Monday, February 28, 2011

The Orchid Affair by Lauren Willig

Book Description:
In The Orchid Affair, Willig introduces her strongest heroine yet. Laura Grey, a veteran governess, joins the Selwick Spy School expecting to find elaborate disguises and thrilling exploits in service to the spy known as the Pink Carnation. She hardly expects her first assignment to be serving as governess for the children of Andre Jaouen, right-hand man to Bonaparte's minister of police. Jaouen and his arch rival, Gaston Delaroche, are investigating a suspected Royalist plot to unseat Bonaparte, and Laura's mission is to report any suspicious findings.

At first the job is as lively as Latin textbooks and knitting, but Laura begins to notice strange behavior from Jaouen-secret meetings and odd comings and goings. As Laura edges herself closer to her employer, she makes a shocking discovery and is surprised to learn that she has far more in common with Jaouen than she originally thought...

As their plots begin to unravel, Laura and Jaouen are forced on the run with the children, and with the help of the Pink Carnation they escape to the countryside, traveling as husband and wife. But Delaroche will stop at nothing to take down his nemesis. With his men hot on their trail, can Laura and Jaouen seal the fate of Europe before it's too late?

About six months ago, Lauren Willig, the author of the ever successful and entertaining Pink Carnation Series, ran a contest over at her blog to design a cover (just for fun) of her (then) upcoming book, The Orchid Affair, the latest installment in the series.  The contest arose because her publishers decided to change the look of her covers, as well as redesign the covers in her backlist.   Some liked the new cover (which is not the one you see above) and some didn't.  You see, Willig's first covers all have a certain look to them, very pretty with the arresting face of a young lady on the cover.  They were beautiful and distinctive, in my opinion.  I entered the contest and designed a cover, it was fun!  Well, needless to say, I was flabbergasted when I won! (handily, I might add, you can read about it here.).  My prize for winning was an advance copy sent personally to me from Lauren (thank you Lauren!) 

Did I read it right away?  No, I'm sorry to say, it languished on my book shelf, silently scolding me to pick it up and get to it!  All I can say is, I still needed to read Mischief of the Mistletoe, then I got busy with other books and for some reason I kept putting it off somehow.  I think I just didn't want to read the last book (to date) in the series and I sort of felt a little guilty reading it before it actually came out in January.  Plus, I liked having it to look forward to.  Does that sound crazy?  Whatever it was, I'm sorry I waited.  It was a great read, although a departure from the rest of the series. 

Laura Grey has been a governess for the last sixteen years.  As we find out over the course of the book, Laura wasn't born to be a governess.  Yet, due to the unfortunate death of her flamboyant and much loved parents, she is orphaned as a teen and must make her own way in the world any way she can.  But, now the time has come when she is determined to set a new course in her life to leave off being a governess and become a... spy.  This is her chance to alter her lifestyle and do something exciting, daring, courageous!  What kind of spy does she become?  A governess!

Yes, but not just any governess.  She is now working for the Pink Carnation's network in Paris, posing as a governess to learn secrets while inside the household of Andre Jaouen, a lawyer who has become important in Napolean's ministry of police.  Jaouen has two children in need of a governess and Laura fits the bill perfectly.  Newly graduated from Richard and Amy Selwick's spy school (created after the first book in the series, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation), Laura is determined to be the best and most efficient spy there ever was.  But, as she uncovers secrets about her employer, we learn more about Laura and her childhood as well.  Just who were her parents really, and how is it that she and the widower, Jaouen, have a mutual acquaintance - the flamboyant artist, Antoine Daubier?

Before we know it, all hell breaks loose!  As he and Laura develop more of a friendship than an employer/employee relationship, we learn that Andre is not what he seems at all!  The jig is up and he is in grave danger.  It's up to Laura to help him flee from Paris undercover with his children and the artist, Daubier!  Our Mademoiselle Grey, who is really Laure Griscogne, enlists the aid of the Pink Carnation to spirit them out of the country disguised as a band of traveling actors, touring the French countryside.  Andre sees a whole new side to Laure - and likes it!  Posing as man and wife (and their two children) they become close - very close. What is an act and what isn't?  Both of them shed their former disguises as employer and employee for new ones - lover, husband, wife.  Will Laura succeed in getting them all safely out of the country - and what will happen when they reach England?  Will their magical month of traveling together as man and wife, performing across the country become a distant memory when they don't need each other anymore?

I loved this storyline.  It was very clever, filled with depth and buried emotions.  Andre and Laura must keep their feelings inside and hidden for most of the story for they are both hiding the truth to everyone of what they really are.  Andre has much to lose, he goes from an important official in the ministry to a wanted traitor who will surely go to the guillotine if caught.  Laura helps him, but the month they travel together is filled with worry - will they make it to safety?  While on the run, I loved it when they finally give in to their passion and fall into bed with one another (playing their parts convincingly as man and wife).  Their nights together are their own in their little cocoon, a chance to love and forget the uncertainty and danger surrounding them.  There in their tiny bed at night, they cannot deny what they are feeling - yet neither is in a position to discuss the future.  Plus, Andre's daughter does not like the idea one bit.  They must keep their new found love from her as well.

I believe that of all the books in the series, this felt like the most dangerous and at the same time, the most poignant love story of them all.  Neither Andre nor Laura are superhuman, in fact it took me a while to warm up to them as hero and heroine, although I empathized with them and their individual wants and predicaments. By the last third of the book, they are trying to escape with their lives, yet they find love on the way.  The love story is subtlety woven, built up gradually, leading to an exciting finale that features some old friends from previous books.

Willig has great character development in all her books, her minor characters are wonderful as well, it's one of her strong suits.  The Orchid Affair is no exception.  Laura is a strong heroine, able to meet the demands that are pressed upon her, no matter what.  I loved the scene in which she must become a femme fatale at Daubier's studio to distract the bad guys!  Andre gets a bit distracted as well! *grin* 

This is by far the most complex and gritty plot line of the series, highlighting the terror and danger of the ministry of police with it's tentacles that can reach out and grab you.  Trust me, you don't want to get caught.  The research is first rate as well as the writing, authentic dialogue, locations and descriptions.  Another amazing addition to an amazing series!

As far as Colin and Eloise's modern day story - did you think I forgot about them?  Now in Paris, the story is really getting interesting.  We meet Colin's mother and stepfather at his mother's birthday party and a real bombshell is dropped!  Adds quite a twist to the plot line and Colin's baby sister no longer seems as lost and innocent to me as she once did!  Some nice canoodling between Eloise and Colin goes on, but I'm eager to see what develops with the latest bit of info we've now garnered at the party.  Stay tuned!


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning (audio)

Book Description:
“Evil is a completely different creature, Mac. Evil is bad that believes it’s good.”

MacKayla Lane was just a child when she and her sister, Alina, were given up for adoption and banished from Ireland forever.  Twenty years later, Alina is dead and Mac has returned to the country that expelled them to hunt her sister’s murderer. But after discovering that she descends from a bloodline both gifted and cursed, Mac is plunged into a secret history: an ancient conflict between humans and immortals who have lived concealed among us for thousands of years.

What follows is a shocking chain of events with devastating consequences, and now Mac struggles to cope with grief while continuing her mission to acquire and control the Sinsar Dubh a book of dark, forbidden magic scribed by the mythical Unseelie King, containing the power to create and destroy worlds.

In an epic battle between humans and Fae, the hunter becomes the hunted when the Sinsar Dubh turns on Mac and begins mowing a deadly path through those she loves.

Who can she turn to? Who can she trust? Who is the woman haunting her dreams? More important, who is Mac herself and what is the destiny she glimpses in the black and crimson designs of an ancient tarot card.

At last, the grand finale - the answers to all our questions!  Who was it that Mac killed at the end of Dreamfever?  Who was the beast?  Will she and Barrons ever kiss and make up and admit they love one another?  What is Barrons, anyway?  Is he even human?  How does Mac get out of the mirrors?  Will she ever see Christian again?  Will Mac ever find out who her mother really is?  The questions could go on and on and yes, they are all answered, although I was a bit disappointed that we didn't get a real clear cut answer about what Barrons really is... 

It's hard to review this book without giving away any spoilers, so this is going to be brief.  Shadowfever picks up right where Dreamfever leaves off.   We suffer with Mac as she realizes who the beast was and who she has killed.  But, she picks up the pieces, becomes stronger and more determined than ever to save the world from the Unseelies, double cross and kill Daroc and harness the power of the Sinsar Dubh and use it to make everything right again.  Not an easy task.

On audio, I enjoyed listening, but this was by far the most complex and wordy of the books in the series.  It's definitely worthy of a re-read (in print) to really get a handle on all the explanations.  Plus, it was so complicated I just need to read it again to get it all straight in my head!  There was a lot of background information to digest, lots of Fae lore, a who's who of Fae prince's, fallen prince's, former queens, the concubine.  Who was the Unseelie King, really?  Many red herrings - it was a roller coaster ride of emotions, yet there is a lot of reassuring familiarity in the book.  Barrons is around, he and Mac are forever snarling at one another, never admitting their true feelings - but of course they do eventually!  We find out what the real reason is behind Barron's search for the Sinsar Dubh, and I found it wasn't what I expected at all, it was a surprise to me and, dare I say - I bit of a let down *ducking*.

Did I like the book?  Yes, of course, but it's not my favorite in the series.  Darkfever still holds that honor.  Did it live up to all my expectations?  Yes, but there's still some unfinished business left up in the air and I felt that the ending was a bit open-ended.  I can't say I'm perfectly satisfied with it.  I had trouble with the sappy ending, which I found to be somewhat uncharacteristic of the overall tone of the series.  It felt like someone put a cherry and whipped cream on top of a very rare sirloin steak.   The whole, life is great, Betty Crocker "let's play house" and "steaks on the BBQ" scene was over the top.  Huh?  It just didn't sit right with me.    For some reason I just felt a bit deflated after it was all over, but at the same time, I'm happy for everyone and everything got resolved.

On a side note, I've been listening to the Highlander Series for the first time.  I've read it before, but never on audio.  Phil Gigante is amazing!  His voice for Adam Black, in particular, is sinful!  Plus, now I can pick up on the many references and clues for the Fever Series that meant nothing to me my first time around with the McKeltar brothers.

Speaking of the Keltar, I loved the McKeltar's showing up and oozing masculinity and tangling with Barrons.  He hated them!  I thought it was a hoot! We even have a brief cameo of Adam Black - and it sizzled!  We even see some old creepy unseelie's again like the "gray woman".  It kinda reminded me of the Seinfeld finale.  We get glimpses of some of our old favorites who all come back for the last episode, but the episode itself is a bit of a let down - or at least that's how I felt about it at the time.  I recently watched it again and loved it!  I bet I feel that way with Shadowfever too, I have to give it some time before a re-read when I will savor it slowly, mull it over and soak it up.

Overall, Fever is a fantastic series, amazingly imaginative and downright awesome! One of my absolute favorites and I'm sure I will revisit Mac again and again.  When I do re-read Shadowfever, I'll add a postscript to my review here.


To Seduce a Sinner by Elizabeth Hoyt

Book Description:
Jasper Renshaw, Viscount Vale, has a problem: he needs to marry and produce an heir to the title. All Jasper wants is to find a lady who will put up with him long enough to wed so he can retreat to his life of debauchery - a life that keeps the haunting memories of his past at bay. Knowing that Jasper is under pressure to marry, Melisande Flemming grasps her fate with both hands and volunteers to wed him. Although Jasper is initially only interested in producing an heir, he soon becomes entranced by his wife - prim and proper by day, wanton by night - and vows to learn her secrets.

Melissande, however, is determined to keep her husband at a distance. She has loved, and lost, before, and will do anything to keep him from learning her terrible weakness: she's secretly been in love with him for years. But to her chagrin, her husband pursues her, wooing her as if she were a paramour, not his lady wife. As Melissande and Jasper embark on a passionate game of cat and mouse, secrets from the past begin to resurface... threatening to tear them asunder.

I loved this book, and I'm realizing I'm loving this Legend of the Four Soldiers Series even more than her last Prince Series!  This series follows the paths of four soldiers that experienced a horrible massacre of their battalion while in the Colonies during the French and Indian War near Quebec.  They are convinced that there was a traitor in their midst, an officer among them that set a trap for money, selling secrets of their location.  Hundreds of men were killed and those that were captured were scarred for life due to the horrifying and unspeakable practices committed against them.  No Geneva Convention back in those days!

We previously met Jasper, Viscount Vale in the first book, To Taste Temptation, and I liked him instantly there.  Here he's a much more complex man and I loved him!  Jasper appears to live the good life - an aristocrat with a title, he seems to have everything - a lavish townhouse, carriage, loads of friends, respected by his peers, but all is not right with him.  There is more to him than meets the eye.  He, like the other soldiers that experienced the horrible slaughter and capture at the massacre of Spinners Falls in the Colonies six years earlier, is carrying the burden of guilt.  An officer of the troop, the Indians that captured them tortured and killed many, yet left Jasper untouched.  He was forced to watch, and anytime he flinched or showed any emotion, they would inflict even more horrible mutilations to his men.  Jasper may not show any outward scars from the ordeal, but inside he has many.

Now Jasper is intent on getting on with his life and marrying and producing heirs to his title.  He'd like to forget Spinners Falls - but he can't.  He already lost one fiancee in To Tempt Temptation, and as we come upon him here in To Seduce a Sinner, he's just been jilted at the altar by another!  Melissande Fleming, who was the best friend of our heroine in Temptation takes it upon herself to snatch Jasper up before he asks someone else to marry him!  Melissande has always been a quiet, reserved, mousy brown wren of a young women.  Jilted by a fiance ten years earlier, she is now a spinster living with her brother and his wife.  She wants a life of her own and she takes the bull by the horns and offers herself to Jasper, who she has secretly loved for years.

Jasper is so surprised by the proposition from Melissande - he accepts!  They go through the proper motions, he visits her brother, talk settlements, et cetera, et cetera and voila - they marry!  Jasper has no idea that Melissande secretly loves him, he thinks of this as a marriage of convenience although the more time he spends with Melissande, the more he realizes there's more to her than meets the eye as well!  Unfortunately, their wedding night is nothing short of disappointment to Melissande.  She's expecting the moon and stars and is heady with anticipation and well... Jasper is far from the lover she expected.  But, that does not stop her from setting things to rights.  She is a determined young woman and she is not going to spend the rest of her days in a loveless marriage - she will seduce him!

Meanwhile, he sort of has the same idea in mind.  He's falling for his new little wife and thinks she's some prim and proper spinster that needs seducing as well!  I loved it!  At the same time, Melissande is interested in learning all there is about her new husband and stumbles upon a secret of his that no one knows about that gives her a clue to his guilt and suffering in regard to Spinners Falls.  She hates to think of him carrying such a burden and wants to help - and help she does!  She becomes an ideal wife and they learn to love each other.  It was a pleasure to experience the ups and downs of their brand new relationship, while also following the progression of who was the traitor that led to the massacre and death of his best friend.  I grew to really admire both Melissande and Jasper.  Basically, they got under my skin and I didn't want to say good bye to them at the end of the book!  One part of the book I loved that showed how wonderful Jasper is towards his "Lady Wife" (as he calls her) was when they met up with her former fiance - priceless moment - I felt like clapping!  I felt it cemented things between them, both were glad about who they married by then.

There were a few side characters I enjoyed that are fleshed out and brought to life.  I liked Jasper's valet particularly and Melissande's new lady's maid.  A nice little side story going there.  We meet the mysterious and sad Mrs. Fitzwilliam, the mistress of the Duke of Lister who has two bastard children by him.  Melissande forms a friendship with her.  We also meet our "3rd" soldier who will figure in the next book in the series. 

This was a delightful book, full of romance, a good mystery, some red herrings and a happy ending!   Jasper's tale, "laughing Jack" parallels the fairy tale that is told at the beginning of each chapter.  The laughing man who is really something else entirely beneath that carefree exterior.  Melissande, the little nobody who asks him to marry her becomes a surprising jewel of a wife, nothing as he expected.  Both are hiding their true selves from each other. A real keeper!  I love the settings, part of this was in Scotland where they travel to and mostly London, all during Georgian late 18th century.  The background and descriptions are right on, as well as the language - nothing jarring - all first rate and well researched.  Elizabeth Hoyt is an auto buy for me from now on, I haven't been disappointed by anything I've read of hers - a worthwhile and exceptional romance author you can count on!


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Dangerous Love by Sabrina Jeffries

Book Description:
He was playing a dangerous masquerade...Griff Knighton found the perfect way to avoid being trapped into marriage with one of the Earl of Swanlea′s daughters: he′ll swap identities with his man of affairs during their next visit to Swan Park, and be free to pursue his own desires! After all, he′s not about to marry some homely spinster just to claim his rightful title. But Griff didn′t reckon on the brazen, voluptuous Rosalind, who could tempt even a saint into sinning, and Griff is no saint. She was determined to unmask him...

I enjoyed this regency, which is the first of The Swanlea Spinster Series.   In A Dangerous Love we have Rosalind's story.  She is the middle daughter, known for her passionate nature.  Everything Rosalind does is big, vibrant, dramatic (she secretly longs to be an actress like her mother).  With her father, the Earl, on his deathbed, Rosalind is the one that has taken over the running of the family estate which will be entailed away to a distant cousin (similar to the situation in Pride and Prejudice) upon her father's death.  Their sickly father has invited the cousin to visit the estate in hopes that he will marry one of his three spinster daughters, thus keeping them safe and protected.   The Earl is also ready to right a wrong that had been done a long time ago.

The aforementioned cousin is none other than Griff Knighton, a self made man, known for his nefarious background and early smuggling days.  Now, a successful business man he is a force to be reckoned with.  Of course, he also happens to be tall dark and handsome - and a bad ass in the business world, not unlike a typical Lisa Kleypas hero.  Griff has vengeance on his mind and a major grievance against the Earl who stole the marriage certificate that proved his legitimacy. Without it and due to his own father's early death, he was never able to prove he was legitimate - and the rightful heir to the Earldom.  This has been a thorn in Griff's side all his life.  Now is his chance to get back the certificate, become the rightful Earl and win a place as part of a delegation to China which will enrich his business and seal his success.  He has no intention of marrying one of the earl's daughters - he has just the one mission in mind, gain the respectability he has craved. 

That was before he met Rosalind.

Before Griff arrives at Swan Park, he decides to bring his man of business, Daniel, with him.   Daniel also happens to be his friend and helped Griff in their early smuggling days with the fledgling company.  Griff dreams up the flawed plan of posing as Daniel and Daniel posing as Griff so that Griff will have plenty of time to search for the certificate.  Of course, this leads to all sorts of problems because once he meets and falls for Rosalind, she'll realize he's been lying to her from the get go.   Even though she thinks he's really his man of business, it doesn't stop her from being attracted to him and they have a few very hot and sensual encounters.   She's not a snob in this respect.  They have fun sparring with each other and trading barbs and quotes from Shakespeare.  Griff takes pleasure in pointing out the racier innuendos by the bard.  Many, of which, regard the male anatomy - or one piece of it, in particular.  Still, Griff has been lying to Rosalind and she suspects he's up to something, but unaware of what her father had done years ago, she can't quite come up with what Griff is really after - plus, she still things Griff is Daniel!  The mixed identity storyline parallels the Shakespeare plays both Rosalind and Griff know so well!

As the two of them become closer, Rosalind is afraid of what her passion for Griff is going to make her do.  She decides to marry Daniel (who she thinks is her cousin) to save the estate.  It's funny when Daniel "woos" her as Griff and Griff is eaten up by jealousy!  (Plus, it doesn't hurt that Daniel throws himself into the part just to get back at Griff for making him go through this masquerade in the first place!) Griff is going to have to make a decision.  He's torn, should he tell her the truth about himself and and marry Rosalind or create a scandal by revealing to the world what her father did to him and ruin her family?   Can you guess what happens? 

I'm eager to read the rest of the series and see if the eldest daughter, Helena, winds up with Daniel - that should be quite a feat, since Helena is not going to be as easy to bring around as Rosalind was.  Due to Helena's lameness (from an accident) she is skittish around men - though it's easy to see Daniel has captured her interest.  Not a bad story with lots of Shakespearean quotes throughout. Steamy to boot. 


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Island of the Swans by Ciji Ware

Book Description:
In this resplendent love story a dazzling era comes vividly to life as one woman's passionate struggle to follow her heart takes her from the opulent cotillions of Edinburgh to the London court of half-mad King George III . . . from a famed salon teeming with politicians and poets to a picturesque castle on the secluded, lush Island of the Swans. . . .

Best friends in childhood, Jane Maxwell and Thomas Fraser wreaked havoc on the cobbled streets of Edinburgh with their juvenile pranks. But years later, when Jane blossoms into a beautiful woman, her feelings for Thomas push beyond the borders of friendship, and he becomes the only man she wants. When Thomas is reportedly killed in the American colonies, the handsome, charismatic Alexander, Duke of Gordon, appeals to a devastated Jane. Believing Thomas is gone forever, Jane hesitantly responds to the Duke, whose passion ignites her blood, even as she rebels at his fierce desire to claim her.

But Thomas Fraser is not dead, and when he returns to find his beloved Jane betrothed to another, he refuses to accept the heartbreaking turn of events. Soon Jane's marriage is swept into a turbulent dance of tender wooing and clashing wills--as Alex seeks truly to make her his, and his alone. . . .

This is a great book!  I loved it.  The setting, the time period, the heart rending, poignant storyline which was based on the love triangle between Jane Maxwell, the Fourth Duchess of Gordon, her husband, Alexander, and Jane's first and forever love, Thomas Fraser.  Did I mention the fabulous writing style of Ciji Ware?  It was seamless, the words flew of the pages, I was captivated from page one.  She brought these real historical figures to life in my mind.  In fact after I finished it, I had to go to Wikipedia to find out what really happened to them after the book ends.  I wish I had known the real Lady Jane.  And I loved the fictional Thomas Fraser.  What's with these eighteenth century Scottish highlander red-headed Frasers in my literary life?

Set in eighteenth century Scotland, it is the life of Lady Jane Maxwell who becomes the 4th Duchess of Gordon.  Jane's life is one of ups and downs, marred by the fact that her true love, Thomas Fraser, thought to be dead fighting in the American Colonies, is in fact not dead.  Unfortunately, it is too late for them, for she only learns of the fact while on her honeymoon to the Duke, her husband, Alexander.  While trying to be true and faithful to her husband for the next 20 years, she cannot forget or resist her love for Thomas when he returns to Scotland from time to time.  For thirty years a love triangle exists.  I adored this book!  A sprawling, romantic history that held my attention through every word.  From the narrow closes of Edinburgh to the farmlands of colonial Maryland and back to the beautiful countryside of the Scottish Highlands, I was enthralled!  A real keeper.

I loved the settings and time period, Georgian 1760's-1790's.  Edinbugh, London, Gordon Castle, known as Fochabers and Jane's Kinrara, next to the island of the swans.  I want to go there someday - I will go there someday and look at her home and the nearby island with a crumbling castle where she and Thomas Fraser have their idyllic stolen days of sunshine and love.

Jane is a charismatic heroine, you're always pulling for her, no matter what happens. I went through such a roller coaster of feelings in regard to her marriage with Alexander.  At one point, I wanted them to work it out, to be happy, soul mates.  But then Thomas would return and Alexander would do something awful out of jealousy and I'd flip flop and love Thomas again!  I was torn for her.  I wanted her to be true to her lawfully wedded husband, yet I could understand her feelings and the irresistible pull that Thomas has on her emotions every time they saw each other again.  Oh, poor Jane to live in a marriage for twenty years, loving two men, yet having to bear the burden of that. 

There are so many "what ifs" in her life that kept Jane and Thomas apart for so long.  She and Alexander have a tempestuous relationship full of infidelities, accusations, hurt feelings and miscommunication, yet at times I often really felt sorry for Alexander.  Then, I felt sorry for Thomas too - and Jane!  I was so involved with these characters!  Interspersed through her days with Alexander are the few times when she and Thomas are reunited and they finally do get their moment in the sun.  (highlight to read spoiler)They produce a daughter who Jane must raise as her husband's, even though she's the spitting image of Thomas, red hair and all.  It's obvious to Alexander who's child she is.  Jane must live with this burden, but I really loved what happens to little Louisa eventually, her wedding is one of my favorite parts in the book. 

Jane has many children over the years and marries them off quite successfully to boot!  She is strong and is a survivor in this book, even though it ends a bit up in the air, you do get the impression it ends happily for her if not happily ever after.

If you enjoy historical fiction with a strong romantic thread - read this.  I'm definitely reading it again someday!  It's become a favorite!  I'm so glad Sourcebooks re-issued it last year!

A word of advice: if you want to find out what happens to the real Lady Jane Maxwell, wait until after you finish the book, otherwise you'll be sorry.


P.S.  For those of you curious about what happens to Ware's fictional character of Thomas Fraser after Island of the Swans, she includes him in the end of her other book A Cottage by the Sea.  I won't tell you what happens, but I can't say I was overly happy about it.  A Cottage by the Sea is not a sequel, btw, but she did overlap them slightly.

Written on Your Skin by Meredith Duran

Book Description:
Beauty, charm, wealthy admirers: Mina Masters enjoys every luxury but freedom. To save herself from an unwanted marriage, she turns her wiles on a darkly handsome stranger. But Mina's would-be hero is playing his own deceptive game. A British spy, Phin Granville has no interest in emotional entanglements - until the night Mina saves his life by gambling her own. — Four years later, Phin is finally freed by his new title from the bloody game of spycraft. But memories of the girl who saved him won't let Phin go. When he learns that Mina needs his aid, honor forces him back into the world of his nightmares.

Phin is a man intent on control. Mina is fiercely devoted to her independence. As they match wits, their practiced masks begin to slip, kindling an attraction more dangerous than any treasonous conspiracy. For in two lives built on lies, love can prove the darkest secret of all... 

Follow up to Duran's highly acclaimed, Bound By Your Touch, I was lukewarm about this Victorian romance of a young woman, Mina Masters who we first meet in Hong Kong.  She is not what she seems.  Outwardly she comes across as a bubble-headed debutante who lives with her mother and stepfather.   A party is given in her honor.  But, as we get closer to Mina, we realize all is not well.  She detests her stepfather who has been psychologically torturing her mother for years.  Mina would like nothing more than to stop him and run away with her mother - but how?

Lo and behold, the man she thinks is nothing more than a would be suitor, an American businessman in trade, turns out to be a spy who is trying to expose her stepfather of his traitorous deeds.  Who is this spy?  He is the oh so handsome and complex, Phin Granville.  But, it looks like Granville has been poisoned and collapses in Mina's arms while dancing.  She takes it upon herself to rescue him, realizing almost immediately what the real situation is (she's extremely intelligent beneath that Barbie doll facade and knows her way around poisons and antidotes for some reason.)  She is more than happy to help the man who is working on exposing her stepfather while in Hong Kong - it's her ticket to freedom.   She helps him escape - barely. 

Four years later, they meet again, only now they are in England.  Phin is out of the spy business now and just wants to live a normal life.  He's come into his family title, he's rich and wants to marry and sire children.  Is that too much to ask for?  Yet, "just when he thought he was out... they pull him back in."  His old spy associates have, in a sense, imprisoned Mina because she is the key to finding her ruthless stepfather who has escaped from jail and kidnapped her mother!  The only one who seems to be able to help is Phin - because Mina has requested only him to assist her.  He owes her a favor and she's cashing in.  But, then she escapes from her gilded cage before he sees her again.  She's on the loose and it's up to Phin to find her (which he does) and so begins this complicated and thoughtful relationship that develops between them while they travel together across England in search of her mother.  Evading bad guys, and foiling Phin's former spy master boss, they somehow manage to fall in love - but you'd never know it.

The scenario is interesting, but it was bogged down with much too much talk, talk, talk.  The verbal sparring that went on between the hero and heroine, only succeeded in boring me to tears and I lost interest mid-way.  There was this constant game being played, neither one wanted to admit a fondness or attraction for the other - even though it was sitting like a two ton gorilla between the two of them.  I found it a bit dreary and not very compelling, when it should have been.  I didn't find much chemistry between then (maybe due to all the talk) and frankly, I didn't really like Mina very much, which is a killer for me.  If I don't connect with the heroine then it's pretty certain I'm not going to get into the book.  Still, I persevered, for I like this author, and she was kind enough to sign this book and send it to me, via a friend, who was at a book signing fair last Fall, here in NJ, that I couldn't make it to.   

The plotline certainly sounded like it should have been better, but I longed for less analysis and more romance!  Still, the writing itself was right on, the period, language, descriptions and locales were all well done, but by the time these two finally get it on, I was so fed up with their endless bickering - I'd given up on them already and didn't find much satisfaction by the end. I was just glad it was over and I could move on.  Perhaps this will be more of your cup of tea than it was for me.  In any case, I do intend to read more of her books, for her first book, Duke of Shadows is one of my very favorites - so I know Ms. Duran has it in her to tickle my fancy! :)

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