What I’ve been reading lately – a little more historical romance fiction

It’s kind of fun to go back through a giant list of books read over a period of three months and identify some trends. I read a heck of a lot of historical romance fiction in January and February (and, as you know, a heck of a lot of erotica in March). So, here I am continuing the mini-review trend. I’ll catch up eventually…

Sinfully Yours (Hellions of High Street #2) by Cara Elliott

After an eventful Season, Anna Sloane longs for some peace and quiet to pursue her writing. Though her plots might be full of harrowing adventure and heated passion, she’d much prefer to leave such exploits on the page rather than experience them in real life. Or so she thinks until she encounters the darkly dissolute-and gorgeously charming-Marquess of Davenport.

Davenport has a reputation as a notorious rake whose only forte is wanton seduction. However the real reason he’s a guest at the same remote Scottish castle has nothing to do with Anna . . . until a series of mysterious threats leave him no choice but to turn to her for help in stopping a dangerous conspiracy. As desire erupts between them, Davenport soon learns he’s not the only one using a carefully crafted image to hide his true talents. And he’s more than ready to show Anna that sometimes reality can be even better than her wildest imaginings . . .

I got an email about these two books by Cara Elliott, and the name sounded familiar to me, so I did a search of my blog and turned up this post on Too Dangerous to Desire (Lords of Midnight #3). I decided to read the books — despite real fears of encountering more dog metaphors and strange laughter — because I am such a sucker for books whose characters are writers. (Tangent: it should not surprise you at all to learn that the only Julia Quinn books I still enjoy are the ones that reference the mad fiction of Sarah Gorley. /tangent)

Sinfully Yours is fun. It combines some of the best elements of lighthearted historical romance into a fast-paced romp that delivers laughs and feels in equal proportions.  For example, it has: a delightfully inept mother character who wants the best for her daughters (and interprets “best” as “a German prince who may or may not be pitching for another team”); a roguish hero who secretly designs and sells automata (OMG, he’s in trade!); a “perfect” heroine who secretly pens slightly risqué gothic adventure novels and doesn’t really know what happens after her hero and heroine kiss; an assassination plot that somehow requires the heroine’s help to foil; dastardly villains; good triumphing over evil; happily ever after ending.

It also has a few instances of “Ha ha ha” laughter (and, yes, I did think of Count von Count every time), and it seemed to me as though the characters moved from flirtatious to naked in a remarkably quick period of time.  I mean — it would have been a jarring sprint down the primrose path in a contemporary romance, but this is a historical romance. I expected the standard progression: longing glances, first kiss, kissing with passion, kissing with passion and groping, full on second base, etc. There are usually a lot of steps before the heroine has her hands shoved down the hero’s trousers (or under the placket of his breeches, as the case may be). I feel like such a pearl-clutcher writing all this, but there it is.

All told, though, I enjoyed Sinfully Yours because it’s fun and funny and because its heroine is a writer. If you like lighthearted historical romps and/or stories about fictional writers or tinker-type heroes, you’ll probably enjoy this one.

Passionately Yours (Hellions of High Street #3) by Cara Elliott

The youngest of the Hellions of High Street, Caro Sloane has watched her two sisters have exhilarating encounters with dashing heroes, and now she is longing for some excitement of her own. After all, how can she write truly passionate poetry until she has experienced a Grand Adventure? But that seems unlikely to happen as she’ll be spending the next few weeks in the quiet spa town of Bath, where nothing grand or adventurous ever happens . . . until she and her new friend Isobel are nearly abducted while walking on a quiet country road—only to be rescued by Alec McClellan, the moody and mysterious Scottish lord she met at Dunbar Castle.

Alec has come to England to deal with a treacherous betrayal and fears that his half-sister Isobel is in peril from an old enemy. Does he dare share his secrets with Caro? The bold and brave beauty leaves him no choice, and together they are quickly caught up in a swirl of dangerous intrigue . . . where fiery desire between them may ignite into the greatest danger of all.

When I read these books last month, I liked Passionately Yours slightly better than Sinfully Yours, but now, four weeks later, I am finding that the latter was more memorable; however, I don’t find that its being memorable necessarily means that it is better. After all, the things that continue to resonate in my memory are (1) the things that I was always going to love about it (writer heroine, tinker hero, uptempo plot) and (2) the thing that I found incredibly strange (surprise peen).

The heroine in Passionately Yours is also a writer, albeit of the poetic variety, and so is the hero, though he’s much more secretive about it. Its story pretty well mirrors Pride and Prejudice, except with more intrigue, danger, and sedition. Caro and Alec meet and take immediate dislike to each other in the previous book, and that dislike continues in this one. But, of course, like Lizzy and Darcy (and Beatrice and Benedick) before them, their mutual dislike is actually just a disguise for mutual attraction — a reflex of these prickly and passionate characters. I thought both characters were interesting individually and together, and I enjoyed the romance of this story (which I thought was much more believable than the previous book).

The only problem with Passionately Yours, actually, is that it is so smooth a read — enjoyable but not particularly challenging — that it doesn’t stick around much once the last page is turned. Only you can know whether or not you would find that to be a point in its favor.

Improper Arrangements by Juliana Ross 

A reckless infatuation nearly ruined Lady Alice Cathcart-Ross in her youth, but from the moment she spies Elijah Philemon Keating scaling a rock face without a rope in sight, the man awakens her long-buried desire. Alice has come to the high Alps in search of a mountaineer, and in Elijah she finds the guide of her dreams.

Though Elijah is known as one of the greatest explorers of the age, a tragic accident has destroyed his taste for adventure and society. Elijah can’t deny his attraction to Alice, but he resolves to avoid the entanglement that could accompany it. He promises Alice one week in the Alps, and no more.

Alice agrees, valuing her independence above all else. But as the heights they climb by day are overshadowed by the summits of passion they reach at night, these vows become harder and harder to keep…

You read that blurb, right? OK, officially, I take exception to stories about women who have experienced some form of physical relationship in their past but — for whatever reason — have managed to live a celibate life until they meet the hero, when KAPOW, their lady areas light up in a conflagration of desire (I seriously read that line somewhere in about fifty different books. Wish I was kidding.) I know, I know — it’s vacation sex, and, anyway, it’s in a book and I should lighten up — but it’s just hard for me to imagine that Eli’s the first attractive man Alice has met in the years since she established an independent household for herself.

That said, I actually liked this story in spite of a few pet peeves.  It’s written in a first person narrative, and y’all know how I feel about that. There’s that instant attraction thing and the idea that the heroine has an independent life but feels the need to live it entirely alone until she meets a fine pair of forearms. But even with my starting bias against the book, I enjoyed it. It reads like a romance novel crossed with a travel diary, which worked strangely well. Both characters are distinct, interesting, and engaging. I loved the writing, which reminded me a little bit of E.M. Forster with a feminine twist. (It’s possible that my brain is just making that bit up because this story has English people wandering around the Alps.)

I liked Improper Arrangements, and I can’t wait to read the next book by Juliana Ross. Incidentally, I read (and loved) the first Improper book way back in the early days of this blog.

A Night with the Bride by Kate McKinley 

While at a lavish house party, Gabriella Weatherfield confidently bets her friends that she can convince the “unseducible” Duke of Somerset to kiss her. But Gabriella’s innocent wager turns wicked when faced with the duke’s intense blue eyes and talented hands.

Nicholas Montgomery usually strives to stay away from society, yet there’s no denying Gabriella’s wild beauty or the way she makes him want to lose control for once. Will the fire between them burn out when Gabriella uncovers the inner demons haunting Nicholas?

I really wanted to like this book. Here’s the thing… This story has a pretty good premise — Duke with issues overhears brassy, trade-wealthy heroine accept a dare to kiss him, hijinks ensue. That could have been really interesting, and for the first half of the book, I was impressed with the story. But then things got a little crazy.

I can suspend disbelief with the best of them, but it is simply too staggering to suggest that a woman who has thus far been unimpressed with all the dudes she’s met would not just fall in love within the span of two days but fall so hard in love that she’s impervious to fears of madness though she lives in a society in which madness is feared, the mad locked away, the families shunned. I accepted the sudden attraction between the characters — even though it hinged on insta-lust and magic sex organs — but I could not believe the instant growth of love and loyalty, and without that belief, the second half of the book was strange, choppy, and unpleasant.

Sinfully Yours was released on February 4, 2014 as an e-book and paperback by Forever. Passionately Yours was released on March 4, 2014 as an e-book and paperback by Forever. Improper Arrangements was released on November 11, 2013 as an e-book by Carina Press. One Night with the Bride was released on March 4, 2014 as an e-book by Forever Yours. For more information about the books, click on the cover images above to visit each book’s page on Goodreads. Check out the authors here: Cara Elliott, Juliana Ross, Kate McKinley.

*FTC Disclosure – I received e-galleys of all four books from their respective publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Review – Too Dangerous to Desire by Cara Elliott

Cover image, Too Dangerous to Desire by Cara Elliott

Here’s to tradition!  The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Can a Flame from the Past be Rekindled? Long ago, Sophie Lawrance chose prudence over passion, rejecting a rebellious young rogue for the sake of her family-no matter the ache it left in her heart. But after a specter from her father’s past resurfaces, threatening to destroy all she holds dear, the desperate beauty knows there is only one man whose shadowy skills can save her.

Or Is It Too Dangerous to Play with Fire? Cameron Daggett is a man of many secrets . . . and many sins. He’s never forgotten the pain of losing Sophie. But now, with a chance to win her back, Cameron sets aside his anger and agrees to help Sophie save her father’s honor. Together they embark on a perilous masquerade, leading them to a remote country estate near the sea. There, they must battle a cunning adversary-and their own burning desires. Will they be consumed by the flames? Or can they prove that true love conquers all?

Based on that blurb, the book really seemed to be up my alley.  The blurb hints at a bit of Persuasion, which does epic battle (in my head) with Pride and Prejudice on a regular basis and sometimes wins the title “my favorite Jane Austen novel.”  (Sometimes P&P wins…)  So I was excited to get down to business and read it.  I did not realize that the book is the third in a series, but it mostly works as a stand-alone.  It was a bit difficult to grasp the relationship between the three heroes of the series without knowing anything about their previous adventures, but the specific story in this book does not rely on events that occur in previous books.

This historical romance is another fun romp, an adventurous story that ought not be taken too seriously.  But I take everything seriously (while simultaneously finding everything amusing… it’s hard to explain how all that balances out), and there were a few things about this book that just irritated me and spoiled some of my enjoyment of the story.

1.  Sarcasm.  The word sarcasm actually refers to a specific type of humor/wit and does not comprise all humor or all instances of douchey behavior.  Yes, you can be a sarcastic douchebag, but you can also be just a regular douchebag who does not employ any sarcasm at all.

I got a little bit irritated by the number of references to Cameron’s behavior that was just douchey, not sarcastic.  Don’t get me wrong, he does actually get a few good sarcastic lines in, but the ratio of false sarcasm to actual sarcasm is 4:1.

2.  Dog metaphors.  I never thought I’d use this sentence when talking about a book: “There are an astonishing number of dog metaphors–several per page!”  The male hero characters of this book and the two previous books in the series are known collectively as the Hellhounds.  For some reason, the author decided to carry that doggy-affiliation over into numerous references to barking, yapping, yipping, nipping at heels, growling, putting one’s nose to the ground, etc.  During the sections of the book when two or more Hellhounds are gathered together, the dog metaphors become somewhat overwhelming, sometimes occurring three or four times per page.  Per. Page.  I imagined those sections of dialogue actually sounded like this.

3.  “Ha ha ha.”  On fourteen occasions in this book, characters laugh, “Ha, ha, ha,” and this came to mind every time.

Although it may seem silly, those three issues seriously impacted my ability to enjoy the book.  Once I noticed that the “sarcasm” wasn’t always sarcasm and that the dog references just kept on coming, I was pulled out of the story every time I noticed a new instance of either.  And the laughing… so strange.  As a result, it was difficult for me to connect to either the characters or the story, and I might have just stopped reading the thing if I hadn’t been perversely curious to see if the issues continued until the end.  (They did.)  When I try to reflect on the book as something besides a collection of strangely-applied dog references, I realize that I really enjoyed the relationship between Sophie and her sisters–that was very well done–and I loved Sophie’s character, her intrepid resolution and intelligence.  Without the aforementioned issues, I might have really liked this story.  Readers who are not as easily irritated as I by that kind of thing might find a lot of enjoyment in this story (and, probably, the other two books in the series as well).

Too Dangerous to Desire was released on November 20, 2012 by Forever as both a mass-market paperback and an e-book.  To learn more about the book, click here to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Forever through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*