Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Blue-Eyed Devil, by Lisa Kleypas


Well, well, what do you know? Lisa Kleypas can write contemporary romance, but it takes her two tries to get it right.

Blue-Eyed Devil is actually the sequel to Sugar Daddy, the author's earlier attempt at contemporary romance.  I have to say that that particular novel left me cold. The writing reminded me of another very prolific contemporary author (Danielle Steele to be specific) whose work I, quite frankly, do not enjoy.  However, as a set-up to this far superior attempt, Sugar Daddy does serve its purpose.

After being introduced to Hardy Cates, the blue-eyed devil of the title,  in Sugar Daddy, his story continues in this novel.  While attending the wedding (uninvited, I might add) of his childhood love Liberty and her new husband, Gage Travis of the Houston Travises (a wealthy and influential Houstonian family) he meets and  seduces the sister of the groom, Haven Travis, in the family wine cellar.  Haven is practically engaged to another man, and when she refuses to leave the party with Hardy and returns to Nick, the two do not see each other for another two years.

Unfortunately for Haven , those two years with her now husband Nick are filled with physical and emotional abuse.  When the abuse finally escalates to the point where Haven has to run away to save her own life and returns to the protection of her family, her path and Hardy's intersect once again.

Ms. Kleypas fills this book with present day situations that may well have occurred in Regency England but they were definitely  not talked about, nor were they  analyzed in any depth like they are in this novel. We are actually privy to the therapy sessions Haven undergoes in order to rebuild what her husband has destroyed. It's a fascinating peek into a prevalent problem in today's society.  And while this is a fictional romance,  a feel-good story so to speak,  it does take awhile to get to the point where not only does Haven trust Hardy, but the reader trusts him as well.  Haven's ex-husband has done such a number on her, that we, as readers, cannot trust her judgment either, even though we yearn to love Hardy like she does. Now that's a novel twist for a romance.  But love him we finally do. He's irresistible and just what Haven needs to heal all of her wounds from her marriage, both emotional and sexual. And in case you were wondering, Ms. Kleypas stays true to character and gives us plenty of that.

Once again, excellent writing by Lisa Kleypas. I would skip Sugar Daddy and go right to this one and then backtrack if you are curious. The book, written in the first person and narrated through Haven's voice, gives enough of a background that there is no need to read these books in order. I am a fan, and I continue to be one. With the Travis clan, the author has left room for many more potential stories for her readers to enjoy. I hope she continues in the present tense.

A Duke of her Own, by Eloisa James

Her-own_247It was a happy and sad day when this book showed up on my doorstep.  Happy, because it's the next book in the Duchess series, and sad, because it's the last book in the Duchess series.

At last, it's the Duke of Villiers turn at love.  After seeing him pine after Jemma, the Duchess of Beaumont in every novel except for the one preceding, it was nice to finally see him get his life straight, even if it took a while to get there.  Villiers is the epitome of the word rake.  The man has six illegitimate children, from just as many women.  He wouldn't take the time when he was younger to worry about the consequences of his liaisons by his own admission.  A man of sense and style, Villiers is known as a perfectly dressed, perfectly fantastic Duke, giving consequence to no one who was not deserving.  We see a change in Villiers in This Duchess of Mine, and somewhat before when he duels for his fiance, and almost dies.  In the novel preceding, we see Villiers decide to marry to provide a mother for his children (no less than a daughter of a duke will do), and embark on a search across England for his children in order to scandalously raise them as his own.  That search is continued in A Duke of her Own, where Villiers travels to Kent to find his twin daughters.  Before we head to Kent, however, we must meet Eleanor, daughter of the Duke of Montague.

When we first meet Eleanor, she is attending the ball in order to raise money for the Baths (a carryover from This Duchess of Mine).  She is dressed rather frumpish as she can be, with an antiquated attitude to match.  As she is taken to task by her younger, and married sister, we learn that Eleanor has been jilted in love by Gideon, the Duke of Astley, her childhood sweetheart/lover.  By decree of his father's will, his marriage was arranged to another, and he would not go against the will in order to marry Eleanor.  She remained heartbroken, until she comes face to face with the Duke of Villiers.  It was well known that he was looking for a wife, and she happens to be one of the two daughters of Dukes at a marriageable age.  Their first meeting sets up the location for the rest of the story, Kent, where Lisette, the daughter of the Duke of Gilner.  Lisette is known to be madder than a hatter, and does not care for society or its dictates.

We learn very quickly that Lisette is truly mad, in a way that endears one to her, until she really has an episode where people and animals are hurt.  Reader beware, if you have issues reading about animals being hurt, take care.  Although dear Oyster does make it through, it was a tough scene to read for me.  Villiers joins Eleanor, her mother and her sister in Kent on a visit to Lisette, and for the chance to let Villiers make his decision between the two ladies.  Blindly he looks for one to be a mother to his children, and he mistakes Lisette's childlike treatment of children as being motherly, instead of seeing what she really is.  While he spars with Eleanor and becomes more and more fascinated with her as time goes on, he chooses to marry Lisette because of her manner with the children.

This of course set us up for disaster.  Lisette shows her true colors through her fear of dogs, and Eleanor realizes that neither Villiers, or the newly widowed Gideon are good enough for her.  She wishes to be married for love, not just to be someones mother, or to right a wrong done to her years ago.  By refusing both of them, and taking back her silly declaration to only marry a duke, Eleanor returns to London to set her sights on what the season has to offer.

For the final book in this series, it is a marvelous one.  We finally see the other side of Villiers, the side that can actually feel love for others unselfishly.  IF you read the entire series through, you can see the subtle changes to his character throughout.  He is dark and mysterious, brooding and arrogant, but in the end he becomes human like everyone else.  Eleanor is one of the most strongly written characters I have seen in this series.  She is an enigma of lost love, a little prudishness,  and pure lust- all wrapped up in a chemise dress meant to turn heads.  She becomes stronger as the novel goes on, and you watch as her inner self emerges triumphantly.  Lisette is a truly touched girl, who could probably be described as bipolar if such a thing was known back then.  Her interactions with adults and children are startling, as is her lack of propriety and her secret.  This review would be incomplete without mentioning the children- Tobias, Lucinda and Phyllinda, who all share the common traits with their father, including his attitude.

If you were a follower of this series as I was, you will not be disappointed in the final novel.  While none of the previous characters are relevant, it feels like a very fitting end.  Definitely worth picking up!

Oh, and if you are interested, Eloisa James has promised a chapter updating all of the Duchess series characters.  It can be found at her website in the reader pages.  You must register to read, and it's free.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Farmer Needs A Wife, by Janet Gover


You should know that I finished The Farmer Needs A Wife over the course of exactly three days.  This is an unusually long time for me, as I have been known to finish a novel of this size in one sitting.  But you should also know it took three days because I literally savored each page. I adore how this book is written.  Sharp, witty dialogue combined with a foolproof romantic premise kept me engaged and interested. The book is really four stories told within one - another plus because I love a bargain - even in a contemporary romance.

The Farmer Needs A Wife is a clever title to go along with a clever plot. The story begins in Sydney, Australia and centers around the very modern, very accomplished Helen Woodley.  Not only is Helen the editor of Australian Life magazine, she is also touted as its savior as it is her responsibility to come up with a scheme to increase the publication's readership. It's going to take a miracle so Helen decides to shake things up by soliciting requests from single male farmers and ranchers from all over Australia. The one caveat - they must be in want of a wife.  Her plan is to have the magazine's editorial staff forward the responses back to the chosen participants, follow the individual stories, and entice the entire country to watch as love blooms throughout the Australian countryside. The idea is a good one and Helen and her staff are overwhelmed with letters from eager bachelors and the seemingly endless requests for introductions from their potential future wives.

From here, we follow the stories of four farmers.  There is Peter, whose tragic experience with love leaves him reluctant to begin any new relationship. His entry was submitted under pretense and when he finds out exactly why lovely Donna Boyd has come to live on his remote station in the Australian Outback, things get considerably hotter.

Greg is a farmer by necessity, not by choice.  He selects Jasi from his huge stack of responses because she seems to be all that he could ever hope for - at least on paper. But when his creative passion is enthusiastically embraced by a completely different source, he seriously questions his original plan.

Leigh is a woman who owns her own vineyard and is perhaps my favorite farmer.  She has also been hurt by love, but is willing to face her fears with a "what the heck" attitude as she sends in her submission to the magazine. Leigh eventually discovers that she need look no further than her own neighborhood to find love.

Lastly, there is Matt Redmond, a horse breeder and trainer.  Matt's teenage daughter thinks her dad has been alone long enough and "his" submission is a surprise to him as he receives a personal rejection letter from the editor of the magazine.  Helen and Matt appear to be complete opposites, but could Matt's laid-back way of life be exactly the kind of challenge Helen needs?

The novel weaves its way in and out of the main characters' lives, introducing us to the farmers' potential love interests in turn and then spiraling us through the blossoming relationships in the same manner. Ms. Gover switches gears effortlessly as she  moves the reader to a different story within the story at always just the right moment. But all roads lead back and at the end of the book, I was one satisfied customer.

The book is fun, romantic and hopeful. Congratulations to the very talented author and thank you, Little Black Dress for yet another winner.

(The author was kind enough to let me know that The Farmer Needs A Wife is available online at www.thebookdepository.com with free shipping worldwide.  It is also available from Amazon Canada, but strangely not Amazon US.)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Love The One You're With, by Emily Giffin


There are certain books that remind you of certain times, people and situations in your life. I'm not saying that everything about this book rings a decidedly  familiar bell with me, but taken in parts, I think there are very few women who cannot relate in some way to  Ellen Dempsey Graham's story.

That story starts in Manhattan  in a busy  intersection, one hundred days after her wedding  when Ellen, a professional photographer, looks up over the throng of New Yorkers surrounding her and  into the eyes of her first love, Leo.  They met nine years before while serving as jurors and haven't seen each other in, as Ellen puts it, eight years and sixteen days.   For Ellen, Leo was the love of her life, until he instigates a devastating break up.  Her room mate and best friend, Margot Graham, intervenes and helps Ellen overcome her depression following the split.  And Andy, Margot's older brother, offers her a new chance at love and later, marriage.

When Ellen sees Leo again, and he offers her the chance to photograph a recording artist he is interviewing for a magazine, she can't pass up the opportunity. Couching her acceptance in terms of her career, she privately questions her own motives in working with Leo, but knows enough about them  to keep the details from her husband. While feeling what she shouldn't feel for her first love and on the cusp and in the aftermath of a life altering change, Ellen must decide if the one she left behind is the one she should be with.

This contemporary story of the road not taken is a soul-searching reflection of  choices made and situations  that, with one look, one word or one action could have made a life completely different.   Would Ellen have been happier with that road not taken? Is it too late to take it? And most importantly, should she?

I love Emily Giffin. A wonderful,  contemporary author, her other books include Something Borrowed, Something Blue and Baby Proof.  An excellent summer read that moves quickly and succinctly, Love the One You're With may have you revisiting  your own life's path. At the very least, it may leave you thinking about your own road not taken.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Ice Angel, by Elizabeth Hanbury


It's always a good day when there's a box on my front porch from London town! What was inside did not disappoint- Elizabeth's Hanbury's second novel is just as good as her debut!  But don't let the title fool you, there's nothing cool about Ice Angel, but rather, very hot!

Isabella, the widowed Lady Vane, is determined to spend their weeks in London not involved in society and keeping a low profile until they can move to the country and their new home.  She has a tortured past that she is desperate to leave behind so she may start afresh.  Her Aunt Harriet has other ideas, and coaxes her out to a few parties under the pretense that society would only look on her as eccentric, and only gossip about her even more.  Isabella turns many heads as she ventures out into society, making it impossible for her to remain unnoticed at any function she attends.  At one such party, Isabella meets Hal, the  Earl of Bramwell and the only man that causes her carefully controlled facade to crack.  No man has ever brought out such feelings in her, but he is wild and reckless, exactly what Isabella wishes to avoid.  Hal has other ideas, and continues to pursue her, allowing her the time and space she needs.  Her past is full of torment and pain and she has no intention of letting any man harm her again.  Hal is very patient and level headed, in contrast to his reputation.  Many obstacles are placed in the couples path to happiness- kidnapping, lies and deceit, not to mention Isabella's own insecurities.  However, neither can stop the sparks from flying when they are together.

Ice Angel is full of Regency richness- the parties, the glittering balls, the gowns- just the kind of histrorical detail that wish for in many books, but fail to find.  Elizabeth Hanbury writes so descriptively that you are easily transported back in time and her characters are so romantically written that you fall in love immediately with each of them.  There is a perfect balance of multiple love stories and a twisting and turning plot that you will not want to put down the book until you have completely finished.  Isabella is a very complex character with a wide range of emotions from her horrible marriage that draw you in and keep you hooked until the very last page.  Hal is also wonderfully written and his feelings for Isabella are so intense from the beginning that you can really see his love for her.  There are many secondary characters that make the story very amusing with their antics, from the love story of Harriet, Isabella's aunt, and Sir Seymour or Dinny as he is known as, a very fashion conscious member of the ton, to Dominic, Isabella's curious and adorable son.  Also, Hal's mother Marguerite, the Dowager Countess of Bramwell, Lady Julia, his sister, his brother Theo, and best friend, Freddie.   Let us not forget the redheaded former flame of Hal's, Felicity, Lady Portland, who is perfectly written as the beautiful and vindictive villian.  Ice Angel is a wonderful read that will keep you guessing until the very end.  A must read for the summer!