Friday, February 28, 2014

Duchess by Chance

Duchess by Chance by Wendy Vella

When the Duke of Stratton finds himself deeply in debt at the gambling table to notorious cardsharp Spencer Winshcomb, he is desperate enough to wager his own son's hand in marriage to Spencer's entirely inappropriate daughter, Eva. Daniel finds out about his father's promise at the old Duke's deathbed and is none too pleased at this turn of events, but is determined to fulfill his duty and prove himself better than the old Duke. Berengina Winschomb finds herself very intimated by her new husband, but counts herself lucky to escape her abusive father and older brothers. Daniel knows better than to take his frustration out on his new, very young wife, but he can't help but make his displeasure known. Eva want to be a good wife to the Duke, but is not sure how to go about doing it, especially once he makes it clear they will not have a real marriage with children, even if he is required to consummate the marriage. But Daniel is not expecting his new wife to be so beautiful, or to find himself wanting to protect her from those who want to harm her, and make her happy by protecting those she loves.

Still determined to maintain his distance from his wife, he heads to London after their consummation, but finds that he misses her. When he finds that someone from her past has paid her an unwelcome visit, he rushes back to the country to encourage her to come to town with him. Eva is terrified of how she will be accepted in London society and wants to rusticate in the country, but she knows it is for the best and she owes Daniel after he rescues her younger brother from her father's clutches and sending Reggie to Edinburgh. Daniel is quickly proved right once they arrive in London as Eva becomes the toast of the season and finds herself making new friends easily. Unfortunately, her father has decided to use her new connections and wealth to benefit himself, and his friend has decided that Eva belongs to him. She will need to open up and trust her new husband so that they can work together to fix the mistakes of their past and face the future.

I'm always excited to try new authors, especially when amazon has nice sales on the Kindle versions. Eva was incredibly young and naive, and made decisions that were ludicrous at best and dangerous and stupid at second best. However, her dedication to her younger brother and the servants who worked for her, was admirable, even if it did, at times, seemed like a forced method for gaining the readers' respect. Her age was definitely a problem for me in this book, because at a very sheltered 18 I just couldn't see her holding her own with a duke, even if his age was never mentioned. Daniel was a confusing jumble of dichotomies. He hated his father, but had to follow through with his father's last wish. He didn't want to like his wife, but she was beautiful so he couldn't help himself. It definitely made him a more realistic person, and I really liked how he completely avoided hurting Eva and never blamed her for what happened between them. I also liked how he did work hard to keep those she loved safe.

Eva and Daniel spent a lot of time together, so I could sense a real relationship between them, but Eva just remained rather two dimensional to me. There was some sex between them, sporadic throughout the book, but it was usually very short and was darkened for me because of their odd relationship. What really bothered me about this book was Eva's unbelievably stupid decision not to tell Daniel about her father's blackmail and the threats against her. It started midway through the book and I couldn't help but roll my eyes and cringe at the blatant attempt to manufacture a problem between two people who were growing to love each other with no obstacles. The dialogue in this book was just ridiculous and completely unrealistic; things that no one would ever say. While I normally can overlook a few too flowery words, this book was just flowery nonsense from beginning to end and made me cringe. The distance of time has given me a better look at this story, but at the time the dialogue really drove me inane.

Rating: A wonderful first effort, but a better, more likable heroine and realistic dialogue will be what Vella needs to work on to continue righting great romance.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Heiress Effect

The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan

Miss Jane Fairfield is the richest woman on the marriage market, but she has no intention of marrying any time soon, and her merchant background has already made her fodder for the gossip mill. She needs to remain unmarried so she can continue to live with and protect her younger sister, Emily, who suffers from minor seizures and their uncle allows her to be "experimented" on by doctors. She decides to let her independent nature and outrageous tastes rule over her and soon she is more well known for saying whatever comes to her mind and wearing unbelievably atrocious outfits than she is for her immense dowry. One of the men she's managed to upset with her blunt honesty is Lord Bradenton, who happens to hold a powerful and prominent role in Parliament. Mr. Oliver Marshall ha spent his entire life trying to prove himself and to earn a place in Parliament, even if it often meaning shoving down his own emotions, and his goal is to one day be Prime Minister. Brandenton tells Oliver that he will throw his considerable influence behind Oliver's attempt to extend the franchise, but only if Oliver will humiliate Jane publicly, in return for a slight she visited on him.

Oliver has always thought of himself as better than that, and he cannot imagine intentionally hurting someone else who has done him no wrong, but the promise of so much support is more than he can turn down and he agrees to Bradenton's request. His first meeting with Jane is not what he expected as she is much more intelligent and self-assured then her facade has lead him to believe, and Jane can't help but be drawn to Oliver. She thinks his status as a society outside, because he is a duke's bastard, even if he is acknowledged by his half brother and thinks of his adopted father as his true father. Through several meetings, Oliver becomes more and more convinced that he could never hurt Jane because he is falling in love with her, but he also knows that marrying her would be political suicide and so when the time comes, he does not embarrass her, but does allow her to walk away from him after no more than a kiss. However, he promises to always be there for her, and when an emergency arises with her sister, he is the only one she trusts and Oliver realizes he cannot let true love slip through his fingers again.

Jane was a nice change of pace from Milan because while she still had the haunting past and the familial issues, she also was outrageous and flamboyant in a way that was impossible not to like. Instead of coming across as naive, Jane came across as someone who thought her way out of big problem and wasn't afraid of putting her own reputation at risk to help those she cared about. Oliver's past was so well developed and, even while disagreeing with many of his choices, I could understand why he did the things that he did. I loved his epiphany at the end when he realized he was tired of always being "safe" and knew that he wanted to live dangerously and take a chance on Jane. While normally the idea of characters just being "drawn" to each other, which is different than sexual attraction, is laughable, Milan always manage to pull it off with skill, because she is so great at writing well rounded character emotions and thoughts and the reader really can see why the characters are just "drawn" to each other.

Their relationship was very well written and the two spent quite a lot of time together and I loved that they were always honest with each other, if not always with themselves. I could really tell that these two belonged together and would suit each other and work well in everyday situations. There was not a lot of steam in this story and only a couple rather short, and unexciting sex scenes towards the end of the book, which was definitely disappointing as I felt like these two could have scorched up the pages- especially given her outrageousness and his stuffiness. There was also a secondary romance between Emily and a student at the nearby university, which came with lots of strings attached because she has seizures and is still under the control of her guardian, and because he is Indian. That relationship is short and sweet and ends on a funny note with him turning back Emily's uncles' fears back on him.

Rating: This was more fun than many of Milan's stories, but featured her hallmark wonderful writing and well developed characters who are perfect for each other.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Duchess War

The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

Because he is a duke, Robert Blaisdell, Duke of Claremont, everyone assumes he will be haughty and unconcerned about those beneath his station. In fact Robert is all too aware of his unearned status at the top of society and is dedicated to improving the lives of those his equals typically trample upon. He is called to a small manufacturing town to help put down the threat of unions, but Robert has no plans in aiding the corporations. His father had been a cold and uncaring man and Robert will do anything he can to avoid becoming one as well. The local army captain believes that shy spinster Minerva Lane is behind the onslaught of new union papers and doesn't believes she is up to no good behind her shy exterior. Minerva is hiding a secret, but it is certainly no desire to be a rabble rouser. Her tumultuous childhood, where her huckster father had her dressing up like a boy, only to abandon her when the ruse was discovered, has lead her fearful of attention of any kind. She lives with two "aunts" who graciously accepted her into their home, but knows that their financial generosity cannot last forever and that she will one day have to wed.

Robert knows that Minerva has nothing to do with the unions, but is equally sure that she is hiding something and he desperately wants to know what precisely that is. With the captain breathing down her neck and trying to prove that she is behind all the local problems, Minerva realizes she will have to find someone to marry in order to avoid having her past exposed to everyone. Using his investigation into her as an excuse to spend more time with her, Robert and Minerva work together on some of the projects her ladies Hygenic Society is sponsoring and he slowly begins to unravel the secrets of her past. When the army captain moves forward with his witch hunt against, Robert knows there is only one way to put her above any potential for prosecution or suspicion. Minerva hopes that, with time, she and her husband, can know each other well enough to fall in love and only when are their secrets are exposed will they both be able to find happiness with each other.

This book was very slow moving, and like all of Milan's book, relied on more descriptive prose than on actual dialogue, and while I do normally appreciate this style of writing since she does it so successfully, when used with two such already rather unhappy characters, it made the book darker than I prefer. Minerva's deep secrets were hinted at throughout the book, but the pieces did not really fall completely into place until near the end, and while it was intriguing at first, it became a little overdrawn for my taste, and I just wanted to know what had happened. Whenever anything has a buildup like that it is destined to be a disappointment because nothing can live up to those expectations. However, her upbringing helped explain so many of the confusing aspects of her personality and seemed very realistic for someone who had been through so much. I admired her resiliency and her journey toward become a woman full of confidence, and appreciated her loyalty towards her friend and her aunts.

Robert's dedication to helping the working man was admirable, but also rather a roundabout way of going about it, as he could simply have raised the wages of his own employees instead of causing trouble and endangering people. His background was shrouded in mystery, unless you had read the prequel in which case the foreshadowing seemed ridiculous. Minerva and Robert spent quite a lot of time together, however most of it was spent in serious discussions or other matters that didn't really do a great job of showing how they would get along on a daily basis. There was very little sex and almost no real chemistry or steam between the characters, which is a common theme in Milan's book and always something that irks me as I feel it would add some much needed levity.

Rating: I admired the characters, but did not really see how they would work together in a relationship, and found the book rather slow.