Friday, December 20, 2013

The Importance of Being Wicked

The Importance of Being Wicked by Miranda Neville

Lady Caroline Townsend shocked society, and her very uptight family, when she eloped with the notorious Robert Townsend. Their marriage was full of adventure and laughter and friends, but was marred by Robert's addiction to gambling and booze and his passion for expensive art- even when they could ill afford it. Caro is now barely scraping by, trying to pay off Robert's debts, and still finding a way to feed and house various starving artists and friends at fabulous parties. Thomas, the Duke of Castleton, is stuffy and pretentious; the complete opposite of the carefree Caro, nonetheless the two are smitten with each other at first sight. He originally plans to court her cousin, the very wealthy Anne, because it is a family tradition and his own parents love match ended poorly. But he cannot contemplate marrying anyone else when the only thing he can think about is Caro. Caro wants to get underneath "Lord Stuffy's" stuffy exterior, but he is far too noble to engage in the affair that she desires. When he proposes she is initially reluctant, but agrees because she does like him and because she imagines a life where she no longer has to worry about money.

Their marriage is founded on lies as Thomas is actually having money problems of his own because of some poor investments his father made. Caro is hiding a very valuable Titian painting that Robert bought and continues to go around with her wild friends, whom Thomas disapproves of, and who relentlessly make fun of her new husband. Thomas is remarkably good natured about everything because he quickly finds himself in love with the vibrant woman he has married. Caro is more reserved, because she cannot trust anyone after her marriage even while refusing to admit how truly awful her marriage was. She takes Thomas in hand, helping him learn how to please a lady in bed, but refuses to give up her wild lifestyle. A tragic accident has Thomas taking Caro to his estate to recooperates and in the glow of family and love they find a way to make their relationship with as Caro realizes she truly loves the amazing man she has married and lets go of her past.

Caro was a heroine who brought up a lot of contradictory feelings from me. I admired her carefree and lively spirit, her independence, and her refusal to conform to society's norms or her husbands orders. However, I feel like so much of what she did was just beyond stupid, was rude to the man who pledged his love and life to her, and was done purely to cause a stir. She continued to flirt and support people who were rude to her husband and who openly tried to seduce her. She refused to admit to herself for the longest time that her marriage to Robert had been unhappy and focused on the things about him she had liked and the reasons she had run away with him in the first place. She was drowning in debt and continued supporting random people and held onto a valuable painting that could have solved her problems. Her inability to admit her feelings for Thomas were bewildering because she simultaneously didn't want to make herself vulnerable to hurt like she had with Robert, but she also refused to admit that Robert had ever really hurt her (even though he SO obviously had).

I liked Thomas, pretty much except for his relationship with Caro because he was such a wet blanket. He just nodded and took her to bed when her friends mocked him and she laughed. He had a modicum of anger when he found out she'd gone horseback riding without him (she wasn't good and it was dangerous) and with a notorious rake who hid in their closet and listened to them have sex. I feel like they were so mismatched that there was no way their relationship could ever survive. There were a few sex scenes between them, mostly just kisses and then fade to next scene. I liked that Caro was the more experienced of the two and had to help him learn, but unfortunately she didn't shy away from talking about her deceased husband while with Thomas. How did he not just walk out? And why did she harbor this mythical love for the horrible Robert? I feel like so much of what she did was to get back at her overly controlling parents, which makes sense for a teenage, but when you're a grown woman still pulling that gimmic it's just ridiculous.

Rating: I could not stand Caro and thought that Thomas was a fool for imagining himself in love with her and I can't believe two such mismatched people could ever be happy.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Duke of Midnight

Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt

Maximus Batten, the Duke of Wakefield, is but a child when he witnesses his parents being murdered in St. Giles. Now he rules Parliament and is a model of propriety in society, but in his secret life he is one of the Ghosts of St. Giles, protecting the people and secretly hunting for the person who murdered his parents. Artemis Greaves is a ladies companion for her spoiled, but naively sympathetic, cousin Penelope, because of a tragedy that left her brother wrongly accused of murder and locked up in Bedlam. One evening she is forced into St. Giles because of her cousin and when the two are accosted they are rescued by the Ghost and in the struggle, Artemis pulls Maximus' family ring off his finger. Maximus is trying to court the equally proper Lady Penelope, but once Artemis puts together all of the clues she recognizes Maximus as the ghost and decides to use this knowledge to help her brother, Apollo. She threatens to go to the police if Maximus doesn't help her brother escape.

Maximus is trapped, but he can't help but find himself drawn to the withdrawing young lady who hides in the back ground but has no problems blackmailing a Duke. He agrees to help her and she becomes companion to his sister so she can be closer to Apollo, but also means that she is much closer to him. Artemis wants to figure out why Maximus continues to go out, putting his life at risk and wonders what has happened to turn him into a cold and seemingly heartless man. But Artemis begins to melt Maximus and he finds himself thinking about more than just revenge and his parents' fate. Kisses and caresses turn into far more, but while Maximus knows he cannot live without her, Artemis knows she cannot live with him as his mistress, especially if he still plans to marry her cousin. Maximus is closer than ever to finding out who murdered his parents, and a clue reveals that Artemis' brother might know more than he is letting on. Even when confronting a murder, Maximus knows that what really matters is Artemis and finding a way to convince her that he is the one who needs to become worthy enough to earn her love.

Hoyt's ability to write likable, realistic, and three dimensional heroines remains unparalleled in my opinion. Artemis is a living, breathing woman with faults and hopes and love and fears and Hoyt does a fabulous job of drawing the reader in to Artemi' life and enabling the reader to truly feel like Artemis is a real person. Her love for her brother, her sense of duty to her cousin, her terror of her uncertain future with Maximus, her resilience in the face of a family tragedy, and her pride that carries her through some not so pleasant scenes with Maximus. Maximus' childhood has created a man who seems to have no emotions and he is quite chilly and unlikable for much of the book. His dedication to finding the person who killed his parents overshadows everything else in his life and it is only when he realizes he might lose Artemis, and thus any chance at happiness in his future, that he truly starts to change. He continues to remain stuck-up until very near the end.

Together Artemis and Maximus make a seemingly mismatched pair because she is so vibrant and alive and he is stuck inside a very chilly shell. I liked that with Artemis' help, Maximus began to change as he loosened up his necktie and moved beyond his prejudices and lost his stuffiness. He helped her find her brother and protected her from gossip mongers. It was an interesting relationship because I felt like throughout it, both of them realized Artemis was too good for Maximus, and he was trying to make it up to her. However, it wasn't until the very end that he finally made it up to her for good by proposing. There was lots of sex and as usual, Hoyt is one of the best historical romance writers out there for writing super hot sex scenes full of passion and love. The plot involving his parents death was engrossing and kept a great bit of mystery going throughout the whole book. While it took up a large portion of the book, I never felt like it took away from the romance of the story.

Rating: One of the best romance I've read in a very long time. A wonderful heroine and a tortured hero in a loving relationship,with an engrossing mystery.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie

The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley

Daniel Mackenzie is one of the infamous Mackenzie's and has all the charm of his uncles and father and a lightness of spirit that escaped them. He enjoys creating inventions, and is especially fond of crafting a brand new car that would beat any of the German models. He knows immediately that Ms. Bastien, a renowned medium's assistance, is a fraud but instead of exposing her he is more interested in the contraptions she uses to make all the "spirit" sounds she uses to fool everyone. Violet is terrified that Daniel will expose her secrets, but even more scared when he kisses her and it brings back haunting memories of her childhood. In terror, she bashes him over the head and, believing him dead, she abandons him at a hospital. Daniel is, of course, not dead and while he is upset he is eve more intrigued by the beautiful young woman who hit him over the head and has a remarkable ability to make useful inventions. He follows her to Paris where Violet is shocked to find the man she believed she had killed, alive and well. Daniel takes an interest in Violet and her mother, especially when he learns that Violet is basically her mother's caregiver and believes her mother is taking advantage of her.

When one of her mother's clients attempts to assault Violet and she escapes, he decides to press charges and she is arrested. Daniel and his well connected family manage to get her out of prison but he decides that since he has such a vested interest in her welfare that she will accompany him in England. Her mother moves into the Mackenzie mansion and Violet finds herself far too close to the handsome Daniel. But even Daniel is not prepared when Violet confides in him details of her abusive and violent childhood and while she expects him to turn away in disgust, he instead appoints himself her protector and her avenger and dedicates himself to proving her capable of having a real relationship based on respect and love. When a villain from Violet's past resurfaces to cause trouble, the entire Mackenzie clan is there to defend their newest family member and Violet realizes that she truly wants nothing more than to find her happily ever after with Daniel.

I like that this story switched around the roles of the stereotypical roles of heroines and heroes as Violet was the one who was more broody about her past and Daniel had come to accept his own past and had made peace with his relationship with his father. I did like Violet because she was incredibly brave and I liked that she was a conundrum as she was fearless and independent but also cared so much about her mother that she sacrificed herself. Reading about a survivor of rape is always wrenching and Ashley does a deft job of adequately portraying the hurt, the betrayal, the hope, and spirit that accompanies such a violent act and the feelings that come later in the future. I liked that Daniel cared so much for Violet, but I felt like I was supposed to have lots of lingering feelings for Daniel as a holdover from his appearances in other books in the series, and indeed it often seems like the Mackenzie love builds on itself instead of being really expressed in the book.

Violet and Daniel worked incredibly well together and I really enjoyed that they had so many interests in common and that they each encouraged the other's pursuits and helped each other improve and work on their inventions. I liked that they enjoyed spending time together and that a majority of the book was spent with them in the company of each other and in a wide array of activities. There was some sex between them, but given her history, it was more about the emotional aspect of the sex and helping Violet overcome her fears. It was still better than a lot of romances I have been reading and I liked that they did not make her completely sexless just because she had been raped. Daniel and Violet's relationships with their families played an incredibly important part, but while I was interested in Violet's codependence with her mother it was dropped from the book far too quickly. The Mackenzies, who I have enjoyed in the past, and continued to be well done side characters who don't take over the story.

Rating: An interesting book, but despite everything, it still managed to be a little bland with nothing super exciting to keep more interested.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Trouble with Being a Duke

The Trouble with Being a Duke by Sophie Barnes L

Anthony Hurst, the Duke of Kingsborough, knows it is time for him to marry and produce an heir, and believes enough time has passed since his sainted father's death for the family to come out of mourning and host the Kingsborough Ball. Isabella Chilcott has dreamed of sneaking away to the Kingsborough Ball sine she was a child, but her mother is completely set against the aristocracy. She sneaks out, wearing an old gown she finds hidden in the attic, and once there she catches the attention of the Duke himself. Anthony knows she is lying about her identity, but finds himself unable to get the beautiful woman out of his mind, even after she abandons him at the ball. He visits everywhere in the village to determine who she is and is horrified to discover she is practically engaged to another man, and can't help but wonder how her mother had the fancy ball gown hidden in her house, especially when it comes to life that an heiress who went missing 20 years ago was wearing that dress. He knows that he is the right man for Isabella, but does not know how to go about convincing her parents. A mystery from long ago, parents who harbor grudges, and a couple who will do anything to be together culminate in a romantic ending.

My biggest problem with this story was Isabella's inability to stand up to her parents no matter how wrong they are proven to be, and no matter how miserable following their directives will make her. Seriously, I wanted to slap her and wondered why Anthony would be so adamant in hitching himself to a woman with no spine and in-laws who didn't seem to care about their own daughters happiness, no matter how hard the author worked to make their actions seemed justified. Aside from having no spine, Isabella was a pretty fun heroine who's desire to please just became a little over done. Anthony was pretty under-developed character and many times it seemed like the only thing that drove him was his desire for Isabella, even when I could not understand exactly why he was so keen on her. Considering that was his defining characteristic, it was at least done well and he certainly fought for what he wanted and I could tell he really cared about Isabella.

Rating: A very fast book, underdeveloped characters with annoying quirks and habits, and a rather confusing romance.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My Notorious Gentleman

My Notorious Gentleman by Gaelen Foley

Lord Trevor Montgomery is back from his duties for the Inferno Club but after being missing for so long, his fiance has jilted him. His entire family is after him to wed and after a chance encounter with a vicar he finds himself to drawn to the vicar's daughter. He decides to buy a house in the community so that he can be closer to Grace Kenwood and so that he will have something to do by fixing up the dilapidated house. Grace can't help but like the handsome and kind former spy, especially once he begins to use his wealth and influence in the community to help out those who are still suffering from the after affects of the war. Unfortunately Grace is not the only one in the community who has her sights set on Lord Trevor and Grace has to maneuver the problems of living in a small town where gossip spreads like wildfire. And Grace's dedication to helping others, including a former prostitute whose pimp is not too happy she has left, lands her in a world of trouble. Trevor has to call on all of his friends from the Inferno Club to help him rescue the woman he loves so that they can marry and continue to set to rights their new community.

Grace is incredibly good; she is always thinking of others and completely unselfish, always helping people, always working, basically just being so perfect that it was impossible to like her or think of her as a real person. My favorite part about her was when she let go of her morals and had sex with Trevor, even if by that time she realized they were going to get married. And the consequences of that action were so over the top and frustrating it was almost like a lecture on the evils of pre-marital sex. Trevor was a typical former spy romance hero, but I did like how open he was to the idea of marriage and didn't try to hide or fight his feelings for Grace. Lots of side characters really made this story far more interesting than it would have been otherwise; her understanding father, the former prostitute, the spoiled rich girl, the equally spoiled young man the spoiled rich girl was in love with, and the gossipy community members.

Rating: A quick read, with really nothing special to recommend it, but it was fun enough even while it could have used a more interesting heroine.

Friday, October 18, 2013

And Then Comes Marriage

And Then Comes Marriage by Celeste Bradley

Mrs. Miranda Talbot has always lived her life quietly and by the rules, but now that she is a widow with means, she has a freedom she has never experienced before. She is happy to enjoy the courtship of Mr. Pollux Worthington after he saves her from being run over by a carriage. She is unaware that Poll has an identical twin, Castor and so when Castor saves her from the twins' exploding invention, she believes it is Poll and is happy to give him a kiss. Castor likes this beautiful widow but horrified to learn that his own twin has been courting her for a month so they come up with a solution: they will both court her and the winner will be the one who gets her to say yes to a marriage proposal. Miranda is shocked at first, but decides that she should finally start having fun for herself, and agrees to the twins absurd proposal. They divvy up their time and both begin their courtship by escorting her around town, taking her on trips, and trying to prove that they will be the one to make her happy.

Meanwhile Castor approaches the Prince Regent to ask for a Royal Grant so that he can continue to make inventions, but Prinny only agrees if Castor can stay out of the scandal sheets. Miranda's former sister-in-law is furious that Miranda was given the family's house after Mr. Talbot's death, and is determined to regain her rightful place in the house and does not hesitate to try to make Miranda's life miserable. Miranda is coming to realize that although she enjoys spending time with Poll, it is clear that Castor is the one she feels more of a connection with. But their little sister, Attie, believes that Miranda is sowing discord between the brothers, and tries to separate them. After on disastrous kiss with Poll, Miranda knows that he belongs with Castor, but his past experiences with relationship have left him scarred and she must show him that he is ready for a true loving relationship with her.

So the first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that Miranda is being courted by two men who look exactly alike. This would have been acceptable if the book could have at least done more to distinguish between the two brothers. Unfortunately I feel like there was enough difference between the brother's and I found myself getting confused about which brother had done what with her. She apparently could tell them apart because she was far more attracted to one then the other, but I really could not. Miranda was a very well developed character and we were constantly learning new things about her. Her past was quite checkered and made her a very interesting person and made her more "real" than other romance novel heroines. Castor didn't really distinguish himself as super distinct from his brother, until towards the end when a tortured past was kind of thrown in there when I had begun to really appreciate that he didn't have one. His dark past involved a bad relationship that left him with a kinky side in bed that was hot, mildly disturbing, and rather confusing really.

There was a lot of heat between Castor and Miranda, which was in direct contrast to the absolute lack of heat between Poll and Miranda, and it permeated the entire novel. Castor's sexual proclivities included a need to kind of dominate, kind of control, and kind of own the person he was having sex with. It was hot and kinky but then Bradley backtracked by having them slightly reverse roles and it felt like a cop out on her part. The Worthington family was cute in its' eccentricities, but it quickly became annoying to have them constantly appearing and doing such insane things as I am not a fan of novels that feature too many past or future characters. I did enjoy reading about Miranda's past and how she was changing as a person and I found the minor side plot involving her former sister-in-law very entertaining.

Rating: An enjoyable read overall with a wonderful heroine, but the situation involving the twins and then Castor's sexual proclivities did bring down the book.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Love and Other Scandals

Love and Other Scandals by Caroline Linden

Tristan, Viscount Bourke, is friends with Douglas Bennett even though Douglas' mother disapproves, and he and Joan Bennett, Douglas' sister, run into each other several times throughout the years. At 24 Joan is firmly on the shelf and per her mother's request she goes to coerce her brother into attending a ball in the hopes that he will find a wife. She runs into Tristan who is staying with Douglas while his house is repaired and is immediately horrified at the virago who storms into the house. She blackmails and manipulates the hungover Douglas before turning her sights on Tristan and he can't help but admire her. They next meet at a bookseller where Joan is secretly trying to buy a very scandalous pamphlet but upon seeing him she leaves and he purchases it for her, not knowing what it is. At a ball he returns her book to her and discovers that The Fury, as he calls her, has quite a little secret. Everybody notices that the most scandalous man of the ton has taken an interest in the ton's most infuriating spinster, including Joan's controlling mother who entreats Joan to refuse any attempts of Tristan to court her.

When Joan's mother is struck by an illness her parents go out of town leaving her in the care of very scandalous Aunt and Douglas goes to a family estate after asking Tristan to "look out" for Joan. Tristan takes the call to heart and begins to call on Joan, taking her on a balloon ride and finding that he can confide in her about the death of his parent and growing up as an orphan. She realizes that the happy and scandalous facade he presented was merely to cover up the hurt inside and to make himself likable. She learns about his unhappy childhood with a bitter aunt and cousins who resented him because he would inherit the title one day. Joan does not know if Tristan ever plan to marry but she knows that she wants one night to remember, but when her parents come rushing into town after hearing the rumors. Suddenly Tristan and Joan's relationship is thrust into the spotlight and they realize that they are in love.

Tristan and Joan had a very contentious relationship that basically consisted entirely of them arguing, bantering, trying to one-up the other, and trying to annoy the other. This is something found in a lot of romance novels and it is something that I despise. I want to see characters who like each other, who enjoy being with the other and even though they apparently like arguing with each other, I could not get behind their relationship. Joan was an overly talkative young woman who was far too fearful of her mother for my taste and it made her seem very immature and incapable of holding her own. Tristan's past as an orphan who had to live with a hateful relative drew me in but was not really developed enough for my taste. They did spend a lot of time together, both in large group settings, in secret meeting, and just the two of them and not all of them were completely contentious. There were some fun times between them, especially the hot air balloon.

They were supposedly extremely attracted to each other, and their arguing was apparently a sign of that, but the book did not have a lot of sexual heat in it. There were a few little kissing scenes but only one scene where they actually had sex and it was far from hot. It was bland and boring and I just did not feel it. Their relationship just did not seem to be built on anything lasting; they didn't really seem to like each other and they didn't have a ton of sex so really nothing there. The writing was fast and it took me almost no time to get through it, and not just because I was hoping that something I liked would happen. I know that Linden can do better than this and hope that in the future she writes characters capable of carrying on a real conversation and engaging in some extremely hot sex.

Rating: Rather boring characters really who argued FAR too much and did not have nearly enough sex to make this very fast read enjoyable.

Friday, October 4, 2013

How to Lose a Bride in One Night

How to Lose a Bride in One Night by Sophie Jordan

Annalise Hadley lived in relative obscurity until her father, Jack Hadley, appeared out of nowhere and decided to invest part of his vast fortune toward marrying her, and her numerous half-sisters, off to members of the aristocracy. Annalise knows she is not beautiful and she has suffered a limp since a childhood accident, but she is hard working and kind. She is shocked and flattered when the Duke of Bloodsworth, the most eligible bachelor of the ton, picks her to be his bride but it turns out he only wanted her for her money- a fact she discovers when he tries to smother her and throws her overboard their wedding barge. Owen Crawford, Earl of MacDowell, is stunned to find a half-dead woman floating in the river and immediately takes her to the nearest shelter he can find even if it is a gypsy caravan. Owen has given up on ever being a normal human after living for years as an asassin in India and lives on the outskirts of his own family but something about this young woman draws him in.

When she awakes Annalise claims to have amnesia to avoid Owen bringing her back to Bloodworth and she wants to be up and out of bed as soon as possible as she hates feeling helpless. Owen is determined that she heal properly and appoints himself her nursemaid, even while rejecting the Gypsy's claim that she belongs to him now that he has saved her life. When it is finally time to leave the caravan he takes Annalise to his estate, planning to send her away once she is fully recovered. But when she asks him to teach her how to defend herself he can't help but wonder what secrets she is hiding and finds that he wants to know more about her. Annalise is falling for the handsome man who rescued her and who makes her feel safe for the first time in a long time. With Annalise's help Owen rediscovers the man he used to be and reunites with his family and with Owen's help, Annalise finally finds herself able to confront her past. Together, they know they are safe and can handle anything the world throws at them.

This installment in the Forgotten Princesses series featuring the illegitimate daughters of the wealthy Jack Hadley, neatly avoided falling into the series trap of focusing too much on past characters which I really admired. Sophie writes fun and very readable books that are quickly devoured and her written style is easy and flows nicely. Annalise was a wonderful character; strong and scared, caring and determined. I loved how Jordan portrayed Annalise as a victim of domestic violence who went from fear of the world to a determination to better herself and prevent it from ever happening again. Owen is a tortured hero with a buried past and a problem with connecting with other people. His past is certainly sufficient to creating such a character and I enjoyed reading about him overcoming his own fears and learning to accept himself and his past and looking toward the future. I liked that Owen helped Annalise overcome her fears and she helped him overcome his own, more buried, fears.

I could feel the heat between these two from the beginning, fairly scorching the pages, but unfortunately it ended up being a huge let down and they did not burn up the sheets anywhere near often enough.  I was frustrated towards the end when Annalise naively gave into blackmail from Bloodsworth just because he threatened Owen when she should have known perfectly well that Owen could take care of himself. She'd seen him fight people! It brought my opinion of Annalise down quite a few notches and came across like an attempt to create a big dramatic confrontational ending. The ending was of course everything it should have been and neatly wrapped everything up with a big bow, but I didn't feel like it was completely predictable because there were some added plot twists.

Rating: An enjoyable book that had much promise, but a generic ending and the letdown of going from such scorching flirting to one mild mannered bedding brought this book down.




Friday, September 27, 2013

What the Duke Desires

What the Duke Desires by Sabrina Jeffries

Maximillian Cale, the Duke of Lyons, is stunned to receive a note claiming that his long lost brother, whom has been presumed dead for years, is alive and well. The note leads him back to a private detective agency of Dominic Manton, where he runs into Lisette Bonnaud, Dominic's illegitimate half-sister. Lisette is the daughter of an Earl and his mistress and when her father died, his heir and Lisette's other half-brother, cast off Dominic, Lisette, and her full sibling Tristan and then accused Tristan of stealing a horse so he has been living in exile for years. She is frustrated that Dominic won't let her help with the investigations so when Max shows up she offers to help him find his brother, claiming to have information. Max is skeptical but he knows that only way to possibly find his brother is to go with the beautiful young lady. The two masquerade as a married couple and go to France where Tristan has been living and where Lisette has her own connections amid the French spying agency.

Pretending to pose as husband and wife brings the two into very close contact for long periods of time. Lisette has always harbored a grudge against the aristocracy because of her father and half-brother but Max is quickly teaching her that her judgments are wrong. She finds herself falling for him and it is her own insecurities that stand in the way of her reaching out and grabbing what she wants. Max has his own family secrets involving madness and he is terrified that he will go mad and does not want to put any woman through that. The more he likes Lisette the more he is convinced that shackling her to a madman is something he could never do. The two finally go back to London where they are confronted with reality and with every member of their family. When they are both backed into a corner they say things they regret and their future is uncertain until they decide that nothing else matters but finding happiness together.

Jeffries writing is very readable and her stories always flow so well and her books manage to be both fast reads and enjoyable. Lisette's story is interesting and I am a sucker for romances with such a vast difference in social stations even if it is horribly unrealistic. I loved how her experience as illegitimate colors her view of those around her and how those views were challenged and changed throughout the novel as she saw more of the world and got to know Lyon. Max's fear of madness is understandable but is quickly starting to become overdone in romances even while I understand there really is a limited pool of "demons to haunt the hero" shticks. However, it was done the right way because, even while still wondering about this, he came to realize that there were more important things in life. It is always a mark of a good romance when both characters change for the better because of the other and this romance had that.

The two worked wonderfully well together but there was not enough sex at all and the book wasn't really all that steamy to begin with and I didn't really get the sexual tension that was supposedly simmering between them. The plot involving the lost brother, while not really touched upon in my summary, really made up the bulk of the story and I believe that was to its' detriment. The plot brought them together and was the reason they stayed together, but I quickly lost interest in it because it dragged on for so long and really distracted from the romance between them. The truth was certainly interesting and came together in a big reveal at the end but by then I had moved on and was just waiting for the story to end. The book also very nicely sets up the next book in the series and I definitely plan on reading it.

Rating: An enjoyable read with a likable romance but the secondary plot took over and distracted from the story.

Friday, September 20, 2013

An English Bride in Scotland

An English Bride in Scotland by Lynsay Sands

As the second daughter Annabel was hidden away in a nunnery while her sister, Kate, was destined to make a fine marriage. When Kate runs off with the stable master's son Annabel is suddenly the only daughter they have to fulfill their marriage obligations and she is rushed home from the nunnery just in time for a marriage to Ross MacKay. Ross has finally settled the dispute to his title that arose after his father's death and now it is time for him to fulfill his father's marriage contract with his old friend. He immediately knows something is wrong when he arrives for his bride and sure enough rumors abound about Kate and her lover but he is very pleasantly surprised to see Annabel. Annabel remembers how she had always been overshadowed by her beautiful and slender sister, while she had been "Belly." She cannot imagine that someone would genuinely prefer her to her sister and feels bad that Ross is forced to take her as his wife. However, Ross is quite happy with his beautiful new bride, and after seeing how her family treats her he wastes no time in whisking her off to his estate in Scotland.

Ross wants his new wife to be happy with her life and he certainly wastes no time in ensuring that she is happy in the marriage bed and in her public life she begins to take over running of the keep as best as she is able since she was not trained for this task. Even while she knows that Ross is happy with her in the bedchamber, she wants to be the best wife she can be and make him not regret not marrying Kate. The people in the keep quickly grow to love Annabel because she is kind and generous and shows herself willing to learn and Ross is happy to finally have peace within his lands. Unfortunately someone is not as happy with their marriage as they are and has been trying to kidnap and/ or kill both Ross and Annabel. When Kate shows up Annabel tries to rekindle familial feelings and Ross is very happy to have ended up with Annabel. To make their marriage successful Ross and Annabel must discover who is trying to kill them and gain confidence in their own ability to make the other happy.

I, of course, love a heroine who is self conscience about her body and a hero who appreciates a woman with lots of curves. Annabel is kindhearted and quickly ingratiates herself with the members of Clan MacKay but Sands always manages to make sweet heroines who manage to be real and not to good to be true. I love how determined she is to prove herself and to make Ross proud of her despite her misgivings about her attractiveness and her abilities. I also liked how she wanted to be close to her family even though they were cold and unfeeling towards her, but she was able to admit when her relationships with her family had become irrepairable. There were times though when Annabel behaved in a manner that could easily be termed too stupid to live as she ventured out of the keep several times even though there was obviously someone out to get her. This is a common trait in romance novel heroines and one I absolutely detest.

Ross was a great hero; tall and manly and wearing a kilt and obviously a great warrior and a great leader to his clan. He was very protective of his wife which I appreciated and tried to treat her like an adult and equal partner in their relationship even when she did stupid things. I really felt their relationship progressing in this book as the two spent a lot of time together, both as a couple and interacting in a larger environment. They were very physically attracted to each other and there was quite a lot of pretty hot sex in this book, but nothing too scandalous or scorching. Sands is usually a very funny writer and this book is no exception as the characters are often in humorous situations and there are funny little mix ups. Her books always have a little mystery as someone is trying to harm the protagonists and the person is always someone who is there, but not necessarily the prime suspect. This book follows suit as we are lead down a bunch of wrong paths until finally the culprit is found. As usual the writing is fast and fun and the book is a very quick read (I read it in one day).

Rating: A very enjoyable and funny book, but it stuck a little too closely to the typical Sands format and the heroine did frustrate me at times.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Surrender to the Earl

Surrender to the Earl by Gayle Callen

Audrey Blake has been blind since childhood and so her family is very protective of her to the point where she feels suffocated. When her husband died in the war he left her an estate but her family always comes up with an excuse to prevent her from travelling. Robert Henslow, the Earl of Knightsbridge, served with Mr. Blake, and he believes his actions were responsible for Blake's death and feels like he owes the widow a debt of gratitude. When he visits Audrey at her family home he sees how capable and strong she is and how her family refuses to see this and treats her like a child. When she asks for his help escaping he agrees but the only way he can think to get her out is by pretending they are engaged. Her family is surprised, especially her beautiful younger sister who is upset that her older sister is once again taking the matrimonial prize, but they do let her go with him. She is excited to finally be starting her own life and knows that she will have a lot to prove to everyone, but she is wary of this pretend engagement.

Mr. Blake had courted and married her so he could use her dowry to purchase a commission in the army so she is wary of new attachments and does not want to come to be dependent on someone else. When Audrey arrives at her new home the servants are surprised and everyone can immediately sense that they are hiding something but she wants to get out to a good start with everyone so does not push. When Audrey's ladies maid becomes sick Robert accompanies her around the village and helps her look through estate matters. He admires her independence and determination but believes that they get in the way of her forming attachments to other people. He wants a real relationship with Audrey but she cannot give up her fears and feels betrayed when he reveals the truth about her husbands death. Together they must learn that it is okay to depend on someone else, to trust and love someone enough to know that they will never let you down.

I was immediately intrigued by a book featuring a blind heroine because I realize how much many romances rely on descriptions and details, and I was very impressed with how Callen developed a real character and didn't gloss over the hardships that would come with being blind. Audrey was a very interesting and likable character; fiercely understanding and reluctant to accept any help, but it made sense when considering the way she had been so protected her entire life. She was very capable of running her own life and obviously cared about those around her from her spoiled sister to her lady's maid to the family who works at the estate. Robert was a very admirable character with a keen sense of honor and I really enjoyed reading about him falling in love with Audrey. It was obvious he was proud of Audrey's abilities and would be accepting of her abilities without trying to smother her or control her. Yet it was clear that he would do everything he could to protect her and wanted to have a relationship where both of them were partners.

Audrey and Robert spent a lot of time together in various situations and we were able to see how they would get on under different circumstances. Throughout the book what really stood out was how supportive Robert was of Audrey at all times and that was really what she needed. The two were very attracted to each other, and even without her being able to see him, that aspect was really clear throughout the book. However, there really was very little sex in the book and even if what was there was hot, I felt like there should have been more. She worried that he was using sex to control her and that was one of the little issues that irritated me in the book. There was also the problem of him believing he was responsible for her husbands death and those little dramas took away from the book. I really liked the relationship between Audrey and her sister and how it developed throughout the novel as just an extra little treat.

Rating: A very good book with a unique heroine who was portrayed so honestly and I really felt like the relationship was a strong one.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Any Duchess Will Do

Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare

Griffin York, the Duke of Halford, is kidnapped by his mother one morning and taken to Spinster's Cove where she tells him he must find a bride. He negotiates a deal to choose any woman he pleases and his mother will turn her into the toast of the ton within a week or she will cease to pester him about marriage. Thinking to get the best of her Griffin chooses the most unsuitable young lady he can find: Pauline Simms, a barmaid at the local tavern. Pauline is having an incredibly awful day after the closed minded villagers pick on her sister who is mentally retarded. At first she thinks Griffin's attentions are a joke, but when he offers her money for spending a week being a disappointment, she accepts his offer. She is fascinated by London and by the lifestyle that Griffin and the rest of the aristocracy leads, but she knows that it is not a life she is destined for as she has her sister to look out for. She quickly realizes that behind his facade of carefree elegance, Griffin has a streak of melancholy and her curiosity is piqued when she discovers he has a set of rooms that he does not allow anyone to enter.

Griffin is surprised at how well Pauline takes to his mother's Duchess training and it quickly becomes apparent that Pauline was destined for something more than being a mere barmaid. Pauline and Griffin form a team of sorts as they work with each other to fool the ton and joke about life, the people around them, and their own situations. Pauline also gets to know the Duchess, Griffin's mom, and is surprised to learn that she is truly a caring woman who just wants what is best for her son and she feels bad about her agreement with Griffin. Pauline also feels comfortable enough with Griffin to reveal that she longs to open a library for the ladies of Spindles Cove and Griffin is immensely supportive, even going so far as to recommend books. But as much as they've bonded over this week, Pauline has a family and a future to return to and it is up to Griffin to show Pauline how much he is willing to work towards a future for them.

Dare has always been a solid writer and this book is definitely one of her better ones, even if it is not quite as good as I know she can write. Pauline does not really work as a barmaid as she has so much knowledge, common sense, and life skills that someone who had had her life would really not have had. I do overlook unrealistic aspects of romance novels though so this did not really bother me and I saw that it was necessary as a Duke and a barmaid would, in reality, have so little in common as to make a relationship between them ridiculous. She is spunky (in a good way), she is compassionate and caring and her relationship with her sister is so admirable that it would be impossible not to like her. Griffin is also funny and smart and he suits Pauline so well in these aspects and, typical of the romance novel hero, he has a past as a rake and a bit of a hell raiser. References to this are sporadic and irritated me as at one point he talked about liking variety among women's breast sizes and I felt it tasteless and awkward.

There were many little things between them that really made their relationship so great; little moments where they'd joke or share a private secret or memory and are so hard to completely express in a review. They were so supportive of each other and I really appreciated that in a romance and they did get to spend quite a bit of time together in moments both happy and sad which went a long way towards showing how they would get on together as a real couple. I really enjoyed the the relationship between Griffin and his mother because it was so complex and so full of past hurts and misunderstandings when really they both wanted the other to be happy. And I liked that Pauline was able to be a part of this part of the story as she wanted to help the man she loved. I also liked reading about Pauline's sister and how Pauline cared for her and how she got along in society.

Rating: A very fun, enjoyable book that was a very fast read. Both characters were likable if not entirely realistic and I always like romances that bust out of societal norms in a big way.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Duchess Hunt

The Duchess Hunt by Jennifer Haymore

Sarah Osbourne was welcomed into the Trent family when her father became head gardener on the estate and none was more welcoming than Simon, the Duke himself. Sarah worships Simon as a young girl and as she grows her feelings for him grow until one night the two indulge in a passionate kiss that leaves both of them shaken and forces Simon to abandon the family estate in an attempt to escape his inappropriate feelings. Three years later Simon comes back to the family seat because his mother, the Duchess has gone missing without a trace, and of course Sarah is there helping his family through this difficult time and stirring up old feelings in Simon. Sarah knows how fortunate she is to be welcomed into the unconventional Trent family and enjoys the comfort that comes with being a respected member of their household, but she is also aware that there is no possibility for a future between her and Simon. For his part Simon has spent his entire life trying to restore his family's broken reputation after his parents engaged in numerous, and very public, affairs.

Simon quickly takes over the search for his mother and he decides to take his sister Esme to London to begin his part of the search and appoints Sarah as her companion, a huge promotion for a housemaid. In London she helps build Esme's confidence and helps Simon piece together the few clues they have regarding his mother's disappearance. Sarah and Simon spend a lot of time together, becoming reacquainted and expanding their relationship and it isn't long before they find themselves succumbing to their mutual desires. But Simon's title is an impossible to resist lure to marriage hunters and someone will stop at nothing to ensnare Simon, putting his already difficult relationship with Sarah in jeopardy. Sarah is heartbroken even though she knew their future was murky, but she refuses to allow the love of her life to be forced into marriage. Together Simon and Sarah must fend of villains, secrets, blackmailers, and a stringent societal hierarchy to find a love to last forever.


Haymore has been disappointing of late after starting very strong and I am very pleased to find that she has returned to form with this wonderful first installment of the Trent family series. I love romances where the characters have a history together, but I am often disappointed that their relationship isn't developed enough during the course of the book. Luckily the romance between Simon and Sarah was built during the story and only mildly relied on their past together, while using the past as a strong basis for developing the romance. They spent a lot of time together, learning more about each other, discovering how their feelings for each other had continued to grow over the years and really showing the ready how in tune the two of them were and how well they worked together. The mystery of the missing duchess, the outings in London, the quiet alone moments really illustrated an array of circumstances and I truly believed that Simon and Sarah were perfect together. 

Sarah's position as a gardener's daughter, and later as a lady's companion, made their relationship difficult and certainly unacceptable in society's eyes and while their eventual happy ending is unrealistic, I absolutely loved it. I loved that he stuck up for her against people, that he supported her and never let her insecurities stand in the way of her happiness. The book was very emotional as well and there was wonderful angst over whether Simon would find away out of the blackmail and over the difference in their stations. There was some very hot sex in the novel and while I definitely wish there had been more, I understood the reason behind it being so brief. I enjoyed the plot involving the missing mother and their search to find her, although I found it weird that they weren't more concerned about her whereabouts and went on with their life. As usual Haymore did a wonderful job getting me excited for the upcoming novels in the series so I can discover what happened to the mother and because I already feel a connection to the other members of the Trent family. 

Rating: A very romantic book with a wonderfully written romance between two great characters. Beautifully written and just all around a fun read.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Lover Be Mine

Lover Be Mine by Nicole Jordan

Lord Jack Wilde is surrounded by medeling family members and when his favorite cousin Skye harasses him to meet Lady Sophie Fortin because she believes she is his "ideal mate," he agrees. Family legend has it that everyone will fall in love based on a fairy tale and Jack's chosen story is "Romeo and Juliet" since the Wilde family and the Fortin family have been feuding since a Wilde great-uncle killed a Fortin ancestor in a duel. He is shocked to find himself very attracted to Sophie and to discover that she is no wilting flower who shies away from a little flirtation. Sophie knows that Jack is the last person she should be associating with but she cannot deny that there is a spark between the two of them, especially when a stolen kiss ignites an inferno. Jack is horrified to learn that Sophie is soon to be engaged to an elderly Duke because her family needs his money and desires the connection that come with a titled family member, since Sophie's father was semi cheated out of his own title.

Jack has a past as he is the illegitimate offspring of a scandalous British lady who shocked the ton, and the Crown Prince of Navatarnia, a small but wealthy kingdom. He harbors a deep hatred of his father since he and his mother were abandoned in Paris at the height of the terror and his mother was killed and he was held captive before his British relatives rescued him. He has no desire to reconcile with his father even though he has been legitimized and offered the Crown, but he knows that the only way he could win over her family is to have a title. Sophie fears that the only reason Jack is contemplating returning to Navatania is to rescue her from a passionless marriage and wants a true marriage based on love. Unfortunately Sophie's father clings to his former hatred and Jack must find a way to prove himself to Sophie's father, but more importantly prove to Sophie that he is ready for love.

I really felt like Jack and Sophie were under developed characters and even though they were both given interesting back stories which were developed and interesting, I was never really engaged in their story or their relationship. A big deal is made about the feud between their families throughout the story and serves as a sticking point at several points throughout the story. Unfortunately this falls far short of the Capulet-Montagu feud and veers dangerously into ridiculous territory as it drags, as it is shown to be based on false assumptions, and as it becomes merely a tool to make the book longer. Sophie is apparently filled with warmth and a smile that can light up a room which just comes across as an attempt to make her likable without really saying why she is likable. Jack has a wild streak, which the reader is not really privy too, and by far the most interesting part of his story is his relationship with his father as he progressed from hatred to acceptance to learning to appreciate what he has. It was my favorite part of the story overall and she did a fabulous job of realistically portraying this difficult journey.

Sophie and Jack did spend a lot of time together during the book and I do consider quite a bit of it to be quality time but the two of them just did not connect for me. There was a much discussed physical attraction between them that seemed to be the main thing they had going for their relationship, and while there was quite a bit of sex in the book it was really not very hot and much of it was short and/ or purple flowery. Keeping in line with my favorite part of this book I did enjoy their interactions where the discussed his relationship with his father but I thought it could have been more. The writing in this book was flowery and the book was far longer than it needed to be as toward the end more and more road blocks were thrown in the way of their happiness, including obstacles that hadn't presented themselves until then.

Rating: An unengaging novel with two unengaging characters in a story that dragged far beyond when it should have ended.

Friday, August 16, 2013

What a Wicked Earl Wants

What a Wicked Earl Wants by Vicky Dreiling R

Laura Davenport, the widowed Lady Chessfield, is finding it difficult to control her stepson, Justin, during a visit to London. Unfortunately the Justin's guardian, Lord Montclief, is finally starting to take an interest in him and threatens to take Justin unless Laura can control him. Andrew Carrington, Earl of Bellingham, finds himself intrigued by the beautiful and very proper young widow and cannot stop himself from getting involved when he overhears a bit of her dilemna. When he visits her townhouse to offer his support he finds Montclief also there and in a fit of desperation Laura announces that she and Bell are secretly engaged. She knows that she should avoid Bell at all costs as he has a wicked and dissolute reputation and he knows that he should stay away to avoid harming her reputation. He agrees to mentor Justin and starts with fencing lessons, trips out with his comrades, Harry and Colin, and tips on how to be a gentleman.

Laura finds herself admiring Bell in spite of herself and is shocked when she discovers she is developing feelings towards him because of the love and support he has given her and her son. Bell's presence encourages Laura to step outside her comfort zone and be more adventurous and she finds that her respectable existence is not as much a comfort as having friends and family who support her like Bell. To aid her in keeping Justin safe, Bell agrees to investigate Montclief to find out if there is anything they can use against him. The more time he spends with Laura, the more fearful he becomes that he is getting too close to her. His own family passed away while he was away at school and he has not lived down the guilt of not being there for them so he is reluctant to form attachments to other people. Laura is heartbroken that he has pulled away from him and realizes that her feelings for Bell are not going away while their separation makes Bell realizes that with Laura's help he can overcome his fears of attachment and find love and a happily ever after with a family.

Vicky Dreiling has quickly become one of my must buy authors and her books are consistently fun, engaging, and enjoyable. This book deftly continues her hot streak as she wrote another book with two well developed and very well suited characters engaged in an adult relationship complete with problems and pitfalls, but filled with romance and love and, just as importantly, manages to avoid the cliches and minor annoyances that romance novels so often fall prey to. Bell is a wonderfully written romance novel hero with a tortured, but not overly so, past and a fear of commitment, but underneath it all he possessed a heart of gold. And the magic of Vicky Dreiling is that she writes this character in a way that I truly believe that a real person could encompass all of these emotions and dichotomies. His actions regarding Laura and her stepson were lovable and heart breaking and made me fall in love with him myself and root for his eventual evolution into a person capable of being in a loving relationship.

What marks a truly great romance novel is when both characters are great and then serve to make the other even greater and this book is such a one. Laura was shy and proper and her love for her stepson, and admiration and respect for her deceased husband, were commendable and showed her to be a perfect match for Bell. He in return helped her become more confident and learn to be a little selfish in a good way. The two of them spent a lot of time together in a variety of situations which went a long way towards showing how they would truly work as a couple and it was obvious that they got along very well. There was definitely a lot of sexual attraction between the two and it scorched up the pages until final consummation and Dreiling does a bang up job of writing hot and romantic sex and keeps it up throughout the book. In the little side plot with Justin and Montclief was a nice little way of getting Bell and Laura together and remained a constant throughout the book without overwhelming the romance.

Rating: An excellent book that I devoured from cover to cover and one of the best books I have read in quite a long time. I heartily recommend this to everyone.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Stroke of Midnight

Stroke of Midnight by Olivia Drake

Laura Faulkner finds her life shattered when a piece of jewelry stolen from a prominent woman of society is found in her father's desk. Laura and her father escape after she stabs Alexander Ross, the Earl of Copley, in the face with a letter opener, and they live in hiding for years on the continent. Laura had fancied herself in love with Alex but when he refused to listen to her about her father's innocence she realized he had probably only been courting her because he suspected her father's involvement in the theft of his god mother's jewels. Years later Laura comes back to London after her father dies while on a visit in the city and through a bizarre string of incidents finds herself employed as a companion to a friendly, if absentminded, elderly woman named Lady Josephine who happens to be Alex's aunt. Alex recognizes Laura immediately and all the old feelings he had for her come rushing back to him. He has never questioned her father's guilt but he knows that if he wants to get in her good graces, and thus his aunt's, he must humor her in her attempts to discover who really stole the jewels.

Laura's attempts to find the true thief involve attending a lot of social functions as Lady Josephine's companion in order to listen in on people's conversations and snoop in private areas of houses. Since he truly believes her father is guilty, and knows that her father was in massive debt, Alex does not really throw himself into helping Laura. She believes that the culprit is the father of the woman who competed with her for Alex's affections and that he had been having an affair with the victim of the jewel theft. She manages to confront him and when he lays out the truth about her father, she is forced to realize that she didn't know her father as well as she had thought, but she still knows that he would never have stolen those jewels. As she gets closer to finding the true thief, and closer to Alex, it scares the culprit and he takes drastic measures to ensure his crime does not come to light and it is up to Alex to save the woman he loves and clear her father's name.

This book was part of a series that had a very loose basis on classic fairy tales and this one was Cinderella as Laura was given a pair of red slippers that she wore a couple times during the book and I suppose it could be said that exciting things happened at those times, but the shoes weren't really all that special and the fairy tale thing just seemed like a gimmick. Laura was smart, determined, and obviously a very loving and dedicated daughter, but I couldn't help but roll my eyes at her attempts to discover the truth. Snooping and eaves dropping? I guess since it did bring out the culprit in the end that it could be termed a success, but she really had not been all that close to discovering the truth or even suspecting the thief. Alex was a rather boring lord who apparently investigated crimes on the sly and his most redeeming quality was his obvious love for his aging aunt. He refused to accept any other explanation for the jewels being in Laura's father's desk even while claiming he loved her and did not really help her at all in her "investigation."

The jewel theft was definitely the main theme going through this book and provided the impetus for most of the meetings, discussions, arguments, etc... between Laura and Alex. I found it interesting enough, but would really have liked more of a romance between them, absent any investigation, especially since they didn't really connect over it as they were kind of working at cross purposes, with her trying to uncover the truth and him trying to protect his godmother and prove her father's guilt. He did not come across well in these circumstances. The eventual ending to this story was predictable as every romance with a mystery and a bad guy will end with someone being kidnapped and the other coming to the rescue at the nick of time. There was definitely an attraction between the two of them and quite a lot of sexual tension that didn't really lead to too much excitement in the end. The writing was fast and engaging, which was needed in a book that I found to be difficult to relate to.

Rating: Two people who disagreed and worked at cross purposes for two long and I just never got the feeling that they belonged together.







Friday, August 2, 2013

And Then She Fell

And Then She Fell by Stephanie Laurens R

Henrietta Cynster is known as "The Matchbreaker" as she often offers advice to young women of the ton who want to know more about the man they are engaged to and this often leads to a broken engagement. When a friend of hers asks for advice on James Glossup, who has been courting her for a few weeks, Henrietta reports back that James is required to marry quickly because of the terms of his Aunt's will. After the courtship is called off James is furious as he needed that money to ensure that his aunt's estate operated smoothly and that the people who depended on him would be able to survive. He confronts Henrietta with the havoc she has caused and, feeling bad, she offers to help James find another candidate for him to marry. Luckily the two run in the same circles as he has many connections to the very large Cynster clan and both are invited to all the important events of the season. Henrietta's youngest sister encourages Henrietta to wear a magical necklace that has helped all the other Cynster girls find "their hero" and even though Henrietta doesn't believe marriage is in her near future, she decides to humor her sister and wear the necklace.

One night while coming out of her friends residence, Henrietta bumps into a strange man in the dark but she cannot see his face. Soon afterwards, Henrietta nearly drowns in a river and is only saved by James heroics and later her horse is shot our from under her and is only saved by James' quick thinking.  James is starting to realize that his hunt for the right bride is leading him directly to Henrietta, but he knows that she will not settle for anything other than love and he is in too much of a hurry to take the time to fall in love and have her fall in love with him. Henrietta is also beginning to realize that she does not really want to find James another woman to marry and neither is too upset when a midnight seduction leads to their engagement. Their families are very excited and plans for a quick wedding are started immediately, but more accidents happen to Henrietta and her midnight bump with a stranger are linked to a scandalous murder. The whole clan has to come together to help Henrietta and James survive a madman and plan them a spectacular wedding.

Henrietta is a very practical and well connected lady of the ton and while I admired her realistic out take on life, I found her role as "matchbreaker" ridiculous and I was disappointed that she didn't seem to have any real interests or anything that made her special, interesting, or unique. James was strong and confident and I admired his dedication to protecting those people who depended on him for their livelihood. However, like Henrietta, there was really nothing to make him special or set him apart from any other romance novel hero. Unlike many romances there was really no conflict between Henrietta and James and it really made for an almost boring novel. While I did like that there was no big misunderstanding or something completely ridiculous that kept them apart, when the characters mutually just agree that they need to get married it's just a letdown really. Henrietta and James did spend a lot of time together but there were no scenes that really drew my interest or made me excited to see where their relationship was going.

It seems that Laurens is incapable of writing a book with a decent amount of sex as she either drowns a book in it or she barely has the characters kissing. This book fell into the later category and what sex there was was incredibly flowery and purply and fell into euphemism and dreamy language quickly. The necklace subplot was luckily only occasionally mentioned, which I was very thankful for because I felt like it was very stupid and made me really dislike Henrietta and anyone else who would believe in it. The secondary plot was the murder investigation, which laid pretty low until about halfway through the book and then kind of exploded all over the place. It was unrealistic and ridiculous in the extreme and often seem to serve no purpose other than to show that all the Cynsters were very close and when they united together no one could stand in their way. It ended precisely as everyone knew it would end and really offered very little excitement, even though one of our characters lives was undeniably in jeopardy.

Rating: A very wordy book with two uninspiring characters engaged in an equally uninspiring romance and a murder mystery plot that was barely interesting.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Midnight Temptations with a Forbidden Lord

Midnight Temptations with a Forbidden Lord by Tiffany Clare R

Lady Charlotte Lynsday, daughter of the Earl of Ponsley, is unhappily engaged to be married to Mr. Warren, a political allay of her father. Mr. Warren is rude, judgmental, unkind, and downright awful to Charlotte, telling her he plans to leave her in the country to rusticate and he wants her as nothing more than a broodmare. She and her friend come up with a list of rogues to help her get out of her engagement and tops on her list is Tristan, Lord Castlereigh. Tristan has his own reasons to want Charlotte's engagement ended as Mr. Warren is set to inherit the estate and money that should have rightly gone to his friend Jezebel, the widow of the previous Earl Fallon and he knows that Mr. Warren isn't fit for any young lady. Charlotte approaches him at a dance and she makes it clear she wants out of her engagement and Tristan agrees to help her although neither of them know precisely how they will go about doing this. Both are intrigued by the other for more reasons than just the possible broken engagement and wonder if their friendship will lead to something more.

Meanwhile Charlotte's chaperone has found herself in a scandal and it forces Lord Ponsley to insist on moving up the wedding date and he is deaf to Charlotte's pleas to cancel the wedding or give her more time. She once again goes to Tristan and he asks Charlotte to marry him having decided that the two of them could make something out of their friendship. Charlotte is determined never to marry and turns him down, but days later with her wedding approaching she goes to his house and asks him to ruin her, still thinking that she will avoid marriage with anyone. Tristan is not about to let that happen and insists upon their marriage and while she is upset at being cornered like this, she knows that she does not really have much of a choice even though she knows her father would never turn her out. Their marriage proves that Tristan was right and the two get along well right from the start and Charlotte fits right into his family. Not everyone is happy about their marriage and it takes a brush with death for both of them to admit that they have fallen in love.

Wow. Lady Charlotte is one of the worst characters I have ever read in a romance novel. She is, at best naive, but I would really tend to call her stupid and she had absolutely no common sense. She had no idea how to go about getting out of her marriage even while it was the only thing she ever thought about and after she finally did have sex with Tristan she refused to marry him thinking that everything would be all right. She didn't think that no one would find out- she wanted people to find out so the wedding would be called off- but she just didn't think there would be lasting consequences. And I was not exaggerating when I said that getting out of her engagement was the only thing she ever thought about. For the first 2/3 of the book she literally doesn't do anything, say anything, or think anything that does not directly relate back to getting out of the engagement and this does not make for a very interesting character at all. She also came across as very selfish in the previous book in the series and in this one as she completely disregarded her chaperones feelings or concerns.

Tristan wasn't as unlikable and at least I better understood his motives, but perhaps the most baffling thing about him were his feelings towards Charlotte. He admirably took care of his illegitimate children but I could not really admire the way he was so adamant that his new wife accept them as her own. He also had ulterior motives for wanting to ruin Mr. Warren, some familial, and some because of his friend Jez. While I understood the familial motives, the revenge for Jez's sake that carried over from the previous novel is beyond old and tired by now and wasn't even that interesting or believable to begin with. Their relationship started off as friendship apparently but I really did not get that feeling at all and I didn't feel like there was any basis for a romance at all. There was very little sex and by the time it occurred I was so tired of their story I found myself skimming it. The writing was plodding and very slow moving and there were many sections in the beginning that felt like boring information dumps.

Rating: A terrible novel with a horrible romance featuring the worst heroine I've ever encountered.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Lord of Wicked Intentions

Lord of Wicked Intentions by Lorraine Heath L

Evelyn Chambers is the illegitimate, but much beloved, daughter of the Earl of Wortham and is entrusted to her brother, Geoffrey, when her father dies. But Geoffrey is in dire need of cash because of his gambling addiction and has no familial feelings toward the girl who made his own mother's life miserable and he decides to sell her off as a mistress to one of his friends. He invites Rafe Easton to the auction, never intending for him to bid on Evelyn, but Evelyn immediately catches Rafe's eye and he is determined to make Evelyn his own. Rafe is one of the lost Lords of Pembroke and as the youngest was left at a workhouse and has never gotten over his feelings of abandonment or inadequacy. He has worked his way up to own a prominent gambling establishment but he hasn't done so without making enemies. Evelyn is under the impression that Geoffrey had found her a husband and she is horrified when Rafe reveals to her that he intends to make her his mistress. She had always wanted respectability, a family, and children, and she knows that this will ruin her chances, but she also knows that she has no other choice and nowhere else to go.

Rafe intends to have a mutually beneficial arrangement and they agree that after their affair is over she will maintain the house as well as any items, including jewelry that he purchases and he decides to give her time to get used to him before consummating their relationship. Even though he had no plans for Evelyn to be anything more than a mistress he finds himself spending more time at his house, more time engaged in fun pursuits with her, than at his gambling hell. Evelyn knows that Rafe has a dark past and has a fear of becoming close to anyone, but the more she gets to know him she realizes that there is a good person underneath it all and wants their relationship to be more. Rafe cannot bring himself to admit that his feelings have changed and he risks losing Evelyn just as someone he thought gone from his life reappears and threatens him and all he holds dear. It is Evelyn who comes to his rescue and they both know that they want a long and happy life together; a life based on love.

The Lost Lords of Pembroke series have all featured a seriously tortured hero and a heroine who is almost too good (kind and understanding) to be true. Evelyn is naive in the beginning and I found her development so well written as she came to understand more about the world and more about her own past. I liked that she was a fighter and wanted the happy ending, but still faced reality without becoming bitter or overly proud. Rafe was incredibly hard and definitely projected an untouchable facade, but his cracks began to show early as he couldn't bring himself to abandon Evelyn. We learned more about his good deeds and about the bad things in life he has done (and of course how bad he feels about all of them) which make it clear that he is just waiting for the right woman to come along to help him work through his demons. Evelyn and Rafe work well together, but I found myself concerned that she was in a situation without any real choices and thus she wasn't truly free to make informed decisions. This gave her developing feelings for him a tinge of coercion (Stockholm syndrome a la Beauty and the Beast) and was more than a little icky for me.

Rafe and Evelyn did spend a lot of time together, going to his club, walking in the park, and discussing their pasts which was something they both needed to work through. A lot of this time was spent with just the two of them, which normally I liked, but because of the reasons stated above made me a little uneasy. Eventually other people began to play a part in their lives, namely his brothers and their wives and I was so happy that she was expanding her life beyond him that the character dropping didn't bother me here. There were a few sex scenes between them and they were all rather tame. Literally dropped in to the very end of the story was a big problem and it came out of nowhere, but was resolved rather quickly and really just served as the impetuous for both of them to realize and admit their feelings. Heath's writing is always fun and fast and easy to get through and this book was no exception.

Rating: An enjoyable book with great character development and an interesting relationship that held a few problems for me.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Forbidden

Forbidden by Nicola Cornick

Margery Mallon is a ladies maid who has served some quite scandalous ladies of the ton and she hopes one day to open her own confectionary shop. Her family consists of three older brothers, two of whom are engaged in questionable business dealings but she loves them and is content with her life. Henry, Lord Wardeaux, is heir to Lord Templemore, which is one of the few titles in Britain that can be passed down through the female line. Twenty years ago a horrible carriage accident left Lord Templemore's daughter dead and his grandfather missing, but a locket has appeared that leads them to suspect that Margery is actually Lady Margaret, Lord Templemore's heir. Henry decides to investigate myself and arranges to meet Margery and even take her out for an evening on the town where he realizes she is someone quite special who he would like to get to know better. Margery is horrified when she discovers who she is and feels as though Henry has lead her on and tricked her. She moves in with her grandfather and finds herself spending more time with Henry, and her new family, then before.

Even though Henry was set to inherit he does not begrudge Margery her newfound fortune and tries to ignore his mother's insinuations that he should marry her to maintain the estate. He agrees to show Margery around the land and introduce her to tenants and accidents begin to happen as an arrow is shot remarkably close to her head and then her bed curtains catch on fire while her door is mysteriously locked. Henry wants to discover what truly happened to Margery and her mother all those years ago and begins to worry that whoever hurt her mother has come back to hurt her. Margery is still confused about her new status and distrustful of Henry after the way they met, but he is convinced that marriage is the right thing for them as he knows that both of them will be happy together and be good for the estate. He is willing to do whatever it takes to convince her of the same, but first he must fend of those who wish to harm her and discover the secrets behind her mother's death.

Like most people I love a rags to riches story and so I was immediately attracted to the premise of a servant elevated to the peerage and this book pulled off that feat in a surprisingly realistic manner. While the murder of a her mother and her kidnapping was a tad melodramatic it was resolved and explained enough that I could believe it, at least in a romance novel world, and I also liked that Margery underwent an adjustment period as she got used to her new life. Margery was independent and strong and I really liked her and the dedication she had towards being an successful woman on her own. I could really empathize with her and truly felt like she was a real person that I would like in real life. Henry was incredibly strong, noble, and self-sacrificing and had a great sense of responsibility towards those important to him. I really liked the way that he treated Margery, even if she did become a little upset about him hiding the truth from her, because it was respectful and he did not go about doing what was best for her in a heavy handed, domineering fashion.

Margery and Henry worked incredibly well together as a couple and I really enjoyed reading about their relationship and watching it progress. They spend a lot of time together, some while she was still a servant, and I liked the wide range of interactions they had in different circumstances. There was not very much sex between them at all and it was towards the very end of the book, but it was pretty hot. Because the rest of their relationship was so fleshed out and completed the sex was really just a nice little bonus. The mystery of what happened to her mother was a wonderful side plot to the book because it was important and worked throughout the book, but it did not detract from the relationship. The resolution was a complete shock to me and served as a nice surprise, but there was a hostage situation that kind of fell back on romance novel staples. Cornick's writing is always spot on; easy to read with a fun, fast pace and previous characters made cameos without overwhelming the main story.

Rating: A very enjoyable romance between two likable and realistic characters who worked so well together with an interesting little mystery to solve.