Wednesday, 24 June 2015

#CBR7 Book 69: "Uprooted" by Naomi Novik

Page count: 448 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer! I got this as an ARC through NetGalley in return for a fair and unbiased review.The book is available now.

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its power at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman to be handed over to him every ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows - everyone knows - that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things that Agnieszka isn't, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

While this remarkable novel by Naomi Novik isn't actually a retelling of some traditional fairy tale, it feels like it should be. The book moves slowly, thoroughly establishing the sleepy little environment Agniezka and Kasia live in, with the terrors of the slowly encroaching Wood so close by. Once someone disappears in the Wood, they will hopefully stay lost. Should they return, they are like creatures possessed spreading its malevolent influence. It's because the dangers that threaten them constantly that the villagers accept having to sacrifice a young woman to the mysterious and reclusive wizard who lives in the tower nearby. He keeps them for ten years, when they return to their families briefly, apparently unharmed but inevitably changed. They never seem content to stay in their home villages, usually going to the capital, rarely to return.

The Dragon always chooses the most promising and accomplished of the women, and so everyone in the area are expecting Kasia to be the next young woman to be taken. It's a huge surprise to everyone, not least Agnieszka, when she is the one selected to go with the wizard. She barely gets time to say good bye to her loved ones before the Dragon sweeps her away. Now, terrified and confused, because while the women who return from the Dragon's service always appeared healthy and unmolested, there were always rumours. They lived alone with a man for a decade after all. The impatient and surly wizard seems completely uninterested in her physically though, and after finding a note from a previous occupant of her room, Agnieszka is relieved that she won't be molested in any way. She tries to follow the orders of her new master, but because the Dragon isn't exactly very clear in what he actually wants, it takes her quite a while to understand that he's trying to teach her magic, and his lessons are not going as expected. It's only when she finds the dusty spell book of a legendary witch that she seems to get the magic to work for her.

At first the Dragon doesn't believe that Agnieszka's brand of magic could have any effect. Only after several attempts does it become clear that his way of using magic is more intellectual and book based, while Agnieszka's is more emotional and intuition based. As the threats from the Wood become greater, it's clear that they need to find a way to work together. One terrible day, when the Dragon is called away to deal with a crisis, Agnieszka receives word that her village is being threatened as well. When she discovers that her dearest friend Kasia has been taken by the creatures of the Wood, she risks everything to rescue her. Now she needs to find a way to free her friend from the Wood's influence, even if such a task has always been believed to be impossible.

To begin with, Agnieszka seems like one of those women who only seem to exist in fiction, too clumsy for words and completely out of her element. We are told that while Kasia is all that is beautiful, talented, graceful and accomplished, Agnieszka can't go through a single day without getting her clothes torn or stained or in some way screwing things up. No one expects her to be the next woman to go with the Dragon. She is terrified and confused, unclear about her duties and feels absolutely horrible from the simple spells the Dragon makes her do. Because he's more than a century old, used to girls with more aptitude for magic (because that's what he does, he trains them in magic so they can help him keep the Wood from taking over more of the area), he's not used to having to explain his methods or motivation. He is also appalled when Agnieszka explains to him what everyone in the surrounding villages believes is his ulterior motive for selecting the girls.

Because Agnieszka has always been unfavourably compared to Kasia, and is so completely unable to grasp the tenets of the Dragon's magical spells, she, like everyone else underestimates herself greatly. It takes time for her to realise that she has value and gifts of her own and that she is has a gift for magic, just not one that has been seen in the country for a long time. She truly begins to find her strength and powers when her best friend is threatened. Doing the impossible, she rescues Kasia from the Wood and refuses to give up on her. In the process, she is also forced to examine her feelings of inadequacy and jealousy towards her dear friend, because even best friends aren't always charitable in the ways they think of one another, and there will always be times when we are jealous, insecure and petty. Moving through and past this, Kasia and Agnieszka's friendship is changed, but stronger as a result.

In the second act of the book, so to speak, Agnieszka has to leave the world she's always known, as well as the safety of the Dragon's tower and go to the capital, to deal with political intrigue, other wizards and discovers that the sinister forces that control the Wood are present even there and bent on causing destruction and havoc not only in her home country of Polnya, but also the neighbouring country. Because of Agnieszka's miraculous rescue of Kasia, the youngest prince of Polnya is determined to reclaim his mother, the missing queen, who allegedly ran away with her lover nearly twenty years ago. They both disappeared in the Wood. Is what they rescue from the forest, at terrible loss of life, truly the lost queen, or something much more sinister?

The last third of the book got a bit wearying, with what felt to me to be unnecessary and repetitive violence and finally a rather puzzling explanation of what the motivation behind the terrifying force of the Wood actually was. I can't stress enough how creepy and sinister I felt the Wood and its many "minions" was. It's such a great villain, for all that it's not one thing, but this seemingly unstoppable and relentless force, with feral wolves, giant preying mantises, evil trees and other monsters at its disposal. Still, I got a bit tired and confused towards the end, just wanting things to wrap up.

Overall, this is such a great read, with Agnieszka as a wonderful heroine at its centre. Her friendship with Kasia is heartwarming and her slowly developing powers and confidence feels empowering in all the right ways. The medieval style kingdoms felt extremely real and the whole story feels as if Naomi Novik found some treasure trove of old Eastern European fairy tales and just reinterpreted them. There is a romantic subplot in the book as well, and one of my other complaints, along with the dragging last third of the book, is that the romance isn't more fully developed. It has so much promise, damn it, and I felt cheated that there wasn't more of it. The only thing I'd read by Novik before this, was Temeraire (or His Majesty's Dragon, as it's also known). While that didn't appeal to me that much(even with dragons, there was too much military history, not my thing), this was great. For anyone with an interest in fairy tale narratives with strong, female friendship at its core and some real horrors to be overcome before there is a chance at a HEA, this is a book for you.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

#CBR7 Book 68: "Driven" by Eve Kenin

Page count: 321 pages
Rating: 3 stars

In a post-apocalyptic future, most people live in the icy wastes of what used to be Siberia. While on paper, trade should be regulated fairly, in reality there is a monopoly controlled by one ruthless man, Duncan Bane, and he wants Raina Bowen tortured and dead, eventually. Raina needs to deliver a shipment of grain to one of the major settlements, but needs forged documentation to drive on the ice road. Wizard, the man who was supposed to meet her with said documentation, instead gets her in trouble with Bane's hired goons. After his rig blows up, he insists on riding with Raina.

It doesn't take long in close quarters with Wizard for Raina to really feel the heat sizzling between them. But Wizard is an odd one, with lethal fighting skills, supernaturally fast reflexes, advanced healing ability and a strangely literal view of the world. He's nursing a lot of secrets, and clearly also has a past with Bane. Although Raina is sure it's a bad idea, she and Wizard race across the icy wastes, trying to outrun Bane's hired goons, ice pirates and eventually, Duncan Bane himself.

So let me be entirely honest, I doubt I would ever have heard of this book or read it, if not for it being the May pick for Vaginal Fantasy. I didn't end up reading it until after the hangout where the ladies spoke about it, figuring that it was worth a try (also I was able to get it as part of a sci-fi bundle for less than a dollar, so at least it didn't cost me too much). Ice trucker sci-fi romance is absolutely a new subset of the romance genre and not one I thought would appeal to me at all. While the book was a bit slow to start, and the writing was a bit repetitive, it helped that I was already prepared for this, having heard the book discussed.

I liked Raina's strength and independence (even though it was frequently repeated how strong she was), she is very capable, has had to manage on her own for a long time, and even when she finds other people she can lean on and trust, she prefers to handle things herself. I liked parts of the world-building (although personally I would hate to live in frozen wastes all year long), some of the inter-personal relationships when more characters are introduced were good, and the sex scenes wer perfectly decent. In the e-book copy I got, there is an additional sex scene at the end,which the author cut because it disrupted the flow of the story. Wise choice, because having one at the point where she clearly excised it from would have been really jarring.

What I didn't like so much were some of the flaws with the writing, I just could not get over that the hero is called Wizard. There's a good reason for it, but it never worked for me and took me out of several moments that were supposed to be sexy. Some of the story telling is a bit muddled, with flash backs that are not always entirely clear and a lot of convoluted explanations of how various characters came to be the way they were. Duncan Bane was totally uninteresting to me. He has one setting, and one only, complete sadistic phychopath and that gets boring really fast.

There is apparently a sequel to this book, involving one of Wizard's sisters, and that book, according to the internet is a lot better. I don't know yet if I'll check it out. While this wasn't a bad read, all in all, it also wasn't terrible memorable, apart from the fact that I can now say I've read dystopian ice trucker sci-romance. So there is that.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday, 22 June 2015

#CBR7 Book 67: "Suddenly One Summer" by Julie James

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Divorce lawyer Victoria Slade has a cynical view of romance and relationships. She's seen enough bitter divorces and custody battles to really believe in happily ever after. She's certainly not looking for anything permanent herself. Not that she'd mind something casual, she just needs to find the right guy. Who certainly isn't her new next-door neighbour, who while he seemed hot when their eyes met across a bar, appears to have a veritable cavalcade of women in and out of his apartment at all hours of the day and night. That's too casual even for Victoria.

Investigative journalist Ford Dixon has a soft spot for women. He loves his mother and younger sister dearly, and his best friend since childhood is a highly successful lawyer who likes to give him a hard time. He's happily single, for all that several of his friends have begun to settle down. However, his bitchy and judgemental new neighbour Victoria, for all that he likes the way she looks, is not the sort of woman he would go for. Yet when his younger sister enlists Victoria's help to locate the one night stand who is the father of her baby, Ford insists he be allowed to use his research skills and contacts to help. Soon he and Victoria are spending a lot of time together, and discovering that their first impressions of the other might have been rather wrong.The attraction they felt during their first encounter in the bar returns, stronger than ever, and soon they are questioning whether casual dating is enough.

Julie James is one of my "pre-order"-authors and I pretty much clear my schedule when one of her new books come out, so I can enjoy it properly. She writes witty and entertaining contemporary romances, featuring successful professionals who are really good at what they do. This book is a slight departure from her "Chicago FBI/District Attorney" books, but it has ties to former books in the series, with cameos from previous heroes and heroines.

After a home invasion, Victoria moves into a sub-let (the apartment next to Ford's) over the summer, while waiting for her new condo to be ready. She also starts suffering panic attacks, which for a woman who's used to having complete control, is unacceptable. The owner of her own profitable law firm, Victoria is deeply frustrated when she's told by her therapist that there isn't an easy fix for her new anxiety. In the process of attending her sessions, she also discovers that there may be more to her refusal for long term commitment than her job. There are clearly issues in her past that are influencing both her current panic attacks and her cynicism about romance. Being as successful as she is, she is able to take on Ford's sister's case pro bono, and working on locating her baby daddy is very different from what Victoria normally does. She likes the idea of reuniting a family rather than seeing it dissolve.

At the start of the book, Ford attends the funeral for his father, who while a very popular and well-liked man in the community, was also an alcoholic, with an erratic behaviour that influenced his children negatively. Because of his father's drinking problem, Ford stepped in to take care of his mother and sister more than a lot of young boys might, and he feels deeply responsible for their well-being. So when his sister confesses that her baby is the product of a one night stand, and her ex-boyfriend who left the state is not actually the one responsible for knocking her up, Ford feels helpless, furious and is determined to move heaven and earth to locate the man who slept with his sister. If that means working with the shrewish woman next door, he will do it.

As I said, Julie James is always a good bet for light, entertaining romance and I wasn't disappointed in this. Not one of her best books, it certainly wasn't one of her weaker ones either. I liked both Ford and Victoria as individuals, and there is great support in Ford's sister, Victoria's snarky personal assistant and infinitely patient therapist. The resolution of the book was perhaps a bit sudden, but I very much liked the epilogue. My biggest problem now is that I have to wait another year for the next book.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 66: "Every Breath" by Ellie Marney

Page count: 335 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Rachel Watts lives two doors down from the brilliant, troubled and eccentric James Mycroft, the most intelligent boy in school. What he has in abundance in the IQ department, he lacks in social smarts, and as his closest friend, it seems to be Rachel's job to try to keep him out of scrapes with other students at school (who he will frequently inadvertently or purposefully insult) or from getting suspended for breaking school rules. She also tends to bring him food, as he has a tendency to forget to eat when left to his own devices. While he lives with his aunt Angela, they barely speak and seem to have a mostly antagonistic relationship.

Mycroft, who likes to compare himself to his fictional namesake, Sherlock Holmes' older and allegedly smarter brother, has a passion for forensic pathology and frequents message boards online and writes articles, even occasionally consulting on cases, under the name Diogenes. Watts helps him proof-read and edit the articles. When the teenagers find "Homeless Dave", a man they regularly visit and bring food near Melbourne zoo, murdered not far from his local sleeping spot, Mycroft uses everything he knows of forensic experience to document the scene before the police arrive. He later persuades Watts to be his side-kick in earnest, determined to investigate the death that the police undoubtedly won't care much about, as the victim was a homeless nobody.

Rachel used to live with her parents and older brother Mike on a sheep farm in the country. Financial difficulties forced them to sell the farm and relocate to Melbourne, where Rachel's parents and brother work hard to make ends meet. Rachel wants to study agriculture and move back to the countryside, she feels uprooted and unsettled in her new urban surroundings. With her academic achievements, her family want her to go to college and get a proper degree, though. Previously home schooled and used to a solitary life, the bustling corridors of her new high school and the constant stress and noise of the city is making Rachel miserable. Having made good friends in Mycroft and the fierce Mai Ng, as well as Mai's boyfriend Gus, makes her existence more bearable, but she's still not happy in Melbourne.

James (who always goes by Mycroft) is English and lost both his parents in a horrific car crash that left him scarred both physically and emotionally. His aunt Angela is his legal guardian, but they may as well be strangers just living in the same house for all the time they spend together. Mycroft is constantly skirting the edge of having social services investigate his living situation, which while not idyllic, is at least better than a foster home. Mycroft loves mysteries and is a keen observer of everything around him. While fiercely intelligent, he's also low on social graces and frequently pisses off his class mates or gets into trouble with the school management. He's obsessed with finding out the cause of his parents' accident, and frequently emotionally unstable, with Rachel, sometimes aided by Mai and Gus, doing her best to keep him from getting beaten up or expelled.

Rightly surmising that the police are unlikely to expend too many resources on trying to solve the murder of a homeless man, especially one who appears to have been killed for sport, Mycroft insists that he and Watts need to do their best to figure out who's behind the murder. Rachel initially refuses, but is unable to resist the lure of the mystery or Mycroft's charismatic persuasion for long, and soon the two teens are using everything they know of forensic pathology to identify the killer of their homeless friend. Hunting killers is a dangerous hobby, though, and before long Mycroft and Watts are courting danger and find themselves in near-death situations of their own.

I'm sure it comes as no surprise to anyone that there is also a romantic sub-plot in the book, which is very well done, for all that I'm not sure Rachel should involve herself with someone who is clearly not the most emotionally or mentally stable person (I speak from experience here, Watts). Both Rachel and Mycroft are very engaging protagonists and there is a good supporting cast in the book - Rachel's parents and Mike, her brother, as well as Mai, their loyal friend who more than once uses the legal knowledge she's picked up in school, and Gus, her sweet and funny boyfriend.

I really liked this book, and am going to do my best to track down an e-book store which will legally sell me the sequels online, so I don't have to wait for the US release of the next two books before I can read them.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 65: "Whispers Under Ground" by Ben Aaronovitch

Page count: 418 pages
Audio book length: 10 hrs 17 mins
Rating: 3.5 stars

An American art student is found murdered in Baker Street tube station, stabbed to death with a pottery shard. DC Peter Grant, apprentice wizard, senses magical vestigia on the shard, proving that there was something supernatural involved. None of the chief investigators on the case are happy to hear this. The exchange student's father turns out to be a US Senator, so the Americans send an FBI agent to assist in the case, complicating matters further, as it's unlikely that she'll take kindly to the explanation that the murder weapon appears magical in origin.

As his superior, Inspector Nightingale is busy trying to locate more of the "little crocodiles", apprentices and/or allies of "the Faceless Man", the rogue wizard that caused trouble for our heroes in the last book, Peter and Leslie May help investigate a case that makes it clear that there is more to the underground passages of London than anyone previously expected.

While I enjoyed the first two books in this series, this book didn't grab my attention as much, to the point where I actually had to go back and start the audio book over again, after over a month of not listening. I'd actually forgotten the beginning of the book. When I re-started my listening, I got through it faster and the resolution of the mystery was interesting, continuing to add to the world building of Aaronovich's series, but I didn't really think there was much development to any of the characters. Leslie is living in the Folly now, another apprentice to Nightingale, but still has to wear her mask everywhere, and is very uncomfortable taking it off in front of Peter.

It was a fun enough book, but having finished it about three weeks ago, I'm struggling to remember more than the rough outline of the plot. It wasn't by any means a bad book, but it's not exactly memorable or thrilling either. Kobna Holbrook-Smith continues to be a great narrator and I suspect I'll keep going with the series, if nothing else because I like his voice in my ear.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

#CBR7 Book 64: "Big Little Lies" by Liane Moriarty

Page count: 462 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

I can't believe it's been nearly a month since I read this book. Because of my massive backlog, I'm going to resort to my favourite short-cut, stealing the blurb from Goodreads:

A murder...a tragic accident...or just parents behaving badly? What's indisputable is that someone is dead. But who did what?

Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads: 

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She's funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his new yogi wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarden class as Madeline's youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline's teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline's ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn't be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all. 

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

This is yet another book that it feels like I read after everyone and their mothers had discovered, read and raved about it, while I foolishly believed it was not for me. It's happened many times before, most notable with Jenny Lawson's amazing biography, the very funny Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, earlier this year with the lovely Station Eleven and now again with this. I had convinced me that this was just some sort of mommy version of Mean Girls with PTA moms gossipping and figuratively stabbing each other in the back. I was so very wrong, and I should have listened to all the eloquent and well-written reviews of my fellow Cannonballers. Sorry guys. It was only when my kindred spirit and book twin on the internet, Narfna, posted this review that I finally decided that OK, let's see what all the fuss is about.

I was hooked before I'd even finished the first chapter, where it's made clear that something very bad has happened at the trivia night of Pirriwee Public School. Of course, with chapter two, the action jumps six months back in time, introducing the reader to the three protagonists, three wonderful, interesting, but also vulnerable and flawed women who feel beautifully realistic and who at least I grew to love very quickly, for all that I understood that like my own friends, they would occasionally exasperate and annoy me, all the while they were there for me and had my back. You know from the very first chapter that someone is going to die at the trivia night, but Moriarty keeps you on tenterhooks as to who said individual is going to be.

This book is so many things. Contemporary drama and mystery, it's very funny at times and heart-breakingly touching (at least to me) at others. It explores both the complicated friendships and rivalries between women, motherhood and the insecurities of getting older. The relationships between husbands and wives, both current and divorced, mothers and their children, teachers and parents. Sure, there are petty school intrigues and women gossipping about each other, but that's such a tiny part as to seem almost insignificant. There are a number of other issues explored in the book as well, that I don't want to reveal, because this book really is best read when you go into it more or less ignorant, able to face the surprises and plot twists as they are sprung on you. Suffice to say, it's about the importance of friendships, of not being too prejudiced and judging before you have the whole picture - and about the many secrets that we keep from our friends and loved ones because we fear to seem weak or less in control.

I wanted Madeline, Celeste and Jane to be my friends. I don't think there was a single chapter when I wasn't at least a little entertained. Every time I thought I knew where the story was going, there would be something new revealed that I hadn't counted on. There were absolutely some bits that didn't work as well for me, mainly Madeline's jealousy of Bonnie, her ex-husband's new wife and the rather wearying lengths her teenage daughter went to get attention, but those were such small things and this book made me laugh and cry, bite my nails and most importantly, turn the pages with bated breath with each chapter bringing me closer to the fateful trivia night and its aftermath. I cursed the work load that made it impossible for me to just devour the book. So, if you, like me, might think from the book description that this book isn't for you - give it a chance - it's such a good read.

I will absolutely be reading more Liane Moriarty. In the acknowledgements, I discovered that she's the sister of another Australian writer whose books I love, the YA author, Jaclyn Moriarty. It just seems unfair to me that two such talented writers are related, but perhaps great writing skill is genetic.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read, where you can also find MANY more reviews of this book.

#CBR7 Book 63: "The Duke and the Lady in Red" by Lorraine Heath

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Rosalind "Rose" Sharpe is a con woman, in London looking for her next victims. Posing as as the widow of a man killed in India, her story is that she's currently low on funds, as her legal counsel are trying to get her inheritance transferred - naturally a complicated and time-consuming process. When she meets the Duke of Avendale, she is immediately drawn to him, knowing that he is rich enough that if she plays her figurative cards correctly, she might never have to swindle another man again, but also wary, as he is much more powerful and ruthless than any of the men she's used her feminine wiles on before.

The Duke of Avendale, known for his wealth, scandalous behaviour and all-round rakishness, is bored, even more so after his former cronies are all settling down with matrimony and domestic bliss. When he sees the striking Mrs. Sharpe in a red dress at what used to be his favourite gaming hell (which is now opening its doors to women - what has the world come to?), he suspects he might have found just the thing to pull him out of the funk he's currently in. He's deeply attracted to her, even more so because she refuses to give into his immediate attempts at seduction. He orders his house cleared of gamblers, drinkers and floozies, intending to make it a place suitable to entertain the enigmatic widow. So when he discovers her about to leave town with quite a substantial sum of her money, and her servants in tow, he's furious, but also realises that he can have what he most desires.

Avendale and Rose make a deal. For a week in his company and his bed, she can keep all the money she was trying to steal, he will pay her current debt and he won't report her to the authorities. Rose will be at his disposal day and night, as long as she gets two hours every afternoon to go home, and Avendale can't ask any questions. Avendale thinks he has the upper hand, but quickly discovers that Rose has a lot of secrets and that the delectable lady in red is going to change his life irrevocably.

The Duke and the Lady in Red is the third book in the Scandalous Gentlemen of St. George series, which in itself is a sequel series of sorts to Heath's previous Scoundrels of St. James series. This series concerns the various offspring of the heroes and heroines of the first series. Can this book be read as a stand-alone? I would absolutely say so, as I haven't read the book concerning Avendale's mother and her husband, nor any of the previous books in the series. The incomparable Mrs. Julien has, however, and based on her reviews, I'd say I may check out the first one (based also on the cameo appearances of the couple in this book, they were cute) and give the second a miss. Ms. Heath's books are frequently romances I enjoy, but they don't really make any impact or stay with me for very long.

There are some exceptions, however, this being one of them. Avendale is the least interesting part of the story. He really is your stereotypical wealthy and dissolute rake. He's heavily into his drinking, gambling and promiscuous sex and naturally, because he is at an age when his former partners in debauchery are getting married, no longer interested in a life of constant hedonism, he's getting oh so bored. He barely speaks to his mother or younger siblings and is naturally quite lonely, although he would never admit this.

Rosalind is a great heroine, though, who more than makes up for the rather uninspired take on the Duke. She has been a successful con woman for years, not just for the thrill of it or to live a life of leisure, but because she's supporting a household of very unusual servants and her beloved brother, Harry, who for reason's I really don't want to spoil can't really be out and about in society. The relationship between Rosalind and her brother, or with her servants, who are really more like friends who work in her household because they have nowhere else to go, is lovely. It's quite clear that her dishonest means of earning money weighs on her, and that she'd much rather find a more honest way of supporting herself and her dependents. By neccesity, her chosen lifestyle also means that they can never settle very long in one place, always having to be on the run from creditors and angry victims.

While Rosalind may have conned a number of men and merchants out of a lot of things, she's successfully managed to avoid having to play the whore. She's both surprised and slightly scared by the intense attraction she feels for Avendale and it's one of the reasons she's not as careful as she might have been, conning him out of too much money too quickly, and as a result getting caught. His suggestion that she spend a week with him seems to come as somewhat of a relief, as she's been fighting her instinctive need to give into his attempts at seduction. The fact that she's been posing as an experienced widow causes some initial difficulties, but having sworn to uphold their arrangement, Rose isn't about to let Avendale suddenly develop a conscience because of her inexperience.

Rose's brother is a wonderful character, and as I said, I don't want to go into the details as to why Rose feels she needs to swindle and con to make enough money to support them. Suffice to say, there are good reasons for why he's living hidden away in her town house. While Avendale's reaction when he found out may have been plausible, my disbelief was strained to the breaking point by the way everyone else treated Harry, as I just don't think people in Victorian society were that accepting and open-minded, no matter how kind an individual was or how powerful a friend and patron he had.

Still, it's a minor niggle and I really did enjoy this book a lot, after a bit of a slow start. Any romance that actually makes me cry can't be rated lower than 4 stars. As I said, I suspect I will be checking out When the Duke Was Wicked, the first book in the series, and keep picking up new books by Heath when they are published. But she's still only in my "buy on sale, or borrow at the library" list rather than the coveted auto-buy or pre-order lists.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.