Review: Someone to Hold by Mary Balogh

Review: Someone to Hold by Mary BaloghSomeone to Hold (Westcott, #2) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Westcott #2
Pages: 400
Published by Jove Books on February 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Humphrey Wescott, Earl of Riverdale, has died, leaving behind a fortune and a scandalous secret that will forever alter the lives of his family—sending one daughter on a journey of self-discovery...
With her parents’ marriage declared bigamous, Camille Westcott is now illegitimate and without a title. Looking to eschew the trappings of her old life, she leaves London to teach at the Bath orphanage where her newly discovered half-sister lived. But even as she settles in, she must sit for a portrait commissioned by her grandmother and endure an artist who riles her every nerve.
An art teacher at the orphanage that was once his home, Joel Cunningham has been hired to paint the portrait of the haughty new teacher. But as Camille poses for Joel, their mutual contempt soon turns to desire. And it is only the bond between them that will allow them to weather the rough storm that lies ahead...

My Review:

Someone to Hold is the “flip side” of the marvelous Someone to Love. The story in the first Westcott book was the story of Anna Snow, a teacher at the orphanage where she herself grew up. In Love, Anna discovers that she is the only legitimate child of the late and less-lamented-every-day Earl of Riverdale. She is suddenly and unexpectedly the sole heir to his fortune, while the title goes to a cousin.

But Anna’s unexpected rise encompasses the equally unexpected fall of the family that for 20-plus years has believed that they were the legitimate ones. The woman who has always believed herself to be the Countess of Riverdale discovers that she was never married at all. Her husband was a bigamist. And that makes her son and her two daughters all bastards, in the legal sense if not the behavioral sense.

That particular bit of opprobrium is saved for others.

So Anna is up, and Viola, Camille, Abigail and Henry are down. And out. Out of society and out of money and seemingly out of friends.

Someone to Hold is Camille’s story. Her response to her sudden change in fortune does not at first make her a likable protagonist. She was a high-stickler when she thought she was a lady, settling for nothing less than perfection in all things. Now she herself is considered imperfect, and the perfect life she expect is now far beyond her reach.

During the first book she was particularly waspish and ill-tempered. Her family does love her, but no one seems to like her much, and it is easy for the reader to see why.

By the time that this book opens, she has gotten past some of the early stages of grief. Her life has irrevocably changed, and she comes to the realization that she can’t remain hidden in her grandmother’s house and under her grandmother’s protection, cozy and comfortable as it is.

She has to strike out on her own, and make something of the life she must now live. But what she does is what makes this story so good. Instead of wallowing, or instead of marrying the first man who promises to protect her, Camille determines to find out who she is now, and what she can make of herself.

She does it by marching up to the orphanage where Anna taught and asking for a position as a teacher, just as Anna was. It’s the surprise of Camille’s life when she gets the job. And even though she feels herself gasping and floundering every single day, it turns out to be a job that she is good at, even if in completely unconventional ways.

Along with the job, Joel Cunningham comes into her life. Joel is also a graduate of the orphanage, and is also a teacher. Specifically, he’s the art teacher. He was also Anna’s best friend and fancied himself in love with her.

He is not best pleased with Camille taking over Anna’s classroom. Or Anna’s students. Or even Anna’s room. But as they get to know each other, they come to realize that the way that they upset each other’s apple-carts is the best thing that ever happened to either of them.

If they can just manage to get out of their own way.

Escape Rating A-: Those who have read Someone to Love will be unable to resist Someone to Hold. And anyone who loves historical romance and has not read Someone to Love needs to get thee hence to a library or bookstore and read it!

But there’s a reason why Anna’s story was someone to love and not Camille’s. Camille was not at all lovable in Someone to Love, and she begins her own story still not being all that lovable. Or even, at the beginning, all that likable. It makes her difficult to warm up to as a protagonist.

(I started this book three times before I got past that point. Once I did, it was terrific. But definitely a hard start.)

Camille’s world has crumbled. The society that she had been trained to be perfectly suited for has rejected her, and for an issue where she is completely blameless. Nevertheless, she understands why this is so. But her plans have turned to dust and her prospects are non-existent. She is too proud to claw her way onto the lowest rung of society’s ladder and be content with that, and she doesn’t know what to do instead.

One of Camille’s issues is that Anna Snow is so very likable. Camille wants to hate her and maintain a distance from her, and Anna makes that very, very difficult. It also feels to Camille as if her close family are attempting to pretend that nothing material has changed, when everything has.

She is not who she thought she was, and the world is no longer her oyster.

Taking Anna’s old position and Anna’s old rooms makes an interesting twist, both for Camille’s story and her life. Camille makes it seem logical in her own head, but it is far from logical to anyone else. However, her determination to make a new life for herself is admirable. And fascinating to watch.

Although the relationship that develops between Joel and Camille has a bit more heat to it than the one between Anna and Avery, it is still a relationship that develops first into friendship before becoming love. Falling in love with your best friend IS still a good foundation for a marriage.

Even if in this case it does seem a bit like Camille begins by trying to take over or erase Anna’s life, what happens in the end is that Camille stands in Anna’s shoes and finds her own life. And it’s a lovely story.

Review: Lord of the Privateers by Stephanie Laurens + Giveaway

Review: Lord of the Privateers by Stephanie Laurens + GiveawayLord of the Privateers (The Adventurers Quartet, #4) by Stephanie Laurens
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Adventurers Quartet #4
Pages: 384
Published by Mira on December 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Revel in the action, drama, intrigue and passion as the Frobishers— with help from Wolverstone, the Cynsters and many familiar others— steer the adventure to a glorious end.
Unstoppable determination
Widely known as the lord of the privateers, Royd Frobisher expects to execute the final stage of the rescue mission his brothers have begun. What he does not expect is to be pressured into taking Isobel Carmichael—his childhood sweetheart, former handfasted bride and current business partner—with him. A force of nature, Isobel has a mission of her own: to find and bring a young cousin safely home. And along the way, she hopes to rid herself of the dreams of a life with Royd that still haunt her.
Unfinished business
Neither expects the shock that awaits them as they set sail, much less the new horizons that open before them as they embark on a full-scale rescue-assault on the compound deep in the jungle. Yet despite the support of his brothers and their ladies, Royd and Isobel discover that freeing the captives is only half the battle. To identify and convict the conspirators behind the illicit enterprise—and save England from political disaster—they must return to the ballrooms of the haut ton and hunt the villains on their home ground.
Unforgettable love
But having found each other again, having glimpsed the heaven that could yet be theirs, how much are Royd and Isobel willing to risk in the name of duty?
#1 New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Laurens delivers the thrilling conclusion to her acclaimed series THE ADVENTURERS QUARTET, a passionate Regency-era drama where intrigue and danger play out on the high seas and in exotic tropical jungles, ultimately reaching a dazzling climax in the glittering ballrooms of London.

My Review:

ladys command by stephanie laurensLord of the Privateers is an adventure romp with a romance attached – or a romance with an adventure attached. There be two plot threads here, and they are both compelling, if not equally so.

This book is the culmination of The Adventurers Quartet, and as such wraps up all of the many plot threads that were started all the way back in The Lady’s Command, and built up and added to in A Buccaneer at Heart and The Daredevil Snared.

The story would not be a pretty one if it weren’t for the inevitable happy ending. Far from England, in the English colony of Freeport in South Africa, someone is operating an illicit diamond mine. Not only is the mine unlicensed, and therefore not under government scrutiny of any kind, but the backers of the mine decided to maximize their profit by using slave labor.

They think they are so far above the law that they can kidnap colonists from Freeport, and that no one will care. And even if they are eventually caught, they will be able to walk away.

But the people they take are missed. Not just the children, but also the adults. Especially when they do stupid things like kidnap the military men who are sent to investigate, one after another. The government contracts with the Frobisher shipping clan to find out where everyone has gone, and that’s where the fun of this series begin.

Each one of the Frobisher children (sons AND daughter) is captain of his or her own ship. One by one, the oldest four sons go down to Freeport, put their share of the pieces together, and come back with a bride who is not willing to stay at home and wait while their men sail into danger.

It’s all been leading up to this book, Lord of the Privateers. That “lord” is Royd, the oldest brother and captain of their fleet. It’s up to him to lead the military operation to rescue the prisoners and gather as much evidence as possible on those mysterious and nefarious backers. In that order.

But Royd’s mission is compromised. Not by betrayal, but by his own unfinished business coming back to haunt him. Isobel Carmody, his childhood best friend and the love of his life, turned him away eight years ago. One of the captives is Isobel’s cousin, and she insists on accompanying him to Freeport. They have unfinished business between them to work out on this journey. They need to decide once and for all whether to try again, or to finally move on.

Royd thinks he has all the time in the world to woo Isobel again. Isobel thinks the voyage will be long enough for her to figure out whether she can trust Royd with her heart again, after he broke it eight years ago.

And they have a colony to save. And in the process, all their secrets will come out, and all the truths will finally come to light.

Escape Rating B: There are two plots here, the second chance at love story, and more importantly, the military operation to rescue the enslaved workers at the mine.

Unlike most second-chance love stories, this one feels resolved fairly early on. They are back together almost instantly, so most of the rest of the romance angle seems a bit anti-climactic. Also, their inevitable marriage is a foregone conclusion from the outset. Eight years ago, Royd and Isobel were handfasted, an old Scottish form of trial marriage. But if a child is born of the handfasting, the couple must automatically marry, or the child must be given up to the father. (Yes, I know it’s terribly misogynistic, etc., but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the law of the time).

Isobel gave birth to Royd’s son eight years ago, while he was away on a secret mission that he chose not to tell her about. She’s kept the boy a secret ever since, at least until he stows away aboard their ship to Freeport. Once that “cat” is out of its bag, an eventual wedding is the only possible conclusion.

But the military operation and the subsequent clean up of the gentleman backers is a romp from beginning to end. And if it weren’t for the fact that this is historical romance and therefore must lead to a happy ending, the clean-up operation feels like it might teeter towards disaster at any moment. That was the part of the story that had me on the edge of my seat.

It was wonderful not just to see all the dirty bastards finally get their just desserts, but to have those desserts handed to them by a combined delegation of the Frobishers, the Cynsters and the Bastion Club was a special treat for those who have read any of the author’s previous series.

But speaking of series, The Adventurers’ Quartet is one where you probably need to have read at least some of the previous entries. I read books 1, 3 and 4, and didn’t feel as if I missed anything except a good story by accidentally skipping Buccaneer. Because Lord is the payoff for all the previous books, I think it looses its punch if you start with it.

Because the romantic side of the plot was resolved early on, those scenes that “furthered” the romance were furthering something that already felt completely developed. To say they became anticlimactic makes for a very bad pun that nevertheless was true for this reader. Your mileage (measured in knots in this case) may vary. But the rescue operation makes for a cracking good yarn.

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Review: Someone to Love by Mary Balogh

Review: Someone to Love by Mary BaloghSomeone to Love (Westcott, #1) by Mary Balogh
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: paperback, ebook, large print, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Westcott #1
Pages: 400
Published by Signet on November 8th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Humphrey Westcott, Earl of Riverdale, has died, leaving behind a fortune that will forever alter the lives of everyone in his family—including the daughter no one knew he had...
Anna Snow grew up in an orphanage in Bath knowing nothing of the family she came from. Now she discovers that the late Earl of Riverdale was her father and that she has inherited his fortune. She is also overjoyed to learn she has siblings. However, they want nothing to do with her or her attempts to share her new wealth. But the new earl’s guardian is interested in Anna…
Avery Archer, Duke of Netherby, keeps others at a distance. Yet something prompts him to aid Anna in her transition from orphan to lady. As London society and her newfound relatives threaten to overwhelm Anna, Avery steps in to rescue her and finds himself vulnerable to feelings and desires he has hidden so well and for so long.

My Review:

When a book appears on seemingly everyone’s best of the year list, there’s a natural curiosity about whether the book lives up to its hype. Someone to Love is one of those books that landed on everyone’s “Best Romance” or “Best Historical Romance” list, so I wanted to see whether it was “all that”.

And in the end, it definitely is.

Someone to Love is part Pygmalion, but also part journey of discovery for both the hero and heroine, as well as everyone whose life is turned upside down by the death of the not-at-all lamented Humphrey Westcott. He died and left his mess for everyone else to clean up.

And what a mess he made. The late Earl of Riverdale was a bigamist. While it’s not clear why he married his first wife, he certainly married the second one for her money. He just neglected to tell her, or anyone else, about the first wife.

Ironically, he could have. His first wife, although she indisputably died after his second marriage, shuffled off this mortal coil before the first of his bastard children was born. He could have married her again in secret and made all his subsequent children legitimate.

Instead, his son and his daughters all believe that Anna Snow is the bastard, and that they are high-and-mighty little lordling and ladies. While their initial treatment of Anna is fairly abominable, their comeuppance is also painful. Dad was obviously a bounder, and no one seems to have a kind word for him now that he’s dead.

Even before the mess he’s left behind has been fully excavated.

Avery Archer, the Duke of Netherby and a somewhat distant connection of the late Earl, is the only person to see Anna as she really is. She is not a fortune hunter. The rich and proscribed life of Anastasia Westcott is not the life she hoped for or planned on. The only thing she wants out of this mess is family, and while some embrace her, others reject her utterly. She has discovered the truth of the old adage about being careful what you wish for because you might get it.

And everyone wants to make of her something that she is not, and has no desire to be, whether that is the villainess of the piece or merely a pawn to be molded to their will.

Only Avery sees Anna Snow exactly as herself, no matter how much wealth is draped around her. What disconcerts Avery immensely is that Anna is the first person to see him as he truly is. To see the brave and scared little boy who has made himself into one of the most feared and respected men in England.

They are made for each other.

Escape Rating A: Someone to Love is terrific historical romance. While it plays with the trope of Pygmalion (My Fair Lady) quite a bit, it also turns it sideways in some really delicious ways.

Anastasia Westcott, formerly known as Anna Snow, is not prepared to enter the rarefied society of the ton. But while she is willing to learn what the rules of that society are, she is not willing to stop being herself. Anna is already 25, which in ton terms means she is very nearly on the shelf. But in her own terms it means that she knows who she is and what she wants, and most importantly, what things up with which she will not put. She bends, but only so far. Her sense of self is very strong, and she is willing to push against both the tide and the managing natures of all of her new relations.

Until her unexpected elevation, Anna was a teacher, and a damn good one. She knows how to manage herself, and she knows how to manage others. And unlike the popular version of Pygmalion in My Fair Lady, Anna, while not raised as nobility, was definitely given a good education as well as lessons in deportment and manners. She finds the ton absurd, and has the intelligence and knowledge to recognize and articulate those absurdities.

Avery Archer’s character also plays with tropes and stereotypes, in this case the figure of the affected, bored society darling who appears to be eternally bored and doesn’t let anyone get close to either his heart or his mind. He delights in pretending that nothing affects him at all. But like the Scarlet Pimpernel, or Lord Peter Wimsey whom he somewhat resembles, there are dangerous depths under that bored, affected surface. He is a dangerous man, and people both respect him and give him a wide berth, unconsciously aware that he is a predator and that all of them are prey. He doesn’t need to display his power to have it acknowledged.

Avery’s interest in Anna surprises them both. She is never boring, and he does enjoy watching her navigate her family and the ton. But it much more than that. She is never affected. Her honesty captivates him. She on the other hand, can’t resist discovering just what is below the face he shows to the world.

That they fall for each other seems inevitable, and yet it isn’t. There is no secret yearning. Instead it’s more of a secret discomfiture. They reach beneath each other’s surfaces and bother each other. A lot, and in more ways than just emotional or sexual. They fall in like before they realize that they are in love.

If you are looking for a historical romance that provides a hero and heroine who manage to be a part of their time while still transcending it, Someone to Love is a winner.

Reviewer’s note: This book has given me a terrible earworm. I can’t get Queen’s Somebody to Love out of my head. And it fits.

Review: Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth Hoyt

Review: Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth HoytDuke of Pleasure (Maiden Lane, #11) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Maiden Lane #11
Pages: 364
Published by Grand Central Publishing on November 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

IN THE ARMS OF DANGER
Bold. Brave. Brutally handsome. Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, is the king's secret weapon. Sent to defeat the notorious Lords of Chaos, he is ambushed in a London alley—and rescued by an unlikely ally: a masked stranger with the unmistakable curves of a woman.
IN THE HEAT OF DESIRE
Cocky. Clever. Courageously independent. Alf has survived on the perilous streets of St. Giles by disguising her sex. By day she is a boy, dealing in information and secrets. By night she's the notorious Ghost of St. Giles, a masked vigilante. But as she saves Hugh from assassins, she finds herself succumbing to temptation.
ONE KISS WILL CHANGE THEIR LIVES FOREVER
When Hugh hires Alf to investigate the Lords of Chaos, her worlds collide. Once Hugh realizes that the boy and the Ghost are the same, will Alf find the courage to become the woman she needs to be—before the Lords of Chaos destroy them both?

My Review:

The fairy tale romance of the tale of The Black Prince and the Golden Falcon that heads each chapter of Duke of Pleasure makes for a perfect framing story – because Duke of Pleasure is also, in its own way, a fairy tale romance.

I’ve read some of the early entries in the Maiden Lane series, but somewhere along the way it fell victim to the “so many books, so little time” problem, and I stopped. But if you have never read the series, or dipped into it once or twice and lost track, don’t let Duke of Pleasure being book 11 in the series stop you from starting, or picking up, here. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of carry-over from one book to the next.

“Ghost of St. Giles” is a title, and not an individual. Think of it as the “Dread Pirate Roberts”. Alf may be the “Ghost’ at the moment, but others have held the title and worn the motley before her, and others will after she retires. It is necessary to keep the stews and rookeries of St. Giles just a bit safer for the poverty-stricken residents that there BE a Ghost, but the actual identity of the current Ghost is always closely held secret.

So when the notorious Ghost of St. Giles rescues the infamous Duke of Kyle from what seems to be the entire Scarlet Throat gang, he has no idea that the Ghost is a woman, or even that they have met before. Once upon a time, Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, tried to hire Alf, the well-known information peddler in St. Giles, to investigate one of his enemies. Alf didn’t take the job because he was currently working for said enemy. But mostly, Alf works for himself.

Actually herself. Life in St. Giles as a boy is difficult and dangerous enough. Attempting to live as a woman would just make her a target. And skirts are extremely difficult to fight in. So Alf hides herself behind her persona as a very young man. Until the Duke first discovers that the Ghost is a woman, and subsequently that Alf is the Ghost. And therefore, a woman.

And he needs Alf to be a woman, to help him infiltrate and investigate the nefarious Lords of Chaos. He has the devil’s own time admitting to himself that he just needs, and wants, Alf. Exactly as she is. Swords, knives, and all. And to hell with what society wants, or thinks, about it.

He just has to convince Alf that risking her heart with him won’t mean losing everything she is.

Escape Rating B+: I actually looked for the fairy tale of The Black Prince and the Golden Falcon. Told in the chapter headers, it’s an absolutely lovely (if slightly trope-y) fairy tale romance. And it’s the perfect parallel to Hugh and Alf’s own story.

Not that there is any sorcerous magic in Hugh and Alf’s story, just that it feels equally unlikely. It’s still absolutely lovely, but there’s just a touch of fairy tale magic in the romance of the bastard duke and the surprisingly innocent yet still extremely cynical girl from the very mean streets.

Alf and Hugh are fascinating characters, and make an interesting, if very unconventional for their times, couple. Hugh is a secret agent for the crown, a crown that happens to be worn by his father. Hugh is an acknowledged bastard of King George II of England. But that little accident of birth isn’t half as interesting as the way that Hugh acts. Not the secret agent bit, fascinating as that is, but the way he lives. His men are all his former soldiers, and he treats them not merely well, but as close to equal as their relative positions let them manage. And Hugh is a single father to two young sons, one of whom is not his by blood. And he doesn’t care. He is desperate to re-forge a relationship with them and take care of them personally, not merely packing them off to the nursery wing.

Alf is equally surprising, and slightly more anachronistic. But her independence makes sense within the world as portrayed. Disguising herself as a boy would have been much safer under the circumstances. And while it is a disguise that she is cognizant of, and not a gender identity, it is a disguise that she has been wearing since she was 5 years old. When she has to play at being a lady, that is the act for Alf. The problem for her is that after allowing herself to be a woman, she is caught between worlds. She doesn’t want to go back to being just Alf, but she also doesn’t have the skills or even the desire to be a typical woman of that time. She wants to be “Alf who is a woman” and doesn’t know how to find a place where she fits.

One of the marvelous things about the story is that Hugh doesn’t want Alf to be anyone other than Alf. Yes, he wants her to be a female Alf, because this romance, but he doesn’t want her to pretend to be a lady, or to take on typical ladylike behaviors. A big part of what he loves about her is that she is as addicted to danger and adrenaline as he is. They are a match, once he gets his head out of his gorgeous ass to admit it.

Reviewer’s note: In the book blurb, Hugh is referred to as “brutally handsome”. If the phrase is familiar, that’s because it is a line from The Eagles’ song Life in the Fast Lane. The complete line is “He was a hard-headed man, he was brutally handsome, and she was terminally pretty.” which is also a surprisingly accurate portrait of Hugh’s first marriage.

DUKE-OF-PLEASURE-Launch-Day-Blitz

Review: A Reckless Promise by Kasey Michaels + Giveaway

Review: A Reckless Promise by Kasey Michaels + GiveawayA Reckless Promise (The Little Season #3) by Kasey Michaels
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Little Season #3
Pages: 400
Published by HQN Books on July 26th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

London's Little Season has never been so scandalous 
It's the kind of vow often made on the battlefield. Darby Travers, Viscount Nailbourne, never imagines he'll have to honor it. Yet here she is on his doorstep—his late comrade's young daughter, and Darby's new ward. Worse, she comes with the most overprotective, mistrustful, bothersome chaperone—the child's aunt, Sadie Grace Boxer. Darby is quite sure that behind her lovely facade, the woman is guarding a secret. 
Sadie Grace faced many trials working in her brother's surgery, but none prepared her for the world she's thrust into with his passing. Navigating the ton, with its endless ball gowns and parade of parties, is difficult enough, but hiding the truth about her niece while the sophisticated viscount watches her every move proves nearly impossible—particularly when his searing gaze tempts her to bare all. But when her family's past catches up with her, she'll have to trust in Darby…no matter the cost to her heart.

My Review:

The lark of The Little Season continues, even though the birds are mostly confined to cameos this time around.

The entire series has a very high froth quotient. If you are in the mood for a bit of light-hearted entertainment filled with intelligent banter, this series is marvelous. And although each book stands alone, there are characters that continue through the series that readers, or at least this reader, will be glad to see get their happily ever after.

The story in A Reckless Promise is similar in many ways to the other books in the series, but the characters make it every bit as delightful to read as the earlier books. Now that I’ve finished, I can see the patterns, but while the story is rollicking along, it’s just pure fun.

It all goes back to the Napoleonic Wars. The four English officers, Darby, Rigby, Sinclair and Cooper who are the heroes of this series were prisoners of war. They just barely made it out with their lives. Darby, the hero of A Reckless Promise, owes his life to the Army Surgeon who was imprisoned with them, John Hamilton.

And that’s where this story begins. When the four men escaped, they begged the doctor to come with them, but to no avail. Hamilton refused to leave his other patients. But he did extract a promise from Darby that if the doctor did not survive, then Darby, the Viscount Nailbourne, would stand as guardian to his little daughter Marley.

It takes nearly two years for Marley to show up at Darby’s door, with her redoubtable aunt in tow. Darby is more than willing to take care of the child. Not just because a promise is a promise, but because he genuinely likes the seven-year-old spitfire, especially after she kicks him in the shin.

But her aunt, Mrs. Sadie Maxwell Boxer, gives him a great deal of pause. He’s more than willing to take her in as well, but the immediate question in his mind is “take her in as what?” The widowed Mrs. Maxwell is relatively young and surprisingly beautiful. Even though she is a widow, Sadie is much too young to remain as the sole female in his bachelor establishment, no matter how much Marley loves her.

The situation becomes even more dire when Darby figures out that the Mr. Maxwell Boxer he has been desperately trying to find was the doctor’s dog. Mrs. Boxer is really Miss Hamilton, and Darby decides he has to marry her. Or at least that’s the excuse he gives himself for doing what he really wants.

What they both really want.

scandalous proposal by kasey michaelsEscape Rating A-: Just like A Scandalous Proposal, this story is carried by its utterly marvelous piffle. If you are looking for something serious, find another book. This one, and the series, are to be read just for the pure light-hearted fun of it.

At the same time, one of the great but slightly serious things that the author has done with this series is to create unconventional heroines that are easy for the 21st century reader to identify with but who do not seem to be anachronistic. It’s not just that Sadie is a doctor’s sister, but that she was forced to take over much of his practice while he was in the Army. And then to continue that practice after he came home debilitated by the lingering wound which eventually killed him.

Sadie has been forced to act as a professional, to have her advice taken seriously, to run a household, and to think entirely for herself. That’s unusual in society-based Regencies, and makes this series stand out. All four of the heroines, including Clarice Goodfellow who unfortunately does not seem to have a book of her own, are unconventional in ways that seem plausible, and that give them a lot of agency. Even if it’s the kind of agency that their society does not expect from a woman.

In addition to the marvelous banter and developing romance, there is also a serious subplot to this book. Sadie and Marley fled to Nailbourne in secret, out of what turns out to be justifiable fears for Marley’s safety. John Hamilton whisked an heiress away from the life her mother planned for her when he married his Susan. Now that both he and Susan are dead, the family that rejected Susan wants Marley back. John’s last wish was that Sadie make sure they don’t win.

But it isn’t Marley’s grandfather who is trying to claim his only grandchild. Instead, there is a much more nefarious plot afoot that Darby and Sadie must thwart in order to secure Marley’s happiness. But their focus on Marley’s happiness almost gets in the way of their own.

As someone who has read the series, the conclusion to Duke Basil’s birthday woes was appropriately a hoot.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: A Gentleman Never Tells by Eloisa James + Giveaway

Review: A Gentleman Never Tells by Eloisa James + GiveawayA Gentleman Never Tells (Essex Sisters, #4.5) by Eloisa James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Essex Sisters #4.5
Pages: 112
Published by Avon Impulse on June 28th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Eighteen months ago, Lizzie Troutt’s husband died in his mistress’s bed, leaving her determined to never marry again….and unfortunately virginal.
Eighteen years ago (give or take a few) the Honorable Oliver Berwick blackened his own soul, leaving him hardened and resolutely single.
When the chance for redemption in the form of a country house party invitation comes his way, Oliver is determined to prove himself a gentleman.
Until he breaks all the codes of gentlemanly behavior…once again.

My Review:

This one was just good fun. And sometimes that’s exactly what a reader, or at any rate this reader, is looking for.

Oliver is just so earnest. He really needs the element of whimsy (and occasional hair-pulling insanity) that his niece Hattie brings into his life. She lightens him up, and he needs that lightness, even as both he and the reader want to shake his sister. Oliver has become Hattie’s guardian not through the usual tragedy, but because his sister and brother-in-law have run off to Africa to convert the locals to their version of Christianity.

Hattie is much, much better off with Oliver. And is old enough to understand that she is. She also seems to be permanently plotting to bring him out of himself, and to get her own way. She and her best friend connive to do both, dragging Oliver to a house party at Lady Windingham’s two days early, so that she has more time with her best friend.

Fifteen-year-old Hattie has yet another ulterior motive. Back when Oliver and his friends were young and insufferable, they put about a whole series of cruel witticisms about various young ladies in the ton. Those witticisms set back the victims marriage prospects considerably at the time, even though all was well that ended well.

Lady Windingham was one of those young ladies, and Oliver needs to apologize for helping to attach “The Woolly Breeder” to her name.

But when Oliver discovers Cat Windingham’s beautiful but withdrawn sister Lizzie Troutt, he develops more than a few ulterior motives of his own.

As part of his apology to Cat, he makes a deal with her. He will make Lizzie laugh before the rest of the guests arrive. Including a man that Cat hopes will convince her sister to marry again.

Oliver plans to get there first.

Escape Rating B+: A Gentleman Never Tells is light, frothy and just plain fun, even though I haven’t read the rest of the series. (But now I plan to!)

Both Lizzie and Oliver very seriously need to lighten up, and the best way they can do that is with each other. While Oliver’s tenacious courtship and the sparkle of their banter carries the story, one of the underlying points is the often exasperated but always loving relationship between the sisters Cat and Lizzie. Even though they are currently driving each other crazy, they clearly want the best for each other. And Cat will stop at nothing to make sure that her sister gets a chance at happiness.

pleasure for pleasure by eloisa jamesThere is also a deeper layer underneath the froth about the way that guilt eats away at a person. Oliver feels guilty about the young ladies whose lives he and his friends attempted to ruin through their cruelty. And he has become an old sobersides to punish himself for his youthful peccadilloes. Those ladies deserve an apology, but he needn’t wallow in guilt for the rest of his life. If Cat and her best friend Josie (see Pleasure for Pleasure for details) are any indication, he seems to have accidentally done them each a very big favor.

Lizzie is also wallowing in guilt, along with a much healthier dose of anger. But being angry at dead people never gets a person anywhere at all. Her husband was an ass, and dying in his mistress’ bed was his last act of asshattery. But not before he blamed poor, inexperienced Lizzie for his inability to consummate their marriage. As I keep saying, and as Oliver says, her dead husband was an ass.

That Lizzie is both a widow and a virgin is its own delicious and shameful secret. It also fires Oliver’s desire to make Lizzie his and only his. Before his would-be rival appears on the scene.

But his real opponent is Lizzie. After her experience, she has absolutely zero willingness to trust another man with her fate or her future. Her father knowingly bartered her into the arms of her late asshat husband, a man who openly intended to spend her dowry and his nights with his mistress, while leaving her to care for his dying mother in a run-down house with few servants and even fewer comforts. When her father wouldn’t take her back, she swore off the entire male gender and was prepared to make it stick.

It takes more than a bit of persuading for Lizzie to see that either Oliver is an exception, just like her sister’s loving husband, or that her late, unlamented husband was just a singular ass and not a representative of his whole species.

Watching Lizzie and Oliver come out of their respective shells and find each other is just oodles of fun.

Reviewer’s Note: I will admit that the virgin widow trope is a personal pet peeve. It always seems like a contrivance to arrange for the ritual romantic deflowering by the hero, even when the heroine is no longer a dewy debutante. My two pence.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Eloisa and Avon Impulse are giving away an Essex Sisters Boxed Set to one lucky entrant on this tour!

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Review: The Daredevil Snared by Stephanie Laurens + Giveaway

Review: The Daredevil Snared by Stephanie Laurens + GiveawayThe Daredevil Snared (The Adventurers Quartet, #3) by Stephanie Laurens
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Adventurers Quartet #3
Pages: 464
Published by Mira on June 28th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He has something to prove 
Captain Caleb Frobisher, hedonistic youngest son of a seafaring dynasty, wants to be taken seriously. Seizing the next leg of the covert mission his brothers are pursuing, he acts decisively and effectively in securing the mission's objectives. But responsibility has taken root, and he remains in the jungle to ensure the mission's ultimate goal. 
She will risk everything 
Katherine Fortescue fled a life of poverty and came to Freetown as a governess, only to be kidnapped and forced to oversee the child workforce at a mine. Guarded by well-armed, well-trained mercenaries, the captives have lost all hope of escape. Then Katherine meets a handsome man—a captain—and he brings the sweet promise of rescue. 
Together they will face the future 
The sadistic mercenary who runs the mine has other plans, but Caleb's true strength lies in extracting advantage from adversity, and through the clashes that follow, he becomes the leader he was always destined to be. The sort of man Katherine can trust—with her body, with her life. With her love. 
Race with THE ADVENTURERS as these passionate daredevils lead the way to the stunning and dramatic conclusion.
#1 New York Times bestselling author of the beloved Cynster novels, Stephanie Laurens takes you on a fresh journey with THE ADVENTURERS QUARTET, a daring Regency-era adventure laced with mystery, tropical heat and passionate romance 

My Review:

The daredevil gets truly, and quite willingly, snared in this third entry in Laurens’ Adventurers’ Quartet.

ladys command by stephanie laurensAnd while I read the first book in this series, The Lady’s Command, and really enjoyed it, I have not read the second book, A Buccaneer at Heart. But I got more than enough clues about what happened that as I read The Daredevil Snared, I really thought I had read Buccaneer. The story does an excellent job of catching readers up with previous events!

The suspense part of this quartet deals with a clandestine diamond mine in West Africa, being operated by nasty mercenaries on behalf of mysterious “backers” located in the halls of power back home in England. But other, and more honorable servants of the crown are moving forces to get the English men, women and children being used as slaves to work the mine out of harm’s way before the mine plays out and their lives are forfeit as “loose ends”.

Katherine Fortescue was kidnapped from Freetown because she was a governess would could manage the children being used as nimble runners and sweepers. She’s also the figurative lieutenant keeping the other women and the children in order as part of the English community at the mine. A community dedicated wholeheartedly to finding a way to escape before it is too late.

Caleb Frobisher is the latest of the Frobisher captains sent to gather intelligence on the operation, with an eye to shutting it down without getting the slaves (read hostages) killed. Caleb, being the most reckless of his brothers, sends the intelligence he gathers back with his ship and a skeleton crew. He then gets himself and the rest of his men kidnapped into the mine. Not necessarily intentionally, but certainly serendipitously. And not without causing almost, but not quite, as many problems as it solves.

Where he falls in love and organizes a quiet rebellion, not necessarily in that order. And nearly gets himself killed.

Escape Rating B: The Daredevil Snared is a solid, and just occasionally stolid, entry in The Adventurers’ Quartet.

The action in this story is constrained by necessity, and it makes things drag a bit in the middle. Their situation, as slave diamond miners trying to hang on until they can be rescued, does not lead to lots of big, dramatic events. Most of the story involves a lot of small plots to do incremental damage, with the threat of death always on the horizon. So lots of angst, but only intermittent action.

It’s necessary for the story, but it does give the reader the urge to say “on with it!” already.

However, one of the things that does work very well is the way that the situation acts upon the romance. While the characters both firmly believe that they would have found each other sooner or later, and would still have fallen in love, the prisoner scenario does strip away all of the posturing that normally went into a Regency era courtship. They are in a situation where life may literally be too short for that crap. And it’s lovely in all sorts of ways, as they get to know who each other really is. There are no pretenses here.

Because of the way that the “adventure” underlying this series only unfolds a little bit in each book, this one doesn’t have a satisfactory ending. While the hero and heroine not only confess but act on their romance, the options for a happy ever after are severely limited. Both because “happy” is somewhat strained under the circumstances, and because “ever after” is a wish, a hope, a belief, but far, far from certain.

lord of the privateers by stephanie laurensBoth Caleb and Katherine are still prisoners of the evil slaver gang that has kidnapped so many English people from Freetown. As the story ends, we have a reprieve, and the end seems to be in sight, but it is not here yet.

Which makes the anticipation for the final book in the series, Lord of the Privateers, all that much sharper.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: This Gun for Hire by Jo Goodman

Review: This Gun for Hire by Jo GoodmanThis Gun for Hire (McKenna Brothers, #1) by Jo Goodman
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, large print
Genres: historical romance, western romance
Series: McKenna Brothers #1
Pages: 361
Published by Berkley on April 7th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Jo Goodman, a premier writer of western romance and the author of In Want of a Wife, is back with a sensational new novel for fans of Linda Lael Miller and Joan Johnston.  He’s got a job to do…Former army cavalryman Quill McKenna takes pride in protecting the most powerful man in Stonechurch, Colorado: Mr. Ramsey Stonechurch himself. But the mine owner has enemies, and after several threats on his life, mines, and family, Quill decides to hire someone to help guard the boss’s daughter. Only problem is the uncontrollable attraction he feels toward the fiery-haired woman who takes the job. …but she’s a piece of work. Calico Nash has more knowledge of scouting and shooting than cross-stitching, but she agrees to pose as Ann’s private tutor while protecting her. But between her growing attraction to Quill and the escalating threats against the Stonechurches, Calico will soon have a choice to make—hang on to her hard-won independence or put her faith in Quill to create the kind of happy ending she never imagined…

My Review:

When I saw this title, I assumed, as one does, that the gun that was for hire was attached to a guy. However, that is marvelously not so, and is only the first of many wonderful surprises in this trope-bending western romance.

This is also a scenario that I’ve seen before, but by moving it to a historical western setting, it makes a lot of the normally tried-and-true tropes fresh and new. Calico Nash is, first and foremost, an original, and it is her story and her unexpected point of view that make it so much fun.

While we generally think of bounty hunters and security agents in the “Wild West” as having been men, there’s no logical reason why some couldn’t have been women. Certainly, the first female Pinkerton Agent, Kate Warne, precedes the setting of This Gun For Hire by a couple of decades. So Calico Nash, while not likely, is certainly plausible enough to make this story interesting without tripping the willing suspension of disbelief.

When Calico Nash and Quill McKenna first meet in a whorehouse, neither of them is exactly what they seem. And while both of them seem more than competent at dealing with a bunch of villains, they also both seem not to like each other much.

Looks, as they say, can be deceiving.

So when Quill needs to find a way to protect the daughter of the man he is body-guarding, Calico is the first and only solution that comes to mind. He knows she can protect Ann Stonechurch, and he knows that Calico can pretend to be anything she needs to be to make her surreptitious protection effective.

He also knows that he wants to see Calico again, whether he is fully admitting that to himself or not.

So while Quill is guarding mining baron Ramsey Stonechurch by pretending to be just his lawyer, Calico protects Ann by pretending to be her teacher. And both Quill and Calico pretend that their inevitable liaison is just due to propinquity and shared danger, and has no deeper feelings involved.

Calico also tries to pretend that she has no deeper feelings that could be involved. Not just because it’s never happened before, but because she never believed it could happen to her at all.

Meanwhile, both Quill and Calico are forced to pull their charges out of danger, over and over again. Ramsey Stonechurch is being threatened by person or persons unknown, who seem to be interested in either unionizing his miners or creating a more ‘equitable” distribution of profits between the mining baron and his employees.

Ann Stonechurch is being threatened purely as a way to rattle her father. And it’s working.

But while Quill and Calico are busy looking for outside threats, they overlook the proverbial viper in the family’s bosom. And no one expects that the villains they thwarted all the way back in Act 1 could possibly make common cause with the one they face at the mine.

It’s a mistake that could cost them their lives.

devil you know by jo goodmanEscape Rating A-: I picked this up because so many of my fellow book addicts over at The Book Pushers absolutely raved about it. I wanted to get in on today’s joint review of the followup book, The Devil You Know, and I just couldn’t go there without reading the first book first.

Not that each book doesn’t stand perfectly well on its own, but it was so much fun to read them back to back. The Old West probably wasn’t ever like this for women, but dagnabbit, it should have been.

Calico is just a terrific heroine. She became a bounty hunter and security guard because she both worshiped her father and tried to live up to his image. Badger Nash was a bounty hunter and scout for the U.S. Army, and he taught his daughter everything he knew – which was a heck of a lot. When he died on the trail, she finished up his last job for him, took the reward money, and never looked back.

Calico’s knowledge of what women usually do in the “Wild West” comes from two nearly contradictory resources – the Army wives who manipulate and dissect life in remote Army postings, and the whorehouse where Quill finds her handling security. She knows what hides behind civilized behavior, and she’s pretty cynical about the roles that women are supposed to play. She can fake it if she has to, but she’s never going to be anyone other than who she is.

And she’s become almost as much of a legend as Annie Oakley or Calamity Jane.

The irony in the relationship that blossoms between Calico and Quill is that Calico never pretends with Quill. He always sees her exactly as she is. She may dissemble in front of others, but with him she is always her authentic self. Quill, on the other hand, is hiding layers within layers from the beginning of the story until very nearly the end.

This is also a story where much of the romance occurs in, and is punctuated with, intelligent banter. These two fall in love because they “get” each other, even if that phrase wouldn’t have been used at the time. They spark each other’s best wits, and it is fun to watch.

There is also a suspense element to this story. Quill and Calico are both on the job because there is a threat hanging over the head of Ramsey Stonechurch. Their job is both to protect the family and to figure out where the threat is coming from and eliminate it. Whatever the reader or both Quill and Calico think of Ramsey Stonechurch, his daughter is certainly innocent.

Ramsey Stonechurch is an interesting character himself, because he does not fall into the stereotype. At first we think he must be a typical overbearing robber baron, but first impressions deceive (somewhat) and he is much more nuanced than first appears.

While I sort of figured out who was probably behind some of the threats fairly early on, the author does a good job of concealing means and especially motive until the very end. I knew who it must be, but not the whys or the wherefores. I also couldn’t see this person as being the motivator behind all events, it just didn’t seem likely for most of the story. I kept looking for a bigger evil who just wasn’t there.

Calico’s character makes This Gun for Hire a trip to the “Wild West” as it should have been.

Review: Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick

Review: Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick'Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, romantic suspense
Pages: 352
Published by Berkley on April 19th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The author of the New York Times bestseller Garden of Lies returns to Victorian London in an all-new novel of deadly obsession.   Calista Langley operates an exclusive “introduction” agency in Victorian London, catering to respectable ladies and gentlemen who find themselves alone in the world. But now, a dangerously obsessed individual has begun sending her trinkets and gifts suitable only for those in deepest mourning—a black mirror, a funeral wreath, a ring set with black jet stone. Each is engraved with her initials.   Desperate for help and fearing that the police will be of no assistance, Calista turns to Trent Hastings, a reclusive author of popular crime novels. Believing that Calista may be taking advantage of his lonely sister, who has become one of her clients, Trent doesn’t trust her. Scarred by his past, he’s learned to keep his emotions at bay, even as an instant attraction threatens his resolve.   But as Trent and Calista comb through files of rejected clients in hopes of identifying her tormentor, it becomes clear that the danger may be coming from Calista’s own secret past—and that only her death will satisfy the stalker...

My Review:

This is a stand alone Amanda Quick title, and I don’t think there’s been one of those in forever. So if you are looking for a way to get into her work, or if you’ve read her as either Jayne Ann Krentz or Jayne Castle and want to find out if she’s just as good doing historical (she is!) this is a great place to start.

‘Til Death Do Us Part starts out with a very creepy Gothic feel to it, and the suspense continues to build, even though it doesn’t follow all the traditional Gothic patterns. The hero is just as brooding and scarred as in any Gothic, but the heroine, righteously frightened as she is, still participates fully and effectively in her own rescue.

The story both exploits the Gothic tropes and turns them on their pointy little heads. And the story incorporates all the chills and spookiness of her Arcane Society series, without tripping over into the paranormal, just in case that’s not your cuppa.

While mediums and seances were a big fad during the Victorian era, and they are exploited in this story, everyone involved at least tacitly acknowledges that all of the so-called mediums are charlatans. Often very good charlatans, but fakes and frauds nonetheless.

Both our hero and heroine in this book are outside the norms for their society, but are emblematic of the types of characters that Quick employs to such terrific effect in her work.

Calista Langley operates what she calls an “introductions” agency. While many scurrilous rumors label it as a high-class brothel and her as the madam, that is far from the case. What she provides is a respectable location and atmosphere where properly vetted single women and single gentlemen can meet for an evening of intellectual stimulation and intelligent conversation. She, in the person of her brother, investigates every prospective “member” in advance, to make sure that they are exactly what they say they are – single, respectable and reasonable. Absolutely no fortune hunters get through her doors.

One left her nearly at the altar, and Calista is doing her best to provide other young women with options that she didn’t have.

Trent Hastings is a successful author of detective serials. (Think of him as a young and better looking Arthur Conan Doyle, without the “trip” to the fairies) But there is certainly a place inside Trent where he and his detective hero meet. Trent has also been truly heroic – he saved his sister from a dire fate by taking the acid meant for her on his face and body. The scars have made him a recluse, or so his family believes.

But Trent has done well for himself and his family, and the sister that he saved is now a “member” of Calista’s exclusive salons. In visiting Calista to ascertain whether or not she is taking advantage of his now well-to-do younger sibling, he finds himself attracted to the fiery Calista. And when he discovers that she needs help solving a mystery that is affecting her own life, he insists on offering his services as an investigator.

Calista needs the help, and desperately. Someone is sending her death tokens with her initials carved on them. The perpetrator has even managed to leave one in her bedroom, but no one is certain how he got there. Calista knows that she is being not merely followed, but stalked.

While someone is creeping around Calista behind the scenes, her former almost-fiance has let himself back in the front door, pursuing Calista and insisting that she feels something for him other than contempt. That he is married now, to the fortune he was hunting a year ago, does not seem to deter him from his pursuit of Calista. But the presence of Trent Hastings in her life certainly does.

Calista and Trent find themselves as unlikely partners in the chase for a cold, calculating killer who has been preying on young, lonely women for at least year. But when the hunter becomes the hunted, the chase leaves a wide trail of murder and destruction that leads straight to Calista’s door.

Escape Rating A: As is fairly obvious from the opening of the review, I loved this book. I kept picking it up at odd moments throughout the day, just to find out a little bit more about how they were doing, and what progress they were making in the hunt for the killer.

As far as the suspense angle in this case, there were plenty of very tasty red herrings, and I probably took a nibble at all of them. There were so many possible suspects, and all of them seemed more than plausible in one way or another. It was logical to look at Calista’s rejected club members, and it was equally logical to look at where all of the “memento mori” (death trinkets) were coming from. Trent and Calista brought different things to their partnership, and they worked together well.

I also enjoyed Trent and Calista as characters. They were both a bit anachronistic, but not so much as to trip the willing suspension of disbelief. After all, we know of someone who had a public career very like Trent’s in Arthur Conan Doyle. It was possible to create a best-selling private detective series and serialize in the papers. That everyone knows who Trent is and has an opinion on his story and characters feels quite plausible. After all, Conan Doyle got so sick of the attention to Holmes that he killed him off just to get the man out of his life.

Calista’s situation feels a bit more on the edge of just barely plausible. On that other hand, a woman on her own, raising her young brother, would have had to have found a unique way to make a respectable living – careers for women were non-existent in the 19th century. And Calista’s life history gives her insight into the pattern of the serial killer by providing her with empathy about the victims. She knows what it is like to be alone and vulnerable, with no family and friends to protect her and support her even in the emotional sense. The lonely and forgotten can be easy prey for someone who shows them a scrap of affection and regard.

The thing that fascinated me about the suspense angle was the serial killer. Jack the Ripper can’t possibly have been the first serial killer. He was just “lucky” enough to begin his career at the dawn of mass media and instant communication. But before there was any real psychological study of human beings, how would one go about determining that the murderer being chased had done it before and would do it over and over again because that was their modus operandi? Putting together the bizarre pieces of this case is good scary fun for the reader.

And there’s a romance. Trent and Calista stumble into each other’s lives. Neither of them believes that love and marriage is for them. Trent simply fears that no woman will be able to look past his scars. Calista has been forced to become an economically independent woman, and has discovered that she likes it. Marriage for her means giving up her freedom, and having little to no recourse if she chooses badly, as she very nearly did. Trent needs to make her believe that he not only loves her, but that he loves and respects her for who she truly it, and not for the role she might fill in his life.

Watching them overcome their skepticism leads to a lovely happy ending for all.

Review: A Scandalous Proposal by Kasey Michaels + Giveaway

Review: A Scandalous Proposal by Kasey Michaels + GiveawayA Scandalous Proposal (The Little Season, #2) by Kasey Michaels
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Little Season #2
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on March 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Includes bonus story How to Woo a Spinster
The drama of London's Little Season continues in USA Today bestselling author Kasey Michaels's vibrant new series featuring three courageous war heroes surrendering at last to love…
Who would have thought a man could tire of being fawned over and flirted with? Ever since Cooper Townsend returned from France as a hero with a new title, he has been relentlessly pursued by every marriageable miss in London. Perhaps that's why the unconventional Miss Daniella Foster is so appealing. She doesn't simper or flatter. She only wants him to help unmask her sister's blackmailer, and Coop has never been so intrigued…
Let every other woman in London fight over His Lordship's romantic attentions. Marriage is the last thing on Dany's mind…at least until she samples his illicit kisses. Now, as a mutual enemy races to ruin Coop's reputation and Dany's family name, an engagement of convenience will spark an unlikely passion that might save them both.

My Review:

Read this one for the piffle. By that, I mean that this is a banter book, where the hero and heroine fall for each other through very clever conversation that never flags for a minute. Or a page.

While the initial meeting between Cooper Townsend and Danielle Foster may seem just a bit contrived, everything that happens to them and between them after Dany initially bumps into Coop (literally) really puts the spark into the phrase “court and spark”. Even when they are not getting along, Dany and Coop entertain each other endlessly. And it is their burgeoning but unconventional friendship resulting in an unintentional courtship that lets them fall in love with each other.

A Scandalous Proposal is one of those lovely stories where the heroine holds her own every single minute, in spite of the historical setting. Dany may be sexually innocent at the beginning of the story, but intellectually she is a match for Coop and his friends, and never gives in to what society expects of her. She is never going to be a simpering little miss. Dany is an “original”.

And it’s lucky for both of them that Coop has oodles of experience dealing with “originals”, because that allows him to see Dany for who and what she is, and not merely accept her, but love her for those differences. He gives her just the little bit of grounding that she needs, and in turn, she keeps him from becoming a staid stick-in-the-mud. This is a relationship made in heaven.

But the circumstances that bring them together are far from heavenly. Coop is being blackmailed, as is Dany’s sister Mari. Admittedly, Mari made a complete “cake” of herself, and basically handed herself over to the blackmailer. The happily married Mari was miffed at her husband for going off to a shooting party on her birthday. In petty revenge, she began a clandestine correspondence with a “secret admirer”. They never met, nothing ever happened, but silly Mari actually signed her own name to the incendiary letters, and is now being blackmailed for her thoughtless peccadillo.

Coop, on the other hand, is being blackmailed for being a secret hero. He was at the Battle of Quatre-Bras, and he did rescue of group of orphans who were in harm’s way between the Napoleonic and British armies. But the circumstances of that rescue, which led to a very generous reward from the Prince Regent, are not merely secret but clearly involve the highest levels of the Crown and government. Even though Coop did nothing remotely wrong, his blackmailer is threatening to reveal the secret he is protecting, an event which will probably get Coop either exiled or more likely killed.

Dany entreats Coop, as a bona fide hero, to recover her sister’s silly letters. But as the two of them dig deeper into the plot, they discover that the two blackmailers are, in fact, one and the same. A revelation that will eventually result in the villain’s unmasking and downfall.

But not before Coop and Dany talk themselves into turning their investigative association into something much, much more.

Escape Rating A-: A Scandalous Proposal contains a great deal of delightful froth, and is pure fun from beginning to end. Dany is an “original”, and makes a terrific heroine. She doesn’t merely know her own mind, but she says what she is thinking, and to hell with what society thinks of that. While her family hopes that she will marry, no one, including Dany, has any expectations that she will find anyone who can put up with her straight talking. She is not what society expects her to be and has no plans to change, which makes her marvelous fun and tremendously easy for 21st century readers to identify with.

It does turn out that the plot against Coop and her sister Mari is quite serious. And it is lovely to see the villain get his just desserts without it resulting in a traditional beat down, or beating up. Nor does Dany ever find herself seriously in danger. This is thankfully not one of those stories where the hero has to ride in with the historical equivalent of guns blazing to save the heroine from a fate worse than death.

This is a story where brains and charm outwit the villain, and it is a romp every step of the way. If you are looking for a story to put a smile on your face, A Scandalous Proposal is it. Dany manages to skewer every convention of historical romance, and the reader applauds her for doing it. Especially when she reminds Coop that she has her own views on everything, and that he ignores those views and actions very much at his own peril.

reckless promise by kasey michaelsA Scandalous Proposal is the second book in Michaels’ Little Season series, but it can certainly be read as a chuckle-a-minute stand alone. While some of the characters introduced in An Improper Arrangement, particularly the marvelously down-to-earth Clarice have roles to play in A Scandalous Proposal, they get more than enough introduction in this second book to weave them into the plot.

Read this one for the absolutely marvelous piffle. Then wait with bated laughter, for the third book in the Little Season, A Reckless Promise.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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