Monday, November 28, 2011

A Broken Vessel by Kate Ross

Book Description:
No detection team was ever more mismatched: Julian Kestrel, the debonair and elegant Regency dandy, and Sally Stokes, a bold and bewitching Cockney prostitute and thief. But one night Fate throws them together, giving them the only clue that can unmask a diabolical killer. It all starts in London's notorious Haymarket district, where Sally picks up three men one after the other and nicknames them Bristles, Blue Eyes, and Blinkers. From each of them Sally steals a handkerchief - and from one she mistakenly steals a letter that contains an urgent appeal for help as well. But which man did she get the letter from? Who is the distraught young woman who wrote it? And where is she being held against her will? These questions take on a new urgency when Sally finds the writer of the letter - dead. Luckily, Sally's brother is none other than Dipper, reformed pickpocket and now valet to gifted amateur sleuth Julian Kestrel. The authorities dismiss the girl's death as suicide, but to Kestrel it looks more like murder. To prove it, he must track down Bristles, Blue Eyes, and Blinkers, and find out which of them had the dead girl's letter. Sally uses all her ingenuity and daring to help Kestrel solve this case. But she is out to solve another mystery as well: Is there a man of flesh and blood under Kestrel's impeccable clothes?

I loved the first book in this Regency mystery series, Cut to the Quick, which introduced us to the dapper Julian Kestrel, a gentleman in London famous for the cut of his clothes and good taste.   Having solved a murder mystery in Cut to the Quick, he is now somewhat famous as an amateur sleuth.  In A Broken Vessel we pick up with Julian again, as well as with his valet, Dipper, a former pickpocket whose proud to have left his old career for a new and respectable one.  Julian and Dipper make a good pair, but I had a tough time getting into this mystery.   Instead of a pair, there was a threesome that developed - and it made me uneasy. 

Sally Stokes is a prostitute who is also Dipper's sister.  From the detailed book description above you get the gist of what takes place.  Sally gets around and picked up three different men in one night. She likes to steal a little something from them - a handkerchief usually, as she did with each of these three men on this one particular evening.  But, she fingers a letter too, written by an unknown lady which sets in motion the mystery.  Who is the writer of the letter, which is a plea to come rescue her from some place - where?  That same evening, one of Sally's customers beats her up and Dipper brings her back to Julian's to patch her up.  She winds up staying there until she's better and discovers the letter among her things.  She brings it to Julian and Dippers attention and they all take an interest in it.  In a short amount of time they investigate the possibilities and are able to determine the location of the young lady.  It is a house where fallen women can go to turn their backs on their former lives and become good Christians again through hard work and prayer.

The mystery thickens as Sally volunteers to pretend she wants to be "saved" and goes to the house to see if she can find out who wrote the letter.  Whoever it was seems to have been a lady, which makes it all the more odd and mysterious.  Julian feels honor bound to try and discover how he may be able to help this poor young lady who obviously is ashamed and afraid to go to her family.  Something terrible must have happened that made her take such a drastic step which led to this house of redemption.  

Meanwhile, Julian is developing an unseemly attraction to Sally, which he is resisting, being the gentleman he is.  But, Sally is hot and heavy for him as well!  Still, Julian tells her no, he must not and Sally understands and stops throwing herself at him.  But, once Julian seemed to have made up his mind to resist her, it made him think of her all the more!  This made me a bit uneasy for 1) I didn't like the idea of Julian actually having any kind of lasting attachment to a prostitute, no matter how charming she can be and 2) She's Dipper's sister, and I felt it was a bit creepy for Julian to contemplate something with Sally when Dipper is his friend and valet!  The whole thing just didn't bode well for me.  It was off.

Back to the mystery side of the story... When Sally first goes to the house for fallen women, she finds out the person who wrote the letter has just died the night before - by poisoning herself.  No one knew who she really was, for she would not divulge her real name.  The house is in an uproar over it and after much discussion with Dipper and Julian Sally returns a week or so later and is admitted in as an "inmate."  Sally learns all sorts of things while there, picking up loads of clues.   It soon becomes apparent that the young lady who killed herself was probably murdered to make it look like a suicide.  The plot becomes more and more complex and it was clever, but I grew weary of Sally, Sally, Sally for a great part of the book centers on her while in the house - with no Julian or Dipper in sight.  This Julian Kestrel mystery was turning into a Sally Stokes mystery instead - and I didn't like it!

As much as Sally was a game girl and a daring rookie sleuth, I expected there to be more of Julian and Dapper's end of the story.  Still, the mystery was a good one, well thought out and complex, though it seemed to be bunched up in the end with lengthy explanations of why and who did what. A recap of motives and background that grew a little tiresome.  To add to my chagrin - Julian proves he can only take so much.  He is a man after all - a man who cannot resist temptation - Sally finally gets her way.

Overall, I would have preferred that a relationship between Julian and Sally had not developed into a sexual one.  I'm all for sexual tension building which I think would have been better between them. I really thought it was unbelievable that Julian succumbed and took her to his bed, and even a little skeevy when her own brother, Dipper liked the idea his sister was sleeping with his employer (though Sally and Julian tried to hide it from him.)  I don't know, I guess I prefer my Regency English gentlemen to do the honorable thing and pay for their prostitutes rather than become their boyfriends!

Still, I won't let this minor indiscretion stop me from continuing on in the series - as long as Sally is not going to be front and center in the future.  Her mysterious departure at the end of this book gives me hope!


Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Murderous Procession by Ariana Franklin

Book Description:
In 1176, King Henry II sends his daughter Joanna to Palermo to marry his cousin, the king of Sicily. Henry chooses Adelia Aguilar, his Mistress of the Art of Death, to travel with the princess and safeguard her health. But when people in the wedding procession are murdered, Adelia and Rowley must discover the killer's identity . . . and whether he is stalking the princess or Adelia herself. 

I've really enjoyed this medieval mystery series by the late Ariana Franklin.  I consider A Murderous Procession to be the best - and unfortunately - it is the last of the series. I found it hard to put down, reading until all hours of the night.  Clever and evocative the story begins in England and ends up in Salerno on an agonizing cliffhanger of which we'll never know the conclusion, since the author died before she could write more.

Adelia Aguilar, a singular female doctor during the reign of King Henry II, is set up comfortably raising her precocious daughter in England.  Finally having agreed to become Rowley, the Bishop of St. Alban's mistress, she is content with her life.  But, she is unaware of the madman, Scary, who is stalking her.  Two years earlier she had killed his lover in self defense.  Scary has now returned to avenge his beloved's death.  The gist of the mystery in A Murderous Procession is - who is Scary and how does he plan on killing Adelia?

King Henry II wields his authority far and wide.  His favorite doctor is Adelia Aguilar and he insists - no, commands she escort his daughter, the young Princess Joanna to Sicily for her marriage to King William II. Of course, all sorts of problems occur en route.  First of all, Adelia does not want to leave England in the first place, especially since she will have to leave her daughter behind.  Rowley Picot, a former knight and her lover who Henry II made a bishop, wants her to leave for he has gotten wind of the threat on her life, brought to light by a series of near mishaps and fatal accidents to Adelia.  He believes she will be safer away from England and the threat on her life.  Ally, her daughter is left in the safe care of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry's estranged wife.  With no other choice, Adelia begrudgingly escorts the young Joanna to Sicily, unaware that Scary, blending in and disguised as someone traveling with the large entourage, is accompanying her on the journey.  Right under her nose, she has no idea - nor does anyone else - of the danger she is in.

The journey is long and soon it becomes apparent all is not as it should be.  More accidents befall Adelia and eventually she and Rowley, as well as some new and old friends realize Scary is with them.  But who is he?  She's never seen Scary before so she can't identify him.  The mystery was very well done and I guessed at one point who Scary was, but I changed my mind a few times and wound up being surprised.  This is typical of the Mistress of the Art of Death mysteries.  The culprit is always someone in plain sight - but who?  They're devious and highly clever in the way they set their traps.

I'm deliberately being coy and leaving a lot out so as not to spoil the mystery, but much happens to Adelia and her traveling companions on the journey.  She and her friends, Mansur and Ulf are nearly hanged at one point, narrowly avoiding death, though they are rescued in the nick of time.  I found the storyline riveting - a real page turner all the way up to the climatic ending in the city of Salerno at the wedding of the princess.  The author pares down the cast of suspects who are gradually removed one by one, narrowing them down to only a few possibilities.  Often I thought I knew just who it was - only to have that character absolved - paralleling how Adelia conducts her murder investigations through autopsies.  At one point during her stay for a few weeks while in hiding at a castle, she manages to solve the case of what killed an errant goat found dead.  An autopsy gave her the answer thus preventing a great kerfuffle between two neighbors!  A slight diversion from the rest of the storyline.

I highly recommend this series, the research is first rate, the plot lines are clever and not a little macabre due to the nature of the murders and motives.   Adelia is a strong and independent heroine, reminiscent of Claire Fraser in the Outlander series with her talent and knowledge of medicine.  One scene here has Adelia remove a ruptured appendix which I couldn't help but compare to when Claire in Drums of Autumn performs surgery on a grown man's testicle.  

Her love interest with Rowley Picot is the constant throughout the entire series which also delivers a bit of angst since he becomes the Bishop of St. Albans, thus preventing them from ever marrying.  They must keep their love secret for it is unseemly for a bishop to have a mistress. If only Adelia had said yes when he first asked her... but alas, they lost their chance due to her fierce independent streak and stubborn pride.  If only... if only.

I loved this book and am so sorry this is the last to be seen of Adelia, Mistress of the Art of Death. The cliffhanger ending and introduction to the Irishman, Captain O'Donnell, a possible rival to Rowley, brings up all sort of possibilities for future books in the series. It makes me wonder what the author, otherwise known as Diana Norman, would have done in her future books.  I am so, so sorry about her untimely death. Such a great loss to the literary world.

Overall - a memorable and well done historical mystery series that I've enjoyed immensely! I will miss it!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James (audio)

Book Description:
Miss Kate Daltry doesn't believe in fairy tales . . . or happily ever after. 

Forced by her stepmother to attend a ball, Kate meets a prince . . . and decides he's anything but charming. A clash of wits and wills ensues, but they both know their irresistible attraction will lead nowhere. For Gabriel is promised to another woman—a princess whose hand in marriage will fulfill his ruthless ambitions. 

Gabriel likes his fiancée, which is a welcome turn of events, but he doesn't love her. Obviously, he should be wooing his bride-to-be, not the witty, impoverished beauty who refuses to fawn over him. 

Godmothers and glass slippers notwithstanding, this is one fairy tale in which destiny conspires to destroy any chance that Kate and Gabriel might have a happily ever after. 

Unless a prince throws away everything that makes him noble . . .
Unless a dowry of an unruly heart trumps a fortune . . .
Unless one kiss at the stroke of midnight changes everything. 

Eloisa James is a hit or miss author for me.  This was a miss, so I'll limit this to a short review.

On audio this romance was almost excruciatingly painful to listen to. The narrator, Susan Duerden was all right from a technical standpoint, but her choice of accent on the hero to the breathy helplessness of the heroine in the throes of passion had me rolling my eyes.  I came near to chucking the whole thing, yet I persevered and finished it.  If I had been reading it instead of listening, I never would have finished it.  The plot itself did nothing to make the book more endurable either.

Beautiful cover, though.

This Cinderalla romance starts off with a convoluted plot - typical of what I've previously read by this author.  It takes a while to get used to who is who and there are always too many side characters to keep track of.  Kate Daltry, our heroine, is the daughter of a deceased wealthy gentleman who remarried shortly after the death of Kate's chronically ill mother.  We find out he never loved her, and his second wife turned out to have been his mistress for many years.  It turns out that Kate's stepsister (who is a nice girl - she isn't evil) is really her half-sister.  Their father left all his money to his wife, who in turn gave it to her daughter as a dowry.  The evil and vain stepmother winds up treating Kate like a servant, but Kate bears up well and is good and kind and all the usual stuff like in a fairy tale.

Kate's half-sister, Victoria, is engaged to be married to a very young man, Algernon - Algie, who has gotten her pregnant.  She isn't the brightest, but she is nice - though she cries a lot.  She is considered very beautiful though a bit eccentric.  She wears wigs all the time (this takes place during Regency times, I believe) in all sorts of odd colors.  She also brings her three little yappy dogs with her wherever she goes.  Due to an unfortunate infection on her lip (ew gross), Victoria cannot join Algie to be presented at a ball to meet his cousin, Prince Gabriel Albrecht Fredrick William von Aschenberg - who is a prince from some small country in Europe that is now living in a castle in Lancashire.   It's still a bit unclear to me about why he is living in England in the first place.  Gabriel is short on money and engaged to a Russian princess with a huge dowry.  By marrying her he can take care of all his many relatives who live with him in the castle - as well as a menagerie of animals, including a lion that eats dogs.  There was no end to this bizarre tale.

Marianna, Kate's evil step-mother decides to send Kate instead, posing as Victoria.  This is the first of many implausible plot points.  No one is going to realize they are two different people?  Algie is in on the ruse, but once they arrive at the castle, there are going to be plenty of people there at the ball who have previously met Victoria, won't they notice a difference?  Kate is reed thin - as we are told over and over in the book, to the point where I imagine she must look starved.  Victoria, on the other hand, is on the rounded plump side.  These people may be snobby aristocrats but they're not blind or dumb!  Sure enough, there is one person there who sees through her disguise...her fairy godmother - of course!

At the castle Kate meets the Prince who takes an instant fascination to her.  Why?  She's nothing much to look at, none of her clothes fit because they're all borrowed from Victoria, she wears false wax boobs (because she is flat chested and Victoria isn't) and she's always wearing these ridiculous wigs!  Why in the world would Gabriel drop everything and risk scandal and an advantageous marriage for this ... this... nobody?  He finds out soon enough she's not really Victoria Daltry, and he assumes she's some illegitimate child to a nobleman.  He keeps trying to seduce her, even though he knows she's a virgin.  Does Kate ever tell him who she really is?  No.  She keeps hemming and hawing and wringing her hands about what to do! He promises he'll take her to paradise - do everything to her except deflower her.  *rolls eyes*  After much protestations and shocked sensibilities she eventually decides to let him - all on the night of this big ball in which his fiancee is being introduced to Society (having just arrived from Russia.)  Kate waits upstairs in his room, taking a bath, reading magazines, doing her nails, blah, blah, blah (okay, I'm exaggerating) while he runs upstairs during breaks to ravish her!  What a joke!

The next night she attends another ball at the castle and this time she goes as herself.   She's finally wearing something that fits and her own hair!  She is the most beautiful girl there.  The Prince can't take his eyes off her, it's obvious they love one another when they dance, yet... he's engaged to the Russian Princess.  At midnight Kate flees after a kiss...

Deflowered and no longer a virgin, she leaves the castle and the Prince forever since she knows he can't marry her because he needs the money for his family and castle.   It's a hopeless situation, except her godmother, who just so happens to be at the castle and recognizes who she is immediately, (even though she hasn't seen her since she was an infant,) takes Kate into her care and lo and behold - it turns out Kate's really an heiress!  How convenient!  

Some weeks later Gabriel shows up, unmarried (he couldn't go through with it with the Russian princess) and asks Kate to marry him - and she has money too!  Now they don't have to worry and be poor!  But, he planned anyway to support them with his bestselling book on ancient archeology and the legend of Dido and Aeneus. *cough*

And so you have it, I'm leaving loads of this outlandish plot line out, but I found it hard to like any of the main characters in this book (I did actually like the godmother).  Gabriel was selfish for most of the story until the very end, Kate was an idiot to go along with this dumb plan to begin with and then give into the Prince, Victoria was TSTL, same with Algie.  Two of Gabriel's friends weren't bad, I liked them, one being his illegitimate half brother and the other someone named Toulouse.  A side plot with a girl who was accused of molesting a nobleman was diverting, but basically this was one unbelievable story!


Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne

Book Description:
When veteran spy, Justine DeCabrillac, is attacked on a rainy London street, she knows only one man can save her: Adrian Hawkhurst, her oldest friend . . . her oldest enemy.

London's crawling with hidden assassins and someone is out to frame Hawker for her murder. The two spies must work together to find out who wants to destroy them.

This was a terrific addition to the Spymaster's Lady series. Fourth in the series, this is Adrian's story - 'Awker.  The young guttersnipe we meet in Bourne's earlier books is now a grown gentleman and the Spymaster in London.  Rich and worldly, it is 1818, over 20 years since he first met Justine in France.  He looks back on his life with her as he struggles to keep her alive after an assassination attempt.  Adrian and Justine's story is a twist on the classic spy vs. spy story. The poignancy of the flashbacks help us see how much they both meant to each other, of how they grew up - together and apart - in the spy business, on opposite sides of the playing field.  These windows in time fill in the blanks of the events leading up to the present day when Justine fights for her life. I loved this book and was up half the night reading it.

Adrian (Hawker) and Justine's relationship is complex.  They first meet as young teenagers, both trying to outdo the other.  Justine, working as a spy for the French, carries the burden of her bitter childhood memories. Born a French aristocrat whose parents were killed in the revolution, she was forced to become a child whore in a brothel.  Rescued from that life and recruited as a spy for the French, she threw herself into the spy business, trying to forget her former life and the self loathing that went with it.  

It helps to have read Bourne's previous, The Forbidden Rose, for we first meet Justine there.  I went back and skimmed it and I must admit, I have a greater appreciation for the book now, after reading The Black Hawk.  I wasn't bowled over by The Forbidden Rose at the time I read it.  Now, in retrospect I like it more for it really sets the stage for Justine's story here in The Black Hawk.  I wonder if it would have been better to have read The Black Hawk first, for I would have appreciated some of the scenes in The Forbidden Rose more if I had.  It's ironic The Black Hawk's title suggests Adrian's story, but I really think of it more as Justine's, though much of it is seen through Adrian's eyes.  Justine's story is bittersweet, the life of a spy is not easy.  Although Justine finds a career that helps her overcome her past and regain her dignity - she pays a price.  She gives up her younger sister (to Doyle and Maggie, as seen in The Forbidden Rose) and she must give up the man she loves - Hawker.  Her life goes from one mission to another, sometimes she runs into Hawker, sometimes she manages to get away to see her sister in England, but often, she's on the run or in hiding and disguise in some other country.

I loved seeing how they both grew up throughout this book as the story unfolds.  Each flashback gives us another indication of how they grew and matured.   We see how they first become lovers and the way Hawker helps Justine overcome her tragic background.  He's such a smart and clever young man.  I applaud the way Bourne crafts her poignant tale as Adrian looks back over his memories with Justine and their complicated life together.  We glimpse what their life must have been like.  Stolen moments, climbing through windows, trysting - guarding their secret life as lovers - for their careers as opposing spies to one another could get them both killed if found out.  Their affair was also a friendship, a mutual admiration and respect for each others craft. We learn many things, including what ultimately happened that caused their separation and the permanent rift that ended their love affair.  Some parts were so exciting and riveting, I had a hard time putting this book down.  Very, very cleverly done, the author knows the ways of a good undercover operative.  I dreamed of Justine and Hawker.  In addition to the espionage portions of the book and their assignments, the events described were memorable and meaningful, especially when compared to the same events in The Forbidden Rose, all leading up to present day 1818 when Justine is close to dying.

Of course, there is also the additional story line of who tried to kill Justine and why are they trying to make it look like it was Hawker.  Who's behind all of it?  Lots of scheming and intrigue, but I found the ultimate show down a bit anti-climatic.  I really thought the villain was going to be someone else.   Oh well... kept me guessing.   Anyway, the best part of this book is the relationship between Justine and Hawker.  It's an understatement to say I was thrilled with their happy ending.

I highly recommend you give this series a try if you haven't already.  My favorite book to date is the first in the series, The Spymaster's Lady, but The Black Hawk is a close second!


P.S. I love the cover! It's just how I imagine Adrian to look!  Perfection!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Notorious Pleasures by Elizabeth Hoyt

Book Description:
Their lives were perfect . . .
Lady Hero Batten, the beautiful sister of the Duke of Wakefield, has everything a woman could want, including the perfect fiancé. True, the Marquis of Mandeville is a trifle dull and has no sense of humor, but that doesn't bother Hero. Until she meets his notorious brother . . .

Until they met each other.
Griffin Remmington, Lord Reading, is far from perfect - and he likes it that way. How he spends his days is a mystery, but all of London knows he engages in the worst sorts of drunken revelry at night. Hero takes an instant dislike to him, and Griffin thinks that Hero, with her charities and faultless manners, is much too impeccable for society, let alone his brother. Yet their near-constant battle of wits soon sparks desire - desire that causes their carefully constructed worlds to come tumbling down. As Hero's wedding nears, and Griffin's enemies lay plans to end their dreams forever, can two imperfect people find perfect true love?

I loved this romance, second in the Maiden Lane series.  I even thought it was better than it's predecessor.   The series continues with Lady Hero Batten, daughter and sister to a duke, who is the perfect, respectable young lady.  Set during early Georgian times, which is one of my favorite romance time periods, Hero is engaged to be married to the oh so respectable Marquis of Mandeville.   She doesn't love him, but it's a good match that her brother has arranged for her.  Everything seems to be coming along smoothly until she meets his disreputable brother, Griff.  

I admit, I was a bit taken about by how they meet.  Our first impression of Griff is that he is just as his reputation says, a womanizer, a philanderer, reckless and dissolute.  Basically, he's a dog.  When he and Hero first meet it is at a ball.  Griff is busy getting it on with with a married lady as Hero walks in on them.  Ever cool under pressure and a lady in any circumstance, Hero then proceeds to help cover it up to the lady's husband who is about to enter the room!   What a first impression!  Memorable, to say the least!

Despite the fact he's a known rake, can the respectable Lady Hero throw caution to the wind and give in to the passion she develops for her future brother-in-law?  They are thrown together over and over again and before long they can't deny they are crazy about one another.  Not only is it a sticky situation, but he's the owner of a gin still in London's East End!  Will she go ahead and marry his staid brother, the Marquis (who has his own secrets and issues)?  Or will she run off with Griff?  What will her brother do when he finds out about her affair?  It will not exactly keep her in his good graces, plus he can ruin Griff, especially when he finds out that he runs a gin still!

I know this is off the wall, but in regard to her brother, I couldn't help comparing the way that Hero's parents were murdered to that of Bruce Wayne's parents in Batman. While attending the theatre in the East End, they were set upon and murdered.  Very similar.  Bruce Wayne becomes the crime fighting Batman and Hero's brother, the Duke of Wakefield rabidly hunts down all the gin stills in London in order to clear them out.  Is he the mysterious sword wielding minstrel that pops up from time to time in this series?  It would really be similar to Batman if that were the case - but I don't think so.  I have my suspicions of who it is but I won't reveal them just yet.

As much as I loved this book, I did have trouble believing that Hero could fall for such an obvious womanizer and commit the unthinkable! She must be crazy to fall for him but as she gets to know him better, the two seem to go together well, like (as he says) "bread and butter."  But, they're also like oil and vinegar.  What will she do?  If she breaks her engagement and goes with Griff, she'll be ostracized by society.  Plus, there's an old rumor that the reason Griff and his brother, the Marquis, don't get along with one another is because Griff slept with the Marquis' first wife who died in childbirth - supposedly with Griff's baby!  Was it true?  Can we trust Griff or not?  I had a lot of issues with him - primarily his connections with the gin still.  Turns out he's the financial brains behind the family and keeps it so that he can support his family and their expensive lifestyle.  If he married Hero, she is an heiress and that would solve his money problems.  Of course, that makes Hero wonder - does he want to marry her for her money or because he loves her?

I'll keep this brief, but the whole thing winds up with an exciting conclusion and we get a glimpse of what's coming in the next book in the series... more of the seamy side of London's East End and it's Hogarth-like descriptions.

Overall, I liked this hot and steamy follow up to the first in Hoyt's Maiden Lane series.  Elizabeth Hoyt is one of my favorite romance authors, so I'm eager to get to the next.  Her writing is first rate, the clothing, settings and characterizations are all very, very well done.  The chemistry and snappy dialogue between Hero and Griffin really makes the book, despite their implausible relationship.  I would have rated this higher except for the fact Griff was a little "too much" of a bad boy for me.  Still, he does manage to redeem himself, but the relationship between them was a bit far fetched - enjoyable and sizzling - but far fetched.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Sweet Magik by Penny Watson

Book Description:
Oskar Klaus' job is killing him. Not even his favorite hobbies (extreme snowboarding and browsing old bookstores) are enough to snap him out of his funk. It's not easy living in the shadow of four successful older brothers and a father named Santa. Little does he know that a kiss on New Year's Eve is about to turn his life upside-down.

Kiana Grant's Manhattan life is a world away from her childhood in Oahu. She traded sunsets and surfing for a respectable career in library science, but Oskar Klaus is a temptation that's hard to resist. Before she knows it, she's in the midst of an outrageous adventure in the North Pole, dealing with mischievous elves, wicked demons, and a devastating attraction to Santa's youngest son.

There's just one problem...a bitter elf hell-bent on revenge threatens the future of everyone in the North Pole, even Santa himself...

Book Two of the Klaus Brother's Series that takes place in Glasdorf aka The North Pole.  This is a heartwarming holiday romance that pairs charming bad boy, green haired, snow boarding Oskar Klaus, the youngest of the Klaus boys, with the unlikely Kiana Grant, a staid librarian he meets at his brother's New Year's Eve party in Manhattan.

Oskar's having some job issues these days.  He feels like he's gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to his occupation.  His older brothers all seem to have really cool jobs supporting the family industry known as Santa Klaus - their father.  Oskar's job?  He's in charge of keeping Santa's elves in line.  Elves. They're an irascible lot, prone to overindulging in alcohol and magical pranks (winters are long at the North Pole). Somebody's got to make sure they get all their orders completed in time for Christmas Eve and Oskar has the honor of being in charge of all elves related matters in Glasdorf.  It's been an exhausting month getting the Christmas orders in and by the time Oskar makes it to his brother's party on New Year's Eve, he's ready for a break.  Sick and tired of his lacklustre job, he's going through a quasi mid-life crisis - even though he's way too young for one.   Vapid supermodels just don't seem to appeal to him any longer.  His yearning for something - but doesn't know what.  He's ready for something different, something... gray and wearing glasses.  Something that looks like a librarian?

As we soon learn appearances aren't always what they seem.  Oskar spies Kiana Grant, who is dressed to "repel" at his brother's party.  She's disguised as a frumpy wallflower - and likes it that way - or so she thinks.  Denial, baby.  Coming off a hard break up with a two timing boyfriend in her native Hawaii, Kiana  has relocated to New York City to live with her best friend Trish.  They just happen to live in the same building as Oskar's brother.  Oskar's instant curiosity with Kiana leads to a magikal kiss at the stroke of midnight that catches them both off guard.  Could this be that elusive thing called love - or is it all from a magikal spell cast by a disgruntled (and drunken) elf in Glasdorf?

Watson brings the world of Glasdorf to life as the story shifts to the North Pole where Oskar must find out who is wreaking havoc amidst the elven world.   A dark and evil magical force has been unleashed and, with Oskar in the lead, he and his brothers - as well as some helpful and (repentent) elves set out to capture the bad guy.  Little does Oskar know there's a stowaway on his high speed sleigh back to the North Pole.   Kiana has hitched a ride and Oskar has a lot of explaining to do!  As much as he's glad to have Kiana nearby, he also worries she may be in danger.  Although that doesn't stop them from getting to know each other better, involving a pretty steamy shower scene.  Hot. Kiana takes the whole Santa, North Pole phenomenon pretty well, considering how off the wall it is. I would too if I had an Oskar Klaus on my arm.   Having had almost no family to speak of in her childhood, she takes to the Klaus clan wholeheartedly - and the feeling is mutual.   All seems to be going great between them, until they find out their love for one another might be nothing more than a love spell - that will soon wear off!  Huh? Uh-oh.

I won't go over the entire plot line, but this is a fun story with plenty of action, adventure and a cute little waif in need of a mother and father.  Did I mention there are some wicked love scenes too? The characterizations are right on target with depth and background, giving weight to the tender and bittersweet moments that crop up in the storyline.  It was a pleasure to read about how both Kiana and Oskar surprisingly evolve to find they are truly made for one another, reinforcing the "don't judge a book by its cover" theme*. This romance has everything!  If you enjoy contemporary holiday themed romances with bits of whimsical fantasy and magical elements thrown in - this is the book for you! I recommend it!


*Speaking of covers - this one is great! I simply love it and it fits with the story perfectly!

**This book was given to me by the author for review - thanks Penny!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin (audio)

Book Description:
A comet the color of blood and flame cuts across the sky. Two great leaders—Lord Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon—who hold sway over an age of enforced peace are dead, victims of royal treachery. Now, from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns. Six factions struggle for control of a divided land and the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms, preparing to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war. It is a tale in which brother plots against brother and the dead rise to walk in the night. Here a princess masquerades as an orphan boy; a knight of the mind prepares a poison for a treacherous sorceress; and wild men descend from the Mountains of the Moon to ravage the countryside. Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, victory may go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel...and the coldest hearts. For when kings clash, the whole land trembles.

I don't have a whole lot to say about Book 2 in Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire Series that hasn't already been said, so I'll be brief.  A Clash of Kings continues the story that centers on the civil war and battle for the make believe world of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.  The title is apt, for the book is based on the power struggle of several kings who all believe they are entitled to the rightful title and to rule over the Seven Kingdoms.  I can't say I totally loved this book, but it was engrossing.  I'm not a Game of Thrones nut, but the series has merit and the characters are memorable.

This was a long, long audiobook, 37 hours!  Roy Dotrice continues the narration of the unabridged epic and he's wonderful at all the voices and accents needed to bring the story to life.  The main point of view characters in A Clash... are Bran, crippled and living at Winterfell, Theon Greyjoy who I cannot stand, I hope he dies - soon.  Tyrion Lannister (my favorite) who is aces at dealing with his sister's diabolical schemes, Arya Stark is still trying to make her way back to Winterfell disguised as a boy.  Sansa Stark remains captive and under the thumb of the Lannisters at King's Landing, betrothed to the detestable Joffrey.  We don't see much of Robb Stark who's declared himself king of the North.  There's some of Jon Snow, but for the most part his part at The Wall was limited and confusing while fighting wildings and witnessing strange goings on north of the Wall.  What will happen to him next? An alarming turn of events takes place that will drastically change Jon's storyline. Tyrion, Arya, Sansa and Theon are front and center and most of what happens revolves around them.  Daenrrys' plotline dragged.  With her baby dragons, she is traveling in the East, hoping to find a way to regain her lost kingdom, but not a whole lot on her, disappointing since her storyline was so good in Book 1!  For such a large and long book, I didn't get the impression that the story moved forward a lot in all respects.  So many of the characters seemed to be in a holding pattern waiting for something big to happen.

By the end, the big climax is the battle at King's Landing between Stannis Baratheon and the Lannisters.  There is somewhat of a cliffhanger after the battle.  What will happen to Bran now that Winterfell has been torched?  No longer the Hand of the King after the big battle, Tyrion is wounded - what will happen to him now that his father is in charge?  Sansa Stark's future looks bleak, will she become the mistress to Joffrey, now that he's betrothed to Margaery Tyrell?  Or will she somehow wind up with the scarred Sandor Clegane!?

Another question, who is Jaquen H'ghar?  A mysterious criminal that winds up helping Arya.  She had a list of people she hated and he killed a few for her - nice of him.  He gives her a coin and a special phrase to say aloud.  I'm very curious about him and who he really is.  He must be somebody special and key to the whole series.

Overall, I liked the book, but I think of it as more of a transitional book, gearing up for what happens next in Book 3.  It will be a while before I get to it, I need a break, though I'm eager to see the next season of the HBO series.  It should be interesting to see how they sex up this war and battle driven second installment in the TV series, but I'm sure they'll find a way! ;)


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Love in the Afternoon by Lisa Kleypas

Book Description:
As a lover of animals and nature, Beatrix Hathaway has always been more comfortable outdoors than in the ballroom. Even though she participated in the London season in the past, the classic beauty and free-spirited Beatrix has never been swept away or seriously courted...and she has resigned herself to the fate of never finding love. Has the time come for the most unconventional of the Hathaway sisters to settle for an ordinary man-just to avoid spinsterhood?

Captain Christopher Phelan is a handsome, daring soldier who plans to marry Beatrix's friend, the vivacious flirt Prudence Mercer, when he returns from fighting abroad. But, as he explains in his letters to Pru, life on the battlefield has darkened his soul--and it's becoming clear that Christopher won't come back as the same man. When Beatrix learns of Pru's disappointment, she decides to help by concocting Pru's letters to Christopher for her. Soon the correspondence between Beatrix and Christopher develops into something fulfilling and deep...and when Christopher comes home, he's determined to claim the woman he loves. What began as Beatrix's innocent deception has resulted in the agony of unfulfilled love-and a passion that can't be denied...

Last of the Hathaway Series and my second favorite of all five of the books, Beatrix, the youngest and animal-lover extraordinaire finally gets her story. 

Shell shocked from the Crimean War, Christopher Phelan returns home and learns the woman who he corresponded with - and fell in love with through her letters - wasn't who he thought she was. Can he forgive Beatrix Hathaway - the real author of the letters?

Beatrix is one of those heroines that's different from other girls.  Frankly, all the Hathaway women are a bit different from your typical Society young lady, but Beatrix is even more different.  Having lost her parents at a young age, she had her ups and downs growing up.  Bouts of kleptomania, brought on due to feelings of abandonment worried her siblings but she was able to overcome her problems eventually.  One of the ways she coped with her trials was through her love of animals.  Beatrix has a natural affinity towards them.  She can tame just about anything.  In some ways she's like a "horse whisperer."  Give her an animal that's got some kind of psychosis and Beatrix can cure it - make it whole again.

Enter Captain Christopher Phelan. 

Before he went off to war, Christopher was a gallant and debonair flirt, the life of the party.  Dressed up in his regimentals he cut a dashing figure.  But the war changed him.  With a natural talent as a sharpshooter, he became a killer in the war.   The constant killing and slaughter of his friends and comrades took it's toll on Phelan, he was no longer carefree.  He returned to England after the war a hero, lauded for his courage and brave deeds.  But all of that meant nothing to him.  He suffered from shell shock and guilt.  He survived when he was unable to save his best friend.  Avoiding all the fanfare as a returning hero, all he wanted to do was find the girl who kept him sane.  The girl who understood him and wrote him the wonderful letters that made him want to live and return home one day.  The girl that captured his heart and soul.  Who understood what he was going through in the war, his doubts and fears.  His feelings of loss and inadequacy.

Unfortunately, the girl he thought he was corresponding with was all a lie.  It all began so innocently.  Beatrix' friend Prudence had met Captain Phelan before he went off to war and promised to write to him.  His first letter to her was very down and realistic and she wasn't interested in reading about his problems in his letters. A shallow and uncaring girl, she mentioned his letter to Beatrix.   Beatrix, naturally empathetic, felt terrible for him and wound up returning his letter under the guise of her friend.  Before long their letters were becoming deeper and more meaningful.  They were caring and compassionate.  She was falling in love with Christopher (the same man who once scorned her and said she only belonged in a stable). Eventually, she could no longer continue with the deception.  He thought he was corresponding with Prudence, not the strange Beatrix Hathaway!  Her last letter to him basically told him that she wasn't who he thought she was and to come back and find her.  Due to a mix up, Beatrix never meant to send that last letter.  But it got mailed anyway.  He misunderstood it's meaning and the first person he wanted to see upon his return to England was the shallow Prudence!

It doesn't take Christopher long to realize the real Prudence wasn't at all like the Prudence of his letters.  Yet, he couldn't understand why.   It left him disillusioned.  He was angry and bitter and it didn't help the dog that he brought home with him from the war was nipping and growling at everyone in sight.  The only one that seemed to be able to tame it was, of course, Beatrix.  Phelan and Beatrix develop an uneasy friendship but over time she is able to help him relax - and she tames his dog.  As he spends more and more time with Prudence, he keeps resisting the suspicions that are growing in his mind.  The things she says... they sound like Prudence's letters... could it be? Did Prudence write those letters?  If not - was it Beatrix?  Were they playing one big joke on him?  Imagining the worst, he confronts Beatrix and... I won't spoil it, you'll have to read it yourself, but it was moving and emotional and vintage Lisa Kleypas.  I had tears in my eyes when Christopher and Beatrix finally have their reckoning.  She owed him an explanation and he needed to know that the woman he grew to love through her letters really existed - and loved him back.

I loved this moving and emotional tale which brought me to tears.  A real winner.  Christopher and Beatrix' story has many facets to it.  It's sad and emotional, yet uplifting, not to mention some pretty hot love scenes.  Their moment of truth is passionate and satisfying and worthy of all that they've gone through to get to that penultimate moment.  She is perfect for him, as only she can understand him and "tame" him.  I was so happy to find that Beatrix finally found her perfect mate and I was happy for Christopher to have a happy ending as well.

Great, great story that will tug at your heartstrings.  I highly recommend this thoughtful and wonderful finale to the Hathaway Series!


Friday, November 4, 2011

The Rake by Suzanne Enoch

Book Description:
Three determined young ladies vow to give three of London's worst rakes their comeuppance - but when these rogues turn the tables, who truly learns a lesson in love?

Once upon a time, the notorious Viscount Dare charmed Lady Georgiana Halley out of her innocence - to win a wager, no less! - and now he must pay dearly. The, plan is simple: She will use every seductive wile she knows to win Dare's heart...and then break it. But his smoldering gaze once again tempts Georgiana to give in to desire - and when he astonishes her with a marriage proposal, she wonders: Is he playing yet another game...or could it truly be love this time?

An apt title for this enjoyable Regency romance that has somewhat of an unorthodox relationship between the hero and hero. A misalliance from six years ago still haunts Lady Georgiana who thinks she is teaching the same man a lesson by getting him to fall in love with her.  But it all backfires.  Who falls for who, or rather, who's been in love for the past six years? A fun and sexy romp, but I admit, I was taken aback to find out the man in question - our hero, Lord Dare, had taken Georgiana's virginity so many years ago! What a rake!  I hadn't read the book blurb, so I was completely unprepared and was a bit put off and didn't like him at first.  There are scoundrels and then there are scoundrels!

But he grew on me, he is pretty charming and handsome and sexy and basically irresistible.  But I wanted to know what happened that night?  Why did he leave her?  And why didn't he do the honorable thing and propose marriage to her?  And most importantly, what's he going to do to make it up to her?  All we know is he did it on a bet that he could get her to give him one of her stockings.  Which she did, though he never told anyone how.  Everyone believes he tried to kiss her and she got angry with him and that is why they have been arch enemies ever since.  Now it's payback time and Georgiana is convinced she is doing Dare's latest conquest, Miss Whats-her-name, a favor.  In a convoluted sense of logic, Georgiana thinks that if Dare has his heart broken, he'll make a better husband to someone else before they get their heart broken by him?  Get it?

The story progresses and Georgiana begins to be "nice" to him.  Part of her plan to get him to fall in love with her. She also moves in with him.   No, no, it's not what you think.  He has two elderly aunts and Georgiana uses them as a ruse by making it look like she's moving in to take care of them and keep them company when really the more she's around him, the more likely he is to fall for her.  A far fetched plot device, but it serves it's purpose.  Little does Georgiana know the aunts are hatching their own little scheme to hook Georgiana and Dare up together as well!  He's suspicious at first of the whole thing and is convinced she's setting him up for some horrible retribution.  This is the girl he debauched after all.  The girl that got away, the girl he wished things had turned out differently with.  Gradually they develop a sort of wary truce and he begins to take her out and escort to her to balls and places.  She gets to know him again and the rest of his family.  He has several brothers and before Georgiana knows it, she's falling for him again and feeling like part of the family!

But.. but this can't be!  She's doing all of this so Miss Whats-her-name can marry him - isn't she? What about her plan to break his heart?  Before long both Georgiana and Dare have no eyes for anyone else, but it all goes terribly wrong.  They spend the night together again, she leaves him another stocking and an awful note and - leaves him!  Grrr!  What was she thinking?  She goes back to live with her own aunt (who is a duchess) and Dare goes after her, irate and - in love!  By the end of the book, another monkey wrench gets thrown into the whole brouhaha regarding Miss Whats-her-name, some even more totally implausible series of events take place and Georgiana and Dare finally team up together to insure their happily ever after ending!

Despite some very outlandish doings this was a delightful romance.  Funny and sexy like a screwball comedy with heat. Nothing too deep or melodramatic.  The author could have turned it into an angsty mess at one point, but I'm so glad she didn't! I really loved this romance and I am definitely reading some more by this new to me author!  At last, another humorous series of historicals I can look forward to!  I highly recommend this frothy regency!


Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Duke by Gaelen Foley

Book Description:
Driven to uncover the truth about the mysterious death of his ladylove, the Duke of Hawkscliffe will go to any lengths to unmask a murderer. Even if it means jeopardizing his reputation by engaging in a scandalous affair with London's most provocative courtesan-the desirable but aloof Belinda Hamilton.

Bel has used her intelligence and wit to charm the city's titled gentlemen, while struggling to put the pieces of her life back together. She needs a protector, so she accepts Hawk's invitation to become his mistress in name only. He asks nothing of her body, but seeks her help in snaring the same man who shattered her virtue. Together they tempt the unforgiving wrath of society-until their risky charade turns into a dangerous attraction, and Bel must make a devastating decision that could ruin her last chance at love. . . .

I am somewhat of an historical romance snob.  One of the things I have a hard time with in romances is when the heroine is a courtesan.  Rarely have I come across a romance that had this scenario where I could live with it.  One exception is A Courtesan's Guide to Getting Your Man.  Another one is ... The Duke. 

The Duke is the first book of the Knight Miscellany Series.  I had a bit of trouble getting into it at first because of the depressing scenario.  Our hero, the Duke of Hawkscliffe is suffering due to the fact the woman he loved - the married woman he loved - has drowned.  Something is afoot, and Hawk is certain she was murdered.  It's an uncomfortable scenario, for her elderly husband (who's up to something) convinces Hawk to avenge her murder.  Her husband, Coldfell, sends Hawk on his way convincing him his nephew (and heir) may have been the murderer.  Hawk rushes off to avenge the death of his love, Lucy Coldfell (whom he never actually had relations with - their love was too pure for that).  The elderly Coldfell rubs his hands gleefully, certain that the duke will conveniently kill his nephew in a duel.

Before all of this, we meet Belinda Hamilton, an honorable young lady who is down on her luck.  Beautiful beyond compare, she has attracted the notice of an obnoxious young "gentleman", Sir Dolph.  Dolph wants to marry her and refuses to take no for an answer, going to extreme lengths to get her to capitulate.  Her absent minded father, a professor only interested in his illuminated manuscripts, forgets to pay their bills.  Dolph uses this as his chance to make her agree to marry him.  He has her father thrown into debtors prison.  But, Belinda fights to keep her head above water and does everything to earn her own money - except the unthinkable.  She will not sell herself or marry the creep.   Guess who the creep is?  The nephew that Hawk is out to kill!

Unfortunately for Belinda, the worst thing happens and she is raped by the warden of her father's prison.  It's horrible, especially after trying so hard to remain respectable.  Now what can she do?  Ruined and traumatized, she has no where else to turn to.  All she knows is she needs help and a protector - someone that will make her feel safe.  Out of choices and resources, she goes to the most exclusive and sought after courtesans in London.  She resigns herself to becoming a courtesan herself.  An independent woman who will be able to have her own home and money and never be hungry again.  She is taken in by the sisters who run the exclusive brothel and taught the ways of love - but only in theory.  Though no longer technically a virgin - Belinda has yet to try out her new talents. She realizes she'll need a protector, but she doesn't rush into anything - waiting for just the right man to come along.  She can now afford to be choosy.  She'll know who he is when she sees him.

And guess who comes along?

As you can guess, Hawk and Bel meet at a ball and he becomes enamored of her instantly, against his better judgment.  He believes she's an experienced courtesan, the newest sensation amidst the demimonde.  Yet he can't abide women who sell themselves that way.  Little does he know how his principles will be challenged!  Upon watching Bel that first evening, he soon realizes she has an axe to grind regarding Dolph.  He wastes no time in making a deal with her.  She will pose as his mistress so the two can work together to set up Dolph and get him to admit that he murdered Lucy Coldfell.  As Bel and Hawk "live" together, things heat up fast.  They're both dying for each other, but part of the bargain is they don't sleep together - it's all a ruse.  Fat chance.  Before long, they're in love and Belinda knows that there is no hope for her.  Once a respectable lady, she knows only too well a duke can never marry a notorious courtesan.  She can only keep up the facade of being happy with him for so long.  Inside her heart is breaking.  Meanwhile things are getting dangerous in regard to setting up the nephew.  This book was chock full of excitement, sensuality, surprises and danger.  Not to mention the absolute roller coaster ride leading up to the outlandishly romantic ending!  I loved it!!  (I'm deliberately leaving out a lot so as not to give away any clues or spoilers).

Despite the great ending, I had some trouble getting into this romance.  I'd have given this book five stars, if it weren't for the fact I couldn't shake the pall that hovered over the story line wondering how Bel was going to overcome society's condemnation towards her.  How was she going to live happily ever after with her duke?  I found her side of the story depressing, especially in the beginning, and my prudish sensibilities kicked in when she decided to become a courtesan.  

Still, by the end, as Hawk realizes he can't live without her, I got more into it and I was won over completely.  Their love for one another was heartbreaking and bittersweet but the ending more than made up for all my doubts.  I really didn't know how the author was going to make it right!  But... she did.  Wonderfully!  I highly recommend this book but keep in mind it has it's dark side to it and it's somewhat angsty.

Hawk has a couple of hunky brothers, so I'm definitely continuing with this series!


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Romancing the Countess by Ashley March

Book Description:
Sebastian Madinger, the Earl of Wriothesly, thought he'd married the perfect woman-until a fatal accident revealed her betrayal with his best friend. After their deaths, Sebastian is determined to avoid a scandal for the sake of his son. But his best friend's widow is just as determined to cast her mourning veil aside by hosting a party that will surely destroy both their reputations and expose all of his carefully kept secrets...

Leah George has carried the painful knowledge of her husband's affair for almost a year. All she wants now is to enjoy her independence and make a new life for herself-even if that means being ostracized by the Society whose rules she was raised to obey. Now that the rumors are flying, there's only one thing left for Sebastian to do: silence the scandal by enticing the improper widow into becoming a proper wife. But when it comes to matters of the heart, neither Sebastian nor Leah is prepared for the passion they discover in each other's arms....

There are SPOILERS in this review.

I adored this romance.  I'm afraid this review isn't going to come close to doing it justice, I was bowled over by how good this was.  This is the first book I've read by this author, but it won't be the last!

It's the story of how a husband and a wife who are married to two different people, deal with the aftermath of the deaths of their respective spouses. The catch is, the spouses were having an affair with each other.  Leah, the wife in this tragic scenario, had known about the affair already.  Sebastian, the wronged husband and the Earl of Wriothesly, adored his wife.  He was clueless about her unfaithfulness.  The shock and pain over her death not only left him numb, but then to learn of her deception?  He could have gone over the deep end, but instead, he held it together for the sake of his young son, whom he adored (an adorably written child, btw).  Nothing was more important to Sebastian than to keep his son safe from gossip and innuendo.  Fearing the story of his wife's affair would get out, he didn't want any doubts or rumors to crop up about his son's parentage.  He'd have no trouble containing the truth of the affair on his side, but what about the "grieving" widow, Mrs. Leah George?  As far as Wriothesly was concerned - she was a loose cannon!

Leah George is an interesting and different heroine.  I felt terrible for her due to the fact she had been aware of her husband's unfaithfulness many months before he died.  What irony - it was with his best friend's wife.  As a starry eyed newlywed, Leah was crushed when she unexpectedly walked in on her husband and his mistress, the perfect wife of the Earl of Wriothesly.  The thought of catching her husband in the act - how devastating!  When he died (with his lover) months later, Leah was already a changed person, no longer that dewy ingenue from the previous year.  She had grown up overnight upon learning of her husband's secret life and by the time she became a widow, she had already mourned the end of her marriage.  She was ready for new things and a new life, but Society required she dress in mourning for an extended length of time.  Victorian times, Victorian rules.  But Leah flouted the rules and cut her mourning period short.  Bad move, in retrospect.

I really liked Leah.  Many readers will probably think she was incredibly stupid based on her actions.  She wasn't perfect and she made some pretty bad decisions, but she was strong and courageous.  Resourceful too.  But yes, she could have done things differently and saved herself a lot of headaches.  She should have re-thought her decision to commit a major social no-no which basically banned her from society.   What did she do?  She donned a new dress at her own party.  It wasn't black.  Instead it was a dark, dark blue with a deep v in the back.  Scandalous!  She was shunned, cut dead, ostracized by polite society.  The world as she knew it - ended.

Meanwhile, Wriothesly is on the sidelines looking and waiting for this debacle to happen.  He'd warned her, asked her not to do anything untoward that would make people suspect she wasn't the perfect grieving widow. But, he already had an inkling of what Leah was capable of.  Unlike Leah, he was devastated by his wife's death, but his main concern now was for his young son.  He feared that if Leah discarded her mourning too early, society would wonder why, put two and two together of why their spouses were traveling (alone) together and wonder who the real father was.  An intolerable situation, as far as he was concerned.  Just as Wriothesly predicted, everything came tumbling down for Leah after the party.  She lost her income and her home and eventually she had no choice but to become a hired ladies' companion in order to support herself.  Quite a come down.  But she took it with grace.  She knew what she had been doing and she was happy because she had her independence, even if she had no money.

The love/hate relationship that builds between Sebastian and Leah is the best part of this romance.  It gets to a point where neither one can stand the other, yet he's drawn to her.  At first he despises her and the risk she poses to his son's reputation, but then things change.  Sebastian comes across as somewhat of a prig at first, but definitely he grows on you as he begins to think of her mouth... kissing her... what she would be like in bed.  But this is the woman he can't stand!  Soon he begins to obsesses about her.  Leah too is having thoughts of Sebastian.  But she's carrying a different sort of burden.  Sex with her husband had become nearly unbearable.  Knowing he had just come from his mistress with her scent of lavender, the idea of sex became abhorrent to her.  It was something she put up with, hoping for a child.  Now, long after her husband's death, the feelings she's developing towards Sebastian have her all tied up and confused.  How can she feel passion for the man that was married to her husband's mistress?  Another man that worshiped the woman that wrecked her marriage? Unthinkable!  Yet, there is it, inconceivably the two of them do form a passion for one another.

Once Wriothesly finds out that Leah has become a ladies' companion he asks her to marry him. He can't live without her.  But, she has her conditions.  She wants to keep her independence and does not want to be at his mercy in the marriage bed until she's ready.  He agrees to her wishes, for he's primarily concerned in squelching the rumors that are cropping up about the affair.  Plus, he wants a mother for his son.  I really loved Wriothesly.  He had to deal with such an intolerable situation and he handled it with grace.  I loved the way he cared for and loved his son.  I loved his vulnerablilty, despite his tough upper lip.  He's a wonderful, noble man who deserves happiness.

Leah is all too ready to be a mother and they marry shortly after Wriothesly's proposal.  (Of course, the fact that she's been fantasizing about him has nothing to do with it!)  Little do they know what it will be like for them!  Both are under no delusions about why they're marrying - but so much changes once they marry and I loved the way they learned to live and love one another.  Leah's soon learns to regret her conditions.  I'm leaving tons out, but this was such a great story.  Their love for one another is one that needs to be carefully tended and nurtured.  Gradually it strengthens and before long it's all consuming and wonderful!

I'm leaving much out, but you can get the gist of the story.  Take my word for it, this is a different and worthwhile romance.  It starts out on a disarming note with the death and betrayal of the spouses, but turns into this bittersweet love story of two people who find love in the least likely place.  I simply love, love, loved this book!  It was so well written, poignant and memorable - and different!  I don't really know why exactly I was so crazy about this book - but I was!  Maybe it's because I'm a sucker for this time period.   All I can say is I was swept away by the characters and the drama - I couldn't get enough of it and the ending and epilogue were so fulfilling and satisfying - I was thrilled at the how these two people were able to find their way out of such a troubled time and get their happily ever after ending.   To say the least, I'm grateful to have discovered Ashley March and I'll definitely be reading more by her! Brava!


P.S.: On another note, what a gorgeous cover, which actually is a key part of the book too!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James

Book Description:
Leopold Dautry, the notorious Duke of Villiers, must wed quickly and nobly - and his choices, alas, are few. The Duke of Montague's daughter, Eleanor, is exquisitely beautiful and fiercely intelligent. Villiers betroths himself to her without further ado.

After all, no other woman really qualifies. Lisette, the outspoken daughter of the Duke of Gilner, cares nothing for clothing or decorum. She's engaged to another man, and doesn't give a fig for status or title. Half the ton believes Lisette mad - and Villiers is inclined to agree.

Torn between logic and passion, between intelligence and imagination, Villiers finds himself drawn to the very edge of impropriety. But it is not until he's in a duel to the death, fighting for the reputation of the woman he loves, that Villiers finally realizes that the greatest risk may not be in the dueling field ...

But in the bedroom. And the heart.

Last of the Desperate Duchesses' series, this is Villiers' much awaited story. The Duke must choose a wife. It's obvious to the reader who he should choose (Eleanor) but I found it hard to believe he took so long in figuring it out for himself, since her rival, Lisette, was so obviously unstable. How could Villiers have even considered her? Despite this obvious flaw of logic, it was a good story and it ended well - for once an epilogue I liked!

Leopold has been a favorite of mine throughout this entire series.  He's not your run of the mill duke.  In the previous books we learn of his obsession with the game of chess.  Considered one of the greatest chess players in England, chess is a  main thread through the whole series.  Not only is chess an obsession, he's a clothes horse as well.  But he's no effeminate dandy.  He has fought duels (and nearly died from them), loved other (duke's) wives and fathered several bastard children - hence his need to settle down with a wife that can help corral his unwieldy brood.

Eleanor, daughter of the Duke of Montague is no slouch when it comes to noble birth.  But unfortunately, it wasn't good enough for the one man she loved and gave herself to (in the bibilical sense) thinking they would marry.  Things didn't go the way she'd hoped and her love had to marry another.  Since then, she has been pining for the man she lost.  A duke himself, he was forced to marry another woman in an arranged marriage.

Now, several years later Eleanor is being considered by the Duke of Villiers. With six illegitimate children he needs a firm and feminine hand in his household.  Basically, he needs someone to oversee their upbringing.  Not an easy task, but as we learn very soon Eleanor would be perfect for the role.  Unfortunately, it's not as obvious to the duke who is considering another woman as his wife, the daughter of a duke, Lisette.  On the surface it looks as if Lisette loves all children and would make a wonderful mother.  She has no preconceived notions about bastards and what have you.   Yet, Lisette is a wild sort of creature, careless, flighty and unconventional - a little off balanced.  My gripe about the gist of the story is, it's seems so obvious to us that Lisette is unbalanced.  Why would Villiers even consider her?  Particularly if he plans on having more children and an heir to the dukedom, does he want his future heir to have a mother who isn't completely all there?  Eleanor in comparison is strong, sensible and beautiful in her own right.  Villiers is attracted to her yet his prime reason for a wife is for his children.  His dilemma?  Choose for love and his undeniable attraction to Eleanor, or choose a wife that will be a good mother to his brood?  It took the stupid idiot forever to realize Eleanor could be both!

Meanwhile, to further complicate matters, Eleanor's old love comes back onto the scene.  Now a widower, he has come to declare his love to Eleanor and beg her to be his wife (of course after his mourning period is over.)  But... but... Eleanor is not so sure about him now.  He pales in comparison to Villiers.  Her old love has lost his lustre.  Should she step aside, leave Villiers to Lisette or stay in the game?  As she gets to know Villiers and his children the decision becomes harder for her to make and she finds it impossible to let go - especially when she sees for herself how unsuitable a bride Lisette would make for him.

Although I really enjoyed this romance, it did not live up to my expectations.  I was a bit let down that Villiers came across as such a clod when he had always been so charismatic in the previous books.  The old Duke of Villiers stole every scene he was in!  He was too smart a man to have been so dense when it came to choosing between Eleanor and Lisette. I felt he was behaving uncharacteristically here, although maybe you can chalk it up to the fact he was in love and wasn't thinking clearly, having to choose between passion and duty.  Still, I don't buy it.  Where was the shrewd and calculating duke from the previous books that could have figured this dilemma out in a matter of minutes? 

Despite his density in personal matters I was glad to see that when it comes to good taste, no one can match him.  This is the same man after all, who buys his bride-to-be a simple yet elegant engagement ring.  He knows instinctively this would appeal to her un-ostentatious desire to remain in the background.  Yet - he is a duke after all.  His future duchess must have nothing but the best.  There's more to the ring than meets the eye - and I loved it!  Who would have known? 

Although the book has it's flaws, it's a good story and I enjoyed it very much.  Villiers is a fascinating character and deserving of a happy ending!  This should be called "A Duchess of his Own" for it's really his story and a nice wrap up to the series! 

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