Friday, June 27, 2014

Once Upon a Tower

Once Upon a Tower by Eloisa James

Gowan Stoughton, Duke of Kinross and Chief of the Clan MaacAulay, is responsible for a very large Scottish estate, but business brings him to England and to a ball thrown by his colleague, the Earl of Gilchrest. He is not too fond of simpering English misses or English fops, but he cannot keep his eyes of his host's enchanting daughter, Lady Edith. Gowan has no idea that Edie is actually quite sick and the quiet and ethereal beauty he delights in is caused by her illness. The Earl accepts Gowan's proposal on Edie's behalf, and as a good daughter Edie concurs with his decision, but she has no remembrance of her dances with the Duke. To get to know him, and to ensure they are compatible, she begins a correspondence with him, making clear her expectations of their marriage and divulging more about herself. Gowan is surprised to learn his fiance has quite the sense of humor and is very opinionated about certain matters including where she sees their marriage going. Realizing that marriage is about compromise he is able to compromise some of what he wants, but he is quite determined that there marriage will be consummated as soon as possible. When he returns to London he makes it clear to Lord Gilchrest that he expects to expedite the marriage.

Edie finds herself tremendously attracted to her future husband and their courtship, taking place after the engagement, makes her quite eager for the wedding night. Gowan is also a virgin, having seen his father whore his way around Scotland and his own mother sleep around, but is anxious to please his wife. Unfortunately it is quite painful for Edie and instead of telling Gowan, she follows her step mother's advice and fakes it for the first several times they have sex. Edie is not pleased that there are servants constantly around her and Gowan and they never seem to have a moment's privacy, but she likes that Gowan allows her to play her cello. Edie is a an accomplished cellist and music is her life and Gowan appreciates her talents and would never take it away from her. When he accidentally discovers that she has been faking her pleasure he feels betrayed and angry and runs away after saying some very harsh things to Edie. Edie's stepmother makes it clear that he is just as much to blame and when he returns the two of them must work together to patch things up and determine that they can indeed find mutual pleasure in each other's arms.

Edie and Gowan were both incredibly young, 19 and 22 respectively, and, at least in Edie's regard, incredibly sheltered. I have definitely come to enjoy the romance novels that have both the hero and the heroine a little older than that, although Gowan had real life experience that made it easier to overlook his age. My biggest problem with getting to truly connect with Edie was her passion for the cello and how she regarded that as the most important thing in her life; perhaps because of years of being forced to practice instruments and listening to others do so, I just cannot understand a passion for musicianship and I wanted something more from her. I liked that she was "friends" with her step-mother, but even their interactions proved how immature Edie was and she really did not do all that much, just had a lot of thoughts on her father's marriage. Gowan was more likable, and despite numerous references to his temper and yelling, it really wasn't shown in the book and just made Edie look ridiculous for constantly referring to it. He had immense responsibilities and always did his duty making him a bit of a stick in the mud, but also admirable.

They were certainly attracted to each other, but the sex was just god awful, mostly because we were treated to it from Edie's point of view and she was not enjoying it. While I understand there had to be some sort of conflict, I really did enjoy reading so many scenes where the heroine was in such pain. I sympathized with both of them in this regard; him for feeling inadequate and her for feeling like she had to hide the truth from him and the way they handled it made sense to me. Their discussion at the end, where they both took responsibility and agreed to work it out together was very mature and showed that they could work well together. The side plots involved her father and step mother's marriage and I would honestly have liked to see more of that and how they resolved it. The most jarring aspect of the book was when Gowan easily allowed the Gilchrest's to adopt his orphaned sister; I was left with my jaw hanging open.

Rating: An enjoyable, if incredibly long read, about two young people falling in love, but I could not entirely relate to either of them and felt there were a lot of hiccups in the story.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Devil Wears Kilts

The Devil Wears Kilts by Suzanne Enoch

Ranulf MacLawry, Marquis of Glengask, has no love for the English, and he has enough problems with the Highland feuds without worrying about the English aristocracy. His sister, Lady Rowena, however desperately wants a season and she is determined to make it happen even if it will upset her brother. Lady Charlotte Hanover is shocked when her mother's friends' daughter appears on the door step, but since her sister, Winnie is already being sponsored for a season, Rowena is welcomed into the fold. The three women make plans for the London season, even if Charlotte has no intention of finding herself another suitor; her fiance had been killed in a duel he had initiated over a small slight. Since then, Charlotte has maintained her distance from men, and her dislike of male pride, temper, and violence has only solidified. Ranulf races to London to rescue her sister and is shocked when Charlotte insists he rein in his temper and allow his sister to finally enjoy her life. After his initial horror wears off, Ranulf finds himself intrigued by the beautiful and outspoken Englishwoman. However, his mother had been English and had suffered greatly at the hardships of the Scottish life, and he fears that the same would happen to Charlotte.

He decides to attend the same balls as Charlotte and Rowena, but quickly realizes that his Highland ways are not very well received. Members of the ton do their best to tempt him into making mistakes and losing his temper, and the situation does not improved when the leader of the clan he has been feuding with decides to take things to the next level, threatening Ranulf and those he loves. Charlotte finds herself falling for Ranulf, sneaking out to see him, and enjoying a man's company for the first time since her fiance died. But she is worried about his inability to keep a level head, and the violence he displays. He knows her fears, and tries to placate her, but the life of a Highlander is different than that of a city bred English fop, and he knows that he needs to show his enemies his strength or wish losing everything. Together they will have to sort through their intricacies of their situation and find a way to find their happily ever after.

I absolutely loved both Charlotte and Ranulf. Charlotte was well rounded and managed to be independent and assertive, outspoken and friendly, without ever falling into the dreaded "sassy" trap. She had ideas of her own, she cared deeply for those who were important to her, and her life experiences shaped her views. She was scared of love and of the type of man Ranulf was, but she was also open to learning more, to experiencing more that life had to offer. Ranulf was hard headed and could be ruthless, but he too cared deeply for his family, and his motives behind all of the behavior that Charlotte found so objectionable, were truly well explained. He did have a side to him that would frighten Charlotte, but she helped him tame it, and he helped her understand that he could never live the life of an Englishman, just accepting insults to his person, because the safety of his clan depended on him being a man who could intimidate others. I felt like both of them changed for the better because of the other and they truly came to understand and accept each other.

Charlotte and Ranulf spent a great deal of time together in various social situations and alone, so it was quite clear that they were very well suited for each other. There was definite heat between the, and not just when they were arguing although they did argue a bit, but the payoff was really not as good as I had expected. The sex was lukewarm and infrequent, sad considering the attraction these two were supposed to have for each other. I very much enjoyed the side plots involving Rowena and her crush on her brother's friend, the unrequited love that drove her to run away to London in the first place. There was also a story involving Highland feuds, which was it's own subplot in its' own right, but also served to make it clear how precarious Ranulf's position was and why his particular personality was so important in order for him to keep everyone safe.

Rating: Two wonderfully written characters who I could really tell were in love with each other and could see having a meaningful and lasting relationship.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Countess Conspiracy

The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan

Sebastian Malheur is infamous for his lectures on Darwin's theory of evolution where he shares his experiences with plant genetics and breeding. He is both admired and hated, but it is not the rejection that frustrates him, but rather that the ideas and results he is presenting are not his own. Violet Waterfield, the widowed Countess of Cambury, has been fascinated by plants and genetics since she worked alongside her father and she is enjoying her freedom away from her controlling mother and her husband. As a woman she knows her ideas would never be accepted, so she and Sebastian decide that he will be the public face of her ideas. The two work tirelessly to help Sebastian learn Violet's new theories enough to present them to others and for a while this works well for both of them. Unfortunately, Sebastian soon grows tired of taking credit for others ideas, and by his own brother regarding him as a public nuissance. When his brother discovers he is sick, and about to leave his son and orphan, Sebastian is horrified that his brother considers him him an unsuitable guardian for the child and is planning on leaving him to an aunt. Sebastian has always been fun loving, and everyone sees him as perpetually happy and easy going, and he feels like it is time for him to reveal a new side.

Violet is heartbroken when Sebastian reveals that he no longer wants to be a part of Violet's scheme, and their friendship is on the verge of unravelling. The situation is made worse when Sebastian shares his deep seated feelings for Violet, and it brings forth memories of Violet's own very unhappy marriage where her husband forced her to conceive multiple times even after they all ended in miscarriages and the doctor even said that she could not survive any more pregnancies.  But Violet is determined to share her ideas with the world, even if it means opening up her heart, and Sebastian is overjoyed to finally have a chance with the woman he loves. He does try to branch out, tries to prove himself to his brother, but Violet is the only one who truly understands him and soon Violet comes up with an idea that will allow Sebastian to keep his honor, and allow her to share her discoveries. Violet will have to overcome her fears and her rigid and meticulous upbringing, while Sebastian will have to accept that he can be both the worthy gentleman and the fun loving rake before they can have their happily ever after.

I was conflicted in my feelings about both Violet and Sebastian because at times they were so likable and admirable, but at others they did things that were just ridiculous and impossible to excuse. Violet's fears about intimacy, her adharance to her strict upbringing, and her dedication to her work all made me like her. However, the extent to which she rejected Sebastian, even after all they had been through and it was clear he would never hurt her, negated the intelligence she had in so many other areas. In addition Violet proved herself to be too much of a pushover where her manipulative sister was involved and I could not respect that. Sebastian has loved Violet for years, and I liked how happy he was and how he wanted to make something of himself. His determination to impress his brother was heartbreaking but also frustrating as it was so clear the man would never change his mind. Both of their faults were incredibly human, stemming from a desire to never be hurt or to be loved, and they made both of them well rounded characters. I believe it was just the extent that these things were dragged out that made me grow tired of them.

Their relationship was conducted off page far too much for my liking as they had both really fallen in love with each other by the time the book began and I am never a fan of that. They certainly spent a lot of time together, much of just the two of them and it was clear why they had fallen in love. I guess I am just a sucker for a romantic, or really any kind of, meeting between the two protagonists. Because of her fears there was almost no sex in this book at all and the few romantic meetings between them felt flat me and really did nothing for me. I felt like there could have been a lot more because of their history together, but it was clear these two did not have a huge uncontrollable passion for each other which was a little disappointing. Perhaps one of my favorite parts of this novel was Violet's relationship with her controlling and very very proper mother, especially when a very shocking secret is revealed.

Rating: A slow moving, not very exciting book, with two very human and relatable characters slowly coming to the realization that they are meant for each other.