Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Author: Gail Carson Levine
Published: September 2006 (HarperCollins)
Category: YA Fantasy
Rating: 6/10

This is my first book by Gail Carson Levine, although I have watched the movie version of Ella Enchanted. Fairest is a twist on the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

Aza was abandoned as a baby in an Ayorthaian inn. The kindly innkeepers took her in as one of their own. However, her roots weren't a secret, as Aza's appearance was extraordinary... in a bad way. Aza wishes she were slender and delicately beautiful. Instead, she draws the stares of inn patrons since peole think her real mother must've been a hippo. She's clumsy, wide, and tall.

However, her most beautiful attribute is her voice, and that's important in the kingdom of Ayortha, which has traditions deeply rooted in singing. Besides having a lovely singing voice, Aza is a good mimic, composer, and has the ability to throw her voice, a skill she calls "illusing." Unfortunately, illusing gets her into a lot of trouble.

Aza accompanies the Duchess of Olixo to the wedding of King Oscaro to Ivi of Kyrria when the duchess's usual companion takes ill. While there, she meets the king's nephew, Prince Ijori, who is kind to her despite the way she looks. Queen Ivi also discovers Aza's talent for illusing and decides to make Aza her lady-in-waiting so she can illuse for the queen. The queen doesn't care much for the Ayorthaian tradition of singing all the time and doesn't think her voice is very good, so she has Aza do it for her instead and lip syncs when it's her turn to sing at gatherings. Aza always worries if she's doing something wrong, but she finds that she has no choice as Ivi threatens to revoke her family's innkeeping license if she doesn't illuse. Even worse, Aza's developing friendship with Prince Ijori is shadowed by her duplicity as Ijori talks about how he can't stand people who aren't truthful.

An accident befalls the king, placing him in a coma, and Ivi becomes the ruler in his stead. She quickly steps on lots of toes, disbanding the advisory council and ignoring the country's need in a drought. The subjects begin resenting Ivi and Aza as well, since they see her as a schemer who somehow snuck her way into the queen's confidence. However, Ivi isn't taking advice from Aza. She has a magical mirror given to her by the fairy Lucinda.

When Aza and Ivi's illusing act is revealed, Aza is blamed for everything, including Ivi's poor decisions as a leader. People believe she is part ogre (due to her large and ungainly appearance), and has inherited their talent for persuasion. Sadly, Prince Ijori turns his back on Aza, as all fairytale princes tend to do (look at Prince Char of Ella Enchanted or Prince Henry from Ever After) when the girl they supposedly care for is accused of something they didn't really do. Before being placed in the dungeon, Aza drinks some of Ivi's beauty potion (provided by the mirror) and it turns her into the beautiful girl she's always wanted to be. Ivi has Aza removed from the dungeon by having a guardsman pretend to help her, although he has orders to kill her (like in Snow White). The guardsman can't bring himself to kill Aza, so he brings her to the gnomes, who will give her a place to live.

The gnomes have never been bothered by Aza's appearance when they stayed at her family's inn, and Aza finds that she's very comfortable living in their caves, which is rare for a human. It turns out that gnomes can learn to illuse, something Aza has never been able to teach to another person, and they figure out that Aza is part gnome, which accounts for her odd appearance (namely the wideness) and the way she's comfortable in their homes.

Ivi winds up poisoning Aza with an apple and Aza winds up inside the magic mirror with the odious creature that lives within. The mirror actually carries a curse, which would trap the person using the mirror's beauty potions inside the mirror upon her death. The creature Skulni is trying to get Ivi to kill herself so he can be released from his prison. Aza manages to break the mirror and the curse, returning her spirit to her body, also finding that Ijori is in the cave with all the gnomes. He's come to his senses and his entirely apologetic about his earlier jerkiness. If her weren't a prince, I wouldn't have forgiven him!

The king awakens from his coma and finds out about all the problems that have resulted from Ivi's rule. He truly loves her, but knows that she can not be allowed the chance to rule again, so he exiles her to a distant palace and abdicates his throne for Ijori so he can join his wife in exile. Of course, Aza and Ijori marry, as he loves her for being her and she doesn't need any beauty potion to make him love her.

Fairest was entertaining enough, but the main theme of the story (true beauty beneath the surface) got a bit mixed up in all the political jumble and teenage angst. Sometimes Ivi and Aza were friends and sometimes they weren't, making things weird and half-assed, like Levine was just trying to find a reason to throw Ijori and Aza together. Aza broke out of her character when she got all bitchy with the tailor, who purposely messed up her order because of the disrespectful decisions Ivi was making for their country. I know that Aza did it because she didn't want the tailor throne into prison, but she was too pleased with herself in the end. She wasn't pleased that she prevented the unjust prison sentence; she was pleased because she was going to have pretty gowns.

I really couldn't enjoy this book as much as I could because I couldn't like the main character. I disliked Aza with all her "My life sucks because I'm not pretty" and "Woe is me." Nothing she did redeemed her in my eyes. Even while being "ugly" (I doubt she was really as ugly as she made herself out to be), she was very self centered and figured that she really wasn't remarkable or beautiful beneath her outward appearance.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Author: Lauren Royal
Published: July 2001 (Signet)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Jewel Trilogy #3
Rating: 6/10

This is from Lauren Royal's first trilogy, and set in England's Restoration period. It was refreshing to read a historical romance set in England, although I do love my regencies!

Kendra Chase is the last sibling in her family to be married. Her older brothers have been parading suitors to their home ad nauseum and her eldest brother has declared she must choose a husband by the end of the summer or he would do it for her. While traveling home from London, Kendra and her family's public coach (their own coach suffered a broken wheel) is halted by a highwayman. He cuts a rather romantic figure, and robs only the Puritan on board and lets everyone else goes, but curiously, he says the Chase brothers are his friends.

Soon after that heist, Kendra goes out riding without an escort and finds herself heading towards the spot where the robbery took place. She comes across the highwayman's props (hats and pipes), figuring out how he made it appear like he had 20 men with guns as backup on a nearby hill. And then the highwayman shows up, this time without the black outfit, mask, and periwig. The handsome man is actually Patrick "Trick" Caldwell, and he asks for Kendra's assistance in stowing his props before it rains. Of course, with rain comes the romance required cottage where the two must take refuge lest they be soaked and catch the ague. While the two are talking, Kendra drops her glass of wine and they try to soak the stain in water before it sets. The front door bursts open and Kendra's brothers, Jason and Ford, come in, asking Trick to help them locate their sister, who went out riding earlier unaccompanied.

When they discover the two together in a bedroom, with Kendra's skirt raised by her knees, disregarding the bowl of water, they insist on Trick marrying Kendra by special license, as she has been compromised. They didn't want to hear anything of her protests of innocence, and Trick figured that he had to get married sooner or later to produce the requisite heir, so why not get married to this interesting, beautiful woman?

So they're married and Kendra can't really believe she's married to the romantic highwayman, even though she's miffed that he's actually the Duke of Amberley. She never wanted to marry a duke because she didn't want to be addressed as "Your grace." Trick also has not revealed the true reasons for his side job, as he has a thriving shipping business, built off of his father's smuggling fleet. He also avoids telling his wife about how wealthy they really are, making her think he must continue robbing the horrid Puritans to support his estate, especially the orphanage full of children that Kendra really care about.

There was one really big problem with the story. Kendra is highly alarmed by the results of their wedding night. She didn't know that it hurts the first time, as her mother passed away years ago and her sisters-in-law didn't think to explain the mechanics to her. So she freaks out and says that they don't "fit together" and refuses to engage in further sexual adventures. Trick turns out to be an extremely patient man, saying that they won't do any of those things anymore, but he puts his foot down that they will continue to sleep in the same bed together.

In the end, it comes to trust. Kendra has to overcome her fear of trusting Trick in regards to his highwayman career and his claims that it hurt because it was the first time and they'll fit together. Trick is robbing Puritans to investigate a counterfeiting scheme, and King Charles swore him to secrecy regarding the true reason behind the robberies. He made Trick choose between his loyalty to his king and his love of his wife. Trick chooses to avoid treason and keeps his secret from Kendra.

As always, he regrets not revealing everything to Kendra when he's arrested and sentenced to hang. King Charles helps Trick though, faking the mysterious highwayman's death so there will be no connection between that dead man and the living Duke of Amberley.

There's also a side story that doesn't really have anything to do with the counterfeiting investigation, where Kendra and Trick journey to Scotland for his mother's funeral. They solve a mystery there too, which almost resulted in death for Trick and Kendra when she didn't trust him yet again.

The story would've been better without the Scotland side story. I appreciate that Royal was trying to fill in some of Trick's background, but it felt out of place to me, like it should've been in its own book. And there was far too much of the "You have to trust me" business going on. I know relationships are all about trust, but when it's the only thing being batted around in terms of story development and the cause for all the strife, it gets tiring.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Whisper Always

Author: Rebecca Hagan Lee
Published: October 1999 (Jove)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 6/10

This isn't my least favorite Rebecca Hagan Lee, but it was probably the most exasperating one I've read. I really enjoyed her Free Fellows League series and most of her Marquess of Templeton series, so I figured I'd give her even older titles a try.

Cristina Fairfax is the jewel of the Season, drawing lots of attention at her coming-out, and a lot of that attention is probably due to the hideous gown her mother made her wear. Apparently, her evil mother made a bet that the Crown Prince of Hapsburg-Lorraine would notice Cristina even if she were dressed in sack cloth. Cristina did catch the eye of Blake Ashford, Earl of Lawrence, though. He found her in a retiring room trying to cut off the satin roses covering the back of her dress and offered to help her remove them to spare her injuring herself. When I read about that charming meeting, I thought that this was going to be a bang-up, awesome romance.

But then Cristina's mother auctions her daughter's hand in marriage (or something close to that) at the equivalent to a swingers' auction, and the Crown Price Rudolf is the winner. Blake manages to rescue Cristina from her ordeal and substitutes a red-headed prostitute in her place. He winds up having Cristina as a guest in his home while she recovers from the beatings she received in her mother's home and the chill she caught while trying to escape from her buyer. I realized that Cristina was sort of suffering from an evil mother like Cinderella.

While under Blake's care, the sparks fly between them and whoops! Cristina's preggers! Now, Blake had a tragic first marriage to an evil woman named Meredith, who committed adultery on their wedding night. Blake decided not to annul the marriage because his wife threatened to lie to the judge, saying that Blake had his way with her before marriage, and they'd have to endure a divorce. Because Blake and his father were heavily involved in politics, the public scandal wouldn't do. Conveniently, Meredith died in a riding accident, without giving birth to another man's child and Blake swore off marriage.

Then one of my more hated romance plot devices sprang up. Blake has the special license and wedding ring in his pocket when he sees that his aunt sent out a betrothal announcement about him and Cristina. He's furious that she jumped the gun like that and said some things about having to view his penance across the breakfast table for the next few decades. Of course, Cristina heard him say that and refused to marry him, and decided to withold the news of her pregnancy from him. Of course, Blake also doesn't mention that he'd already wanted to marry her before all of this hullaballoo started.

Cristina runs off to Vienna under the protection of Prince Rudolf, hinting that she'd become his mistress after giving birth. Months later, Blake finds out about the baby and realizes that he loves Cristina, and chases after her to Vienna. They are reunited. Joy! Happiness! And they're married! More joy! More happiness!

But then in a Jane Eyre moment, when their marriage is being publicly announced, Blake's supposedly-dead wife appears. Meredith really is evil and tries killing the happy couple, which only resulted in Cristina having a stillbirth. In order to take care of the messy business with his wife, Blake sends Cristina off to her father in New York City. He takes their dead son to his family estate in England for a proper burial because he didn't want their child to rest on foreign land and bring him to be with his family. It would've been nice for Blake to tell Cristina that, because it left their relationship hanging.

A year later, she's about to consider marrying an American (who turns out to be a complete asshole) when Blake shows up to claim her yet again. I was getting tired of them at this point. Do you want to be together or not? They're reunited and Blake gets to be all manly when Cristina's trying to reject the American suitor, who calls Cristina a whore as he knows about what happened in Vienna. Too bad Blake pretty much confirms the American's words when he takes Cristina to his hotel room upstairs right after he makes the guy apologize. They're reunited at last. Joy! Happiness! They stay in bed for two days. Joy! Happiness! Preggers again. Uh oh.

Unfortunately, Blake has left YET AGAIN without doing the proper thing, since he has to get an official divorce from Meredity and promises to be back in two months. He doesn't know he's about to become a father again, and gets ambushed by some thugs Meredith hired. The divorce hearing gets delayed while he recovers, but everything goes through all right. When he goes to bring Meredith the news, he gives her the settlement money, letting her believe the packet contains the divorce papers, which he knows she'll burn (because she's crazy). However, he doesn't realize she's crazy enough to throw herself into the fire to retrieve the burning money. I was really happy about that because then he wouldn't have to keep giving Meredith 30,000 pounds per year for her settlement. Plus, I didn't want her doing another Bertha Rochester to Blake and Cristina again.

Cristina travels to London against Blake's wishes because he hasn't returned in two months for her. She gets upset when Blake doesn't show up in response to her message that she's in town, and then finds out about Meredith dying. Yet again, the woman has foiled them because Blake can't marry her for another year because of the period of mourning. But I guess the year of mourning doesn't really apply if you don't care about what society thinks, because Blake FINALLY marries Cristina.

This romance was way too over-the-top for me. They're together unofficially, then together officially, then not together, then together unofficially, then officially, then not together, and then together unofficially and finally officially! They're in England, then Vienna, then in America! Decide if you're together and stop moving around so much! Too frustrating! I want to be relaxed and cozy when I read my historical romances!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Tiger's Apprentice

Author: Laurence Yep
Published: April 2003 (Harper Collins)
Category: YA Fantasy
Rating: 5/10

Tom Lee is an orphan living with his grandmother in San Francisco. He's the odd kid out, as his grandmother is supposedly a witch and kids pick on Tom and make fun of her. Tom, as a precocious preteen, takes each insult to heart and gets into lots of fights.

Tom's grandmother, Mrs. Lee is actually a witch, one of the Guardians who take care of a phoenix egg. If the phoenix hatches, the person controlling it could use the phoenix to control the world. When Tom gets home one day, one of his grandmother's former Guardian students is visiting. It's Mr. Hu, and he's actually a tiger. In a Men in Black moment, Mr. Hu explains that lots of creatures like him are living amongst humans, particularly in San Francisco!

While having tea, the house is attacked and Mrs. Lee sacrifices herself to give Tom and Mr. Hu time to escape with the phoenix egg. Tom becomes a petulant kid (like Harry Potter in Order of the Phoenix) and says he doesn't want to become a Guardian and would rather live in an orphanage than stay with a MAGICAL TALKING TIGER WHO CAN KICK ASS.

Mr. Hu calls upon some friends to help protect the phoenix egg, one being Monkey from Chinese mythology and Yep's Dragons of the Lost Sea series. They also recruit a dragon from Goblin Square, a magical place hidden in San Fran, very much like Diagon Alley. It was a bit of a ripoff of Diagon Alley, what with the bricks disappearing to provide an entry to the square.

Then the phoenix egg is lost because of Tom's stupidity and they have to retrieve it. There's a lot of arguing and I felt that the story suffered because there was no good balance between narrative and dialogue. It was either all one or the other, without enough blending of the two. The book was really short too, but I can't judge the book based on that, as it is a YA title. It was kind of eh to me. Tom annoyed me too much and not enough happened to make me want to continue reading the story.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Duel

Author: Barbara Metzger
Published: February 2005 (Signet)
Category: Regency Romance
Quote of Choice: Ah, the poor lass, wed to a nobleman of ancient lineage, with four houses, more money than the prince—although everyone has more money than the prince, these days—and looks good enough to turn the eye of a blind woman. My, how she will suffer.
Rating: 9/10

Ian, Earl of Marden, made the mistake of sleeping with the wrong married woman. He finds himself involved in a duel with the offended husband, Lord Paige. Because Ian was in the wrong for being indiscreet, he planned on shooting into the air rather than at the body. However, Lord Paige was a coward and shot at Ian when his back was still turned. Ian still fired into the air, but injured an innocent bystander for all his niceness.

He brings the boy, Troy Renslow, back to his townhouse for medical care. He manages to tell Ian that his sister Attie (Athena) and someone named Roma can't be left by themselves. Ian, being completely guilty about what happened rushes to bring the boy's sister and nursemaid to his home. However, it turns out that Roma is an ill-behaved mutt with a penchant for chewing off boot tassles, such as the ones on Ian's boots. Because Attie is so petite, Ian thinks she's still in the schoolroom. Once he finds out she's actually nineteen, he realizes the potential scandal at hand.

Ian tries to fix the hole he keeps digging deeper for himself by asking his mother and sister to stay with Attie in his bachelor pad. Circumstances prevent them from making the journey right away, so Ian gets his best friend Carswell to dress up as a large woman. It's hilarious in that exuberant Mrs. Doubtfire kind of way.

While all this is happening, Attie is being pursued by an unwanted suitor, a Mr. Wiggs, who is actually Troy's tutor. He's a reverend without a parish and wants to marry Attie for her dowry and her connections as the sister of a viscount. He's an odious little man, preaching on Attie's careless behavior regarding her reputation, and he's willing to overlook her transgressions and continue courting her if she leaves Troy's bedside right away. Attie shoots Wiggy down rather smartly, as there never was an official suit or relationship to her anyways. He wasn't so clean himself either, because he takes up with the notorious Lady Paige after his dismissal, and all of London knows that she's a big tart.

When the rest of Ian's family arrives, he is pushed by his mother and sister to marry Attie for the honorable reason and for the way everyone has noticed Ian and Attie's attraction to one another. Ian has to spend time convincing Attie that he wants to marry her for more than just the honorable reason because she doesn't want to marry someone who doesn't really want her. He eventually comes through, but when Attie finds out the truth that Ian shot Troy (by accident), she denies him the marriage bed. Everyone comes together to get to the bottom of the duel-gone-awry, discovering that Ian's shot embedded itself into the tree, so the shot that hit Troy was from another pistol.

This was regency romance at its finest. I loved it and will be reading more Barbara Metzger in the future. Thankfully she's got a large backlist.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Tongue in Chic

Author: Christina Dodd
Published: February 6, 2007 (Signet)
Category: Romantic Suspense
Rating: 8/10

This book is an excellent example of being able blend lots of elements together well, without losing any of them.

Natalie Szarvas is trying to steal a painting from her grandmother's former residence. Well, it's not really stealing if your grandmother intended for yout o have it, right? Natalie's mother is suffering from cancer and in order to pay for the treatments, she's got to find this valuable painting in her grandfather's house.... only it's no longer her grandfather's house.

In the midst of her search for the painting in the dark mansion, the lights come on and Devlin Fitzwilliam, the new owner, surprises Natalie enough for her to strike her head against a the tooth of a stone lion and knock herself out. When she comes to, Devlin, a terribly handsome man, is administering to her head injury and offering her a Honesdale vase for her to vomit in. Being an artist and knowledgeable in art history, she refuses to vase. He's already figured that she's a thief, and a rather inept one at that, but he asks her what she's doing in his house. She comes up with the excuse of amnesia and says her name is Meadow (her real middle name). He one-ups her by claiming that she's his estranged wife. Hilarity ensues.

At the same time, Devlin is focusing on turning the old mansion into a luxury boutique hotel. It's in a very traditional southern town and some of the natives are against this change. He's had to deal with sabotage on his property, and he discovers that Meadow is not the only one looking for a painting. Someone is also trying to murder Meadow, setting up accidents for her. Is it about the painting or the hotel opening?

While pretending to be husband and wife, Devlin falls in love with Meadow. He loves the way she gets along with everybody, charming his employees and the old guard (the other mansion owning geezers in town) that is so opposed to him. She's attracted to him as well, but is afraid that he might turn into someone like her grandfather, the previous owner of the house. Speaking of the grandfather, there's a reunion of long-lost family for Meadow and for Devlin. Roberto Bartolini, from Dodd's Trouble in High Heels is actually half brother to Devlin.

Tongue in Chic was really good, very entertaining to the end. It was steamier than High Heels and normally that's not something I use to qualify a book. It's just that the steamy parts of High Heels were eh, and I think the book would've been better without them. Since I find I enjoy Dodd's contemporary fiction, I've decided to give her historicals (my preferred style of romance) a try and have picked up The Prince Kidnaps a Bride.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Lost in Temptation

Author: Lauren Royal
Published: July 2005 (Signet)
Category: Regency Romance
Series: Sweet Temptations Trilogy #1
Rating: 9/10

Hurrah, a new author! And she writes in trilogies! The Sweet Temptations Trilogy tells the stories of the three Chase sisters, in their early 20s, and ready for marriage. Due to a series of deaths in their family, they've been in continuous mourning for a few years and have not been participating in the Season. Lost in Temptation tells the story of Alexandra, eldest of the three girls. Since their parents and oldest sibling (the heir) have passed away, their older brother Griffin is now the Marquess of Cainewood, and bears the unofficial title of "matchmaking mama."

This was a really refreshing historical romance in the way the siblings banter with each other. Because they are so familiar with each other and raised themselves, there's a very modern feel to the way they tease each other. If they were in 2007, I could see all the smacking and "nyah!" stuff going on.

Griffin was not prepared to become the marquess, and as a measure of respect to his older brother Charles, he's trying to save the newly planted vineyards on the estate (it was Charles's pet project before he passed away). He calls on his longtime friend, Tristan Nesbitt, now Marquess of Hawkridge. Alexandra has had a crush on Tris since she was a child, and he's finally reentered her life. The "falling in love with your brother's best friend" plot device is one of my favorites, because it lends to hilarious overprotective older brother incidents.

So Alexandra and Tris are attracted to each other, but it can't work out that easily, can it? Alexandra's younger sisters are constantly coming up with ways to leave the two together unattended, and kisses are stolen, but Tris says he won't marry Alexandra, or anyone. Apparently, there's a scandal following Tris. He only became Marquess of Hawkridge due to the death of his uncle. The circumstances around his death are a little suspicious. Because of his tarnished reputation, Tris is shunned by Society despite not being convicted. Oh, and Tris sleepwalks, so he's afraid that he may have killed his uncle in his sleep. And the sleepwalking? It gets Alexandra compromised, so they have to marry after all.

The men engage in some fisticuffs because someone couldn't keep his hands off someone's sister, and after that night-before-the-wedding fight, Griffin encounters Alexandra baking some traditional Chase family sweets in the middle of the night. At her request, he has to uncomfortably, and hilariously, tell her what to expect on her wedding night. That is partially why her marrying Griffin's best friend is so entertaining. It gets even more hilarious during the actual wedding night when Alexandra is puzzled over how everything isn't happening the way Griffin described and Tris keeps telling her to "stop mentioning Griffin!"

Everything ties up neatly because Alexandra solves the mystery of Tris's uncle's death. It was a bit drawn out and overdramatic at times, and I could see it coming from a mile away (this is why the book isn't a 10), but I will definitely be reading more Lauren Royal. It was truly lovely. I've already got a copy of the second book in the trilogy, Tempting Juliana.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Raven Prince

Author: Elizabeth Hoyt
Published: November 2006 (Warner Forever)
Category: Historical Romance
Quote of Choice: You don't have to prove how manly you are by catching the ague.
Rating: 5/10

The category says that this is a historical romance, but some parts of The Raven Prince bordered on erotica. The back copy hints at it, saying that the widow Anna Wren will take her employer, Edward de Raaf, the Earl of Swartingham, as her lover, and he won't know it's her. Apparently, she finds out that he's going to London to visit a brothel and follows him there. She becomes a temporary whore behind a mask (apparently, bored wives of the ton like to have a bit of fun and wear masks so their reputations are wrecked) and receives pleasure she has never known, slaking her womanly desires.

There's not much to the story; it's truly historical fluff. Hoyt injects a little blackmail for some conflict beyond the "I can't believe you thought I was a real whore" plot line. After all of Edward's lust for Anna, he turns into a jerk when he finds out it was truly Anna behind the mask. He's already enjoyed her non-physical company, so he gets over his incorrect assumption and proposes marriage to Anna. But then Anna gets taken in by the blackmail and there's a little wild goose chase and a sloppy duel.

The dialogue is entertaining at times, what with their relationship as secretary and employer. Edward's last two male secretaries ran off and Anna doesn't find Edward frightening at all. She sees Edward for himself, beyond the brusque manners and smallpox scars. While the relationship is interesting (until Anna decides to pretend to be Edward's whore), it can't make up for the lack of a strong plot.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Paid Companion

Author: Amanda Quick
Published: May 2004 (Putnam)
Category: Historical Romance/Suspense
Rating: 10/10

This has to be my favorite Amanda Quick title. It was sitting in my TBR pile forever. I was so foolish to put off for so long, and I was really sad when it was over.

Elenora Lodge has been kicked out of her home. Her stepfather has squandered her inheritance on an investment scam and he died of an apoplexy when he discovered he'd been swindled. She sets off for London with the master plan of going into trade, opening her own book circulation shop. All she has to do is become a lady's companion to build up some capital. Easier said than done.

Arthur Lancaster, Earl of St. Merryn is well known for his keen investments and his cold nature. His betrothed ran away with another man, and he didn't chase after them. Instead, he lounged in his club and played cards for most of the night (and won, to boot). He made a comment in passing that night, saying that the next time he sought a bride, he would go to an agency providing ladies' companions, because all the qualities in a good wife would be found in a lady's companion, and he'd have the ability to interview her without all the dancing about required in a traditional courtship. After a year, this comment has faded away, but Arthur is now in need of a wife.

In order to investigate the mysterious death of his uncle, Arthur has to be in London during the Season, but doesn't want to deal with the matchmaking mamas and their grasping daughters, eager to snap up an earl. He figures he's got to get someone to act as his fiancée and therefore deflect the attention of the marriage mart. Of course, none of the mousy companions he interviews are good enough. Then Elenora comes barreling through the door, complaining about her days interviews with drunkards and lecherous men. She's the one.

Despite being the practical and levelheaded man he's known to be, Arthur can't resist the attraction to smart and refreshing Elenora. Even though she's pretending to be his betrothed, she cares for his household (able to conveniently reside there because a widowed cousin of Arthur's is in residence as well, and in on the charade), even defending lower servants from a scheming butler. This butler attempts to blackmail Elenora with his knowledge that she's a hired companion, not a real fiancée. She stands up to him and trusts that Arthur will take her side, which of course, he does. Because he's smart and wonderful. He is a logical man and Elenora is a logical woman. No ridiculous blackmail episodes in this book!

Arthur slowly realizes that he truly picked well at the agency when Elenora shares her opinions on his investigation into his uncle's death. When they're alone, either driving through Hyde Park, or conversing in the library in the evening, they have lovely conversations and the banter is amusing. Some ravishing goes on, but the sweet part is, Arthur tries proposing to Elenora for real later, and she tells him he doesn't have to marry a penniless fake when he has his pick of the Season's finest misses. He tells her he knew she was the one the day he saw her in the agency and he wouldn't have ravished her unless he intended to marry her. And the ton already thinks he's weird, so he should do something unconventional in selecting his wife anyways. Awwww.

The background to the romance is the murder investigation. Quick ties in people from Arthur's past, including the woman who jilted him. She and her husband become pawns in the murderer's game. Of course, Elenora gets kidnapped and Arthur rescues her. Oh, and the murderer is trying to build a laser in an underground laboratory. Minor details. Something to do with alchemy.

To me, this was the perfect romance novel. Good story, good dialogue, not vapid, and highly entertaining.