Friday, July 28, 2006

Hardly a Husband

Author: Rebecca Hagan Lee
Published: October 5, 2004 (Berkley)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Free Fellows League #3
Quote of Choice: "Because I didn't realize I loved you yesterday! I was too arrogant and stupid to realize I loved you yesterday."

Yet another great book by Rebecca Hagan Lee! In this installment in the Free Fellows League series, the last of the original Free Fellows is about to realize that being married isn't as horrible as he thought it would be when he was twelve years-old.

Jarrod, fifth Marquess of Shepherdston is the last unmarried member of the original three Free Fellows. He suffered an awful childhood, witnessing his parents endure a loveless marriage, and hurting each other on purpose. In the end, he witnessed his mother as she killed herself after murdering his father in bed with the housekeeper. Because of that, Jarrod's vow never to marry was the strongest of all the Free Fellows.

Enter Sarah Eckersley, the daughter of a recently-deceased village reverend. As a child, she used to annoyingly tag along (a.k.a. stalk) Jarrod, eight years her senior. Due to the scheming of a nefarious distant relative, Sarah and her aunt Henrietta are tossed out of their home so the new, obnoxious reverend (with appropriately obnoxious children and wife) can move in without any notice to the current occupants. The distant relative, Lord Dunbridge, wants to make Sarah his wife. I'm constantly grossed out by these distant cousins wanting to marry their relatives (i.e. Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice)! Of course, Sarah would rather die than marry her disgusting, foppish relative, so she makes a deal with the village magistrate: Sarah will find herself a husband within 30 days or the magistrate will give Sarah's hand to Lord Dunbridge.

Sarah and Aunt Etta go to London, where Sarah plans to marry Jarrod, her childhood crush. To get Jarrod's attention, she goes to him in the middle of the night, asking him to give her lessons in the art of seduction. When that doesn't work, Sarah tries to make him jealous, by saying she'll get lessons from someone else. The real catalyst for their relationship is when Sarah wore a ballgown with a low-cut bodice and Jarrod frowned at any man who even looked at her. It turns out that the gown wasn't scandalous. In fact, Gillian (Colin's wife from Merely the Groom) was wearing a gown of the same style, and Jarrod hadn't even noticed. She said that only Colin said that her gown was cut too low and upon her discovery that Jarrod was doing the same to Sarah, she and Colin knew Jarrod's true feelings.

I think I enjoyed Merely the Groom more, but Hardly a Husband isn't too shabby either. I especially enjoy reading about a man who admits he's been wrong.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Much Ado in the Moonlight

Author: Lynn Kurland
Published: April 25, 2006 (Jove)
Category: Paranormal Romance

I first read Lynn Kurland in The Queen in Winter, a collection of stories by four authors. I really enjoyed her story, so I decided to give a full Kurland novel a shot.

I can definitely say that Kurland does not write flimsy, shallow romance. In Much Ado in the Moonlight, Victoria McKinnon, a great director of Shakespearean plays is given the opportunity to direct Hamlet in a Scottish castle. When she arrives in Scotland, she finds that the castle and inn she's staying in are haunted. The inn ghosts aren't just your run-of-the-mill ghosts; they're Victoria's ancestors, a group of (former) men bent on matchmaking their descendents. Apparently, Victoria's older brother and sister have already made matches thanks to their ghostly grandfathers.

For Victoria, the ghosts have chosen Laird Connor MacDougal, a big manly Scot, complete with kilt. Unfortunately for Victoria, he's a ghost too.

Yes, the idea is a lot to bend your brain around. I struggled with my ability to suspend disbelief when I realized Victoria and Connor were supposed to end up together, and my ability to suspend disbelief goes quite a ways.

So how does Victoria wind up with the burly laird? Time travel of course!! All she has to do is time travel back to medieval Scotland and save Connor before he gets murdered by a deceitful French minstrel. Of course, Victoria has to learn how to use a knife, speak Gaelic, ride a horse, basic survival skills, and use a faery ring to travel between their times. Everything works out in the end, and Connor travels into the future, but has no idea that his former ghostly self had already professed love to Victoria. In another instance of suspension of disbelief, all of Connor's ghostly memories come back to him in dreams, both waking and sleeping.

It turns out that Kurland has a lot of these ghostly matchmaking books and there's a family tree in the back of the book that shows which books correspond to which sibling or ancestor. There are a LOT of characters in just the one book I read, so much that there's a cast list in the front matter (ha ha, I'm using my production jargon).

I'm not really sure if I'd read another one of Kurland's books because most of them seem tied into this family tree and it wasn't a very passionate relationship. I didn't buy the Victoria-Connor match, and I'm not sure if it was the whole ghost thing. If I had to rate it, I'd give it a 5/10.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Pride and Prescience

Author: Carrie Bebris
Published: 2004 (Forge Books)
Category: Mystery
Quote of Choice: The elderly vicar who had officiated this morning's ceremony suffered from declining wits, a condition that had led to some fascinating sermons in recent years.

Before I start, I'll admit that I haven't read Pride and Prejudice since high school. Sadly, my P&P exposure has been limited to recent viewings of the new movie and the BBC version. I can't help it, but I love Elizabeth and Darcy together! I think epilogues are great. I've said before that I love reading about how characters deal with their endings and since I'm a romantic, reading about one of my favorite literary couples puts me on Cloud 9.

Pride and Prescience begins with the wedding breakfast at the double wedding of Elizabeth & Darcy and Jane & Bingley. Caroline Bingley decides to steal the couples' thunder by announcing her sudden engagement to Parrish, an American, and even more sudden wedding to be held the following week, throwing a wrench into any possible honeymoon plans.

So Elizabeth and Darcy head off to London for the Caroline-Parrish wedding, only to find that after becoming a married woman, Caroline begins acting insane. Caroline's new husband suggests taking Caroline back to his plantation in Louisiana, but they figure that might make her condition worse. Instead, Bingley and Jane, the ultra kindhearted couple invite everyone to Netherfield to stay, where a series of unfortunate events begins to happen, making it looks as though someone's targeting the Bingley family.

Pride and Prescience was a lot of fun, like seeing old friends again. I'll pick up the sequel, Suspense and Sensibility soon.

Sex, Lies and Vampires

Author: Katie MacAlister
Published: February 2005 (Love Spell)
Category: Paranormal Romance

This installment in Katie MacAlister's paranormal romances is a great example of the old "misconceptions about a guy's character due to misinformation" plot device (think Pride and Prejudice, but with vampires and charmers instead of dishy Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth).

Nell is a charmer, which means she can charm curses. I had a hard time bending my brain around this because I've read too much Harry Potter and my idea of charming has to do with making keys fly so you can't get to the Sorcerer's Stone. In MacAlister's world, a charmer can charm a curse to unbreak it, or create a curse by charming one up.

Adrian is the Betrayer, a Dark One, and he is hunted by other members of his race because of his crimes. Apparently, he has been turning Dark Ones over to the demon Asmodeus. What most people don't know is that he's been cursed since he was two years old because his father turned him over to Asmodeus in exchange for the power to seduce any woman. His father wound up dying alone and unhappy anyways.

When Nell first runs into Adrian, she thinks he's this monster because of all the bad things she's heard about the Betrayer, but then she realizes that he's not so bad after all and becomes his Beloved to undo the curse of all unredeemed Dark Ones. Unfortunately, retrieving Adrian's soul isn't that easy because he's doubly cursed, and has to be free of Asmodeus before he can have his soul.

In this book, Nell wants to become Adrian's Beloved, but he doesn't want to make her life unhappy and refuses to admit that she's destined to be his companion. He gives in to her (it doesn't take much), but doesn't act very happy about it. When Nell tries to give Adrian love names like "Snuggle Bunny," he gets all offended and says, "I am the Betrayer, blah blah, doomed to darkness, exiled, blah blah" and she doesn't even care. MacAlister's alpha male heroes are very alpha, but at the same time, they have some secret weakness that will make them into insecure little boys in a snap. That's probably why I love her books and her heroes.

It was pretty good, but I think I like Sex and the Single Vampire more.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Merely the Groom

Author: Rebecca Hagan Lee
Published: April 2004 (Berkley)
Series: Free Fellows League #2
Category: Historical Romance
Quote of Choice: "How dare he make my daughter his third wife? If he was going to become a bigamist, he should have made her his first wife. How dare he consider Gillian his third choice?"

I have to say I'm said that I didn't discover Rebecca Hagan Lee sooner, as many of her books are out of print, despite being only a few years old. Even Merely the Groom is no longer available! This title is from Lee's Free Fellows League series. The League is composed of four gentlemen and originally began as an agreement made while they were boys in school (around 11 years old). They swore not to marry until absolutely necessary, at least until 30 years of age, and even at that point, it would be duty and not a pleasure, more like medicine to be swallowed. In their adulthood, the League became a service to the Crown, assisting in the war efforts against Bonaparte.

Gillian Davies has run off to Scotland with a man named Colin Fox. He romanced her and she fell for it, agreeing to an elopement. Unfortunately, Colin Fox turned into a completely different man after relieving Gillian of her virginity, and then disappeared with her jewelry and money, leaving her in a dodgy inn in Edinburgh. Without any money, Gillian had no way of returning to London or paying her bill at the inn, so she just kept waiting for her wayward husband to return.

Colin McElreath, the Viscount Grantham, happened to be in the area on business for the Free Fellows League. While sneaking about, Colin is nearly killed by an assassin, but gets away with a wound on his side. He decides to hide in Gillian's room since the assassin's accomplices are also waiting for him in his room. She thinks her husband has finally returned, and he doesn't disabuse her of the notion, and says that he'll be leaving again in the morning. Gillian asks him to hold her until she falls asleep and Colin finds that he enjoys doing so, wishing he could rescue her from her situation. In the morning, he arranges for her bill to be paid and books a coach for her to return to London, explaining so in a note to Gillian that he signs as "Galahad."

Because Gillian's in disgrace upon her return to London, her father, a newly made baron, tries to marry her off as soon as possible. Being that the Bow Street Runner figured out that Colin McElreath went by the alias of Colin Fox on his business for the Crown, Baron Davies figures that his daughter could do worse than marrying a viscount. He practically blackmails Colin into marrying Gillian, threatening to expose the League. Colin agreed to the marriage. First, because he was attracted to Gillian and second, he inherited a title along with his father's gaming debts. Colin was the perfect gentleman, supporting his mother and siblings and always doing the right thing, even marrying a woman with a tarnished reputation when he could have another rich heiress without the "fallen woman" status.

So Gillian and Colin wind up being married and they quickly realize that they're perfect for each other. Eventually, Gillian finds out that Colin was the very same Galahad who had rescued her from the inn, but unlike the usual Regency romance formula, she didn't throw a fit about it and Colin's secret work for the Crown. She was happy to be truly reunited with the man who helped her out of a sticky situation. Through some poorly deciphered French missives, Colin was under the impression that Gillian's father was aiding the French, and I was afraid that he'd turn against his new wife, but in a welcome change, the two of them talked it out right then and there, figured out what was wrong with the deciphering key, and didn't create unnecessary drama.

Lee's Regency romance writing was a breath of fresh air to me. The conversation between Colin and Gillian while dancing reminded me of Jane Austen (not that I've read Austen recently) and there was a big of Scarlet Pimpernel-ish intrigue. It was a good mix and I'm going to try getting my hands on the out of print books in the League series.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Sex and the Single Vampire

Author: Katie MacAlister
Published: March 2004 (Love Spell)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Quote of Choice: "I shall bring my rapier. I am most dashing with my rapier," Antonio told Noelle. He demonstrated with a few moves that would have left her without the ability to bear children had the rapier been made up of anything other than air and psychic energy.

When I started reading Sex and the Single Vampire, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was an honest-to-goodness sequel to A Girl's Guide to Vampires. I love seeing familiar characters again, and finding out how they're doing with their happily-ever-after endings. Think of it as an extended epilogue.

Allegra Telford is an American Summoner (can raise ghosts haunting a building, demons, etc.) in London, gathering proof of ghosts for her employer, the United Psychical Research Association (UPRA). She visits reportedly haunted sites in London tries to raise the spirits stuck there. Unfortunately, she hasn't had much success with that. Finally, she sneezes during a Summoning in her hotel room, raising the ghost of a cat, Mr. Woogums. At the next summoning, she sneezes and brings up Mr. Woogums' owner, Esme. Strangely, sneezing seems to be the key to Allegra's Summoning powers.

While in London, she promised her cousin that she'd attend a C.J. Dante book signing. C.J. Dante is known for his books featuring Moravians (a.k.a. Dark Ones). Basically, male Moravians are like vampires, doomed to be soulless (unless his parents were Joined) until he finds his Beloved, who redeems his soul after they have completed the seven steps of Joining. Christian (That's what the C stands for) was in A Girl's Guide to Vampires, where he thought Joy Randall was his Beloved, but she was already in love with Raphael St. John. At the end of that book, Joy promised Christian that she'd help him find his real Beloved.

So Allegra and Christian meet at the book signing and Joy (now pregnant), realizes that Allegra is Christian's Beloved even though the parties in question disagree with that. Christian is MacAlister's typical alpha male character. Allegra is a woman who suffered an abusive marriage and promised herself that she'd never allow a man to control her again. However, the two have to spend a lot of time together while trying to help Christian locate his Moravian friend, Sebastian, who's gone missing. They believe the Association of Research Mediums and Psychics Investigation Trust (also goes by the unfortunate acronym ARMPIT) is holding Sebastian captive.

This is my favorite of MacAlister's vampire paranormal romances. There's some real character development and I like the way Allegra and Christian made compromises between Christian's alpha male-dominating nature and Allegra's refusal to be controlled by a man again. Plus, Allegra's inability to Release (send ghosts on to Heaven or whatnot) means that she collected several ghosts that refused to be Released (a Summoner can't Release a ghost that doesn't want to move on). She even found a ghost of a Spanish courtier named Antonio who kept challenging Christian for Allegra's hand. Of course, the flesh and blood Christian won out.

It was great, and apparently, Sebastian's story will be featured in Just One Sip, a collection of vampire romances coming out in September 2006.