Saturday, March 26, 2011

Will It Be 'Out With The Ex and In With the Old Boyfriend'? "The Love Market" by Carol Mason

Those of us who enjoy reading romance fiction find that we get set to experiencethe "Happily Ever After" most of the time, regardless of the time period or genre of the context. It just seems that is a part of loving romance fiction. It comes as a bit of an emotional "jar" when we encounter the unhappy ending or at best, the bittersweet resolution . . . the way so much of life tends to be resolved, if the truth be known.

In this newest novel by Canadian author Carol Mason, we meet Celine, a woman who has been married for 13 years and is now newly divorced from Mike, a radio producer for a popular talk show. Their 12 year old daughter is, of course, not at all happy about the break-up of her parents' marriage and added to her burgeoning adolescence, tends to live her days in the fog of confusion. Celine & Mike have had an on-again-off-again relationship pretty much for the majority of their years together. It has become apparent that Mike loves his wife to distraction but Celine has never really let go of her emotional involvement with a Canadian journalist with whom she shared a four-day madcap affair before meeting Mike. Somehow that initial love--the perverbial "first love" has never been left behind and a chanced glimpse of Patrick during a trip to London--a 10th anniversary trip, of all things--ultimately precipitates the end of the marriage. Mike is tired of fighting the old ghosts and Celine can't seem to object when he files for divorce. Just months after the divorce is final, Celine receives an email contact from Patrick and for the first time in fifteen years, is once again in contact with him. When he calls her and she hears his voice again, she is aware that the old feelings are as strong as her ex has maintained and she agrees to renew their relationship, even if it is a long-distance one.

Set in the Northeast of England, particularly in Newcastle, this story of love and loss, hope and disappointment deals realistically with the hurts, wounds, and challenges couples face when they divorce and especially when old attachments and feelings don't seem to want to die. Told in the first person, this novel reads like a biographical tale of a marriage's end, of the sense of loss, the fear of moving forward, the questions as to whether even this divorce was a mistake. Celine is a very intelligent woman--one who has begun her own business as a specialist in being a modern match-maker, one who reads people well but who can't seem to figure out her own feelings and hopes for the future. Mike is a wonderful man who works so hard to be a good husband and father, a man who knows he is almost always emotionally on the outside looking in, who loves his family and never fails to "be there" whenever he is needed in a variety of scenarios. Celine's dad is an aging Lothario who provides companionship for women in his own age range but whose roving eye never fails to draw him toward a beautiful, sexy woman. As an accomplished artist he definitely has an eye for the female form, but he has been unwise and undependable in his relationships for most of his life. Celine's sister has her own problems into which Celine is dragged, often by her own choice, to be sure, but still wanting the best for this woman who is, in reality, a "soul sister" even though biologically she is a step-sister. Their friendship has been forged in life's hardships as they both experienced loss when parents faded from their lives.

In many ways and on many levels, this was not an easy book for me to read. As one who is often called upon to counsel couples in relational trouble, I am probably more sensitive to the nuances of what Mike and Celine went through, the pressures they endured as each tried to make a marriage work, and the knowledge that a divorce would produce some serious emotional hardships for their daughter. Mike freely admits he still loves Celine deeply and irrevocably, but he is unwilling to even consider a reconciliation--being with her is almost more painful than being without her. The reader can feel that pain, and I was aware of being fearful for them both, especially after Patrick once again entered Celine's life and one wondered if his initial willingness to walk away 15 years earlier was necessitated by circumstance or was it a life pattern? The characters in this novel were real and bruised and sometimes bled all over the pages. How I hurt for them all . . . I just wanted them to all find a way to be happy. The background cast of characters was fascinating and sometimes humorous being made up of clients of Celine's who ae seeking relational partners and some of whom are having quite a time of it.

This is no pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by kind of novel with its hefty slice of real life. It never tries to smooth over the raw nature of the circumstances, even when Patrick and Celine re-unite. Even then there is that tentative sense--was this just something Celine wanted so much? Was this old flame and their newly re-awakened affair worth the loss of so much?

This author is new to me, but I must own up to liking her writing style and her willingness to address the brutal nature of divorce, the factors that impact these lives before and after, and the awareness that when writing about real life, there are not often happy endings. Some readers may not enjoy this in-depth exploration as I did. Others will find that such a keen awareness of adult romantic circumstances, both positive and negative, can be stimulating reading and can hold a reader's interest no matter how real and raw. And lastly, I think it important for fans of romance fiction who need to be reminded that the HEA ending is, in many real situations, a fiction in and of itself. I give this novel a 5 out of 5 rating.

This book was first released in 2010 by the MacArthur & Company of Toronto, Canada.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Choices and Coming of Age: "The Journey" by Wanda Brunstetter

Anyone who has ever traveled throughout Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky especially will realize that the Amish presence has had a significant influence on the culture of those states. Somehow, even though most Americans don't know much about their belief system or their ways of living--believing them just to refuse to live in the "modern age"--have still come to see that their strong faith, moral, community, and family values have proven to be the backbone of many areas of the United States.

Having been raised by a Mennonite father, I have a different "take" on this way of believing and living since the Mennonite form of Christianity is seen by many to be a "kissing cousin" to the Amish way. We certainly had some pretty non-negotiable rules that formed the boundaries of my growing up years, but many of which I appreciate for their presence and their ability to keep me and my sister from getting what I call a "terminal case of the stupids" when we were kids.

In this particular novel a young man named Titus is living with his family in Pennsyvania--the younger of twins and a young adult who has always felt that his brother's life has been charmed and he just has never measured up. It is not easy to live in the shadow of a sibling, especially a twin, yet he and his brother were close nevertheless. He was working part-time for his brother-in-law and planning to propose to his long-time sweetheart when she announces that she is leaving their lifestyle as well as leaving him to live "English" and to move to California with her best girlfriend. Nursing his broken heart and convinced that he cannot remain where he will be constantly reminded of Phoebe, he agrees to take a position in an Amish community in Kentucky working in a wood shop crafting furniture, window coverings, storage sheds, etc. This is a major change in his life--one that he hopes will prove to his parents, and mostly to himself, that he is capable of forging his own future.

There Titus meets two young women--Suzanne who is the granddaughter of his employer, and Esther, a lovely, accomplished and open-hearted young woman about his age and to whom he is immediately attracted. He also is immediately "turned off" by Suzanne for a number of reasons. First, she is almost the spitten image of Phoebe. Second, she is not really domestic--she can't sew, doesn't think women should be confined to the house, and loves to work with wood--in fact, she is quite accomplished. Last, she is quite vocal in sharing her thoughts and opinions, and Titus is really not used to that.

This is a novel of learning, sharing, grieving, and hope. It is the journey of a young man into himself as well as away from his geographical home, a time when he must find his own way while still remaining a loyal son and brother. His discoveries about himself also lead him to change his responses to Suzanne and Esther, especially after realizing that what someone appears to be is not always who they really are. His old hearthrob is woven in and out of the story, and her experience away from the Amish life forms a significant part of the story.

Ms Brunstetter has written extensively about the Amish and her novels are full of color, family, personal hope, disappointment, confusion, and love. People often forget that just because their lifestyle is completely governed by their faith, they still encounter the same challenges and problems everyone must resolve. They are imperfect people as are all of us, they don't always do the wisest thing, they get upset at each other and their children have the same struggles growing up. If anything, the restrictive way of life can sometimes make growing up even more difficult, although those guidelines, while seeming to oppress, are just like very good fences which keep people and other creatures safe.

I greatly enjoyed this novel and found their ways of relating to be heart-warming and inspirational. My own family has a very strong faith base, but whether or not that is the case with the reader, there are still wonderful scenes in this book to be encountered and genuine people to meet. While it is fiction, it very accurately reflects the way families and individuals resolve their questions, problems, and challenges. And like all of us, Titus learns that he can indeed be a capable adult and make the choices that will insure a measure of happiness for him and any future family he may have.

This is really an old-fashioned love story and I hope you all will read it soon. I give it a rating of 4.5 out of 5.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On the Road Again, And It's Cold (!!!!!) Back Here in Missouri!

Time for the mid-winter professional enrichment trip! This time I didn't opt for Wisconsin -- with my hubby having had heart surgery a year or so ago, and even though he is doing well, not wanting to really be away for any length of time, we decided to hop on a train and journey to Kansas City, MO., home of one of our daughters and hopefully site of a retreat facility where I can spend some of my time doing some specific study that pertains to my profession. Well, we did find such a facility and I am here now. And it's cold!!

We had snow over the weekend mixed with rain, a truly yukky experience that I remember from my childhood and which once again reminded me why we moved to Southern California in the first place. But the folks at the retreat center welcomed me "warmly" and I am enjoying the quiet and time to do some professional reading and study. I am also knitting an afghan for my daughter -- she asked me if I could do it in two weeks, so I am giving it the "old college try."

I also have lugged along a layer of romance fiction in the bottom of my suitcase, added to the stash at a second hand book store I found today, and also brought along two -- that's right, two -- eReaders loaded to the gills. Needless to say, when I have those post-menopausal sleepless periods in the middle of the night, there will be plenty to choose from. I don't know when I will be posting again . . . I have a couple of books I have just finished so will try to get reviews up for those, but until then, hope you all will keep reading and checking in from time to time.

Blessings . . .

Monday, March 7, 2011

He Didn't Plan On That: "Something Unexpected" by Tressie Lockwood

A one-night stand in a limo with her boss's son had consequences Zacari didn't count on. But when she had been trying to get over finding her cheating ex-boyfriend in bed with her best friend, keary seemed to be just what she needed to exorcise her demons and satisfy a sexual void she never knew she had.

Keary O'Connor didn't care what Zacari's motives were the night she wouldn't take no for an answer. What red-blooded man could turn down a seductress with smooth tawny-colored skin and a body he couldn't get out of his head? He had to have her and he wanted her again. His only problem now was in convincing her that he would not be like her ex, and what he wanted went beyond the physical and would last a lifetime.

A one-night stand, the boss's son, a silent phone in the days that came afterward, and a pregnancy test that read "positive." All of a sudden, Zacari's life took an unexpected turn and she had a whole new set of problems. But one thing that marked Zacari's personality and her approach to living was her determination to make her own way and not to allow the other people in her life to make her decisions for her. She still bore the scars of betrayal by a boyfriend to whom she was engaged, and who betrayed her with her best friend. So she was more determined than ever to do what was right--she would notify Keary of her pregnancy--but she would raise her child and be a responsible mother.

Keary was a man that all of us dream about meeting. He was open-minded--he didn't care that Zacari was African-American--and he was a man who took his relationships and his responsibilities seriously. He worked hard in his father's company and he had a maturity that made it possible for him to work well with lots of different kinds of people. His attraction to Zacari certainly flamed out that first night when he was giving her a ride home from the bar. But his one time with her backfired--he couldn't walk away as if it hadn't happened. Even before he found out about the pregnancy he was determined to get her into his life on a more permanent basis. Just that quickly she snagged his heart.

Zacari's independent streak, however, didn't make things easy. He had to leave the country for nearly a month almost immediately after that first night together, so he never found out about the baby nor was he able to contact Zacari while overseas. As is often the case, she interpreted his silence with disregard or disinterest. She didn't realize that he never received her message telling him about the baby. Thus, their long-term involvement as parents even didn't begin well. But here is where Keary's true nature begins to emerge: he didn't allow Zacari's pique over these circumstances to reduce his determination to be a part of her pregnancy and to ultimately win her heart. She was sassy and irreverent, with a temper that flashed easily sometimes, and a history of being hurt and disappointed in love. Nevertheless, he kept on and never faltered in his pursuit of her. What a guy!!

I liked this story a lot. I loved the way that Keary manned up and not only that, was open about his feelings for Zacari that didn't have anything to do with the baby. I liked that he knew how to set boundaries for himself and even for some of the other women who had been a part of his life in the past and hoped to be his significant other in the future. And I liked that no matter how difficult Zacari became because of pregnancy woes, he was patient and kind, loving and long-suffering. Would that all fathers-to-be would have that kind of patience.

This is a story with lots of emotional ups and downs, that is written from both Zacari and Keary's point of view. It is full of family and friends, hurt and disappointment, and the wonderful anticipation of a new life that is coming into the world. It was a very emotional read and one that I found to be very satisfying. I think we all read romance fiction because we want to believe in the "happily ever after" and hope that it happens a majority of the time. I also like stories like this one that tell of the triumph of genuine caring over the hurts of betrayal and disappointment. And I like stories where the characters are people of principle and integrity, who care about themselves and the ones they love. There's hot loving here as well as a cast of characters that keeps this story interesting from start to finish. I give this novel a rating of 4 out of 5.

A Forever Kind of Guy: "Her Gentle Giant, I & II, by Heather Rainier

Eli Wolf provides security at The Dancing Pony Nightclub in Divine, Texas. He'd like to provide security and a whole lot more for the beautiful and voluptuous Rachel Lopez. Rachel is attracted to this cross between a huge Viking and Indian warrior brave, but knows her jealous nature will keep them from being happy together. Can she compete with the women who flock to him like moths to a falme at the club? When her apartment burns down, Eli is determined to make her a permanent houseguest. Can she deny the attraction she feels when he has always made it abundantly clear she is the only woman he wants?

Tragedy strikes, and Eli and Rachel are forced to relive painful memories from their pasts. Eli proves he is willing to do what it takes to protect and avenge her, and Rachel discovers the inner woman who longs to live life with no regrets. Part I: No Regrets; Part II: Remember to Dance.

This is a very erotic romance about two people who bring vastly different heretages to their relationship. Written in two parts, their story details the difficulties Rachel had in even allowing herself to get involved with Eli initially and moves on to the tentative bonds they forged to their wedding and honeymoon. This author doesn't seem to write stories that are fraught with upset and adversarial encounters as is true in so many romance novels. Rather, she has simply chronicled the development of their relationship over a period of months.

Rachel has been taught to be an independent woman by parents who are strong and loving. But in her early experiences living on her own she was hurt deeply by a man who took advantage of her innocence and enjoyed hurting her. After that she pulled away from the dating scene and spent her time going to college and working to build up a financial base for her life. And then one night she went to The Dancing Pony with some co-workers and she caught the eye of Eli Wolf, a man who had been around and who was tired of the here again, gone again kind of relationship. When he saw Rachel on the dance floor, it was very nearly love at first sight. But it took him several months of continually asking her out to get her to even share a meal with him. His quiet patience finally won her over, and they began to build a very tentative relationship.

Eli was a strong, Alpha male who was confident in his abilities, whose position as security at the club was really his second job. He was a specialist at climbing the towers that carried electrical cables all over the countryside, and his body mass made him a force to be dealt with. He was comfortable in his skin, and because he was so large, he wasn't looking for a skinny, tiny woman. When he saw Rachel's lush curves and her tall frame, he was captivated, but he was willing to take as long as needed to get her to feel comfortable with him. From the very beginning he treated her with such respect and care that she began to lose her fear of being hurt, of being taken advantage of, of being used for someone else's pleasure alone. Instead, Eli made it plain that her safety and welfare, her comfort level and pleasure were more important to him than anything else.
This novel is a part of a series about the town of Divine, Texas, and some of the characters continue to be a part of this second novel, individuals who first made their appearance in the first book, Divine Grace, Their continuing story forms the backdrop of this novel and some of those characters are an integral part of Rachel's friendship circle. In fact, Eli and Rachel first showed up in Divine Grace and it was there that Eli's interest was first noticed.

This story is just pure romance. It is very erotic but there are some very fun scenes, lots of authentic friendship and caring from Rachel & Eli's families, good friends who are counselors to them individually and together, and which give the reader a sense of community that forms the context of this story. Eli & Rachel's relationship is hot from the very beginning, yet they are not living apart from those who are important to them. There are some struggles and an accident that puts Rachel's life in critical danger. All through the difficult times their love is sustained by Eli's faith in Rachel, their innate goodness, and his confidence that together they can meet any challenge.

This is also a story about the futility of jeolousy, and as Eli helps Rachel work through her fears and insecurities about herself, she slowly finds strength to deal with her jeolousy. She also comes to realize that Eli is a man who can be trusted and whose all-consuming love for her leaves no room for anyone else. This story is classified as "erotic contemporary cowboy romance" and that is exactly what it is. But it is, at its core, a beautiful love story and how that relationship allowed both Eli and Rachel to become better people than even they dreamed of becoming. That's the kind of love we all hope to have at some time in our lives. I give this novel a rating of 4 out of 5.

What Are Friends For? "Sunny Days, Moonlit Nights" by Jean C. Joachim

Davis White is a well-known artist and married to a wealthy, controlling man. She has everything money could buy except one thing: love. Brad refuses to give her a divorce she so desperately wants. With no money, family, or friends, she flees to the Catskill Mountains where she spent her summers as a young adult.

Mike Foster has achieved success and made more money than he could have thought possible, but it destroyed his marriage and cost him his son. he is wary of every woman he meets, knowing his money may be more attractive than his good looks. Caroline reconnects with the life she had and friends from long ago. Mike stepped out of her teenage dreams into her life again, looking more handsome and tempting than ever. Caroline knew Mike back then, but is he still the man she fell in love with?

This is a very provocative love story about two hurting, disillusioned people who reconnect after many years but who now bring a sizeable load of baggage with them. Once they were young and carefree, spending their summers with friends, enjoying the mountains and swimming in the local lake, looking forwarrd to life's many possibilities. Now both have been hurt in significant ways and even though the old feelings seem to be alive in each of them, they both have secrets and along with those secrets come fears that revealing their true selves and the present dimensions of their lives, they could lose far more than they ever have before.

Caroline has been married for a number of years to a man who seemed to care for her in the early days of their marriage. Now, for the past two or three years, he has reverted back to his old ways and has been openly unfaithful to her, even to the point of discussing his affairs openly with her. He refuses her requests for divorce because in his mind, Caroline is a possession--a beautiful asset to his position as a wealthy man and a figure in New York society. Her fame as an artist has also become his "property" and no matter what she says to him, Brad takes delight in controlling every aspect of her life. Somehow she has amassed some funds and she is now walking out on him when he is out of town, hiding her location from him, and beginning divorce proceedings. With the help of a very good attorney who happens to be a good friend, Caroline tries to get her life back.

Her destination is the old summer cabin her family used for years in the Catskills. There she runs into the handyman who looks familiar--turns out he is her long-time friend and buddy Mike Foster. He is still doing odd jobs in the area and on several nights a week he appears at a local establishment with his rock band. Caroline is delighted to find her old friend who happens to be the man who made her heart sing so many years ago. He is now more handsome than ever, and while she is fully aware that she is still married, she knows that down deep she is still in love with him. Their old friendship is re-established and the old feelings re-emerge for them both. But Caroline and Mike are deeply fearful of being blunt honest--he is a multi-millionaire who has returned to his boyhood home, and she is a married lady in the midst of a messy divorce. This does not bode well for either of them or for their future together unless they can get past all these secrets.

This novel really digs into the heart of what it means to build trust between two people whose emotions become entangled. Obviously, withholding such basic facts about their individual situation is not a good foundation for building any semblance of relationship. While they are having fun reconnecting, their are others who are seeking to bring them both down publically. The media is seeking the "missing wife" of the wealthy New Yorker which places her ability to get her life away from Brad in danger, and any dirt they can dig up or manufacture on Mike is going to put his visitation rights with his son in difficulty. Lots of serious consequences for these two if all does not go well. Caroline has her art and Mike has his life and his music. Can they find a way past the fear and distrust and disappointment and find their way back to each other?

Both Caroline & Mike are like so many today who have become caught up in their lives, in their circumstances, and who have been injured deeply by persons in their lives they once loved and trusted. Those are the most painful kinds of wounds. There does come a time when the new and very vulnerable relationship between Mike and Caroline takes a beating--is really in danger of being destroyed, and how they get past that challenge with all its questions and sadness is a large part of the latter half of the novel. Their story reflects the kinds of challenges so many face when somehow they must find a way to rebuild what was once a good and emotionally satisfying love. Sometimes it works out, but for others the relationship cannot every be rebuilt.

I found this novel compelling and as is true in so much fiction, it combines true literary entertainment with some insight on living that can be helpful to many. Certainly it is instructive to think carefully about the values of honesty and open communication no matter what. In Caroline's case, would it have really hurt her chances with Mike if she had been upfront with him from the beginning? I don't think so. Perhaps his experience of going through a painful divorce could have been a helpful resource for her. Is there really any value in "going it alone" if there exists a friend whose judgment is trustworthy? Again, I don't think so. These were two critical errors Caroline made that came back to bite her in the backside. Reading this story was a very good experience and the book is one that I am sure I will be re-reading in the near future. I don't think this is a simplistic story--too many interesting characters and too much at stake for it to be simply a "girl meets boy" kind of romance. The situations in this story are messy because human life and relationships are messy. That is one of the things that makes for good fiction.

So I recommend this to romance fans and believe it will be a book well worth reading. I give it a rating of 4.5 out of 5.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

He May Have Been A Schmuck But He Didn't Deserve To Die: "Friendly Fire" by Megan Hart

After Agent Kendall Frasier's partner is shot in "friendly fire" during a drug bust, she agrees to take a week's vacation on a tropical island as part of her psychiatric evaluation. Sand, sun, sea--what could be better to help her work through her guilt? Even if the preseence of the man responsible for the shooting, Agent Zane Vincent, seems counterproductive to her mental health.

As kendall gets to know Zane, and realizes he feels worse about what happened than she does, it becomes impossible to hate him. And their mutual attraction becomes impossible to deny.

Kendal and Zane soon agree to put the event that brought them together in the past--and spend the present exploring their most erotic desires. Do they have a future in the real world when their week in paradise is over?

This is a short story that was originally released in 2003 and has now been newly revised by the author and re-released by Carina Press in 2011. It is quintessential Megan Hart writing, with an efficiency in the telling and an economy of words that characterizes her writing style. It is a compelling glimpse at the pressure under which DEA agents must work, and the collateral damage that occurs when one of their own is taken down, most especially in an accidental way by one's one co-workers.

Kendall is a woman who has worked hard to get where she is in law enforcement. Like so many women who seek to excell in a male-dominated porfession, it has not been easy and she has the bruises to prove it. Not the least of these is the misery of working with a partner who disrespects her, who harrasses her continually, who belittles her as a female unworthy or without the necessary brains or brawn to do a difficult job. Now that partner is dead, and while she is well-aware that Dan's disregard of her abilities and his arrogance in blowing off her warning that caused his death, she still feels that inevitable guilt that as his partner, she could possibly have prevented the accident.

Zane Vincent is a highly successful DEA agent who has infiltrated several very dangerous organizations in order to capsize their drug business. Now he, too, is riddled with guilt, knowing that the shooting death of one of his colleagues was an accident, knowing that he has been cleared after an exhaustive investigation, yet also replaying the event numerous times in the hope that somehow it can all be undone.

Initially Kendall holds Zane up for disdain and is angry that he was responsible for Dan's death, even though down deep she is relieved that she doesn't have to work with him anymore. Perhaps that is more the source of her guilt than anything else. Yet in spite of her anger at Zane, she begins to get to know him just a little and realizes that he is a man of great depth and genuine values, that he is incredibly sexy, and that she is attracted to him--like iron to a magnet. Neither wants a "one night stand" and so they begin what well may be an affair of only a few days.\, in an island paradise previously owned by a drug lord.

While this story is way too short for my taste, there is still lots going on here. As Kendall and Zane have to work through their guilt over Dan's death and their part in it, they discover not only a great deal about themselves but about each other. They also recognize that there may be some not-so-healthy reasons why they are "acting out" in an erotic way, but there is also a quality that they find in each other that smacks of normalcy in a professional world that is anything but normal. These are also two individuals who are willing to take risks, not only in their professional assignments but also in their personal relationships. They know there may be negative repercussions to their affair down the road, yet they are willing to risk those in the hope that something beautiful and permanent will grow from this vacation encounter.

I like Megan Hart's writing a lot, and I have read a number of her stories. I don't like short stories as I think, especially in this case where the characters are so intense and multi-dimensional, that such a brief literary form is inadequate to do more than just catch a glimpse of their lives in a single setting, when there is so much more to them as people. I am sure that is Hart's goal in this--just a single encounter with these people who live dangerous and complicated lives. But as a reader it is frustrating to no end. Having said that, I must acknowledge that Hart is one of those writers that can pack an unbelievable amount of information, emotion, and action in so few pages. And because of her expertise in crafting this story, it was a brief but very satisfying read. Hart fans will like this one, I think. I give it rating of 3.75 out of 5, not because of any factor other than its brevity.

This short story was released in February 2011.

I'll Believe What I Want To Believe: "Mistress by Midnight" by Nicola Cornick

A wicked duke's bed is no place for a lady . . .

Lady Merryn Fenner is on a mission to ruin the Duke of Farne. A beautiful bluestocking with a penchant for justice, Merryn has waited ten years to satisfy her revenge against sensual, mysterious Garrick Northesk. Her family name has been tarnished at his hands, her life destroyed. And now she intends to return the favor--by finding the true heir to the duke's title and disinheriting Garrick.

Yet when disaster traps Merryn and Garrick together, white-hot desire stirs between the two sworn enemies. Her reputation utterly compormised, Merryn is forced to do the one thing she cannot bear: accept the scandalous marriage proposal of the man she has vowed to ruin.

Lady Merryn is the youngest of three sisters and she is, for her time, an independent-minded, academic woman who enjoys books, loves museums, engages in charitable causes, and really has little interest in marrying. She is also a rare woman of her time who can keep her own counsel--no one, including her sisters with whom she lives, knows what she is really up to. Having been hired as a private investigator of sorts, she has spent two years trying to dig up dirt on the Duke of Farne, having been hired by a man she believes desires justice when in truth he has much more sinister motivations for using Merryn as his "front." As a part of her plan to find clues to the duke's real guilt in her brother's death, she finds herself caught red-handed in the duke's bedroom when he returns unexpectedly to his family home in London, a house he hates and which has been the primary residence of his father before his death. He ultimately learns that the mysterious woman hiding under his bed is the sister of the man he shot over a decade ago. His attraction to her is instant.

Garrick is a man who is troubled to the core of his being. He did indeed kill Stephen Fenner but few if any know the whole truth of what happened that night. He is not about to reveal the truth to Merryn, no matter how he might desire her, because too many people stand to be hurt if they knew the facts. Better to fight the attraction and move on with life. But Lady Merryn herself makes this impossible in so many little ways, and through a set of unforeseen circumstances they are caught in what is known in history as the Great Beer Flood. It may be that they both thought they would fail to be rescued or like so many people, when caught in a desperate situation, they threw caution to the winds and found comfort in each other's arms. But as in real life, that didn't make the basic upset between Garrick and Merryn go away. It only put her into an even greater social dilemma--without marriage to Garrick her life as she knew it was ended.

This is a complicated story that is full of interesting--no, fascinating people. Garrick comes across as a kind and honorable man, one who is willing to life with far less than most men emotionally if it will protect those to whom he has given his word. Merryn is a woman of great depth, one who would, in our day, have been demonstrating, carrying a placard or some sort, or been doing serious things for social justice. She is creative and inventive, finding ways to pursue her concerns even in the restrictive society of the ton. Her sisters are delightful women, willing to bow to many of the social requirements, but still managing to maintain their own individuality. Tom, Merryn's employer at the investigative agency, is a true scoundrel and feels no conscience in using anyone and everyone to get what he believes to be his. There are others who flit in and out of the story, but I found that no matter how brief their appearance, they still managed to make an impression. That's really good writing and story telling.

Ultimately this novel is about truth, about the injury that unfeeling, unthinking, self-centered people do not only to those in their immediate circles, but their perfidy is far reaching. Lives are changed and relationships are altered. And in the pressure cooker of crisis, true friendship, true regard, true affection is revealed. It is in such a pressure cooker of events that Garrick's and Merryn's true character shine. Both are people of worth, who feel deeply and who often put the well-being of others before their own. Even in a fictional work such self-sacrifice, whether small or great, is instructive about the way it is possible for human beings to live.

I liked this book very much for many reasons: I liked the genuine goodness of Garrick and Merryn; I liked the array of characters that gave depth and breadth to the story; I like Merryn's sisters and their gutsy individualism; and I found the historical context interesting. Ms Cornick has established herself as a writer who knows how to tell a darn good story, and she doesn't disappoint here. The romance is edgy and the suspense over the true nature of events surrounding Merryn's brother's death adds even more interest to the story. I think this is a book historical romance fans will really like. I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.

This novel was released by Harlequin Books in November, 2010.