Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mistress of Pleasure

Mistress of Pleasure by Delilah Marvelle 421

Maybelle de Maitenon is the granddaughter of a famed courtesan, so she has learned to treasure passion, but scorn love as a sign of weakness. However, she is not completely comfortable with being ruined by association with her grandmother and she is mortified when her grandmother opens The School of Gallantry. The school is supposed to teach a select group of men how to seduce women and Maybelle wants to distance herself as much as possible from the school and move to Egypt to study ancient cultures. She wants to avoid marriage and keep her independence and one way to ensure this is to ruin herself by sleeping with a man and at a ball she finds the perfect man. Edmund Worthington, Duke of Rutherford, has a scandalous past of his own after his father killed himself while in the arms of his mistress, Edmund's fiance. He is drawn to the beautiful young seductress in the garden, but horrified when he discovers that she is actually a virgin and demands to know what she is up to. Maybelle suddenly finds herself caught up in circumstances beyond her control and discovers her actions have consequences she could never have expected.

 Edmund's mother decides that Maybelle is the perfect match for her son and when her grandmother suffers a heart problem, she finds herself in charge of the school. To get closer to Maybelle, Edmund enrolls himself in the school and there are some quite shocking things happening there. He and his fellow students are treated to a spectacular show involving sex toys and courtesans and Edmund is very jealous that other men are even thinking of Maybelle in those terms. He knows that the ton would have a field day with their relationship, but suddenly all he can think about is Mayelle and making her his wife. But she is still convinced that love is an illusion and that a marriage between her and Edmund would result in resentment and being ostracized from the ton. When his repeated attempts to win Maybelle are scorned he decides to take the high road and allow Maybelle to be happy by letting her go. Maybelle needs to think long and hard about what she wants in life in order to make her toughest decision. She has one last chance to win Edmund and finally prove to herself, and to him, that she is ready to take the plunge and live Edmund if he takes a chance on her as well.

I read the School of Gallantry series, which was never completed, in reverse order, and I will start by saying that this first installment is much better than it's follow up and I am glad I took a chance and read it despite the failure of the last Marvelle book I read. While in the last book I never really understood the School of Gallantry, this book provided all the information I needed on it. While I still don't quite understand the necessity of the School because all the members apparently seem quite dark and mysterious and like they would already be good in bed, I found the idea of it quite interesting and I certainly enjoyed reading about the lessons that took place there. I also get the feeling I might have liked her other book in the series if I had read them in order and I do find myself wishing that Marvelle had been able to finish up the series. Maybelle was a confusing jumble and times because she was virginal and yet seemed to know everything about seduction and sex. She wanted independence and saw the only way to gain this through having sex, and yet she worried that her grandmother's school would bring scandal to her family name.

Edmund had the same incompatible set of beliefs; he didn't want to fall in love because of what happened to his father and yet he gave in to his mother so easily when she wanted him to marry Maybelle. Speaking of which, I could not really understand how a matron of the ton who had already survived so much scandal, would ever think it was a good idea for her son to marry the granddaughter of a courtesan. They did work really well together and I enjoyed reading about their relationship. It progressed rather quickly as they had quite the tryst in the very beginning, but I still felt like there was an adequate amount of time for them to get to know each other and they spend enough time together for them to fall in love. The sex between them was certainly HOT, and though the book was really short, I felt like there was plenty of it and that it was spread nicely throughout the book. The issues that were keeping them apart were understandable and I knew where they were both coming from, but I still felt like it went on a little long. I did like the ending because it was nice to see the woman chasing the man in a romance. I enjoyed Marvelle's writing style and the book was a really fast fun read.

Rating: A fun, enjoyable book with two interesting, if confused, characters and plenty of steamy sex, but some issues that weren't resolved quickly enough.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Irish Bride

The Irish Bride by Alexis Harrington 416

When her employer, the horrible Noel Cardwell, harasses her while she is working on his estate Farrell Kirwan flees back to her families nearby village. There she discovered that her brother had been accidentally murdered while he was trying to collect rent money for Lord Cardwell from their family friends, the O'Rourkes. Michael Kirwan had been a kind man, but he let his greed get the best of him and Aidan O'Rourke could no longer tolerate his dealings, but when he pushed him he did not expect Michael to hit his head on a stone and die. Now Farrell is in trouble because she slapped the Lord's son and Aidan because he killed the Lord's agent and their family agrees their is only one solution. Even though Farrell is to marry Liam, the calm and settled brother, she is pushed into marrying Aidan so that the two of them can run away together. Aidan plans to go to America, the land of plenty, and settle in New York or Boston and provide Farrell with a better life- a life she could never have in Ireland. For years Aidan has wanted Farrell; she is the most beautiful girl in the village, but he has maintained his distance because of her relationship with his brother, but now she is all his and he will never let her go.

Farrell is swept up in the events and the two begin their long journey to America, but they are being followed by Noel Cardwell who is determined to get Farrell and punish the man who took her from him.  The journey is arduous and the ship journey is long, but the two do get to know each other and Farrell realizes she may be mistaken in her judgments of Aidan. But once they dock in America their plans change and Aidan decides that they should move out west to Oregon to get their 160 acres of farmland and Farrell worries that he does not listen to her input. Meanwhile Noel has followed them and hired people to track them down as he will stop at nothing to get them and when Aidan discovers this he decides not to worry Farrell with the problems. In Oregon there is another change as Aidan wants to go into business at a saw mill, and Farrell's hopes for a simple farm life are crushed even while she knows Aidan thinks he is doing what is best for her. The two of them have a lot to work through in order for both of them to understand that what is best for them might not be what is expected and to dodge the men who are hunting them, but when they stick together they manage to find their happily ever after.

This is different then most romances novels I read (Regency) but I have really enjoyed the Alexis Harrington novels I have read in the past and this one looked promising. The circumstances that threw Aidan and Farrell together were immediately engrossed and I wanted to read on to discover how they would make their relationship work under such daunting circumstances and how they would survive their long journey and the men hunting them. Farrell was amazing and I admired her for her strength, her intelligence, and her ability to stand up for herself. She was presented with few options and I liked that she did not sputter and get annoying when she was presented with such a difficult choice, but smartly realized there really weren't any other options for her to take. Her determination to marry Liam even while Aidan was really perfect for her was explained well so I did not feel like she was being naive, just letting her past affect her future. She was willing to work hard to accomplish what she wanted and she was willing to stand up to Aidan when needed, but also trust him to make some decisions. There was a lot of conflict, mainly internal, about her leaving Liam and about Aidan sometimes making decisions that weren't in their best interests.

Normally I would get frustrated with Aidan's complete inability to understand what Farrell really wanted from him, but Harrington does a tremendous job here by making it so clear that Aidan really does genuinely think he is doing what is best for Farrell. While I was upset at him at times, I was struck by how much he cared about Farrell throughout the book and it made it all the more sweet when he did decide to listen to her and realized that what she wanted was what would make him happy. Their relationship was the focus of this book and we got to read about how their relationship progressed from one-sided love to mutual respect and appreciation for the other. There was some sex in the book and it was romantic and sweet, but there was not a lot and I would not describe it as hot.  I really enjoyed the side-plot where they were being hunted down by Noel Cardwell because it was well-written, it served as the impetuous to get the story moving, and it served as a constant in the book without being overwhelming or taking over from the romance. There was some historical information about Ireland and the potato famine and immigration to American during the era of the Know-Nothings which I appreciated since it put the book in context.

Rating: I enjoyed this book like all of her books because of the romance and the focus on the relationship and I would recommend it to people who were into more sedate (not boring) romances.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Week of Pleasure

A Week of Pleasure by Christie Kelley 417

Kendra Smythe is in desperate circumstances; her family is going bankrupt and the only hope she has is to locate her fiance, the Earl of Bansfield before it is too late. He is completely MIA so she and her friend Sarah decide that the solution is for her to offer her virginity to Derrick Thorton, a notorious rake in exchange for money. But Derrick is on a mission for the Home Office and his twin brother Devlin is pretending to be him and it is Devlin that Kendra propositions. Devlin accepts, partly because it is what his brother would do and partly because he desperately wants Kendra, but promises not to take her virginity over the week they have alotted for each other. But Kendra wants Devlin badly and she does not want her hated fiance to get her virginity so she seduces him and he is furious. Devlin is convinced he has been betrayed, even more so when he discovers that Kendra is his fiance as he is the Earl of Bansfield. Kendra has fallen in love with Dev, whom she thinks is Derrick, and does not know if she can now marry her lover's brother. As the wedding approaches and the tension mounts, both Kendra and Devlin need to learn to trust in their love for one another and take a chance.

I did not know this was an erotica when I ordered it, so I was somewhat surprised to find that the book was almost entirely sex, and it was quite a short book. Kendra and Devlin were fairly well developed considering the length of the novel and I enjoyed reading about both of them and thought they made a very good couple. I would have liked to have had them spend more time (a lot more time) together outside of bed though to really get a feel for how their relationship worked. The sex was HOT, really hot, quite imaginative and rather beyond its' time what with some very modern language and morals. The virginal heroine is far from innocent as she had attended orgies and talked freely about some very risque things. There were quite a few plot holes that almost did the story in for me though as I could not figure out how she did not know that Derrick Thorton was her fiance's brother! Devlin also had major trust issues with women that were semi-explored, and I thought that the resolution was not really an adequate way of explaining how he got over those trust issues- in fact they probably should have made him less trustworthy.

Rating: This book was good for what it was: hot sex in a short little book with a couple of interesting characters, but I would not expect more than that.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Heir

The Heir by Grace Burrowes 414

Gayle, the Earl of Westhaven, is fed up with his father, the Duke's, meddling in his life and to escape the endless marital machinations, he retreats to his estate just outside London. There he meets his new housekeeper, Mrs. Anna Seaton, who is unlike any housekeeper he has ever had before. She is obviously educated, she risks her position to save a housemaid from when she mistakenly believes he is trying to seduce her, and she is forthright and good company. She has also wrought several changes in his household and made it quite the comfortable place to live and it is not long before she is keeping him company and engaging in lively conversations with him. The more they talk the more he realizes that she is  keeping secrets from him, secrets that he wants to help her work through. Anna is indeed hiding secrets from Westhaven, but she has promised that she would not tell anyone. When Westhaven's brother's come to stay at his estate they quickly discover that their brother's relationship with his housekeeper is not at all what one would expect from a master and servant.

Westhaven wants to save Anna from herself, but she is worried about bringing another person into her confusing and dangerous situation. She believes that she should be capable of taking care of her problems herself and is wary of asking a lord for help for fear he will laugh at her return her to the people she is running from. Westhaven decides to try to get Anna to help him by enlisting her help in furnishing a home he has bought for his sister, and when they get stuck in a rain storm they end up becoming much closer. He does not want to take advantage of her and she is determined to protect her virtue, but neither can truly resist the other and both admit to themselves that their deeper feelings are involved. Now he knows he wants to marry Anna and he can't imagine spending the rest of his life with her, but he bungles his multiple proposals by listing all the rational reasons why they should marry. Anna does love him as well, but she does not want him to feel trapped into marry her and drag him into her very volatile situation. But his need to protect her is stronger than her desire to solve things for herself and his entire family gets involved and makes it clear that they want her to be part of the family. Westhaven and Anna must both overcome extreme amounts of stubbornness before they can end up together.

This book got some very good reviews for being original and different than many of the current romances out there, and I agree that it was different than the most popular romances in that it was rather boring. It was very slow moving, not much really happened, and I realized when writing the review that the majority of the exciting plot was at the very end and I did not want to indulge it much. The relationship between Anna and Westhaven progressed incredibly slowly, and while I didn't particularly like this, I admit that the job still got done. It was made very clear that this two were developing affection for each other in a muted and more tempered way than I am used to reading about. There were no particularly funny moments, no moments where they were having a lot of fun together, just a steady and rather quiet progression as they got to know each other and fell in love. It was not particularly to my taste. Anna was a frustrating character because I wanted to like her for taking her fate in her hands and looking after herself and her sister when times got tough, but there were times when I wanted to slap her. I am not a fan of the heroine who refuses to ask for help because she doesn't want to be weak or be a bother to anyone, and this was half the story.

Her problems also served to make the book longer as she realistically could have told him about what was going on half-way through and Westhaven could easily have taken care of anything. I also don't like books that are needlessly dragged on when there is a problem that could be easily solved. Westhaven suffered from some of the same problems as Anna because he too dragged things out by stepping back and not admitting his feelings to Anna because he wanted her to be free to make her own choices. His fear and dislike of his father made him seem rather immature even if he did have a good reason for it. Fortunately this was a great little side plot and I liked to read about Westhaven and his relationships with the various members of his family. The plot involving Anna running from something was really kept me coming back and it was done incredibly well and not divulged until nearly the end of the book (which is why I didn't divulge it in my review but it definitely was interesting). It had mystery and plots and really showed how dedicated Westhaven was to protecting Anna and keeping her safe, and showed that his family supported him in his decision to make Anna part of the family.

Rating: A really slow, rather plodding romance with a very intriguing little mystery side-plot. It was an original and had it's moments and overall it was enjoyable.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

How to Seduce a Sinner

How to Seduce a Sinner by Adrienne Basso 403

Dorothea Ellingsworth is from a good, if not particularly wealthy or powerful, family and knows that she has one season to make her mark and find herself a husband. Before agreeing to marry a man she must ensure that they are compatible physically and so allows each suitor a kiss. Unfortunately everyone has come up short and left her feeling cold, but her antics do not go entirely unnoticed. Carter Grayson, the Marquess of Atwood, and heir to the Duke of Hansborough, has been told in no uncertain terms that he must marry and marry quickly. He has no intention of giving in to his father's commands and he and his bachelor friends try to devise ways for him to get out of marriage. He makes a new friend in Major Roddington, a man born on the wrong side of the blanket who had proven his worth on the field of battle, and whom we quickly learn has an ulterior motive in befriending Carter. When Carter sees Dorothea kissing a man in the garden, and then later another man, he has to admit to being intrigued with the beautiful young woman. His desire increases when she informs him that she is not looking for love in a marriage, but would like passion, and perhaps friendship.

Carter becomes convinced that Dorothea would make him the perfect wife and quickly asks her to marry him. One kiss convinces Dorothea that the two will have the passionate marriage she had hoped for, but she still finds herself swept along a little blindly into the marriage. Their wedding night serves as a major disappointment to Dorothea and Carter does not know precisely how to fix the situation. He wants Dorothea in his bed, but does wants her to come willingly of her own accord so he commences a two week campaign to win her over with subtle touch until desire drives her to him. During this two weeks they go on picnics, go calling in the village, joke over the atrocious hats at the local millinery shop, and she does indeed fall into bed with him and realizes she is in love with him. She wants so much more from him than the loveless marriage she agreed to, but they are soon back in London where he is doing his best to place distance between them. Carter never expected to need Dorothea, to want her in his life, but that is indeed what happened, but just when it looks like their happiness is assured, Roddington reappears with a secret that could threaten everything Carter holds dear. Together Carter and Dorothea work their way to the truth and discover that they are better together than apart.

Dorothea's desire for passion, and her ability to be unashamedly sexual seems to be a trend for romance novel heroines as I've read so many books recently that feature virgins that don't shy away from kissing and even a little more. Her insistence that she doesn't want love is also common, but I feel like it rings more true here than in other books, because she recognizes the necessity of marriage so she can avoid being a burden on her family. The follow through is not very well done as on her first night of true ecstasy she realizes she is in love with him, which rather annoyed me. I did enjoy the time after she discovered she was in love with him while he was pulling away, because I was secure in the knowledge that he would eventually realize he was in love with her, but it also provided some nice angsty emotions on both their parts. However, I did not enjoy the time after their failed sexual encounter and her falling in love as it was a little too overdrawn for my taste. Carter was not as likable as Dorothea as 30 year-old men who plan all their actions purely to spite their father come across as rather juvenile. His inability to recognize his changing emotions, and his pitiful attempts to avoid them by going to bars with friends, just made him seem even more immature.

I felt like too much of this book was spent with the characters on opposite ends of everything- there was almost no interaction between them for the first third of it, but the book did get better when they got together. There was plenty of steam in the book and the sex between them was written and fairly hot, but nothing too terribly exciting. I enjoyed reading about Carter's relationship with his father because I feel like those types of things make a book special and set it apart and shows depth in the character. There were a lot of characters in this book in general and I couldn't really keep everyone apart from his friends, to her male friends and relatives and I got the feeling I was reading about characters from her previous books and from her future books and I don't really like that. I liked being kept in the dark about precisely what Roddington's secret until the very end and because of his actions I was surprised when it was revealed, but then realized I probably should have guessed what the truth was. Unfortunately I felt that some of his actions were close to inexcusable, so I was surprised when they were never brought up again after everything had been settled.

Rating: A bood book that I enjoyed reading, but the more time that goes by since I read it, the less I feel like it was anything special. Very readable and a good writing style, but predictable and boring at times.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right

Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right by Kieran Kramer 327

Lady Poppy Smith- Barnes has been deflected suitors for years by claiming to be in love with the Duke of Drummond, a character made up by her chef. She is a member of the Spinsters Club and all the members have taken an oath only to marry for love and Poppy is in love with Sergei, a Russian Prince, and she has been using Drummond as an excuse. Nicholas Staunton is the newly appointed Duke of Drummond since his uncle disappeared years ago and left him the title no one has heard of. He is also a member of The Service, a government organization dedicated to seeking out spies and protecting classified information. His commanding officer, Group, has deemed that it is time for Nicholas to give up his debauched ways and succumb to his Inevitable Fate by marrying and no one is more perfect than Poppy- the woman who everyone already believes is in love with him. When Sergei and his twin sister, Natasha, comes to town, Poppy sees it as the perfect opportunity to rekindle their romance and she is horrified when Drummond appears at a party.

Nicholas is very pleased to find that his future wife-to-be is so pretty, spirited, and intelligent, and believes they will suit very well if he can make Poppy agree to the match. The two are just pretending to be in love, but she does intend to call it off even while he has no plans to agree to this arrangement. The more time Poppy spends with Sergei, the more she is beginning to realize that he is spoiled, selfish, and completely inappropriate. Surprisingly it is Nicholas she is intrigued by; she wants to spend more time with him, wants to find out what he is so secretive about, and she definitely wants more of his kisses. Meanwhile Nicholas and Poppy join forces to try to steal back the "Pink Lady" painting, which is in Sergei's possession, because it is supposed to reveal the identity of a British spy. But unfortunately Sergei's twin sister wants Nicholas, and the painting for herself, and she has trick or two up her sleeve. Poppy and Nicholas' happy ending is not a sure thing and will take a lot of trust, a lot of love, and a lot of intrigue before the two of them get their happily ever after.

Every book that features a heroine who is originally in love with another man has to carefully work around a big issue: the heroine is in love with someone, but we need her to fall out of love with him for some reason, without making her look like an idiot for falling in love with him in the first place. This book skirts that issue almost cleanly by making her very young when she fell in love, but then I found her ridiculous for falling in love so young and nurturing her love for so long even with no encouragement from him. But Poppy was still likable, especially in how eager to jump into the midst of anything without coming across as overeager or risking her life to no purpose. Nicholas was enjoyable in the way every romance novel hero is; he's strong, protective, intelligent, rich, and a member of a secret organization. Poppy and Nicholas worked well together, as evidenced by their partnership in getting back the painting, and I can see them having a happy marriage. Despite the large amounts of steam prevalent throughout the book the eventual sex scene was lackluster and faaaarrrr too late in the book.

I will admit that basically every non-romance aspect of this book was completely ridiculous and so far-fetched that the book was almost camp. The Service was confusing in that I couldn't figure out what it's mission was or why it was founded or how they had gotten all these high ranking Lords involved in it. The painting was also comical because I cannot imagine why a painter would have painted a spy's identity into a painting instead of just sending it in a note. At least in a note one could use code, instead of having an actual person painted in there. I did like that the painting turned out to be a memory of Poppy's mother and that it lead to a really great scene between Poppy and her father. Poppy and her father's relationship in general was a high point in this book because she was like a little girl desperately seeking her father's love and approval, and while he did love her he just didn't know how to show it. The Russian twins were hilarious in a very ha-ha way and nearly every scene where they were featured made me laugh as they were just so over the top.

Rating: Better than her previous effort in my opinion, with some enjoyable elements, but the book has to be read with a sense of humor. Between 3 and 4 hearts.