Pandora's Box

My Pleasure

Connie Brockway
2004, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Pocket, $6.99, 358 pages, Amazon ASIN 0743463234
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

There is a staff review of this book as well

My Pleasure is the second book in a trilogy about three sisters who lost their father when he sacrificed his life to free a group of political prisoners. In return, the three men pledge to protect the sisters. Helena works as a lady's companion - and plays a dangerous game at night. Serving as a courier between two separated lovers, she attends a series of masked events. At one event, she meets fencing master Ramsey Munro, illegitimate grandson of a marquis. She recognizes him immediately as one of the men sworn to protect her family, but hopes that he won't realize who she is. What she doesn't know is that he has been watching her from afar for years. Now the two keep meeting as Ramsey watches over Helena. Meanwhile, Ramsey prepares for an international fencing competition that could bring him substantial wealth, and both characters face multiple threats to their happiness and well-being.

Blythe:   Linda, it's kind of surprising that in all our time doing Pandora we've never discussed any of Connie Brockway's books before. She's written some classics that many romance readers love, and she continues to be very popular. I've read several of her books over the years (and of course, I have several more TBR), but it had been awhile since I'd read Brockway. On the whole, I thought My Pleasure was indeed a pleasure. I loved the characters - particularly the hero.

Linda:   I too have some Brockway's both on my comfort reread shelf and in my TBR pile. I read both My Seduction (first book in the series) and My Pleasure and I liked the second book better. I loved the characters in both books, but the plot in My Seduction seemed to run out of gas in the middle of the book and then a whole lot happened too easily in the last few chapters. I loved My Pleasure's Ramsey and Helena and since I read this in one sitting it must not have dragged for me. <g>

Blythe:   I haven't read MS, so I can't comment on that. But My Pleasure certainly didn't have a pacing problem. I thought it was a quick, engrossing read, and I didn't want to put it down. I think it was really Ramsey that made the book for me. I loved that he was a fencing master; it's an angle I hadn't seen before. And, even better, Brockway managed to make him have a group of friends (a group that swore an oath, no less) without making it cheesy and ridiculous. I am perhaps a little too critical of heroes with friend clubs at times, but it's one of my big pet peeves. So often, authors make them sound really juvenile.

Linda:   Well, at least they didn't have silly 'secret' names, which I know you really hate. I liked Ramsey a lot because I love heroes who are drop-dead gorgeous, but aren't overly impressed by their own good looks. I too found this a quick read and once started I ended up reading till 2:30 AM (not unusual for me) as I was just totally engrossed. Perhaps the only problem I had with the book is that I always have trouble believing people won't recognize someone because that person is wearing a mask. At least they weren't husband and wife as in one of Quick's books, but the idea that someone thinks they won't be recognized because they were wearing a costume is ridiculous to me - I would know my hubby's voice if he disguised it and wore a King Kong costume!

Blythe:   You've hit upon my single problem with the book. I too have a lot of trouble buying that scenario, and I thought it went on far too long. As soon as she showed up at his salle the jig should have been up. Anyway, I didn't think Ramsey would have any trouble recognizing her, and I was surprised she thought she could fool him. However, this plotline ended in the nick of time for me. Any longer and I would have been really annoyed. And I too have read a book where the hero and heroine were husband and wife - and he didn't recognize her after seeing her several times and even having a sexual encounter with her - because she'd had reconstructive surgery. Totally ridiculous, IMHO.

Linda:   LOL, I remember a regency where the guy felt guilty because he loved a masked beauty (and had sex with her) instead of loving his wife - of course they were one and the same and it was totally ridiculous - a case of a couple being TSTL. Anyway, as you said the plot stopped just in time to avoid having Helena be annoying and I thought her anger was dumb too as she certainly could have told him that she was the 'masked beauty' instead of hoping he would never know. I too liked the fact that Ramsey had a profession and fencing master is unusual and enjoyable and made for some interesting scenes. It also made it easy to envision him as this handsome, graceful (and charming) man.

Blythe:   I liked the fencing master angle but oddly enough I didn't care for the fencing term chapter headings. They just seemed awkward and contrived to me. But that's a really minor niggle. I should say too that while Helena's insistence at deception was a little annoying, over all I really liked her too. I tend to like poor relation/governess/companion type books. Helena is a companion to a real piece of work. Her employer, Lady Tilpot, is totally convincing and believable in her vanity and churlishness. Helena fulfills her job with dignity and spirit in spite of it all. I thought she made a good match for Ramsey.

Linda:   I liked Flora, too, the slightly spacey niece and her love, Oswald...What a pair. I thought they made for a nice secondary romance and of course provided the impetus for Helena to dress in costume. Lady Tilpot was a real piece of work and rang quite true for me too. Her insistence on putting Helena in her place in public while obnoxious, is also true of this personality type that must be the center of attention. I did wonder what Ramsey's grandfather whispered to her that made her accept Ramsey as the true air to the Marquisate. It was never disclosed and I was curious.

Blythe:   I liked the self-absorbed young couple too. What was nice is that Oswald was a total idiot, but he did actually love Flora. And Lady Tilpot had a definite Lady Catherine de Burgh vibe, didn't she? She liked to have the distinction of rank preserved. <g>

Linda:   This book, My Seduction, and the third, My Surrender, also have a common plot and villain who remains in the background manipulating events to try to bring about the deaths of first Kit (from My Seduction) and then Ramsey. The villain betrayed Ramsey, Kit, Douglas and Andrew (Dand) when they were on a secret mission to France. I have a couple of theories about the identity of the villain, but we won't know who he is until book 3. I know I will be reading the next book very interested in seeing if my hunch is correct.

Blythe:   I've heard from you and a couple of other people that the first book wasn't as good as this one, but I am interested enough to seek it out anyway (if I don't already have it somewhere. I need to get a handle on all my books). I was also very intrigued by Helena's younger sister Charlotte, who appears to run with a very fast set. I don't often bother to read the "previews" at the end of books -I figure I'll just catch the real thing later - but I did read this one and was quite intrigued by the set up.

Linda:   Well, I hate previews that get me hooked on books that won't be available for ages - so I don't read any of them. It is frustrating to get hooked on a book that won't be out for a year! (Note from editor, My Surrender is due May 2005) I am intrigued by Charlotte - I love hoydens and she certainly seems to be one. I would recommend My Seduction although the pacing was slightly off for me. One thing that I really enjoyed in MS was the description of the rose garden and all of the wonderful things the four boys had built in it. Kate spends some time at the Monastery and gets to know more about the boys' background from the priests that helped to raise them. I would have like to have seen more of the monks in My Pleasure as I really enjoyed their interaction with Kate, especially the woman-hating Brother Martin.

Blythe:   I'm glad to hear that those aspects are more fully explored in the earlier book. I think it's perfectly possible to get the gist of what's going on in the second book without having read the first , but I wouldn't mind having some additional information. It's always nice when you can get the whole picture. Nonetheless, I thought MP was a stand-alone read. And I'm glad we both enjoyed it.

Linda:   Well, my hunch about the villain is based on a scene in the first book and a clue in the second book seems to confirm it, but it will be fun to see if I guessed right. The first book also goes into more detail about their awful captivity, which is also given fuller detail in book two. The conditions were horrific and the scene of Ramsey's branding is stomach-churning, at least for me who has a low 'squeamish' threshold.

Blythe:   Not having read the first one, I only have a vague guess about the villain. But it's an interesting plot line. Do they explain in the first book why Kate and Helena's father sacrificed himself for the freedom of Ramsey and his friends?

Linda:   No, it isn't really explained and I really liked the fact that Kate spends a lot of time being angry at him for his heroism and that of her husband Michael, who died in India. When her father died so did the annuity they lived on and her family is left destitute. Kate felt he had no right to do that to them. It becomes clear Kate's father traded himself for them, but he expected to have diplomatic immunity and never thought he would die. It is implied that he saw something or someone he shouldn't have and I think that is confirmed by the villain in this second book. I don't know that it is possible to do a spoiler when I am only guessing, but I hesitate to give my guess; if I'm right it could be a spoiler for others. I will say that I reread all scenes set during their captivity very carefully. I also thought it was interesting that the villain insists to himself that he is not a traitor.

Blythe:   I don't think I caught that. But I did think it was very interesting that Ramsey honed his fencing skills in prison. He had to fight the guards - so they could practice - but he had to be very careful how he did it. He couldn't wound them at all, or he would have risked serious punishment.

Linda:   I thought Ramsey was a wonderful hero and the memories from the dungeon were quite devastating. Ramsey seemed to me less embittered and distrustful then Kit was, even though he had plenty of reason to hate his grandfather, the betrayer and his captors. I will definitely be reading My Surrender. In general I have enjoyed series that are related with a common suspense line running through them, although some authors haven't been nearly as adept as Brockway in scattering clues throughout the books. I was shocked when the villain's disguise was revealed, which is unusual for me. But, I went back and realized that Brockway played fair - there were clues that something wasn't quite right if one had been paying more attention.

Blythe:   I actually spotted that disguise early on, so I wasn't very shocked by that. He seemed the obvious choice. But since we didn't find out the "why" of it, or his true identity, it was still pretty suspenseful for me, and I'm sure that will carry over to the next book. In the interest of clarity, we should probably explain that when we talk about figuring out who the villain is in this book, we are talking about figuring out his current disguise. We still don't know who he is from Ramsey's past, or why he betrayed Ramsey and his friends.

Linda:   I hate authors who don't play fair in a suspense plot, and just spring a villain on you. The clues are there but they are subtle (conversation) and overt (the convenient demise off-stage that allows the villain access to the main characters). Since the villain also used the same ploy in the first book, while taking care to avoid running into Kit - it looks as if his acting skills have improved by the second.

Blythe:   I think you are right that the clues are there here (which is one reason I spotted him), but I know what you mean about authors who don't play fair. I've read a few books where the villain seems to be chosen at random and the reasoning doesn't make sense. But you know, I almost prefer that to when the author is trying to make the villain a secret, but the identity is so obvious it's embarrassing, or the clues are so heavy-handed that even a child would pick up on them.

Linda:   I agree - the red-finger-nailed femme-fatale is not a favorite of mine either. I think that Brockway lived up to my expectations in My Pleasure, I was slightly disappointed with My Surrender, but the fault was certainly not with the hero and heroine - they were wonderful. I thought Kate's anger at their father for leaving his family in poverty was realistic and understood why it didn't diminish through 3 years of hardship and the loss of her mother. Brockway has a flair for creating characters one really loves that also have depth and she certainly doesn't disappoint in this series.

Blythe:   I would also give this book a big thumb's up, even with the whole disguise plot. I think it's well worth reading, and I will be finding the other books as well. Next month, we'll be reading something completely different, however.

Linda:   Next month we are reading The Shaughnessy Accord and The Samms Agenda by Alison Kent, second and third in her Smithson Group series. It will again be starting a series with a common thread from the first book, but they will be a change of pace as they are contemporaries from the Brava imprint, which is Kensington's hot and steamy line. I have enjoyed Kent's category books in the past and the one about phone sex, Call Me, is even on my keeper shelves.

Blythe:   I don't think we've ever read a Brava before, so this will be something new for us. I too have read Kent before - I reviewed one of her Blazes and thought it was pretty fun (if a little over the top).

Linda:   Yes, she has a great imagination and her characters have been very likable.

Well, that's it for this month - happy reading.

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for

-- Pandora's Box

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