Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In the Thrill of the Night

Meet the Merry Widows, a secret society of respectable ladies... with some scandalous ideas...

Assured of both money and position, none of the five friends who form the Merry Widows need ever marry again. But they have no intention of foresaking physical passion for the rest of their lives. So they make a daring pact -- each will consider taking a lover for the pure pleasure of it.

Marianne Nesbitt adored her late husband, David, but the racy reminiscences of the Merry Widows make her wonder if she missed something special. Might she find it now through a love affair? Uncertain how to go about it, she asks Adam Cazenove, an old friend and notorious rake, to tutor her in the arts of seduction.

The brazen request turns Adam's world upside down. He never imagined his best friend's very proper and exceedingly attractive widow would seek out a lover. If not for his own recent betrothal, he would jump at the chance to warm her bed. Since he cannot bear the thought of another man doing so, he foils her every attempt at seduction. Until one night of unintended passion changes everything...

Excellent start to the Merry Widows series!

Oh. My. Goodness.  I LOVED this book.  In the Thrill of the Night is book 1 of a three book series (plus one novella) about the Merry Widows... five friends who together maintain the facade of proper and respectable widows as trustees of a Widow's Benevolent Fund.  But when one of the widows takes on a lover, she tries to convince the other widows that they should do the same, or at least consider the possibility.

Marianne Nesbitt loved and adored her husband, but after hearing about the pleasure one of the other widows has found with her new lover, Marianne begins to think something may have been missing from her marriage.  Although she was and is still dedicated to the memory of her late husband, a part of her wants to see just what that missing thing may have been.  Next thing we know, Marianne has composed a list of gentleman that might fit the bill.  But she's still a bit nervous about the whole idea and approaches her best friend, Adam Cazenove, for his advice, opinion and ultimately his approval.  

Adam on the other hand is convinced he needs to just bite the bullet and marry and settle down for good.  So, one evening he suprises Marianne with the news that he's betrothed to one of the young diamonds of the season and while shock and disappointment darken the mood, Marianne drops a bomb on Adam as well, with her decision to find a lover.  

Adam and Marianne's relationship has always been a special one, which is written and described beautifully.  In short, Adam was David's best friend and David and Marianne were betrothed when they were still children.  So think of the three of them as the musketeers, in a sense.  All three were very close, with Marianne and Adam having an even closer bond after mourning the loss of David.

But as we move through the story, we see that the close bond Marianne and Adam share may hold more than either of them had ever thought possible.  With Adam now publicly betrothed, it shoots down even the fleeting thought of offering himself as her lover, but Adam later learns that perhaps Marianne and David's marriage wasn't as perfect as he always believed it to be.  Can he help her find the lover she is looking for?

I really enjoyed how this book was written.  The way the story unfolded was just masterful and I liked how the story kept moving along, enabling me to plow through this book in less than a day.  I also liked how Adam was protective of Marianne, upholding David's dying wish for him to look after her.  He wasn't too overly protective of the prospect of Marianne taking on a lover until she began actively seeking one... then the fun begins when we see Adam begin to realize his own feelings for Marianne.  Soon Adam begins to sabotage every opportunity Marianne finds and some of the results are hilarious, but at the same time, heartbreaking and disappointing for Marianne.  All the while, you can see Adam is just battling with himself... and then he remembers that he is the one betrothed!  So, why should he care so much?

I also really liked this story because contrary to the tone you may get from the cover blurb (at the top of this post) Marianne is not sleeping with everyone in the ton to find the perfect lover.  The story is spicey without being trashy in any way and it really turns into an emotional and uplifting tale about these two people who find love in a way neither had ever expected.  Plus you have the added subplot of Adam's fiancee which gives you a first-hand look at their relationship and the tangles it creates.

Book 2, Just One of those Flings, is next in the series, but if you read my review for that title you'll see that I started this three book series in the middle by accident. So, I'm off to curl up with book 3, Lady Be Bad.  I'm actually dying to dive into it because this is Grace's story and she is the straight-laced, proper bishop's widow who blushes furiously whenever the Merry Widows begin "comparing notes."  i anticipate another delightful read.  I highly recommend this series and suggest you do read them in order.  Book 2 actually overlaps the latter part of book 1 just a smidge, but from a different character angle.  I may go back and re-read the first few chapters of book 2 just so I can see the complete transition between stories. 

My rating:  9 - Loved it

The Merry Widow trilogy, plus one novella...     

Monday, October 25, 2010

Just One of those Flings

The Merry Widows are thought to be among the finest ladies of society... Though secretly, their thoughts are quite unrefined.

With the comforts of wealth to replace the absence of their husbands, the Merry Widows need not trouble themselves again with marriage. But that doesn't mean these five friends must deprive themselves of their most basic need - physical pleasure. So they each agree to seek out a lover...

Beatrice, Lady Somerfield, is too busy chaperoning her headstrong niece and overseeing her own young daughters to take a lover - until one night at a ball when a masked stranger makes her realize the delights she's been missing. When she learns his identity, however, an affair seems impossible.  He is Gabriel, the Marquess of Thayne, just returned from India, the catch of the season - and the one man half the debutantes of London (including Beatrice's niece!) want for a husband.

But Thayne is thoroughly captivated by Beatrice, and their attraction leads to several mutually satisfying encounters. As he searches for a bride among the Season's young ladies, he finds himself increasingly drawn to the beautiful, sensual, more sophisticated Lady Somerfield, and suspects his mistress might make the perfect wife.  But will Beatrice's deepening feelings for Thayne be enough to overcome her vow never to marry again, and the scandal once their relationship is revealed?

A great read by a new (to me) author!

So, I was introduced to Candice Hern by way of her short story in The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance and I was so delighted with Just One of those Flings, I can't wait to continue the series.  Of course, I bought all three books and started reading Book 2 first - I'm totally blaming a bad cold for this!  I kinda wondered about it but it didn't seem like a glaring issue as the books are meant to stand alone too.  But I'm a sucker for reading series books in order and I goofed.  Oh well.  

Anyhoo, we start off by meeting Beatrice, Lady Somerfield at a masquerade ball dressed as a Grecian huntress.  Gabriel Loughton, Marquess of Thayne, dressed as a maharajah, eyes her from across a crowded ballroom... fireworks go off, butterflies flurry... ok, not really, but Thayne is drawn to her like a mosquito to a bug light.  Beatrice feels the awareness to this mysterious stranger in return but she's certain she's just becoming more aware of how men look at her because she's been widowed for three years and is starting to yearn for the physical intimacy she once had. 

Now a bit about Beatrice... she belongs to a group privately known as the Merry Widows, but society knows the group as proper and respectable trustees of the Benevolent Widow's Fund, a charity aiding less fortunate widows and their families.  But when one of the Merry Widows recently took a lover, it was suggested they all should do the same, or at least try.  So with all this fresh in Beatrice's head, she's bound to be a bit more alert in the gentleman department.  And the maharajah's attention towards Beatrice does not go unnoticed.  Finally he asks her to dance... then out to the terrace for some fresh air.  An impromptu tryst ensues leaving Beatrice stunned at her own wanton behavior, while leaving the masquerading maharajah wanting more.  Much more.  But they didn't exchange names.  Can he find this woman, this Artemis?

Now a bit about Thayne... He's just returned from working in India for the last eight years and surely making an appearance at a masquerade is an easy way to survey the new blood in society without making his presence known just yet, right?  With his thirtieth birthday around the corner and to keep up his end of the bargain with the ducal parental units, Thayne needs to find a bride this season to settle down with and beget an heir.  Since he's a marquess, heir to a dukedom, that makes him easily the most eligible target of the season.  But when this woman, Artemis as he affectionately calls her, flees without even telling him her name, Thayne is on the hunt for his Grecian huntress when he should be on the hunt for a young, debutante bride.

The story gets interesting when Beatrice and her freshly launched niece visit the Duchess of Doncaster to inquire about the use of their ballroom for one of the Widow's Fund Balls.  Suddenly the Duke and his son, the Marquess of Thayne appear, with his friend Jeremy Burnett in tow.  Beatrice's niece, Emily, instantly captivates them all with her young, fresh beauty, sending glances - or rather, ballistic missiles - of interest to Thayne.  But Thayne is really not in the mood for simpering misses when he's still on the hunt for his unknown huntress...

Beatrice and Thayne made a great story, and with the mystery of their identities and a bit of a love triangle, this story had all the workings of a fun and enjoyable Regency romp.  I was a little worried about the tryst at the beginning of the book because it was a bit, umm, bold to say the least.  But I was pleased with the rest of the story and how things came together in the end.  Emily does become a bit of a shrew... she's a beauty and she knows it and everyone else does too, but its well written and she does get a bit of a subplot of her own which added a nice garnish.  The Merry Widows are a fun, wicked bunch and stick together to protect each other, which was a nice touch and really made this book a delightful read. 

My only small complaint about this book was that there were a LOT of references to India, including some vocabulary. While I don't mind learning new things about a foreign place or finding vocabulary or phrases sprinkled into the story, I kinda felt like this book became a billboard for showing off the author's research skills.  Ms. Hern no doubt researched thoroughly, but I got to a point where it just felt like too much.  Totally my opinion here, and it would never stop me from re-reading this book, but it was my observation. 

I really did enjoy this book, and judging by the steady ratings of Ms. Hern's books, I am sure to enjoy her others as well. In the Thrill of the Night (book 1) tells us Marianne Nesbitt's story, which is mildly touched on in Just One of those Flings but does not leave a gaping hole making you wonder too much about what you've missed. Book 3, Lady Be Bad, is Grace Marlowe's story. Ms. Hern has also penned a novella for a fourth Merry Widow which is included in the It Happened One Night anthology.

My rating: 7 - I really enjoyed it

The Merry Widows Trilogy, plus one novella...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My Lord Scandal

Despite her beauty, Lady Amelia Patton has lived a sheltered life among her books.  When she finds herself suddenly the toast of the ton, she is far from delighted.  Her father, Lord Hathaway wants her married off quickly, but the last person he'd choose for her husband is the son of his worst enemy...

Alexander St. James may be a thief of hearts, but he is no burglar.  Nevertheless, he must recover an item belonging to his family to avoid a scandal, and so he has stolen into the home of Lord Hathaway, not expecting to come upon the beguiling Lady Amelia in her bedroom, wearing only a lacy chemise...

From their first meeting, Alexander leaves Amelia breathless-- but is it from fear or from excitement?  Captivated by her beauty and charmed by her intellect, he ignores the scandalous whispers as he sets out to seduce the woman of his dreams...

A beautiful girl... a dashing rake... and a family scandal that threatens their future...

I was so excited to see Ms. Wildes come out with this trilogy after reading her last two books in this genre - An Indecent Proposition and Lessons from a Scarlet Lady.  (I reviewed both of these books earlier this year.)  Already an established historical erotica author, Ms. Wildes has done an excellent job crossing over into mainstream historical romance with stories that are sensual, lush and super romantic.  And wow, she has made a fine start with this Notorious Bachelors trilogy.  The Notorious Bachelors are Lord Alexander St. James, Luke Daudet, Viscount Altea and Michael Hepburn, Marquess of Longhaven - three friends who have returned to London after serving together in Spain.  We begin with My Lord Scandal (book 1) which tells us Alexander's story...

Alexander St. James is the younger son of a duke and is asked by his grandmother to retrieve a sliver key that she believes to be in Lord Hathaway's possession.  There has been a feud between the Hathaway and St. James families as a result of a scandal that happened years ago and sending Alex into the lion's den is indeed a risk but one right up his alley after his adventures in Spain.  But when he emerges from the Hathaway house empty-handed, he finds Hathaway's daughter out on her balcony looking as if she's about to faint.  There to catch her and return her safely to her room is Alex, and deciding to make the evening not a total loss, he steals a kiss before he leaves.

Lady Amelia Patton, is stunned to find this man - this gentleman - on her balcony.  And when he steals a kiss, she's intrigued and determined to find out who he is.  Amelia's chaperone-aunt, Sophia, instantly becomes more vigilant when her charge begins inquiring about Lord Alexander St. James.  Known about society as a shameless rake, naturally an innocent debutante should never go anywhere near the man.  But Alex is just as curious about the girl he met on the balcony the night before and makes some inquiries of his own which leads to an unexpected meeting where the two compare notes about each other before sharing another much more passionate kiss.

But a mystery lurks and weaves itself into Alex and Amelia's romance.  Suddenly old letters begin to surface from an unknown source... love letters from an Anna St. James to a Samuel Hathaway, written many years ago.  With the old scandal still a source of tension between the Hathaway and St. James families, the surfacing letters now add fresh fuel to the fire, escalating the need for the silver key to be found quickly.  For this key may unlock secrets that have never been told...

This was an excellent story, full of passion, romance and mystery.  I really enjoyed our main characters and liked that the focus really stayed on them throughout most of the book.  Sophia gets a little bit of a subplot, which was nice but a tad abbreviated.  I would have welcomed a bit more explanation.  One thing I really liked about this story was that Amelia and Alex genuinely liked each other and Alex really wanted to get to know her.  He found her beautiful, yes, but independent and intellectual as well.  Amelia has an inner beauty that Alex seems drawn to like a magnet.  I also enjoyed how open and honest both characters were.  No misunderstanding plot here! And it was refreshing to see Amelia believe Alex unquestionably when he explains he's really not the rake everyone takes him to be.  Shadowed by his brother's formerly wicked ways, Alex maintains the rakish facade to keep the marriage-minded ladies at bay, but after meeting Amelia, we see that he's eager to cut all ties to that facade and secretly pursue her.

I also liked how Ms. Wildes gave Amelia a "glaring imperfection" as Amelia's father had called it. Amelia suffered from asthma, which I've never seen addressed in a Regency before, but surely they suffered from it in Regency times too, right? Personally, I feel adding an element like that makes the character all the more human  and someone I can relate to even more, especially if the reader or someone you know suffers from the same affliction.

This story reminded me a lot of Maya Rodale's Negligent Chaperone books - which are excellent, by the way - because Sophia's role in this story is just that.  She sees the genuine feelings Alex and Amelia share and she's willing to bend some rules and look the other way to support them.  Sophia understands completely that the ongoing family fued has nothing to do with Alex and Amelia personally, so it was nice to see Amelia and Alex gain a stong ally.  That was cool.

I did have two small gripes with this book.  One was that we are constantly reminded about how beautiful Amelia is.  Everyone knows it, everyone talks about it and frankly, it got to be a bit tiring.  I was happy to see that Amelia wasn't at all vain about it and Alex appreciated her inner beauty right from the start so I just reminded myself of that everytime I encountered another praise for her beauty.  But really, I almost began feeling inadequate just reading it.  It's kinda like watching your best friend get all the compliments right in front of you, ya know?  The author also spent a lot of time describing hair.  And I mean A LOT!  Her golden locks, his dark, silky hair... I was getting ready to pull mine out!  But aside from these two things, this story was really a fabulous one.  

The mystery was well written and weaved into the main story of Alex and Amelia's romance perfectly and just when I thought the romance might take a back seat to the secondary story, the two stories came together and had me eager to finish the book in one sitting.  Very well done!  Ms. Wildes tells a great story and, really, she doesn't use any filler or fluff - everything relates to the story which is why she's become one of my favorites to read.  I've just started reading Luke's story, Our Wicked Mistake and Michael's story wraps up this trilogy with His Sinful Secret.  I'm so pleased to see Ms. Wildes continue to write in this genre.  For me, she is an auto-buy and after a quick check of her website I see there is more to come!  Woot!

My rating:  9 - Loved it!

The Notorious Bachelors trilogy in order...

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Married By Morning

He is everything she wants to avoid...

For two years, Catherine Marks has been a paid companion to the Hathaway sisters—a pleasant position, with one caveat. Her charges’ older brother, Leo Hathaway, is thoroughly exasperating. Cat can hardly believe that their constant arguing could mask a mutual attraction. But when one quarrel ends in a sudden kiss, Cat is shocked at her powerful response—and even more so when Leo proposes a dangerous liaison.

She is not at all what she seems...

Leo must marry and produce an heir within a year to save his family home. Catherine’s respectable demeanor hides a secret that would utterly destroy her. But to Leo, Cat is intriguing and infernally tempting, even to a man resolved never to love again. The danger Cat tried to outrun is about to separate them forever—unless two wary lovers can find a way to banish the shadows and give in to their desires…

Not the strongest book in the series, but an excellent read that builds up nicely to the last book in The Hathaways quintet!

Kleypas does not disappoint in this fourth book of The Hathaways series. If you have not read this series, please do so in order! It's wonderful and you will get so much more out of these characters. (See my review on Tempt Me at Twilight for a little background about the series.) The order of the series is listed at the end of this post, but Leo is the character that shows the most growth over all the books up to this point and Married By Morning is his story.

Leo's been through a lot, from endless drinking and debauching to the healthier, much more respectable man, supported by a loving and caring family all along the way. But over the last two years he's been plagued by Catherine Marks, the strict, no-nonsense be-spectacled governess to the family's two youngest girls. Ever since Catherine - or Marks, as Leo affectionately calls her - came onto the scene, she and Leo have had a challenging, quarrelsome relationship. They bicker relentlessly and their strife is well-known by the entire family, but as we see in Tempt Me at Twilight it begins to give way to something quite different. Suddenly the passion and tension behind the taunting becomes more about the thrill of interaction and a craving for more of it. You can see in the previous books how they fed off of each others harsh remarks and put-downs, but all that hostility has more recently become a mask for feelings that finally begin to show through, although both are reluctant to admit it.

Leo is intrigued by the intimate conversation he witnesses between Catherine and Harry Rutledge, Poppy's husband. When Catherine tells Leo that she and Harry are in fact half-siblings, sharing the same mother, we settle in to learn all about Catherine's past and how it will affect her future with the Hathaways. But Leo baits her and she bites back (figuratively, of course) and next thing you know, he kisses her.  But that kiss opens a world of something new for both of them.

Meanwhile, the Hathaway family is in a tizzy because of a letter they received from their solicitor. It seems that as a result of the Ramsey properties changing hands multiple times, and messily done at that, there was a clause that was missed, stating Leo needs to produce an heir within a year if the Hathaway family is to keep possession of the physical house they have all put so much effort into rebuilding and refurbishing. Eagerly waiting in the wings to take possession is the late Viscount's wife and a very beautiful daughter. A ball is just the thing to find Leo a wife, but Catherine's past soon catches up with her, leaving her no choice but to flee from the Hathaways and leave Leo to the future he must uphold.

This story, while good and very much anticipated, was not quite what I was expecting.  It was really good, definitely, but I thought it was the weakest of the series to date.  The first few chapters duplicate a lot of information we learn at the end of Tempt Me at Twilight, which would have been fine if I hadn't just read it all and moved right into this book. So once past that, things began to pick up steam. Leo and Catherine battle their emotions and their attraction for each other as two other subplots work their gears in the background. Dodger, Beatrix's pet ferret, was oodles of fun to read since he has a way of getting his cute little whiskers right in the middle of anything where Catherine is concerned. It seems where Leo leaves off, Dodger picks up, antagonizing Catherine even further, but in a affectionate, besotted-ferret kind of way. I'm still waiting for Dodger's antics to reveal where he's stashed all of Catherine's garters, which have been disappearing over the course of the books. I also really enjoyed Leo's questions everytime he tried to convince Catherine that a kiss with the right person could turn your brains to mush. Such a creative ploy in the story and it was tons of fun to read. Indeed, it was lovely to see Leo and Catherine finally get together, but there is a lot of drama before any kind of happily ever after can happen, so who better than the Hathaway clan to come together to support and protect their own?

I'm off to read the last book in this fabulous series. Love in the Afternoon tells us Beatrix's story and I can't wait since she was my favorite of the Hathaway siblings.  I'm also sad to start this last book because I know this is the end of the series... but one I will definitely read again.  I highly recommend this series and encourage readers to start with book one for maximum enjoyment!   

My rating:  8 - Definitely on my keeper shelf

The Hathaway Series in order...  

    Amelia's Story            Win's Story                 Poppy's Story             Leo's Story                   Beatrix's Story