[SPOILERS AHEAD! and definitely NSFW]
I recently read Elizabeth Hoyt’s newest book, Thief of Shadows, back-to-back with Katharine Ashe’s latest, How to Be a Proper Lady, and found myself comparing them in one main way: I love the two protagonists in each book. But not so much everything else.
We’ve all seen those movies or TV shows where everything on screen is going smashingly well when we are watching certain characters but then we struggle to pay attention when they leave the action. Yeah, that. Is it that the everything else is actually worse or simply that those characters are so phenomenal the everything else pales in comparison?
Let’s start with Hoyt’s Thief of Shadows (buy).
It is the fourth book in her Maiden Lane series, of which I have read Wicked Intentions and Scandalous Desires (the latter being on my “My Favorite Romance Novels” list). Here is the description of the book from Hoyt’s website (SPOILER ALERT):
A MASKED MAN . . .
Winter Makepeace lives a double life. By day he’s the stoic headmaster of a home for foundling children. But the night brings out a darker side of Winter. As the moon rises, so does the Ghost of St. Giles—protector, judge, fugitive. When the Ghost, beaten and wounded, is rescued by a beautiful aristocrat, Winter has no idea that his two worlds are about to collide.
A DANGEROUS WOMAN . . .
Lady Isabel Beckinhall enjoys nothing more than a challenge. Yet when she’s asked to tutor the Home’s dour manager in the ways of society—flirtation, double entendres, and scandalous liaisons—Isabel can’t help wondering why his eyes seem so familiar—and his lips so tempting.
A PASSION NEITHER COULD DENY
During the day Isabel and Winter engage in a battle of wills. At night their passions are revealed . . . But when little girls start disappearing from St. Giles, Winter must avenge them. For that he might have to sacrifice everything—the Home, Isabel . . . and his life.
The book starts off with a bang: “The body in the road was the absolute cap to the day.” The body is the Ghost of St. Giles and so our story of these lovers begin with Isabel rescuing and nursing Winter back to health. During his recovery, he escapes her house, his identity behind the mask of the Ghost never revealed. It was in the next section of the book that I thought that perhaps I was not going to be able to make it through the book as I just didn’t care about what was happening when Winter and Isabel were separated.
But then. BUT THEN. Isabel begins to tutor Winter and all and every scene in which they are together sizzle:
“But you must have flirted before,” she was saying, her voice low and velvety. Welcoming and seductive. Everything that was utterly feminine and alluring.
Her delicate brows winged upward. “I know your life is busy, but surely you’ve had a tendre for some young girl before? A friend of your sisters’ perhaps? Or a neighbor?”
He shook his head slowly. “No one.” Did she understand to what he confessed? The beast within yawned and stretched. “I lay myself completely in your hands, Lady Beckinhall. Please. Teach me.”
Isabel swallowed at Mr. Makepeace’s low words. His voice sent a shiver across her nerves, making her nipples tighten. Had she heard correctly? Had he just confessed to being a virgin?
Hoyt doesn’t shy away from naughty language and explicit sex (I am fan!):
Gently, tenderly, she rose, careful to keep his cock inside her, the friction making her sigh with pleasure.
“Don’t,” he whispered. “I’ll spill too soon.”
“I know,” she crooned, and licked his neck. “But you’ll never forget this. Never forget me.”
His eyes opened, his sensuous upper lip twisting in a snarl. “I’ll never forget you no matter what.” And he grasped her hips firmly, shoving up into her. He was untried, inelegant, jerky, and tough – and she loved it.
She flung her head back and laughed breathlessly.
“Damn you,” he growled, jamming himself in and out of her, his cock ruthless and hard. “Do it.” She looked down at him, a goddess supreme.”
“Fuck, you mean?”
In the end, Winter and Isabel go back and forth on whether they will marry (I will let you guess about that outcome). Surrounding them is a story about poor girls enslaved in a sweat shop, the replacement of Winter as head of the orphanage, the future of his favorite orphan, and probably some other things. If the plot didn’t have Winter and Isabel interacting, it didn’t stick much in my mind, if at all.
Thing I very much appreciated: Isabel being the knowledgable one about sex, unafraid to talk about it, unashamed of how much she enjoys it. Also, that Isabel rather easily figures out that Winter and the Ghost are the same. Hoyt doesn’t force convenient stupidity on Isabel in order to draw that out past a natural point in the storyline, thankfully.
For every scene with Winter and Isabel, I give Thief of Shadows 5 out of 5 stars. Including everything else: 3.5 out of 5.
My review for Ashe’s How to Be a Proper Lady (buy on Ashe’s website) will sound very much like the one for Hoyt.
I am a huge fan of Ashe’s. I’ve read everything else she has written except a novella. Her first three books are on my “My Favorite Romance Novels” list and I’m prepping a post for Smart Bitches, Trashy Books right now where I discuss how Ashe so wonderfully and easily incorporates the Caribbean into her stories.
And there were huge sections of HTBAPL that I adored……..but also the parts I trudged through.
Here’s the description from Ashe’s website:
The rules of being a proper lady
1) Never take steps greater than six inches apart
2) Never look boldly at a gentleman
3) And never, ever kiss a man who is not your fiancé…
But beautiful, bold Viola Carlyle doesn’t care about the rules. And she desperately wants to kiss the notoriously tempting Captain Jin Seton, the man who brought her kicking and fighting back to English society. Kidnapped as a child, now she longs to return to that life of freedom where she was able to live—and love—as she wished.
Having hunted Viola for two years, Jin Seton has finally found his good luck—for by finding Viola his oldest, deepest debt will at last be paid. And although he has vowed not to let her win his heart, this very improper lady might finally be the one who tames him.
Oh, Viola and Jin. How great are you guys together? The greatest! Here is their banter following the first time they have sex (they’ve copulated on the stairs of Viola’s ship and now need to move inside, to a more comfortable setting):
His mouth quirked up at one side. “You absolutely do not want me to carry you.”
“Absolutely not.” She would rather die. “We could remain here?”
He laughed outright. Then he drew her arms around his neck, turned, and reached to the backs of her thighs. “Up you go, then.” Viola jumped onto his back and laughter spilled from her throat as she clenched her knees to his sides and hooked her arms around his shoulders. “I am offering you perfect opportunity to strangle me now, of course,” he said, moving toward her cabin.
“Perhaps later. I have need of your services at the present.”
They have adventures in Trinidad, sail across the ocean, reunite with her family in England, and then Jin leaves her at her sister’s estate. And I nearly died. As with Thief of Shadows, when Viola and Jin weren’t together, I skimmed large sections, artificially hurrying the story along. Viola wants to be more like a lady, Jin is searching for evidence of his family. While not boring, per se, these sections felt flat compared the time when the two were interacting. I found myself as relieved as Viola when Jin returned suddenly, without warning:
“What is the chance that I get myself lost and you appear out of nowhere to take me back where I belong?” she whispered very unsteadily.
“No chance.” He came right to her, as close as he had on the terrace the last time he spoke to her, and at the library door when he did not. “I was looking for you.”
“Me?” She could not bridle her tongue; it was apparently firmly attached to her heart. “Are you certain you weren’t looking for Lady Fiona, rather?”
“Quite certain.” His eyes covered her all at once, it seemed, her face and hair, shoulders, and the place where her quick breaths pressed her breasts against her bodice. She wanted him to look at her like this, but he had looked at her this way before and then rejected her.
“She wants you,” she uttered, trying to push him away with words.
“I don’t want her.” He grasped her arms, not gently, and bent over her mouth. “I want you.”
Then, finally, he kissed her again.
Like Winter and Isabel, Viola and Jin struggle to figure out where their relationship can go even as they know where they want it to go.
Thing I appreciated: Viola is not a virgin nor a widow and no one cares. Viola likes sex with Jin a lot and she’s not ashamed, even when it’s not clear that she will spend her life with him. That was refreshing.
Exactly like Thief of Shadows, for every scene with Viola and Jin, I give How to Be a Proper Lady 5 out of 5 stars. Including everything else: 3.5 out of 5.
I really can’t overstate how both Hoyt and Ashe have created pairs of characters who delight and who, in each other’s company, effortlessly drive the story forward, making me happily anxious to learn what will happen in the future.