Friday, May 31, 2013

Three Weddings and a Funeral

Three Weddings and a Funeral

The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright by Tessa Dare

Eliza Cade is the youngest of four sisters and because of a scandalous misunderstanding as a child she is not allowed out into society until all of her sister's are married off. She chafes under these restrictions and finds herself running into Mr. Harry Wright, a rake of the first order, at nearly every opportunity. They meet in abandoned drawing rooms, at house parties, and slowly get to know each other over the years. Harry also begins to realize that he needs to make a change in his life and he wants to earn the respect of the uncle he is going to inherit a Dukedom from and from Eliza. They fall in love during these little tete-e-tetes until finally they are both able to admit their love and marry.

This story was very short but a lot was accomplished as Dare did a wonderful job portraying a full romantic relationship. Eliza and Harry were both super fun characters who worked so well together and their meetings were entertaining and sweet at the same time. I admired Harry's desire to become a better person and Eliza's dedication to her family. There was very little sex in this novel and it was romantic and fit well into the story and there was some nice sizzle throughout the story. I enjoyed this story and how it was written a lot differently than other stories I've read.

The Misbehaving Marquess by Leigh LaValle

Catharine, the Marchioness of Forrester, has run the estate for years since her husband ran off to Europe. She is stunned to find him in the library and shocked when he announces he is back because he needs to create an heir. Forester knows that he made a mistake by disappearing shortly after their marriage when his wife had been young and foolish and created a scandal by appearing alone with a notorious rake. He knows he has a lot to make up for and is determined to show Catherine that he is not going anywhere, but Catherine does not know how she will ever trust him again. They will both have to overcome the past to move on and create a future together.

I very much enjoyed this story and loved reading about a couple learning to forgive and falling in love all over again. The story was very emotional and both sides of the story were skillfully told so it was clear no one was to blame and both of them were so in love with the other and deserved to be happy together. Catherine was strong and vulnerable, capable and intelligent and so full of love while Forester was a strong hero who learned to be more open about his emotions who needed to let the woman he loved into his life. The story was sexy, but that was definitely not the focus of the story and everything worked very well in this novella.

The Lady Always Wins by Courtney Milan

Ginny grew up poor and after moving in with her aunt, she met Simon, the boy next door who's wealthy parents disapproved of their relationship. When Simon demanded she marry him despite his parents threats to cut him off, Ginny panicked at the thought of being poor and married another man. After her husbands death, Simon shows up to win Ginny back and finally the woman he has loved for years. The two fall back into their old habits, verbally sparring and challenging one another, and Simon fears that Ginny will discover that his current finances are in danger. He finally realizes that he cannot trick Ginny into marrying him because he loves her, but Ginny has a few tricks up her own sleeves to prove that she is more than a match for Simon.

I really liked Ginny right off the back, because she was so realistic and practical, and it was refreshing to see a romance character who wasn't scared to admit how important money was to a happy life. I didn't find her mercenary because it also was for Simon's own good as well and I loved that he had not dropped the torch he was carrying for her. I did not really like that so much of their relationship seemed to be founded on verbal sparring, which typically annoys me and doesn't seem very romantic. There was some hot sex in this book as both of them were adults when the story took place so it was a necessary and nice addition to the story. I found myself drawn into his business dealings and reading on to find out what would happen there and the ending was absolutely perfect and satisfying.

Solomon's Wisdom by Carey Baldwin

Anna and Charlie were best friends in small town Texas even though Charlie was the star of the football team and Anna was destined to become the town librarian. The night Anna declares her love for him is also the day Charlie's ex-girlfriend commits suicide and, freaking out, Charlie leaves town and does not return for years. Anna is determined to keep her distance, but Charlie wants to prove to Anna that he is ready for a relationship with her. But things don't go as planned as their friend and her son disappear and someone is obviously out to keep a secret from the past from coming to life. Anna and Charlie work together to solve a long buried mystery and to create a relationship together.

This was a modern romance, which I tend to avoid, and this book did not do much to change my mind. It was well written, but I guess I just find it too unbelievable when these things happen in modern times, then when they happen in historical novels. Anna and Charlie were well developed characters and I liked reading about their past together, but it was really a stroke of misfortune that it was thrown into an anthology with another reunion story, since that was much better done. Their relationship was too rushed for my taste, and the mystery side plot, which was very interesting, really took over the book. Overall the story wasn't to my taste and the romance should have been more the focus.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Knave's Wager

A Knave's Wager by Loretta Chase

Lilith Davenant is known for her icy temper and for the beautiful niece's she has introduced to London society. Since her disastrous marriage and her husband's death Lilith has dedicated her life to making decent matches for her young charges. She blames Julian Wyndhurst, the Marquess of Brandon, for her husband's dissolute lifestyle and is furious to discover that he died leaving Julian a massive debt, putting her ability to host her nieces in jeopardy. On her way to London she encounters a traveler stranded on the side of the road and helps him to safety, only to discover that she has saved her nemesis. Julian finds the frigid widow quite the challenge but a rake like him has no chance with such a dragon of society. When he arrives in London it is to find that his cousin Roger has agreed to marry his French mistress, Esme, and the family believes it is his duty to get him out of the predicament. He visits Esme and agrees to a wager; if he can seduce Lilith in 8 weeks or less she will leave Roger alone and if he cannot then he will leave Esme and Roger alone.

Julian finds ways to be near Lilith and while at first it is an attempt to seduce her he begins to sense how special this woman is and how different she is than he had expected. And Lilith can't help but be charmed by Julian and discovers hidden depths to him that change her perspective of him. And for the first time in her life her body is awakening and desiring a man's touch while still remaining wary of trusting him completely. While Lilith and Julian are flirting, her niece and Roger are also forming a close attachment and he realizes he made a mistake by proposing to his mistress. Sensing that Julian and Lilith need a little shove, Cecily devises a plan to get the two of them alone, but Julian's conscience rears it's head. When Lilith discovers the truth about the wager she is crushed and it will take all of Julian's charm to convince her that he can make her happy.

There is no doubt that Chase is an immensely talented author who writes believable and likable characters who form relationships that draw the reader in from the beginning. Lilith was perfectly proud and flawed and vulnerable at the same time in a way that made the reader like her and root for her undoing, but not her downfall. Julian was the perfect man to help her discover happiness because he wanted her to maintain her own sense of self while unloosening enough to live a full life. He was undoubtedly a rake and while Chase did a wonderful job of redeeming him he kept enough of the bad boy persona to remain enticing. Both of them were secret do gooders and I liked that they had that in common and enjoyed reading about their time together, especially after Lilith had loosened up and allowed herself to be open with Julian.

The wager was obviously disconcerting to me but Julian was adequately remorseful about taking it and it was clear that his feelings for Lilith meant far more to him than winning a wager and he did ended up making the right decision about everything. Julian and Lilith had undeniable chemistry that burned up many of the pages, especially since it was left smoldering for so long, and Chase did a good job describing their eventual explosive coupling, but it could have been better. The best part of it was that it truly showed Lilith moving beyond her past and opening herself up to life and Julian was adequately appreciative of the trust she placed in him. I also liked the romance between Roger and Cecily; it was cute and short and they were also remarkably well suited for each other.

Rating: Chase has worked her magic again in this novella with very well developed characters who had a great relationship with each other.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Seducing Mr. Knightly

Seducing Mr. Knightly by Maya Rodale L

Derek Knightly is the much loved, but illegitimate, oldest son of an Earl, and he has spent his life trying to prove himself to the half-brother who inherited their father's title and then threw him out of their father's funeral. He has amassed a newspaper empire, and tons of money, and one way he drew such a large readership is by featuring women writers. Annabelle has worked for the London Weekly for years, writing a popular advice column and earning the nickname, "Dear Annabelle." For just as long Annabelle has been in love with her boss but Mr. Knightly has been completely oblivious to Annabelle and she does have a tendancy to disappear in a crowd. Decided that she has had enough, Annabelle decides to enlist the help of her readers and asks them how to go about seducing a man. The column is widely popular as everyone in London wants to know what is going on with Dear Annabelle and the man they come to know as the "nodcock." Derek is excited about the surge in readership but the newspaper industry is in trouble as the influential Lord Marsden is leading an investigation into the industries investigation habits.

Marsden hopes to shut down the newspapers that are using questionable means to pry into the live's of the ton, but he makes it clear to Derek that he will look past the London Weekly if Derek marries his sister, Lady Lydia, who has the rumor of a recent scandal surrounding her. Annabelle follows much of the advice she is given, lowering her bodice, attempting flirtatious glances, and making Derek jealous with the help of her male colleagues. Derek is definitely beginning to take notice but can't believe that he could possible be the nodcock and he is trying to focus on winning over Lady Lydia who finally offers him the entre into high society he has been longing for and an escape from her brother's investigation. Annabelle is scared that she is losing her chance at happiness with Derek and decides to follow the most scandalous bit of advice and sneak into his bedchamber at night and make it clear that he is indeed the nodcock. With happiness just on the horizon they must face the consequences of angering Lord Marsden, but help shows up in the most unlikely of places, saving their newspaper, and their happily ever after.

I very much enjoyed reading Annabelle's transformation from naive and complacent, really almost a doormat, to daring and confident while still maintaining those little things that made her such a good person. I liked that she was independent and had a career but that did not jive with the woman who let her sister-in-law treat her like a common scullery maid and I found myself annoyed with her quite a bit. While some of the things she did in the name of love were out of character it worked with the story and with her development as she finally went after what she wanted. Derek was also a very well written character as he struggled to accept the life he was born into and find acceptance from his father's other family. This drove him to succeed at all costs and he was certainly driven to make lots of money in an attempt fit into the world of the ton. I could not really understand his inability to see Annabelle for three years as she was right under his nose and then suddenly find himself thinking of her constantly even if the duckling blossoming into a swan is a nice little fantasy.

Their relationship was incredibly slow in progressing as it took a very long time for Derek to notice Annabelle and it got rather boring to read about her infatuation with him while he was still hell bent on marrying the aristocracy. Even when it started to move forward it went at a snails pace with a couple of kisses leading up to one lukewarm sex scene. I was definitely rooting for them to get together and I could see that both of them were lovable/ likable people but I felt like it would have been difficult for the other to really know this as they weren't really together that much. I enjoyed the side plot involving the newspaper industry and the little bit of undercover work that was needed to uncover some very juicy gossip. It also raised some interesting issues about ethics in journalism and did a good job on portraying both sides of the story. I was also interested in the emotions surrounding his family situation and how he came to deal with that situation and would have liked more. The book was a little too cozy with other characters from the series and it got a little annoying. The writing was fast and fun, but really more fluff than I'm used to, even in romance novels.

Rating: Two well written characters, but a very slow romance that bordered on frustrating and a couple of interesting aspects that weren't romance related.

Friday, May 10, 2013

When She Said I Do

When She Said I Do by Celeste Bradley

When Calliope Worthington and her family are caught in a rainstorm they take refuge in a seemingly uninhabited ramshackle castle. While her family sleeps she wanders the halls in her chemise and finds a chestful of jewels and unable to help herself she tries them on. Sir Lawrence Porter has attempted to escape the outside world after a betrayal by his friends left him hideously scared and he hopes to live out his remaining days drinking in private. He follows the sound of singing and finds an angel who he wastes no time in trying to seduce and Callie can't help but respond to his dark spell. A family member catches them in a compromising situation and to prevent a duel Callie agrees to marry Ren, sight unseen, for as long as it takes to work of her debt to him. Ren had never hoped to know the joy of woman's touch again and, even knowing he shouldn't, he unleashes his darkest desires on her and finds that she responds with a passion equal to his. Callie loves the pleasure that he gives her and wants to know how far she will allow him to push her boundaries.

She has also decided to help Ren improve his life, from trying to make friends with the very reluctant villagers  to cleaning up the years of dust and grime that have accumulated. But mysterious accidents begin to befall Callie as a ladder is knocked from under her, a horse gets spooked, and the cellar door slams shut on her. Ren cannot believe that there is someone out to hurt her until a blast from his past shows up and he wonders if his former friends, the ones who betrayed him, are out to finish the job. He continues to weave his spell on her in the bedroom, and elsewhere, and finds that he cannot bear the thought that she will leave him one day. He is the one to rescue her each time an accident occurs and she begins to like her newfound freedom away from her eccentric family. A glamorous ball brings everyone together and Ren is forced to confront his past and his fears of losing Callie while she must find away to set priorities in her life. The bad guys have come at last and Ren will do anything to rescue the happiness he has found with Callie and save the future they hope to have together.

Callie was industrious and joyful and her constant joyfulness did sometimes get on my nerves, but I admired her introspection as she discovered what she expected out of life. She was friendly and eager to please and her desire to become a real part of village life was very likable and overall she came across as a very genuine person. Ren was shaped by his horrible past and I understood why he would chose the path in life he did and even though many brooding heroes annoy me, he displayed a willingness to change and adapt that took the edge of his darkness. She brought light and happiness to his life and became his reason for living, which I don't particularly like in a romance as they both need something to make them their own person. He was a hero to her as he rescued her time and time again but I really did not feel like he proved himself worthy of so much affection from her, except in the bedroom. They spent very little time together outside of sexual activities and I would have liked more non-sexual time.

The sex took center stage in this novel, partly because of the large amount of sex Ren and Callie engaged in, but mostly because of the nature of the sex. Their sexual relationship would definitely be categorized as a dominant/ submissive one as he gave orders and she followed them. This arose from their bargain and him not wanting her to see him, but quickly progressed into something both of them desired. Their was very little reflection on what drove both of them to want this type of sexual relationship and just as little about the specific nature of their relationship. There was no real bondage or spanking (or things of that nature) but it definitely is in the very kinky category. I wish there had been more reflection and discussion as I feel like that is necessary in this type of relationship, but both were happy with what they had and suffice to say it was quite hot. The side plot involving the bad guys was great and I liked that we got to see what made them tick. Her family featured prominently and their eccentricity quickly became annoying so I was glad they only appeared occasionally.

Rating: A fun heroine and a strong relationship accompanied by very hot sex and a well developed murder (ish) plot.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Two Sinful Secrets

Two Sinful Secrets by Laurel McKee

Lady Sophia Huntington has always been the black sheep of her family and she gets a rush living down to their expectations. She thrives on thrill seeking and one night finds herself gambling with the very attractive Dominic St. Claire, a rake of the first order and definitely someone her family would not approve her. A stolen kiss frightens and intrigues her and when she runs away she takes the memory with her while Dominic is determined to find the beautiful woman in black. Years later Sophia is widowed in Europe after eloping with a completely ineligible army man who gambled and drank and left her with a bitter taste of marriage. Dominic is in Paris at the same time and immediately recognizes her as someone he wants to get to know, but when his brother discovers that she is a member of the hated Huntington family his plans for her change. Centuries earlier the Huntington's had married and abandoned a St. Claire, dooming the St. Claire's family to the outskirts of society ever since. They both find the other just as attractive as they had been when they first met and spend quite a bit of time together.

It is not long before an old enemy of Sophia's, Lord Hammond, a former gambling partner who wanted far more than money from Sophia and became quite upset when she refused his advances. Because Dominic has become Sophia's newest suitor, Hammond makes it clear that him and his family are in his sights. Dominic realizes that his feelings for Sophia have changed, but are still tinged with the desire for revenge, so he offers to marry her to protect her from Hammond. Knowing that this will ruin any chances she has for getting back into her family's good graces Sophia gives into the rash desire to marry him. His family is initially skeptical of their union because of her back ground but they begin to come around a she proves that she is just as dedicated to their theater as all of them and as she and Dominic forge a life together. When Hammond threatens her newfound happiness and family she knows she would do anything to save them and Dominic must be there to show her that all that matters is the two of them making a future together.

Sophia was initially a frustrating and difficult to admire character, but she became well rounded and likable as the novel progressed as we delved deeper into her psyche and her past. She was impetuous and drawn to daring escapades and challenges and danger and this could easily have completely turned me off but there was enough backstory that I understood where she was coming from. Sophia was eager for friends and family and a place to belong which is why I loved that Dominic came with a ready family who was there to support them. Instead of being obnoxious relatives who get in the way, the St. Claire's were part of what made them such a great couple. Dominic was less developed then Sophia and did not have all her hidden nuances but I was still able to see what made him so appealing to her. He was also a risk taker and encouraged Sophia to give into her urges and take chances and was supportive of her and her endeavors. His instinct to protect her was, of course, admirable and his desire for revenge quickly fell by the wayside as he grew to love her.

I was completely taken in by their relationship and loved how they complemented each other so nicely. They had so much in common and even though they were both big risk takers and adventurers, somehow when they got together it worked so well and they both ended up being happy and protected. There was some sex, but there could have been quite a bit more, and it hinted at a lit bit of kink, but really just kind of ended up with barely a fizzle which was disappointing since these two were so attracted to each other. The side plot with the Huntington- St. Claire feud was well done in this novel because it was low intensity and only caused minor drama, but the journal was a bit of an annoyance and I could have done without it. I did enjoy the Lord Hammond plot because it had a well written bad guy and, while it served to bring the two of them together and created a lot of drama and mystery, it did not detract from the romance at all. This book also nicely set up the next book or two in the series which make it clear the family feud is on the way out.

Rating: An enjoyable book with a heroine I grew to like and a romance between two very compatible characters in a believable relationship with a nice little mystery.