Friday, July 29, 2011

How to Seduce a Scoundrel

How to Seduce a Scoundrel by Vicky Dreiling 720

Julianne Gatewick has been in love with her brother's best friend, Marc Dawcett, Earl of Hawkfield, for years and after several season's with no luck she is determined that this will be the season he finally takes notice of her. With her sister-in-law being in confinement her brother places Hawk's mother as her guardian and a family emergency forces his mother and sisters to go to Bath leaving only Hawk to act as her guardian, with some help from his loud and very opinionated Aunt Hester. Hawk is none to pleased at his newfound responsibilities, even less so because he promises his best friend, Tristan, that he will temporarily give up his rakish ways in order to smoothly escort Julianne around the ton. Things do not get off to the best start between Julianne and Hawk as he begins by laying down the law, or several laws, including some things that Julianne and Aunt Hester regard as completely ridiculous. Hawk is very protective of Julianne because she is his best friends' sister, even if he has recently noticed that she is so much more than just the pesky little girl she used to be.

Julianne is fed up with Hawk's controlling ways, especially since he is renowned as one of the foremost rakes in society so she and her two closest friends, along with Aunt Hester of course, decide to publish a guide for ladies on how to attract a husband. The pamphlet is a roaring success even while mamas and rakes all over the ton deride it as ridiculous and Julianne is crushed when Hawk claims that it is useless trash. His guardianship forces Hawk and Julianne together quite a lot, at the opera, at balls, and it doesn't escape anyone's notice that Hawk is extremely jealous when anyone shows the slightest interest in Julianne; he doesn't think anyone is good enough for her. For over a decade he has been harboring a very dark secret and a fight with his father left feeling unworthy of love or redemption. Julianne senses that he is hiding something and wants to help him get past his relationship with his family and be comfortable accepting and receiving love. Julianne and Hawk must work together to move beyond their secrets and their pasts to fall in love with each other.

I really enjoyed How to Marry the Duke, Tristan and Tessa's story, because it was lively and fun and featured two characters it was impossible not to fall in love with. This story was also lively and fun and had two really lovable characters, but there was something off about this book that I really could not get around. I am always a sucker for characters who have been in love with the other character for years from afar, but while Julianne had apparently loved Hawk, and it was certainly talked about throughout the book, I felt like it was just a side note that the author threw in every once in awhile, without it really being an important aspect of their relationship. Julianne came across as very naive, but nonetheless very friendly and intelligent, but I felt like I didn't get to learn enough about her. Hawk was more well developed as the rake with a terrible secret in his past that had caused a huge rift between him and his family that caused him to act in irresponsible pleasure seeking ways. Their romantic relationship was a little odd because of the nature of their guardian- friend's sister- brother's BFF relationship.

They spent quite a bit of time together which is always incredibly important to me, but much of it was spent with them arguing because he was placing restrictions on her. I believe we were supposed to think of her as a flirt but I really did not see it and it just came across as a way to make Hawk not seem like such a douche. The sex between them was mild and only came at the very end, not to mention that the location it occurred in really made me uncomfortable and I felt it was inappropriate (and it takes a lot for me to say that). However, I did find that his dark secret was actually worthy of Hawk's long reaction to it, unlike many such secrets and I felt like it was really well integrated into the story and I almost wish we had had more about the resolution of it. The part of the book that really lost me was the pamphlet because it just seemed completely ridiculous and unnecessary as far as progressing the relationship or letting me know anything about the characters except to give Julianne something to do. I wish she had something of her own that wasn't just an excuse.

Rating: A fun book with two enjoyable characters that really did not have as much romance as I would have liked and had a few flaws.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Bargain

The Bargain by Mary Jo Putney 716

Lady Jocelyn Kendal is furious when she discovers that her father's will included an addendum that left her a massive inheritance only if she married before her 25th birthday. If she does not her uncle and his social climbing wife, Elvira, will inherit and that is something Jocelyn will not stand for. Unfortunately as her birthday approaches the man she has set her sights on, the Duke of Candover, shows no inclination of coming up to snuff. Her aunt Laura is a military wife and Jocelyn makes an excursion to St. Bartholomew's Military Hospital to visit their friend Richard Dalton. When she explains her situation he tells her that his friend, Major David Lancaster, is on death's door, paralyzed from the waist down, living on opium, and abandoned by the doctor's. David agrees to the morose bargain if Jocelyn will settle a monthly jointure on his sister, Sally, and the bargain is sealed. Sally is furious when she learns of what occurred, certain that Jocelyn is a spoiled society miss and decides to make Jocelyn's life "miserable and goes in search of Dr. Ian Kincade, a mad Scottish doctor with a risky idea that could save David's life.

To everyone's survive the Dr. is successful and David is quickly on his way to making a full recovery and one of the first things he recognizes is that he is not interested in ending the marriage. To make Jocelyn happy he puts forth the idea of an annulment and she agrees, but it will take time; time that David plans to use to convince Jocelyn that their marriage can be a success. Jocelyn's generosity of spirit and kindness to other's even wins over Sally and it is Jocelyn who helps Sally successful win over Dr. Kincade's heart. Things get more complicated when David unexpectedly inherits a Barony after his three older half-brothers die. Jocelyn accompanies him up there and the two spend their time outdoors, getting to know each other and the land. Even with the annulment on the line Jocelyn cannot resist David, but she does not know how to move her own fears of inadequacy and of people she loves leaving her. With David's help Jocelyn needs to take a leap of faith and take a chance on something real, something that will leave her happy and completely in love.

I was really impressed by the way Putney wrote Jocelyn because she was a really complex blend of spoiled lady, generous friend and employer, and scared and lost little girl. She certainly had her moments where she lost her temper and said things she didn't say, where she really came across as unlikable, but for the most part it was clear that she was caring and a good person. Her acts of kindness were genuine and it was easy to see why David fell in love with her even if it did happen really quickly. David was also great as the returning wounded war hero who was looking after his sister and even though it was certainly awkward that he agreed to a deathbed marriage, it made sense and I didn't think him mercenary in the least. His relationship with Jocelyn progressed really nicely throughout the book, very smoothly and in a time-realistic manner. He did realize his feelings for her a little early, but I liked that he took it "slow" for her sake and worked to win her over. They spent a lot of time together and really got to know each other during the course of the book so I really felt like I they were falling in love.

Because of the annulment hanging over their head, there was understandably very little sex, but it was relatively hot and there were some nice steamy scenes leading up to it were spicy. Jocelyn's determination to hold onto her hope of Candover got a little tiring, but was not overdone and just went to prove how great David was for not putting excessive pressure on her. Her childhood nightmare was not revealed until the end and while I could understand that it was traumatizing I thought that exploding it on me at the very end made it too much of an author's way of creating some conflict between them. I really really enjoyed reading about David's sister Sally because she was more like the "normal" girl who was looking out for her brother and was rude, but I could understand where she was coming from. Her romance with the Dr. was super sweet and I looked forward to those scenes between them immensely. The book was told through many different points of view and Putney did well writing all of them, but it did sometimes seem like a setup for her previous books or the forthcoming books.

Rating: A really great book with two well written characters who had an emotional relationship together, but the childhood nightmare was a little overdone for my taste.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Waking up with the Duke

Waking up with the Duke by Lorraine Heath 715

Lady Jayne Seymour, Marchioness of Walfort, has resigned herself to her life; passionless and without children. Her husband, the Marquess of Walfort, was paralized in a riding accident while out carousing with his best friend Ransom Seymour, the Duke of Ainsley, and Jayne has held Ainsley responsible ever since. But three years after the accident Walfort decided that his wife deserved children and his plan is for Ainsley to get Jayne pregnant. He knows that Jayne does not like Ainsley so he is not worried about feelings developing and he trusts both of them implicitly. Jayne finds the idea ridiculous and is hurt that Walfort would suggest it, while Ainsley is intrigued by the idea because he has always admired Jayne, but knows that Jayne would never agree. With Walfort's encouragement Ainsley sets out to charm Jayne and while she knows she is being charmed, after a kiss that awakens all the passion she had sought to repress, she agrees to the arrangement with some rules of her own. But it quickly becomes apparent that rules have no place during their month long sojourn at Ainsley's country cottage.

Jayne finds that there is so much more to Ainsley than she had previously thought- he proves that he cares about her feelings and he is understanding about the difficult situation she finds herself in. He reintroduces her to the joys of life; looking at stars, climbing trees, going for long walks, and introduces her to sensual delights she never dreamed possible; sex in daylight, spending the day in bed, and love making beyond her wildest dreams. And the feelings Ainsley had for Jayne before their month together grow in proportion to how much he comes to know her and how loyal, caring, and beautiful she is. Neither wants to admit how much the month has meant to them and they both know that their eventual parting will be much more difficult than they imagined. But they must indeed part and go back to their lives, even if they will never be the same again. Both go on with their lives, but they cannot forget what happened there and even their family members recognize that something has changed. There is a lot that stands between them and happiness; lies, loyalty, friendship and husbands but happily ever after is possible.

Jayne was a perfectly well developed character with real faults and real emotions and I just could not believe how much I fell in love with her. Ainsley had his problems as well that created real emotional turmoil within him and, and his treatment of Jayne and Walfort made it hard not to fall in love with him myself. Jayne was so great as the dedicated wife who was not being satisfied because she was so obviously trying her hardest, and succeeding, but she so needed to find someone like Ainsley. And Ainsley really was as perfect as I stated above because he treated Jayne like a princess and was so amazingly conscious of what she was going through and did so much to put her at ease and make sure she had a great time, both sexually and emotionally. Ainsley had apparently been in love with Jayne to some extent before the story began, but it was still so clear why these two fell in love and why they were so perfect together. There was plenty of sex between them and while it was not hot, I truly felt like it was incredibly emotional and really aided in the development in their relationship.

I was skeptical when I first heard about the impetuous for getting Jayne and Ainsley together, but I was quickly won over because it was not done in a sordid or voyeuristic manner. The reasons were explained very well, and I appreciated getting the point of view from all of the characters who were involved in this decision. No one entered this situation lightly and I admired that they all recognized that there were bound to be consequences that they hadn't expected and tried to live with them when everything had ended. Perhaps the only thread in this tapestry that was left untied was Walfort's actions on the night when his accident occurred and the secrets he has been keeping since. Jayne's quickness to forgive and her actions after the truth is revealed made her a little to saintlike for me and while it was supposed to make her seem noble, I was frustrated because I wanted her to yell and get angry like I was. I also felt like it was an attempt to justify Jayne's actions, thereby implying that they might have been wrong. I also really liked the side romance between Ainsley's mother and her long-time young lover- so fun!

Rating: This book really almost struck me as perfect, but the truth about Walfort did make me angry. Overall this book had amazing characters and plot and was just beautiful really.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Midnight's Wild Passion

Midnight's Wild Passion by Anna Campbell 713

Antonia Hilliard let passion rule her life once and the consequences of her actions resonate for the rest of the life. She loses her position in society and finds herself the companion of her distant cousin's very young and beautiful daughter, Cassandra Demarest. Nicholas Challoner, the Marquess of Ranelaw, is society's most notorious rake and he has one purpose; to avenge his own sister's ruin by ruining the daughter of the man who ruined her- the lady that Antonia is determined to protect. Nicholas at first sees Antonia as a challenge to get around, but as he realizes that her dowdy clothes and spectacles are merely covering a lush and beautiful young body, he sees her as a delightful side dish to the main course of Cassie. Knowing the consequences of giving in to passion Antonia knows she must never give in to Rainlaw, but the more she gets to know him the more difficult it becomes to ignore him. Nicholas is always charming and seductive with the women he intends to seduce, but things are completely different with Antonia.

He wants to discover all the secrets he knows Antonia is hiding from him, he wants to punish the people who have put her in this situation, and he finds that more and more he is forgetting that Cassie is supposed to be his main target. She wants to resist him but his seductive powers are too much and deep down she acknowledges that she wants to be seduced; she wants one more night of passion and Rainlaw puts to shame all the other men in the ton. Rainlaw is shocked that the proper chaperone wasn't a virgin and even more shocked when he runs into her previous lover at an inn. Antonia had hoped never to come face to face with her ex-lover again and he threatens to ruin the new life that she has made for herself. She has learned to hold her own since she was a teenager and doesn't want to be dependent on any man and doesn't want to be anyone's burden. Rainlaw knows that his life will never be the same, but doesn't know how to give up his quest for vengeance. Both Rainlaw and Antonia will need to forgive and make allowances for a completely new way of life in order to find their happily ever after.

Antonia was a great character because she was intelligent and took care of herself even while recognizing that she had many benefits that others did not have. She did take a little too much responsibility for her actions and tortured herself over an understandable lapse in judgment for far too long. I really wanted her to come to grips with what had happened and forgive herself but she never really did. This kind of dragged down the book and lead to too much angst over what would happen if she let Nicholas seduce her. Nicholas was apparently a heartless rake but we really weren't given much to go by as he pretty much started making changes in his behavior as soon as book began. It became clear very early on that he was not going to seduce Cassie and even when he did display rak-ish behavior, it was more desperate than anything. This made it hard to get a clear grasp on his character. He certainly did change for Antonia and became a man that was worthy of her because he was sympathetic and caring and proved himself willing to do whatever he could to make her happy.

A lot of books talk about the hero seducing the heroine, but here it was really true because throughout the scenes it feels like Antonia doesn't really want to do it but it is just her sexual needs that compell her to it which I didn't really like. It was hot enough, but a little too wordy for my taste. It took me three pages to remember how wordy Anna Campbell is and indeed conversations and scenes ended up taking about twice as long as they probably needed to. There was a lot of internal musings and lots of descriptions to an extent where they were almost unnecessary and superfluous. I am a fan of knowing what is happening in people's minds, but there is really a limit and Campbell pushes and exceeds that limit for me. The relationship between Antonia and Nicholas is definitely the main focus of the book and they have a lot of alone time and it is clear why they were falling in love. I really enjoyed a lot of the back story involving the seduction of Nicholas' sister and Antonia's relationship with her family. Perhaps because it was the most fast paced stuff in the novel.

Rating: I liked the romance and the characters but if I had been the editor I would have slashed quite a bit of the book to make it a little faster- it was just not my taste really.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Wedding Wager

A Wedding Wager by Jane Feather 710

The Honorable Sebastian Sullivan falls in love with Lady Serena Grantley, but because of her dependence on her step-father she is forced to break his heart so that she and her step-father can run away to Brussels. General Hayword, her step-father, has always stayed one step ahead of the law, opening up gambling houses, and Serena knows to do what he tells her. Three years later they are back in London and though she hopes to avoid Sebastian, London is not that big of a town. Sebastian needs to marry a woman of questionable morals in order to fulfill the terms of his uncle's will so that he and his brother's can inherit quite a large amount of money. He wants to forget about Serena, and has been semi successful over the last 3 years, but he cannot keep his mind off of her. Serena knows that Hayword intends to marry the young Abigail Sutton, an heiress from a trade family whose mother wants her to marry well, and Serena is determined to thwart his plans.

A trick of fate throws Sebastian into the Sutton's orbit as well so it becomes even more difficult for the two of them to avoid each other. The passion they had felt for each other years ago is far from gone and even though the two of them both feel like there can be no future they arrange to sneak off together and indulge themselves. However, Sebastian quickly comes to the realization that he wants, he needs, Serena in his life and it is only a bonus that his uncle regards Serena as a fallen lady so she would fulfill the terms of the will. But Serena has lived all of her adult life under the thumb of a domineering man and is wary of placing herself under Sebastian's power and she refuses to let go of her plan to keep her step-father away from young Abigail. So Sebastian agrees to help her in this endeavor so he can get her to marry him and they find help in Abigail's true love and set out to win over the Mrs. Sutton. But the General has one more trick up his sleeve that threatens Sebastian and Serena's relationship forever, and they must make one final go so that they can have their happily ever after.

The biggest hole in the book permeated everything from the very beginning so I need to address it at the beginning of the review. Serena's refusal to leave her step-father just seems absolutely ridiculous weather at the beginning, when she first falls in love, and then later when she and Sebastian are reunited. During their first fall in love I couldn't figure out what hold her step-father had on her except for money and Sebastian wasn't that broke and they would not have starved so why didn't she just leave him? Then later her excuse that she wanted to save Abigail just came across as ridiculous and caused her so much grief. She didn't want to tell anyone the truth about her evil step-father because they would take Abigail away from London and deprive her of a season but that seemed a small price to pay. Instead she stayed with a man who abused her and really killed her mother even though she should have just left him in the beginning. This was a really big hurdle to get over and even while I liked the rest of the book this really provided a ridiculous background for the rest of the book so I couldn't forget it.

Sebastian and Serena were both typical romance novel characters; he was strong and broody and she was beautiful and able to take care of herself (although we know she would do better with a man cause she made some bad decisions). The only thing that was surprising about him was that he wasn't rolling in the dough and possess great financial acumen. Their relationship was quick to develop because they had already done the whole meet and fall in love thing and I wish I had gotten more of a look into what drew these two together. They both forgave each other very quickly over what happened which surprised me, but there was still a really large amount of angst on both their parts. The sex was more frequent than I was expecting and spread throughout a lot of the book but it was not really that steamy or hot; really kind of bland. My favorite part really was the romance between Abigail and her beau and the relationship between Abigail's parents. I liked getting to read from the POV of many different characters and Feather certainly developed all of them very well. The book was just a little too long though- 450 pages.

Review: I did enjoy this book although I wish it had been shorter and it easily could have been if there hadn't been quite so much of Serena's reluctance to leave her step-father.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Seduced by Destiny

Seduced by Destiny by Kira Morgan 707

Josselin Ancrum was orphaned at a young age when her mother was killed while fighting for the Scots and trying to avenge her own husbands death. The man who killed her was an English soldier who only did so because she on the brink of death and was in much pain. Nevertheless he felt so guilty that he commits suicide after confessing his sins to his brothers and asking them to take in his young son, Andrew MacAdam, and raise him. Years later Adam is back in Scotland, pretending to be a Highlander, and "fighting" the enemy Scots by winning their purses when he beats them at golf, even if his uncles think that he's on the fighting circuit besting the Scots on a completely different field. Josie had been taken in by 3 men, her "da's," who teach her to fight and to want revenge for what happened to her mother. Years later she gains permission to go to Edinburgh to watch the arrival of Queen Mary, and as a loyal Scott she cannot sit idly by while other bystanders insult the Queen. When she defends the Queen she garners the Queen's attention and that of the golfer, Drew MacAdam.

Drew cannot get the beautiful and fiery lass out of his head, but he worries for her safety after having drawn the attention of the Queen and her secretary. He decides to keep an eye on her, with no knowledge that Jossie has been asked to pose as a beer maid while being a spy messenger for the Queen. Her job keeps her on many different golf courses and tournaments so of course it is impossible for her to ignore the irritating and far too handsome Highlander. Her job keeps her busy, but not busy enough and every time she turns around Drew is there and she begins to wonder if he is a spy. She needs to find out because she is starting to like him, but things get out of hand and in one night there relationship is suddenly irreversible and neither can keep away from the other. But the Queen's secretary has his own suspicions about Drew, and about Jossie's new relationship with him, and there are two families that have harbored a grudge for nearly 2 decades. Jossie and Drew will have to fight a royal spy and some long standing prejudices in order to find their happily ever after together.

Josie is certainly fiery and sassy, and while I know that many people like those types of heroines, I find them a tad obnoxious because it leads to far too many opportunities for her to get hot-headed and the man to prove how level-headed he is. This book was really no exception because there were several times when Josie did something patently stupid and Drew had to rescue her. I really do not like that at all. She was good with a sword, but every time she picked one up it was made clear that being a woman was quite the hindrance, which I don't like; once again the fiery little woman trying to do a man's job and failing. Blech. Drew was a little better because he did rescue Josie, or help her out at least, without regarding her lack of success as a complete failure on her part. I am not very interested in golf, but it was really just a backstory and just a nice little side story and little bit of history in the story that I actually enjoyed. Their relationship was solid, they did argue a lot in that feisty romance novel way of characters, but I felt like they really did belong together and worked well as a couple.

There was a decent amount of sex in the book, quite a few steamy scenes leading up to it, nothing particularly earth shattering or super hot, but it worked well in the book. I had doubts about this book going in because it seemed like the spy ring and battles would take over everything, but that turned out to be an element of the book that I really enjoyed. The spying was obviously an integral part of this book because it provided the reason for Josie staying in Edinburgh and for Drew being worried about her and for all of the juicy conflict that came later in the book. However, it definitely did not take over or overshadow the relationship in any way; it did what I wish every side plot would do- provide intrigue and keep my interest, while really playing up the relationship and giving the reader examples of how the characters interact together and work well together. There was mystery, there was suspense, there was quite a bit of betrayal from many different angles, and there was a lot of worry throwing Drew and Josie together in sexy situations (which I love).

Rating: A fun and fast book with two enjoyable characters, but the heroine fell into the feisty trap that I really can't stand.

Monday, July 11, 2011

When Beauty Tamed the Beast

When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James 704

Linnet Thrynne is the belle of the ton and everyone has taken notice, including one of the royal dukes, the Prince Augustus Frederick. But when the scandal breaks, the Prince hies it off to a castle, and Linnet is left outcast from society with everyone believing she is pregnant. Her father, a Viscount, and her aunt, the very dramatic Zenobia, run roughshod over her suggestions and come with a solution. The Duke of Landling is desperate to find his son, Piers Yelverton, Earl of Marchant, a wife, and since Piers is believed to be impotent and the Duke is obsessed with royalty, the belief that she is carrying a royal bastard is more of a help than a hindrance. Piers has earned a reputation as a beast since he is a doctor who treats his patients with very little patience and yells at everyone who crosses him. There is no love lost between father and son as Piers has never forgiven his father for being an opium addict who, while intoxicated, threw him into a fire and permanently damaged his leg so that Piers still walks with a can. The Duke also divorced his loyal and loving wife and dragged her through the mud when she left him.

Piers is determined not to like his father's choice, but Linnet is certainly gorgeous and she brings happiness to his dreary hospital. She immediately befirends several of the patients and proves invaluable in the sickroom and soon Piers finds himself offering to teach her to swim. Seeing her in nothing but a wet chemise makes it all too clear that Piers is not impotent and he sees the need to make it clear to her that he will not marry her and she agrees that she would never marry him. But the two spend more time together, both during swimming lessons, and while Piers is grousing at patients that Linnet is trying to help, and neither can resist the other. Sparks fly between them, but Piers still refuses to admit that there is a possible future with Linnet, even while she finds that she is falling in love with her grumpy lover. When his mother begins to forgive his father, Piers clings even more tightly to his unhappiness and throws Linnet out. Only when it is a matter of life and death does he come to his senses and realizes he would do anything, risk anything, to win back the woman he loves.

I was initially worried about Linnet because the first chapter was all about how beautiful and perfect and well liked she was. But she did become real as the book progressed and I was able to see her faults and that there was a real person who had feelings, and cared about others' happiness, underneath the very beautiful facade. She was definitely not very self aware as she did spend a good portion of the book convinced that Piers was not the right man for her even as it was obvious she was falling in love with him. It was nice to see that she was able to stand up to the gossip and survive on her own. Piers was not so likeable, and that is the god's honest truth, because he was certainly miserable and unhappy and seemed to do his best to be completely unlikeable and make everyone around him as miserable as he was. Yes, he was in immense pain because of his injury, yes he had to deal with some lying and miserable patients, but I just wanted to slap him and tell him to smile. He was even less self-aware than Linnett with his bad attitude and insistence they wouldn't suit in the face of the truth.

While I could see what he saw in her, because she was caring and considerate to the patients, I really did not see what she saw in him. He was intelligent in regards to the medical profession, but the brief moments when they were together and happy doesn't equal a lasting and caring relationship to me. Other authors have done unhappy heroes much better and the heroes have ended up changing/ redeeming themselves throughout the book, but in this instance there was just one very dramatic incident at the end where Piers had to prove his love and how much he had changed. I was definitely not impressed to find out that Piers was based on my least favorite television character, Dr. House, who, to me, represents everything that is wrong with the medical profession and makes me fear going to meet a new doctor. I really did enjoy the side plot about the romance between his mother and father and it really rang true and was quite heart rending to read about a man who was desperately trying to make up for the many mistakes he had made when he was addicted to opium; it was very moving.

Rating: One character that I liked and one that I absolutely loathed did not lead for a good romance, but the writing was lively and amusing and fast so it might be worth a try.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Perfect Mistress

The Perfect Mistress by Victoria Alexander 703

The widowed Lady Julia Winterset is desperate for funds after her very kind husband left her nearly penniless and his very proper family cut off her allowance. Luckily her scandalous great- grandmother left her memoirs to Julia and, although they are old, there is still an interest in reading them because several of her lovers are still alive today. One of those ex-lovers is the father of the Harrison, the Earl of Montdale, and since scandal has never touched the family Harrison is determined to keep this memoirs from seeing the light of day. His sister-in-law (the wife of his deceased older half brother), Veronica, is close friends with Julia, along with fellow widow Portia, and she makes it clear that Julia is going to sell the novel and nothing will stop her. Harrison attempts to purchase the memoirs so he can destroy them, but Julia is having none of it and turns him down flat. He is infuriated and convinced that she is far more intelligent than any woman should ever be, and she is equally upset at his high-handed manner, and of course neither can get the other out of their mind.

Harrison enlists the help of Mr. Ellsworth, an author with quite the reputation with the ladies, to help him win the manuscript from Julia, but it is not long before he finds himself jealous of the man's headway with Julia and upset at the possibility that she could fall for his charm. Julia, meanwhile, is more convinced then ever to publish the manuscript because she wants the income and because her great-grandmother's ghost has taken to appearing in her bedroom every night. Julia possesses none of the qualities that Harrison wants in a wife, but he cannot get her out of his mind and he is very worried for her when she becomes the subject of vicious and scandalous gossip among the ton. He immediately goes to her rescue and to the realization that she is everything he needs in life; happy and carefree, willing to take risks, and far too smart to let him get away with anything. Just as Julia thinks she has found someone to bring excitement to her life, she discovers his agreement with Ellsworth and Harrison has to pull out all the stops, and risk quite the scandal, in order to win the woman he loves.

Julia was a likable heroine because she was forced to adapt to completely new circumstances; going from a wife in a very content marriage, with few worries, to a nearly broke widow. I thought she handled the situation with great aplomb- she did what she had to do, she thought through her actions, and she did it all while keeping true to herself and not compromising herself. Harrison was fit into one of the romance novel hero stereotypes; the oh-so-propor lord who had far too many standards and placed far too much emphasis on reputation. I do often like this romance novel staple, but I felt like there wasn't enough to distinguish him and I was terribly disappointed because something was revealed in the book that would have really shook up his world and made things very interesting, and yet it went nowhere. I had the same problem with both of them and that was that they did not connect; I felt like there was very little chemistry and so Alexander fell back on having them argue and spar constantly throughout the novel and somehow this was supposed to represent them falling in love.

I am not a fan of couples that connect over arguments because, while disagreements are healthy, I do find the idea of a marriage filled with verbal tongue twisters, romantic at all. I really did not get much progression of their romance at all and there were very few scenes where they were not arguing, but what there was was entertaining and I really wish there had been more. The best relationship(s) in the book was that between Julia and her two close friends because it really did seem like a genuine friendship where they supported and aided each other and I was impressed because most romance novel friendships are just blatant attempts to set up the next books in the series. The plot involving the memoirs was nice and served as an impetuous to get the two of them together without having the question of what would happen to them take over. However, there was a ghost. A ghost. I almost fell off my seat when the ghost appeared and I realized we were supposed to swallow this. I do not want ghosts in my romance novels and think it really should have been mentioned in the blurb.

Rating: An interesting story with so much potential and while I enjoyed reading it I wish there had been more of a relationship between the characters and that there had NOT been a ghost.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Highland Master

Highland Master by Amanda Scott 629

The Cameron and the Chattan clans have been feuding for centuries and the cruel Duke of Albany, brother to the King of Scotland, decides that they should have a great battle to finalize everything. At the end Sir Finlagh is the only member of his clan who is left and, at the encouragement of a Cameron friend, he jumps into the river and escapes certain death. Four years later, Catriona Mackintosh finds Fin wounded in the forest and takes him back to her castle where he learns that she is the granddaughter of the leader of the Chattan Clan, the Mackintosh. Her father had lead the Chattan clan during the great battle and Fin had sworn to his father right before his father died that he would kill him. But the Mackintosh family takes him in and he realizes that he cannot kill his own host, or do that to Catriona, whom he is quickly coming to respect and like. Catriona has a reputation in her family of being a wildcat who acts and talks before she thinks and it does not take her long to discover that Fin will not stand for her losing her temper with him.

However, danger lurks in the form of the Duke of Albany and Fin is actually working for the future King of Scotland in an attempt to form an alliance with the Mackintosh. When Davy Stewart shows up he immediately begins flirting with Catriona and this makes Fin very nervous, and quite jealous but there is little he can do because Davy is royalty. The leader of a neighboring clan, the Comryns, also has his eye on Catriona and is determined to make life difficult for everyone until Catriona agrees to marry him. The meeting between Davy and the Mackintosh, and several other clan leaders, doesn't go precisely as planned and there is quite a bit of bickering. Things calm down temporarily when a misunderstanding leads Davy to insist on Catriona and Fin getting married and they are both worried about the other's feelings for them. Albany has one last trick up his sleeve and pulls out all the stops in a move that could threaten the Chattans, the Camerons, and all of Scotland. Catriona and Fin must work together to put an end to the threat and then admit their feelings for each other.

When I read a romance novel I like having some historical elements thrown in, especially when they are true and it's history I am interested in, but it is really important for the romance and the relationship between the main characters to be the central focus. Everything else to me should be in the background and should serve as a backdrop or an impetus to speed things along, but either way it should not overwhelm or take over from the next story. This book really suffered because the focus of the book was on the history and the suspense surrounding the Duke of Albany and the alliance between the Mackintosh and Davy Stewart. I felt like the romance was not even the secondary element, but more like the fourth and their relationship/ their meeting was merely the impetus for getting Fin to converse/ form an alliance with the Mackintosh and, just as bad, a way for the reader to learn more about the feuding between the two different clans. Catriona and Fin were rarely alone, had far too little quality time, and when they were together they were dealing with the other elements of the plot.

Catriona started as a likable character because she was independent and caring but as the book progressed she got incredibly annoying. It started with everyone talking about what a firecracker she was and although she eventually did show that she had a temper, by almost slapping someone who insulted her and then talking loudly without thinking (gasp!), it came across as incredibly condescending on everyone's part and made her almost childlike. Fin was one of those condescending people so it was difficult to like him and, aside from his loyalty to Davy Stewart, whom I did not think deserved it, he didn't really seem to have anything going for him. His guilt over what happened during the clan battle was ridiculous and obviously meant to flesh him out, but it failed miserably. They were apparently very attracted to each other, but absolutely nothing happened until near the very end and, without going into details, there was one scene that rather repulsed me in it's abruptness.

Rating: The book was far too long and far too little of that was on the relationship. I did not like the book, but I appreciated the writing style and the historical elements to some extent.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Raven Prince

The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt 624

Anna Wren has been widowed six years and has been living with her mother-in-law and a maid of all trade, but they are barely scraping by on the money they are earning. Her entire town of Little Battleford is abuzz that Lord Edward de Raaf, Earl of Swartington, has returned after years away. Edward wants a family because he misses having people around, after his entire family died from a smallpox epidemic that left him with scars that would later terrify his wife before she died in childbirth. Edward has quite the temper and after one more secretary quits, his estate manager hires Anna to be the new secretary even though he has some reservations. Meanwhile Edward is in London finishing up an agreement with an upstanding family to marry the daughter of a Barron. He wants a large family, wants the laughter and excitement and warm fuzzy feeling that feeling like he belongs, but his lack of people skills has lead him to a very arranged marriage with a woman he doesn't truly care for. He meets his match in his new secretary and immediately the two of them get off to an exciting start.

Anna accompanies him across his farm to help with the tenants, she diligently helps him work on his new book on horticulture, she soothes his temper and looks after him when he gets in a fight. Edward cannot fight the attraction he feels for his new secretary so he makes arrangements to go to London and visit Aphrodite's Grotto. Anna is furious that he is turning to other women, but luckily her newest friend is the older sister is one of London's most famed courtesans, so she finagles her way into the Grotto. She is the masked woman who greets Edward and the two spend two nights together before Anne realizes she wants more from Edward than just sex; she is in love with her caring, temperamental, and very intelligent employer. There is also the matter of the woman who Anna's husband had an affair with and she is desperate to keep Anna quiet so that her own husband does not find out. She wants to keep Anna and Edward apart and knows just how to do it; by revealing all their secrets to each other. There is a lot standing between Anna and Edward but they know it is best to work them out for the sake of love.

I immediately loved Anna because she was self-assured and able to take care of herself in a genuine way, not in the way many helpless heroines think they can take care of themselves. However, she was not scared to admit that she needed outside help or that she wanted someone else in her life. She knew what she wanted and she definitely went out on a limb to get it and she took some major risks by taking in a sick prostitute and then traveling to London to be with Edward. She had true friends who she treated well and held her own with her enemy and she faced some pretty tough situations in her marriage with her head held high. Edward was a little unusual in a hero because he was physically imperfect, we were told numerous times about his pox scares and how they had horrified his deceased wife, and he did seem to be a genuinely angry person. He wasn't a mean angry, although he did not deal with incompetence well, but he was hard to get along with and at one point he berated his own house which I had never heard of a romance hero doing. Nevertheless he was incredibly sweet with Anna.

The majority of the book was spent with these two spending time together which is really important to me in a romance novel and it really allowed me to see that these two worked really well together. They had common interests, they cared about the other, and they were willing to go out of their way to do nice things for each other. There was a sexual undertone throughout the book and when it was finally unleashed it exploded and set the pages on fire. It was HOT, it was slightly kinky, and it was great to read about these two outwardly staid people finally getting it on with each other. The sex was really just down perfectly because I was so invested in them falling in love and finding their happily ever after. There were a few side plots, including a really interesting one involving small town morals and a prostitute that Anna takes in and cares for that really shows off her great character. There was also the mean spirited woman who wanted to hurt Anna and while her attempts were short lived, still added a nice little "what might happen" to the book.

Rating: Another stupendous showing from Hoyt and I really hovered between 4 and 5 hearts here, but Hoyt just impresses me so much on all levels.