Monday, October 24, 2011

The Hanover Square Affair by Ashley Gardner

Book Description:
London, 1816
Cavalry captain Gabriel Lacey returns to Regency London from the Napoleonic wars, burned out, fighting melancholia, his career ended. His interest is perked when he learns of a missing girl, possibly kidnapped by a prominent member of Parliament. Lacey's search for the girl leads to the discovery of murder, corruption, and dealings with a leader of the underworld. He faces his own disorientation transitioning from a soldier's life to the civilian world at the same time, redefining his role with his former commanding officer and making new friends-from the top of society to the street girls of Covent Garden. 

As a big Jennifer Ashley fan, when I heard she was writing Regency historical mysteries under the name of Ashley Gardner I had to give her a try.  The Hanover Square Affair was being offered for next to nothing on kindle, so this was a no brainer for me.  Uploaded and put on my TBR list - 'nuff said.

This was a short but engrossing mystery, Capt. Lacey is a gentleman and half-pay officer in London.  He has his problems though, he's short on money, has a bad leg and is prone to melancholy (post traumatic syndrome, most likely.)  One evening, he learns of a tragic story of two respectable women that are abducted to be sold as playthings for rich gentlemen with "peculiar" sexual preferences.  Written in the first person, we are privy to Lacey's inner thoughts.  He cannot ignore the fact that a respectable young lady and her servant were snatched from their carriage in broad daylight to never be seen again!  He takes it upon himself to help the parents who are near crazed with worry.  His inquiries lead to murder and many other sordid revelations that take place in the seamy side of London.  The side that most aristocrats and debutantes prefer not to know - or think about.   

Lacey's investigations lead him to a powerful man, one who's name is whispered about in hushed circles.  A man who can get anything for anyone - for a price.  Lacey is not afraid of him, although he should be.  He visits the man under the ruse of being a friend of a friend and comes close to getting himself in deep sh*t after he accuses the man of procuring the two innocent young women for the lecherous older man that kept them as his love slaves.  The plot thickens...

Lacey develops a friendship with a popular man about town, Lucius Grenville, who is known for being somewhat of a dandy and prone to boredom.  Together they team up to uncover the truth about the two missing women and maybe some other women that have disappeared mysteriously as well.  Luckily Lucius is generous with his pocketbook and and recognizes that Lacey is not exactly living in the lap of luxury.  They make a good team, especially since poor Lacey seems to blunder around, often running into trouble. Lacey's soft heart and noble sense of honor don't mix well with the unsavory types he runs up against in this mystery.  Lucius comes to his rescue more than once and at one point, I admit, I wondered if Lucius was friend or foe. 

I recommend this mystery series, but I noticed a few too many editorial typos that should have been taken care of before publishing.  Hopefully this problem will be dealt with in the future.  The plot line was intriguing enough but I felt a bit squeamish over some of the things that took place over the course of Lacey's investigation - regarding the murder, in particular.  This isn't for the faint of heart, I was tempted to put the book down at one point but I forged on.  It's probably just me, I think any historical mystery lover will enjoy this new series.  The writing itself is well done and evocative of the Regency period.  His friends and periphery characters are well drawn, adding depth to Lacey's background as well as giving us the reason why he left the Army so unceremoniously.

If you enjoy books similar to the Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries by C.S. Harris and the Julian Kestrel mysteries by Kate Ross you will probably want to read these mysteries as well.  I can't say The Hanover Square Affair is as good, but the series shows promise. 


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Winter Garden by Adele Ashworth

Book Description:
Though a celebrated French beauty in 1849, Madeleine DuMais's cleverness is her greatest asset - and one she puts to good use as a spy for the British. When her expertise is needed in the south of England to break up a smuggling ring, Madeleine willingly puts her life on hold to help the crown ...

Arriving in the quaint resort town of Winter Garden, Madeleine meets her partner in subterfuge. Thomas Blackwood is unlike any man she has ever met. His quiet confidence and mysterious intensity send shivers of pleasure coursing through her ... shivers that slowly melt into a desperate passion. As duty gives way to desire, surrender holds its reward. And Madeleine will never recover from the touch of Thomas's hands on her body - and the touch of his heart on her soul ...

I loved this book. 

Filled with intense emotion and sexual tension between the hero and heroine, I read it in one day.  How does Ashworth do it?  This will be another favorite for me and a keeper.

So far I've loved everything I've read by Adele Ashworth, but I was a bit apprehensive about reading Winter Garden because I'd already met the heroine in the previous book, Stolen Charms, and I wasn't exactly won over by her.  Not liking the heroine is an instant turn off for me.  I couldn't have been more wrong, I worried for nothing!  Madeleine is a strong and courageous heroine who is a realist and survivor.  She won me over handily, though she did annoy me towards the end of the book, but she had her reasons, so I'll forgive her for it.  I admired her courage and sympathized with her, but this book is really Thomas' story.  I simply loved Thomas Blackwood, Winter Garden's tortured hero.  With a twist on the beauty and the beast theme, these two come together in a beautiful and touching love story.  It brought tears to my eyes, I was so moved by it.

Thomas Blackwood has a secret.  He and the beautiful Madeleine DuMais must work together as spies to foil an opium smuggling ring.  From the moment they first meet we realize all is not as it seems with him.  He knows her already from somewhere - but she's never met him before.  Throughout the entire book, you're dying to know "how does he know her?"  As we read further, we realize he has loved her for years - but how can that be?  Thomas is handsome - and large.  He's big and strong with a commanding presence.  Combined with his good looks, he proves almost irresistible to Madeleine when she first meets him.  She is instantly attracted to him.  Surely she would have remembered him if she'd met him previously?  They're going to have to work closely together, posing as a former soldier who is having his memoirs translated - by Madame DuMais.  The arrangement is unorthodox, but she is posing as a French widow and they're counting on the nosy members of the town of Winter Garden to accept the arrangement because she is French (as if that explains everything and makes it "okay".)   Despite her attraction to Thomas, she is the consummate professional when it comes to the spy business.  She will not reveal her true emotions that develop gradually in regard to him - or will she?

This is so much more than just another romance spy story.  Thomas has another secret - regarding his legs.  Even though he is a gorgeous specimen of a man - he is lame.    Hindered with a disabling limp, there's something very wrong with him - but what?  How bad was his injury and what sort of lasting effects did it have on him?  Despite his large size and strength he is callously labeled a cripple by many.  In comparison Maddie is beautiful.  Stunning. A head turner.  Beauty and the beast.   Can Thomas reveal to her his secret love for her and the secret regarding his disability?  Will she be disgusted by him?  This wonderful proud man fears her answer more than anything he's ever come up against before in his life.

As the story progresses and we get more into their mission of determining who is the mastermind behind the smuggling operation in the area, the main focus of the book is how our hero and heroine deal with their mutual attraction while still maintaining their professionalism.  By sharing this little cottage, eating together, discussing the mission and sitting in front of the fire each night - it's not easy.  He, who has loved her from afar is finally getting his chance to be with her and maybe (if he's lucky) have her fall in love with him.  And she?  She has no idea of his true feelings - or of who he really is.  All she knows is he's making it nearly impossible for her not to throw herself at him.  Although they must work together as spies for the crown, there's much innuendo from him from the get go.  He is sexual in the way he is towards her, but it's subtle.  Is she imagining it?  Maggie, this experienced French woman who has been a spy for the crown for years is thrown off balance!  I loved it!

Before long Maddie is falling for this large and very quiet man whom she knows almost nothing about.  She's drawn to him and finds herself wanting him more and more as never before with anyone.  Their sensual moments together are hot - yet tender.  How many of these situations has Thomas been orchestrating?  Is he manipulating her because he's loved her for so long and he knows her already?   She is at a disadvantage.  He knows everything yet she is in the dark.  What will she do and think of him when she finds out he's been less than forthright from the beginning?   From time to time we get some clues and insight towards Thomas' secret, but it's still all very much a mystery.  It drove me crazy!  Gradually we begin to figure things out about who he really is and how he has loved Maddie for a long time.

Finally, when the time comes and the truth is out - it's gut wrenching and emotional, his confession brought me to tears.  I dare you not to just love him, despite his flaws and bad decisions.  My heart went out to him as he humbled himself. I had so much invested in this couple, wanting them to be happy and together!  I won't spoil the ending, but it's a roller coaster ride.  Maddie has some hard decisions to make, but as I said before, she's pragmatic - a realist.  You'll just have to read this great, great romance and see for yourself!

An emotional, worthwhile love story with a complex hero and heroine and a surprise ending that will take your breath away - I highly recommend it!


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris

Book Description:
In London, 1811, a young woman is brutally raped and murdered, her body left on the altar steps of an ancient church. The prime suspect: Sebastian St. Cyr, a brilliant young nobleman still haunted by his experiences in the Napoleonic Wars. Now he is running for his life, desperate to catch the killer and prove his innocence. Moving from Mayfair's glittering ballrooms to St. Giles's fetid back alleys, Sebastian is assisted by a band of unlikely allies and pursued by a Machiavellian powerbroker with ties to the Prince Regent himself.  What Angels Fear seamlessly weaves an intimate knowledge of the period with a multi-layered and compelling story, and is the first of a series of novels featuring these characters.

What a great historical mystery, the first of the Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries.  The plot and research appeared to be very well thought out and I found it hard to put down.  The mystery had me constantly guessing about who the real killer was and at one point I did actually guess correctly, but threw the idea out and thought it was someone else!  What Angels Fear gives the reader an up close and personal view of London's dark underbelly during Regency times.  There are some stomach turning scenes due to the murder, but it was a first rate mystery.  Even though I was repelled by some of the things that occur or are casually discussed as commonplace practices, I couldn't stop reading.  I liked Sebastian and will definitely read more of this series.

Sebastian St. Cyr is on the run.  A respected aristocrat, slightly injured and home from the wars he finds himself snap dab in the middle of a murder mystery - and he's the prime suspect!  A young and beautiful actress is found brutally murdered on the steps of a church in London.  Before her murder she told people she was going to meet "St. Cyr."  A gun with his insignia is found with the body - yet he was nowhere near the place.  He has an alibi but cannot tell anyone where he really was because of a certain married woman's reputation.  It's complicated but he'd rather face criminal charges for murder than admit who he was with at the time of the murder.  In some ways this book read a bit like "The Fugitive" only during Regency times.

To avoid arrest, Sebastian goes "underground" deep into the murky depths of London's seamy side and tries to solve the murder mystery himself.  Hiding out anonymously in the East End, he acquires the allegiance of a young pickpocket eager to help him clear his name.  The story unfolds: secrets, hidden scandals and treasonous schemes are revealed - in addition to the murder.  As Sebastian gets closer to finding out who the real killer is, things heat up.  The murder victim is not the only casualty by the end of the book.

Slews of side characters abound which add tons of atmosphere and flavor to the story.  Bow Street and the magistrates are on his trail and it's hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys.  Sebastian's father, an important figure in Parliament, gives him money to help keep him hidden while he searches for the real killer.  Is he the killer? Sebastian's nefarious nephew, who is another prime suspect that was obsessed with the murder victim.  Is he the killer? What are Sebastian's sister and brother-in-law hiding? Are they protecting their son? A son who has sadistic tendencies?  Then there is Sebastian's former mistress and old love, Kat, another actress who was close to the murder victim.  How is she mixed up in all of this?  Can Sebastian manage to keep his old feelings for her at bay while working with her to solve the mystery?  Kat's mixed up somehow in a game of spies and deception - but how and why?  All these questions are answered by the end with a thrilling finale and clever outcome.

I really enjoyed Sebastian's character, but one of the things that drove me crazy about him was that he had the unfortunate tendency to turn up at murder sites at the worst times and he has no compunction to avoid saying his theories aloud to his suspects when accusing them - none whatsoever!  He just blurts out everything willy nilly!  To put it mildly - he's rash.  Still, he does have a flair for disguises.  For a London gentleman about town, he's not bad at jumping across roof tops and getting himself out of scrapes.  He can fit in anywhere, whether it's a London ball room or a stinking dockside tavern.  Although, if he's going to become a detective or consultant for Bow Street in the future, he's going to have to keep his suspicions under wraps.  I'm sure he will for there are plenty of more books in this series and I'm definitely reading them!

Regarding future books, I'll be interested in seeing if an interesting character, Miss Jarvis, plays a part in his future books.  She is the spinster daughter of an influential Parliamentarian.  Her father enjoys playing marionettes with people's lives.  I wonder if Kat will be a recurring character to rattle Sebastian as the series continues as well.

I'm so glad I've discovered these books, a great addition to my ever growing library of historical mysteries!


Sunday, October 16, 2011

After the Abduction by Sabrina Jeffries

Book Description:
What Happens When A Proper Young Lady Gives In To A Reckless Love?

After two London Seasons - and a score of resoundingly dull society suitors - lovely Juliet Laverick still longs for only one man: Morgan Pryce, the dashing scoundrel who kidnapped her two years ago. But her determination to bring him to justice hasn't waned, either - not even when the man she mistakes for Morgan, his twin brother Sebastian, tells her some shocking news: Her mysterious paramour has disappeared.

Sebastian, Lord Templemore, dares not admit that he's the one Juliet seeks - that it is his kiss she still yearns for.  Confessing to her abduction would bring disaster and scandal upon them both.  But how can he convince Juliet to forsake her pursuit of her dream lover - when all he dreams of is holding her in his arms again?

This is the third in the Swanlea Spinsters series and I really loved it!  It's Juliet's story which I didn't expect to get into, so it was a great surprise that I did! Sexy and sweet with a great plot, Juliet Laverick still carries a torch two years later for her gentleman abductor, Morgan Pryce (from the last book) after she said good-bye to him and his searing kiss.  Now, rumors are flying amidst the ton that Juliet had been abducted and her reputation is about to be ruined.  She and her sister, Rosalind and brother in law, Griff, visit Morgan's family estate to seek help in squelching the rumors.   Expecting to meet Morgan's relative, Lord Templemore, Juliet is astounded when she comes face to face with Morgan himself!  Only it's not Morgan... or is it?  It's Morgan's twin brother, Sebastian - who is Lord Templemore!  Or so he says.  Juliet doesn't buy any of it.  She knows he's the same man that kidnapped her, no matter who or what he's calling himself.  She'd recognize the man she fell in love with two years ago anywhere, no matter what he says!

And so we follow the long and complicated story of Juliet and Sebastian.  With all the mistaken identities and hidden agendas and secrets it made my head hurt just trying to figure it all out, but it was so fun and I had to keep reading to see how it all got resolved!  It turns out it was really Sebastian who abducted Juliet.  Only, he had to pose as his long lost twin brother Morgan in order to save him from cutthroat smugglers.  Sebastian had to abduct Juliet, but he never intended to hurt her - or fall for her.  It turns out Sebastian is wealthy as all get out and designs and manufactures pistols.  He's a loner at this estate, working on his guns - trying to keep a low profile and Juliet out of his thoughts.  She's better off not knowing the truth of what really happened two years ago.  

Unfortunately, now that word has gotten out that she was compromised he has to help her save her reputation.  Seeing her again brings back all the old feelings and he decides he'll get her to fall in love with him - as himself!  As Sebastian!  But how?  Juliet is convinced he's lying and she keeps trying to set traps for him to trip him up.  Plus, if he really wants to marry her and love her and have an honest marriage, he's going to have to tell her the truth eventually, and her family is going to have to know the truth too.  But, his brother is complicating things!

So, what do they do?

This was a delightful read as Juliet and Sebastian circle around one another. Each trying to seduce the other, they play a game of one up man ship.  Eventually their passion wins out, but at what price?   I won't go into the whole long convoluted story, but they are stymied: she wants to tell her family the truth about Sebastian and he won't let her because it will jeopardize his brother's life.  Plus, Juliet's big brother-in-law is getting more and more furious with Sebastian because he beginning to think he has designs on his wife, Rosalind!  Oh my, how the fur flies!

That's all I'm saying, it's complicated, there's a lot to this story I'm leaving out - but it's so good!  I really enjoyed it and read it in almost one day!  There is humor and passion all throughout. Juliet is a winsome heroine who can be as tenacious as a terrier!  It's so much fun to see the way Sebastian must deal with her!  She is relentless!  Yet, even though she finally gets Sebastian to admit the truth to her, it doesn't solve everything between them and I liked the way their dilemma was handled and resolved with the big finale at the end.  Another thing I liked about this book?  The ending.  It was satisfying without the usual heroine in grave danger rescue bit.  I get so tired of that scenario!  After the Abduction is the best yet of the Swanlea Spinsters series, a real winner! I highly recommend it!


If You Deceive by Kresley Cole

Book Description:
Ethan MacCarrick was a heartbreakingly handsome rake until a powerful nobleman ordered him brutally beaten and his face scarred for a crime he didn't commit. Ethan's reprisal - bankrupting the nobleman and forcing his exile - does little to appease his wrath. Ten years later, a haughty, mysterious beauty enchants Ethan - the daughter of his enemy. At last, Ethan will have the revenge he's craved; he'll promise her marriage, seduce her, then cast her aside.

Bitter hardships...
When Madeleine van Rowen's family was suddenly plunged into destitution and dishonor, she steeled herself against further heartache. She never weakened, never trusted, until a towering, scarred Highlander relentlessly pursues her, breaking down her defenses.

At what price forgiveness?
The passion between them burns hotter than Ethan's fury, and soon he finds he can't let her go. But when Madeleine uncovers the truth about him, can Ethan convince her to accept all he now offers -- when he once destroyed everything she had?

A great finale to the MacCarrick trilogy!  I loved this book, which was the most compelling - and sexiest.  Ethan's story is right up my alley since I have a thing for scarred heroes.  Brutally tortured ten years earlier, Ethan bears a horribly scarred face forever.  He finds his mate, Maddie, only to realize she's the daughter of the two people responsible for his mutilation.  The vengeance he enacted upon her parents greatly affected her life as well.  She had to fight and fend for herself in a cruel world - but she did it!  How can he live with the knowledge of what he did to her and not tell her the truth?  Trust me, this was a great story!

To be honest, the first two books in the MacCarrick Brothers series didn't wow me.  But all along while reading them, I was very curious about Ethan.  The references to their eldest brother with his scarred face and bad boy persona made me want to read his story!  I'm so glad I didn't give up on the series (I admit I was thinking of it.) 

The old Ethan MacCarrick had once been tall, dark and handsome.  Rich and known as a ladies' man he could have any woman he wanted - and did!  But one night he wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time and he paid for cuckolding a husband one too many.  The irony is, he didn't even sleep with the wife, he almost did but changed his mind for he instinctively felt like it would mean trouble - and Ethan's instincts were right on target.  He was found with the wife and taken away and tortured, his face horrible carved with a knife, never to be handsome again.  He's lucky that's all that was cut.   He took his vengeance on the man who was responsible, bankrupting him which led to his suicide.  The faithless wife remarried in Paris and their sole daughter, Maddie wound up suffering the most.  Her mother barely gave her a care and Maddie grew up in the Paris slums, fending for herself, doing what she could to earn money without selling her body. 

Ten years later Ethan meets Maddie having no idea who she really is at first.  He is bowled over by her beauty and the way she makes him feel.  Ever since his mutilation he's never been able to recapture the thrill of a conquest with a woman nor has he ever felt so attracted to a woman - until Maddie.  Throwing cares to the wind, they have a sensual moment at a masquerade (convenient for him with a mask on).  Even though he is on a mission (he works as an assassin for the Crown) he can't get Maddie out of his head.   She has bewitched him. 

If You Deceive overlaps with the other two previous books in the series, and it helps to have read them first, but it's not absolutely necessary, this can be a standalone.  Ethan and his brothers all work for the Crown as undercover spies.  Ethan is the fiercest and most ruthless of the three.  After meeting Maddie he completes his mission for the Crown yet he cannot stop thinking about her.  He discovers all he can about her and learns who she is, the daughter of his old nemesis.  He is determined to find her in Paris (where she has returned after their meeting in London) and trick her into thinking he'll marry her, even though he has no intention of doing so (all the MacCarrick brothers think they're cursed and cannot marry or fall in love for fear their brides will die.)  It's complicated.  He thinks her mother is still alive (whom he loathes) and feels that by hurting Maddie, he'll be getting back at the mother.  Yes, I know, this is a despicable way of thinking, but as we see, Ethan cannot go through with his plan.  Once he gets to know Maddie and realizes all the hardships she's gone through and how strong and fearless she is, he wants to help her instead of hurting her - but... there's that sticky family curse hanging over his head. 

The sexual dynamics between Maddie and Ethan is what makes this book so good.  Their lovemaking is hot, although Maddie refuses to let him make love to her until they are married.  It creates a great sexual tension between the two.   Their relationship is complex but they're so right for one another.  Maddie has seen so much in her lifetime, his scarred visage means nothing to her.  It doesn't frighten her when she sees him.  That alone makes her unique to him.  I loved Maddie.  She is strong and resourceful and she doesn't take sh*t from anyone.  She's ready to move on and leave Ethan (when he's being a complete prick to her) if need be.  She loves him and cares for him but she is a realist.  When it looks like he's leading her on and is not going to marry her, she knows when it's time to leave.  I like that.  Of course, he's only being that way because he's warring with the guilt going on in his head.  He loves her and he's afraid if she finds out that he was the one that ruined her father she'll hate him for keeping the secret from her for so long.  Again, it's complicated.  Ethan is a big, brawny Scot.  He's proud, arrogant and larger than life.  He's a tortured hero (literally) and cannot deal with the fact that he's madly in love with Maddie, whom he wronged unknowingly.  It's killing him.  Miscommunication and big misunderstandings! What would a romance be without them - right?

Without going further into the plot and giving too much away, I highly recommend this book.  Great relationship between the strong hero and heroine.  The emotions are high with plenty of passion and angst that sizzle off the pages.  I simply loved it!  A great wrap up to the whole series! 


The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley

Book Description:
Verity Grey is thrilled to be asked to join the dig in Scotland, but after her first day she's not so sure she is ready for the job. Her team leader's obsessional search leads her to both romance and adventure.
When I first decided to read this book I thought it was going to be a ghost story or time travel type novel set in Scotland, similar to a previous book I've read of hers, The Winter Sea.  I was a bit off with my expectations - but in a good way! I wound up really liking this modern suspense novel that has some ghostly and romantic elements to it.

The story takes place in Eyemouth, a seaside village in the Borders region of Scotland involving an archeological dig. Verity Grey, a young archeologist from London has been hired for the dig and begins to believe there is a ghost, known as "The Sentinel," that is watching her.  No one seems to see him except for this one clairvoyant young boy.  She's been hired by a charming - and eccentric - man, Peter Quinnell, who believes he's digging on the site of the lost Ninth Legion of the Roman Empire.  Many consider him mad, but the money is good and, even though Verity has her doubts, she agrees to work with him on the dig, even if she thinks it's a lost cause.

Is Verity's ghostly Sentinel a link to what is buried beneath?  Can he tell them if he was with the Ninth Legion?  My interest was sparked immediately with the storyline.  I found it engrossing and enjoyed it immensely.   As it develops, we learn that the ghost was a Roman soldier, but he cannot speak to Verity, except through the adorable young boy, Robbie, who has "the sight."  Unfortunately, the soldier only speaks Latin which makes it a bit harder to communicate with Robbie, who obviously had no knowledge of the language.  Plus, it tires the young boy immensely whenever he has one of his "spells."  It also pisses off his hard drinking father big time, which complicates the plot.  Robbie is the primary reason why Peter Quinnell is convinced the Ninth Legion's site can be found near Eyemouth and it's hard for Verity to ignore Robbie's talent, although her logical common sense cannot let her justify that the basis for an entire archeological dig rests on what a young boy says!   Another reason that's keeping Verity at the site?  The attractive, tall dark and handsome colleague, David, who manages to take her mind off the ghost.

There are plenty of well drawn side characters that round out the book, many of whom are endearing and realistic. There's a comforting authenticity to Kearsley's writing that comes through.  I loved the natural sounding dialogue and local dialects of the villagers in Eyemouth and I really enjoyed the interplay between the characters themselves and how they all deal with one another and the family secrets that unfold.  I became invested in these people and their lives and found the ending and wrap up to the novel very satisfying.  Naturally, I zeroed in on the burgeoning relationship that grows between Verity and David, nothing overly hot and heavy, but I appreciated the way it developed as they grow on one another.  There's a slight love triangle going on between Verity, David, and her old love interest who was the one responsible for recommending her for the job.  I like Kearsley's love triangles, recognizing the same type in The Winter SeaPlus I learned some things about the workings of an archeological dig site.

As far as the title goes, there's not much in the way of "shadowy horses" to be seen, but Verity hears them running at night, even though there is nary a horse in the vicinity. This adds to the suspense and ghostly implications of the storyline, though I found for the most part this book read more like a contemporary novel with a mystery than a real ghost story.  Though we're not exactly afraid of the the Sentinel, we are nervous about what he's trying to say to Verity, for he has a message and is trying to protect her from something. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel and found it to be a comforting read.  I now wish I had read it before going to Scotland and had made a point of traveling to this part of the country.  Oh well, I will another time!


Sunday, October 9, 2011

McClairen's Isle: The Passionate One by Connie Brockway

Book Description:
They are the Merricks, two brothers and a sister, restless, daring, proud. English by birth, they came to Scotland with their father to occupy McClairen lands. And there each would find a love as wild and glorious as the Highland isle they claimed as their own.  Fia, the only daughter, is the ravishing one. Raine, the second son, is the reckless one. Ashton is the eldest son. This is his story. . . . The Passionate One.

He was a notorious rogue with a reputation for hell-raising and heartbreaking. But family secrets forced Ashton Merrick to do his ruthless father's bidding - and escort Rhiannon Russell back to McClairen's Isle. Ash suspected that his father intended to make the innocent beauty his fourth wife. But he didn't expect the passions she would ignite in his own wary heart.

I had a hard time getting into this complicated Georgian romance that has two distinct parts to it: before the hero abducts the heroine on his father's behalf and after the abduction.  By the second part he's fallen in love with her and decides he must protect her from his dastardly father, but if he does, he might not get the money his father promised him that he can use to pay the ransom to free his brother Raine from a French prison. I told you it was complicated.

The first two books I read by Connie Brockway (As You Desire and My Dearest Enemy) were great, I simply loved them.  But this one was a miss and I'm starting to see a pattern, for the last book I read of hers, My Seduction, didn't wow me either.  The humor and clever dialogue that goes on between the hero and heroine from the first two books was missing.  Where were the exotic locations and smart and talented heroines against type?

McClairen's Island is a small island in northern Scotland that is occupied by an Englishman, Merrick, who doesn't really own it, but through marriage he's taken it over and converted the original castle into a showplace.  It's complicated, but the gist of it is, we don't like Merrick.  He has a notorious reputation which has exiled him at the king's request from London.  Did he or did he not kill his former wives to gain their fortunes and land?  He is greedy and ruthless, not even paying the ransom to free his grown sons from a French  prison.

Due to a series of events the father has sent his son Ashton to this little village in Scotland to bring back the young woman who is his "ward."  Ashton is under the thumb of his father who makes Ashton do his bidding by promising him the money to release Raine from the French prison.  Ashton travels to the village and finds Rhiannon and he is immediately smitten by her.  Orphaned as a child, Rhiannon has lived a quiet life in the village after escaping and overcoming a horrific childhood in the Scottish Highlands during the aftermath of Culloden.  When the handsome and debonair Ash shows up she is taken by surprise.  Long ago as a child, she had sought his father's help, but he had turned her away at his door.  By remarkable chance she was taken in by some kind and caring people who raised her as if she were their daughter.  Now engaged to be married to the local "most eligible bachelor" Rhiannon doesn't want to go north to McClairen's Isle, despite the fact she is drawn to Ash, and the feeling is mutual.  As Ash gets to know her better he avoids carrying out his father's wishes, for he knows his father must have some ulterior motive and Ash doesn't want to see anything bad happen to Rhiannon.  But, as it turns out, there have already been a few "accidents" that have happened to her and Ash is convinced someone is trying to kill her.  Who is behind these near misses and accidents and how can he keep her safe?

Feelings between Rhiannon and Ash are building, the sexual tension is rising.  Finally, just before Rhiannon's wedding day she and Ash have this mystical sexual encounter on Beltane Eve when everyone throws cares to the wind and sneaks off into the woods.  The next day Rhiannon, full of righteous guilt, feels she must admit the truth to her fiance.  But, Ash prevents her from spilling the beans, a whole lot happens, and Ash believes her fiance is the one trying to kill her.  So what does he do?  He kidnaps her (for her own safety) and takes her to his father!

They travel together on horseback.  She is furious with him and is an unwilling captive.  The road to McClairen's Isle is a long one and they have an arduous journey but eventually they get there.  Their trek together did not endear him to her.  Yet, he's the only life line she has.  As soon as they arrive, Rhiannon is uncomfortable amidst the garish splendor of the house Merrick has converted into a pleasure palace full of iniquity and vice.   Ash's father is up to something in regard to Rhiannon and Ash is busy trying to figure it out without giving himself away to his father.  If his father gets any inkling of Ash's true feelings towards Rhiannon he'll use it against him so Ash must treat Rhiannon as if she means nothing to him. He is torn.  He wants to leave McClairen's Isle to free his brother in France, but he doesn't want to leave Rhiannon behind at the mercy of his despicable father.

The crux of it is, Ash must choose.  Rhiannon who wants nothing to do with him - and who he has fallen in love with?  Or his brother, Rhiannon, who is far away and may be dying in a French jail?

Overall this wasn't bad, but it just did not live up to the high standard I expected from a Connie Brockway story.  I didn't care a whole lot about either the hero or heroine.  I felt she was too naive most of the time and I couldn't decide whether I liked Ash or not, I didn't feel much sympathy for him for some reason.   The two characters that were the most interesting in the book where side characters who will bear great significance in the future.  One is the true heir to McClairen's Isle, though no one knows it yet.  I suspect he'll wind up with Ash's teenage sister, Fia, who's much older than her fifteen years and is the other interesting character that shows promise.   I will probably read the rest of this series eventually, just to see what happens to them, but not anytime soon.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn

Book Description:
Partners now in marriage and in trade, Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane have finally returned from abroad to set up housekeeping in London. But merging their respective collections of gadgets, pets and servants leaves little room for the harried newlyweds themselves, let alone Brisbane's private enquiry business.

Among the more unlikely clients: Julia's very proper brother, Lord Bellmont, who swears Brisbane to secrecy about his case. Not about to be left out of anything concerning her beloved—if eccentric—family, spirited Julia soon picks up the trail of the investigation. It leads to the exclusive Ghost Club, where the alluring Madame Séraphine holds evening séances…and not a few powerful gentlemen in thrall.  From this eerie enclave unfolds a lurid tangle of dark deeds, whose tendrils crush reputations and throttle trust.

Shocked to find their investigation spun into salacious newspaper headlines, bristling at the tension it causes between them, the Brisbanes find they must unite or fall. For Bellmont's sake- and more- they'll face myriad dangers born of dark secrets, the kind men kill to keep…

I loved this latest installment in the Lady Julia mysteries, I can say in all honesty it is my favorite to date.  It was nice to have Julia and Brisbane on the same side, for a change.  In the previous books, they've always been at odds with one another.  Lots of brooding from Brisbane's end and Lady Julia wondering what she ever saw in the man in the first place!  Not so in The Dark Enquiry!  Not all is perfect and they're still experiencing the growing pains associated with new marriages, but it was fun and joyful to witness their little differences of opinion.  For the most part, they are comfortable and sympatico with one another.  The word "compromise" has been added to their vocabulary.

The book starts out with Lady Julia and Brisbane back in London and working together solving mysteries, albeit, through Brisbane's gritted teeth. I loved the juicy plot with plenty of twists and turns, murders, séances and now Raybourn has added a spymaster to the mix!  There was more of a light hearted tone in this book as the newlyweds set up house.  I know you'll wince at the comparison, but I found Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Brisbane reminiscent of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo.  Julia ignores Brisbane's requests to stay home and be a good wife while choosing instead to dress up in disguise and follow Brisbane around (uninvited) on his sleuthing missions.

Bent on assisting Brisbane in his line of work, Lady Julia is convinced she is helping to keep him safe.  No matter the folly and danger that ensues.  It's not easy being married to a man who faces danger daily.  Especially to someone who doesn't think twice about taking on a gang of ruffians in a back alley or two.    Nothing quite seems to faze Brisbane - except for when it comes to Julia.   Nicholas is forever rescuing her.  She has an uncanny talent for getting herself into tight spots - such as mausoleums.  At the same time, it was gratifying and romantic to see just how much they care for one another.  Brisbane's manliness when it comes to defending Julia's honor and reputation only heightened my adoration of this man.  I simply love the way he takes a (brief) moment to leave their carriage to punch out a pesky newspaper journalist who has printed a disparaging article about Lady Julia. *sigh*  No one is going to get away with "dissing" the wife of Nicholas Brisbane!  (her father's solution was great too!)  Nicholas is delicious when he is jealous as well.  I love his reaction when she blithely informs him of her meeting with the intriguing and very debonair Sir Morgan Fielding.  I very much hope we see more of him in the future!

The mystery behind The Dark Enquiry involves the prevention of a scandal regarding Julia's eldest brother, Bellmont.  A well known politician in the House, Lord Bellmont wants nothing to mar his sterling reputation, particularly the fact that he had been clandestinely carrying on with a well known clairvoyant who has hidden incriminating letters attesting to their affair.  Unfortunately, she is poisoned and dies before Bellmont can get the letters.  Now, Bellmont is being blackmailed.  Brisbane is on the case, with Julia watching his back (so to speak).   It turns out there's more than just getting the letters.  Bellmont could be facing a much bigger scandal regarding treason and secrets to the Germans!

Julia's younger brother Plum, who's now working with Brisbane, lends a hand to the investigation and develops a love interest with a young woman, Lady Felicity, who has left her family home and taken up residence with Julia's sister, Portia.  Poor Plum, nothing seems to last for him in the romance department.  I'm afraid his heart is dashed again when it comes to Lady Felicity.  Will he ever find true love?  As in the previous books, we see quite a lot of Julia's and Brisbane's large families.  Julia, one of ten children, seems to have a myriad of brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews.  We meet more of Brisbane's extended family here as well, all related on the gypsy side.  Brisbane's gypsy relatives are chock full of surprises.

Overall, I'm really loving Lady Julia and Brisbane as a married couple.  They are an entertaining pair and I've grown to care for them and their ups and downs in life and the enquiry business.  I am sorry for what occurs towards the end of the book regarding their future, but I know it won't keep them down.  I am just glad to see this now familiar couple settling in at last to their new life together.  I'm eager for more adventure!

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