Monday, March 14, 2011

5 Umbrellas: Notorious Pleasures by Elizabeth Hoyt

This week I'm talking about a slate of unusual books--books that don't fit easily into designated sub-genres. At first glance, Elizabeth Hoyt's books look like other British-set historical romances, but unlike the vast majority of them, her novels are Georgian rather than Victorian or Regency--set in the 1730s, complete with wigs and opulent decadence that would take several more monarchs to rein in. Prior to Hoyt, I never would have guessed that a Hero in a wig could be remotely sexy, but she makes the removal of the wig a symbolic unmasking and intimate act.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars. The problem with finishing an Elizabeth Hoyt novel is that I immediately want 10 more, so I try to ration them out. However, I had just finished a deeply depressing read, and I needed the kind of guaranteed great read that I only trust a select few authors to deliver. In Notorious Pleasures, Hoyt takes a break from the dark and tortured heroes of her last few release to give us her spin on the Rake-and-Virgin plot that is as common as tea drinking in British historicals. Under Hoyt's deft handling however, this tired device perks up--perhaps simply a better brand of tea leaves or perhaps something subtle she adds to the brew.

For starters, Lady Hero is a Duke's daughter with every expectation of marrying to further rank and politics. She is simply too practical to fall in love. Lord Griffin Reading is brother to a Marquess and no stranger to duty either. He's my favorite kind of Rake--the Rake who really isn't. Of course, he also, kind of is, which is why Hero discovers him doing the horizontal waltz with someone else's wife at a Ball. She calls him "Lord Shameless." He calls her "Lady Perfect." And it's on.

And it's an awesome, merry chase that departs from many of the conventions and standbys of the Rake-and-Virgin trope. Most notably, there's no quickie marriage by unwilling parties found in a compromising position. No instead, what occurs is far messier, but also far more emotionally satisfying as Hoyt really makes these two bleed for their HEA. There's a scene towards the end of the book where Griffin just killed me with his raw emotions--I've re-read a half-dozen times just reveling in its impact. He begs, knowing it's futile, and lordy, I love a man willing to open up a vein for Heroine if that's what it takes--especially when he does it even knowing it's probably not going to work. It's a powerhouse love scene, possibly one of Hoyt's best ever, and this is the Queen of Powerhouse Love Scenes with incredible emotional impact.

What sets Hoyt apart is how she imbues her heroines with an innate sensuality--even the virgins like Hero acknowledge their curiosity and desires with more than just simpering and giggles. There's something very empowering about that, and it also adds an element of realism that's so often missing in Regencies (as I have long argued that very few women were *that* clueless). No, Hero owns her desires--she just knows that acting on them is pointless as she's not in control of her destiny.

This book would be an awesome introduction for readers new to Hoyt--the plot will feel familiar and comforting to fans of Liz Carlyle and Sabrina Jefferies et al, but it shows off Hoyt's unique voice well too. The book is only very loosely tied to the previous book, and that's probably my only quibble--we see the Makepeace siblings and the foundling home introduced in Wicked Intentions, and Silence continues the arc she began in that book, but her arc and the goings on of the home aren't really tied to the main plot. I would have liked to have seen the two arcs intersecting and requiring each other a bit more. The only other thing that bugged me a little was that Hero's brother, The Duke, seemed to do a very abrupt reversal at the end, which didn't seem in keeping with his character. However, I loved the Duke and all the secondary characters--I want to see a book for the Duke (because how can a Duke named Maximus NOT get his own book?), Phoebe, and Mags. There's a secondary love story as well, which Hoyt doesn't always include, but I love it when she does.

I don't like wishing away time, but I can't wait for November and the next installment. Hoyt is one of the brightest lights in the crowded historical genre, and she continues to be an auto-buy for me.

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