The Pursuit of Pleasure (Dartmouth Brides #1) by Elizabeth Essex

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

SHE DOES SAY SHE’LL NEVER MARRY…

Miss Elizabeth Paxton is a new sort of heiress—educated, opinionated and entirely independent. The last thing she wants is a husband mucking about her life. Even if he is the only man she’s ever loved.

BUT SHE HAS ALWAYS WANTED TO BE A WIDOW.

When dashing Captain Jameson Marlowe returns to Dartmouth, he proposes to give Lizzie exactly what she wants—a marriage without the man. After one night of searing passion, his sworn duty will take him far off to sea…or so she thinks until secrets and lies set a collision course with the smugglers along the south coast, and Lizzie is caught in the dark tide of treason. Can she salvage her pride and learn to trust in true love before it’s too late?

Rating: C-

Having read and enjoyed some of Elizabeth Essex’s more recent books, I thought I’d try one of her earlier titles and picked up The Pursuit of Pleasure which is her début novel. Ms. Essex has revised and re-edited this newly republished version (I haven’t read the original, so I can’t say what the changes are), but still, the book suffers from a number of flaws – principally related to the characterisation of the heroine and the development of the romance – that have prevented me from rating it more highly.

Elizabeth Paxton and Jameson Marlowe were childhood sweethearts who haven’t seen each other in almost a decade, ever since Jamie ran off to join the navy when he was just fourteen and broke Lizzie’s heart in the process. Now, a decade later, he’s back in Dartmouth charged with a very secret mission and with a very clear design as to how to accomplish it. But when he sets eyes on Lizzie again and overhears her telling a friend that while she doesn’t want to get married, she’d rather like to be a widow because of the freedom it would afford her, Jamie realises that his schemes could offer up a hitherto unforeseen benefit. He offers Lizzie exactly what she wants, telling her that he will shortly be leaving England for the Antipodes, where he will be stationed for eight years and where the chances he will meet an early death are highly likely. If they marry, Lizzie will have her independence and also the income from the house and lands he has recently purchased – property he doesn’t want to bequeath to his smarmy cousin. Lizzie is a little suspicious at first; all the gain is on her side and she can’t see what Jamie will be getting out of the agreement, but he manages to persuade her and they are married a couple of days later.

Neither of them is really prepared for the passion that sparks between them on their wedding night, and both of them realise that perhaps letting go is going to be harder than they at first thought. But Jamie is committed and leaves on schedule, asking Lizzie to do one thing for him, which is not to live at the house, Glass Cottage, because it is in a state of disrepair and isn’t really fit to be lived in. Lizzie doesn’t understand this, as she has already fallen in love with the place and has designs to put things to rights, but as this is likely the last thing Jamie will ever ask of her, she agrees… until events conspire to change her mind and suspicions begin to take root.

I can’t really say much more about the plot without giving spoilers, although as this is a romance novel, I think it’s fairly obvious that Jamie hasn’t told Lizzie the truth about his plans to sail to the other side of the world. But overall, I’m afraid I liked the IDEA of the story more than the story itself, because in order for it to work, Jamie – who really does care for Lizzie, and can be rather a charming chap – has to treat her really badly and allow her to go through some pretty horrible experiences so that he can carry out his mission to bring down the dangerous smuggling ring that is operating from somewhere near Glass Cottage. I could understand that, as a member of the military, he was operating under orders, but it didn’t make him an easy character to like. Mind you, Lizzie isn’t especially likeable, either, being the sort of heroine who is so set on being independent and doing things Her Way, that she makes poor decisions and doesn’t listen to good advice. Instead of coming off as practical and determined, she frequently seems childish and petulant, and as though she’s doing things because other people don’t want her to rather than because they’re the right thing to do.

The romance storyline occurs primarily in the first half of the book, because the two protagonists are separated for most of the second. I enjoy friends-to-lovers stories, but it seems to me that Ms. Essex has used their previous association as a kind of “shorthand”, because the relationship is never really developed. Jamie and Lizzie see each other again and both suffer a bad case of insta-lust, but other than the physical, it’s difficult to see what attracts them to one another. Jamie likes Lizzie’s spirit and respects her desire for independence (good for him on that one) and Lizzie feels that Jamie is the one person who really knows and understands her – but these are things we’re told and asked to accept, rather than things we can experience along with the characters.

The smuggling plotline which drives the second half of The Pursuit of Pleasure is intriguing, although the identity of the villains is pretty obvious from the start, and there are a number of inconsistencies which took me out of the story on several occasions. The storyline has a lot of potential, but falls down in the execution, and that, combined with the not-too-likeable characters and weak romance make this a book I can’t really recommend.

Advertisements

Mad About the Marquess (Highland Brides #1) by Elizabeth Essex

mad about the marquess

This title may be purchased from Amazon

WHEN A LADY TAKES TO THE ROAD TO PLAY ROBIN HOOD

Lady Quince Winthrop has been robbing from society’s rich and giving to Edinburgh’s poor for years. But everything changes the day she can’t resist the temptation to steal from the Marquess of Cairn.

SHE MUST BE ON HER GUARD AGAINST HER SHERIFF OF NOTTINGHAM

Alasdair, Marquess of Cairn, has come back to Scotland to stop a thief, never thinking that the lass he’s trying to woo is about to give a lesson in larceny he won’t be able to forget. From the twisted streets of Auld Reeky, to the hills of the highlands, Quince leads Alasdair on a merry chase, and finds the one man she shouldn’t fall for, is the one man she can’t resist.

LOVE IS EVEN HARDER TO RESIST THAN TEMPTATION

Rating: C+

This is the first full-length novel in Elizabeth Essex’s Highland Brides series, and takes place some two years after the events of the prequel novella, Mad for Love which I reviewed here. Some of the elements I particularly enjoyed about the novella are present here – the sprightliness of the writing, the warmth and the humour, for instance – but I confess that I actually found Mad About the Marquess difficult to rate for a number of reasons.

Lady Quince Winthrop – her father is a famous botanist who named all his daughters after plants – is nineteen years old, beautiful, vivacious, headstrong and reckless. For the best part of three years she has been stealing from the wealthy citizens of Edinburgh and giving the proceeds to the poor – although her stealing is more akin to that of a magpie in that she picks up all the shiny stuff that people carelessly misplace and leave behind, snuffboxes, fans and the like. Her main tenet is that what’s important about stealing isn’t so much what, how or why she steals, but who she steals from – as choosing the wrong mark could lead to discovery. The thing is, that no sooner does she think that than she goes against it by determining to steal the silver buttons from the coat of Alasdair Colquhoun, who is exactly the sort of man she knows she should avoid.

Alasdair, who inherited the title of Marquess of Cairn upon the recent death of his grandfather, has returned to Edinburgh after five years in London where he has made a name for himself in political circles. Quince last saw him years ago when he courted one of her sisters, although she remembers him being much more carefree and open than he appears to be now. His reason for returning home is twofold; one is to assume the responsibilities of his title and the other is because he has been asked to investigate the series of petty thefts that have been plaguing Edinburgh society for the last few years.

The sparks fly between the couple right from the start; Quince and Alasdair are intensely attracted to each other and their witty sparring is sexually charged right from the outset. Most of the time, their quickfire exchanges are delightful, and Ms Essex very wisely keeps the foreplay verbal until much later in the book. There’s the real sense that that the “flibbertigibbet” Quince has met her match in the handsome, red-headed marquess, but when something happens to cause Quince to step up her activities, Alasdair is faced with the prospect of hunting down a petty thief AND the newly appeared gentleman of the road, Monsieur Minuit. Things take a serious turn when rumour has the mysterious highwayman bearing a physical resemblance to Alasdair and Quince’s attempt to divert suspicion from him goes badly awry.

I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the book, because on some level I did; but I had too many issues with it to be able to give it a wholehearted recommendation. Whereas I felt that Mad for Love was rather rushed, with too much material and not enough space, the opposite is true here. There is a lot of padding, which usually takes the form of Alasdair and Quince trading quips and then snogging each other’s faces off; and I’m afraid that after the first one or two sessions, I started to skim them because I wanted to move on with the story. Alasdair is the perfect foil for Quince; a deliciously sexy and authoritative hero with a wicked sense of humour, but he’s almost pushed into the background for much of the story because the focus is so firmly on Quince and her hair-brained schemes. Reference is made to a scandal in his past, but it’s not fully explored and feels like a wasted opportunity; in fact, Alasdair himself is rather a wasted opportunity. He had the potential to be a terrific hero but isn’t given the chance to really shine.

My main problem with the story, however, is the heroine. While Ms Essex is initially careful to keep Quince’s thievery within the bounds of possibility, her sudden decision to up the ante makes no sense and strays too far into TSTL territory for my taste. And when she herself, on several occasions, admits that she doesn’t steal for altruistic motives, but because she likes the thrill it gives her, I really wasn’t sure what I was supposed to think. Was I supposed to cheer for a young woman who refused to bow to the constraints society wanted to impose upon her, or was I supposed to feel sorry for the poor, bored, little rich girl? I don’t know, but what I actually thought was closer to “what a pain in the arse!”

I wanted to like Mad About the Marquess more than I did, which is why I struggled to grade it. In its favour, the writing is strong, there is plenty of humour and Quince and Alasdair have great chemistry; but on the downside there is a villain who is little more than an afterthought, readers will need a large capacity to suspend their disbelief and there is lot of repetition. I got fed up with the constant references to Quince’s “magnificent breasts”, the myriad variations on “holy iced macaroons!” as her favourite swear (my Kindle counted forty-three of them) were incredibly irritating, and if I’d used “by jimble” as the basis for a drinking game, I’d be unconscious by now.

Mind you, I did think that “holy painted trollops!” had some merit.

add-to-goodreads-button

Mad for Love (Highland Brides #0.5) by Elizabeth Essex

mad for love
This title may be downloaded from Amazon.

Set a thief…
Rory Cathcart’s appreciation of the exquisite makes him the perfect man to expose forgeries and root out fraud in London’s tempestuous art world. But when his latest investigation into forged paintings puts him squarely in Mignon du Blois’ shaky sights, he finds himself deep in trouble, and captured by something more powerful than mere beauty.

To catch a thief…
The moment Mignon stops a rakish thief from making off with one of her father’s brilliant forgeries, she knows she’s found the perfect man to help her steal back a priceless statue, and save her family from unspeakable scandal. She has no intention of falling for Rory’s Caledonian charms, nor his seductive Scottish persuasions. From the drawing rooms of the ton to the auction rooms of the art world, the pair embark on a madcap adventure to save them both from ruin. But will the love they uncover be most priceless treasure of all?

Rating: B-

I was pleased to learn that Elizabeth Essex would be publishing a new series of historical romances, as I’ve enjoyed her work in the past and have missed seeing her name on lists of forthcoming releases. Her new, Highland Brides series kicks off with Mad for Love which is either a short novel or a long novella – depending how you want to look at it – and which, she tells us in her notes, is one of the first things she ever wrote.

It’s an enjoyable ‘caper’ story set in London at the end of the eighteenth century featuring mistaken identity, forgery, theft, a mischievous, quick witted hero and an intelligent heroine who is prepared to risk all in order to save the father she loves.

It’s 1790 and Mignon du Blois and her father, who styles himself the Comte du Blois (although the title is not rightfully his because he descends from a younger son) have recently settled in England having fled the worsening hatred and violence towards aristocratic families that is sweeping across France. They have lost much, but Mignon is happy in London and hopes, eventually, to lead an unexciting and respectable English life. Unfortunately, however, her father is not helping her towards that end as he uses his prodigious artistic talents to make very clever forgeries of the many famous works of art that are now being looted or destroyed in France, and sells them for large sums of money. With things there so uncertain, and the market being flooded with art for sale – much of it from once wealthy families desperate to capitalise on their assets – it’s a situation that can’t but work to his advantage.

But Mignon’s father is not the only forger in the family. Her grandfather was just as skilled, and in fact, it is his copy of a famous sculpture of the goddess Diana that threatens to stir up all kinds of trouble. The comte is persuaded to loan the statue to the Royal Academy for an exhibition without realising that it is going to have to be authenticated, and by the time he does realise, it’s too late, and Mignon fears that he will be exposed and they will have to flee the country.

Rory Cathcart is the illegitimate son of an earl who acknowledged him and gave him a good education which culminated in his studying art at University in Edinburgh. At the beginning of the story, we meet Rory and three of his friends (who I’m assuming will feature in the other books in the series), and I enjoyed the sense of camaraderie the author has created between them. Rory’s knowledge of art, his good eye and methodical attention to detail enabled him to establish that his father had been duped into purchasing two very old, well-made forgeries. As a result Rory made a name for himself as something of an expert in the field, and has recently been called in by the president of the Royal Academy to authenticate the statue of Diana.

He has also been alerted to the fact that there are a number of forged Old Masters being made available for sale, but the only way he is going to be able to examine one of them is to break into the home of the suspected forger. Ascertaining that the house will be empty one evening, Rory does just that – only to be confronted by a petite but spectacularly lovely young woman who threatens him with an ancient halberd and ends up accidentally hitting him over the head with it.

A thief is just what Mignon needs. If she can hire someone to ‘remove’ the statue of Diana from the exhibition, her father will be safe, and they won’t have to run. Of course, it’s not difficult to predict what’s going to happen, but the story is no less enjoyable for that. It’s a fast-paced quick read that simply sparkles; the writing is deft and humorous, the central characters are both very attractive and even the heroine’s father is a bit of a wag with a twinkle in his eye.

But as with most novellas, it’s all a little bit ‘undercooked’. The premise is good, the characters are engaging and there’s some excellent dialogue, but the romance happens at the speed of light – apart from the entire chapter or two Rory and Mignon have to spend locked in a broom-cupboard while they wait for the right moment to steal the statue! The first half is perhaps better than the second, but overall Mad for Love is a light, frothy read that is a pleasant way to pass an hour or two, and I’m going to be checking out the first full length novel, Mad About the Marquess on the strength of it.

 

add-to-goodreads-button