Monday, January 27, 2014

What I've Read This Weekend

What I've Read This Weekend. . .

Brownies and Broomsticks: A Magical Bakery Mystery by Bailey Cates -- Cozy Mystery

Katie Lightfoot is starting over in Savannah. Her fiance unceremoniously dumped her and broke her heart and she needed to get away from her small town. The timing was right since her Uncle Ben has retired and Aunt Lucy is opening a bakery. With a degree in pastry art and three years at a dead-end management job she's a natural choice for head baker. Katie loves Savannah and her new home. She likes her aunt's quirky book club friends and the adorable black Cairn Terrier puppy who seems to have adopted her. Then Mavis Templeton, the bitter, cranky head of Savannah's Downtown Business Association threatens to ruin the Honeybee Bakery if they don't cater to her demands. Lucy fears for her aunt and uncle and for her own future. When Mavis ends up dead outside the bakery, Uncle Ben is the prime suspect. Lucy calls in her book club ladies and reveals that they're actually a spellbook club, as in a coven of witches! Not only is Lucy a witch but Katie is too, and a powerful one. Katie is shocked that her parents never told her of her heritage. She's not even sure she wants to believe it. What she does believe in is cold, hard evidence and she's determined to find out who murdered Mavis and clear her uncle's name. She runs afoul of Detective Quinn, the officer in charge of the case and promptly ignores her promise not to go sleuthing on her own. With some help from the handsome, cocky reporter Steve and hunky firefighter Declan, Mungo the Cairn, plus some magic, Katie thinks she can crack this case.

This is a charming cozy mystery. I like the local color of Savannah and can easily picture it in my mind though I've never been there. I adore bakeries and the Honeybee sounds like heaven on earth! The mystery kept me interested enough but not breathless to find out who the murderer was. I actually guessed pretty early on but I had my doubts when I mistrusted another character. There's really no way to guess without knowing the motive though so it's a good, solid mystery. The reveal is kind of flat and unemotional though. I expected more tension. The magic is a cute addition. It's wiccan or white magic with some occasional bending of the rules. I'm not opposed to the possibility of that sort of magic. I was afraid the story would be too fantasy/paranormal but it's very grounded in reality and I really liked that. Everything is explained in an easy manner that doesn't bog the story down. The romance is kept light and on the fringes of the story. There's chemistry between Katie and both men but not overwhelmingly so. The author knows how to keep it clean and light. I didn't understand how one person could have so much power over an entire city. I suspected there was a reason for that but that sort of ended up being a loose end that wasn't explained. It took the characters a really long time to even think of it. I would think that after years of dealing with bullying, the thought would have occurred to someone in the book club. I also didn't like how Katie kept going off to investigate in dangerous situations. I know that's a hallmark of the cozy mystery but she seemed a little naive and reckless at times.

I liked the characters for the most part. I can relate to Katie's love of animals and baking, and of course her family. I love Aunt Lucy and Uncle Ben. They're so kind and homey. Aunt Lucy is the type of lady you just want to hug you all the time and feed you when you're down. What I didn't like was Katie's inability to stand up for herself. She should have made her credentials clear to Mavis and then she should have stood up to the old bat. I liked what I know about Declan. He seems a good, dependable man if maybe not super bright. I did not like Steve at all! I found him creepy and smarmy. He's almost a sleazy stalker. My favorite character if, of course, Mungo, the Cairn Terrier. He doesn't act much like a real Cairn with the exception of refusing to eat dog food. (Our Cairn always looked at her bowl with the expression "You expect ME to eat this SLOP?") The other realistic thing he does is help Katie by yipping at her. Cairns are very intelligent and bossy. They rule the world and don't hesitate to tell you how stupid you are. Cairns are not small enough to go inside a large tote bag. Even a puppy, except for a very young one, is too heavy. They're short, but sturdy. No Cairn I know would actually rub noses with a cat but I'll allow it because of the magical connection.

I liked the book well enough to want to continue the series. I'd probably just read the books for Mungo and for the recipes even if I didn't like the story!

Friday, January 24, 2014

What I've Read This Week Part I

What I've Read This Week Part I . . .

Spring Awakening (Summerset Abbey, #3)Spring Awakening by T.J. Brown-- Historical fiction/romance

In this third volume of the Summerset Abbey trilogy, the characters are enjoying an idyllic summer in the country. Rowena is still lost in herself. Her engagement to Sebastian has become all to real. Though she's still hurt by Jon's actions, she knows Sebastian will be a good husband and is determined to marry him. Prudence is still dealing with the challenges of wifehood. Her husband's stubborn pride may ruin everything she's worked hard for. Victoria is as determined as ever to be independent and work for a living. She most definately does not want to marry Kit, no matter how many times he asks. When England declares war on Germany, all their lives for change forever. The three women discover their passions, experience heartbreak and learn to love.

This book started weakly and read a lot like Downton Abbey fan fiction. There's an awkward attempt at seduction scene that I skipped right through. It made sense for the character at that time just not at that exact place. At first I thought I knew where the story was headed but halfway through it took a different turn and I was pleasantly surprised. I found myself NOT wanting the book to end the way I originally envisioned it. I liked the way it turned out. It was bittersweet but nicely done and I think more realistic. The plot wraps up very quickly but not very neatly. There are still some loose ends, such as the fact that the story ends in the middle of the war! I also wanted more of Elaine's story. She hints at things and claims she's never going to marry, but never explains why. She tries hard to please her mother without success but doesn't follow her cousins' leads and forge a path for herself. She deserved a plot of her own because I found her more interesting than Rowena and Prudence.

I liked the way the characters developed in this novel. At first I hated Rowena and wanted to slap her but once she has her awakening, she gets better. Prudence continued to annoy me. I wish she had just talked with Andrew instead of worrying and fretting. She tried too hard to please him and I felt like she wasn't doing herself justice. I wanted to see her awaken a bit more since the plot is called Spring Awakening. Instead she continues on the same as always. Victoria's journey is the most interesting to me. There are obvious similarities to Downton Abbey but yet there are differences. In the beginning of the novel she was naive and immature and I had mixed feelings about her. I liked her and found her innocence refreshing yet she still seemed like a little girl playing grown up. She comes of age during a difficult time and rises to the occasion admirably. I liked the way she met her challenges and faced whatever was to come. I did not like how she dealt with her romantic problems at first but it was all part of her character growth.

There are some gory hospital scenes and the aforementioned awkward scene plus hints at what Prudence and Andrew do behind closed doors. I still wouldn't hesitate to give this novel to an older teen. Adults may find it a bit too cliched in spots and not fully fleshed out enough. Still, it was the best of the trilogy and I liked it well enough to give it 3 1/2-4 stars.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What I've Read Recently

What I've Read Recently . . .

Mrs. Jeffries and the Best Laid Plans

The firefighters call in the police when they come to fight a fire and discover a dead body who didn't die as a result of the fire. A crafty killer only wanted it to look that way. Lawrence Boyd, a wealthy industrial banker, philanthropist and amateur artist was not a pleasant man. He seems to have made an enemy of everyone who knew him but was it enough to want him dead? Why did someone want him dead is the big question. Everyone seems to be a suspect but who really had the motivation? The Inspector's servants and friends must be careful in their investigation for Inspector Nivens is hot on their heels and determined to bring down their beloved Inspector. Betsy and Smythe are getting closer to the big day. Betsy is fretting about wedding plans and Mrs. Jeffries and Mrs. Goodge are dong their best to help destress her. Then a mysterious visitor from someone's past arrives to shake up life in Upper Edmonton Gardens. Will anything ever be the same again?

The mystery was very difficult to figure out. There were really too many suspects in the plot and I lost track of who was who. I guessed something might be a clue but I didn't figure out "whodunnit" until the murderer slipped up. It seemed like a very strange and insignificant reason for murder. There were some really nice details in this book about period fashion and weddings which I really liked. The story ends in a cliffhanger with a major character departing! I can't wait to find out what happens next.

Mrs. Jeffries &The Feast of St. Stephen

Sir Stephen Whitfield gathers his closest acquaintances for a special holiday dinner and a big announcement. Before he can make his announcement, he drops dead into the soup. Naturally his guests assume he had a heart attack but Dr. Bosworth, summoned from his lodgings across the street, feels otherwise. Indeed there is evidence of poison in Sir Stephen's wine. Since Basil and Maria Farringdon gifted the wine to Sir Stephen, they should automatically be the chief suspects, but Inspector Witherspoon doesn't like to jump to conclusions. Mrs. Jeffries and the staff are looking forward to solving the mystery before Christmas which the Home Office says is the deadline. With Smythe back from Australia the staff are ready to investigate. Betsy is glad for the distraction from her pain and humiliation. She still loves Smythe but she isn't sure she can ever forgive him for leaving her. Can the staff solve the mystery before someone else is given the case? Will Betsy and Smythe ever get back together?

This is a very complicated mystery. I picked up on clues but couldn't put them together properly. Nothing made sense to Mrs. Jeffries, the Inspector or to me. It seems that anyone could be a suspect because as usual, Sir Stephen didn't have a lot of people who liked him. There are some complicated details in this story I didn't really understand, not to mention the fact that I don't know anything about wine. I did pick up on Maria Farringdon's trick. My dad does that sometimes LOL! There aren't a whole lot of specific period details. They're more subtle such as social etiquette and legal matters.The personal relationship stuff was irritating. I like nice, neat happy endings and I didn't think Betsy was fair to Smythe. I do get where she's coming from given her past history and I understand what he was thinking as a man. I wish they'd stop squabbling but as Shakespeare once said "The course of true love never did run smooth." Some backstory for some of the characters is revealed a bit more which I liked. Also, the Inspector's character is developed more. He's not quite so dim witted, he just needs to learn to trust himself. I like watching him develop and come into his own, especially when dealing with Inspector Nivens. There's not a lot of humor in this story but I liked it anyway. 

Mrs. Jeffries Holds the Trump

Dr. Bosworth is shocked to discover the body delivered for a postmortem was someone he knew, a medical supply company owner named Michael Provost. The man didn't have any family and as far as Dr. Bosworth knows, he lived simply and didn't have any reason to fall into or throw himself into the river. When Dr. Bosworth discovers evidence of murder, he meets with resistance from the police force. (One guess as to who was in charge that day). The good doctor turns to Mrs. Jeffries for help but they needn't worry because Mr. Provost's housekeeper also believes foul play was involved and got Provost's solicitor to convince the police to open a murder investigation. The investigation isn't easy because Michael Provost didn't have any heirs and everyone loved him. He belonged to a club but only to play whist and no one there seems to have known him well. The housekeeper believes that her employer got himself killed because he was playing amateur detective like Sherlock Homes. He was searching for his missing friend Ernie Grigson. Mrs. Jeffries is convinced if they figure out what happened to Grigson, they can determine who killed Provost. The case hinges on some crucial evidence that's gone missing. Can Inspector Witherspoon find the evidence and solve this case? Will Mrs. Jeffries figure it out without the missing evidence? Meanwhile, Smythe is dying to marry Betsy but she's still not in a forgiving mood. He's trying to give her some space but "blast a Spaniard" he loves her and can't live without her.

This is a very complicated mystery. There weren't any obvious clues dropped anywhere that I picked up on. The servants all did an excellent job with their investigation yet it seemed like this case might go unsolved until the very end. I commend the author for coming up with another unique plot. Inspector Witherspoon is back to being dimwitted but I liked the way he handled himself with Nivens. It was very classy and gave me more respect for him. I felt sorry for the servants when they discover that the victim was an amateur sleuth and popular opinion is against the idea. They're good at what they do because they know who to talk to and how to get information out of people in a way the police don't. That's what's so special about them and their investigations. There's some lighthearted moments especially when Luty Belle and Hatchet are fighting as usual. There's even a bit of romance as the couples come closer to being together. The period details are subtle and show how things have changed for the lower classes and women in the last 50 years. However, the author is looking back from a modern American standpoint and that makes the story just a tiny bit preachy though in a good way. I like how Mrs. Goodge is the representative of the older generation and her character growth parallels what was happening nationally at that time. This is one of the better mysteries in the series. It works as a standalone but it's better if you read the last few in order so you know the characters and what's been happening with them. I can't stop reading this series because I feel so invested in the characters and their lives. If you love the downstairs characters in Downton Abbey you will love this series. 

Mrs. Jeffries in the Nick of Time

Francis Humphreys, an elderly train enthusiast, gathered his family and friends for tea,  then failed to come downstairs. The family believed he was merely becoming senile until they heart a gun shot. There was no doubt about the fact that Francis Humphreys was dead. Who could have shot him while everyone was downstairs? Inspector Witherspoon is placed on the case despite being out of his district. Constable Barnes is reassigned when Inspector Nivens' young nephew uses his political connections to tag along. Constable Gates proves a big trial for Inspector Witherspoon. Will he ever get this case solved with that pompous young pup tagging along? Mrs. Jeffries is puzzled by this case. There seems to have been plenty of motive:  wealthy, elderly man with a parcel of impoverished relatives relying on his money - they've seen that before but this case is complicated by the fact that the money came from the late Mrs. Humphreys, an American heiress and there is some dispute over the division of the estate. Lady Cannonberry rushed home to help. Will her gossipy acquaintances provide the key? Will Mrs. Jeffries figure it out without help from Constable Barnes? Smythe and Betsy have finally set a date for their wedding, so something is going right at least. Smythe wants to give Betsy the one thing her heart desires and for that he needs some help from Blimpey and plenty of money. He'd not see Betsy hurt for the world and pleasing her means everything to him. Can he find what she needs in time for the wedding? 

This mystery is complicated yet I figured it out before Mrs. Jeffries. I suspected some things in the beginning but I was off a bit. I also suspected someone from their words and actions early on but it didn't seem possible. Once Inspector Witherspoon learns the pertinent information, he begins to suspect what I immediately figured out. There's a sweet romantic subplot between Smythe and Betsy and hints that the Inspector and Lady Cannonberry are becoming closer. She cares about him very much and that's obvious by her actions rather than being spelled out. The author knows how to keep it subtle, simple and sweet. The story ends with a bit of a cliffhanger which I did not like. I especially like the characters in this series. They're like family to me now. I love how fleshed out the characters have become. Inspector Witherspoon is still sweet and innocent but he shows that he won't allow himself to be walked all over. He reveals his reasons for being so patient and kind by quoting Scriptures. This I did not like but the Golden Rule is a good one to live by. I also liked seeing another side to Nivens. It makes him more realistic and less of a stock character. It was good to introduce a new character to shake things up a bit and keep the series from going stale. Gates is super annoying. He's pompous, rude and spoiled. He makes a great foil for Witherspoon. This book is another great entry into this series.

Monday, January 20, 2014

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

The Best Man (Blue Heron #1) The Best Man by Kristan Higgins -- Contemporary Romance

Faith had the perfect life with the perfect man. They were going to get married, raise beautiful babies and grapes on his family's vineyard next to her family. Then Jeremy left Faith at the altar and her world crumbled. She moved to San Francisco and became a landscape architect but still has problems in the love department. Now she's come back home to New York to visit and work on a special project. She has to deal with her emotions in seeing Jeremy again and not only that, his best friend Liam is back after four tours in Afghanistan. Liam is the only person who never really liked Faith and the feeling is mutual since he was the one who encouraged Jeremy to call of the wedding. Liam and Jeremy were close since high school when Jeremy and his family moved to town. Jeremy is the only person who didn't treat Liam different for being from the wrong side of the hill. Liam has had a tough life and has built up an emotional wall around himself. Now Princess Perfect is back in town and for some reason she seems to hate him. Too bad because Liam is tempted by her luscious figure. Faith doesn't have any interest in Liam but he sure is sexy. What would it be like if he took the stick out of his ass long enough to... no that's not even a possibility because Liam would never be interested in a relationship. Faith has enough to deal with anyway. In addition to work, she has to find a new wife for her dad, listen to her grandparents squabble and her sister's bizarre marital problems not to mention keep her dog happy by throwing his tennis ball constantly. Faith discovers a new side of Liam when a health crisis causes him to come to her rescue. Maybe, just maybe they can be friends after all.

This story is another disappointment from a great writer. The premise is really interesting but it wasn't executed the way I would have liked. First, there's way too much exposition. The heroine's backstory with her former fiance takes up a good chunk of the novel. I guessed right away why the wedding was called off. There's too much time spent on her life with him and it slows down the plot. Then there's Liam's backstory for another large portion of the novel. Too much of the plot centers on Faith's family problems, especially her sister's bedroom problems. They provide a lot of comic relief but it prevents the romance from really getting a good start. Faith and Liam lust after each other the whole book. I didn't like the love scene being where it was. I would have preferred actual emotional connection beforehand. There's very little emotional sharing on Levi's part. I get why he is the way he is but part of the idea of a love story is to make the characters and the reader fall in love. I certainly didn't love Liam but I could see his good qualities. I really wish he talked to Faith though. It would have made me like him more. Faith's emotional reveal made me cry a little bit. It helped me like her a little bit more because mostly I found her annoying. She tries too hard to please everyone and she is emotionally immature. I thought she was much younger than she really is. She doesn't act 30. Kristan Higgins excels at creating dysfunctional families and while I liked Faith's family, I felt that they were a bit stale after reading almost all of Higgins' previous books.

While the book has some light touches, the humor is largely crude. Some of the characters have been reading 50 Shades of Gray and announce their darkest desires publicly. If I wanted to read 50 Shades of Gray, I would but I don't and I don't appreciate another author sticking that into her plot. I get that this is a Harlequin romance and there has to be sexiness and love scenes but it didn't need 50 Shades references. There's such a thing as TOO much sharing. It was funny but didn't appeal to me. There's also some crude, offensive language used as humor that's just not funny.

I would give this book 2- 21/2 stars. I will probably read Honor's book next because she is a character I can relate to better and the library has a copy but I'll get to it when I'm out of TBR books again.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What I've Read This Week Part II

What I've Read This Week Part II . . .

Miss Lacey's Last Fling by Candice Hern -- Regency Romance

Miss Rosalind Lacey has been the family rock since her mother's death over ten years ago. Now at six-and-twenty, she fears she has contracted the mysterious illness which killed her mother. Rosalind decides she wants to really live her life for a change and heads off to London to stay with her notorious Aunt Fanny. Max Devanant is a wicked rake. He's been there, done that and is well and truly bored with his life. A friend of his recently committed suicide out of sheer ennui. Max thinks this might be a solution to his boredom, but first he'll see what the Season has to offer. The Season does NOT have a beauty in Miss Lacey. She's a brown country mouse, or so Max thinks. The first thing Rosie does after settling in is get a makeover and then London rakes can't get enough of her. Max wants nothing to do with Miss Lacey yet he can't help but worry because Rosie is headed for trouble if she doesn't know what she's doing. He can't decide if she's a minx or an innocent. What does it matter for he isn't interested anyway, or is he? As Rosie cuts a dash through the ton, her headaches return and she fears the worst. She's determined to cross off all the items on her list but the one thing she wants she can't have.

Rosalind is a complex character. I kind of liked her and felt sympathetic yet she seemed very stupid at times. She has had many burdens to bear in her life and it's her Papa's fault for not taking care of his family. She's mature but yet she's not. She doesn't want to listen to anyone except herself, especially regarding her health. I have mixed feelings about her behavior. While I can certainly see myself wanting to act like that, I don't think I would even if I thought I was dying. Rosie acts really crazy and goes too far at times. Even if she doesn't have to face the consequences, there's still her family to consider. When she's faced with shocking news, she runs away rather than faces the consequences. She acts stupid in the end and can't face her insecurities. I didn't like that about her. She falls in love for no real reason. Max isn't a well developed character. He's a rake because he has nothing else to do. He can't live up to his family expectations so he stopped trying. He's charmed by Rosie's behavior and enjoys helping her misbehave. I can see why he would enjoy being with someone like that but falling in love, I'm not sure. He comes across as a disgusting pig for the first half of the novel. I usually like a good rake story but Max was too much for me and I didn't really care for him.

Right from the beginning of the novel I guessed what was going to happen. I wasn't surprised by anything. I expected more from this book. There was very little real emotional connection between the hero and heroine. There is a love scene (if I were Rosie, I would have done that same thing), yet I thought there would be more showing of the emotional coming together of the two characters. I wanted to see not just be told that they loved each other. I had also hoped that by that time Rosie would have confided in Max which would have made the scene more tender and sweet. The ending drags on too long after the misunderstanding. The epilogue is pointless. I would have liked an epilogue showing Rosie at the end of her life and having Max go on and care for their children, unlike her Papa, if there had to be an epilogue at all.

This isn't my least favorite Regency but it just didn't strike my fancy. 

The Mad HerringtonsThe Mad Herringtons by Jane Myers Perrine -- Regency Romance

Aphrodite Herrington is the only sane member of her mad family - all 15 of them. Her parents are madly in love with 13 children determined to shock and scandalize Society with their passions. Her younger sister Athena kisses the most unsuitable men and will end up in trouble if she's not taken in hand. Older sister Terpsichore has set herself up in her own establishment, hosts literary saloons and wears the most revealing clothing possible. Clearly something needs to be done about the mad Herringtons and Aphrodite sees herself as the responsible one who will keep her family out of trouble. Yet, when the opportunity arises to make a comfortable match with Mr. Frederick Horne, she seriously considers it. She's invited, along with her parents, to a small house party at Mr. Horne's estate to meet his mother. The senior Herringtons are unable to attend so Aphroditie must take her sisters along. Adphrodite looks forward to getting to know Mrs. Horne and Frederick's extended family, but she doesn't count on one of the guests being Thomas, Viscount Warwick, the rake who kissed her and dismissed her two years ago. Warwick is the head of the family and he takes a close personal interest in Aphrodite. A little too close if you ask her for she's in danger of succumbing to her passions once again. She's can't give in because she has to control her older sister who is flirting outrageously with every man and snubbing her former beau Callum McReynolds. She must also deal with her younger brother Aski, who is down from Cambridge on a lark. When Terpi proposes they perform A Midsummer Night's Dream, little do they except that Shakespeare could have such a powerful affect on them and change their lives forever.

At first I didn't like this book very much. The characters are beyond the pale. There's no way they would be accepted into Polite Society, especially not Almack's. The characters have the most ridiculous unpronounceable names and it's difficult to keep track of who is who because they names are so similar. Every piece of clothing, decoration and furniture is described in minute detail. I love period detail but dropping it into the narrative is not the way to do it. The dialogue was stilted with every word of every conversation written down. The "Come ins" and "Thank yous" were repetitive and pointless.

Then, when the characters move to the house party, the story improves. The story becomes an amusing romp with a carousel of characters in the midst of romantic entanglements. It's obviously who will end up with who but getting there is actually fun. I liked the play within the story and how it served to bring the characters together the way they should be. You can always trust Shakespeare to know what's what. The ending is rather rushed and I would have liked a few more chapters to really bring the central romance to a close. The beginning could be tightened a lot to make room for the conclusion.

I disliked most of the characters though. I thought Terpi was irritating and I didn't understand her actions. I disliked Athena but she's not very bright so I can't hate her too much. Frederick is the worst. I hate Mama's boys. The ghastly mother-in-law from Hell was a genius creation of a crazy author. She is pure comic genius and is a character readers will love to hate. I really liked Aphrodite and could relate to her, being the only sane member in an insane family. I could easily see myself saying and doing everything she does even through the end. I liked the message she ultimately comes away with in the end. As a fiery, passionate (half) Italian, I appreciate the balance between level-headedness and passion. It's basically the same message as in Sense and Sensibility. Her romance could be developed a little more. I easily see why she loves who she loves. He reveals himself to be someone trustworthy, steady and reliable plus loving and passionate. I just didn't see what he saw in Aphrodite and felt that their relationship could have been more than about passion.

This is a light, fluffy read for readers of all ages. Though the story is about finding a balance between passion and reason, the passion doesn't get beyond kissing and a bit of tingling. I'd give it 2.5 stars because it wasn't as well written as I would like and was too fluffy for me.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What I've Read This Week Part I

What I've Read This Week Part I . . .

A Devilish Dilemma by Judith A. Lansdowne -- Regency Romance

Miss Minerva Potts is a singularly unremarkable young lady but that doesn't mean she has to put up with her future husband burying her in the country while he carouses in London. So Mina calls off the engagement with Lord Whithall and runs out of a party and into the streets where she's rescued by a handsome, charming young gentleman, the Devil's Delight himself, the Earl of Rossland. Chadwick Brumfield has the worst reputation in London. He's known as the Devil's Delight because everything he does is sure to please the devil. Rossland has been accused of all manner of perfidy such as being a rake, a libertine and even murdering his own father, brother and young nephew. There are few who stand behind him but Chad doesn't mind for the rumors distract from his real purpose: to seek out his nephew whom Chad believes has been kidnapped. Chad thinks Mina is the perfect choice to aid him in his quest for who would suspect such a biddable young girl to be involved in such intrigue? The more Mina speaks with Chad, the more certain she is that his reputation is based solely on the gossip of the ton. Even her formidable, high stickler Aunt Letitia doesn't believe half of what she hears. She's known Chad since he was in leading strings and while he's always been mischievous, he has a big heart. Chad's interest in Mina  fuels the gossip mill again and encourages other gentlemen to try for Mina's hand. She's determined to marry for comfort, convenience and prestige. She'll never lose her heart again. Chad's big heart gets him into more than one scrape but Mina finds she's game for anything, perhaps even another chance at love. As he uncovers the truth about his family, he discovers his young nephew is a pawn in a much larger plot. Chad would do anything for his family, even lay down his life.

This story is sort of a hybrid of a traditional Regency and a normal Regency romance. There's danger, drama, mystery, heartache, romance and moments of comedy. The suspenseful plot kept me reading way too late. Even though some of the story is told from the villains' points-of-view, I couldn't wait to see how it would all turn out. I was pleasantly surprised that the author stayed away from over-used plot tropes and came up with something far better. She shows a different side to Regency era women. I loved the final confrontation sequence. I also liked the comedic bits thrown in to lighten the story. The dog, Wicky, is more adorable than the boy who I found annoying. I especially loved Chad's sense of humor and the jokes shared with Mina.

The story also deals with darker elements of Regency life. There's a fair amount of violence in this novel and mentions of violence and murder. The hero has been to war and nearly died of his wounds. There's a character who is in a child-like state due to terrible tragedies in their life. There's also a scene in a brothel (nothing of the usual sort happens) where a villain likes underage girls.

The romance itself is clean. There are a couple of sweet kisses but the hero and heroine are never allowed to be alone alone. They're allowed to be alone together in a room with chaperones but never on their own which is correct according to the rules of the day. I like the way the romance develops because of the situations the characters are in and Mina's Aunt Letty caring for her reputation. The characters get to truly know each other. Mina discovers the man beneath the terrible rumors and falls in love with that man. I can easily see the reader doing so as well because I nearly lost my heart to him.  Even Aunt Letty has a soft spot for him. (I infer that she may have been in love with his father in her younger days.) Mina grows a lot and that allows the romance to develop in a reasonable manner. At first she's merely pretty and charmingly innocent but she comes to know herself and her own heart. She turns into someone perfectly compatible with Chad. As they come together to save Chad's nephew, they get to know each other and understand each other.

This is my first full-length novel by Judith Lansdowne and I enjoyed it very much. She's very skilled at creating a Regency world that actually existed and making memorable characters who share a meeting of the minds.

Monday, January 13, 2014

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend  . . .

A Bride for Christmas by Aileen Fish -- Regency Romance novella

Nash Sinclair is home from war and home for the holidays. He adores his family and enjoys visiting with his nephews but he feels a bit lost, like something is missing. Perhaps it's time to find a wife. Doing so is easy but having a happy marriage such as his parents and siblings enjoy is not so easy. He begins by practicing his charm on his sister-in-law's sister Lady Julianna. Lady Julianna is immune to flattery though Nash claims he's just being friendly. She has no interested in men or marriage. She is happy living in the country caring for her ill aunt. When her aunt dies she'll travel and write about her adventures. There's no room for love in her life and so she tells Nash the only man she could ever love is one who will slay dragons for her. She thinks that will put him off but she doesn't count on Nash's stubbornness. He sets out to slay Julianna's dragons and convince her they truly belong together. For that he needs some help from his irrepressible young nephews and adorable young niece.

I just adored this story! I loved the characters so much! The Sinclairs are an awesome family. They remind me a lot of the Musgroves in Persuasion. They're so loving and caring and an all around NICE family. It makes a change to have a hero from a loving family. It makes the romance seem more genuine because he knows what a happy marriage looks like and actually wants what his siblings have instead of being blindsided. He also knows the heroine in advance because her sister is married to his brother, yet he's never properly appreciated her because he's been at war and not searching for a bride. Nash is a great hero. He's handsome, caring, a wounded war veteran and very witty. I was completely charmed by his sense of humor and I loved his interactions with his family. It all felt so real and so familiar to me. Julianna is a heroine I can really really relate to. Like her, I have no desire to marry or have a family. I'd rather travel and write like her. She thinks she's selfish and I'm selfish that way too. Like Nash and Julianna, I crave solitude from my crazy, loud, loving family. The romance comes together in such an incredible way. I just adored the moment when they realize they're in love. It's a true LOVE scene, no physical contact, no racing hormones, just a deep emotional connection. The hero and heroine get each other completely. I also loved that she had doubts. She didn't doubt her love for Nash but she doubted whether she was cut out for marriage. I can see myself feeling exactly the same way in the same situation. I loved how Nash won her over. It's very sweet. Julianna's final decision happened a bit too quickly for me but this is a novella and not a novel so I guess the author ran out of space. I'm not usually a big fan of children in novels (or in real life) but they're used sparingly here and help to advance the story in a charming sort of way. 

I can't gush enough about the aww factor of this book. If you're looking for something truly sweet and heartwarming you MUST read this story. It's secular too so that's a nice bonus.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

What I've Read This Week Part I

What I've Read This Week Part I . . .

Memoirs of a Hoyden by Joan Smith -- Traditional Regency Romance

Miss Marion Mathieson has traveled extensively in the Orient. She's survived all manner of conditions with her dignity and virtue in tact, however, now she is back in England to promote her memoir, people seem to think she's scandalous for traveling without a female companion! Marion isn't one to care about what others think but sometimes her secretary poses as her nephew to protect her reputation. On the way to Canterbury to give a lecture, the coach Marion and Ronald are traveling in picks up a gentleman passenger after his carriage breaks down. Then a curious thing happens: highwaymen hold up the carriage in a rainstorm, search Lord Kestral and don't seem to notice that Marion's reticule is inside the coach. Furthermore, they were speaking French! First Marion must direct the other passengers to safety and tell them how to survive in the freezing cold cottage. Then, when all is quiet, she has a chance to confront Lord Kestral about her suspicions. He confesses he's a courier for the government and the letter that was stolen contained important information that if delivered to the French will ensure Bonaparte's invasion. Marion invites herself and Randal along on Kestral's mission to find the French highwaymen and his letter. For some reason, Lord Kestral has a problem with Marion, her adventures and her authoritative nature. He even tries to lose her several times. Marion isn't one to be left out of an adventure though, especially not one with such a handsome man... not that she's interested in him, of course... 

This story is more of a traditional Regency in the style of Georgette Heyer's The Talisman Ring with the mystery/adventure forming the primary plot and the romance the second. The adventure was a lot of fun though I figured out the clues easily. The plot lends itself to further adventures with the hero and heroine. The adventure drags on too long and then the romance comes in at the end. It makes the book feel longer than it is. I would have cut it off a bit sooner. As fun as the adventure is, I just didn't like the characters. I wanted to like Marion because she's in her 30s, uninterested in marriage, writes novels and loves to travel, but I found her really really annoying. Her constant anecdotes about her travels are irritating and come across as bragging. They sound impossible to those who weren't there and I would agree. I wasn't sure she had actually done all the things she said she had but it seems that she did. I thought her adventures seemed impossible for a lady of her time but she's apparently based on Lady Hester Stanhope, who actually did have some of the adventures ascribed to Marion in the novel! She comes to recognize her annoying behavior, but her strong will and bossiness were a bit too strong to make her fully likeable, though I KNOW I'm exactly the same way!! She is so determined to be right but she makes big mistakes and doesn't trust Kestral even though Lord Castlereagh obviously does.  Kestral is an alpha hero. We're told he's a Corinthian and I love Corinthian heroes but not Kestral. He's way too alpha for me. He disapproves of Marion right away and fights for control wherever they go. He softens a bit and I began to feel bad for him because Marion continued to be rude to him. He grows and changes a bit but I'm not sure he could really ever accept Marion's adventurous nature. Since the story is first person limited (Marion), we don't know that much about Kestral. We don't even know his given name until almost the end. I didn't find all his alpha manliness and authoritativeness attractive and I didn't really feel the romance between them. I actually liked Randal better, barring his infatuation with a beautiful face, he's a fun sidekick. He's ready for any adventure and he finds Marion amusing and fun to be with. He lets her ride all over him but when he wants something, he's not afraid to speak his mind or try to knock her ego down a bit. I wasn't super crazy about this novel. It just was too outlandish and the characters too unappealing for my taste. There were some typos/wrong spellings in this print book. It could have used  a better editor. If there are other books about the same characters though, I would definitely read them just to find out how the hero and heroine handle married life and whether they have stubborn children!

Mrs. Jeffries Appeals the Verdict by Emily Brightwell -- Victorian Mystery

Bimpey Groggins turns the tables on Smythe and comes to Upper Edmonton Gardens for help. A young pickpocket is sentenced to hang for a murder he swears he didn't commit. Blimpey believes the lad and wants to see justice done. Mrs. Jeffries and the staff want justice but if they fail to convince the authorities, then the lad will hang anyway. The staff decides to investigate because they owe it to themselves, the convinced boy and those who believe in them to see justice done. This is going to be a tricky case without their beloved Inspector involved. Finding suspects is going to be difficult. Mrs. Moran, a wealthy businesswoman, was beloved by everyone. There was no one on the dark street that night who could have seen what happened. Her husband was with her when she was murdered but coshed on the head so he isn't a witness or a suspect. The police believe the murder was simply a robbery gone wrong. Constable Barnes thinks otherwise, especially once he discovers Inspector Nivens was on the case. Would the man be so obsessed with self-promotion that he would lie about conducting a shoddy investigation? How to convince dear Inspector Witherspoon to get the Chief Inspector to reopen the case? This mystery is unusual because it doesn't begin with the murder. It's very hard to solve the mystery without seeing the murder happen. I find the stories more engaging when the murder happens on page yet easier to solve. I'm not sure which way is better but I like that the author shakes things up a bit. This mystery was so completely different from any other case. It was refreshing to have something difficult and to have the extra added complication of the inner workings of Scotland Yard at work. There were some great period details in this novel, especially right at the very beginning. The author seamlessly worked in details that set the period without hitting the reader over the head. The cast of characters shines as usual. I liked seeing a different role for Blimpey. He's a fun character. Wiggins is growing up and changing a bit too and I liked seeing him take on more responsibility instead of bumbling around. I also liked seeing Inspector Witherspoon become more aware of what's happening in the police force. He's still clueless and naive, just the way he's supposed to be, but he's not so completely innocent anymore. This is another good entry in the series. My only wish is that the books came with recipes because I would love to have one of Mrs. Goodge's treats with a "cuppa." 

Monday, January 6, 2014

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Springtime Pleasures (A Love for every Season) by Sandra Schwab -- Regency Historical Romance

Carlotta Stanton and her friend Emma-Lee have just finished at St. Cuthbert's Academy for Young Ladies, a most exceptional school where they learn to hunt wild boards and make the best of all possible worlds. Along the way to London they are beset by highwaymen which shocks Charlie greatly. She can't believe that such a thing would happen in England, yet Charlie is looking forward to living in London and experiencing all the excitement the metropolis has to offer. She finds London difficult to understand. First, she isn't allowed to associate with Emma-Lee because of Emma-Le''s background in Trade. Then, Charlie is deemed too tall to be fashionable and the topics of conversation she enjoys, like fishing and wild boards, are not considered suitable for young ladies. Charlie writes to her friend Emma-Lee of her difficulties and her friend writes back words of encouragement and advice along with her own trials of being forced to entertain the most boring suitors. Then Charlie makes a new friend, Lady Isabella, a young lady confined to a wheeled chair. The two girls become fast friends as Isabella helps Charlie navigate the social waters. Isabella's older brother,
George Augustus Griffin, Viscount Chanderley, is also in Town for the Season. He has been given orders by his very proper father to find a suitable bride and NOT disgrace or disappoint the family. The Earl will never forgive Chanderley for the carriage accident that killed the heir and crippled Isabella. As a result of his father's disapproval, Chaderley feels responsible for the accident and weighted down by the expectations placed upon him. When he meets his sister's new friend, he discovers an unusual young lady with mesmerizing green eyes. Charlie takes an interest in her friend's brother and is determined to prove to him that he's not the scapegrace his parents believe he is. Charlie brings the joy back to Chanderley's life, but how can he marry her when she's not what his parents expect of a future Countess? Neither can he take her innocence, no matter how tempting she is or how willing. 

This story was simply preposterous. First, the author acknowledges that there were no highwaymen or wild boards in England in 1817 so I assumed this was a parody of sorts, perhaps a female Candide,  so I went along with it. I loved Charlie at first. She's awkward and funny and always putting her foot in her mouth. She's admirable because she's true to herself and doesn't let anyone change her. Halfway through I stopped liking her. She seemed to change from naive, innocent girl to worldly woman and then back to naive girl again. I didn't like the worldly Charlie. It didn't suit her character. I liked Chanderley at first because like Charlie, I felt bad for him. He didn't deserve all the censure heaped on him by his disapproving parents. His character is a bit underdeveloped though. Other than his tragic past, his kindness and his physical attributes I don't feel we know that much about him.
By the end of the book, I felt Chanderley should have solved his problem himself and stood up for himself and the woman he loves. Charlie is attracted to him for first his physical attributes and then his kindness but she doesn't know any men other than her uncle and the few so-called gentlemen she has danced with. It seemed like a stronger connection on Chanderley's side than on Charlie's. There are some make-out scenes and one graphic love scene which I skipped. I hate that sort of thing when it doesn't make sense for the characters. Charlie doesn't know what a Courtesan is but she suddenly becomes all worldly three-quarters of the way through the novel. She chooses to give up her innocence when it was very risky to do so. Though I suppose we're to believe that it wouldn't matter if she had an illegitimate child because of her decision of what to do with her life. It didn't make sense for the characters. Chanderley is trying hard to live up to his parents' expectations and allowing a girl to seduce him isn't going to help.

The supporting characters in this novel are well developed. Isabella grows and becomes more self-confident. I really liked her and her story. I didn't believe her mother would allow her out with Charlie though, or even out without her companion. That didn't ring true to me. Apparently her mother isn't chaperoning her to social events either or paying attention which doesn't make sense for such a controlling family but I liked Isabella's subplot enough to attempt to overlook the inaccuracies. I also really liked Boo. I liked him better than Chaderley. He's sweet, kind and caring. He stands up for his family no matter what and tries to help his cousin work through his issues. I thought he needed more of a subplot. The "Crocodile" turned out to be an interesting character. There's not much about her when she first appears randomly on the scene and I would have liked more backstory like why they call her the Crocodile and why she's so formidable. When her backstory finally comes out it reveals a seedier side of Regency life not many people know about. It's quite shocking and possibly the most realistic thing about the novel. I enjoyed her character and wished she appeared in the story sooner.

Now, for why I really didn't like this story. In the author's note she acknowledges that she wrote the book first and then did research and discovered that wild boards had been hunted to extinction in the Middle Ages and the law had cracked down on highwaymen. I don't understand how one can write a novel that way and PUBLISH it! The author also seems to have a cursory knowledge of Regency Society and how it works. She knows the social rules well enough but not forms of address or language or she doesn't care. No one used the word "kid" to refer to a human in 1817 and hullo doesn't appear in usage until the telephone. Also, a blunderbuss is a huge old-fashioned weapon that can't be put in a reticule or even a small portmanteau! They were out of use by the Regency era. The average person wouldn't carry one around for protection. Charlie should try a pistol next time. I didn't understand why highwaymen were accosting people in public parks in broad daylight. That simply doesn't make any sense. I also noticed quite a lot of typos/word choice errors in the Kindle edition. All of that combined with the sensual and sexual content ruined the book for me. It had a promising beginning but ended up disappointing. I'm glad the book was free so I didn't waste my money. I will not be reading more by this author.

What I've Read Recently

What I've Read Recently . . .

Making Waves: A Novel (lake Manawa Summers 1) by Lorna Seilstad -- Inspirational Historical Romance

Marguerite Westing is looking forward to a summer at Lake Manawa, Iowa where all the fashionable people are gathering this summer in 1895. Her mother dreads the prospect of camping in tents but Marguerite welcomes the change for it means keeping her personal maid and friend Lilly and getting away from her persistent, boring suitor Roger Gordon. When Marguerite sets eyes on the lake, she falls in love with the water immediately. She also falls in the water and is rescued by sailor and boat maker Trip Andrews. Marguerite is drawn to the water and drawn to Trip, despite his somewhat taciturn nature. She just HAS to have sailing lessons - the only problem is, ladies don't sail. She comes up with a plan of action that will give her exactly what she wants while still maintaining a sense of propriety. So what if she has to tell some little white lies to get it? God will understand, won't He? Certainly He wants things to go Marguerite's way, right? If so, then why doesn't he make Roger go away for Roger does NOT understand Marguerite's curiosity and lively nature. Trip understands Marguerite perfectly. Trip can't help being drawn into Marguerite's orbit. They share a love of God but how can he love her when he can't stand liars? He doesn't have time to involve himself in the life of a flighty young lady. Ever since his mother left he's been working hard to live up to his stern father's expectations and that includes winning the upcoming regatta. That means no distractions! When Marguerite and Trip discover a shocking Westing family secret, they grow even closer but Trip feels the Westings need to stop lying and look to God to guide them. Marguerite is beginning to think God has another path in store for her than the one she wants and that includes sacrificing herself to save her family. How can she live a vanilla life when she's a strawberry girl?

 I had a really hard time getting though this book. Right from the beginning I hated the characters. Marguerite is spoiled and immature. Her father is the cause of all her problems because he promises her the world. I'm sure I was like Marguerite when I was a teenager but that doesn't make her an appealing heroine. She sends up quick prayers for silly things like a lightning strike to hit Roger so she doesn't have to face the problem of rejecting him. It takes Trip to set her right but I didn't like him either. He's a very hard young man exactly like the father he fears and respects. He jumps to conclusions and doesn't ask questions. He improves by story's end but I wasn't too interested in him. He just didn't do anything for me. His unwavering opinions were a real turn-off. Most of the other characters were all stock characters: the indulgent father; the mother who wants what's best for her daughter and the villain who seeks to posses a beautiful woman like a piece of art at any cost. The story would have been better without knowing what the villain was thinking and planning. The dialogue was terrible and didn't sound period. Marguerite is a woman ahead of her time and she has potential to be more interesting once she matures but this story makes her out to be incredibly annoying and bratty. The plot was very slow moving with too many descriptions of the art of sailing. I liked the lake setting and the interesting historical tidbits thrown in. The author's note explains what is real. I also think the story would have been better not as an Inspirational story. I skipped revival meeting passages and skimmed discussions of what God wants, etc. etc. I don't think the message was all that heavy handed and it didn't really come through in the end. I believe change has to be internal because the character recognizes something is wrong with their behavior and understands the need to change and I think this is more of what happened in this particular novel so the Inspirational bits were unnecessary. I think other people might like this book, especially Christian readers close to Marguerite's age. It just wasn't my cup of tea.

Mrs. Jeffries Stalks the Hunter by Emily Brightwell -- Victorian Mystery

Mr. Parkington will do anything to marry into aristocracy including selling his only daughter. Miss Beatrice Parkington refuses to marry the despicable Edmund Leggett. She is well aware that a young woman is stalking Mr. Leggett and Beatrice is convinced the other woman is his cast off mistress or someone her fiance wronged. She thinks the stalker is her ticket out of the marriage. When Mr. Leggett turns up dead following his engagement party and the stalker disappears, the coppers are after the stalker but Inspector Witherspoon is aware that this case may be more complicated than it seems. He and Inspector Barnes start investigating and find the usual: broke aristocrat; greedy parvenu; unhappy wife and dumped mistress. There's also the cousin who inherits the title. Could one of them have done it? None of the clues seem to add up and even Mrs. Jeffries and the staff can't figure it out. Writing down notes doesn't help Mrs. Jeffries any more than not. Things just don't add up. Will this case ever be solved? This mystery was a real puzzle. I was just as perplexed as the characters until the final clue was dropped. The clue was obvious when it finally appeared but no one could have ever guessed it. I had something completely different in mind for that character! Beatrice is a strong and wonderful woman. I would have liked more character development but she's a minor character. She seems interesting and I liked how her character worked in the issues of changing roles for women. I also liked how the conversations between the characters revealed just how much Victorian society had changed in the last 50 years or less. The facts were seamlessly woven into the story as part of the plot instead of dumped in like the conversations about Jack the Ripper or the descriptions of Ruth being a radical. The narrative ties up a loose end from Sweeps the Chimney and tells us what happened in the aftermath of that story. I think future books will tie up that remaining loose end as well. This is one of the better mysteries in the series because it all comes together nicely.

Friday, January 3, 2014

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Mr. Forster's Fortune by Lizzie Church -- Regency Romance

On the way to Bath, a snowstorm forces Lady Cecily Seymour and her fellow coach passengers to put up at an inn. She spies a handsome young man she wishes to know better but he remains elusive until she joins her relatives in Bath. In Bath, Cecily enjoys shopping for new clothes since her period of mourning for her parents will soon be over. Her frivolous aunt drags Cecily out to call on the most fashionable elite of Bath which includes a Mrs. Franklin. Mrs. Franklin has a sister, Lady Barnham, who happens to be the mother of Mr. Forster, the young man Cecily was so intrigued by at the inn. Cecily becomes friendly with Miss Forster and through her, meets her brother. Cecily hopes he is a man of character as well. Her family wishes her to marry her boring cousin Alfred, yet she can't help but be attracted to the charming, handsome Mr. Forster. Robert Forster and his cousin Tom Franklin are happy to be young men about town yet Robert wishes for more intimacy with his father and more responsibility. He will get his wish soon enough as his sickly father desires to see his family cared for before his death. Once Lord Barnham takes his son into his confidence, there's no other solution for Mr. Forster but to marry. Who he shall marry is up to him. He'll do the right thing no matter what he decides but should he choose his own happiness or the happiness of his family? This quiet little Regency book takes a bit to get started. At first the heroine and hero both seem immature and shallow. I didn't like either of them very much and I was disgusted by the hero's behavior. Halfway through, the story changes and takes a more solemn tone. The story then describes a lot of the seedier aspects of Regency society as the plot moves forward. I found the story from that point on more interesting than the beginning. The characters show more depth and the plot is more interesting. It's different from the standard plots most authors follow but in a good way. The romance develops quickly, yet it's slow paced. It seems based on shallow pretenses but develops into a more once the characters get to know each other. It's a sweet, slow romance. There's nothing more than kisses. I really liked the hero for the most part, except in the beginning and during the misunderstanding. The heroine is rather underdeveloped and I don't know really anything about her except that she's rich, pretty, sweet, and a bit lively. She longs for more than her circumscribed life but she seems to ignore that longing in favor of romance which I didn't like. I could see the romance being the basis for a longer novel or shortening the beginning and then making the story advance a few years before the h/h come together. I found the ending just a bit too rushed for my taste. The author has done extensive research on the Regency era. The descriptions of Bath are excellent but sometimes the research shows up in a forced manner. There are constant references to the streets and where locations the characters are at any given moment, one major stand-out of a fashion trend that clearly comes from a cartoon of the period. I love research and period details and I liked the attention to detail but sometimes it was a bit too much.  My criticism with the story is largely with the writing. The story is told in a rather detached manner. The characters never really come to life nor are they memorable in any way. We're told how Cecily is feeling at any given moment and what she's thinking but it doesn't really show through in the story. The character interaction is bland and the dialogue pointless. I think the author was trying to write in the style of Jane Austen without mimicking it exactly, which I appreciate, but I found the writing style a bit too slow for bedtime reading. I liked the story though. It was free on Amazon the day I bought it so I was nervous about the quality but it was worth the time I spent reading it. The story is better than average and the writing quality is better in the authors more recent novels, she will definitely be one worth reading.  I would recommend it to those who like Jane Austen and some of the slower Regency set novels. 

Courting Trouble by Nonnie St. George -- Regency Romance

This follow-up to The Ideal Bride focuses on the Duke of St. Fell. St. Fell is handsome, titled, and a rake. He has several younger brothers to support (all rakes) and needs to marry a fortune. When his friend, Gabriel St. Carr, introduces him to the wealthy porcelain artist Joseph Swann, St. Fell finds his intended heiress. Swann has two beautiful daughters who have just come to London for the first time. Swann wants his grandson to be a Duke and settles on his eldest, Arabella, for St. Fell. St. Fell thinks all he needs is for Arabella to set eyes on him for her to fall at his feet. He doesn't count on Miss Arabella Swann to lead him a merry dance. Arabella is five and twenty and never been kissed. She's unromantic and refuses to read the silly Minerva Press romances his younger sister and Aunt Ophelia devour. Her sister Diana has fallen head over heels in love with Lord Belcraven, a gawky, penniless ex-soldier. Arabella is convinced Diana is merely infatuated and once she meets Belcraven's formidable aunts she'll change her mind. Diana has a mind of her own and it includes getting her sister married off so she can marry her beloved. When Arabella meets the Duke of St. Fell, she's physically attracted to him but feels it's a mere infatuation. He's arrogant, unromantic and insufferable and she will not marry him... at least not until he declares his undying love for her. Enter Lord Stonehaven, a war hero and rake who writes poetry and remembers Arabella's favorite things. How can St. Fell compete with that? It will be easy if Arabella would just admit she's in love. 

This book is so dreadful I don't even know where to begin. The story takes place during the events of The Ideal Bride but in the first book, Swann says he doesn't believe in marrying his daughter to a Duke, not yet. He seems to be bluffing because he does a 180 degree turn in this book. He spends most of the book either chasing rakes with his walking stick or being drunk. The other adult characters aren't much better. The aunts and St. Fell's mother provide a lot of the humor but the humor is based on innuendo. The main characters are entirely unlikeable. Arabella is a very human heroine and I wanted to like her. She eats bon-bons, cusses (in her head) and turns her nose up at romance novels. Unfortunately, she's also really annoying and immature. For some reason she longs to be a rake and she spends most of the book lusting after St. Fell. St. Fell is irritating. He is so insufferably arrogant. He's almost never serious and like Arabella, I felt like kicking him and throwing books at him. I also wanted to smack him. He annoyed me so much. The romance, if you call it that, consists of two attractive people lusting after each other, wanting to be alone in a dark corner together. Arabella seems to want something she really wouldn't understand. Diana's story is far more interesting. Though she reads silly romances, she's a practical girl who knows what she wants and goes after it; at least in the beginning. By the end I was disappointed in her too. This book makes fun of romance novels both in the Regency era and current bodice rippers but it's not a whole lot better. There's a lot of panting, drooling and bawdy humor. I really didn't like this book and wouldn't recommend it to those who like intelligent, well-written, sweet romances.