Ecstasy by Nicole Jordan (Notorious #4)

2095417Having watched her mother languish away for a lost love, Raven Kendrick vows never to surrender her heart. But when her life erupts in scandal, she is forced to accept a marriage proposal from the wickedly sensuous owner of London’s most notorious gaming hell. Though fiercely drawn to her enigmatic rescuer, Raven battles to resist her husband, whose sensuous caresses promise ecstasy beyond her wildest fantasies.

To save the reputation of an innocent girl nearly ruined by his brother, Kell Lasseter sacrifices his freedom to wed the dazzling debutante. Long scorned for his Irish blood and dark past, Kell cannot deny that this enchanting spitfire is unlike other society misses . . . anymore than he can quell his smoldering desire for her. Torn between loyalty to his brother and his growing feelings for his rebellious bride, Kell must somehow free Raven’s reluctant heart before they can know the ecstasy of true love.

Review:

This book was decent all around, but there were a few things that bothered me.

The good:

  • The writing and characterization in general are solid. The plot also gets going right from the start, which was perfect because my brain was itching for some action.
  • I love me a marriage of convenience, and I don’t think I’ve seen a set up quite like this one before.
  • The hero and heroine’s emotional baggage is a matched set but it doesn’t grate or feel too contrived.
  • There’s more romantic suspense than I was expecting, but it doesn’t take over the whole storyline. The action is compartmentalized into certain sections and it worked well.
  • The steamy parts are indeed steamy. Ooo.

The not-so-good:

  • While there isn’t a Big Misunderstanding, as it were, the hero and heroine are awful at communicating. They just refuse to talk to each other, sometimes for days or weeks at a time. ‘I’m just doing what the other person wants’, they each think, which isn’t wrong… but isn’t right, either. It’s amazing what lengths they each self-sacrificed without being sure it was a fruitful thing to do.
  • Because they don’t talk we don’t get to watch the couple’s love grow very much.
  • The heroine gets kidnapped. Several times. And the way people cover for her first kidnapping makes no sense to me. Why would the family say ‘she’s taken ill’ instead of screaming, ‘she’s been kidnapped!’ and running to the police? I mean, what were they doing the whole time she was gone, just hoping she would turn up safe and sound? My brain does not compute.
  • While I can’t pin it on any one thing in particular, I never quite connected with the time period.

A somewhat enjoyable enh, and it did read fast, but an enh all the same.

I Love the Earl by Caroline Linden (The Truth About the Duke #0.5)

12025403Margaret de Lacey has accepted her unmarried state with dignity, if not delight. She had no suitors when she was young and starry-eyed, though regrettably poor, and it’s unlikely any man will court her now that she’s older, wiser, and still just as penniless. Until, that is, her brother unexpectedly inherits the dukedom of Durham and settles an enormous dowry on her, making her the most eligible heiress in town.

No gentleman in London is more in need of a wealthy bride than Rhys Corwen, Earl of Dowling. He contrives an introduction to Margaret because of her dowry, but she swiftly sets him right: no fortune hunter will win her heart or her hand. Far from put off, Rhys is intrigued. Interested. Entranced. And soon the only thing he needs more than Margaret’s fortune…is her love.

Review:

I’m not a huge novella person.  They often feel rushed, and if they’re any good I want more pages, darn it.

I Love the Earl somehow hits a sweet spot.  It’s the perfect length for the story it covers, and I didn’t find myself wishing for a subplot.  Would I enjoy it expanded out to a full-length novel?  You bet.  But it’s not necessary.

Let’s call that the first thing good.  Here’s the rest:

  • There’s no Big Misunderstanding, and all the characters respect each other.  The plot doesn’t hinge on someone being stupid or doing something rash.  It’s refreshing.
  • The hero and heroine have a couple of conversations that boil down to, “Hey, this is what it would mean to be married to me.  Are you okay with that?”  Positive relationship modeling, yea!
  • It’s a comfort read.  I read a good chunk while enjoying a lazy morning in bed – heaven.

The not-so-good:

  •  Being so short the character development is a little lacking, but it’s still a nice setup for the series.

I’m finding Linden to be a go-to author when I need a warm literary hug… with the way the world has been going lately I may be running back into her arms soon.  ~sweatdrop~

Breathless by Beverly Jenkins (Old West #2)

30166205As manager of one of the finest hotels in Arizona Territory, Portia Carmichael has respect and stability—qualities sorely missing from her harsh childhood. She refuses to jeopardize that by hitching herself to the wrong man. Suitors are plentiful, but none of them has ever looked quite as tempting as the family friend who just rode into town…and none has looked at her with such intensity and heat.

Duchess. That’s the nickname Kent Randolph gave Portia when she was a young girl. Now she’s a stunning, intelligent woman—and Kent has learned his share of hard lessons. After drifting through the West, he’s learned the value of a place to settle down, and in Portia’s arms he’s found that and more. But convincing her to trust him with her heart, not just her passion, will be the greatest challenge he’s known—and one he intends to win…

Review:

After reading five of her books I’m realizing that Beverly Jenkins is a hit or meh author for me.  I don’t think I’ve rated anything below three stars but some leave me disappointed.  Sadly, this is one of them.  But first,

The good:

  • Historical romance with protagonists of color (here African American) is always always a good thing.  Love.
  • Portia doesn’t need a man.  In fact, due to her rough childhood, she thinks she’d be better without.  Ken respects her past and proves that he’s the right person for her.
  • Jenkins is well known for her history chops and she’s true to form here.  And how many books set in the Arizona territory can you name?  It’s interesting stuff.

The not-so-good:

  • Like in Night Hawk there isn’t a big bad or an overarching plot.  Events happen but don’t feel exciting as they should – this book has a body count, for goodness sake!  There should be some kind of tension.  But…
  • Problems are wrapped up quickly so incidents feel self-contained.  Okay, that’s over, next.  Wow, that was a problem for five pages, but it’s fixed now.  Next.  There’s not much of a middle or building anything to the narrative.
  • The characters aren’t nuanced and many are typecast.  Oh hey, the guy that sounds and dresses like an arse?  Turns out he’s an arse!  And the perfect lady that keeps things running like clockwork?  Well she knows exactly what she’s doing and her only imperfection is being so perfect. ~sigh~
  • Checkered pasts are put forth as faults and character development but they’re not, not really.  ‘He had sex with a married woman!’ Yes, but we learn that her husband was cheating on her and she was actually better off after the affair.  ‘He’s had sex with lots of women, gasp!’  And now he has mad skillz to pleasure the heroine, my dear.  ‘She is way too forward!’  So she may get exactly what she wants, what a shock.
  • I feel like Jenkins doesn’t trust the reader to remember what happened a few chapters before so she retells it laboriously.

    Kent told him what he thought to be Parnell’s motive. “When Rhine introduced me as the new foreman, Parnell said Mr. Blanchard had promised him the job.  Rhine told him his mind was made up, so Parnell spit tobacco juice at Rhine’s boots.  I had to teach some manners, then made him pack up and leave.”

    All that hearsay for an event I remember as clear as day.  It makes for tedious reading.

  • Similarly,

    He kissed Eddy on her forehead, which Portia found endearing, and they left.

    I find it endearing too, even if it’s not pointed out to me. Gah.

  • Finally, I never really believed in the romance.  Kent is nice, Portia is nice, and they have a couple of nice times together.  Lust is there, for sure, but love?  I don’t buy it.

That’s a lot of griping, I know, but Breathless is still a decent read. I like the heroine for the next book of the series so I’ll be looking forward to that despite ~waves hand around~ this.

The Phantom Lover by Elizabeth Mansfield

24444922Fiery young “Nell” Belden went to Thorndene Castle to escape a lover, not to find one. She was bound by the strict conventions of England’s Regency to a man she could never love, then bound by the ties of passion to a man she could never marry! For at Thorndene, she discovered a new and startling love, a love that was as intense as it was doomed…

“You must leave Thorndene!” said the ghost. Then he added, more gently, “I come to warn you, not to harm you. I may never touch you, any more than a shadow may..”

“What does that signify?” Nell asked. “Since you are dead, you can have no need or inclination to touch me anyway.”

“You can’t know much about men-or ghosts-or how delightful you look in that nightdress, if you believe that,” he said with disturbing sincerity.

Nell blushed and pulled the bedclothes over her. For a long moment, neither of them spoke. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the ghostly figure was gone…

Review:

After seeing the 1979 publication date I was afraid this book would be full of literal bodice ripping and alpha-holes and old skool awfulness.  But in fact it’s a lovely Regency romance with a feminist heroine and a good share of laughs.

The good:

  • Nell is a strong character that has her head on straight.  She calls people out on their bullshit and is determined to only marry for love.
  • The hero appearing as a “ghost” is fun device that is executed well.  There’s nothing domineering about Henry, a genuinely nice guy.
  • While there’s a ballroom scene most of the action takes place away from society, allowing for a comfortingly small cast of characters.  Everyone is fleshed out, from the housekeeper’s family to the suitor from hell.
  • The whole book is just silly in a good way.  Great aunt (or is it grandma?) Amelia is always good for a laugh and the action never gets too heavy or dour.  Escapist romance for the win!

The not-so-good:

  • The relationship between the hero and heroine’s families is a little convoluted and I’m still not sure I can explain it.
  • The ending is rushed and only half-earned.

All in all a welcome diversion that reads quickly and leaves you smiling.

The Viscount and the Vixen by Lorraine Heath (The Hellions of Havisham #3)

28523597Love begets madness. Viscount Locksley watched it happen to his father after his cherished wife’s death. But when his sire arranges to marry flame-haired fortune hunter Portia Gadstone, Locke is compelled to take drastic measures to stop the stunning beauty from taking advantage of the marquess. A marriage of mutual pleasure could be convenient, indeed… as long as inconvenient feelings don’t interfere.

Now the sedate—and, more importantly, secure—union Portia planned has been tossed in favor of one simmering with wicked temptation and potential heartbreak. Because as she begins to fall for her devilishly seductive husband, her dark secrets surface and threaten to ruin them both—unless Locke is willing to risk all and open his heart to love.

Review:

I love Lorraine Heath.  She is masterful at capturing period detail and keeping things historically accurate.  Her heroes and heroines fall in love on the page and follow believable emotional journeys.  While Heath’s last book, The Earl Takes All, had a daring plot device The Viscount and the Vixen sticks closer to Regency orthodoxy.

Huzzah marriages of convenience!  In real life it would suck but this is a romance.  Of course it works out.  The compatibility of our couple is obvious from the start – they have a magnets-attract-I-must-kiss-you-now thing going on.  Instalust isn’t my jam, but their love grows slowly and naturally over time so I can almost forgive it.

Heath is masterful at keeping your mind in the period.  Check out this scene where Locke takes out Portia’s wedding ring and she freezes up:

Locksley squeezed her hand. “Unfurl your fingers.”
“You can’t want to do this.”
“Neither did I wish to get married today, yet here I am.  Open your hand and let’s get this done.”
Reluctantly she did as he bade…

“Unfurl”, “bade” – no modern narration clunking around here!

Portia is strong and goes after the things she needs, the most important of which is security.  The reason she’s concerned about her welfare is…. a secret!  Grah.  We’re kept in the dark for a while, which is nice, but it’s still a secret.  The hero finds out, he storms like a normal person would, and they figure out a solution.  Ta-da!  Wrap it up with a nice epilogue (so rare) and we’re done.

All in all The Viscount and the Vixen is a solid and enjoyable read. Recommended for those who like strong heroes and heroines, a healthy dose of not-ballroom scenes, and have have a stronger stomach for secrets than me. ;)

The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

Synopsis:

28110868When Major Gryffth Hockaday is called to the front lines of the Civil War, his new bride is left to care for her husband’s three-hundred-acre farm and infant son. Placidia, a mere teenager herself living far from her family and completely unprepared to run a farm or raise a child, must endure the darkest days of the war on her own. By the time Major Hockaday returns two years later, Placidia is bound for jail, accused of having borne a child in his absence and murdering it. What really transpired in the two years he was away? To what extremes can war and violence push a woman who is left to fend for herself?

Told through letters, court inquests, and journal entries, this saga, inspired by a true incident, unfolds with gripping intensity, conjuring the era with uncanny immediacy. Amid the desperation of wartime, Placidia sees the social order of her Southern homeland unravel. As she comes to understand how her own history is linked to one runaway slave, her perspective on race and family are upended. A love story, a story of racial divide, and a story of the South as it fell in the war, The Second Mrs. Hockaday reveals how this generation—and the next—began to see their world anew.

Review:

I haven’t read much Civil War fiction, not even Gone with the Wind (don’t judge!) but this book is an epistolary novel.  My ultimate catnip!  You could set one in a period I know little about (Civil War) or a time and place I usually try to avoid (World War II Europe) and I will still come running.  Letters!  Inquiries!  Diary entries, oh my!  It’s a voyeuristic look at history and I love it.

Rivers handles the epistolary element wonderfully, giving the letter writers different voices that fit their personalities, situations, and the era.  She did a massive amount of research and it shows.

From the beginning there’s an unreliable narrator – Placidia is tight lipped about the child she’s accused of bearing then burying, but rumors abound and neighbors swore they saw something odd.  What really happened?  Just when you think you have an idea the letters jump 30 years ahead in time – the South is very different now, and these letter writers are as curious as the reader about what transpired.  While the shift was jarring it was in a “ooo, who’s this!” way, not a “waitwaitwait what the heck happened” way.

It’s hard to talk about the rest of the story without giving things away but the second part of the book sucked me in more than the first.  More than the new characters the promise of an answer to the mystery kept me reading.  The ending brought closure to the main storyline and hints at the futures of many of the letter writers, but not all.  It didn’t bother me, as now I can think about those characters and where life may have taken the.

The language and attitudes fit the times so if you’re sensitive about how slaves were (mis)treated you may want to skip this book.  When I read about the South it’s usually scholarly works about the black experience so the jump into plantation owners’ heads rattled me.  The book isn’t “yay slavery!” by any means, but it’s a dose of a reality I don’t spend much time in.

The Second Mrs. Hockaday is a bit out of my wheelhouse but I still enjoyed the writing and where the story took me.  I also like knowing that the fiction is rooted in fact, right down to the timing of battles.  I can’t enthusiastically recommend it to everyone, but if you like reading epistolary novels or about the Civil War you’ll probably fall in head over heels.

Thanks to Algonquin Books and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

A Date at the Altar by Cathy Maxwell (Marrying the Duke #3)

Synopsis:

28819991A duke can’t marry just anyone. His wife must be of good family, be fertile, be young. Struggling playwright Sarah Pettijohn is absolutely the last woman Gavin Whitridge, Duke of Baynton, would ever fall in love with. She is an actress, born on the wrong side of the blanket, and always challenges his ducal authority. She never hesitates to tell him what she thinks.

However, there is something about her that stirs his blood… which makes her perfect for a bargain he has in mind: In exchange for backing her play, he wants Sarah to teach him about love.

And he, in turn, has a few things to teach her about men…

Review:

A fun read that did some things really, really well.

The good:

  • Our heroine Sarah is strong and confident and happy in her own skin. She’s doing what she wants with her life and it’s refreshing and wonderful to watch. Some people may doubt the likelihood of the plot so Maxwell shares some of her research in an afterward.
  • Many Regencies talk about mistresses, often in the context of “oh no you don’t” or “I can’t believe he/she did”. Here we get to see that experience from the other side and how the transaction often worked.
  • The plot moves at a nice clip with some effective external conflict. I like how it stayed just this side of romantic suspense, with realistic but not overly done angst.
  • Some prickly situations come up where I thought, there is only one way this can end well. If the character does one of these ten other things I would be so mad… but it always ended that one way, well. Phew.
  • Virgin hero, yea!
  • Not being able to have children, and what it would have meant at this time in history, is thoughtfully and compassionately considered. I was afraid it would be a “barren until you” storyline but the issue is handled realistically and well. Kudos to Maxwell.

The neither-good-nor-bad:

  • This book qualifies as a Regency-not-in-a-ballroom, which is kind of amazing considering nearly all of the action is set in London.

The not-so-good:

  • The first chapter is pure info dump, and even so I didn’t realize that I had already read the second book of this series. Oops. Partly because…
  • In book two of this series the Duke comes off as a boor, while here he seems like a totally different person. If you read this as a standalone you won’t notice, though.
  • The hero, who we are told has zero experience “knowing” a woman, still manages to give the heroine an orgasm effortlessly on the first try. Sigh.
  • The plot is telegraphed, sometimes chapters in advance. The suspense factor is low so it wasn’t a deal breaker, but I don’t think the twists had the effect the author intended.

Overall I enjoyed A Date at the Altar as a quick, satisfying read despite the nitpicks.

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

Synopsis:

12384157Tess, an aspiring seamstress, thinks she’s had an incredibly lucky break when she is hired by famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to be a personal maid on the Titanic’s doomed voyage. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men, one a roughly-hewn but kind sailor and the other an enigmatic Chicago millionaire. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes.

Amidst the chaos and desperate urging of two very different suitors, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat. Tess’s sailor also manages to survive unharmed, witness to Lady Duff Gordon’s questionable actions during the tragedy. Others—including the gallant Midwestern tycoon—are not so lucky.

On dry land, rumors about the survivors begin to circulate, and Lady Duff Gordon quickly becomes the subject of media scorn and later, the hearings on the Titanic.

Review:

This novel has to do with the Titanic and from the description I thought a large chunk of the action would take place on ship, both before and after the crash. When the ship went down and our main characters were rescued by chapter three I knew I was in for a very different novel.

Most of the story is about the Congressional hearings following the disaster and how they affected a small cast of characters. If you don’t know much about the Titanic you may find this interesting. However, if you’re like me and have read the full hearing transcripts and newspaper reports of the time (it was a phase, I tell you) you’ll be bored.

Add in cardboard cutout characters and a stereotypical love triangle (shall she fall in love with the rich but sketchy man or the poor but awesome sailor?) and you get an unremarkable tale.

The Dare and the Doctor by Kate Noble (Winner Takes All #3)

Synopsis:

30103788Dr. Rhys Gray and Miss Margaret Babcock are friends—strictly friends. But over the course of the year, as they exchange dozens of letters, they share personal details that put them on the path to something more. When Dr. Gray helps Margaret realize her dearest dream and she comes to his defense in the uproar that follows, it seems that their connection cannot be denied. But will their relationship stand the scruples of society and jealous intendeds, or are they destined to be only friends, and nothing more?

Review:

It should have been the perfect time for me to read this novel – I just finished a spate of heavy non-fiction and dearly needed some romance in my reading life.  But try as I might, I kept getting pulled out of the story.

First, the good:

  • The plot has some nice twists and turns to it.
  • The book starts off with letters, yea!  Not enough to call it epistolary, but I like it all the same.
  • The heroine is unconventional (super tall, not super pretty) but the hero loves her just the way she is.
  • The pose on the cover is from a scene in the book and is fitting.  Even the fact that she’s not wearing a corset is explained, woah.

And now, the not-so-good:

  • I never felt like I was in the Regency.  The language is a little too modern, societal customs and expectations are bent a little too much, and I found a medical tidbit that, while not wrong, is unlikely.  It felt like a wallpaper romance when I prefer something more of the period.  (For more about wallpaper romances check out this article at Smart Bitches Trashy Books, where I totally agree with Candy.)
  • Noble made her chops as a TV writer and it shows.  There were a ton of scenes that are meant to be seen, not read.  We meet Rhys’ large extended family in a whirlwind, with each person passing through the foyer of the home.  It would be perfect on TV – you could see the trouble making 12-year old bounding up the stairs, the sister too engrossed in her book to noticed Rhys has arrived, and so on. But on the page it’s a tangled lump of spaghetti, with no means or end.  Here’s another example: Margaret’s friend is with her on the second floor, telling her about the suitors that are being turned away at the door.

“Oh!  There’s one!” Sylvia cried.  “He’s wearing a gray coat and hat.  And . . . he’s knocking . . . and the butler is telling him you are not receiving today.”  She pushed closer to the window, her nose almost touching.  “He’s taking off the hat . . . decently good looking, although his chin in a little weak.”

If I make a rectangle with my fingers all director-like I can see it – how the shot would be framed, how good it would look.  But it wasn’t satisfying on the page.

  • Because of the above I started skimming parts, and I didn’t feel like I missed anything.  Eep.
  • While there were seeds of conflict it didn’t drive the story until the very very end.

So despite having the outward appearance of being just what I needed, The Dare and the Doctor… wasn’t.

Thanks to Pocket Books and NetGalley for providing a review copy.


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Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas (The Ravenels #2)

Synopsis:

26242354Savage ambition has brought common-born Rhys Winterborne vast wealth and success. In business and beyond, Rhys gets exactly what he wants. And from the moment he meets the shy, aristocratic Lady Helen Ravenel, he is determined to possess her. If he must take her virtue to ensure she marries him, so much the better…

Helen has had little contact with the glittering, cynical world of London society. Yet Rhys’s determined seduction awakens an intense mutual passion. Helen’s gentle upbringing belies a stubborn conviction that only she can tame her unruly husband. As Rhys’s enemies conspire against them, Helen must trust him with her darkest secret. The risks are unthinkable… the reward, a lifetime of incomparable bliss. And it all begins with… marrying Mr. Winterborne.

Review:

I’ve read and loved Kleypas’ work in the past but this book fell flat for me.  Soggy pancake flat.

First, though, the good:

  • The writing is on par with the rest of her work, and I can’t find any fault with the words themselves.
  • There was enough information to jog my memory about the couple, who had a lot of goings on in the first book of the series.  It could probably even be read alone.
  • Rhys is romantic, the sex scenes are hot, and if you’re into period detail it’s here (“each glove is so delicate, it can be enclosed in the shell of a walnut”).
  • The secondary characters are fleshed out wonderfully, especially the women working for Winterborne.  I want them to get their own books, too.

The not-so-good:

  • The whole plot revolves around a secret Helen has, one she finds out maybe a quarter of the way through the novel.  Everyone says not to tell Rhys – he would never forgive her!  Don’t throw away your chance at marriage!  But the reader knows he will forgive her on the spot.  And he does.  So angst yes, conflict not so much.
  • Likewise there’s a plot twist near the end that was meant to raise the stakes but only raised my hackles instead.
  • Rhys has no faults as far as I can see.  Yes, he’s common born, but that lets him be progressive and alpha and endearing to modern readers.  He’s rich so Helen’s family is happy about the marriage.  Winterborne is also loving and protective, hates the people you would expect him to hate, and takes care of the people he loves.  He’s perfect… and pretty boring.
  • There isn’t anything wrong with Helen, either.  She’s dreadfully shy to start but it’s more of a feature than a bug.

So while the beginning was enjoyable I had to force myself to finish the last half of the book.  Weak conflict, a flawless hero and heroine… not much reason to read.  Le sigh.  I’ll still read the next book at some point, though, because Pandora.