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  • Untouched by Anna Campbell
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Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas



Gigi and Camden….the perfect couple in London’s polite society, who maintained an amiable distance for 10 years….distance that spanned over two continents….After 10 years Gigi has found the perfect man who would accept her and love her as she is…and she wants to marry him…hence after a decade she asks her husband for a divorce…a quick and convenient end to the marriage that existed only in name for about a decade…..Least does she expect Camden to show up on her doorstep….Agreeing to give her a divorce on ‘one’ condition….She must give him a heir…for which she would have to endure his attentions for a year….a year and if she produced no heirs he would set her free….Gigi agrees to this request somewhat reluctantly …as she sees this as the only way to get rid of  the man who got over her 10 years ago…


Philippa Gilberte Rowland…. ‘Gigi’ is not beautiful, genteel or charming….but she is rich, with no confidence in her womanly wiles but strong faith in her considerable fortune and the opportunity it presents to snag a coronet of Strawberry leaves to become a duchess….She has ‘almost’ snagged herself a duke…’almost’ because the said duke has an accident and dies…..Enter Camden…the afore mentioned duke’s heir….

Camden is a handsome and engaging young man who has single-handedly kept his family from financial ruin, and, like Gigi, understands the importance of wealth and the value of hard work. He is a physicist and admires Gigi’s courage, intelligence and ‘enterprising’ ways….Gigi admires Camden’s intelligence too and both of them have emotional voids that the other could fill.. Between the strong mutual attraction, however, lies a promise Camden has made to another woman, an incredibly shy beauty who continued to waffle on a final decision to marry Camden, despite his honorable intentions to wait her out. Gigi is not so patient, however, and despite Camden’s refusal of her proposal, she ultimately schemes to bring Camden’s attraction more directly into alignment with her intent to marry.

It is a ruse Camden discovers before the wedding, and his anger morphs into a plan to humiliate Gigi without sacrificing his access to her considerable fortune. Thus, after one night of wedded life, Gigi and Camden are separated for a decade, still married but fully estranged. When Camden arrives at Gigi’s doorstep demanding an heir in exchange for the divorce she is now seeking, all the unsettled emotion between them flares, bringing the civility of ten years’ separation to a quick, blessed end.

The novel proceeds as an unfolding of Gigi and Camden’s relationship, past and present. The strategy works well, helping build the emotional tension in the couple’s current estrangement by slowly revealing the events leading up to it, including the incredibly strong connection between Gigi and Camden at the beginning of their relationship.  And as I shuffled between the past and the present with the story I was not sure whose side I was on. Initially I was with Camden because he was deceived, then I was with Gigi because Camden blinded by his pride just could not see her love. By the end I was not sure whether  I was on Camden’s side of the argument or Gigi’s. But by then I was already praying for their reconciliation.

This would definitely be a 9/10 book! Just for the sheer spectrum of emotions it invokes in the reader and its somewhat selfish, but lovely yet practical characters!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Goddess of the hunt by Tessa Dare

   

Lucy Waltham has grown up on her brother’s estate, riding, fishing, and shooting. A highlight of the year has always been the fall, when Henry’s three dearest friends – Felix, Toby, and Jeremy - arrive for weeks of outdoor activities. Henry’s marriage and subsequent fatherhood only meant that Lucy couldn’t enjoy a London Season, as it seems her sister-in-law is continually pregnant.  Now Lucy is 19 and determined to marry the man she loves: Sir Toby Aldridge, whom she’s loved since she was a child.

There is a slight problem. Felix has arrived with his new wife and her sister, Sophia, and Toby has fallen head over heels for her. Sophia is pretty, ladylike, and also wealthy – in short, everything that Lucy is not. So Lucy decides to use Jeremy Trescott, Earl of Kendall, to practice her seductive wiles and make Toby jealous. Surely Jemmy, whom Lucy has also known since childhood, will help her out?

Jeremy is outraged, though he can’t quite figure out why. He tells himself that he doesn’t want Lucy to make a fool of herself and have her feelings hurt. But why is he spending so much time thinking about her delectable beauty and enchanting body? Toby would be all wrong for Lucy.  Jeremy, of course, isn’t interested in marriage, but he’ll do whatever it takes to, um, protect Lucy.

These two are a hoot. Lucy is about as unpretentious a heroine as they come, which is an absolutely delightful breath of fresh air. She fumbles and makes mistakes, but never dwells on them, only pushes ahead to her next idea. Jeremy finds her joie de vivre to be infectious, though he tries hard to hold onto his staid, proper demeanor. Their chemistry is explosive, which ultimately leads to an unexpected marriage and a chance for an equally unexpected love. And the author does it all with a writing style that is as fresh and unpretentious as her characters.

Jeremy has a painful family past, when is presented here as rather matter-of-fact. He’s stuck with the sins of his father, which he accepts, though he’s not quite sure how to get past it. This was an excellent touch as it allows readers to understand him without making him seem like he’s wallowing in victimhood. Jeremy isn’t exactly opposed to love; he’s just not sure he’d recognize it if it hit him in the face. And now it is up to Lucy to enlighten him...

Intellectually, they are well-matched. Lucy is bright and sharp-witted, and has a great sense of humor. Jeremy’s just as quick-witted, making their conversations a treat for the reader. Seeing them banter and wise crack makes this a very realistic tale as opposed to the fairy tale like quality some stories have.

The secondary characters play out in unexpectedly stereotype-free fashion. Henry is a loving brother, and his neglect of Lucy’s introduction into Society is presented as an oversight as he has little need of Society himself. Sophia could easily have become the villainess, but she and Lucy forge an unexpected friendship. Everywhere you look in this novel, the characters are doing unexpected things.

There is a thin line between humor and flippancy, the author weaves in and out of humor without slipping into flippancy, she makes tragedy seem realistic so that the characters tackle the problem and move on instead of wallowing in it, and the most lovely part of this story is the element of surprise you can never quite guess what they are going to do next!

Lively, funny, with a twist of tragedy and a sizzling love story at the heart of it all! One cannot help but fall a little in love with Jeremy and Lucy.

A 10/10 for Ms. Tessa Dare....eagerly awaiting her next one!

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Proof by Seduction by Courtney Milan


Madame Esmeralda, Jenny Keeble, a fortune teller in London is once visited by Ned, a young lord prone to depressive throes, who walks up to her one fine day and says “Give me one reason why I should not end it all.” Madam Esmeralda cannot see the future, but she wants to save a youth bent on the path of self destruction and hence convinces Ned that his future would be happy. A lie that in addition to lining Madam’s pockets, gives Ned a new hope to live, to make something of himself….And an unlikely friendship develops between the young lord and the fortune teller who cannot tell the future….A friendship that Ned values because it once gave him a reason to live, and one that Madam Esmeralda values simply because she has no friends, no family, no one to call her own.

Two years later….Ned’s cousin Gareth is determined to rescue Ned ….In addition to the distance from ordinary feelings arising from his rank, Gareth Carhart, Marquess of Blakely is a scientist, a man whose entire approach to the world is based on reason and proof.  Thus, when he discovers that his young nephew and heir is in the thrall of a fortune teller, Blakely sets out to demonstrate to Ned that this woman is a fraud.  Ned, firmly believes in Jenny’s prognostication skills and wanting to prove them to Blakely.

Thus they devise a “scientific” test after Jenny predicts that Blakely will meet his future wife at an upcoming ball. Jenny devises a series of tasks for Blakely to complete on the way to finding true love. Thus we have Jenny, Ned and the veracity of fortunetellers on one side, and Blakely and science on the other side. Quite a battle ensues.

Jenny is appalled at Blakely’s determination to unmask her to Ned, not simply because she appreciates the fees but because the young man of nineteen who began to visit her two years earlier was on a path to self-destruction.  Her counsel had convinced Ned that his future would be happy and she is fearful that the sudden discovery that she is a fraud will set him off on a downward spiral. But Blakely refuses to hear her warning, so determined is he to prove Ned that he has been Madame Esmerelda’s dupe.

Blakely’s quest draws Jenny unwillingly into his world and into an effort to thwart his designs.  Blakely can see through her disguise, but Jenny can also see beyond the marquess’  cold fa├žade to the lonely man whose position and personality have kept him from meaningful human contact.  Blakely is shocked to discover his attraction to a woman he knows is a charlatan.  Jenny is surprised that she is drawn to her opponent, both sexually and personally.

Thus we have two very strong characters, both who complete each other emotionally so beautifully and a story full of humor, emotions and a little philosophy to take home. A complete package.
A 8/10. Wonderful weekend read.

This rake of mine by Elizabeth Boyle


Miss Jane Porter, is a teacher at Miss Emery’s establishment for young ladies, a teacher of decorum, who had a fall from grace years ago. Years ago, Miss Porter was Miss Miranda Mabberly….. Miranda Mabberly, a rich London heiress, poised to marry the rich and title Lord Oxley. Although Miranda is repulsed at her betrothal to Lord Oxley, Miranda's wealthy parents regard the upcoming marriage as an entree into society. Fate intervenes when playboy Lord Jack Tremont plants a kiss on Miranda during a night out at the opera in full view of the society mavens. Having mistaken Miranda for his mistress, Jack has unknowingly plunged himself and Miranda into scandal. When Lord Oxley calls off the wedding, Miranda's reputation is in ruins and she is disinherited and abandoned by her parents. With nowhere else to go, Miranda beseeches her former teacher, Miss Emery, for a teaching position at her school for girls in Bath, England. Miss Emery agrees to hire Miranda on the condition that she changes her name to disassociate herself from the scandal involving herself and Lord Tremont. Miranda Mabberly becomes Miss Jane Porter, teacher of decorum.

Lord Jack Tremont, mad Jack, a rake beyond reform regrets one mistake from his ‘rake’ days….Miss Miranda Mabberly, the girl he ruined by kiss, and when he wants to make amends he realizes the girl is dead. Dead. Not even a chance to atone for his sins.

Nine years later,  Lord Jack Tremont arrives at Miss Emery’s school in order to transport his niece back home after she is expelled. There as fates would have it he runs in to a teacher, Miss Jane Porter….. a spinsterish teacher who is hauntingly familiar to him.

Miranda and Jack's worlds collide once again when Miranda escorts via carriage three of her students who are making the trip home to Kent. When a fierce storm forces the women to take refuge at Thistleton Park, a gloomy estate in Sussex, Miranda is shocked to discover that the owner is none other than Lord Jack Tremont. Equally shocked to have Miss Jane Porter and her three young charges as houseguests, Lord Jack attempts to send the women on their way, to no avail. Tremont is all too aware that danger surrounds Thistleton Park, as evidenced by the mysterious disappeareance/presumed death of his elderly aunt. Soon, Miranda discovers that her three charges are playing matchmaker between herself and Lord Tremont. Although Miranda knows that she has no future with a rake like Lord Tremont, she finds herself falling under Jack's spell as danger and intrigue threatens their budding relationship.

Throw into the mix a mad dead aunt, a nosy neighbor determined to hang Jack, a smuggling racquet, all the humor coming of misplaced attempts at matchmaking and you have a thoroughly entertaining story…..It would not be fair to judge the story by the character sketches of hero and heroine, it is the entire mix of secondary character and circumstantial humor and a little of the present – past shuffling that makes this a thorough entertainer. As always Boyle makes you laugh a little all the way to the end. Sort of like watching a romantic comedy like Sweet home Alabama on a Saturday afternoon.

I would give it a 7.5/10. Very very good for a light read but not exceptional.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Not quite a husband by Sherry Thomas



Leo Marsden and Bryony Asquith were childhood acquaintances, growing up on neighboring estates. Bryony was four years older and took little notice of Leo, while he worshipped her from afar.
Leo grew up to become a brilliant mathematician, a golden boy whom society worshipped, and the boy who could have his pick from soceity’s very best.
Bryony followed the difficult path of becoming a female doctor. A female doctor in an age where it was unacceptable for women to have a profession and much harder if she had something as difficult as a medical calling. Bryony, alone, almost ostracized by the society….
And now their paths cross again when Leo is society’s darling golden boy and Bryony is twenty nine and firmly on the shelf. Bryony impulsively asked Leo to marry her. Leo just as impulsively agreed.
And thus begins an impulsive marriage…which is not at all what the other expected and not happy at all…there are no quarrels or arguments or misunderstandings or fits of temper…just stony silences, wooden expressions, bland reactions or rather a total lack of reactions….voids that leave not only Leo but also the reader puzzled,  that what exactly is wrong….why are they so unhappy? Leo couldn’t break through Bryony’s cold-as-ice demeanor in bed, and when she finally asked him for an annulment, he numbly agreed.

Bryony left England to travel, Germany, America and eventually ending up in India.
Leo too has wandered but he always feared what Bryony would do in a strange foreign land. What if she was scared? What if she ran into trouble? What if she needed someone? How would anyone know with her friends and family so far away? So he wanders after her first Germany, then America and at last India, content in the fact that he is near her even if she doesn’t know it.
When in India Leo gets a wire from Bryony’s sister Callista to fetch her sister home….their father is dying….and thus Leo sets out on a groveling journey to the north west frontier of India.
Bryony is shocked to lay her eyes on Leo again, when she hears of the reason for his visit she is instantly suspicious of Callista’s motives, since Callista has fabricated numerous tales to throw Leo and her together and at first refuses to accompany Leo anywhere. At last she reluctantly relents and they set out to a journey to the Indian plains from where Byrony can return to England.
And thus begins a journey inside their minds as well, a journey when the surroundings are in chaos and turmoil as  Leo comes down with malaria, and Bryony  nurses him as they wind their way through the Indian countryside. A journey where and Leo are forced to examine their feelings for one another , to think about chances they have lost and to dream of second chances. A revolt against the British is brewing, and their path becomes treacherous. Caught up in midst of a minor war (the uprising of Swat) both of them come to terms with the fact that each cannot bear to lose the other and they would fall apart if anything happened to either of them.
. Both Bryony and Leo have apologies to make, and they must work to overcome their lack of trust in one another, no matter how hot their physical passion flares. They discover each other and ask themselves if only they can forgive each other and make a new start….if only….
Review – As you must have gathered by now this is not a regency romance, nor of the Napoleonic times….this is one from the period between Independence of America and the first world war. The change of scene is most refreshing. Leo is an easy to love, admire and empathize with hero. My heart went out to him right from the beginning of this book. Bryony though seems a little rude, aloof and unreasonable at the beginning, as the story unfolds, Bryony’s difficult past comes to light and her actions are easier to understand and accept and she makes her own special place in the reader’s heart. The story is not dramatic or full of emotions running high. It is a tale of understanding, acceptance, forgiveness and love that is long lasting, all embracing and enduring.

A 9/10

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Spymaster's lady by Joanna Bourne



Paris 1802,

In a private French prison, Annique Villiers, a French spy, is about to be tortured over "the Albion plans" - Napoleon's secret plans for the invasion of England. Annique's torturer, the sadistic and villainous Leblanc, fully intends to kill her, but not before he gets those papers - which he plans to use to his own advantage.

In the cell with her are Grey, a British Head of Section who has managed to keep his full identity from Leblanc, and his wounded compatriot, Adrian.

Annique and Grey work together to escape. They escape….each for his own reason, Annique must take the plans to her spymaster and teacher Vauban so that they can plan how to stop Napoleon’s madness without betraying France….Grey wants to escape so that he can take Adrian, Annique and the Albion plans to England and stop Napoleon’s madness. Thus Annique has unwittingly escaped from one prison to another. And thus begins Annique’s attempt to escape again, to escape from Grey, to escape from Le Blanc, to escape from Le Blanc’s cruel deputy Henri, to escape from the French patrols scouting the country for her, to escape from Fouche the head of secret police who would like nothing better than to pimp her. But first she has to escape Grey…..Grey who is as good a spy as she is and keeps outwitting her all the time. Grey who is strong but not cruel, who is kind but not foolish, who is going to make a traitor out of her if she can’t escape!

And thus begins this wonderful story of cat and mouse chase, to say more about the plot would be giving it away….So instead I would like to talk about the two characters and how the entire story looks from end to end.

Annique, a blind French spy, Annique is the daughter of spies, been raised from a child to be a spy, and has learned her job well. Though she is just 19, she has worked for France as a boy, and in battlefields and boarding houses for years, earning an impressive reputation and the respect of all members of the spying community - no matter their nationality. Though she’s become blind due to an accident she is as wonderful as two spies, that is four eyes put together. She also has another gift, a wonderful memory, which can file away a lot of information in a very short period in an alarmingly detailed manner. A gift which the French are exploiting. Or to put it better…..a gift which the French “think” that they are exploiting.

Annique does indeed hold the secret of the Albion plans and the knowledge tears her apart. She knows that the invasion cannot succeed and will only cause untold death and devastation, but can she bring herself to give the plans to the enemy English? The fate of all those lives rest solely upon her shoulders, and the weight of her decision is a burden no one should have to bear. Annique is a wholly unique character and a fascinating one. She is incredibly competent and skillful - a believable master spy - and has stunning resourcefulness and resolve.

Grey is a more straightforward English spy, though also frighteningly competent and pragmatic. He has met his match in Annique, however, and it is fun to watch him try and figure her out and stay one step ahead, failing to do so more than once. Grey's real beauty as a character, though, is his steadfastness. He and Annique engage in many battles of wit, lies and deceptions, but there is never any doubt that he loves her throughout. He never jumps to conclusions about Annique's own feelings about him - seeming to know them better than she does herself - but accepts that her lies are part of the spy game. They are each doing their jobs and that includes lying to each other at times, but they also accept that the love is not a lie and cannot be concealed from the other, though at times they wish it could.

Review – And finally some advice. What can make this book a 9/10 or a 5/10 is the expectations that you start reading it with. If you are expecting a romance with a lot of passion, emotional turmoil, heated arguments, unnecessary pride and pouting, the conventional plots of hero not-wanting-to-fall-in-love and-yet-falling, or a marriage of convenience, this book is not for you. Frankly, do not attempt reading it. To those who are still interested, here’s more…..

The strength of this book is the strength of its characters, primary as well as secondary and a well thought out or shall I say a well-plotted fast-paced plot. As funny as it may sound but the writer treats both the story as well as the readers with respect….she assumes both to be intelligent. Annique and Grey are interesting characters, there chase, battles, collaboration and relationship all keep the reader on the edge, with a what will happen next kind of feeling.

 As for the romance in this book Annique and Grey's love is a love of the intellect as well as the body. A meeting of minds as well as the bodies. It's a combination that cannot be beaten and makes this a smart and masterful book.

Rating – If I read it from point of view of a story 9/10….[That is to say that I really really liked this book] .but if you read it from a love story point of view 7.5/10 [That is to say that some may not like this book]

Monday, 10 May 2010

One night for love



Lauren Edgeworth, the perfect bride and countess-to-be, is set to marry her childhood friend, Neville Wyatt, the Earl of Kilbourne. It’s the day all her dreams are going to come true. Her happiness is such that she herself wonders if anyone has the right to be so deliriously happy. And at this very moment of happiness, a tired, disheveled women walks into the church, claiming to be Neville’s wife….Lily.



Lily…Lily, once an innocent little girl, a commoner, the daughter of a soldier in Neville’s company, is secretly in love with him. But knows that Major Lord Newbury (Neville) is far above her reach. So she travels with her father’s company and becomes Major Lord Newbury’s friend and confidante. When her father is injured in battle and dying, Neville promises him that he would look after her daughter, he would marry her. Thus she gets married to the man she has loved for so long and follows their one night of love…one night of love which is a transcendent experience for him as well as her but after she is shot before his eyes in the ambush that leaves him unconscious, he accepts that she is dead. Heartbroken by the loss, when he receives the news of his father’s death Neville returns home to do his duty as the Earl of Neville.



Neville is about to marry his step-cousin Lauren, Lauren whose sweet countenance commands love and affection of any man. Its his wedding today. He is embarking on a future that was planned long ago for him, by his father. Becoming the earl of Kilbourne and marrying his step cousin Lauren, a fate he should not have tried to avoid by running off to join the army. A fate to which life had given him a second chance…A second chance he was not about to let go of….and that’s when Lily walks into the church. Lily, his wife. Lily, his countess. Lily, whose love and innocence was so precious to him and Lily….Lily who was dead. His heart soars with joy on seeing Lily, his Lily, alive. Lily tells him her story, of her journey from the dream-like innocence of their wedding to the ugly, brutality and captivity by the Spanish who kidnapped her when he thought she was dead in the ambush. The Spanish who raped her repeatedly till she had escaped their clutches. But none of this deters Neville from hoping that he and Lily can have a life together.



Unfortunately, building that life will not be easy. Lily, a commoner, is hopelessly out of place at Newbury Abbey. Not only is she a social misfit, but her unfettered love of nature and the intensity of her experiences leave her with little patience for the vapid society that is her husband's birthright. She feels that she can never be worthy of being his countess. In her mind, she is always Lily Doyle….and he is always Major Lord Newbury, and they are happy in their little life together. The Earl of Kilbourne is a stranger to her, a stranger who belongs with someone beautiful, charming, sophisticated and competent as Lauren, not someone illiterate, ignorant and wild as her. As time passes it becomes a question of whether she wants to be another Lauren just to fit in? The question changes from if she will fit in to if she wants to fit in? And that’s when she decides to leave Neville again…..



Neville loves Lily. He loves her as she is. A little wild, ignorant, innocent, untouched by the pretenses the world puts on. And a little because of his selfishness to keep her that way and a lot out of love for her, he doesn’t want her to struggle to keep up with the expectations people have from her….to become the perfect countess…But the expectations, the feeling of failure does get to Lily. Feeling caged, confined and depressed, Lily decides to leave him to make an emotional journey towards her wholeness…alone. Leaving him alone.



The best part about this story is that no character is perfect. There’s Lauren who is so sympathetic to both Neville and Lily, and yet so sad and lonely that it at times makes the reader begrudge Lily her happiness. Lily, whose emotional turmoil brings tears to the eyes and whose emotional triumph makes your insides smile. Neville who sympathizes with Lauren, understands her pain but is in love with Lily. So much in love that he is prepared to go through a life without her….a lifetime of waiting for her to come back to him. And though all these characters have their own imperfections its so difficult not to fall in love with them.



Rich with emotional and historical detail, it is a story of compassion and gravity told with simplicity. Neither is the emotional aftermath or turmoil sensationalized and trivialized. It is simply narrated and it is left to the readers to feel the anguish, the happiness and the triumph of the characters. A romantic tale with the perfect touch of a classic. A perfect 10/10 book.