Monday, May 30, 2011

An Affair Without End

An Affair Without End by Candace Camp 528

Lady Vivian Carlyle enjoys her life; she is unmarried and while she pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable in an unmarried lady she is invited to all the right parties and everyone wants to socialize with her. She has accepted responsibility for introducing Camellia and Lily Bascombe out into society as a special favor for her friend Oliver, Earl of Stewkesbury. Oliver is proper, staid, and regarded as one of society's most upright citizens and he and Vivian have always rubbed each other the wrong way. While they were nothing more than neighbors they were able to avoid too much contact with each other, but with his cousins requiring more attention from Vivian, the two of them are thrown together quite a bit. When a friend of Vivian's enlists her help in finding a missing brooch, Oliver appoints himself Vivian's protector to ensure that she does not get into too much trouble. At first Vivian regards Oliver's attention as obnoxious, but it is not long before both of them are learning that there is far more to their relationship than they had believed.

The two become more engrossed in the search for the jewels and connect this particular missing jewel to a series of jewel thieves that have been operating in the ton for months. Their search leads them to a country estate where they are stranded for the night and after a few too many drinks Oliver finds himself giving into temptation and into Vivian. He is horrified about what happened because it goes against his code as a gentleman but Vivian has no regrets and boldly suggests that they become lovers for real. While he can't imagine actually marrying Vivian, he also can't imagine spending the rest of his life without her. Vivian realizes that underneath his proper exterior is a man that makes her life special, a man she is quickly coming to love. But the jewel thieves are still out there and are more determined than ever to protect their business, whatever the cost. When they threaten Vivian, Oliver must put aside all of his "gentleman-ly" tactics in order to save the woman he loves, put aside their past differences, and create a happy future for both of them.

An Affair Without End is the conclusion to the Willowmere series which I have enjoyed immensely and both the previous books have been building to the finale featuring Vivian and Oliver. The classic mismatched couple that complements each other perfectly, this book did not break any new ground when it came to heroes and heroines, but Camp is such a skilled author that she does manage to make her book seem new and interesting. I enjoyed Vivian because she was a social butterfly who liked the endless social whirl of the season and doing the social niceties with the ton. A lot of authors, in an attempt to be different make their heroines country mice who prefer horses and small groups, and in doing so those heroines become typical and the social butterflies are more original. So I liked that and the fact that Vivian was an older unmarried lady, 28 is not so old but is practically ancient in romances, and while she enjoyed her unmarried state, there wasn't a huge deal made about it. She was fun and friendly, but I did kind of enjoy when she learned that there was only so much she could push society.

Oliver was also the typical proper hero and I did not find quite as much fun or interesting about him as I did with Vivian, but I guess I'm never going to get tired of reading about these kinds of heroes so I liked him as much as I like most romance novel males. Their relationship went smoothly, if typically, and the sex was enjoyable if not exactly hot or inventive. I enjoyed their interactions together, especially when they were not dealing with the jewel ring. The jewel thief plot line was really intense and took up a lot of room and while it did not overwhelm the story, I did not really enjoy it at all. I was bored and just really wanted it to end, but I did like that I was surprised by what happened by the time it was revealed who the big bad guy was. I really enjoyed the side romance featuring Camellia and Vivian's brother Gregory, because it was sweet and really did feature two original characters and they worked together so incredibly well. There were a few moments in the book that featured female characters doing TSTL things and that irritated me a little.

Rating: A fairly unoriginal, yet well written, romance with two characters who had a really strong relationship, but I was unimpressed with the jewel side plot.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ripe for Pleasure

Ripe for Pleasure by Isobel Carr 523

Viola Whedon is one of the most celebrated courtesan's in London and has a reputation for being very picky with her lovers. Her fame only increased when she writes a tell-all memoir, but when she begins to write a second one, one of the featured men is quite worried that she will tell all about him. Leonidas Vaughn discovered letters written by an ancestor that hinted about a treasure hidden in the home that Viola now occupies. His cousin, Charles MacDonald, is determined to find the money no matter the cost because he has felt like an outsider in the Vaughn family his entire life. Leonidas too, wants the money, because, as a second son, he does not inherit the bulk of his families money and he needs money to keep Dryham, his horse breeding farm, afloat. He is more subtle than his cousin and the night Charles sends people in to Viola's house to ransack it, Leo is there to save her and Viola runs right into his arms. Viola believes it is her disgruntled ex-lover who is stalking her, and she agrees to be his lover in public in order for protection.

He is not her normal protector, and Leo has no intention of being just another man who buys her affection, he is convinced he can give Viola everything her former lovers can't. He claims that he will make her beg before he finally consummates their relationship and while she tries to resist him, it is not long before she does indeed beg. Their relationship is something neither of them expected to experience; they are coming to care for the other even while they do not believe their is any possibility that they can be mistress and protector, or anything more because of their stations in life. The closer they get the more Leo fears telling her why he originally wanted to meet her because he worries it will make her turn against him. But his cousin Charles has other plans and steps in before Viola can give voice to her feeling's for Leo and by then it might be too late for them to salvage what they once had together. His family will have to step up to the plate for both Leo and Viola to realize that it is more than possible that they can have a future together as long as they are willing to risk a scandal for love.

I am always a fan of books that feature a sexually active heroine, especially an unapologetic courtesan because it is such a turn away from the newly awakened virgin or the repentant and guilt ridden woman who was forced into a life of sin. Viola was amazing because she was a great courtesan, she admitted to at times enjoying the life she lead, and yet she wasn't entirely the happy fallen lady because she admits that it was a life she was forced into by circumstance. She is intelligent, she took charge of her own life, she stands up for herself, and she goes after what she wants in a forthright manner, but she is kind and cares for others. Leo is also a great character, if not as well developed as Viola, because he is a family man who looks our for his little sister, and he is willing to admit to and accept his growing feelings for Viola. I really felt like Viola and Leo worked so well together; they spent a lot of time together throughout the book and I liked that they had their arguments and handled them like adults and I liked that they seemed to just be on the same wavelength together.

There was quite a lot of sex in this book, as I expected in a book with this title and in a book about a former courtesan. It was incredibly hot and spread throughout the book and I liked that he was not intimidated or upset about her sexual past and that not a lot was made about his own sexual exploits. The plot involving the money was nicely done, simple and yet historical at the same time, and it remained an important part of the background that was essential, but did not overwhelm. It served as a nice addition to an already strong story involving their relationship. As usual I enjoyed the parts told from the point of view of the villain, Charles and he was quite an intriguing character. I was confused about the big deal made of how Leo was a second son and was a part of the "League of Second Sons." It seems like just an excuse for a new series of books, and while I have no problem with that, it just seemed odd because it was thrown in there every once in a while. I liked the writing style, the book was easy to read and fast, and did not drag on endlessly because it was on the short side- perfect for what it was.

Rating: A very enjoyable book with two great characters who had a well-developed and interesting relationship. I would definitely recommend this sexy book.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Silver Nights

Silver Nights by Jane Feather 511

Count Adam Danievski has been sent by Catherine, Empress of Russia, to fetch Princess Sophia Alexeyevna who the empress plans to wed to a general in the army, General Paul Dmitriev, Sophia has grown up in the wilds of Russia with only her grandfather for company and she has enjoyed her freedom and having her own way often. She is unhappy about her planned marriage, but is eventually talked in to going to St. Petersburg where she will get to meet her husband and have final decision on the marriage. On the way she gets to know her escort very well and can't help but wish that Adam was the one that the Empress had picked out for her husband. Paul had originally planned to marry Sophia's mother and was furious when she had married another man, and he plans to exact his revenge by marrying Sophia. He puts on a happy and congenial face and Sophia decides that marriage to him is something she will just have to endure and hope for the best. Unfortunately once she marries him she is horrified to discover that it was all an act and that he has every intention of bringing Sophia into submission and engages in psychological torture in order to do so.

He begins by getting rid of all of her servants and replacing them with spies and keeping her from going out in public or riding her beloved her horse. Adam finds every opportunity to visit Sophia in her new home and he realizes that something is not right, but there is very little that he can do. The little moments they steal together are the happiest in Sophia's life, but her husband keeps such a tight leash on her that they are difficult to find. When Paul discovers that she has asked her grandfather for help he decides it is once and for all time to rid himself of his horrid wife and sends her on a death march that will allow him to play the mourning husband. Adam finds out in time to rescue her and the two begin a season-long honeymoon at her grandfather's palace and try to forget that out in the real world there is very little hope for their relationship. Reality intrudes in the form of a summons from the empress and Paul is furious to learn that his wife has survived his attempt to get rid of her, even more so when he discovers that she is having an affair. He hunts her down with an army, but Adam is there to protect the family that he wants to build with Sophia, and without Paul in the picture there may be hope that the stars will align for these two lovers to be together.

I do not believe I would have picked this book up if I had realized what it was really about because Russia is not really my place of choice and the topic was very heavy. Some of my favorite books are about women who have affairs, but I don't think they are really my choice du jour in romance novels. I read until the wedding in this one and then put it down for a month because I realized it was going to be fairly depressing for awhile and while I am not against heavy topics in a romance novel, her being married to a man who psychologically tortures her was a little too much for me. When I picked it up again I was basically just determined to get through it as soon as possible, which is what I did, even when it really messed with my head. The major focus of this book for me was her getting out of this marriage and it kind of made the romance and relationship a secondary focus. Every time Adam and Sophia were together, or anytime anything was happening, I was worried about Paul and how she was going to escape him or what would happen. This made it very difficult to enjoy the relationship or for me to really be happy for them and really just took over the book for me, which was something I really didn't like.

Both Sophia and Adam were likable characters, strong-willed and independent, but they recognized that they had to play the game that was set before them. Her ability to keep her spirits despite what Paul was putting her through was admirable, and Adam's ability to keep her from losing herself was a really great addition to the book. I was rather surprised when these two admitted to being in love because they really hadn't spent much time together at that point and I didn't really see any love developing. Eventually they do spend more time together and worked well together though, so it did work out. I found the sex rather bland and while they certainly did it a lot, it was really nothing special and got rather flowery and wordy and I skipped over it. I actually really enjoyed the parts of the book that were told from the point of view of Paul because it is nice to get some insight into the mind of the bad guy, and I liked the empress's POV as well because she came across very realistically. I am not really a fan of Feather's writing style as it is very heavy, very wordy, and often branches off into tangents that are important for the novel, but not necessarily for the romance and I want her to get back "on topic" as it were.

Rating: Different than my usual book and while it was intriguing, I could not get into the heaviness, almost depressing nature, of this book.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Duke's Temptation

A Duke's Temptation by Jillian Hunter 509

Lily Boscastle is in London for the first time and plans to enjoy herself as she is accompanied by her cousin, Chloe, and her fiance, Jonathan Grace. Together they all attend a literary masquerade where Chloe encourages her to be a little dangerous and flirt with the handsome Samuel Charles Aubrey St. Aldwyn, Duke of Gravenhurst. Samuel finds Lily beautiful and enjoys their flirtation in the garden and decides that he would like to see much more of Lily, especially when he discovers she is a huge fan of the Wickbury novels. The Wickbury novels are immensely popular throughout London for their good versus evil and the beautiful heroine at the center of everything, but what no one knows is that Samuel is actually the author. He is upset to discover later that Lily is already engaged and finds that he cannot get her off his mind. Shortly before her wedding Lily accompanies Jonathan to a party and witnesses him shooting a man and while everyone believes she is imaging things, she calls off the wedding and decides to enter service. Samuel has not been able to get Lily out of his mind so he is, of course, the aristocrat who offered her a place to work.

He decides to play the part of one of his characters and "kidnaps" her on a wild carriage ride across the moors, and is genuinely shocked that she does not appreciate his acting out of her favorite novels. Once at his house Lily discovers that Samuel keeps a very odd residence, with a very private East wing that no one is allowed to enter and very friendly servants who have no qualms telling their master what is what. Lily fits right in and the more time they spend together, Samuel reaffirms that Lily is the woman for him and decides that he should let her know his big secret. Once he tells her that he is Lord Anonymous, Lily wonders why it took her so long to figure out and she is more than happy to help him and his servants act out scenes and work through his writer's block. It helps that he finally has her in his bed where he has wanted her since they first met. Things begin to be so clear for both of them until someone involved in the shooting that Lily witnessed, resurfaces and begins making threats. Samuel is terrified that something will happen to Lily and he will do anything to protect her. Their happily ever after will come with a price and though things may never be perfect they will work together to make anything possible.

I know that I said I would never read another Jillian Hunter after the disasters of her last two books, but she is so convenient to buy and I always look at how short her books are and think that I should give it a try since it won't waste too much of my time. I did like Lily at first because she was the naive country relation who was looking for a good time in London and she certainly succeeded in finding it. Over time she began to wear on me because it seemed like she could never decide what she wanted, her mind changed constantly, and she did nothing for me. I could not understand how she was able to be a housekeeper with no training and no experience, even in such an eclectic household. Samuel was another blah, except he was an insane blah because there were times that he did not seem to distinguish himself from one of his characters. It was one thing to act out what he had written, or do a little fantasy role play, but sometimes he really did genuinely believe that he was his characters or he at least got far too into the pretend play. Maybe I am more interested in female writers, but I had no interest whatsoever in his writing and it seemed like his novel played a more important role than their relationship.

Their relationship progressed awkwardly from the party where they met to him almost immediately deciding that she was the one and deciding that hiring her as a housekeeper would be a good idea. They did not really spend much time together, or at least not much time I considered quality time. There was a lot of chatter about nothing important, talking around important issues, and weird "banter" about his books both before and after she knew he was the author. Suddenly he knew he wanted to marry her and she agreed, and while he saw her as the person who would be both his muse and his reality check, I did not really see what she saw in him except for his writing. I also had issues with the fact that she accepted that there would be times when he abandoned her for his writing and indeed, in the brief epilogue, we got a little taste of this. There was plenty of sex between them, but it was not hot at all, and was often filled with play from his stories which I definitely did not like. The bizarre little plot where she witnessed a murder had potential but ended up completely fizzling and being ridiculously easily solved. I was hoping for some jealousy/ angst between Samuel and her former fiance but none was forthcoming.

Rating: Another stinker from Hunter with interesting, if not entirely likable characters, and craziness that I just could not enjoy in the book. At least it was short.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Claimed by the Highlander

Claimed by the Highlander by Julianne MacLean  505

Angus MacDonald is determined to reclaim Kinloch castle after it was stolen from him by the MacEwan's because of his father's support of the Jacobites. He storms the castle and quickly overcomes all resistance, except for the late Lord's daughter, Gwendolyn, who is acting as ruler of the castle until her brother can be located and comes to take over. Seeing that she could pose a problem, Angus wastes no time in declaring that he and Gwen will marry and that their son will one day rule over Kinloch. Gwendolyn is furious and has no intention of marrying Angus, but can only smile and agree with him while secretly hoping that her brother or the English army shows up and throws Angus out. She writes to the English to ask for help and while she waits she strikes up a bargain with Angus; she will marry him and be loyal and dutiful, and in exchange he agrees to put off the consummation until their wedding night. When the English arrive she realizes she has made a dreadful mistake as she has destroyed Angus's trust and earned his anger.

Angus is furious that she has betrayed him, but takes her second vow of loyalty at face value and agrees to continue with his side of the agreement. Both of them are immensely attracted to the other so the wedding can't come soon enough for them to get their hands on the other. Angus had betrayed a friend to English, was thrown out of his father's house, and spent a year living with an oracle. He believes he has no heart so when he starts to feel deeper emotions for Gwen he is scared that he is becoming weak and that he will be dependent on someone else. Gwen is coming to care for her husband because there were so many times when he could have been cruel, but instead has shown himself to be caring and kind. But when his old lover comes back and claims that she had a vision where Gwen betrayed him, Angus can't help but believe that his love has been misplaced. Gwen is horrified that her husband can so easily disregard her word and has no trust for her and it will take a lot of hard work and trust for both of them to admit their love for each other.

Gwen was a feisty heroine who wanted to stand up and fight for her family's keep, which I admired, but what I admired most was her levelheadedness and her ability to recognize when it was better for her to "submit" to her fate and accept what had happened to her. She did what she could to save herself and her family's legacy but when she realized that this would not be possible she made the best of the card's she was dealt and fell in love with them in the end. I liked that when she did fall in love with Angus she fought for him and put herself on the line for him several times. Angus was very hard and slow to warm to everything and I had difficulty seeing why Gwen fell in love with him. At first I was impressed with his ability to forgive her for her initial betrayal and his sympathy towards women when it came to sexual experiences was also interesting. However when his fear that Gwen would betray him took over him I quickly lost patience and was disgusted by some of the things he did to her. He turned what should have been a happy moment between them and made it horrible and I don't see how it was forgivable.

There was a lot of sex in this book and it was quickly apparent that these two found it absolutely impossible to keep their hands off of each other. Despite the vast amounts of sex it was not really exciting or hot; it was quick and almost entirely lacking in emotions really and did nothing for me. This book also fell into a trap that I really can't stand in romances by having real arguments or discussion or problems suddenly end in them having sex. There were several instances where she was upset with him, and had a real genuine reason to want to talk to him and get him to apologize, but instead it ended with him sexing her up and the problem magically went away. Also- I had a problem with him referring to her "pastry" even if it was kind of a joke in the book, and with her saying twice (!!) that there was no need for foreplay because she was so turned on. In the end I don't really see how these two were able to make it work after everything that had happened and all the trusts that were betrayed. I did enjoy the side plots involving the uprisings (multiple!) and her family.

Rating: There was too much between Angus and Gwen that made me unhappy, and while the book was a fast read, I just could not root for Angus even while I loved Gwen for the most part.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Dangerous in Diamonds

Dangerous in Diamonds by Madeline Hunter 503

The Duke of Castleford is notorious for his whoring, his drinking, and his dissolute ways, which is why he is shocked when his pious cousin, the Duke of Becksbridge, leaves him several properties around England to manage. Shocked by this turn of events he decides to take a tour of his latest acquisition, a delightful plot of land the current tenant has named "The Rarest Blooms." Castleford has his own connections to The Rarest Blooms as his closest friends have all married women who spent time there as the place is a haven for women who need to get away from something or someone. He is charmed by the beautiful and proper Daphne Joyes, the widow who runs a flower business on the property and he decides that he will seduce her and enlists the help of his friends in figuring out how to do so. Daphne has enjoyed her life of privacy in the country where no questions are asked and she uses her widowhood as a shield. Castleford represents everything she dislikes; a dissolute rake with no cares except for himself and no sense of responsibility and she is determined that his blatant attempts at seduction will come to naught even while she can't help but admit that he does hold a certain attraction.

He makes it clear that he intends to seduce her and after a few stolen kisses, Daphne must admit that she is finding staying away from the duke very hard. He uses his ownership of the land she uses as an excuse to get her to come to London, where she stays in their mutual friends' house. He sends a team of men onto the land to look into anything that might be of value, such as minerals or gold and word quickly spreads around town that Castleford may be coming into even more money. Daphne is not happy with this turn of events and fears that he will take the land she has lived on for years, but she is surprised to learn that they have a mutual dislike of the Latham, the newly appointed Duke of Becksbridge. Meanwhile there is an uprising going on up North that Latham is involved in and stirring up trouble that could mean many deaths and Daphne and Castleford can work together to try to put a stop to his machinations. There is a lot to sort out from both their pasts, and a lot of fears to overcome, but together they make an excellent pair.

I have really enjoyed Hunter's previous books in the Rarest Blooms series because of the strong characters and well done plots and throughout all of them I have read about the Duke of Castleford and found myself on pins and needles waiting for when he would finally find the woman for him. He has certainly been portrayed as irredeemable and I knew it was going to take a lot of work for him to become a real romance novel hero. His change was slow and happened so slowly that it was rather difficult to see and while I found this to be more realistic I kind of wanted a honest-to-goodness "aha" moment where he realized he needed to change his ways. I did appreciate that he was changing for her in such drastic ways, even if at first it was only to sleep with her and it took awhile for love to enter the picture. He was a good guy in the book and he ended up doing the right, or correct, thing in the end, but I wish he had been more honest with everyone and straightforward. Daphne was a little bland after the badness of Castleford and I wanted her to be equally human and make mistakes and not always be so "perfect."

Their relationship was awkward to me because he just loved to get her ire up and see her color rise- weird to me. I was at least hoping that the sex between them would be good, especially considering Castleford's past, but it was rather lukewarm and there was nowhere near as much as I had been expecting. This book began to drag about halfway through when the focus moved away from him trying to seduce her. That was really held the book together and unfortunately Hunter, had made that the entire book and once it was over, the book really lost my interest for the most part. The plot about the workers in the North also did not hold my interest, which was surprising as I normally like historical tidbits thrown in and I'm almost always up for a little class "warfare." This one really did not do this for me and it slowed down the pace of the book and really lacked any genuine link to the relationship between Castleford and Daphne.

Rating: A book with tremendous potential that did not live up to my expectations regarding the hero and the relationship and dragged by the middle of the book.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My Irresistible Earl

My Irresistible Earl by Gaelen Foley 428

Mara Bryce, the widowed Lady Pierson, has devoted the last years of her life to her toddler son, Thomas. She is not prepared when her childhood sweetheart, Jordan Lennox, the Earl of Falconridge, reappears in her life. Jordan is the only one who knows how horrid life with her family was and yet when he left to serve his country, he did not send her a single letter. Feeling she had no other choice, she married Lord Pierson, only to find out later that he was not the caring man he seemed, and his death was not something she mourned. Jordan is actually a member of the Inferno Club, a secret Order that works for the crown and is devoted to destroying the Promethean Council, a club of evil-doers who want to use black magic to gain control over Europe. He has never forgotten the beautiful young woman he fell in love with and had to abandon because of his duties to his fellow Inferno members, and upon first seeing her again he is determined not to let her back into his life. Mara remembers how it felt when Jordan abandoned her and she believes that he had been merely toying with her when she was younger and thus is equally determined to not let him back into her life.

Things never go precisely as planned and with the rest of the Inferno Club so happily married, Jordan wonders what he missed out on when he gave Mara up all those years ago. Seeing her with her son makes him yearn for what he never had and suddenly he decides that it would be a good idea for Mara to be back in his life, however he knows that he can never tell her about his secret life. Conveniently Mara is close with the Prince Regent, and his work with the Inferno Club, requires that he infiltrate himself with a member of the Regent's inner circle as he is believed to be working for the Prometheans. Like many in London, he worries that Mara 's closeness with the Regent means that she is his mistress, and it brings up all sorts of jealousy in him. Mara finds herself quickly falling back under Jordan's spell, he is courteous and charming and he is so kind to her son, but she feels like there is something he is hiding from her. Even when things begin to look to be going well for them the Prometheans come out in full force, using everything at their disposal to try to found out who the members of the Inferno Club are, and will stop at nothing to get their way. Jordan has to trust Mara with the truth and his heart, and she has to forgive him for the past before they can move on and love each other.

I have enjoyed the Inferno Club series so far because I like Foley's writing style and the way she blends serious intrigue and murder with some really great romance. She once again nails the characters with Jordan and Mara and I will admit I am a sucker for lost love and the angst that it brings. Mara is a passionate woman who cares deeply about her son and I really like the way that Thomas was the center of her life and yet she still came across as a well-rounded character. Jordan was also great as the hero torn between his duty and his love and who has lived his life trying to have no regrets, but is now realizing that he is due for a major change in life. Their relationship in the past was touched on briefly, enough for me to get a feel for how they got on and to recognize that they did have a deep attraction and set the stage for what was to come, but the main focus was on their current relationship and how it progressed. Their relationship felt very natural and they had so many qualities that complimented each other and they had to deal with so many fears that came in between them and deal with their past. The sex between them was pretty hot, but it wasn't as frequent as it could have been.

Former heroes and heroines from Foley's other books make infrequent appearances, but I never felt like their appearances hit me over the head of took over from the main characters, rather they just served as a back drop and were colleagues of Jordan's. The Promethean/ Inferno Club plot has been one of the very few intrigue/ spy/ mystery/ conspiracy plots that I have been able to stand in romances. Most of the time they are either overwhelming or they just seem to be there to fill up space and are boring and not at all important. This plot is an integral part of the plot because it influences their relationship as far as them breaking up to begin with and then him "using" her to get closer to the Prince Regent, and also because his involvement in the Inferno Club really made him the man that he is today. It was also interesting and I love that she tells some of the story from the point of view of the bad guys and the suspense is just right. I also like that the reader is "in the know" about what is going on so we don't feel lost or too on edge, but that there is still a little mystery there about what is going to happen.

Rating: A strong showing by Foley who presents another strong romance with a fun side plot, but I would probably give it only 3 1/2 stars because it dragged at points.