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.