Tuesday, May 29, 2007

After Glow

Author: Jayne Castle
Published: February 24, 2004 (Jove)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Rating: 9/10

Don't you just love it when you start reading a new book and it's unexpectedly awesome? I'm talking about that degree of awesomeness where you want to read every book by the author, especially those in the same setting. Jayne Ann Krentz, writing as Jayne Castle, has created an easy-to-read blend of romance and science fiction. It's classified as paranormal romance, but I don't quite think it fits there. Then again, there's no scifi romance genre.

The story is set on the planet of Harmony, colonized by humans and abandoned by an ancient alien race that left behind fantastic cities and catacombs made of a glowing green quartz-like material. When the humans colonized, they realized that latent psychic powers surfaced easily on Harmony, and two very important types of psychics came about. One is the ghost hunter, a psychic who can dispel floating balls of alien energy that are usually found in the catacombs. The other is the tangler, a psychic with the ability to unravel psychic traps left behind by aliens in the catacombs. Para-archaelogists excavate in the catacombs and a well-organized dig will not be without good tanglers and ghost hunters.

Our heroine, Lydia Smith, is an ostracized tangler and para-archaelogist. Six months before the events of the book, she was lost in the catacombs for 48 hours and should have stayed lost, but thanks to her dust bunny named Fuzz, she found her way out, but had no memories of the events that occurred. She blames her ordeal on the two ghost hunters on her dig, and those ghost hunters blame Lydia for what happened. Because of that, she has a severe bias against hunters and the Guild that governs them.

There's a serious cute factor in this book in Fuzz the dust bunny. He looks like a bundle of dust that you'd find under your bed, has six legs, and two sets of eyes (one set used just for hunting at night). It should sound disgusting, but he's so endearing in the way he perches on Lydia's shoulder munching on pretzels (his favorite snack), and he's described so charmingly that I want a dust bunny now! He's very protective of Lydia, and you'd think "What can a little ball of fluff do to me?" They mention this quote in the book, that if you can see a dust bunny's teeth, it's too late.

Lydia's dating Emmett London, former Guild boss in Resonance City. He's in Lydia's home town as a favor to his father, Mercer Wyatt, the Guild Boss in Cadence. He's the typical Krentz/Quick hero, the hunter with quiet strength, is very protective of those close to him, and very much believes in thinking before acting. Despite being the strong, almost-silent type, Emmett is a romantic and is more open to moving his and Lydia's relationship forward.

The background story involves Lydia unraveling the mystery of her "lost weekend" in the catacombs. At the same time, Emmett has to stand in for his father as Cadence Guild boss, which brings in all sorts of tension (Lydia dislikes the Guild because of how they handled the two hunters who abandoned her; Wyatt's wife is Emmett's ex-fiancée, etc.), and there are various murders going on that may be related to both Lydia and Emmett.

So while we have a really interesting world and Guild politics to read about, the romance is fantastic and passionate, and I LOVED the characters. I'm very excited to read any new Jayne Castle books, because it appears that her recent publications are set on Harmony. Emmett and Lydia actually started their relationship in After Dark, so it helps After Glow move faster, as we don't waste time with relationship exposition. I was sad to see it end.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Lady Anne's Dangerous Man

Author: Jeane Westin
Published: January 3, 2006 (Signet)
Category: Historical Romance (Restoration England)
Rating: 7/10

Yet another mini review because I read this back in May and I'm doing this review in mid-June. Lady Anne's Dangerous man is one of those adventurous historical romances (and a twist on Robin Hood) where the main characters are bouncing all over England, due to Lady Anne's harebrained escape from John Gilbert, our Robin Hood. They don't stay long in Whittlewood Forest or various stops along the road back to London. And when they're in London, all I took from the description was the fact that it's dirty and there's a plague outbreak.

Lady Anne Gascoigne is eager to take her wedding vows - until she discovers her devious fiancé has conspired to let King Charles II steal her virtue. To save her honor and her life, she must flee under the protection of a notorious but charming rake who has just escaped hanging - only to be captured by Anne's heart....

The illegitimate son of a powerful man, John Gilbert lives by his wits and his sword, leading a merry band of men who rob the rich and corrupt, then escape to a forest hideaway. As proper Lady Anne blossoms under John's command, copening up to the freedom and sensuality he offers, she poses a new set of challenges for him - to stay alive long enough to ensure her protection, earn an equal place by her side, and convince her of his undying love....
The story was interesting, although a bit on the heavy side. John Gilbert has a rival outlaw with the oh-so-original name of Black Ben, and I thought he was superfluous to the storyline. I also had problems with Lady Anne, who was so full of herself thanks to her aristocratic upbringing that she runs away from John and safety, going back to the city she's supposed to keep away from. She, with her arrogant optimisim/confidence, thinks her uncle, a bishop, can help her when he only turns around to give her back to King Charles.

I didn't finish this book for Anne; I finished it for John, because he was a really good man, and more of a nobleman than the king. He'd been unlucky to be a bastard, and his father tried to give him his estate, but the three legitimate sons took it away from him and drove John to his life as a Robin Hood. I was very happy to see John justly rewarded for his good and heroic nature at the end of the book.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Perfect Gentleman

Author: Barbara Metzger
Published: October 5, 2004 (Signet)
Category: Regency Romance
Rating: 6/10

I'm really behind in my reviews and this book wasn't very good when it could've been so much better what with its premise and all. I had to think really hard to remember what happened in the book. I still gave it a 6/10 because I didn't think it was so bad that I stopped reading it.
Viscount Aubrey "Stony" Wellstone is at the end of his rope - and at the end of his family's once-great fortune. Desperate, he tries his luck at the gaming tables, where an offer to exchange his debts for a gentlemanly favor leads to a profitable new profession... as an honorable escort accompanying the cream of the ton.

Fiercely independent Ellianne Kane would normally have no use for an upper-class attendant - even one as stricking as the viscount - but she is in dire need. Her younger sister has vanished while in London, and the flame-tressed beauty aims to find her. Only Stony's knowledge of proper society can help Ellianne in her quest. And only Stony can prove to her that there is far more to their relationship than money....
There are also the requisite Metzger character quirks. For example, Stony faints at the faintest sight of blood. I guess this wimpy quirk is supposed to make his later heroic actions all the more meaningful. Ellianne is in town with her Aunt Lally, widowed by a sea captain, and has the mouth of a sailor and a mild case of Tourette's. As she's usually seated quietly on the other side of the room, Stony assumes she's sleeping, so when things like "No balls at Bow Street. No balls a'tall, I say" are heard, she blames it on an imaginary parrot left by her deceased sea captain uncle. She's also got an old dog that happens to be a vegetarian, but he has a penchant for attacking Stony (but the dog has no teeth because he's old), so Ellianne has taken to carrying small cooked potatoes on her person.

At the same time, a serial murderer is on the loose, and Ellianne is constantly afraid of that her missing sister might turn up at the morgue as another one of the victims. However, as a mystery, it's kind of blah. Not memorable, and you could see the murderer's true identity from a mile away.

If I were asked for my recommendation on a Metzger to read, I'd definitely recommend passing over this title. Metzger's got better.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Born in Fire

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: October 1, 1994 (Jove)
Category: Romance
Series: Born In #1
Rating: 7/10

Yet another Jennie-approved book. She practically glued this one to my forehead to make this my next Nora Roberts read.

The couple in Born in Fire is the typical alpha male + strong, independent woman. Rogan Sweeney is the head of an Irish corporation that operates art galleries worldwide. He wants to open a gallery showcasing Irish artists and the first step in that direction is to find a new Irish superstar artist. He finds his next artist in a piece of beautifully blown glass in his grandmother's home. Unfortunately, the artist, Maggie Concannon is fiercely independent and doesn't want someone telling her to how to make art and when to make it.

Honestly, I didn't care for Maggie that much. She was too spiny a character for me to like. A hot millionaire who loves her and respects her talent wants a relationship with her, and she's all, "I like being a hermit and you might someday ask me to create a piece on commission that I don't want to do!" I don't remember very much about the development of their love story, but it seemed as though Rogan was doing a lot of the work on it and waiting for Maggie to come around. Then again, Maggie did have a rough family life, with a mother who hated the man she married and produced two daughters out of duty and didn't bother raising them or maintaining their household. She left the work to her daughters and husband while staying abed claiming some imaginary illness.

The descriptions of the Irish countryside, the art galleries, and Maggie's glass blowing were fabulous though. But didn't I start reading this book for the romance? Despite my dislike of how the romance was handled, the book was well written, and set the reader up for the next book in the trilogy, Born in Ice, about Maggie's sister Brianna, and I am eager to read her story.

The River Knows

Author: Amanda Quick
Published: April 24, 2007 (Putnam)
Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 8/10

In the course of investigating Elwin Hastings, a man of good society, although of evil soul, plain-looking Louisa Bryce finds herself locking lips in a dark hallway with the handsome Anthony Stalbridge of the powerful, yet eccentric, Stalbridge family. Louisa was about to be discovered by the guard, but Anthony grabbed her and kissed her to give them an excuse to be away from the party going on downstairs, finding that it's very pleasant to kiss the quiet and inconspicuous Mrs. Bryce. But Amanda Quick has always been good at creating characters that have more than what appears to be on the surface.

Louisa used to live under another name, where she operated in trade as a rare book dealer. However, a nobleman with a penchant for preying on lone women in trade wanted her for his next victim. She wound up killing him in self defense, but knew that in society's eyes, she would turn up guilty, so she faked her suicide in the Thames River and became Louisa Bryce, a companion to the eccentric Lady Ashton, and a career as a correspondent for the Flying Intelligencer, first seen in Quick's Wait Until Midnight, exposing the misdeeds of the elite members of the ton. She's looking for proof that Hastings is involved in financing a notorious brothel catering to the most depraved sexual appetites.

Anthony, on the other hand, is looking for evidence linking Hastings to the supposed suicide of Anthony's ex-fiancée two years prior. He can't move on from Fiona's death because of the rumors that she killed herself due to his ending their engagement (she was in love with another man). If he could connect Hastings to Fiona's death, the air will finally be clear.

While they do discover the evidence they require thanks to Anthony's skills as a safecracker, they discover a deeper and more twisted crime under Hastings' belt: the blackmail of innocent young ladies he had seduced by another accomplice. They now believe Fiona was killed because of this scheme, and Anthony is determined to bring Hastings to justice. Lousia, as a reporter, naturally wants to follow the story through to the end.

Louisa and Anthony share one of those relationships where they work extremely well together, but she stereotypically doesn't take direction from him just because he' a man and she's a woman. She is a forward-thinking Victorian woman, goshdarnit! The more intimate parts of the illicit love affair they begin are charming and humorous at times, as Louisa was disappointed with the first time (she was never married; the deceased Mr. Bryce is just a cover) and Anthony, as a man, had to provide her with an experience "approaching transcendence," like those described in novels.

I liked the hero and heroine, the background mystery was well-developed, and supporting characters were entertaining. Another good Amanda Quick read.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Montana Sky

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: Reissued June 27, 2006 (Berkley), First print March 1996 (Putnam)
Category: Romance
Rating: 9/10

Finally, my first Nora Roberts (not counting the J.D. Robbs)! Jennie, the Nora Roberts expert, recommended this title for my first, and I have to give her a big thank you because I had such a great time reading this book.

Montana Sky is the story of three half-sisters, each sharing the same father and very different mothers. Willa, the youngest, has lived on Jacky Mercy's ranch her whole life, as her mother died before Jack could divorce her. The other two sisters, Tess and Lily, return to the ranch to attend the funeral and the reading of the will. In order to claim their inheritance, each a third share of the ranch (one of the best in Montana), the three women will have to live there for one year.

During the span of the year, three women who are so different from each other become the sisters they never had for each other, and of course, the perfect man for each sister appears quickly, even if Tess, the stubborn city girl screenwriter, doesn't realize it yet. She winds up with Nate, the cowboy lawyer who breeds quarterhorses. Lily, the battered woman, finds a gentle man to heal her heart in Willa's half-brother (through the mother, so there's no incest here!) Adam, who works on Mercy Ranch managing the horses. Willa finally falls for the man she swore never to marry (because her father wanted it), Ben McKinnon of the neighboring rival ranch. With all these hot yet courteous gentleman cowboys, I think I might have to set aside my rule of "no cowboys in my romances."

The descriptions of ranch life and the wild, yet beautiful land of Montana were fantastic and appealed to the part of me that always wanted to have a chicken coop so I could feed chickens and have fresh eggs each morning.

I did feel some anxiety while reading this book because the reader knows that Lily's abusive ex-husband is stalking her while working on Ben's ranch. It's like when you're watching a horror movie and yell at the stupid characters on the screen that no, it's not a great idea to split up. But the tension and pressure brought on by the villain are great accoutrements to the romances and even nudges them along.

This was a fantastic read, great for a lazy weekend, and is not your average fluffy romance. It has funny moments and serious moments and the dialogue is spot on. I was just a little disappointed at the end and felt that for a book with three well-developed romances (usually one romance is in the forefront and the rest are very minor) could've done well with an epilogue. For example, Tess was about to get on a plane back to CA after the year on the ranch, but changes her mind at the last minute to stay with Nate. And that's the last you hear about her. It would've been nice to see her sisters' reaction to her decision to stay, and to find out about Mary's first child. If it had a good epilogue, this would've been a 10/10.

And remember, this was a Jennie-approved book! Guaranteed for some seriously good reading.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Immortal in Death

Author: J.D. Robb
Published: July 1, 1996 (Berkley)
Category: Romantic Suspense
Series: In Death #3
Rating: 8/10

I realize why Nora Roberts has such a huge readership. If I have a craving for a good romantic suspense, I know I can depend on her In Death series. Sure, each book is pretty formulaic, but that means that I can find things I know I like within its pages, and return to characters I know and love.

Eve Dallas, our favorite tough lady cop, is going to marry our beloved hero Roarke, and she needs a dress. Her best friend Mavis recommends her current boyfriend Leonardo, an up-and-coming fashion designer. But in the middle of Eve's consultation with him, an angry supermodel flies into the loft and demands that he dump Mavis or she'll ruin his career. Of course, the supermodel turns up dead and Mavis is suspect numero uno.

Sometimes I wonder how it's possible that Eve can work on cases in which she has a personal interest, and this is the worst one yet. While she's working on the case, Eve suffers from nightmares that reveal the horrors of the childhood memories she'd suppressed. She'd been found in an alley as a child, beaten and broken, with no name and no memories of her family. But it appears that her mind has decided that it's time to deal with the past now that Roarke is there to love and support her. Once she recalls the truth of her father's death (she killed him), she tries to call off the wedding and turn herself in as a murderer. But nothing comes of that, and Eve's boss even tells her not to bother and stop wasting time on the ridiculous idea of turning herself in when she's got to figure out who killed the supermodel.

I'll also admit that Roarke is awesome. He's an alpha male, but he knows that Eve wouldn't stand for it. He compromises and lets her be difficult, but he'll take charge in one matter when she's too obsessed with something else (i.e. having her car fixed while she's focused on her investigation).

The mystery, which is just something in the background of the whole Eve-Roarke relationship, wasn't too mysterious. When you have a cast of characters, there's only so much suspicion that can be thrown around, and the few new characters that get introduced are automatically the prime suspects to the reader. I've read only three of the Eve Dallas books, and each murderer is someone we meet in the course of the investigation. I'm waiting for the day the murderer is a complete surprise. But the lack of that won't stop me from reading these books!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

White Lies

Author: Jayne Ann Krentz
Published: January 2007 (Putnam)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Rating: 7/10

Apparently, White Lies uses the Arcane Society Krentz created under her penname Amanda Quick in Second Sight. I think I started reading that book, but stopped reading it for some reason I don't recall.

Clare Lancaster is a level 10 parasensitive human lie detector. Apparently, this is a super big deal and she could be a level 17 for all we know because level 10 parasensitives just can't be measured. Having been fired from her last job and being unable to find a new one, due to being suspected of a murder she didn't commit, she goes to Stone Canyon, AZ, home of her father (the man who supplied the sperm in a one-night fling) and his family, at his request. Several months before, her half-sister contacted her for desperate help because she believed her husband Brad was evil, which he was, but then Clare walked in on his murder scene soon after that and was suspected (but cleared due to her father's influence) of doing the deed.

Upon her return to Stone Canyon, Brad's mother goes ballistic, and it doesn't help that she's on meds and has become an alcoholic. She's bent on the idea that Clare killed Brad because they were having an affair and Brad wouldn't leave her sister. She even tries killing Clare in revenge, and winds up doing a dead man's float in her pool, and unfortunately discovered by Clare, who wanted to talk things out with the crazy lady.

And then there's the man. He's Jake Salter, an employee of Jones & Jones, a paranormal investigation firm that does a lot of work for the Arcane Society. He's using Clare's affluent father to disguise his true purpose in Stone Canyon. Apparently, someone's starting a rival organization to the Arcane Society, called the Cabal. Jake is also a level 10 parasensitive, a hunter. I was a little fuzzy on what a hunter actually does, but I figured it has to do with being very predator-like... and manly... and very, very sexy. I think I have a crush on him.

But this book was not really about the romance, which comes together rather easily and with a cute gimmick at the end of the book (there's an Arcane Society dating service that matches parasensitives up with suitable mates). It was more about the mystery and Clare's pseudo-family and how they come together. I could've done with a little more Jake :)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Visions of Heat

Author: Nalini Singh
Published: Marcy 2007 (Berkley)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Series: Psy-Changeling #2
Rating: 7/10

Visions of Heat continues from where Slave to Sensation left off. The Psy heroine is Faith Nightstar, a cardinal level F-Psy, which means she can see visions of the future. She was raised under Silence, the heartless Psy program that teaches all Psy not to feel emotion, lest their psychic powers get the best of them and bad things happen. But we all know, after STS that Silence was not successful and the Psy Council has been hiding the killers that have resulted from the program.

Faith, as a foreseer, thinks that insanity is inevitable. Apparently, they're really delicate and have to live in complete isolation from everyone and the more powerful the foreseer, the more this applies. Since she's the most powerful foreseer of her time, Faith has been living by herself since she was a child in a guarded house in the wilderness on the edge of DarkRiver territory. And this mysterious guarded house has attracted Vaughn D'Angelo's attention.

Lucky for him, Faith wants to meet Sascha Duncan, mate to Vaughn's pack leader, Lucas Hunter. Faith has been suffering visions of murder, which she shouldn't because Silence keeps foreseers from seeing such emotional visions. Their predictions are reserved for business dealings (which I found sort of unethical) only. Faith is afraid that she's going to crack under these horrific visions, although she seemed ready to crack over just about anything.

Vaughn's inner jaguar, apparently more developed than most changelings' animal alter-egos, wants to claim Faith, and he goes along with it. He keeps pushing Faith to her breaking point to make her stronger, and it's not like she's the only one who benefits. The more accustomed she becomes to touching and emotional interaction, the sooner Vaughn can take her to bed, which he eventually does.

I was enjoying the relationship between Vaughn and Faith more than the whole Psy murderer subplot. They catch the killer, but it was a little too easy and almost an afterthought in the storyline. I love Vaughan, our alpha male hero; Singh can definitely write an alpha male. Her heroines are lacking though. They're all fragile and about to break, and I'd really like to see a future story where we have a strong Psy female to start with. Faith did seem a bit braver than Sascha though, dropping out of the Psynet without any idea of the private web of stars that was created when Sascha dropped out in STS. Then again, she just figured she was going to die, so maybe it wasn't actually bravery. I guess Singh is trying to appeal to the audience that likes having everything taken care of by their man?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Rake's Ransom

Author: Barbara Metzger
Published: January 2006 (Signet), 1st printing: January 1987 (Walker)
Category: Regency Romance
Rating: 9/10

Miss Jacelyn Trevayne is the apple of her father's eye, and the bane of her neighbor's existence, as Jacey has taken it upon herself to ruin every foxhunt possible. To teach her a lesson for her hoydenish ways, the neighbor, Squire Bottwick, arrests her dog Penelope for a period of three days. Jacey won't stand for that, so she decides to fight fire with fire, and kidnap the squire's nephew. Unfortunately, she kidnaps the wrong man. Instead of goofy Arthur Ponsonby, she kidnaps dashing Leigh Merrill, Earl of Claibourne. Since the squire didn't take Jacey's ransom note seriously, he didn't respond and Jacey and Leigh were together in a cottage for a few hours, thus compromising Jacey. Leigh, being an honorable gentleman, despite his rakely reputation, offers for her, even giving her a betrothal period in London so she can figure out if they'll suit, and even find someone better than an impoverished earl for a husband.

This is the funniest Metzger I've ever read. I was giggling from the first chapter, where Jacey's exploits in foiling the local hunts were detailed. There was an instance where she had a couple village boys gather dead fish and scatter them all over the place, and the most recent hunt had Jacey walking Penelope about the countryside while she was in heat, thus causing all the hunting dogs to go crazy.

While Leigh is escorting Jacey about town, we get these little moments where he shows that he has more than an honorable interest in marrying her. There's a moment in a modiste's shop where her newly hired stickler of an abigail is giving conflicting opinions about the decolletage of a gown, so Jacey marches out to Leigh and demands to know where a lady's gown should start and end, and Leigh finds himself staring at this bosom that's practically presented to him with blazing neon arrows screaming "LOOK AT THESE!!" He calmly tells her, "You'll have to decide, Miss Travaine. You'll be the one drawing attention... You have to consider whether you wish to be approved or admired." Jacey fires back that since he'll be escorting her, her choice would affect him, and Leigh says, "Tell me when you are going to wear it so I can buckle on my sabre to fight off all the smitten mooncalves." Swoon. I love that language. Smitten mooncalves indeed!

I felt like this book was more about society and all the intricate steps one must take to be accepted by the haute ton. Even though it's nothing new, I can't get enough of those little rituals, like morning calls and rides through Hyde Park at the fashionable hour. The rich descriptions and excellent made up for the anticlimactic romantic ending. I was just a little disappointed in how Jacey and Leigh wound up together, in one of those "Huh, that's it?" moments. But their happy ending is not the only one, as Jacey, ever considerate of her friends, plays matchmaker rather successfully, even for one of the villains (who turns out not to be villainous, just slightly stupid).

Great fun and I think this might be my favorite Metzger to date.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Lady Jane's Nemesis

Author: Patricia Oliver
Published: July 2000 (Signet)
Category: Regency Romance
Rating: 7/10

This was a very different regency romance, as all the Signet Regency Romances I've read lead up to the hero and heroine getting married. In Lady Jane's Nemesis, marriage occurs very early in the book, and the story concerns our hero and heroine becoming accustomed to their arranged marriage. Lady Jane Sinclair was betrothed at birth to her father's best friend's son, as a way to solidify their friendship. Twenty-five years later, and Roger Hastings, Viscount Summers, has yet to make good on the agreement. During a morning ride, Jane hears a woman laughing and discovers Roger with a half-naked, and very married Lady Horton. Outraged, Jane returns to Penhallow Hall, deciding to extricate herself from her betrothal (despite the signed papers).

She tries to convince her father to break the betrothal agreement, but he will have none of it, and tells Roger's father to kick his son in the pants and get him moving. So Roger becomes the charming suitor and Jane, who has had tender feelings for Roger for quite some time, gives in to his promises that there will be no more contact with Lady Horton.

I did think that Jane gave in a little too easily to Roger if she was truly so offended about what she'd seen. But I guess that's why they say love is blind? Apart from that, it's a well-written story resulting in a more grown-up kind of love, with great main and supporting characters.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

And Then He Kissed Her

Author: Laura Lee Guhrke
Published: February 2007 (HarperCollins)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 8/10

This one's a Victorian version of the classic cliche of employer and employee falling in love, and it does

Right, so Emmaline Dove has been an excellent secretary to Viscount Harrison Marlowe, so much that he's begun to take her for granted. Emma's been trying to publish a book on etiquette, and keeps submitting manuscripts to Harry, and he keeps rejecting them. When she finds out that he's been rejecting them without reading them, she quits, and Harry realizes how much he depended on Emma. They work together again when Harry buys the newspaper Emma writes a column in, and they get to know each other beyond the professional relationship they used to maintain when Emma was his secretary.

Harry has problems with remarriage because he endured a scandalous divorce from his adulterous wife. Emma doesn't want to have scandal ruin her good name, as she is so focused on writing about etiquette and maintaining her spotless image. She keeps refusing Harry, and he confronts her with the way Emma has hidden her true self behind walls of etiquette and propriety, only to satisfy what other people think of her. She realizes he's right and agrees to begin an illicit love affair with him. They spend lovely weekends together in a cottage in the countryside.

Although Emma knows that the relationship is for sex only, she falls in love with Harry, and when she realizes this, she breaks off the affair. And once again, when Emma leaves him, Harry realizes what he's missing out on. Classic "want what you can't have" thinking.

In terms of the employer-employee romance, I really liked it, much more than The Raven Prince. The story was well-written, although the romance was a bit slow in development. Not too much drama, just the right amount, and that always gets a star from me!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Moonspun Magic

Author: Catherine Coulter
Published: July 1999 (Signet), First edition published 1988
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Magic Trilogy #3
Rating: 6/10

Just what I always wanted in a romance: evil twin vs. good twin.

Rafael Carstairs has returned to England after several years as a spy during the Napoleonic Wars. While traveling through Cornwall on the way to London, he rescues a young lady from smugglers. This young lady, Victoria Abermarle, has been living with her cousin, wife of Damien Carstairs, Baron Drago, and Rafael's twin. Damien was trying to ravish his wife's cousin, and even told vicious lies about Victoria to her one suitor. And men being phenomenally stupid in this book, the suitor believed Damien's claims, rather than trying to talk it out with Victoria. Of course a man's word must be taken ahead of a woman's word.

Rafael and Victoria decide to marry, as they get along well and she needs protection. And it seems as though all will be well in their world, but Damien tells Rafael the same horrible lies he told Victoria's previous suitor, and Rafael begins doubting her innocence. On their wedding night, Victoria stops him, saying she has to tell him something, and he thinks she's about to admit that she's not a virgin, and flips out. He says mean things to her and keeps on having to make it up to her. Victoria's angry with him for believing Damien and refuses to tell him her secret, even though it would've cleared everything up if she'd communicated. He figures what could she have that was so important to reveal during their wedding night? Apparently, Victoria has a big scar on her thigh from a childhood riding accident, and she's unable to handle much physical exertion, so that rules out dancing and riding for extended periods of time. The scar affects her emotionally too, as her cousin has always made it sound like it was something awful, so she's afraid that Rafael will reject her for being imperfect when he looks so perfect.

When they finally have a wedding night, he realizes that Damien was lying, and says so, and Victoria is angry at him for sleeping with her just to find out if she was a virgin. And she still refuses to tell him about her leg. It's this constant dance of mistrust, and I kept wishing that they'd just grow up already.

After the wedding, they return to Cornwall so Rafael can investigate a revival of the Hellfire Club, which has been committing the gang rape of several young women, and one of the victims was the daughter of a viscount, which brought about Rafael's involvement. The newlyweds stay at Drago Hall, and that gives Damien the opportunity to masquerade as Rafael. I knew it was going to happen, and Victoria is clever enough not to fall for his tricks. However, Rafael hears about this and thinks that Victoria is cheating on him, which leads to more mistrust and anger, as Victoria finds out AGAIN that Rafael believes another person's word over her own.

Apart from the constant annoyance of secrets, mistrust, and lies, there is a good story. It could've been a lot less soap opera-esque in terms of drama quota if the characters were less stupid. Even up to the end, Rafael doesn't fully trust Victoria, infiltrating the Hellfire Club without telling her and having Damien (who turned a new leaf) act as Rafael. And Victoria, after finding out that she'd been duped so she wouldn't try to "help" Rafael and cause more problems for him. But at least this time around, she doesn't get angry with him.

Maybe I picked the wrong Coulter to start off with, as I've read some reviews for this book that say the other two books in the trilogy were better.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Not Quite a Lady

Author: Loretta Chase
Published: April 2007 (Avon)
Category: Historical Romance
Quote of Choice: "Oh, now you are going to become all masterful. If you think you can intimidate me with your— with your great size and— and swaggering arrogance, I recommend you think again."
Rating: 10/10

Hooray! The new Loretta Chase is finally out and I loooooooooved it. The dialogue was excellent and so funny.

Lady Charlotte Hayward, at twenty-seven years of age, is an expert at NOT getting married. She's gorgeous and intelligent, but she's been guarding a deep dark secret for ten years. When she was seventeen, she was duped by a libertine and gave birth to a boy in secret, with the assistance of her very-not-evil stepmother and maid. The baby was given away, and figured that it may not have survived because it was so weak at birth. Charlotte has no desire to marry because her husband would realize that she's not a virgin and reject her and expose her for a fraud.

Darius Carsington is a gentleman scholar, studying animals, their mating habits in particular. And he regards his relations with women the same way animals do. There is no love nor desire to marry. His father, fed up with his youngest son, issues a challenge. Restore Birchwood (the estate neighboring Charlotte's father's estate) within one year or marry.

Charlotte literally trips over Darius while she's out on a walk on his property, and the two start off on the wrong foot, bickering with each other in the most amusing way. They are both determined not to be attracted to the other. Darius has a rule against innocents and Charlotte is unwilling to trust men after her experience with the man who had his way with her and left.

However, Charlotte and Darius are thrown together frequently, as her stepmother has taken on the task of restoring the manor house at Birchwood, spending money that Darius doesn't have. Every time they meet, they rub each other the wrong way, and Darius winds up having wicked thoughts about her. Every time they kiss, Charlotte is angry at him and herself, usually whacking him with her bonnet and stomping off in a huff.

They give in to the attraction one afternoon, when Charlotte is crying over the prospect of marrying a man she doesn't love, and she reveals her secret to Darius. I was ready to applaud Charlotte at that point because the TRUTH has come out before the end of the book, and she and Darius can work through it. And hooray! Darius is accepting of Charlotte's past and the fact that she's not perfect. It was nice to see the hero and heroine act like adults and communicate, and they declare their love soon after, which is lovely. So many historical romances have the heroine refusing the hero until he admits that he loves her, and that usually takes until the very end of the book.

The conflict though, is Colonel Morrell, who I kept calling "Colonel Mustard" in my mind. He wants Charlotte for his wife, but he'd be the kind of husband who doles out heaps of discipline to make her into a proper wife. None of this traipsing across the countryside and helping her stepmother redecorate a bachelor's home. Basically, he's the male character I hate quite easily. He discovers Charlotte's secret and attempts to blackmail her with it, but unsuccessfully so, as Charlotte and Darius go to her parents and reveal the truth, along with their intention to marry.

Charlotte's father isn't upset about how Charlotte had a child, but the fact that she was too afraid to tell him about her problem, and accepts his new grandson, giving the poor child a large, loving family, and lifting Charlotte's burden of guilt from her shoulders.

This was a great romance, with minimal annoyance to me (and I get annoyed rather easily!). I could not get enough of Charlotte and Darius's dialogue, as they are the epitome of "that bickering-but-in-love couple."