Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ripe for Pleasure

I recently reviewed this book for Romancing-The-Book.com. 

Second in line, first in love. 
A secret society of younger sons, sworn to aid and abet each other, no matter the scandal or cost.... Their fathers and brothers may rule the world, but they run it . . . and when it comes to passion, they refuse to accept second best. 

Searching for hidden treasure, finding forbidden fantasy. 
London's most sensual former courtesan, Viola Whedon, is incapable of being seduced.  She does the seducing. Until she meets Leonidas Vaughn. Her salacious memoirs have made her the target of half the lords in England, and Vaughn is the only man she can turn to. When he promises to protect her-and make her beg for his touch-the alluring beauty finds both offers impossible to refuse. 

Leonidas Vaughn secretly believes Viola possesses a fortune given to his family by the King of France. So the strong and sexy Vaughn charms his way into Viola's life . . . and her bed. But when their arrangement is consummated, he'll experience pleasure far beyond his wildest fantasies and realize his heart may need the most protection of all.

A debut that showed promise but left me a bit disappointed...

We first meet Viola Whedon when her house in being burglarized. Viola assumes an angry lord is at the bottom of the intrusion because she’s currently ruffling feathers by exposing details of all her previous lovers in a second volume of her memoir. But it turns out that Charles MacDonald is on the hunt for a treasure that is believed to be hidden somewhere in Viola’s house. However Charles’ cousin, Leonidas Vaughn, approaches Viola with a bit more subtlety, offering to protect her from future encounters with ruffians. Of course, being her protector gives Leo access to her house so he can search for the treasure himself along with the help of his cronies from the League of Second Sons. But Leo poses a deal to Viola - his protection in exchange for her pleasure. Can Viola, London's most sensual former courtesan, be seduced by this rogue?

Ripe for Pleasure is Isobel Carr’s debut novel, and while I was impressed with her writing and liked her style, some aspects of the story left me confused and even disappointed. I really enjoyed the treasure hunt part of the story, especially how it came to an end, even though I felt things wrapped up just a bit too neatly. I also liked how Leo and Viola’s class differences were illustrated and how the Vaughn family played a role. Leo’s friends from the League of the Second Sons were interesting characters but, as expected in a first book of a series, I assume their character development is being saved for their own books. And speaking of characters, there are a lot of them so keeping them straight may be a distraction for some readers. Ripe for Pleasure is a definitely a hot read and Leo really steams things up during his seductions of Viola, but what royally ticked me off is that we never see their relationship consummated. After all the build-up of their attraction, the encounter is mentioned only in passing after the fact. I actually flipped back to see if I had missed a chapter! It is such a shame because I never really saw Leo and Viola’s relationship shift from lust to love and I think that was a big reason why. The lust was always there, but the passion between these two people just never came through for me.

Overall, Ripe for Pleasure is a pretty good book but I won’t be truly sold on the rest of the series until I read the next book. The League of Second Sons didn’t seem like anything particularly special – just a group of guys with a catchy team name (and maybe a secret handshake). I’m hoping more about the motives behind the formation of the League will be fleshed out in the coming books.

My rating:   5 - I liked most of the book

The League of Second Sons series so far...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Girl in the Gatehouse


Mariah Aubrey lives in seclusion with her secrets.  Will an ambitious captain uncover her identity... and her hidden past?

Banished from the only home she's ever known, Mariah Aubrey hides herself away in an abandoned gatehouse on a distant relative's estate. There she supports herself and her loyal servant the only way she knows how—by writing novels in secret.

When Captain Matthew Bryant leases the estate, he is intrigued by the beautiful girl in the gatehouse. But there are many things he doesn't know about this beguiling outcast. Will he risk his plans—and his heart—for a woman shadowed by scandal? 

Intriguing, mysterious, and romantic, The Girl in the Gatehouse takes readers inside the life of a secret authoress at a time when novel-writing was considered improper for ladies and the smallest hint of impropriety could change a woman's life forever.

A quality piece of work, all the way around...

This is the first Julie Klassen book I have ever read, and I assure you it will not be the last.  I was a little iffy about plucking a book from a shelf of Christian fiction because the few inspirational romances I have encountered in the past struck me as too heart-wrenchingly tragic, which is really not the kind of thing I enjoy reading.  But the cover of this book caught my eye and the back cover blurb (above) really sounded appealing.  So I gave it a whirl...

When Mariah is cast out of her family's home, she moves into the gatehouse on the property of a distant aunt to live a spinster's life with her companion, Dixon.  Shortly after her arrival, Mariah's aunt becomes ill, leaving the manor to pass to her stepson, Hugh.  Suddenly Mariah faces harassing visits by Hugh, as he searches high and low for an unknown treasure that he is sure exists.  But Mariah has bigger problems now that Hugh has ownership of the property.  In no time, Mariah's free rent has been increased and now she must find a way to make the payments.

Mariah also learns that Hugh has leased the manor to a Captain Matthew Bryant, who is trying to use the appeal of the manor and his wealth from the war to attract the attentions of a Miss Forsythe, a woman who had once refused him.  Hoping to prove himself worthy of her, he hosts a house party.  But when Captain Bryant's party learns Mariah is living on the property, the secrets behind her banishment are finally revealed, leading Matthew to discover the truth about the woman he's trying to impress and the woman living in the gatehouse.   

This book had a bunch of things going on (and I do mean a BUNCH!), which is not necessarily a bad thing because it keeps the pages turning, although keeping some of the characters straight may test your memory.  Mariah's gatehouse gate is kept locked, which is just one of the little mysteries within the story.  She also befriends several people at the local poorhouse down the road and even pens a theatrical for the poorhouse children's entertainment.  In addition we meet Martin, a manservant with a hook hand, and Captain Bryant's friend Mr. Hart, who we see fall for a sweet girl from the poorhouse.  Of course we see a strong attraction develop between Mariah and Matthew, but does Matthew's determination to stay the course on his mission for Miss Forsythe blind him from the woman right under his nose? 

This is truly an excellent tale about love and forgiveness with a great ensemble of characters whose individual stories all weave together perfectly over the course of the book.  Excellent story aside, I highly praise this book as being one of the most refined and polished selections I have read since Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey Series.  The writing is excellent, the storyline beautifully constructed and the entire trade paperback package (with the exceptionally beautiful cover) exudes excellence in quality.  I also enjoyed the discussion questions and the author's note included at the back of the book.  May I also point out that I think this is one of few books I have read where my critical eye did not find a single typo?  Bravo! 

I highly recommend this book to ANY reader who enjoys reading Regency romances.  Trust me, even if you don't normally read inspirational romance, please do give this one a try.  I did not find this book to be "preachy" in the least and the inspirational/spiritual tones that did surface were minimal and did not overpower the excellent story.  I look forward to reading Klassen's other Regency books which I have included below. 

My rating:  8 - Definitely on my keeper shelf

No series here, but these are Klassen's other Regency books in print order...


Friday, February 18, 2011

The Switch


TO BOY
When they first met Lord Jeremy William Radcliffe, Charlie and her twin sister, Elizabeth, were escaping from their uncle - taking turns acting the young gentleman to avoid detection.  But Charlie couldn't help falling head over heels - and out of a window - for the handsome lord.  Of course, that was only the beginning; Lord Radcliffe insisted on showing "him" and her lovely sister safely to London.

OR NOT TO BOY
But how could he do that?  With every touch, Radcliffe seemed unknowingly to incite indecent desires in Charlie, and his fraternal intent was certain to land her in a fine mess.  Though it was a great game to play a boy, there was more fun in being female.  And after one brush of his fiery lips when her guise was gone, Charlie swore to be nothing but his woman forever.

An enjoyable read... until the end.

Boy, oh boy.  First off, let me start by saying that I did enjoy this book.  I won't lie... I'm not a big fan of stories where women try passing themselves off as men.  In this story, women of their class were soft, fair-skinned, pampered, and often too sheltered... and the fact that here we have identical twin sisters with one disguised as a man kinda had me wondering what was in store.  So, let's just see...

Charlie and Elizabeth are trying to make their way to their cousin's estate to escape an uncle who has sold the sisters off to undesirable husbands.  Refuge at cousin Ralphy's may mean spinsterhood, but that is better than a fate worse than death.  With Charlotte (who is nick-named Charlie) posing as a boy named Charles, she escorts her sister on their journey.  After all, a brother and sister travelling alone is certainly safer and less conspicuous than a pair of twin girls.  But along the way, they meet Lord Radcliffe who is making his way back to London.  Learning their plight, (which is semi-fabricated and focused on Elizabeth's well-being) and showing genuine concern for their safety, he offers to help them by escorting them to London where they would have a chance to find an alternate husband for Elizabeth.  But as the journey continues, Radcliffe finds himself strangely drawn to the boy.  Radcliffe concedes that Charlie has probably never spent time with anyone other than family and his twin sibling, so he writes off Charlie's rather feminine mannerisms.  But when Radcliffe takes Charlie to a brothel in an attempt to help make a man out of him, Charlie suddenly finds herself with much more than she bargained for in this whole charade. 

After reaching London, Radcliffe offers the twins protection in his home, introducing Charlie and Elizabeth as his cousins.  With the opportunity to meet potential husbands, the twins decide to switch things up and share the boy and girl roles so they each have a chance to meet men at society events.  But when Elizabeth takes her turn playing the boy, Radcliffe's strange feelings suddenly switch to "Elizabeth" (who is now being played by Charlie).  Unable to control himself any longer, he kisses "Elizabeth" and realizes he's in a fix -- kissing and having feelings for a girl he has agreed to protect until safely married.  But when the sisters switch roles again, Radcliffe is back to having strange feelings for Charlie, the boy.  Will Radcliffe figure out the game being played?  Will Charlie and Elizabeth find the husbands they need before their uncle forces them to submit to the arranged marriages?  And will the blackmailer reveal their secrets? 

I give the author lots of credit... she did an excellent job with making sure you knew who was who and who was playing who.  It impressed me because never once did I feel confused about which sister was playing which role.  Poor Radcliffe and his questioning thoughts over attraction to a boy!  While I found it a bit humorous that he was clueless and couldn't figure out that it was two girls he had in his house, it was kinda fun to see him struggle with his thoughts and scratch his head when his strange feelings suddenly shifted from boy to girl and back to boy.  And that actually brings me to my next point...

I've read some reviews for this book where readers thought it was the most hilarious book they've read!  Really??  I thought the story had a nice dose of wit and humor, but really the situation these girls were in was serious (you know, story-wise).  I definitely smiled and chuckled my way through the book, but never did I find it hilarious.  I guess the fact that Radcliffe couldn't figure out his feelings - and why those feelings kept switching from Charlie to Elizabeth (played by Charlie) - was just downright hilarious to some readers.  Ok... so I'm more of a realist, and sympathized with Radcliffe's confusion of feelings rather than laughed at him.  And I was happy for Radcliffe when he learned the truth of the sisters and began to put the pieces in place because now those feelings could actually go somewhere! 

With that said, I did thoroughly enjoy this story... until chapter 19.  I am not sure what happened here, but once you hit chapter 19 the flavor (if you will) of the story really changes...  almost as if a ghostwriter stepped in to finish things up.  The last four chapters just seemed completely unnecessary to me and I will tell you why:  First, Radcliffe got his turn to dress up as a woman.  It was completely stupid, embarrassing to read and totally cheapened what was, up to that point, a great book.  The scenes could have easily been edited out without being missed but the author chose to wrap up every last little detail and unfortunately the only way Radcliffe could apparently save the day with the whole blackmailing scheme was to dress up as a woman.  Dear readers, I was ready to tear this book to shreds and feed it to my fireplace.  Secondly, the relationship between Charlie and Radcliffe completely changes.  My question is... why??  It didn't need to!  Believe me, I could go on about the ending, including a certain scuffle that involved a woman in the advanced stages of pregnancy attacking a man by climbing on his back.  Ridiculous, really.  I leave you to form your own opinion but don't say I didn't warn you!

Prior to chapter 19, this book had earned a firm seat on my keeper shelf, but after finishing the last chapters and pondering over it, I've downgraded it to a 5.  Yes, it was a pleasant read and I enjoyed it but I honestly don't think I'll pick this book up again and any recommendations I make to friends will come with a warning label.  However, I have NOT written off Lynsay Sands!  I have another Sands title, Love is Blind, en route and I'm crossing my fingers that this time I will love the whole thing!   The Switch appears to be a stand-alone novel.

My final rating for this book:  5 – I liked most of the book

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord


Since being named “London’s Lord to Land” by a popular ladies’ magazine, Nicholas St. John has been relentlessly pursued by every matrimony-minded female in the ton. So when an opportunity to escape fashionable society presents itself, he eagerly jumps—only to land in the path of the most determined, damnably delicious woman he’s ever met!

The daughter of a titled wastrel, Lady Isabel Townsend has too many secrets and too little money. Though she is used to taking care of herself quite handily, her father’s recent passing has left Isabel at sea and in need of outside help to protect her young brother’s birthright. The sinfully handsome, eminently eligible Lord Nicholas could be the very salvation she seeks.

But the lady must be wary and not do anything reckless and foolish…like falling madly, passionately in love.

Thoroughly enjoyed this one!

I enjoy historical romances when they include snippits from fictional (or even non-fiction) books to help guide or move the story along.  In this case, we have excerpts from Pearls and Pelisses that lend its hand to this story, much the way Lady Whistledown's gossip column played a role in Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series or Lady Rothburg's advice from Emma Wildes' Lessons from a Scarlet Lady.  But when Lord Nicholas is named in Pearls and Pelisses as "London's Lord to Land" he can't escape London fast enough to avoid all the women who have read the magazine and are now on his heels.  However, when the Duke of Leighton approaches Lord Nicholas with a favor, Nick accepts the challenge to put his search and hunting skills to good use... far away from London.

Meanwhile, Lady Isabel is trying to hold it all together.  Literally.  The roof is leaking, she's running out of money, and she has her brother, the child earl, to take care of in addition to a household full of ...women?  But when she runs into Lord Nicholas and recognizes him as the antiquarian that he is, she hopes he would be interested in looking over her marble statues because she wants to sell them.  Little did she know that the innocent invitation would literally bring the fox into the henhouse... or lead the hunter to its prey.

One thing I enjoy most about MacLean's writing is that she captures you on page one, and she keeps things moving throughout the entire book.  Indeed, she is a fresh, new voice in Regency romance, but really, the story boils down to nothing incredibly new plot-wise.  But its the way she does it that makes her books stand out.  Its almost like she takes the best elements of every Regency you've ever read and puts them all together in the same book.  And hey, that totally works for me! 

The hero and heroine show real chemistry, and Nick realizes Isabel's strengths (and weaknesses) and genuinely applauds her efforts and goals.  Finding himself wanting nothing more than to help Isabel when she insists she doesn't need it, he tells her that maybe its time for her to allow someone to take care of her for a change since she's spent so long looking after others.  To hear those words come from a man who wants nothing to do with marriage, that is huge.  But to the ears of a woman who wants nothing to do with marriage after being witness to her parents' relationship, Nick has some convincing to do to soften her heart now that she's softened his.

I also liked Rock - Lord Nicholas' Turk friend that comes along with Nick for the ride.  He adds a nice touch to this story with his observations and gentle advice while he struggles with a growing relationship of his own which we see blossom with one of the girls in Isabel's care.  Overall, the book is just wonderful and I can't wait for book three in this debut series from MacLean.  Don't miss this one!

My rating:  9 – Loved it!

The Love by Numbers series... 
 



Wednesday, January 12, 2011

When Harry Met Molly


HE’S ALWAYS BEEN A PLAYER.

Dashing Lord Harry Traemore is perfectly content to live out his days in the pursuit of pleasure. But when he’s named by the Prince Regent as one of society’s “Impossible Bachelors,” Harry is drafted into a ribald romantic wager. The rules of engagement are scandalously simple: The bachelor whose mistress wins the title of “Most Delectable Companion” gets to remain unmarried. Harry is utterly unconcerned about his status...until his latest lightskirt abandons him.

WHO WILL WIN THIS GAME OF LOVE?

Enter Lady Molly Fairbanks. Harry’s childhood friend— actually, “foe” is more like it—is the most unlikely companion of all. She’s attractive but hot-headed, and in no mood for games. Besides, what could the self-indulgent Harry possibly know about what makes a woman delectable? It’s time for Molly to teach him a lesson once and for all...but will it lead to “happily ever after”?

Promising start, but I was left with a lot of mixed feelings...

I had a hard time getting into this one.  The prologue was rumored to be one of the best in all of romancedom and RT Book Reviews rated the book a top pick.  Really?  It was entertaining yes.  At least the prologue was.  But the problem with having a strong start to a story is that the reader is set up to expect that strength to be carried through the rest of the book and that does not really happen here.  Now, I admit that things picked back up for me around chapter 8 or 9 but I really had serious mixed feelings throughout this entire book. 

The back cover blurb at the top of this posting really sets things in motion, then the bulk of the book takes place at the house party where the "Most Delectable Companion" contest commences.  The whole scenario is far-fetched - but hey, this is fiction!  And you really have to remember that because there were definite eye-rolling moments for me. 

So, let me give you the lowdown... Harry and Molly have known each other for ages and her sister is married to his brother, making them in-laws by marriage.  Nevertheless, a stunt pulled years ago (prologue) forces both Molly and Harry to "pay" for that incident.  But they meet again several years later when Molly is eloping to Gretna Green with Cedric, a complete fop who doesn't love Molly.  That's ok because she doesn't love him either.  But when they run into Harry and his current mistress, Fiona, at a stop on their way to the silly mistress contest, Harry and Molly exchange a few words.  Next thing you know, Cedric and Fiona run off together!   Yes.  You read that right.  So, now Harry needs a mistress and he strikes a deal with Molly, agreeing to  find her a respectable husband if she wins the contest.  Considering Molly has no experience at being a mistress... you can see where this is going, right?

I don't think I have ever read a book that left me with such mixed feelings.  And judging from other reviews I've read and some conversations I've had with other readers, I am not alone.  This story has some good stuff, but there is so much that is far-fetched or just down-right silly that it almost overwhelms the actual good stuff.  So, let me tell you the things I did like...

The bottom line is, I liked the serious things that happened in this book, not the silly.  I really liked how Molly made friends with the other mistresses and how they were all supporting of each other by mid-week.  It was a competition, yes, but situations and circumstances brought these women closer and there was a warmth that we see grow over the course of the week they spend together.  I also liked many of the quieter moments that Harry and Molly shared.  We see their relationship grow, but the author takes time to draw out their thoughts and feelings and make it seem not so rushed since the bulk of everything happens within a week.  I also liked the other men present at the contest, sans the villain, but wish they could have been more developed in character.  They really come across as half-baked compared to the development of each of the mistresses but since the book series is called the Impossible Bachelors, I know there is more to come with the men in future titles.  I also liked the part at the end when Harry's father showed (in his own way) his love for his son.  See?  I liked all the serious stuff.

Now for the things I didn't like:  I hated the use of the word "we'd" and the author used it a lot in dialogue.  While there are plenty of minor infractions in historical accuracy, this contributed to the appearance that the British English was deliberately dumbed down for the reader.   Julia Quinn takes a more modern approach to her dialogue for fun, and she makes it work but in this book it just made me roll my eyes.   I also rolled my eyes when Harry told Molly they needed to come up with a mistressy name for her so no one would recognize her.  Oh puh-lease.  That's going to throw everyone off the trail.  (Miraculously, of course, it did.)  I'm not a fan of times when a character takes on a dual role because then my brain starts looking for all the times when the author and editor missed using the right name at the right time.  My favorite is on the top of page 194 (line 10) where the snafoo sticks out like a sore thumb, even highlighted with commas!  The last thing I did not like was, fittingly, the ending.  Everything - and I do mean EVERYTHING - came to a wrap all at the same time... at a ball... in front of everyone.  The author literally tied every loose end up in the same ballroom scene and it was just way too many things going on.  I also thought the villain didn't get what he really deserved and after being such a grouch through the entire book, the reasoning behind it all really didn't seem to justify. 

Believe me, I've only just scratched the surface.  Some of the games played during the contest were interesting and well... entertaining.  And watching Harry control his desire for his virginal mistress created a lot of sexual tension.  Hildur, the Icelandic mistress was clueless, which was sometimes funny and sometimes just stupid.  Mixed feelings galore, I tell you!  

So, my last thoughts...  Would I recommend this book?  Only with caution.  The author's website describes Kramer's books as "humorous Regency romance" but be prepared for humor in the form of zany or just plain silly.  If you are like me and prefer more wit rather than silly, pick up Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series or her backlist prior to the Bridgertons.  Will I be reading Kramer's next book?  Yes, but probably not right away.  Curiosity has me wondering what her next book will bring and really it can only go one of two ways: worse or better.  I'm hoping for better but want to clear my brain with a few other books before reading another Kramer title.   Ms. Kramer definitely debuts a great talent for writing.  I just hope the rest of the series books level out a bit.

When Harry Met Molly is book 1 of a 4 book series which I have detailed below.  As a side note, I'm really liking how series books are being released in a much quicker fashion nowadays! 

My rating:  4 – I sort of liked it (but close to 5 - I liked most of the book)

The Impossible Bachelors series...

                                                                                                                        April 2011

Book 4, If You Give a Girl a Viscount, is due out late 2011.  Cover art not available yet.