If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all. - Oscar Wilde
We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading. - B. F. Skinner
No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting. - Mary Wortley Montagu

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Review: The Earl's Mistress by Liz Carlyle / @lizcarlyle

Series & Title: MacLachlan Family & Friends, Book 10: The Earl's Mistress
Author: Liz Carlyle
Author Links: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
Publisher: Avon Romance
Release Date: August 26, 2014
Genre: Historical, Romance
ARC Received From: Edelweiss
Reviewed For: Tasty Book Tours

Women rarely refuse the wicked Earl of Hepplewood, whose sensual skills are the stuff of legend. But when his new governess answers his proposition with a slap to his face, then stalks out with references in hand, Hepplewood finds more than his face is left burning . . .

Isabella Aldridge has brains, bravado, and beauty-but the latter is no use to a servant. With orphaned sisters to feed, eviction nearing, and Hepplewood’s words ringing in her ears, Isabella realizes she must barter her most marketable asset . . .

But when fate unknowingly sends Isabella back into Hepplewood’s arms, the earl must make an impossible choice-draw Isabella down into his sensual darkness, or behave with honor for the first time in his life.

(Reviewer's Note: This book contains spankings (by hand and by crop), sex toys, bondage, and a discussion concerning the rape of a twelve-year-old girl from some years ago. Please take this warning into consideration before purchasing this book and/or reading my review.)

I adore historical romances, and most of what I read is vanilla. But sometimes I come across a book that reminds me of how closely sexual preferences of days gone by mirror preferences of today.

There is a lot of...dark material in this book. Anthony is dominant in the bedroom, administering punishment (by hand or by crop) when the woman in his bed is disobedient, and he's not opposed to tying a woman down during their play. His strong personality carries on outside of the bedroom. There's a hardness, an edge to him that had me so unsure of whether or not I liked him for most of this story. But like all great heroes, I should have known there was a soft heart under his tough exterior. It just took the right woman to uncover it.

Isabella was that woman. She was strong, beautiful, and smart. And unlike Anthony, I liked Isabella from the beginning. Orphaned by death, married and widowed young, she took care of her younger sisters as best she could which meant working. Her reality was a far cry from what a baron's daughter's life should be, yet she did it without complaining.

Their romance is atypical, forming not over attraction (that was there) but when Isabella became his mistress. Anthony wasted no time introducing her to the kind of sex he liked and the instruments he used. Here's where I was on the fence. I felt like he should have said something before they had sex, prepped her for what was to come. But I also felt like he did the right thing, giving her a taste of his preferences without an explanation. Why? I want to say she probably would have backed out of their agreement if he had done that, and it felt like the intensity between them was too powerful for her to turn tail and run. Don't get me wrong. Part of me wanted her to leave, but the other part wanted her to stay and figure out if what he was offering was indeed what she wanted and needed.

Now, aside from the BDSM aspect of this story (which is nothing I haven't read before), there is also the issue of rape. PLEASE SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO READ THIS PART OF MY REVIEW. Isabella is being pursued being by her cousin Everett, but Isabella's reason for refusing his hand is sound. Years ago, he took the innocence of a twelve year old girl, and it was an act Isabella couldn't forgive or forget. Everett's nonchalance over the incident was extremely sickening, as were his excuses for what happened. Top it off with an asinine comment about the girl should have expected it... It was a difficult scene to digest but it made her position against Everett very clear, and it firmly identified him as the antagonist. Knowing what he did to that girl reinforced my dislike for him all the more.

Anthony and Isabella had what I want every fictional couple I read about to have--attraction to each other--but I felt there was something missing, something sex couldn't replace. Most of Isabella's story is made known fairly quickly, but Anthony's story was left in the shadows and I wondered why. Then I found out why. His past couldn't be revealed until that right moment, when it needed to be told, when what he was hiding wouldn't make or break their relationship. His past being made known was more meaningful than what he did for her close to the end. There is always something incredibly...cleansing about the past finally being laid to rest and the future finally given its chance to shine bright with possibilities.

I know for a fact I have never read another novel by Ms. Carlyle, and I know that I will pick up other titles of hers. Her characters are strong and able to find love despite their circumstances, pasts, and differences. My only expectation would be to have some kind of warning about the content of her books, and it's probably because I assume historical romances to be tame in the sex department. Even without the warning, the story was enjoyable, the characters era-worthy, and the ending worth waiting for.

A lifelong anglophile, Liz Carlyle cut her teeth reading gothic novels under the bedcovers by flashlight. She is the author of sixteen historical romances, including several New York Times bestsellers. Liz travels incessantly, ever in search of the perfect setting for her next book. Along with her genuine romance-hero husband and four very fine felines, she makes her home in North Carolina.