Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Marriage Bed, by Laura Lee Guhrke. A Review by Donna

Lord John Hammond is the Tiger Woods of the early nineteenth century. Locked out of his marriage bed just a few months after the wedding, he finds solace by keeping mistress after mistress - five in all, during the years of separation from his wife. But the unexpected death of a close relative brings Hammond back to his vows.  It’s imperative that he begets an heir.

Is it possible to even like a man like this, let alone sleep with one? Viola Hammond is sister to a duke and has spent the last eight years making a life of her own – a life as far away from her philandering husband as possible. But when Hammond corners her at a ball and announces his revised plan for their sham of a marriage, Viola is outraged. She was once young, foolish and totally in love with her husband, but her heart was irrevocably broken. John lied to her, professing a love that didn’t exist. He kept a mistress up until the time of their marriage and married her solely because he was on the brink of bankruptcy. Live with him again? Forget the past? Forgive him? NEVER.

I must confess it IS difficult to tolerate Lord Hammond. Despite his handsome face, lovely physique, enormous wealth and evident charm, I remained as wary, skeptical and cynical as Viola.  While John tries hard to win his wife back, I questioned his methods and distrusted his words right along with her. As always, though, there are two sides to every story and Viola herself is not without fault.

Be warned: this is not a restful read. Unlike the typical historical romance where we watch two people slowly and tantalizingly fall in love, The Marriage Bed is a study in how a relationship falls apart.   Ms. Guhrke takes the reader on an emotional and complex journey while her main protagonists work through their various problems.  The process is, at times, painful to observe, but we are also provided with ample opportunity to cheer on John and Viola as they come to terms with their past, work on the present and look forward to the future.

Ms. Guhke is very high on my list of favorite authors, so while I have your attention, I would also like to recommend Guilty Pleasures and And Then He Kissed Her.  Go forth and purchase. All three novels are well worth the investment

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Elusive Bride, by Stephanie Laurens. A Review by Angie

In this second installment of the Black Cobra Quartet, we follow the journey of Major Gareth Hamilton as he makes his way back to English soil with his copy of the letter sought after by the Black Cobra.  In tow is Emily Ensworth, niece to the Governor of India, and the reason for Captain McFarlane's journey that saw him murdered by the Cobra's assassins.  Before sending Emily on, Captain McFarlane entrusted the original copy of the letter to her, instructing her to deliver it only to Colonel Delborough.  Sparks fly between the young and daring Miss Ensworth and Major Hamilton, but as Gareth is leaving the area to draw out the Black Cobra, he does not act on the attraction.  Luckily for him, Emily is resourceful and places herself on the same ship as the Major, and thus ensuring they are traveling companions.

The Black Cobra has not only set its sights on the Major and his letter, but on the young Miss Ensworth, as she played a vital role in the scheme, and will be dealt with as well.  Naturally, Gareth vows to protect her, and makes her a part of his traveling party that consists of several European ex-military men, and Indian couple, and now Emily and her retinue.  Little does he know that when Emily purposely placed herself in Gareth's path, it was to get to know him better.  For how is one to decide whether one is "The One" unless you get to know him better?  She doesn't expect to become the target of an assassin!  Their passion ignites as they fight for their lives in various places- on boats, moving across the desert as part of a caravan, and back home on English soil.  Gareth tries to convince Emily that she feels nothing more for him than heroworship, and Emily does her best to prove him wrong, and wrong he is.  Emily places herself into harm's way by assisting in the fight, much to Gareth's annoyance and fear, but she proves she can help defend their party.  Emily uses herself as bait to draw out the nobleman heading the Black Cobra, and Gareth has to learn to accept that she is capable of taking care of herself, to a point, but she reassures him she will always need his protection.After these two finally get together, there is no keeping them apart, literally.  They both desperately need each other.

The same characters that helped Colonel Delborough in the previous installment, appear to assist Emily and Gareth fight against the Black Cobra.  The stakes raise as the man they believed was the Black Cobra is murdered, leaving an unknown player in the game.  There are many secondary characters in this installment that after a while became one too many and a bit confusing, but you get them all sorted out in the end.  Gareth and Emily are nicely written and their passion is certainly clear in the many, many scenes that often last for several pages.  Too much smut?  Nevah!

Here at Bookishly Attentive, we seem to have a love/hate relationship with Stephanie Laurens.  Her characters are simply intriguing, and each is different enough that they keep you hooked long after you have turned the last page.  Laurens is an excellent story-teller, and her intermingling of the different characters in her serials has proved to be enjoyable.  There are two more installments to come in the Black Cobra Quartet, and this one is due in stores January 26th.  If you like your men daring and brave, and able to handle a sword expertly, then put this one your list to pick up.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Desires of a Perfect Lady, by Victoria Alexander. A Review by Angie

Lady Olivia Rathbourne's husband was just found with his throat slit in their London garden.  She couldn’t be any happier.  For ten years, Olivia has lived under the rule of Lord Rathbourne, only allowed out in society when he needed a perfect wife to show off at his pleasure, like one of the rare artifacts in his vast museum-like collection.  Those ten years went by slowly, and during that time, Olivia learned to keep her distance and more importantly, not to fight against her cruel husband for fear of her safety.  Her list of things to do when she is free keeps her going when it seemed like all was lost.  With his death comes her longed for freedom, or so she thinks.  A twisted clause in her husband’s will leaves her with no choice but to accept the help of her one time betrothed.  The man at the top of her to do list.  The Earl of Wyldewood.  Her goal?  To bed her long lost suitor, and then move on with her life.

Ten years ago, Sterling-the now dull and stodgy Lord Wyldewood, received a visit by his beloved’s father, Lord Rawley, and informed that she no longer wished to see him, and was marrying Lord Rathbourne because of his vast wealth.  Angry, hurt and bitter, Sterling ignored the letters he received from Olivia and hadn’t thought of her since.  Fast forward ten years, and Lord Rawley was at his door again, pleading for his help and revealing the truth of his horrible secret and the forced marriage between Olivia and Lord Rathbourne.  Prompted by concern for Olivia’s safety, and guilt for never having read her letters, Sterling pays a visit to his former beloved, and learns that she has no desire to accept his help.  His refusal to help her when she needed it most is still fresh in her mind, and she dispatches him promptly.  Sterling is not easily cast aside, and after an attack on Olivia, and realization that her life was save by none other than the footmen he approved, she realizes maybe his help isn’t such a bad thing afterall.  Olivia realizes Sterling is the only one who can help her complete the cruel quest her dead husband requires before she comes into her rightful inheritance.  After some cajoling, the unlikely team of Olivia, Sterling, the Earl’s mother, Millicent, and Josiah, the solicitors representative, set off on an adventure to Egypt and Italy to retrieve three precious artifacts to complete Lord Ravencroft’s collection; pieces he has tried to for years to acquire.  Olivia has a short time to achieve her goals, and failure is most certainly not on her list.

The adventure brings Olivia and Sterling closer together, and farther apart at the mere turn of a page.  Their rollercoaster ride back and forth between love and bitterness could become tiresome, but with these characters it’s quite amusing.  They both realize they want no other, but have a hard time coming to terms with this revelation.  With a lustful Conte, a long-lost suitor of Millicent’s, and a flirtatious Comtesse, the novel’s secondary characters bring a charm to this lovely story of lost love and courage.  Olivia is an emotionally charged character that brings out the long-lost free-spirit that resides within Sterling.  This tale is a story of courage in the face of adversity, and a little humor along the way.  The epilogue leaves the story of the murder and attack on Olivia wide open for another novel, so this story is far from over.  Put this one on your list- it's due in stores March 30, 2010.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Captive of Sin, by Anna Campbell. A Review by Angie

Getting back into the swing of things after having a baby, I decided what better way to jump in than to pick up Anna Campbell’s new novel.  Knowing Campbell tends to write on the darker side, that makes her even more of a favorite of mine, and she never disappoints.  My only issue with this book was that I couldn’t put it down! 

Lady Charis is on the run from her two greedy stepbrothers, who are determined to marry her off to the keeper of the enormous debt their father left them when he died.  Being the richest heiress in England, Lady Charis is invaluable to their plan to avoid debtor’s prison.  The stepbrothers abuse Lady Charis, hoping to force her into submission, however she escapes with her life barely intact and hides in the stables of a nearby inn, hoping no one finds her and returns her back to the stepbrothers that threaten her.  It is here that she meets Sir Gideon, national hero, who has just arrived back in England from India, where he was a spy for many years.  Gideon has survived the cruelest torture imaginable, and the hero’s welcome is an unwelcome sight for the man coming to terms with the monsters in his head.  Gideon stumbles upon Lady Charis hiding behind his horse, and does his best to assist her, knowing that a woman alone is only asking for trouble.  He can see what has been done to her, and his distaste for bullies prompts him to offer assistance even more.  Charis, being justifiably afraid of any man, finally accepts his help after many reassurances, and the giving of a fake name.  The two ride alone in his carriage to the imaginary aunt in Portsmouth, where Charis tries to make a break for it again, only to have Gideon come to her rescue again.  This rescue brings to light Gideon’s illness left over from the years of torture, and Charis learns that the man she owes her life to, has his own demons to fight. 

The two have a highly charged chemistry, and as Charis’ injuries heal, Gideon realizes just how beautiful she truly is, which makes their situation more difficult.  Charis accepts Gideon’s offer of asylum until she reaches her majority three weeks later, and she travels with him to his estate to the north.  She realizes she is falling in love with Gideon, and Gideon has to fight very hard not to succumb to his desire for her.  Gideon believes she deserves better than a wreck like him, and all Charis wants to do is love him.  The reappearance of the two stepbrothers forces their hand to what they can to protect Charis from her “family”, and they head off to Jersey to become man and wife to protect Charis.  This makes Charis deliriously happy, and Gideon miserable; he knows he can never be a true husband to her.  To touch him means to bring on the demons of hell inside his head.

The characterization between the two main characters is perfectly written, and they play off each other very well.  Lady Charis is most definitely a lady, but one that wishes to defy convention and life her live a little more freely than what the ton expects of the daughter of an Earl.  Her paralyzing fear of her stepbrothers is heartbreaking, and her determination to keep going is commendable.  Gideon is not your average hero, with his flaws and scars.  Beautiful, yes, but not the gentleman one would expect an Earl’s daughter to connect with.  I particularly love the way Gideon is written because he could have easily come off as being a complete nutcase and a hopelessly selfish man, but instead he comes off caring if not a little defensive, inspiring loyalty in those around him, and love in the woman he has pledged to help.  The images in his mind from his torture are vividly written in that dark, compelling way that only Anna Campbell can accomplish.  Campbell is the master at creating a character that is so flawed on the inside that you have little hope for their happiness, and then all of a sudden, it’s there.  The raw sensuality between the two because of Gideon’s affliction is more powerful than any sweat laden sex scene.  The desire the pair have for each other just jumps off the page.  And this is all before the pages upon pages of mind blowing sex.  Those can’t hurt either.  Definitely one to pick up.