Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Courtesan's Guide to Getting Your Man

A Courtesan's Guide to Getting Your Man by Celeste Bradley and Susan Donovan 1023

Piper Chase-Pierpont is a curator at a Boston Museum and her job hangs on the line as she is designing an exhibit on Boston's favorite abolitionist, Ophelia Harrington. She is shocked when a secret compartment reveals Ophelia's diaries which detail her beginnings as London's most sought after courtesan and her very sexy escapades with a man known as "Sir." Her life becomes even more difficult when her college crush, Mick Malloy, shows up as a guest employee of the museum looking just as delicious as ever. Reading the steamy diary and the way that Ophelia changed her life has made Piper eager to take a plunge of her own and with her best friend's help she undergoes a makeover that is more than physical. Mick has always wanted the shy bookworm, and now that she is unabashedly trying to seduce him there is no holding him back. Along with a smoking hot affair Piper has to figure out a way to plan an exhibit that is true to Ophelia and sneak it by the conservative museum trustees, all while a brown-nosing employee named Linc is trying to get her fired.

Ohelia Harrington is tired of being controlled by her family so she takes a chance and enlists the help of The Swan to become a courtesan. Swan enlists her own friend, Sir, to help train Ophelia and Ophelia embarks on 7 nights of sin with her masked stranger before she is thrown into the the real world of London's demimonde. Throughout her career she never forgets Sir and although she knows it can never be she finds herself jealous of his other lovers. Even while she finds men whose company she enjoys Sir reappears in her life occasionally, including one time to warn her off one particularly nasty man. Ignoring him, Ophelia learns a dangerous lesson and it is Sir who is there to pick up the pieces. She lives her lie in freedom, enjoying herself and those she chooses to have around her, but there will always be people who are jealous of her success and they are determined to see that she is brought low. When those forces come together their charges threaten Ophelia's life and she must once more turn to Sir, who turns out to be far different than Ophelia had expected and he offers her far more.

I loved Piper as the repressed academic whose sole attempt to be wild backfired, so she hid in her shell for years and is only just now coming out. I guess I'm a sucker for ugly duckling- beautiful swan stories and this was a great one because it had some pretty awful parents thrown into the mix to justify her actions. Mick was also great as the sexy Irish hero who was just as brilliant as Piper and his honorable attempt to do the right thing backfired and he is just now getting together with the woman who intrigued him all those years ago. Obviously their romance was short so I did kind of feel like I was missing some things and their wasn't as much romantic development as I would have liked, but I still felt like they went so well together. They had common interests and helped each other out and supported each other through some really tense situations, especially his support of her museum exhibit. They had some pretty hot sex, nothing like Ophelia's story, and I liked their story best, which surprised me because I am more into historicals then contemporaries, but I related more to this Piper than Ophelia.

Ophelia was difficult, very difficult, for me to relate to or understand because while I could see that having her life planned out for her is unpleasant, it still seems impossible that a woman of her standing in that era would throw it all away to become a courtesan. While the sadder part of that life was touched on, I still felt like it was too glorified and there was so little thought given to what she was giving up and how her "freedom" was still based on a man, even if it was different than a marriage. Sir was nearly impossible to get a feel for because none of the story was told from his point of view and while we are lead to believe he's a male prostitute, and it was even questionable weather he was the actual hero, his identity is kept a secret until the very end. The sex is scorching, with quite a bit of kink and fantasies explored, and there is certainly quite a bit of it and it is not purely between Ophelia and Sir. Their relationship progressed slowly because they didn't really see very much of each other with him just popping up randomly so it was difficult to see how they worked together.

Rating: I felt like the contemporary story was stronger in the relationship, but both stories were enjoyable and were different from what I usually go for which was a nice change of pace.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ripe for Scandal

Ripe for Scandal by Isobel Carr 1020

Lady Boudicea "Beau" Vaugn has secretly wanted her brother, Leo's, best friend, Gareth Sandison, for years even while he has man-whored his way through half the women in the ton. Gareth has wanted Beau as well but she is Leo's little sister and he is far beneath her notice as the second son who is not destined to inherit anything. But Beau has a habit of getting into scrapes and when she is once again kidnapped by a rake who appears to want to marry her, her narrow escape threatens to ruin her reputation unless someone can save her. Gareth happens to be passing by and she clings to him as her savior, but both are concerned that they are taking advantage of the other for their own gain in finally getting the person they have longed for. Beau's family is horrified at this turn of events, believing that Gareth took advantage of her and Leo wastes no time in turning against Gareth and making sure that all their friends in the League of Second Sons refuse to have anything to do with him. Nevertheless both Beau and Gareth are determined to make the best of things as they head up to his secluded estate.

Their marriage gets off to a wonderful start as the two explore every wonder that the bedchamber offers and make plans to fix up the dilapidated house and woo the local stray dog into becoming a house pet. But when Gareth's older brother, Souttar, shows up with a little boy who is apparently Souttar's son from a secret marriage, Gareth is forced to pretend the child is his in order to avoid the scandal. Beau is distraught and upset with Gareth but that does not prevent her from falling in love with the boy, Jamie, and quickly developing a strong bond with him. Gareth suddenly finds himself on the outs with his wife for a crime he didn't commit and he desperately wants back into her good graces and he sets about wooing his wife, making nice with his "son," and trying to prove to her that he did not marry her out of necessity, but because he wanted her. When the people who tried to kidnap Beau before resurface it becomes clear that there is a very dark and sinister plot to ruin her and perhaps more and they must work together with their friends to save those they love and show how much they love each other.

Beau was kind of hard to get a handle on because she was strong and confident but she also was a bit naive when it came to men and her ability to hold her own against men who were after her for her money was too much to believe in a woman of that era. I did enjoy that she was comfortable with herself and had a good relationship with her family without allowing them to run roughshod all over her and that they obviously loved her. Gareth did not differ too much from a typical romance hero, which is not a bad thing in my opinion because there is a reason that type of male is the norm, except for his extreme dedication to his family. At times that dedication became irritating and I wanted to slap him, but it was also admirable and made sense because of who he was and made him seem both honorable and slightly ridiculous. I always like novels where characters have admired each other from afar because it adds a bit of extra angst and longing to the story, however, as usual, it also meant that I felt like I was missing part of the story behind them even though Carr did do a very good job providing backstory for them.

Their relationship progressed very well throughout the novel as they both worried that they were taking advantage of the other and that their feelings were not returned. They were obviously getting to know each other in a completely different way than they had previously known each other and I really liked reading that story. They had their ups and downs and they were so obviously happy together and worked well as a couple. The longing led to some great pent up lust that certainly exploded on the page; the sex was quite hot and really added to the story in my opinion even if there was one scene where he tried to use sex to control her. The added bonus of the child and protecting his family did add to the story because it gave them something more between them and showed off their true characters, but it was also a little worrying because I'm not a fan of men who have hidden children from their wives- even if it's not really his. The book moved incredibly fast and her writing style is fun and easy to read and Carr sets up the next book in the story really well without throwing her previous characters in our face.

Rating: A very fun book with two characters who had such a great relationship together, in bed and out, and a little extra problem thrown in.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Seduction of Scandal

The Seduction of Scandal by Cathy Maxwell 1016

Lady Corinne's father, the Duke of Banfield, has ordered her to marry Freddie Sherwin, heir to the Earl of Bossley, despite Corinne's numerous objections because he believes that the Earl will one day be prime minister and wishes to maintain strong connections to power. Corinne is determined to avoid marriage to the odious man so she runs away by hiding in the Earl's undercarriage. She is very surprised when the carriage is held up by the highwayman who has been haunting Bossley's land, The Thorn. The Reverend Will Norwich is Bossley's foster son, rescued from a life on the streets of Barbardos, so he owes Bossley his allegiance, but he could not stand by while the Earl robbed his tenants and threatened their livelihood. He disguises himself as the Thorn to steel back the money that Bossley has stolen and gives it back to those it belongs to. But on that fateful night his trip out leaves him in possession of a box full of French coins, proof that Bossley is a traitor, and Lady Corinne, who was accidentally shot by Bossley's men during the nighttime scuffle.

Corinne thinks this new development is perfect and he wants to hide out with Will in the rectory until the wedding date is past so that she can avoid marriage. Will is not so keen on the idea because he worries that Corinne showing up as his cousin will spur questions he is not willing and unable to answer and because of the attraction he has had for Corinne since he first saw her at a dance years ago. Corinne admires Will's passion for life, his dedication to serving the people in Ferris, and his determination to right the vast wrongs he sees in the world. Will is surprised that Corinne is not the spoiled aristocrat he had assumed; she mixes well with the common people and so obviously cares about those around her and she admires his work on behalf of the people. But her parents and the Earl are still expecting her to marry Freddy and their is the question of why the Earl of Bossley decided to adopt a random orphan. The most important thing for both of them is to never lose faith in the other and to trust that their love, and the help of their friends, will see them through and end with their happily ever after.

Corinne was certainly self assured and determined to take her life into her own hands, which I appreciated, but I appreciated even more that she went about it in a manner that seemed on track with a woman of her era. She had no choice but to escape and, while recognizing her options were limited, she took what she saw as the only way out of a bad situation. I liked how she felt that something was missing from her life because that is a feeling I could relate to and how she found meaning through helping others and being a part of something larger than herself. Will was a perfect foil for this because he had a greater purpose in life and it was wonderful reading about how she supported and worked with him doing something that was so important to him and how it became important for her. I liked that he was torn over what he was doing because of his relationship with Bossley but that he did what he knew was the right thing. I especially liked that he wasn't a typical heroine because although he was handsome, he was rather awkward and gawky at times and not always confident.

I really enjoyed their relationship and how it progressed throughout the novel from mere acquaintances to annoyances to respecting the others decisions and choices to falling in love. It went rather slowly, but that was in comparison with the book which moved incredibly fast and they didn't really get to know each other until the last half of the book and I felt like I spent a lot of time waiting for them to get together. There was very little lust or sexual tension between them which matched with the very little sex that was fairly lackluster and uninspiring. There was the huge mystery plot involving Lord Bossley and his treatment of his workers but it also extended beyond that to encompass treason and the search for the truth about Will's heritage. It was incredibly well done, integrated throughout the story and was exceedingly important for the development of their relationship and did not take away from the romance at all. Secondary characters throughout the novel were well written and as usual Maxwell's writing is fast, fun, and easy to read.

Rating: Maxwell writes two fun to read characters with a great mystery surrounding them and while I liked that they had a solid relationship I wish it hadn't been so slow to develop and there had been more lust.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Claiming the Courtesan

Claiming the Courtesan by Anna Campbell 1015

After years of courtship and one year as his courtesan, Justin, the Duke of Kylemore, appreciates having his beautiful mistress, Soraya, available and compliant whenever he wishes. But Soraya is really Verity Ashton, a Yorkshire girl, who has used the only asset she saw available. to earn a better life for herself and her siblings, Ben and Maria. Their contract specified a year for their relationship and at the end Verity takes the vast sums of money she has earned from her time with Kylemore and leaves to set up a quiet existence. Kylemore is immediately determined to bring Soraya back because his obsession with her has not ended and the longer it takes the more he becomes intent on revenge. He must make her suffer as she has made him suffer and when he finally finds her and invades the escape she has created for herself he sets out to break her and make her regret ever leaving him. He and his Scottish strongmen escort Soraya/ Verity to his hunting lodge deep in the Scottish Highlands where escape or rescue are impossible, even though memories of his boyhood there haunt Kylemore.

Things get off to a poor start as Verity is determined to maintain her pride and refuses to give in to Kylemore and this makes him even angrier and he sets about cruelly breaking her spirit. He chooses to do this by seducing her, even when she is reluctant or unwilling, and this only proves to him that he needs her in his life. He realizes that far from breaking her, he is breaking himself as he comes to discover that she brings peace to his troubled existence and it is only with her that he can forget the demons that haunt him. Verity tries to hold herself apart, convince herself that she does not want Kylemore, especially after all that he forces her to endure, but it becomes harder as she sees him interact with his tenants and learns of what he went through as a child with his crazed father. Even as the two begin to warm to each other and accept their feelings for the other, Verity worries that an ex-courtesan will never be good enough for a peer of the realm and it is up to Kylemore to convince her that their past does not matter; the only thing that counts is that they each need and love the other.

Campbell has a very distinctive style that is wordy, dark, and emotional and this one stuck to that script perfectly. I love having a courtesan be the heroine of a novel and how her past came up and was definitely an issue between them, but with work they were able to move past it. Her dedication to her siblings was admirable and I enjoyed that she took charge of her life and did not martyr herself while still recognizing that her chosen path was not one for the righteous. Her determination to hold herself apart from Kyelmore seemed ridiculous to me after everything they went through and especially once she "gave in" and everything was so happy between them. She was so worried about losing her heart and her "self" and that dragged the book down and on for a long while and was very darkly emotional in keeping with Campbell's style. Kylemore was a tortured soul of course, and his determination to break Verity lead to some very dark and disturbing places and he performed some nearly unforgivable actions that I still have not quite come to a decision about.

Their relationship was based on a past where neither really knew the other and while their time secluded in Kyelmore's hunting cabin certainly gave them the opportunity to learn more about the other it also felt like they fell in love because they had to. I am just not a big fan of isolated people turning to each other for comfort and believing that they are in love, especially not when one has such a power advantage over the other. The sex between them was interesting and I would hesitate to say hot because even when it was entirely consensual, it was tinged with melancholy because of past deeds or what they expected from the future. I did appreciate the part of their relationship where they were both happy and enjoying themselves, it seemed that the majority of this happy time occurred in the bedroom, but it was short and overshadowed by the immense cloud that hung over both of them and their entire relationship. Kylemore's demons were certainly tortured soul worthy, but not cruel and evil human making. Perhaps my favorite character was his super evil witch mother just because I liked a genuine person to hate.

Rating: A long and very emotional book with two characters who had a very complicated and dark relationship. I debated between 2 and 3 but can not say I precisely enjoyed it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Vengeful Bridegroom

The Vengeful Bridegroom by Kit Donner 1011

Matthew Colgate is in trouble after agreeing to help the Count Taglioni so in order to try to make things right he places a wager that his sister, Madelene will marry within three days, through a medium, with plans to convince her to marry his homosexual friend, Beltrand, and make the money back. He tells her that the family fortune will be lost forever if she doesn't agree to the marriage and once more Madelene finds herself picking up after her older brother's mess and agrees to go along with the mad scheme. Gabriel Westcott has sworn revenge against the Colgate family after Matthew seduced his sister and abandoned her and her unborn child and he is back in England after taking his sister to Italy where she gave birth and died. He learns of Matthew's plan and realizes that marrying Madelene, ruining her, and then divorcing her after a year, will be the perfect revenge. He pretends to be Beltrand and takes Madelene away, only revealing his true identity after the marriage ceremony takes place.

Madelene is obviously upset over what has happened, but falls in stride with things fairly quickly when Matthew takes her to his country estate. She hires new staff and sets about getting the house in working order until her brother shows up and demands a knife that he had hidden away in her suitcase and had promised to the count. The knife is missing and the count will do anything to get it back and Matthew knows that he must convince Madelene of the seriousness of getting the knife back from her husband or her husband's "friend" Alec, a woman who dresses like a man and is the Count's niece. Both Madelene and Gabriel realize that their relationship has changed as they spend time together as man and wife and they get to see that the other is not "the enemy." But the Count's reappearance coincides with Gabriel's nephew, Matthew's son with his sister, comes to town and suddenly there is the possibility that the people who want the dagger will take drastic measures to get it back. Madelene is torn between her brother and the new man she loves and he is determined to protect his wife and their love.

The first thing that struck me about this book was Madelene's completely irrational love for her brother despite his incredibly awful actions and the unforgivable situation he places her in. This carries on throughout the book with him doing stupid and ridiculous and dangerous things that prove he has not a care in the world for anyone except for himself and Madelene is there every step of the way getting him out of scrapes. This made it very difficult for me to have any respect for Madelene or for me to admire her or find her at all likable. She did come across as capable but that was not enough to explain to me why someone fell in love with her. The best part was her secret side business designing fashions for the haut ton which was just a ridiculous way of making in to a well rounded character, but it failed miserably because it came up so sporadically and there were times I completely forgot about it. Gabriel was an ass for what he did to Madelene, but I was frustrated that he forgot about his plans for revenge so quickly because Madelene set about getting his house in order- I guess he just wanted a housekeeper?

Their relationship progressed slowly because not much happened and it was rather boring, but it also happened too fast because so little happened between them that I just couldn't understand how they were in love. I did appreciate some of the little scenes before them where they talked about loss but it was brushed over really quickly and it was just Donner telling us they talked about it, we didn't actually get to read their conversation. There was some sex between them, nothing particularly hot, more like barely lukewarm and I just didn't get any sort of heat between them in general so I didn't get too into the sex anyway. The plot with the dagger completely bored me and I just don't go for side plots or mysteries in my romances unless their incredibly well done and integrated into the story and this one certainly wasn't. There were like secrets built upon secrets with the baby, the count, the diamonds, Alec, and even the housekeeper so I got exasperated and just wanted it over more than I wanted to figure out what was happening.

Rating: A boring and very slow moving book with two characters I could not relate or like and a mystery plot that was just as uninteresting.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Secrets of a Proper Countess

Secrets of a Proper Countess by Lecia Cornwall 1002

Isobel Maitland, the widowed Countess of Ashdown, is entirely proper and respectable because of a clause in her late husband's will that will leave her penniless, and without any access to their son, if she remarries or causes any sort of scandal in the opinion of his mother, the very controlling Honoria. Love for her son has kept Isobel on the straight and narrow until the anonymity that a masked ball offers, and the pull of the darkly handsome and mysterious rake, Phineas Archer, Marquess of Blackwood, becomes too much to resist. A very heated tryst in the garden becomes both of their obsession and while Isobel is determined to forget it ever happened because of what she risked for a moments pleasure, Phineas is equally determined to find the woman he cannot get out of his mind. Even though he presents himself as a carefree rogue, his reputation is actually carefully cultivated to disguise his true identity as an agent of the crown and the more difficult it becomes to find his mysterious woman, the more he wonders if she could possibly be a spy or a traitor; someone he will have to turn over to the police.

Meanwhile Phineas' sister, Marianne, who happens to be married to his friend and government contact, meets Isobel and her son, Robin, in the park and Robin befriends Marianne's own son and she decides to take Isobel under her wing. Phineas immediately dismisses the far too uptight Countess as his mystery lady and Isobel is torn between outrage and relief that her indiscretion will not have the consequences she feared. Phineas does need to find this woman, who might be a spy, because the government has learned that someone plans to kidnap the French king and send him to Napoleon. With the two of them spending so much time together it is inevitable that he does eventually discover that the judgmental countess he has been avoiding is the masked woman he has been hungering for. He realizes he misjudged her and is determined to prove that she can let loose with him, but she still fears what will happen with her son. Phineas will have to bring down a spy ring and Isobel's in-laws before she can be free and they can love each other without fears.

I liked Isobel because she was so genuinely torn between her desire to live her life and enjoy herself and be a woman and her love for her son and her need to be there for him and ensure that he wasn't left to her in-laws. I did, at times, become irritated with the situation because I felt like all the power was taken away from her and that made it rather difficult to read because of the element of darkness. However, Isobel handled it the only way she could and it felt very real when she did let loose and the guilty emotions that accompanied it. I really enjoyed the parts of the story that were told from her point of view because she obviously very intelligent and very capable and when I wanted her to stand up for herself, her inner musings made it clear why she did the things that she did. Phineas was likable, but I felt like I had read the good guy pretending to be a rake because he's really a spy storyline, before and he did not bring anything new to the story. My favorite part of his storyline was when it involved Isobel and his determination to find her and later, his determination to make her life better and make her happy.

I really liked their relationship, but felt like there was not enough time where Phineas knew who Isobel was. Most of their time spent together as their real selves, was spent with them not really liking each other for various reasons, and while they certainly enjoyed each other masked, I wanted some more Isobel and Phineas time. The sex between them was HOT, and I was really glad that it didn't all take place masked, but because there was such an emotional connection between them I would have liked to see more of that in the physical aspect of their relationship. As I said I was really frustrated by the circumstances that controlled her life, but I could see how for the time period it was fairly normal. The secondary characters were excellently done, their motives explained, they were well developed and I really enjoyed getting brief parts of the story told from their point of view. There was a mystery/ spy/ kidnapping plot involving lots of higher ups that did not really hold my attention and wasn't very interesting, but it did not take over the book or overwhelm.

Rating: An interesting, if not precisely fun read, featuring a very admirable heroine and a romance that could have been more developed, with a writing style that dragged at times.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Deed

The Deed by Lynsay Sands 929

Lady Emmalene Eberhart becomes famous at the court of Richard II when she requests that he order her husband, Lord Fulk, to bed her after two years of unconsummated marriage. But her husband dies before the deed can be accomplish and no one knows what will become of the very wealthy, landed, and virginal Lady Emma. Her deceased husband's cousin would be next in line to inherit but the king fears that Bertrand is involved in a plot to depose him so he needs to marry Emma to someone he trusts so that the land and title will not be used to enhance his enemies' power. He decides that Amaury de Aneford, a landless and bastard knight who saved his life in Ireland, would be perfect and that it is a great way to reward loyalty. Amaury has of course heard of Lady Emma and dreads marriage to a woman whose own husband would not sleep with her, but upon meeting Lady Emma he realizes he had completely misjudged her. Despite her complete lack of faith in her appearance Emma is beautiful and her ability to belong, to earn respect from her servants, make him want her, and want to belong with her.

Amaury is much different from Fulk, bigger and far more masculine, but Emma knows she must do her duty even if it quickly becomes apparent she is not sure what that duty is. Their wedding night is full of fumbling and mistakes but during the beginning of the marriage they begin to make things work and Emma starts to enjoy herself. Amaury is confused as he has bought into the teaching's of the church but he is easily convinced that it is great that his wife enjoys his attentions and they settle into a comfortable routine. Their routine is upended when Amaury is attacked in the woods twice and it becomes clear that someone is after him and the only one they can think who might want him dead is Bertrand and his evil, controlling mother. For the first time things are looking up for Amaury and he feels like he finally belongs and has found people who will love him for who he is and he worries that it is about to be snatched away from him. He and Emma, with the help of friends, family, and the King, will have to stop those who wish to do them harm before they can be at peace with their love.

I believe from the prologue that this was Sands first book, written to make her laugh, and while I certainly enjoyed it and found aspects of it humorous I definitely did not feel it was her best book even though it followed a familiar pattern. Emma was a smart, very in charge, yet innocent and naive woman while Amaury was the tough warrior who didn't know how to deal with a woman, especially one who was his wife. The wedding night had an entertaining little misunderstanding which would have been cute except I was expecting it and it had been done before in her other books. Emma's naivete was well done and I was not annoyed by it at all because it was well explained and worked with her character and because it made Amaury's "teaching" her that much more pleasant. I liked that he had to teach her how to love herself, to have confidence in her looks, even while he had to grow comfortable with her own confidence with her people, while he felt like an outsider. I would have liked to see more of her helping him become comfortable in his new life and helping him finally belong somewhere.

I felt like there relationship developed rather suddenly and in bursts through inner musings, like him wondering if he was in love with her a couple of times and going through the reasons why he would love her and her sudden realization at the end. I liked that it mentioned they talked and shared with each other, and found it especially nice because talking to a woman was a new and surprisingly enjoyable experience for him, but we didn't actually read these conversations. There was certainly a lot of sex and it played a big part in their relationship and lead to lots of funny moments and while it was fairly hot, after awhile she just started closing the door on what was going on, which was not that bad after the last book I read. The side plot involving the evil Bertrand his mother wanting to kill Amaury was kind of boring and kind of just popped up randomly throughout the book in the form of bandits and assassins until about 2/3 of the way through when it just seemed to take over. It wasn't really a mystery, but there were some twists that were nice even if it ended completely predictably.

Rating: A fun book that was a fast read, featured interesting if predictable characters and plots, but it was enjoyable even if I would have liked more relationship and less side plot.