Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An Unexpected Gentleman by Alissa Johnson

If I were to write a summary of this book, it would be this:

Adelaide Ward is desperate to marry. She only has 7 pounds to her name, a teenage sister and an infant nephew to take care of, and house falling down on her.

She's worked hard to gain Sir Robert's attentions -- and she knows he's on the brink of proposing to her.

Except --

She's getting a bad case of doubt.

And Connor Brice enters the picture quite conveniently -- and suddenly. And her life's turned upside down and inside out.

The basic story is fairly straightforward -- except that the story is weighed down with a lot of details.

There is the revenge plot that involves Sir Robert and Connor Brice -- and Adelaide is part of the revenge. (This part I did not understand: When Adelaide discovers that each man intends her to be a piece of their individual revenge, she doesn't walk away -- but continues to entertain the courtship from both men.)

There's Adelaide's brother as well -- and his "contribution" to Adelaide's desperate situation. (And his involvement with Sir Robert.)

And there's Adelaide -- and her unfulfilled dreams. (That remain unfulfilled.)

There's a lot of deception and revelations coming from both Sir Robert and Connor -- while it was clear that Sir Robert is the villain -- but Connor isn't too far from the mark also.

And Adelaide isn't that sympathetic a character either -- early in the story, Johnson establishes how tragic and desperate Adelaide's situation is. But, as the story progresses, she gets slightly whiny -- and annoying. She's seen herself as a martyr and is intent on continuing along those lines. (I really wanted to love Adelaide and tried to remember that she's in a difficult situation but I actually loved her sister Isobel more.)

There's a lot of good points to Johnson's novel -- the writing is intricate and invites a reader to read closely and carefully. The banter between the sisters is wonderfully written -- and reveals so much about their character. I also loved the appearance of Freddie and Lilly from Nearly a Lady.
Monday, January 30, 2012

Mad About the Earl by Christina Brooke

In her debut novel, Heiress in Love, Christina Brooke introduces an interesting (very possible) organization: The Ministry of Marriage, which is tasked with pairing and marrying off the children of the Ton.

Mad About the Earl is Rosamund Westruther's story. (It's her turn to be matched up!)

I really like Rosamund as a character. She has an interesting background: Although her mother is still alive, at an early age, she and her brother were taken in as wards by the Duke of Montford. She's the sister of a marquess and has very lofty connections in society. And she's perfectly beautiful and perfectly mannered.

In the story, we discover that Rosamund's mother is evil. (There is no other word for her.) She delights in tormenting her children and displays her indiscretions shamelessly.

Rosamund's childhood (and mother) have shaped her character. To the world, Rosamund is seen as her mother's daughter and the world expects her to follow her mother's footsteps. At one point, even her brother believes her to be as indiscreet as their mother.

Her beauty is both a blessing and a curse to her. She knows how to use her beauty to accomplish her goals but she also realizes that this is the cause of her mother's jealousy and why unwanted men flock to her.

She's an "it" girl with hats and ribbons are named after her. She could have anything she wants -- except for the one thing she truly, desperately wants -- Griffin deVere, the Earl of Tregarth. Perhaps the most imperfect man in the whole of England.

Like Rosamund, Griffin's physical appearance is both a blessing and a curse to him -- he's big and bulky -- and doesn't fit the mold of what a gentleman ought to be. His size suits him perfectly, allowing him to intimidate people and push them away.

And he tries to push Rosamund away, too -- their first meeting is memorable: he's filthy and smells of the stables. She's perfectly decked out in a new riding outfit. He thinks she mistook him for a stablehand -- but she knows exactly who he is but refuses to be cowed by his appearance.

I loved Rosamund instantly. She breaks the stereotype. She's perceived as shallow and a bit ... frothy -- but she has a core of steel and an unwavering devotion to the people she loves, which includes Griffin.

Griffin doesn't understand why Rosamund would want him. He's been told all his life how unworthy he is. He tries to delay the betrothal, hoping she would find someone else to marry.

What he doesn't know is that Rosamund is determined to marry him. In Griffin she sees the promise of a life and marriage unlike the one her parents had. And she wants that.

Christina Brooke's story tackles the issue of society and its perception of people -- while Rosamund was enjoying the Season, everyone thought she had favored and fallen in love with Captain Lauderdale. In fact, Rosamund felt nothing of the sort. She had been clear from the beginning that all she wanted from the captain was his friendship. But the Captain, knowing she was the daughter of Lady Steyne, expected her to behave like her mother -- blatantly offering her an affair after her marriage.

There is an attractive dynamism to all of Brooke's characters. I am eager to find out more about Xavier, Rosamund's brother and Cecily, her cousin. Brooke has also created perhaps my most favorite valet EVER: Sweet William Dearlove. In some instances, he steals the scene from Griffin. ^_^

Brooke's next installment in her Ministry of Marriage series is A Duchess to Remember and features Cecily. It comes out June 2012. Yay!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Other Guy's Bride by Connie Brockway (e-book)

It usually takes me 2 to 3 days to finish a book. This one took a day and a half. I pushed bedtime back so I could read a chapter; I woke up earlier to read another chapter; I risked getting carsick and read it while going out to get dinner. Why? Because I loved reading it so much and wanted to read some more!

Ginesse Braxton is a woman who knows what she wants and, right now, she wants to go back to Egypt and discover the lost city of Zerzura. And she also knows that no one will agree to accompany her on her expedition --

Ginesse has a sad history in Egypt. Her father is famous for his archeological achievements -- and Ginesse is infamous for all the mischief she has wreaked while growing up. The last bit being the (accidental) burning of some not-so-ancient papyrus, which resulted in her banishment to England.

But now she is on her back to Egypt -- and she has a plan.

She decides to impersonate her next-door cabin neighbor, Miss Whimpelhall, who is meeting her fiance, Colonel Lord Pomfrey, at Fort Gordon -- which is near the area she suspects Zerzura to be.

What she does not expect is the man sent by Colonel Lord Pomfrey to meet "her" --

Jim Owens doesn't like Colonel Lord Pomfrey and doesn't like the assignment he gave him -- and is determined to not like Miss Whimpelhall.

What he does not expect is to feel an instant attraction to the woman who steps off the boat --

And so the adventure begins.

Jim knows he is a man of honor -- and wants desperately to be that man -- but he can't keep himself from liking, and falling in love with another man's bride-to-be.

Ginesse thought Zerzura was her all. Then she meets Jim and realizes that there might be something more to life than her archeological aspirations.

This was a well-planned, well-plotted and well-written story. It is the kind of romance novel that I have not encountered in a long time -- epic in its adventure with a nice mix of humor and heart. The supporting character have dimension and wonderful stories.

I have one small niggle: I did not understand why, in Chapter 21, when Ginesse had the opportunity to reveal her true identity, she did not. Instead she continued with her masquerade as Miss Whimpelhall. But the succeeding chapters manage to tie that decision up nicely with the rest of the story.

This is a sequel to As You Desire, which is Ginesse's parents story.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Trouble at the Wedding by Laura Lee Guhrke

I really enjoyed the first two books of this series and was looking forward to this book, the final installment.

Annabel Wheaton is New Money -- and she knows it. She has a plan to escape her circumstances and it involves marrying the Earl of Rumsford, a man she does not love.

Annabel's family knows she's making the worst mistake of her life -- and they want to delay or stop the wedding, especially Annabel's uncle Arthur. He employs Christian Du Quesne, the Duke of Scarborough to talk Annabel out of the wedding.

Christian is no stranger to this kind of mistake. He made the same one years ago and it cost him his heart. Motivated by Arthur's offer of money -- and a personal need to help someone out of the same situation, Christian embarks on showing Annabel the truth about the sort of life she is marrying into.

What Christian does not realize is that, with each meeting and conversation, he is also revealing feelings that he thought he buried long ago with the death of his wife. But his old fears also resurface -- and Christian knows he cannot -- he must not act on his attraction to Annabel.

This is a story about second chances -- Annabel is eager to escape Mississippi and her old life. Her father's bequest allows her to have another chance at living a better life.

Having been hurt by a former lover, Annabel is also given another chance at love.

For Christian, he realizes that he has something to look forward to in his life. He realizes the gift his meeting with Arthur Ransom has given him -- and he decides to take it.

While Trouble at the Wedding was an enjoyable read, it was not a strong finish for this series.

There were some weak parts in the story -- (I didn't really enjoy Christian's monologues/proselytizing at the early chapters of the story about the misery of living in British society) --

I also felt the shift in the story and the tone felt a bit abrupt (and left a few loose ends -- and characters hanging without any resolution).

A question: Christian mentions the Duke of Trathen as being single in this story. I wonder if this last novel was meant to be happening concurrent to the previous novel, Scandal of the Year? Or does this happen before?
Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Breach of Promise by Victoria Vane (e-book)

Lydia and Marcus have been engaged forever.  And Lydia has been in love with Marcus forever.

On the eve of their formal betrothal, Marcus gives Lydia a glimpse of their sexual compatibility and "ruins" her forever -- and then promptly leaves to embark on his career as a diplomat.

It is 6 years later and Lydia is tired of waiting for Marcus.  She writes to him and asks that they break their betrothal.

Marcus is reluctant to get married -- but he is even more reluctant to let Lydia go.

So what's Marcus to do?  He sets out to convince Lydia not to go -- and he'll do whatever is necessary.

I appreciated the details Vane included in her story -- from the description of the dresses, to the food, etc.  It created a clear sense of setting, allowing the readers to imagine the space (and the time) where the hero and heroine moved in.

I also loved the whole diplomatic/political dimension of the story.  One could see Vane's dedication to accuracy of the period she is writing about. 

There seemed to be a slight inconsistency with the characters and their dialogue (and intelligence).  Lydia and Marcus are incredibly smart people and converse intelligently about law and politics.  (Loved their exchange regarding the betrothal contract and the breach of promise) -- but they sounded incredibly ... average (read: lust driving their thoughts) when they talked about sex ... Or when they were in the midst of the coital act.

The weakest point of the story had to be Lydia's change of heart -- she was truly intent on breaking off her engagement with Marcus and showed remarkable restraint in the face of Marcus's seductive charm.  But when Marcus eventually agrees to it, she realises -- within the span of an hour (less actually) -- that she has made a big mistake and wants Marcus back.

I felt it was abrupt and had very little impetus for such a change.

I also did not believe Marcus' sudden reformation -- 

"I'm sorry, Lydia.  I can't deny that, but can we not forget the past?  Our engagement was too soon.  We were neither of us ready, but I won't hurt you again."

Perhaps Vane was trying to rush this part -- in order to tell the rest of the story?

As an erotic romance, this is relatively tame -- with a wonderful balance between story and sex.  (The characters aren't going at it every chapter --)

And it bring to fore the now-blurred line between a romance novel and an erotic romance novel.  A lot of romance novels are pushing the boundaries and including scenes that were once only found in the pages of an erotic romance novel.  

This was an enjoyable read.  

Her next work, also set in the Georgian period, is coming in April.

Disclosure:  I got a copy of this e-book through a giveaway.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Any Wicked Thing by Margaret Rowe

January Challenge:
This month you can choose between the following options:
- Read a book that is first of a series, by an author that is “new” to you or a debut novel by an author.
- Read a romance that has a teen as the protagonist.
- Read an Erotic Romance or Erotica.

* * *

I've read Margaret Rowe's debut Tempting Eden (and her debut as Maggie Robinson, Mistress by Mistake) --

There is a quality to her writing that makes me want to read more of her works -- and I have.

This is her second book, writing as Margaret Rowe.

Frederica Wells has known Sebastian Goddard all her life -- and she has loved him for half of it.

During a masked ball, when she was 18, she decides to give herself to Sebastian -- with disastrous results.  They are caught by both their fathers -- Sebastian grudgingly offers for Freddie but she refuses him.  (Plus, Sebastian's father won't allow it.)

Their relationship changes after that one night.

10 years later, Sebastian has inherited the dukedom and all its debts.  He is intent on settling his father's estate and needs to travel back to Goddard Castle -- to sell it and move on with his life.

The problem is, Freddie's still living there -- and wants the castle for herself.

They enter into a bargain -- for 30 days, Freddie will agree to "any wicked thing" Sebastian wants of her.

And Sebastian agrees.

Having just read Cecilia Grant's A Lady Awakened -- where a bargain was also struck for a duration of 30 days, I could not help but feel that Grant handled narrative time much better than Rowe did.

Rowe's story dragged -- and the story was a bit static.  At certain points, I was not sure how much time had passed -- and then to realize it hasn't even been a day yet.

Sebastian's character is nicely fleshed out (as is Frederica's) -- on the outside, he seems to be a carefree guy but one can see that he cares deeply about what happens to Freddie and to the people inside Goddard Castle.  Freddie is an interesting woman -- well-versed in history and learned to fence properly from a book.

The most enjoyable part was the treasure hunt near the end of the book -- I think it would be a different (but completely readable) story had Rowe decided to focus on this more -- Sebastian discovers that there might be a treasure hidden inside Goddard Castle -- and Frederica, the history buff, helps him and his friend locate it.

There are a lot of wonderful elements in the story.  The dynamic between the younger Freddie and Sebastian was wonderful.  They were friends and confidants.  

The older versions of them both doth protest too much, methinks.  And it gets a bit tiresome.  She enjoys the sex but feels dirty after.  He enjoys the sex but feels guilty after.

While it shows just how irresistible the attraction is between the two, it seems to happens after every chapter -- and affects the flow of the story.

Disclosure:  I got a copy of this book through a giveaway.
Sunday, January 22, 2012

Forever and a Day by Delilah Marvelle

To every story, there is the road taken and there is what might have been --

Delilah Marvelle begins the story simply:  Rich boy meets poor girl on the street and they have a brief conversation.  Rich boy invites poor girl to coffee and poor girl is tempted.

Marvelle could have continued along those lines and come up with a marvelous story with a happily ever after -- about how love would conquer all (including class and wealth) --

But Delilah Marvelle decides to take the road not taken -- and this is what makes Forever and a Day a compelling read.

Roderick Tremayne, heir of the Duke of Wentworth, meets an accident shortly after his encounter with Georgia -- and loses his memory.

He is stripped away of his identity and his past.  He is what he is.  A man who, despite his memory loss, knows clearly and with no doubt that he is attracted to Georgia Milton.

Georgia Milton struggles to make ends meet on a daily basis.  She is a woman with big dreams of going West -- and she has an even bigger heart.

Seeing Roderick in the hospital (and knowing she is partially responsible for his accident), she reluctantly agrees to take care of him, hoping his family would come find him or that he would regain his memory.

She struggles with herself -- she knows the wealthy and the aristos and are wary of their kind.  She knows Roderick (Robinson) is wealthy and she knows he isn't for a girl like her.  But she can't help but fall in love with the man she sees daily --

The man who willingly gets his hands bloody, helping her pump water.  The man who talks to her and listens to her and sees her.

But reality crashes down on them too soon -- and Roderick's father finds them.

It is heartbreaking when Georgia discovers that her Robinson is not only wealthy but also part of the highest tier of Society.

Neither of them are willing to give up on the love they had found in each other -- both are willing to fight for it.  But the dictates of society and Roderick's own sense of obligation forces him to make a decision --

It is a question that still invites much discussion -- is love enough against all odds?  Can love see past all discrimination and conquer all?

Marvelle resolves this in a very unique (but very believable way) -- and it is heartwarming to read about two people and the sacrifice they make for the sake of their love.

P.S.  I love, love, love the Duke of Wentworth.  He is a wonderful father to Roderick.
Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant

I have a soft spot for new authors.  I love picking up "first books" without bothering to read reviews online -- if it is a debut author and it's a historical romance, 9 out of 10 times, I will purchase it.

Here's why -- there are thousands (maybe millions) of aspiring romance writers out there -- these "first books" have something special in them that caught the attention of publishers -- and I like discovering this by reading their books.

So far, I've had a lot of success with this method -- Sherry Thomas and Tracy Anne Warren are two such authors who I've discovered by bravely buying their first books.

I have been disappointed by maybe one or two debut novels in the past 6 years of reading romances -- for the most part, debut novels have introduced me to memorable stories and to new authors to look forward to.

And now, Cecilia Grant's debut comes along.  And it is stellar.

The prose is breathtaking -- deliberate and thoughtful.  Words pieced together to form and complement the sentiment of the characters and of the story.

Martha and Theo are wonderful as heroine and hero.  She's cold, distant and aloof.  He's a ne'er-do-well sent banished from London by his father who got tired of his wasteful living.

He agrees to her proposition as a lark --

But in their month together, these two hearts coming from very, very different directions both realize what love and making love is all about.

While the title implies that it is only Martha who is awakened, in truth, one sees Theo's as well.  He realizes his value as a man -- and the work that he can accomplish once he applies himself.

I love the pace of the story -- and we really see how the two characters change as they move along.  It is also interesting to see Grant tackle the difference between "sex" and "making love" -- too often in romance novels, lust (and sex) becomes the driving force that joins the hero and heroine together.  And they will blindly call it "love" --

In Grant's story, they couple have sex early on.  It is unpleasant business for the both of them because it is exactly that -- business.

When they finally make love, after a period of knowing each other, the realization comes not only to the hero and heroine -- but also to the reader.

And when they finally say "I Love You" -- I believed it.  

There were times when the writing felt too subtle -- for instance, Martha's marriage and the reason for her aloofness -- but it is there, layered carefully in the words on the page.

This was a wonderful debut -- and I am excited to reading Grant's next book.

***Early portions of this review came from a short piece I wrote 3 years ago.
Friday, January 20, 2012

The Duke is Mine by Eloisa James

Things that I liked about this book:
1.  I liked Tarquin -- he's a hero with a handicap (Asperger's).  I liked how he interacted with the world -- and how the world interacted with him.  It's an interesting insight.  I loved that he can't lie (part of his handicap) -- and he says things as he thinks/feels them.

2.  I liked Tarquin's mother -- she wrote a book on manners and is very, very strict.  But one realizes, as the book progresses, that she is a mother protecting her son.  She is wonderfully-layered and multi-faceted.

I love that she knows Tarquin very well and can read him very well.  I think it takes an attentive mother to be able to do this.

3.  I loved Rupert's character -- and he served as an excellent foil for Tarquin.  It was interesting seeing Olivia caught between these two "dukes" (well, a marquess and a duke) -- one expressed emotions so effortlessly ... and so randomly and the other was very self-contained.

4.  I loved Georgiana!  Initially, she is portrayed as the perfect duchess-to-be -- and she seemed so cold and reserved.  As her character unfolds -- (it literally unfolds!) -- we discover a woman who wasn't given many choices and had to do the best she could with what she had.  (The only thing she was ever trained to do was to be a perfect duchess.  And she learned it so well.)  In the end, she discovers herself and what she truly wants.  And she decides to go after it!

Things that I didn't like about this book:
1.  Olivia.  Olivia who talked too much.  Olivia who needed to have the last word on everything.  She seemed like a woman who was just trying to make up for her insecurities about her appearances.  But -- she just talked too much.  And she was too irreverent!  She was thisclose to becoming a flat character with no dimension.

2.  I did not understand Justin's character -- or his purpose in the story.  (Was it really just to add more irreverence?)

3.  The sudden change in tone towards the later part of the story (about what happened to Rupert) also threw me off guard -- the tone, the pace, the whole story shifted entirely.

My parting thoughts:
I felt Eloisa James' most successful retelling of a fairy tale is When Beauty Tamed the Beast -- this story, which is supposed to be a retelling of The Princess and the Pea, didn't seem like it was.  And the elements of that particular fairy tale were included a bit too late in the story.

James focused too much on emphasizing Olivia's "vulgarity" and it tipped the balance of the story too much.

To her credit, the ensemble she created was amazing.  Each one with a distinct voice and character.  (Even Lucy, the dog.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On These Silken Sheets by Sabrina Darby

This is Sabrina Darby's debut and is a collection of 4 novellas all related to Harridan House -- an exclusive club that caters to every person's wildest fantasies.

I love how Darby was able to connect the four stories to each other (without being trite or forced) -- and I loved how she told each story.

My favorite of the 3 would be "Roses are Rouge" -- about Lady Blount and the new Baron Blount, a distant relative of her late husband.  Jason hates everything that Lady Blount represents -- believing she married the former Sir Blount (who was over 70) for his money.

But there is also an intense attraction between the two -- and it's a wonderfully emotional dance that the two perform -- like poles that attract and repel each other.

Lady Blount is a compelling character -- one sees her as carefree and hedonistic (in the first two stories) -- but one sees a softer, more fragile side to her as well.

While this is considered erotic, I felt Darby was able to convey sensuality without being obscene.  There is heart in her stories.

I look forward to Darby's next novel.

Never Love a Highlander by Maya Banks

After reading Keeley and Alaric's story, I excitedly picked up this book because I wanted to read about Rionna and Caelen.

Banks built up their characters very well and we see Caelen's character unfold with each of his brother's story.

Rionna is a twice-jilted woman.  She was initially betrothed to Ewan and then to Alaric -- her father is desperate for the alliance in order to protect their clan against Duncan Cameron who has ambitious plans of taking over the Highlands.

Caelen accepts the responsibility of fulfilling the agreement between the McDonalds and the McCabes.  But it is not just responsibility that compels Caelen to marry Rionna --

He finds her strangely attractive, despite her manner of dressing and her inclination to wield a sword.  A betrayal in his past has left Caelen wary of love -- but he believes he and Rionna could make a comfortable life together --

If only Rionna would stop fighting him every step of the way.

Rionna resists Caelen's "heavy-handed ways" and believes he is trying to change her into becoming a different woman entirely.

But all Caelen wants to do is to cherish Rionna and to show her how much he treasures her.

This lacked the emotional gravitas found in the second book -- and I could sense that Maya Banks was trying to tie up and resolve all of her stories.  (This is a plus point for me -- a lot of authors usually leave things hanging.)

I did wish she developed the emotional aspect of Rionna and Caelen's relationship more deeply -- at the end of the story, one feels a companionable affinity between the two -- but none of the intense love that we saw in Keeley and Alaric's story.

Congratulations to Maya Banks on this very solid trilogy!
Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Seduction of a Highland Lass by Maya Banks

To put it simply, I really enjoyed this book.  I kept pushing delaying sleep just so I could finish one more chapter ... and then another.

Then when I finished it, I immediately went to my to-be-read pile and picked up the last book of the series.

Now I'm trying to find the words to say why this story worked for me --

In this installment, Alaric McCabe needs to do right by his clan -- his nephew got kidnapped while under his charge and he is eager to do his duty and prove his loyalty to his clan.  While on his way to the McDonald's to court his future wife, he and his clansmen are ambushed -- and he is left bleeding and dying.

By sheer luck, his horse leads him to Keeley.  Keeley is formerly of the McDonald clan who had banished her (unjustly) many years ago.  Keeley is sad, lonely and still hurting from the accusations and abandonment of her clan.

She finds purpose in caring for Alaric, her unnamed warrior -- and even more purpose when she is brought back to the McCabe hold after she and Alaric are found by Ewan and Caelen.

It is a devastating moment when Keeley realizes that she has fallen in love with Alaric -- and that Alaric is bound to marry her (former) dearest and closest friend, Rionna McDonald.

And it is equally devastating for Alaric when he realizes just how deeply in love he is with Keeley but he knows he cannot marry her.

Love is said to either be the complicating factor or the factor for change in a romance novel -- it does both in Banks' story --

Keeley and Alaric's love complicates things for both of them -- he needs to marry Rionna McDonald in order to secure an alliance and to ensure the safety of the McCabe clan and Keeley wants him but cannot betray her old friend, Rionna.

It also changes the two characters -- Alaric realizes that there is more to him than being a good brother and defender of the McCabes -- he realizes, for the first time, that he wants something for himself -- and Keeley discovers her worth as a healer and beloved member of her clan.

At the heart of this series' success is the set of characters.  Maya Banks was able to create members of a clan (the McCabes) with very distinct personalities and voices.  And the characters were consistent throughout the series (from Book 1 to 3) --

I'm currently reading the 3rd book.  (And enjoying it as well.)
Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Secrets of a Lady by Jenna Petersen (e-book)

When Audrey Jordan said "Yuck" -- I also said yuck.

The book is set in 1809 -- I don't expect my historical novels to adhere strictly and accurately to the language of a particular period -- but this was blatantly anachronous.

Jenna Petersen returns to writing about lady spies -- she wrote a marvelous series featuring 3 remarkable lady spies (From London with Love, Desire Never Dies and Seduction is Forever) --

I had high expectations for The Secrets of a Lady and I was sadly disappointed by it.

Audrey and Noah Jordan are spies who work for the British government.  Their latest mission has brought them back to London and back in contact with an old family friend, Griffin Berenger.  It is an especially difficult homecoming for Audrey who, five years earlier, had awkwardly revealed her feelings for Griffin ... on his wedding day.

But the safety of the Prince Regent and of their country forces them to put aside their past and to work together to uncover a plot involving France and traitors to the British Empire.

I felt that Noah and Audrey's plan to get close to Douglas Ellison was unnecessarily complicated:  they have Audrey be courted by Ellison so that Audrey can infiltrate Ellison's circle and try to get information about the plot.  They enlist Griffin's help because he is next-door neighbors with Ellison.

Wouldn't it have been simpler for them to: break in Ellison's house (which Audrey eventually does anyway) or to do covert surveillance?

To Petersen's credit, her talent at writing shines through in some parts -- I especially love how Griffin is tormented by his attraction to Audrey.  His late wife, Luci, had deceived him and was unfaithful to him.  And now, Audrey comes back into his life -- and her whole world and profession is about deception and lies.

I think Jenna Petersen had a good story -- but wasn't able to tell the story well.
Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Lady Gambles by Carole Mortimer

This is my first Carole Mortimer book --

I had first encountered Mortimer's name when I read reviews for her Notorious St. Claires series.  Then I was further intrigued when she took the same family (the St. Claires) and wrote a contemporary series for them.

When this new series was announced, I decided to give her a try.

Carole Mortimer has been writing since the 80s and has over a hundred books -- and her experience shows.  The story has a wonderful pace and consistent tone.  She's created an attractive and irresistible set of sisters and introduced 3 lords who are the right mix of rogue and gentleman.

The Lady Gambles is Caro's story -- she's the middle sister who got tired of her secluded life in Hampshire, waiting warily for the lord who will be their guardian.  She decides to take matters into her own hands and travels to London with big plans.

Her big plans get swallowed up in London and she is forced to take employment at a club.

Dominic Vaughn, Earl of Blackstone, has gained ownership of the club through a game of cards.  He has returned from his trip to Italy, surprised to see that his new employee is a woman!  And a very beautiful one at that.

Dominic knows there is more to Caro than she reveals -- and he wants to find out more.

What I liked about this book is how Mortimer is able to introduce the story of the 3 sisters (and the premise of the series) without weighing down the story of Caro and Dominic.  She was able to reveal enough about the 2 other sisters to keep her readers interested ... and wanting more.  (Like me!)

This was a well-written, nicely-focused story.  I'm glad I gave Mortimer a try.  

I'm now planning to order books 2 and 3. ^_^
Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I Love the Earl by Caroline Linden (novella)

This is the prologue to Caroline Linden's ongoing series, The Truth About the Duke.

Margaret de Lacey had settled into her life as a spinster -- and to her simple, quiet life keeping house for her brother Francis.

But Francis suddenly becomes the Duke of Durham --

And Margaret's life changes dramatically.

With the dowry her brother has offered for her, she becomes the most sought-after heiress in London.

But Margaret is wary of the attention -- and she refuses to bend to Society's rules and whims.

Rhys, the Earl of Dowling, needs a rich wife -- desperately.

When he first decides to approach Margaret, all he sees is the forty thousand pounds Margaret will bring into the marriage.  But when he and Margaret have their first conversation, Rhys suddenly realizes that there is more to Margaret than just her money.

And he wants her.  Desperately.

This was a lovely short story.  It introduces the de Lacey family and their origin quite nicely.  And Margaret and Rhys are wonderful.  Both are sharp and quick-witted.  Both have a wonderful sense of humor.

Their love story was nicely developed.  (And enough was revealed about Francis, the Duke of Durham to pique my interest.)

It's amazing what Linden was able to accomplish in 140+ pages.

I actually read and enjoyed One Night in London and I'm looking forward to the next installment: Blame It On Bath.

Wicked in Your Arms by Sophie Jordan

Singular is the word Sevastian uses when he finally admits that he is captivated by Grier.

It is also the word I will use to describe this novel.  Singular.  Utterly captivating.

Grier's a Cinderella -- rescued from her poor life in Wales and brought to London by her long-lost father.

Sevastian's a Prince but he isn't so charming.  He's grown up knowing only war and loss.  Finally, his kingdom has found peace and it's up to Sevastian to pick up the pieces and rebuild his home.

He's in London seeking an heiress.  And Grier's one, but she doesn't want to be.  She's happy to be in a corner, eating all the things she's never had when she lived in Wales.  And she's wary of all the men who see the money and not the woman.

And Grier definitely doesn't want Sevastian.  Especially after she overhears what he thought of her.

And Sevastian definitely doesn't want Grier.  Especially after what she does to him after she overhears what he thought of her.

And so begins a clash of wills and personalities.  Of a prince used to have people in humble and quiet obeisance.  And of a woman who has known only independence and self-determination.

I love Grier and Sevastian.  Whether they like it or not, they are kindred spirits.  Both living lives not of their own choosing.  Grier's father Jack wants her to marry a title.  And Sevastian's grandfather expects Sev to come home with a lot of money.

This was a page-turner and a delight to read.  The characters had wonderful personalities and I enjoyed reading about their little "skirmishes" --

When they finally come together, it is breathtaking.  Literally, the spark that has finally been lit.  It's a beautiful moment.

I think this is Sophie Jordan's best work ever.  I had trouble getting into Marguerite's story and actually had to put it down.  But this one was amazing.  Singular.  Captivating.

Now I am looking forward to Cleo's story.
Monday, January 2, 2012

Pride & Passion by Charlotte Featherstone

This is Book 2 of the Brethren Guardian series and features Adrian, the Duke of Sussex and Lucy, the daughter of the Marquess of Stonebrook.

Lucy is engaged to Adrian and she hates it.  She hates what he represents: the same cold, heartless society who robbed her of her parents and her childhood.  But she knows her duty.

Adrian has loved Lucy forever but he can't seem to compete with the ghosts in Lucy's past.  First, there is the young boy, Gabriel, who was Lucy's first friend -- and there is Thomas, Lucy's first lover.

He has done everything to make Lucy see him, the man -- and not the title.  But it always seems to have the opposite effect on Lucy and drives her further and further away.

And there is the business of the Brethren Guardians -- Adrian and his fellow Brethren seek to unmask the people behind the House of Orpheus.  Lucy is an unknowing pawn in the dangerous game between the Brethren and the House of Orpheus and Adrian wants to keep her safe.

This is a long book and a Featherstone focused too heavily on the enmity between Lucy and Adrian and on the House of Orpheus for most of the book.

The story of Lucy and Adrian actually improves at Chapter 20 -- when they finally decide to talk to each other not as Lord and Lady -- but as Lucy and Adrian.  And the blossoming of their relationship is a beautiful thing to read about.

I really like Adrian.  I could sympathize with him and I love that he fell in love with Lucy first.

Lucy struck me as a bit too spoiled.  Granted she didn't have the happiest of childhoods (her parents ignored her) -- I didn't like that she kept using her childhood as an excuse to behave terribly now that she's grown up.

I did love that she made her own clothes (and also Isabella's) -- that was an interesting, albeit unexplored, aspect of her personality.

This was an improvement on the first book.  The tone is much better (not as overwrought) --

Looking forward to reading the 3rd book.


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