Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A View to Kiss

A View to Kiss by Caroline Linden 622

Mariah is the beautiful and well-loved daughter of the Earl of Dorcester, who has made quite a name for himself in politics. The family has returned from years of travel and Mariah is thrust on the social scene to find a husband, and while her parents will leave the decision to her, Mariah is horrified to find that the men of the ton bore her. Harry Sinclair works for the crown as a spy and his latest job is to keep an eye on three men whom the government believes could be targets of discontents. So Harry dons several disguises while he discreetly follows the Earl of Dorcester around London, including that of Sir Henry Wroth, an elderly gentleman with a hunchback and a naughty sense of humor. At one of her parents balls, Mariah escapes the crows out on the balcony where she runs into a mystery man who tempts her and intrigues her like no man she has met. Harry knows that Mariah is far above him and that he should not be trifling with her, but he cannot stop himself from flirting with the beautiful and intelligent young woman, but he leaves before giving her his name.

More determined than ever to find out who he is, she enlists the help of her cousin and her mother, even while she doesn't reveal the entire story. Harry cannot resist and finds himself sneaking into Mariah's window at midnight to spend time with her and during these interludes he tells her about himself while still maintaining his anonymity. He begins to wonder what is going on with his latest mission because it does not seem like his usual protection business and he is proven right when he confronts his superior to discover that the men he is following, including Mariah's father, are possible traitors to the crown. Mariah realizes that Sir Henry Wroth is her Harry and sets out trying to spend every second possible with him, even while Harry is trying to keep his distance because he feels like he is not worthy of Mariah. But then Harry finds out that the Earl, and possibly Mariah, are in danger from the real traitors and when he intervenes he is thrust into Mariah's sights and she has no intention of ever letting him go; she just needs to convince Harry that they belong together.

This book languished on my bookshelves for awhile because I have not had much luck with Linden's spy novels, even while I have loved her other books. Mariah was rather one-dimensional I felt like and I couldn't really find anything about her that set her apart or made her special and I just felt like I didn't get much of anything from her. She was bored by the men of the ton, but I could not see why they weren't just as bored with her because I certainly was. Harry was a little better because we were given some interesting background about his family, but I feel like an interesting family history isn't really enough to make him interesting. I guess Mariah was drawn to him because he met her on dark terraces and in her bedroom in the dark because I didn't see what else there could have been. The two spent very little time together in the book and that very little time was secretive, furtive, and over incredibly quickly. I don't understand how either of them could feel like they knew the other well enough to fall in love. I really wanted these two to have had more time together- maybe that would have made them more interesting.

The majority of the book was taken up by her trying to find out who Harry was or thinking about how she wished she knew who Harry was and by him doing his spy job and trying to convince himself to stay away from Mariah. Really, that does not make a very interesting book and I will say again that I was so disappointed in the very stingy amount of time these two spent together. There were a few kissing scenes that got a little heated, but the only actual sex came at the very end and by then I was just eager for the book to be over and it was not that hot at all. Both of their families were interesting and I thought that her family was particularly well written because they were traditionalists but still were really just looking out for the best interests of their child. The spy plot was interesting at first, but when the romance completely stagnated I got frustrated that the spy plot was progressing while the relationship wasn't. I was able to guess what was going on before Harry and I just wanted to slap him for not seeing it too, and I wish that it had taken a backseat to more romantic developments.

Ratings: The book had a nice flow and writing style, but there was little romantic development and far too much spying in a book where neither character was able to pull me in.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Falling in Love Again

Falling in Love Again by Cathy Maxwell 619

Mallory Edwards married John Barron, a man she barely knew, in order to remain as mistress of Craig Castle, the estate that she has dedicated her life to but risked losing when her father died and the castle went to John's father. John has known all his life that he is actually a bastard, the product of his mother's affair, and he has worked hard to try to belong, but has never been accepted. The marriage had been forced on him but on their wedding night, when confronted by his very young and very innocent bride whose mother had drugged her to make things easier, he decides to make a life for himself. He spends the next several years in the army becoming a war hero and working his way through all the women on the continent. Back in London Mallory confronts him after debt collectors have taken Craig Castle away to pay off loans he has taken. On this very same night Bow Street comes after John for these unpaid debts and after the initial confusion, he realizes that his uncle, whom he had entrusted with his finances, has stolen from him.

He and Mallory are thrown into this crazy situation together and decide to "hide out" near London and wait for his uncle to reappear so they can confront him and make things better. They pretend to be Mr. and Mrs. Dawson and take a job as steward at one of his friend's estates near London. Mallory wants a divorce so she can marry a man local to Craig Castle, but John has no intention of letting her go now that he knows what he has missed all these years. Meanwhile both of them throw themselves wholeheartedly into their new roles; John meets the local folk and, with Mallory's farming knowledge, begins plans to harvest the field and throw a large harvest home festival for all the tenants. Mallory has trouble connecting with the locals and John helps her overcome her embarrassment and her inability to fit in. But just as John realizes that he is in love with her, she discovers that he has more secrets from her and decides that she can never trust him again. Louis shows up and the chance to fix everything arises and both of them realize that despite their problems they can work together and fall in love.

I was immediately struck by the similarities between this book and The Earl Claims His Wife because it featured a man who left his wife on their wedding night and years later she wants a divorce to marry another, but he decides that now is the time to court his wife and win her love. I have to admit it is not my favorite idea for a plot and I put off reading this because of it: even though Maxwell has done this plot successfully in the past, I was not looking forward to another jerk hero. John wasn't precisely a jerk and his motives for leaving her were reasonable, but the fact that he didn't even talk to her or attempt to communicate with her after he had left and his behavior (lots of mistresses) left me wondering if I could forgive him. I feel like she did do a good job of showing how he changed and came to appreciate his wife and was worthy of her love, but I still couldn't get over his shabby treatment of her. I wanted to like Mallory; she was smart she worked hard and cared so much and I loved her insecurity about other people, but it was her feelings about John that made it difficult to like her.

I hated that she had carried a torch for him all these years and I felt like she succumbed to him far too easily. He was definitely the hero who smiled and made all the bad things disappear and I wanted her to be stronger than that. It was even more frustrating because I thought her reaction to discovering her virginity was completely overdone; she had forgiven him for so much and this seemed like a small thing. I also did not like her ability to completely throw over this other man that he wanted to marry and I was horrified that one of her "excuses" was that he had two sickly sisters and she did not want her children to be sickly and was thankful that John was healthy. Seriously?! There was very little sex, it was not at all hot, and there were a lot of times when it was just alluded to and unfortunately I was okay with that because I really did just want to finish the book. I did enjoy the plot about John losing all of his money and how they were going to get it back, and while it was nice that it wasn't overwhelming I thought it odd that such an important part was dropped for a majority of the book.

Rating: The book was fun at times and certainly fast, but the relationship between John and Mallory left me fairly cold for the most part even while I did want to like Mallory.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cloudy with a Chance of Marriage

Cloudy with a Chance of Marriage by Kieran Kramer 616

Jilly Jones is the proprietess of Hodgepodge, a quaint little bookshop on London's most cursed street, Dreare Street in Mayfair. Her neighbor, Captain Stephen Archer, is home from sailing the high seas and capturing pirates and is making the most of the house on Dreare Street that he inherited. He and his fellow shipmates have been engaged in a raucaus party for the past week and Jilly has finally had enough and decides to confront Stephen. Before she knows it she is joining in the fun and both she and Stephen are thinking that there might be something more between them. But Jilly has a secret; she is a runaway wife from an abusive husband she married in order not to be thrown out on the street. Stephen only knows that he likes making his oh-so-proper neighbor loosen up and plans to dedicate himself to doing so. But then some distant relatives show up to use his new house for the season and to stave off their matchmaking efforts with their daughter he informs them that he and Jilly have an understanding.

Jilly agrees to go along with Stephen's ridiculous idea only if he agrees to help her with her newest idea to help bring cheer to Dreare street and raise funds for everyone to pay off their lease. Pretty soon Jilly and Stephen, and the rest of Dreare Street, is completely caught up in the momentum and determined to make this the best fair ever, including getting the Prince Regent to attend. Throughout it all Stephen and Jilly grow closer, talk about themselves, and while Stephen wonders if Jilly could be someone special and she wishes she could go back and change things. But bringing herself to the attention of the Prince Regent means it is easy for her husband to find her and when he shows up on Dreare Street he throws everything into disarray. Stephen is heartbroken and feels betrayed and the street fair is doomed and Jilly worries that she will have to spend the rest of her life with her abusive husband. But both of them realize that what they have is worth fighting for and together they can save Dreare Street and find a way for the two of them to wind up happily ever after.

Kramer continues with her Impossible Bachelors, this time with Stephen Archer, the ship captain whom I admittedly don't really remember much about from the other books. I was incredibly surprised to find so many negative reviews for this book on amazon and there were a lot of complaints about the writing, the characters, and the romance itself. I found this book to be incredibly light and very fast to read and felt from the reviews that people were expecting quite a lot from this book. I really liked both of the characters and did not mind that they did fall into a couple of romance novel cliches, such as when Jilly insisted she would not succumb to Stephen and yet she did so quickly. Jilly was a little too passionate to seem completely realistic, but I felt like it fit well with a woman who had escaped a bad marriage in order to start a new life. She was full of life, she was smart, and she was dedicated to a cause which she became invested in. Her decision to open up a bookstore on a cursed street was rather unintelligent, but that was my biggest problem with her, really.

Stephen was also interesting enough in his own right, but I felt like he was a little too carefree and I am getting tired of heroes who spend the first half just kind of breezing through everything and not really seeming to care how there actions are be interpreted by the heroine. But by throwing himself in with Jilly to plan the street fair, he proved that he was willing to be something more for the love of a good woman and I liked that about him. Their relationship was well developed and they spent a lot of time together and I really enjoyed reading about them falling in love. There was almost no sex between them, or steamy scenes either, and it was all at the end, but I had been expecting this after her last books. The street fair was rather ridiculous I'll admit, but I felt like it was a fair way to get Stephen and Jilly on the same page and working together so while I didn't really like it, I went along with it. Jilly's marriage was a nice little addition to add some emotional turmoil to the book and it was handled fairly and as realistically as possible.

Rating: A good book with some fun characters, but it really didn't have any spice or anything super exceptional- just a fast read.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart

Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart by Sarah MacLean 611

Juliani Fiori is the half sister of Nicholas St. John and Gabriel, The Marquess of Ralston, and has already caused quite a stir in the ton. Juliana doesn't care what the ton thinks of her and doesn't mind that she is regarded as a scandal, but for a short time she fancied that the Duke of Leighton could see past the scandal. Unfortunately he proved that he earned his nickname as the Duke of Disdain when he throws her over after realizing who she is. Simon Pearson, Duke of Leighton, was raised to respect his standing in society and has always known that his most important duty is to the family name and keeping his family away from scandal. His mother has made it clear that he must marry a respectable girl, and marry soon in order to head off the scandal of his sister's illegitimate pregnancy (which we learned about in the previous book) and Juliana is certainly not that respectable girl. When she hides in his carriage to escape a too eager suitor the sparks fly between them and Juliana becomes determined to prove that Simon is not suited for the passionless life he has laid out for himself.

Racing their horses very early in the morning in a deserted Hyde Park, stealing away from crowded parties for a forbidden kiss, and facing down her brothers bring Leighton and Juliana closer together but he is still convinced that he cannot end up with Juliana. Juliana hates that she is falling for a man who sees her as nothing as a scandal because while she puts on a front, she does want him to think that she is good enough for him. As the discovery of his sister's situation looms closer Simon continues with his plans, proposing to his proper English bride, even while he cannot stop thinking about Juliana and wonders if he really can survive a passionless life without her. Juliana is heartbroken, but when she discovers the reason behind Simon's determination to be proper and staid, she realizes that the two of them never had a chance. She wants Simon to want her because of her flaws and her scandals, and by the time he discovers that Juliana is everything and anything he could ever want, he has prove to her that what they have is worth any scandal.

I immediately fell in love with Juliana and Simon and I love stories that bit an uptight male with the happy, free-spirited female, especially since many books feature the opposite. Simon was an excellent proper lord, he carried it off so well and the backstory of his sister and the appearance of his mother made it clear why he acted the way he did. His behavior was practical, realistic, and done completely in character and it made it so much more interesting and fun when he did loosen up. Juliana was the perfect foil for him because she was prone to causing scandal, but her behavior was also done perfectly. I don't like heroines who do thinks purely to cause a scandal or whose behavior is just too ridiculous to seem true and Juliana definitely doesn't fall into this category. She was fun and free and was torn between wanting to fit in and make her family proud and Simon like her more, but she wasn't willing to give up the things that make her happy. I loved reading about their time together because they were both trying to push each other away and seem like they didn't want each other but they so obviously did.

Their relationship progressed very naturally and I liked that the majority of the book was spent on the two of them and the romance. There were a lot of steamy scenes spread throughout the book, not too many though, and so much sexual tension between them that when they did get together it was almost an explosion. Very hot indeed. I enjoyed the plot involving his sister because it really showed how much he had progressed during the book, mainly because of Juliana's help and I liked the appearance of his other because I like small doses of mean women in my books and because it was some nice backstory to his life. I really liked the appearance of Juliana's mother because she was interesting and it served to really throw Juliana's life into stark relief and highlighted some of the fears about herself that Simon helped her overcome. There were many appearances by characters from previous books but I did not feel like they took over the story or became overly annoying. As usual, I love MacLean's writing style; it's fast and funny, but still gets all the important details done right.

Rating: MacLean writes another wonderful book. Almost nothing I didn't like about this book with two wonderful characters who just worked magic together.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Just Like Heaven

Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn 608

Honoria Smythe-Smith is preparing for her families upcoming annual musicale, an event she knows she should be dreading because she, and her fellow quartet members, possess almost no musical talent. While in Cambridge with her relatives she runs into family friend, Marcus Holroyd, Earl of Chatteris, who had been her brother Daniel's best friend. Daniel had been forced to flee England years before when a duel went awry and his victim's father swore vengeance, but before he left he extracted a promise from Marcus to watch out for Honoria by making sure she didn't marry anyone not suited for her. Marcus kept his promise, subtly chasing away a couple inappropriate suitors, but Honoria didn't really notice as she didn't care for those men anyone. She does notice when her unmarried female relatives want to take advantage of her friendship with an unmarried Earl to try to set themselves up. When a party is proposed to find them all a match, Honoria decides that she does know a young man who would be a good match and hatches a crazy scheme to catch him.

Marcus finds Honoria digging a mole hole so she can pretend a sprained ankle so her proposed beau will take care of her, but instead Marcus is the one who falls into it. Upon her return to London Honoria is informed that Marcus has taken a turn for the worse and she and her mother go straight to his estate to take care of him since Marcus does not have any family and her family has served that role for him in the past. The two of them care for Marcus through a terrible fever that nearly claims his life and in the aftermath he and Honoria share a moment where they both realize that they are in love. Unfortunately she then discovers about his promise to her brother and, believing she is nothing but a burden to Marcus, she abruptly leaves. Marcus, of course, follows her to London, just in time for the Smythe-Smith musicale, which is threatening to fall apart when one member up and leaves. The show must go on and Marcus and Honoria must find a way to get around the past and find away to make the family they both want, together.

I will admit that I bought this book because I had read so many mentions of the Smythe-Smith musicale that the opportunity to get something from their POV was irresistible. I have not had too much luck with Julia Quinn in the past; I find her books to be entertaining, but feel like the focus is on being funny and fast rather than truly having a really good romance between the characters and developing their relationship. I found this book to be true to form as I did find it very funny and I certainly breezed through in only a couple days. However, I obviously wanted more from a romance and pretty much finished it wondering if she had just wanted to write a fun little story and threw a romance between two friends in their just so she could market it. I like romances where the characters are friends beforehand, especially friends through a relative because there's the whole element of not betraying a friend or relative, but I did not like that Honoria and Marcus were only friends for the first 2/3 of the book. That left far too little time for me to feel like they belonged in a relationship or that there was real love between them.

Marcus and Honoria were both fairly interesting, Honoria mainly because she was a member of the dreaded Smythe-Smith clan and Marcus because he had all the issues of the lost boy without a family who was just searching for somewhere where he belonged. The two of them really didn't spend that much time together and I am not a fan of falling in love during an illness or recovery because it just doesn't seem real to me or it just seems too cheesy or easy. The fear and angst surrounding Marcus watching out for her while her brother was away was completely overdone and really just seemed to drag the book on. I did like that once he recognized his feelings for Honoria he went after it and didn't hem and haw like many romance novel heroes. I also admired her handling of her atrocious musical talents and the way she kept her fellow quartet members going. In keeping with the lack of romance and the very slow development of their relationship the sex was barely lukewarm, very brief, and only occurred once at the far end of the book.

Rating: As usual a fun book, but it lacked a romance that I could get behind and that is really what I look for in a romance.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Secret Desires of a Governess

The Secret Desires of a Governess by Tiffany Clare 605

Abigail Hallaway has two sister's who are countesses and a fortune coming in a few years, but she still wants something more from her life. She has no desire to marry and give her life over to a man, so she takes a position as a governess in a far away castle in the North. Elliot Wright, the Earl of Brendall, lives a solitary existence with only his son Jacob, and a handful of wary servants, for company. He and Abigail do not get off on the best start as she is forced to walk in the rain 15 miles when she is forgotten at the train station. That doesn't stop either of them from recognizing that they are immensely attracted to the other; she finds him so different from the fops of the ton with his rugged muscles and she is blonde and small and lively. Abby immediately starts lessons with Jacob and is shocked to learn that the 8 year-old cannot read but devises a method of teaching him his letters and it isn't long before he is making progress that his father finds miraculous. Elliot has secrets and fears of his own; his wife had gone crazy and became convinced people were after her until she died in a fire she started and was buried far away where no one could find her grave.

Abby finds her time with Jacob enjoyable and feels a sense of accomplishment for what she is doing, but her time is made awkward by her immense attraction to the master of the house and the very overt dislike the housekeeper, Martha, shows her. Elliot tries to stay away from Abby because he fears ruining another light-hearted beautiful woman, but he cannot prevent the passionate kisses he and Abby share. Things get serious when someone pushes Abby off a cliff and Elliot wonders if his deceased wife's fears someone was trying to kill her were real. Their kisses turn into more than that and soon Abby and Elliot are sharing a bed and at first she is able to convince herself that she still wants her independence, but she is eventually forced to admit that she wants more from Elliot than he is offering. Another attempt is made on Abby's life and Elliot is more determined than ever to catch the murderer, and starts with those who are closest to him. But even when the mystery is solved Elliot knows that he has nothing to offer Abby and Abby knows that Elliot is being a coward when it comes to love. Elliot will have to learn that love can be scary, but that he doesn't need to offer her more than everything.

Abby really did not click with me for some reason- perhaps I am just a little bored with a heroine who has everything and yet just has a desire for something more. I understand that it would be normal to want something more from your life, but it just seemed too crazy to believe that she would do something like this when she didn't need to. Throughout the book I never really got a feeling for who she was or really what drove her. Elliot was a little more developed, but it was mostly through learning about his history with his wife, his father, and the various members of the community around him. Both of them just felt a little flat and I would have just liked more; more feelings that I could relate to, more back story, more realism, just plain more. I would say that the relationship between them was believable, but the story really began to take on a heavy drag, almost a depression, when thoughts about attempted murder and what happened to his ex-wife began to intrude. I wanted a little more happiness to make their relationship more enjoyable to read about it. The sex was smoking hot, including a mild spanking scent, but had was a tad on the wordy and dragged-on side.

The book's dealing with a learning disability in reading, which I presume is dyslexia from the way it is described, was very interesting. While I have no knowledge of how dyslexia is treated I would be interested to know if the methods she was using were accurate. As a teacher I really dislike it when a book portrays someone with no experience and no knowledge or training comes in and miraculously teaches the unteachable child with kindness and patience. If it were as easy as that I would have become a special education teacher. I really liked that Elliot suffered from this learning disability; so much of what Elliot was thinking and feeling regarding his relationship with Abigail was irritating and completely blown out of proportion but his fears about telling her about this were genuine and really got me on his side for awhile. The murder plot really felt like it dragged for me and I was almost uninterested in how it would turn out. Because the relationship and romance and characters weren't done to my taste I found it hard to really get into any part of the book, including this part. I was also a little disappointed at the simplicity with which this plot turned out.

Rating: An unexceptional book I couldn't decide between 2 and 3 hearts, but decided on a 2 since I had been giving so many 3's and it took me over a week to finish.