Monday, May 18, 2009

Book Review: Blue Smoke and Murder

Good news! Blue Smoke and Murder is classic Lowell and not the disappointing piles of poop The Wrong Hostage and Innocent as Sin were. This book is more on the scale of Always Time to Die (which I enjoyed).

It still centers around St. Kilda Consulting, which I think it totally weird, but whatever. The heroine, Jill, is a river guide who saves the life of a son of two St. Kilda operatives. In payment, his father tells her that if she ever needs help, to call him. Scarcely a month later, Jill's great-aunt dies in a suspicious fire, one of twelve family paintings is destroyed, and Jill's life is threatened. So she calls in her favor, and hottie operative Zach shows up to help her out.

The story really centers around the painting, and Lowell goes on and on about Western art. (If you've ever read an Elizabeth Lowell contemporary, you know how she tends to do that with art, jewels, minerals, etc.) But it isn't as boring as it usually is.

Also, there is real, genuine chemistry between Jill and Zach. That was something that was definitely missing in Innocent as Sin.

It was an entertaining read.

Book Review: Death Angel

Started off interesting.

Ended boring.

Too much internal contemplation by the characters.

Not enough dialogue.

Book Review: At Last Comes Love

Turns out, this review is a bit like the last one, given that I'm reviewing the third book in a series. This time it's Mary Balogh's Huxtable series. (I think there are going to be two more.) The series is about a family of siblings, the Huxtables, who grew up modestly as the children of a clergyman. Margaret is the oldest, then Vanessa, then Katherine, then the only son, Stephen. In the first book, First Comes Marriage they are living in a small village, all under the same roof except Vanessa, who married a local man and was widowed a year later. She lives with her in-laws until a nobleman shows up in the village one day and announces that Stephen, at seventeen, is now an earl due to the death of some distant relatives.

I can't exactly remember why the nobleman (I'm going to call him Elliott, because that's his name) decides that he's going to marry one of the Huxtable sisters, but he does. And he settles on Margaret, who is the oldest and also very beautiful. But Margaret has been in love with her childhood sweetheart for years, and he's been away at war for four years. Vanessa knows that her sister is waiting on her long-lost love, so she intervenes and offers herself to Elliott.

The rest of the book deals with their relationship, and I liked it, but that's probably because I like all Mary Balogh books. Vanessa has some issues she needs to deal with due to the fact that she's the ugly duckling among her beautiful siblings. And I can't remember Elliott's issues, but I seem to remember that he said some, too. I liked this book.

Then Comes Seduction is Katherine's story. It starts when she unfortunately becomes the object of a bet by Jasper, a young, rakish baron. He bets that he can get her to surrender her virginity in a fortnight, and he almost succeeds. But at the last minute he has an attack of conscience, and steps away.

Three years later, they encounter each other again, and because the bet was made publicly in a gambling house, the men of society know about their past. A scandal threatens, and Katherine reluctantly agrees to marry him.

I liked this book, too. Balogh's books are hard to describe because they focus so much on the relationship between the hero and heroine. There's usually not a whole else going on externally. I seem to remember, however, that Jasper had a motivation for entering the marriage, as well. He has a younger half-sister, and he shares guardianship with her cousin, who wants nothing more than to have full-guardianship (and access to her fortune). A respectable wife would help Jasper's cause in that area.

I think it is at the end of First Comes Marriage that Margaret finds out that the man she's been waiting for, Crispin Dew, married a Spanish lady when he was away at war. Naturally she's very hurt and feels betrayed. She's thirty when she encounters Crispin for the first time, and because he has wounded her pride, she lies and tells him that she's engaged. She actually expects to get engaged soon, because she has a male friend who has proposed many times but that she has always turned down. But lately she had been thinking that she wants to accept and start her own family, instead of just being aunt to her sister's children.

Unfortunately for Margaret, the night she plans on accepting him is the night her friend announces his engagement to someone else. So Margaret finds herself at a ball with Crispin and no fiance. Lucky for her, when she flees the ballroom she runs into a man who conveniently agrees to be her fiance. As it turns out, he's been a social outcast for the past five years due to the fact that he left his bride at the altar and ran away with her married sister-in-law.

Like I said, Balogh's books are all about the relationships, so there's not much more to say other than I liked this book, but I didn't love it.

Book Review: Always a Scoundrel

I just recently finished reading Always a Scoundrel by Suzanne Enoch, the third book in her Notorious Gentlemen trilogy. The series follows three male friends in Regency England who fought together in the Peninsular Wars. The hero of the first book, After the Kiss, is Sullivan Waring, the illegitimate son of a nobleman. The hero of the second book, Before the Scandal is Phinneas Something-or-Other, the younger brother of a nobleman. And this book is about Bramwell Johns, the second son of a duke. Perhaps it's the fact that the three of them lack the responsibilities that go along with a title that makes these guys act so "notoriously." Sully is a housethief, Phin is a highwayman, and Bram copies Sully to become a housethief himself.

I actually really enjoyed After the Kiss. I read a lot of Regency romance novels, so it's not uncommon that I'll read a book without really engaging in it in any way. But that didn't happen this book. I thought that the romance between the hero and heroine was sweet and genuine. Also, the development of their relationship came across as very natural, not rushed, as often happens in romance novels.

Before the Scandal, however, must have been very forgettable because I basically forgot everything about it. I couldn't even remember what the heroine's name was when I was reading Always a Scoundrel. Oops.

I would say that After the Scoundrel was better than the second book but not as good as the first. Bramwell Johns is supposed to be the ultimate bad guy, totally beyond redemption. He's friends with the worst guy in the ton. (I can't remember his name.) The two of them don't really have a real friendship because no one is really friends with the other guy. Also, Bram is not quite the lost cause his friend is because when he finds out that his friend is blackmailing a young lady to marry him, he feels the need to prevent the marriage.

As it just so happens, he falls in love with the lady himself.

What was hard for me to buy about the story was Bram's reformation. I'm kind of tired of that storyline. And, I didn't understand what it was about Rosamund that changed his mind. Smart Bitch Candy would attribute it to Rose's magic hoo-haa. Despite the fact that she's perfectly ordinary, he is dying to have her. It's a little hard to believe.

And there's another reason why I don't like that tired storyline. These rakish heroes are always total manwhores before they meet their heroines. And almost without fail, the women that they sleep with are portrayed as slutty, vindictive, moral-less women. Meanwhile, the heroes just move on to the virginal heroine.

That really bothers me. It takes two to tango, but it is only the women who have sex outside of love who are so villainized. They are written as really, really terrible people. It makes you wonder why these men even bothered with them to begin with, and why they seem to be capable of redemption but the women don't. It just makes me uncomfortable that they are always passed over for the pure virgins.

But all in all, Always the Scoundrel was a pretty good book if you can get past Bram's transformation from rakehell to devoted husband.