Monday, September 26, 2011

The Seduction of His Wife

The Seduction of His Wife by Tiffany Clare 922

Emma, Countess of Asbury, is forced to visit a high class brothel because the the Earl of Waverly is blackmailing her by threatening to expose her career as a painter of the nude female form. Waverly is in possession of a self-portrait that could ruin Emma's standing in society, but she never expected to run into her husband at the brothel. Richard and Emma had married young, at eighteen and fifteen respectively, and he had left the day after to start his own career and make his own fortune by trading in opium. It has been over ten years since they have seen each other and a lot has changed for both of them and while Richard finds the changes in Emma intriguing and makes him want to start a real life with her, Emma is not sure if she wants to give Richard another chance or if there is room in her life for him. There is someone after Richard as he and his partner, Dante, attempt to sell their opium business and so he decides to move Emma and her two sisters, the widowed Grace and the youngest Abby, to their country estate where he hopes to get closer to Emma and keep everyone safe.

Richard finds himself wondering his wife took lovers while they were separated and he especially dislikes her friendship with the Marquess of Vane, a notorious ladies man who spends too much time around his wife. He knows that if he can convince her to just give him a chance that he can make their relationship work, but there is still so much about her that he does not know. Emma  is still worried over Richard's reaction to her work and that he will become bored and leave her again, breaking her heart permanently and leaving her unable to pick herself up after his abandonment. Her sisters recognize that she is still repressed and dare her to indulge in some semi-scandalous activities that her husband always catchers her in and it brings them closer together, but they continue to hold something back from each other. When he discovers her paintings he is fearful of what will happen when her identity is discovered, but it is his own enemies that prove the real threat as his old business partner returns to wreak havoc and Richard must prove to Emma that he is there to stay and that their love will last.

Emma is a painter and I tend to have a difficult time relating to characters who are very into something that I honestly really do not like so I was immediately disinclined to like her. Her refusal to just admit the truth to her husband was really irritating to me because I felt it was made clear early on that Richard was determined to be her husband and he would be willing to help her out of difficult situations, even though his love was not present. I felt like this major difficulty could have been solved early on and a big obstacle to their relationship would have disappeared and I just don't like big problems, especially when they're big ridiculous problems. She was a boring character because she had nothing going for her except the paintings and my favorite part of her was the letters she apparently wrote to Richard after he left because they revealed real emotion and I admit I loved the scene where he discovered them. Richard was  a typical romance hero; gorgeous, sexually experienced, insanely possessive and jealous when it came to his woman, but I did like how when he decided to woo his wife he devoted himself entirely to her.

I had high hopes for their relationship because of their situation, thinking there would be lots of emotions and angst, but I did not really feel like they explored their issues. About 1/3 of the way through Richard and Emma had sex and from then on out the book bordered on erotica because they were going at it constantly. There was nothing particularly shocking about it, a lot of dirty talk and lots of hard pounding, but even I started to think there was just too much of it and that I wanted to see that the two of them had something in common other than a need for a good fuck. The daring adventures her sisters sent her on came across as rather pathetic to me and I know I was supposed to feel like her awakening coincided with the reappearance of her husband and see that this meant that he was the perfect counterpoint to her, but I did not see it. There was a decent side plot involving her sister Grace and Dante the business partner that was also very heavy on the sex and not so much on anything else. I had no interest in the blackmail plot, the weird thing with his enemy and especially none on her paintings.

Rating: Two pretty boring characters who had lots of sex and were surrounded by interests and problems that did not interest me.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Unveiled by Courtney Milan 915

Ash Turner is returning to Parford Manor in triumph; after being turned aside by the current Duke, he is now the declared heir after revealing that the Duke's marriage was illegal and his two sons and daughter are illegitimate. Lady Margaret Dalyrample is staying on at Parford pretending to be her sick father's nurse in order to spy on Ash to aid her brother's in their attempt to Petition Parliament to declare all of them legitimate. She is determined to hate the man who has torn her life asunder, but from the second he arrives he defies all her expectations and makes it difficult to despise him. He is kind, he listens to her and treats her as if her opinions matter and it becomes apparent that there is a past between Ash and his younger brothers and Margaret's own male relatives, and it is the Turner's who come out better in those comparisons. With a single glance from Ash Turner makes Margaret feel like she is important, that she matters, and that is all that she needs in these traumatic times when nothing seems to be going right. Ash has always trusted his instinct in business matters and when it comes to people and he knows that Margaret is special and wastes no time in making it clear to everyone how much she means to him.

No matter how special Ash makes her feel, no matter how charming he is, she cannot forget that he is the one who has caused her to be ostracized from society and turned her into a bastard. She is the only person that Ash can trust with his secret; he is unable to read because the letters on the page jumble up on him. And when his younger brothers come to visit, it becomes clear to Margaret that there is a vulnerable side to Ash and she learns that his motivation is to create a better life for them then the one they had growing up with their hyper religious mother. The closer they become the more she worries over his reaction when she is forced to reveal who she really is to him and how it will threaten their growing relationship. With a vote in Parliament coming up over who will inherit the Dukedom, Margaret knows she will be forced to choose between her family and the man who is coming to mean so much to her. And Ash will once again prove to be as amazing as she has always believed when everything comes out and he is standing there and they both know that they are supposed to be together.

By the time I had read 50 pages I was in love with Milan's writing; it is simply gorgeous in details and descriptions and in conveying emotions, without being overly wordy or flowery. Just remembering it I am blown away by her ability to make me truly understand what her characters are going through. Margaret and Ash were phenomenal characters because both were well written, caring, beautiful, and flawed in a way that made them so real to me. I love how torn she was between her family and the love of her life and how Ash was the one encouraging her the whole time to do what she needed to do even while knowing her choice could affect him. Her fear over being turned away from the life she had lead for so many years, her dedication to caring for her very mean-spirited father, and over what would happen with her relationship with Ash fleshed her out in a way that is very hard to accomplish in writing. Although I disagreed with the choices she made at times, it turned out the way it had to turn out and she remained true to herself throughout the book.

Ash was on a completely different plane than 99.9% of romance novel heroes. He had all the physical characteristics, he had the childhood trauma- living with a crazy religious mother, the hardship to overcome- dyslexia. But it was his reactions to Margaret that made him special; his single-minded dedication to her happiness, even if it could possibly come at the expense of his own. His reactions to her and the things she did made him the most amazing and understanding person and man I really wanted him for myself. Their relationship developed throughout the novel, by getting to know each other and I love how they could trust each other and Ash, the strong silent type, opened up to her. There was a lot of sexual tension between them, but there was not all that much sex and it was fairly hot if nothing spectacular. Their families played a really important role in this story because their respective brothers were their motivation, their enemies, and their best support all at the same time and I really liked that.

Rating: A very good book with two amazing characters, real characters who had a romantic, supportive, and special relationship. I was torn between 4 and 5 but the mediocre sex and very slight drag made it 4.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The School for Brides

The School for Brides by Cheryl Ann Smith 912

Evangeline, the bastard daughter of a nobleman and his long time mistress Charlotte, has been masquerading as the prim, proper, and homely Miss Eva Black for years. Her father and mother were in love but after his death the two women were at the mercy of the law and her father's very bitter wife. Determined to help girls escape the life that her mother led Eva opened a school to train courtesans how to act and behave as proper ladies in order to prepare them for advantageous marriages, if not for marriage into the nobility. Nicholas, the Duke of Stanfield, is furious at Eva for stealing his mistress, Arabella, and shocked when he discovers what she had done with the former courtesan. Bent on revenge he buys up the debts that Charlotte had accrued during the mental decline she suffered after her protector's death and demands immediate payment from Eva. But Eva's reaction intrigues Nicholas and suddenly he realizes the perfect solution to his problem is for Eva to take the place of the mistress she had "stolen" from him.

Eva is horrified at the prospect of becoming a courtesan, but not only does she need to save her home as a safe place for her mother, she is tempted by Nicholas and the pleasure he promises her. She goes to him and he is stunned to discover that she is a virgin and he knows that one night with her will never be enough. However, Eva does not want to become like her mother and risk falling in love with a man who could never belong to her. Making things even more complicated for Eva is the sudden appearance of one of her half-sisters, a woman Eva had been lead to believe wanted nothing to do with her and only wished her hard. Suddenly Nicholas is forced to confront the truth about the woman he seduced under false pretenses and rethink his plan to marry a boring society maiden and keep a mistress on the side. But just as he's thinking about changing the course of his life one of Eva's reformed courtesans goes missing and helping her could be just what he needs to do to prove to her that despite her past, their future together is what counts and that as long as they love each other they can weather any storm.

The plot of this book was incredibly intriguing to me and I really like the idea of a school that is dedicated to helping courtesan's find husbands, not reform them because of religious or moral reasons, but because she genuinely wants these women to have more options. It came across as very advanced thinking for that time, but also realistic for someone with her back ground and past experiences. This made Eva such an admirable character and I liked that she cared deeply for her mother, but there were also elements of her that were frustrating. She held onto her belief that she was not good enough for Nicholas long after I felt that every obstacle in her path, from Nicholas to his mother to her way of contributing to society. It got to be a little much and I wanted her to just accept that she was good enough. Nicholas is a very hard to define character because he certainly started off as a douche to put it bluntly, and while he did make some definite improvements throughout the course of the book, I still felt like he was a bit of a snob and a misogynist.

Nicholas and Eva spent a lot of time together, which does often lead to a likable romance, but their initial few meetings were marred by the blackmail and the abject hatred they both seemed to harbor for each other. Things definitely got better the more time they spent together, but were still tinged with something that made me a little uncomfortable because I felt like they weren't coming at each other on equal footing until he discovered who her father was (like I said he was a bit of a snob) and he started thinking about marrying her. Once that occurred I liked it more because I liked that he was the one with the disadvantage and he was genuinely going after her. The sex between them was really hot, if somewhat long and drawn out, and there really was a decent amount of it spread throughout the course of the book. I also liked the brief side plot involving the missing courtesan because it was quick, but I did feel like it got a little too cutesy and featured too many "sassy" women working together as the bestest best friends. Side characters were really well done and I wish we'd seen more of both of their mothers.

Rating: A decent book that was easy to read and I enjoyed something genuinely new and interesting to me, but there were problems with the hero not reforming as much as I would have liked.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

For the Earl's Pleasure

For the Earl's Pleasure by Anne Mallory 910 R

Abigail Smart and Valerian Rainwood, heir to the Dukedom of Pemburry, were once the closest of childhood friends but when Valerian's older brother, Thornton died, a horrible secret was revealed and the two of them became the strongest of enemies. Now Abigail' social climbing mother has hired Mrs. Browning to bring Abigail out into the ton, even though Abigail has never had a standout beau. Valerian knows he should stay away Abigail, that the two of them move in very different circles, but he cannot get her out of his mind. One night at a gaming hell he and his friend are attacked and suddenly he is a spirit and the only person who can see or hear him is Abigail- the girl who had revealed her ability to see spirit's when his brother died and whom he refused to believe. He knows that he is still alive somewhere and since Abigail is the only one he can ask for help, he refuses to leave her alone until she agrees. Abigail does not want to help the man who has made her life miserable for years, but when he continues to haunt her she is worried that he strange actions will make it clear to her mother that she is still seeing spirits.

Long ago her mother had enlisted the help of a doctor to cure Abigail of her affliction and the memories have haunted her nightmare's and she will do anything to avoid that happening again. But Valerian is not like the other spirits that Abigail has met before because he can touch her and if there is one thing that she has been missing in her life it is the touch of a human being- even her mother has stopped touching her. Valerian is trying to figure out who is behind what happened to him and occasional flashes to his body tied down give him clues as to what is going on, but he still needs a physical human to aid him. Abigail leads Valerian and her med, Telly, around the seedy parts of London and it becomes clear that not only is someone using Valerian's body for some unsavory deeds, but this person knows about Abigail's secret and is determined to do her harm as well. Together the spirit and the human will put their lives at risk to find out what is going on, but neither knows if their newfound friendship and love will be enough to put aside years of estrangement and their pasts and truly fall in love.

This book started off incredibly confusing and the character's were so mean together for a chapter with vague hints about a secret and I was very close to just putting it down. Surprisingly the story didn't start getting interesting until Valerian's spirit entered the spirit because the characters finally started acting friendly toward each other. As previously stated I am not a fan of paranormal romances and I would not have normally picked this up except the back made absolutely no mention of ghosts or spirits which drives me insane and I think is just false advertising. One of my biggest problems with the ghost plot was that it forced Valerian to spend all of his time with Abigail, and while these two had a lot to work out and talk about, I thought that making him completely dependent on her made the development of their relationship rather suspect. It did not seem like they would have gotten together if he had continued to be "alive" and they would have continued as enemies. However, many romances don't have characters spending enough time together so this one method of "solving" this problem.

Abigail's ability to see spirits aside, I really like that the pain and loneliness she suffered from because of her unusual ability, was made clear and was interwoven into Valerian's strange ability to touch and feel her as a spirit. It really made the moments when he was touching her so poignant and moving because it was two people who needed each other and it was just beautiful. Valerian came across as a bit of an ass because even with the explanation of what went wrong in their relationship (which occurred far too late) I wanted to slap him because he didn't want her and was really mean to her, but didn't want anyone else to have her either. He did undergo a change throughout the course of the novel as he came to understand what was going on with Abigail, and I did begin to like and respect him because of his love for Abigail. The sex between them was hot if nowhere near frequent enough, but maybe that's just as well because ghost sex is a little icky to me. The side plot involving what happened to Valerian was overwhelming and did take over the book, but at least it had a lot of twists and did come as a shocker.

Rating: A good book with some problems such as a ghost and an overwhelming mystery plot, but the romance and relationship were fairly well done and the book was readable.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Marrying the Marquis

Marrying the Marquis by Patricia Grasso 906

Blaze Flambeau is one of seven illegitimate daughters of the Duke of Inverary and his longtime mistress and her step-mother, the new duchess, is determined to see her and all of her sister's married off. However, Blaze is different than most of the young women of the ton because she has a connection with animals and can communicate with them. Not only is she a vegetarian (who eats eggs and butter and drinks milk) but she holds funerals for her step-mother's furs. The duchess invites 3 young men to a dinner/ party to meet Blaze; Ross, the Marquis of Awe, Ross's older half-brother, Dirk Stanley, an Earl in his own right, and Prince Lykos Kazanov and the Duke holds no doubt that Ross is the one who is meant for his daughter. Ross discovers that Blaze is just as into horse racing as he is and decides that the best way to win her heart is to help her prepare her filly, Pegasus, for upcoming races in order for her to win a Crown. Pegasus' problem is that she doesn't like to ride between two horses but because the horse race is so soon they agree that Blaze will ride her because of the telepathy.

Throughout all of this the Duke is trying to discover who murdered his horse jockey and he enlists the help of Blaze to spy on Ross, who is a possible suspect, and another daughter, Raven, who has the ability to "sense" things when she touches objects. Luckily Blaze is doing splendidly as a horse jockey, even though she has to pretend to be a man, but in an attempt to get closer to Blaze, Ross blackmails her into being intimate with him, even while ensuring that she was willing, about her participation in the race. During a second race someone attempts to poison her and suddenly everyone recognizes that there is a mad man out there trying to do away with people working with the jockey club. People also discover that Blaze is pregnant and suddenly both Blaze and Ross have a way to get what they want, marriage to each other, even while neither will admit it to the other and Ross' mother makes it clear that she does not want Blaze in her family. The race is on to discover who wants to hurt Blaze and the other people and horses in the jockey club and only then can Blaze and Ross settle in to a life of happiness and love.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a fan of paranormal romances or where there are completely unrealistic/ ridiculous little bits thrown in and her ability to commune with animals was just something that I do not want to read in my romances. Perhaps because there's always a certain amount of belief that needs to be suspended to enjoy a historical romance and ghosts and animal talking just means I need to suspend all belief and just give up and think of it all as just made up fluff. What irritates me the most about this though is that the book gives away none of this on the back blurb and was just left as an unpleasant surprise for me. Even aside from her unbelievable abilities, Blaze continued to push the boundaries of realism because of her complete lack of any of the sensibilities a woman, or even a person, in the 19th century would possess. She got away with ruining costly possessions, riding a horse in a horse race, interrupting her father's business meetings, and interfering in jockey club business. While I found her love of animals a fun character quirk, it was just done too oddly, unlike Kleypas' Love in the Afternoon.

Ross was another unexciting romance novel hero, with a take charge personality, a wealth of information on a very manly topic and a desire to protect the heroine. His desire to marry Blaze surfaced very abruptly when all he seemed to know about her was her ability to communicate with animals, which doesn't seem like the basis for a strong relationship. And his ploy to get her into bed was not only ridiculous, but also made me feel a little icky even while he "made sure" that she was willing. Sadly enough, the most interesting part of this book was the horse racing that occurred in the first half, which is not a good sign since I don't even like horse racing. The mystery over what was happening to the jockeys and the horses was interesting enough because it contained quite a lot of clues and twist and turns and, while not a complete surprise, was enough of a shock to be satisfying. I just wish it had not been so overwhelming and taken over for the romance, even if that was lackluster. I also did not like how the book so obviously sets up the next book in the series, especially since I'm not interested in them.

Rating: Two characters who were mediocre at best and ridiculous at worst with bizarre fantasy thrown in and a good mystery where the best going for it was horse racing- my least favorite "sport."

Friday, September 9, 2011

When Tempting a Rogue

When Tempting a Rogue by Kathryn Smith 905

Years ago Lord Trystan Kane was an easy going boy who fell in love with the older, more sophisticated and worldly, Vienne La Rieux. But when he declared his love she kicked him out of her life and he has spent the intervening years trying to become a man that Vienne could be proud of, someone she could not just turn away from, even while claiming that he no longer cares for her. Vienne has become a fixture in London society, skirting the edges of society, running the immensely popular and slightly scandalous Saints Row where members of the ton could come for a privacy and notoriety. Her newest venture is an emporium, an old-fashioned mall, and Trystan has maneuvered his way into a a 50% share and Vienne is horrified to discover that her spurned ex- lover is her new partner. At first she is worried that Trystan only wants revenge but it quickly becomes apparent that the frivolous young man she had been involved with is smarter, more determined, and wants to make money for himself by making the best of this potentially lucrative investment.

Their new partnership forces the two of them into close proximity on numerous occasions and they fall into a comfortably and friendly routine with business breakfasts at his hotel room and afternoons spent at the building site where they share their ideas for making their project work. But not everyone thinks the idea of a site designed entirely for shoppers' convenience is a good idea and many believe that it will lead women into vice and cause them to spend all their husbands money. Someone has been sabotaging the site and causing little accidents to occur, including some that put Vienne in danger. Seeing how Trystan looks out for her causes Vienne to worry that he is falling for her again because an incident in her past has convinced her that she is not worthy of love and she definitely does not think she is good enough for Trystan. But being with Vienne is all Trystan wants and he knows he needs her in his life, even if it means causing both of them a little pain in order to convince her that they belong together no matter what either of their pasts' may hold.

Vienne was different than most romance novel heroines because she was older, although I don't recall being told exactly how old she was, and she was FAR more worldly. She had a past, including many lovers whom she had actually enjoyed having sex with, and she was very capable of taking care of herself and was very independent in a genuine way (and not in the rather pathetic way most female protagonists claim to be). I love that she was so intelligent and ventured into capitalistic pursuits and that she unapologetically took lovers and controlled her relationships. She was the one with the tortured past, not Trystan, and while I admired that, I felt like a little too much was made over what happened to me. Maybe it was realistic, but I didn't see an intelligent, self-assured woman like Vienne blaming herself for years over something that was obviously not her fault. I also thought it got to be a little much when it was used as the be all and end all excuse for why she was so reluctant to fall in love; same as the way I feel about many heroes who don't ever want to fall in love.

Trystan was not much different from other romance novel heroes; he was a take charge alpha male who worked hard and had a strong head for business and cared for those under him, but he was not a member of the peerage. His determination to prove himself to Vienne was admirable and showed how much he needed her in his life so I enjoyed that. Their relationship was well developed and, while much of their love was lingering from their past acquaintance, I could still feel like they were re-learning each other and falling in love with the new person they had each become. They spent a lot of time getting to know each other and I love how dedicated Trystan was to proving to Vienne that they belonged together. There was not very much sex between them but their openness about sex lead to what little their was being really hot and steamy. The subplot about the emporium was very well done, it was minor enough to let the romance shine through, but also kept me turning pages to see what would happen. I also enjoyed reading about the relationship each of them had with their siblings; it was a nice addition.

Rating: The book was enjoyable and I certainly like Vienne and the development of their relationship, but I feel like I have been giving better books 4 hearts so I will give it 3.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Heiress in Love

Heiress in Love by Christina Brooke 903

Jane has always done what her guardian, the Duke of Montford, has requested, including entering a marriage of convenience with Frederick, Lord Roxdale. She endured years of painful marriage that left her scarred and fearful of ever marrying again, but she survived because of the love she had for her orphan relative, Luke. When her husband dies, his heir, Constantine Black, comes as soon as he can to discover what is happening with the Lazenby estate he has inherited. He and Frederick had been at war for years over a scandal that rocked the ton and left him estranged from his entire family. Both Constantine and Jane are horrified to discover that Frederick's will leaves both of them in a quandry; Con gets the estate, the mortgage on the mill, and guardianship of Luke while Jane gets all the estate's money. Neither is satisfied with this arrangement and both wonder if the only solution is for them to marry so that Jane can be with Luke and Con will have enough money to support the struggling estate and pay the mortgage on the mill that was once the lifeblood of the estate.

Con hates being backed into a corner and is desperate to find any way out of an marriage of convenience, but if he wants to get the mill operable again to provide for his new tenants he needs a major influx of cash and quickly and the only way he can think to get that is to marry Jane. Her marriage to Frederick had left Jane thinking she was incapable of having sex so she does not want to go through that again, especially not with a man everyone is warning her away from, including her guardian. On the outside Jane is icy, but Con knows that deep down there is a woman as capable as passion as any and he wants to be the one to bring her out of her shell. As they get to know each other she realizes that he is far from dissolute and cares deeply for his responsibilities while he discovers that she loves deeply when someone is deserving of her affection. But with a neighbor jealous of Constantine's success and a guardian who doesn't believe in love matches, there is a lot standing in their way and they will both need to take a stand for their relationship and for love.

I was first struck by the wordy language of the book and the long descriptions of things that I felt were unnecessary, but as the book went on I got into the style and started to enjoy the the writing style, especially when when it concerned their attraction/ lust for each other because it made the book very sensual. The book is part of a series called the "Ministry of Marriage," and I am torn between being annoyed that whatever this ministry was, it was not explained and I didn't get the sense of a series, and happy that space wasn't taken up with something not totally relevant to the romance. I spent a portion of the book confused because there were many secondary characters that weren't really developed and their importance and relationship to Jane and Constantine weren't really explained. I imagine they're in upcoming books but it was hard to tell. I really enjoyed the subplot involving the mortgage on the mill and the jealous neighbor and how it showed how caring and generous Constantine was and how well he handled crises.

Jane's handling of her previous marriage was admirable because she did learn and grow from it and she was so young when it happened. There were times when I was frustrated with her actions, like blowing hot and cold with Con, but I remembered what her life with Frederick had been like so I remembered. Her love for Luke was genuine but he really felt like a plot device for leaving Jane with no choice but to marry Con. I really enjoyed Constantine because he was strong and protective and his actions in regards to the tenants made it clear he really cared and was quite intelligent. However, his demand that people should just know that he wasn't responsible for committing acts he hadn't committed without any explanation or justification of what really had happened, were out of line and it caused some frustration down the line. There were some really hot and steamy scenes between them and some lukewarm scenes, and I enjoyed how much time they spent together and how they got to know each other because I could really sense that these two had a strong bond and a strong relationship.

Rating: A readable romance with two characters that had their flaws and a strong relationship, but the book had some other problems.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Bed and the Bachelor

The Bed and the Bachelor by Tracy Anne Warren 831

Lord Drake Byron is more concerned with his mathematical theorems and scientific experiments than about women or his house so when his housekeeper abruptly quits he needs to find a new one quick. Anne Greenway is young and beautiful, but she has all the credentials and Drake convinces himself that he will avoid her and not act on the attraction he feels for her. But Anne is actually Sebastianne and has been placed in Drake's home by a French agent in order to find the mathematical cipher that Drake designed for the English army to communicate in code. Her "handler" Vacheau has made it clear that if she fails, her two younger brother and her scientist father will suffer, so Anne agrees to the mission even though she does not like the idea of spying or of betraying anyone. Unused to her new housekeeper duties Anne relies on the help of the other servants in the house, who are far nicer and more accommodating than she had expected and makes her upcoming betrayal even harder to contemplate. And her attraction to Drake proceeds to get in the way of everything.

Drake has the best of intentions but Anne's scent lingers throughout his house and he cannot get his mind off of her. In an attempt to get the key to his safe that he wears around his neck she gives him a sleeping potion, but when she goes to retrieve it he wakes up in a daze and, in the haze of sleep and lust, they mutually seduce each other. Drake knows that there is something special with Anne and although she refuses to become his mistress, he accepts her becoming his secret lover. Anne wants nothing more than to continue this new idyll, but Vacheau is hounding her to get the cipher and she knows her newfound love is destined to end horribly. She knows what she must do, even if it leaves her heartbroken and Drake hating her, but she holds something back from Vacheau to use as leverage. Drake too has been falling in love and he realizes that he needs Anne in his life, so he is horrified to find that she has left him and then determined to get her back. He is willing to risk everything to find her and will do anything to save the woman he loves and bring her back into his life forever.

I have found the previous books in the Byron series enjoyable, if rather bland, and I expected this to be about the same and for the most part it was, except I found it lacking in some of the elements I have come to expect from Warren. Having Anne be a spy for the French was certainly a surprising change to the book and I was torn between liking her for being different and being annoyed at the copout explanation we were given to explain her actions. While I found her dedication to her family and her willingness to do anything, to protect him, I was confused as to why she was even asked to perform this task as she seemed like just a random person in France. Aside from her spying, which was not really done in a heart-racing manner, there wasn't much about Anne that set her apart and I felt like she was rather bland as a character in general which I know is weird to say about a spy, but is indeed true. Drake was a great mathematician and while I like the idea of a handsome and studious hero, he also fell rather flat to me and I just didn't get any feeling that he was a something special.

I have problems when the author has to tell the reader how attracted the characters are to each other because it does not come across naturally in the book, and this was the case here. I definitely feel the lust or steam and even when they (fairly early on) consummated their relationship, I felt like it was rather lackluster and altogether unimpressive. Their relationship never picked up momentum in my opinion; it just dragged on and on and on with very little being accomplished. Suddenly she was in love with him and he was giving up his bachelorhood to marry a woman he barely knew. It did not make any sense to me because they spent so little time together, just learning about each other in their relationship as master and servant which isn't appropriate. The spy sup-plot took over the book to me and took over the romance and I felt like the author wanted to write a mystery and threw a romance in there only because it was expected. As usual Warren's writing style is superb and I enjoyed the flow of the novel, but I did not like the numerous appearances by previous characters to let us know how happy everyone was.

Rating: Two uninteresting characters engaging in a slow and sedate romance with a side-plot I did not enjoy, but the book was readable and I did find moments that I liked.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

An Unlikely Countess

An Unlikely Countess by Jo Beverley 828

Catesby Burgoyne is out walking the streets near a fairly poor neighborhood when he sees a woman being attacked and comes to rescue her. Prudence Youlgrave had found her tiny little house in White Rose Yard confining and had escaped to the outside, only to be attacked. She is wary of her rescuer but invites him into her house and before either of them really understand what is happening, they are sharing stories over glasses of brandy. She shares that her mother and her had been living in barely genteel poverty in order to send her brother, Aaron, to law school, but now that her mother has passed away and her brother has finished his schooling, he is refusing to help her out. He shares that he and his family have recently had a large falling out and he worries that he will never be welcome back into the family, even while concealing that his older brother is the Earl of Malzard. Catesby departs in the morning but neither can forget the evening spent over brandy as he goes about his business in London and she decides to go to Darlington and confront her brother and his new wife and demand her due.

Catesby is informed that his older brother is now the Earl and he rushes to the family estate, Keyning, which he has always coveted, much to his shame. He finds that his mother and sister-in-law have not forgiven him for the row he had with his brother and he escapes and finds Prudence about to marry a rich merchant. He senses that something is wrong so he objects to the marriage, which leaves them little choice but to marry themselves, even though her former fiance vows revenge and Catesby does not inform Prudence of his new social standing. He can not hide it forever though as their arrival in Keyning stirs up a pile of trouble as his sister-in-law does not bother to hide her resentment of the woman who is taking her place as mistress of the house and her new mother-in-law hides herself in her room. Prudence is determined to learn how to be a countess and with Catesby's help and support she manages to succeed and maneuver around her new position. But there is still someone out there who wishes them ill and Catesby will stop at nothing to protect his unlikely countess and usher in their long life together.

The book started incredibly slowly, with only 20 of the first 100 or so pages spent with them in each other's company and while I recognized the need to build up the background into how these two got together, I wanted them to be together more. The relationship developed slowly and when she "realized" she was in love with him, I felt like it came out of the blue. They both certainly thought about the other a lot but there was not enough getting to know each other, and I wanted to see them having more fun together. There was no sex between Catesby and Prudence and despite the reasoning behind this being explained, I felt like a big part of the book was missing. Prudence was an admirable character because she had to fight to get what she felt was her rightful place, but I lost some respect for her when she agreed to marry the wrong man I wondered what would have happened if Catesby hadn't come by in time to save her. I also admired her pride and sense of self and determination to hold her own, even if she isn't totally prepared to be a countess.

Catesby was confusing to me because they tried to portray him as a wastrel type but then it became clear that he was far from that and it just was awkward that they had done a complete turn around like Beverley had chickened out of a bad boy character. He cared about Prudence and several times actively protected her, both physically and possibly mentally from issues at his house. I just felt like he was not a very special character. His relationship with the people in his family was interesting but not completely explored to my satisfaction. The side characters in this book were really fun to explore, especially the sister-in-law because she was hurt and bitter about life and yet I could completely empathize with her situation. I also wish there had been some comeuppance for Prudence's brother Aaron for abandoning her and was disappointed on that end. The side-plot about the ex-fiance was short, quick, and fit well in the story but wasn't really much of a surprise or mystery and I knew from the beginning how it would end. I did like that there were a lot of historical details, such as the class hierarchy, and obvious research.

Rating: A slow moving book that lacked in the romance department and featured two fairly lackluster characters.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Leopard Prince

The Leopard Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt 824

Lady Georgina Maitland is accompanying her land steward to visit her estates when their carriage overturns and while the groom goes to get help she stays with Harry Pye. Harry has known many aristocrats and has tried to keep his distance from his beautiful and intriguing employer, but this adventure is bringing them closer. When they finally make it to her estate they discover that sheep on the neighboring estate of Lord Granville are being killed with hemlock and that Harry is the prime suspect. Years ago he and his father had worked for Granville and there had been a big fight that still remained fresh in people's minds. George knows that Harry could never do what he has been accused of, especially as she spends more time with him and truly feels for the land and the people who work it. As George listens to Harry explain the estate business to her, he realizes that she is different than aristocrats like Granville, who don't care for the people. George has never been one for adhering to the class hierarchy, even less now that she is falling for Harry.

Granville has harbored a grudge against Harry for years, ever since Harry refused to bow to Granville's superior standing, and he is using the sheep killings as a way of getting back at the upstart. George is determined to help prove that Harry is innocent, even if it means showing up at his doorstep very early in the morning, or very long late at night, and riding with him across the estate. He knows that anything more is impossible, but both of them can't help but give in to lust and begin a very physical relationship. When the other townspeople begin to sneer at their relationship, Harry wonders if he is being used as nothing more than George's low-class fling and he is angry and hurt about the possibility. He starts to push her away and when George discovers there have been consequences to their liasion, she too begins to doubt Harry's feelings for her and leaves her estates. But Granville is not willing to let natural justice take it's course and Harry is forced to call for help and he is left with the realization that he needs George in his life no matter their social standings and he will stop at nothing to convince her of the same.

Elizabeth Hoyt is without a doubt one of my favorite romance author, hitting it out of the park with nearly every single book. As a result I recognize that I expect a lot from her and judge her more harshly than many other authors, and luckily this book does not disappoint at all. She always writes characters that are realistic, flawed, and slightly different from the norm while still being comfortable enough to read about. George was excellent as the independent woman living in a time when men still controlled everything and I found her perceptions of class differences enlightened, if not particularly in keeping with the time period. She understood her own shortcomings and was willing to listen and learn to those who could enlighten her and I loved that she was the oldest and only girl in her family because it led to some wonderful interactions between her and her, also very enlightened, brothers. Her determination to help Harry and prove his innocence was admirable and I admired that she did so in a composed and thoughtful way and not by running in their guns drawn as many heroines seem to do.

Harry was also great because he worked his way up the working class social ladder and was proud of what he accomplished and, while not scared of offending people who thought he should stay in his place, he also recognized that there was a social hierarchy. His dedication to the land and his own background involving Granville and his actions since them made him clearly a wonderful hero for a book. George and Harry had so many important interactions, talking, riding, working out the mystery of the poisoned sheep, and it really showcased how great these two were together. Those moments are always my favorite in a book. As usual Hoyt excelled at writing steamy and passionate love scenes that brought more emotion to the story. The mystery of the poisoned sheep was intriguing, well written, adn truly blended well into the story without overwhelming the romance aspect of the story. Even though this is part of a series, it works completely well as a stand alone as the leads from the other books only make brief and fairly minor appearances, which totally works for me.

Rating: Hoyt writes another wonderful read with two excellent characters who had a great romance with an intriguing mystery thrown in.