Breathless by Anne Stuart

Alert: Another controversial hero!

Be warned, my fellow Romanceland readers - some of you are going to hate Lucien! Another really nasty hero.

What an interesting book to review. I really had to think about Breathless. There were some awfully sordid things that Lucien, the hero, did that were what one expects of a villain. But then Anne Stuart writes incredibly dark men, and let me tell you this one is way up there in shades of black. I also find this interesting because once again I have an unsavory hero to talk about. It became clear to me while I was reading this book that even though this guy in a lot of ways is worse than the one in Celeste Bradley's book, because of the talented writing of Anne Stuart it didn't effect me as much.

I did wonder about Lucien's revenge. He wanted to get even with the family he held responsible for his sister's death. The problem I had with that is he barely knew his mad sister. He knew his step-mother was abusive, she even beat the crap out of him. Even though both his step-mother and sister were mad - mad - mad - bwah ha ha, he still wanted his moment of revenge on the family he felt wronged him, the Rohan's. So, I didn't understand the avenge part of this book, and I felt it was pretty weak. I would have been happier with the character of Lucien if we were allowed to see more of his unhappy family background... and if we would have seen more of Lucien falling in love. I did think the oar to the side of the head was rather amusing.

Now, from the unsavory hero to the most delightful heroine, Miranda. I loved Miranda! I thought her reaction to everything that happened to her was a delight. When she's ruined (by Lucien's machination) in the beginning, she adjusts and builds a life for herself that she's pretty happy with. When Lucien sees that she's happy with that life he sets out to destroy it... however, he never gets it right, because she just won't let him. He says no, she says no with a smile... he says I won't marry you, she says ok I'll be your mistress... and love it! He moves her to a dilapidated house, she paints his room pink. So, I loved Miranda. I just wish that Lucien had been one of those gruff kinda guys, instead of so cold... brrr. I did wonder why Miranda loved him. But in the end, they seemed to be suited for each other.

There is also a very strong secondary romance that in this case doesn't distract from the main story. In fact, it's almost needed to counterbalance what Lucien is doing.

I would imagine that there are going to be a lot of people that hate Breathless, but overall, I liked it. And I love Anne Stuart's writing, although I do need a cleansing book to read next. Maybe, something funny. Of the three in the Rohan series, I'd say this one comes in second. Ruthless (first one) was my favorite and if you want to see how a really good author writes dark heroes, read all three in this series.

Time/Place: Regency England, I think
Sensuality Rating: Hot


Scoundrel in My Dreams by Celeste Bradley

If you are at all uncomfortable with issues such as assisted suicide and confining someone against their wishes, this book may not be for you.

I had some major issues with Scoundrel in My Dreams. One of them is the hero. John/Jack Redgrave has some really major problems. Normally when a hero has problems they are problems that can be fixed and, if not for the handy-dandy epilogue, I would have my doubts about this particular man. Yes, I’ve read romance novels with some pretty unsavory heroes in them, but this one didn’t set very well with me. This hero is really unsavory and it’s not that he is some mad killer-slasher-stalker, he’s just a tad bit bipolar for my taste. He confines the heroine, Laurel, in an attic for the entire book, without even the benefit of a candle. I found the whole confinement storyline just too creepy. My mind kept drifting to the recent Dugard case, and really that isn’t something I need to be reminded of in a romance novel. It isn’t as if this is the first romance that ever had a kidnapping/confinement plot in it… no, that’s been going on for years and years. But this one was just too icky. That’s the best word I could think of for how I felt.

Then we have the assisted suicide. Once again the hero. I believe this was thrown in to explain why John/Jack was the way he was, but gee-willikers, it just gave me the heeby-jeebies. Yes, we’ve had lots and lots of heroes that are Gloomy Guses, but usually we know in the end that they are going to be saved by the woman they loved and all will be right with the world. But in Scoundrel in My Dreams, I just didn’t get that feeling.

And then there was John/Jack’s epiphany. It seems that he has loved Laurel (the woman he locked up) forever. Oh sure, he courted her e-v-i-l sister, but you see he only courted the e-v-i-l sister so he could be near the good sister, but he didn’t know at the time that was why he was courting the e-v-i-l sister. He even had the best sex of his life with the e-v-i-l sister, or the woman he thought was the e-v-i-l sister, but really it was the good sister, the virgin 17-year-old girl who knew more about sex than Hugh Hefner. But he didn’t know it was her. He thought it was the sister he didn’t like. Of course, his hating the e-v-i-l sister probably explains why he wasn’t jealous of all of her swains hanging around. I really didn’t buy his epiphany. I think I might add Jack to my worst hero list.

And then we have Laurel. I’m sure I don’t have to say it, but here goes: she luves Jack forever…or at least since she was 17…has the best sex ever with him, we get to read this in flashbacks. Anyway, she ends up pregnant, is locked up by her e-v-i-l parents, is told the baby dies, finds the baby, is locked up by the hero…and stills loves him – sort of. She is planning on kidnapping her child and running off to who knows where. That means she is going to take the three year old (going on nine) away from people who love her and by the way in the last book this same three year old (going on nine) was hung from a roof and almost killed. So, kidnapping this child shouldn’t really be traumatizing…Puleese!

And, then there is an irritating secondary distracting lust/love story going on with the servants. I will admit, though that I did like the butler Wilberforce.

I’ve read some glowing reviews on this book, and wondered about my perception, but I really developed an aversion to the hero in this book. There were just too many uncomfortable plot lines going on and even though these are standard Romanceville themes, in this case they didn’t set well with me. I love romance books and it isn’t my goal in life to rip into one…I think romance books are much undervalued in the land of literature. But sometimes I am very disappointed and this is the case here. The hero was too unbalanced and I didn’t feel that he was redeemable…he was downright chilling.

Time/Place: Regency England and the last in a series
Sensuality Rating: Hot


A Hellion in Her Bed by Sabrina Jeffries

Alert: Gigantic Girth And Growing! (GGAG)
A Hellion in Her Bed by Sabrina Jeffries is the second in the Hellions of Halstead hall series. This book was a roller coaster ride for me. One moment my eyeballs were rolling and the next moment those same eyeballs were becoming teary.

First of all, this book takes place in the world of the brewery. Both the hero, Jarret, and the heroine, Annabel, live in that place. At first, I thought we were going to have an interesting look into a different milieu from the aristocracy, but Ms. Jeffries didn't take us very deeply into the inner workings of a brewery, much to my disappointment. It might have been an interesting glimpse into a very different place.

I found the first part of the book to be pretty contrived. It has one of those Romance World wager set-ups: "If I win, you save my business; if you win, I go to bed with you." And there were a number of things in the beginning that proved to be most distracting to me. Let's talk about some of those things.

I know that historically accurate language can really get some people agitated. I confess that sometimes I am one of those fly-off-the handle people. However, I also know that certain authors use a lot of modern slang in their books (can you say Julia Quinn?). But, because their books are entertaining, I can overlook those moments. And to be perfectly honest I really don't want to slog through a romance book filled with archaic language. However, when there is too much slang thrown in, it starts to become jarring. In this story, I found myself keeping track of the number of times modern language and or speech patterns were used instead of enjoying the story.

Next thing on my agenda. Over the years, I have been known to skim through sex scenes, especially if they take up whole chapters. But sometimes I read them and find myself asking questions like: "How is that possible?", "Wouldn't that hurt?", "How can his hand be there if his head is over there?" Well, there was one of those moments in this book. Jarret, our hero, wants to see Annabel reach her rapture. (Groan.) Ok, I say. S-O, our hero plunges in with some lip service (if you get my drift). And, lo-and-behold, Annabel finds her rapture. Now, my question is, how can Jarret see anything with his head buried in the valley of whanky-woo? Wouldn't his view be limited to hair and belly-button? And, note to authors: hay/straw are itchy and make us sneeze, to say nothing of the mouse-poo lurking within.

And by the way, ladies. Jarret's member is two inches thick and growing - yes, I had a ruler moment and a good chuckle. For those of you who don't think two inches is big, let's do this test. Go find that compass you never use and draw a two inch in diameter circle, then look at it...really look at it. Then when you are able to say: "you're right, that is a tad bit big," say the magic words..."and growing." And, no I did not do any metric conversion! Why, oh, why can't heroes have normal appendages?

Now, after all that I bet you think I didn't like this book. Wrong! Once Jarret and Annabel get away from London the story took a turn for the better. And except for one minor hissy-fit thrown by Jarret, I found the romance to be quite entertaining. I was even on the edge of my seat wondering how Ms. Jeffries would resolve Annabel's big secret.

As I said in the beginning, this was a roller coaster ride. And I found the second half to be a very touching romance. Because of the second half, I am looking forward to the next book in the series.

Time/Place: Regency England
Sensuality Rating: Hot


Sinful in Satin by Madeline Hunter

Katherine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn alert! It doesn't matter which, they were both sticks!
Before I start I just want to ask - what's with the malnourished model on the cover? I found the vision of an emaciated chest with the very visible collar bones to be really repulsive. I implore all cover artists out there, put some meat on those renderings of historical women. Please!!! I know that you artists studied art history just like I did and I don't remember one skinny woman in any portrait by David, Ingres, Gainsborough, VanDyck, Rembrandt, Stuart, Goya... well, maybe Goya but I think some of his were a tad bit scary. There is a difference between skinny and slim. And, yes I love Katherine Hepburn and Audrey Hepburn, but they were both skinny, skinny women and not terribly sexy. So, but some flesh on these cover models!!!

Back to the book.The third in the Rarest Blooms series, Sinful in Satin isn't my favorite. My favorite so far as been Ravishing in Red and I'm going to have to admit that I had a hard time reading Sinful in Satin, because once again it was a slow mover. It was so slow that I felt myself nodding off, which is too bad, for I have a great respect for Madeline Hunter's writing.

I liked both main characters, Celia and Jonathon, but I think my problem with them was their situation seemed so sad. Especially Celia. She's had all of these dreams about living a normal life, but we as the readers know that this is never going to happen because of her mother. So, I was sad for her, watching as one thing after another got in the way of her happiness. And then there's Jonathon, the hero. We know that he's not rich, so he can't rescue Celia from the dilemma that she finds herself in. Maybe that's the problem I had with this book - it was so melancholy. Plus, even though Celia sees Jonathon's manly chest a number of times, and they both seem to have very erotic fantasies about each other, I didn't feel the chemistry. It seemed rather forced to me.

For me this book was good, just not great. I do find the series as a whole to be well-written and I am looking forward to Daphne and Castleford's story, Dangerous in Diamonds, coming out May 2011. Castlefords been my favorite character in the series, which may or may not be a good thing.

Time/Place: England
Sensuality Rating: Hot


Mad About the Duke by Elizabeth Boyle

Sigh... I'm having a happy moment!

You can call me Al, call me irresponsible, call me anytime, call me don't be afraid just call me, or call me crazy - but I loved this book! Thank you, Ms. Boyle, for making my day!

Mad About the Duke starts out with a bang - or should I say a love at first sight: two people, James and Elinor, stunned into idiocy. Nothing makes me happier than that old tried and true proper, stuffed-shirt hero falling... and falling fast. I loved this book because we are all let in on the secret at the very beginning. We get to sit ringside and watch as both of these characters stumble their way through the love maze.

I loved every minute of this book, from the harried servants trying to save their master from his doom (Elinor) with disastrous results, to the running gag of borrowing his brother's carriage, once again with disastrous results. This book is full of wonderful, rich secondary characters who blend like magic into the storyline. Yes, there is a case of mistaken identity (which is one of my pet peeves) and it lasts throughout most of the book; however, I really didn't mind. In fact, I was relishing the moment of discovery. Mad About the Duke is a fast-paced, no breath race to a HEA.

I don't think there was anything about this book that I have a complaint about. Well, maybe just one thing. It ended.

Time/Place: Regency England
Sensuality Rating: Warm/Hot


Trial by Desire by Courtney Milan

The book of avoidance
I very much understand how an author can be irritated by an armchair critic. You work and slave over this book that you've given birth to. You're up at nights reworking sentences, sweating tears over little things; chewing fingernails down to nubs. Then the time comes for that book to be released and someone else reads it. My heart goes out to all of you.

Trial by Desire is an interesting book to talk about, and I was very much torn over what to say about it.

First of all, I consider Courtney Milan one of the better writers around. She's a very talented writer who has a wonderful way with words, and this book was full of lyrical prose. She has also created one of the most menacing villains that I've read in a long time.

Let's talk about the villain. Harcroft is not your standard Snidely Whiplash kind of guy - playing with his mustache while he says "I've got you, my pretty." No, this guy is the neighbor down the street who beats his wife and you never know it. He also carries around a lot of baggage and at times is even sympathetic. His character is so well-written he almost steals the book. There is also an interesting chemistry (not sexual) between Harcroft and the hero, Ned. Their relationship is a very complex friendship.

S-o, I have to ask myself why is it that there is this great interaction between the hero and villain but almost nothing between the hero and heroine?

Kate and Ned: the couple that are never together. She has a "secret" he has "a dragon to slay." And they never share, they never work together. They leave each other out for w-a-y too long. I'm sure that was done to create tension, but this isolation didn't create a romantic tension. They just didn't exhibit any emotion and there wasn't any dialogue between the two characters that would have helped create that emotion. They are together but separate and they remain so even at the end of the book.

As I said at the beginning, this was a hard book to review because Courtney Milan is a fantastic writer and she has created a villain I won't be forgetting in a long time. But the romance part of the book didn't work for me.

Time/Place: Early Victorian England
Rating: Villain:Book:Romance:
Sensuality Rating: Almost Hot