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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Angels, Sinners and Madmen by Cate Masters

Angels, Sinners and Madmen by Cate Masters
Publisher: Freya’s Bower
Genre: Historical Romance
Length: Full Length (192 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 books
Reviewed by Lily

What happens in Key West, stays in Key West. Especially in 1856, when men outnumber women by ten to one. Wrecker Sam Langhorne came to Key West eight years earlier to forget his ruined engagement. When he rescues Livvie Collins from a watery grave, he's swept away by her beauty and spirit. He's sworn off love, but is soon captivated by Livvie's wit-and her determination to remain single.

The death of Livvie's father leaves her no other option than to sail to New Orleans to live with her brother Wendell. Though she hopes to support herself by writing novels, she's sure Wendell will try to soon marry her off, and is determined to experience life to its fullest before reaching New Orleans.

Sam is handsome and attentive, constantly surprising her with his intelligence and his interest in current literature and happenings. She gives herself to him in a night of passion so she can know the true emotion at least once in her life. But can she save herself after she arrives in New Orleans?

The intriguing title and the well-known author drew me to this book. With a mix of romance, tragedy and heroes, you have a recipe for a fine romance.

Angels, Sinners and Madmen is fraught with death-defying scenes. We’re hardly into the first chapter and Olivia Collins’s ship she’s sailing on from New York to New Orleans sinks in a storm. And it is here that Livvie’s character is shown in its best light. She has been unselfishly caring for her boring, whiny old cabin companion who is often sea-sick and refuses to go on deck. When the ship sinks, Livvie is determined to dive into the drink, regardless of her own life, to try to rescue her.

At that point we meet Sam Langhorn, one of the wreckers. Once again, we’re given an initial impression: he’s a love-‘em-and-leave-‘em type of guy. Sure, he’s brave – his job is to save the passengers and cargo of grounded ships. But he always jokes with his shipmates about saving the younger, more beautiful passengers first because maybe they’ll show their gratitude later in a way he’ll enjoy. So we see he’s a smooth talker, but then get a first glimpse of a touching trait and his heart when, at Olivia’s insistence, he dives back into the rough sea to rescue her whiny companion.

Of the characters, Sam is the most rounded, the most likeable and, we think, the most honest (because at least he says what he believes). Yet things aren’t exactly as they seem – he has a library, he’s well-read, but these facts are quickly overlooked until later. Olivia, despite her excellent beginnings, becomes a more clichéd heroine, feisty and independent yet she seems incapable of making up her mind or admitting her true feelings.

One puzzling but endearing character is a sailor called Peter. Livvie is attracted to his lean, but sinewy frame, his sparkling brown eyes and his carefree humor. He’s a brave soul who helps Livvie save herself during the shipwreck. And then that’s it – Peter gets swept over the side in chapter one and that’s the end of him. I actually mourned this fine young man I’d already become attached to and wondered, throughout the book, whether he might have by chance survived and would reappear.

The plot takes on a repetitive sequence of meetings between Sam and Livvie which develop into flirting, having misunderstandings or arguing and then one or other flouncing off, only to regret their actions later. It is what kept me reading, wondering how many more times would this go on for until one or other gave in. I was also somewhat disappointed at the frequency with which Livvie puts herself in danger so that Sam has to save her. However, the rare sex scenes are sensitively handled with the result they border on the sultry. They also portray Sam’s caring nature which endeared him further to me.

The wrecking business was very well researched but the details that Ms. Masters provided often slowed the pace of the story down. There was some interesting information such as the fact that colored people were often put in the first line of divers because they were more dispensable, but these diversions added nothing to the story. The setting was finely described: Florida in the 1850's was a very different place to how it is now and it suited the plot.

This story has all the ingredients for an exciting read, yet it felt a little like a ping-pong game of success and failure with some long interludes between matches. However, the ending holds some huge surprises – some of which are, admittedly, hinted at during the story – which will leave the reader saying, “goodness me”.

I recommend this book for the sheer originality of the tale, and for those who like HEA, they’re going to be kept guessing right to the last page.