Two con-artists find love in Patricia Gaffney’s delightful 1994 novel, Crooked Hearts. Reuben Jones and Grace Russell meet on a stagecoach. Both are pretending to be something they are not. Grace is posing as a nun and bilking charitably inclined folks out of their hard-earned money, while Reuben is pretending to be a blind man. Both are badly in need of money, so when the stagecoach is robbed, they are each in quite a pickle. Grace and Reuben quickly figure out that they are birds of a feather and soon they decide to team up in an attempt to fix their individual financial woes. This fast-moving novel takes off from there. Grace and Reuben hatch one wild scheme after another. They make and lose large amounts of money, find themselves on the run from one group of nefarious characters after another, and fall in love. Grace and Reuben are both cynical and untrustworthy – qualities they greatly admire in the other – but those same traits make declaring their feelings a real challenge. They are fearless in many ways, yet real cowards about romance, which makes the happily-ever-after heartwarming and satisfying. Crooked Hearts is snappy, sexy fun. I loved this book and bet you will too.
At the beginning of Nicola Cornick’s Whisper of Scandal, Joanna Ware and Alex Grant meet for the first time in years. They dislike each other intensely, but their feelings are based on preconceived notions of what the other is like. Joanna was married to an Arctic explorer for many miserable years and she assumes her deceased husband’s best friend, also an explorer, is the same kind of selfish jerk her husband was. Alex, on the other hand, is sure Joanna is a materialistic fribble, and dismisses her as a waste of his time. Unfortunately for both of them, in a codicil to the late Mr. Ware’s will, Joanna and Alex are given joint custody of Mr. Ware’s bastard daughter, who resides on an island between the coast of Northern Norway and the North Pole. Soon Joanna and Alex travel together to fetch the orphaned girl. The ship is small and they are forced to get to know each other very well indeed, which is a blessing in disguise because neither is the person the other assumed him/her to be. Whisper of Scandal is very entertaining and pretty darn hot. Joanna and Alex are interesting and sympathetic. There is a large cast of intriguing secondary characters, including Lottie Cummings, who is the protagonist of the second book of The Scandalous Women of the Ton series, which I recommended on September 14, 2011. I am now going to read the rest of the series as soon as I can. The first two novels are fabulous and I have high expectations for books three to six!
In Maya Rodale’s Seducing Mr. Knightly the protagonist, Annabelle Swift, decides to try her hand at winning the heart of her boss, Derek Knightly. Mr. Knightly is the owner and editor of the newspaper Annabelle writes an advice column for. Annabelle has been doling out helpful hints for years, but she has no idea how to help herself and attract the romantic interest of her workaholic boss. So one day, instead of assisting her readers with their problems, she decides to ask them for aid with hers. Soon all of London is sending the advice columnist suggestions, and Annabelle’s subsequent attempts to seduce Knightly fill her column week after week. Annabelle’s escapades capture the attention of all of London, but alas, not of her beloved. At least not at first… Seducing Mr. Knightly is engaging, witty, and must be a fantasy the vast majority of us can relate to. The idea of somehow turning an unrequited love into a great, reciprocal romance is seductive indeed. I enjoyed this novel immensely and bet you will too.
Theresa Romain’s It Takes Two to Tangle hit the spot for me. At the beginning of the novel, Henry Middlebrook decides he needs to woo one of the most popular ladies in town. Henry is a wounded veteran. He has returned from war feeling less-than and in his mind winning beautiful Caroline will prove he is not. He asks the lady’s companion, Frances Whittier, for help with his courtship strategy and soon Frances and Henry are spending quite a bit of time together. I don’t want to say too much about the plot and risk spoiling the book for you, but I will say that this novel delivered what I look for in a romance. Frances and Henry are finely wrought characters with complicated, yet believable, emotional issues which create some bumps in the road to the happily ever after. I was rooting for the couple to get together through every page of the book. I stayed up way past my bedtime to get to the satisfying ending of It Takes Two to Tangle and it was totally worth it.
The first book in Maggie Robinson’s delectable new Ladies Unlaced series is In the Arms of the Heiress. In a desperate bid for independence, Louisa Stratton told the family she ran away from that she got married. In reality she has no spouse. When she needs to go home to straighten out a financial snafu, she decides to hire a man to pose as her husband, enabling her to continue her ruse. Charles Cooper, a deeply depressed, down-on-his-luck veteran, is the man who gets the job. When the pretend couple arrives at Louisa’s childhood home, they soon find themselves battling both their attraction for each other and an alarming number of threats against Charles’ life – it seems someone wants Louisa widowed as soon as possible. As the story continues, Louisa and Charles become deeply attached and begin to wonder if they should make their sham of a marriage the real deal. Ms. Robinson writes with panache and her novels are always a treat. In the Arms of the Heiress is funny, warm and sweet. Louisa and Charles are charming and their story is a lot of fun. I already have the next book in the series, In the Heart of the Highlander, on my e-reader and cannot wait to read it!
The third book in Julia Quinn’s delightful Smythe-Smith Quartet series is The Sum of All Kisses. The novel tells the tale of Hugh Prentice and Sarah Pleinsworth. Neither can abide the other, so when they both attend a wedding and the bride asks them for favors which result in their spending a lot of time together, neither Sarah nor Hugh is pleased. But the time they are forced to spend together is a blessing in disguise, for as Sarah and Hugh get to know each other, they fall in love. The Sum of All Kisses is a well-wrought romance. The characters are charming, sympathetic and witty. This book contains a large cast of endearing characters, the story moves at a good pace, and the ending is splendid. A novel by Julia Quinn invariably satisfies – she is on my short list for darn good reason!
I don’t want to say too much about Erin Knightley’s charming novella, Ruined by a Rake, and risk spoiling the book for you. This love story is short, sweet and romantic. I thoroughly enjoyed it and have already added the next novella in the All’s Fair in Love series, Scandalized by a Scoundrel, to my e-reader queue. I look forward to reading it! Nicolas has been a thorn in Eleanor’s side since childhood – he teases, pesters, and won’t be ignored. But all Nicolas has ever wanted was to engage Eleanor’s attention. He loves her madly and always will, but he has little hope she will ever return his feelings. Will Eleanor ever get a clue?
I loved Sarah MacLean’s No Good Duke Goes Unpunished and stayed up late into the night reading it. For twelve long years William Harrow has been stripped of his rightful place in the world. He is called Temple by his friends and The Killer Duke by everyone else. Even Temple doesn’t know what he is guilty of: he cannot remember a thing about the night he allegedly killed Miss Mara Lowe. So when Mara shows up in his life, alive and well, it is an incredible relief. It is also enraging – Mara is responsible for ruining his life and could have fixed everything for him at any time. She has decided to do so now, but only for a price. Mara really ought to be very unsympathetic. She has done Temple wrong – really seriously wrong – and to add insult to injury she is now trying to shake the man down for money.
A story must have a conflict and in romance that conflict must be resolved in such a way that the reader is rooting for the happy ending. Original, interesting conflicts can be hard to find in romance. Ms. MacLean has delivered exactly that and she makes it work. I wanted Mara and Temple to work out their issues and find their happily-ever-after through every page of the novel. Mara’s actions are explained satisfactorily. Moreover Temple is no victim – in many ways his struggles have forced him to become the wonderful man that he is. It would be a stretch to say Mara did him a favor, but his success took the edge off her bad behavior for me. No Good Duke Goes Unpunished is original, sexy, romantic and sweet. I can’t recommend this novel more.
Eileen Dreyer’s wildly entertaining Drake’s Rakes series continues with Once a Rake. Ian Ferguson is wanted for treason but has proof of his innocence – he simply needs to figure out how to clear his name. Ian is injured and on the run. By the time he gets to Sarah Clarke’s farm, his wounds have become infected and he is gravely ill. Sarah nurses Ian back to health at great risk to herself – aiding a known traitor is a crime – but Sarah’s gut tells her Ian is innocent. As they get to know each other, Ian and Sarah fall in love, but many hurdles must be overcome before they can find their happily ever after. Once a Rake is as action-packed as the rest of the Drake’s Rakes series and a real page turner. However, I wouldn’t recommend it if the romance wasn’t also strong. I am happy to report the love story definitely satisfied. I have enjoyed every novel in this series, highly recommend it, and cannot wait for the next installment!
Jennifer McQuiston’s Summer Is for Lovers is a lot of fun. Caroline Tolbertson, an expert swimmer, has carried a torch for David Cameron ever since she saved him from the rough ocean water in Brighton one summer when she was a young woman. She never expects to see him again, but when he unexpectedly vacations in her hometown a decade later, Caroline’s feelings for David grow even stronger. David soon returns her feelings, but he is tortured by the past, and with a twisted piece of logic that makes sense only to him, he has decided he must never marry. The pair end up spending a good deal of time together and David’s increasing passion for Caroline becomes harder and harder for him to fight. I had a few moments in which David annoyed me – the reasoning behind his mental problem felt a bit forced to me. But I nonetheless really enjoyed this novel. Ms. McQuiston’s writing is charming, the book moves at a good clip, and the ending satisfied.