Friday, November 30, 2012

Return of the Viscount

Return of the Viscount by Gayle Callen

Cecilia Mallory grew up India as her mother dragged her and her brothers around the country, following Cecilia's father who was an officer in the British army. When one of her brothers dies, they were twins, she moves back to England and vows never to return to India. Once her father dies her brother inherits the Earldom and proceeds to run the estate into the ground; he drinks and gambles and generally avoids all responsibilities to his title and leaves Cecilia to pick up the pieces. Cecilia can only gain access to her inheritance through marriage so she decides to marry Seargant Michael Blackwell, a friend of her father's in the army, believing him to be her father's contemporary. Michael joined the army, despite his title, to prove himself and even went so far as to enlist as an ordinary soldier instead of buying a commission. He agrees to Cecilia's mad scheme as a favor to his old captain whom Michael respected, but believes there must be something about Cecilia that makes ordinary marriage an impossibility. After being wounded in action he returns to England to meet his wife and both of them are in for a huge surprise; Cecilia is beautiful and intelligent and Michael is young and virile.

While Michael decides it would be an excellent idea to make their marriage work, Cecilia has no intention of having a real marriage and makes no secret of her determination to avoid any commitment with Michael. Michael sees that he will have an uphill battle trying to win over a woman who has grabbed control of her life and sees giving up that control as a failure and refuses to allow anyone to help her or have any say in what she does. He takes the tack of silently supporting her and offering his advice only when asked and slowly Cecilia comes to see that Michael is not out to steal her independence or insult her choices. But no matter how much they grow to love each other and depend on each other there is the problem of his career and her desire to stay in England and nurture her estate and possible family. A shocking discovery shows Cecilia that she must overcome her fears and inhibitions in order to have a happy ending with the man who loves her.

This is the start of a new trilogy about wounded soldiers that Callen is starting and I'm hoping that she was just working out some kinks because I felt like this fell far from her previous works. I wanted to like Cecilia because she was independent and intelligent and had no fear of going after what she needed. However, I quickly lost any appreciation I had for her as I read about her treatment of Michael and any respect I had for her when she continually stuck up from her brother no matter what horrible things he, or his friends, did. She refused to see what was right in front of her nose when it came to Michael and was quite mean to him and could not admit her feelings for him until the very end. It was like Callen attempted to switch the typical romance novel stereotype by having the female scared of her feelings instead of the male, but I dislike it either way. Michael was a pretty great guy, not least because he stuck by Cecilia throughout all of her awfulness even if I couldn't really understand why. He was very supportive and worked with Cecilia's issue and was generally very caring of her feelings.

They did not spend as much quality time together as I would have liked, and despite the fact that they did live in the same house I wasn't really able to see how they would function as a couple since Cecilia never let her guard down and it was like Michael had to walk on eggshells around her. I just did not really sense a loving, caring, relationship based on mutual respect and trust between these two. Cecilia was terrified of being tied to Michael so there was very little sex between them and it was, quite frankly, barely lukewarm. I was not a fan. There was the little mystery of who was trying to harm Cecilia and that was a surprising bright spot in the novel because it really was a mystery and I had no idea who could be behind the attacks. However, I did role my eyes every time Cecilia refused to admit she could be in trouble because I hate that in heroines who are in danger. The ending, and the resolution to their major problem, happened abruptly, and did not really seem in character with Cecilia. To top everything off the book was boring and incredibly slow moving and hard to get through. I had an incredibly hard time finishing the book and kept putting it down because there was nothing drawing me to finish the book; reading it was really just a chore.

Rating: A boring book with a very weak relationship between a heroine I didn't like and a hero who was a bit of a blah and only a tiny little mystery to stitch it together.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Lessons From a Scandalous Bride

Lessons from a Scandalous Bride by Sophie Jordan

Cleopatra grew up in poverty watching her mother bear and bury babies year after year because her cruel stepfather could not control himself. She is determined never to subject herself to that sort of life and her opinion does not change when her long lost father shows up and offers her riches beyond imagining. Cleo goes to live with Jack Hadley and he is willing to do anything to ensure his three long lost daughters marry into the peerage. Because of her desire to avoid the marriage bed and childbirth she settles for the aged, and crippled, Lord Thrumgoodie, even though her dowry could attract other men and his own family members believe her a whoring title-hunter. She hopes that once she is married she will have the financial independence to provide for her half-siblings and her mother and save them from her stepfather. Lord Logan McKinney is in London to find himself a heiress so he can use her finds to renovate his crumbling Scottish estate. His sister points him in the direction of Libba, granddaughter of Thrumgoodie, but it is Libba's future step-grandma who catches his attention.

Cleo is beautiful and withdrawn and she pulls at Logan in a way no other woman ever have, but he cannot figure out why she is choosing someone old and entirely unlike herself. Logan is everything that Cleo wishes to avoid; handsome, young, virile, and he draws her far too much for her own good so she does everything she can to avoid being with him and giving into the feelings she has for him. Logan sets out to woo Cleo and convince her that an old man is no match for her lively spirit and finds that the easies way to do this is to seduce her. With no choice left Cleo tells Logan about her childhood and how she shouldered the responsibility of her household and lost so many brother's and sisters, but he knows that running away from her fears is not what Cleo should do. When the two of them are caught in a compromising position he believes he has found his time to help Cleo through her fears and show her that life can be happy when two partners work with each other for their mutual benefit. Cleo must overcome her fears and learn to trust someone else and when she does it will be Logan who is there to help her.

Cleo was strong and responsible and scared and flawed and I loved that it was the heroine who had a haunted past that scared her from marriage instead of the hero. Her fear of becoming pregnant and having her babies die was a very scary reality that women faced in those days and I can really see why someone would be incredibly scared of that, especially because of her experiences. It was a much more realistic reason to be scared of marriage than the half-assed explanations heroes use in most romance novels. Logan was very self aware and confident and he went after what he wanted. I really liked Logan because he wasn't scared of his feelings for Cleo and treated her well while he was pursuing her without coddling her fears. He didn't apologize for being a fortune hunter because he knew he was doing what was best for his family and his estate, but he didn't allow himself to feel guilty for what he was doing. I loved Logan and Cleo together because they were each strong where the other wasn't so strong and they complimented each other in that sense.

They spent a lot of time together and they had a lot of opportunities to explore each other's pasts and learn about the other and once they got to his estate it was easy to see how well they worked together and how their future would play out. There was a super strong attraction between these two and they had tremendous difficulty keeping their hands off each other even though Cleo was desperately trying to fight it. There was not a lot of sex and it was all in the second half of the book and much of it was cut short, but their was just a sense of lust throughout the book so it felt like the book was far sexier than it actually was. I really enjoyed this book because there was no side plot or murder or anything of that nature, but because these two each had such a well developed history there was still a lot going on in this book and it never felt lacking. The writing was as fast and fun as Jordan always is and the novel flowed very naturally and was very well written.

Rating: A wonderful book with two very enjoyable characters with a very strong relationship in a novel that was a joy to read.

Friday, November 16, 2012

How to Capture a Countess

How to Capture a Countess by Karen Hawkins R

At 17, Rose Balfour, falls madly in love with Lord Alton Sinclair, known as Sin, across a ballroom floor and manages to snag his attention during a private moonlit dance. But her innocence is no match the practiced rake and when she panics and pushes him into a fountain he is humiliated and promises he will get revenge on the little tease who earned him the nickname "Lord Fin." Rose's family decides to hide her away in the countryside but it just so happens that Sin's grandmother is Rose's godmother. The Duchess of Roxburgh has decided that she needs to get her grandson married but since the incident with Rose he has been more debauched then ever so to rid him of this obsession with her she invites both Sin and Rose to a country house party where they are the only two under fifty. Rose is horrified to find that Lord Sin is at the party but believes this will finally be a way to earn her sister's a place in London society. Sin is just as attracted to Rose as he remembers and she is now even more alluringly womanly so he decides that he will seduce her, believing she is no longer an innocent.

It quickly becomes obvious to everyone that there is something between Rose and Sin and the Duchess wastes no time using all her skills to throw them together. Rose and Sin find that neither can resist a challenge and quickly make everything at the house party into an opportunity for the two of them to engage in their own secret activities. Sin challenges Rose to a series of competitions, behind the scenes, and it provides them with plenty of opportunities for some inappropriate behavior and for them to get to know each other. Sin realizes that the hatred he's been harboring is unwarranted and that both he and Rose were hurt. Sin knows he wants Rose but marriage is not something he sees in his future until he discovers, too late, that Rose is a virgin and he knows that he has a duty as a gentleman to marry her. But she has come to realize that she wants more from Sin than a marriage based on mere duty and it is up to him to prove that they can have a life full of love and laughter.

Rose was fun but she had obviously been beaten down by the circumstances of her life and the tremendous scandal she was engaged in. I enjoyed reading about her coming out of her shell and learning to enjoy being in others' company and have confidence in herself. Sin was a typical romance hero with lots of responsibilities that have apparently created a man who eschews marriage and enjoys carousing about town. I really liked how his ideas about Rose were so flexible and how he quickly realized, through time spent with her, that Rose was a wonderful person and that what had happened was not a true reflection of her character. That showed tremendous strength of character on his part and really set him apart from other romance heroes who can be far too stubborn. Their relationship moved fast, although it was hard to get a true sense of time in the novel, and while they did spend a lot of time together and did seem to have a lot in common to base a relationship on, I felt like there was too much competition between them and they didn't have enough "calm" time together.

Rose and Sin were apparently very attracted to each other but I don't think that really came across in the book very well, especially after reading When the Duchess Said Yes. There was very little sex between them and the one scene was almost at the very end of the book and was really not that excited. I think that a couple with that much of a competitive nature to their relationship should have had more excitement in the bedroom. I found parts of this book incredibly funny because the other members of the house party were just so hilarious; between the half blind woman and the other octogenarians there were just so many opportunities for mayhem and the results were quite funny. It was enough for me to overlook the controlling grandma with her own little ruminations on what was happening. I am not a fan of the older lady trying to get her male relative married off; it comes across as weird and manipulative while not providing much to the actual story and this case was no different.

Rating: A fun read with two great characters and no distracting side plot that was quite humorous but it could be rather slow at times.

Friday, November 9, 2012

When the Duchess Said Yes

When the Duchess Said Yes by Isabella Bradford 1021

Elizabeth Wylder and the Duke of Hawkesworth were engaged in a very complicated and very binding contract between their fathers but while Lizzie is amenable to the marriage Hawke delays their meeting, and marriage, by running off to Italy for ten years. The former Duke had been a paragon, admired by everyone, and a model of British peerage while being active in the house of Lords, and Hawke has no intention of ever following in his father's footsteps. He amuses himself in Naples buying paintings and dallying with beautiful women and his distant marriage is just a cloud upon the horizon until the time constraints set upon their union rush up. He decides that he will go to England, marry this English rose and after promptly impregnating her he will head back to Naples and live his own life just like his parents had done. But once in England he is finds himself intrigued by a mystery woman he spots and ends up kissing in a garden and neglects his fiance. He is shocked to discover that his beautiful mystery woman is his fiance but realizes this will make their marriage all the more enjoyable.

Lizzie is upset that her fiance has supposedly abandoned her and even more so when she discovers that he had been kissing strange ladies while he was supposed to be meeting her, even if the strange lady is her. However, she cannot deny her immense attraction to her fiance and that is the major impetuous for the speediness with which they plan their marriage. While Lizzie and Hawke begin their wedded life with plenty of time in the bedroom while staying in near seclusion at his estate, friends and family begin to wonder if they can have ever have a true marriage. Lizzie is blinded by her newfound love for her husband and by thoughts of the life they can have together so she does not recognize that Hawke has been neglecting his duties as an English lord until she is forced to. When she discovers that Hawke has every intention of returning to Naples without her once she is pregnant she realizes that the life she had imagined for them is but a myth and only when he is confronted with the possible loss of his wife does Hawke understand that home is wherever Lizzie is, weather in Naples or England.

Lizzie was very open and fun and trusting, and while this could be attributed to her young age, I felt like Bradford did an excellent job making it clear that that was just the type of person Lizzie was. She was caring and anxious and a very real person and I felt like her emotions surrounding her arranged marriage created a very real character. Hawke was very stubborn and I quickly became frustrated with his inability to move beyond his long held beliefs about marriage and see how much Lizzie was falling in love with him and vice versa. I am tired of the heroes who are scared of marriage; every possible reason for their fear has been so overdone and annoys me now. I enjoyed reading about their relationship because they were obviously falling in love with each other and they enjoyed being together and doing little things to make the other happy. They had a lot of common interests and really meshed well as a couple which made his hard headedness even more frustrating.

Lizzie and Hawke certainly enjoyed each other's company in the bedroom and the sparks flew between from the very first kiss to the very last page. The sex was hot and frequent and while it didn't stray from the usual romance novel fare I enjoyed really being able to sense how much these two wanted to jump each other constantly. My favorite part of the novel was watching her grow as she moved beyond the carefree single gal to a bona fide duchess who wanted to take on her responsibilities and expected her husband to be by her side. It was a really well done bit of character development that made it easy to forget how young she truly was. The issue of his returning to Italy was a big problem for me because so much was made of it but then it was glossed over so quickly as the ending kind of came rushing up. However, I did like how they compromised together at the end to make a life that was perfect for both of them and it really made it clear how great they were for each other. The book was very well written and I was super surprised to learn that the author is also an author of great historical fiction that I have also enjoyed.

Rating: A super fast, fun read with a wonderful heroine and a well written relationship with some sizzling attraction but a hero I could not entirely fall for.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Not Proper Enough

Not Proper Enough by Carolyn Jewel 1017

When Lady Eugenia made her debut in London society after her brother had become the Earl of Mountjoy, she charmed everyone with her country ways and joyful spirit. But the one who caught her fancy was the brilliant and eccentric Lord Robert, even if he was physically handicapped and they fell madly in love with each other. Lord Robert's friend, Lord Fenris, was also charmed by Lady Eugenia and upset both that she had chosen Robert over him and believing her not good enough for his friend, he was cruel and unkind to her. His friendship with Robert ended and Lady Eugenia vowed nothing more to do with the spoiled and selfish aristocrat. Years later, when Robert has left her a widow after a very brief but very happy and fulfilling marriage, she returns to society to introduce Lady Hester into society and comes face to face with Lord Fenris and his cronies. Fenris is determined to make up for the pain and suffering he caused Lady Eugenia and to show respect to his friend by ensuring his widow is happy. But spending time with Lady Eugenia brings back all the feelings he had hidden for so long and suddenly the idea of making her happy means marrying her himself.

He throws himself in her path, not so hard as he is a wealthy and very eligible bachelor and she is trying to find a husband for her young charge. While Hester shows more interest in discussing botany with Fenris's father, the Duke, the two amuse each other on non plant discussions. Eugenia is confused by the feelings she is having for Fenris and even while she enjoys joking and laughing with him, she cannot forget the pain he caused her and Robert and has no plans for anything more. But she cannot hide her loneliness and she misses having a man share her bed and with the gorgeous Lord Fenris doing his utmost to seduce her she decides to take something for herself. Their affair is passionate but Fenris does not know how he can convince Eugenia that what they have is more than physical or how to convince her that their relationship is not a betrayal of her late husband. Eugenia is fighting her own growing feelings and she will need Fenris to help her over her fears and worries and show her that they can have a real marriage based on trust and lots of love.

Eugenia was a very well developed character and I really felt like she was very realistically portrayed for a woman in her circumstances and I could understand her motives and what she was going through. She had loved her husband dearly and now was struggling to come to grips with her new relationship with the man she had always loathed. It was a slow going, as it should have been, but I really came to see how she could be falling for Fenris and the guilt and excitement she was feeling over this. Fenris was also very well done and I liked reading about him doing his utmost to convince Eugenia that they were meant for each other. He was certainly flawed but he owned up to his problems and he learned from his mistakes and genuinely tried to make up for the damage he had caused. The two spent a lot of time together certainly and that provided the means by which they were able to move beyond their past and I could truly feel like a real romantic relationship was growing between them. There was plenty of sex and it was pretty steamy and I enjoyed that it featured two very sexually confident characters who had no moral qualms about seeing to their own sexual pleasure and that of their partners.

I am a fan of romances where one character has carried a a hidden tendre for the other for years and have really come to appreciate one of the characters having to make up for being cruel to the other years ago. This romance has all of those things but also skirts over them rather haphazardly as their past together is really almost glossed over and though I was able to understand the gist of what had happened I really felt like they could have used a big conversation about it and a flashback to some of the pertinent issues. Their past played a big part in their current relationship and was a huge obstacle that they had to surmount and it would have been nice to understand why a little more. I especially would have been interested in learning more about Robert because while I liked that he was not demonized as the deceased spouse I would have liked to know more about what made him such a paragon. I very much enjoyed the little side romance between Hester and the Duke and how subtly it came about but I think I would have preferred more from it. While I liked that it did not take away from the main romance, since it was part of the book they should have made it more fleshed out.

Rating: A very well written book featuring two well developed characters who clearly had a strong relationship with each other, but it lacked some back story that would have fleshed it out more.