TBR Challenge: Lots to Choose From

midnightangel Today we’re taking a little break from the RT author interviews for May’s installment of the TBR Challenge. For this month’s adventure through the TBR pile, I went looking for a book by an author represented multiple times in my stash of books waiting to be read. I’ve read a lot of Lisa Kleypas, but I still have plenty of her books in the TBR. The Russian angle of her 1995 historical, Midnight Angel appealed to me, so I decided to give that one a whirl.

Though the heroine is Russian, most of the book is set in England as we are treated to a governess and employer romance. Early on in the book, we as readers learn Tasia’s big secret.
She is actually a Russian aristocrat in disguise who has fled the country as she has been sentenced to death for killing her betrothed. Tasia has no memory of what happened to the man or whether she may have harmed him, but she is determined to live. Conveniently, she has relatives in England who give her a new identity and find a place for her as governess to Lucas(Luke) Stokehurst, Marquess of Stokehurst.

Once Tasia is in Luke’s home, all the conventions of governess romance flourish. Tasia is purer than pure, and her charge starts off difficult but soon ends up being enchanted by her new governess. Luke is a widower who loved his first wife dearly and has vowed not to marry again – but of course he finds himself incredibly tempted by the heroine. It’s not exactly groundbreaking, but much of this story actually works. This book is still what I would consider early Kleypas and her prose style is not quite so polished as it is today, but she still creates a world that I found entertaining at times even as I recognized some of the aspects of the tale that would probably strike readers nowadays as cliched. Speaking of which, expect to see Tasia’s deep dark secret resolved in speedy and unlikely fashion.

Even though I did enjoy parts of Luke and Tasia’s story, there were still some elements that bugged me. I already mentioned some of the issues above, but there were parts of the relationship itself that just didn’t work for me. While I didn’t notice this later on in the story, some of Tasia and Luke’s early encounters have a slightly creepy feel to them. Tasia is closer in age to Luke’s daughter than to Luke, which didn’t bug me in and of itself because I’ve read good romances in the past which had a significant age difference. However, there was something about the first love scenes in this book that felt more like the powerful hero possessing the childlike heroine that put me off.

In the end, I didn’t mind reading Midnight Angel and at the best moments in this book, I could see glimpses of the writer that I now know Lisa Kleypas will become. However, this still has some of the roughness of an early work and I really can’t rate it higher than a C.

– Lynn Spencer

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atyourpleasure My challenge read this month was for to read a book by an author who has more than one book in my TBR pile, and I had no trouble in selecting this one – Meredith Duran. I’m a huge fan, so it might seem rather odd that I’ve not devoured everything she’s written already, but I tend to hoard her books for times when I really need to read something GOOD (Sherry Thomas was another contender for this, but I’ve already included one of her books in a reading challenge). I chose At Your Pleasure principally because the story is set at a time which isn’t often used in historical romance; 1715, shortly after the death of Queen Anne and the accession of the House of Hanover to the English Throne. Even though I count myself as a bit of an amateur historian, this isn’t a period I know much about, and I found Ms Duran’s insight into the political climate of the time to be very informative.

At a time of great unrest and political turmoil, Ms Duran spins a terrific tale of love and betrayal, forgiveness and redemption. Leonora, the widowed Lady Towe, is the daughter of Lord Hoxton and sister of David Colville, both of whom have been stripped of their lands and titles because they have been plotting against the new king. Both men fled to France, leaving Nora alone to manage Hodderby, the home for which she has a deep and abiding love.

Adrian Ferrars, Earl of Rivenham has been sent to arrest Colville and bring him to London to face trial and, almost certainly, execution for treason. Nora is stunned at Adrian’s unexpected appearance, and not just because she knows the danger he represents to her brother. Their family estates border each other, so Adrian, David and Nora grew up together; and six years earlier, Adrian and Nora had fallen deeply in love and had a brief affair. When Nora’s father discovered their relationship, the pair were brutally separated, for Adrian was a Catholic, and thus not a suitable husband for the daughter of a high-ranking, Protestant family.

Their short-lived affair ended bitterly and violently, with Nora believing Adrian abandoned her to the fate forced upon her by her father (marriage to an older, abusive man) and Adrian believing she deserted him in order to do her father’s bidding and marry a rich man of his choice.

Adrian was then bundled off to France by his family for his own protection. Upon his return some years later, he renounced his faith and by virtue of his intelligence, charm and wits, rose quickly through the ranks of the court to become a trusted advisor to Queen Anne, and has retained his position under the new king.

Their reunion is barbed and bitter, both of them haunted by memories of betrayal and heart-break and determined to convince the other of their utter indifference. Adrian is cold and cruel and Nora meets his harshness with sharp-tongued defiance, determined to protect her property and her brother, sometimes to the point of stupidity. But Adrian has powerful enemies, and is walking a political tightrope, and with those enemies prepared to join forces in order to bring Adrian down, he is prone to attack from all directions and decides there is only one way he can do what he must and keep Nora safe at the same time.

With the undercurrent of attraction that still swirls between them proving harder and harder to deny, the two begin an uneasy rapprochement. The devastating truth about what happened six years ago is revealed, and the barriers between them – barriers not of their own making – begin to break down. But even so, Adrian must ignore Nora’s wishes and act to protect her in a way which threatens to destroy their re-kindling relationship; to protect her from herself as much as from those outside forces which seek his destruction.

Ms Duran’s story is utterly compelling, as are her two central characters. Adrian is a wonderful hero, a man who can be ruthless and uncompromising when he has to be, but who also shows a remarkable capacity for tenderness and consideration. The depth of his love for Nora drives him to desperate measures, it’s true, but that love is never in question. Nora is a little more difficult to warm to, primarily because of the blind loyalty she shows toward David, who has put her in danger time and again. I found myself frequently wanting to scream at Nora to just cut the cord and leave him to fend for himself! Even though he is preparing to marry her off to another man to further his own ends, and after Adrian has revealed to her the extent of his duplicity six years before, she can’t bring herself to wash her hands of him. Loyalty is an admirable trait most of the time, but in this, Nora really is her own worst enemy. Yet she is clever, stubborn, and courageous; her motives might not always be clear-sighted or in her best interests, but she possesses a great inner strength.

At Your Pleasure is a beautifully developed romance with real emotional depth set against a fascinating historical background. I found it to be an intense read with very little to lighten the tension and there are some scenes which make for downright uncomfortable reading – but I loved the intrigue and that feeling of walking the thin line along with the characters. The writing itself is gorgeous, and I applaud Ms Duran for the way she shows us the grey areas that are part of the lives of these characters and the tough decisions they have to make. A

– Caz Owens
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This month saw me tackling several different genres in my challenge. The month began with Blood Maidens by Barbara Hambly, a continuation of her James Asher detective series. The first book – Those Who Hunt the Night – remains my favorite but this certainly works as a continuation. I then caught up on Shana Abe’s Drakon books by reading The Sweetest Dark and The Deepest Night. There were several positives to these books that I thoroughly enjoyed; chief among them was that the heroine wound up with the dark, temperamental imperfect hero. Recent YA novels have all leaned towards the “safe”, sweet choice which tends to be not my cuppa. I followed up with Behind the Shadows by Patricia Potter, an old school romantic suspense novel. Not one of the best of the authors’ works but still a darn good read – and I love getting the older stuff off my TBR. It gives me a real sense of satisfaction.I finished the month off with City of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn which I had meant to read right when it came out and somehow just didn’t get a chance to. An Indiana Jones style adventure tale, City of Jasmine finds aviatrix Evangeline Sparkes on a treasure hunt across the desert, only she isn’t searching for gold but her husband, who supposedly died on the Lusitania! A fun read with enjoyable characters and a witty romance.

– Maggie Boyd
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So, what have you been clearing off your TBR lately? Any good finds?

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3 Responses to “TBR Challenge: Lots to Choose From”

  1. Renee says:

    I read Midnight Angel many years ago and liked it at the time but agree with you that the writing is not as polished as Lisa Kleypas today. However, I listened to the audio version of this book recently and truly loved it. The narrator was excellent and really caused the story to really resonate much better than the print version, in my opinion.

  2. willaful says:

    Thanks for the reminder about The Deepest Night. I haven’t looked for the audiobook for awhile, and now it’s available at the library. I just finished my last YA fantasy audiobook, too. :-)

    I never find YA where the sweet, safe guy wins!