Friday, July 27, 2012

Wedded in Scandal

Wedded in Scandal by Jade Lee

Lady Helaine has been living as dress designer, Mrs. Mortimer, ever since her father, a member of the peerage, was outed as being a war profiteer, and she has been hiding from her past and trying to scrape by. Her shop is given a boost when Lady Gwen Percy decides to purchase her gowns from her but her shop cannot operate by buying and selling on credit so she decides to ask Gwen's brother, Lord Robert Percy, Viscount Redhill, for an extension of funds. Robert has always prided himself on being upright and cannot explain why he has an completely overwhelming desire for the outspoken, strong-willed, and very inappropriate dress maker. Helaine want nothing to do with Robert, except the little contact necessary due to their professional relationship, but Robert inserts himself into her life by insisting on protecting her from dubious characters in the fabric business. Helaine is terrified he will find out who she is and tries desperately to keep herself aloof from Robert but she cannot deny their is a pull between them, a deep connection.

Robert has secrets of his own as he has engaged in his interest in healing by operating a former brothel as a hospital for sick women and children. Because he took on the responsibilities of his title at a very young age, since his father was a drunken wastrel whom Robert kicked out of the house, he had no opportunity to explore his passion and he knows that the ton would scorn his endeavors. With Helaine he feels he can let down his guard, he can let her into his secret life and be free of the weight of his title and the pressures he is under with his family. It is not long before Robert realizes that Helaine is hiding something from him and it is not hard for him to guess what, but he wants to earn her trust before he confronts her. Helaine is unsure how to reconcile her past as a lady with her new life as a possible courtesan and mistress to a powerful man. But Robert knows that Helaine is so much more than a mistress and no matter how much she believes she does not deserve him, he is determined to prove that they both deserve each other.

Helaine was a phenomenal heroine; she was very adult, very confident, and very accomplished and yet it was her insecurities and fears that made her a well- rounded, ratable, and very lovable character. The struggle between her lady-like virtue and her desire for Robert was very well written and was very realistically portrayed and avoided being overemphasised. I was worried I would not be able to get into the dress making endeavor but it was presented as a very real profession that she enjoyed and she was good in and served as a wonderful way to introduce our two protagonists. Robert was almost as enjoyable, but I believe it's always harder to make a truly interesting hero because there is much less wiggle room with them. He had the obligatory title and responsibilities complete with the hidden depths and secret side that only the heroine can bring into the light. However, it was impossible not to like Robert even if he wasn't precisely unique and I found nothing objectionable about him.

Their relationship was fun and sexy and I really enjoyed reading about Robert and Helaine getting to know each other and falling in love. It progressed naturally and they were both incredibly well suited for each other and complemented each other perfectly. They spent a lot of time together, in many different circumstances, which I feel is very important to showing how the characters suit each other and it was clear they suited very well. There was some sex between them, certainly lots of scenes leading up to them which Helaine stopped because of her virtuous upbringing (which did get a tad annoying). It definitely was not gratuitous and was fairly hot but not really anything special. I liked that there was no secondary plot and that the entire book focused on Helaine and Robert and their relationship with each other and their lives. The writing was very well done and it was fast and fun without being too frivolous.

Rating: A very enjoyable book with a wonderful heroine with a hero who was very well suited for her and a relationship I definitely rooted for.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Passion Wears Pearls

Passion Wears Pearls by Renee Bernard

Eleanor Beckett was trained to be a lady but when her father's patents are stolen and her parents die with nothing, she is thrown out on the streets to make her way. After her employer tries to find her a protector, Eleanor has nothing until artist Josiah Hastings storms in and saves her. Josiah is estranged from his family because of his not-so-respectable profession and is part of The Jaded, a group of men who spent time in an Indian prison together before escaping with a fortune in jewels. Josiah knows that it is only a matter of time before he goes completely blind and he has been desperately fighting the onset of blindness and trying to hide his deficiency from his friends. When he sees Eleanor his vision becomes crystal clear and he knows he has to paint her no matter the cost. Eleanor does not want any scandal attached to her name and definitely does not want to be thought of as a kept woman, but with no other option, agrees to become Josiah's model. The two work out a very generous contract that gives Eleanor quite a bit of money, even if she decides to opt out of being painted.

Eleanor and Josiah spend a great deal of time together as he paints her picture with both of them determined to ignore the passion they feel for each other. But as Eleanor comes to see how noble Josiah is and begins to suspect the secret he is trying to hide from everyone, she cannot help but fall in love with him. Eleanor is everything that Josiah has always known he can't have and when she admits her own feelings and her desire for him there is nothing that can stop him from having her. However, he knows that with his eyesight going he is no match for the beautiful and accomplished young woman and he has no intention of tying her to him. But Josiah and his fellow Jaded members are trying to capture the villain who is after them and is causing problems for all of them and when Eleanor finds out she fears for his safety. She feels she has no choice but to fight for the man she loves, even if his stubborn pride stands in their way, and when her life is endangered Josiah knows that he too will do anything for her.

I have read all of the other books in The Jaded series, but I will admit that I promptly forgot them upon finishing as none of them really had anything that stuck to me. This book followed in that pattern and I imagine that in a week I will remember almost nothing about it because there was simply no oomph or spark to really hold me. Eleanor and Josiah were both interesting enough and while I recognize that it's difficult to write a character that's different and unique when there are so many other books, I felt like Bernard was trying to make them unique and in doing so made them poorly ordinary. Josiah's blindness would have been intriguing except his stunning visual clarity when viewing Eleanor made it just ridiculous, completely unrealistic, and plain annoying. I am not an art connoisseur by any means and was completely uninterested in any of the talks of painting and mixing colors and rhapsodizing descriptions of Josiah's talents.

Eleanor was annoying in her righteous indignation at everything that didn't adhere to her very strict moral standards and it gets very tiresome. She goes on and on about holding onto her virtue and that makes it even worse when she does give in to her desire for him because it seems so out of character and smacked of hypocrisy. They certainly spent a good deal of time together, but it was entirely in his studio which presented a very insular space for them to be together and did not show me how they would work together in the real world. The sex between the was pretty hot and frequent enough but was crammed into a very small portion of the book. I felt like once they had given into their mutual passion the "problems" between them took on a superfluous air and the book seriously dragged. I found The Jaded plot to be haphazardly thrown into the mix and it did not fit in at all with the rest of the story and since it was really such a short little bit I didn't really get into it.

Rating: A problematic book with annoying problems and a subplot that I found myself completely uninterested in and rather boring characters.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ravishing the Heiress

Ravishing the Heiress by Sherry Thomas

Millicent, Millie Graves, has known her entire life that she is destined for an arranged marriage and has trained for it and accepted her lot in life. As the only heir to a very wealthy tinned food company she is sold off to a much older Lord, whose desperation for funds has led him to contract the marriage. When he dies, his much younger cousin becomes Earl Fitzhugh and though Fitz is in love with his sweetheart, Isabelle, crushing debt and a crumbling estate necessitate a speedy influx of cash. It takes only one meeting for Millie to fall desperately in love with her future husband, but it does not take her long to realize his love is reserved for someone else so proposes that they postpone consummating the marriage for 8 years, during which they can lead their own lives. Fitz says goodbye to Isabella and embarks on his marriage with despair while Millie is equally depressed at the thought of spending the rest of her life in love with a man who loves another woman.

Eight years later Millie and Fitz have built a life for themselves together and have become fast friends, when Isabella strolls back into town, newly widowed and wanting to reconnect with Fitz. Millie has hidden her feelings all these years and has no intention now of embarrassing herself and being rejected but inside it crushes her that Fitz wants to start a new life with Isabella. He and Isabella try to pick up where they left off 8 years ago but there is no denying that things have changed for Millie and Fitz. They have common interests and goals after having worked together to build up their estate and bring the Graves tinned food industry to immense profitability. Not wanting to leave Millie alone he decides to spend six months more with Millie in the hopes of giving her in a child and Fitz begins to realize that there is so much more to their relationship than he had thought. Millie knows that now is the time to lay her heart on the line and hope that Fitz realizes that what he has with Millie is more important than a childhood infatuation.

Millie was an enjoyable and relatable character to read about because of her unrequited love for Fitz but she was a little too controlled and in charge of emotions and so good at hiding herself. She was a good person though and she was an amazing friend to Fritz, even when it broke her heart and I enjoyed when we finally did get to see some real emotion from her. Fritz was a deeply flawed person and his flaws made him so real to me. He obviously idealized his relationship with Isabelle and held onto his vision so tightly that he couldn't see what was right in front of him. While I admit this was frustrating because I did want him to see how amazing Millie was, I could definitely understand what he was feeling and thinking. Thomas did a great job telling the story from both of their perspectives which was very important in a book like this which was so emotional. Her stories tend to be very emotional and wrenching and this book was no exception and in this instance I really enjoyed it and felt it suited the story well.

This book switched back and forth between the present and important events in their past, such as their wedding, their honeymoon, and various specific times when something happened in their relationship that illustrated how close they were going. Each section was sustained enough that I did not feel like the book was jumping and I never got confused about what was happening and when. I also appreciated it because I was glad we got to see them growing together instead of just being told they were good friends/ in love. I really felt like they had a strong relationship and that I was truly there, experiencing with them, all the pleasure and pains of discovering love. There was a little bit of sex between them, it was squashed toward the end, and it was fairly uninspiring and fast. The book was very short and I thought the end came rather abruptly and, while not precisely sure what I believe should have happened, I felt like so much angst and love deserved more than a two page quick I love you happy ending.

Rating: A very emotional book with a premise that grabbed my attention and never let go. A great relationship between two well written characters with a strong relationship.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Thief of Shadows

Thief of Shadows by Elizabeth Hoyt

Winter Makepeace has lived his life helping others from running a home for orphaned children in the seedy areas of St. Giles to masquerading as the Ghost of St. Giles. As the ghost, Winter fights against injustice and protects those weaker than him, but his anonymity has lead many to paint him as a villain and law enforcements is searching for him. One night, after saving the life of Charming Mickey O'Connor because his sister is in love with him, Winter is wounded and while escaping through the streets is picked up by the widowed Lady Isabel Beckinhall. Isabel leads a charmed life, she is popular with the ladies of the ton and she immerses herself in fashion and charity. She is immediately taken with the ghost of St. Giles as her household works to save his life even though she never removes his mask. The two share a passionate kiss but both know that the ghost will never reveal himself to a lady. Winter goes back to the orphanage and Isabel continues with her life.

The orphanage he runs has lately been endorsed by a ladies charitable syndicate and the leader of the group decides that Winter does not do an adequate job of presenting the home and wants to install a new manager. Isabel decides to take Winter under her wing and teach him how to operate in society and while Winter is reluctant but he does want to continue running the orphanage. It is not long before Isabel begins to suspect that Winter is the ghost and as the two become closer he finds that he can confide in her and their relationship grows stronger. But Winter is determined that he will never give up his crusade for those less fortunate even if that means giving up his own chance at a true marriage. He needs to find the peer who is running a child sweatshop that sews ladies' stockings but with the police force on his back it is extremely difficult. At the end of the day he must decide if helping the children at his orphanage and making the woman he loves happy is enough of a reward and Isabel must show him that a life of happiness is within his grasp.

I have been eagerly anticipating this book for what feels like forever and after 3 books that hinted at the ghosts' identity, and reading about how monk-like Winter Makepeace was, I could not wait to read his story. He proves to be just as intriguing a character as I had anticipated. He was conscientious and caring, he wanted to help those less fortunate and he was single-minded in this pursuit, and a man who is so great with kids is always fascinating to me! I was not surprised that his chosen life had meant a life of celibacy for him and so I knew that whatever woman convinced him to find his own happiness first had to be spectacular. Isabel, while not as spectacular as I had anticipated for Winter, was perfectly acceptable for Winter and they did work as a couple really well and I enjoyed reading about their relationship. They spend quite a bit of time together and I really sensed the development in their relationship, which is something I always look for.

I did not enjoy how so much of their character was, quite literally, hidden behind masks, as if they were hiding their real selves from everyone and only could reveal themselves to each other. While this is a romance novels staple, I wanted more from Hoyt and was disappointed by how often this was mentioned. It started to seem like the characters themselves were not real people because they were so busy hiding. There was surprisingly little sex for a Hoyt book, and for a book about a male virgin who should have been far more excited about the prospect of losing it to such a wonderful woman, and it was not really all that exciting and stuffed toward the back of the book. The plot with the ghost and the police did take over the book eventually and it really did seem like it played an equally important role with the actual romance and I was surprised by how little interest I had for it. I also found the writing surprisingly flowery for Hoyt who usually has such great writing.

Rating: An enjoyable book, far from Hoyt's best, but two well suited characters who I liked and who had a strong relationship, with an interesting side plot.