Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Favorite Countess

My Favorite Countess by Vanessa Kelly 1122

Lady Bathsheba, the widowed Countess Randolph, has no idea how she is going to pull herself and the estate’s her husband left bankrupt, into prosperity again. Her brother-in-law, Matthew, who inherited after her husband, Richard’s, death, is kindly incompetent and she knows he will be no help. She is horrified at the prospect of spending the rest of her life in the country so she comes up with a plan to go to London and marry a wealthy man before her financial situation is exposed. Dr. John Blackmore is visiting his mentor in Ripon when he meets Lady Randolph at the local squire’s dinner and is amazed at how outspoken she is, even if her opinions are not the most popular. But what strikes both of them the most, is the intense attraction they both have for one another. When she gets sick after visiting her sister, Rachel, it is Blackmore that takes care of her and suddenly there is more to their relationship than she had been expecting. But Bathsheba needs money to care for Rachel in keep her in hiding, since a childhood illness left Rachel with the mental capacity of a child.

John wants to get to know Bathsheba better and thinks that she needs something more in her life than just being a countess and wants her to get involved in his hospital St. Bart’s. He has hopes of one day opening up a hospital that doesn’t turn away women in need and can help poor women get through and survive pregnancy and childbirth. They end up running into each other in London quite a bit and become even closer when Bathsheba recommends his services to her new friend, Lady Silverton. Now the idea of being John’s wife is exciting to Bathsheba and she contemplates a life of happiness and freedom from the worry that has plagued her. John’s idea that the poor need to be treated as well as the wealthy has earned his enemies and the husband of a patient of his who died in childbirth is causing him problems and Bathsheba does not know if she can stand being the wife of a man who puts a passion, even if is for a good cause, ahead of his own safety and her peace of mind. John and Bathsheba are both forced to recognize that they can put their pasts behind them and make a new future for themselves full of love.

Bathsheba was the rather horrible villain of Kelly’s book, Sex and the Single Earl, and I remember feeling like there was not enough back-story to explain her behavior and this book certainly provides it. It was incredibly obvious in this book why she would be regarded as the enemy rather than the heroine of a romance novel, I personally loved her and thought she was the perfect material for a romance. Her outspoken-ness bordered on rudeness, she hated country life and made no qualms about it, she wanted money because she wanted a comfortable life and wasn’t above using rather mercenary tactics to achieve her goals. I found that I liked how different she was from most other heroine’s and while the Kelley did make attempts to explain some of her behavior I especially liked that she wasn’t excusing it or trying to make it go away. Bathsheba had had a rather difficult life with a cruel and controlling husband and a father who sent away her sister and told everyone she was dead and that shaped Bathsheba’s life and she spent a good portion of the book admirable trying to atone for her mistakes.

I liked having a doctor for a hero and John was certainly a great example of how a non-lordly romance lead can be written. He was passionate about his work and saving women and children’s lives and that by itself made him so likable. He was able to see past Bathsheba’s coldness and bring out the warmth and happiness that had been stomped out of her by her past, while being forced to recognize that mistakes from his own past had to be overcome as well. I truly felt like Bathsheba and John brought out the best in each other and worked better together than they did apart. He gave Bathsheba a purpose to her life in helping at the hospital and she brought acceptance and peace to his life that he had never experienced. Their relationship progressed very naturally throughout the course of the book as they met and got to know each other and attraction and lust developed into liking and admiration and into love. The sex between them was really hot as well and spread liberally throughout the book.

Rating: A very good book with one of my favorite heroines and a great relationship and fun writing and a fast pace. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Ice Princess

The Ice Princess by Elizabeth Hoyt 1119

Coral Smythe is the Madame of the most famous brothel in London, Aphrodite’s Grotto, but because of some financial difficulties it is actually the cruel Jimmy Hyde who owns most of the business and in effect controls Coral. Captain Isaac Wargate is not a fan of Aphrodite or her business and every time his ship docks in London he is forced to go and rescue his men. He and Aphrodite have a bit of an interesting relationship where every meeting leads to a war of words. But one day Jimmy decides to auction off a week of Coral’s favors and she has no way to refuse. Sensing her dilemma Isaac throws himself into the fray and through luck or fate he ends up winning. Neither Coral nor Isaac are certain how this week should play out and Coral is determined to maintain business like and not become the scared little girl she was when she first entered the business. But Isaac throws her for a loop by spending the entire week going slowly, getting to know her and winning her trust and eventually her heart. Coral is terrified of love and it is up to Isaac to prove to her that their pasts don’t matter and they can have a future together.

This was a short story and I will admit that I have recently really started liking short stories because they often skip some of the filler and needless problems that longer novels contain. When written well, like this was, I get a decent feel for the characters and the relationship they have together. Ladies of the evening have been featured as heroines in several books recently, almost always with a back-story to explain away their profession and this was no exception. Coral had family issues and needed the money but she did not make any apologies for her decisions and I admired that. Isaac was wonderful as the dark and handsome hero who was widowed, loved his wife and didn’t have to vilify her in order to fall in love again, and he was so obviously dedicated to Coral. They really got to know each other during their evenings together and I could really sense that they worked well together and had a solid relationship. The sex between them was not as hot as some of Hoyt’s other writings, but it was interesting enough and served to cement the feelings they had for each other.

Rating: A very good short story that I very much liked with two wonderful characters and enough problems between them to keep it interesting. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

One Night Scandal

One Night Scandal by Christie Kelley 1117

Sophie Reynard is one of the ton's most sought after matchmakers because of her skills as a medium that allow her to read into other's futures and see their perfect match. Despite her friendship with some of the most powerful men and women of society she is not completely accepted because she is a bastard who was never claimed by her father, even though the rumor is that he is a powerful Earl. Sophie's mother has taken care of her as best she knows how but that does not stop her from running off every time a new man catches her fancy. Sophie is in Venice visiting her mother, who has run off with an Italian count, when an accident lands her in one of the canals. A handsome stranger rescues her and takes her back to his house to care for her and Sophie is shocked when she sees her rescuer in her future and believes that he is the one. Nicholas Tenbury, the Marquess of Ancroft, finds himself falling for the beautiful woman he has rescued and believes her to be Italian so he has no qualms about making her believe the same about him.

Knowing he is meant for her Sophie gives herself to him for a night and is horrified to read a letter he keeps that reveals his identity and that he is in love with one of her friends. She runs away and hopes never to see him even though she knows it is inevitable since he is related to many and is friends with all of her friends in London. Nic cannot forget the woman he spent the night with in Venice and it is not long before he discovers her identity and wants to find a way to ensure that she never abandons him again. Sophie decides she must help Nicholas find his own match because she no longer sees him, or sees anyone at all, in her future. Thus ensures several attempts by Sophie to throw women at Nicholas despite it breaking her heart every time she contemplates him being with someone else. The two have difficult keeping their hands off each other but Sophie knows that she will never be accepted by the ton and would not make a proper wife for Nicholas. Nicholas has to show Sophie that their pasts do not matter but it is their future together that is what they need to focus on.

I am not into paranormal romances and while this wasn't precisely other-worldly I do not get into, or really believe in, people who can "read" other's futures. That made it really difficult to appreciate Sophie because her entire self was built around her unique gift and she placed such immense importance on what she saw. There were many obstacles she threw up between her and Nick and her inability to see him in her future was particularly ridiculous to me and I just found myself rolling my eyes every time this  particular reason came up. I could not get a read on Sophie's character at all because of the obstacles she kept throwing up and at the end it seemed like the only time I got into Sophie's head she was bemoaning her belief that she could never be with Nick. There was always one reason or another why she felt she was not qualified to be a marchioness and I wondered if it was the only thing she was capable of thinking about. While her background and experiences made her actions understandable, it got to be incredibly annoying and it just came across as an excuse to prolong the novel.

Nick had father issues that left him feeling undeserving of love so Sophie's attempts to distance him played right into his feelings of inadequacy. Rather than explore this aspect of the story, it was brushed over and Nick played right along with Sophie in the attempts to find him a wife. I could not figure out precisely why he was so desperate to have Sophie and no other or even why she was in love with him. I got so little from either of these characters and could not figure out what their interests were or what they had going for them. The sex was pretty hot and there was a decent amount of it but it didn't make up for the overall lackluster, and slow, quality of the romance. They both had a lot of friends, friends who were all main characters in Kelley's other books and I quickly became bored of having it shoved down my throat how happy they all were with each other. It quickly went from showing us how happy they were to having them become just as important in this story as the main characters. I also felt like it would have been really difficult to understand this story without having read her previous works.

Rating: A boring book with far too many made up obstacles thrown in their path and far too many appearances by previous characters.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I Love the Earl

I Love the Earl by Caroline Linden 1115

Margaret de Lacey has accepted her life of quiet spinsterhood, living with her brother Francis, a modestly well off merchant. Their world is turned upside down when Francis very unexpectedly inherits the Dukedom Durham and they are both thrust into society. Almost as a joke Francis settles an enormous dowry on Margaret that makes her much sought after by everyone in the ton, especially the fortune hunters. Rhys Corwin, Marques of Dowling is in desperate need of an heiress after his father and then his guardian squandered his money before he inherited and then a freak flood drowned the entire flock of sheep he was hoping to rebuild his fortune on. Margaret knows Rhys' game and has no intention of falling for it and from the very first set down she issues him Rhys knows that that Margaret is the only woman for him.

Rhys sets out to win Margaret's hand by befriending her friends and "appearing" everywhere she is and he maneuvers them into private setting as often as possible. Margaret begins to warm to Rhys, and it does not hurt that she is immensely attracted to him, and she realizes that she can not fault a man for being poor, especially in Rhys' situation. She is especially won over as the two of them discuss how he, how THEY, will spend her dowry once they are married and Margaret is able to place herself in his life and see that they will work so well as a married couple. Neither are prepared for her brother's reaction as he refuses to condone the marriage and threatens to withhold Margaret's much needed and anticipated dowry. Both of them work together to decide how they will make their life work and realize that as long as they have each other, and their love for each other, they will be fine.

This book is very short, only 144 written pages, and I am beginning to realize that there are some major advantages to a shortened historical romance. The first important aspect was that there was no big misunderstanding or any sort of misunderstanding. They met, they had words, and they slowly began to get to know each other and fall in love. There was no time for any betrayals or any behavior, on either of their parts, that made me cringe, and there were no mystery side plots what not that would poor me or take away from the romance. The romance between them was the entire focus of the book and I feel that Linden did an amazing job with such a short amount of space. While Rhys' immediate attraction to Margaret over her taunts was a bit odd, they spent a lot of time together and I felt like their love was really natural and flowed.

I liked that Margaret was a more mature heroine and that she was genuinely satisfied with her life, not just pretending, but wasn't about to turn down a happier future than she had envisioned. Rhys was amazing, I'm half in love with him myself, because his very moving conversations about how he would spend Margaret's dowry made it so clear that he wanted her in his life and that her dowry was just an added bonus that he would use to enrich THEIR lives together. There was some sex in the novel, it was very loving and pretty hot and it fit really well in the story. Francis was an interesting side character and the problem that he caused for the relationship was perfect because there did need to be a little conflict at the end and he provided it in a way that made the relationship stronger and really pointed out to the reader that Margaret and Rhys worked so well together.

Rating: A very good novella that showcases some of the best aspects of romance novels with two amazing characters who just meshed so well with each other.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Arabella by Georgette Heyer 1113

Arabella Tallant is the oldest daughter in a family of eight children. Her father being the local vicar, they live modestly but by no means are they poor, and they are very family oriented and connected with each other. Her mother's best friend from childhood is now the widowed Lady Bollingbrook, and since she is Arabella's godmother, Arabella's mother asks her to sponsor Arabella for a season in the hopes that she will find a well connected husband and she can then bring her sister's out into society. Arabella is anxious to do what is best for her family and hopes to find a kind man who will love her. On the way to London her carriage overturns and she and her companion take refuge in a nearby hunting lodge. Robert Beaumaris is a very wealthy gentleman about town who has been hunted by matchmaking mamas and desperate young ladies for years and he automatically assumes that Arabella is one of these women. Overhearing his remarks Arabella is incensed and makes it clear to him that she is very wealthy as well and hopes to hide it from fortune hunters.

Robert knows that Arabella is stretching the truth but his friend overhears and word quickly spreads around London that she is an heiress and the fortune hunters do indeed come out. Lady Bollingbrook is beside herself, imaging that Arabella is the belle of the ton, but Arabella is crushed to learn that her impetuous outburst has created so many problems. Robert remains the only comfort she has during the parties and balls where everyone's eyes on her, but she worries what his reaction will be when he finds out the truth of her financial situation and fears losing him. Robert wants Arabella to confide the truth to him of her own volition- he does not want to force her hand, but he realizes it may be inevitable because he is falling for her and does not want to wait too long. Meanwhile Arabella's brother has gambled his way into a huge hole and Arabella believes it is up to her to make things right and the only person she can turn to is Robert. Robert is of course willing to do everything he can to help but he expects that at the end he and Arabella will stop pretending with each other and admit to each other that they are in love.

Arabella is much different than every other romance I have read and I wondered if it was even appropriate for me to review it here. It was obviously written a long time ago, originally published in 1949, and it sticks more to social norms and language that would have been used in the Regency period than most modern romance novels. Her writing reminded me of Jane Austen because it was wordy and long and slow with only moderate verbal interactions among characters. However, while I do not like Jane Austen's novels I found that I did enjoy this because it was essentially entirely a romance novel and the diction was more digestible for me. I really liked that Arabella was very true to her time and her situation; she tried to stick to social norms and pretty much did for the entire novel. She cared so much about her family and had a strong sense of duty to do right by them and felt guilt over the deception she had played out. She did what others expected of her and yet it was clear that she had a very strong sense of self and stayed true to her beliefs and values.

Robert was not in as much of the novel as I typically like in romances but I did get enough of him to make it clear that he was a really upstanding guy who cared about Arabella and wanted her to be happy. He started out a little stuffy but slowly began to reveal his more fun side and let loose a little bit. He acted out of character in order to be near Arabella and the way it was written made it so clear that he needed Arabella and the laughter she would bring into his life. Their relationship was slow and very staid and proper, in keeping with the entire tone of the novel, and they were very rarely alone together. They enjoyed each other's company and quickly came to see that they were compatible and that they could live a happy life together. There was one muted kiss at the very end of the book, but, as with much about the book that would normally not work for me, it was in keeping with the rest of the book. The plot involving her brother was often long and I did not really go for it, but it worked with the novel and was an opportunity to show how Robert and Arabella worked together.

Rating: It was an enjoyable book but it was not really my cup of tea. For what it was it was really good, but I don't think I will read too much more of Heyer's stuff.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Night to Surrender

A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare 1112

Susanna Finch is the de facto leader of Spindle's Cove which has become a haven for women who have trouble fitting in with society and need a place to explore and be themselves. She enjoys herself and the environment of welcoming she and her fellow townspeople have created. Victor Bramwell is desperate to regain his commission to help fight Napoleon and he turns to his father's friend, the amorist, Lewis Finch. Finch informs Bram that he can get his command back but that he has been honored with the Earldom of Rycliff and he must raise and train a militia in Spindle's Cove. Bram is not pleased to hear this but he sets about trying all he can to find eligible men, a hard task since the community has turned into a haven for women and even the local tavern has become a tea shop. Susanna does not like Bram for coming in and disturbing her peace and his actions threaten to ruin the reputation of Spindle Cove; a reputation she has worked so hard to maintain. She needs Spindle's Cove as a safe place for herself and for all the women of England who need to be welcomed somewhere.

Bram has been an officer his whole life and when his knee injury threatens to ruin his career it also threatens his sense of self so he sees his enterprise in Spindle's Cove as his last chance and he doesn't want anyone standing in his way. They are at cross purposes and bickering and bantering over the future of Spindle's Cove, but they also come to an agreement that their two groups can work together. Bram thinks he is just what Susanna needs; she is loud and tall and takes charge and he is just the man who can stand up to her and not allow her to run roughshod over him. Susanna feels that she has finally found someone in Bram who she can depend on but she worries that his military career will always be more important and he will end up abandoning her. With the officer's ball and the militia review coming up tensions are running high and Susanna and Bram are both unsure of where their relationship is heading and how much they will have to give up to be together. But when an accident threatens Spindle's Cove and their lives it is clear to both of them that they will do anything for the love they share.

I really liked Susanna because she was genuinely strong and brave and capable and presented herself as so confident and had hidden vulnerabilities. I take issue with romance novel heroines who are presented as so strong but Susanna really was; she built Spindle's Cove to protect other women like her who needed a safe haven and took pride in what she had accomplished. She had a purpose in life beyond the mere charity work and because Bram had one too, it made them more equals. Bram was a very well developed character because he so identified with his role in the army that he couldn't see his life without it. It was only with Susanna coming into his life that he could see life beyond being an officer and enjoy that prospect. And similarly he made her take risks with her own hopes and desires and come to recognize that she was hiding in Spindle's Cove and could take a chance on him and on her life. This really made their relationship pop to me because they complemented each other so well and each of them needed the other in some way and became a better person with the other's help.

There was a good amount of sex in the novel and it was well written and pretty hot and inventive. While I understood that Bram was presented as so different from all the men she had met her life up to this point because he did was not intimidated by her and presented a challenge, I found it odd that such a big deal was made over how he could stand up to her and wouldn't be pushed around. The men in Spindle's Cove did tailor their work to suit the needs of women because that's how they made their living and Bram was personally affronted by this. There was a little too much of a theme of making real men out of people and I found it insulting that Bram couldn't appreciate that a blacksmith who fixed lockets was just as good as one who spent his life throwing horseshoes or whatever. The militia buildup was interesting and I liked that Bram and Susanna worked together for much of the novel to make things work out and helped each other. The book was a typical length but for some reason I became bored about half way through and felt like the book dragged after that.

Rating: Two well developed and well suited characters with a strong relationship but I was bored during the book even if I can't put my finger on precisely why.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Scandalous Desires

Scandalous Desires by Elizabeth Hoyt 1108

The widowed Silence Hollingbrook has a scandalous past with river pirate Mickey O'Connor since she went to him a year ago after he stole her husband's cargo. Even though he did not touch her it left her reputation in ruins and her marriage was never the same and after her husband's death she comforts herself with the orphanage her family runs in St. Giles and Mary Darling, an infant left on her doorstep. Mick has never forgotten the innocence of the beautiful and loyal young woman who begged for his help and so when he needed a safe place for his young daughter he immediately thought of Silence. When Mary's hiding space is compromised Mick takes her back and Silence refuses to leave the child she has quickly become attached to even if it means being forced to move into a pirate's palace. Mary is determined to keep her pride even while doing something that could ruin her and, if discovered, could ruin the foundling home and her siblings.

Mick knows that Silence is too good for him and that he is only bringing her into danger and exposing her to the Vicar of Whitechapel, the notorious gin runner who Mick knows from personal experience has no care for anyone save himself, who would do anything to bring Mick down. Life in his palace is far from Silence's normal way of life; guards on every corner, rich and plentiful food, gold and silver accents, and luxurious furniture and rooms. Upon closer inspection she discovers that Mick is attempting to make up for a childhood spent in abject poverty and she realizes that there are secrets, very dark secrets, in his past, that he is attempting to hide from her but will help her understand all of his actions. Silence's family and friends encourage her to leave Mick, but she knows that there is good inside of him and she wants to bring it out and make him into a better man. When the Vicar makes his move it places Silence in danger and Mick must do all he can to save her and his child, but when everything has settled he has to decide if he can ever be a man who is worthy of love from the woman he loves.

This book starts out immediately where the previous books int he series left off and pretty much jumps right in with the assumption that the reader knows what happened. I enjoyed this because I did know and would not have liked to have pages of catch up when I did not need it but I imagine it would be confusing for some readers. Mick certainly did not come across as a good guy, or as hero material, in previous books as his actions could have destroyed Silence's husband and did end up ruining her reputation and her relationship with those closest to her. It was apparent that there would need to be a major overhaul of his character to make him worthy of love from our heroine and I felt like Hoyt fell short in this. Mick got his jollies by killing people and ruining people just because he could and while he did have a horrific childhood, I felt like this was no even close to a decent excuse for most of his actions. I understood that he was redeemed through his love for Silence but I wanted to know what happened to the other people whose lives he had destroyed.

Silence was loyal, caring, and sweet so she was basically the complete opposite of Mick and her character was obviously meant to show that a good woman could transform even the most wicked of men through said goodness. While I admired her determination to first see to her husband's well being and then to see Mary Darling, I did not understand her feelings for Mick. I wanted him to suffer for what he put her through and it felt like he did not make up for what he had done. Their relationship was difficult to understand and their forced proximity made me wonder if there feelings were just based on her exclusion from her family and friends. They did interact with each other a lot and they had time to get to know each other but I was still just waiting for some reason to find Mick worthy of Silence. There was some sex between them, but not very much and it was not as hot and steamy as I'm used to from Hoyt. The plot involving the Vicar was engrossing and reasonably introduced and carried throughout the book and blended well with everything.

Rating: Great writing as usual and an interesting story but I could not get over Mick and his unlikability even while enjoying Silence and the side plot.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

An Unwilling Bride

An Unwilling Bride by Jo Beverley 1105 

Beth Armitage grew up quietly, but happily, with her Aunt Emma and eventually became a satisfied school teacher for young ladies. The Duke of Belcraven originally accepted his wife's son, conceived with another man, as his own, but when his own two sons passed away he had difficulty being completely happy with the situation and it caused a rift between him and the Duchess. When he discovers that Beth is his own bastard child he decides that the perfect solution is for Beth to marry his heir, Lucien de Veux, the Marquess of Arden. Lucien is shocked to learn the truth of his parentage and feels adrift to no longer be a true de Veux, but he has no intention of following the Duke's orders until Belcraven threatens to leave all of his money elsewhere and leave Lucien with a bankrupt estate. Beth too is horrified by the proposal but the Duke once again resorts to blackmail to get the marriage he wants and Beth is moved to London where she tries to fit into London society and tries to get to know her future husband. 

Beth has always been a believer in equality for men and women and for the classes and it is not long before she and Lucien are exchanging quotations and philosophizing on the rights of men and women. They both enjoy the banter but Beth is not reconciled to her plight and she insinuates that she may not be a virgin. Despite not being a virgin himself, Lucien is horrified at the implication and her mistake colors every interaction they have as he cannot look at her the same way. She regrets her hasty words but the chasm between them only continues to grow as he starts to go out in the evenings. No matter how awkward the wedding must go on, but now she is terrified of consummating the marriage as the gulf between them continues to widen and they both wonder if anything will ever come of their marriage. There is also the matter of a man from Lucien's past who is threatening the happiness of one of Beth's former students and she is determined to help her friend. Lucien and Beth work together to help this girl and in the process discover that they are perfect for each other. 

I love that Beth had a career and a purpose in life and was so well educated she could hold her own with the most well to do men. She was shy and introverted and her reactions to being forced into marriage were very realistic because she recognized she had to succumb because of what the Duke was holding over her head, and yet her pride still compelled her to do all in her power to try to stop the wedding. She was insecure about herself and unsure of how she would fit with her very handsome husband and his glittering and well connected friends. Lucien overcame the truth of his parentage very quickly and he reacted fairly to what was happening to him and Beth as neither of them got very mad at each other and they recognized that they were both victims of this scheme. I felt like they were too controlled and were holding so much in and went about their interactions far too rationally. There was  a lot of talking, a lot of them sharing quotes to see who was the best at it, and it was jut not to my taste. Seriously? Taking turns quoting people? Completely ridiculous. 

Because of Beth's fear of intimacy there was basically no sex in the book and very little lust even though that very little was enough to make Beth's head spin and send her off into endless little mind tortures. This book has apparently gained some notoriety because Lucien backhands Beth when he believes she has had another man in her room. I obviously found it abhorrent but I was willing to be open minded given the right circumstances, but those never arrived. She just accepted that it would never happen again and that he was provoked (even though I did not feel like it was that big of a provocation) and he apologized and spent less than a page regretting what happened. I was also horrified by the fact that less than an hour after the slap Beth was sitting in Lucien's former mistresses house and they were becoming the best of friends. Ugh. The plot involving her former pupil became the entire focus of the last quarter of the book and overwhelmed what could have been them finally falling in love. The book also felt like an homage to Beverley's former books in the series and a setup for the next which I didn't like.

Rating: Two incredibly talkative people who did not behave normally around each other and actions I didn't like and a side plot that overwhelmed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Beginner's Guide to Rakes

A Beginner's Guide to Rakes by Suzanne Enoch 1030

Diane Benchley, Countess of Benchley, returns to London amidst a firestorm of gossip after she and her husband had fled England for Vienna chased by creditors demanding payment for her husbands debts. When Lord Cameron dies Diane is left nearly penniless and uses her skills to convince people that he had left her all the unentailed properties and is determined to never ever be under any man's thumb again. Oliver Warren, Marquis of Haybury, hears the rumors surrounding Diane's return and decides he wants nothing to do with her. The two of them had engaged in a brief affair in Vienna and when he had found that he was falling for her he hightailed it back to London to make nice with his uncle who was threatening to leave him a bankrupt title. Diane felt betrayed and she too wants nothing to do with Oliver, until her partner in waiting passes away and the only person she can think who could help her is Oliver. Diane wants to make gambling finally work to her advantage and plans to open a club in her own home and as a dedicated gambler himself, Oliver is the perfect partner.

Oliver is not eager to help Diane, but she has information about the one time he cheated at cards and he cannot risk his reputation at the table so he agrees to loan her money to help start her venture, to teach her employees- all female- how to work at a club, and to move in upstairs but leave her alone. Diane needs to keep her distance from Oliver and even carries a gun around for protection if he should get ideas, but he quickly proves to be more than she can handle, moving around as if he owns the place, and truly becoming a partner and helper in her business, instead of the reluctant victim of her schemes. As he sees her attempt to run such a complicated establishment and try so hard to prove that she doesn't need anyone, the more he wants her to need him and he wants to make up for what he did long ago and show that he has changed and there is a future for them. Diane is terrified of how much Oliver is coming to mean to her and how much he can hurt her but it it is only with her help that she can take care of her problems; both from her family and coming from inside herself, and they can finally find love together.

Diane had admirable qualities like her ability to look after herself and her complete self-centered-ness was a change of pace from the usual romance novel heroine. That is about all I can say about her that is good because I found nothing about her to be sympathetic, likable, or worthy of anyone falling in love with her. She was cold, incredibly cold, and it was impossible for me to warm to her because she was only concerned with herself; her money, her feelings, her ability to take care of herself. The book briefly mentions how she is taking in women who have nowhere else to go, but it felt more like a desperate attempt to make her seem human and it fell far short. Oliver was definitely more human but I felt like there was nothing special about him and I could not really get into his character because I was so horrified that he was in love with such an unlikeable heroine. Their relationship started years prior so I felt like I missed out on them falling in love- like perhaps Diane had been lovable back then but I saw no evidence of this in the present.

I felt like their relationship, in the present, got off to a very poor start with the blackmail because I felt like it gave one person far too much power in the relationship. Enoch tried to make it seem like Oliver was there, eventually at least, of his own free will and that Diane's control was not so all encompassing, but I just did not get over her holding a pistol to him for much of the book. I also did not enjoy that their relationship was based on one-upping each other like they were in constant competition and trying to prove something to the other. It did not come across as the basis for a stable, or very romantic relationship. They were both supposedly incredibly attracted to each other and while their was quite a bit of lust on both their parts, the sex, when it finally occurred, was not all that impressive even while I recognized that might be because I didn't really like the characters. The side plot involving her ex brother-in-law was interesting, but after so much to do over what would happen it was settled incredibly quickly and in a rather ridiculous manner.

Rating: Two characters I disliked in a romance that was far from romantic and a side plot that was ridiculous, but the writing style was easy and fast paced.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Ecstasy Wears Emeralds

Ecstasy Wears Emeralds by Renee Bernard 1027

Dr. Rowan West is a well-respected, if not entirely conventional, physician in London who is working hard to do the best he can for his patients and to forget his past. Gayle Renshaw desperately wants to become a physician but all the usual means are blocked because of her gender so she resorts to blackmail. She knows that Rowan was involved with her cousin, Charlotte, back in Standish Crossing, and despite not knowing the specifics, she does know that everyone holds Rowan responsible. Rowan is in need of an apprentice anyway and he sees that she has potential so he succumbs to her blackmail and agrees to train her but only if she will keep their arrangement semi-secret because he does not want other physicians to get wind of what is happening. He immediately puts Gayle to work and while she finds the work exhausting she is excited and motivated and he quickly realizes that she is dedicated and will make a find physician. Gayle has been lead to think of Rowan as heartless, but he proves to be kind and caring and his patients love him.

Suddenly Rowan and his friends come into the picture as members of "The Jaded" a not-quite club of men who apparently met in India while they were all held captive by a mad Indian maharaja. Their experience bonded them and when they left they stole a huge pile of treasure and divided it by color and now someone is after them and trying to get this treasure. The men are trying to decide what to do, but do not know who is trying to hurt them and do not know how to go about smoking him out and making themselves safe again. Rowan needs to keep Gayle safe, even if it means never letting her out of his sight, and this proves far less annoying than he had expected and the two of them spend quite a bit of time together. Gayle still has doubts about Rowan because of what she had learned about his role in her cousin's death, but she has learned that she should accept nothing as fact and should form her own opinions and the man she has come to know could never have harmed someone. Gayle and Rowan have to faith the threats against them, both internal and external, before they are able to accept their love.

I admired Gayle's drive to become a doctor, even if her reason for doing so is kept far too well hidden until the very end of the book, but I felt like her method of going about it was a little off. She foisted herself onto a man she had never met, a man who she believes may have killed her cousin, and while her drive and ambition were intriguing, it was too weird a situation for me. She was intelligent and good with her patients but I did not feel like there was much about her outside of her becoming a doctor. Rowan was very intelligent, even if he could easily have told Gayle the truth about her cousin and saved a whole bunch of bother, and his willingness to take on a female apprentice was years ahead of his time and he obviously cared for his patients. There relationship was actually pretty well developed because they spent a lot of time together even if much of it was in a master-apprentice relationship and/ or as them being doctors and learning. They learned a lot about each other and they were able to work well as physicians together, which seemed like a nice basis for people to get comfortable and fall in love.

They were drawn to each other physically but they both resisted for a long time because of their unorthodox working relationship. While when they eventually had sex it was steamy and inventive I did not feel like it was hot, and that might be because by that time I was just hoping the book would end soon and it was coming so late. Maybe unsatisfied desire can only last for so long before I feel like there's no point in satisfying it. The Jaded plot in this book came across as just ridiculous because it popped up completely out of the blue about halfway through and was not explained at all. Elements that were necessary to make sense of it were left out and new details that had been left out of the previous two books were thrown in- like dividing up the treasure by color- and they seemed haphazardly added for no reason. Nothing was resolved in the novel, because it is very clear that there are more books coming in the series and past happy couples appear repeatedly throughout the book and everyone is so happy with each other and such good friends and it annoyed me.

Rating: I felt like the Jaded plot dragged down the romance which already had some issues and I could not get in to what was happening with these 2 characters.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Romancing the Countess

Romancing the Countess by Ashley March 1025

Leah George was in love with her husband, Ian, when they married but shortly after the ceremony she discovered his affair with the wife of his best friend and for the last year she had gone through the motions without engaging her emotions. Sebastian Madinger, Earl of Wriothesly, was in love with his wife, Angela, for the entirety of their marriage and he lavished attention on her and their son, Henry. He is shocked and angry and hurt when Angela dies in a car crash with Ian and it is obvious that they had been having an affair. His first thought is of protecting Angela's reputation to ensure that no scandal touches Henry. Leah has had an entire year to get used to the knowledge of the affair and after hiding behind society's strictures for so long she has no desire to live the next year mourning a man she had lost long ago. Although Sebastian's plea for discretion does resonate with her she wants to live her life, she wants to not be lonely, to be the center of attention for once in her life so she decides to throw a house party, which of course infuriates Sebastian and he goes rushing off to stop her.

Sebastian cannot help but compare Leah to Angela and he finds that she smiles wider, she talks and laughs louder and she enjoys being with people for her own sake and not merely to make other people like her. He cannot get her out of his mind even while he recognizes that her actions threaten to start a scandal that could lead to the truth. Leah is enjoying herself even with Sebastian trying his hardest to prevent a scandal and she finds that the more he tries to interfere the more she enjoys his company and believes he is enjoying hers. But she is worried that he is constantly comparing her to Angela and finding her wanting, just as Ian did and she cannot forget how betrayed she felt in her marriage and she never wants to feel like that again. When Leah finally causes a scandal that could threaten all of them Sebastian finds that the most favorable solution is to marry her and realizes that this is something he wants; to be a part of Leah's life and to have her in his. She must overcome her fears and anxiety before she too realizes that Sebastian is the perfect man for her and in this marriage the love is mutual.

I absolutely loved Leah because she was so amazing and I found myself totally immersed in the story of this woman who was just starting to live her life. Reading about her and how she had lived a half life, following all the rules and doing exactly what was expected of her and slowly succumbing to unhappiness and then realized she had a whole life ahead of her and she had control of it, was completely moving. It was depressing that her actions kind of backfired and she ended up almost worse than where she started but I was with her every step of the way as she assuaged her loneliness and tried to find happiness. Sebastian was far too obsessed with protecting his dead wife's reputation but he made up for that with his love for his son which was so touching to read about. I also loved that he was in love with his wife and his betrayal felt so real and yet I could understand the process of him coming to realize that he needed Leah in his life. The comparisons he made between her and Angela were somewhat troubling, but it also served to show how perfect she was for him and how he and Leah were equals.

Their relationship definitely was well developed and underwent complete dissection through every step of the process; from mutual anger and hurt to fear of the newness of their feelings to eventually admitting their feelings and hoping they were returned. I really felt like these two were perfect for each other because they were foils for each other and, without claiming that they had a lot in common, I knew that they "meshed" together and they made each other so happy. There was not very much sex between them because she was haunted by her sexual past and she never wanted to be under a man's power. They danced around each other and wanted each other but there was not even a buildup of lust and the eventual culmination was rather disappointing because it took so long in coming. There was certainly a lot of angst in the book as the each questioned themselves over what happened and the influence of what happened was seen throughout the book. I never felt like it took over the romance, which remained the focal point, and I never felt like it was marginalized which I appreciated.

Rating: A very good novel about betrayal and learning to trust and love again with two characters who were so obviously perfect for each other.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Serpent Prince

The Serpent Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt 1023

Lucy Craddock-Hayes is content with her quiet life in Maiden Hill, being courted by the local vicar, friendly with all the locals, and living with her father, Captain Craddock- Hayes, and her grumpy man of all work, Hedge. Viscount Simon Iddlesleigh vowed revenge against his brother, Ethan's, killers after a group forced him to issue a challenge to a man more skilled them him and he was killed. He has already successfully killed two of them when they find him first and leave him for dead in Maiden Hill and it is only with Lucy's skillful nursing that he survives. He imagines her as an avenging angel come to save him and warn him away from his wicked plans and he wants her soothing touch and voice near him always. Lucy finds that the arrival of the suave man from the city is making her question the choices she has made and her supposed satisfaction with her life and she wonders if she is destined for something more. Simon feels that he is becoming more and more attached to Maiden Hill and the people in it so he heads back to London to finish his revenge plan and try to move on with his life.

Lucy tries to move on as well with her life but she cannot forget the brief glimpse into another life she was given with the arrival of Simon. When he finally realizes that he will not be able to get Lucy out of his mind he heads back to Maiden Hill and proposes and she accepts but there are still secrets about the motives behind Simon's actions. She gets along well with his family and even her own father grudgingly approves of the  marriage and while most aspects of their marriage work, there is still the problem of what Simon is is up to. While Lucy knows that what happened to Ethan was a tragedy and she understands why Simon feels he need to avenge his brother, she worries that he is slowly losing his soul, and perhaps his life, every time he fights another duel and takes another life. She tries to get him to see reason, but he is driven by a single purpose and when he discovers there was a master behind the plot to kill Ethan there is no stopping him. Lucy loves him but does not know if she can live her life under a cloud of revenge and Simon realizes that all that really matters is his love for Lucy and hers for him.

I love that Lucy was the content country miss who suddenly realized there was a whole other world out there for her and she was determined to make the most of her life, even if it meant bucking expectations without going completely off the deep end. She was kind and intelligent, in a very confident and practical way, and she cared for the people in her community. Simon was obsessed with revenge but the motives for it were explained and proved him to be a caring and responsible man with hints of honor because he was looking out for his family, including his sister-in-law and his niece. I wish there had been more to him though because while I could see why he would fall in love with Lucy, it seemed unbelievable that she would fall in love with him knowing so little. It was more like she was in love with the idea of a new life and something exciting than she was with Simon himself. I wish there had been more about their relationship progressing to love and them getting to know each other however I liked the longing that existed between them during the period when they were apart.

The one part of their relationship that was very well developed was their sexual relationship and the sex was scorching hot and both of them were confident sexual beings and it showed throughout the book. Eventually the book came to be more about the duels than the romance and that is when I really started just wanting it to be over. There was such a big to do about how what Simon was doing was bad for his soul and was going to lead to his downfall and wouldn't he please just stop. While I understood that murder is bad and it was obviously draining him, I felt like it was an attempt to put some sort of wedge in an otherwise very well suited couple who were getting along perhaps too well for a romance novel that still had 70 pages to go. The plot itself was certainly well integrated into the story because it really was the impetus for them getting together and was interwoven somewhat in the story, but it really did just overwhelm everything and it the book definitely came to be more about him getting revenge than about Lucy and Simon falling in love.

Rating: Excellent writing as usual but this book was not Hoyt's best work because the focus was off the romance and I got tired of the revenge and duels.