Friday, January 21, 2011

The Abandoned Bride - Edith Layton

Strikingly beautiful young Julia Hastings had been an inexperienced innocent when handsome, high-born Robin Marlowe induced her to elope with him -- only to abandon her without a word of explanation on their wedding night.

Julia was left with her virtue intact but her reputation in tatters. Her life became a struggle to defend herself against gentlemen who henceforth considered her easy prey.

By now, Julia knew better than to trust any man, even when that man was the overwhelmingly attractive Lord Nicholas Daventry, Robin's own uncle. But if Julia had learned how dangerous blissful ignorance was in matters of the heart, she had yet to discover what folly it was to be too wise...

I have really enjoyed some of Layton's books that I have enjoyed in the past so I'm always looking forward to find more. This one didn't quite match my expectations though.

The opening scene is Julia's elopement and the author does make it sound like there is a big mystery surrounding the groom's actions but in the end they were not that mysterious. The action then jumps to a few years afterwards. Julia's reputation suffered, she had to go away and find employment so that her sisters wouldn't suffer from her bad behaviour and she is now working as a governess but thinking of leaving her post.

That's when Nicholas Daventry makes his appearance. He is the uncle of Julia's potential groom in her botched elopement and he seems to believe that Julia was the one who left his nephew and treated him badly when the opposite was true. He is looking for his nephew and came up with a plan to take Julia with him to make the young man happy. We can immediately see that the young man must be an immature idiot who concocted a story to keep his uncle at bay. That he did it by harming Julia once doesn't seem to matter much.

I really didn't like Nicholas Daventry. He is arrogant and domineering; he forces Julia to go with him through a mad and a bit too convoluted scheme and eventually becomes violent when provoked. Even without that I just couldn't believe that taking Julia would be a guarantee that he would find his nephew so I thought it all a bit exaggerated. Since he was a disagreeable character I also couldn't understand how Julia kept giving him the benefit of the doubt or why she kept feeling attracted to him.
They do spend quite some time together till they find Daventry's idiot nephew but I never could overcome my initial dislike of the hero enough to be happy for them. I did like Julia but in my opinion she was too good for that hero. Daventry's stepfather sounded like an intriguing character and I wonder if he has his own book...

Grade: 2.5/5

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Defiant Miss Foster & A Highly Respectable Widow - Melinda McRae

Valentine Debenham has just learned that since his father's death, he himself has been responsible for the welfare of a family of orphaned children, including a young girl on the brink of womanhood. Finding a husband for Kat Foster is a responsibility he doesn't take lightly--but he never considered that the only man perfect enough to be Kat's husband was himself.
The superbly handsome Earl of Knowilton was a rake without equal. No woman, whether wanton or well-born could resist him, just as none could satisfy him for long. But Knowlton had grown bored with easy conquests. He sought a sterner test of his powers of seduction to stir his jaded sense of sport.

Then he met Katherine Mayfield. This widowed beauty with her air of unassailable virtue and flaming red hair provided the spark to set Knowlton's passion ablaze. Thus the struggle was joined between this licentious lord and a perfect lady who had to keep the infamous earl at baby and her own heart in check.


My love for traditional regencies leads me to pick them here and there, sometimes without any references. Such was the case with this 2 in 1 book. I have to say, though that I don't particularly enjoy guardian / ward romances and The Defiant Miss Foster did nothing to change that.

The ward in question, Miss Foster, was childish, impulsive, and rude and I just couldn't see how her guardian could feel attracted to her. Even if she, and her brothers, were mad at being deserted by their guardian (the father of the current one) for so long and feel like they don't want one now there's nothing to justify her action in the beginning and her rudeness from then onwards.

Besides she had a TSTL streak that made her get into trouble often, or almost get into trouble because she was actually a lucky girl. It’s quite unbelievable how a young lady who allowed strangers to be so very familiar with her didn't actually get into big trouble.

Debenham was a bit strict yes but next to how annoyed Kat made me feel that was nothing!

Grade: 2/5


Now this story had a plot more to my taste. Although it is another take on a fairly common theme - rake tries to make a woman his mistress only to fall in love with her and repent his ways. I thought this one was well done, with interesting characters that made it an entertaining read if not an uncommon one.

Unlike the first story here it was the heroine that I liked best. She was sensible, she knew what the hero wanted and how temporary that would be so she told him no no matter how attracted to him she might be. She was also wise enough to understand that if she wanted to raise her child well she would have to swallow her pride and go to the one who could help her. The hero was a bit too self assure and conceited in his actions and it felt good to see him fall.

Grade: 3.5/5

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Imprudent Lady - Joan Smith


Prudence had fallen in love with the celebrated and dashing Lord Dammler from the moment she read his first book. Then she began to have fantasies about him. Then she actually met him!

Suddenly Prudence was not living up to her name anymore....

This is my first read by Joan Smith and I found it intriguing, sometimes amusing but hardly a traditional regency romance. It's more of a friend’s story than a love story... but it does have a HEA.

Prudence, the title's imprudent lady, becomes a writer with some success. She shares a publisher with the famous Lord Dammler, the time's most celebrated writer, and ends up being introduced to him. Although she is a bit critic of his work, Prudence can't help but admire him.

Lord Dammler, alas, finds Prudence quite unremarkable but a series of events lead them to spend more and more time together and as she falls in love with him he just sees her as a friend. Prudence naiveté in terms of the ton's social behaviour does lead her to some trouble with an admirer without ever realising it. Her social awkwardness does make for some humourous moments as does her silly uncle. Lord Dammler is quite unhappy with Prudence's admirers and they become an object of discussion between them leading to some witty dialogue.

Eventually Dammler realises what his feelings for Prudence really mean but for a moment there it seems all may well be lost and where he previously commanded Prudence's emotions he will now have to work for his happy ending.

An interesting read, much different from your typical romance novel which is always a plus. However the lack of empathy that I felt with both main characters made it a slow read for me and while recognising its value and originality it doesn't come close to being a favourite.

Grade: 3.5/5

Monday, January 3, 2011

Lucy In Disguise - Lynn Kerstand


Miss Lucy Preston pulls a wounded smuggler from the quicksand of the Lancashire beaches, and she soon rues the day. For the rascal immediately sees through her disguise and that of her heavily veiled companion -- who, indeed, is not a mute, elderly woman but a frightened young lady running from danger and seeking refuge at this remote seaside cottage.

Happily acknowledging he has just landed in a truly fascinating melodrama, Christopher Valliant is determined to aid the fair damsels. For this reformed rake is motivated by the most noble reasons of all: love -- pure and glorious -- for the lovely, temperamental, and ever-so-delightful Lucy!

I recently read Kerstan's Celia's Grand Passion and since this story is about the hero's brother I couldn't resist picking it up next. It has an original plot that resembles that of a gothic story but this one is humourous novel so the resemblance stops there.

Christopher Valliant is saved by a lady masquerading as a lad one night when he is about to drown after having fell under a cart on the beach, during a smuggling operation. He is taken to her house to recover and he realises that there are in fact two ladies, one of whom is always hiding.

Lucy, the supposed lad, is a rather determined young Lady. She does her best to protect her friend Diana, who has been hurt by her uncle and is hiding from an unwanted suitor, and her efforts go as far as to pretend she is the ghost of an old witch to prevent people to approach their cottage. Christopher can't help but admiring her character and eventually he manages to hear the hole story from Diana and is determined to help them loose the evil guardian.

I'm afraid I did not like this story half as much as the other Kerstan book I had read. It may be that part of my problem was that I don't always like funny regencies (unless we are talking about Heyer); I always love best the ones that are dark, poignant and a bit tragic. But most of it was that I thought Christopher and Lucy had no chemistry together. I had a hard time believing they had fallen in love and made it a bit of a chore to finish it. I was glad to see Celia and her husband again though and I ended up a bit curious about Diana so I might try to track her book down one of these days.

Grade: 3/5

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Christmas Promise - Mary Balogh


Eleanor Transome found her father's wealth a dubious blessing, for he was determined that she wed a nobleman. Lord Randolph Falloden, on the brink of ruin, could not resist the lure of cold cash, despite his passionate alliances with several other desirable maidens. And though her heart belonged to the handsome, if humble, Mr. Wilfred Ellis, Eleanor would never deny her father's wishes. Thus the match was made--with love not part of the bargain--for the arrogant earl and the coal merchant's proud daughter. But in this season of unexpected gifts, a most remarkable surprise was in store for them both....

After reading A Christmas Bride how could I resist picking up another Christmas story. Especially one that has been OOP for so long but has now been reprinted. I really couldn't and I am really happy I read it. Once again Balogh grabs a familiar situation - an impoverished lord marrying a rich Cit's daughter - but manages to write very original characters and situations.

Eleanor Transome's father is dying. He wants’ to leave her under the protection of a husband and he chooses the Earl of Falloden as bridegroom. He buys the Earl's considerable debts and tells him that either he marries his daughter or he will demand immediate payment.

Falloden is disgusted with the arrangement but feels he has no other choice if he wants to save the family estate from being sold. To him Eleanor Transome is nothing but a greedy young woman after a place in society. To Eleanor he is nothing but a gambler and a womaniser but she feels she must respect her father's last wishes and marry him.

To say that the marriage started on the wrong foot is an understatement. They both distrust and despise the other and Eleanor's reserve prevents her from showing her true feelings about her father which Randolph mistakes for coldness. Their wedding night is an intense, poignant, scene where neither wants to show their feelings, in a way it is a fight between them and it must be one of the most different love scenes I've read in a while.

Randolph doesn't understand Eleanor's feelings or how some of her attitudes are dictated by her father's wishes. And she is quick to judge him and take offense and uses sarcasm and irony to attack him. But after Eleanor's father passes away they end up spending the Christmas season at Randolph estate, surrounded by some of his friends and her family, and slowly they start letting their guard down.

I did like Randolph very much. He was an honourable man, he had good intentions and after the first bitter moments of resentment for having been forced to marry he tried to turn their relationship into something good. But it was Eleanor that truly conquered me as a character. She was so passionate, so emotional inside but she kept it all locked up because of her pride and natural reserve. She believed the worst of Randolph and also that he must despise her for being who she was but she never gave up a fight and, in her own words, gave as good as she got.

It was only after she starts relaxing with her family and the tenants of Grenfell Park that we, and Randolph, have the chance to see how warm and affectionate she really was. One of things I like the most in Balogh's earlier titles is how much introspection we have, we know what the characters are thinking and feeling and we know why they do and say the things they do. Randolph and Eleanor's feelings do not develop overnight and even after that starts they do still quarrel which leads him to call her, affectionaly, an hedgehog. They will only be entirely honest and open on Christmas Day, when Randolph gives her the present her father had left for her.

I really loved reading about these two and their journey to love which, in the beginning, seems that it will take nothing short of a Christmas Miracle to achieve. My one complaint is a minor one, that so many secondary couples finding love is highly unlikely. But that is certainly a detail in the middle of this lovely, emotional story.

Grade: 5/5

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Bride - Mary Balogh

The Wrong Lady

At six-and-thirty, the very wealthy Edgar Downes had finally decided to take a bride. Although not to the manor born, Edgar had promised his aging father that he would wed a titled lady by Christmas. Edgar came to London to review a parade of eligible misses, all of them pretty, proper, and young enough to bear him a son. But it was the widow Lady Helena Stapleton, in a shocking red dress, who captured his undivided attention. He simply could not take his eyes from her. And as for Helena, she too felt a most disturbing frisson when she saw this seductive stranger.

An irresistible passion was soon sweeping them into a scandalous liaison. Marriage, of course, would never do. Helena was too old and altogether the wrong lady to marry; Helena thought Edgar simply not in her class. But in a season of unexpected miracles, something wondrous was about to happen... something that would change their minds and transform their hearts forever....

Is there anything better than to read one of Balogh's Christmas romances at Christmas time? I think not and this year the first one I read was A Christmas Bride

Lady Helena Stapleton was introduced in a previous book, A Precious Jewel, where she was the villain. Even if you haven't read that book Helena is not exactly a nice character when this story starts. She is cynical, bitter and doesn't trust anyone. She also doesn't seem to feel good about who she is.

Edgar Downes is the heir of a merchant family. His sister, Cora, married the younger son of a duke and he knows he is only received in polite society because of that connection. At thirty-six is father is urging him to marry and give him grandchildren and Edgar decides to spend a season in London looking for a bride.

When he and Helena see each other the attraction is there and Helena decides it's high time she takes a lover. That evening she manipulates Edgar to take her home and they do sleep together but her cold manner makes him leave without plans of seeing her again. In fact he starts to court another young lady but his natural kindness and moral values lead him to inquire about Helena's well being and when it is apparent that she is pregnant he feels that there is no alternative but to marry. Since the Christmas season is just starting and they were already planning a party at the Downes country home a Christmas wedding is decided.

It is not in every book that we see a heroine as tortured as Helena. She feels the need to punish herself for a past behaviour and she does that at every turn. Even wounding others so they don't get close to her. With Edgar however she is unable to that. Edgar is a wonderful hero, once he sets his course of action he is determined that he will do his best to have a good marriage. He tries to find a way to breach Helena's defenses and eventually he manages just that and learns what she did in the past.

I really enjoyed their interaction during those days after the wedding. With family and friends in attendance, Helena starts opening up a bit and Edgar feels he might have a chance to heal her if he manages to bring her together with those she hurt and especially if he gets her to forgive herself. Since this is the season for family, good will and forgiveness I thought this was the perfect theme for a Christmas story. Just lovely!

Grade: 4.5/5

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mally - Sandra Heath

Mally came to her girlhood castle home in Wales to discover what should become of her as a woman.

With her was Sir Christopher Carlyon. who begged her to be his wife and whose passion was devilishly hard to deny. Missing was her younger sister. Who had vanished with - of all disreputable types of gentlemen - an American.

And making her feel both all-too-comfortable and increasingly uneasy was her extraordinarily charming host. Richard Vallender. who claimed to be Christopher's most loyal friend even as he drew closer and closer to Mally.

The questions of the heart and the seductive lies of love- twin puzzles for a young woman who found that all that was once so safe and familiar was now so menacing and strange....
I am, slowly, getting to the bottom of the TBR pile and this time I found another Sandra Heath book. I have loved a couple of her books and been less sure of other. This one, unfortunately, falls in the second category.

Mally is a young widow, she has a beau in Sir Christopher Carlyon but she doesn't seem much interested in him. At the moment she is more worried with her younger sister who has disappeared and she fears she went away to marry someone her family wouldn't approve of.

My main problem is that I never felt I actually knew Mally and what I did know of her wasn't very interesting. I couldn't understand why she kept Carlyon around if she didn't want him; it seemed kinder than leading him on. I didn't feel like I really got to know Carlyon, by the way, but he seemed a lot more involved with her than she was with him.

Then the mystery did get me a bit, or lot actually, confused. First Mally's sister had run away to marry, then it seemed something darker was afoot.. When she meets Vallender she first believes he may be the villain who took her sister or at least know what happened to her and when they all find themselves at his castle she can't help but being attracted to him despite everything.

I suppose the idea is to introduce a bit of a gothic feel in the story - mysterious man, mysterious castle but maybe because I wasn't really invested in Mally as a character it didn't really work for me.

Grade: 2/5



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