Friday, February 29, 2008

Just One Touch, Debra Mullins


Every now and then, one single offering comes along that literally sweeps you off your feet and magically transports you to a shining world of compelling intrigue and brilliant romance. One book so wonderful that you devour it page by page, unable to put it down, delighting in the fanciful imagery and beautifully drawn characters. One book that you hope never ends -- one that you will remember forever.

This is not that book.

I suppose I should qualify my statement and explain that I approach every book already half in love with it. I'm easy. I need very little to push me over the edge on my way to total infatuation. As it happens, very few leave my love unrequited. But once in awhile I am reminded that love can be elusive. Enter Just One Touch.

Predictably, the story takes place in Regency England. We are immediately introduced to the main character, Rogan Hunt, the second son of minor nobility, who is forced by his father's excesses to make his own way in the world. Physically, Rogan is my type of romantic hero. He's tall with dark hair, a well honed physique, and gray (yes ladies, once again, gray) eyes. Sounds luscious. However, there is one tiny complication. Rogan has inherited the family curse. On the one hand, he is the 19th Century's embodiment of the Horse Whisperer and can tame the most unruly of stallions with just a simple Irish lullaby. However, along with his uncanny ability to seduce horses, Rogan has a vile, uncontrollable temper that is often unleashed at a moment's provocation. There is even a rumor that he has a murder under his belt. Can it be true?

Our lady of the story, Lady Caroline, is the daughter of a duke. It sounds like a nice gig, but our heroine is traumatized by a truly horrendous event five years before and as a result, has been sequestered away on her father's grand estate. If that's not bad enough, Lady Caroline suffers from extreme panic and anxiety attacks and steers clear of all men. These two make for quite an interesting pair.

And a pair they become. Fate, as usual, throws them together in a marriage of convenience arranged by the ailing Duke. And, to add to the fun, there is a deadly threat hovering over the ducal seat. And herein lies the rub. We are not granted the privilege of unraveling the source of the villainous doings on our own as the Duke, Rogan and Caroline quickly reveal all to us while revealing all to each other. With apologies to Bonnie Raitt, there's no little something to talk about, no little mystery to figure out. A shame, that, because despite popular belief, I really do appreciate a good plot. And once the sexual tension is also hastily relieved, well, then what really is the point?

In the author's defense, there are some good moments. Watching a gentle Rogan help his lady overcome her fears and coax her out of her anxieties is touching, albeit somewhat unrealistic, unless you are a true believer in the power of love. And speaking of the power of love, I would be completely remiss if I didn't mention that Rogan is very skilled in the art of pleasing a woman, making the love-smut worth reading. However, while those scenes are descriptive and very well written, the rest of piece is riddled with choppy dialog and uneven pacing.

As the book came to a predictable close, I thought about how much I wanted to fall in love. But we all know that sometimes it just ain't going to happen.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Minx, by Julia Quinn

William Dunford (although no one calls him William, just Dunford, if you please) is a lucky man. He’s got a rake’s reputation and some wonderful friends, even if those friends are all married and pestering him to follow suit. The death of a cousin many times removed leaves him with a baronetcy and thus he finds himself a minor member of the aristocracy as the Lord of Stannage Park.

Dunford travels to Cornwall to access his new acquisition, but in the process, gets more than he bargained for, for with the entailment comes not only a houseful of servants, assorted farm animals (including a huge porcine beast named Porkus) and some farmer-tenants, but the guardianship of a 20 year old female relation of the old Baron, a fact Dunford doesn’t know about at first. Henrietta, his ward, is beautiful, if somewhat aromatic, and used to doing things her own way. She’s been running Stannage Park on her own for 6 years, while the old Baron mourned the passing of his wife. Left to her own devices, she’s got the place running like clockwork and does not appreciate the meddling of a fancy Londoner. So she plots and plans…. And while she’s plotting and planning to rid Stannage Park of its new owner, Henry (as she calls herself) finds more than she bargained for, as well. A friendship is born, and the attraction is there between them, until Dunford gets the legal papers declaring Henry his ward and responsibility. And this, for Dunford, changes everything.

The story really starts to hum when Dunford, now honor bound to play the role of benevolent guardian, takes Henry to London for her debut. She meets his women friends who set about her transformation from breeches to ball gowns. And Henry makes that transformation in stunning fashion.

The tug of war Dunford has going on in his head about his position as guardian and his desire for Henry is quite entertaining. Henry is so confused and rendered so vulnerable by this that you just want to tell her to slap him hard and move on to greener pastures.

By the time Dunford realizes just how much Henry means to him, the rest of the male population of the ton has discovered her as well, and he is left with a jealous streak a mile wide.

Is it too late for Dunford??

Not at all, it seems.

The story continues to play on Henry’s insecurities and Dunford’s inability to see situations from her perspective. It is the requisite love found, love horribly lost and love found again formula that hooks us so completely. There are so many twists and turns and stops and starts, that it’s easy to forget to put the book down. At more than one point, I found myself yelling, “tell her!” or “tell him!” It was quite the emotional roller coaster. Even the epilogue does not spare us.

There are few passionate scenes in this book. One is really beautifully written, but the wedding night sequence was wrenching ( I won’t go into any more detail). Suffice it to say that all comes out right in the end, as it usually does. My one criticism of this book is that I wish the author had not called her hero by his last name only and had not given her heroine a man’s name. It made for a bit of confusion at times. But that may just be me!

I highly recommend this book. It’s an tempestuous love story from Julia Quinn, who is best known (at least by me) for her Bridgerton Series. William Dunford does appear in two earlier books, so I suppose this could be called a series as well. Those books are Splendid and Dancing at Midnight. It’s wonderful to see Dunford finally find a love of his own. Finally.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Pleasures Trilogy, by Eloisa James

The Pleasures Trilogy is the first of Eloisa James' novels. The cast of characters is numerous and continues through each book, while adding a new one here and there.

In Potent Pleasures, we have the story of Charlotte, a woman on the verge of her first season who meets a mysterious man at a ball. Their rendezvous in the garden leaves Charlotte turning from the excitement of her first season to painting, knowing she is perhaps destined to be alone. As Charlotte heads into her 3rd season, wiser, more flirtatious and the talk of the ton , she becomes acquainted with Alex, an Earl who has scandalous rumors spread around town in regards to his virility. They marry, but all hopes for a happy union are dashed as Alex believes his wife's innocence was taken by his twin brother, Patrick. Alex is a monster at times, cruel and heartless, but he is lovable. Only when he comes to terms with his own demons can he finally see the truth behind his own marriage, and his garden girl.

In Midnight Pleasures we have the story of Sophie, best friend to Charlotte, and another talk of the ton. With her friend married most of the male attention directs itself to her and her daring French-styled gowns. She catches the eye of Patrick, twin brother to Alex, Charlotte's husband. Patrick believes Sophie only wants to marry for a title, but is persuaded to think otherwise one evening at midnight when he comes to steal her away for his friend and her fiance. Their passions ignite, and it is the two of them getting married. Patrick has his own demons, and when he learns his wife is expecting, the marriage becomes strained as he struggles with his fears from childhood.

Enchanting Pleasures was by far my favorite of the set. Gabby travels from India, happy to be away from her father to marry what she believes is the son of a business partner of her father's, and a future viscount. Quill is the future Viscount, but due to a riding injury that left him almost unable to walk, his father believes he will be unfit to provide an heir, and has led his India business partner to believe that his second son Peter is the future viscount and they arrange a marriage between the two. On Gabby's arrival, Peter realizes he can't marry the plump and unpolished Gabby, and she agrees. Quill is more than willing to marry her! He is captivated by her, and vows to have her. An interesting turn of events, almost tragic at one point makes this book a delight to read.

All three books have a side story of India origin, with the twins and Quill being involved. Each character has a part in each novel, with the exception of Gabby, who appears in the final piece. I recommend these books to everyone. Despite Enchanting Pleasures being my favorite, all the novels are a joy to read, both heart-wrenching and hilarious at the same time! I enjoyed the continuous characters and was glad to see them all have their happy ending.

Of note, these are harder to find in print than some, as they are her first, so if you wish to read these, I suggest you find them on-line.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Just One Kiss, Samantha James



Author Samantha James once again proves that Historical Romance is much more than fluff. This searing tale, set mostly in Boston’s Beacon Hill in 1854, takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster ride. And like most good roller coasters, this one will leave you wanting more.

A deathbed promise sets the conditions of this story involving two brothers and the relationship they share. When Lady Elizabeth Stanton, daughter of a wealthy English earl, meets Nathaniel O’Connor in London, she is swept off her feet by the handsome, light haired charmer. However, just as things become serious between the two, Nat is forced to leave England unexpectedly, but not before extracting a promise from Elizabeth. They are to marry, but her father is inconveniently dying and she is unable to accompany him stateside. Nathaniel says that he must leave, but will wait for her in Boston.

Eventually, Elizabeth boards a ship and heads across the sea. She cannot stay in England, as she is now destitute because of a strange bequest in her father’s will. When she finally reaches Boston, however, she is not met by her betrothed, but rather his morose, brooding brother Morgan. Oh, and did I forget to mention Morgan O’Connor? Tall, dark, handsome, gray eyed Morgan?

But despite his good looks, the elder O’Connor brother is detestable. He is a man with a chip on his shoulder and heavy baggage that he cannot put down. And of course Elizabeth still wants the sweet Nathaniel and does not make that a secret. Ah, readers, but there are secrets, more than you can count and this is what makes the story so wonderfully engrossing.

From here, the book sails through a myriad of twists and turns, unexpectedly bringing an unwilling Elizabeth and Morgan together in a tempestuous union. But what of Nathaniel? I’m glad you asked. He is not what he appears to be. But then again, neither is Morgan.

This novel has it all – undeniable attraction, disturbing tragedy, familial conflict and explicit love scenes. The author explores the relationship between siblings, between friends and between reluctant lovers. Put this one on your must read list and be prepared to be breathless.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Me and Mr. Darcy, by Alexandra Potter

And now for something modern...........

Since I am an Austen fanfic writer at heart, I had to review this adorable book that Jill gave me for Christmas this year. As you read this book, you will find that you see yourself in some of these characters, not to mention your friends.

Emily is bookshop manager, 29 and single, she has had a series of dates that have gone wrong. She can't help but wonder if her views on what a man should be are prejudiced by her belief that all men should be like Mr. Darcy. None measure up, of course. An invitation from Stella, friend and co-worker to spend the holidays in Mexico drinking and flirting prompts Emily to quickly come up with an excuse not to go, and an Austen tour of England that suddenly appears on the desk in front of her is the perfect escape. Emily books her package, hoping for a week of literature and history, and no men of the ilk she had been exposed to on her string of bad dates. It might be a tour full of little old ladies with gray hair and eyeglasses hanging from chains, and but anything has got to be better than spending the week alone, or worse, in Mexico.

To her surprise, she steps into a bus full of very active older ladies, all interested in Mr. Darcy as a love interest, and no eyeglasses hanging from chains! The entire group is introduced to Spike, a journalist from a well known London paper with a bad attitude who has been forced to join their tour to find out what it is about Mr. Darcy that so many women are attracted to. Emily and Spike get off on the wrong foot immediately, she thinks he is a pompous ass, and he thinks her plain, boring, and "American".

The Austen tour starts off with Jane Austen's home, where Emily, suffering from extreme jet-lag, decides to take a rest at Ms. Austen's famous writing desk! She awakes to see a Regency dressed gentleman standing before her, claiming to be Mr. Darcy. Thinking he is an actor employed by the house, she brushes him aside, despite his strange reaction to her. When Spike is sent, much to his chagrin to search for her, Emily tells him of speaking with Mr. Darcy, but the man is gone when Spike goes to investigate further.

Mr. Darcy is not gone, however, he shows up at most all the historical places they visit, spending time with Emily when she is separated from the group. Emily knows in her mind it can't be real, but a white silk scarf left behind one day makes her rethink this assumption. Spike argues with her as much as ever, and this confirms Emily's notion that Mr. Darcy is the perfect man.

Everything begins to unravel (including our beloved Pride and Prejudice!) as Emily continues on the tour, and Mr. Darcy pops up everywhere. Her relationship with Spike takes an interesting turn, along with other aspects of her life, and of those around her. Watching Emily trying to pick her way through the British culture, history and the drama in her own life lend for an amusing story.

I would recommend this book to any Jane Austen fan! It is not your typical fanfiction by any means, and it has several mysterious twists and turns which made for an enjoyable afternoon of reading! It is a story about love, and why the perfect man might be the not so perfect man. Read it!!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Untouched, by Anna Campbell


It’s hard to tell who was more confused during the first few pages of this book - our heroine or me. At least lovely widow Grace Paget is recuperating from the effects of laudanum. I, however, had no such excuse. But I would recommend that you tough out the first two chapters and keep reading. As you emerge from the fog, you’ll wonder what inspired author Anna Campbell to take this road less traveled.

Set somewhere in the English countryside in 1822, the book begins with the unorthodox way Grace, a widow in very reduced circumstances, meets Matthew Lansdowne, Marquess of Sheene. As the story progresses, there is the usual boy meets girl gyrations, complete with the requisite sexual tension and drawn out verbal foreplay expected in this genre. It is also, however, a story chock full of richly textured, wonderfully complex extremes. Grace is beyond poor, Matthew beyond handsome. The evildoers are truly evil; descriptions of their dastardliness are sometimes difficult to read. However, to make up for the ick factor, the love scenes between Grace and Matthew are frequent, intense and very well written. Matthew is surprisingly masterful in that department, obviously blessed with a quick mind and good instincts. I don’t want to give anything away, but suffice it to say that he must have spent a great deal of his apparently abundant free time reading up on the topic.

However, what makes this book utterly fascinating is the background to the story and the back stories of the characters. Both are different and equally disturbing. There are two kidnapped beauties, a tormenting foray into mental illness, teenage rebellion reminiscent of the late 1960’s and finally, a Disneyesque ending rivaling Cinderella where all, thankfully is put to rights.

If you are looking for a novel approach to the typical historical romance, this is definitely it. There are extreme twists and turns, tension and torment, sex and satisfaction among other things, all of which makes it worth putting on your list of should reads. If you do decide to take the journey, remember to give the story time to slowly uncoil. A book like this requires patience and encouragement in revealing itself fully.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

How to Abduct a Highland Lord, by Karen Hawkins

Fiona MacLean gets more than she bargained for when she drags a drunk and unconscious Jack Kincaid to the altar in Karen Hawkin's tale of passion and hilarity. This book will make you laugh out loud at times, so beware!

Fiona knows the only way to end the centuries year old feud between the MacLean's and the Kincaid's is to make them all one family. Her youngest brother is dead, supposedly at the hands of the Kincaid's and her elder brothers want revenge for his murder. In Fiona's haste to save her family from another death, she plays pregnant and marries "Black Jack" Kincaid, a Scottish lord with a scandalous reputation. Jack is no stranger to Fiona, having almost married him 15 years before, only to call it off when she found out about his mistress. Despite her better judgment she and her manservant haul a drunk Jack before the church and they are married. Fiona knows that marriage to Jack won't bring about the end of the feud, but a child born of them will.

Needless to say, Jack is not thrilled at the turn of events. The entire evening comes back in full force and thus their marriage gets off to a rocky start. Jack wisks Fiona off to London, hoping to be able to annul the marriage and get back his own life of gaming, women, and drinking. But Fiona has other plans. She plans to make this marriage work until a child is born, and so starts the head to head battles of two very strong willed and stubborn people.

Jack has no intention of changing his ways just because he is married, but he realizes after a time that no woman compares to Fiona in his mind, including his weird fixation with her blue leather half boots. Not even the beautiful Lady Featherton, his mistress, compares to the passion he feels with Fiona, and he breaks if off with Lucinda immediately upon his return, angering the lady to seek revenge. His old life of late nights is set aside for evenings in with his new wife, usually spent in bed. Over time, the two realize they can't live without each other, but both are too proud to admit it to the other. Both notice a change in themselves they had not expected. After a threat to Fiona's life, Jack realizes he would do anything to keep her safe, and realizing the extent of his feelings for her changes him completely. They set off to Scotland for a friend's wedding, intent on protecting Fiona, and the baby that they both suspect is on the way. There they discover their true feelings for each other, in light of traumatic events.

I did like this book, including the constant references to the MacLean curse, where the four MacLean brothers show their tempers through the weather, and Fiona is known for her lilac-scented rain. Poor Jack is chased around by his own little black rain cloud when he deserts Fiona for the gaming hells, instead of staying at home and in their bed. It is a constant struggle between the two as they almost try to one up each other, but it makes for an amusing read all the same.

The sex scenes (I can't bring myself to call them love scenes) are intense and many. The sparks between the two characters are blatant and they seem to happen mostly after an argument, or on one of trips Fiona makes to the gaming hells to prove her point to Jack. He has an unnatural fixation with her leather half boots, and despite that being a bit weird, it does lend a certain "air" to those scenes.

The one thing I noticed that wasn't rectified was the ending of the curse. It is stated that the MacLean's must do an unselfish deed to rid themselves of the curse, but it is never said if Fiona, by marrying and putting an end to the feud, has ended hers.

This was book one in Karen Hawkin's The MacLean Curse Series, according to her website.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Flame and the Flower, by Kathleen Woodiwiss

If you were remotely interested in the reason I love reading romance novels, this book is it.
Heather Simmons, a beautiful English orphan raised by her aunt and uncle in a poor, Cinderella-type existence, is tricked into accompanying her aunt’s brother to London in the hope of escaping her life, finding gainful employment and a possible marriage.

What she finds is Captain Brandon Birmingham, an American from South Carolina. While romance novels typically have scenes of slow seduction and at least some modicum of attraction between the antagonists, this book starts off with something a bit more sinister. It makes this story all the more poignant to realize that Heather and Brandon start out as true adversaries. They have reason enough to hate each other, Heather probably a bit more than Brandon. Heather has truly escaped her meager existence only to feel real fear. Not only does she think she has killed her aunt’s brother, but she finds herself pregnant, with a reluctant sea captain from another country as her only savior.

The book is so descriptive and so rich in imagery that it takes nearly half of it to get the two of them together on a ship to South Carolina, where Heather is forced to start her new life. And Brandon chafes at the shackles that have been imposed on him because of another, very pressing obligation at home.

And so begins our love story.

If you are looking for a book with the usual amount of love scenes, this would not be it, but the sexual tension runs so long and so high you don’t even miss the real thing. When these two do get together, they do it in spectacular fashion. It is so worth the wait.

A story line that brings Heather’s past to America to haunt her in her new home threatens their new found passion, but all comes right in the end, as it should.

This book is rich in supporting characters. My favorites are Hatti, Brandon’s housekeeper (she is a slave in actuality), and Jeff, Brandon’s brother, who befriends and defends Heather when she is most in need of it. He also takes great pride in unmercifully teasing his older brother. I have to admit that Jeff was my first true love.

I still have my original copy of The Flame and the Flower. It must be close to 35 years old. It’s dog-eared, missing pages and almost unreadable, but I love it like an old friend. This book remains the standard by which I judge every romance novel I’ve ever read.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Autumn in Scotland, by Karen Ranney

Karen Ranney's novel of desertion and deception is set in the rather stormy hills of Scotland, and proves to be quite a ride. After being married for one week, Charlotte, the new Countess of Marne, discovers her husband, The Earl of Marne, has disappeared without so much a note. His rakish ways lead Charlotte to believe he has taken a maid and left for good, and with her sizable dowry. Not wanting to stay in England a laughingstock, she travels with her formidable parents to the little known castle of her estranged husband, Balfurin. Determined to make a life for herself, she stays on at Balfurin, a nearly crumbling castle, and opens a school for gentlewomen.

Out of no where comes Dixon Robert MacKinnon, the tall, blue-eyed cousin of the estranged husband and Earl. With his similarities to the missing Lord, Dixon is mistaken for his cousin by everyone, including the Countess! Dixon is an importer of goods and has come home from the orient, a very wealthy and troubled man. His yearning to be at home, where people know him vanishes when they mistake him for the Earl. Instead of correcting them, he plays along with the ruse, despite the guilt and annoyance it brings him. He is intrigued by his cousin's wife too much to correct her mistake.

Under the impression that her husband has returned, Charlotte sets about trying to get him to leave so she can divorce him and be rid of him. The anger she feels at being abandoned five years ago is still fresh in her mind, and she can't fathom why her husband would return, if he didn't want money. Over time she notices a difference in his character, and his physical appearance, but has no idea that it is not her husband that she is falling in love with. She believes he has changed his ways and wants to make amends, and eventually falls under his spell.

But there is mystery at Balfurin, riddles and treasure are to be contemplated as well as love. The oldest living servant is full of knowledge and knows that truth about what has happened to the missing Laird of Balfurin, but will not speak of it, choosing to only give Dixon clues to the treasure instead. Several trips out to the first Balfurin, now a crumbling ruin, yield nothing, so the mystery deepens, until one day all is revealed.

This is well written story with a lot of humorous twists and turns. There is deception, mystery and an intense physical attraction between the two main characters. A funny addition to this story, although perhaps not necessary is the Edification society, a group of women intent on educating married females the joys of the marriage bed, with visual aids. You can feel Charlotte's embarrassment when they try to educate her! There is only one love scene in this book (well, almost another one, but they don't get that far!) but it is very intense.

The characters are well written and thought out, and you can feel their emotions through the descriptive writing. Dixon is easy to fall for, as you almost begin to feel sorry for him and his passion for Charlotte. The Countess is rather harsh at first, but she becomes a softer character as the book goes on. I felt anger for Charlotte at her abandonment, and pity mixed with respect for her as she struggles to build Balfurin into a successful school.

This was a new author for me, and I enjoyed her style immensely, and plan to read other books she has written. I hope this little review has prompted you to pick up this book! I will be collecting her others soon!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Secrets of a Summer Night, by Lisa Kleypas

A marriage minded girl could overcome practically any obstacle, except the lack of a dowry.

This line, which comes after a prologue where the protagonists are first steamily introduced, sums up Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas, quite nicely. Annabelle Hunt is poor, and getting poorer by the day, and in this, her last Season, she must find a rich (and titled) husband. When she hooks up with three other wall-hugging, husband-hunting young women at a dance, and title themselves The Wallflowers, the fun really begins.

This is the second go around for me for the Wallflower series, and I had forgotten how well written, engaging and funny these books are. The heroines and heroes are so incredibly likeable and in most cases, so endearingly vulnerable with all their flaws and baggage, that you just want to take them all home and befriend them yourself.

Annabelle is set on marrying into the peerage. Gently raised, she scorns the mercantile class in terms reminiscent of Margaret Hale’s original thoughts on the subject. But there is something about Simon Hunt that repels and attracts her at the same time. She’s managed to avoid him for two years, or set him down in “his place” whenever they did happen to meet, and her refusal to dance with him at various soirees and balls results in a beautiful and poignant scene toward the end of the book (but I’m getting ahead of myself here).

Simon Hunt is a man’s man. He’s a butcher’s son, self-made into a wealthy industrialist and the antithesis of the genteel society of the British upper class of that time. His obsession with Annabelle, and her repeated rejection of his advances, is the basis for the book. What transpires is Annabelle’s inevitable attraction to Simon despite his pedestrian roots.

The story revolves around the Wallflowers machinations in getting Annabelle wed, preferably to a peer. Although, predictably, that’s not the result they obtain.

Lisa Kleypas writes this book with exceptional humor. At more than one point, I found myself laughing out loud. One of the most memorable scenes happens when the Wallflowers play a game of Rounders (like baseball) in a field, in their knickers. What transpires pretty much had me doubled over with laughter. What follows that is a series of situations where Annabelle realizes that her ticket to avoiding starvation and saving her family does not lie where she thought it did, but where her heart leads her; right to Simon’s door, and when it does, you’ll wonder why Annabelle didn’t see what you’ve seen all along.

The love scenes between Annabelle and Simon are well-written, very descriptive and as tasteful as a romance novel can get. Oh, and I should add, quite steamy and plentiful. The men in this series are all talented and extremely considerate of their partners. All four of these books have that in common.

The only part of the book which I found a bit jarring was a situation at the very end that forces Simon to see that Annabelle truly loves him for himself and not his wallet. The episode wraps the story up neatly, but it’s a bit contrived.

The Wallflower series is best read in order, although all the characters appear in all the books, and the relationships are explained in each. It’s fun to speculate on who is your favorite hero or heroine, or which book is your favorite. I have to say, I don’t have a favorite, I love them all.