Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Christmas Waltz

A Christmas Waltz by Jane Goodger 821

Lady Amelia Wellesley falls in love with Carson Kitteridge when he comes to visit England as part of a Wild West travelling show. He woos her and tells her all about his slow brother and his big ranch in Texas and asks her to marry him with the agreement that he will send for her and they will marry. But after several months Amelia realizes his letter probably got lost in the mail and forges a letter from Carson to present to her older brother and his wife and heads off to Texas with dreams of her new life. She arrives in Slow Fork to find that things are nothing like the way that Carson presented to her. Carson does not own a ranch, Carson is not interested in marrying her, and his brother, Dr. Boone Kitteridge, is far from slow. Boone is horrified that his brother led this beautiful woman on about his prospects with the promise of marriage and when confronted Carson hightails it out of town. With nowhere else for her to turn Boone offers to let Amelia stay with him in the apartment at the back of his general store.

Amelia does not know how she is going to get out of Small Fork since her maid ran off with her money, and while she finds it hard to come to grips with the unexpected turn her life is taking, she finds that Boone is a bright spot in an otherwise dismal looking future. Boone and Amelia settle into a semi- domestic life as she helps him run his store and they spend their evenings teaching her to cook and take care of a house. Her brother realizes something is wrong and brings his wife out to meet Amelia and when he discovers the sham Carson has perpetrated he is furious and demands something be done to save her reputation. Boone steps forward and Amelia realizes she has no choice but to accept and after the marriage is performed her brother and sister-in-law leave and she has to make herself fit into her new life. Boone knows that Amelia does not want to stay in Texas and does not want to be married to him, but he wants to make her happy and is willing to spend his life doing that. Amelia realizes she is married to a caring and wonderful man and they both have to trust in their love for each other.

While I am not normally a fan of Western historicals, this book immediately grabbed my attention because of the blending of English and Western cultures and the promise of some angst because of the circumstances surrounding her marriage to Boone. I had mixed feelings about Amelia because she was naive enough to fall for Carson's charm but she was also smart enough to quickly realize when she had been fooled once she was confronted with the truth and did not wallow in self pity. I did enjoy that her motives for romanticizing other people and being overly excited when the possibility of true love were explained and tied in to her past, without being dissected until I was bored to death. Boone was a little sedate for a romance hero, but he made up for it by being so caring and conscientious of Amelia and her feelings. His past was explored in detail, but it went a long way toward explaining the man he was and why he acted in that way. He was protective about the people in his life and made big sacrifices to make his friends feel safe and to make Amelia happy.

Their relationship progressed very slowly during the course of the book, which was for the best as I would not have liked it if she had gone from love with Carson to Boone without some major reflection and some time to process what had happened. The little scenes with them working together were beautifully written and I really enjoyed all the angst that accompanied their falling in love. It did get a little exhausting at the end when they were both worried that the other did not return their love, but I felt like it was more realistic in this instance because of the circumstances surrounding their courtship. There was not that much sex, but again it made sense, and it was romantic and sexy if not hot. I loved the descriptions of life in a small town and that said small town wasn't overly romanticized against the big bad city. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of life in London and life in Small Forks and the way that both of them handled their new lives and worked with each other. I did feel like past characters were thrown in my face, even if they weren't actually present- which made their "appearance" even more ridiculous.

Rating: A very good book with an interesting setting with two characters who had to work through a lot in order to achieve their happily ever after.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

To Sin With a Stranger

To Sin With a Strangery by Kathryn Caskie 821

When their mother dies and their father starts drinking and ignoring them, the seven Sinclair siblings raise hell and earn the reputation as the Seven Deadly Sins. When their father finally notices what is happening he kicks them all out of his house and sends them on to London with only enough money to scrape by and tells them they won't be welcome back unless they earn respect and a decent reputation. As the oldest, Sterling appoints himself as guardian of his siblings and is determined to find a way to earn enough money for them to survive. He is big and fast and strong and decides that entering a prize fight is the quickest way to this, but on the night of the big fight a beautiful woman steps in between him and his opponent to try to raise money for war widows. He wins the fight but he cannot get beautiful Isobel Carrington out of his head. When Isobel sees the prize fighter at a ball and discovers that he is an earl she is furious and humiliated and when he corners her and asks for a dance she slaps him across the face, causing quite a scandal among the ton.

Knowing the ton is focused on them Sterling places an anonymous bet at White's that he will marry Isobel before the end of the season. Isobel does not ever want to see Sterling again but her father, who had ignored her since her own mother's death, decides it is time she marry and starts to throw her at Sterling. Realizing that the notoriety is a good way to get donations for her charity she decides to run hot and cold with Sterling to keep up interest. The men of the ton bet against them and try to keep them apart but the women are determined to throw them together and Sterling and Isobel find themselves together quite a bit. Being surrounded by Sterling's confidence makes Isobel feel more confident in herself and Sterling finds that the bet he placed on their future could threaten his chance at happiness if she ever finds out. Sterling wants to spend the rest of his life with Isobel, making her happy and helping her with her charity, but when the truth comes out, Isobel will have to trust in her feelings and in Sterling to give both of them a chance for true love.

The first part of the book moved fairly slowly for me, but as I got farther into it and started seeing how great the characters were for each other I breezed through the book. Isobel was a do-gooder heroine with her charity for the war widows, but because she herself had lost a family member and her fiance it meshed well with her personality. I wish there had been something more to her than her charity because it seemed like her motivation for everything was the charity until she fell in love with Sterling. In addition her charity served as a way to show how great Sterling was because he anonymously donated to her charity because he felt embarrassed that he couldn't give her more. It was a beautiful moment to read because it showed how vulnerable he was and how he needed Isobel in his life. Sterling was a really great hero because he took care of his siblings and was articulate about the problems in his life and not in denial about what he was going through. He was caring and generous with Isobel and proved that he deserved her in his life and that he would be dedicated to making her happy.

Because of both of their ulterior motives Sterling and Isobel did spend a lot of time together and it was clear that they had a lot of common interests and a very strong connection with each other. I especially liked that they complemented and brought out the best in each other and it was the little moments they spent together that made it work. Isobel's actions after she discovered about the bet were moving and showed off how strong she was and I admired Sterling's sense of responsibility for his siblings and his cool headedness when things did not work out the way he wanted. There was some sex between them, pretty hot to my surprise, and they were obviously very sexually attracted to each other which I enjoyed. I also really enjoyed learning about Isobel's relationship with her father and felt like it was a nice addition to the story. I could have done without the prizefighting but I understand that it aided the storyline along. The book obviously sets up the next books in the series with Sterling's siblings, but I liked that they were just secondary characters and did not have their own romances being set up.

Rating: A very enjoyable and fast paced book with two compatible characters who worked so well together and proved that they deserved each other.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Guarding a Notorious Lady

Guarding a Notorious Lady by Olivia Parker 801

Lady Rosalind Devine is on the shelf after several seasons because she is holding out for true love and the only man she will ever love is her older brother's best friend, Nicholas Kincaid. She has enjoyed being in London Society as quite the matchmaker, which has lead both of her brother's to believe she is meddlesome. Her unmarried state has also attracted a lot of notice and the betting books at White's heat up with wagers over who she will marry, right as her older brother goes on his honeymoon. He fears her being pursued by bounders and fortune hunters so appoints someone to be her "secret guardian" and Rosalind is of course furious when she finds out and even more so when no one will tell her who it is. She is surprised when she runs into Nicholas in town since he is such a country bumpkin, and shocked to learn that he has become the Marquess of Winterbourne. Nicholas is not looking forward to being Rosalind's guardian because he has secretly wanted her for years, but he owes her brother a favor so he agrees, unaware how hard being so close to her will be for his control.

Rosalind loves that Nicholas is suddenly so near to her and wants to find a way of becoming closer with her, but she also wants to draw out her protector. She courts scandal by running around at balls, allowing courting men into her house, and changing her plans at the last minute and it runs Nicholas mad. Seeing how beautiful she and how she interacts with those around her makes it impossible to keep his hands off her. Several clumsy moments end up with them in compromising positions and they cannot keep their hands off each other. However, Rosalind manages to figure out that Nicholas is her guardian and she is determined to make his life as miserable as possible and simultaneously to make him fall in love with her because he is the only man she will ever love. But with the kidnapper becoming even more active he and her brother decide that removing her to the countryside is the best for everyone, however it really only serves to provide the two of them with more alone time. Nicholas needs to stop fearing love and Rosalind must help him through this before they can have their happily ever after.

The book begins with both of them already in love with each other, and like most books of this ilk, it kind of just progresses from there as if we, the readers, should understand why they love each other. This was definitely the case here because there was no becoming reacquainted, no exploration of or musings about what makes the other so lovable, no falling in love. Let's face it; that's what I want in a romance novel and this was just incredibly disappointing to me, because I really couldn't figure out what did make them fall in love with each other except for their attraction for each other, which is always nice but not all that I want to read in a romance novel. Both of the characters were not explored in depth, thus why I couldn't figure out the falling in love, so I found them rather bland with nothing really special about them. Nicholas had loyalty to Rosalind's brother and was caring towards his sister and nieces while Rosalind apparently showed her good nature by arranging matches for unsuspecting people of the ton who needed some quiet help. Neither made for a great romance novel character.

They did not spent that much time together and far too much of that time was spent with one or the other mad at each other or trying to make the other mad. The best friend's sister thing could have lead to some wonderful angst, but instead he just "knew" he couldn't be with her without really expressing why and it was really irritating because it was a huge impediment and yet wasn't really voiced. Her dislike of having a guardian was unacceptable, however she continued to be mad after a man was stalking her and attempted to kidnap her; a sensible woman would have realized she needed some help. It just seemed like a little too much argument for argument's sake alone. However, before that incident it did seem a little much to me that her brother would give her a guardian and make it someone like Nicholas, although maybe if we'd seen men really chasing her it would have made more sense. The stalker/ kidnapper was almost non-existant for except for probably 10 pages in the entire book; pretty much pointless but at least it didn't become a stand in for what little romance there was.

Rating: A pretty boring book with bland characters and next to no romance or sex. It was certainly a fast read and I didn't absolutely hate it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Confessions of an Improper Bride

Confessions of an Improper Bride by Jennifer Haymore 815

Serena Donovan left London in disgrace after the entire ton discovered that she had carried on an affair with Jonathan Dane, heir to the Earl of Stratford. Serena was in love and was devastated when Jonathan turned his back on her in her time of need and had no choice but to head back to her family's bankrupt estate in Antingua with her twin sister, Meg. On the journey home Meg falls overboard and is lost at sea, but unknown to Serena and her sister's, her mother has Serena declared dead in the London papers and secretly writes to Meg's beau back in England posing as Meg. When Meg's beau proposes, Serena's mother reveals the scheme and sends Serena and one of her sister's back to England to marry, in the hopes that the family's status in society will be elevated enough to send all the sister's to London to make matches. But coming back to London brings her face to face with the man who abandoned her and all the feelings she thought were long gone come bubbling to the surface and she realizes she never stopped loving him, even as she goes along with her mother's charade.

Jonathan has spent every day regretting what he did to Serena, but he was young and his father was threatening to cut him off if he did not abandon her. He has spent the last six years drinking and whoring himself into oblivion and is determined never to read to spite his deceased father and to atone for his belief that he killed Serena. He knows immediately that the woman claiming to be Meg is his Serena and now that he has a second chance with her he has no intention of letting her go, even if her new "fiance" is one of his closest friends. He maneuvers every opportunity to get her alone and convince her to give up the farce she is living and take one more chance on him. Serena is tempted, but worried about what affects her actions will have on her sisters' hopes for the future. It is Jonathan who is there to help her when her sister runs off with an inappropriate man and Serena realizes that Jonathan will be there for her in the long run, even when things don't go perfectly as planned. Both of them need to move on from the past, forgive each other the hurts and the lies, in order to find their happily ever after.

Serena was a very nuanced character with very real emotions and fears and having her pretend to be her sister, the "good" twin, made it more clear that she really needed someone who would be there standing behind her the entire time and love her with all the mistakes that she makes. I liked that she cared about her family and wanted what was best for them, but had enough wherewithal to go for what she needed for herself. Her pain over what happened was heartbreaking to read and I felt like she was completely right to fear getting back with Jonathan, but I did feel like she fell into his arms a little too quickly. She was determined to avoid him and yet it seemed like not time had passed before she was kissing him and I felt like it wasn't realistic for a woman who had had six years to get over a heartbreak and betrayal. Jonathan was not my cup of tea because he had not stood up to his father, which was understandable if not admirable, and then had spent six years being a pretty worthless human being to stick it a dead man. I believe I was supposed to feel like it proved his love to Serena but it was just too much.

Because they had known each other beforehand there was definitely a sense that they falling in love had happened earlier and just drawn over to the present. However, I liked that Serena and Jonathan spent a large amount of time together and when they were apart they were thinking about the other, as if they were influenced by each other in everything. And there were times when I saw reasons they would fall in love with each other, especially when Jonathan helped Serena during a difficult situation with her sister. Their relationship progressed from hostility, to longing, to fearing love, to love and I liked that I could really see into each other those steps. There was not that much sex between them and I was actually rather surprised because it was not as hot as I am used to reading from Haymore who usually blazes the pages. The book featured several very well rounded and very well written side characters, including Meg's fiance, Serena's sister, and their very proper aunt, who made the book complete and helped all 410 pages fly by.

Rating: A good book with two characters scared of not being able to move on from the past, with very genuine emotion and great secondary characters.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Many Sins of Lord Cameron

The Many Sins of Lord Cameron by Jennifer Ashley 818

Lord Cameron Mackenzie caught Ainsley Douglas in his room and assumed she was there to sleep with him, but she left claiming that she could not betray her kind, but elderly husband. When he later discovered that she had stolen a necklace from his room he felt incredibly betrayed and did not listen to her explanation that she thought the necklace belonged to a friend of hers. Neither forgets what almost happened in that room even while Cameron dedicates himself to sleeping with as many ladies of the ton as he can and Ainsley recovers from her husband's death and goes to work for Queen Victoria. Six years later Ainsley is back in his room rummaging through his stuff, this time on a mission to find love letters the Queen had written to her gardner. This time Cameron has no intention of letting her go and during the course of his brother's house party he sets about seducing the beautiful and aloof lady of his dreams. Ainsley does not want to fall into bed with Cameron; she had made a mistake long ago and her brother had helped her sort out the consequences and she does not want to shame him again.

Cameron has his own past scars; his deceased wife was insane and when not cheating on him, she was physically abusing him and threatening their son, Daniel. He volunteers to help Ainsley recover the letters from the woman who is using them to blackmail money out of the queen and keeps her secrets and goes along with her furtive plans while doing his best to protect her from gossip or harm. Cameron runs a successful horse training facility, but on the off season he goes to Paris and invites Ainsley with him and for once she takes a risk and, throwing caution to the wind, she decides to go off with him. He has realized that he never wants to risk losing Ainsley so he wastes no time in marrying her and claiming her as his forever. But the scars from Cameron's past have not completely disappeared and every time Ainsley tries to talk to him she is shut down and worries she will never really know her husband. When the Queen calls Ainsley away Cameron is terrified of losing her and they both must learn to move on from the hardship in their pasts and trust in their love for one another.

Jennifer Ashley really has a winner with the Mackenzie series and this book is no exception. Ainsley is a wonderful heroine because she is well rounded, sympathetic, and caring and I really felt like I could understand her motives for all of her actions. Plus her tendency to sneak into locked bedrooms makes her more exciting than many romance novel heroines. Cameron is just as excellent as the emotionally damaged hero who is burying his hurt and anger in every willing woman he can find. They complimented each other because Ainsley was just stuck in her role as the proper widow at the beck and call of the Queen and he was so obviously tortured inside. He drew her out of her shell and helped her start living her life and she helped him come to grips with his past. While a tortured hero is nothing new, I admired that Ashley was able to put a new spin on it and that it was a genuine reason for him to be troubled, even if it was a little gruesome. These two spent a lot of time together, a lot of quality time together, which made it so obvious that they were falling in love with each other and I love reading that.

The relationship progressed naturally throughout the book, and I admit that I like books where the characters get married before they're in love because it gives them more time to get to know the other and work together and I get to see how they do everyday things together. The sex was fairly frequent and really hot but a big deal was made about how raunchy Cameron was and how excited Ainsley got by his "dirty talk" and yet it was just alluded to and never described which disappointed me. I really like how Ashley merges past characters into this book seemlessly; they are important to the storyline and are real people and not just props to show how prolific the author is and even the protagonists from her future novel are well down. Best of all none of them distract from the true romance happening between Ainsley and Cameron, but compliment it instead. My favorite secondary character is Daniel, Cameron's son because he was just a perfectly done teenager/ almost man who loved his dad and wanted what was best for him. The book was short and yet I definitely didn't feel disappointed.

Rating: Another very good book from a very talented author who writes very compatible characters and strong relationships in a very easy and fun to read style.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Notorious by Nicola Cornick 810

Susanna Burney and James Devlin were young and in love but on their wedding night Susanna panicked and ran. She found herself penniless and alone and in his heartbreak James took a commission with the navy and sailed away. Over the next ten years Susanna lost the baby she carried and promised to take care of her friend's twin children on her deathbed. She falls into a profession; she is paid by wealthy parents who want to break their children apart from unsuitable mates. Her latest employment takes her to London where she is hired by the Duke and Duchess of Alton to separate their son, Fitz, from Francesca Devlin, James' sister. This throws them into the same circles and James is furious that his former wife is throwing herself at a selfish bastard like Fitz and that her appearance has thrown into question his own determination to wed Lady Elise for her money. Despite his knighthood the Devlin's are actually facing mounds of creditors and marriage into the aristocracy could be the only way to save them.

The two engage in mutual blackmail; each hoping that the other won't reveal the others' past. James decides to try and keep Susanna away from Fitz as much as possible, but throwing himself in front of her has unforseen consequences for both of them. They are both angry at each other and upset about what happened in the past but the feelings, and the lust, they felt for each other have not disappeared. While they are still both angry and upset they cannot keep their hands of each other, even while James is convinced that Susanna betrayed him and is no better than an adventuress. Although he does not know precisely why Susanna wants Fitz, he is angry and possessive at the idea of her with another man and finds their courtship confusing. The more time she spends with Fitz the more she realizes she cannot continue with her sham romance, but she worries about his reaction when she tell shim more of her secrets. When the truth comes out about their relationship it will cause a huge scandal and possibly bankruptcy, but together they want to conquer everything.

Nicola Cornick's books have been up and down for me because I love her writing style and the emotion she puts into her books and the development of her characters. Unfortunately she also has a tendency to right protagonists who are so emotionally entangled with each other that they have trouble being polite or nice or loving towards each other. This is the case in Notorious with James and Susannah spending a large portion of the book upset with each other, feeling hurt about what has happened, and really taking it out on the other. There was a lot of history between them so I was not expecting them to be super happy with each other and loving right from the beginning but to read a romance where every interaction between the character is tinged with the feeling of betrayal and pain is unpleasant for me and I just have a hard time seeing the romance in that. Since the book started after they had met and done the falling in love I felt like I was just supposed to "understand" that they were already in love and therefore they didn't need to be loving towards each other anymore.

I admired Susanna because she found her niche in life and performed her job well and was, for the most part, not ashamed, of the way she earned her living. I did not like the addition of the children she had to care for because I felt like it was an excuse for what she was doing and because it just seemed like an odd little hiccup in the book. I also think her reasons for running were not well explained and their long separation had too many holes in it. James was a typical romance novel hero, well the penniless variety, but I found it hard to admire him because he was unapologetically marrying an unlikable woman purely for the money. His desire to marry his own sister to a selfish bastard also made him hard to like and I did not understand Francesca's desire to marry Fitz. The sex between them was very emotional, fairly hot and definitely not boring, but nothing particularly special. The ending was the only reasonable way for the book to end without veering off into fairy tale land so I liked that it was more realistic than many romance novels.

Rating: Very well written and very emotional, but I did not like the hurt and anger that tinged their interactions and the characters themselves had too many unlikeable flaws.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Scoundrel's Surrender

A Scoundrel's Surrender by Jenna Petersen 807

When Caleb Talbot found out that he was the product of an affair his mother had he finds comfort in the arms of his sister-in-law's best friend, Marah Farnsworth. Marah has enjoyed getting to know Caleb during her time in London and when he needs someone to help him in this difficult time she sees how close they have become and expects that their relationship will only deepen. But in his hurt Caleb turns his back on everyone and runs away to hid in the bottom of glasses and drown his sorrow, leaving Marah heartbroken and determined to never think about him again. Caleb comes home two years later when his brother informs him that their father, well the man who raised Caleb, is dying. Caleb does not want to stay with his mother so he moves into his brother's town house and Marah just so happens to be staying with them for the season as well. Immediately the attraction that flared between them is back and Caleb cannot resist baiting Marah, trying to get her ire up so that he can prove he still affects her, even while she insists she wants nothing to do with him.

Marah has her own family difficulties as her father had married below him socially and was cut off from his family. When her mother died in childbirth her father dumped her with her maternal grandmother and the entire, very high ranking family, had turned their backs on her. She wants stability in her life and has settled on an ambitious business man who can offer her security and not the passion that troubles her so with Caleb. Caleb is furious at the idea of Marah with someone else, but knows that he has given up any right to her favors, even while trying to get to her at every available opportunity. Family comes first when Caleb's father takes a turn for the worse and it is once again Marah who is there for him in his time of need and once again Caleb mucks things up. Despite his mistakes they support each other through difficult times involving their undiscovered families and Caleb realizes he will need to prove to Marah that love is worth risking things for. Marah must decide if love is more important than the security she has cherished for so many years.

Marah was defined by her relationships with her family members and it really showed in how she acted toward Caleb. She so obviously cared for him but his abandonment of her really scared her and it took a lot for her to recover. I did not enjoy how forceful she was in insisting she didn't want anything to do with him when we knew she was in love with him. It made her seems childish and like she could not be taken seriously. Caleb was just as immature with his inability to confront difficult situations: I understood that it was hard, but hiding in a bottle for 2 years was not justified. It also made it hard for me to root for him and Marah to get together. Their relationship fell back on the banter/ argue that I absolutely loath in romance novels. I want to see the characters getting along, working together, and arguing to some extent because it happens, but I felt like their relationship was based on her trying to get her mad at him just so that she would show some emotion and he could prove that she still had feelings for him. The sex was rather boring and there wasn't a lot of it and it was all packed at, or very near, the end.

I was incredibly frustrated by the blatant way that everyone was throwing these two together; it was obnoxious and showed a lack of respect for Marah's feelings in my opinion. She had a very justifiable reason for not wanting to get close to him and Victoria's actions made her seem like not a very good friend. My favorite parts of the book where when Caleb was dealing with the issue of his own paternity and when Marah was dealing with her fears about her father's family. It was very real and touching and there were definitely times when I cried; the heart to heart Caleb has with his mother was almost heart breaking. It was the most emotional either of them ever got and I wish they had showed the same amount of heart and fear and caring when dealing with each other- it would have made for a better romance. Something that really bothered me was the assumption that we had read the previous book in the series (which I had, but promptly forgotten) because it talks about their past together and I was completely at a loss.

Rating: In the end I couldn't give an unappealing romance a high mark, even though I did really enjoy reading the non romantic emotional moments.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Seducing the Governess

Seducing the Governess by Margo Maguire 805

Mercy Franklin is left alone and confused when both of her parents die and reveal to her that she was not their natural child, but had been brought to them when she was 3 years old. Unfortunately she is also almost penniless so she is left with no choice but to apply for a position and the only offer she gets is as a governess to an orphaned child being raised by her uncle. Nash Ferris was the youngest of three sons and never expected to become Earl of Ashby, but when both of his brother's die he inherits the Earldom and his niece, Emmaline. Nash was a career military man who is still haunted by what he witnessed in battle and those who died, and he has provided a safe haven, a place of employment, for the men who had been under his command. Although he is bankrupt and cannot afford to pay his employees, he knows it is imperative he hire a governess for Emmy, who is withdrawn and shows fear when she looks at Nash's scared face. Nash knows he has to marry a rich heiress soon in order to keep his estate afloat, he only hopes he can find one who will not be horrified by his scars.

Mercy is immediately attracted to the handsome Earl; he exudes passion and masculinity and she fears it is her base nature, the nature her preacher father tried to subdue, that is coming out. And Nash cannot deny that his new governess is beautiful, he wants her but would never want to take advantage of someone who works for him. With Mercy's help Emmy comes out of her shell and Mercy also sees that Nash is working so hard to try to help his estate and do something good for the soldiers who come home to no jobs. Nash is also trying to figure out what happened to his brothers because their deaths, so close together, are suspicious, but he is also trying to woo the daughter of a rich merchant in town. Mercy and Nash are explosive whenever they are together and no matter how hard they try to avoid each other, it becomes impossible. Mercy does not think someone of Nash's status would ever choose someone like her, but the more Nash thinks on it the more he realizes he wants someone who will love him, someone he loves in return, and Mercy is just that person.

Mercy's situation in life was certainly new and I did enjoy reading about the emotional upheaval that accompanied it and how she dealt with it. I understand it was confusing for her but at times she definitely came across as naive, not so intelligent, and like an ostrich trying to hide its' head in the sand. Her attraction to Nash seemed to be the only thing that really gave her definition and I would have liked a more in depth, not so one-dimensional, exploration of her character. Nash is a likable guy because of what he had been through and how he was working to help those who had helped him. I admired him for that and because he admitted he required a rich wife and set about going after what he needed. I felt like they did not spend a lot of time together and nearly every time they did, both of them were worried about what they were doing and trying to avoid giving in to their desires. I wanted more fun time together, just the two of them. The sex was completely relegated to the end and was really not that hot and I expected more from two characters who were so attracted to each other.

The plot involving the death of his brother was underdone in my opinion, and it is not often that I feel like a secondary plot in a romance novel did not take up enough space. For the first 80% of the book it's only an occasional thought in his hand, like an afterthought, and then it goes away only to appear as another thought. Stuff did not really start happening until near the very end and it ended up being so exciting and convoluted (in a good surprising way) that I really wish there had been more of it. I did not mention this in my write-up because it was hard to fit in but throughout the book the Duke of Windermere is looking for his lost granddaughters (that is a story in itself) in order to give them money and I figured out from the beginning that Mercy was going to be one of those granddaughters. It was surprisingly a really good little plot, only a few pages every few chapters but I felt like I got to know the detective personally and really got involved in his search even though I knew how it would end. It was also a nice way of making sure that they ended up with the money they needed- of course!

Rating: My first Margo Maguire was slow to get started and had some literary problems that bothered me, as well as two characters I wanted to slap more than occasionally.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Lady's Lesson in Scandal

A Lady's Lesson in Scandal by Meredith Duran 813

Nell Whitby is willing to do anything to save her mother; as a factory girl working with cigars she does not make enough money to pay for a doctor and on her mother's death bed she makes the odd confession that the Earl of Rushden is Nell's father. When her mother dies she breaks into Rushden's house, determined to kill him for not helping her mother, but the man she runs into is far too young to be her father and far too attractive. Simon St. Mauer recently inherited the Earldom from the man who raised him, the man who never liked him and treated him like Simon didn't belong. When he sees Nell he immediately realizes that she is the missing daughter of the last Earl who was kidnapped by the maid because she looks exactly like her twin sister, Kitty. He decides that the best thing for both of them is to transform Nell into a proper lady and marry her so that he can inherit the money that the last Earl left to her. Despite his title Simon is nearly penniless and this is a desperate ploy that could benefit them both if he can convince the lawyer who is in charge of their trust; a lawyer who does not like Simon.

Simon hires tutors to help turn Nell into the society miss that everyone expects her to be and to make it easier for the courts to accept her. Nell does not like what is happening and feels like Simon is pushing the street out of her and like he is ashamed or embarrassed of who she is. However, she knows it is what she needs to do in order to get her inheritance which she plans to spend making life better for people who grew up like her. No matter how much she changes Simon still sees the underlying strength and determination of the woman who survived London's most dangerous environment and even though he knows he could seek an annulment if the courts decide she is not really the old Lord Rushden's daughter, he does not want to lose her. While she was determined not to fall in love with Simon or to feel too comfortable with this life, Nell does find herself needing Simon and she is heartbroken when she finds out he always had a backup plan. But there are people out there who don't want Nell or Simon to get that money and they both must admit they love each other to work through their differences and find their happily ever after.

I immediately liked both Simon and Nell because they were genuine and smart and determined and they were both survivors who took the hard punches and made the best of them and were unapologetic in what they did and what they accomplished. Nell was perfect as the woman who grew up on the streets because she so obviously wanted a change but was desperate to be happy with what she had and didn't want to be disappointed. It was what made her reactions to Simon's declarations later in the book and her decisions so in character and so meaningful. I also love that she recognized what truly needed to be done for the poor in London and her experience made her altruism so much more genuine than the do-gooder rich women who populate romance novels. Simon was also great because he had the troubled past the the hero has to have, and it was especially important in him because if he had had a perfect childhood he wouldn't have meshed well with Nell, and this past was what made him into the charming man who was able to navigate the waters of the ton and work hard to ease Nell's introduction into society.

The key to this book is that Duran made two characters who were completely different and have so little in common and yet they work so well together, they make each other happy, and they make each other better. There were a couple of really wrenching scenes between them about love and life and they were just beautiful. There was a decent amount of sex between them and much of it was very hot and I liked that it really worked as an emotional outlet for both of them. The first part of the book was slow, the part that was working up to Simon and Nell meeting and deciding what to do, but once they realized who Nell was the book was engrossing and hard to put down. The lawyer was the absolute perfect villain because he showed up to make things more exciting and the threat that he represented, to have Nell be declared illegitimate and thus take all her money, created the tension in the plot making it very important and yet not detracting from the romance between the characters. I also enjoyed the miniature plot between Kitty and Nell as sister's just getting to know each other.

Rating: A very great read with two wonderful characters who enjoyed a very emotional relationship that required a lot of development and trust on both their parts.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wicked in Your Arms

Wicked in Your Arms by Sophie Jordan 731

Grier Hadley is the bastard daughter of the very rich Jack Hadley, and after years of neglect Jack decides that his illegitimate daughters are the way into polite society. He launches them with the help of the Dowager Duchess of Bolingbroke, whose titled family is completely broke, and hopes that one of the very wealthy, if not completely acceptable girls, will marry her younger son. But Grier and her sister Cleo are not welcomed with open arms and people talk about them and their father openly. But when Grier overhears Sevastian, the future King of Maldonia, completely dismiss her as a possibility for a wife she sees red and causes a scene. Sevastian knows his duty is to find a respectable and very wealthy to bring back to his kingdom, which is nearly bankrupt after a ten year long war that claimed that lives of most of Sevastian's family. He cannot get the completely inappropriate, the boisterous, the beautiful Grier out of his head even while he is trying to go about his duty of finding a wife, with the help of his cousin, Malcolm, whose family was banished from Maldonia years ago.

A house party throws them together in close proximity and both hope to continue their search for a spouse, even while they cannot seem to avoid thinking about the other. Grier finds Sevastian attraction, but she regards him as spoiled and selfish, just like all the other members of the ton who look down their noses at her. But as she gets to know him she realizes that he is just as much at the whim of his family as she is; her father is forcing her to marry a member of the ton and his family needs him to marry someone respectable. Horseback rides in the morning, midnight escapades on the balcony, and an eye opening encounter where she discovers that Sevastian looks out for those beneath him socially, and Grier cannot deny her feelings. Sevastian admires her spirit, her love of the outdoors and physical pursuits, and her confidence in the face of those who look down on her. But because of their standings and their past there are those who don't believe that they belong together and together they must defy the odds and convince themselves, and others, that they are perfect together.

I am typically not interested in romances featuring princes from made up countries, making him pennliess and in desperate need of a titled wife to bring respect back to his kingdom, made it more interesting to read about. Sevastian was proud and arrogant and yet it was also clear that he had a huge heart and cared about others, even if there were times where I felt the author was just trying to force his "goodness" down our throat. I loved how he completely disregarded Grier because he did want to follow through on his commitments and that he was really almost unapologetic about what he was looking for. It made his eventual change to loving Grier that much more sweet and it was really nice to read about him letting go of some of his prejudices and being confident enough in himself and his place to marry Grier. Grier was also a really fun character because she wanted to be loved and accepted so much for who she was and I loved that she recognized that she deserved all of that. She stood up for herself when Sev was rude and more than held her own, but she also was comfortable enough to admit her feelings when they changed.

There was a lot going against Grier and Sevastian because of their status in society and I think Jordan did a really good job explaining why they were moving in the same circles. Their pasts influenced who they were and how they went about falling in love with each other and there was some really well developed back story given for both of them. Their relationship progressed wonderfully; they spent a lot of time really getting to know each other and they fell in love with the other person completely. The sex was lukewarm but there was a decent amount of it grouped towards the end because they were tring so hard to fight the attraction they felt for each other. Their was also a little surprise twist that happened at the end so I don't really want to go into too much detail, but it was really well integrated into the story and made enough sense that I understood where it was coming from even while I wasn't expecting it. This book is part of a series so there were, of course, references to previous books in the series that were not overwhelming, and some really nice lead ins for the next book in the series.

Rating: Two really well done characters whose relationship progressed in such an enjoyable way and the book was certainly a very fast read.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton

The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton by Miranda Neville 730

Celia Seaton finds herself locked in an attic in nothing but her night shift after being kidnapped by a man in a cart. She manages to find her way down out of her prison only to come face to face with her enemy, Tarquin Compton, who had humiliated her in front of the ton. Celia is by no means wealthy, but was presented with a brief opportunity to come out in the ton, but it was brutally ended when Tarquin, the arbiter of ton fashion, compared her to a cauliflower. She had taken up employment as a governess before becoming engaged to the master of the household who had kicked her out when a strange man was found breaking into her room. Tarquin had been hit over the head by her own kidnapper and when he regains consciousness he has severe memory loss and, hoping to get a bit of revenge and hoping he will help her, she tells him his name is Terrance Fish and that the two of them are engaged. They begin a journey hiding from the man chasing him, sleeping outside in the air, fishing barehanded in streams, and Celia falls in love with this new man.

Only after they have seduced each other does Tarquin remember who, and what, he is and he escorts Celia to his estate in Yorkshire where his dragon of an aunt finds her announces an engagement between them. Tarquin is furious to have been tricked, but he cannot get Celia out of his mind, even as he recognizes that she is completely wrong for him. With the help of his close friends, the Iverleys, he devises a plan to keep Celia safe from those who kidnapped her and it is only a coincidence if it means that she spends more time in his company. She is hidden away at a house party that his friends invite him too, where it is more apparent than ever that Celia will not fit into his world. But when her room is again invaded, Tarquin is there to rescue her and they must work together to figure out who is after her and what they want. Secrets about Celia's past are revealed and she fears more than ever that she will lose Tarquin, but pretending to be Terrance Fish has changed him and he has learned that he wants different things in his life, especially the beautiful and unconventional woman he loves.

This book started in an awkward manner because I felt like I had missed a first chapter because it was the middle of a kidnapping and it took awhile for all of the characters' backstories to be explained. It was an interesting, and new, approach for me, as I feel many authors really start with an explanation and since I'm used to that it just sat oddly with me. Celia's background was intriguing and I really liked the brief glimpses into her past that we got and, although I wish we had gotten more, I really felt like it contributed to making her the person she was. I especially liked how accepted Tarquin was of it and how he encouraged her to be more open with herself about how important her past was. I love that she had a sense of humor about her situation and looked out for her best interests, while still caring about other people. I'm used to reading about maids or titled ladies, so I was also intrigued that she was somewhere in between, but I never completely got into her character and it might come back, again, to the fact that I felt like I missed the beginning of the story that wasn't written.

Tarquin really surprised me because most romance novels heroes make fun of the dandies, but he was actually a dandy himself! However, I guess because Neville didn't want to offend the readers sense of masculinity, he was a dandy who apparently only dressed in black and white. Make of that what you will. I will admit his obsession with fashion was a turn off for me, say what you will, even though it was explained during the course of the book as his reaction to being a lost little boy. It took him a long time to "grow up" and realize what he wanted in his life and came across as rather immature. The kidnapping and side plot took up a large part of this book and, although it did not overwhelm the plot, I still felt like it was too much. I did not really get into it but I will admit that there were some interesting twists and turns that I was definitely not expecting. I also enjoyed the brief glimpses we got of Sebastian and Diana, from one of my favorite romance novels, The Dangerous Viscount, which were fun and totally in keeping with both of their characters.

Rating: A fun little book, with a heroine I came to find interesting, but far from Neville's best work with some plot problems that I didn't really like.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Silk is for Seduction

Silk is for Seduction by Loretta Chase 728

Marcelline Noirot is the daughter of a penniless French aristocrat and an equally penniless English rose, whose financial state led them to a traveling life tricking their targets out of money. This left little time for Marcelline and her two sisters who have since become the most talented, if not the most popular, modistes in London. The Noirot sisters are determined to lure clients away from their nemesis, Mrs. Downes, especially Lady Clara, the presumed future Duchess of Clevedon. The Duke of Clevedon knows he is supposed to marry Lady Clara, but he has been enjoying his years of raising hell in Paris and the other big cities of Europe. Then one day he is entranced by Mrs. Noirot at the opera and even when she admits to him that she is only after him to win the patronage of his future wife, he cannot get her out of his mind. She spars with him, she gambles with him and he ends up losing and escorting her to the most popular ball of the Paris season, bringing their relationship into the public eye and gaining her quite a bit of notoriety.

Fearing that her new reputation will harm her business she rushes back to London, unaware that Clevedon is following her. On the journey back he takes care of her while she is seasick and then discovers that she has a daughter; a beautiful and charming daughter who quickly wins him over. But things in London become complicated because she is concerned with building up her dress shop and finding the spy who is selling information to her rival, and he wonders if he will ever be ready to propose to the woman he has always regarded as a sister. When Mrs. Downes efforts to drive them out of business turn potentially deadly, it is Clavedon who is there to save the day and it sets the ton off in a whirlwind and Marcelline knows she has to end things with him as soon as possible. But he has proved himself so capable and helpful that it is impossible for her to pretend that she doesn't love him. And Clevedon has finally realized what he wants out of life and he doesn't care if it flies in the face of society; the only question is if he can convince Marcelline that love is worth risking everything.

Marcelline was an awesome character and I liked her from the very beginning because she was strong and ambitious, but she cared so deeply for her family and harbored hidden hurts from her parents. I liked that she worked for a living and had pride in what she did, not shame, and that she was comfortable with her sexuality and desires. She went after what she wanted, and while she could have done it in a more muted, or kinder, fashion, it was impossible not to respect her actions. I felt like her fear of getting close to Clavedon was realistic and I understood her motives for everything she did clearly which shows that Chase is just great at completely immersing her readers in her characters. Clavedon was also amazing because he also had his own hidden hurts and his position in life had prevented him from ever really figuring out what he wanted to accomplish, or what his sense of purpose was and it was only with Marcelline's help that he was able to. He was so caring about Marcelline and her daughter and I loved when they all interacted together, almost as a family.

Their relationship was a little rocky in my opinion, with seduction taking the form of "sparing" and them teasing each other, which I am not really a big fan of. I felt like they didn't spend enough time actually talking and getting to know each other, but I also believed that there was genuine love and emotion between them. They both had so much respect and trust in the other that they worked incredibly well together. There was some sex between them, not a lot, and, in keeping with both of their confidence in their desires, it was really hot and loving all at the same time. I loved reading about how Clavedon matured and how he came to realize that he wanted a different life then the one that had been prewritten for him. I also liked reading from different points of view, from the rival Mrs. Downes, to Lady Clara, who was especially fun and well written and I loved her. The rival dressmaker plot was interesting and important without being overwhelming and worked really well in the story. My biggest problem was the incredibly well spoken 6 year-old who was like no child I know and seemed incredibly unrealistic.

Rating: A very fun book with two incredible characters that worked so well together. The side plots and characters were interesting and I really enjoyed reading this book.

Monday, August 1, 2011

More Than a Mistress

More Than a Mistress by Mary Balogh 726

Jocelyn Dudley, the Duke of Tresham, is fighting a duel with the husband of his alleged lover, when a female servant calls out and distracts him. Jocelyn ends up with a bullet in his leg and is furious with the dowdy woman and while yelling at her makes her late for her next job. Jane Ingleby is in London trying to disappear; her father's death left her under the guardianship of her uncle whose son attacked her one night and when she tried to defend herself he ended up unconscious and rumors abound that she killed him and there are Bow Street Runners after her. When she loses her job she shows up at the Tresham's house and demands an explanation, but he is so mad at her that instead he hires her as his nurse for 3 weeks, vowing to make her regret her actions. Jocelyn quickly notices that her drab clothing and maid's cab are hiding a gorgeous young woman and that her mannerism and accent are not those of the orphan she claims to be. Jane tries to keep out of sight of Jocelyn's guests, but he forces her to be present, and she gets to know his friends and family.

Their relationship changes when she overhears him practicing the piano and this opens up Jocelyn's heart and Jane is there for him as he reveals what his childhood was like and how much of himself he has hidden in an attempt to be as masculine as possible. Meanwhile the woman he allegedly had an affair with is causing trouble and her five brothers have vowed vengeance against the man who "ruined" their sister. Their actions take a near- tragic turn and then it is Jocelyn and his brother who are out for blood. When their weeks are over Jocelyn cannot bear to part from Jane so he offers her a position as his mistress and Jane cannot turn down the opportunity to spend more time with him, even while it is not the most respectable employment. But her uncle is in town looking for her and when Jocelyn discovers that she has omitted such a large part of her past he feels betrayed since he had opened up so much to her, and ashamed that he has ruined a lady. Their time together means much to both of them and they will both have to forgive and admit to themselves how much they need the other.

Balogh's books always have a slow, calming air about them, which I have come to enjoy on occasion because her books always develop well. This book was different because it was more exciting, it had more happening, and there was more sex than I am used to in Balogh books. Jane was really almost a boring character to me because she really did not display very many emotions or really do much of anything but what she felt she had to do. I wanted her to be something else- do something for herself and really let me get to know her, but I didn't. I don't see how she actually hit a man at all. I love that Jocelyn was tough and devil-may-care, but was hiding such an artistic side of himself from everyone because of some childhood trauma. His issues were dealt with well and really contributed to how he and Jane ended up falling in love and showing how great they were for each other. Like many Balogh characters he has a tendency to raise a quizzing glass to his eye, which is obnoxious and overbearing, and he spent a good portion of this book being completely unlikable in my opinion.

Their relationship developed slowly, as it does in Balogh books, they spent a lot of time together, which I liked, and I could see how they fell in love with each other because he trusted her enough to open up about his secrets and she felt safe with him and like she was getting to know another person from the inside. The progression from nurse to mistress was a little abrupt and was undertaken with surprisingly little angst on either of their parts and I was a little uncomfortable with her throwing away her future on a rake who did not really seem worthy of her at the time. The sex was steamier than anything I had read from Balogh before and there was certainly more of it, but it was really nothing spectacular or special. While Jocelyn's duel served as the catalyst for bringing them together I felt like the feud between him and his lover's family took up far too much of the book and I wanted it to be over because the book was already long enough without it. Another difference between this and her other books is I did not feel hit over the head with her previous pairings or her future couples, which I liked.

Rating: An enjoyable, if slow moving, book. Two interesting, if not completely likable or sympathetic, characters who had a well written romantic relationship.