Ruthless by Anne Stuart

Villain or Hero?

Anne Stuart excels in penning male characters that sound like villains but turn out to be heroes, and this book is a good example of that. Ruthless is a great title for a book that has a dark, edgy, brooding, cruel man for its hero.

So, be warned - Francis Rohan is not lovable. He is no gruff teddy bear waiting for the love of a good woman. He is cruel, cruel, cruel and unlike other Romanceland rakes, he doesn't give up having sex with other women after one encounter with the heroine, Elinor. He becomes obsessed with Elinor, a spinster with a big nose, and he doesn't know why. And let me say something about heroine martyrs - Elinor comes really close to being one. She has good reason to be one... her life has been horrible. She lives in the slums of Paris with her pox-ridden crazy mother and her absolutely gorgeous younger sister. She has spent her entire young life sacrificing herself for her sister, but do we hate her? Do we whine about not liking martyr heroines? No, Elinor is a wonderfully written character with a strong sense of self and a humorous way of looking at things. I loved Elinor.

I was less fond of Francis, the hero. Oh sure, we are told he had a horrible young life, but we are never given enough details to really understand why he is such a cruel guy. And make no mistake about it, if it hadn't been for the blurb on the cover letting me know who the hero of this book was, I would have had my doubts. But, then that is what Anne Stuart does with her guys. I think that is why she has some over-the-top villains in her books - so we can tell the villain-villain from the hero-villain. This book is filled with some amazing descriptions of that time period and even the hero wears diamond studded heals, which I found rather amusing because he was trying to walk with a mince, but could only manage to do manly strides.

Do not despair and think that this is a totally dark tale, there are touches of humor scattered throughout the book, especially when the lead characters were sparring with each other. Although, I will have to say I found Francis' continual references to Elinor as "child" to be annoying, but oh well.

This is a very complex, wonderfully typical Anne Stuart story. I am looking forward to the next book in the series, which is coming in September and is about Elinor and Francis' son. The third book will be about their grandchild, so it will be interesting to see how well the family ages.

Time/Place: 1768 France
Sensuality Rating: Warm


Memories Schmemories, Part X, Christmas Angel, 1992 and Forbidden, 1994 by Jo Beverley
Christmas Angel, by Jo Beverley, is the third in the Company of Rogues story, and so far my favorite. As to date, it is the most romantic.

Leander is a wonderful character. He's not out to save the country, he's not spying, and he doesn't have a mistress. He is a returning war hero and all the women of England are falling in love with him. He is lonely but he wants a woman who will not fall in love
with him. Fool! Doesn't he know that he is the hero of a romance novel? So, he picks a woman who is grieving for her husband, still in widow's weeds. She loved her husband so much that she'll never love again. At least that is what he thinks. Little does he know that the only reason Judith is in widow's weeds is that she can't afford a new outfit. In a pretty amusing scene, he rides up on his horse and introduces himself and then proposes. She thinks he's nuts and turns him down. However, in a fairly short time, he talks her into a marriage of convenience, which turns out to be anything but.

Of course, Leander is such a nice guy, it doesn't take Judith long to fall in love. You know, if Leander didn't want her to fall in love, he shouldn't have been such a nice guy - he buys her a new wardrobe, he's gentle with her and a great father to her two adorable children. (By the way they are written as befits their age.) Who wouldn't love this guy?

This is a gentle, charming story, a little light on the sexual tension, but sweet nonetheless. So far, this is my favorite - no adultery, abuse or "smart" villains (there is a villain but he's pretty stupid). And the characters from the other books make their appearance, but they enhance the storyline, so it's good to see them again.

Time/Place: Regency England

Sensuality Rating: Warm

Sometimes books are hard to read, not because they are horrible books, but because the people in the book are very troubled characters and they are just painful to read about. That's what happens in this book... this is not one of Beverley's light fluffy books. (Actually, does she have a light fluffy book?) The last one was probably the lightest and it was still pretty intense.

Anyway, Forbidden is extremely intense. This has a virgin hero and a sexually abused widow, Francis and Serena. Serena has been trained in how to please a man by her former husband (his nickname was "Randy") since the age of 15. She is stunningly beautiful, but she has been so emotionally abused that her self-worth... well, she doesn't have any. Serena's "horrible" brothers are going to force her into another marriage, so she runs away and ends up being rescued by Francis, and in true Romanceland tradition, they spend the night together at an inn. Serena believes the only way to thank Francis is with sex, so our virgin hero is a virgin no longer. This is also where the misunderstandings begin. Francis only knows about sex from what he's read and considers Serena nothing more than a tart. But he takes her to his aunt thinking that he'll go get himself engaged, then return and set her up as his mistress. But nature steps in, and whoops! Serena the Barren isn't exactly barren and three months after the inn encounter these two people who don't match are married.

And it was
watching this marriage, with all of the misunderstandings that I found painful. I could shout "talk to each other," but Beverley writes in such a way that you know why they can't talk to each other. I was getting to the point of disliking Judith's constant "I'm sorry" routine, when she finally exhibited some backbone. We have another hero striking a woman, however, this time he gets clobbered in return and Judith throws a wonderful mad fit. Great scene!

This was a well written book, but I must say it isn't the happiest of books, so if you do read it just be prepared for some down moments. The Rogues make another appearance and their characters continue to grow, unlike other books when the previous cast just shows up for the picnic.

Time/Place: Regency England

Sensuality Rating: Warm


Memories Schmemories, Part X, Continued An Unwilling Bride by Jo Beverley 1992

Second in the Company of Rogues series.

According to Jo Beverley, she started writing An Arranged Marriage in 1976 and it was published in 1991. So, there are some years of writing experience between that book and An Unwilling Bride, and it shows. I think An Arranged Marriage has all the signs of those 70's bodice ripper books without the rip. There is certainly a difference in the writing... oh sure, there is an infamous scene in An Unwilling Bride, which I'll talk about later, but overall this book is written with a much better voice.

Nicholas Delaney does show up in this one, and he is trying to make things better (poor man.) This book is set a few months after An Arranged Marriage. There are mysterious references to things that happened in the first book, which I found a little irritating, but because I just read the first one I was able to interpret what those mysterious goings on meant.

Now for Beth and Lucien - very strong people with strong, strong opinions. Their romance has an interesting beginning: he's the illegitimate son of the Duchess of Belcraven and she's the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Belcraven. Neither one of them knew that when they were growing up and Lucien has always wondered about the strained relationship between he and his father. The Duke and Duchess are estranged, so there is that secondary romance going on also.

Anyway, this is an interesting read as these two people argue their way to a happy ending. And, yes Lucian has a temper, which I don't remember him having in the other book and yes, he backhands Beth in one scene. I found this interesting, because the speed at which Beth forgives Lucian is quite amazing. Both Beth and Eleanor (An Arranged Marriage) are quick to forgive. Beth even goes so far as to make friends with Lucian's mistress. I'm not sure I could be so quick to forgive; I'd probably hold a grudge for just a little longer, make him miserable a few more days. So the heroine's easy capitulation is an interesting statement by Ms. Beverley.

I think the key to this series is to read them all one right after the other because even though the characters have their HEA, there is further development of Nicholas and Eleanor throughout the entire series.

While I liked An Unwilling Bride a lot better than An Arranged Marriage, the backhanding scene made the rating of the book lower then what I was going to give it. My reaction to the backhanding scene was interesting... it wasn't so much the backhanding, but Beth's easy forgiveness that bothered me.

So, while waiting for my new books to come in I'm off to the third book in the Company of Rogues series, Christmas Angel.

Time/Place: Regency England
Sensuality Rating: Warm


Memories Schmemories, Part X, An Arranged Marriage by Jo Beverley, 1991

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar! And sometimes a book I didn't like when it was first published turns out to be a book I still don't like.

I thought maybe if I read An Arranged Marriage again, I'd change my mind because sometimes things mellow as you get older and sometimes your taste changes... But not here!

I remember reading this book the first time and being very upset when I finished. In fact I, sent off one of those lunatic fan letters ranting about how much I despised the hero and how much I thought the heroine was a doormat. I did receive a reply from Ms. Beverley. She tried to be gracious, but she did defend her hero, or as I call him "the man who prostituted himself for his country, but hated it." Puleese.

Let me give you a rough outline of this book. There is Eleanor, the doormat. Eleanor's evil brother drugs her, and throws her on the bed. Christopher, the maybe gay guy, is also drugged and made fun of by the other e-v-i-l guys at the e-v-i-l wing-ding. These wretched men call Christopher a pansy (sort of). This enrages Christopher - he must prove he isn't, and in his drugged induced rage, rapes Eleanor. Curtain. End scene. Next day Christopher rescues Eleanor from jumping into the river and then you know what he does? He writes to his twin brother Nicholas to come and marry Eleanor. Because the rapist brother cannot marry women. Does Nicholas think this request is odd? Stupid? Silly? Makes no sense? Nah, he comes back and marries her. And just to make sure there is no question about paternity (in case there need be) he has sex with doormat Eleanor. What a lovely family Eleanor has married into. But, then Eleanor is an understanding woman... she's so understanding that she is even able to be civil to the man who raped her.

But wait! It gets better. So, then we have Nicholas sacrificing himself in the bed of another woman for his country... never home... and there's Eleanor falling in love with him! Why? And, she eventually figures it out and accepts it... makes excuses for it. So, why does she love this guy? Well, poor Nicholas, he is in pain because he's forced to have sex with this other woman, so he must distance himself from Eleanor. Which only adds to the pain for doormat Eleanor. I cannot go on. This book did not do anything for me except depress me and make me mad. I know that this was Ms. Beverley's first book (an idea in 1976, published in 1991) and maybe she hadn't found her voice, but I didn't like Nicholas when I first read this book and I find that my feelings for him haven't changed. If I had a list of "Horrible Heroes," he would be on it.

So, I decided to read the next one in the series, An Unwilling Bride. Maybe I will find some understanding there.

By the way I did just created a Horrible Heroes list...check it out:

Time/Place: Regency England
Sensuality Rating: Warm


Twice Tempted by a Rogue by Tessa Dare

The murder mystery that started in One Dance with a Duke, continues in the second in the Stud Club trilogy, Twice Tempted by a Rogue.

Ah, another book I was looking forward to and had a hard time finishing. This was really a bummer m-a-n, because I think Tessa Dare is one of the better writers in the crop of new writers that have come out in the last couple of years. I started to read the book, then put it down, read another book, started this one again and keep putting it down. I found the pacing to be uneven and was disappointed in the lack of character development. And the murder mystery was like the buzzing of a mosquito, a tad bit irritating.

Rhys and Meredith are not your typical romance couple. Well, Meredith isn't. I liked Meredith, or Merry. She's not your normal heroine. For one thing, she's a widow, not a virgin, and has had lovers since her husband died. So, she knows what she wants... which is to live at her inn and make a living at it. When her eyes fall on Rhys, she knows that she wants him in her bed. Rhys on the other hand, is a more typical romance hero - he's one of those battle-scared, tortured, angst-filled guys who needs the love of a good woman to make life worth living. He sees Merry and knows that she is his destiny and that they must marry and becomes totally obsessed with making that happen. He is also obsessed with righting all the wrongs on the community he left 12 years before.

There are some amusing parts, especially when Merry thinks there is something wrong with Rhys' man-parts because he won't be seduced, but after awhile Rhys' "I won't be seduced till you promise to marry me" routine became a little much and when he caved in, he seemed to do so with nary any regret. I like both characters separately, but together I don't think they made such a good pair and I couldn't buy into the HEA for these two.

I also didn't quite understand Rhys' reaction to Meredith's secret. He was so obsessed with marrying her, I didn't think anything that she could have done would hinder that, but evidently I was wrong.

Anyway, I am looking forward and keeping my fingers crossed for the next book in the series. This one should wrap up the murder, and have a guilt-ridden hero and a blind heroine... what more could one hope for in a romance novel!

Time/Place: Regency England
Sensuality Rating: Hot


Daring the Duke by Claudia Dain

Time Out! I haven't seen so many people crowded into one spot since the after Christmas sale at Macy's. And I wasn't expected to remember any of those people.

See this at the top of my head? It's a frown, Ms. Dain, as I try to keep track of everyone in this book. I know I've read the others in the series, but I can't remember... I can't remember... aaakkk! Daring the Duke is about Jane Elliot and the Duke of Edenham, I know this because it says so on the back of the book. Thank heavens for that back blurb, because I couldn't even begin to guess who the main characters of this tale were. Well, I guess at the end when they were sailing off into the sunset, I probably would have realized.

I did read one of the other books in the Courtesan Chronicles, but not all of them and I'm not really sure reading all of them would have helped. Maybe, if I had all of the books in front of me and I could read them one right after another, I think I would have enjoyed it more. You know - like a good Masterpiece Theater show, like Cranford with all those wonderful characters. Alas, these books are being published too far apart for this phenomenon to take place.

So, I think that if you are going to read this series, you should read all of the series because it is an interesting concept. I did find the dialogue, conversations, gossiping, and the brothers to be amusing. I also found the fistfight between all those silly men to be very funny. I just wish there had been more of a focus on the main characters, although I want Sophia to have a happy ending story of her own. I hope that is in the works, but based on what I read in this one it could be awhile, because there were at least 5 other story-lines going on.

I do have a quibble... I found the constant reminder that Jane was an American rather irritating and by the end of the book it was getting on every inch of my nerves. I wanted to reach through those pages and put some tape over her mouth... I'm an American, you're a Duke, we are not Colonists, we won the war... blah blah blah.

So, this book was an interesting concept, maybe like Gosford Park (which I loved). I just felt that there should have been more emphasis on the main characters. It wasn’t so much that I had a hard time following what was going on, it was just that there was too many characters involved in what was going on. The story was just too busy.

Time/Place: Regency England
Sensuality Rating: Warm

Goodbye Elizabeth Thornton

Sad to say, we have lost another voice. Elizabeth Thornton, has passed away. So, here's to you Ms. Thornton.

Happy trails to you, until we meet again.
Some trails are happy ones,
Others are blue.
It's the way you ride the trail that counts,
Here's a happy one for you.
-Dale Evans


Lady's Isabella's Scandalous Marriage by Jennifer Ashley

The MacKenzie brothers are back!

What a bunch of manly men! I really loved Jennifer Ashley's The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie and I was looking forward to the second MacKenzie story, Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage, which is Mac's story.

This was an interesting story for me... first of all, it is one of my favorite story lines: a broken marriage. I'm always interested in how authors mend the pieces for that happy ending, especially in historicals where there aren't that many options.

I liked this story very much. Mac is a marvelous hero and he is desperate to get his wife back. Sometimes, almost too desperate. There is some wonderful chemistry between Mac and Isabella and the sex is pretty h-o-t. I became a little irritated with Isabella - evidently it's ok to put cream and other things in one's mouth, but it isn't ok to attempt a reconciliation with the person who is attached to the things one is putting in one's mouth. Mac was soooo nice, and soooo changed that it was hard for me to understand Isabella's reluctance, especially when she was jumping up and down on the bed with him. So, I did get tired of Isabella's no, no, no routine.

Another problem I had with the book was I never quite understood why she left him in the first place. Oh sure, he was drunk a lot, I guess he had a temper (but you never see it), and we are told he was wild and left her for long periods of time, but for some reason, I kept looking for another reason for her leaving him and it was just never there. I also never understood why Mac thought he had to leave Isabella for weeks at a time - what did he think he was saving her from? They do suffer the loss of a child, and I'm not trying to tell an author how to write, especially one who is published. But the loss of the child is where I would have gone with the main reason for the separation. Oh, sure, it is the catalyst for the separation but not the main reason. Of course, I never understood the main reason and I thought that was one of the weakest parts of the book.

It was good to see Ian and Beth again. What wonderful characters, and he isn't miraculously cured, which I thought was a bit of good writing. Cameron and Hart are also there in their manly hunkified maleness. I just wish that I didn't have to wait another year for Cameron's story and then not until 2012 for Hart's... that is a big pain in the batoot!

So, while I liked the story very much and I liked Mac and sometimes Isabella, I did have some issues with Isabella's reluctance to forgive Mac.

Time/Place: England 1880's
Sensuality Rating: Hot!


I Kissed an Earl by Julie Ann Long

I hates pirates! I dares ye to find a Fabio anywhares, matey!

I'm not sure why I don't like pirate stories. Eons ago, pirates
flooded Romanceland. Maybe that's it, maybe over saturation... and one of
Romanceland's classics, "Windflower," is after all a pirate story. I suspect though that it's because I have to really suspend belief to actually think that any woman on board a pirate ship is going to find romance, but I might be wrong. I just have never viewed a pirate as romantic.

But back to I Kissed an Earl by Julie Ann Long. This is the fourth in the Pennyroyal Green series. This is the story of Violet Redmond and Captain Flint. To be honest with you, I really didn't like Violet. I thought she was spoiled and oftentimes cruel to the people around her. There were also a number of times when the TSTL routine kicked in. I did like Captain Flint, or at least what little we were allowed to see of him, because in my opinion this was more of a Violet book than a Flint book and I think that is one of the reasons I can't give it a better rating.

Except for some typo hiccups which made me read some sentences over, the writing was superb. Normally, when a typo or incorrect grammar jumps out at me, but the writing and the story are good, I can overlook those problems. After all, I myself am famous for "which do I use - 'a' or 'an', 'a' or 'an', 'a' or 'an', every single time! So, none of us is perfect!

I digress. Back to the book. I enjoyed the bantering between Flint and Violet - I love sarcasm! I loved the potato peeling scene with the Greek cook and later the HOT potato peeling scene between Flint and Violet. Never thought potatoes could be so sensual.

This is a good book, filled with strong writing. I just wish I could have had a little more of Flint's POV. And, by the way, what happens to Fatima, a loose end which wasn't tied? Also, Captain Flint isn't really a pirate, he's just chasing one, so close enough!

Also, if you want to irritate both friends and strangers alike, don't forget that annoying International Talk Like a Pirate Day, September 19th!

Time/Place: The High Sea or thar abouts, 1820
Sensuality Rating: Hot


Love in the Afternoon by Lisa Kleypas

Bye bye Hathaway family
Another story about the interesting Hathaway family and if I'm not mistaken there aren't anymore Hathaways, so this may be the last.

While Love in the Afternoon is good, it is probably the weakest of the Hathaway series; it has a rushed feel about it.

This story is about the animal whisperer, Beatrix, and Christopher Phelan, a neighbor. The concept is interesting, a sort of Cyrano de Bergerac story without the nose. Beatrix writes letters to Christopher, signs someone else's name and Christopher falls in love with the person responsible for writing the letters.

While I did enjoy the story, every time it could have turned into a really powerful love story, it just dwindled away. The letter writing truth comes out, he gets mad, he gets engaged to the fake signee, he confronts Beatrix, she apologizes, he forgives her, he breaks his engagement, she gets mad, she runs off. Christopher and Beatrix get married, they have sex, they don't sleep together, an ex-comrade shows up, he tries to kill Christopher, he doesn't, he is saved by Christopher and Beatrix. These kind of ho-hum things happen throughout the book, but they shouldn't be ho-hum... there is just no spark!

So, even though it was a satisfactory read, it was just that: satisfactory. This was not one of Ms. Kleypas' outstanding books. I'm wondering if this means we've found another author who has too many irons in the fire? Is it possible to write more than one book a year AND still keep the momentum going?

Time/Place: Victorian England
Sensuality Rating: Hot

Memories Schmemories, Part IX, The Rake by Mary Jo Putney, 1998

Wow!! Memories have played a trick on me!

While I remember this book as good and I even have it on my 10 best romance novel list, I failed to remember how really good this books is! In fact, I think this book might just be pushing toward the number one spot on my list!

This book was originally written as The Rake and the Reformer in 1989, and then some pages were added and it was released in 1998 as The Rake. Both books are wonderful, but since I just read The Rake this is the one I'm going to talk about.

Let's start with that wonderful hero Reggie Davenport, who as of now has made it to my favorite hero list. What a flawed hero Ms. Putney has created in Reggie... he lost his entire family, was raised (sort of) by a really cruel man and is now a drunkard or an alcoholic if we were defining it for contemporary times. His cousin, Richard, the hero of The Diabolic Baron, signs over Reggie's childhood home to him. Reggie, who knows that the life he is leading is killing him, grudgingly goes. That childhood home has been managed over the years my someone known only as A. E. Weston... and of course A. E. turns out to be a Alys - female! female! female!

Reggie and Alys are a wonderful, mature couple... no games are played, no cruel tricks, no spies, no pirates, no kidnapping. Along the way we find out why Alys is the steward and we watch Reggie as he struggles with his drinking problem. We watch them first as friends, then as lovers They have humor, wit and they support each other. There are also some strong, wonderfully-written secondary characters.

This is quite a journey and if you haven't read this book, you really should. Great love story!

Time/Place: Regency England

Sensuality Rating: Warm