Friday, January 25, 2013

A Scandalous Scot

A Scandalous Scot by Karen Ranney R

Jean MacDonald has taken refuge at Ballindair Castle in the Highlands of Scotland, working as a maid, after a scandal in Inverness rocked her world and changed her life. When not trying to keep her beautiful sister, Catriona, from getting into trouble she wanders the halls searching for one of the many ghosts of Ballindair. Morgan MacCraig, retreats to his family estate after his own scandal leaves him the laughingstock of London. He hopes to live up to his father's reputation as a hero of Scotland by managing his own estate and slowly winning back the regard of his countrymen. His friend Andrew, a married womanizer, accompanies him and while Andrew sets his sights on winning Catriona, Morgan is far more intrigued by the ghost hunting beauty who wanders his halls and isn't scared to speak her mind in front of him. He finds himself looking forward to their encounters while she is out ghost hunting as the two of them talk about family ghosts and skirt around the issues hidden in their pasts. Morgan is haunted by the flagrant way his wife cheated on him with almost everyone in the ton and finds that Jean makes him forget what happened.

Jean sees the way Morgan tries so hard to live up to everyone's expectations and wishes there was some way to show him that he is already a man worthy of other's respect. As things get more interesting between Jean and Morgan, Catriona is trying to find a way to turn her beauty into something more. When she reveals her plan to become Morgan's mistress, Jean attempts to enlists Andrew's help and everything ends up backfiring when it is Jean caught in Morgan's room. Deciding that now is the time to show how honorable he is Morgan agrees to marry Jean, even while Jean is terrified that their marriage is a sham since she is still hiding to avoid her own scandal. She attempts to avoid the marriage, but there is no getting around Morgan's determination and her own secret desire for him. Catriona is bitter that Jean has outmaneuvered her and decides her best bet is to become Andrew's mistress and Jean feels she has to protect herself. She knows that she risks Morgan discovering everything she has been trying so hard to hide, but she doesn't know that Morgan recognizes how vital she has becoming in his life and will let nothing stand in the way of their happiness.

Jean was a rather bland heroine in my opinion; although she had interests in many different subjects I never really felt like she was truly passionate about anything, including Morgan. She didn't get excited or angry about anything really, just handled everything as it came and it annoyed me and made her seem incredibly unrealistic. She was anxious about her past, which certainly set up the conflict of the story, but her background turned out to be rather ho hum in my opinion as it had been blown out of proportion. Morgan's tortured background was far more interesting to me as he strived to live up the unrealistic (and unreal) expectations he had for himself and dealt with the issues surrounding his divorce. I enjoyed reading about his coming to grips with what his wife did to him and with the truth about his father as he came to the realization that he was his own man and just as worthy of respect as anyone. Perhaps that was the best part of their relationship as Jean helped him to this understanding through her support. Unfortunately the rest of their relationship was pretty boring and, while I liked that there was not a lot of arguing between them, I would have appreciated some excitement!

Jean and Morgan did not spend enough time together in my opinion, and the time they did seemed to be taken up by unimportant things, like the ghost hunting. They skirted around important issues and I don't see how they were able to fall in love. There was very little sex between them and it was at best, lukewarm and contributed absolutely nothing to the romance between the characters. Surprisingly enough I found the little plot involving Catriona to be more interesting than anything surrounding Jean. Catriona was a wonderfully written pretty, spoiled, and absolutely detestable person who you rooted against, but couldn't help wanting to read more about. She was perfectly mercenary and detestable, but I understood her motives, advancement and money, far more than Jean's far too polite and perfect desires. I felt like ghost aspect of the story was completely ridiculous and I did not really see what purpose it served other than to pop up at annoying instances and distract from anything important really happening.

Rating: A fast read, but rather boring, with a boring heroine and a character whose interesting past and development was overshadowed by a lukewarm romance.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Wicked Nights with a Proper Lady

Wicked Nights with a Proper Lady

Leo Harrow, the Earl of Barrington, attends the funeral of Lord Fallon to offer moral support to the Duke's widow, his very close friend Jezebel. Fallon was a bastard who left Jez with nothing and she decides to ruin the chances of her deceased husband's heir by scaring off the woman he hopes to make his bride. Leo and his friends, Tristan and Hayden, agree to woo Lady Charlotte Lynsay, the Earl of Ponsley's daughter, until she throws over Mr. Warren. Genevieve Camden is well on the shelf and to earn her keep she agrees to act as chaperone to her young cousin and encourage a match between Charlotte and Mr. Warren. She is unprepared to run into Leo, with whom she shares a scandalous past. Years ago the two had engaged in a torrid affair at a house party and while both had developed deeper feelings for the other, neither had been brave enough to speak their minds or ask for anything more than an affair and so they had parted ways. Now that Leo is threatening her cousin's future, and by extension her own livelihood as her uncle will throw her out if Charlotte doesn't marry Warren, Genevieve finds herself in closer proximity to Leo than she had ever hoped to be again.

Leo finds Genevieve as beautiful and enticing as always and regrets the promise he made to help Jez. He can't help but remember all the times they shared together and when both of them are invited back to the same house party where they found each other all those years ago, it brings back memories and long forgotten desires for both of them. Genevieve knows that what she's doing is dangerous, knows that she is risking her entire future and that of her cousin, and knows that she is once again throwing her heart at a man who has already broken it once. Leo is just as confused as Genevieve, unsure of what she expects from the relationship and unsure what he wants from it, but he knows he cannot let this opportunity pass him by again. Sure enough, when Lord Ponsley discovers what has been transpiring, he kicks Genevieve out and she finds herself at the mercy of friends. Leo is determined to show her that it is possible for them to have a future together and rushes to find a way to make up for the past hurts they have endured. Genevieve must move beyond their past and forgive his mistakes and her own in order for them to have a happily ever after.

I initially like the premises that Leo and Genevieve had had a relationship that ended poorly and were going to have to work past what had happened and forge a new relationship from the beginning. The major flaw in this was the way in which their initial relationship ended and how it colored their entire reconciliation. Supposedly the relationship had ended after the house party because neither knew what the other wanted from the relationship and while this makes sense for her, it made no sense on his part. She was a young debutante, with every hope of making a successful match, who gave him her virginity. It makes no sense that he did not know that she wanted marriage and family, so his excuse that he didn't know what she expected rang incredibly hollow. Genevieve was a very confusing character because she tried to seem strong and purposeful, but she gave in to Leo so easily even when she knew that it could cost her everything. I wanted her to grow a backbone when it came to him and stand up for herself and his continuing to take advantage of her, even when knowing what the risk to her was, made him rather unlikable.

Their relationship was full of sparring and characterized by a lack of happiness and fun as he was always anxious she would find out about his deal with Lady Jez and she was worried she would lose her position with her uncle. There was a decent amount of sex and at times it did get pretty hot, but it was nothing spectacular, especially since it seemed to be the only time they enjoyed being in each other's company. I understood Lady Jezebel's unhappiness, her husband was obviously an ass of epic proportions, but I could not understood what this desire to ruin Mr. Warren's happiness came from. This plot waffled back and forth from revenge (against whom I don't know) to trying to keep Charlotte from getting hurt (although there was never any evidence she would get hurt) to I don't even know what. It seemed to be just thrown in their for no reason except to throw up a road block between Genevieve and Leo at the very end. Even then it was just ridiculous as Leo really hadn't attempted to fulfill his promise so Genevieve's anger was just frustrating.

Rating: Two difficult to like characters in an unhappy relationship with a past that made me frustrating a side plot that was ridiculous.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Ugly Duchess

The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James

Theodora Saxby has been a ward of the Duke of Ashbrook since her father died and she has grown up with the heir to the dukedom, James Ryburn. The two are the best of friends and at times they are each other's only supporters as Theo is not as beautiful as other young women and the Duke's temper causes him to lash out at those around him. James is furious to discover that his father has embezzeled Theo's dowry and horrified at his proposed solution; James should marry Theo in order to keep anyone from finding out. For years, James has been noticing Theo as more than a friend, but he does not like to be forced into anything. Theo knows she is no charming and elegant debutante, but with her best friend by her side, she feels confident facing the ton. James, without fully acknowledging he is complying with his father's wishes, begins a flirtation with Theo that quickly escalates into more and when their indiscretion is discovered he makes a romantic proposal that has Theo believing in true love. The first week of their marriage is spent in a haze of lust and romance and both are looking forward to happy life together, when the Duke spills the beans. Theo is furious and hurt and banishes both men from her life and confused and hurt, James takes to the sea.

Over the next seven years, Theo becomes a fashionista, setting trends for people from Paris to London and quickly makes the Ashbrook estate incredibly profitable by setting up a ceramics factory and a weaving factory. James becomes a privateer, capturing pirate ships with the help of another lord who ran away from society, and slowly loses all vestiges of his former self. For a long time he believes Theo would be better off without him, but over time he can't help but remember what they shared and imagine what they could still have together. Theo has moved on and has even taken steps to declare him dead, when James waltzing back into London and wants to pick up the pieces exactly where they left off. Still hurting over the way he left her and the way she had been scrutinized over his abandonment, Theo wants nothing to do with him, but James can be very persuasive and she too remembers who wonderful it was between them. They both must forgive each for past hurts in order to move forward and create a future where both of them can love and be happy.

I loved the idea of a heroine who was plain and coming into her own and gaining confidence, but Theo did not really embody everything I wanted in this heroine. Her transformation was superficial at best and she hid herself behind a mask of extreme rigidity. James was an interesting young man but when he went off to become a pirate I just couldn't help rolling my eyes and praying for it to be over. I felt like the problem between them was not all that insurmountable and definitely did not warrant him disappearing for seven years. There were definitely two halves of this novel; the first half of them falling in love and starting a happy marriage and then having their hopes crashed, and the second part about them becoming cold and unsympathetic people and then, very quickly, falling back in love with each other supposedly. And the ending was completely ridiculous: I believe it took them two days to forgive each other and begin a happy life together again. Just like that they were back in love right where they had left off after seven years of becoming very different people and it was just plain unbelievable.

The first half of the book was very enjoyable in itself, with the nice little bit of angst accompanying his feeling guilty about misleading Theo, and two people getting to know each other in a new way and falling in love. There was some very hot sex in this half and it was obviously a very important part of their relationship and the scene where she discovers his "betrayal" was written so well. Her emotions were coming off the page and my heart broke for what she was going through and I admired her strength and courage in the face of such heartache. The second half of the book contained some very major problems for me, not least that about 80 pages of the novel was spent with them completely separated from each other and engaging in activities that were illegal and dangerous on his part, and superfluous and boring on hers. I know I was supposed to understand that they were better compliments for each other now, but I was just so horrified at the speed at which everything was accomplished I couldn't really wrap my head around anything else.

Rating: A very fast read and a remarkable first half but the second half went off the deep end and I just could not bring myself to like anything that happened.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Lady Never Surrenders

A Lady Never Surrenders by Sabrina Jeffries

Mrs. Hester Plumtree was tired of seeing her grandchildren ignore society's rules and buck conventions, so she laid down the law and demanded that all of them marry within one year or they would all be disinherited from her very sizable fortune. One year later and the youngest and most headstrong, Lady Cecilia Sharpe, is the only one of her siblings to remain unmarried, but she also has a plan. She knows she wants to marry for love but does not have enough time to find the love of her life, so she plans to throw a house party and invite several eligible gentlemen in an attempt to prove to her grandmother that she is desirable and does plan to wed, she just needs more time. She asks the Jackson Pinter, a Bow Street Runner who has been helping her family investigate her parents' death, to investigate her three potential suitors. Jackson is reluctant to help Cecilia and believes that none of the men are suitable for Cecilia and has numerous excuses as to why, but Cecilia continues to try her best to convince one of them to propose so she can use that to get her grandmother to rescind her ultimatum. Meanwhile, she confides in Jackson about a conversation she overheard between her mother and father arranging a meeting on the morning they were shot and Jackson promises to look into it.

Watching Cecilia flirt with the staid, uptight, and old men of the ton infuriates Jackson and many people at the house party notice that they cannot keep their eyes off of each other. Hester is not pleased by this and makes it clear to Jackson that he can expect no monetary reward for marrying Cecilia and could possibly earn a promotion at work if he leaves her alone. Though Jackson has no interest in the money, he knows that he cannot expect Cecilia to give up the lifestyle she has gotten used to in order to live off a mere policeman's salary. Cecilia cannot understand why Jackson has been running hot and cold; sneaking off to kiss her one minute and the next refusing to acknowledge her presence, but she knows that there is something special between them. When she insists on accompanying him to investigate her parents death, their lives are put in danger and they both realize that there is nothing more important than life together. However, the first must deal with a vengeful murderer bent on covering up their crimes and a grandmother who must be made to understand that love triumphs over all.

I have followed the Sharpe siblings from the beginning and the investigation of their parents death has been an integral part of all the stories, as has their grandmother's ultimatum. I find the meddling grandmother figure incredibly obnoxious and Jeffries definitely tried to mellow her in this novel by having her, at the end, loosen up a bit, admit her mistakes and work with her grandchildren and this change was much appreciated. The parents death was very slow to get off the ground and not much happened in the previous novels so there was quite a lot to cover in this one. I felt like making Jackson a Bow Street runner was a genius move because it made him incredibly involved in the investigation so it wasn't a side plot, it was his job and it meshed with his relationship with Cecilia. I really enjoyed discovering what happened to the Sharpe parents and uncovering lots of little mysteries and clues along the way. I was completely shocked by the outcome and the way it manifested itself at the end and all in all it was a very pleasant surprise.

Cecilia was rather immature and her interests, namely shooting, were so far in opposition to everything I enjoy, that it was really hard for me to appreciate her character. Her plot to end her grandmother's scheming was utterly ridiculous, obviously hatched up by someone with no common sense or real world experience, but I did like learning about her very real feelings of inadequacies and how she was still working to build up her confidence. Jackson was a bit underwhelming, with no real distinguishing personality traits except for his unorthodox upbringing as the abandoned child of a lord. Their relationship was based, for the most part, on mutual dislike of each other and a refusal to admit that they had any warm feelings for the other. I am not a fan of these types of romances and it seems like they are becoming more and more prevalent and it just strikes me as completely unromantic and a horrible basis for a relationship. There were some nice scenes between the two of them, often overshadowed by their interactions the next day when they were nasty to each other, but I liked his helping her overcome her insecurities and her helping him to grips with his past. There was very little sex in the book, it was lukewarm at best, and was entirely in the last third of the book.

Rating: Two so-so characters in a sparring match that was uninspiring and unromantic, but rare moments shone through and I enjoyed finally discovering who killed the Sharpe parents.