Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Decent Exposure, by Phillipa Ashley

I love a good contemporary romance, and this book is a perfect example of why I love them so much. In fact, I loved both books I’ve read by this author, and can’t wait to read her new release, Just Say Yes. But I’m getting ahead of myself, as I’ll next review Wish You Were Here, after I re-read it (no hardship there, believe me).

This is the story of Emma Tremayne, an erstwhile Londoner exiled to Cumbria due to circumstances mostly beyond her control (well, except for a tossed smoothie, but who’s counting). Emma finds herself the PR person in the local tourist board of Bannerdale, a picturesque town, complete with lakes, mountains and plenty of wayward tourists and locals lost in the hills, needing to be rescued by the Bannerdale Mountain Rescue Team. Will Tennant is a member of said team. He’s also a philanthropist, entrepreneur and a hottie.

Emma’s task is to raise funds for a new base for the Rescue Team. Her idea is to get those mountain men to pose for a nude calendar, the proceeds of which will be used to help fund the base. Emma and Will butt heads immediately on the idea. Will’s resistant, but agrees to become Mr. July.

This sets up the story of these two individuals. Ms. Ashley layers these characters with back stories that pretty much keep them apart for most of the book. The sexual and emotional tension is so high that you just cannot stop turning the pages. What happened to Emma and her last boyfriend and her boss to make her so distrustful of men and so reluctant to get involved with a client? What happened to Will and his former fiancee to warrant his reputation as a serial seducer? Can we believe what we first hear about him, or is this man more than what he seems, in a good way? Will these two get together and stay together? And is there another love scene (sorry, had to ask)?

Ms. Ashley writes Emma as a strong, independent woman with a vulnerability born of her experience that makes her insecurity so believable and so pathetic at times that we can't help but feel sorry for her. Will is edgy, secretive and so magnetic as he decides to let go of his past and take a chance on a new relationship, afraid of getting hurt, but not being able to help himself. We are let in on Emma’s past fairly quickly, but Will’s remains a secret until the last quarter of the book. This allows us to experience that boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back formula that is so necessary to a good romance. It’s the plot device that keeps us hooked. And it makes that last page so darn satisfying.

Ms. Ashley can tell a contemporary story. Her writing is descriptive, and her dialogue is crisp and very, very funny in places least expected. Will’s calendar picture and Emma’s response to it was priceless. And there was one line about a beeper in a pocket that had me laughing out loud.

Read this book. If you are a fan of contemporary romance, you won’t be disappointed. Emma and Will had me at hello.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Perfect Gentleman by Barbara Metzger

What can I say? If I like a restaurant, I go back. Many, many times. So it is with authors. And Barbara Metzger is like my favorite New Jersey diner; I know exactly what's on the menu.

In A Perfect Gentleman, Ms. Metzger finds the winning recipe once again as she matches up a poor but well-meaning, services-to-let peer with a headstrong heiress in charge of the family business. Aubrey, Viscount Wellstone ("Stony" to his friends), is barely keeping it together, his father having gambled away the family fortune, leaving Stony several crumbling family homes, a spendthrift young stepmother and a pile of debt. Fortunately, Wellstone is nothing if not pragmatic and has managed to find a way to acquire some much needed funds; he finds himself self employed as a ladies' escort, sought after by the wealthy men of the Polite World to squire sisters, daughters and wives to events they themselves would rather not attend. Stony, at all times the perfect gentleman, does well in this endeavor until one of his friends, handling the business overflow, compromises a young deb. With his own reputation in shreds, it's back to square one for Wellstone, until a note from Miss Ellianne Kane arrives. Miss Kane is beautiful and rich and needs Stony's services to help solve a very personal mystery.

Coincidently, I like my eggs fried and my heroes flawed. And while I’m not sure how Ellianne takes her eggs, I can tell you that she also appreciates Stony’s shortcomings. Now add in a sense of humor, a sense of honor and a sensuous smile and you have the makings of some very satisfying fare. This book is a fast paced, hilarious romp through Regency London's drawing rooms, ballrooms and morgues. Yes, I did say morgues. And, no, I’m not going to explain. Suffice it to say that the story line holds an element of the macabre, and as Stony will attest, may not be for those with a weak constitution. But don’t let that aspect deter you from experiencing one of the best Barbara Metzger novels I have read so far.

This one is well done.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Beautiful Stranger, by Julia London

The last book in the Rogues of Regent Street series, The Beautiful Stranger was read during a break from the Outlander series. Outlander, however, was never too far away. When I started reading this particular book, lo and behold, there was a Jamie, a Fraser, a story set in the Highlands of Scotland and plenty of Sassenach, verras, lassies and lads to keep me warm until I finished it and could get back to the other Jamie. I was, briefly, a happy camper!

The story revolves around Lord Arthur Christian. One of the three surviving Rogues, he is handed the task of foreclosing and recouping a financial investment made on Scottish farm part-owned by his deceased friend, Phillip, Lord Rothembow. Of course, the farm is in the Highlands, so seeking a change of venue from London, he travels North to discuss terms with the lawyer involved in the sale (the other Jamie) and the original owner of the farm himself (the other Fraser), who, unbeknown to Arthur, is recently deceased.

On the way, he literally runs into the widow of Fraser McKinnon (Kerry, just Kerry, thank you very much) who is literally stranded on the road to the farm. Neither Arthur nor Kerry have any idea that Arthur is about to foreclose on the very property Kerry is fighting to keep. Sounds good, aye??

It is, up until this point.

The characters’ attraction to each other is so palpable that it basically blows off the page right at you. Arthur has never met anyone like Kerry, but knows that she is not what he is looking for in a wife. She is geographically undesirable, so to speak, and she’s a farmer's wife, and Scottish to boot, a nationality Arthur has no love for after spending some time among the natives. May I add that the Scots Arthur encounters have no love for Arthur either, calling him a lobsterback and a Sassenach. You get the picture. So what is Arthur to do when he realizes he has stumbled upon the very property he is foreclosing on? He leaves without telling Kerry that he is the one doing the evicting, trying to reverse the process before it's too late. It would have been smart of Arthur to inform Kerry why he was leaving, but then the book would have ended right there; an attractive alternative considering what happens next.

When Arthur realizes that Kerry actually knows about the eviction, he rushes back to Glenbaden in time to witness Kerry do something that will make both of them fugitives from Scottish law.

So, on to England they go. This part of the novel is the typical fish out of water story of Kerry adjusting to life in the ton, helped along by the other Rogues’ wives. I’d like to say that there is something different here, but unfortunately, I’ve read stories with this theme many times before. The difference here is that Cinderella does not exactly get to dazzle at the ball, but decides to return to the pumpkin and face the reason she had to leave Scotland in the first place.

This book does have the requisite ingredients of the typical historical romance, but it’s not one of Julia London’s best efforts. It’s almost like she got to the last Rogue and decided to “mail it in”, shall we say.

The Beautiful Stranger is a quick, diversionary read, but it falls a bit below this author’s other efforts. Read it to finish the Rogue series, but don’t expect to love it. Poor Arthur. He deserved better.