Friday, March 29, 2013

Secrets of a Wedding Night

Secrets of a Wedding Night by Valerie Bowman

The entire ton believes that Lily Andrews, the recently widowed Countess of Merrill, was left a fortune upon her husband's death, but in fact she was left penniless. In order to support her hodgepodge household and provide a fabulous debut ball for her sister, Annie, she decides to write a pamphlet to raise funds. Entitled "Secrets of a Wedding Night" the pamphlet is intended to expose young ladies to the truth about the marriage bed and about marriage bed, but when it leads the Marquis of Colton's fiance to call off the wedding, all the bets are off. Years ago Devon Morgan had been in love with Lily, but she had left him to marry the very wealthy Duke of Merrill and this recent escapade further cements his dislike of her. Lily has an entirely different perspective on their past relationship as she had been prepared to run off to Gretna with Devon before he abandoned her with nothing but a note and she is not looking forward to another confrontation with him.

Devon is determined to prove to Lily that she is entirely wrong about what happens between a husband and wife and issues an ultimatum: write a retraction or he will use all of his powers of seduction to show her the truth. Lily is fairly confident in her abilities to avoid seduction but when Colton begins to show up at society events and steps in when society proves cruel to her sister she begins to thaw towards him. But when Lily learns that Colton is involved in high stakes gambling, the exact thing that brought her own father to ruin, all of her fears about marriage and about getting involved with Colton, resurface. Colton has his own motives for going to seedy gambling establishments and though he knows it hurts Lily he cannot go back on his word. To save Annie from scandal Devon and Lily are forced to proclaim their own engagement and both realize that they were lied and hurt in the past in order to separate them and now they are determined to let nothing stand in their way.

Lily was a wonderful heroine and I loved that she had so much pride and I liked the uniqueness of having a character who was truly forced to be frugal. I admired her strength in the face of adversity, her pride in refusing to give in to the ton, and her loyalty to those around her, including an odd assortment of servants. Her love for her sister was inspiring, but at times tested the bounds of credulity as it became more and more clear that her sister was determined to ruin her reputation. Devon was an equally wonderful hero and even with a checkered past, he avoided falling into complete dissolution which was a nice change of pace. He has his secrets and his brooding moments, but he was refreshing and kept me interested in what he was doing and how he was going to make things up to Lily. I was a little turned off by the gambling and though his motives were explained I felt like it would have been a nice little gesture on his part to let the past go and focus on his future with Lily.

Their relationship was incredible and I loved reading about these two rediscovering long last feelings and falling in love with each other all over again. I really felt like they developed a relationship based on the present, and not their old feelings, and that they each showed in little ways throughout the story how much they loved the other. There was some sex and it was pretty hot and there was steam spread throughout the novel and although the circumstances surrounding her virginal state are explained away it was still a little ridiculous. The pamphlet was a nice little touch to get them back together, a tad far fetched, but nonetheless amusing and served as a nice little talking point for other members of the ton throughout the story. The novel was well written and featured some very intriguing side characters, including her sister who's stories I can't wait to read.

Rating: I enjoyed this book greatly, especially the protagonists who were well developed and obviously destined for a life of happiness together.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Season for Temptation

Season for Temptation by Theresa Romain

James, Viscount Matheson, decides that he should become engaged quickly after ascending to his title and being hounded by his family to help restore respectability to the scandal ridden family. Louisa Oliver is beautiful and kind and he knows she will make a perfect wife for him so after a very short courting he proposes and she agrees. Louisa knows that she will never fit in with London society and would prefer a quiet life retiring in the country, but she also knows that it is her duty to marry well. James decides to visit his wife's family in the country and after meeting Louisa's stepsister, Julia Herrington all of his well ordered plans are thrown out the window. Julia is loud, funny, brave, and outgoing, everything that her perfect, well-mannered step sister is not and she doesn't know what to do with the immense attraction she is feeling for her soon to be brother-in-law. She wants her sister to be happy and would never do anything to jeopardize Louisa's happiness so she tries to hide her feelings and he tries to follow suit.

The tension between them in palpable and all it takes is one stolen moment for everyone to realize that James and Louisa are not meant to be together. But both of them feel guilty for the problems that have arisen and after meeting James' family Julia wonders if she is the right woman to help restore the family's good name and worries that the ton will never accept her or respect their marriage because of the way it began. Confusion ensues when Julia wonders if James has the depth of feelings for her that she has for him and she retreats to her family for comfort after being embarrassed by the ton. James must prove to Julia, and the world, that Julia is the woman for him and that it does not matter what the ton thinks or how their relationship began because they are in love.

Julia is supposed to be the atypical heroine, chattery, healthy appetite, loud, and very child-friendly and while it can be cute and vaguely naive, her inane chatter became oppressive and I really do not find that kind of thing amusing in the least. As someone who spends all day with kids I don't think it's totally endearing when someone is overly familiar with other people's kids and wants to spend tons of time with children. There was one scene when she went back for thirds at a meal and then looked at her plate in surprise that she had eaten everything and it just made her seem incredibly unintelligent and ridiculous. It really did not take me long to realize that this was not a character I was going to fall in love with. James was a very real character and a nice change from the brooding hero and I felt like the conflict he went through was written of in a very deft manner and he just seemed like a very genuine person.

Their relationship progressed well throughout the novel as they dealt with the obstacles in their path together. There wasn't really much steam at all and I definitely would not describe it as hot and given the circumstances it was just as well that they weren't going at it like rabbits. Also, I kind of thought of Julia as very child like so I didn't really want to read about her being sexi-fied anyway. I really liked the love triangle aspect of the story and how everyone was so caring of everyone else involved and there was no mean spiritedness. Maybe a little bad guy in the story would have been nice and added a little flair to this otherwise very straightforward story, though. I did not like that Louisa and Julia represented such complete opposite ends of the spectrum and both just seemed unrealistic and unlikable. The book was a very fast read and was well written.

Rating: A promising story but it was killed by a heroine who just drove me nuts and was a poor example of an anti-heroine.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Governess Affair

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

Hugo Marshall has spent his whole life proving himself worthwhile and is determined to make it big one day so he enters an agreement with the Duke of Clermont. He will make Clermont profitable and in return he is due a very large sum of money so his number one priority is ensuring that no one make the very wealthy Duchess of Clermont so angry she withdraws her husbands funds. Serena Barton was raped by the Duke while she was working as a housemaid and after finding herself pregnant she goes to the Duke looking for what is owed to her and encounters Hugo instead. Hugo is determined to get rid of this woman who threatens all of his plans, but he cannot help but be sympathetic to her plight and angry at his employer for getting into this situation. While she camps outside the Duke's townhouse, Hugo finds himself going out to meet her and admiring her stalwart determination even while he plots against her and her sister. Only when the full truth of what happened to her, and the consequences of it, are presented does he truly realize what he is doing is wrong and he decides to marry Serena. While not the most auspicious start to a relationship the two get on well and manage to forge a relationship away from the duke.

This novella intrigued me at first but when it became clear what had happened between Clermont and Serena I became increasingly incensed that Hugo continued to display such ruthless tactics against her. While she didn't confirm his beliefs, namely that Clermont had raped her, he strongly suspected it and that really made his actions completely despicable. I could not understand how Serena could fall for him under those circumstances, and the things he threatened to do were truly quite awful even if they didn't constitute physical harm, and made a relationship between them hard to stomach. Serena was an intriguing mix of juxtapositions as she was strong and vulnerable, smart and yet horribly naive at the same time, and it was really these qualities that made her so realistic. Hugo's background was supposed to explain his actions, but I was not buying and it did not redeem him at all in my eyes. There was no sex in this book, but the writing was wonderful as always, full of emotion and I was really drawn into what was happening.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Waltzing the Wallflower

Waltzing the Wallflower by Leah Sanders and Rachel Van Dyken L

Ambrose Benson, Earl of Hawthorne, is bored with this years ladies of the ton so he jumps at the opportunity when his brother Anthony bets him that he cannot turn the seasons biggest wallflower into the darling of the ton. Lady Cordelia Edwards does not want to be at any ton event; her father's huge gambling debt lead him to indenture her as a servant in France, and the gossips are destroying her. She is made even more uncomfortable when the much admired Earl of Hawthorne begins to show an interest in her and suddenly everyone else wants to know her better. He takes her under his wing, helping her dress more fashionably, getting her noticed by everyone, making her popular, and it isn't long before spending time with her makes him realizes that there is so much more to her than he could have imagined. But when rumors of the bet, and rumors that she is his mistress, begin to circulate Cordelia is heartbroken and it is up to Ambrose to prove to her that what began as a bet has turned into true love.

I absolutely love the idea behind this story; the wallflower singled out for attention by the most eligible bachelor of the ton and then falling madly in love only to have a little misunderstanding cause a little bit of angst before things end up happily ever after. That is why I think that this works so well as a novella, and why novella's work well for romances in general; because oftentimes to fill space a big misunderstanding can slow things down. Ambrose and Cordelia were wonderful and worked so well together and I loved that, despite the length, we were given so many opportunities to see them enjoying each other's company and falling in love with each other. The bet was an interesting way to get them together and did create a little stir towards the end, which they worked out together and grew stronger through. There was no sex in the novel, but it was so short that it wasn't really missed and I thought the writing was superb and flowed well.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Midnight Scandals

Midnight Scandals

One Starlit Night by Carolyn Jewel

Portia Temple and Connor, now Viscount Northword, were once young lovers, but a tragic accident threw their relationship apart. Ten years later, they reunite at Doyle's Grange as her brother is hoping to become a vicar for the new Viscount, and all the feelings they had come rushing to the fore. Northword is now widowed and visiting his old friend, Portia's newly married brother, who he might make a vicar on his own estate. Unfortunately Portia is feeling like a third wheel and has agreed to marry a man whom everyone but her can see is completely unsuited for her. When her brother and sister-in-law enlist his help in preventing the marriage they find themselves spending a lot of time together and some startling revelations are made in how their relationship had ended so long ago. They must forgive and forget, let go of old problems, and find a way to love each other again.

I do so much like stories involving former lovers who reconnect after many years and this story really hit all of the checkmarks of what makes this particular sub genre so great. Portia and Connor were surprisingly well developed for such a short novella and I really felt like I could connect with both of their characters. Jewel's writing is a little slow at times and very introspective but it really worked here because of the situation between her two characters. There was a lot of history and heart break between these two characters that would have been too melancholy if it had lasted for a whole book so I really feel like it was much better suited to this smaller medium. There was quite a bit of sex for such a short book, but I really feel like it worked well here because they had been intimate before. All in all this was an enjoyable read and very well suited to this format.

What Happened at Midnight by Courtney Milan

Mary Chartley had lead a charmed life until everyone discovered that her father had embezzeled money from investors and so she runs away from London, leaving behind her fiance, John Mason. When John finds out that his nephew has been robbed of his inheritance by Mary's father he goes after her determined to get it back. He finds her serving as a lady's companion, being virtually controlled by her charge's husband, and is forced to reevaluate how he has thought of this woman. They begin to meet at midnight to discuss what happened and how they can fix things, both financially and between each other because neither wants to give up the feelings that were growing between them. Together they must discover what happened to the money, break the bonds that have been holding Mary and her charge captive, and repair their own broken relationship.

This book had a lot of substance to it and a lot of things to work out and Milan did an excellent job of solving all of these problems in a believable way without any letdown. Mary and John worked so well together and we could really see that during their little midnight jaunts and I enjoyed reading about the two of them rediscovering why they had fallen in love doing so all over again. There was no sex in this novel, but it worked fine for me and fit in with how the novel progressed and did not feel like anything was lacking. The romance was great but easily the most intriguing aspect of this story was the domineering husband/ employer who completely controlled his wife and even Mary once she began to work for him. I almost wished that this was a story in itself as his wife regained her confidence and her independence.

A Dance in Moonlight by Sherry Thomas

Isabelle Endleigh is heartbroken when the love of her life, Lord Fitzhugh, chooses his wife over her, and in her grief she mistakes Fitzwilliam for her lost love and passionately kisses him. She is horrified to discover it is not Fitz, but she asks him to pretend to be Fitz for one night and during that night she discovers that they have much in common. Suddenly her one night of pretending that Fitz loves her becomes so much more and the two write letters for several months and a genuine relationship develops. Her sister is convinced that Isabelle is just after Fitzwilliam because of his resemblance to Fitz, but she is able to prove to everyone that her feelings for him are much deeper and provide the backbone for a healthy relationship between them.

I did like this story and really felt like Thomas did a great job making it clear that, although Isabelle was initially drawn to Ftizwilliam because of his resemblance to Fitz, their relationship progressed beyond that and they really were well suited to one another. Their conversations and correspondence really showed how well suited they were for each other and we could see Isabelle getting over her infatuation with Fitz as she fell in love with Fitzwilliam. He was surprisingly unconcerned about the origins of their relationship which was probably the only weird part of the story for me as he should have been more worried that she only fell for him because of his looks. I felt like this was a great finish to Ravishing the Heiress and really showed a nice happy ending.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Key

The Key by Lynsay Sands

When her father dies, Iliana Wildwood, is horrified when Lord Greenweld storms the family estate and forces her mother to marry him. He locks Iliana up and uses her as a tool to keep Lady Wildwood in line and when she asks the king for help, he sends Iliana up to Scotland to marry so that he can work towards Lady Wildwood's safety. The only Scottish laird who qualifies to marry Iliana is Duncan of Dunbar Castle, heir to his father Angus. Iliana finds her new husband handsome but cannot believe the filth that his people live in as their is grime and dirt covering every well, they wear dirty plaids, and only take baths twice a year. Her husband is no exception and his stench leads her to refuse him on their wedding night and don a belt of chastity, complete with lock and a key she hides from Duncan. Duncan cannot believe his wife refuses him and vows not to let her change his life overmuch, even while he searches for a way to get her into bed without giving into her demands. Iliana overcomes her shock at the poor sanitary conditions of the keep when she learns her husband has big plans for his castle and his people and she begins to understand there is more to her husband than she had suspected.

Iliana sets about setting the keep to rights, sweeping and mopping, white washing and scrubbing, planting a garden, improving the quality and flavor of the food, buying everyone a new plaid, and offering everyone in the keep the use of her bathtub. Duncan is upset at the changes she is making, feeling that it is too much too fast and that she is not looking out for the best interests of his people, and as always, is upset that she continues to insist he take a bath. But quite by accident he ends up bathed and finds that he immensely enjoys the rewards that the act reaps and knows that his wife does as well. He wants to spend as much time in her bed as possible, but alas, when he begins to smell, she again refuses him. He is angry once again, but there is suddenly a new problem when someone attempts to kill Iliana in her bed at night. Now there is nothing on Ducan's mind but finding the person who is responsible and many believe it is Lord Grenweld, looking to get revenge on the Wildwood women. Iliana must find the strength to fight for those he loves and Duncan realizes that compromises that lead to the happiness of the woman he loves are well worth it.

Iliana was an interesting character; she was industrious in cleaning her husband's castle and adamant in getting her own way about the bath, and other things, but I found that she was too much to Sands' type. There were hints at her vast strength, such as when she attempted to escape from Greenweld, but we really weren't told of the courage that took and even her own husband seemed to shrug that away. Her insistence that things go her away, even though I knew she was in the right, came across as naive at times and I kept waiting for her to stamp her foot in anger like a child. Duncan was surly and rude and it is hard to like someone who thinks it's perfectly acceptable to take a bath twice a year and get upset when get upset when no one wants to sleep in the same bed. I understood that his grand plans for his clan were supposed to show a hidden depth to him, and they certainly made Iliana like him a lot more, but it was rather glossed over in summary so it did not really endear him to me all that much. They interacted a lot together, but it was often full of arguments or tension and I really would have appreciated them interacting in a more personal, happier, manner.

Iliana and Duncan obviously liked each other, probably because of their mutual desire to help those they care about, and the selflessness in achieving those ends. I just did not really feel a connection between them while reading the book and I just did not see how either of them fell in love with the other, and I believe that Sands' tendency to summarize things may be to blame. Instead of detailing a conversation, she'll say what they discussed and how they felt about it in one paragraph and this does not help a romance. There was some sex, it was pretty lukewarm, and entirely toward the end of the book. I found the addition of the chastity belt humorous at times and frustrating at others and completely unrealistic that a woman in those times would have refuted her husband's advances in that manner. The plot involving Lord Greenweld was an important part of the book but I found it popping up at odd times and didn't completely mesh with the storyline and the side romance between Lady Wildwood and Angus was almost ridiculous in its abruptness.

Rating: A funny book, certainly very fast with two hard to pin down characters in a so-so romance with some interesting tension toward the end.