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REVIEW:  The Anonymous Miss Addams by Kasey Michaels

REVIEW: The Anonymous Miss Addams by Kasey Michaels

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He was London’s most eligible–and outrageous–bachelor. But though Pierre Standish didn’t give a whit for polite society, he could not deny his father’s latest request. To prove himself a true gentleman, Pierre had to perform a random good deed. The task proved unimaginatively easy when, en route to London, Pierre came upon a damsel lying in the road. Her clothes bespoke her an urchin, but although his anonymous Miss Addams had lost her memory, Pierre was certain she was a well-bred lady. A lady whose innocence and plight might just ensnare the ton’s most unattainable rogue.

Dear Ms. Michaels,

Years ago I read and enjoyed some of your early trad regencies and remember them as being funny and light reading. When I was smack in the middle of a longer, non-fiction, war torn story, I needed a break, a breather, something to lighten my spirits before plunging back into world war. Ha! I thought. I got a number of Kasey Michaels’ older trad regencies a while ago when I saw them for sale at eHarlequin. That’s the ticket.

The intriguing intro bit got things off to an good start – what’s going on here, who are these people talking so calmly about killing and what’s the relationship of these two? I quickly flipped the page, eager to discover the answers.

Then opening chapter drops like a brick. What is this? Is this lengthy scene about this book? No, obviously it’s explaining something from the past so why have it here? It seems that it’s one huge info dump about another book’s events. The whole time I’m plowing through it, in the back of my mind I’m hearing the mechanical voice intoning “stall, stall, stall” and the sounds of the plane going down.

Thankfully the engine then sputtered back to life and this one got cranking with an interesting set up of the hero Pierre being admonished by his father to accomplish two Good Deeds. As he’s headed back to London, the opportunity to achieve them quickly arrives when Pierre saves an apprenticed chimney sweep from an oppressive master and finds an unconscious young woman in the middle of the road.

Lots of fast paced dialog followed. I enjoyed the valet Duval and Pierre’s repartee. I was not so enamored of the sweep Holloway’s cant but then too much cant usually does me in, even in a Heyer novel. Caroline is a plucky heroine who verbally gives as good as she gets. She doesn’t ever let Pierre off the hook that way and I liked their linguistic battles.

The mystery of who Those People from the intro are and what they are up to isn’t bad. The battle royale between Caroline and Pierre is great fun. At this point my impression was that they’re evenly matched, meant for each other and they’ll have a lifetime of pitched volleys ahead of them. I was even okay with the amnesia plot which usually sends me screaming.

Unfortunately then the book faltered a bit later as the truth begins to be revealed and after another nod to a past book dumps more returning characters in the mix. This is when I got annoyed and wanted to slap the smug off Pierre and his father for all the reasons the ladies blow up at them for. Even with both women practically imploring them to tell who amnesiac Caroline is, they’re too clever for their own britches. Men! But then Pierre goes into morose self flagellation mode over not telling Caroline about the danger she was in. At this point I do agree with his father in snapping him out of it. Then I had to remind myself that he’s had a lifetime of self satisfaction ingrained in him so what could I expect.

The final resolution of the mystery is tongue-in-cheek fun and I do approve of the way Pierre handles the whole drama but by this time, his high handedness earlier had left it’s mark on my opinion of the whole. I finished the book hoping that Caroline gives him daily grief and brings him down a peg. Or two. C+

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Ballroom to Bride and Groom by Kate Hardy

REVIEW: Ballroom to Bride and Groom by Kate Hardy

Dear Ms. Hardy:

I’ve read Kate Hardy’s Medicals and Presents novels for years, and the Posh Docs series is on my keeper shelf. When I saw a new novel in the Harlequin Romance line, I was intrigued, because it seemed a good fit in terms of voice and style.

Ballroom to Bride and Groom

Polly Anna Adams has just been dumped by her fiance, a week before the wedding, and she’s resigned her job on a children’s TV show, left the flat they shared, and is spending her time taking care of cancelling all the wedding details. Her agent gets her an audition for a Dancing-With-the-Stars type TV show, where she is partnered with Liam Flynn, a professional dancer who is returning after 18 months of rehab for injuries he suffered in an auto accident. Liam’s life fell apart after the accident; he wasn’t sure he could ever dance again and his dance-partner wife left him for a new partner. So Polly is shell-shocked and Liam has decided he won’t get emotionally involved again.

Polly’s bright and cheerful personality and always-on smile protects her from showing her true feelings. She perfected the technique after a crisis in her teens (we figure out pretty quickly what the crisis was). Liam sees through it and they develop a tentative friendship as they train for the competition, with an undercurrent of mutual attraction running through their time together. Polly is sure that she is too clumsy and awkward to be able to dance properly, but Liam is persistent and his alternately bracing and sympathetic attitude gives her confidence:

She’d never, ever experienced anything like this. And when he guided her effortlessly round the corners and danced her all the way back down the room again…

‘Wow,’ she said when the song ended. ‘I never thought I’d be able to do that.’

At the beginning of their lesson, he’d had his doubts, too. But she’d worked hard. Made the effort. And, from the look of wonder in her eyes, he was pretty sure that she’d just got what he loved about ballroom dancing. OK, it was tiny, as far as breakthroughs went, but it was a start. Part of him wanted to pick her up and spin her round. But the sensible side of him remained in control. Just.

‘Told you so,’ he said laconically.

‘Smugness,’ she said, ‘is not a good look on you, Mr Flynn.’

It was the first time she’d really answered him back—teasing, confident, and incredibly sweet. Liam couldn’t help responding to the glint in her eyes: he smiled at her.

Polly is appealing and sympathetic, and while she’s a bit of a doormat at the beginning, you can understand why she took the actions she did. She has almost no relationship with her parents, she has a circle of loving and supportive friends. Liam is more of a stock character at the beginning: the ambitious, gifted professional who shuts up his emotions and places everyone at arm’s length until he meets the woman who unwittingly pierces his defenses. The twist here, though, is that Polly is more reluctant to act on their mutual attraction than he is. There’s an utterly over-the-top but lovely interlude set in Vienna, where Liam takes Polly when she is having trouble getting the hang of the waltz. But after a wonderful night together, Polly is the one who draws back, not Liam. Their career plans put them on different paths, and at no point does Polly do that annoying romance-heroine thing of deciding that she’s willing to give up everything for her man.

The first half of the story involves introducing the characters and the dance competition plot. The scenes with Liam teaching Polly to dance and their weekly performances are a lot of fun, although they focus primarily on the two of them and don’t show much of the rest of the competitors (the snippets with the judges are amusing). The second half develops the relationship and deals with the fallout when the details of Polly’s teenage crisis are revealed. The scene where Polly faces her past and talks frankly about what happened is very moving. The last few scenes and the ending, though, like so many categories, feels rushed, and the Big Gesture at the end is one of those that readers either love or hate. Since they hadn’t resolved the believable issues that were blocking an easy HEA, I wasn’t quite sure I could believe the ending. I did believe that they really loved each other, though, which is probably more important.

Since this is in the Sweet line, the heat level is very low. I’m fine with that, but readers who don’t want to stop at the bedroom door will likely be a bit frustrated. I found the repeated use of one word to describe what the French call a coup de foudre to be a bit tiring (there’s a reason we borrow so much from French, as it turns out). I know you can’t explain coup de foudre feelings, and I understood not only why Polly was willing to marry her fiancé without it, but also why he felt something was missing. But the emphasis on Polly’s discovery of that feeling and its importance didn’t quite work for me as written. At a more technical level, there are also a lot of POV shifts within scenes that were sometimes difficult to follow.

In spite of those issues, though, I enjoyed the book. The arcs of character growth for Polly and Liam were believable, and I liked that they were not just falling in love because they were physically attracted to each other but because they liked each other as people. The backstage scenes about the dance training and competition were nicely woven into the romantic progression. And no one was a pure villain, not even the person who triggered the public revelations about Polly’s past. I think the HR line suits Hardy’s voice well, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else she does within it. Grade: C+

~ Sunita

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