Thursday, June 26

His Wicked Kiss by Gaelen Foley

Book 7 in the Knight Miscellany Series



http://www.gaelenfoley.com/

     Foley is masterful. I've decided she's truly and utterly a mastermind at creating heroines I really, really enjoy.

    Eden Farraday is another one of my 'top five heroines of all time' - which means Foley now holds two of the top five spots for me (with the other heroine being 'Dan' from Prince Charming and a close runner up being Jacinda from Lady of Desire). To be honest, I almost wish the heroes would stop coming in and muddling things up for me, because I would totally read about these women and their adventurous, awesome lives without any romance. But "Black Jack", Lord Jack Knight, does sail into the picture, so I digress.

     Eden is a woman raised in the jungle; her scholar of a father spends his time researching plants that can be turned into medicine. But when he loses his patron, instead of sensibly deciding to return to England, he decides to push forward deeper into the jungle - beyond the Orinoco Delta and into the unknown (and known) dangers of the Amazon. Eden has had enough of the wilds. She longs for the glamorous ballrooms of high society and love - and not from the creepy, over-protective Australian, Connor, her father's assistant. Jack, for his part, is "simply" (ahem: secret mission) sailing through the Orinoco Delta with a shipment of goods to go to England when he spots Eden sitting in a tree above the river. When Eden begs him to take her to England however, he refuses and leaves her in the woods after one hot, scorching kiss. However Eden refuses to be deterred and decides to stowaway on Jack's ship; from there, the book follows Eden and Jack as they discover passion, love, and one another's secrets together.

     The plot was entertaining as always - politics, intrigue, etc. Jack is a very conflicted man who is greatly scarred by his past hurts - mostly emotional. As his true father was the "Killarney Crusher" prizefighter, naturally Jack wins most of the physical battles he engages in. His tenderness with Eden, as well as the respect and admiration of his crew, show us that he is more than just a brute though - he has a gentleman's soul. What I think truly made this book so spectacular for me was Foley's willingness to really draw out Jack's emotional journey from close-hearted Blackguard to compassionate, trusting lover. Even after Eden and Jack's marriage, the problems are just beginning and I loved that.

     The best moment in the book actually came from one of these heart-breaking conflicts. Foley wrote a fight between Jack and Eden so masterfully I could truly understand and agree with both of them; both were so hurt and stubborn, their dialogue was so raw and real, I actually found myself tearing up in sympathy for both of them. It made the HEA that much better when they came around to one another's point of view - they worked hard to deserve it.

     The second best moment of the book is all Eden though - when she is discovered on the ship and the crew surround her. Her brave fight and defiance of good ol' Cap'n Jack endeared me to her and earned her a place in my top five. Bravo, Eden - for your bravery, your love, your adaptability, and your intelligence. Jack's acceptance of Eden's adorable bluestocking nature was also a plus - as well as her immediate understanding of his noble heart, even when he refused to accept her words of praise for him. They struggled, but in the end they truly amazed me with the depth of their commitment and love for one another.

     What brought this book down for me? Near the beginning of the second half of the book, I was unsure I recognized who Eden was anymore - she'd turned into a high society lady, but too quickly for me to catch it, and suddenly her bratty and uppity behavior was all up in my grill. For his part, Jack reacted very defensively to her cold shoulder (which was cold for a long, long while) and became kind of a grumpy Neanderthal. I chalked it up to Eden's over zealousness to truly live her glamorous dreams and Jack's bone-headed inability to trust anyone and general fear of society people. Jack's pain here is evident, and I truly felt bad for him since Eden's inability to forgive seemed mightily unjustified. Eden and Jack eventually go back to normal, but this 150 page weird "Who The Fuck is this New and Shitty Eden" brought the book down in my esteem a lot. I was glad to see Eden return to normal near the end, and Jack too.

Favorite Quotes: 

While discussing including the Duke of Wellington, famous for his battle strategy in defeating Napolean, in their secret plans:
"Can he be trusted?" [Jack said.]
"Jack, he's Wellington," Damien snorted.

Without warning, she hurled her machete - it flew through the air and plunged into the mast quite near Jack's head.
... "Miss Farraday," he reproached her with an indulgent tsk, tsk. "You stabbed my ship."

"Sexy"ness rating: There's less erotic behavior in this book than the other's I've read by Foley so far due to the squabbling nature of our leading lord and lady, but the scenes are no less steamy and delectable.

Overall Rating: B

Bottom Line: Eden is a heroine you'll instantly fall in love with and Jack is an adorable wounded hero who gets a second chance and land lubber life due to his new, loving wife. Now all Foley needs to do is pull out that section with Eden's bratty behavior and we'll all be happy! 

Pages: 434
Published: 2006
Genre: Historical

Monday, June 23

Prince Charming by Gaelen Foley

Book 3 in the Ascension Series



http://www.gaelenfoley.com/

     This was the first Foley book I read outside the Knight series, and I was glad to see her masterful character development did not disappear.

Can I just say - Lady Daniela Chiaramonte is probably one of my favorite heroines ever, in my reading history to date. She is moronically brave and noble, a real spitfire... she has balls of steel. She knees the Prince of Ascension in the balls after robbing his carriage and then, when her friends get captured, she bombs the jail and sneaks into the palace to rescue them single-handedly. I usually dislike idiotically ballsy heroines - but Dani always seemed to know what she was doing. She had a plan, knew the risks, and wasn't afraid of death getting in her way. I was charmed, instantly.

And perhaps that was why I was willing to forgive the giant piece of unrealistic bull that came about 50 pages in - where the Prince of Ascension, hero Rafael (Rafe), goes to the jail where Dani is being held before being hanged for thieving (her escape plans didn't quite go as expected) and tells her if she wants to live, she's going to marry him. At first I was like - no way in hell would a prince (who has been kneed in the precious jewels) propose to marry a world-class thief after meeting her once. That's not how royalty, or love, works. It's just too quick.

But then, I was charmed quickly by Dani - and I could see the incredibly bored Prince Rafael being charmed by her immediately as well. Adding in her sway over the people as a 'Robin Hood' figure, and Rafe's desire to be in control of his own destiny, I actually came to respect this inconceivable plot device, and enjoy it. Unfortunately, after this point, things went downhill. The development of true love was weak - it just exploded upon us, and then Dani and Rafe began acting super weird and lusty and there was a ton of PDA and I was like 'ugh, I'm so out'. So the romance ceased to amuse me because it lacked the proper build up - Foley rushed into things and then had nowhere to go. So they just kept pawing at each other, and occasionally getting into little tiffs that made me roll my eyes. This part dropped the book a full letter grade for me - because Dani was an A+ heroine until Rafe came along. And if you say that about a romantic couple, better off alone than together, you know something went wrong.

Still, the plot was intriguing - our villain was a masterful and unassuming Iago type, complete with long monologues to the reader about his evil plans. I gave huge props to Foley for actually killing real characters that we came to care about to (yes, you read that right - in a romance, no less). Foley's not afraid to take us for all the emotion we're willing to spend. The writing was Foley's typical smooth flow, with nice descriptions, and only a few stagnant scenes that the editor should have cut (that first scene in Rafe's bedroom... WTF was even happening? What were all those rape-y feels we got from Rafe's 'friends'). The book occasionally felt like Foley had meant to go in one direction and then forgot, leaving us with more loose ends than I would have liked. I was willing to forgive the few inconsistencies of character from Rafe just because he was such an overgrown child at the beginning, and children are fickle. Towards the end he became much more steady.

Final positive - this book was funny as all get out. A lot of good, dry humor coming from one of my new favs - Dani Chiaramonte.

Favorite Quotes: 

I should have taken notes. This book actually made me laugh out loud on my couch. It was hysterical.

"Sexy"ness rating: Why do I even bother with this part? The books are always hot, hot, hot!

Overall Rating: C+

Bottom Line: An amazing, amazing heroine - the epitome of true strength and courage (if a little big pigheaded) and a hero with so much room to grow at the beginning, who becomes a leader and a fabulous lover by the end. Unfortunately, the first 150 pages are better than the last 250, leaving me with a sad feeling as I closed on the HEA.

Pages: 412
Published: 2003
Genre: Historical

Lady of Desire by Gaelen Foley

Book 4 in the Knight Miscellany Series



http://www.gaelenfoley.com/

     So this was the third book I read in my Gaelen Foley binge (see my review of Book 6, One Night of Sin, in her series for the fourth book I read) and I liked it very much. Frequently, we see historical series that have a bunch of older brothers and a spirited younger sister thrown in the mix (see Mary Balogh's Bedwyn Saga). Often these spirited sisters are a little too overly aggressive (overcompensating) for my tastes and all seem to come from the same mold. Jacinda Knight, our leading lady, is a beautiful blend of youth and innocence with the strength and ferocity to understand and overcome the barriers of innocence to her life's adventures. She admits she's wrong, is not wise beyond her years (but is wise enough that she knows it) and has the strength and spirit of youth.

     Our hero, Billy Blade (Earl of Rackford), is unconventional to say the least. With a miserably sad past as the unnecessary second son, Billy has left his aristocratic family behind and is now leader of a gang - the Firehawks. But he still has the manners of a gentleman, when it comes to Jacinda at least, when she wanders into his territory while following the boy who picked her pockets, preventing her from running away from her brother's arranged marriage for her. She is fascinated by his dangerous allure (and tattoos) but when he finds out who she is (after a stolen kiss and a few other liberties), he immediately returns her to her family.

     Unfortunately, a set-up forces Blade to either leave his beloved Firehawks behind for ton life or be sent to the gallows. Jacinda is none too happy to see him in London society, but eventually (recognizing a hopelessly lost man) begins to warm to Blade's plight and helps him adjust to his new lifestyle as gentleman and Earl. As they begin working together more closely, the romance blossoms and linger feelings ignite a passion. Foley's story goes beyond the romance, leading to an extended ending, to wrap up a few loose ends of the plot - but instead of being tedious, it's amazing. My favorite moment comes near the end of the book and has very little to do with the romance - and everything to do with Jacinda being amazing. I'd tell you what it is, but I really want you to read it for yourself. Suffice it to say, I can picture her standing on that rooftop, the best backup ever, hair blowing in the wind, the goddess of awesome-sauce and the coolest rescuing heroine ever.

Billy and Jacinda's romance is uniquely beautiful not only because they are unconventional but also because they help each other grow and mature so incredibly. They are so good for one another that it hurts, and it makes the heartbreak of Billy's past and Jacinda's future fade away into the kind of magical HEA that Foley does so well. The writing is superb, the pacing is excellent - there's truly very little to complain about here other than the unrealistic nature of the story's events and a few not-explained-well-enough plot holes (why can Billy's father spring him from jail but not Lucien?). The moment with Billy's father at the end, neatly wrapping up his horrible history, was touching but also a tad unrealistic. Jacinda's awesome - but maybe not awesome enough to cause such a conversation to occur in so short a time.

Favorite Quotes: 

I was not planning on reviewing this book so I didn't grab any quotes for you - but oh my goodness, it was funny. Jacinda and Blade, and the Knight brothers, promise some serious fun.

"Sexy"ness rating: Billy Blade is pretty good with his sword...

Overall Rating: B+

Bottom Line: An amazing heroine with plenty of fighting spirit and a dashing, unconventional gentleman for her lover. The romance was amazing, but truly it was Foley's portrayal of Jacinda that really bumped this book up from an average romance to an amazing romance.

Pages: 412
Published: 2003
Genre: Historical

One Night of Sin by Gaelen Foley

Book 6 in the Knight Miscellany Series


http://www.gaelenfoley.com/

     First, let me say that I've been on a Gaelen Foley binge these past two weeks - I've read four of her books in rapid succession. This is the first one I've stopped to review, for the sad reason that it irritated me some. I promise I'll try to post my more positive reviews of her other books soon, to be fair.

     In One Night of Sin, Rebecca 'Becky' Ward, cousin to an evil, scheming, lusty Prince Mikhail Kurkov, is being hunted down by her cousin's Cossack warriors after running away from their ancestral pile when he a) becomes her super-creepy guardian and b) kills a man in cold blood. When notorious rake (and gambler) Lord Alec Knight rushes to her rescue after finding her running about the streets of London alone, some hot and steamy romance ensues where he, presuming her to be a harlot, frees her of her innocence consensually and immediately. After he uncovers her innocence, he desires to marry her for honor's sake but is thwarted. However as the two grow closer when Alec helps Becky bring her cousin to justice, he begins to desire marriage for more than honor - for love.

Awww.

First - the good. Alec is charming, and his back story is very sad. I appreciated the author's credit to sexual situations that make men uncomfortable. Foley found a unique way to show that not all her male characters (and thus not all men) want all the sex they can get, all the time, and even rakehells are more than their dicks. Alec's story made the romance all the more delightful because you could see it healing him - watching his wariness and brokenness fade away was sweet. Becky is strong-willed but gentle with Alec, and so awesomely fierce. Talk about a fighter, whew. The sex is well-written and very erotic. The plot is interesting and there's plenty going on in the book other than the romance to keep us entertained without being confusing or distracting. 

Second - the disappointing. Nothing ruins a book for me than contradictions of character or poor pacing. Contradictions came in early and stayed til the end. Examples? Becky is very independent and strong (she kicks a dandy in the gonads about 35 pages in), and has successfully found her way to London from Buckley-on-Heath, the self-professed middle-of-freakin'-nowhere, but now that she's in London, can't seem to find her way to a single street and doesn't have the warrior spirit to march up to someone and ask. How about Alec - ultimate fop and aristocrat, never been in a battle in his life but enjoys sparing with his friends, who successfully kills multiple Cossack warriors single-handedly (yeah right) and doesn't even think twice about the violence when this is likely the first time he's killed someone is such an overly bloody manner. Literally, no moral musings about killing people at all. Similarly, other violent events against people who are unarmed (though maybe a tiny bit deserving) also struck me as just a bit contradictory for such a gentleman. 

The pacing - Alec had so many woman-issues and trust problems, rightfully so, but he divulged them all to Becky and got over them and into loving her way too quickly for my tastes. I expected a delicious and bitter fight for his heart til the end, and Foley tried to sell me that story, but it simply wasn't true. Alec was hooked from the start - but he shouldn't have been. So the poor pacing made me sort of impatient with the romance; it was simply too easy.

Finally, the fact that the book hinged on Alec's rather serious gambling addiction unsettled me. If I were Becky, I'd be less concerned about the allure of other women and far more worried about how his addiction was going to ruin our marriage. That thought left a lingering sour taste in my mouth about the supposed Happy Ever After - I was in no way convinced Alec was not going to turn their fortune into chips at the table.

Favorite Quotes: 

Unfortunately, though there were a few good laughs, I did not take notes while reading this book and thus I have no quotes for you. Sorry, loves.

"Sexy"ness rating: Yum with a cherry on top. We are steamy from the first page to the last (pretty much literally, by the way).

Overall Rating: B-

Bottom Line: An entertaining read, and definitely a worthwhile part of the Knight Series. Alec really tugged at my heartstrings, and the book had no end of adventure and heat. Becky was fun and enjoyable, the writing was Foley's typical awesome-sauce. I could have handled a little more consistency and realism though, and after three good books it dropped this one in my esteem a bit.

Extra Note: I truly do love the notes Foley puts in the back of her book, lending credibility to her stories by discussing the historical research she's put into the series. It's a small bonus for her readers, but I'm always interested in seeing how much work goes into a piece of fiction - more than anyone ever suspects.

Pages: 467
Published: 2005
Genre: Historical

Sunday, June 2

Mad About the Earl by Christina Brooke

Book 2 in the Ministry of Marriage series



This is the first review I've done in a while, so bear with me as I organize my thoughts.

First, I love Beauty and the Beast tales - and boy was this a good one! Lady Rosamund Westruther is the perfect innocent, a lady with stars in her eyes. While those stars may dim a little throughout the course of her tumultuous romance with the occasionally boorish yet strong and handsome Earl of Tregarth (Griffin), her strength of character, persistence, and innovation make her a lovable and unique heroine. I enjoyed her from the very beginning when she first set her stubborn sights on Griffin and set him in his place. Brooke did an excellent job walking the line between emotional strength and high-strung prissiness with Rosamund. Similarly, I enjoyed how Griffin never truly lost some of his more gruff, burly qualities. Rosamund may have polished him a little bit, but she certainly didn't make him change for her. Rosamund's naivety was a little startling at times, considering her mother's more scandalous behavior, but I found her shy sensuality adorable and refreshing. I think the only thing I could have wished for was to understand Griffin's epiphany moment a little better - it seemed rather sudden and unprovoked. 

While the romance itself was lovely, a dash of drama with hints of tortured hero and exasperated heroine, the main plot of the book was overused. Hint, hint: There's a murder and some smugglers. To be honest, I didn't like this overly dramatic plot the first book I read it in, and become less enamored with it with every reboot. Also, the plot feels a little rushed - it's undermentioned in the first half of the book, so suddenly we're in a cave, fighting some smugglers like 'the fuck'? When the real murderer is revealed, the motivation behind it doesn't real come across so you're left confused as to why the author chose to use this inane plot device in her story at all. The sheer annoyance of having to read through the babble about the 'mystery' really turned me off during the second half of the book and I couldn't have wished it to be over fast enough.

For supporting characters, we have a clever and cynical Duke (Rosamund's guardian), a nasty mother (on that note - the painting catastrophe was also a strange and unnecessary addition to this book that I could have done without), a supportive sister, and a set of sometimes-loyal-sometimes-not townsfolk. I'd love to see more of the Duke and Xavier (the brother) for sure and was happily amused at the mother's situation, as it was revealed during the epilogue. 

Favorite Quotes:
Sadly, I did not take down any this time - I was not planning on reviewing the book (due to limited time constraints indicated by my clear inactivity on my blog in the past year or more) so I didn't take any notes. But trust me, there were many heart-melting and rotfl-inducing moments in this tale!

"Sexy"ness Rating: Hot! Only a few lovemaking scenes but dayum are they delicious!

Overall Rating: B+

Bottom Line: If you like gruff heroes and the stubborn heroines who step on their toes then this is a book for you. Beware the overused and dramatic main plot - skim if possible - and enjoy!

Pages: 328
Published: January 3, 2012
Genre: Historical