Monday, February 28, 2011

A Most Sinful Proposal

A Most Sinful Proposal by Sara Bennett 226

Marissa Rotherchild is determined to never marry anyone like her parents as she is sick of being second behind their beloved plants. She meets George Kent at a botanical society meeting and they instantly click at being out of place among the many plant obsessed people there. George's brother Valentine is an expert on roses and he, too, has no interest in plants and invites Marissa to his familial estate, Abbey Thorne Manor for a house party. Marissa arrives with her grandmother, Lady Bethany, in tow, only to discover that not only is there no house party, but George is not even in residence. Instead Marissa meets Lord Valentine Kent whom Marissa is immediately attracted to, and while it is certainly reciprocated, Valentine is a plant lover and that is not something Marissa can overlook. He explains to her that he is searching for the Crusader's Rose, a rose that his ancestor brought back from the crusades that was destroyed a generation ago, but is believed to have survived somewhere in England to this day. He has made it his life's mission to find this rose, before anyone else.

Baron Augustus von Hautt is also searching for this rose because of an unknown personal vendetta against Valentine, and he will stop at absolutely nothing to get it. When Valentine gets a new lead, he discovers that the Baron has beaten him there and he is forced to acknowledge that there is a spy in his house feeding information to the Baron. George reappears and Marissa realizes that she could never be happy with a man who never takes responsibility and who had no problem abandoning her to his brother, and that it is really Valentine she is coming to care for. She finds herself completely intrigued and caught up with the search for the Crusaders Rose and it is not long before the Baron has set his sights on her as well. Valentine is furious that anyone would threaten Marissa and all of his possessive and protective instincts come out as he is more determined than ever to find the Baron so that Marissa will always be safe. Valentine knows that Marissa is far more important to him than any rose, but he needs to prove this to her and show her that she, not the rose, makes his life complete.

I will admit that I bought this book for the cover; it is incredibly sexy and I really wanted to read it even though the blurb did serve as a warning that I might not like it. I found Marissa fairly likable as she was adventurous and carefree and her feelings about botanists were very understandable and all of her fears were justified. Valentine was not as likable as I did not at all care about his rose and that seemed to be his biggest concern in life. I did like that throughout the story Marissa became more important to him until the rose was almost out of thought and she was his world, but the rose was always there at the back of his mind. The did work together fairly well as a couple as toward the end she started to care about the rose as well and they spent quite a bit of time together. The sex was fairly tame, with just a couple of very short and mild sex scenes, a lot of innuendo and hints of things to come, and some kisses. It was disappointing to say the least as they were so incredibly attracted to each other and because I do sometimes judge a book by its' cover and was expecting quite a bit more.

Unfortunately the relationship was completely over powered by the search for the rose, by talk about the rose, by speculation about the rose, and by fights over the rose. The book was the rose, the rose, the rose and I just could not bring myself to care about the rose! It's a rose people!!! Just a rose! They tried to make it exciting by having the Baron go crazy and threaten everyone and it worked to some extent. I did want to know what was going on with him and why he was so hateful of the Kent family and that part of the story was quite interesting and more than a little surprising. It did not make me like the rose plot at all and it kind of seemed like the only thing Valentine and Marissa had in common and all their time together was spent in discussions about the rose or her fears that he was too obsessed with the rose. I did like her grandmother Bethany because that is the coolest name ever ;) and because she was so Bohemian and I wanted a grandmother like her. There was a cute little side romance between Bethany and an older gentleman friend of Valentine's, Lord Jasper, which was cute and short.

Rating: I tried to like this book but I really just couldn't. Marissa and Valentine had their moments, but the rose just bored me to tears and couldn't keep me interested.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Notorious Pleasures

Notorious Pleasures by Elizabeth Hoyt 223

Lady Hero Batten Is a very proper young lady who follows the dictates of society, including her engagement to the Marquess of Mandeville, who is equally staid and proper. She is not prepared for meeting Mandeville's brother, Griffin, Lord Reading, who is everything his brother is not and makes Hero feel more alive than she has ever felt before. Their first meeting is inauspicious to say the least as she discovers him engaged with another woman and it is not long before she is informed that he had an affair with Mandeville's first wife. She is working on restoring a home for orphaned children in St. Giles, and when Griffin sees his brother's far too perfect fiance carousing around in the seedy part of town, he appoints himself her protector and accompanies her on her errands. It is not long before he is helping her work through the problems that have arisen on the new building site, and Hero begins to look at Griffin as more than just a degenerate rake. But when she discovers that he is one of the notorious gin distillers of London, who have been blamed for all the ills in the town, everything she had started to feel for him threatens to abandon her.

Griffin knows that Hero is so much more than the perfect lady she presents to the ton, but he cannot give up his gin still as it supports his entire family, even if his lordly brother refuses to acknowledge it. He becomes determined to make Hero lose her facade and he is quite successful as he proves that Hero's attraction for him can make her lose her head. Hero does not know what it is about Griffin that makes her lose control and part of her likes it; being with him makes her feel alive, like nothing she has ever felt before. With Hero's brother threatening to shut down all the gin distilleries in London, and a rival distiller using violence in an attempt to shut Griffin down, and Hero still unsure of how she will choose between him and his brother, Griffin only knows that he needs Hero. But she is not quite as sure as him and worried about what her brother will do and she worries about how her decision will affect her family and that her brother will go after Griffin unless she marries Mandeville. Things all come to a head when Mandeville discovers their relationship and her brother decides it is time to finally put a stop to the distillery. Hero is forced to confront her feelings for Griffin or face the possibility of living her life without him, and that is one thing neither of them could live with.

Elizabeth Hoyt is nearly always perfect in my experience and this book was no exception. She has a way of writing two wonderful characters I fall in love with, and who are perfect as they fall in love with each other. Hero presents herself as perfect and proper to the rest of the world and for the most part she is, except when it comes to Griffin. He gets her to open up, be more herself, take risks, and causes her to rethink what she has always expected out of her life. It is really only with him that she can reinvent herself and not worry that she will be judged or turned away. I love that she was sharp witted and could hold her own in conversations without being mean or overly harsh and judgmental. She had the correct amount of respect for her family and she obviously loved them, but she also went after what she wanted with Griffin- even if she couldn't admit it to herself. Griffin was also great and I really loved the way he blurred the line between being a rake and a romance hero. His introduction was a little icky as I am not a fan of heroes having sex with other women, and the fact that he ran a gin still was not very likable, but his interactions with Hero made all of it worth it. These two were the definition of characters who were good apart, but didn't really shine until they were put together.

Their relationship had it's ups and downs and I loved the angst and turmoil that her engagement to his brother caused as they felt guilty or jealous alternatively. One area they especially shined in was the bedroom and Hoyt completely outdid herself and made these characters light up between the sheets. The sex was HOT and STEAMY, very well written, loving and in character, and spread well throughout the book. There were so many side plots that went really well with the story because they directly involved the characters and didn't overwhelm anything. Especially wonderful were Hero's involvement with her brother and her younger sister who is going blind, and Griffin's relationship with his brother, which is strained and so tragic that I loved it. The gin distillery added an aura of dangerous-ness and blurred the line between right and wrong which I thought was a very brave move by Hoyt as gin really was quite awful in London at the time. And there was a little side romance between Mandeville and a completely inappropriate older woman that I absolutely loved because it made him into a human being and was so out of character for him. The book also set up the next novel in the series very well and it's definitely going to be a doozy and I can't wait to read it.

Rating: An amazing read from Hoyt as usual, but there were parts when I got a little short with Hero and her perfectness. And this book was quite close to perfect.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Scandal of the Year

Scandal of the Year by Laura Lee Guhrke 215

Aidan Carr is the incredibly proper Duke of Tretham, which is why the entire ton is shocked when he is found in the bed of the very married Lady Julia Yardley. Her husband discovers them and demands a divorce and while Julia becomes the scandal of the ton, Aidan is left by yet another fiance. Julia's marriage to Lord Yardley had been horrific and she had tried desperately for years to get him to file for divorce. Seducing Aidan and being discovered by him was her last resort and though she feels bad for fooling him, she would not change a thing. The two had met when they were younger, right before she was supposed to marry Yardley, and throughout the years they have run into each other at various events. After the divorce is finalized they keep their distance, but they have numerous friends in common so complete avoidance is an impossibility. Their reunion leaves both of them frustrated as Aidan knows Julia is completely wrong and far too scandalous and yet he cannot help but want her, while Julia is confused by the desire she is feeling for the first time in years.

Aidan is trying to look for a wife as he has a duty to provide an heir, yet he cannot get images of Julia out of his head. His memories of their afternoon are shady but the small snatches he does remember are enough to make him hot under the collar. Julia has problems of her own as she is massively in debt as her husband cut her off even before their divorce. She takes it upon herself to help Aidan find a wife and Aidan is stunned at how spot on her observations about his personal tastes are. He realizes that he wants none of the women out there as much as he wants her and sets about trying to prove to her that she wants him just as much. Unfortunately he has quite a bit to contend with as she is haunted by her past with her abusive ex-husband and though Aidan does not know the extent of what she endured, he fears it is too much for them to ever overcome. Julia trusts Aidan and he knows that he will never treat her like Yardley, yet she is still fearful and she must look deep inside herself before she is finally able to let go and take a leap with Aidan.

I got a little peek into Aidan and Julia's relationship in Wedding of the Season and I was very intrigued to discover how Guhrke brought these two together when it was so clear they were each determined not to like the other. This book left a significant gap in time as we jump in after Aidan and Julia are discovered by her husband and after the subsequent divorce. At first this disappointed me, but it would not have added anything to the story and so I let it go. I am not a fan of romances where the characters are attracted to each other through barbing each other and inciting heated arguments that lead to banter. This book walked a very fine line between doing that and successfully writing two characters who were just scared of showing how much they liked each other. Julia's divorce played such a large part in shaping who she was and I wish we had learned earlier what exactly had happened to make her the way she was. The best part of her fear was the way that Aidan was so perfectly suited to help her overcome her fear and support her as much as she needed.

I do like the staid and proper gentleman who is taken in by the scandalous woman and Aidan was so wonderfully proper and it was so obvious that he had a bit of deviltry in him. Julia was the perfect woman to bring it out at first, but then I got rather confused as she started backing away and trying to set him up with other women. It seemed like she became a little schizophrenic in this book, but I will admit it fit with her character who tried to put on such a brave face even while being scared inside. The two of them worked well together overall and the focus of the story was definitely on the development of their relationship, which I always appreciate in a romance novel. There was very little sex in the book and it was just a couple of scenes at the very end and was rather plain and boring overall. This is not really unusual for a Guhrke novel so I was not expecting something hot and steamy. There were some references to previous characters, but nothing too major and I was not overwhelmed with them or anything.

Rating: An even showing by Guhrke, but while there was nothing wrong with it, there was also nothing spectacular either- just a satisfying romance novel.

Friday, February 11, 2011

After Dark with a Scoundrel

After Dark with a Scoundrel by Alexandra Hawkins 209

Regan Bishop, sister to the Earl of Chillingsworth, Frost, grew up running around her brother's club and making friends with the other Lord of Vice. Soon Lord Hugh Modare, Dare, realizes that Regan is growing up and after a mishap at the club Frost catches the two of them kissing. Frost knows it is beyond time for Regan to become a proper lady and he sends her to finishing school under the care of a distant cousin. For years he refuses to allow her back to London, but she maneuvers her way back to town and he has no choice but to allow her to stay, but only after making it clear to Dare that she is off limits. Despite the warning Dare has a hard time maintaining his cool with Regan around and flirting with other gentleman. Unfortunately he has family problems of his own as his brother is carousing around town and impregnating women willy nilly. There is also his sister-in-law Allegra, whom Dare had fallen madly in love with as a boy before she betrayed him and left him unable to love again. Despite her marriage, Allegra continues to meddle in Dare's life, taunting and teasing him, even while her inability to produce an heir causes problems in the Modare household.

Spending time with Dare and the other Lords of Vice has made it clear to Regan that she is not cut out to be a typical society miss. She wants to sword fight, she wants adventure, and she especially wants a passionate love affair with Dare. Even though he had recently been looking at another lady of the ton, Regan's appearance captures Dare's complete attention, but he does not want to risk anything that could hurt his friendship with Frost or bring the attention of his sister-in-law. But Dare's good intentions are no match for Regan's innocent seduction and the two succumb to their desires. When Frost finds out Dare is forced to admit he has no intention of marrying Regan and she is crushed, thinking that he is still in love with Allegra. Things get worse when Dare is attacked in the street, the lady he had been after before Regan winds up dead, and Regan is pushed into the street in front of carriage. The events force Dare realizes that all of the problems the two are facing are not worth making Regan unhappy and he proposes. The two marry in a quick and very private ceremony, heedless of how upset Frost will be.

I have found Hawkins other books mildly enjoyable, but nothing special and this one fell into the same category. The writing is oddly emotionless as far as the romance went, with no real discussion whatsoever about either of them being in love and the characters were also lacking in that arena. I could not get a read on either of them or figure out why they loved each other or why I should like them. Regan seems to like being reckless and drawing attention to herself, but she doesn't actually enjoy it; she doesn't get any pleasure from anything she does. She has been in love with Dare for years because he treated her well and taught her how to act like one of the guys, but I could not see why that love continued to burn so hotly years later. They had very little quality time alone together and none of the relationship building time where I like to get a feel for how they are falling in love. Dare was slightly better than Regan because he had the great family history and the anger still burning from his brother marrying the love of his life. But, there were no examples really of how this affected his emotional state, just lots of talk that it did affect him.

There was plenty of sex between Regan and Dare, especially for a book of only 290 pages, and it was pretty hot but nothing spectacular. Perhaps I didn't enjoy it so much because I was hoping to finally get some emotion from these two and I did not. There was a great little mystery about who could possibly want Dare hurt, his almost lover dead, and Regan injured and I was completely left guessing until the end. This plot was well integrated into the story for the most part and it was certainly a welcome addition as the book would have been quite short without it, but it did not at all make up for the lack of romance in the book. I also rather liked reading about Dare's relationships with the various members of his family, but found them a really bad excuse for his refusing to marry Regan when they were first found together. The other Lord of Vice make infrequent appearances in this book, less so than in her previous books, and while I like that their happiness is not shoved in our face, I would have liked more from the unmarried men because I began to have a very hard time telling them apart. Indeed, I am beginning to sense that the Lords of Vice are all going to be remarkably too similar to each other, which rather makes me wonder if I will continue to read them.

Rating: I found the lack of emotions in this book to be an unforgivable fault that just made the book impossible to truly enjoy, even while I could admit that it was mildly entertaining at times.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Countess

The Countess by Lynsay Sands 207

When her father gambled away the family fortune Christiana decided to get married and was fortunate enough to find a handsome and charming man who seemed kind and considerate. After their marriage she discovered that Richard "Dickie," Earl of Fairgrave was cold, abusive, and a horrible husband who belittles her constantly and alienates her from friends and family. Luckily one evening Christiana and her sisters discover that Dickie has dropped dead and since her sisters are making their own come out they don't want a scandal. The sisters decide to put Dickie on ice and attend a ball with their friend Robert Langley and then are quite shocked to discover Dicki alive and well. Richard Fairgrave spent the last year in America where he was taken after the men his twin brother hired, George, hired to kill him traded him as a slave to Indians. George had assumed Richard's identity after a dead lookalike was presumed to be George, and the real George was the one who married Christiana as Richard.

Richard wants to reclaim his identity and take down George, but George's death and the appearance of a wife and her two sisters, complicate matters considerably. Suddenly his plan to reveal the truth is not so appealing as it will lead to scandal that could ruin his wife and her sisters. Christiana's friend Robert has begun to suspect that her husband was not actually Richard and told her to look for a strawberry birthmark on his bottom. After the ball she gets a tad tipsy and in the midst of looking for the strawberry it is not long before an annulment becomes impossible as Richard discovers that George did not fulfill his husbandly duties. Luckily this does not particularly both Richard as Christiana has proved herself to be very likable and they decide to have a quick "vow-renewel" that will have them legally wed and avoid any public scandal. There is still the matter of George's body and the fact that there was someone out there who wanted him dead but the two of them are distracted by each other, especially in the bedroom. But when a blackmail letter arrives threatening to expose the whole sordid story, they must enlist the help of their friends to discover what is up. The two of them must also move forward in their relationship and forge a new life together filled with love.

Sands has been quite a fun author for me to read as her books are humorous, fast to read, and feature characters that are easy to like and that I can't wait to read about in sequels. Christiana was interesting because we were reading about her regaining her self-respect and independence as she recovered from her emotionally abusive relationship with Dickie George. She had to learn how to be true to herself and to trust others despite what she had undergone. This was a difficult thing for an author to accomplish and it was done fairly well, but I was a little surprised by how quick she was to revert to her old ways, even while she was constantly fearful that Richard was going to be upset with her. Overall this element of the story was quite interesting and it really showed to advantage how great Richard was for Christiana because he was so trustworthy and sweet to her. Richard was also a fun character because he was going through so much with the big betrayal by his family, but he was able to look past it and be all noble to save Christiana and her sister's reputations. What made them so great though was that the more wonderful aspects of their character really shown through when it came to their relationship and how they dealt with each other.

No surprise that Christiana was a virgin throughout her marriage, although it was explained that Dickie George may have been incapable, so a little cliche there, but also good as sleeping with twin brothers is a little too icky for a romance novel. There was a lot of sex in the book and it was good, well written, but not what I would call steamy. The circumstances surrounding them were quite difficult and could easily have been really complicated and hard to understand, yet Sands did a wonderful job packing a lot of story in without making it feel over full. It was certainly a new plot as I'd never read about one twin killing off another and taking his place and then the original twin coming and reclaiming his wife after the second twin's death! Sounds crazy and yet it comes across very well in the book and was really quite intriguing and I was really drawn into what was happening. The mysteries over who killed Dickie George and then who was blackmailing them about his death were very well done, were well hidden and a nice little surprise at the end that I didn't really seem coming. There was an almost TSTL moment on Christiana's part that irritated me and made me want to slap her. The book also sets up the next installments in the series featuring Christiana's sisters and I am definitely looking forward to reading them.

Rating: A very fun, fast read with two great characters that worked wonderfully together and some intrigue thrown in, but no wowza factor so it is a very respectable 4.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

How to Woo a Reluctant Lady

How to Woo a Reluctant Lady by Sabrina Jeffries 2211

For years Lady Minerva Sharpe had loved Giles Masters, her brothers friend from afar, but it did not take long for her love to wither after she snuck into a scandalous party and he compared her to a tart and a doxy. He was in the process of stealing some documents from the host of the party and she has no idea that his reaction was fear that she would reveal what he had been up to. Over the years Minerva had written Giles into her very popular pulp fiction novels as the hero/ villain of the story, Lord Rockton, including the thieving incident. Giles had been working for the Crown, trying to find evidence against a swindler and when his handlers see the resemblance between him and Rockton they demand and end to the writings. Mrs. Plumtree has issued the ultimatum to her wayward grandchildren that they must all marry quickly or all of them will forfeit their inheritance. While her two older brothers have already complied, Minerva still hopes that she will be able to find a way of getting her grandmother to rescind the ultimatum.

Giles shows up at Halstead Hall after Minerva has placed an ad in the paper looking for a husband and it does not take him long to realize that he wants to be Minerva's husband. He has been battling his attraction to her for years but his work for the Crown has required him to appear a dissolute gambler. Now he is a respectable barister and can offer Minerva a real life, however she only agrees to it if it's a pretense because she hopes her grandmother will be furious. It is Minerva's brothers who are furious and completely against the match and it is not long before their suspicions are proven correct when Minerva and Giles are caught in a compromising position and forced to marry. While the bedroom aspect of their marriage works smoothly, Minerva is disturbed to discover that Giles is keeping many secrets from her. When Giles receives blackmail threats the secrets become even more harmful to their relationship and both begin to worry that they will never get past this. But when they find a clue into Minerva's parents' deaths they must work to help each other and solve the mystery and find love.

Well this book took me a VERY long time to read and I will admit that part of it was due to the slow nature of the book, the majority of it was because I spent far too much time doing stuff besides reading such as school, shopping, and watching television. I really liked the Sharpe family in Jeffries' previous two books and I think it has something to do with the fact that I like Jeffries' heroes more than I like her heroines and when the heroine is the "main" character it rather drags the book overall. Minerva was interesting because she was a writer, but I felt like there was nothing unique about her as all of her other characteristics could have been shared with every other romance novel heroine. Giles was also a typical hero as he had a past as a ne'er do well and a scandalous past and hidden demons in his closet that were far more bark than actual bike. Even his work for the home office was a little bland and not developed enough for me to understand precisely what he was doing and why it was so important. Neither of them were as well done or interesting as any of the characters in her previous books in the series.

This book continues the minor intrigue into the Sharpe parent's death that was covered up by the grandmother and while presented as an accidental shooting and a suicide, may have been an intentional murder suicide or a double murder. This was definitely a side plot to the story and I rather enjoyed it because it was in the back ground, it served to bring both of them very close together, and I really want to know what happened to their parents! Unfortunately his blackmail scheme played a much larger overall part in the story and was the cause of much dissension and problems between Minerva and Giles and yet I really didn't care about it. It seemed like a big deal was made about something that was not and I got sick of it rather quickly. It did create some very nice angst and tension between them which was nice as it broke up the monotony. There was some pretty hot sex between them, nothing too scorching, but there was quite a bit of it and it was also a nice break from the otherwise rather boring prose. I am hoping that the next additions in the series will be much improved.

Rating: This book had redeeming qualities and while I can see that some people would enjoy it, it was far too slow and predictable for my taste.