Sunday, November 27, 2011

Review: "The Prize" by Julie Garwood

The PrizeThe Prize by Julie Garwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"He never knew what hit him." The first line in this book was enough to hook me. How could I not love a heroine who was smart and resourceful enough to drop the hero to the ground in the middle of a battle?

Baron Royce is Norman and Lady Nicholaa is Saxon, and that makes them enemies in 1066. The Prize starts with Nicholaa trying to defend her home against Royce and his "barbaric" soldiers. She's successfully defeated the three previous knights sent by "the bastard" William of Normandy, soon to be the new King of England, but she realizes Royce is on a league of his own and the chances of her winning against him are nonexistent. So she tricks him into thinking she's her twin sister Danielle - a nun! - and manages to escape and find sanctuary in the nearest convent. When Royce finds out that there's no sister Danielle and that he's been had by the cunning Nicholaa, he can't help but appreciate how clever she is and surprises his men by laughing instead of getting furious with her deception.

Arrogant that he is, Royce doesn't see Nicholaa's escape as a defeat, as he's sure he'll be able to leave her sanctuary and go with him to meet his King William in London. As the Saxon woman who's so valiantly defended her family's holding, she's a legend among the Normans, the bride the King is going to give to his most worthy knight as "the prize" in a contest for her hand - and her family's holding and lands, of course. As it happens, Royce does get Nicholaa to leave her sanctuary and go with him to London, even though she keeps trying to escape every chance she gets along the way. During this journey, they start seeing each other with new eyes, and Royce grows more and more attracted to Nicholaa while she realizes how honorable, caring and protective he is. And that's how they start to fall in love with each other, against their better judgment. Naturally, they still have a long way to understand and accept their feelings, and that's where the fun lies. :)

I liked Royce from the start, and he won me when he laughed - instead of going ballistic - at being bested by Nicholaa with her "nun act". He was arrogant, hard and a bit gruff on the outside, but soft and oh-so-sweet on the inside. He was like a delicious petit gâteau, my favorite dessert, and all I can say is, Yummy, may I have some more, please? ;) He was smart and brave, but didn't think he was worthy of Nicholaa because she was a beautiful and gentle lady while he was just an "ugly" - his face was marred by a horrible scar - and hardened warrior. But she never saw him that way and, incredibly, she even thought his "handsomeness" was disturbing. Ah, love is blind, indeed!

Nicholaa was a strong and cunning heroine. She was a bit ditzy and naive sometimes - her convoluted plan to get Royce drunk with ale backfired big time, LOL - but that came across as charming and not annoying. She also seemed unable to stop herself from telling lies - all for the greater good, of course - but she couldn't keep them straight to save her life and Royce had no problem seeing through them. The way he kept cornering and trapping her inside her lies had me laughing out loud every single time.

And Royce's lectures... I loved those scenes. The man loved to lecture Nicholaa, even though he was aware she didn't pay any attention to it. I had a smile on my face every time he clasped his hands behind his back, started lecturing her and she just sat there with her hands folded on her lap, daydreaming the whole time. That was just one example of the many interactions between Royce and Nicholaa that were just a joy to read, and I couldn't get enough of them.

The only thing that I found a bit "jarring" was the lack of closure in regards to Nicholaa's older brother Thurston. That wasn't "bad" enough to make me enjoy this book any less, it's just that I wanted to know what happened to him.

All in all, what's left for me to say? Another Garwood, another winner! At this point, I'm a truly devoted fan of Ms. Garwood. I haven't gone through all her backlist yet, but I really loved everything I've read so far. Having read her books almost back to back, it was easy for me to notice that her stories have some kind of a "formula", but it's one I love so I'm all for it. Very well done, Ms. Garwood!

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Review: "The Bride's Baby" by Liz Fielding

The Bride's BabyThe Bride's Baby by Liz Fielding

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The book blurb made me think this was a Secret Baby story... Well, it was but, at the same time, it really wasn't considering the fact that the baby wasn't a secret. Confusing? Yes, that's the feeling I had throughout most of the book.

Tom and Sylvie had a brief meeting when she was introduced as the wedding planner for his upcoming nuptials to her friend Candy. An unexpected attraction sparked on both sides, but considering that he was about to get married, Tom and Sylvie shoved that feeling aside and never let anyone - including themselves - realize it. But after six months of heavy planning and preparation, Candy ditched everything to elope with one of Sylvie's employees three days before the wedding. Naturally, Tom felt it was his due to unload all his "annoyance" on Sylvie - after all, she had plagued his dreams since he had met her - and, before they knew it, their mutual suppressed attraction took over and they were having unprotected sex on his bed...

Since this is Romancelandia, the "worst" thing you can get from unprotected sex is a pregnancy, so that's what Sylvie got. Unfortunately, Tom was no longer in the picture when Sylvie found herself pregnant, since he had left the country the day after their one-night stand. Unable to reach him by telephone, she had no choice but to deliver him the news by letter. Obviously, he never got to receive that letter and so this Failure to Communicate story took off.

This was one of those stories that wouldn't make past the first chapters if the hero and the heroine sat together and spoke clearly with each other. Regardless, Tom and Sylvie were likable characters, and that kind of "saved" the book for me and prevented me from throwing it against the wall - figuratively speaking, since this was an e-book. I rooted for their HEA and was glad when the darn Big Misunderstanding was finally resolved.

As for the writing, Ms. Fielding had the distracting habit of inserting the word "then" between the lines of the characters' speech. For example:

"Is that a fact?" Then, "So? Where are they?"

"I'd come and give you a hand but I have to take delivery of a cake." Then, "Do you need a hand up?"

I have to ask, what was the purpose of the word "then" in there? To gave us pause? To help her reach the necessary word count to meet the publisher's requirements? I know I'm nitpicking but that word was used over and over again in the story, and it was annoying.

All in all, I'm glad this was a freebie because I would have been mad if I had paid anything for this book.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Review: "My Lady Notorious" by Jo Beverley

My Lady Notorious (Malloren, #1)My Lady Notorious by Jo Beverley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Warning: This isn't really a review. It's a rant, and therefore it's full of spoilers.

This book had an interesting premise - a strong heroine who disguises herself as a boy and "kidnaps" the charming hero in order to help her widowed sister - and I was fully expecting to enjoy it, but somehow it didn't work that well for me.

I loved the beginning of the book, when I got to know the somewhat flighty Cyn Malloren and the Notorious Chastity Ware. Since she was in disguise, he didn't know who she really was but he knew she was a woman and not the lad "Charles" she pretended to be, so he was instantly "smitten". She was also attracted to him but, alas, they couldn't really act on their feelings because she was a "he" - or so she thought he thought her to be, and he didn't want to reveal he wasn't fooled by her disguise. That deception provided some funny banter between them and Cyn had a lot of fun teasing "Charles". Unfortunately, that got old after a while because the author chose to drag that scenario for more than half the story. At one point, I found myself alternating between yelling at Cyn to tell her "Fun's over, love, I know you're a woman" and yelling at Chastity to tell him "Hey, guess what, I'm actually a woman".

But they didn't listen to me... The "secret" was not even revealed when they had sex for the first time. Again, she donned another disguise - she was "Chloe" now - and, although he knew who she was, he didn't say anything. The whole thing just felt "wrong" to me, when it should have been romantic. And the "before" and "after" their interlude only added an ick factor to it. *shudders*

See, their "lovemaking" - and I use that term loosely because I didn't feel any "love" there - happened during an orgy party hosted by one of Cyn's friends. Why the author felt the need to include an orgy in the story was beyond me, but that wasn't the worst part. The worst was having Chastity's brother Fort grab and kiss her as if she was one of the tarts invited to provide amusement to the party. He didn't know who she was - she was disguised as "Chloe", remember? - but she knew who he was, and I still don't know how he didn't end up wearing the contents of her stomach after that kiss. "Eew" doesn't begin to describe my feelings while I was reading that scene.

Then we had what happened "after" Cyn and Chastity's "lovemaking"... Right after leaving Cyn in the bedroom, Chastity ran into Cyn's brother Rothgar and, wow, he kissed her too! And I'm not talking about a peck, I'm talking about an open-mouthed kiss with tongues and all. WTF?!? When the orgy party was finally over, I was scratching my head and trying to figure out if I wanted to keep reading the book, because I didn't particularly like any of the characters, not even Cyn and Chastity, at that point.

As I'm stubborn as a mule, I kept reading and, incredibly, the story got better after those events and the book picked up its pace. But I felt like I was reading a different book, one where Rothgar, and not Cyn, was the hero. Rothgar just took the story over with his convoluted machinations, and Cyn was left to play an errand boy to his older brother. Chastity started having more "screen time" with Rothgar than with Cyn, and I wouldn't have been surprised if she had ended up with the older brother. They did have good chemistry between them, and that wasn't a good thing as the hero of this book was Cyn!

The ending was as convoluted as Rothgar's machinations, with everything and everyone falling into place according to his plan. It was so OTT that I had to reread it to follow all the weird "coincidences" that made the HEA possible.

While I didn't enjoy the story itself due to all its quirkiness and slow pace, especially in the first half of the book, I loved Cyn (except when he went all judgmental and cold toward Chastity during that darn orgy party), I cared for Chastity (enough to want to kill her father myself), and I thought Ms. Beverley's writing was good at making me feel the ambiance where the story took place, no matter how uncomfortable it was for me.

So I didn't love this book, which was a pity, but I didn't hate it either. Am I going to read the rest of the series? I'm not sure. Rothgar was the only secondary character I found interesting in this book, and "everyone" says his book is disappointing so I'd rather stick with the picture I have of him now. Am I going to read any other books by this author? Possibly, but I'm not running to the bookstore to get them.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review: "At the Bride Hunt Ball" by Olivia Parker

At the Bride Hunt Ball (Devine & Friends, #1)At the Bride Hunt Ball by Olivia Parker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Don't you love it when you don't have high expectations about a book and it turns out to be a delightful read? That's what happened with this book. Knowing its premise was similar to the TV show The Bachelor - a group of girls gathered in the same house for a period of time with the sole objective of catching the coveted bachelor -, I wasn't sure I'd enjoy this read. Well, I'm glad I overcame my initial prejudice because At the Bride Hunt Ball ended up being a very entertaining read.

Gabriel Devine, the Duke of Wolverest, has sworn off marriage but he knows he needs to start "producing" heirs to carry on the title, so he decides his younger brother, Lord Tristan, is to be married and to take care of the "heir issue". Gabriel's plan is quite simple: invite seven young ladies (and their chaperones, of course) to a house party at his country estate, so his brother can get acquainted with them, "evaluate" them and, after a fortnight, choose the "winner".

Madelyn Haywood is one of the seven ladies selected to participate in the "contest". She doesn't really want to go because she doesn't have any interest in mingling with the "rakish" Devine brothers, but her stepmother forces her to go. Madelyn finds another reason to go when she discovers that her friend Charlotte, who's been in love with Lord Tristan for years, is also one of the selected ladies, and Madelyn vows to protect her too dreamy-eyed friend from Lord Tristan's wicked ways.

At first, Gabriel plans to make himself scarce during the house party, as he has no interest in getting himself involved in the "contest" as long as Tristan comes out of it with a bride in tow, but he can't resist Madelyn. She isn't like any other woman he's ever met, and he can't help falling in love with her and questioning his decision to never marry. On her side, she slowly realizes that he isn't the cad she thought he was, and falls for him too. He blunders his marriage proposal but, as this is Romancelandia, it's just a tiny bump in their way to the HEA.

As described above, the plot of this story was quite simple and straightforward, with no unexpected twists. What made this book so enjoyable was watching Gabriel and Madelyn interact and fall in love with each other. I smiled, laughed, sighed and, at one point, even hurt with them. Gabriel was a bit arrogant sometimes - after all, he was the Duke of Wolverest and he could do anything he wanted! - but he was completely helpless when it came to Madelyn. She was adorable in her clumsiness, and I was very happy to see how Gabriel helped her overcome her insecurities.

All in all, I had a great time reading this book, and I recommend it to anyone who likes a light and sweet romantic comedy set in Regency England.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: "Honor's Splendour" by Julie Garwood

Honor's SplendourHonor's Splendour by Julie Garwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yay, another great book by Julie Garwood! :)

The story opens with Baron Duncan of Wexton stripped of his clothing, tied to a post, and left to freeze to death by Baron Louddon's men. But as soon as he's alone, Louddon's sister, Lady Madelyne, comes to his rescue and frees him. Ducan can't believe his luck - not that he's in any real danger and in need of her help because his "capture" was all part of a bigger plan -, but fate is just giving him what he came for. Duncan's sister, Adela, was raped by Louddon about a month ago, so he decided to kidnap Madelyn and force a confrontation with her brother, seeking revenge for what he's done. Having Madelyne unselfishly help him is beyond anything Duncan expected, and he falls hard and fast for her. Obviously, it takes some time until he realizes that.

As soon as Duncan is freed, he and his men attack Louddon's men and destroy his fortress. When the battle is over, Duncan is disappointed to find that Louddon is absent, since the coward Baron escaped to London soon after Duncan was "captured", thinking of establishing an alibi for Duncan's death. Knowing that Louddon will go after them, Duncan takes Madelyne as his "captive" to his home. And so it begins a most romantic story...

This book hooked me from the start, with one of the most beautiful opening scenes I've ever read. Oh, I've heard about the whole "feet warming" and such beforehand, as it's often mentioned as a memorable scene by many readers, but it didn't lessen the impact of it. It was exciting to actually read the whole scene and not only a snippet of it, and I was smiling and sighing like a ninny the whole time. Like Duncan, I fell in love with Madelyn there and then.

As I'm beginning to expect from Garwood's heroines, Madelyne was a bit ditzy and clumsy, but her kindness and courage won me over. Her inability to tell a lie was charming, sometimes funny and, in the end, saved the day. See, it pays to always tell the truth, especially if you tell it in a way that gets people a little confused. :)

Duncan was also what I've come to expect from a Garwood's hero: an arrogant but honorable warrior, protective, patient and completely devoted to Madelyne. He did force her to marry him, but it was for her protection - among other reasons, like his yet-unprofessed love for her and his desire do bed her ;) - and he never meant to hurt or harm her in any way.

Honor's Splendour was all about Duncan and Madelyne realizing they were made for each other and, as a bonus, making Louddon pay for his sins. I loved the way Ducan explained to himself why he felt compelled to sneak into Madelyne's bedroom to sleep with her when she was still his "captive", I smiled with his listing the reasons for marrying her, I sighed every time he sighed - just for show, of course - with one of her antics, I laughed with her attempts at learning self-defense... To sum things up, I adored Duncan and Madelyne.

The only thing that bothered me a bit in this book was, I felt it dragged a little after Duncan and Madelyne said ILY to each other. Things got too calm and quiet after that, and I couldn't wait to see how Duncan was going to "finish" Louddon for good. I trusted Duncan but I didn't trust King William, and his "special friendship" with Louddon could be a problem. In the end, everything worked out, and Duncan and Madelyne got their true HEA - after all, this is Romancelandia. :)

This was only my fourth book by Garwood and, based on what I've read so far, I can't wait to read more of her. Working my way through her backlist will keep me entertained for a long time, and I couldn't be happier.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: "Kill and Tell" by Linda Howard

Kill and TellKill and Tell by Linda Howard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a big fan of LH's earlier romantic suspense novels, but her latest releases have failed to catch my interest. Kill and Tell is one of her oldies and, IMHO, a very good one.

The story starts with Dexter Whitlaw, a Vietnam veteran, sending a "mysterious" package to his estranged wife. Unbeknown to him, she died a few weeks ago and it's their daughter, Karen, who receives the package. Still grieving for her mother's death and resentfull of her father, who left them when she was only a teenager to never come back, Karen doesn't give the package any importance, sends it to a storage house along with her deceased mother's belongings, and forgets about it.

Fast foward 6 months, and Dex is killed in a New Orleans street. Homicide Detective Marc Chastain is assigned to the case, and he soon suspects that there's more to it than the "simple" murder of a homeless John Doe. But solving the murder of a homeless man isn't top priority for the police, so as soon as the body is identified as belonging to Dexter Whitlaw, all Marc is left to do is contact his family (aka Karen) and get her to take care of his funeral.

Karen works as a nurse at the surgical floor of a hospital in Ohio, and she's still not fully recovered from the loss of her mother. When Marc tells her her father is dead, she doesn't know how to feel about it. He's been a virtual stranger to her but, out of duty and respect for her mother who never stopped loving him, Karen flies to New Orleans to identify and claim her father's body.

Marc doesn't really like Karen at first - he finds her too cold and unfeeling - but it doesn't take long until he realizes that's just a facade and, in fact, she feels too much behind her controlled behavior. That's when he falls hard and fast for her and, knowing time isn't on his side, begins an intense courtship. Oh boy, I wish I had a man like Marc to help me whenever I'm facing a difficult time! ;)

Things get complicated when a 2nd body is discovered in Mississipi. Even though there are no visible links, Marc feels the two murders are connected and starts investigating. This calls the attention of the CIA, the bad guys get antsy and, suddenly, Karen has the killer after her. But why? What do they want with her? What was in the package sent by her father?

If I didn't make it clear before, let me tell you again: I loved Marc! He was protective, caring, and totally devoted to Karen. Some readers thought he was a bit manipulative, taking advantage of her distress to seduce her, but I really didn't see it that way. Was she feeling vulnerable and needy? Yes, but it wasn't like anyone would do. No, she wanted Marc as much as he wanted her. And he wasn't after a one-night stand, he just felt the need to speed up his intense courtship because she was leaving in 3 days and he wanted to hook her on a relationship with him before she left and put him behind her. Desperate times call for drastic measures, LOL.

It took me longer to like Karen. I thought she was too cold and passive at first, but then I understood she was basically on the verge of depression and I could definitely relate to that. Been there, done that. She won me over when she managed to escape a near-death situation all by herself. Gotta love an intelligent heroine who doesn't have a single TSTL bone in her body!

I have one small complaint about this book: it's somewhat short and could have used 50 or so more pages to develop Marc and Karen's relationship, IMHO. Other than that, I really enjoyed this book and look forward to read All the Queen's Men, the next book in this miniseries loosely connected through John Medina's character.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Review: "The Bride Finder" by Susan Carroll

The Bride Finder (St. Leger, #1)The Bride Finder by Susan Carroll

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First things first... Thank you for recommending this book, Fani! Who would have thought I'd enjoy a historical PNR so much? Fani, that would be you! ;)

The Bride Finder is a romantic gothic tale, featuring a dark, tortured and brooding hero who lives in a haunted castle - where else could he live? - and a no-nonsense and engaging heroine.

Anatole St. Leger comes from a long line of ancestors who are cursed - or blessed, depending on how one sees it - with paranormal powers. Anatole's "gift" is, he's telekinetic, can see the future, and sense the presence of other people before he sees or hears them. Considering how "unique" they are, every member of the St. Leger family must ask the Bride Finder to choose his/her mate if they want to live a long and happy life. Anatole is well aware of the consequences of forsaking the Bride Finder's services - his parents' marriage was not a match made by the Bride Finder and, as the legend dictates, ended tragically - so he knows better than tempt fate. When the time comes for him to choose a bride, he calls the Bride Finder. He makes a list of what he wants in a wife, but we can't always get what we want... And what we want isn't always what we need...

What Anatole gets is Madeline Breton, who agrees to marry him sight unseen thanks to the Bride Finder's smart and somewhat tricky talking. When she arrives at Castle Leger to meet her husband, she's disappointed to find out that Anatole's nothing like she expected. He isn't thrilled with her either, so the Bride Finder has to smooth things out between the newlyweds. The Bride Finder strongly advises Anatole to come clean with Madeline about his paranormal powers, but Anatole decides to keep them a secret because he's afraid she'll get scared and reject him. And so begins their journey towards their HEA...

I loved both Anatole and Madeline, and I especially liked the fact that they didn't fall in love at first sight. That's very common in PNR romances, where the H/h are usually fated to be together and feel connected to each other right from the start, so it was nice to see a different approach. Anatole and Madeline were meant to be together - that was what the Bride Finder's job was about, to find the woman destined to be Anatole's love for all eternity - but that didn't mean that they fell instantly in love. It was wonderful to watch they find their way around each other and make their marriage work. And when he finally told her about his paranormal powers... All I'm going to say is, I'd have done the same thing she did.

The ending - most particularly, the last paragraph of the last chapter and the 1st line of the epilogue - almost gave me a heart attack. Wow, scary moment there! Thankfully, it was gone soon enough and I closed the book with a satisfying sigh. :)

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Review: "Stranded with a Spy" by Merline Lovelace

Stranded With A SpyStranded With A Spy by Merline Lovelace

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finally! A Harlequin freebie I really enjoyed!

Tired of being stalked by the media after her sexual harassment lawsuit against her former employer has been dismissed for lack of evidence, Mallory decides a vacation in France is just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, unbeknown to her, someone puts a CD with highly classified information in her suitcase in an attempt to smuggle it outside the U.S. Airport security goes ballistic when they find the CD and OMEGA, a top secret government intelligence agency, and Cutter, one of its operatives, are called to the picture. Cutter's mission is to follow Mallory and catch her in the act of delivering the CD to the Russian criminal OMEGA believes she's working with, but he soon starts to question if she's as guilty as he thinks. And when his interest in her turns more than personal, things get complicated...

Cutter and Mallory were very likeable characters, and I had no problem believing how quickly they fell in love with each other. She was a bit too trusting at first, but I'm not sure I wouldn't have done the same if I was in her shoes. As this book is part of a series, other OMEGA operatives made appearances in the story and, while they were interesting, I thought some of their scenes were unnecessary - particularly the ones featuring secondary characters Mike and Gillian, who are the H/h in Undercover Wife, BTW.

As for the plot, it was well done. The pace was a bit slow in the beginning - as much as I loved revisiting Mont St. Michel, I could have done without the detailed description provided by Ms. Lovelace - but it got better once Cutter and Mallory got together. The ending was a bit anticlimatic and, funny enough, even Mallory thought that, LOL. Anyway, I didn't need to see bullets flying and blood splattered all over the place. All in all, I was pretty much happy with the way things were.

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Review: "Saving Grace" by Julie Garwood

Saving GraceSaving Grace by Julie Garwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having heard such high praise about this book, I had sky-high expectations and expected to be blown away by it. Unfortunately, that didn't happen - not in the firsst half of the story, anyway. It took me a long time to like Gabriel - too arrogant and distant - and Johanna - too ditzy and scared. At one point, I was ready to scream if he told her to rest one more time! That was funny at first, like a recurring joke, but it got old pretty fast - probably because she didn't put a stop to it soon enough to suit me. Considering what she'd gone through during her first marriage, when she'd been a silent victim of spousal abuse, I completely understood her fears when it came to Gabriel, who was this "big and bad" Highland warrior, and I knew she needed time to get over them so I gave her some slack, but I couldn't wait to see her grow some spine. When she finally did... Wow, it was like I was reading another book! It was funny, touching, action-packed, everything I had expected to find at first, and I could not put the book down. Wonderful save, Ms. Garwood! :)

Now, addressing the age issue that had me concerned before I started reading this book... Unless I missed it, neither Gabriel's nor Johanna's age was mentioned in the story. Aside from her brother saying that she had gotten married the first time when she was “still a child”, there was not other clue in the book and I only “knew” she was sixteen years old at the beginning of story because I read the book description. I know this is a minor detail and it shouldn't have bothered me, but it did. I like knowing how old the H/h are, especially if one of them is that young.

All in all, this was another very good story by Ms. Garwood, and she's now officially one of my favorite authors.

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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Review: "Bound by Your Touch" by Meredith Duran

Bound by Your TouchBound by Your Touch by Meredith Duran

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

AMAZING! That's the word that came to my mind when I finished this book. I'm always a bit wary when I start reading a book that's been highly praised by "everyone", as sky-high expectations can turn an otherwise excellent read into a "somewhat disappointingly good" read, so I didn't know what to expect from Bound by Your Touch when I picked it up. Well, I'm glad to say that "everyone" was right and I'm joining the chorus. I loved everything about this book: James, Lydia, the secondary characters, the story...

Lydia is the oldest daughter of Henry Boyce, an archaeologist who spends a great part of his life working in Egypt. A confirmed spinster at the advanced age of twenty-six, Lydia is her father's business manager and takes care of his trading affairs in London while he's away in Egypt. Raising funds to support her father's research is one of her responsabilities, so Lydia is more than a little annoyed when James barges into one of her fund-raising meetings with some important and rich men and interrupts her speech.

James's sole goal in life is to annoy his father, the Earl of Moreland, any way he can and, unfortunately for Lydia, his father is one of the important and rich men in attendance to her meeting and James doesn't care where or when he manages to achieve his goal. James and Lydia doesn't exactly make sparks fly in their first meeting, but they are intrigued - or should I say, annoyed - enough to dedicate a thought or two to each other. A few days later, the possibility of her father being involved in trading forgeries and smuggling precious gems from Egypt leads Lydia to seek James's cooperation and that's when the story really takes off.

I fell in love with Lydia right from the start. When I finished reading the Prologue, I was already rooting for her HEA. How could I care so much for her so soon? I can only "blame" Ms. Duran's writing skills for that. As I read the following chapters, I grew to love Lydia even more. On the surface, she seemed to be all prim, proper and good, but she nurtured a well-deserved dislike of her sister Sophie, who stole and married the man she loved. I liked the fact that Lydia wasn't "perfect". I mean, aren't we all tired of the saintly heroine who, despite everything and everyone, is always understanding and forgiving? That jealous sister of her betrayed her, and Lydia was more than welcome to harbor some resentment over it. Not that she was mean or anything, but she didn't regard her sister's betrayal as something "unimportant".

As for James, I had a hard time with him at first. He was handsome and charming, but his self-destructive behavior was, like Lydia stated at one point, childish. He was constantly drunk - or trying to get drunk - and his life was dedicated to embarass and cause pain to his father, there was no other purpose in it. He had "everything" but did nothing useful with it. Or so it seemed. Slowly but gradually, I got to know what drove him and, even though I couldn't fully support the way he chose to deal with it, I understood him and, like Lydia, fell in love with him. To borrow her words, "Everyone is brave in his own way. You must not blame others if they don't fit your mold."

Lydia and James came from two very problematic families, to say the least, so it was no wonder they were dysfunctional to some extent. I like to think that it was their meeting each other that "saved" them from the dead end lives they had been living but, in the end, each dealt with his/her problem on his/her own. I admit I was "shocked" when James left Lydia and told her he wouldn't help her with her father, even knowing her life might be in danger. A knight in shining armor he wasn't, and that was unusual.

The ending was bittersweet and, again, unusual. "We will be rather alone, Lydia thought. She would not want her father at their wedding. And they would not be spending holidays at Moreland's house. Not for some time yet, at least. But there was Ana. In a few years, perhaps Stella would be with them as well. And their own children, eventually. A new cycle, a new chance to make things right." There was no "deus ex machina", no miraculous resolution for James's strained relationship with his father or Lydia's damaged relationship with her sister Sophie and, ultimately, her father. I usually don't like when I'm left with "unfinished businesses" at the ending of a book, but I really didn't mind it this time around. James and Lydia had their HEA, there was no doubt about it, and everything else would work out... eventually.

This book went straight to my keepers shelf, and I can't wait to get my hands on Ms. Duran's next book.

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