Thursday, February 28, 2013

Review: Her Highness and the Highlander by Tracy Anne Warren

Princess Mercedes of Alden is on the run from unknown assailants who have brutally murdered her cousin and her entire traveling entourage. Lost in the wilds of Scotland, she is relieved to have found refuge in an inn --

But the innkeeper and the other patrons do not believe her story and, judging by her appearance, thinks she is trouble and have asked her to leave.

Until Major Daniel McKinnon stands up to vouch for her. Daniel has been pensioned off from Her Majesty's Army, a controversial career path which has caused him the estrangement of his grandfather and father and the heartbreak of his mother. But now he is home to make amends with the ghosts of his family -- and to see what is left for him in Skye.

When he hears Mercedes's story, he isn't completely convinced of its truth -- but he knows what he sees: he truly terrified woman who was alone. So he decides to help her.

What Daniel doesn't count on are the number of complications that have arisen after he agrees to help Mercedes: her nightmares keeps her from a restful sleep -- and the only way she can truly rest is to have Daniel beside her. And there is also Daniel's growing attraction to his beautiful travel companion.

The Princess Brides series is Tracy Anne Warren's latest series -- I was excited when this series was announced because I really enjoyed Warren's Byrons of Braebourne series. I actually got The Princess and the Peer when it came out and it still sits on my TBR pile. (After reading Her Highness and the Highlander, though, I will try to find time to read the first book this March.)

Her Highness and the Highlander was a good read. It was well-paced, well-written and engaging enough that I finished it quite quickly -- but I felt it lacked that special something that made me love the Byrons and Warren's Trap Trilogy.

I am considering these as the reasons why:

1. The fictional kingdom of Alden -- I wish the country was described more, especially its political situation. When Princess Mercedes was attacked in the first chapter, I immediately thought that this was related to her country. My theory was further supported by the fact that Mercedes spent six years in a school in Scotland and was only now going home to Alden. Why make a fictitious country if it is not integral to the story?

2. The attraction between Mercedes and Daniel is very physical. Mercedes in beautiful and Daniel is handsome, though not in the traditional sense of the word. Add to this, the very, literally, physical aspect of their time together: Mercedes needs to have Daniel sleeping beside her.

I don't mind that the relationship begins on the physical level, but, considering the close quarters, the proximity, the intimacy of their situation, I would have liked to see it deepen through the course of the story. Unfortunately, it is very one-sided from the beginning -- I didn't really see how Mercedes contributed to the relationship.

I thought Daniel was a nicely fleshed-out character, with enough backstory to make him a sympathetic hero. Warren's characterization of him was consistent from beginning to end: he was noble and knightly and came to Mercedes' rescue when she needed it the most.

...finally he was going home to the blue-green vistas of Skye.

But will it still feel like home? a part of him wondered. He had lost so many there as well in the decade he'd been away. The most painful loss was that of his mother, who had died while he'd been mired knee-deep in siege mud in Spain; he'd eventually learned of her passing by letter weeks after the fact.
- pp 5-6

When I had realized where the story was going -- that the hero and heroine would be going on a journey -- I was already cringing at the thought of chapters upon chapters of travel and rest, travel and rest -- but Warren makes this part surprisingly enjoyable -- I enjoyed the brief interlude the couple take at the Cameron's. It taught Mercedes a valuable lesson that she would apply to her own life towards the end of the story.

Sara said she was a natural, whatever that might imply. She'd never spent time around children, had never given much thought to being a mother, though she, of course, had always known that someday she would have sons and daughters. But in her world, women did not participate in the day-to-day rearing of their children Nursemaids and nannies did all the changing and feeding with children brought down from the nursery wing to spend time with their parents when duty did not demand otherwise.


What would it be like to be more like Sara? ...
- p. 168

I wonder if I would have had a better impression of this story if I had read the first book first. I think (I hope) the backstory that Mercedes lacks could be found there.

Her Highness and the Highlander is the second book in Tracy Anne Warren's Princess Brides series. The last book, The Trouble with Princesses will be released in Fall 2013. (Yes, I plan to get a copy. ^_^)

To find out more about Tracy Anne Warren and her books, visit her website. She's also on Facebook and on Goodreads.

I read this for the February Reading Romances Challenge 2013: Foreigners do it better!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Review: A Taste for Scandal by Erin Knightley

Richard Moore, the Earl of Raleigh, leads a charmed life. Everything comes easily to him -- and, if they don't, he uses his charm, his title and his wit to get it. But a chance encounter with a baker proves to Richard that there are occasions in life where he can't get by on his charm, title and wit.

Jane Bunting's whole world is her bakery -- and when an unknown man comes in, attacks her cousin and proceeds to break almost every piece of china in her shop, she does what any normal citizen would do: she calls the authorities.

When the man identifies himself as the Earl of Raleigh, Jane again does what any normal citizen would do: she doesn't believe him and proceeds to laugh at his face.

Richard has never had that kind of reaction before. He knows how to treat women, having lived with 4 -- and having charmed hundreds. Jane intrigues him -- who is this woman who is unimpressed by wealth and rank? And proceeds to discover the answer ... and more.

This is the second book in Erin Knightley's Sealed with a Kiss series. (I really, really loved her first book, More than a Stranger and was so happy that this one is finally out. ^_^)

There are several aspects of this novel that I enjoyed:

1. This is a foodie's romance novel. The discussion on baking (and savoring -- read p. 153) blend very well into the dialogue and narration -- and adds to the spice of Richard and Jane's blooming relationship.

2. Erin Knightley uses the epistolary very well. The letters from Jane's mother are so poignant and so bittersweet for Jane. (And they contain such thoughtful and relevant advice about love and courtship and life. ^_^)

Favorite lines from Jane's mother: A woman's reputation is like a lovingly prepared souffle. It can take ages to prepare, but only a single moment to destroy. Once flattened, it can never again be shaped to anything of use, and all who glimpse it will know at once of its downfall. - p. 89

But it is this third point that I would like to talk about:

3. The commentary on nobility. I love that Jane wasn't immediately impressed with Richard's pronouncement of his rank. Knightley cleverly opens up a conversation on how we view nobility. When Emerson and Weston and Jane figure out that Richard truly was the Earl of Raleigh, Jane is immediately concerned about how her lack of respect would affect her livelihood and general welfare and immediately goes to Richard to make amends. But Richard had no clue of the repercussions of the event -- he had already forgotten it.

"I am not a lunatic," he growled, jerking his arms against the hands that held him. "I'm the bloody Earl of Raleigh!"

As the claim echoed around the small space, everyone froze. A pregnant moment of silence fell on the room, unbroken by even a single breath. Relief coursed through Richard's battered body -- finally, he was being heard.


"If you would be so good as to allow me to produce some identification?"

The two men exchanged glances, and the older of the two nodded.

With his dignity in about as good a shape as his mangled cravat, Richard rolled his shoulders and adjusted his now ruined coat. Feeling slightly better, he extended his right hand to the room at large. In the morning light, his gold signet ring glinted dully.
- pp. 17-19

The reality of Jane and Richard is that they belong in very different social classes -- and one would think it would be impossible for a baker to meet, let alone marry the heir of the Marquis of Granville.

But Jane challenges this reality and him. While one's title and nobility is inherited, noble-ness and respect have to be earned. Richard has always relied on his wealth, position and charm -- but being with Jane has made him discover whole new aspects of himself and of what he is capable of in the face of trial.

The lessons in baking transcended beyond measurements and ingredients and became a lesson in life. And Jane is an excellent teacher -- open, thoughtful, generous and caring. She shows how industriousness and diligence result in the most spectacular and delicious pastry creations -- items that Bea and Richard take for granted on a daily basis. She makes them appreciate the work that goes into even the simplest bread. And Richard is intrigued by this.

...She lifted her arms to his view so he could see the scars branding her forearms. "Not so quickly, and definitely not so pretty."

Richard drew in a breath, noticing for the first time the faint lines marring her beautiful skin. It seemed a travesty. Without thinking, he reached out and traced the darkest one, its edges slightly puckered against the smooth silk of her skin. She held utterly still, not even seeming to breathe as he explored the scars her profession had wrought.

She was a warrior, his little baker. New admiration filled his chest, pushing back against the pain that pulsed in his arm. To some, the scars may have looked ugly. Actually, they may have been ugly to him only a few weeks earlier. But looking at them now, as the razor sharp heat of his own wound burned like fire, they seemed like trophies of her strength. Was there anything that she couldn't handle?
- pp. 130-131

I think Erin Knightley's work is genre-changing: in the aftermath of Fifty Shades of Grey, Knightley is proving that the page and the characters can sizzle and combust without relying on love scenes and that romance is about a relationship developing through the telling a really good story with really beautiful characters.

A Taste for Scandal is the divine, thoroughly enjoyable follow-up to Erin Knightley's debut, More than a Stranger. Both books are part of her Sealed with a Kiss series. She released an e-novella, Miss Mistletoe last November. Flirting With Fortune (Bea's story), will be released in September 2013.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Blog Tour: Treacherous Temptations by Victoria Vane (Review + Giveaway)

Love Saves the World is pleased to welcome back one of my favorite authors, Victoria Vane, who is currently on tour for her book, Treacherous Temptations.

Three lucky winners get to choose from any of Victoria's backlisted books as well as a poster and one grand prize winner receives an e-book of Treacherous Temptations and gets to pick a scene from the book to be illustrated on their own poster! (4 winners in all!)

To visit Victoria's other stops, click here.

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About the book


A reluctant heiress resigned to her fate ... Mary Elizabeth Edwardes has one of the largest fortune's in England, but has no desire to leave her quiet country existence ... and even less to acquire a husband she cannot choose for herself.

A dissolute nobleman bent on retribution ... Trapped in a duplicitous existence since scandal destroyed his fortune and family name, Lord Hadley Blanchard has spent the better part of a decade posing as a disaffected exile while spying and seducing in the service of the English Crown.

A dangerous game of seduction, and intrigue ... When summoned from abroad by a former lover, Lord Hadley perceives an opportunity for vengeance at last. By employing the full measure of his seductive charm, he woos the ward of the man who destroyed his life, little knowing that winning Mary's fortune will mean risking his own treacherous heart.

To buy the book:

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My review

From the first chapter, Victoria Vane sweeps us into this no-holds-barred view of the moral and political corruption during the reign of George II -- with the lives of Mary, Hadley, Lady Barbara and Sir Richard mirroring the atmosphere of that time.

Hadley, Lord Blanchard was hedonistic as a young lad but the years of exile abroad forced him grow up. When he returns to England, he presents an insouciant facade but he keeps within him a newly-reformed soul and the determination to regain his birthright. It is convenient for Hadley when he discovers that the woman his stepmother wants him to seduce is the very same ward of Sir Richard, the man he suspects of ruining his father. Hadley's relationship with his step-mother, Barbara, Lady Blanchard, reminded me of Valmont and Isabelle in Les Liaisons Dangereuses and how they preyed on Mary and her fortune. (In the author's notes, Vane makes mention of the novel as inspiration for Treacherous Temptations.)

Barbara is amoral, desperate and depraved. When her husband died and their name ruined, she was left with a small annuity but this has not stopped Barbara from chasing after her ambitions. Very little is known of Barbara and her past -- from the prologue, we already know that she is the rotten core in this particular barrel of apples -- she is unrepentant in her wickedness (and I think she actually delights in it).

In contrast, Mary is the embodiment of innocence and purity in this story. Left alone after the death of her father, Mary has no choice but the rely on her guardian, Sir Richard who is seeking to marry her off so that she (and he) could claim her inheritance and to trust Lady Barbara who was tasked by Sir Richard to prepare her for London society. Early in the story, she seems helpless and caught in the ambitions and greed of her guardian. It was a bit frustrating at times reading about Mary and her naivete and helplessness (read Chapter Six when Mary is being instructed by a French dance teacher) -- but, as the story progressed, we see that, while she allows certain things to happen, she is very clear about what she doesn't want.

She stared back at him, her body filled with the want he had described, but common sense held her surrender at bay. "Love? Don't speak of love to me. You describe meaningless pleasure. It has nothing to do with love!"

He gave her a roguish smile. "Pleasure is never meaningless, my sweet."

"Nevertheless, you cannot convince me that the mere joining of two bodies is love."
- p. 110

Barbara and Hadley use sex and seduction as weapons and as means to an end -- it is ironic that while Hadley sets out to seduce Mary, he is being seduced as well by her innocence. Mary gives of herself and expresses of her heart, purely with no motive or malice. Her earnestness proves to be Hadley's undoing -- and also his redemption.

... Her gold-flecked eyes were soft with wonderment, trust -- and another emotion that made his chest constrict until he thought his heart would burst -- love.
- p. 194

Added to the romance between Hadley and Mary, the author also portrays vividly the political machination and maneuverings during this period. The tone of Treacherous Temptations is very different from Vane's very popular Devil DeVere series -- while the DeVere series is light and fun, Treacherous Temptations explores the darker aspect of society. There is a theatrical/cinematic/very dramatic quality to Vane's writing and it is evident in this novel: the way she eloquently creates the hostile atmosphere that Mary finds herself in, as well as the dark tangled web of Barbara and Sir Richard's treacherous plotting and scheming showcases the author's range, expertise and knowledge of the period.

This was an engrossing read, what propels you forward is the need to know whether good (and goodness) will triumph over evil -- I couldn't put the book down until I finished it. ^_^

Disclosure: I received a copy for review as part of the book tour. (Thank you to Entangled Publishing for the opportunity.) Yes, this is an honest review.

* * *


Three lucky winners get to choose from any of Victoria's backlisted books as well as a poster and one grand prize winner receives an e-book of Treacherous Temptations and gets to pick a scene from the book to be illustrated on their own poster! (4 winners in all!)

To visit Victoria's other stops, click here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

To contact Victoria Vane:
Victoria’s website:
Victoria on Facebook:
Victoria on Twitter:
Saturday, February 23, 2013

Winner! Celebrating St. Valentine Giveaway Hop

Another fun hop!

Thank you to Nat @ Reading Romances for hosting this!

Rafflecopter has chosen my winner,

Congratulations to:

(Who chose How to Seduce an Angel in 10 Days by Saranna DeWylde)

Giulia has been notified, confirmed -- and her book is on its way! Enjoy!

Thank you to everyone who joined! 'Til the next Giveaway!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Review: What Happens in Scotland by Jennifer McQuiston (ARC) + Giveaway!

Georgette Thorold is a lady born and bred, with all of the idiosyncrasies (plus a few more that is uniquely Georgette's) that goes with being one. She is proper and precise in everything that she does -- so how did she end up in bed with a stranger, with a ring on her finger and no recollection of how she got there?

James MacKenzie isn't one to act spontaneously either. As the town's solicitor and former black sheep (he has reformed) of his family, James is trying to walk the straight and narrow. But, like Georgette, he wakes up with a gash on his forehead and not knowing how he got there.

When James discovers that his money purse is gone (with his life's savings), he has no choice but to track down his assailant. Along the way, he grapples with the damage he has wrought, the bills that are stacking up for said damages and a lost horse.

After piecing together bits of what happened to her the night before and from the accounts of her newly-hired maid (and former tavern wench), Georgette also needs to find James to get some answers -- and, hopefully, an annulment.

As the two move closer and closer to each other, as each one picks up more clues of the night before, Georgette finds herself more fascinated by James, who doesn't seem quite so strange to her anymore. And James is more determined to persecute this woman who stole his purse, his horse, his bachelorhood ...

I will start off by saying that this has for to be one of the best debut historical romance novels I have had the pleasure of reading.

McQuiston's writing is fresh and insightful. She provides a new perspective and way of telling a love story. While the plot is not new, she uses the "morning after" storyline and makes her own by shifting the story from the normal adventure and hijinks to one of slow discovery and romance.

He peered up at the bit of clothing that had caught his attention. The corset he had spied earlier hung from the drapery rod like a demented flag. Up close he could see the fine stitching and silk ribbons that lines the edges...

William's voice tickled his ear. "I don't think it's your size, Jamie-boy, which leaves me to wonder what you want with that bit of frippery. Memento of the evening you have forgotten? A spoil of war, perhaps?"

"It is a clue." James stepped gingerly into the hallway and peered down the dank, musty stairwell.

William's chuckle pierced the shadows that swept in from all sides. "Ah, like Cinderella's slipper."


He focused on feeling his way along the sticky wall until the bannister fit into his hand. "No, not like Cinderella. She didn't attack the prince the day after the ball..."
- loc 422-434

She's able to inject humor into the story without making it too zany or gimmicky. I love her sense of humor -- it's very intelligent and very sharp.

"My friends call me James," he interrupted, taking back the upper hand she was attempting to verbally wrestle from him.

She licked her lips. "James, then ..."

He raised an imperious brow. "You will call me Mr. MacKenzie."
- loc 2468

Central to her story is the question, "Is it possible to fall in love with a person in a day?" -- As James and Georgette try to retrace their steps, to figure out what happened to them the night before, we see as well the development of their relationship -- their journey to love is, admittedly, unconventional -- but, I think, that is part of the charm of this story: they form their opinion of the other with clear (if not a bit hungover), objective eyes. By the time they meet each other, they have a good sense of who they are dealing with. I love that the relationship grows not from physical attraction but from affinity and compatibility -- they work well together.

It seemed she was dealing with more than a rogue in her bed -- the man she sought had layers she had not anticipated.
- loc 1565

This is a story that tugs you in all the right ways and places. It tugs at the corners of your mouth and makes you smile and laugh at the endearing characters and circumstances that happen in the story. It tugs at your heartstrings and leaves you warm and fuzzy as Georgette and James figure each other out (and there is the matter of James's estrangement with his family).

On the whole, a most excellent story. I have now added another author to my ever-growing list of auto-buy authors. ^_^

What Happens in Scotland is the stunningly awesome debut novel by Jennifer McQuiston and will be released on February 26, 2013. To find out more about Jennifer McQuiston, visit her website. She's also on Facebook.

Disclosure: I received the ARC through Edelweiss. (Thank you to Avon Romance for accepting my request.) Yes, this is an honest review.

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This is how much I loved the book! I'm giving away a copy to celebrate the release of this wonderful, wonderful, amazing, amazing debut by Jennifer McQuiston.

Copy can be via Kindle or The Book Depository. (Book is valued at $5.99)

Enter the Rafflecopter below. ^_^

*This giveaway is via Rafflecopter and is open to International Readers
*One entry per household, per IP address.
*This giveaway will run until February 26 (the release date!).
*Rafflecopter will select one (1) winner who will receive a copy of What Happens in Scotland by Jennifer McQuiston (can be digital via Kindle or paperback via The Book Depository). Book is valued at $5.99

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review: Rough Diamond by Cassandra Dean

I was very impressed with Dean's debut novel and her sophomore offering was equally good. So I was very excited when she announced the release of her third book and I was interested in how Dean would extend and develop a storyline and her group of characters through a series.

Rough Diamond introduces the town of Freewill and the Rough Diamond Saloon in a spectacular manner: the small, dusty town is pictured very clearly and daily life is portrayed vividly from the narration of breakfast at the boardinghouse of Mrs. Bradley to the grim and gritty reality of life at the outskirts of town (Read pp. 66-69).

At the heart of this story is coal and how integral it was to industry during that time -- and men lived and died by the coal they found in their claim. So imagine how important it is (and how dangerous) for Alice Reynolds to inherit a claim from her late husband -- and imagine the staggering amount of work needed to get to the coal and imagine again the prospective value of such a find for a woman during those times.

But Alice is a savvy and incredibly capable woman -- she may have come to Freewill as a frightened, hapless child bride -- but she has grown up and has an innate sense of survival. When she first meets Rupert Llewelyn, she has already gauged what kind of man he is by the way he knocks -- and she knows something doesn't quite fit when Rupert represents himself as a fool. He may have fooled all of Freewill with his act -- but he hasn't fooled Alice.

Rupert has a contract to fulfill and secrecy is involved -- but with Alice, he wants nothing more than to reveal the truth, to say what is already quite obvious between the two of them. This is the fun of this story -- they both know but neither one can say and neither one can deny the pure attraction that exists between the two of them.

I read this story as part of Reading Romances's challenge for February (Foreigners do it better) and it is interesting to find an Englishman in unfamiliar territory -- out of the streets of London and into the American frontier. Rupert's Englishness sets him apart -- literally and figuratively -- to Alice. She has never felt such strong emotions before Rupert and he has helped her discover what it is she truly wants for herself.

Alice is a small-town girl with big dreams -- her monthly Spectacular at the saloon is proof of this dream. She brings in costumes and acts from the big city and, for that one night, she and the fellows of Freewill allow themselves to be transported to a different place ... to a bigger world.

But Alice never realized how much bigger her dream was -- and only with Rupert does she dare the think about Paris.

Rupert is already living his dream -- after escaping the collieries in Wales, he has money and means and has traveled as far away from Wales as he could -- all the way to America. Being with Alice endangers his work and his dream -- he can't tell her his true purpose in Freewill because of the confidentiality clause -- but he doesn't want to lie to Alice either.

It is also interesting how Rupert takes on different personas because of his job -- and he has never wanted anything permanent -- but being with Alice has expanded Rupert's dream.

Dean is very good at writing relationships and she knows how to build anticipation and heighten sexual tension very well. She also has a wonderful sense of timing and developing a dramatic moment -- the culmination of Rupert and Alice's flirtation and Alice's monthly Spectacular all happen in that one breathtaking moment:

The intensity with which he looked at her affected her something terrible. She felt hot, and flustered, and she didn't know what she wanted. The overwhelming excitement at the conclusion of a Spectacular returned, but now it had a focus. Him.

This was getting her nowhere fast. Annoyance marched through her, at his caginess, at her own damn fascination with a man intent on lying to her. "So, if you aren't a fool, what are you?"

Removing his hands from his pockets, he moved toward her. Gaze steady on hers, he stopped close, so close she could see his eyes weren't truly black but instead the darkest of browns. She froze, unsure what would happen but desperate to discover. He didn't touch, did nothing more inappropriate than stand too close.

Then, he leaned down, and his lips brushed her ear. "Fascinated."
- pp. 96-97

The conflict isn't external but something innate in our hero and heroine: they are so used to living on their own and making decisions on their own that it is difficult for them to surrender their control to the other. Would they be willing to give it all up for love? Storywise, this wasn't as heart-wrenching and as emotionally taut as Enslaved -- but the story succeeds in making the readers fall in love with the town and the many personalities in Freewill.

Rough Diamond is the first book in Cassandra Dean's The Diamond (Western Escape) Series. Fool's Gold, the second book was released January 2013. (Will be reading it and reviewing it for the blog soon! ^_^)

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

I read this book as part of the Reading Romances Challenge 2013 for February.

reading romances reading challenge 2013

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Review: Blackstone's Bride by Kate Moore

The notorious Lord Blackstone has returned from his sojourn abroad. Rumor has it, he brought with him a harem and continues to be unapologetic about the scandalous portrait that led to his broken engagement and cemented his reputation as a dissolute rake.

But Blackstone's trip abroad was not a vacation -- it involved a ransom (not his) and him being held captive for a year and a day -- and now Blackstone was returning home to financial ruin: his family estate rented out to a merchant, his mother and sister removed to Bath due to their reduced circumstances -- but a chance meeting on board the ship with a man known only as Goldsworthy leads to Blackstone's new employment and an arrangement which will last for another year and a day.

Together with Captain Clare and Viscount Hazelwood, they are the three chosen by Goldworthy as spies, each one assigned to a different area of London. Blackstone navigates the waters of London society, waltzing with the ladies of the ton while gathering information from those considered "of interest" to the Crown. He is generally happy with the arrangement -- but he is not happy about his new assignment. Frank Hammersley, a well-known banker has disappeared before delivering vital information regarding the Kingdom of Moldova. Frank happens to be Blackstone's closest friends and the older brother of Blackstone's former fiancée, Violet.

It has been five years but Blackstone has never forgotten the pain of betrayal when Violet and all of London believed he and his Spanish mistress were the subject of that scandalous painting. But Blackstone's duty is to protect Violet and to try to find Frank. It proves to be a challenging assignment for Blackstone when his past collides with the present -- and old feelings surface.

To change this rock into a jewel, you must change its true name.
- A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

Lyle Massing, Baron Blackstone has now become one of my favorite romance novel heroes. Misjudged and misunderstood, he remains loyal to the people he loves. There are a lot of mysteries surrounding Blackstone: how did he lose his fortune? Why the portrait? It is very telling that, other than the prologue, his given name isn't mentioned by a character until later in the story, during an intimate moment between the hero and heroine (p. 225). And those are the only times his name is ever mentioned.

Names are very important -- it symbolizes existence and being. (See The Book of Genesis) Throughout the novel, we know him only as Blackstone and it is the name everyone calls him (even Violet). He has always been defined by his title and the reputation that comes attached with that title. Instead of crying injustice, Blackstone accepts it -- trusting that there would be people who could see beyond it.

It is a terrible burden for Blackstone, who did not have a good relationship with his father, the former Baron Blackstone -- but Lyle embraces the duties of his title and the legacy his father has left him wholeheartedly. The sacrifices he has made are all revealed in the later part of the book -- but, even without reading that far, one an already glean Blackstone's noble character through his actions and decisions. Despite his bitter history with the Hammersleys, he helps them to the best of his abilities and tries valiantly (but fails) to be professional in his dealings with Violet.

"You are not in charge of me."

"I am in charge of the government's investigation."

"You expect me to do nothing?"

"I expect you to act as if you believe your brother as been delayed and to pay sharp attention to the prince's party. One of them knows something. What was Frank's plan for the prince's entertainment tomorrow?"

"Blackstone, do not presume the rights of a true fiance."

"Only the rights of a government agent." His gaze unyielding. In any test of wills between them, he would be a tough opponent.
- p. 55

Kate Moore delves into spies and international intrigue in this story and she does it very well. She builds an atmosphere that is tense where one must be careful of whom they trust. How Blackstone dealt with the situation parallels how readers should view him as well. He sees beyond the obvious. Blackstone proves that a lot can be learned from something as innocuous as a shopping trip. (Read pp. 69-70)

Moore's writing is very beautiful -- rich in emotion and detail. She invites the readers to really pay attention to the details. It is very nuanced -- one word provides a world of meaning.

What he wanted, had begun to want from the moment he saw Violet on the stairs, was to make love to her again in all the places he'd made love to her before in her father's ridiculous mansion.
- p. 119

"Again" -- in that one word, the whole history between the hero and heroine is revealed (and what a past they shared!) I enjoyed the dynamic between the hero and heroine -- the pull between desire and hurt -- the sense of betrayal and the complete belief Blackstone had in their friendship -- and his determination to make amends.

He remembered how fearless she'd been as a lover. Apparently, he'd not only killed that quality in her, he'd made her think herself so wicked that a lifetime of saving seamstresses and orphans would never make up for loving him. Foe a moment he thought they'd both remembered what that time had been like, but she didn't want to remember, and he would be wise to follow her lead. He could give her back her brother -- that's what he could do for her. He could not be the man to restore her to fearless love.
- p. 120-121

Frank was an amazing character as well -- and this is the genius of Moore's writing. The missing is never missed and is more than just ornament -- but an active agent in the story. He reminded me of Kit from To Seduce an Angel and how he disappeared -- but he was always there waiting to be found.

Blackstone's Bride is a story to be savored. (Can you tell I'm a fan? ^_^) When I finished this story, I immediately went to Kate Moore's website, hoping to find information n her next book. I really, really hope it will be soon. :-)

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

Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: A Most Scandalous Proposal by Ashlyn MacNamara (ARC)

Sophia and Julia St. Claire are known for their beauty and also for lack of wealth -- but both sisters do not lack for admirers or proposals -- and they have skillfully maneuvered around both: keeping the former at arms-length and refusing the latter with grace.

Unbeknownst their ambitious mother, the two sisters have plans of their own: Sophia lost her heart to William Ludlowe five years ago and has loved him ever since. But he doesn't know she exists and is of very questionable repute. But Sophia wants him.

Julia is just going through the motions of the Season -- while she supports her sister in her pursuit of a love match, Julia would like a marriage with no affection. Julia has seen the cruel effects of an unrequited love and knows how destructive it can be -- she has kept her heart locked and safe from any and all. Gaining the reputation of an ice queen. Beautiful to behold but cold to the touch.

But fate has other plans for the St. Claires. And, not one but two scandalous proposals are struck:

Sophia finds herself engaged to the Earl of Highgate after they are caught in a compromising situation when he saves her from a fainting spell. Rufus's first marriage ended in tragedy when his first wife was forced into marriage to him by her parents -- he would like to avoid another such arrangement and has proposed a temporary engagement to Sophia. Two weeks and then she can jilt him.

Julia discovers too late the unacceptable agreement her father has made with William Ludlowe, now the Earl of Cliveden. To escape, she turns to her dearest childhood friend, Benedict Revelstoke and asks him to compromise her.

Benedict has always loved Julia and she knows it -- but she refuses to feel love for anyone. Julia's proposal allows Benedict to be a step closer to Julia and it is his chance to teach her that love doesn't have to be a tragedy.

The summary on the back cover and the first few chapters confused me. I thought the story would focus on Julia and Benedict (as is mentioned in the summary) but, instead, it shifts between the two sisters and their two stories.

My other problem was that the more scandalous proposal doesn't happen until Chapter 13 (53% into the book) -- in the first 12 chapters, MacNamara gives us the "lay of the land" -- of the difficult path that lay before the St. Claire sisters. Their position in society is precarious -- and their financial situation even more so, with their father's gambling. Then they have to contend with the jealous who gleefully wait for Sophia and Julia to make a mistake; the haughty who see the sisters as beneath them --

On Julia's approach, the dowager snapped a lorgnette to her face and eyed her from her sleek, honey-colored coiffure to the tips of her slk-clad toes. A frown fit to curdle new milk indicated Julia has passed muster.
- loc 148

MacNamara provides an insightful view into London Society of that time -- and the near-powerlessness of women -- but the sisters defy convention, Julia, especially. She refuses to let her father and society govern her and takes matters into her own hands and makes her own decision about her future.

I did wish the author took more time to develop the relationship between Benedict and Julia. They are childhood friends and, from the brief glimpses into that, it seemed to have been a deep connection -- by focusing on the present circumstances, the love and intimacy that Benedict and Julia experience becomes a bit too sudden and surprising. I wished she showed the transition more clearly.

Sophia and Highgate's story, had more promise: how can two broken hearts come together and mend each other? Sophia believed for so long in the love she felt for Ludlowe -- when his treachery is exposed, it leaves Sophia a bit lost and disillusioned. How does one find a new way, when one was so used to doing and being something for so many years? Highgate has been on that path years before,when he believed that love could grow between him and his first wife. He has had years to learn from his experience and he shares this to Sophia.

"Sophia." He said her name gently, as it was meant to be pronounced, a soft whisper of a name. The eyes she raised to his shimmered with tears. "Sophia, let it out. There's no one here to see."

She swallowed before replying. "No one but you."

"And I shall never tell. Your broken heart is safe in my hands. I know exactly how you feel."

"You do?" she choked out. A lone tear escaped the corner of her eye and traced its way along the contour of her cheek.

"Shall I tell you?"
- loc 2655

They are perfect for each other -- and Rufus proves that 'true love waits' -- he stays by Sophia as she sorts through her emotions. When she finally comes to her realization, it is a satisfying moment.

My issues aside, this was a good read -- (I love that the author uses words like "chivvied" -- and I would be interested to read Ashlyn MacNamara next book. She has a good sense of the manners and mores of the period and uses them well to get her story across.

A Most Scandalous Proposal is Ashlyn MacNamara's debut novel. It will be released on February 26, 2013 Her sophomore work, A Most Devilish Rogue is scheduled for release in August 2013. To find out more about Ashlyn MacNamara and her books, visit her website. She's also on Facebook.

Disclosure: I received the ARC through Netgalley. (Thank you to Random House Publishing for accepting my request.) Yes, this is an honest review.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day Blog Hop: My Favorite Love Stories

Happy Hearts Day, everyone! Welcome to my stop in the Valentine's Day Blog Hop hosted by Terri G. Long --

For this stop, I'd like to feature some of my favorite love stories (a short story, a novel, a movie, a poem and a song).  These are the works that, I feel, capture what love (in all it's different forms) is all about.

1. On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning by Haruki Murakami (from The Elephant Vanishes)

I read this short story in graduate school and it stuck to my memory long after. It is short but captures that moment when you realize you have perfection within your reach -- but, because it seems impossible to have found it, we let it go.

They sat on a park bench, held hands, and told each other their stories hour after hour. They were not lonely anymore. They had found and been found by their 100% perfect other. What a wonderful thing it is to find and be found by your 100% perfect other.  It's a miracle, a cosmic miracle.
As they sat and talked, however, a tiny, tiny sliver of doubt took root in their hearts: Was it really all right for one's dreams to come true so easily?
- On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning by Haruki Murakami
2. Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt

Isn't it great that A.S. Byatt explicitly states that this work is "a romance?"

Ah, Roland and Maud. Ash and Christabelle. I loved the literary detective work that Roland and Maud embark on -- and I love how their love story develops parallel to Ash and Christabelle, a hundred or so years before -- character and relationship grow and develop together as Roland and Maud piece together the puzzle that is the love affair of the two poets, Randolph Ash and Christabelle LaMotte.

(I also loved the movie adaptation and Aaran Eckhart is swoon-worthy as Roland. ^_^)

3. Once directed by John Carney

A small film about a great love. With a tagline like, "How often do you find the right person?" -- how can you not be pulled into this wonderfully intimate view of a regular girl and a regular guy making music and finding love?

Touching, bittersweet -- and has an amazing, amazing, soundtrack. ^_^

4. Love at First Sight by Wislawa Szymborska

This is my poem for my husband. It begins:

They’re both convinced
that a sudden passion joined them.
Such certainty is beautiful,
but uncertainty is more beautiful still.

Szymborska is one of my favorite poets. She has a succinct and perceptive view of the world. This poem talks about coincidences and about how love has to happen at the right time and not before.

There were signs and signals,
even if they couldn’t read them yet.
Perhaps three years ago
or just last Tuesday

5. Your Ex-Lover is Dead by Stars
My husband introduced me to this band and I love how the song starts, with an Ian McKellan-esque voice saying: "When there's nothing left to burn, you've got to set yourself on fire." (It's one of the singer's dad reading it, btw. ^_^)

Then there's the orchestral element of the song, and just the sweet complementary voices of the male and female leads.

It's actually a song about saying goodbye, but I just love how it sounds. ^_^

And there's the last stanza of the song:
There's one thing I want to say, so I'll be brave
You were what I wanted
I gave what I gave
I'm not sorry I met you
I'm not sorry it's over
I'm not sorry there's nothing to save

Share your favorite love story with me? ^_^


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Hop on to the other hops and see how they are celebrating Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Review: Captain Durant's Countess by Maggie Robinson (ARC)

One of the many ripples caused by The London List:
Reyn Durant saw an ad in the newspaper and decided to answer it. The money being offered was good and would help Reyn take care of his ailing younger sister.

But the job he was hired to do is most unusual: he's been hired to help the Earl and Countess of Kelby produce an heir. The Earl of Kelby is old and he doesn't want his nephew David to inherit -- he has asked his younger wife, Maris to help him secure the Kelby Collection and legacy.

Maris's love and devotion to her husband compels her to agree to his scheme -- but when she meets Reyn Durant, he makes her think twice about her complicity.

Reyn hadn't wanted to push through with the agreement and was willing to return the advance he received for the job -- but, upon meeting the Countess of Kelby and hearing her plea, he decides to accept the job.

What was supposed to be purely business becomes utterly pleasurable as Maris experiences the bliss of being with the perfect lover for the first time in her life. And Reyn is stunned at the innocent passion he receives from Maris -- and realizes what it means to "make love" for the first time in his life.

In Maggie Robinson's new series, she seems to be pairing off very unlikely couples and putting them in very challenging circumstances:

Maris is married but needs an heir to help her husband protect his life's work. She's scholarly and reserved, country-born and bred. Reyn is a man of the world and had just sold his commission. He's worldly and isn't at all interested in books and such.

But, as I read through this book, somehow, the two of them just worked well together -- like yin and yang, they complemented each other nicely. I think this is what makes the story work for me, the conversations between Maris and Reyn are very equal: each one gains something from the exchange.

Maris didn't hear the crunch of Reynold Durant's boots on the stone path until he was right above her, thrusting a handkerchief at her face. She took it gratefully, wiped the wet from her face and then blew her nose with all the grace of a trumpeting elephant. Just another reason to be mortified.

"You'd better tell me, he said quietly, "although I think I can guess."

"I'm too ashamed."


"I'm listening. Take your time."

She hardly knew Reynold Durant. Oh, that was absurd. She'd allowed him into her body for the past two days. The handsome stranger who sat beside her knew more about her than her own husband did after ten years of marriage. A limited knowledge, yes, but a profound one.

She hiccuped to hold back a wave of hopeless laughter. She was becoming hysterical at the absurd situation she found herself in. "If you've guessed, you tell me."

He raised a wooly brow. "No, indeed. I'm not going to make it easy for you. Confession is good for the soul, I hear. I'll not rob you of the relief of it. It's been hard for you to keep it in, hasn't it?"

Damn him. He was supposed to be ignorant, wasn't he?
- loc 1868 to 1878

But the situation they find themselves in is difficult. Of the two, it is Maris's problem that needs to be sorted and Maggie Robinson provides the solution in a wonderful, plausible (albeit abrupt) way.

The story did leave me with two unresolved niggles:
1. Why did the Earl of Kelby select Reyn? It isn't mentioned how many applicants applied for the position? But I wonder what the Earl (and Evie of The London List) saw in Reyn to make them trust him with his wife and the future of his family name.

2. I felt that David was de-fanged so quickly in the end. All throughout the story, he was portrayed as something monstrous and unfeeling -- but, in the end, it seemed that he was handled easily and with very little fuss.

Captain Durant's Countess is the second installment in Maggie Robinson's The London List series. It will be released exclusively in digital format on February 21, 2013.

To find out more about Maggie Robinson and her books, visit her website. She's also on Facebook and on Goodreads.

Disclosure: I received the ARC through Netgalley. (Thank you to Kensington for accepting my request.) Yes, this is an honest review.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Giveaway Hop: Celebrating St. Valentine (INT)

Celebrating St. Valentine Giveaway Hop

Welcome to my stop on the Celebrating St. Valentine Giveaway Hop hosted by Nat @ Reading Romances.

For this Valentine's, I want to feature memorable "first reads" -- the books that got me started reading and loving the authors who wrote them.

My first Lisa Kleypas: Again the Magic

Ah, forbidden love. Aline is a lady and McKenna is a servant -- but the heart doesn't choose who it bestows love to. After years apart, McKenna returns -- filled with hate and resentment and determined to exact revenge on the woman who broke his heart. But, the reunion isn't what either one expected -- and both realize that true love waits -- and endures.

This story makes me cry every time I read it. I keep hoping that Lisa Kleypas writes a longer story about Gideon Shaw and Olivia, Aline's younger sister.

My first Laura Lee Guhrke: And Then He Kissed Her

I love, love, love Emmaline Dove and Harry Marlowe. Emmaline Dove is one of my all-time favorite heroine names (and was so tempted to name my daughter after her -- my daughter's name is Celestine. Close enough.) And I love the idea of Girl-Bachelors, making a wonderful living doing work that they are passionate about.

I have a soft spot for stories about writers and publishing and this one captures the intricacies of the publishing world. I enjoyed seeing that world from Harry's point of view -- and all the difficult decisions he had to make as publisher and owner.

My first Lauren Royal: Violet

The Ashcrofts with their unique motto: Question Convention -- and their three unique daughters remain one of my favorite families from historical romances. Violet and Ford are fun together -- both have very scientific minds and complement each other very well.

Royal's novels have the right mix of humor, warmth, heat and heart. (My most favorite part is how they "fashion" a pair of spectacles for Ford. ^_^)

Lauren Royal is one of my favorite authors -- and my love for her work was really put to the test because of how difficult it was to obtain paperback copies of her books: I was fortunate to have found my copy of Violet from the used books store in my city -- but the rest of the books took me a while to find: I went through Bookmooch, Ebay, Amazon, etc.

And, now, I am proud to say I own a complete set of every book Lauren Royal has ever printed.

My First Julia Quinn: When He Was Wicked

Believe it or not, I didn't start the Bridgerton series with The Duke and I (although it is my favorite book in the series) -- but with When He Was Wicked, Francesca and Michael's story.

Many romance novels feature only one love and it ends in a happily ever after for the hero and heroine. But Julia Quinn's story addresses the difficult (and painful) question, "What happens when our true love dies?" --

Francesca had the love of her life and she lost him. Francesca is content to be a widow and never imagined herself capable of loving again but, when she reunites with her dear friend (and her late husband's cousin and heir), Michael -- she realizes that the heart is capable of learning to love again.

(I am waiting for the Epilogues, The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After to be released this April because I am still wondering if Francesca and Michael were ever blessed with children.)

My first Mary Balogh: Simply Love

Have you noticed that I have the unfortunate tendency not to start a series with the first book? ^_^

This was again the case with Mary Balogh. Before Mary Balogh, I had envisioned all of the heroes and heroines in romance novels to be perfect -- angelic, delicate, innocent women and dashing, handsome men -- so when I picked up Simply Love, the premise intrigued me.

Sydnam is horribly scarred and Anne is a single mother. Anne is wary of men and Sydnam is wary of people in general -- so how can love grow between these two people?

A hauntingly beautiful story, the love between Anne and Sydnam reminds me of my favorite quote from Whitney Otto's How to Make an American Quilt: Young lovers seek perfection. Old lovers learn the art of sewing shreds together and of seeing beauty in a multiplicity of patches.

Can you share your memorable first reads? ^_^

***Giveaway Time!***

What you can win here:
Amazon Gift Card (value = $10) or any book (max value is $10 and can be a digital/Kindle copy or via The Book Depository) 
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Open to (INT, US or US/CAN):
How to enter:

*One entry per household, per IP address.
*This giveaway will run until February 18.

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