Always a Scoundrel by Suzanne Enoch

The Notorious Gentleman series continues with Always a Scoundrel. Unfortunately for me, I can't remember the previous two installments. It's been too long between books or the characters just weren't that memorable. Probably a little of both. I do remember the back to back release of #1 and #2--which begs the question of why the long wait for #3?

Apparently, Avon's marketing department also forgot this was part of a series since the cover of this one bears little resemblance to the almost modern photo look of the other two.

Having read everything Ms. Enoch has written--including that very rare Black Duke's Prize--I have to rank this one as about mediocre. I miss her wit! The characters are still fine (with the villain in this one being particularly evil) but the interplay between the two main characters just doesn't shine as brightly as --say--Georgiana and Dare in the Rake.

It's still an entertaining read, but I wish Enoch would return to the writing style that endeared her to me in the first place.


Tempted at Midnight by Jacquie D'Alessandro

It's a little disconcerting to see Jacquie D's books without the Avon logo, but Berkley did a fine job with the cover. Tempted at Midnight is part of the Ladies Literary Society series and features one of my favorite D'Alessandro characters: Logan Jennsen.

The sparks practically fly off of the page between the two main characters--with D'Alessandro's trademark witty dialogue providing much of the interest.

The only disappointment for me was that her fun, plays on words were missing this time. They always make me smile and inject the story with an oft-needed levity.

D'Alessandro is underrated in my opinion--I find her stories far more fun than Julia Quinn or others of her sales caliber.


To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt

I never seem to tire of the old Beauty and the Beast plot lines. I'm not sure why, but I find it--and the Ugly Duckling stories-- to be redeeming in some way. Perhaps it is my innate distaste for the way modern society focuses on appearance, but I really enjoy it when one--or both--characters don't follow the 'they're so beautiful' mold.

This is the first book by Elizabeth Hoyt that I have read, and I must say I wasn't disappointed. She has a fresh approach to historical romance and her characters are well developed--from the servants to the heroes. Every single one of them is memorable.

I particularly enjoyed the fact that the heroine was a 'fallen' woman who didn't fit the 'perfect' heroine mold either.

To Beguile a Beast was a very satisfying book with an even more satisfying theme.


The Virgin's Secret by Victoria Alexander

Alexander's newest book is a wonderful return to her historical romantic comedy roots. Much like the Marriage Lesson, the Virgin's Secret's charm lies in the dialogue and characters rather than the plot. The witty exchanges between the two main characters had me smiling from beginning to end.

I have a weakness for archaeological mysteries--especially those blended with romance--and this one fit the bill nicely. I loved the interplay between the family members, the continuing revelation of each layer of secrecy, and the light hearted way these two discover their feelings for each other.

My sole complaint is the awful title. While it makes sense within the context of the story and does not, in fact, refer to the heroine's sexual experience, it seems to recall the stereotypical and shallow romances of the past--one that most romance authors (including Ms. Alexander) have left far, far behind. It's a disservice to this wonderful book to have any connection to those trite pieces of writing. I nearly passed it by based on the title alone. Boo to the marketing department that let this title stand.


Lover Avenged by J.R. Ward

After blasting through the rest of the series at breakneck speed, I rushed out and bought the newest Black Dagger Brotherhood book in hardcover. It's the story of Rehvenge: drug-dealer, business tycoon, in-law to a member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. It's hard to believe, but J.R.Ward continues to reinvent how we view paranormal romance. Each story is different. There is no confusing one character for another. The same plot is not rehashed over and over with minor changes in cast and location. To me, it seems nothing short of miraculous that she's managed to create a world filled with truly unique, believable characters without falling into the plot and character traps so many authors seem to fall victim to.

Rehvenge is an anti-hero. Someone who, in another genre, would be the villain. He's not just a little bit bad. He's ordered assassinations; he's a pimp and a drug dealer. Making the reader sympathize with that sort of character is no mean task, but Ward pulls it off brilliantly. And she doesn't pull any punches with the reality of what Rehvenge does.

One of the best assets a series has is the sense of history created by past installments. This is not a series to read out of order, because Ward uses that historical real estate masterfully. The relationships formed in previous books are shown as they really are: evolving, complex, and needing in maintenance. She makes sure that we know the "optimistic outcome" we've seen isn't set in stone. That the people in those relationships are capable of screwing them up. That just makes everything you've read seem that much more believable in a genre that usually demands a HEA (Happily Ever After.)

I'm also continually impressed by the themes Ward tackles head-on. Racism, sexuality and sexual identity, the concept of evil, domestic violence, drug addiction, medical ethics, freedom of choice, political machinations and the role of wealth. Nothing is off limits.

The subplots and story archs are also compelling--particularly those of John Matthew and Xhex. I love authors who whet the appetite for future installments as much as I hate them for making me wait to find out what happens next. What is really fascinating to me is that if you stripped away the paranormal aspect, this series would still work. You could move the time period, and it would still be compelling. The series would thrive based on the characters and writing alone. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series is one of the best series I've ever read--regardless of genre.