Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Always a Lady

Author: Rebecca Hagan Lee
Published: September 2002 (Berkley)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Marquess of Templeston Heirs #3
Quote of Choice: "And if you get fat eating cake, no prince will marry you."

This book comes in a close second to Once a Mistress in terms of how much I loved it.

Kit, the son of George Ramsey (the guy who started the locket thing), was raised by his adoptive mother Kathryn and his older half brother Drew (They were the focus of Once a Mistress). The book starts with a flashback to when Kit, 8 years old, vacationed in Ireland with Drew and Kathryn. He met a little girl, 6 years old, near the ruins of old Telamor Castle. She was an orphan in care of the nuns at the convent nearby. Adorably, the girl tells Kit about how she wants a handsome prince to rescue her, marry her, and take her to live in Telamor Castle (the new one). Kit offers to become her fiance, even though he's just an earl. The girl accepts, and the two part ways with her only learning his nickname, Kit. This is like the movie Serendipity, but with worse odds against the two ever coming together.

Upon reaching his majority, Kit found out that he has inherited an Irish title through his mother, the previously unidentified mistress. Incidentally, the title comes with Telamor Castle, that little girl's castle... and the little girl, who is now a young woman. It turns out that the previous Earl of Kilgannon was the guardian to Lady Siobahn Shaughnessy, mother of Mariah Shaugnessy.

So, Kit goes off to Ireland with his two best friends, Dalton and Ash, to claim his inheritance. I was was of him bringing his two bachelor friends with him, fearing a lot of encouragement for less gentlemanly behavior. But, in a rare thing for a lot of romances, the bachelor friends are strangely intuitive about the beginnings of Kit and Mariah's relationship and help Kit along, even helping with the protection of Mariah's reputation. In fact, Mariah realized that Kit was the man she was waiting for when Dalton called Kit by his nickname.

In the weeks that follow their meeting as guardian and ward, Mariah is taught the social graces, as her mother's last wishes were for Mariah to have a London season. During these lessons, Mariah and Kit fall more and more in love. I'm always a little upset when romance novels take too long for the man to realize that he's found his future wife. In this novel, Kit finds out very early that Mariah is his little girl in the tower. He's never forgotten her, and tells her so a couple weeks after her identity as the little girl was revealed.

Besides being a sweet romance, there's some intrigue as well. It turns out Mariah's mother was murdered, and that murderer is still waiting to finish his dastardly deeds.

I loved this book. It's witty and funny, and I got to hear more about Drew and Kathryn, meeting their daughters, and perhaps the beginnings of another romance between Dalton and the eldest daughter. It's been 4 years since this book has been published, so I doubt Lee's next book is about them, but one can hope!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Ever a Princess

Author: Rebecca Hagan Lee
Published: February 2002 (Berkley)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Marquess of Templeton Heirs #2

Oooh. Definitely my least favorite Lee and logically the least favorite of this trilogy.

Basically, the princess of some ficitional European country must flee her home when her parents are murdered by her cousin. Her evil cousin can't take the throne without recovering the signet ring which means he has to recover her body. If they can't find her, they have to mourn for a year and then he must marry a female of royal blood. Unfortunately, the princess is the last one.

So Princess Georgiana flees with a few trusted staffmembers to a hunting lodge in Scotland and pretend to be the staff. They figure that the owner will never show up, but of course he does. He's Adam McKendrick of Nevada, and happened to win the lodge in a card game. Through the shortest of accidental meetings throughout their daily routines, the two somehow fall in love.

I got annoyed by the way he called her "George," because when words of love are being spoken, hearing this guy professing his love to George doesn't sound right in a non-homosexual romance. And then you're sitting there for a while wondering who's the heir to the Marquess of Templeton, and it turns out it's the princess all along! Lee tries to throw you off because Adam carries a locket as well, which was left by his father. His parents' marriage was annulled because Adam's mother didn't want to leave America for England.

I found the romance a bit lacking in this installment of the trilogy. I'm not sure if the whole foreign royal intrigue element was overreaching and the book wasn't long enough to do it justice though. Maybe if the book were one of those 400 page monstrosities, it would've been better.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Deception of the Emerald Ring

Author: Lauren Willig
Published: November 16, 2006 (Dutton)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Pink Carnation #3
Quote of Choice: He could have been a knock-kneed dwarf with a hook for an arm and still made it to the upper end of the matrimonial lists. Viscounts, after all, weren't exactly thick on the ground, not even in Mayfair.

I have been so excited about this book being published! I think it's a bit different from the first two though, because the heroine is someone we barely know, and the hero is Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe, a member of the League of the Purple Gentian. He's also the last bachelor in the group, which makes me wonder who'll star in the next book. Maybe Willig will create a romance for Jane. We'll see what happens in the fourth book! I'd actually be interested in seeing a good portion of the next book focus on the developing romance between Eloise (our modern-day narrator) and Colin Selwick, descendant of Richard Selwick, the Purple Gentian. Three books have gone by and they haven't KISSED while I've read the stories about three young ladies in the past have done some improper frolicking of their own.

Anyways, Letty Alsworthy wakes up one night to find that her sister Mary is about to elope with Geoffrey. Now, the Alsworthys aren't exactly in great social standing, what with their financial state (not good). Her parents are counting on their daughters marrying well, and Letty thinks that her sister's running off in the middle of the night will not help their family's reputation. Since Mary's taking her sweet time packing, Letty sneaks downstairs to convince Geoff that it's not a good idea to elope. Unfortunately, the coachman packs her into the carriage to meet Geoff, not realizing he's got the wrong woman. And then Geoff winds up kissing her because it's dark and he doesn't realize soon enough that it's not Mary. Everything would've turned out like Geoff had planned if he hadn't been spotted holding Letty, in her nightdress, by two of their acquaintances.

So Geoff does the honorable thing and marries Letty since her reputation's been compromised. However, he's so angry at her, thinking that she was a conniving younger sister who planned to take her sister's place, and thus keep him from his true love. The thing is, Geoff was never really in love with Mary. How well can you really know someone from a few meetings at balls and musicales when there's a crowd of suitors waiting to take your place?

Geoff's work with the league sends him off to Ireland on the same day as his wedding and he doesn't tell Letty where he's going. He leaves her and she doesn't stand for it. Miles and Henrietta (of Masque of the Black Tulip) tell her where Geoff's run off to and Letty follows him to Dublin under a rather unimaginative alias, Mrs. Alsdale. There, she meets Jane (a.k.a. the Pink Carnation) and Miss Gwen. It was a bit awkward at first when she thought Geoff was having an affair with Jane, but all was cleared up and Letty became a part of their spying endeavors. She was very bad at the dissembling involved with espionage, but it was safer to keep her close.

In the midst of all this intrigue, Geoff realizes that Letty couldn't possibly be the scheming, evil sister he thought she was, what with the way she couldn't even flirt with another man and the completely honest way she comported herself. And with that realization, they could start all over again. [Insert boinking]

I believe this was my least favorite of the three novels for two reasons. First, Letty and Geoff didn't have much time together. It's hard to explain, but in my mind, they weren't happy together long enough to satisfy my "happy ending" quota. Second, Eloise and Colin's budding romance is driving me bonkers! How many more books do I have to read before they're a couple? Otherwise, Willig is in fine form with her writing. The relationship seems so real because the dialogue is so good. Good dialogue is a must for me; that's why I couldn't get through The Lord of the Rings. As always, I can't wait to read the next book!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Lord Perfect

Author: Loretta Chase
Published: March 7, 2006 (Berkley)
Category: Historical Romance
Quote of Choice: "I have explained to Olivia time and again that physical assault is not the proper response to disagreements unless one's life is in danger."

Jennie deserves a huge thank you for bringing this book to my notice!

I unashamedly judge books by their covers even though I should know better, but who wants to be seen on the subway reading a book with this cover? It's ridiculous! Look at him with his come-hither look and his slick man-chest. ::shudder:: When I read this book on the subway (it was too good not to), I'd keep the cover pressed against my bag.

Anyways, Benedict Carsington is Viscount Rathbourne, also known as Lord Perfect to the rest of the ton. His name never appears in the scandal sheets. Even though he's a widower, he hasn't had any (public) affairs. He's also uncle to his nephew Peregrine as well as pseudo-guardian, as his in-laws would rather not bother with raising their child.

Bathsheba Wingate is a widow of widely-known scandal. The ton believes that Bathsheba lured her husband into a marriage to a woman from a bad family. Apparently, Bathsheba is from the bad part of the DeLucey family. They rack up debt and then run away from the credit collectors. And supposedly, there was some piracy in the family history. Jack Wingate, her husband, was cut off by his family when he married Bathsheba. They had a happy marriage for 12 years, although they didn't live comfortably. Now that she's on her own, she's teaching art classes to support herself and her daughter Olivia.

Bathsheba and Benedict meet (ugh, what unfortunate names) at the museum when Olivia attacks Peregrine with his sketchbook. Olivia, as a street-smart kid from the almost-seedy part of town, spots an opportunity for her mother to take on a rich pupil. Even though Benedict's strict rules of propriety forbid him from allowing Peregrine to take drawing lessons from this scandalous woman, his heart (a.k.a. better judgment) sets up the lessons. However, when Peregrine's parents decide to send him to a new school abruptly, Olivia doesn't want her mother's rich pupil to disappear. She ropes him into a harebrained idea of hers to search out the treasure of her scandalous ancestor.

So Benedict and Bathsheba embark on an adventure as well in search of the children. And if you throw our hero and heroine together without any supervision, the laws of attraction take over and there's some boinking and falling in love. However, with both of their highly evolved senses of propriety, they know that getting married would be social suicide on Benedict's part, and Bathsheba would be skewered again as some sort of seductress of well-to-do gentlemen. There is a sly solution to this, and it's thanks to Bathsheba's family that she is able to marry the man she loves. Hurrah! A happy ending!

This book is Jennie approved, and she's lending me her copy of Mr. Impossible, the story of Benedict's brother Rupert!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Once a Mistress

Author: Rebecca Hagan Lee
Published: September 2001 (Jove)
Category: Historical Fiction
Series: Marquess of Templeton Heirs #1
Quote of Choice: Impossible, for you've made me quite breathless and dizzy.

I've returned to Rebecca Hagan Lee, and I'm so happy to be reading her again. I loved her Free Fellows League series, as each one involved a different couple but was always entertaining. There were always fantastic endings and they usually invovled some amount of intrigue because of the spying on England's behalf in the war with Napoleon.

In the Marquess of Templeton Heirs trilogy, the fifteenth Marquess of Templeton put a codicil into his will having his son provide for any of his mistresses that come forward after his death. As a true gentleman, he doesn't name the mistresses, but gives them an engraved gold locket with his likeness inside to identify them.

Andrew Ramsey, the new sixteenth marquess of Templeton (previously only Earl of Ramsey, Viscount Birmingham, and Baron Selby - what a catch for a young miss on the marriage mart!), is less than pleased to find that he has to care for his father's former ladybirds. He intends to prepare the family home for the funeral, but his solicitor informs him that one of the mistresses is living in the dowager cottage on the property, and Drew is furious. He storms out of the office without listening to the rest of the details of the will or the details about the woman living in the cottage.

It turns out this woman is no stranger to Drew. She is Kathryn Markinson, Drew's former fiancée, and stood him up on their wedding day four years previously with no given reason. She left him heartbroken, and he ran off to fight in the war against Napoleon to escape his pain. When they meet again, it's obvious that their attraction hasn't diminished with time, but their relationship has become much more complicated. Oh, and she has a son. I am not a fan of the surprise child, but his existence is part of a bigger mystery, which involves why Kathryn never showed up on their wedding day.

When I was reading this, I was disgusted at first, thinking "Eeeuw, he wants to get with his father's mistress?" But when you get into the meat of the story, you find she never loved George Ramsey in that way. He took care of her when she needed a place to live and a child to love. Kathryn was never actually George's mistress, although the reader is constantly being led to that idea.

Once Upon a Mistress was splendidly written. The romance was lovely (and a bit steamy at times! Woo!), but the mystery was a lot deeper than you'd expect. Kathryn had very good reason not to show up on their wedding day, but they get the chance to make up for it later on. Drew realizes that he was mistaken about Kathryn's character, and gives her 100% of his trust, which he was holding back on, with good reason though, after what he considered a betrayal on their first planned wedding. The dialogue was good too, and there weren't very many "ha ha" moments, but that didn't matter to me. I usually need a chunk of humor to get through a romance, but if it's a really good one, it's not necessary.

I can't wait until my copy of the second Marquess of Templeton Heirs book to come in!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Arrows of the Queen

Author: Mercedes Lackey
Published: March 3, 1987 (Daw)
Series: Heralds of Valdemar #1
Category: Fantasy

Arrows of the Queen is the first in a trilogy, and I've actually read the second one and started the third, but I realized that I really loved the first book and am indifferent about the last two. I don't think I'll even bother finishing the third.

Talia is a farm girl from a remote region of Valdemar, where the society is patriarchal and husbands have multiple wives. Girls are married out as young as thirteen years of age, which is what was about to happen to Talia. However, Talia doesn't want to become someone's child bride and bear children until she dies. She's been reading stories about the heroic Heralds of Valdemar. These people have been chosen by Companions, magical creatures that look a lot like horses, but can communicate with their chosen rider, run faster, etc. They're awesome. Heralds dispense the Queen's justice, sort of like wandering peacemakers who also distribute news from the main cities.

On the day Talia is being told by the headwife that she will be married soon, Talia declares that she would rather become a Herald. Now, Heralds are not viewed favorably in the remote regions. They're really backwards and old fashioned because they're so isolated. Talia runs away from home and while running away, she actually meets a Companion. This companion, Rolan, chooses her, but Talia isn't aware of this. She gets on Rolan, thinking that he's lost his Herald and she can return him to the Herald's Collegium, and possibly get a job there. She'd take anything to escape her fate as a bride to yet another backwards-minded man out in the sticks.

It turns out that Rolan is a very special Companion, as the Herald he chooses will be the Queen's Own, meaning that Talia is to become an advisor to the Queen when she completes her training. You may wonder how a young girl from the far reaches of the kingdom can advise the Queen, but the answers would just come to Talia from somewhere. Perhaps Rolan? Or something beyond that?

Talia's path to becoming a Herald isn't easy, as certain members of court do not wish for a new Queen's Own to come to power. The previous holder of that title died under suspicious circumstances, and Talia is not free from that same threat. Other students from the general school took to tormenting Talia, making her break down, almost to the point of quitting. They even attempted murder, but thanks to the mind link between Heralds and their Companions, Rolan was able to bring help to Talia in time, although she was ill for some time after the incident.

The only problem with the book? I wished that Talia could actually communicate with Rolan in words. Some Heralds have that gift, but Talia did not. Ah well. If I wanted bonded creatures who could talk, I'd turn to Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern.

Again, I'm a really big fan of the "unappreciated hero/heroine gets taken away from horrible family by people who will truly appreciate him/her." You know, like Harry Potter, or Anne Bishop's Jaenelle, and Anne McCaffrey's Menolly. Reading those books, especially Anne McCaffrey's Harper Hall Trilogy, make me feel good. They're my comfort books for a bad day.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Pick Me Up

Author: Zoë Rice
Published: June 6, 2006 (NAL)
Category: Chick Lit
Quote of Choice:It's like some sandman took an image from my subconscious and sculpted it into life out of clay. Or something finer than clay - like crystal, only manlier.

Isabel Duncan has a great job as a director in a prestigious Upper East Side gallery. She's gets along very well with her boss, the gallery's dealer, and their receptionist, who also happens to be an aspiring artist. All of
the gallery's clients love Isabel, which helps when she sells them paintings for thousands of dollars. In fact, Isabel is due for a big promotion to associate dealer. That is, until the death of the gallery owner. Now none of their jobs are secure, as Freddie, the gallery dealer, has been replaced by some avant garde dealer from Europe.

So Isabel has two new men to deal with in her life. First, she has to deal with Grady Cole, the last artist Freddie signed to the gallery and Isabel has unfortunately gotten off on the wrong foot with Grady (she accosted him in the subway station, thinking he was another rude passenger). After that, Grady and Isabel's conversations weren't easy, but settled into a sort of semi-annoying-each-other kind of banter. Second, she has to deal with Avery Devon, the gallery's new dealer. He's suave, sophisticated, and handsome. Isabel wants to have a future with Avery and can see their future as the perfect art-savvy couple. Grady, the paint-spattered, torn cargo pants wearing artist doesn't really fit into the picture, except to provide the artistic goods.

However, you could see that Isabel was starting to develop feelings for Grady, those little moments that you've had in your romantic life. Those glances that make your heart race and your stomach fall to your feet. It's little things like that that made the possibility of a Grady-Isabel match much more realistic than the glossy finish of Avery-Isabel.

After Isabel discovers Avery's less savory aspects, she finds that her friend has stood her up for an awful family wedding. Grady happens to be at the gallery when Isabel finds out, and he offers to take her out. It turns out the scruffy artist owns a tux... and can dance! He says it's because his mother said that you're not a real man until you own a tux and can dance in it. After that, I fell in love with Grady and was rooting that they'd get together.

Grady did have a bit of mystery to him, and he asked Isabel to trust him. When the novel got to that point, I got a little wary. I hate romances where someone has to hide something for a good reason, but the boyfriend/girlfriend flips out and overreacts to the situation, dragging out an unnecessary conflict for several chapters. Thankfully, Zoe Rice has the kindness and good sense to make Isabel a sensible heroine. The conflict? What conflict? It was over in a poof!

In short, Pick Me Up had great characters, ones you could really get on board with, and ending was lovely. I was actually proud of a couple characters at the end, and they're not real people! That's what I have to tell myself.

I loved this book. It's definitely a keeper.