man's child leaving the way for James and Missy. But Missy has, belatedly, developed a (very weak) backbone and refuses to marry for James for anything left than love. James has always believed himself incapable of love because of his parents love, but things are not what they seem and it is up to James to prove to Missy that he has changed and can return her feelings.

Well the whole reason for upset in this book is that James can not under any circumstances marry Missy because Thomas has decreed it so. He believes that James will be a bad husband because he will cheat on Missy and break her heart, however no mention is ever made of the fact that most men in the ton kept mistresses. So it really just seemed ridiculous that Thomas was so vehement that it not be James as he was in line for an Earldom and he was not a fortune hunter. But my biggest complaint is a HUGE one: namely that James is an ass. I cannot think of a better word for him because he proves himself over and over to be an awful person. He is constantly cold around Missy, he claims he only wants her sexually, he engages himself to another woman shortly after ruining her, and Missy never stops and ruminates about the things that made her fall in love with James. I kept waiting and waiting for something to come up, even if it was just a mention of something that had happened in the past, but I waited in vain. A romance novel cannot be very good if I spent it just wanting to slap the heroine and tell her to marry someone else.

I have to admit I am a huge sucker for the brooding and angst that accompanies unrequited love and Kendall writes it beautifully and with quite an emotional punch. But it took up far too much of the book and really got in the way of knowing the characters at all. The only real thing's we learned about Missy was that she loved James and I learned about her family members and that she can't play the piano. I have no idea what she wants out of life, what she likes to do in her spare time, or (as I already stated) why she fell in love with James. There are literally one paragraph that dumps on the reader that James has sympathy with the common working man! That's it! And one paragraph where James reflects on Missy's intelligence and candor, and although we are not really given examples of this, we are supposed to know that that is what attracts him to her. Basically the only thing they had going for them that was in the book was physical attraction and even that did not come to fruition enough to do any sort of damage control for the other areas where the book lacked.

Rating: Really this book deserves one heart because there was so little character existence at all and an equally dismal amount of romantic development. But I am a sucker for brooding and angst. DO NOT read if you are not.