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REVIEW:  A Lady Never Lies by Juliana Grey

REVIEW: A Lady Never Lies by Juliana Grey

Dear Ms. Grey

I was sent this book by Berkley with a note that they know I like unusual historical settings. The book takes place in Italy in 1890. The set up is a little strained. Three male friends – the impoverished Duke of Wallingford, his brother, of Lord Roland Penhallow, and their friend Phineas Fitzwilliam Burke decide to lease a Tuscan fortress advertised in the newspaper.

A Lady Never Lies Juliana Gray Burke actually leases it with his “sordid millions” made from his patents and inventions and bullies his two friends into rusticating with him because he is worried about their excessive drinking and whoring. Burke plans to compete in an auto engine race against Delmonico in Rome and thinks that the retreat will be the perfect place to perfect his engine.

Also going to Florence is Alexandra, Dowager Marchioness of Morley; her sister, Abigail; and her cousin, Lilibet, Lady Somerton. Alexandra holds an exalted position in society but won’t for much longer if word of her straightened circumstances leak out. Her husband’s nephew invested her jointure into a factory designed to produce a steam engine for an automotive but the factory has been thus far unsuccessful and the bank is knocking at the door. The two groups of people end up being housed in the same residence due to a rental mixup. Given that the estate is quite large, the two agree that they will both remain. And because no group of men and women in a romance book can stay in the same house without some kind of wager, the two groups bet on who will stay the longest with the winner posting a notice in the Times as to which sex was superior.

The main romance centers around Alexandra and Finn. There are class issues given Alexandra’s nobility and Finn’s trade status not to mention that he is a bastard. There are personality issues. Alexandra is a known society maven and Finn is a scientist and inventor. Alex is intimidated by Finn’s knowledge and Finn is intimidated by Alex’s social ease. She always seems to know the right thing to say, the right riposte.

This is a book about which I have much conflict. I loved the period feel of the book and the location (Italy) as well as the automative details. The race through the streets at the end had a marvelous turn of the century feel. Alex and Finn are a great pair and Alex herself is a very vibrant character. Finn is ginger haired, green eyed, freckled and stands 6 and a half feet in his stockings. Alex refers to him privately as an overgrown leprechaun upon meeting him. Alex’s search for her own independence in this period was also interesting. Finn’s wealth, not his parentage, is troublesome to her. She has felt like a commodity and now, having stupidly trusted another man, wonders whether she can marry one whose wealth is so much greater than her own:

“I can’t,” Alexandra said. She stared at that distant shock of ginger hair, fiery red-gold in the torchlight, and her voice, when it emerged, choked painfully at the base of her throat. “I won’t. Marriage is a bargain, a contract. You know that as well as I do. I won’t take something so beautiful as this and turn it into something sordid. I won’t ruin it.”

“Is it because of his money?”

Alexandra picked up the macaroon and placed it in her mouth, where it melted sweetly on her tongue, coating her mouth with the rich taste of almond. “It spoils everything, money.”

“Do you love him?”

Alexandra’s throat closed.

“Because if you do, the money won’t matter.”

“But it will,” Alexandra whispered. “Money always does. What if…what if it is the money? And if I marry him, I’ll never know. I’ll be comfortable and luxurious, and never know if it was just the money, after all. If I wasn’t just deceiving myself about the rest of it.” Oh God, what was she saying? The wine, the stupid wine, making the thoughts tumble unchecked from her mouth.

What I didn’t like was the faux battle of the sexes, the convenient set up, and, my least favorite element, the use of ghosts or spirits to bring about crisis or to solve them. One other thing that some readers may find off-putting was that Alex was spying on Finn’s inventions. I didn’t find it offensive because she simply didn’t know enough to be able to use any information to help the factory in which she had invested all her money but it was an underhanded and sneaky thing to do.  The setting, the inventions, and likeability of the characters made for a better than average read. C+

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW:  Cherished by Maya Banks,Lauren Dane

REVIEW: Cherished by Maya Banks,Lauren Dane

Dear Ms. Banks & Ms. Dane,

Both of you are “auto-buy” authors for me, although lately, I’m having much better luck with Ms. Dane than with Ms. Banks. Generally speaking, I avoid novellas of any sort because I find that the build up to “I love you” is not drawn out enough for my tastes. But given that generally I enjoy your writing styles so much, I was happy to give this duology a shot.

Cherished-revised-1
Exiled by Maya Banks

Talia Monteforte is a young woman who worked at the palace in Cristofino, a fictional kingdom. She meets Prince Alexander after she inadvertently knocks some flowers off of a table in front of the king and Xander helps clean it up. The prince takes one look at Talia and is captivated. He is determined to find out more about her. The first thing he finds is that she’s young and has a mother who is very sick. He decides to provide for Talia and her mother with the understanding that at some point, he’ll call Talia to him and she must come without question. That day comes when Talia is 22 years old. She’s brought to an island paradise in the Caribbean where the prince has been in exile during political unrest in his country. Talia isn’t stupid, she’s well aware that she’s being brought to the island to act as mistress to the prince for six months — she read the contract he sent her requiring her to submit to anything he desires of her. In exchange for her submission, she’ll be pampered beyond her wildest dreams. Part of Talia’s submission involves having sex not just with Xander, but with his three closest friends, Nico, Garon and Sebastian any time they wish.

This book struck me as very Harlequin Presents-ish, if HP had a four heroes/one heroine line (“The Prince, His Security Team and the Virgin Florist”?!). Xander is beyond autocratic, and the other three heroes seemed distinguishable to me only by their penis size (he’s Mr. Super Huge, he’s Mr. Super Thick, he’s Mr. Long But Hits Me in All the Right Places). There was no true emotional connection between Talia and any of the heroes. I didn’t really understand why she would have fallen in love with Xander, who behaves as a dictatorial ass most of the time. Just as big an issue for me is that I’m finding more and more that books about one heroine and four heroes just don’t do it for me at all. There is one particular sexual encounter involving oral sex that literally left my stomach upset for the poor heroine. I understand that there are many readers who will find multiple-partner, every orifice love scenes scintillating but any more for me these scenes end up coming off as stomach turning. The lack of enticing sex scenes plus not one, but FOUR autocratic heroes make this novella a miss for me.

Exiled gets a D from me.

Sway by Lauren Dane

My favorite series by Lauren Dane is the Brown Siblings series. The final book in the series introduced a new group of characters, the Delicious dinner club. The first installment in the Delicious series focuses on Daisy, a 24-year old artist who meets Levi, an 40-year old attorney when he comes to take dance lessons at a studio where she is subbing for an absent teacher. Levi doesn’t need lessons, and is resentful that the bride (his future sister-in-law) has forced him to attend. But once he’s holding Daisy in his arms, he’s convinced that the dance lessons were a great idea, need them or not. When Levi sees Daisy again, hanging a fabulous piece of art in an office building he frequents, he decides he really must ask her to dinner. Daisy, feeling the connection too, happily agrees to have dinner with Levi. At dinner, the sparks between them are flying. Soon they are intimate, and both are really happy with their connection. That is, until Levi’s family comes into play. Levi lost his wife years ago, and even though the family’s memory of her is much happier that the reality of her was, he’s hesitant to introduce his 24-year old girlfriend to them. But when Levi’s troll of a sister-in-law has a chance encounter with Daisy at a posh restaurant where she and Levi are eating, Levi realizes that he’s going to have to find a way to smooth things over both with his family and with Daisy.

I’m already in love with the characters for this series. And I really enjoyed the older man, younger woman scenario in this story. My complaint is really a singular one – I wanted more time with the characters. Daisy is such a vital, interesting personality, and I felt like the story would have only been more vibrant with a higher word count to fully flesh out her romance with Levi. I liked Levi a lot and I enjoyed the subtle D/s relationship that you built between them. The sex was spicy and entertaining, and I believed the characters were headed towards a happy ending, despite the fact that I felt that the ending was somewhat rushed. This is a series that I am delighted with and can’t wait to read more of.

Sway gets a B+ from me.

Overall the Cherished duology gets a C+, with one novella working far better for me than the other.

Kindest regards,
Kati

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