Cathy Maxwell’s Falling in Love Again begins with a disastrous wedding night. The marriage was arranged and unwelcome for both bride and groom, but while Mallory (the bride) has accepted the situation, John (the groom) has not – he abandons his new wife a few hours after the wedding. After seven long years of waiting for John to return, Mallory finally gives up on the marriage and hunts her husband down in order to demand a divorce. Mallory wants children, a real partner, and love – things she knows she will never have if she remains married to her absentee spouse. The story becomes more complicated when Mallory finds John. It turns out that he is ruinously in debt and Mallory realizes that as his wife, John’s financial woes are very much her own. Mallory finds herself unexpectedly in cahoots with her husband and on the run from both moneylenders and law enforcement. Their problems turn out to be a blessing in disguise, however, because the couple is forced to spend time together and to get to know each other – and they discover their marriage may not be unwanted after all. Falling in Love Again is an entertaining page-turner: the characters are flawed yet sympathetic and I was rooting for the happily-ever-after through every page of the novel.
Sophia Nash’s Lord Will and Her Grace is my reading recommendation this week. At the beginning of the novel, Will and Sophie have the same problem: both are ducking attempts to trap them into marriage. In Will’s case, he finds himself unexpectedly in bed with a woman. Within seconds he is ‘caught’ in the (staged) compromising situation by the woman’s father. Will refuses to be trapped in this manner, however, and flees to the country. In the meantime, Sophie, who will inherit great wealth upon her marriage, has been the target of every fortune-hunter in town. In an attempt to compromise her and therefore force her hand, a man scandalously kisses her on the dance floor at a party. The kiss, in conjunction with previous social missteps, is the cause of so much gossip and stress that she, too, escapes to the country. When Will and Sophie meet, it is more or less love at first sight, but they both have trust issues and the budding romance falls apart almost as soon as it begins. I don’t want to say more about the plot lest I spoil the book for you, but I will say I really enjoyed this novel. There are a few rough patches in which the flow stumbles, but overall Ms. Nash’s writing is witty, sharp, and stylish. I look forward to reading another one of her books – I already have A Passionate Endeavor queued up to read!
The latest book in Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove series is Beauty and the Blacksmith. Diana Highwood is a great beauty and has grown up under the cloud of her mother’s expectation that she marry well, thereby ensuring financial security for the whole family. But Diana doesn’t want to marry for money – she is in love with a blacksmith named Aaron Dawes. Aaron is a talented artist and Diana makes excuses to visit him every chance she gets. She enjoys his company and ogling his burly physique. Aaron returns her interest, but the difference in their social classes is a real problem – he isn’t the nobleman Diana’s mother expects her to catch, and she has none of the skills Aaron needs his wife to possess (such as cooking). This novella is romantic, charming, pretty darn hot, and I definitely recommend it. The next book in the series, Any Duchess Will Do, will be available later this month and I can’t wait to read it.
Lisa Kleypas’ Where Dreams Begin was a blast from the past for me – I first read it when it was published over ten years ago and it was definitely worth rereading. The story begins at a ball. Holly, newly out of mourning for her deceased husband, is making her first foray back into the social world. The party turns out to be a bit much for her, however, and she retreats to a quiet, dark room. It turns out the room isn’t empty – Holly is grabbed and passionately kissed by a stranger (who was expecting his lover). And so begins the tale of Holly Taylor and Zachary Bronson. She lives a quiet, utterly staid life. He is a self-made, hard-living, socially ambitious businessman who always gets what he wants – and Zachary decides he wants Holly. The chemistry between these two sizzles but they also make a deeper connection and become good friends. The road to the happily ever after is not a smooth one, however: Holly’s relationship with nouveau-riche Zachary is not well-received by friends or family. Moreover, after the loss of her husband, Holly is afraid to love again. Lisa Kleypas writes emotional, sexy romance and Where Dreams Begin is a lot of fun. If you haven’t read this book yet, you’re in for a treat!
Kate Noble’s Let It Be Me is divine. At the beginning of the novel Bridget Forrester is miserable. She is a gifted pianist but no one knows it because she has a terrible case of stage fright. Moreover, she had a disastrous social debut and did not ‘take’. Now Bridget is struggling through another miserable season in which she is known as an unpleasant girl who no one wants to befriend, much less woo. So when a letter arrives from Italy asking her if she’d like to become a well-known composer’s student, Bridget leaps at the chance to make a change. But the musical opportunity is not what it seems and soon Bridget finds herself embroiled in a complicated drama – she could potentially be a mere pawn in someone else’s story, but instead she takes full advantage of her situation and soon she finds the courage to leave her resentments behind, grow as an artist, find love, and to finally become the woman she always knew she could be. Let It Be Me is a book about music, a coming-of-age story, and a moving romance all in one. I can’t recommend this wonderful novel more.
Victoria Alexander’s The Importance of Being Wicked tells the tale of Winfield Elliott and Miranda Garrett. Win is known to be a womanizing rascal whose wild reputation precedes him. Miranda is a quiet, serious, sensible-shoe-wearing widow. But neither is exactly what they appear to be. Win may have a bit of a past, but he is a hard-working, responsible traditionalist. And while only a very few people know it, Miranda is a trail-blazing, opinionated, independent woman. Win hires Miranda’s late husband’s architectural firm to rebuild his family’s ancestral home after a fire. He is shocked when a woman turns out to be managing the job. Miranda has always been the talent behind the firm’s success, but knows she can’t risk the firm’s future by revealing that scandalous fact. Miranda and Win challenge and irritate each other, yet each clearly sees the other – and they both appreciate what they see. Circumstances are such that they must spend quite a bit of time together and before they know it, they’ve fallen in love. This novel is delightful: the story is snappy fun and the characters are sharp, charming, witty, and loveable. I really enjoyed reading The Importance of Being Wicked and bet you will too.
Julia London’s The Last Debutante is the final book in her Secrets of Hadley Green series. Daria Babcock is afraid she will become a spinster and in an effort to shake up the routine that isn’t working for her, she decides to visit her grandmother in Scotland. The trip doesn’t turn out to be what Daria had in mind. When she arrives, Daria finds her once glamorous grandmother living in a strange little cottage and taking care of a man she supposedly found shot in the woods. Her grandmother refuses to get proper medical help and when the man wakes up it becomes clear why: Mamie is the person who shot him. Things become even more complicated when the injured man, Jamie Campbell, kidnaps Daria to hold her for ransom – it turns out that Mamie has stolen a lot of money from his family and until the funds are returned, Daria will be held prisoner in the Campbell’s ancient castle. The time Daria and Jamie are forced to spend together turns out to be a blessing in disguise because once they get to know each other, they realize they can’t live without each other. Before reading this book I would have guessed the plot would be a real problem for me. I am not a fan of novels in which the victimized heroine falls in love with her captor – Stockholm syndrome doesn’t work for me in romance. But somehow Ms. London pulls the kidnapping plot off – Daria is neither abused nor downtrodden and Jamie is sympathetic, sweet and loveable. I found The Last Debutante to be highly readable, entertaining, and I really enjoyed it.
Jennifer McQuiston’s What Happens in Scotland is terrific – I enjoyed every page of this original, funny novel. The story takes place in a 24-hour period, which seems like it should be impossible for a romance, yet it totally works. The story begins when Georgette Thorold wakes up in a trashed hotel room next to a strange man and wearing an unfamiliar ring on her finger. She cannot remember a thing about the night before and is absolutely horrified. When the man wakes up before she can manage to sneak away, Georgette freaks out and hits him on the head with a chamber pot. James McKenzie is knocked out and when he later wakes up he is alone. His memory of the night before is also hazy, but he knows his wallet is missing and it’s obvious the woman he spent the night with is a thief. What isn’t clear to either Georgette or James is whether they legally married the night before or not, but they both do know they need to find out. A long, crazy day follows what was apparently a really crazy night and by the time the novel ends, epiphanies have been had, personal transformations have been made, and Georgette and James realize they cannot live without each other. This book is a gem and I highly recommend it.
Madeline Hunter’s The Conquest of Lady Cassandra took me a while to get into, but by the time I finished the novel I thought it well worth reading. The female protagonist, Cassandra, has a bad reputation. She decided, years ago, to disobey one of society’s rules – a rule she didn’t make and doesn’t agree with. The price she has paid is high – she is barely on speaking terms with her family and lives on the edge of accepted society. In an effort to raise badly needed funds, Cassandra sold some jewelry at auction. One of the more valuable items was purchased by Viscount Ambury but he has never paid his bill. Cassandra doesn’t realize that Ambury hasn’t paid for a reason – he suspects the jewels were stolen and is determined to get to the bottom of the crime. Cassandra and Ambury are attracted to each other but otherwise do not get along. Resolving the conflict over the jewelry keeps them in constant contact, however, and as they get to know each other they find themselves falling in love. The Conquest of Lady Cassandra moves at a leisurely pace. If you’re in the mood for a page-turner this isn’t the book for you. That said, I really enjoyed this novel and recommend it. The nuanced depiction of Cassandra’s struggle to live under the cloud of her burdensome reputation held my interest for the duration of the novel.
I discovered Máire Claremont’s The Dark Lady when I read Eloisa James’ Barnes & Noble romance review this month. Ian Blake and Eva Carin are star-crossed lovers and their story is chock-full of drama including a miserable love triangle, a horror show of an insane asylum, drug addiction, and a band of terrifying villains. Moreover, the protagonists are tortured by the past – this novel is fraught with deliciously histrionic misery – Ian’s and Eva’s psychological demons are every bit as much of a challenge to defeat as their many human enemies. As Ian and Eva battle their way through the story, they help each other to heal, clearing the way for their love to blossom. If you’re in the mood for an action-packed romance, The Dark Lady is the book for you. An intriguing secondary character from the novel will be the heroine of the next book in Ms. Claremont’s Mad Passions series: The Lady in Red will be available in October, and I am really looking forward to reading it.