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Sabrina Jeffries

GUEST REVIEW:  How the Scoundrel Seduces by Sabrina Jeffries

GUEST REVIEW: How the Scoundrel Seduces by Sabrina Jeffries

Elaina started reading romances in high school, but only started telling people she read romances within the last few years. Historicals will always remain her favorite, although she finds herself reading other genres depending on her mood. Favorite authors include Elizabeth Hoyt, Lisa Kleypas, Tessa Dare and Meredith Duran. She’s always on the hunt for innovative historical romances—especially non-Regency historicals—so drop her a line if you have a recommendation.

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Dear Ms. Jeffries:

You are one of the few romance authors that I’ve continued to read over the years. When I began reading romances years ago, I ate your books up like candy, inhaling any I could get my hands on. I dropped off reading your books for a little while but picked up your newest series, The Duke’s Men, and have thoroughly enjoyed each installment. Your books are like a pan of brownies: simple, tasty and comforting. You won’t find anything overly complicated in your books—which is a good thing. They’re entertaining and fun and romantic, and sometimes all I want is the romance novel equivalent of brownies.

How the Scoundrel Seduces, the third in The Duke’s Men series, focuses on private investigator and half-English, half-French Tristan Bonnaud and Lady Zoe Keane. Tristan’s family tree is a little complicated, but here’s a run-down: his father was Viscount Rathmoor and his French mother his father’s mistress, thus making both Tristan and his sister Lisette (heroine of the first book What the Duke Desires) illegitimate. They also have two half-brothers: George Manton, the current Viscount Rathmoor, and Dominick. George hates his half-siblings, while Dominick takes their side after the death of their father. Confused yet? Well, the family tree gets a little dicey, but you do a nice job of differentiating each sibling to avoid too much confusion from the get-go.

Tristan fled England with his mother and sister Lisette at the age of seventeen after the death of their father. Their brother George burned a codicil to their father’s will, completely negating any support their father tried to provide his illegitimate children on his deathbed. In a fit of both pique and desperation, Tristan sells the horse his father promised to him but is seen taking the animal. Charged with horse theft by his half-brother George, Tristan cannot return to England until years later. Once he returns to England, Tristan continues to seek revenge against his half-brother while working as a semi-private investigator with his other half-brother Dominick.

Lady Zoe Keane is one of those rare ladies who will inherit her father’s title regardless of her gender, as she will be the Countess of Olivier and heir to a grand estate. Raised in a happy home, Zoe becomes suspicious of her true parentage after her Aunt Flo (I admit to giggling at this name) drops hints that her mother was not her true mother and that she may have been sold to her parents by a Romany woman. Fearful that her title and estate may be in jeopardy if her true parentage is revealed while desiring to know the truth regardless, Zoe turns to the Duke’s Men to investigate as her father will not speak of the matter. She’s quickly paired with Tristan, as he can speak Romany and is the best resource for searching for answers within the Romany community.

Tristan and Zoe butt heads from the beginning, as Tristan finds Zoe to be a spoiled, pampered aristocrat and Zoe thinks he’s a womanizer without any scruples. Their attraction proves fiery from the beginning as they circle each other, trying to ignore their desires while also figuring out the mystery behind Zoe’s parentage. I enjoyed their bickering and teasing. Although, perhaps, slightly cliché in terms of romantic relationships, their fighting never devolves into viciousness and is used to reveal hidden parts of their characters. In one particular moment, Tristan tries to rile Zoe, but realizing what Tristan is doing, Zoe calls him out on his behavior:

“You always do that.”

“What?”

“Say provoking things to cover up the fact that you inadvertently allowed me a glimpse of the real you.”

 

As the story progresses, you add layers to both Tristan and Zoe’s characters, allowing them to be not just the rake or the lady but characters with their own hopes and desires unique to them.

I also appreciated how you represented the Romany people. From the very beginning, Tristan decries the notion that a Romany mother would sell her baby and even refuses to countenance Zoe’s farfetched tale until Dominick convinces him otherwise. Secrets are revealed as the narrative goes on while also showing the Romany as normal people living their lives as best they can in a country where they face great discrimination.

I do, however, have a few quibbles with this novel that keep me from giving it an A: one, Tristan, due to his father never marrying his mother and thus sentencing him to illegitimacy, cannot believe in love. Heroes who think love is stupid and pointless are innumerable in romances for whatever reason, and I’m rather tired of the trope, especially since it’s almost always linked to something a parent did or did not do. Decrying love entirely because your father was a jerk seems extreme to me, yet it’s so common in romances.

Second quibble is with the villain and half-brother George, who is not just evil, he’s what I term EEEEEEEVIL. I was surprised he isn’t twirling his mustache while cackling maniacally in every scene. Couple that with the reasoning behind George’s EEEEEEEVIL behavior and you had me rolling my eyes.

Despite those quibbles, I thoroughly enjoyed this third book in The Duke’s Men series and am definitely looking forward to Dominick’s story next.

Grade: B+

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Reading List: Kelly’s Historical Romance Roundup for June/July 2013

Reading List: Kelly’s Historical Romance Roundup for June/July 2013

I’m slacking off on writing a full review because I blew through these pretty quickly, and I already used up my snark quota for the month. All but Jeffries and Willingham were new-to-me authors.


What the Duke Desires by Sabrina JeffriesWhat the Duke Desires by Sabrina Jeffries

If I didn’t own Jeffries’ entire backlist, I might have avoided this solely because of the dopey generic title. But she’s earned my trust, and she still has it. The illegitimate heroine is smart and vulnerable, the duke is full of hidden tragedy and repressed passion, and the intrigue revolves around their missing siblings rather than political maneuvering. It’s a typically enjoyable Jeffries book — nothing vibrantly new or different, but she’s such a good storyteller I never get kicked out of my reading trance. Grade: B

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To Sine with a Viking by Michelle WillinghamTo Sin with a Viking by Michelle Willingham

I’m pretty sure I need to read more by Willingham. This one starts out with the Irish heroine clobbering the Viking hero over the head and taking him captive, and you know how much I love stuff like that. She can’t let him go or kill him because she needs his strength to find food for their starving village, and he can’t escape because he needs her help to find his kidnapped estranged wife. Yes, he’s married, and they angst about it. A lot. But Willingham somehow works around the inherent squickiness, and she writes some really good action scenes. Book trance on this one too. Grade: B

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A Lady Risks All by Bronwyn ScottA Lady Risks All by Bronwyn Scott

The first half of this story had me hooked — the author used the theme of “risk” in different ways to define not only the hero and heroine, but also the heroine’s loving-but-conniving father. The plot revolves around billiards, and the early-Victorian historical world-building was vivid and completely believable. Until…(sigh)…the hero, a younger son of a viscount, suddenly became styled a “Lord” and the heroine a potential “Lady.” I finished the book, but I lost faith in the story and the author. Fantastic cover, though. Grade: C

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Lady Northam's Wicked Surrender by Vivienne WestlakeLady Northam’s Wicked Surrender by Vivienne Westlake

This 55-page erotic romance maxes out the short story format, but there just isn’t enough substance to sustain more. The writing is capable but uninspired, and with the sole exception of Lisa Kleypas’ Devil in Winter, I have yet to read a “Dream Sex or Real Sex???” scene that doesn’t make me laugh. For 99¢, it’s probably worth a try for some readers, but I’m not inclined to seek out anything more by this author. Grade: C-

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The Lady and the Laird by Nicola CornickThe Lady and the Laird by Nicola Cornick

I didn’t make it very far with this one. The meet-cute in the prologue was really good, and I was intrigued by the set-up with the bluestocking heroine writing erotic letters for her brother to woo his beloved away from the crabby hero. I adore bluestocking heroines and crabby heroes. But then…(sigh)…the “jilted at the altar” scene has the idiot brother and his vapid lady love eloping to Gretna Green. From the Highlands. As in, the Highlands in SCOTLAND. I just couldn’t do it. Grade: DNF

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Forbidden Jewel of India by Louise AllenForbidden Jewel of India by Louise Allen

This one sat in my TBR queue for months because I had Significant Book Anxiety. I want to love any and every romance set in India, but the cover and description made me more than a little wary. This book is, unfortunately, a solid example of “exoticizing the ‘other’.” In her author’s note, Allen describes her recent trip to India with enthusiasm, and it’s obvious that she reveres the history and culture, but the authorial (or maybe editorial) choices of which bits to include didn’t work for me at all. There are several gratuitous references to sati ritual suicides, a superfluous scene featuring a Shiva lingam statue, a king cobra attack, and excessive use of Hindi words for fashion and furniture that served no purpose other than to show off the author’s research. In addition, the romance left me cold, the hero was too perfectly perfect, and the heroine (an Anglo-Indian princess, of course) was wildly inconsistent. Grade: D+

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Not Just a Governess by Carole MortimerNot Just a Governess by Carole Mortimer

I think I need to skim a Harlequin Presents title by this author to see how consistent her writing style and voice is across genres and categories, because it’s definitely, well, unique. Mortimer loves ellipses and em-dashes and exclamation points, which should endear me to her. But when every question in the dialogue ends in an ellipsis, and every expository paragraph has an interjection offset with em-dashes, and five paragraphs in a row end with an exclamation point, the punctuation becomes increasingly intrusive. Also disruptive were the repetitive words and phrases; the hero was described as “cold” more than 25 times (that doesn’t include his chilliness, frostiness or iciness), and we’re told he has stormy grey eyes nearly 50 times. I also had major issues with the plot, in which the heroine was grateful for the hero’s light-fingered Magical Orgasm Cure that allowed her to overcome the ickiness of her recent rape at the hands of her evil cousin. But, of course, her real post-rape trauma — the loss of innocence that renders her unfit for proper wifery — lingers until the cold, grey-eyed hero’s grand gesture. Grade: D-

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