4 star review

July TBR Challenge 2016 – Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase

TBR Challenge 2016

Topic: Award Nominee or Winner

Lord of Scoundrels

DETERMINED LADY

Tough-minded Jessica Trent’s sole intention is to free her nitwit brother from the destructive influence of Sebastian Ballister, the notorious Marquess of Dain. She never expects to desire the arrogant, amoral cad. And when Dain’s reciprocal passion places them in a scandalously compromising, and public, position, Jessica is left with no choice but to seek satisfaction …

LORD OF SCOUNDRELS

Damn the minx for tempting him, kissing him … and then forcing him to salvage her reputation! Lord Dain can’t wait to put the infuriating bluestocking in her place — and in some amorous position, And if that means marriage, so be it! — though Sebastian is less than certain he can continue to remain aloof … and steel his heart to the sensuous, headstrong lady’s considerable charm.

This particular month’s challenge was RITA Award Winners and Finalists, and it turns out I actually had several to choose from on my TBR.

This particular book has been on my TBR since I discovered Doc Turtle’s analysis at SBTB. This won’t be my first Loretta Chase, as that honor goes to Mr. Impossible, which was fantastic. I was actually fortunate enough to get this book digitally from the library, so whoohoo for saving money (and it turns out it is available from Open Library), but Lord of Scoundrels is actually the third book in the series, and I do not have time to read the others first, so I am jumping in and hoping for the best. It is a generally well liked book so I’ve got my fingers crossed, and since it is so well and often reviewed, and more than 20 years old, I shan’t apologize for any possible spoilers, you have been warned.

The story starts with a rather unhappy marriage and an even unhappier young Sebastian. Seriously, there ought to be a law against some people procreating. So he grows up hard and crude, and stunted emotionally. He has no faith in women or love and is basically an awful, awful person with a ton of self loathing.

Jessica Trent on the other hand is what turns this book from historical to wallpaper historical in my opinion. She is simply out there. Basically Chase plopped a contemporary (albeit slightly insane) heroine into a historical, AND I JUST DO NOT EVEN CARE! Seriously, Jessica is a trip and makes the story. She’s acerbic and strong willed, devious, and supremely competent. She’s runs circles around her brother Bertie, bowls over the hero, and takes the insults and stupidities of Sebastian’s rakish friends like Vere Mallory in her stride. And she doesn’t belittle herself for being a normal human being. In short, she’s my idea of delightful.

And their “courtship” can best be summed up in their most common phrase to one another “I should like to see you try.” Irresistible force meets unmovable object doesn’t even begin to cover it. It is a series one one ups and misunderstandings that are epic in their proportions. Meanwhile, they are both actually being very upfront and vulnerable to each other, though they each suspect the other’s motives and can’t see that fact.

Their “courtship” culminates with Jessica shooting Sebastian, so naturally enough he HAS to marry her, there is no other way for him to top that. At which point our protagonists finally get some extended time to work through their issues, and Sebastian in particular starts seeing the world and himself through a very different lens, which changes everything. And naturally they fall in love and live happily ever after.

So what if that sounds trite, it isn’t, and it is seriously delightful. My only issue I think comes from jumping into the series at a mid point, because it seemed as though there were characters that I should already know. However, going back and reading the blurb for Captives of the Night (book 2), it looks like that actually happens AFTER Lord of Scoundrels, so I am a little confused. In any event, following completion of LoS, I immediately checked out books 2 & 4, so I should get that all cleared up in my mind fairly shortly.

Lord of Scoundrels (Scoundrels, #3)

Advertisements
Standard
4 star review

Review – A Gift for Guile by Alissa Johnson

Gift for Guile.jpg

Never Trust a Thief
Once a famous officer of Scotland Yard and now a renowned private detective, Sir Samuel Brass has better things to do than shadow a reckless hellion in her misguided quest for atonement. But when the daughter of a notorious criminal-and a former thief herself-returns to London to right an old wrong, Samuel is drawn back into the dangerously exciting world of Esther Walker-Bales.

Beautiful and conniving, maddening and brilliant, Esther is everything he shouldn’t want. She’s a liar. She’s a con. She’s a thief. And God help him, but he’d do anything to keep her safe.

Esther knows she’s put herself in terrible danger, but nothing will stop her from making amends that are long past due-not her family’s enemies, not old fears, and certainly not the domineering, interfering and undeniably handsome Sir Samuel Brass. Yet whenever he’s near, Samuel makes her long for a life that can never be hers…and wish she were worthy of being saved.

I received an ARC of this book from the Publisher, via Netgalley, this does not affect my opinion of this book or the content of my review.

I picked up this author following a recommendation from Nalini Singh, and when I saw she had a new series coming out I couldn’t help but snatch it up. Ostensibly this series is about the Thief-Takers, but in my opinion they are really more the women’s stories. The last book was about the an older sister, and this one is about the younger one.

And despite the fact that there is a much darker history with this character, she is literally laugh out loud funny at times. There were places where I laughed until I cried. And there were places were I just wanted to cry for these two characters who had such sadness in their pasts. Johnson writes characters you can just feel if you know what I mean.

The story moved along quickly, the mystery was multi-layered and nuanced, and it kept me entertained so that I could hardly bear to put it down. But it was the characters that really got to me, particularly Esther. She was a delight, and a scamp, and a thief and a liar, and she was also more. I’d actually say that Samuel did more growing, Esther had already done her soul-searching and had set herself on the path of who she would become. And it was lovely to watch her get there. Samuel on the other hand had to adjust quite a bit, not in any unnatural or false ways, but still, I always enjoy when it is the man who has to adjust himself and his life more for the woman than the other way around.

As seems to be Ms. Johnson’s talent, her story and her characters left me feeling happy. I recommend it.

A Gift for Guile (The Thief-takers)

Standard
3.5 star review, Miscellaneous

Review – The Lady Who Saw Too Much by Thomasine Rappold

Lady Who Saw Too Much.jpg

Cursed with prophetic visions and desperate to atone for a death she could have prevented, Gianna York swears she will never again ignore the chance to save a life. When she is hired by Landen Elmsworth to serve as companion to his sister, Gia repeatedly sees the image of her employer’s lifeless corpse floating in Misty Lake. As subsequent visions reveal more details, Gia soon realizes her best chance to save this difficult man is by becoming his wife.

At first, Landen Elmsworth believes the fetching Miss York might be right for a meaningless dalliance, but he grossly underestimates her capacity for cunning and soon finds himself bound until death to a woman he may never be able to trust. Yet in the dark of their bedroom they discover an undeniable passion–and a capacity to forge their own destiny . . .

I received an ARC of this book from the Publisher, via Netgalley, this does not affect my opinion of this book or the content of my review.

I previously read The Lady Who Lived Again on something of a whim, but found it interesting enough to go ahead and try the second in the series.

I can’t quite decide if I find the second one interesting enough to continue though. In these pages we have a clairvoyant heroine, a damaged and oblivious hero, a sister who is the epitome of wallflower, a brother who is a bit of a prat, a feisty domineering aunt, and a smarmy villain.

We start with a vision that leads to a marriage of inconvenience. Our main couple staggers along between mistrust and disbelief with very in the way of communication. They do however have a good bit of chemistry, and the mystery is engaging enough. It is just that I don’t like Gianna as much as I did Madeleine. I think the story was a bit better actually then the last one, but for me it is often more about characters. A character I really like will let me forgive much more in a story.

It is tough for me to rate this one. Compared to the previous story, I like the hero better, I like the mystery better, I like the supporting characters better, and I like the main characters as a couple better. You would think that would add up to me liking this story better, but somehow it doesn’t. And it isn’t that I dislike the heroine of this one, I just didn’t like her as much, and for me that makes all the difference somehow. I am giving it about the same rating, but for vastly different reasons.

We also get a nice little cameo from Madeleine and Jace and an indication the two heroines will become friends. I am still holding out hope somewhere-some when, Dolly gets her HEA, but she doesn’t feature in this story at all, so I will have to go on hoping.

The Lady Who Saw Too Much (The Sole Survivor Series)

Standard
3.5 star review

Review – ‘Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick

Til Death Do Us Part

Calista Langley operates an exclusive “introduction” agency in Victorian London, catering to respectable ladies and gentlemen who find themselves alone in the world. But now, a dangerously obsessed individual has begun sending her trinkets and gifts suitable only for those in deepest mourning—a black mirror, a funeral wreath, a ring set with black jet stone. Each is engraved with her initials.

Desperate for help and fearing that the police will be of no assistance, Calista turns to Trent Hastings, a reclusive author of popular crime novels. Believing that Calista may be taking advantage of his lonely sister, who has become one of her clients, Trent doesn’t trust her. Scarred by his past, he’s learned to keep his emotions at bay, even as an instant attraction threatens his resolve.

But as Trent and Calista comb through files of rejected clients in hopes of identifying her tormentor, it becomes clear that the danger may be coming from Calista’s own secret past—and that only her death will satisfy the stalker…

I am going to admit, I am still really bitter that The Ladies of Lantern Street series was not closed out. I get hung up, ok. I was super excited when this one popped up on Goodreads and was listed as a Lantern Street book, because I like things to finish. So when I found out it wasn’t it was another bitter disappointment for me that I guess will never be resolved.

In any event, on to the book. The delightful thing (for me) is how you pretty well know exactly what you are going to get from an Amanda Quick (AKA Jayne Ann Krentz book). Broody hero. Strong and assertive heroine. Mystery. Initial deflowering scene where he doesn’t quite get the heroine to the point (at least during the act). Secondary romantic scene where there is bliss for both of them. Eventual realizing of flowering love. Resolution of mystery. And then the all important happily ever after.

So yes, it is stock. But it is stock that I enjoy at least in part because of nostalgia. The rest of it, is that even as she is recycling plots, the characters are usually still fresh and charming, and she mixes it up. So for instance, while she has written a stories featuring protagonists who write serialized novels, in this particular instance it is the hero rather than the heroine who writes them.

Which brings me to an interesting point on this. Quick’s novels for some time have become more and more feminist, with the heroines becoming more independent, and this one perhaps more so than usual. But what I found really eye catching, is that whereas in With This Ring, the heroine was fairly desperate to keep her separate life as an author secret, while in this one the hero blurts it out to all and sundry. While this brought some funny scenes, because everyone is a critic and blurts their opinions-many of which denigrate the romance plot he is shaping up in his series (it is rather meta), it also kind of made me give it the side eye. I can’t quite decide if it is a blind spot, or if it is one of her few nods to the historical double standard. Quick’s novels tend toward being more wallpaper historical than actual historical. I don’t know, it is a point to ponder.

In any event, the hero and heroine were charming with good chemistry, and there was no real relationship angst. In fact I was kind of surprised that we didn’t get the hero’s authoritative marriage demand immediately after the deflowering and/or the marry in haste learn to love in leisure trope. Maybe that is why the book had more of a feminist facade to me?

Secondary characters were also enjoyable and integral to the story. And the mystery was satisfyingly twisty, even though I saw who the villain was from a mile away, it jumped enough to keep me entertained. YMMV on how fast or if you figure it out, but I think since I have read literally everything this author has ever written, it made it easier to see where she was going with things.

All in all, this is another comfort read from Quick and I think it might go on my regular re-reads rotation, but again, at the $13.99 Kindle price point, I might hold off until it goes down or you can get it from the library.

'Til Death Do Us Part

Standard
3.5 star review

OpenLibrary Review – Mischief by Amanda Quick

Mischief

Imogen Waterstone has always prided herself on being a thoroughly independent young woman, but now she needs a man of implacable will and nerves of iron. That’s why she invited Matthias Marshall, infamous Earl of Colchester, to her home in Upper Strickland. Who better than the legendary explorer to help her lay the perfect trap?
Her scheme is simple, really: She plans to let it be known that when she inherited her uncle’s collection of antiquities, she also inherited a map to a fabulous ancient treasure. She’s sure that her enemy would risk financial ruin in pursuit of the mythical artifact. And to make doubly sure the scoundrel took the bait, she wants Colchester to pretend that he’s out to seduce Imogene so that he, too, could get his hands on her map.

Yet in all of her plotting, Imogene never anticipates Colchester’s violent reaction to her request or her own electrifying reaction to him. Neither does she expect that a malevolent threat would emerge from the labyrinth of London–sinister enough to endanger her and Colchester’s lives.

It was bound to happen sooner or later when I am on a comfort reading binge. Amanda Quick has been a shelter in the storm for me for a long, long time. I read them new, and I read them old, and I re-read them regularly whenever life happens. So it is actually kind of surprising that it has taken me so long to get back to her this time.

This is yet another one that is available on OpenLibrary, and again, I am reading my personal copy so I can not vouch for the scan (though all the ones I have borrowed form OpenLibrary have been good), and I highly suggest you borrow the PDF version and not the EPUB, unless you like playing the OCR text recognition atrocity game.

As with many of Quick’s books, the heroine belongs firmly in the competence porn category, along with a helpful dose of naivete and fresh faced innocence. Imogen is a blue stocking who was raised by her Original parents as something of a social experiment, and in many ways it shows. She is a confusing mix of over-educated bluestocking and completely uneducated socially. But she goes full tilt to whatever she believes in. Heroines like this are why Quick is comfort reading for me. It is pleasant to be in the head of a capable woman (rather than a damsel in distress) who also still has some happiness and lightness to her, who can see the good in life despite negative circumstances.

Colchester is the stock Quick hero, technically brilliant, removed from life, dark, and recognizing rather early how much he needs the heroine in his life. Quick’s heroes are stock wish fulfillment.

So basically I have blathered on about how stock and typical and cut from the same cloth Quick’s stuff is, which is true (Duh, comfort reading), but what gives it that little edge, for me, is how charming the characters are, and all the little details that suck me into their stories.

The problems are always different, but there is nothing that comes up that can’t be solved with a little logic and some fortitude, and love is transformative in lovely little ways. Quick’s books, especially the older ones, tend to leave me with a rosy little glow. I couldn’t say there’s any one thing in this one that makes it stand out more than her other historicals, it is just that it is just enough different to not be the same one, if you see what I mean. So, I’ll just bask in my after glow and drink my tea while contemplating the next one I’ll read.

Mischief

Standard
3.5 star review

Review – Duke of My Heart by Kelly Bowen

Duke of My Heart.jpg

Scandal can be handled…
Captain Maximus Harcourt, the unconventional tenth Duke of Alderidge, can deal with tropical storms, raging seas, and the fiercest of pirates. But he’s returned home from his latest voyage to find a naked earl – quite inconveniently deceased – tied to his missing sister’s bed. And he has only one place to turn. Now he’s at the mercy of the captivating Miss Ivory Moore of Chegarre & Associates, known throughout London for smoothing over the most dire of scandals.

Miss Moore treats the crisis as though it were no more serious than a cup of spilt tea on an expensive rug. As though this sort of thing happened on the job every day. Max has never in all his life met a woman with such nerve. Her dark eyes are too wide, her mouth is too full, her cheekbones too sharp. Yet together, she’s somehow…flawless. It’s just like his love for her, imperfect, unexpected – yet absolutely true.

I received an ARC of this book from the Publisher, via Netgalley, this does not affect my opinion of this book or the content of my review.

I picked this up because Kelly Bowen’s other works have brought a smile to my face. They are over the top ridiculous, but a ton of fun too. And I just can’t resist a competent, take charge woman. And Miss Ivory Moore totally rocks it in the competence category.

This is pure escapism. We have a secretive agency that makes scandals go away, a dead earl, a nasty wager, and a convoluted plot-so very, very convoluted. It is delightful, so long as you can hold onto your willful suspension of disbelief. And believe you me, the willful part is necessary, this is wallpaper historical at its finest.

The plot is almost insanely entertaining, and I do hope we get Beatrice’s story eventually, but Ivory is what makes the story. She’s frightfully competent, clever, headstrong, and a damsel who doesn’t need rescuing, though she appreciates it when it happens. Max was fun and sweet, and clever too, but…how to put this, while I liked him and liked him for Ivory, he wasn’t remotely why I liked the story.

It is kind of weird, but I think I’d have enjoyed Ivory in a Chegarre and Associates mystery story with no hint of romance. It is a head scratcher. In any event, Duke of My Heart is a pleasant diversion to while away an hour or two, and I look forward to reading more from Bowen.

Duke of My Heart (A Season for Scandal Book 1)

Standard
3.5 star review

Review – Only a Promise by Mary Balogh

Only A promise

While I have read some very good books of late, they have been decidedly less optimistic in tone and I felt the need for change. Fortunately the Houston Public Library was able to come to my aid. Since the previous four books gave me the warm fuzzies, I figured this would hit the spot.

Ralph Stockwood prides himself on being a leader, but when he convinced his friends to fight in the Napoleonic Wars, he never envisioned being the sole survivor. Racked with guilt over their deaths, Ralph must move on . . . and find a wife to secure an heir to his family’s title and fortune.

Since her Seasons in London ended in disaster, Chloe Muirhead is resigned to spinsterhood. Driven by the need to escape her family, she takes refuge at the home of her mother’s godmother, where she meets Ralph. He needs a wife. She wants a husband. So Chloe makes the outrageous suggestion to strike a bargain and get married. One condition: Ralph has to promise that he will never take her back to London. But circumstances change. And to Ralph, it was only a promise.

Yes, I figured there would be a high degree of angst, this being book 5 in the Survivors Club series (a group of friends who survived the Napoleonic wars at great personal cost). But based on past behavior I expected an unmitigated happy ending, which of course this being Balogh I got.

The survivor here is Ralph, but Chloe has survived more than her fair share of heartache. They are two abjectly lonely people, no matter how they fill their lives with people and things to do. And much of their romance and being in their heads was lovely. But damn me if this wasn’t absolutely depressing for the first three quarters of the book. Chloe and Ralph, along with us readers are ran through the proverbial ringer. There are no Big Misunderstandings, no Big Secrets, just two lonely and damaged people finding their way, often painfully, to each other. And then we see the turn, and for me at least I realized that that turn had been inexorable, it was only when mired in the midst of tragedy that there seemed to be no way out of the morass. I can only suspect that our two protagonists felt much the same way.

And damned if I don’t sound overwrought and melodramatic. I suspect it is just that Balogh makes me feel that way. The ending though was rather delightful, if wrapped up a bit too neatly. But I just didn’t care if it was overly perfect and overly neat, I wanted the sweetly sappy and romantic and that is just what I got. And I felt that Ralph’s PTSD was handled very sensitively and that while he found true love and happiness, it wasn’t that he was cured by true love.

This was another satisfying read by Balogh and I can’t wait for the 6th one to come available from the library.

Only a Promise: A Survivors' Club Novel

Standard