Review: Seven Minutes in Heaven

Review: Seven Minutes in HeavenSeven Minutes in Heaven (Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers, #3; Desperate Duchesses, #9) by Eloisa James
Series: Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers #3
Published by Avon on January 31st 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“‘This conversation has gone from improper to obscene,’ she observed. He shook his head. ‘Haven’t you noticed, Eugenia, that almost all of our conversations start at improper?'”

FINAL DECISION: Incredibly lovely story of two people quietly falling in love despite their best intentions.  The story gently pulled these two characters together and I loved every moment of them falling in love with one another. As a fan of James’s work, this book was immensely satisfying as it pulled so many other books together.

THE STORY: Eugenia Snowe is a widow who owns a elite agency for governesses. She has shocked the aristocracy by taking on a profession but has managed to keep some standing with the ton. Edward “Ward” Reeve is the son of an earl and needs a new governess for his wards (his half-siblings) and comes to Eugenia’s offices in order to get a replacement. Ward desperately needs a governess to help shape up his siblings in order to fight for guardianship of them. Although Ward is the son of an earl, he is illegitimate.  He also doesn’t realize that Eugenia is actually a “lady”. Eugenia and Ward immediately are in a contentious relationship and yet the two are attracted to one another. When Ward ends up kidnapping Eugenia to help in his cause, the two begin an affair that neither intends to lead to anything more.

OPINION: Some books are fun one time reads where the entirety of the book occurs on the surface of emotions, and some books urge you to sink deeply into the emotions of the characters, their lives and their romance.  This book is the latter.

Nothing in this book turns on quick resolutions, excessive drama or quick action. I loved how I got to know the strengths and weaknesses of these characters.

Ward is a self-made man who has accomplished so much and yet has his own insecurities. A true gentleman, Ward is smart and talented, but entirely willing to give up his life for his half-siblings.  Ward’s life has changed dramatically after his engagement to Mia in FOUR NIGHTS WITH THE DUKE. The events in that book left Ward more cynical, with phobias and PTSD from his imprisonment. He is also remarkably clueless about social conventions and doesn’t realize that Eugenia is the daughter of a marquess. He is, however, determined to save his half-siblings from the tender mercies of his material grandmother. For that, Ward needs to turn two unschooled “small devils” into model children so that he can keep guardianship. I loved the balancing of Ward’s human foibles in this book. He is imperfect and thus fascinating because of it. When he makes the “almost” unforgivable mistake with Eugenia, he takes well to the groveling required in those circumstances.

Eugenia is a woman who controls her own destiny. She is strong and an entrepreneur long before women were accepted in such roles. A widow, she thankfully deeply loved her husband (which is a nice change from women who seem to only have terrible first marriages). True, she might look back on her marriage with too much nostalgia, but the death of her husband and the years, changed Eugenia and made her more independent and stubborn. After years of being alone, she is shocked out of her widowhood by Ward. Attracted to him physically, she considers the possibility of an affair. I liked that Eugenia is not afraid of her sexuality even as she initially wants to linger in her memories of her husband.

For me, this book was a treat because it brought back two precocious children from James’s Desperate Duchesses series. Bringing back children is often tricky because, of course, those with happy stories usually are not good subjects for books of their own. James has managed to provide the right amount of angst but focusing not only on their very early days of unhappiness, but also pivotal moments each experienced as adults which brought them moments of darkness. This makes the characters more interesting (because hey, who wants a story about well adjusted, perfectly happy and normal people without any flaws or painful pasts?).

This book made me fall madly in love with it as each page turned. Ward and Eugenia are smart and banter with one another as adults. They are completely willing to enjoy a sexual affair, but can’t help but become emotionally entangled with one another. I only took a small amount off my rating because I couldn’t help but feel that Ward should have been smarter to realize he was being a jerk with regards to Eugenia and, if nothing else, should have realized her origins long before he did. But that is just quibbling.  This book is a joy to read and what it made me want to do is start reading the prior series over again because there is so much good stuff in this one.

WORTH MENTIONING: Fans of James’s Desperate Duchesses series may remember both Ward and Eugenia as children who appeared in her Desperate Duchesses series (DESPERATE DUCHESS and DUCHESS BY NIGHT).

CONNECTED BOOKS:  SEVEN MINUTES IN HEAVEN is the third book in the Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers series.  (This series is a spin off of the Desperate Duchesses series).  This book can be read as a standalone although there are overlapping characters that make the book better having read the other books in the series (actually both series).

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE:  I received an ARC of this book in order to provide a review.  I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars

Review: A Gentleman Never Tells

Review: A Gentleman Never TellsA Gentleman Never Tells (Essex Sisters, #4.5) by Eloisa James
Series: Essex Sisters #4.5
Published by Avon Impulse on June 28, 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 160
Goodreads
three-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  A sweet repentant hero and a woman who no longer finds joy in life find the gentle possibility of love together.  This novella is abbreviated but has sweetness and humor.

THE STORY: Lizzie Troutt has been left a virgin widow with a poor sense of her own worth as a woman after being subjected to a marriage where her husband preferred his mistress to her.  Despite her older sister’s wishes, Lizzie just wants to be left alone to read. Oliver Berwick has come to Lizzie sister’s house party to apologize for his boorish behavior which helped brand Lizzie’s sister as the Wooly Breeder.  Ashamed of himself, Oliver agrees to Lizzie’s sister request that he do two things: make Lizzie laugh and get her back on a horse. At the first look at Lizzie, however, Oliver wants so much more.

OPINION:  This is a novella and as such is not as developed as a full novel would be.  Despite that, I simply adored Oliver.  He has developed tremendously from the young man who found himself repeating insulting remarks about others.  While it is easy to sympathize with the victim of bullying, this story is about what effect bullying can have on a bully.  While Oliver certainly was not the worst of his group of friends, he certainly sustained and participated in the bullying.  For years, he has been ashamed of that behavior.  While his shame caused him to avoid his victims, he finally finds the opportunity and the courage to apologize for his behavior.  That apology and the forgiveness that flows from his victim finally allows him to forgive himself.  Oliver’s recognition of his mistakes is what makes him so wonderful as a hero.  He now devotes himself to caring for others.  First his niece and then Lizzie.  I absolutely adored how he makes sure that she eats when he sees that she is too thin and only barely picking at her food.  His gentle concern and determination to seeing to her well being begins to break through the shell that Lizzie has created for herself.

The romance between Oliver and Lizzie is short but these two are sweet together.

My negatives are this: I hate the virgin widow trope and this story is no different.  Also, because of the length of this novella, the romance between Oliver and Lizzie felt rushed towards the end.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Indoor croquet.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  A GENTLEMAN NEVER TELLS is book 4.5 of the Essex Sisters series.  It can be read as a standalone as it is only tangentially related to the series. It is a spin-off of PLEASURE FOR PLEASURE, so for background reading that book is more than sufficient.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 3.5 stars.

three-half-stars

Review: The Official Essex Sisters Companion Guide

Review: The Official Essex Sisters Companion GuideThe Official Essex Sisters Companion Guide by Eloisa James, Jody Gayle
Series: Essex Sisters #4.4
Published by Avon Impulse on May 24th 2016
Genres: Commentary, Historical
Pages: 592
Goodreads
four-stars

The OFFICIAL ESSEX SISTER COMPANION GUIDE contains information about the creation of the books in the Essex Sisters series.  There are small, easily read essays regarding the background to the books, historical information surrounding various aspects of the books including clothing and publications, and some thoughts on the themes of the books.

Even readers who are not interested in the academic writings here should at least read the new material for the series.  There is the final 10 years later epilogue to the series which gives readers the updates on the characters including children. There is also a short story entitled A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DISGRACE which tells the story of one of the women who was also branded with a notorious nickname like Josie in PLEASURE FOR PLEASURE.  In A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DISGRACE, Cecilia who was tarred by her brother’s nickname “Silly Billy” because men where afraid that her brother’s mental disability might be hereditary.  In this story, Cecilia gets her happy ending.  She decides to court ruination in order to be able to avoid continuing in society.  When she approaches the musician who caught her attention, she gets more than she expected. While the story is short, it is sweet and I enjoyed the interaction between the hero and heroine.  While only tangentially connected with the series, Josie and Mayne make an appearance.

Finally, there is an alternate ending for KISS ME, ANNABEL. This definitely should not be read until after the novel itself.  Apparently, the entire second half of that novel was re-written and the original draft is included in this guide.  It was interesting to see the differences between the original and final book.  I prefer the final story, but I did like that in the original version, a portion of Rafe and Imogen’s story from THE TAMING OF THE DUKE.  One of my complaints of that book was the Rafe’s kicking of his addiction to alcohol happened too close to the romance for me.  In the original version of KISS ME, ANNABEL, Rafe begins his sobriety in that book which is exactly what I wanted emotionally for Rafe and Imogen’s story.  It was a fascinating exercise to see how that story might have been different.

For readers of the Essex Sisters series, this Companion Guide is worth reading even if you just read the extra material for the series itself.

four-stars

Review: Pleasure for Pleasure

Review: Pleasure for PleasurePleasure for Pleasure (Essex Sisters, #4) by Eloisa James
Series: Essex Sisters #4
Published by Avon Books on November 28th 2006
Genres: Historical
Pages: 404
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: Entertaining and sweet redemption for women who are more pear shaped than fashionably thin, PLEASURE FOR PLEASURE provides a warm conclusion to the Essex Sisters quartet.

THE STORY: Miss Josie Essex has obtained the unfortunate nickname ‘the Scottish Sausage” because of her full figure. Abandoning the possibility of a traditional courtship, Josie is persuaded by family friend, the Earl of Mayne to throw away her ugly restrictive corset, obtain some clothes to flatter her curvy figure and realize the attractive possibilities of her own body.  When Josie is almost ruined by a boorish rakehell, Mayne steps up to save her.

OPINION:  I enjoyed this book precisely because Josie, the young woman with a poor self-image of herself, the woman who is taunted by bullies having been given the moniker “the Scottish Sausage” manages to claim the man who has gotten away from every woman in this series (including Josie’s own sisters). In this story, there is something especially lovely about the jaded Mayne falling for the lively youngest Miss Essex.  Josie is not a stereotypical sweet gentle miss. She is tart and argumentative and simply wonderful.

I honestly am usually more interested in the hero than the heroine, but this book was one where I so identified with Josie that I focused on her journey.  While she is young, I love how she is able to keep Mayne once she catches him.  I loved her personality which is so different from the mousey wallflower one might suspect.  She feels like an incredibly well rounded and complex character.

One of the interesting parts of this book is how James has Mayne and Josie fall in love in the quiet.  There is no “ah, ha” moment. Yet, by the time the big moment comes at the end of the book, it is clear that these two are perfect for one another.  Mayne has been bored with life, not truly engaging with life.  Josie is so full of life, that she pulls Mayne with her.

My one quibble with the story is that I thought that Josie deserved a bit more in her happy ending with Mayne. After he had been matched with so many women, I would have liked something just a little more demonstrating his devotion to Josie alone.

There is also a secondary romance involving Mayne sister.  I enjoyed that romance as well and it neatly wrapped up all the characters from the series.

WORTH MENTIONING:  The epilogue has a little “in the future”

CONNECTED BOOKS:  PLEASURE FOR PLEASURE is the fourth book in the Essex Sisters series.  It can be read as a standalone but is a great culmination of everything that has happened in the series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: The Taming of the Duke

Review: The Taming of the DukeThe Taming of the Duke (Essex Sisters, #3) by Eloisa James
Series: Essex Sisters #3
Published by HarperCollins Publishers on November 28th 2006
Genres: Historical
Pages: 400
Goodreads
three-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  I liked this book but there was just too much going on with too complicated issues to be resolved so quickly.  Despite that, I liked the romance between Rafe and Imogen which has been going on since book one of this series.

THE STORY:  Imogen, Lady Maitland, has been widowed for a year and is ready to take a lover. She targets Gabe Spenser, the illegitimate brother of her former guardian, Rafe, Duke of Holbrook.  Imogen has had a contentious relationship with Holbrook especially as he managed to almost drink himself to death.  Newly sober, however, Rafe, has no intention of allowing Imogen to engage in illicit relations with another man.  He masquerades as his brother intending to help Imogen avoid ruin.  Instead, Rafe ends up engaging in a series of inappropriate encounters with the woman who constantly bedevils and entrances him.

OPINION: I was looking forward to this book because Rafe and Imogen seemed likely to set things on fire considering their arguments in past books.  In that sense, I was not disappointed.  Rafe and Imogen had an obvious connection from the beginning.  Imogen spent much of the previous books being petulant and then grieving.  As this book begins, she recognizes her prior bad actions and begins to act in a more mature way.

I liked the story about Rafe turning to sobriety after years of wallowing in drunkenness.  My concern is that he makes that change and then his romance with Imogen happens so quickly after. While the epilogue assures readers that Rafe has been able to stick with his sobriety, I couldn’t help but feel apprehension during the story.  It might be because of my personal experience with alcoholics or my modern thinking about the disease, but I found it difficult to turn off that part of my brain during the story.  I wished that Rafe had decided to kick his drinking in a prior book to give some space before his romance with Imogen. That being said, there is nothing pretty or easy about Rafe’s journey.

Or maybe it was just one too many things for me to accept.  The idea that Rafe could masquerade as his half brother without Imogen immediately realizing the deception was something that I had to accept on faith because it was just too impossible to imagine it actually happening.  It was a silly farce much like the Shakespeare tropes upon which it is based, but it is not realistic.  I did enjoy the situations it allowed Rafe and Imogen to become embroiled in and gave the story some much needed humor.

I just thought that there was too much crammed in here that it didn’t allow the romance the space and time and quiet it needed to really grab me.  There was so much happening that Rafe and Imogen’s romance seemed to be resolved too quickly for my tastes.  It just felt like there needed to be a little more development at the end to fully satisfy me.

WORTH MENTIONING:  There are two romances in this book.  Readers of MUCH ADO ABOUT YOU will be pleased to see the Miss Pythian-Adams again.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE TAMING OF THE DUKE is the third book in the Essex Sisters series  It can be read as a standalone although I think it is better to read Imogen’s whole journey which begins in book one.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 3.5 stars.

three-half-stars

Review: Kiss Me, Annabel

Review: Kiss Me, AnnabelKiss Me, Annabel by Eloisa James
Series: Essex Sisters #2
Published by HarperCollins on December 13th 2005
Genres: Historical
Pages: 400
Goodreads
four-stars

“The day the Scotsman came to Lady Feddrington’s ball, Annabel’s sister decided to give him her virtue, and Annabel decided not to give him her hand in marriage.”

FINAL DECISION:  I enjoyed this book much more than the first in the series.  Ewan, the hero, is sexy and sweet and just my type of catnip. I’m fond of the roadtrip romance in this book.

THE STORY:  Annabel Essex, the second of four sisters, knows her requirements for a husband: he will be rich and English.  After living impoverished in Scotland with her horse mad father, Annabel knows that she can use her feminine attributes to snare the perfect mate.  On the verge of achieving her goal, Annabel ends up in a compromising situation with Ewan, Earl of Ardmore which forces them to marry.  Ardmore is not the man Annabel wants to marry, he is Scottish and impoverished, in London searching for an heiress wife.  Rather than marrying in London, the two agree to wait until they arrive in Scotland to marry.  On the trip to Scotland, the two pretend to be married while exchanging only 10 kisses a day — until they begin to want more.

OPINION:  I found this book very appealing primarily because I absolutely loved the hero, Ewan. Ewan comes to London searching for a bride.  He immediately is attracted to Annabel and tries to woo her although she has no intention of falling for an impoverished earl.  Ewan is incredibly sexy, sweet and immensely kind.  When he is propositioned by Annabel’s grieving younger sister, Ewan recognizes her pain and his impulse is to care for her rather than to take advantage. Ewan has morals that come from his convictions rather than societal convention.  His struggles with his own moral code and his attraction to Annabel is gentle and sweet.  I absolutely adored this Scotsman.

I even ended up liking Annabel when I didn’t expect to at first.  Despite her mercenary view of marriage, I came to understand and sympathize with her.  What turned me toward her was her concern for ruining Ewan’s plans for marriage when they are forced to wed.  Those thoughts and her intent to make the best of the situation made me see her as more complicated than I expected.

The courtship between Annabel and Ewan was quite lovable as the two had 10 kisses a day but could get more if they honestly answered questions.  That brought the relationship some depth and intellectual connection.  These two ended up knowing one another very well by the time they consummated their relationship.  Their courtship was unorthodox but clearly brought these two closer in a sweet and tender way.

My only complaint is that once again it took a while for the romance to actually start.  Both the first book and this one had a lot of confusion with the sisters and the hero until the actual romance began.  I quickly tired of that.  Luckily that portion was shorter in this book.

WORTH MENTIONING:  The book has a bit of the Taming of the Shrew vibe, but it is Ewan who ends up tamed.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  KISS ME, ANNABEL is the second book in the Essex Sisters series.  It can be read as a standalone although there are overarching relationships that involve all the books.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Much Ado About You

Review: Much Ado About YouMuch Ado About You (Essex Sisters, #1) by Eloisa James
Series: Essex Sisters #1
Published by Avon Books on December 28, 2004
Genres: Historical
Pages: 391
Goodreads
three-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  This book started out slowly because there are so many characters and situations to set up as this book kicks off the Essex Sisters series. Once the story focused on Tess and Lucius, however, I loved how it went.  Took too long to get there, however.

THE STORY:  When their father dies, the four Essex sisters become wards of the Duke of Holbrook.  The duke means well, but he is a drunkard and a bit clueless about what to do with his four unexpected wards.  The oldest sister Tess realizes that she needs to marry quickly so that she can help her younger sisters marry well.  While Tess gets engaged to an earl, she can’t stop thinking about Mr. Lucius Felton who is just too complicated and tempting for Tess.

OPINION:  This book started out slowly for me.  There are multiple storylines and characters that clearly will be explored during the other three books in the series.  This book sets the table and because of that, this book takes a long time to get going.  There are some false starts until the real romance between Tess and Lucius really gets started.

Once the romance and storyline switches to focus on Tess and Lucius, I loved it.  The two end up being so sweet together.  The contrast between their marriage of convenience and Tess’s sisters marriage of passionate love becomes clear as Lucius falls deeply in love with his wife and the care the two have for one another becomes clear.

I especially liked how Lucius quietly cares for those important to him.  He feels deeply and I loved how he makes things happen.  He is hero that I really liked and not at all like the rake that I expected from the blurb.  Rather, he felt like a real gentleman with a little naughty streak.  Despite his intentions, he clearly falls for Tess and he can’t help how much he wants to care for her.

Before Tess and Lucius gets together, I was a bit annoyed by her character as she appeared clueless at times.  The mixing and matching of the men and women gets sorted out, however, and then the story begins to really take shape.

I hope that the future books in the series can build upon the ending of this book which was strong.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This book sets up all four books in the series and thus has a lot of characters material and set up to get through.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  MUCH ADO ABOUT YOU is the first book of the Essex Sisters series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3.5 stars.

three-half-stars