Sunday, 25 January 2015

#CBR7 Book 8: "The Duke of Dark Desires" by Miranda Neville

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

No one ever expected Julian Fortescue to end up becoming a Duke, least of all himself. But after a series of tragic accidents, illnesses and old age kills off most of his male relatives, Julian finds himself as Duke of Denford. As this book begins, he is also actually a wealthy man, having come to a settlement with all of his relatives that means he has the money to support himself in style. This doesn't escape the notice of his dear mother, who promtly arrives on the doorstep of his rather bare and understaffed town house with his three younger half-sisters in tow. Julian never got along with his mother's second husband (who was very religious and liked to beat his step-son), and so has barely had any contact with his mother or younger sisters. Now his mother has married an American sea captain, and emotionally blackmails Julian into accepting guardianship of the three girls.

Julian has absolutely no idea what to do with three young ladies. He's not exactly a great role model to them, with a history of womanising, gambling and drinking. While he may have become a Duke, he's not given up his former trade of art dealing, to the disapproval of much of the ton. He tries to get his neighbour's wife, Lady Windermere, to help him hire a governess, but she just laughs at him. So when the mysterious, but very sensual Miss Jane Grey shows up on his doorstep, wanting the position, and Julian instantly falls in lust with her, he hires her on the spot, figuring that she can tutor the girls by day, and warm his bed by night.

Jane Grey is in England for revenge, however. She is in reality Jeanne-Louise de Falleron, only survivor of the Falleron family, who were arrested and executed during the Revolution. She knows that a man named Fortescue was supposed to help her father obtain the correct papers to allow the family safe passage out of Paris, in return for a share in the family's priceless artworks. Instead the family were betrayed. Jeanne only survived because she had the papers for the family's governess, the actual Jane Grey and one of the soldiers arresting the Fallerons saw an opportunity to get a grateful mistress out of the bargain. Having been Jane for so long, doing whatever she needs to survive, Jeanne is a far cry from the innocent, pampered French girl she once was. Her thoughts of revenge are what has kept her going. She knows that Denford is the head of the Fortescue clan and figures that being in his household will be the best way to tracking down the man who betrayed her family, so she can kill him.

No longer a sheltered society virgin, Jane is used to men's desire and finds Denford as attractive as he does her. Sleeping with him will only complicate things, so Jane refuses to give in to his attempts at seduction, for a period at least. Of course she grows more attached to the girls she teaches with every day, remembering the younger sisters that she lost. She also spends every evening in companionable conversation with Julian in his library, under the guise of reporting on her work with his sisters. As the weeks pass, she no longer wishes to resist him.In her spare time, she tries to investigate the various members of the Fortescue family who may have been in France during the Revolution, and tires to ignore her fears that the man she's falling for, may in fact be the man she has sworn to kill.

The fourth and final book in Miranda Neville's Wild Quartet series is the one I've really been looking forward to, because the hero has been such a fun supporting character in the previous books in the series. Throughout the series, Julian's dark past and clear remorse about something that happened in Paris years ago has been hinted at, and it's been mentioned in more than one book that he is in possession of the Falleron collection. So to those readers, it's no surprise at all that Julian is the Mr. Fortescue that Jane/Jeanne is looking for. Of course, it's not exactly kept secret for new readers for long either.

Julian keeps his black hair long, despite the fashion for short hair in gentlemen. He wears unrelieved black and carries a silver-topped cane. He adores being seen as sinister, a bit cruel and uncompromising, and quite happily tried to steal his former best friend's wife away. Yet he's unable to turn his young sisters away and wants them to have the best care possible. He was young and a bit too naive when he was in France all those years ago, and he knows his carelessness was in part responsible for the Falleron family being arrested. He forced himself to watch the daughters being executed, and has never forgotten his complicity. He's not let it stop him from living his life, however. He plans to bring the Falleron collection from Belgium, where he has kept it safely hidden for years and use it to possibly win the favour of the Prince Regent himself. He's a known rake and because he has always been one of the black sheep of the Fortescue family, he feels no particular responsibility to take care of his many relations or take up the mantle of duty that comes with being a Duke.

Jane was promised to a French Duke before the Revolution and was raised in an aristocratic environment, aware both of the privileges and the duties of the nobility. She's shocked at how lightly Julian seems to take his title and how little he seems affected by the importance of his position. As she gets to know him better, she comes to understand that that coincidence, blind luck and the laws of primogeniture all led to him becoming a Duke and having had to struggle to support himself for most of his life, without much if any support from his many distant relations, he feels no particular fondness for any of them, and doesn't quite see why he has to care for them just because he happens to be the nominal head of the family. It would obviously be inappropriate for a governess to lecture her employer, but Jane nonetheless tries to make Julian see that his position in now one where he cannot entirely act solely as he wishes, and that his actions have weight and consequence in a way they didn't when he was one of many mere Mr. Fortescues.

While the relationship between the Duke of Denford and Miss Jane Grey could have been an uncomfortable one, considering that he is her employer, and has so much power over her. Yet because Julian is pretty up front about his desires and wishes from the start, and Jane is no innocent and frankly acknowledges the sexual attraction between them almost as quickly. Julian is very clear that he doesn't want anyone unwilling in his bed, and while he places Jane in the bedroom next to his, he also makes sure to give her the key to the adjoining door, so she will feel safe (and also because he realises how tempting having the key to his bedroom may be for her). It's quite clear to Julian that Jane is not who she pretends to be, and that there is something in her past she wishes to keep hidden. She claims to have worked as a governess for the governor of St. Lucia, but she speaks French like a pre-Revolutionary aristocrat, and their nightly conversations proves that she is far too knowledgeable in certain areas to be a common-born servant.

Jane fights her attraction because she knows she and Julian have no future. Her mission is to find one of his relatives, murder him and then try to flee to the Colonies, where she will hopefully be safe from prosecution. Even if she wasn't set on revenge on the shadowy Mr. Fortescue, Julian is a Duke and she is a morally compromised nobody, no matter how grand her family once was. Having submitted herself first to the soldier who saved her from the guillotine and later been the mistress of a rich merchant, she no longer has the exclusive pedigree required of a potential Duchess. Julian, used as he is at ignoring social conventions begins to consider Jane a suitable wife long before he discovers her real identity. He clearly has no problems with the idea of marrying his governess/mistress. She's excellent with his sisters and she makes him feel better, in and out of bed.

There is a lot more to this romance that I'm not adequately able to get across. Elyse over on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books does a much better job. It was her enthusiastic reviews of this book and Lady Windermere's Lover that make me pick up this series in the first place. While I wasn't quite as enthusiastic about the other three books, I'm glad I read them to get the background and history required to really enjoy this one. I shall keep a lookout for new books by Miranda Neville in the future.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

#CBR7 Book 7: "Lady Windermere's Lover" by Miranda Neville

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 pages

On his twenty-first birthday, Damian, Viscount Kendal, drunkenly follows the advice of his friend Robert Townsend and gambles away Beaulieu, the estate he has inherited from his beloved departed mother, then he passes out dead drunk. Unfortunately, Townsend had even more of a drinking and gambling problem than Damian and promptly lost the property to someone else. Damian is forced to return to his father, hanging his head in shame, promising to do whatever it takes to reform and help re-purchase the property. He cuts off all contact with his dissolute school friends and throws himself into a career in the diplomatic corps.

Seven years later, having inherited his father's title as Earl of Windermere, Damian has tracked down the man currently holding the deed to Beaulieu. The merchant in question doesn't want mere money to relinquish it, however, he demands that Damian marry his niece, Cynthia, a young and awkward woman who Damian just assumes is as grasping and social climbing as her uncle. He makes absolutely no attempt to actually get to know his shy, inelegant wife, demands that she speak to him in French whenever they actually do spend some time together (she only learned French at Finishing School, so isn't exactly fluent). He resentfully consummates the marriage, but leaves on a diplomatic mission to Persia after only a few weeks. He leaves orders that Cynthia stay at Beaulieu and have it refurbished for when he returns.

So imagine his surprise when he arrives back in London, nearly a year later, having barely corresponded with his wife in the time apart, to discover that she's not following orders and languishing away in the countryside. She is no longer retiring, plain and socially awkward. She is an elegant and ravishing society beauty and currently spending an awful lot of time with his former best friend, Julian Fortescue, the Duke of Denford, whose town house is right next door to his. There are a lot of choice rumours, all of them suggesting that Lady Windermere has taken a lover while her husband was off serving his country. All signs point to Denford being said lover.

Damian's current orders force him to put aside his enmity with Denford and try to rekindle the friendship they once shared, as the a Prussian Prince wants his hands on an art collection Denford is said to be in possession of, and diplomatic negotiations demand that the Prince stay happy. While Damian is unwilling to risk his career, he is not at all happy with the amount of attention Denford is lavishing on Cynthia and becomes determined to win his wife back. He quickly discovers that he knew absolutely nothing about the woman he married and didn't care to find anything out before he abandoned her. She is rightfully deeply hurt by his treatment of her, and has no intention of giving up the company of friends she made while he abandoned her for the best end of a year. Can Damian grovel enough to ever gain his wife's forgiveness?

I have rated this book 3.5 stars, despite the fact that for most of the book, I wanted to punch Damian, erstwhile Viscount Kendal, now Earl of Windermere hard in the face, and then kick him in the balls. He is a complete d*ckbag, who takes his disappointment and resentment from fixing a mistake he himself made out on the innocent woman who is saddled with him in matrimony. Instead of giving his mother's property up as lost when he himself drunkenly gambles it away, with no care for the consequences, he instead not only cuts all ties to his best friend, Julian, who he blames for not being persuasive enough to drag him away from the gambling table before he lost his mother's estate in a drunken stupor. It also turns out he used his father's influence to sabotage a lucrative art transaction that could have been the making of Julian, to make really make sure their status as friends was well and truly over. For so much of the book, Damian is a self-centred idiot, completely incapable of taking responsibility for his many weaselly actions.

So how is it that I haven't rated the book lower, I hear you asking? Well, because Lady Windermere herself and the man she pretends to have an affair with, Julian Fortescue are both delightful and I liked all their interactions with each other, or others. Poor Cynthia was so infatuated with the handsome man her uncle wanted her to marry, and while she didn't have any of the greed or social aspirations that Damian imagined, the other alternative for a husband her uncle had suggested, the rapey manager of his many factories, was just not an option anyone in their right mind would pick. Her illusions about her handsome husband are shattered pretty quickly, with him treating her at best callously and at its worst abominably, but once he leaves for his diplomatic mission, Cynthia quickly realises that she can turn her status as a Countess into something good.

As her husband ordered her to redecorate Beaulieu, she reasons that she can't very well do that from the country and travels to London to find inspiration. Caro Townsend, from The Importance of Being Wicked hears that she is in town and quickly befriends her, telling her stories about what Damian was once like, when he was friends with Townsend, Lithgow and Fortescue. She also helps Cynthia find a decent dressmaker, and Cynthia begins to turn herself into the ultimate diplomat's wife, taking French lessons and striving to learn all the things her Finishing school didn't already teach her. As time passes and she spends more time with her new friends, Cynthia also grows a backbone and realises that she doesn't deserve the sort of treatment she's received.

She likes the idea of making Damian jealous, and what better way than to start flirting outrageously with his former best friend? She's fully aware that Julian has his own reasons to keep trying to seduce her, probably some kind of revenge for the slights he's experienced from Windermere. Of course, except one kiss, that makes her feel intensely uncomfortable, Cynthia never actually does anything with Julian. She just makes her husband think that she does. She also fills his town house full of atrociously ugly furniture and artwork, which she is purposefully overcharged for by a clever tradesman. The money she embezzles goes to fund a safe house for young women who've been abused by her uncle's foreman. Pregnant or with young children, they have nowhere to turn, and Cynthia has made it her mission to keep them safe.

It takes the best end of the book before Cynthia even deigns to consider her cad of a husband. I think she should have made him suffer a lot more, and grovel more comprehensively, but it is established that she is a deeply kind-hearted and generous woman, so it was probably never in her nature to be cruel to him in return. Miranda Neville's writing is good enough that I really liked this book despite the horrible hero. If there is ever a "years later" sequel written, I would not be unhappy if it turns out that Lord Windermere died in some sort of painful and horrible way. Cynthia may have forgiven him by the end of the book, but I haven't.

Friday, 23 January 2015

#CBR7 Book 6: "The Ruin of a Rogue" by Miranda Neville

Page count: 389 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Miss Anne Brotherton, supporting character of The Importance of Being Wicked and jilted once the Duke initially courting her fell head over heels for her widowed cousin instead, now has to fend off eager suitors everywhere she turns in London. Every man becomes a fortune hunter when faced with the ridiculous amounts of money, land holdings and estates that Anne, sole heir to the Earl of Camber brings to the marriage. Of course, while Anne is by no means poor, she doesn't actually have access to much of the money, and if she marries without her guardian's consent, she's likely to be left with only a tiny allowance. Not that that's looking like such a bad prospect.

All she wants is to find someone who might appreciate her for her intelligence and kindness. She's deeply passionate about ancient history and archaeology, but most people find it dreadfully dull. Not that any of her many would-be suitors would let her talk drive them off for long. So when she meets a handsome young gentleman who seems ever so interested in the same things as her, she can't help but be a bit smitten. Even when he warns her that he's by no means appropriate company for a proper young lady. Frankly, Anne is ready to spend more time in the company of someone a bit scandalous, hoping that the light tarnish to her reputation might at least dissuade some of the stuffier candidates vying for her hand.

Marcus Lithgow isn't lying when he says Anne should be careful to be seen in his company. A shameless rake, gambler and occasional thief, he has indeed singled her out to seduce her. For months, he's had absolutely no luck at the gambling tables, and he needs money, fast. He doesn't actually have marriage in mind, he just hopes that her guardian might pay him a generous sum to never set foot near her again. He reads up on all the topics she finds fascinating and orchestrates a number of chance meetings for them around London. Unfortunately, Marcus is staying with his old school friend Julian Fortescue, the Duke of Denford, whose house is right next door to that of Lady Windermere, Anne's current chaperone. When Anne hears the two men talking and realises what Marcus' devious plan is, she is determined to get her revenge. She starts forcing Marcus to accompany her everywhere, making him waste huge amounts of money he doesn't really have taking her to the most tedious of exhibitions. But then Marcus is told he has inherited an estate, and suddenly seems to lose interest in her entirely.

It wouldn't be much of a romance if the hero went off to his crumbling estate, leaving the heroine confused and slightly disappointed in London. There are Roman ruins on Marcus' land and Anne is absolutely desperate to be allowed to excavate them. Marcus, who at this point has grown quite fond of the place he has neither the money nor the staff to maintain (all the villagers refuse to work there because of rumours that it's haunted) strikes an unusual deal with Miss Brotherton. If she works as a maid of all work for an hour and a half in his house every day, he will allow her to excavate the ruins.

While romance titles are frequently absolutely nonsensical, this book actually has a title that cleverly works on two levels. The Ruin of a Rogue could refer to physical ruin , such as the ruin of a house Marcus inherits and the Roman ruin on his estate, or to the figurative ruin he experiences at the hands of Anne Brotherton, as he of course falls in love with her, and tries his very best to drive her away. After all, she is all that is good and kind and special, and is far too good for the likes of him, a scapegrace who's father dragged him around Europe teaching him all that was nefarious from the age of six.

Anne isn't actually the most interesting of heroines, initially, her cousin Caro was a lot more fun in the previous book, I thought. At the same time, she's been raised in near isolation on her grandfather's estate with nothing much but books for company and has clearly not been socialised all that much, so who can blame her for being a bit dull? She's clearly a very sweet person, and hates the burden that her ginormous inheritance presents. The way she goes about trying to punish Marcus is more childish than actually cruel and he certainly gets his own back at her when he forces her to do sweeping, mopping, dusting and cleaning in his run-down house where the only staff he has available to him is his insanely cheerful valet and a stubborn old man who works in the stables.

Marcus never really had a home to call his own after his mother died when he was about six. His father would not win any husband- or father-awards, and clearly only married Marcus' mother for her modest fortune, then got sick of her when the money was gone. Once she died, he dragged Marcus with him through England and Europe, scamming men and women alike, cheating and stealing his way from place to place, usually never settling long before having to go on the run. He clearly never had any affection for his son and it's obvious why Marcus doesn't mourn his passing. He does fear that he is doomed to follow in his scoundrel father's footsteps, however, which is why, when he discovers that he actually is developing feelings for Anne, he feels he must drive her away. Of course, by this point, Anne has seen how hard he's working to help the poor tenants on his lands and how much time and energy and dwindling funds he's putting into the estate he inherited from a distant uncle. A crumbling ruin he has to rebuild and clean himself is still a home to him, and he can't bring himself to sell it. Even to Anne, who magnanimously offers to purchase it just so she can get access to the Roman ruins. When Marcus flatly refuses to take her money, she is surprised and intrigued.

As with the first book in the series, Neville sadly isn't content to just have the story focus on Anne and Marcus' romance. Oh no, there has to be the quest for hidden treasure added into the mix. Marcus finds an old letter from his father speaking of a valuable nest-egg tucked away somewhere on the estate. At first he doesn't believe it exists, but as he finds traces of someone searching the house, and signs that the rumoured ghost has been cleverly created with chains in the attic and other paraphernalia, he starts to wonder if there might be some truth to the idea. Suffice to say, there is a treasure, there are bad people who want to get their hands on it, and the final act of the book got a bit farcical and possibly wrapped up a bit too quickly and neatly for my tastes. I still appreciate Neville's willingness to set most of her romance outside of the London ballrooms, though and the romance developed very gradually and believably. I wish she'd trusted that it was enough to carry the story.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

#CBR7 Book 5: "Ex Sanguine" by Tim Seeley and various artists

Page count: 110 pages
Rating: 2.5 stars

Ah, the joys of reviewing something you read in about an hour about two weeks ago and that didn't make that much of an impact. I'm sorry, but I have to once again resort to the lazy/forgetful reviewer's trick of using the Goodreads summary:

One's a natural-born killer - a remorseless hunter gleefully prowling the night for victims to quench an unnatural blood lust. The other's a vampire. His centuries of existence have left him world weary and detached, until one day his thirst i reinvigorated when the deadly and intricate work of the Sanguine Killer catches his eyes. 

Saul Adams is a vampire, whose long life means he doesn't remember anything he doesn't write down everything in a notebook he carries with him. He can turn into mist (which is convenient for getting into locked places) and he appears to actually be able to change his facial features if necessary. I really liked the detail about his memories fading.

 The big twist (which is revealed right there in the blurb) of this comic is that Saul is of course not the serial killer that the FBI are hunting. Someone is murdering people and leaving cryptic messages in code painted in the victims' blood at the crime scenes. The young female agent, whose past contains dark horrors, is convinced that there is a supernatural connection to the murders, and after they knock on Saul's door the first time, she is determined to prove his guilt.

Saul wants to track down the real killer, to see who appears to be setting him up, and ends up temporarily teaming up with the killer. Some might say there is a romantic subplot here, but I don't think there was much romance involved in a crazy serial murderer and centuries old vampire hooking up.

There were some interesting ideas about vampires and some fun plot twists (the reveal about the female agent's past was especially good), but the fact that I'm struggling to remember much about this comic less than two weeks after I read it means that even if this wasn't what appears to be a self-contained mini-series, I would be unlikely to track down any more of it. Not bad by any means, but really nothing remarkable either.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

#CBR7 Book 4: "The Importance of Being Wicked" by Miranda Neville

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Thomas Fitzcharles, the Duke of Castleton, is everything that is proper and dignified. The Dukes of Castleton tend to marry wealthy ladies of impeccable pedigree to enhance their holdings and fortune with each new generation. Thomas' father was an exception, marrying for love, and it's clear to Thomas that their marriage was not a success. As such, he is determined to win the hand of the eminently proper and extremely wealthy Miss Anne Brotherton, who thanks to being her grandfather, the Earl of Camber's sole heir, is the best catch of the season. He's surprised when he discovers that the demure Miss Brotherton is currently residing with her cousin, Mrs. Caroline "Caro" Townsend, possibly the least proper woman Castleton has ever met.

Having been raised nearly in isolation on her grandfather's estate, and until recently meant to marry a cousin who died, Miss Brotherton delights in being able to trick her fusty old guardians and escape to her cousin Caro's house in London. Caro, who fell madly in love with the reckless Robert Townsend at 17 and eloped with him, was disowned by the family as a result. Her marriage to Townsend was tumultuous and before he died, her husband had gambled away not only his fortune, but left his young widow in considerable debt. It doesn't mean that Caro has stopped supporting local artists, throwing lavish parties and generally trying to shock and scandalise the members of the Ton. Anne loves spending time with the colourful and different people she meets at Caro's, even though none of them seem to understand her passion for archaeology and ancient history. When Castleton arrives on their doorstep, to press his suit, Anne accepts that he will probably be exactly the sort of person her guardians want her to marry, but he doesn't really seem to have eyes for her whenever Caro is near. Could it be that "Lord Stuffy" (a nickname given to Castleton by Caro) is more driven by his emotions than he previously thought?

This is my first Miranda Neville novel. I can't say I'm a huge fan of the cover, but let's face it, it's actually the exception rather than the rule if I actually like a historical romance cover these days. There was a lot to like about her writing. I enjoyed that Caro was a widow, who despite the fact that her husband eventually descended into drunkenness and gambling addiction, still fairly happily recalled her marriage and mourned for her husband. I liked that Caro literally gave no fucks about the opinions of her relatives or most of polite society, but kept entertaining her friends because they were the ones who'd been nice to her when she was cast out in the first place, I also thought she did a pretty good job as a chaperone for her cousin, who was in no way compromised while in her care, while also making sure that young Anne didn't die of boredom. Having the heroine be a widow, and not of the "we never consummated the relationship" variety that seemed far too common in some Old School romances, and one who's experienced real passion, but also real heartache (she lost her child) was refreshing. Sure, Caro's financial practises aren't exactly the most sensible, she should totally stop feeding every starving artist who falls across her doorstep and make sure she can pay her debts, but she's also refuses to prostitute herself by becoming some man's mistress just to get enough money to pay said debts either. She has morals and principles, even if they're not exactly what a lot of the people judging her would like.

Castleton was a bit of a bore, it's true, but the fact that he's so aware of that himself makes it less of a flaw and more something to pity him for. His father was clearly extremely strict and refused to let young Thomas have many friends or any fun. Castleton has been bred for duty first and foremost and even when he starts falling for Caro, his main worry is that if he doesn't marry the stupendously wealthy Anne Brotherton or some other heiress, he won't be able to provide suitable dowries for his younger twin sisters. It's nice to read a romance that acknowledges that Dukes too could be in need of money, not just because of their reckless youths of promiscuity and gambling (which seems to be a common past time for aristocratic heroes). He doesn't feel a twinge of attraction towards Anne, and her passionate interest in archaeology bores him silly, but he's still determined to do his duty towards his family and his estates. He gradually lightens up the more time he spends with Caro, and has the tremendous grace to apologise when he realises that he's in the wrong. He tries to fight his attraction to her as long as possible, seeing as he's officially courting her cousin, but once he gives in, he does his best to convince her that he loves her just the way she is, scandal and all, and apart from becoming a bit more sensible with money, doesn't want her to change.

The main thing that detracted from my full enjoyment of this book was a subplot involving an expensive painting that Caro had in her possession. Several of her husband's old friends, all involved in art collecting in some way, are extremely interested in getting their hands on it, by hook or by crook. Caro refuses to sell it, because it's the last thing she has left to properly remember her dead husband by. There was a lot of silly plotting by people, first to figure out if Caro actually had the stupid painting, and then to try to gain possession of it. I didn't care for it, one bit. As this is the first book in a series of four, The Wild Quartet being Robert Townsend and his notorious school friends, several supporting characters in this book go on to become main characters later in the series. It was due to extremely glowing reviews of the last two books in the series that I decided to start at the beginning, and I found it a very promising start.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

#CBR7 Book 3: "Saga, volume 4" by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Page count: 144 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

So I've already raved at you here AND here about why you should be reading this comic. If you haven't read it yet (what is wrong with you, do you not like awesome things?), this trade is not the place to start. It collects issues 19-24 of an ongoing story. I'm going to try really hard to review it without spoiling anything major, but tread with caution if you're not caught up.

Marko and Alanna and their hunted little family are laying low on a fairy anonymous planet. Alanna is trying to support them as best she can by acting in a cheesy soap opera, while Marko is a stay at home dad, aided by his mother and Izabel. Alanna's job situation sucks, and Marko struggles with nurturing the demanding and energetic toddler that Hazel has become. Elsewhere in the Universe, Prince Robot IV is completely unaware that he has become a father and that dangerous dissidents are threatening his little family. The Will is comatose in hospital, while his sister, the Brand, is trying to figure out what actually to him. She tracks down Gwen, Sophie and Lying Cat, who are working hard to find a way to heal him.

I don't want to go into more detail, because part of the joy of Saga is discovering the twists and turns on the beautifully constructed plot yourself. Brian K. Vaughan's writing continues to be superb, interweaving the various story strands and characters effortlessly, constantly throwing new challenges in our protagonists' way, even when they seem to be living in a quiet part of the universe, able to relax. Fiona Staples' art is still breath-takingly good.

Because I get extremely emotionally attached to characters in stories I love, and oh do I love this comic, these issues were more difficult than some of the previous to read, as the characters go through a lot of emotional turmoil. When my beloved characters suffer, I suffer. I was also sad to see that the the Will, Gwen, Sophie and Lying Cat were only in one single issue in this trade, because over the course of the series, I've become just as attached to them as to Alanna, Marko and their family. The developments in the Robot Kingdom takes the coming story in an interesting direction and I can't wait (which unfortunately I will have to do, for months and months and months) to read what happens next.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 2: "Say Yes to the Marquess" by Tessa Dare

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

For eight long years, Miss Clio Whitmore has been waiting for her betrothed, Piers Brandon, now the Marquess of Granville to stop travelling the globe and avoiding her. They've barely seen each other since they got engaged, and Piers has never even kissed her. Then there's the fact that Clio's frighteningly ambitious mother did everything in her power to make sure Clio was the perfect Marchioness and diplomat's wife, making sure that her entire life was a training exercise, to the point of starving her as she had the misfortune of not being as tall and svelte as her two sisters. Now Clio has inherited a castle and its surrounding lands and she's not about to be "Miss Wait-more" any longer. She just needs her fiance's younger brother to sign off on the annulment papers, and then she intends to support herself by starting a brewery.

Rafe Brandon is the black sheep of the family, and made his own way as a prizefighter after his father disowned him. After their father died, though, Rafe has done his best to take care of his brother's estates, lands and holdings to the best of his ability, even though he hates accounts, paperwork and is pretty sure all the staff look down on him. He's already guilt-ridden about their father dying while Piers was away on the other side of the globe somewhere, he's not about to let his brother's promised bride run off either. He's determined to change Clio's mind, even if he has to plan and arrange the wedding himself. As a result, he shows up at her castle, his personal trainer and Piers' ancient bulldog in tow. His plan involves dazzling Clio with the perfect flowers, decorations, cakes, not to mention an exquisite dress. He refuses to listen when Clio tries to explain that even if she were willing to marry Piers, she doesn't actually want a big elaborate ceremony.

Clio tries to persuade Rafe to sign the annulment papers. Rafe keeps trying to come up with new heights of wedding luxury to change her mind. Not helping matters are Clio's bitchy younger sister Daphne, clueless and insulting brother-in-law (their nickname for Clio is "dumpling"), nor Clio's socially challenged youngest sister Phoebe (nickname "kitten") who would rather be working on advanced mathematical equations or studying than acting as bridesmaid. The chief complication to Clio and Rafe's negotiations, however, is the sizzling chemistry and palpable attraction between them. The only thing worse than Clio dissolving the betrothal would surely be if Rafe fell for his brother's intended?

I've said it before, and will say it again. Tessa Dare writes wonderfully frothy and diverting romance. That's not to say that her characters don't have "hidden pain", much as Rafe puts it, it's just normally not the main focus of the novels. It's obvious that Clio has been beyond patient, and had it not been for the unexpected legacy of a whole castle, she might have stayed content to be ignored by her aristocratic fiancee. It's clear that Piers Brandon is off doing important work for his country, but it seems as if he could possibly have tried to encourage Clio's affections through correspondence, at least. Now Clio, practical-minded and determined to forge her own happiness, wants to make sure her inheritance pays dividends by starting a brewery.

She's not at all impressed with Rafe's convictions that she's shallow and vapid enough that the right flowers, cake and wedding dress is it will take for her to forget the EIGHT long years of being ignored and throw herself into wedding planning. At the same time, she doesn't want to cause an awkward scene with her family and announce that the wedding is off before the annulment papers are actually signed. Rafe is adorably flustered by the whole situation and mainly wants to focus on training himself back into a shape where he can reclaim his Championship title. Bruiser, his trainer, is wonderful comic relief, posing as a wedding planner mainly by trying to speak like a gentleman and using a quizzing glass. I thought the bits involving the dog were possibly a bit too far, but they didn't take away from my enjoyment of the story as a whole. Plus, that bit with the cake tasting was pretty spectacular. I really wish I'd had that many cakes available to me when planning my wedding.

If you have enjoyed the previous novels of Tessa Dare, I'm sure you'll find this one amusing too. While there are some story elements that border on too silly, I don't think it has anything that might completely break your suspension of disbelief, like Romancing the Duke did for my good friend, Mrs. Julien. Tessa Dare is one of the lucky few to be on my pre-order list, and based on this book, she's not likely to move off it anytime soon.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.