Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dancing at Midnight

Author: Julia Quinn
Published: December 1995 (Avon)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 9/10

I was at a standstill with Julia Quinn because I was waiting for my next Bridgerton book to arrive in the mail. I happened to be in the library and this was the only Quinn they had on the shelf, so it was meant to be. Apparently, Dancing at Midnight is the middle of a trilogy, between Splendid and Minx, and before Quinn wrote the Bridgerton series.

When a suitor tells Arabella he's willing to overlook her appalling bluestocking tendencies on account of her looks and fortune, she decides to take a break from the Marriage Mart. During an extended stay in the country, she never expects to meet Lord John Blackwood, a wounded war hero who intrigues her like no other man.

Lord John has lived through the worst horrors of war... but nothing could have been as terrifying to his tormented herat as Lady Arabella. She is intoxicating, infuriating... and she makes him want to live again. Suddenly he's writing bad poetry and climbing trees in the pitch-dark night... just so he can dance with her as the clock strikes midnight. And even though he knows he can never be the sort of man she deserves, he can't help wanting her. But when the harsh light of day replaces the magic of midnight, can this tormented soul learn to love again?

Belle is the heroine who plans on marrying for love, and nothing less. Even luckier for her, her parents support her decision and have let her turn down several offers. She visits her newly married cousin, Emma, the Duchess of Ashbourne, and while out reading, she accidentally trespasses on their new neighbor's land.

Lord John Black Blackwood was made a baron after his heroic acts in the war, and invested his money wisely over the past few years, coming out plump enough in the pocket to buy his own estate. Unfortunately, the estate had an awful name: Bletchford Manor. He carries a lot of guilt from when one of his men raped a young girl, and has nightmares about it, thinking that he may as well have been the rapist. When he meets Belle, his heart is lighter than it's ever been since that horrible night. She's smart, witty, beautiful, and bright in spirit. They flirt and Belle begins to believe that John's the one for her, but then he pushes her away because he's afraid of hurting her like he did that little Spanish girl he let down.

Belle fights back, going home to London and having Emma help her pass on the fake news that she's about to be engaged. John realizes that maybe he isn't the best man for Belle, but he will do his best for her. What if she married some nobleman who made her stop reading, or one who mistreated her physically? So he storms off to London to confront her, and she's actually honest about her plot to get him to chase after her, and they begin their real courtship, complete with poetry. That was one of the funniest parts of the book. Emma, thinking that John has a poetic soul, insists that he write her a poem, but he keeps plagiarizing and reciting other poets' work instead. She always catches him, and I crack up.

They do marry quickly, and Belle helps him get past his guilt. Besides trying to rename Bletchford Manor, which Belle kept mistaking for Blumley Manor, Brimstone Park ("At least Brimstone Park had some character to it. And 'bletch' rhymes with 'retch,' which conjures up images even more unfortunate than hellfire."), etc., someone from John's past is threatening their new life.

This was a fantastic, fun read, and included a lot of face time for Emma and Alex, who were so lovely that I had to run out and buy Splendid.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Pirate Next Door

Author: Jennifer Ashley
Published: September 2003 (Leisure Books)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 8/10

Yikes, yet another cringe-worthy cover, but I braved the subway reading by hiding the cover against my bag as usual. I've enjoyed Jennifer Ashley's writing, particularly The Mad, Bad Duke, and I'm looking forward to her upcoming books in her Calling series next year.
What was a proper English lady to do when a pirate moved next door? Add the newly titled viscount to her list of possible suitors? Take his wildly eccentric young daughter under her wing? Let the outlandish rogue kiss her with wild abandon? As everyday etiquette offered no guidance, Alexandra Alastair simply set aside her tea, peeled off her gloves, and followed her instincts - whether that involved rescuing her new neighbor from hanging, fending off pirate hunters, plotting against aristocratic spies, or succumbing to a little passionate plundering. Forget propriety! No challenge was too great and no pleasure too wicked, for Grayson Finley promised the adventure of a lifetime.
The hero and heroine are so amusing; I loved the way Grayson reviewed Alexandra's list of potential husbands with its symbols (a minus meaning a deficiency in character and a plus meaning a merit).
"Why does St. Clair have so many?"
"Well he is a duke."
"Well, I am a viscount. Excellent." He gave himself a cross. "What else?"
"He is a family friend-"
"I live next door." Another cross to Lord Stoke.
"I have known him a long while, and he has proved his kindness many times."
Grayson contained the snarl that built inside him and continued to make crosses by his own name until he came to the edge of the paper. "I seem to have many merits," he said."
Sadly, despite him being the clear winner (in his mind) on the list of suitors, Grayson says he cannot marry Alexandra. It turns out he made a deal with a pirate villain to ensure his daughter's safe crossing to England, her life for his. Despite that, he is protective of Alexandra and rescues her when she's kidnapped by enemy pirates, and they begin a steamy affair. Once she becomes Grayson's woman, his enemies use that against him.

A lot of swashbuckling action, more than I actually expected, and I will read more of Ashley's pirate books.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Gift

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: October 2007 (Silhouette)
Category: Romance
Rating: 6/10

Apparently, all of these stories were previously published, but as I became a Nora Roberts fan relatively recently, that didn't matter to me.

Home for Christmas is about Jason, a journalist who left his tiny hometown to find adventure and success. Ten years later, he returns to claim Faith, the woman he left behind, only to find that she's been divorced and had a baby. This was my favorite of the three stories in the book, and the coziest. It also deals the best with its shortness.

All I Want for Christmas is the cutesy made-for-TV-movie story, with twin elementary school boys trying to find a new mom for their family. Their mother callously abandoned them to their father when they were babies, and he's been doing the best he can to raise them ever since. Nell and Mac, the couple for this story, were kind of blah to me. I'm normally amused by couples who bicker, but they're fighting being together and suddenly they're together. Maybe it would've worked better if the story was longer.

Gabriel's Angel was by far the most dated and my least favorite of the three. Gabriel, an artist trying to find his muse, is holed up in a remote mountain cabin. As a blizzard descends on the area, Laura, a very pregnant woman, crashes her car close by and Gabe takes her in. She's got lots of secrets about her past; she's hiding from her deceased husband's controlling, blue-blooded, entitled family. They want the baby because it belongs with them, not some model who captured the passing fancy of their sleazebag of a son. Of course, they never saw him as a sleazebag, despite his cheating on Laura two days into their marriage and dying in a drunken car accident with his latest mistress. How is this most obviously dated? Gabe smokes cigarettes rather frequently around Laura when pregnant and around the baby later on. Laura does not utter a peep about this.

Both Gabe and Laura have sadness in their pasts, but their hasty marriage has them tiptoeing around each other. They married because they do care about each other, and they want to protect Laura and the baby from his grasping grandparents. But the dancing back and forth with "I want you but I don't want to hurt you or make you think about your crappy dead husband" and the "I want you but I'm afraid of being hurt again or being under the thumb of another rich and powerful family" was so boring. For once, I wished one of these anthology stories was shorter. Give the extra pages to Home for Christmas!

Definitely not my favorite Nora Roberts or Christmas anthology.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Carolina Moon

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: April 1, 2001 (Jove)
Category: Romance
Rating: 8/10

Time for my dose of Nora Roberts. I have to space my favorite authors (who have backlists) apart so I don't get tired of them. It appears I'll have to do the same with Julia Quinn. While Carolina Moon has a heroine with a dark and twisted past, like so many of Roberts' heroines, this one is psychic.
Tory Bodeen grew up in a small, rundown house where her father ruled with an iron fist and a leather belt - and where her dreams and talents had no room to flourish. But she had Hope - who lived in the big house, just a short skip away, and whose friendship allowed Tory to be something she wasn't allowed to be at home: a child.

After young Hope's brutal murder, unsolved to this day, Tory's life began to fall apart. And now, as she returns to the tiny town of Progress, South Carolina, with plans to settle in and open a stylish home-design shop, she is determined to find a measure of peace and free herself from the haunting visions of that terrible night. As she forges a new bond with Cade Lavelle - Hope's older brother and the heir to the Lavelle fortune - she isn't sure whether the tragic loss they share will unite them or drive them apart. But she is willing to open her heart, just a little, and try.

But living so close to unhappy memories will be more difficult and frightening than she ever expected. Because the killer of Hope is nearby as well.
Tory is a real psychic, the kind that can tell you where you left something several years ago. She had the bad luck of growing up under the heavy hand of an ultra-religious father though, who tried to beat the evil out of his witch of a daughter. Roberts can really write herself a tormented heroine. Cade, for a hero, was okay. Nothing really wowed me about him.

Goodness, I wanted something really bad to happen to Cade's mother. She was one of those cold society women who cared more about how she and her family looked than that family's actual wellbeing. Of course, she frowned on Cade's growing relationship with Tory, the woman she blamed for Hope's death. But she was so cold about it, trying to pay off Tory to stop seeing Cade. Then she tried to get around Cade by taking control of the family's properties, and thereby kicking Tory out of the house she was renting. She said such horrible things, and then she leaves the story, no poetic justice served for her, and that was my biggest problem with Carolina Moon. I know, not a real problem.

I felt like this book was 1/3 romance and 2/3 mystery, maybe even more towards mystery. Roberts did a good job of keeping the identity of the murderer in the air. It could've been any of the guys in town.

Definitely an entertaining read, and good for someone who doesn't want to read a saccharine-sweet love story.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Duke and I

Author: Julia Quinn
Published: January 2000 (Avon)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Bridgerton Family #1
Rating: 9/10

After reading my first Julia Quinn (The Viscount Who Loved Me), I decided I had to read about the rest of the Bridgertons and start with the book I inadvertently skipped. Daphne's story is the first of the series and I thought it was so much fun to read.

Simon is one of the most interesting heroes I've read about in a long time. His mother died giving birth to him, the long-awaited heir to the Duke of Hastings, so he grew up with his father's great expectations. When it turned out that the little boy had a stammer, his father rejected him, saying horrible things about how he'd produced an idiot and how Hastings is better off in the hands of the cousins who were next in line to inherit. Simon spent the better part of his life trying to prove his father wrong, and trained himself to get over the stammer, which would only come out when he was under a lot of stress. And then when he appeared constantly calm and spoke so sparingly, people made him up to be arrogant and exclusive about his friendship, and therefore more important and more desirable as a potential husband.
Simon Basset, the irresistible Duke of Hastings, has hatched a plan to keep himself free from the town's marriage-minded society mothers. He pretends to be engaged to the lovely Daphne Bridgerton. After all, it isn't as if the brooding rogue has any real plans to marry— though there is something about the alluring Miss Bridgerton that sets Simon's heart beating a bit faster. And as for Daphne, surely the clever debutante will attract some very worthy suitors now that is seems a duke has declared her desirable. But as Daphne waltzes across ballroom after ballroom with Simon, she soon forgets that their courtship is a complete sham. And now she has to do the impossible and keep herself from losing her heart and soul completely to the handsome hell-raiser who has sworn off marriage forever!

I really liked the way Quinn doesn't end the book with the couple getting married. The question a lot of people ask at the end of romantic movies and a lot of romances is: "What happens after the wedding? What's their life like? Does Prince Charming take the trash out?" As with any marriage, there are adjustments, compromises, and obstacles to overcome. For example, Daphne decides not to sleep with Simon after she figures out how he's denying her a child, and he gets upset and drunk and purposely sounds pathetic outside her door so she'll let him in. Hilarious!

I could not put this book down because of the fantastic characters and dialogue! Daphne and Simon's conversations were so entertaining, the kind that leave the corners of your mouth tilted up slightly as you read. I found Simon's lifelong quest to overcome his stuttering absolutely touching. When he got upset with Daphne for defying his wish to never have children, his stuttering came and I felt so bad for him (yes, I know he's not real).

Now I'm in some sort of Julia Quinn frenzy and am buying them or borrowing whatever's available at the library.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Author: Mary Balogh
Published: October 2, 2007 (Berkley)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 6/10

This was my first Mary Balogh. I've heard nice things about her and I remember she gave a nice blurb for Lauren Willig's Secret History of the Pink Carnation, one of my favorite random discoveries. I found that the writing was nice, but the story was a problem, and the blame falls mostly on the bullheadedness of the heroine. Yes, I like historical romances with a sassy, forward-thinking heroine, but this was ridiculous. Sophie wasn't really forward-thinking. She just liked being on her own.

Sophia Armitage was a friend, indeed. She had agreed to help Sir Nathaniel Gascoigne find a husband for his cousin Lavinia in the glittering city of London— only half hoping that she'd find one for herself. Sophia knew the odds were against her. Men simply did not seem to be attracted to her— not that way. Even her late husband had treated Sophia more as a companion than a lover. But then something shocking happened in London— Sophia found herself in the arms of Nathaniel himself! Not only did this act of indiscretion threaten their lifelong friendship, it revealed a depth of passion that defied everything Sophia believed about herself...
Sophie really annoyed me. Yes, it's nice to be an independent woman (cue: Destiny's Child), but she was independent to a point of being beyond stubborn. For a woman who's known for being practical and reliable, she didn't really think. She was being blackmailed by an army acquaintance, Boris Pinter, with her dead husband's love letters, and apparently this could've resulted in ruination for her and her family. Her niece wouldn't make a good marriage and her brother's flourishing business would suffer. The contents of the love letters weren't revealed until the very end, but the scandalous secret was pretty obvious, given that Sophie's husband didn't really care for her in that way. If he'd had a mistress on the side, it wouldn't have been such a big deal, as that frequently happened back then. Instead of discussing her problem with her supportive family, which has offered financial assistance time and time again, she decided to pawn her things and keep paying off Pinter. So stubborn.

And when Pinter demanded that she introduce him to Nathan's cousin, she turns to do so, but Nathan does not approve of such an acquaintance (Pinter was an awful man in the army, whipping soldiers under his command for his own pleasure) and gives Pinter the cut direct. Then Sophie goes off and gets angry at Nathan when she really didn't have the right to. And when Pinter demands that Sophie cut herself off from Nathan and his comrades, her dearest friends from her days following the drum, she does so and is absolutely horrible to them. Half the time, I didn't think she deserved such devoted friends.

And then after Pinter is taken care of, and all the letters are destroyed, Sophie turns down Nathan and runs off to the country! WTF??? It wasn't even one of those melodramatic twists that I enjoy; I wanted to shake Sophie and tell her she didn't deserve Nathan.

The more entertaining romance of the book is between Nat's ward/cousin, Lavinia, and his friend Eden. I wish they'd gotten a whole book to themselves. Actually, I liked everyone but Sophie and the villain.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Author: Georgette Heyer
Published: 1st print: 1953; Reissue: October 2007 (Sourcebooks)
Cateogry: Historical Romance
Rating: 9/10

Cotillion is definitely my favorite Heyer. Kitty Charing, ward to Mr. Penicuik, is the potential heir to his vast fortune, as long as she marries one of his grand-nephews. Dolph, the earl, would be a good step up in the world, except he's really stupid, in an adorably funny way. Then there's Hugh, the rector, who proposes out of pity and always tells Kitty that she shouldn't speak in the manner she always does (rather forthright and not so ladylike). They all figure that Kitty's hung up on Jack, the handsome rake of the nephews. Freddy, the pink among pinks, shows up last and agrees to Kitty's plan, pretending to be betrothed so she can visit London. Otherwise, her cheap uncle would never allow her to leave. However, once she gets to London, Dolph and Jack compete for her hand as well, as Jack and Dolph's mother do not believe the betrothal is genuine.

Dolph's mother, who treats him like a puppet, wants Kitty's fortune to replenish the family coffers. Dolph wants to marry a tradesman's daughter who takes care of him in a non-manipulative way. Jack always took Kitty for granted, thinking that he would marry her someday when he wanted to claim his innocent country bride and inherit his uncle's fortune. He is that slimy jerk who happens to be charming and good looking, kind of like a politician.

This was a book driven by its characters. I can't tell you much about the settings and those sorts of background details, as the characters' interactions and dialogue were what made this book. Kitty, being a country-raised innocent, offers her help to Dolph despite the social consequences that may result. At the same time, she makes friends with a Miss Broughty, who happens to be gorgeous, but has a horrible mother who's auctioning her daughter off to the highest bidder, and the offer doesn't have to be one of marriage. The friendship with Miss Broughty is completely inappropriate, but Kitty is too kind and naive to say no, and offers her help, despite Freddy's advice. In the end, it is Freddy who saves the day in both of Kitty's projects.

Kitty and Freddy's romance is one where she realizes that the storybook romantic hero isn't such a great idea. He'll look and talk like Jack, and slay dragons, and ride a white charger, but that's not really practical in her time and society. Instead, having a man like Freddy with unparalleled social graces and a generous heart is far more useful in the ton.

There were some unlikely instances of impropriety. Kitty frequently went off alone with her male cousins, and spoke behind closed doors with them. In most romances, the characters make a point of leaving the door ajar for propriety's sake. Kitty goes to London with Freddy, without the company of a maid because her adopted uncle/Freddy's actual uncle is too cheap to pay for one. I guess he didn't think about Kitty's reputation in this case because she was supposedly engaged to Freddy. There wasn't any impropriety in that smutty sort of way though.

All in all, this rather long historical romance was surprisingly entertaining. You'd think a bunch of characters gossiping about what the other characters might be doing would be tiresome after a while, but I couldn't get enough of it. Just think - back then, that's all they had to entertain themselves. There wasn't any TV to watch; instead, friends called on friends and they gossiped over tea. I think we need to do that more often nowadays.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Dangers of Deceiving a Viscount

Author: Julia London
Published: October 2007 (Pocket Books)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Desperate Debutantes #3
Rating: 6/10

I was so excited to read this book, after how much I enjoyed the first two in the trilogy, but sadly, I was rather disappointed. It wasn't so much the writing, which is of the highest quality, but the story and characters annoyed me to the point of dislike and made me wish to get to the end as soon as possible. Perhaps I am right in my theory that every trilogy contains a dud. As this is another review that I'm doing three weeks after reading the book, the things that stick out in my mind are those that annoyed me. I will keep it short and take advantage of the blurb.

Lady Phoebe Fairchild is well aware that the ton would be appalled to learn of a young lady of quality involved in a trade. Therefore, she resorts to selling her beautiful handmade gowns under a fictitious name: Madame Dupree. So when circumstances force her to visit the estate of William Darby, the Viscount of Summerfield, to design ball gowns for his sisters, she assumes Madame's identity. Phoebe's discomfort in her new position as hired help is nothing compared to her visceral attraction to the viscount himself. Heathenishly handsome and shamelessly seductive, Will invites her to be his mistress -- and Phoebe is shockingly tempted to accept. But as their desire for each other grows and the risk of exposure becomes even greater, Phoebe is in dire danger of losing her reputation, her livelihood -- and her chance of becoming the bride of the man whose passion has claimed her forever.

Basically, William is lusting after Phoebe, but he knows he shouldn't indulge in a fling with the hired help. If they were found out, he'd lose the tenuous control he's got on his wild siblings. But he falls anyway, and is torn between the woman he loves and the need to marry well. I just didn't like him as a romantic hero. His siblings are horrible little monsters as well. Who'd think that most of them are of marrying age? They hit each other and tattle like little children and I wanted to drown all of them.

Phoebe stews in her "Woe is me, I have been forced to come here and therefore can not show any backbone whatsoever!" For a woman raised in the ton, she couldn't stand up to the scheming seamstress she sold her gowns through. The seamstress confronts Phoebe with her theory that Madame Dupree is a front for Phoebe, and Pheobe can't deny it. She caves should've used her lofty family status to turn her nose up and say that Mme Dupree would no longer supply gowns to such an awful, ungrateful, and greedy woman. But she caves under the seamstress's blackmail threat of exposure in exchange for completing the commission (of which I'm not sure Phoebe was seeing a cent! It was never discussed). I understand why she did it; she didn't want to bring scandal upon her brothers-in-law, who were trying to push through bills in Parliament that protected the working woman. In hindsight, it could've been turned to their advantage, saying that she has firsthand experience of the conditions a working woman is subjected to when she has no rights. But yes, she would've lost respectability and been unmarriageable.

Fine, but then that horrible seamstress shows up at William's estate to deliver her bill in person and check up on Phoebe, and coerce her into taking on more work than the original agreement. Pheobe caves yet again and I wanted to smack some backbone into her. True, she wants to stay longer to be with William, but there was no poetic justice for her sewing pimp. And of course, her staying longer results in her being outed and William doesn't want anything to do with a liar.

And their reunion? It kinda sucks. She finally sees him in London at a ball, and when their eyes meet, he gets all cold and turns away from her. Later, he says that he was taken up with emotion at seeing her again, but CLEARLY that's not what his facial expression says. Of course she accepts him anyway and they do it on her sister's sitting room couch.

Ugh! I was so disappointed with the story!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Holy Smokes

Author: Katie MacAlister
Published: November 6, 2007 (Signet)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Series: Aisling Grey #4
Rating: 8/10

So finally, I get to find out what happened after Light My Fire! That one ended with Aisling becoming proscribed as a prince of Abaddon and being kicked out of the Guild because they don't allow proscribed people in, seeing as they're supposedly evil and all. And the thing that ticked me off the most? She was Fiat Blu's mate and Drake couldn't do anything about it, and it's not even an interesting romantic triangle. Fiat did it for political reasons.... and he's a jerk!

I’m Aisling Grey—but you can call me "frustrated."

The man of my dreams—uber-sexy Drake Vireo, wyvern of the green dragons—has finally decided to make an honest woman of me. That is, if we ever make it to the wedding at the same time! Being left at the altar may have cooled my jets, but not my passion...a good thing when Drake disappears and it's up to me to find him.

Most brides just have in-laws to worry about. Me? I have warring dragons, ticked-off demon lords, eternal damnation, and a mage who wants to challenge me for an otherworldly position I don’t even want. Good thing I have Jim, my doggie-demon at my side. He’s never let me down—yet…

Don't be misled by the cover blurb. Drake isn't missing for long. He's just missing for the first of their several attempts to marry (much to Aisling's mother's consternation), and then goes missing again later, but Aisling finds him. The story gets a little confusing with all the attempts to get hitched. For example, Aisling gets pulled into Abaddon, and gets stuck there, but she gets out in this odd and confusing manner. Essentially, she winds up in a house in some random place in London. Maybe it was a back door to Abaddon? She's all concerned with not using the dark power that speaks to her in order to transport herself out, but then suddenly, she's in a house and walking out. I think I have to go back and read that part again to see if it makes any more sense to me.

But no matter, Drake and Aisling finally have their HEA. It only took four books to get there, and Chuan Ren, the only female wyvern, and Fiat Blu gets her comeuppance. Aisling has Drake making PDAs and actually saying the "L word" to her, Nora comes back despite the whole proscription thing, and the church Drake and Aisling were going to FINALLY be married in blows up. Pretty much everything gets resolved, like the proscription issue. There are still little things to handle, such as the return of the black dragons, but that's what the next book is for.

Jim was hilarious as usual. At one point, he gets killed (it was bound to happen with his hanging out with Aisling), but you know that he's not really dead; his form was destroyed. But Aisling summons him for help before he's ready, and he comes back as this little yappy dog. No worries though, Jim returns to fabulous Newfie form before the end of the book.

MacAlister is starting another series about the silver dragon sept, so maybe Gabriel, the only other wyvern I like, will find happiness despite the curse on his sept (something about no mates). The first book, Playing with Fire, is due out in May 2008.