Thursday, March 29, 2012

Not Wicked Enough by Carolyn Jewel

March Reading Challenge:

- read a book whose author either has a three-word name or carries an official middle initial.
- read a book that you have previously started and meant to continue, but keep failing to do so.

- read a book that is set in Scotland or has a Highlander as a character.
- read a book with a medical theme, plot, cover, or setting.

International Womens’ Month: – read a book that has a single female figure on the cover.
Reading Romance’s Blogiversary: – read a book that has been reviewed or featured at the blog!

* * *

There is a beautiful strangeness to Carolyn Jewel's writing. Her characters are jagged and raw around the edges -- flawed and imperfect -- and their conversations reflect this sort of roughness. And yet these conversations make her characters very real. Their speech is not planned or practiced or elegant or eloquent – but borne of spontaneity and personality.

Lily Wellstone is in Bitterward to visit her grieving friend, Ginny, the Duke of Mountjoy's younger sister. When she first meets him, despite his awkward appearance and ill-fitting clothes, she is instantly drawn to him. Even when given a choice between the shiny and polished Nigel and the Duke, Lily's whole being gravitates toward Mountjoy.

I wasn't certain I would like Lily Wellstone. My first impression of her was that she was vain. She's too aware of the colors she wears – and which seat/setting would best show her off.

Lily … strolled to a love seat upholstered in dark green velvet. The green would make a striking contrast with her primrose gown. She was never going to marry, for her heart was no longer available for such emotion. But that was no reason not to show herself to advantage when the opportunity arose.
p. 19

The predominant color of the Prussian salon was blue. There was, in fact, a sofa in a gorgeous shade of the blue after that name. “You're right about the rose frock. I'll wear that.” … The ash pink bodice would look delectable when she sat on that Prussian blue sofa.
p. 246

And her vanity extends to having everything conform to her tastes -- in the story, she asks Mountjoy's permission to improve his wardrobe.

But Carolyn Jewel also shows us the other aspects of Lily. Lily, the caring friend who left her own estate to be with her grieving friend. Lily, who wants Ginny to be healthy and happy. Lily who longs for family and connections. Lily, who seems to be the very embodiment of life --

When we are first shown Bitterward, it is raining and gloomy. Everything seems gray and bleak -- there is an almost gothic element to her first meeting with the Duke of Mountjoy. But Lily seems to bring sunshine with her -- and it does not rain once, during the months that she stays in Mountjoy's estate.

She thinks of silly games and activities for herself and Ginny and Nigel -- and her joie de vivre is infectious. At the end of the novel, it seems that everything is better and brighter, including the Duke of Mountjoy.

The Duke hadn't always lived the privileged life. He and siblings grew up as farmer's children and he has never forgotten his roots. Being with Lily makes the Duke realize that he should leave his past behind and step into the present. As he gradually transforms his wardrobe, his whole self also transforms and he realizes the importance of his role in his community … and realizes the importance of having Lily in his life for more than just a holiday.

Carolyn Jewel's Not Wicked Enough has some hints of My Fair Lady (or George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion) -- but Jewel has cleverly turned the tables -- it is the Duke that needs polishing but this does not mean Lily comes away unaffected. Every encounter with the duke chips away at her frozen heart, a heart that she has long thought incapable of any more emotion.

There is also a strangeness to Jewel's writing -- it is unsentimental and her prose is dense with detail and innuendo. Readers might be a bit jarred by the lack of drama and sweetness.

I also did not like the treasure hunting scene -- it was out of lark and would have been more plausible if they ended up spending the day digging. But to actually find a cache of treasure?

Moreover, aside from Lily, the rest of the characters bordered on flatness. Was this the author's intent? (Even Lily was in danger of being two-dimensional.) Jane Kirk, Mountjoy's original “intended” suffered from unequal treatment -- her scenes in the novel involved her walking, or being cold and aloof to Mountjoy or standing spectator to Lily's games and activities. (No wonder Mountjoy preferred Lily.) The one other character that stood out was Lord Fenris and I'm glad that he's getting his story told next. ^_^

I have enjoyed Carolyn Jewel's historicals. I've read Scandal, Indiscreet, The Spare and Lord Ruin and I am glad that Stolen Love is out on Kindle. I am still looking for Passion's Song.

I've waited patiently for her to publish Not Wicked Enough (she wrote paranormal romance for a while after Indiscreet) and I look forward to the next installment in her Seducing the Scoundrels series, Not Proper Enough, which features Ginny and Lord Fenris.

Final note: I love how Carolyn Jewel describes Mountjoy's attraction to Lily as “bewildering” – ^_^

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

RITA Awardees checklist --

Finalists for the 2012 RITA Awards were announced recently and I'm glad to see some favorites on the list:

2012 RITA Finalists for Best First Book
Beautiful Disaster by Laura Spinella
The Darling Strumpet by Gillian Bagwell
The Devil in Disguise by Stefanie Sloane
First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones
Hourglass by Myra McEntire
How to Marry a Duke by Vicky Dreilling
I'm Not Her by Janet Gurtler
Warped by Maurissa Guibord

2012 RITA Finalists for Historical Romance
Always a Temptress by Eileen Dreyer
The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne
The Danger of Desire by Elizabeth Essex

Heartbreak Creek by Kaki Warner
The Many Sins of Lord Cameron by Jennifer Ashley
Scandalous Desires by Elizabeth Hoyt
Silk Is for Seduction by Loretta Chase
Unveiled by Courtney Milan

--- I really should read Jennifer Ashley and Loretta Chase. (Chase is on my TBR pile. Will add Ashley.)

2012 RITA Finalists for Regency Historical Romance
The Devil in Disguise by Stefanie Sloane
Heiress in Love by Christina Brooke
How to Marry a Duke by Vicky Dreiling

How to Seduce a Scoundrel by Vicky Dreiling
Lady Sophie's Christmas Wish by Grace Burrowes
A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare
To Seduce an Angel by Kate Moore
When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James

--- wow, didn't realize I read so many regencies last year.

Full list of finalists here.
Monday, March 26, 2012

Touch of a Thief by Mia Marlowe

Greydon Quinn needs the help of the Mayfair Jewel Thief and creates a trap to lure him out. Imagine Quinn's surprise when the thief turns out to be a she.

Lady Viola Preston has used her special ability to relieve the Ton of some of its jewelry -- but she has her reasons. Betrayed long ago by her father's thoughtlessness (not providing for them in his will) and by her fiance's indifference and desertion when her money ran out, she alone provides for her mother, her niece and her crazed younger sister.

Caught red-handed and left with no choice, Viola reluctantly agrees to help Quinn to retrieve the red diamond.

Their quest for the diamond takes them from London, to Paris and then to Hanover -- and their simple quest turns complicated when they uncover a plot that involves the Queen of England.

Then there's the sinister power of the red diamond -- and the equally dangerous power of attraction and love.

Things I didn't like about this novel:
Exposition felt overlong and plodding. It took the main characters about 12 chapters to arrive in France and to determine the whereabouts of the red diamond. The novel could have benefited from some pruning to make for a more concentrated and focused story -- but I understand why it is as long as it is -- the story and history of India demands exposition -- and Marlowe really took the time to develop the relationship between Quinn and Viola, which I appreciated.

The addition of the "special abilities" could have been included in the world building more -- initially, it seemed as though Viola was the only one who had the ability and it felt a bit unbelievable -- but Marlowe does a really good job of explaining the ability and utilizing it as something that was not paranormal but as part of the normal.

I also did not like the Dowager, Viola's mother, who seemed so utterly clueless and flighty. Thank goodness she had a very limited role.

Things I liked about this novel:
The idea of psychometry and people having special skills. It reminded me of Amanda Quick and her "talents". I wished Marlowe took more time in building this part of her novel's world and I had hoped to see more characters in the story with their own special skills -- there was mention of 2 other characters -- but their skills were similar to that of the heroine.

There was a seamless mix of historical fact and fiction. I loved the idea of the red diamond and Sanjay's lost kingdom. I thought that the Bagh Kaa Kuhm really existed! ^_^ This is where Marlowe's talent lies: her India is vivid and lush and evocative. (Though I felt the first chapter was a bit gratuitous and did not contribute to the latter action in the story.)

Her characters also have such wonderful conversations! Witty, thoughtful ... and real. I could imagine actors playing out the roles of Quinn and Viola and having the conversations from the book.

I love that Viola is such a strong character. Very capable and fearless. She knows what she wants and goes after it. She's also not afraid to be alone, which is a rare trait in female characters in romance novels.

Overall, a solid story with a classic narrative structure -- I loved the progression of events and really enjoyed the adventure.

The next installment, Touch of a Rogue features Jacob Preston (related to Viola?), also with a unique ability. (Published February 2012)

I just need to get through my stack of TBRs and will get a copy of this one.
Sunday, March 18, 2012

Engaging the Enemy by Heather Boyd (ebook)

I've previously read Heather Boyd's Wicked Mourning
and was impressed with the freshness of her vision and storytelling. It was short but made an impact.

This is my first full-length Heather Boyd novel.

Engaging the Enemy has an interesting premise:

Mercy is helping Leopold Randall, a man who is a threat to her son's heritage and title. Leopold doesn't want the position as heir but desperately needs Mercy's help to find his missing siblings.

Mercy isn't certain what to think of Leopold -- is she putting herself and her son at risk by allowing Leopold into their lives? Her sister, Blythe and her "friend" Anna seem to think so --

But there is something about Leopold that calls to Mercy.

Leopold was not prepared for the welcome he received from the Duchess. Having been banished years ago, he has come home for one purpose -- and that is to bring his family back together.

But it proves difficult as there are no letters or notes or clues to his siblings whereabouts. Then there are the other matters that Leopold has to attend to:

- the estate is in disarray, the tenants are dissatisfied, and Mercy is overwhelmed by the responsibilities of managing such a large estate.

- threatening letters and dead animals have been left around the estate for Mercy and she is frightened for herself and for her son

As Leopold and Mercy work together to uncover the truths of the past, they discover more than what they have bargained for.

There are a lot of good elements in Heather Boyd's novel: I was rooting for Leopold and kept on reading to find out how he would find his long-lost siblings.

The threats to Mercy was also nicely done but I wish Boyd made it more sinister -- and I kept wondering who was the true enemy of the Randalls and the House of Romsey.

Then there are the weak points:

Some of the characterizations felt a bit odd:

I especially did not like Mercy, who didn't seem to be a clearly-drawn heroine and her dialogue felt a bit flat. Her eyes always seemed to be wide -- and that seems to be the extent of her reactions.

(Read Chapter 3, when Mercy meets Leopold for the first time and he tells her who he is.)

Her reactions sometimes felt inappropriate.

Randall kept silent, lips pressed tight together. His expression unreadable. After a long moment, his jaw unclenched. "He claimed it was an accident."


"The old duke wrote a short note to the school so they might inform my brother and me of our orphaned state."

Mercy blinked. "Oh, that was kind of him." And utterly impersonal.
- Chapter 5, Location 862

Blythe's personality from Chapter 1 to the latter chapters changed abruptly with no impetus for such a change.

Blythe as doting aunt:
"Aunty Bly, Aunty Bly," Edwin called as he ran across the room, all arms and wildly swinging legs. "Did you not go home today?"

Blythe dropped her books and scooped Edwin up into her arms. "There you are my little duke. How could I leave you for long?"
- Chapter 2 (location 382 on the Kindle)

Blythe as venomous sister:
"No. You are forgetting yours. Is it necessary for you to behave like a bitch in heat because a man has visited your home? ..."
- Chapter 10, location 1580

"You shall bring scandal and shame down upon us all. Mark my words, young Edwin will be murdered in his bed late one night... He will take everything you own, make you a slave in his bed, and throw you out when he's had his fill of you."
- Chapter 10, location 1601

The relationship between Mercy and Leopold also developed a bit too suddenly -- with very little mention of attraction. One minute they are investigating a room, the next they are kissing --

I had hoped to see a story that was multi-layered, a story that I could peel back one by one and discover a bit more each time --

The best part of the story was the last third -- when the secrets of the former Dukes of Romsey were both discovered.

I look forward to reading the next installment -- I hope Leopold finds his brother and sister.

Disclosure: I won this copy in a giveaway.

The Runaway Countess by Leigh LaValle (e-book)

After months of assisting the Midnight Rider in his daring Robin Hood plan to "rob the rich to feed the poor," Mazie has finally been captured. Now she has to face Trent Chadwick, Earl of Radford and Lord Lieutenant of the area the Midnight Rider has been plaguing.

She is determined to keep her secrets, resist him and fight him to keep the identity of the Midnight Rider safe.

But Mazie does not count on having the fight the attraction she feels for Trent.

Trent is determined to catch the Midnight Rider and uphold the law. He rides to Radford in order to interrogate Mazie and discover all her secrets.

But Trent isn't prepared to feel so attracted to his prisoner and enemy.

Mazie and Trent stand on opposite sides of the law. Mazie is guilty of breaking the law but insists that she is justified in doing so. Mazie is all heart -- and Trent is all logic.

It is a clash of minds and wills. And the exchanges between Mazie and Trent are intelligent and heartfelt. And the story of the Midnight Rider also grabs one's attention.

Part of the story is the journey the two characters take in order to discover the true meaning of justice and right -- and it made for a riveting read. It was frightening to see Mazie dig herself deeper into the mires of lies and deceit and I wondered how she would find her way out of it.

Trent was wonderfully empirical. I loved his determination to bring the Midnight Rider to justice -- and I loved his sense of justice.

I did wish LaValle took more time to expand on the relationship of Mazie and Trent. I did not feel that it went beyond physical attraction for Mazie. In Chapter 23, for example, when she looks at Trent, all she can think of is how attractive/handsome he is.

There are also a few gaps in the story -- especially about Mazie's family history. But the focus of the story was the puzzle that was the Midnight Rider: the gradual uncovering of information about the Midnight Rider and the discovery of the far-reaching misdeeds that has been happening in Radford from Trent's father's time -- LaValle did this so well.

LaValle resolved everything nicely and plausibly -- albeit too neatly and conveniently -- I'm glad Trent was able to maintain his integrity up to the very end.

This is Leigh LaValle's debut novel. I look forward to her next work. ^_^

Disclosure: I won this copy in a giveaway.
Friday, March 16, 2012

Since the Surrender by Julie Anne Long

There are two stories happening in Julie Anne Long's Since the Surrender:

The mystery one which involves missing girls, a second-rate museum and odd paintings. Rosalind March enlists the help of Chase Eversea to discover the whereabouts of her sister, Lucy, who was arrested and taken to Newgate Prison.

There is no trace of Lucy at Newgate and no record of her name or her arrest, as though she was never there.

The only lead Rosalind and Chase have of Lucy is a painting hanging at the Montmorency whose provenance cannot be determined.

Then there is the story of Rosalind March and Chase Eversea. Who had met and fallen in love many years ago, when Rosalind was still married to Chase's commanding officer. It is many years later and Rosalind is a widow whose only recourse is an almost-lover. Chase still wants her but Rosalind is determined to keep her freedom.

Of the Pennyroyal Green titles, I thought this was the weakest. The story lacked fluidity and balance. Long focused primarily on the mystery and that was done very well. I loved the angels and puppets and the Liam's cryptic observations:

"Sometimes they go in and dinna come out. Sometimes they come out and dinna go in," the boy insisted stubbornly.
- p. 181

Long was successful in creating an air of suspense over the disappearance of Lucy and two other girls. The author could have expanded this particular story and created a full-length piece of conspiracy fiction (especially with the reference to angels...and the tunnels.)

But, in so doing, the relationship between Rosalind and Chase wasn't developed as deeply. These two people have been attracted to each other for a long time and risked ruining their reputations by almost engaging in an illicit affair -- but I did not feel the tension or the urgency of so many years of longing in the two of them.

There was lust, yes -- but, longing? I'm not certain.

I am glad I read the novels out of order -- this novel introduces the Eversea cousin, Adam Sylvaine, who is the main character in Long's next novel, A Notorious Countess Confesses which comes out in November 2012.
Thursday, March 15, 2012

You Can Find Me on Zinio March Campaign Giveaway

One of my all-time favorite websites, Zinio, is having a wonderful campaign this March.

Here's the info:

Program Details
Vote for an Influencer, and then enter our sweepstakes.
Influencers who participate in the “You Can Find Me on Zinio” contest will compete for votes from friends and followers.
The influencer with the most votes by April 16th will receive a $2,500 donation for the charity of their choice.

Contest Instructions
Step 1: VOTE Vote for your favorite influencer.
Step 2: WIN Enter our sweepstakes here. (

The Influencer with the most votes by April 16, 2012 will receive a $2,500 donation to the charity of their choice.
Sweepstakes entrants will have a chance to win daily and weekly prizes.
One will will win the grand prize. A Dell XPS Ultrabook

Contest Starts
March 01, 2012 @ 08:15 am (EST)

Voting Begins
March 09, 2012 @ 10:56 pm (EST)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Personal book reading challenge: Elizabeth Hoyt's Book of the Month list --

A dear friend, F, introduced me to Elizabeth Hoyt years ago and I have been a fan ever since. I have read every book that she has published (historical novels) and loved every word that she's written.

I'm enjoying the Reading Romances Book Challenge because it gives me direction and answers the question, "What do I read next?"

So I am issuing a personal book reading challenge to myself: Read every book that Elizabeth Hoyt has featured on her website's Book of the Month Feature page.

To date they are:
August 2012: A Lady Never Lies by Juliana Gray
June 2012: When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James
April 2012: All Through the Night by Connie Brockway
February 2012: Taken by the Prince by Christina Dodd
January 2012: Silk is for Seduction by Loretta Chase -- read and reviewed!

October 2011: Always a Temptress by Eileen Dreyer
September 2011: Romancing the Countess by Ashley March

August 2011: The Many Sins of Lord Cameron by Jennifer Ashley
February 2011: When Harry Met Molly by Kieran Kramer
January 2011: A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James

December 2010: Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage by Jennifer Ashley
November 2010: Ruthless by Anne Stuart
October 2010: The Naked Baron by Sally MacKenzie
September 2010: Awakened by a Kiss by Lila DiPasqua
August 2010: Barely a Lady by Eileen Dreyer
May 2010: A Hint of Wicked by Jennifer Haymore
April 2010: Someone to Watch Over Me by Lisa Kleypas
February 2010: Lessons in French by Laura Kinsale
January 2010: Proof by Seduction by Courtney Milan

I've already read the books in bold but will re-read them so I can write a review about them.

Like No Other Lover by Julie Anne Long

Ah, the dangers of eavesdropping:

When Miles first saw Cynthia Brightly at a ball, he was instantly captivated. Ever the scientist, he set out to find out more about this woman who fascinated him so. And chances upon her having a conversation with a friend.

His pride (and his heart) are crushed completely when he hears Cynthia dismissing him as a mere second son with no other prospects without having ever met him.

And so, Miles Redmond sets out to forget about Cynthia and tries to make something of himself.

It is two years later and the tables have been turned.

Miles is now a celebrated explorer and naturalist. And he is also the "heir" of the Redmonds since his older brother's disappearance.

And Cynthia is now desperate.

A flippant decision leads to her complete social ruin. She has fled London as quickly as she can and accepted Violet Redmond's invitation to join her in Sussex, hoping that the scandal would not catch up with her there.

What I love about Julie Anne Long's characters is that they are not paragons of perfection -- but very real, very relatable people who've been knocked off the pedestal and are, perhaps, chipped in a place or two. They're trying to get back on their feet and dust off the past or the present.

I did not want to like Cynthia. My early notes about her point out how mercenary and machinating she was. How like a spider to lure hapless prey to her web, but Cynthia also reminds me of Walt Whitman's Noiseless, Patient Spider -- a solitary creature who only seeks connections by casting out threads of her web.

Julie Anne Long provides us with a unique perspective on this predatory creature -- it is also a survivor:

..."She'll rebuild it," he told her... "She won't think anything of it. It's just a part of her life. sewing her world back together again, sometimes even daily."
- Miles, in reference to a spider's web, p. 99

But Cynthia's true character is like the specie Lepidoptera Miles thinks her to be. It is an apt comparison -- the specie encompasses the grandest and most beautiful butterfly and also the lowliest and plainest moth. Cynthia is a butterfly. The gentlest touch or attempt to touch will have her flutter her wings to fly away. She keeps her true self to herself and doesn't allow anyone to see it.

Miles sees it, though. He sees the mutability of her character and discovers the elusive truth about her -- with his skills as a scientist and observer, he finds the onus that has driven Cynthia Brightly to be the person that she is.

Cynthia is a character to be sympathized with, not to be pitied. And I found myself rooting for her in the end.

I also loved Violet's description of Miles as gravity -- both meanings equally applicable to him. As natural gravity, he is the pull that draws his entire family together in Pennyroyal Green. Without him, they would all scatter away. But Miles is also gravity. Deep, deliberate, and important.

Like yin and yang, Cynthia's colorful brightness compliments Miles' black-and-white world. Miles' gravity keeps Cynthia grounded and stable.

Julie Anne Long has a gift for writing detail. Only she can write about a worn sole, or overused buttonholes and make them meaningful. Details are written not as a recitation for the purpose of creating historical background -- but for the purpose of deepening the story. It invites the readers to read more closely and to pay attention to the quiet moments of the story.

This was an utterly absorbing story with characters one can sympathize with.
Thursday, March 8, 2012

What I Did For a Duke by Julie Anne Long

March Reading Challenge:

- read a book whose author either has a three-word name or carries an official middle initial.
- read a book that you have previously started and meant to continue, but keep failing to do so.

- read a book that is set in Scotland or has a Highlander as a character.
- read a book with a medical theme, plot, cover, or setting.

International Womens’ Month: – read a book that has a single female figure on the cover.
Reading Romance’s Blogiversary: – read a book that has been reviewed or featured at the blog!

* * *

Consider a painting -- it is a form of art that allows itself to be interpreted by those who view it -- and it reveals itself and is experienced differently by different people.

Genevieve Eversea has always been seen in a certain way by the people around her. She's the sensible Eversea. The contained and thoughtful one. The dependable one who likes quiet pursuits like embroidery and painting. Her character is so fixed and determined that her family knows (without looking at the card) whose flowers are delivered to the house (vibrant ones for Olivia and simple ones for Genevieve).

But, like a painting, Genevieve from a distance is very different from Genevieve up close.

And this is what Alexander Moncrieffe, Duke of Falconbridge discovers.

Alex did not set out to like Genevieve but to use her as part of his revenge against Genevieve's brother, Ian. He uses his position to get himself invited to the Eversea house party and slowly initiates his plan. First, gain introduction to Genevieve. Next, seduce her. Last, leave her.

Alex always has a plan. And things always go his way. He's a duke, after all.

But Genevieve is not quite what Alex expected. His initial impression of her was that she was plain and dull.

She was petite and colorless and lightless. Her complexion was fair and unblemished, but it was difficult to know her age, for the bloom was most certainly off of her.


Her presence was in fact so subdued he would not have been surprised to hear she was mute.

- p. 49

When he steps in a little closer, he sees Genevieve for who she really is. It is when Alex starts talking to her that he realizes the colors and the beauty that Genevieve possesses.

"Good evening, Miss Eversea. You've stars in your hair."
- p. 62

And it is the same with Alex. He is tired of people's perception of him. He is tired of the rumors that swirl around him, about his late wife and about the duels he has fought. Genevieve's disinterest in him piques his attention.

Julie Anne Long presents us with 2 sets of lovers and the adventure they take to discover their hearts' desires:
- Genevieve loves and has always loved Harry.
- But Harry loves Millicent and plans to propose to her.
- Alex wants to hurt Genevieve as revenge but discovers that he likes her and tries to show her that she is as desirable and as worthy of love as her sister Olivia.

In the end, each one is forced to look deeply into their hearts and to discover who and what it is they truly want ... and the answer surprises them.

I really enjoy Julie Anne Long's writing. She has a wonderful way with description and a diamond-cutter's precise skill in creating intricate details. I especially loved how subtly she conveys some things. Genevieve has never noticed Alex's eyes. She knows they are dark and that is that. Then Long presents to us the moment Genevieve finally discovers the color. It's a simple detail -- but the effect on the story is ... WOW.

I have 2 more books to read in the Pennyroyal Green series and then I would have caught up -- it suffices to say that I am really looking forward to picking up my next book. ^_^
Wednesday, March 7, 2012

To Seduce an Angel by Kate Moore

This is the last book ins Kate Moore's Sons of Sin trilogy. Kit Jones lives a suffocated life -- after being kidnapped and held captive for almost 3 years, his family is very protective.

Now Kit is home and this is his story. It's been 5 years since his return, and he has inherited his father's title and estate -- but he still doesn't feel free.

Kit is the fire that has driven his brothers' lives -- when he was kidnapped, Xander lit up the streets of London so that Kit might find the light and his way home. Will served as Bow Street Runner and works towards making a police force so that London would be safe for boys like Kit.

Kit understands his family's protectiveness -- but he is no longer the boy they once knew. And, yet, he doesn't see himself as the man he needs to be, the Marquess of Daventry. He lives in a limbo not of his own making -- and the only feeling of freedom he gets is when he is on the rooftop of Daventry House.

Emma has only known life in a prison -- and this time is no different. In order to gain her freedom, she must pretend to be somebody she is not and spy on Kit and his group of boys.

Hiring Emma is the first impulsive and personal decision Kit has ever made -- and he loves the feeling of responsibility that comes with it. He knows Emma isn't who she claims she is and he wants to discover her secrets.

From the first moment Emma steps into Daventry House, she is already planning her escape. Her first impression of Kit is that of an angel -- and she longs for salvation. This is a no-win situation for Emma: if she accepts Kit's protection, she will lose her freedom and her life. And she will put the lives of her nephew and cousin in peril. But, if she betrays Kit to his vengeful grandfather, she will lose the one true thing in her life.

Emma does what she must and tries to survive the consequences of her actions.

I loved this story. I loved Kit and Emma. They are young people whose lives and choices are taken away from them -- but they have survived and have retained a purity and innocence in their souls. Both are world-weary and have not been given a reason to trust the world but life has not defeated Kit and Emma and they have risen above the challenges laid out before them.

Love is a new thing for both of them -- it is novel and frightening -- but they both discover that their love is the one genuine and honest thing they possess and give to each other.

Kate Moore has woven an entrancing and spellbinding story about love's redemptive power. She plays with celestial images and contrasts them with the earthbound lives of Kit and Emma. Moore's description of Kit as a fallen angel just shows how terribly far Kit (and Emma) are from perfection. It was refreshing to read about "ordinary" characters like Kit and Emma.

I finished this book in a night (I didn't sleep!) and I am awe of Moore's skill and vision. Her next book, Blackstone's Bride is due out in August 2012.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012

To Save the Devil by Kate Moore

I have a confession to make -- I forgot all about books 2 and 3 of Kate Moore's Sons of Sins series and wasn't able to get copies when they were released. I only just picked them up recently.

Over the weekend, I decided to bring book 2: To Save the Devil on a short trip. While waiting for my flight, I was enjoying the book so much and was halfway through -- I had to put it down, afraid that it would end in a cliffhanger (about Kit) and I didn't have book 3.

The Sons of Sin are the three bastards of Sophie Rhys-Jones, a famed London courtesan. Xander, Will and Kit have had to live with their mother's infamy and their own spotted heritage while growing up -- when Kit gets kidnapped, Xander and Will dedicate themselves to searching for him.

Will thought it would be a simple mission: rescue the lady being sold at a virgin auction -- he succeeds but now finds himself encumbered by an unwanted assistant, who refuses to tell him her real name.

Helen of Troy has a mission of her own, and cannot afford the distraction caused by the enigmatic and appealing Will Jones. But she needs his assistance in locating valuable letters that could implicate her mother in a terrible conspiracy.

Will cannot afford to be distracted by Helen either -- he is on track to discovering the secrets of Archibald March, a man he believes is involved in Kit's kidnapping.

With great reluctance, the two work together -- and discover that they are after the same man. They spend their days investigating leads and spend their nights sharing the same bed -- but not their bodies.

Ultimately, the force of their mutual attraction proves too strong to resist ... and they yield.

This story has almost a metaphorical and a metafictional level -- Kate Moore uses the story of Helen of Troy to expound the characters of Will and "Helen" -- the two main characters engage in a series of interviews about Helen's life and decisions -- with each interview, Will gets deeper and deeper into knowing about his Helen.

"...Why Helen of Troy?" he asked. Her disguise suddenly seemed so incongruous.


"Helen doesn't weep, and she doesn't swoon. Everyone thinks the worst of her, but she doesn't crumble. She doesn't let them wound her."


"She ends up with no friends but Paris."

"Better Paris than Menelaus or any of those other famous suitors."

"Paris was an armor-polishing coward."

"He was a good architect, you know. He had excellent taste."

"That's what you want in a man? Good taste?"

"No. Do you want me to tell you?"

... "Tell me."

... "I want a man who sees me and knows me and wants me. For all his faults, Paris really did see me. You think I was wanted by all those other men, those famous suitors of mine, but it wasn't true -- they just wanted things that came with me -- a kingdom or victory or treasure. Nobody wanted me but Paris."

"What if I want you, Helen, just you, just your sweet self? Can you resist me?" ...

... "You don't want me. You want March."

It is ironic that neither one recognizes that they have the same need. Will needs a woman who will accept him for what he is -- a bastard born of a famous courtesan. And "Helen" wants a man who wants her and not her father's connections.

There is a sparseness to Moore's writing, to revealing in half-concealing -- and the play on metaphor can sometimes confuse the reader. The conspiracy plot also gets a bit jumbled, as well -- with names and history being presented without enough back story -- But the story rewards one in the end -- when the pieces fall into place and everything comes together.
Thursday, March 1, 2012

Secrets of an Accidental Duchess by Jennifer Haymore

Olivia has always known that she would not have a full life like her sisters because of her frailty. She has made the decision never to marry but her decision is put to the test when she meets Max, who seems to her to be the most dynamic and exciting man she has ever met.

Maxwell Buchanan, Marquis of Hasley, first sees Olivia from across a crowded ballroom and is instantly drawn to her. He accepts the invitation of Jonathan, Earl of Stratford to join a hunting party at his estate in Sussex in order to get closer to Olivia (who is Jonathan's sister in-law) --

The first thing I noticed about this novel was that the "happily ever after" came very early -- at around Chapter 7, when Max and Olivia both profess their mutual desire for each other (... and act on it).

I wondered what the rest of the novel would be about -- and I have come to expect unconventional twists from Jennifer Haymore --

The novel is mostly about Max and his rivalry with Leonard Reece, the Marquis of Fenwicke -- his rival from childhood. Like Max, Fenwicke is also heir to a dukedom and they have been competing for as long as Max can remember. Fenwicke successfully goads Max into making a bet about Olivia Donovan and, while this is the initial impetus for why Max wants to get closer to Olivia, he forgets the wager altogether once he gets to know her.

Olivia is a strong woman, despite her frailty -- she is decisive and determined -- I like that she was very no-nonsense about having an affair with Max. I also like her relationship with her sisters, which is very frank and honest.

Max didn't strike me as being very interesting -- he seemed like a typical lord with the typical list of interests and pursuits -- his one "dark" thing is that his father killed his mother in a fit of rage and Max is afraid that he might have inherited the same temper.

There are a lot of promising bits in the novel, which I felt Haymore glossed over:
1. Max's history -- Haymore doesn't delve too much into this. When Max and Olivia talk about their mutual aversion for marriage, Max shares (briefly) his family history of madness.

2. Max's estrangement from his uncle (and his uncle and late father's quirky relationship) --

This particular entry in the novel puzzles me:
"...My father and his brother -- my uncle -- had a very close but very competitive relationship. Both of them were fascinated by new-fangled devices and the newest inventions, and they bought them all and showed them off to each other incessantly. They shared many of their new toys and trinkets -- in fact they shared just about everything except the title. My uncle had the dukedom all to himself, and my father never forgave him for that. He was consumed by jealousy. In the end, I believe his own bitterness killed him."

The mention of devices and inventions felt a little non-sequitur for me since this is not something that figures into the novel.

I don't know if Haymore decided to share this bit of information about Max to show us that Max's relationship with Fenwicke is similar to that of his father's and uncle's -- but, unlike the tragic end of Max's father, Max draws strength from his relationship with Olivia and overcomes his rivalry with Fenwicke.

There's a lot of things going on in this novel, there is the side story of Jessica Donovan and Beatrice Reece, Fenwicke's poor abused wife. And there is Serena/Meg and Phoebe and her new baby.

I felt the first book, Confessions of an Improper Bride
was more focused and had more emotional depth -- but this one succeeds in expounding on the story of the Donovan Sisters.

The next novel, Pleasures of a Tempted Lady is set for release this July. I am definitely getting that one. ^_^


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