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.