Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review: Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase

Sophy Noirot is busy. She's busy keeping Maison Noirot from closing. She's busy keeping their clients from taking their accounts elsewhere. She's busy doing damage control on the scandalous marriage of her sister to the Duke of Clevedon. She's busy sneaking into social events to get material for her column in the Spectacle.

To add to her problems, Maison Noirot's most important client, Lady Clara Fairfax has found herself embroiled in a ruinous scandal and must marry Lord Adderley, a man of questionable means and situation. (A man that the Noirot sisters do not want for Lady Clara, if they had a say in the situation -- as her dressmakers, they have decided they do have a say. ^_^)

Matters were already difficult enough for Sophy when Clara complicates them even more by running away. Sophy must seek the assistance of Clara's older brother, Harry, Lord Longmore to help her fix the situation.

Pragmatic Sophy has never had the time or the inclination to fall for a man's charms (business first!) but, Harry Fairfax might just be the man to change her mind.

Harry and Sophy don't have anything in common: he's a wealthy aristocrat and she's working class. He's not an intellectual and she's well-read. He likes things to be direct and straightforward and she enjoys subterfuge. He's all about action and she's about feelings and "talking things through" -- but, even in the first book of the series, Silk is for Seduction, one can already feel that there's something between Harry and Sophy. Every time they were together, electric.

And the same is true for this book.

From the onset, Chase builds Anticipation -- Harry doesn't want to see Sophy but he wonders about her. And she wonders about him. It was fun to see what they each thought of the other, which was an odd mix of attraction and circumspection. Of interest and a mild dislike.

The Earl of Longmore strolled into the breakfast room, a newspaper under his arm.

Sophy's pulse rate accelerated. It couldn't help itself.

Black hair and glittering eyes ... the noble nose that ought to have been broken a dozen times yet remained stubbornly straight and arrogant ... the hard, cynical mouth ... the six-foot-plus frame.

All that manly beauty.

If only he had a brain.
- pp. 9-10

I liked Harry -- he's not the most brilliant/scientific mind in the world and doesn't pretend to be. He speaks plainly about his "simpleness" and prefers to avoid the roundabout route of "talking" and get to the business of done through action.

One would think that Sophy would get impatient with him and have to explain everything to him -- and one would think he would tire of Sophy and her schemes and plans -- but, when the two of them talk to each other, they understand each other perfectly. And are so wonderfully in-tune with each other's humor.

This is one of my favorite exchanges:
(Harry has left Clara at Maison Noirot for her fitting.)

"Lord Longmore."


He looked up.

She stood at the top of the stairs, leaning over the handrail.

The view was excellent: He could see her silk shoes and the crisscrossing ribbons that called attention to the fine arch of her instep and her neat ankles. He saw the delicate silk stockings outlining the bit of foot and leg on view. His mind easily conjured what wasn't in view: the place above her knees where her garters were tied -- garters that, in his imagination, were red, embroidered with lascivious French phrases.

For a moment he said nothing, simply drank it in.

"That was a beautiful exit," she said.

"I thought so," he said.

"I hated to spoil it,"she said. "But I had an idea.

"You're a prodigy," he said. "First an alibi, then an idea. All in the same day."
- pp. 54-55

To pair a seamstress and a marquess together is a near-uninsurmountable challenge and our hero and heroine both know this.

She sat for a time, contemplating the hopelessness of the situation, even while a part of her mind hunted and hunted for a scheme, as was its nature to do. But no scheme existed that would make everything come out right.

She couldn't be his mistress: It was bad for the shop.

As to marriage ...

That was laughable. ...
- p. 315

But more is in the way of Harry and Sophy. First, Harry's mother hates the Noirots. Second, Sophy feels she is responsible for preserving their shop and their livelihood.

I think it takes a woman like Sophy and a man like Harry to make things work -- and they do -- in a spectacularly simple, yet heartwarming way. (See Chapter 18, which is probably one of the best endings I've read this year. ^_^)

Scandal Wears Satin is the second book in the Dressmakers series. Leonie's story is next and that should come out in 2013. To find out more about Loretta Chase and her books, visit her website. She's also on Facbeook.
Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sample Reading #5: In the Barrister's Chamber by Tina Gabrielle

This is a new feature on my blog called Sample Reading. This is where I will talk about book samples that I've gotten online. I'll read the sample and will answer the very important question:

Will I buy it?

The Blurb:


Lady Evelyn Darlington's first love was the law. But since a woman scholar meets nothing but ridicule from men, she has given up and chosen a future husband. Randolph seems adequate for the task: to provide intelligent conversation and not annoy her too much. Of course, before they can be engaged, she'll have to do something about the murder charge hanging over his head. If only London's top barrister wasn't Jack Harding, object of all her unattainable girlhood fantasies...


Jack Harding remembers Evelyn well—but the idea that the gorgeous woman standing before him is little Evie, the professor's daughter, is incredible. He knows better than to enter a business relationship when he wants to pursue pleasure. Yet however desirable she is now, Evie is still Evie—stubborn, smart, and never willing to take no for an answer. Even though proving her betrothed's innocence might just cost her her own...
- copied from Tina Gabrielle's website

I got the sample from: Amazon, Kindle
# of Pages: First 23 pages of a 42-chapter book

My impressions:
It's been a while since I've read a good procedural story -- the last one I read was The White Swan Affair by Elyse Mady -- and it's rare to mix legal drama with historical romance but this is what Tina Gabrielle is doing with her Barrister series.

The story begins in a courtroom and our heroine is observing a trial. Lady Evelyn Darlington not really interested in the prosecution or the case but in the barrister handling the defense.

Jack Harding is one of the best defense lawyers in England and he has a full docket to prove it. When Evelyn Darlington approaches him and asks to engage his services, he's not certain he wants to. He remembers her as this young girl who hung around him and her father as he studied to be a barrister.

Jack strikes me as being very unsentimental -- and very practical. He doesn't become nostalgic when he meets Evelyn again but seems to want to refuse her as quickly as he can and then go back to his life and work.

But he is not completely unaffected by Evelyn -- and, from what's written about Evelyn, it seems she's always been attracted to Jack.

Just like old times, Evelyn thought. Jack Harding could charm the habit off a nun and cunningly argue the most complicated legal points while doing so.
- p. 3

What complicates matters between Evie and Jack is that the man in need of Jack's services is Evie's betrothed, accused of murder. For some strange reason, Evie doesn't want to let her father know that she has engaged Jack's services but Jack insists that they tell his former tutor.

The story takes a foreboding turn when Evie and Jack arrive at her house and they stumble upon intruders who have tied up her father and knocked out the butler. The library has been ransacked but nothing of value had been taken so, what could they have been after?

Price: $4.99 on Amazon for the Kindle edition, $6.99 for the print edition

Will I buy it? Definitely a TBR! This sample intrigued me so much that I went and read the sample for the second book in the series, In the Barrister's Bed -- and enjoyed it as well. (The second book's hero is a "former bastard" who has inherited his father's dukedom and is fighting with a widow over the ownership of a house.)

So, this is a series I will be picking up once I clear up some space in my TBR pile. ^_^
Friday, July 27, 2012

Review: Be My Prince by Julianne MacLean

Prince Randolph of Petersbourg has come to London searching for his princess and future queen of Petersbourg -- and all the ladies are vying for the honor. Including Alexandra Monroe.

But getting the prince's attention and winning his heart is only part of Alexandra's grand plan. She's actually the long-lost daughter of the former king of Petersbourg and is seeking to restore her family's name to their former glory.

But her plans are derailed when she meets and falls in love with the future king's younger brother, Nicholas. Alexandra must choose between love and duty --

And when more secrets are revealed, Alexandra must stand up against the rumors and lies and fight for the truth of what lies in her heart.

While most books are encumbered by being overlong and overly-detailed, Julianne MacLean's story suffers from the exact opposite: it is too sparse and under-developed and there are gaps in very important places in the story.

For example, the attraction between Nicholas and Alexandra is too abrupt -- it is only a matter of days between their first meeting and the ensuing declaration of undying love and devotion. But the author doesn't elaborate on how the love developed. There is very little interaction between the two -- and it goes from introduction to love so quickly.

I had wished the author dwelt on this a bit more -- it would have made for a very compelling read: how does one choose between one's birthright (Alexandra's claim to the throne of Petersbourg) and one's happiness?

He is not the one I want, she reminded herself over and over as she crossed the crowded ballroom on Prince Nicholas's arm. It did little good, however, for no amount of rationalizing seemed powerful enough to douse the flames of agitation in her blood, kindled by the mere act of touching him.
- p. 28

But Alexandra's own motivations for seeking the crown is problematic -- I wasn't certain if she was merely a pawn or equally complicit in her stepmother (and Mr. Carmichael's) scheme.

At the onset, I thought Alexandra was a desperate woman who was trying to protect her sisters and herself. (And the summary on the back cover does say: "Lady Alexandra Monroe has been told in no uncertain terms that she must set her sights on a proposal from Prince Randolph to better her family's situation.")

But there is venom in Alexandra -- there is an anger simmering just beneath the surface:

During her first meeting with Prince Randolph, the prince asks her about where she resides:

"...You are the daughter of a duke. Why have you been residing in Wales? Why not at the estate where you were raised?"

She wet her lips and concealed the more pertinent question: Why not with my family, in the country where my ancestors had been born, and where they had ruled for centuries?
- p. 17

* * *

And in this exchange with Nicholas:

...At that, she looked up at him. "Have you ever been knocked down by someone, Nicholas? Have you been treated unfairly? If so, then you will understand how it has a way of rousing you to struggle to your feet and fight back harder than ever before."

He considered that for a moment. "So there is a hint of vengeance in your scheme," he bluntly suggested.

Vengeance? If he only knew how close he was to the truth.
- p. 52

She undergoes a change of heart when she decides to choose love (see p. 90) -- but, as she makes her way to Petersbourg, this particular insight surprised me:

How many nights had she lain awake dreaming of the day she would see the former general's body entombed and revel in the fact that she would be the mother of the future king, and her own father's death would be avenged in this way?

Even now, a part of her hoped King Frederick would already be dead when she arrived so that she would not be forced to bow down before him or struggle with conflicting loyalties -- for he was her husband's father.
- p. 183

The plot in Petersbourg is the most interesting part of this story -- when it is discovered that there is something greater (and more sinister) at work -- and when Alexandra is suspected of poisoning her father in-law --

The action really picks up in the last third of the book but, by then, I did not find myself invested in the hero and heroine. The author sacrificed character development in order to develop the plot and, to MacLean's credit, she does set up the series very nicely and I was very intrigued with the second part of the series, which is Rose's (Rose is Nicholas and Randolph's sister) story. (There's a short excerpt at the end of the book.)

Be My Prince is the first book in Julianne MacLean's The Royal Trilogy. The next book, Princess in Love will be released October, 2012.

To find out more about Julianne Maclean and her books, visit her website. She's also on Facebook.

Review: The Virgin Huntress by Victoria Vane (e-novella)

Vesta wasn't expecting her first Season to happen the way it did -- her father comes home with a new bride after spending three days in London looking for a townhouse. Unhappy with her new situation (and new stepmother), she and her aunt, Diana, escape to London by themselves.

London isn't what Vesta thought it would be -- she didn't expect there to be so many people and for the streets to smell -- and she didn't expect to fall in love with the first man she sees.

The unfortunate object of her love is Captain Hewett DeVere, younger brother of Ludovic DeVere -- who has just been charged (and bribed) by his older brother to marry and secure the DeVere line.

Vesta's not happy that Hewett's attentions are focused on her aunt and so the hellion conspires with the Devil and a plan is made.

There's drugging, a kidnapping, a locked door with no key and the unauthorized use of a yacht -- and it's not Vesta who's in peril but Hew!

According to my reading schedule, I wasn't supposed to read this book yet but, after I finished reading the first book, I didn't feel I was ready to leave Victoria Vane's Georgian-era London just quite yet. ^_^

So I started reading The Virgin Huntress, which is the second installment in her The Devil DeVere series.

And I finished the e-novella in one sitting. ^_^

I love how Victoria Vane has skillfully used gender role reversal to tell the love story of Vesta and Hew -- we usually have the heroes pursuing the heroines by fair means or foul -- but Vesta is not one to simper and wait for a man. Vesta is spoiled but incredibly focused and, when she set her sights on Hew, she didn't rest until she caught him.

This was my favorite scene:
(Hew wakes up after being drugged a little by Vesta in his brother's boat. They are out at sea.)

"...I've never been on a sailing ship before and would very much like to be above deck," she said wistfully.

"Then what is to stop you?"

Vesta considered the question and suddenly brightened. "Well, I hadn't considered it until now, but given we are well at sea, there's nothing. I suppose! It's not likely that you would jump into the ocean now, is it?"

"Then you can open the door."

She grinned. "I only needed to ring the bell."

He looked flummoxed. "The bell?"

"Over there." She indicated the bell pull he had overlooked in his agitation. Before Vesta could even rise, Hew had already given the cord a violent tug. "Et tu, Brute?" Hew exclaimed when the elderly jockey answered the call. "Even you knew about this?"

"Aye, Cap'n Hew," Pratt said, looking mighty green about the gills. "But when my lord commanded I was to be Man Friday to the little miss, I ne'er imagined 'twoud be shipboard."

"You get no sympathy from me, old fellow. Let the punishment fit the crime, I say. Now, pray bring me my clothes!"

Pratt handed the captain a bundle with a rueful look. "I was expectin' ye might be callin' for 'em."

Hew snatched them with a glare and then turned back to Vesta. "Some privacy, please?"

"But I've already seen--"

"Out with you!" he bellowed.

"Fine then." She threw her cards down with a scowl. "I'll be up on deck with Pratt."

Hew mumbled, "And may a great whale come and swallow you up."
- pp. 54-55

This was a light and diverting read -- one filled with pleasant surprises. It is a bit outrageous at times but, then, this is a romantic comedy and succeeds in what it ought to do: tell a fun love story between an odd couple and giving them a happy ending.

This is the second book in Victoria Vane's The Devil DeVere series. The series continues with the third installment, The Devil You Know is scheduled for release July 29, 2012.

A print edition that compiles the first two novellas, The Devil DeVere Volume 1, will be released this August 2012.

To find out more about the author and her works, visit her website. She's also on Facebook.

Disclosure: Review copy provided by the author. Yes, this is an honest and sincere review.

Final Note: Here's a quote from Shakespeare In Love, one of my all-time favorite movies.

"You see - comedy. Love, and a bit with a dog. That's what they want. "
- Philip Henslowe, Shakespeare in Love (quote copied from IMDB)
Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review: A Wild Night's Bride by Victoria Vane (e-novella)

Phoebe Scott is an actress still awaiting her big break when her theater closes and she's out of a job. She does what every actress from her theater company does: she goes out to find a protector. Except, Phoebe doesn't really want to. She's been hurt once before and had wanted to make an honest living for herself.

Edward Chambers is in London looking for a townhouse to rent during the Season and has decided to call on a friend, Ludovic DeVere. Dull Dog Ned would rather get this social obligation over and done with so he could return to the country and resume mourning for his wife, who died three years ago. But the Devil DeVere has other things in mind -- being the force of nature that he is, he convinces Ned to accompany him to some private entertainment at King's Place, (Yes, it's a bawdy house).

Under normal circumstances, Ned and Phoebe would never have met but, circumstances are anything but normal, especially when there's a Devil who badly wants to play.

Victoria Vane's preface perfectly sets up the story. There's humor and confusion and a straight-laced man waking up in the bed of the King of England.

How did he get there?

This was a fun, playful story and reminded me of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Instead of Puck making mischief, we have the hand of Ludovic DeVere. There is nothing magical about him -- he's very human and prone to very human excesses.

"Why the devil would any man choose to deny himself an essential element of life? Every man has needs, Ned."
- p. 9

"I am also a man of caprice ... one who lives entirely upon my whim. My attention is easily captured, but sadly, difficult to maintain for any duration. Ennui, you understand. ..."
- p. 40

All the central action (and the damage) happen in one night -- First, a wager is made between DeVere and the Prince of Wales. Then the trio find themselves sneaking into St. James Palace.

It isn't all fun, though -- as the night progresses, Phoebe returns to the starting point of her current story and we learn about her past -- but Phoebe has no intention of making the same mistakes. This time, she's older and wiser -- and more capable of expressing her own needs and wants. This time, she's in control. (See p. 60 and Chapter 10)

The reparation happens the morning after and Dull Dog Ned finally awakens from his half-lived life. (See Chapter 13.)

I do have questions about the suddenness of the resolution of Ned and Phoebe's story -- but, given the unusual nature of their meeting and their time together (and that this is an e-novella ^_^), the whirlwind romance isn't entirely implausible.

This is the first book in Victoria Vane's The Devil DeVere series. The series continues in The Virgin Huntress, which was released last June 2012. The third installment, The Devil You Know is scheduled for release July 29, 2012.

A print edition that compiles the first two novellas, The Devil DeVere Volume 1, will be released this August 2012.

To find out more about the author and her works, visit her website. She's also on Facebook.

Disclosure: Review copy provided by the author. Yes, this is an honest and sincere review.

Final note: I am definitely interested in how the author plans on taming the Devil DeVere. This is a series I intend to follow.
Sunday, July 22, 2012

Review: The Wild One by Danelle Harmon

Where to Buy the Book:
Amazon Kindle
BN Nook

Gareth de Monforte is known as the Wild One in his family and he's also the nominal heir of his brother, Lucien, the Duke of Blackheath, one of the most powerful men in England -- except, Gareth doesn't want the honor or the responsibility that comes with the position. He's happy carousing with his friends, the Den of Debauchery.

And then he meets Juliet Paige, and does a heroic thing by saving her and her fellow passengers from a band of highwaymen.

And then he realizes who Juliet is -- she's his dead brother Charles' betrothed and has come to England to ask the de Montfortes' help in raising her daughter, Charlotte.

Juliet brings out a different side of Gareth -- a side, he didn't think he had and so Gareth agrees to his brother, Lucien's bargain: he'll let Juliet stay with the de Montfortes and maybe consider making Charlotte his ward if Gareth behaves himself.

But one misstep sends Juliet and Charlotte packing and heading to London to make their own way. Gareth does something surprising -- he follows them to London. And even more surprising, he does the noble thing and offers marriage to Juliet.

Gareth and Juliet are wonderful characters that are easy to sympathize with. She's courageous and stands up for herself and for her daughter, Charlotte. She's not afraid of hardship or work and she's willing to endure both for the sake of her little family.

Gareth is the third of four sons and he's always been searching for his place in his family. He's not a natural leader like his brother, Lucien or is intelligent as his brother, Andrew. He knows how to have fun and his moniker "The Wild One" is apt -- but he knows he wants to be something more and has waited for the opportunity to make something of himself. And the opportunity arrives with Juliet.

He slid back beneath the covers, smiling like a fool. It was rather nice, being the hero of the hour... and there were no words to describe how he'd felt when Miss Juliet Paige had come in to say good night to him and bent down to touch her cool, sweet lips to his brow. He sighed and lay back in bed with a happy grin. Such attentions made him feel quite special, indeed. And, appreciated.

He wasn't used to anyone appreciating him.
- p. 34

In the beginning, Gareth sees Juliet and Charlotte as his obligation to his late brother, Charles. The beloved one of the family. But, Gareth cannot deny the sparks that exist between the two of them. And neither can Juliet. It's heartbreaking to see Juliet so torn about her emotions -- is it truly an attraction to Gareth or a remainder of her feelings for Charles?

Same romantic eyes. Same kindness in their depths, same concern for other people. Oh, God... help me.
- p. 15

When everything falls apart, when they lose their money and are desperate for a place to stay and have no one to turn to, when Gareth is tested and forced to step outside of his comfort zone and lay down his pride -- he realizes all that he is capable of and what it is he truly wants.

This is an endearing story about a man and a woman clearly out of their element but who are willing to find a way for the sake of love.

The Wild One is the first book in Danelle Harmon's The de Montforte Brothers series. All four books have been republished in e-format. To find out more about the author and her books, visit her website. She's also on Facebook.

Danelle will be starting her Blog Tour on July 23 to promote The de Montforte Brothers series. She'll be visiting Love Saves the World on August 1. To see her tour stops, click here.

Disclosure: Review copy provided by Goddess Fish Promotions. Yes, this is an honest and sincere review.

Final note: This is the moment I fell in love with Gareth:
At their wedding, as he is about to slide his ring on Juliet's finger, they both realize that she was still wearing Charles's ring (which looks exactly like Gareth's ring) --
Wordlessly, he pulled his dead brother's ring from her finger. His hand tightened around it, and for one long, awful moment Juliet thought he was going to hurl the thing across the room to send it clink, clink, clinking beyond the far pews. But no. Instead, he bent his head and in a gesture so humble, so selflessly noble that it brought a single tear pooling in her eye, he quietly slid Charles's ring onto her right forefinger -- and put his own on her left ring finger, where it belonged.
- pp. 71-72

Sample Reading #4: Lessons After Dark by Isabel Cooper

This is a new feature on my blog called Sample Reading. This is where I will talk about book samples that I've gotten online. I'll read the sample and will answer the very important question:

Will I buy it?

This past week, I had the pleasure of reading Isabel Cooper's debut novel, No Proper Lady and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Now I am considering whether I should buy her second book, Lessons After Dark. (I was lucky to get her first book on sale but the second book was released just a few months ago and is still at regular price.)

The Blurb:

For years, Gareth St. John put his supernatural talent for healing in service to the British Army. Now he’s the doctor at Englefield, a very unusual new school that helps people with special “talents” learn how to hone their abilities. He thinks he’s equal to the challenge; he’s not so sure he can handle one of his colleagues.

Olivia Brightmore became a fake medium to support herself after her husband died, but her unexpected master of real magic led her to become Englefield’s newest teacher. Gareth’s scorn for her and her past makes her try and keep him at arm’s length, but somehow she can’t quite resist the urge to get under his skin.

Faced with students who can’t control their powers, the suspicions of the outside world, and something... strange... in the forest beyond the school, Gareth and Olivia must learn as quickly as they teach: about the world, and about each other.
- from Isabel Cooper's website

I got the sample from: Amazon, Kindle
# of Pages: First 3 chapters (13 pages) of a 44-chapter book

My impressions: I love how Isabel Cooper starts the story and introduces the characters -- in gradual increments rather than one long information dump.

Olivia is a widow with meager resources. She's been hired by the Grenvilles to be the new teacher at Englefield. Olivia is not a very confident woman and battles insecurities constantly in the first 3 chapters.

Her impression of the facade of the school reflects her anxieties:

...it seemed to loom against the cloudy evening sky, full of unpleasant possibilities.
- p. 1

She's very good at tucking small bits of Olivia and Gareth's past into the present action. In this instance, it is revealed the state of Olivia's finances (or lack thereof):

She looked at Olivia's bag dubiously and didn't ask where the others were. Olivia knew she was blushing and smiled quickly to cover it up. "I try to travel lightly," she said.
- (She = Violet, the maid) pp. 2-3

Gareth St. John is the school doctor. His leg pains him and he still hasn't completely let go of his memories of the past.

I love the idea of a school that teaches talented children how to use their gifts properly. It reminds me somewhat of the X-Men and Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters and I'm excited to meet the students of Englefield. In how many schools would you hear the sentence: "She's on the ceiling, sir, and she can't get down." - p. 6

Price: $5.79 on Amazon for the Kindle edition, $6.99 for the print edition
Will I buy it? I bought it right after I finished reading the Sample and I'm very excited to read it! (I've committed to read 3 books before July ends so this book will come after those.)

I think I will be following this series from now on. ^_^
Thursday, July 19, 2012

Review: Thief of Shadows by Elizabeth Hoyt

Winter Makepeace lives a double life. By day, he is the serious, somber, no-nonsense manager of the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children. By night, he patrols the streets of St. Giles as The Ghost of St. Giles.

Isabella Beckinhall also lives a double life. Around her friends, she's a bored socialite who delights in little cakes and gossip but Isabella hides her stronger convictions (and that she reads political pamphlets) and longs to share her true self with someone.

Then she happens to rescue The Ghost of St. Giles and, during the brief conversation she had with him, a tentative connection and a lasting impression is made on Isabella.

But Isabella is kept busy by the Ladies' Syndicate. She's officially in-charge of "making over" Winter Makepeace as he is about to formally step out and be introduced to society as the manager of the Foundling House.

Winter initially resists Isabella's instructions (and appeal) but, when his work at the Foundling House is imperiled by Lady Penelope and the other members of the Ladies' Syndicate for the Benefit of the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children, Winter knows he must work with Isabella for the sake of the children.

I'm having a hard time writing a review for this book that will avoid the words: riveting, fast-paced, and page-turner -- because this book is all of that -- and more.

I didn't think I would love Winter Makepeace. When he was first introduced in Wicked Intentions, he didn't come across as likable -- he was too rigid, and too ascetic to have any sort of dimension -- but, as the series progressed and the story of The Ghost of St. Giles was developed further, I grew to appreciate his character.

Winter Makepeace is a dark knight, like Batman -- he does not have any special/superhuman abilities, but what he has is the desire to protect and defend the defenseless. Unlike knights in shining armor, he stands alone in the shadows -- his intentions and actions misunderstood. He is feared by both the people he seeks to protect and by the criminals he brings to justice.

Hoyt plays with binary oppositions in this story:

Light and shadow -- Winter sees a bright world in Isabella -- a world he can never live in or belong to.

"...You blaze like a torch, lighting the darkest corners, brightening even those who thought they were already well lit. You bring joy and mirth and leave behind a glow that gives hope to those you've left."
- p. 97

And Winter sees himself as unfathomable darkness.

"I am as dark as a pit. ... Even your torch will have difficulty lighting my depths."
- p. 97

Perfect and imperfect -- Isabella knows she is not perfect or as gilded as Winter makes her out to be. For one, the fact that she's barren means that she is literally empty and "damaged beyond repair" (p. 266) inside. And she sees something more in Winter and in the Ghost of St. Giles. She sees the heroism in Winter's work with the children and in St. Giles and she's the one who feels unworthy of him.

"You're perfect the way you are."
- Isabella to Winter, p. 315

The heroic and the monstrous -- each chapter of the novel begins with an excerpt from The Legend of the Harlequin Ghost of St. Giles. In Chapter Six, the Ghost lays dying and a mysterious man approaches him:

The man wore a cape that hid most of his form, but still one could see that he walked on a goat's cloven hooves. The man sat down beside the dying Harlequin and took a white clay pipe from his pocket. He lit the pipe and looked at the Harlequin, "Now, Harlequin," said he, "would you like to revenge yourself on your enemies...?"
- p. 102

According to legend, the Ghost made a Faustian bargain so that he could carry out his revenge. It is interesting to juxtapose this story with the work that Winter does -- the Ghost never kills. It is a heroic vow that he has made. And Winter has made another vow: he has remained celibate and has vowed never to marry because his duty to St. Giles comes first.

But the heroic and the monstrous both live within Winter. Many times in the novel, we see him trying to contain the animal within. It is a struggle for Winter -- an epic one that will alter the course of Winter's life, depending on what wins.

One hard thrust. That was all it would take to send the other man down those stairs and to oblivion. Winter's breath was tearing at his throat, his pulse beating like a war drum.

He wasn't an animal.

Winter stepped away, back toward a door behind him ...
- p. 159

It seems an impossible situation and one that cannot have a clear answer -- but there is. Winter realizes that it was never either/or -- but an "and" -- when he finally makes peace with himself, he realizes that his dreams for St. Giles can exist together with his dreams for himself and Isabella. (See p. 350)

Elizabeth Hoyt has a very distinct voice in historical romance and I found myself marveling at how well she uses words to convey a world of emotion, anger, desire and longing.

I would do violence for one glimpse of your naked breasts. Bleed for one taste of your nipple on my tongue.
- p. 78

Leaves you breathless, doesn't it? ^_^

This is the fourth book in Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series. The next book in the series, Lord of Darkness will be released February 2013. To find out more about the author and her books, visit her website. She's also on Facebook.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Review: No Proper Lady by Isabel Cooper

Joan is from a future that is losing the war against the Dark Forces. Desperate, she is sent back to the past, to the fork in the path that will determine the future. She finds herself in the woods near Simon Grenville's country estate -- and finds Simon Grenville fighting off demon hounds sent to kill him.

When Simon learns of Joan's mission, he knows he must help her. The man Joan seeks to stop at all cost is a man Simon knows very well. His former friend and fellow practitioner, Alex Reynell -- a man, who is the reason why Simon and his sister have escaped to the country.

But how can they get close enough to Reynell to complete their mission? They hatch a daring plan, one that requires Joan to get inside Alex Reynell's house and to destroy the manuscript that is they key to winning the war in the future.

The plan requires Joan to be a lady and to be accepted in society -- a task that's easier said than done.

This is not a book that is free of flaws, for one, the prose could be improved -- I understand the need for the author to write in two separate and distinct voices because Joan is from the future and Simon is from the "present" -- but there are times when Simon and the other people from the "present" lapse into slang, which was a bit jarring. (When Alex something is "no fun" - p. 313)

But this book has something -- that something that propels you forward and keeps you awake until 1 in the morning because you want to read what happens next --

It is the plot and the conflict the characters experience: there comes a point when Joan is very close to her goal to save the future but it would mean erasing herself from all the people that she loved and left behind. She would be left in limbo: belonging to neither the present or the future.

"I'm cut loose from time. That's how I could come back, and I guess it lets me survive any changes I make by being here. But that's just me. If I succeed... there'll be a different world two hundred years from now. Mine won't be there any more."
- p. 139

There is Simon who is torn between saving the world and saving his former friend's life. He wants so badly to believe that there is still goodness that exists in his friend but he cannot ignore the harm Alex has caused his sister or the warning about him Joan brings from the future.

It is the characters. Characters who, after realizing what is at stake, immediately think of a plan. They do not moan or agonize or despair ... but plan. They are well-drawn out -- with purpose and agency.

Simon who lives in two worlds: the polite and the arcane.

The civilized man in him wanted to turn away, but the magician relished the sight. Found it exciting.
- p. 45

Joan who lives in both the present and the future.

Her time there felt like a lifetime. More than that, it felt like her only lifetime. As her manners improved and the face she saw in the mirror got more like the ones around her, her memories of home felt like they belonged to someone else.
- p. 112

There is a wonderful cohesiveness of the author's vision and writing that makes this an amazing read -- and I understand why this received so much recognition in 2011. I really enjoyed reading this.

This is Isabel Cooper's debut novel and the first book in her Englefield (?) series. The second book, Lessons After Dark was released April 2012.

For more information about Isabel Cooper and her books, visit her website.
Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sample Reading #3: Her Husband's Harlot by Grace Callaway

This is a new feature on my blog called Sample Reading. This is where I will talk about book samples that I've gotten online. I'll read the sample and will answer the very important question:

Will I buy it?

This week, I'm considering Her Husband's Harlot by Grace Callaway. This is her debut novel and was a finalist in the 2010 RWA Golden Heart.

The Blurb:
Not Quite a Wife ...
After a disastrous wedding night, proper Lady Helena Harteford fears for the fate of her new marriage. Disguised as a doxy, she tracks her husband down at a bawdy house to reason with him ... and instead discovers the thrill of forbidden passion. An innocent ruse turns into a risky deception; how far will this once-wallflower go to win her husband’s love?

Unfit to be a Husband ...
Orphaned at an early age, Nicholas Morgan escapes his violent beginnings to become a successful merchant -- only to discover that he is the legitimate heir of the Marquess of Harteford. His transition to the ton is rocky and made rockier when he marries above him. Torn between guilt and lust, he tries to protect his sweet, innocent wife from the demons of his past. But can he safeguard her from his own raging desires?

Caught between Past and Present ...
When a dangerous nemesis rises from Nicholas’ past, husband and wife must work together in order to survive. From the drawing rooms to the stews of Regency London, they find themselves caught in a game of passion and seduction. Will true love prevail? Or is Helena destined to remain ... Her Husband’s Harlot?
- from Grace Callaway's website
I got the sample from: Amazon, Kindle
# of Pages: first 3 chapters of a 300+ page book

My impressions:
The first three chapters explain the situation: Helena is married to Nicholas but, after a "disastrous wedding night," Helena and Nicholas have lived very separate lives -- after discovering an invitation to a dubious event at The Nunnery, Helena decides to attend and try to win her husband back.

She finds him (and they witness a menage a trois) but he doesn't recognize her -- and Helena doesn't say anything to correct the situation and, instead, has sex with him.

The sample ends with Helena conferring with her friend (and co-conspirator) Marianne about what happened at The Nunnery. Even her friend is confused with Helena's reason for keeping her identity a secret.

"He did not know it was me," Helena said through stiff lips.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Last night, Harteford did not know it was me. It was dark, and I did not remove my mask or wig."

"But surely you spoke..."

"I spoke in French to disguise my voice."

"To disguise your voice... but why?" Marianne asked.

"Because... because..." Helena strove to explain the fever that had overcome her.


"He will never forgive me for deceiving him in such a fashion."

... "Things would have been rather simpler if you had confessed yourself then and there. Why did you not?"

Helena lowered her head. "I was afraid."
- loc 439 - 469

I felt her argument was a bit roundabout and, thus, the whole premise of the story to be shaky. I also thought Helena was unreal in her innocence/ignorance: who attends an event at a bawdy house (granted it is her first time to go), stumbles upon a lady and two gentlemen in a private room and thinks:

Likely she had intruded upon a friendly supper, or perhaps a card game suited to three players.
- loc 87

I felt she lacked agency and a clear sense of what she wanted -- and she was an odd mix of impulsive and inflexible (everything seems to shock her).

Nicholas is also problematic. In the three chapters, it is revealed how attracted he is to his wife and how he had fantasized about all the things he would do to her once they were married -- but, on their wedding night, without so much as a kiss or caress, he does a very clumsy thing and shocks (and hurts) her.

The one redeeming factor in this book is Marianne Draven, Helena's friend -- elegant and beautiful, she seems to know what she wants and is very confident and capable in a way Helena isn't.

Finally, I am not certain how the mystery/intrigue (mentioned in the blurb) will blend into the story -- the whole masquerade is already complicated enough -- and I wonder how the author will disentangle and sort everything out in the end.

Price: $3.99 on Amazon (for a list of where the book is also available, click here.)
Will I buy it? Pass for now. I did not care for the very early menage scene and it felt a bit gratuitous. Neither Helena nor Nicholas seem like sympathetic characters to me and I am actually more interested in Marianne's story and will wait for that one to be released.

To find out more about Grace Callaway and her books, visit her website. She's also on Facebook.
Friday, July 13, 2012

Review: The Most Improper Sophie Valentine by Jayne Fresina

Sophie Valentine has never lived by society's rules and she doesn't really care. She's ruined herself and rejected the marriage proposal that followed and her one chance at respectability. From the time she was 19 to the present, she still searches for that elusive something that will give her life meaning and purpose. Now, she's taken an advertisement in a papers, looking for a husband.

And someone was actually brash enough to reply!

Lazarus Kane was 14 when he saw a young lady jump out of the balcony -- and he fell in love with her then. It took him a decade to find her again and he's left the army and traveled all the way to Sydney Dovedale in order to answer her advertisement.

Sophie is surprised to know that someone actually took her advertisement seriously -- and even more surprised when she meets the very mysterious and very handsome Lazarus Kane.

I had a hard time finishing this book -- it starts out very slowly, with very little action and a lot of exposition happening in the first 100+ pages. I felt the prose was a bit lopsided, favoring long descriptive sections and introspection over dialogue and action.

Consider Lazarus and Sophie's first meeting (pp 13-19), Lazarus is on his way to Souls Dryft, which he had rented for his stay at Sydney Dovedale.

Moving along the hedge, he stood in the soft shade of a chestnut tree, where the grass was still wet and the dank earthiness tickled his nostrils. He'd just removed his hat to comb his hair back with the fingers of one hand, when something dropped on his head. One corner of it narrowly missed his left eye. and it bounced to the grass at his feet. A stifled curse trickled down through the branches, but when he looked up into the tree, all was very still. If it was possible to hear breath being held, he was certain he heard it. The fingers of a small hand slowly retreated like stealthy caterpillars through the leaves.

"Good morning," he called out, holding hid hat to his chest.

(Two paragraphs follow narrating how Lazarus picked up the book and is shocked by the content. No dialogue.)

"I didn't mean to disturb you," he shouted up into the tree even as he wondered why he apologized, since it was her indecent book that almost took out his eye. He knew it was a woman. Her presence rippled against his skin like the soft, sun warmed waves of a calm but curious sea.

(Ten short paragraphs follow narrating how Lazarus is met with silence. And then the "mysterious" woman finally comes down the tree, feet and petticoats first, giving Lazarus an interesting view. No dialogue.)

Without a word, she held out her hand. She was an agreeably rounded creature, with delicate but well-defined features and a stunning pair of bright hazel eyes that shone full of stars, even in daytime and under the tumbled shade of the chestnut tree.

(The paragraph continues to describe Sophie as angelic. And then four more paragraphs continue narrating that Lazarus finally recognizes his mysterious woman as Sophie, the woman he fell in love with many years ago and has come to Sydney Dovedale to marry. No dialogue.)

"A kiss, madam," he muttered. "Is that not a fair exchange?"

(And then fifteen paragraphs follow describing how Sophie doesn't protest as Lazarus kisses her. The kiss ends with Sophie taking back her book and walking away. No dialogue.)

When the action started to pick up (Chapter 17-18), it felt like the author had changed trajectory and the story becomes one in which Lazarus is exchanging "lessons" with Sophie.

There are a lot of gaps in the story and the author left many questions unanswered. The most glaring one is, Why did Sophie write that advertisement in the first place?

The author writes very well, her descriptions are picturesque and rich with metaphor but, rather than move the story forward, it stalls it. I think this story with a heroine who didn't live by the rules had enormous potential to be an interesting read and I wish the author was able to balance out all the elements to make it so.

Jayne Fresina's next book is The Wicked Wedding of Miss Ellie Vyne, which features Ellie, Sophie's dear friend. The book will be released in January 2013.

To find out more about Jayne Fresina and her books, visit her website.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Review: More than a Stranger by Erin Knightley

It began with an angry letter where Evie tells Benedict Hastings to stay away from her brother. Evie was 11 and Hastings was 13.

Dear Mr. Hastings,

I am sorry to tell you that my brother already has a best friend. I don't care that you can shoot and ride well. Besides, I promise that you cannot ride better than me. Kindly leave Richard alone.

- p. 3

Their correspondence lasted for five years, until Hastings suddenly cut ties with Evie a few days before his graduation from Eton and before he had a chance to meet her in person for the first time.

It is seven years later and Benedict Hastings has resurfaced in England. He needs to recover from his last covert mission. He decides to contact his closest friend, Richard Moore, Evie's older brother. Richard doesn't know about Hastings' work as a spy but his arrival is more than welcome as Richard is about to escape the wrath of his scorned mistress by traveling to his family's country estate, thinking that his family is already at their London townhouse.

Imagine their surprise when Hastings and Richard discovers his family is still in residence -- and Hastings meets Evie for the first time. Unready to face questions of the past or the present, Hastings offers a false name and identity as he is introduced to Evie.

But very clever Evie knows that there is something strange about Mr. James Benedict and means to find out what it is -- why does her heart flutter when he is near? And why does she feel so comfortable talking to him when he is a stranger to her?

I enjoyed reading the letters between Evie and Hastings. They revealed so much of our hero and heroine's personalities: first, as young and brash children who didn't filter their thoughts -- to young adults who bared their souls to each other -- finally to the final year, when so much was hidden between the lines. It truly was a love that grew and blossomed slowly and deliberately.

When they finally meet, I was excited and anxious about how Hastings would reveal his true identity (and how Evie would react to it). I also thought it was amazing that Evie and Hastings never have sex -- but, every time they were together, I could feel the chemistry (and sexual tension) between the two. Emotion is built up with every letter and with every encounter -- towards the end, the tension was unbearable!

They fit as if they were made for each other. His Evie, his most treasured friend, tasted of hope and trust -- too much trust.
- pp 161-162

I love how this book was written -- it was economical and precise without being sparse, with Knightley building layers and perfectly encapsulating key moments with the right mix of emotion and revelation. (See Chapters 15 and 16: It is a moment of so many discoveries for Evie.)

Lastly, I thought the Moore siblings were enchanting and have the same engaging sibling rapport and charm as Julia Quinn's Bridgertons and Lisa Kleypas' Hathaways. I am especially excited to read about Bea, the sister who secretly paints in oils and not in watercolors like a "proper lady". (I hope she gets her own book.) ^_^

This is Erin Knightley's debut novel and the first book in her Sealed with a Kiss series. Richard's book, A Taste for Scandal will be released late 2012. (An e-novella, Miss Mistletoe, will be released in November 2012.)

To find out more about Erin Knightley, visit her website. She's also on Facebook.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sample Reading #2: Improper Relations by Juliana Ross (e-novella)

This is a new feature on my blog called Sample Reading. This is where I will talk about book samples that I've gotten online. I'll read the sample and will answer the very important question:

Will I buy it?

This week I read the sample of an e-novella: Improper Relations by Juliana Ross

The Blurb:
When Hannah’s caught watching her late husband’s cousin debauch the maid in the library, she’s mortified—but also intrigued. An unpaid companion to his aunt, she’s used to being ignored.

The black sheep of the family, Leo has nothing but his good looks and noble birth to recommend him. Hannah ought to be appalled at what she’s witnessed, but there’s something about Leo that draws her to him.

When Leo claims he can prove that women can feel desire as passionately as men, Hannah is incredulous. Her own experiences have been uninspiring. Yet she can’t bring herself to refuse his audacious proposal when he offers to tutor her in the art of lovemaking. As the tantalizing, wicked lessons continue, she begins to fear she’s losing not just her inhibitions, but her heart as well. The poorest of relations, she has nothing to offer Leo but herself. Will it be enough when their erotic education ends?
- from Juliana Ross' website

I got the sample from: Amazon, Kindle format
# of Pages: First chapter (of an 8-chapter e-novella)

My impressions:
The first chapter is told from the point of view of Hannah. I'm not really a fan of the first-person POV and I'm a little worried about how Hannah's "education" will be written about in the later chapters.

Hannah explains how she came to live with Leo's family and her current situation as lady's companion and poor relation. She stumbles upon Leo having a tryst in the library and we know that Hannah, though once-married, is unused to the sort of passion and play between Leo and his partner.

The first chapter also reveals Hannah's feelings for Leo:

I'd watched him for years, had been half in love with him for nearly that long.
- loc 86

We also find out a bit of Leo's background as well. (Though I am not sure how accurate this part is because it is from Hannah's point of view.) And, from what she tells us, Leo seems to be a rake of the first degree.

He also drank too much and gambled too much, raced his horses where he oughtn't and consorted with the wrong sort of women. He'd left university after only two terms, refused to buy a commission in any of the fashionable regiments, and fell asleep on those rare occasions when he could be convinced to attend church. He was, predictably, the despair of his family.
- loc 65-86

Price: $2.99 on Amazon **Corrected on July 11.
Will I buy it? Maybe, yes. I am curious about how Leo and Hannah's story will end -- will it be a case of the saint reforming the sinner? Or the sinner converting the saint? ^_^

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Review: Lyon's Bride: The Chattan Curse by Cathy Maxwell

Neal Chattan and his two siblings are the last of their line. It is a line that has been plagued with a curse that kills a Chattan when he falls in love. His brother and sister want the curse and their line to end with them and have sworn not to marry or to have children -- but Neal wishes otherwise.

He believes he can live around the curse and has enlisted the aid of a matchmaker who will help him find a woman of good family and of good childbearing health -- but she must also be a woman he can never fall in love with.

He is surprised to see that the matchmaker his solicitor has hired is Thea Martin. Many year ago, before Thea was disinherited, she and Neal shared a close friendship that enabled them to survive a childhood that was riddled with sadness and disappointment. Then Neal disappeared and never spoke to Thea again -- and Thea made reckless decisions that resulted in her banishment from polite society.

Initially, Thea thinks it's a joke but Neal is persistent and tells her the story of his family -- and the reason why he abandoned her all those years ago.

Thea reluctantly agrees to help Neal find his match -- but as they spend more time together -- and as Neal sees all the perfect ladies with their impeccable lineage and bloodlines, he realizes it is the imperfect and impossibly-flawed Thea that he wants.

On The Chattan Curse

There isn't an easy way to talk about this book and I am uncertain of my own reaction to it. While reading through it, I had doubts about the whole premise of the story: a centuries-old curse that haunts every generation of the Chattan Family.

It's difficult to have a curse as the central plot of the story -- the greatest challenge of curse stories is to get the readers accept that the curse is real.

How does one prove that the curse is real? The heroine, Thea, also struggles with this question. She does not doubt that Neal and his family believe the curse but she initially has trouble accepting it. Even though Neal recites how each generation of Chattan succumbs to the curse early in their married life, one can't help but think it might be a genetic predisposition or purely coincidental --

"...The idea of a curse is an antiquated notion. It is the device of the uneducated mind. We now know someone can't put an evil eye out on another person with just a few words of mumbo jumbo."
- Revered Wells to Thea, p. 253

But the curse is real. And even Thea comes to realize, eventually, that it is. But the curse itself is problematic:

Watchers of the threshold, Watchers of the gate,
open hell and seal Chattan's Fate.
When a Chattan male falls in love,
strike his heart with fire from Above.
Crush his heart, destroy his line,
Only then will justice be mine.

- p. 9

Falls in love with whom? Must it necessarily be romantic love? Must it be at the moment when a Chattan falls in love? Or the moment they admit to being in love?

How did Neal's forebears come to realize that a curse had been placed on them? The woman who uttered the curse flung herself into the fire right after she said it. The first Chattan male who succumbed to the curse died six months after his marriage far away from Scotland where the curse was created --

On Lyon's Bride

Taken separately, the search for "Lyon's Bride" is a decent story and complete in itself. The part where Thea applies her talent as matchmaker and ends up being matched was done nicely. I liked how Maxwell exposed the many different personalities of the debutantes and their parents -- even the most genteel of peers and the closest friends find their inner ruthlessness as their daughters all vie for the attention of the prize of the Season.

The best part of this particular episode was the way the author resolved the plot to compromise Neal into marriage.

The "courtship" between Thea and Neal had the most emotional pull. I loved the idea that Thea was learning to trust Neal again after he suddenly abandoned her that summer when they were children. Add to that her very unhappy marriage and her regrets (about her impulsive/rash decisions in the past) and you have a heroine who doesn't really want to be a heroine -- but would prefer to live a quiet, unassuming life with her two sons.

Seeing Neal again reminds Thea of how she was before -- carefree and happy. Part of her longs to return to that part of her life, but part of her doesn't want to.

In addition, I enjoyed reading about Neal's siblings: Harry and Margaret. I can see how their family history has tormented them and shaped them, but I loved their family dynamic. Thea's sons, Jonathan and Christopher, were also well-fleshed out. They played a key role in the story and weren't merely window dressing.

But the story is Lyon's Bride: The Chattan Curse -- and the combination of the two parts results in a confusing reaction for me: I felt the book was interesting enough for me to keep reading it (and I finished this one very quickly) -- but, I could not help but notice the gaps in the story.

For instance, why would a man cursed to die if he falls in love, agree to a week at the country in order to get to know his potential bride? Wouldn't it have been better if he married her sight unseen? The more impersonal the better?

Finally, is the paranormal element in the story intentional? If so, I didn't feel it was a consistent element in the story.

Lyon's Bride: The Chattan Curse is the first book in Cathy Maxwell's The Chattan Curse Trilogy. The second book, The Scottish Witch
, is Harry's story, and will be released October 2012.

To find out more about Cathy Maxwell and her books, visit her website. She's also on Facebook.

(If you're curious, my favorite Cathy Maxwell books/series are:

All Things Beautiful <-- so sad, so angsty, so beautiful T_T The Cameron Sisters Series:
Temptation of a Proper Governess
The Price of Indiscretion
In the Bed of a Duke
Bedding the Heiress
In the Highlander's Bed

The Scandals and Seductions Series:
A Seduction at Christmas
The Earl Claims His Wife
The Marriage Ring
His Christmas Pleasure
The Seduction of Scandal

... I think I've read most of her books. Except the novellas featured in anthologies. ^_^)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Review: An Introduction to Pleasure by Jess Michaels

This is the first book I featured in my first Sample Reading post and I wasn't supposed to buy this book until later this month but I couldn't resist it! I was too intrigued by Lysandra and Andrew to wait a few weeks before finding out what happens to them!

Lysandra is desperate. She has no job and no reference and very little money and a sick mother who depends on her. With no connections or options left, Lysandra finds herself knocking at Vivien Manning's door to seek Miss Manning's assistance.

But Vivien isn't an ordinary woman and the assistance she provides is anything but ordinary. Vivien has had a successful run of being a mistress to many powerful men. Now she is in the business of matching mistresses to their prospective gentleman protectors.

One look at Lysandra and Vivien has no doubt in her mind whom to contact.

Andrew, Lord Callis, is alive and breathing but he hasn't really been living a proper life. When his wife died three years ago, a part of him died along with her. A former rake who reformed for love, he lost all reason for living that day many years ago.

Now he is in London for his regular visit with his family and the cryptic message from Vivien has piqued his interest. And so he pays her a visit.

Vivien's request cuts Andrew to the core. Teach Lysandra about passion. Introduce her to pleasure. How could he, when he hadn't felt passion or pleasure in a long while? But who could refuse Vivien Manning?

And so their lessons begin.

Lysandra and Andrew are wonderful characters and this was a wonderful story. I loved how Lysandra grows and develops as the story progresses. In the beginning, she is a tentative woman who has a very low sense of her own personal value.

She was almost afraid to sit on them, for they clearly cost a fortune and were meant for important guests, not utterly common women attempting to become mistresses.
- loc 333

But, by the end of the story, she becomes a woman who understands herself -- her needs and wants and one who understands her heart. And she becomes a woman who is not afraid to stand up for herself. (See second half of Chapter 27)

The wonderful thing about Jess Michaels stories is that, while they are erotic, she conveys a wonderful sense of intimacy. The encounters between Andrew and Lysandra do not feel contrived or inauthentic (definitely not sex for the sake of sex) -- it is an act that challenges our characters to extend beyond themselves and their own personal wants. It is an act that validates and expresses what they feel in their hearts.

There was no space between them, no air between them beyond the breath they shared. Her face was even with his and their eyes met. For a moment he stopped moving and just stared at her, almost as if he was seeing her for the first time.
- loc 1553

This is a story that balances the historical romance aspect with the erotic aspect. That being said, I will still caution readers that this does contain a bit more than the average historical romance.

This is the first book in the Mistress Matchmaker series. The second book, For Desire Alone, will be released in November 2012. (I am hoping this is Miles Weatherfield's story. He was introduced in this book and I love his character!)

Jess Michaels also writes as Jenna Petersen. To find out more about the author and her works, visit her website. She's also on Facebook.
Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Review: Wicked and Wonderful by Valerie King (e-book/ARC)

A dare finds Judith Lovington in the orchard of their most-current benefactor, the Earl of Kelthorne -- and, this being her first time to steal apples, she is inevitably caught by none other than the Earl.

Aubrey, Earl of Kelthorne is surprised to see that his young thief is, in fact, the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on. He is instantly smitten and so is she.

But she lies about her identity, hoping to protect the acting troupe she is traveling with and who have pitched their tents and living on Kelthorne lands.

He finds her, at last, when he and his friend Laurence Doulting decide to attend one of the troupe's performances. Aubrey hears Judith sing and is lost to her voice forever.

Judith is wary of the attention -- she ran away from home 8 years ago when it was clear her beauty was attracting the wrong sort of interest. And, in the 8 years she has been with the troupe, there have been numerous occasions where they had to leave in the middle of the night, in order to escape another unwanted suitor.

But there is something about Aubrey that draws Judith.

Both know that there is no future to what they feel: she is an actress and he is a peer of the realm who is near-betrothed to a woman with an amazing fortune, Abigail Currivard.

She was a songstress, and, at times, an actress of the troupe. Lord Kelthorne, Miss Currivard, Mr. Doulting, Miss Banwell, Miss Upton and Mr. Emborough were as untouchable to her as the sky.
- p. 105

In many love triangles, there's always a clear favorite but, in this one, Abigail is just as amazing as Judith -- if not more so. In fact, I believe she steals the "show" --

Her character is the most fleshed-out and she has the best dialogue. I found her refreshing and honest and very clear-minded. Perhaps the only character in the story and the only guest who had a sense of the things that were happening around her.

"Did it ever occur to you that she and I might share something in common?"


"That neither of us belongs where we are on the Portislow estate. By birth, I do not belong in your company and she clearly does not belong with that acting troupe. Yet there we must both perform as required of us by the circumstances of our lives."
- p. 108

She is a formidable rival and I would have probably chosen her if I were the Earl of Kelthorne.

But Valerie King reminds us that love is not necessarily logical -- Aubrey loves Judith and Judith loves Aubrey -- and neither one can explain the feeling.

..."But why are you here?" she asked, wondering what he could possibly mean by coming to her in this odd fashion and so late at night ...

"I do not know;" he responded.


"I do not understand this hold you have over me. When I watch you perform, it is as though you reach inside me, take hold of my heart, and refuse to let go. I have been trying to mend my ways. I have intended to make a fresh start of things. But this, this power you exert is in no manner fair to me. I wish you would desist."
- p. 67-68

* * *

Was this love, her heart asked.
- p. 70

Judith's character felt a little off -- my first impression of her is that of innocence and wickedness. Kelthorne steals a kiss from her and the first thing she says is:

"I believe I should keep you chained to my bed."
- p. 15

-- but in the rest of the story, Judith suffers from over-analysis and always with internal arguments with herself on whether what she feels is right and whether she should pursue it. Eventually her character flattens and she is defined only by the past that she is running away from and her present situation as a genteel woman working with an acting troupe as a singer with an amazing voice.

Sadly, despite her history and her talent, I did not find her interesting or a character to sympathize with.

My favorite part had to be the acting troupe. I enjoyed the daily domestic scenes and I loved the performances -- how they innovate and improvise each time. It's a strange thing that I enjoyed reading about the minor characters more and felt they were more interesting than Aubrey and Judith.

*Wicked and Wonderful was previously published by Zebra in 2005 and was re-released by Valerie King this June 2012 through Spencerhill Associates.

To find out more about Valerie King, visit her website. She's also on Facebook.

Disclosure: I received the ARC through Netgalley. (Thank you to Spencerhill Associates for accepting my request.)
Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sample Reading #1: An Introduction to Pleasure by Jess Michaels

In this e-book age, most of us do our book browsing and shopping online -- with thousands of books available, how do we choose which one to buy?

I'm glad that most e-book retailers offer a free sample of the books, which is similar (but not the same) to flipping through the first few pages of a book at the bookstore. It's a great way to check out new authors and new titles.

I'm starting a new feature on my blog called Sample Reading. This is where I will talk about book samples that I've gotten online. I'll read the sample and will answer the very important question:

Will I buy it?

The first sample I'm featuring is An Introduction to Pleasure by Jess Michaels which was released last June 2012. It's the first book of her Mistress Matchmaker series.

The blurb:
An innocent lady’s education could be a gentleman’s wicked seduction.

Lysandra Keates is running out of options. Her father is dead, her mother is ill, and her efforts to find respectable employment have ended in failure. With her small savings bleeding away, she swallows her pride -- and her terror -- and turns to Vivien Manning, an infamous courtesan, to match her with a wealthy protector.

For years, Viscount Andrew Callis has lived a monastic existence at his country estate, hardening his body against the snobbish, lazy young man he once was, hardening his heart against grief over the deaths of his wife and infant son. When Vivien asks him to spend one month training a young woman in the ways of a mistress, his mind resists ... but his body responds with an ache he thought long dead.

As Andrew begins his gentle tutelage, he finds himself falling under the spell of Lysandra’s innocent charms. And as they give in to the powerful hunger, the last thing Andrew ever expected, or wanted, forms between them. An emotional connection that could carry them well past the training period -- if only Andrew can open his heart to the possibility of love.
- from Jess Michaels' website

I got the sample from: Amazon, Kindle format
# of Pages: First 2 chapters

My impressions: The first two chapters do a great job of introducing the premise of the series: a courtesan known to match mistresses with their protectors. And also introduces the characters, Lysandra and Andrew. The author shares enough of Lysandra's situation to show how truly desperate she is -- she has very little money and has a sick mother and no other viable, respectable prospect.

I especially loved this scene between Miss Manning's butler and Lysandra:

"Do you have a card?" he asked.

Lysandra sucked in a breath. A card. Of course that was what someone who mattered would present.

"No," she whispered and couldn't help it when her gaze slipped down to her feet.
- loc 44

The writing is beautiful and the little details that Michaels includes all add up to paint a very compelling (and very heartbreaking) picture of Lysandra.

Price: $4.59 on Amazon
Will I buy it? Definitely, yes! I'm excited to read Lysandra and Andrew's story. ^_^ (Watch out for my full review this July.)

Fellow readers, have you discovered gems by reading the samples first? What do you think of this feature? Would you like to participate? ^_^

Lastly, I did a Google search to check if there are other blogs doing the same/similar feature so I could give them proper credit. I could not find any. If anyone knows, please let me know? Thanks!

Winners! (Pay It Forward Giveaway Hop & Share My Favorite Book Giveaway Hop)

Thank you to everyone who joined both of my giveaways.

I really enjoyed reading everyone's favorite book recommendations and will try to try out the historical romance titles that were recommended.

I'm also very happy to have fellow readers visit and like White Sky Project's Facebook page. (Have you checked out her latest T-Shirt Tuesday post? ^_^)

And the winners of my Pay It Forward Giveaway are:

Natalie L.


Preet @ A Written Rhapsody

And the winner of my Sharing My Favorite Book Giveaway is:

Lilian Cheng

I've sent emails to your Rafflecopter-registered email addresses.

You have until July 3, 12 AM EST to reply (or new winners will be chosen.)

Congratulations to all the winners! Thank you, again, to everyone who joined in the 2 hops!

Until the next giveaway! ^_^


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