All right, enough about me. Let's talk about my favorite subject, books :) I definitively need to find a way to review faster ^_^; I'm so behind, you can't imagine. As a result, this is going to be a three for one review and I have the perfect books in mind - Emma Wildes' Notorious Bachelors trilogy. I've been reading a lot of historical romances lately and it's partly due to Ms Wildes, so what better way to thank her than to review the trilogy? :P
By the way, just a little aside before I start... Did you know that a marquess was higher ranked than an earl? I was curious and checked on wikipedia and turns out that the ranking order from high to low is: duke, marquess, earl, viscount and baron. Huh... I always thought it was something like: duke, earl, viscount, marquess and baron. I mean, you always read about dukes and earls... and it seems to me it's only recently that the marquesses have become popular... The things we learn :P
Okay, reviews ahead! :)
My Lord Scandal
published by New American Library in September 2010
A Rogue by any other nameGenre: Historical romance
Despite her beauty, Lady Amelia Patton has lived a sheltered life among her books. When she finds herself suddenly the toast of the ton, she is far from delighted. Her father, Lord Hathaway, wants her married off quickly, but the last person he'd choose for her husband is the son of his worst enemy...
Alexander St. James may be a thief of hearts, but he is no burglar. Nevertheless, he must recover and item belonging to his family to avoid a scandal, and so he has stolen into the home of Lord Hathaway, only to come upon the beguiling and chaste Lady Amelia in her bedroom, wearing only a lacy chemise...
From their first meeting, Alexander leaves Amelia breathless-but is it from fear or excitement? Captivated by her beauty and charmed by her intellect, he ignores the scandalous whispers as he sets out to seduce the woman of his dreams...
Series: Notorious Bachelors trilogy, Book #1
The Story: The blurb is pretty accurate. Alexander is asked by his grandmother to retrieve an item from Lord Hathaway's household. While infiltrating Lord Hathaway's house with his comrade in arms, Michael Hepburn, Alexander stumbles upon Amelia returning from a ball. This gives place to an unexpected, but seductive meeting on the balcony with Amelia wearing next to nothing.
From their first meeting, Alexander and Amelia are smitten for each other. This should be the perfect situation, as Amelia's father, who has always been distant, wishes to marry her off quickly... but no matter how quickly, he would never approve of Alexander as the Patton and St. James families have been feuding for two generations. However, Alexander and Amelia are not aware of the reasons and eventually, it comes a time where both have to make a choice - love or loyalty to their family... and could the item Alexander has been tasked to retrieve linked to the feud?
My Opinion: My Lord Scandal was an enjoyable read and the main reason was because the book focused on Alexander and Amelia and their relationship. I really liked both Alexander and Amelia's characters. I like their maturity and the fact that they knew what they wanted and went after it. Of course, there were some hesitations in the beginning, it's never easy to stand up to your family; however, they didn't dwell on it forever. Once they knew they were in love, that was settled and they braved the consequences together. I really liked that they had each other's back.
Something else that I enjoyed was the fact that there was no villain in this book... no baddie that we had to figure out or look out for. Sure there were some secondary characters - Amelia's aunt comes to mind - but they didn't steal the spotlight. They really were there to support our H/H :) There was also the item that Alexander had to retrieve that led to an interesting side-story. I really liked how Ms Wildes incorporated it into the book - it was crucial for the overall storyline, but at the same time it was passive. It just blended in and really complemented the romance :)
As Ames put it in her review, it was the perfect non-angsty historical romance... and I believe we need more of those :) There are too many intrigues in our historicals books nowadays, so it's really nice to come back to something a bit more mundane, a bit more internal :)
My Grade: B. After reading My Lord Scandal, I wavered between B and B+. Overall, I thought it was a very pleasant book with likable H/H... unfortunately, it failed to leave a deep impression in my mind. After two months, I have a bit of difficulty remembering the story and so, I think B is most appropriate.
Our Wicked Mistake
published by New American Library in October 2010
A devilish business requires a devilish solutionGenre: Historical romance
Madeline May, the widowed Lady Brewer, is in a horrifying quandary. When blackmail turns to murder, it becomes clear that only one man can help her: Luke Daudet, the notorious Viscount Altea, who is used to dealing with men of ill repute, and whom she despises with every fiber of her being.
As a connoisseur of beautiful woman, Luke recognizes Madeline's physical allure and the danger she represents. From the very moment of their first meeting-and one unforgettable night of passion-Luke Daudet knew she was different. And when he received her fateful entreaty, he knew he would not be able to stay away...
Series: Notorious Bachelors trilogy, Book #2
The Story: Luke Daudet lost his newly-wedded Spanish bride during the war and is unwilling to let another woman matter as much to him. That is why after a night of passion with widowed Madeline May, Luke cut all ties with her... He is therefore very surprised when he receives Madeline's cry of help.
Madeline May's late husband, Lord Brewer, used to keep a diary where he detailed certain events of his life... including some episodes of his marriage bed. Somehow, lecherous Lord Fitch got his hands on the journal and has been harassing Madeline ever since. One night, in order to escape him, she bashes him on the head and thinks she killed him. Not knowing where to turn, she goes to Luke for help.
However, what she does not realize is that once their contact is renewed, Luke will not be able to turn his back on her once again... and she's not sure she wants to...
My Opinion: This was the book that I appealed to me the least out of all three books of the trilogy, based on the blurb and the excerpt. It was partly because Madeline was a widow and partly because the harassment described in the excerpt sounded like a blackmail plot. However, Ames kept telling me how much she enjoyed this book - more than My Lord Scandal, so I had to try it... and I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised :)
First, Luke and Madeline definitively had a great chemistry together and that made the romance engaging. Then, their respective circumstances made it interesting. I thought it was refreshing that for once, it was the hero who didn't want to get himself involved - especially with a widow in the plot :P What I liked was that from the beginning, Luke knew that Madeline might become more to him and so, took steps to avoid so. Seriously, Ms Wildes' characters are very honest and bright about their emotions! They don't wear blindfolds, that's for sure :) As for Madeline, I really admired her for her strength. Madeline is a very respectable woman and widow and even though widows have more freedom and privileges, associating with rakes is still not good for their reputation. However, Madeline embarked on the affair of her own will and face her family's reactions - bad and good :) I definitively think that Luke and Madeline was a well-matched pair :)
Other things that I liked about this book was Luke and his illegitimate sister's relationship. I wished this part would have been expanded actually! It was unusual and refreshing :) The secondary romance involving Luke's younger sister and their cousin was also very cute. There was nothing new about it - young man with no title, but promising future in love with unaware young girl. He tries hard to hide his feelings, but he suddenly kisses her and she realizes that perhaps, she has feelings for him... It was sweet and well-executed and as I said, not new... but you don't want new for the secondary romance, because you don't want it to overshadow the main romance. Also, all the characters were very likable and that's a hard thing to do :P And surprisingly, I was happy that Madeline's son did not have a big role in the book... I usually like to see adults interact with children, but at times, those interactions seem to be identical from book to book... So yeah, I thought it was a good decision to leave out the son.
What did not work for me? Well actually, everything that has to do with Luke's past... Our three notorious bachelors are good friends, but the primary link between them is that they all serve in the war together. However, that aspect/part of their lives is very unclear and has not been very developed. It wasn't very noticeable in My Lord Scandal, because it was more a detail... However, in Our Wicked Mistake, it impacts the storyline since Luke's biggest emotional hurdle comes from that time. Also, how the intrigue at the end was resolved wasn't great either. I thought it could have been much better, especially as it started off so well.
My Grade: B. Another very enjoyable addition to the trilogy. It surprised me how much I liked Luke and Madeline's relationship. Also, the book was great because it was unpredictable. Okay, perhaps not totally unpredictable, but at least, not a compilation of clichés :) However, I'm not sure it was truly better than My Lord Scandal...
His Sinful Secret
published by New American Library in November 2010
Some secrets can be shared only behind closed doorsGenre: Historical romance
The art of deception didn't baffle Michael Hepburn, but innocence did. His new wife is trusting, lovely, and, to his amazement, utterly bewitching.
Julianne Sutton had always known she would wed the Marquess of Longhaven, as arranged by both families years earlier. She'd assumed, however, that it would be the affable ducal heir Harry who would be her husband, not his enigmatic brother. When Harry died unexpectedly and Michael took his place as the new marquees, more than just her plans for her marriage were altered.
Michael battled a ruthless enemy in a game of espionage and deceit, but when he discovered that his new wife might have secrets of her own, he quickly learned that love had entirely different set of rules...
Series: Notorious Bachelors trilogy, Book #3
The Story: Life can be very ironic...While Michael was risking his life against the Frenches, he never expected his older brother Harry, the ducal heir, to die. Now, not only has Michael inherited the title, but also a bride as his grieving parents demanded that he fulfills the marriage arrangement made between the two families. However, the war might be over, but for Michael, it won't be settled till he squares things off with a certain Roget... and he won't let a young, beautiful wife sidetrack him.
From a very young age, Julianne knew she would marry Harry. His death comes as a shock and so does her marriage to Michael... but what choice does she have? What disconcerts her is how little she is acquainted with her new husband. Harry has been an easy man to know and love, but Michael is very different, very complex... still, she could fall in love with him...
My Opinion: In truth, His Sinful Secret was my favorite novel in the trilogy, mainly due to Michael and Julianne - their characters, but also their romance :) It has some vibes of "happy-go-lucky heroine thawing up stuffy hero," but it's not exactly it. Julianne might be only 19 years old, but she's not a happy-go-lucky young girl... instead, she's very mature, very observant and very lovable. I liked her determination when it came to Michael, but even more impressive was her poise. I actually read His Sinful Secret before Passions of a Wicked Earl by Lorraine Heath and I just couldn't help but compare the two brides... and I kept thinking if Claire had acted the same way as Julianne, she and Westcliffe could have avoided so much pain. The way Julianne went about it in her marriage was really the way she needed to go in order to build something meaningful with Michael. I liked that she let him know that she wanted more out their relationship without being pushy... It was really the perfect mix of push and pull :) And it was a pleasure to see Michael fall in love with Julianne and realize his feelings, despite planning not to.
In my opinion, Julianne's character is what made the book. It is she who made the romance more than what it is by the way she behaved. She acted, she took initiatives and she reached out... and thus, definitively deserves her HEA ending. As for Michael, he was a nice hero, but he doesn't leave a deep impression because his character was very reserved. He kept his emotions close to heart and there was no excessive outburst. I guess what I'm saying is that he lacked intensity... but that doesn't make him less of an hero. Actually, what sets him apart for me is that he was a very reasonable and considerate man LOL. They are actually quite rare LOL. He could be a bit high-handed at times, thinking he knew best... however, he adjusted and adapted :) I thought he had charisma and did inspire authority... but overall, he was a wee bland ^_^; and perhaps that has to do with the spy thingie. You know, how they have to blend in... I have to admit, I really enjoyed and loved the romance in His Sinful Secret, but the mystery aspect did not really work for me. It seemed a bit too convoluted for nothing and simply not very interesting.
Luckily, there was a really nice twist involving Harry's past and how it impacted Michael and Julianne's marriage. At the same time, it showcased Julianne's character very well - again her poise, but her selflessness and her concern for other people's feelings, and Julianne, Michael and his parents dynamics together. That I really enjoyed, because I think it's quite rare to see the parents. Seriously, if I had my say, I would have focused the book even more on the characters, the relationships and the twists.
Finally, there was a lot of foreshadowing of Michael's character and setting up for his book in the previous two books of the trilogy. However, when reading His Sinful Secret, I felt there was a disconnection with the other two books. Luke and Alexander barely make an appearance in His Sinful Secret and the mystery was a bit too stretched to feel real :(
My Grade: B+. Really, sometimes, grades are not logical LOL. Out of the three books, I would say that the balance between romance and side-stories was weakest in His Sinful Secret. Yet, it's the one that I enjoyed most. It's the one that I'll pull out to re-read passages again, simply because it's the one where the characters and romance marked me most :P
Before I end this post, I'd like to write a few words about Ms Wildes. I wasn't too sure after reading Lessons from a Scarlet Lady how I felt about this new to me author. I mean, she showed a lot of potential, but in the long run...? Now that I'm done with this trilogy though, I've really come to appreciate Ms Wildes' writing and she's definitively on my auto-buy list :) Overall, I really enjoy her writing. It's simple and fluid, but moreover there is this feeling of gentleness about it that's really appealing and pleasant. More importantly though is the story itself. Ms Wildes brings this breeze of freshness in the historical romance world by varying the situations, the characters, the plots and so on very well. I feel her characters are breaking certain molds by being simply being mature and honest... and I simply like how she mixes it up when it comes to setting and backgrounds... Just take this trilogy for example: Alexander is a third son, Luke has already come into his title and is head of his family and Michael is now an heir. Really, she's rejuvenating the genre and it translates into enjoyable and fun books :) So if you haven't read anything by Ms Wildes yet, what are you waiting for? :P