30 October 2015

Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas (The Ravenels #1)

Summary from Goodreads:
A twist of fate . . .

Devon Ravenel, London's most wickedly charming rake, has just inherited an earldom. But his powerful new rank in society comes with unwanted responsibilities . . . and more than a few surprises. His estate is saddled with debt, and the late earl's three innocent sisters are still occupying the house . . . along with Kathleen, Lady Trenear, a beautiful young widow whose sharp wit and determination are a match for Devon's own.

A clash of wills . . .

Kathleen knows better than to trust a ruthless scoundrel like Devon. But the fiery attraction between them is impossible to deny—and from the first moment Devon holds her in his arms, he vows to do whatever it takes to possess her. As Kathleen finds herself yielding to his skillfully erotic seduction, only one question remains:

Can she keep from surrendering her heart to the most dangerous man she's ever known?

Much fanfare accompanies the release of Cold-Hearted Rake because it marks the return of Lisa Kleypas to Avon Books for a new historical romance series.  We are introduced to a high-spirited, temperamental, somewhat dysfunctional family, the Ravenels.

As Cold-Hearted Rake opens, we are introduced to the dissolute Devon Ravenel (Dev) and his younger brother Weston (West), drunk and sprawled over the furniture.  Dev has just had the misfortune to inherit the Trenear earldom from his obnoxious, useless, and now very-dead cousin Theo with whom he never got along and now finds himself in possession of a mountain of debt and an extremely run-down estate.  And three teenage cousins.  And one widow.  As Dev drunkenly whines about how inconvenient the whole, messy thing is and how the widowed Lady Trenear must be awful, Kathleen, Lady Trenear, reveals herself.  She has heard the whole thing and gives Dev a piece of her mind.  Dev is a right bastard in his response to her and so they arrive at a stalemate of mutual loathing.

Dev, as he starts unraveling the mess his cousin made of the Trenear estate, begins to see the potential in his inheritance.  He has never had anything he could work at, nothing that he could create with his own hands and brain (because God-forbid the nobility actually be useful for anything), and realizes that he can become more than just the screw-up poor cousin.  For her part, Kathleen wrestles with guilt over her possible association with her husband's death and with the shadow of her strange upbringing.  She has never had a family that felt like "family" and now that she has three sisters-in-law and two cousins-in-law (West manages to make himself endearing far before Dev) she might have found the family warmth she had been missing.

Cold-Hearted Rake reminds me of Kleypas's Secrets of a Summer Night (Wallflowers #1) in structure - a lot of plot detail to set up both this book and the coming series, many side-characters (the three younger cousins - Helen, Pandora, and Cassandra - are a delight as is West), and a possible B-plot romance to set up the next book in the series, Marrying Winterbourne.  However, there is so much other stuff going on in the book - and a long plot timeline - that we are constantly pulled away from the development of Dev's and Kathleen's romance.  Dev is an out-and-out dickweasel to Kathleen at different points in the book, even after they have started to thaw toward one another, and Kathleen, in my opinion, needed a stiffer spine in places.  We don't see them grow toward one another over the course of the book so it makes the HEA feel rushed and unconvincing.  That's saying something considering Kleypas managed to take St. Vincent, who was more-or-less the villain at the end of It Happened One Autumn and turn him into one of the best romantic heroes in the follow-up, The Devil in Winter.  The resolution in Cold-Hearted Rake makes me think Kleypas didn't put her all into Dev and Kathleen.  It isn't terrible, it's just not as good as I know it could be (in addition, we never quite find out how Theo managed to screw up so much without anyone knowing about it).

Cold-Hearted Rake is out this week from US retailers!

Dear FTC: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.

28 October 2015

Scandal Takes the Stage by Eva Leigh (The Wicked Quills of London #2)

Summary from Goodreads:
Eva Leigh’s smart and sexy Wicked Quills of London series continues, with a playwright and a Viscount . . . together they may create a scandal worthy of the stage, but can their love last after the final curtain falls?

Successful playwright Maggie Delamere has no interest in the flirtations of noblemen like Cameron, Viscount Marwood. She once paid dearly for a moment of weakness . . . and vows to rebuff the wildly persistent—and irritatingly handsome—scoundrel at every turn. But when pressure to deliver a new play hampers her creativity, an invitation to use his country estate as a writer’s retreat is too tempting to resist...

For years, Cam has admired Maggie’s brilliant work, and he can’t pass up the opportunity to discover if the beautiful, mysterious playwright is as passionate and clever as the words that flow from her quill. He’s never offered a lady his bed without being in it, but if it means loosening Maggie’s pen—and her inhibitions—he’ll do exactly that.

But soon Cam’s plans for seduction become a fight for Maggie’s heart. He’s more than the scandalous, carefree rake society believes him to be . . . and she’s the only woman who has ever noticed.

We were introduced to Maggie and Cam in the first book of Eva Leigh's new series, Forever Your Earl.  Maggie is Eleanor's playwright friend while Cam is Daniel's buddy-in-debauchery.  Cam is a devotee of the theatre, specifically of Maggie's Imperial theatre and her plays, known as burlettas - plays with sung dialogue (think Singspiel) - to avoid issues with new play licenses peculiar to the London theatre scene.  As Scandal Takes the Stage opens, Cam turns on the charm - or what he thinks is charm - when he finally meets Maggie only to run up against a brick wall of disdain.  Maggie has no use for idle, useless, noblemen.

Maggie's immediate problem is that she has writer's block.  She must produce a new burletta or the money walks.  Cam is a distraction.  She doesn't need distractions (yes, she does).  When the producers pull out of the Imperial after Maggie fails to deliver a workable play, Cam becomes the Imperial's patron and lures Maggie out to his country estate, an idyllic writing retreat.  There the two become close, very close, and Maggie begins to open up, both in her writing and to Cam.

Compared to Forever Your Earl, Scandal Takes the Stage is a romance with a much slower burn.  Earl snaps and sparkles while Scandal putters along until it starts to smolder.  I liked all the backstage swirl of the Imperial and the camaraderie of the theatre company, the costumers and the dancers and the actors.  The idea of the cross-class romance of Maggie (commoner) and Cam (viscount, who will eventually become a marquess) was very intriging.  But their story felt flat.  Not every romance has to buzz and fizz with tension but I felt as if their relationship was jumbled together without time for everything to gel on the page.  For instance, Maggie informs Cam that she comes from a Jewish family and, therefore, doesn't attend Sunday services.  This is an interesting tidbit, and an uncommon one, but then goes nowhere.  It isn't used by Cam's father to object to their relationship, that I recall, and it isn't explained how Maggie and Cam could marry in the Church of England (I'm not entirely certain of my English church history, but I think there were rules still in place about religion and the nobility in the early 19th-century).  Similarly, we don't get a satisfactory explanation as to why Cam is so resistant to getting married.

Scandal Takes the Stage is available now in the US - it's a nice follow-up to Forever Your Earl, but perhaps suffers a bit in comparison.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

27 October 2015

Falling Into Bed With a Duke by Lorraine Heath (The Hellions of Havisham #1)


In the first in a dazzling new series, New York Times bestselling author Lorraine Heath introduces the Hellions of Havisham-three charismatic rogues destined to lose their hearts…

After six unsuccessful Seasons, Miss Minerva Dodger chooses spinsterhood over fortune-hungry suitors. But thanks to the Nightingale Club, she can at least enjoy one night of pleasure. At that notorious establishment, ladies don masks before choosing a lover. The sinfully handsome Duke of Ashebury is more than willing to satisfy the secretive lady’s desires-and draws Minerva into an exquisite, increasingly intimate affair.

A man of remarkable talents, Ashe soon deduces that his bedmate is the unconventional Miss Dodger. Intrigued by her wit and daring, he sets out to woo her in earnest. Yet Minerva refuses to trust him. How to court a woman he has already thoroughly seduced? And how to prove that the passion unleashed in darkness is only the beginning of a lifetime’s pleasure…?

I have not read extensively through Lorraine Heath's backlist. I've read the three Lost Lords of Pembrook (and the novella) and the first two Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James (When the Duke Was Wicked is very good but I had some real problems with Once More, My Darling Rogue and never read The Duke and the Lady in Red) and I have a one or two from London's Greatest Lovers and Scoundrels of St. James kicking around on my Nook somewhere. From how I understand it, the Scoundrels are the older generation who begat the heroes and heroines of Scandalous, London's Greatest, and now this new series, Hellions of Havisham. (Aside: I would really, really appreciate it if someone at Heath's publisher could put together a family tree of all the characters for reference on her website because there some half-siblings that I can't keep straight. Thanks.)

So, in this new Hellions of Havisham series (spot on the nose with the estate name used), three young boys are sent to live with the eccentric (read: probably not all-together-there) Marquess of Marsden after their parents are killed in a railway accident: Nicholson, the new Duke of Ashebury (Ashe), Albert, the new Earl of Greyling, and Albert's twin Edward. Together with Locksley, Marsden's neglected son, the boys grow up to travel the world and raise Cain wherever they go. Now twenty years later, Ashe has developed a talent for photography and a particular fetish (no spoilers, you'll have to read on to figure it out). He frequents The Nightingale Club to indulge this interest with ladies who wish for the pleasure of a lover without the burden of a marriage.

Miss Minerva Dodger has decided that, since the men of Society seem more interested in proposing to her dowry than herself, she will remain a spinster. Most like. So to that end she obtains the address of The Nightingale Club and presents herself - adequately masked - to discover for herself the pleasure she is supposed to find in the marriage bed (those of us well-versed in Victorian history know that it was pretty hit or miss for happy marriages in the upper classes of England). Of course, she catches Ashe's eye by merely walking into the room.

Given that I had not liked my previous outing with Heath's characters, I tried to hold my judgement in check until the end of the book. I am so very glad I gave this new novel a chance. The push-pull between Minerva and Ashe regarding who-knows-the-truth-about-what-went-on-between-them-at-the-club and the thought process Ashe uses to connect his anonymous lady and Minerva was very good. I really loved Minerva, who we previously met as Grace's friend in When the Duke Was Wicked. She's intelligent, curious without being artificially naive, can defend herself, and absolutely fed-up with males who think they can marry the money and leave her in the country (she even wrote the book about how to spot a fortune-hunter). There is some ham-fistedness regarding dowries and who does or doesn't need money that I felt could have been plotted much better but the resolution was nice.

I'm not sure which Hellion is next on Heath's list: Locke or Edward (interestingly enough, Greyling is already married - has been for two years - when this novel starts and so doesn't seem to figure into the series) Scratch that thought, I just did some internet-digging and the next one has a really wild set-up (don't go looking until you've read this one or you're going to spoil a plot point, I'm serious).

Dear FTC: I received a DRC from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Keep reading for an excerpt from an Chapter 1 of Falling Into Bed With a Duke, advance praise, and where to buy the book!


The Duke of Ashebury was on the hunt for a pair of long, shapely legs. Standing casually with a shoulder pressed to a wall in the front parlor of the Nightingale Club, he observed with a jaundiced eye those who entered. The ladies wore flowing silk that caressed their skin as a lover might before the night was done. The shimmering fabric seductively outlined the body, hinted at dips and swells. Arms were bared. Necklines were low, the silk gathering just below a tasteful showing of cleavage designed to entice. People murmured and sipped their champagne, while exchanging heavy-lidded gazes and come-hither smiles.

The flirtation that occurred within these walls was very different from that found in a ballroom. No one here was searching for a dance partner. Rather, they wanted a bedding partner. He appreciated the honesty on display, which was the reason that he often stopped by when he was in London. No pretense, no ruses, no duplicity.

He had already claimed a bedchamber, the key nestled in his jacket pocket, as he wanted no one to disturb what he had so painstakingly set up. His needs were unique, and he knew that within these walls, they would be kept secret. People did not discuss what occurred at the Nightingale Club. For most of London, its existence was something spoken about in longing whispers by those who knew it only as myth. But for those familiar with it, it served as a sanctuary, liberator, confidant. It was whatever one needed it to be.

For him, it was salvation, bringing him back from the brink of darkness. Twenty years had gone by since his parents’ deaths, yet still he dreamed of mangled and charred remains. Still, he heard his mother’s terrorized screams and his father’s fruitless cries. Still, his behavior when he’d last seen them taunted him. Had he known that he’d never look upon them again—

With resolve, he shook off the haunting musings that sent a chill down his spine. Here, he could forget, at least for a few hours. Here, the regrets didn’t gnaw unmercifully at him. Here, he could become lost striving for perfection, for the ultimate in pleasure.

He had merely to determine which lady would best suit his purposes, which would be willing to concede to his unusual request without protest. It bothered him not at all that the ladies wore domino masks. He cared little for their faces, understood their need for anonymity. Their concealment worked to his advantage as he’d discovered that ladies were more comfortable with his request when they were assured it would remain their secret—and his not knowing their identity made them bolder than they might have been otherwise. They liked being a little naughty as long as they weren’t caught. He couldn’t catch them if he didn’t know who they were.

Still, he had one cardinal rule he always observed: never the same lady twice.

The ladies brought their own masks, seldom changed them, as the façade became their calling cards, as effective at identifying them as the ones handed over to butlers in the early afternoon when they were making proper visits. The woman in the black mask decorated with peacock feathers had a scar just above her left knee from a tumble she’d taken from a pony as a child. The blue mask, black feathers had two delightful dimples in the small of her back. The green mask outlined in yellow lace possessed bony hips that had proven a challenge, but he’d been pleased with the results when their time together was finished. But then he’d always embraced the challenge of discovering the perfection in imperfection.

The three glasses of scotch that he’d enjoyed were thrumming through his veins. The din of intimacy was calming. The muscles that had been so tense earlier were relaxed. He was in his element here, or he would be in short order. As soon as he found that for which he was searching. He wouldn’t settle for less than what he wanted; he never did. If one sure thing could be said about the Duke of Ashebury, it was that he knew his own mind. That he was stubborn when it came to acquiring what he needed—or wanted. Tonight’s endeavors straddled the line of both what he needed and what he wanted. All needs would be met before dawn. Then, perhaps, he could be glad to be back in London.

Lifting his glass for another sip, he watched a woman wearing draping white silk and a white mask with short white feathers walk hesitantly into the room as though she expected the floor to drop out from beneath her at any moment. She wasn’t particularly tall, but based on the way the silk moved over her flesh with each graceful step, it was obvious that she possessed long, slender legs. He wondered if she was meeting someone, already had an arranged assignation. Some ladies did—it was one of the reasons that the men didn’t wear masks. So they were easily identifiable if their paramours wanted to meet them here. Another reason was that men simply didn’t bloody well care if anyone knew that they were in the mood for a good tupping. Even the married ones were brazen with their presence.

The woman in white appeared to have dark hair, gathered up in an elaborate style that no doubt required an abundance of pins. He couldn’t be absolutely certain of the exact shade because the lighting in the room—only flickering candles—enhanced the mood of secrecy as well as creating an ambiance for intimacy while providing a gossamer disguise for some distinguishing characteristics that were easily identifiable by color: hair, eyes, even the fairness of skin. Perhaps she moved slowly because her eyes were adjusting to the dimness. Gentlemen not yet spoken for did not swarm to her side. But then that was the rule here. Seduction happened slowly. Ladies needed to hint at an interest.

But then, if this was her first time, she might not be aware of the subtle rules. He was fairly certain he’d never seen her before. A connoisseur of the body, he would have remembered the elegance of her movements, the way the cloth glided over her skin, outlining her form. Slender legs, but meat where it counted. No bony hips there.

With one long swallow, he finished off his scotch, relishing the realization that the hunt was over. He’d thought he wanted a tall woman. He’d been mistaken.

He wanted her.

LORRAINE HEATH always dreamed of being a writer. After graduating from the University of Texas, she wrote training manuals and computer code, but something was always missing. After reading a romance novel, she not only became hooked on the genre, but quickly realized what her writing lacked: rebels, scoundrels, and rogues. She’s been writing about them ever since. Her work has been recognized with numerous industry awards, including RWA’s RITA® and a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award. Her novels have appeared on the USA Today and New York Times best-seller lists.

“Heath’s first Hellions of Havisham Victorian romance is wonderfully entertaining….Heath adeptly juggles numerous new and familiar characters as she sweeps fans of her Regency novels into the Victorian era.”—Publishers Weekly

“With her usual flair for richly nuanced characters and elegant writing, RITA® Award-winning Heath launches her new Hellions of Havisham historical series with a tale that simply sizzles with sensuality.”—Booklist

“She dazzles with fascinating characters and a naughty plotline, but most of all she mesmerizes with the depth of emotion in this highly sensual story.”—RT Book Reviews, **4.5 Stars, Top Pick!**

“Falling into Bed with a Duke is a great start to Lorraine Heath’s new series, and book two can’t appear fast enough.” –All About Romance, Desert Island Keeper Review

“FALLING INTO BED WITH A DUKE is a passionate Victorian romance that leaves the reader sighing in happiness…” –Fresh Fiction


13 October 2015

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann

Summary from Goodreads:
From the author of the award-winning novel Let the Great World Spin and TransAtlantic comes an eponymous novella and three stories that range fluidly across time, tenderly exploring the act of writing and the moment of creation when characters come alive on the page; the lifetime consequences that can come from a simple act; and the way our lives play across the world, marking language, image and each other.

Thirteen Ways of Looking is framed by two author’s notes, each dealing with the brutal attack the author suffered last year and strikes at the heart of contemporary issues at home and in Ireland, the author’s birth place.

Brilliant in its clarity and deftness, this collection reminds us, again, why Colum McCann is considered among the very best contemporary writers.

I only recently hopped on the Colum McCann bandwagon - it's that whole problem of having hundreds and hundreds of books on a TBR list.  It sometimes takes a bit to get to good writers.  I asked a friend which McCann I should start with - answer: Dancer, out from Picador in a gorgeous, gorgeous anniversary edition - which I read while on a trip last month.  Suffice to say, it was amazing  So when I saw McCann had a new story collection coming out, I scurried over to Edelweiss to see about finding a DRC.

Thirteen Ways of Looking is a small story collection, both in number of pages and number of stories.  Over half of the book is the title novella concerning an elderly former judge and the thirteen different ways he is seen by other characters or cameras and how he perceives or remembers his life.  I loved the way McCann interlaced dialogue and the aging man's thoughts into stream-of-consciousness sections that so accurately mirror how we each interact with the world.  "What Time Is It Now, Where You Are?" follows a writer as he creates a character, writing the story as he creates, alters, or embellishes each detail.  In "Sh'khol" an Irish single mother wakes to find her adopted, hearing-impaired son missing after receiving a coveted wetsuit for Christmas; her terror and guilt and confusion are almost palpable.  The final story, "Treaty," follows Beverly, a Maryknoll nun who was kidnapped and repeatedly raped and abused in the jungles of a South American country.  Thirty-seven years later, the rapist suddenly appears on a London news story as the broker of an important peace treaty unleashing a tide of memory and emotion in Beverly.  I did not breathe during the last four pages of this story.

Thirteen Ways of Looking is out today, October 13, wherever books are sold.

Dear FTC: I read a DRC of this book via Edelweiss.