Review: The Earl Who Loved Her by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Earl Who Loved Her by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Earl Who Loved Her (The Honorable Scoundrels, #2) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Honorable Scoundrels #2
Pages: 86
Published by Sophie Barnes on November 14th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

A chance meeting...

Eve Potter can hardly wait to arrive at Amberly Hall for the Christmas season! The hope is that she will make a match with an eligible gentleman. But as fate would have it, she misses the coach that is sent to collect her from her point of arrival, and starts out on foot...only to go in the wrong direction. Nearly frozen, she arrives at Blackhall, where she is invited inside and introduced to the master of the house, the Earl of Ravenworth. Eve is smitten, for he is beyond handsome, which makes him a temptation she must avoid. But can she...?

Bryce Harlowe lives as a recluse, shunned by Society and even his own family after being accused of taking a scandalous transgression. The young woman at his door cannot stay at Blackhall less her reputation be ruined. And yet, when the pesky winter climate leaves them snowed in together at Blackhall, Bryce and Eve grow closer, each discovering a mutual respect and longing for the other. Until Bryce’s past is revealed, threatening to rip apart their newfound love...

-Please note that this is a novella-

My Review:

The Earl Who Loved Her is the second novella in the Honorable Scoundrels series, after last week’s The Governess Who Captured His Heart. The series features the three Potter sisters, Louise, Eve and Josephine.

The Potter sisters were raised as gentry, great-granddaughters of a Viscount. But their grandfather was a younger son who made a quite comfortable living as a solicitor. Unfortunately for the girls, their father did not inherit either their grandfather’s talent for the law or his facility with hanging on to his money.

When their mother died, their father descended into a bottle and neglected both his living and his daughters. At his death, the sisters were left destitute. But instead of throwing themselves on the kindness of strangers or even distant and neglectful family, they are determined to rescue themselves.

The Honorable Scoundrels series is the story of those attempts, which have so far proven to be much more successful than any of their late father’s attempts at either business or the practice of law.

The first two stories in this series take place at the same time, but in different places. This is not one of those stories where the same events are viewed through different eyes. As far as Eve (and Josephine) know, their sister Louise is off to her first position as a governess somewhere in the north of England.

As far as Louise (and Josephine) know, Eve is off to visit her best friend Margaret, who lives near Bournemouth on England’s southwest coast. Margaret has married well, and Eve’s invitation to her house for the holidays is intended to provide Eve with important connections so that she has a chance of marrying well and rescuing the family’s fortunes – or at least their position in society.

But just as Louise’s trip had unexpected results, so did Eve’s. She arrived at the coaching station in the midst of a freezing drizzle, and could not face waiting a half hour or more for the promised carriage to arrive to get her. Instead, she set off down the road, expecting to arrive at her destination in good time.

She trudged her freezing, cold, wet way to the nearest estate, only to discover when she was admitted that she fetched herself up not at her friend’s house, but at nearby Blackhall, home of the reclusive (and scandalous) Earl of Ravenworth.

Just as the rain turns into snow, and the roads become impassable. Eve is stuck at Blackhall, alone (except for the servants) in the house with the most notorious man in the district. If her situation is ever discovered, it will ruin her chances for a favorable marriage – whether anything happens between them or not.

Eve’s reputation teeters on the brink of utter ruin.

Of course, nature does not cooperate, and the weather gets even worse. Eve can’t leave. But the more that she and Bryce get to know each other, the more tempted they become. Bryce cannot manage to conceal just how much he is tempted to compromise the beautiful and intelligent Eve. And she is even less capable of hiding just how close she is to letting him.

But Bryce feels like his past actions have made him unforgivable, so he refuses to tell Eve what it is that she should be (or not be) forgiving him for. They are at an impasse – until Eve finally has the ammunition she needs to take matters into her own hands.

Escape Rating B+: Just like the previous novella in this series, The Earl Who Loved Her is a short, sweet and relatively clean read. And treat.

Also like the previous story, this one takes place over a relatively short and deliberately constricted time period, and under circumstances where there are of necessity relatively few characters and the hero and heroine are forced into a circumstance where they have little choice but to spend a great deal of concentrated time together.

It’s a circumstance that makes the relatively quick romance and the short length of the tale work very well.

The Earl Who Loved Her is a little treat – sort of like a “fun-sized” candy bar. There’s just enough story here for a brief pick-me-up, without being so big as to feel (or make the eater feel) over-saturated with sweetness (or chocolate, to continue the metaphor).

The language that the Earl sometimes uses is a bit flowery, but the feelings behind it seem true. As with the previous book, he is a man who considers himself not worthy of the heroine’s affections. He wants to make sure she has the choice to pursue the goal she originally planned, and is absolutely certain that he can’t be the advantageous marriage that she needs, no matter how much she wants him to be.

And no matter how innocent he is of the “crime” of which he has been accused. It’s up to her to get it through his thick skull that he is what she wants after all. And Eve, like all the Potter sisters, is more than up to the challenge!

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

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Review: The Governess Who Captured His Heart by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Governess Who Captured His Heart by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Governess Who Captured His Heart (The Honorable Scoundrels, #1) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Honorable Scoundrels #1
Pages: 87
Published by Sophie Barnes on November 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Temptations or Priorities...?

Determined to help her oldest sister make ends meet, Louise Potter accepts a governess position in the northern part of England. If this means accompanying an older gentleman on his travels, then she will. There’s only one problem: Louise is about to discover that her travelling companion is not the elderly man she expected, but rather seduction itself...

Alistair Langley has no desire to share his carriage with his niece’s newly hired employee. But the matron he expected to find at his door is instead a beautiful young woman, one he knows he can’t travel alone with. After all, he’s going to visit his brother who is pressuring him to marry and produce a Langley heir—or be cut off from inheritance. When he confides in Louise, together they form a plan. But the closer they become, the more temptation beckons...

Until finally a choice must be made: Love or money? Or is it possible to have both?

My Review:

The Governess Who Captured His Heart will probably capture a lot of readers’ hearts in this short and sweet historical romance.

The trope is a classic. Two people, trapped together on a long trip with not much to entertain themselves except each other. They have an unexpected opportunity to get to know each other to an amount of depth that would never have occurred outside of this carriage ride, when they are stuck with each other’s company, and no one else’s, for hours at a time. For an entire week.

Louise Potter is on her way to her first posting as a governess. Her new employer offers her the opportunity to ride to the estate in comfort, as her uncle is traveling to visit her at the same time. Louise hears “uncle” and expects someone middle-aged and probably overweight, bald, or both.

Alistair Langley, on the other hand, hears “governess” and expects someone starched from head to toe and equally comfortably middle-aged, possibly with grey hair confined to a severe bun. Certainly someone matronly at the very least.

The only thing that either of them got remotely correct was the bun – if not the color.

Louise Potter is in her mid-20s, just barely considered “on the shelf” by polite society. Which she used to be a part of before her father drank away what was left of the family fortunes and then inconveniently died, leaving Louise and her 2 sisters with no income and a house they can’t afford but desperately want to keep. Her older sister has managed to become an accountant, and now Louise has secured employment as a governess. They hope to put together enough funds to keep the house and give their youngest sister the season they never had.

Alistair Langley is just over 30. His family’s history is just a bit irregular, or at least his parents’ marital escapades were. His “niece” is very nearly his own age. And their family, while definitely of the upper crust, is far from conventional.

Alistair is the heir to a title, and is being pressured to marry and secure the family line. Louise is under pressure of her own, to make a success of this first posting and help her sisters.

But a week of forced intimacy leads both of them, step by reluctant step, to the inescapable conclusion that whatever they thought their futures would be, their best chance of happiness is with each other – even if it’s a chance that neither of them believes they can take.

Escape Rating B+: This one is a great little story. At 87 pages, it is short – a nice little pick-me-up if you want to just get swept away, but don’t have very long to stay swept. And the short length of the story works well in this particular instance. While I would love to know more about both Louise’s circumstances and Alistair’s rather peculiar family, it isn’t strictly necessary to enjoy this story.

I think that has to do with the way this story is laid out. All of the action, and certainly all of the romance, takes place on that trip. Everything is confined into a relatively small space and time. It would have been all too easy to expand things, and most of it would have felt like extra padding. This is just right.

Most of the romance is in the banter and the unresolved sexual tension, which ratchets up deliciously with each conversation. This is a romance where these two people, first surprised by each other, then discomfited by each other, discover that they have much more in common than they or society would expect them to.

They have a likeness of mind (as well as an attraction of the body) and like definitely calls to like.

I also liked that their conversations and internal thoughts felt “real”. They both do want, and they both are responsible people, and those two drives conflict with each other. They are both bound to their duty, and it makes them respect each other – as well as helping the readers to like and respect them.

In this short length, and with this particular circumstance, that this is also a relatively clean romance works well. They might, and particularly in Alistair’s case, they do, have quite salacious thoughts, but they don’t act upon them until after the wedding. If he’d ravished her when he first discovered that he wanted to, this would be a different story, and probably not nearly as good.

The Governess Who Captured His Heart is the first novella in the Honorable Scoundrels trilogy featuring the Potter sisters. I’ll be reading The Earl Who Loved Her next week. I can’t wait to find out how youngest sister Eve meets her match!

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

 

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Review: A Daring Arrangement by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

Review: A Daring Arrangement by Joanna Shupe + GiveawayA Daring Arrangement (The Four Hundred, #1) by Joanna Shupe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Four Hundred #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on October 31st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Set in New York City’s Gilded Age, Joanna Shupe’s Avon debut introduces an English beauty with a wicked scheme to win the man she loves—and the American scoundrel who ruins her best laid plans…

Lady Honora Parker must get engaged as soon as possible, and only a particular type of man will do. Nora seeks a mate so abhorrent, so completely unacceptable, that her father will reject the match—leaving her free to marry the artist she desires. Who then is the most appalling man in Manhattan? The wealthy, devilishly handsome financier, Julius Hatcher, of course….

Julius is intrigued by Nora’s ruse and decides to play along. But to Nora’s horror, Julius transforms himself into the perfect fiancé, charming the very people she hoped he would offend. It seems Julius has a secret plan all his own—one that will solve a dark mystery from his past, and perhaps turn him into the kind of man Nora could truly love.

My Review:

There’s a reason that the “fake engagement” is such a well-beloved (and well-used) trope, and books like A Daring Arrangement are that reason. The story sparkles with wit and sizzles with scandalous heat from the moment that the hero and heroine first strike sparks from each other – when he’s three – or possibly four or five sheets to the wind – celebrating his birthday on horseback inside one of New York City’s best restaurants. She stands on a chair to make sure they are eye-to-eye, and neither they, nor the reader, ever look back.

Lady Nora Parker wants to start a scandal, so that her father-the-Earl will whisk her home to England, and back to the arms of the very unsuitable artist she has fallen in love with. Julius Hatcher wants an entree into the upper echelons of so-called polite society, so that he can discover the identities of the men who ruined his father and drove the man to suicide.

Neither of them expects to fall anywhere near love. Nora is in love with somebody else, and Julius has vowed never to marry. The manner of his father’s death left him with the indelible impression that love and family only leads to obligations and dependencies that can drag a man even further down than he has already fallen.

So Julius is determined not to fall. But he still needs revenge on the men who broke his father and got away unscathed. He sees Nora as a means to that end, just as Nora sees Julius as the means to her end.

But Julius is unwilling to cause the scandal that Nora desperately wants. Now that he’s found his way into the upper crust, he needs to stay there until he’s found what he wants.

Neither of them expects that what they will want most is each other. But the longer their fake engagement goes on, the more they discover that they belong together. Just as someone else tries to tear them apart.

Escape Rating B+: For the most part, this story is an absolute lark. With a raven casting a bit of a shadow near the end. Let me explain.

The best part of this story is the relationship between Nora and Julius. They are both smart people who like breaking the rules. They are absolutely perfect for each other. In a world where most men see Nora as a breakable ornament, and most women see Julius as a handsome devil with an open (and bulging) wallet, in each other they find an equal. They draw sparks from each other both sexually and intellectually, and most importantly, they challenge each other. And they keep up with each other.

And in the best “fake engagement” tradition, they are the last people to realize that their relationship is real, no matter how it got its start.

However, I did find it just a bit obvious that Nora’s lover back in England was bound to show up in New York and do something to break up her relationship with Julius long before he finally appeared. On the one hand, his attempt at breaking them up was even further over the top than I expected, and on the other hand, while I figured out that he was behind some of the nastiness behind the scenes, he went way further, and in a different direction, than I expected.

Nora is a character that I really grew to love over the course of the story. She starts out seeming just a bit selfish, but also very brave. And in the end, it’s her bravery that shines through.

And the bubble and sparkle of A Daring Arrangement has me looking forward with delighted anticipation to the next book in this series, A Scandalous Deal, coming next spring.

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

Giveaway Link: https://goo.gl/qPk2oY

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Giveaway open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of A DARING ARRANGEMENT by Joanna Shupe. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 11/14/2017 @ 1159pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copy out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: Wilde in Love by Eloisa James + Giveaway

Review: Wilde in Love by Eloisa James + GiveawayWilde in Love (Wildes of Lindow Castle, #1) by Eloisa James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Wildes of Lindow Castle #1
Pages: 416
Published by Avon on October 31st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Lord Alaric Wilde, son of the Duke of Lindow, is the most celebrated man in England, revered for his dangerous adventures and rakish good looks. Arriving home from years abroad, he has no idea of his own celebrity until his boat is met by mobs of screaming ladies. Alaric escapes to his father’s castle, but just as he grasps that he’s not only famous but notorious, he encounters the very private, very witty, Miss Willa Ffynche.

Willa presents the façade of a serene young lady to the world. Her love of books and bawdy jokes is purely for the delight of her intimate friends. She wants nothing to do with a man whose private life is splashed over every newspaper.

Alaric has never met a woman he wanted for his own . . . until he meets Willa. He’s never lost a battle.

But a spirited woman like Willa isn’t going to make it easy. . . .

The first book in Eloisa James’s dazzling new series set in the Georgian period glows with her trademark wit and sexy charm—and introduces a large, eccentric family. Readers will love the Wildes of Lindow Castle!

My Review:

Wilde in Love is the first book in what looks to be a fun new series. So no worries about whether or not to read the previous books, because this is a chance to get in on a treat of a series from the very first page.

It is also a “banter into romance” type of story. And that banter is center stage not merely from the very first page, but actually from the title. Wilde in Love is the title of a ridiculous play, that is frequently discussed, derided and ultimately just about lampooned within the pages of the book Wilde in Love.

It’s also a pun in the sense that while the play of the title is an over-the-top melodrama that fictionalized Alaric Wilde’s adventures into a romance that never existed, the story of the book is all about Alaric Wilde falling head over heels in love with the one woman who has no interest in his fame or fortune.

Not that Alaric himself has much interest in his fame. His fortune is another matter entirely. But Alaric Wilde has finally returned home to his rather eccentric family after years of traveling around the world, and penning best-selling books about his travels.

His return to England is almost a farce of its own, as crowds of admiring and swooning women greet his ship. While his books have become widely read, the play based on his supposed romantic exploits has turned him into the 18th century equivalent of a superstar – complete with the 18th century equivalent of groupies.

And he wants none of it. What he does want is to discover the anonymous author of that ridiculous play, so that he can sue them and have it closed down. Or just closed down. And all the copies burned. And the ashes covered with something permanently destructive, like quicklime. Or acid. Just in case.

Alaric’s homecoming coincides with the celebration of his brother’s betrothal. The month-long(!) house party is the perfect place for hordes of Alaric’s “admirers” to try their best to get his attention, with an eye towards romance, marriage or a notch on their bedposts. Or all of the above.

In the midst of all the chaos, Alaric finds himself attracted to the one woman who doesn’t give a fig about his fame or his fortune. She has plenty of money of her own, and if there is one thing that Willa Ffynche values above all, it’s her privacy.

So even though Willa and her best friend Lavinia have been the toast of the season, the perfectly demure young debutantes who have collected admirers and engagement offers with abandon bears no resemblance whatsoever to the real and rather earthy young women who are their true selves.

And the real Willa is the perfect woman for the rather untamed Alaric – if he can convince her that, in spite of his current notoriety, his adventurous nature is exactly what she needs to match her own.

Escape Rating B+: Wilde in Love is a romp from beginning to end. This is historical romance at the height of its over-the-top-ness. And it reaches those heights because both Willa and Alaric, in their completely separate ways, are more than willing to expose just how ridiculous all of the rules of society really are when taken to extremes.

I liked Willa (and her bestie Lavinia) very much indeed. What makes them so interesting is the way that they both acknowledge that society’s rules must be outwardly obeyed, while dealing honestly with each other. They have a pact to keep up the appearance of being “perfect” debutantes, while always admitting to each other that it is completely an act. Their attitude is quite refreshing, and it exposes a good bit of the seedy underbelly of their society.

Something that Alaric also does, but in a completely different way. He’s been out of England long enough that the extremes of social behavior and society dress are simply things he will not do. There’s a scene early in the book, where he thinks about the whole “stiff upper lip” thing that his brother North is forced to live by, and the degree to which they are both grieving the death of their oldest brother, and admits to himself that the rest of the world does not share this concept of keeping all one’s emotions tightly wrapped no matter what – so that in the end he reaches out and hugs his brother – who for a few brief but necessary moments – hugs him back. It’s a scene that says so much about Alaric, where his true heart lies, and just how high the cost for that stiff upper lip, all at the same time.

The core of Wilde in Love is the developing romance between Willa and Alaric. This is a wooing with words long before it becomes a wooing by deeds. They essentially talk each other into love, into bed, and into marriage with a whole lot of sparkling wit and a shared understanding that the conventions are not quite at the be-all-and-end-all level that society thinks they are.

This is not a romance that develops quickly, so it is good that the surrounding cast of characters is equally interesting – particularly the increasingly contentious sparring match between Willa’s friend Lavinia and Alaric’s best friend Parth. I hope that we’ll be seeing them finally figure out that the sparks they strike from each other have way more to do with love than with the detestation they are both protesting much too much in a future book in this series.

But speaking of future books in the series, Wilde in Love ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Not that Willa’s and Alaric’s relationship doesn’t come to a marvelous and slightly unusual HEA, because of course it does. But his brother North’s betrothal, the one that was being celebrated at the beginning of the story goes completely sideways. It’s going to take another whole book for that puzzle to finally get itself worked out.

And I can’t wait to read that story in Too Wilde to Wed!

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

Giveaway Link:  https://goo.gl/iEZbPM 
Giveaway Terms & Conditions:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of Wilde In Love by Eloisa James.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 11/14/2017 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: Black Box Inc by Jake Bible

Review: Black Box Inc by Jake BibleBlack Box Inc. by Jake Bible
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Black Box Inc #1
Pages: 216
Published by Bell Bridge Books on October 20th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Need to hide something from the fae?Got a tricky trans-dimensional delivery to make?Need a big ball of magic that can destroy the world?Call Black Box Inc.

The world as we know it is gone. Since the “extradimensional happening,” every creature, monster, and fairy tale goblin has turned Asheville, North Carolina, into their personal playground. An uneasy truce exists between the races, but Chase Lawter’s unique ability puts him squarely in the crosshairs of treachery, feuds, and monsters looking to make a buck on black market goods. Chase is the only known being who can pull material from between dimensions and shape it into whatever he likes—like boxes. Like boxes in which folks hide smoking guns and severed heads. Only Chase can hide the boxes, and only Chase can recover them from the Dim. All for a tidy sum, of course.

His crack team—a yeti, a zombie, and a fae-trained assassin—have his back. What could possibly go wrong?

My Review:

I picked Black Box Inc to read for Halloween both because it looked interesting (which turned out to be true), fun (which definitely turned out to be true) and because the author is best known for his horror stories – even though Black Box Inc didn’t look exactly like horror – which was a good thing for this reader.

In that sense, I got what I expected. Black Box Inc is more like horror-adjacent, and that’s about the way I like it. It’s urban fantasy, in a universe where the things that go bump in the night do come out to play, as well as many of the other standard character groups that populate urban fantasy as well as horror.

And it’s a road novel. The gang, quite literally has to take the road to Hell. The caper, as there often is in urban fantasy, in this case is to steal the soul of Lord Beelzebub. Who both is and isn’t who you are thinking of.

And Hell kind of looks like Detroit – in all of its Motor City heydays. And yes, I meant that as a plural.

The set up of the universe is, while not unique, certainly interesting. Like the break in the wards around New Orleans after Katrina in Suzanne Johnson’s Sentinels of New Orleans series, or the mashing together of the fae and human dimensions in Kai Gracen’s world (by Rhys Ford), there was an extradimensional happening in the quite recent past of Chase Lawter’s version of our world.

All the dimensions have become connected through portals. Earth’s portals, not very surprisingly, are in places where the veil between dimensions has always been a bit thin. Places like New Orleans, and San Francisco, and, Asheville NC, where Chase and his gang at Black Box Inc operate their extradimensional business.

Chase was among the many humans who picked up interesting powers in that happening. But Chase is unique, not just among the humans, but seemingly among the many other species who have suddenly acquired connections to our world. Chase can manipulate the “Dim”, the stuff that exists between dimensions. He can create weapons from it. But mostly, Jake makes boxes – hence the name of the company, Black Box Inc.

Because Jake makes “dim boxes” big and small, that allow him to hide things that people don’t want found, or lost, or stolen, in the dim, where only he can retrieve them.

It’s a living. Sometimes a very good living. Sometimes a very dangerous living. But it’s a living that keeps Jake and his colleagues busy and pays the bills.

About that gang…Jake’s friends and colleagues are an assortment of beings and personalities that could only have existed after the happening. His transportation manager is a Yeti, his business manager is a zombie, and his bodyguard is definitely human – but a human who learned to be an assassin while she was a fae changeling. Oh yeah, his lawyer is a banshee. It seems like ALL the lawyers are now banshees.

And Jake needs every hand on deck – even the ones that he doesn’t know he has – when he and his friends find themselves caught in the middle of a manipulative game between Daphne, the Queen of the Fae, and Lord Beelzebub, the ruler of a dimension that Jake calls hell.

Daphne wants Beelzebub’s soul so that she can get past his defenses and conquer his dimension. Beelzebub wants to use his soul, which he doesn’t really need anyway, in order to trap Daphne and as many of her warriors as he can so that she will stop trying to take over his dimension.

And everyone seems to think that threatening Chase and using Chase and manipulating Chase is the best way to get what they want.

They might even be right. But when both sides are playing you, you kind of get to choose which one you’re playing with, and which one you’re playing against. And it feels really weird that the Lord of Lies is on the right side of anything.

After all, all is fair in love and war, and this is definitely war.

Escape Rating B+: Black Box Inc is a hoot and a half from beginning to end. Sometimes complete with actual hoots – because the snarkitude exhibited by all the characters, but especially Chase, is often laugh out loud funny.

But Black Box Inc basically is urban fantasy of the snarky anti-hero school. While we don’t see nearly as many of those as we used to (Harry Dresden has gotten pretty damn serious over his last few books), it is a familiar trope. Black Box Inc is a damn good example of that trope, but it is familiar territory.

Part of what makes this particular book so much fun is the way that the author pokes at some of the craziness in the real world by holding up the post-happening changes as pointers to how things really are anyway, no matter how they are dressed up in real life. That all the law firms on Earth have been taken over by banshees is clever and feels right – but in some ways it doesn’t feel different from popular perceptions of real-world lawyers.

The best part, however, as with all urban fantasy when it works, is the gang. It’s not just that everyone is smart and everyone is interesting and everyone cracks wise at the drop of a hat, but that they are all different and likeable (even when they aren’t supposed to be) and that the author shows both how smart they are and how much they care about each other.

And just enough things get stood on their heads to make it seem fresh.

The worldbuilding also holds up quite well. While this is not a version of Earth I’d actually want to live in, as a construct, it makes sense and hangs together. Well done.

In a week where real life was going completely insane, Black Box Inc was marvelously diverting. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next book in the series. I definitely hope there are lots more!

Review: Beast by Anna Hackett

Review: Beast by Anna HackettBeast (Galactic Gladiators #7) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #7
Pages: 160
Published by Anna Hackett on October 31st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Abducted by alien slavers and taken to a lawless desert world, the last thing starship pilot Mia expects is to find herself in the protective, brawny arms of a wild, blue-skinned alien.

Rescued by gladiators on the alien world of Carthago, Mia is working to find other abducted humans who are still lost. But someone else also needs her help—the untamed alien who’s saved her twice. Rescued from vicious fight rings he’s fought in since he was a child, Vek is prone to losing control in aggressive fits of rage…and Mia discovers that she is the only who can calm him. As she finds herself drawn to the man beneath the beast, she knows that with his enhanced senses, Vek can help her find her friends.

For years, all Vek’ker has known is death, darkness, and killing. Despite his newfound freedom, he is struggling to control his rages and withdrawal from the drugs his captors used on him. Only one scent soothes him, one voice calms him, and one woman is his light in the dark. Vek will do anything to protect Mia and make her happy…including vowing to find her friends.

With the gladiators from the House of Galen, Vek and Mia follow mysterious clues into a dangerous part of the desert on the trail of the missing humans. They are drawn closer together but as they enter the deadly Illusion Mountains, they have no idea of the dangers lying in wait for them, or how far they will both be pushed to their limits in order to survive.

My Review:

Whenever I’m having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day, I can always trust one of Anna Hackett’s action-packed science fiction romances to sweep me away from whatever is going wrong. (She even got me through election night, and that’s seriously saying something!)

So I spent part of one day with a big, blue Beast and the woman who has captured his heart – every bit as much as he’s captured hers.

We met Vek’ker and Mia earlier in the Galactic Gladiators series. Vek’ker and Mia bonded at least somewhat when they were both trapped in the horrific Srinar fight rings. Even high on aggressive fight drugs, Vek protected Mia as best as he could. Once they were rescued by the House of Galen, she helped him begin to adjust. When she and two of her friends were recaptured in Champion and Mia was rescued in Barbarian, it was Vek’s abilities that helped bring Mia back “home”.

But there are still two human women missing, and there have been rumors of a third who doesn’t seem to have been part of the original group captured by the intergalactic slavers. They have a lead, but it’s a slim one. The women have been taken to the Illusion Mountains, and that illusion is no joke.

People see things, people lose things and people lose themselves, way out there where no one dares to go. But they must, if they are to rescue Ryan and Dayna.

And get their revenge on the people who have raided the House of Galen yet again, and killed more of its gladiators in their desire to keep the twisted, underground fight rings running – and to keep the profits from those rings flowing.

It’s a dangerous trek across deserts filled with death borers (think sandworms on steroids with a taste for live meat) into the elusive Illusion Mountains.

And once there, a deadly race to elude the slave traders and rescue their friends. A race that is being streamed live to a galaxy of sick “sports” enthusiasts, and nearly costs Vek and Mia everything they have just barely found.

Escape Rating B+: I love this series. It’s a fascinating set up, and each of the stories exposes more of this side of the galaxy in general and the dangers of the planet Carthago in particular, while still telling a rollicking adventure tale and a sexy romance.

Each of the human women (and one man) who have found themselves on this distant world after the horrors of their capture also reaches for a different kind of future and a different kind of partner. Mia’s talent is in her voice, music that quite literally seems to have charms that soothe the savage beast – and the savage plant as well.

Vek’ker, on the other hand, is about as alien as it gets. The rest of the gladiators, with the exception of Thorin, seem to be more-or-less human. They are larger, and some have some special talents, but one gets the impression that they don’t look much different than the average NFL player in his prime. Vek, on the other hand, is blue. Not sad, although that too, but blue like sky, or like the cover picture.

He’s also just about as lost as Mia is. Mia, at least, knows who she is and where she’s from. She may not be able to get back there, but her identity is solid. Vek’ker was captured by slave traders so young that he has no memories of his home planet. He doesn’t even remember where he’s from.

Vek and Mia save each other, over and over again. At different times and in different ways, but she saves him just as often as he saves her.

And while she may have the security of knowing who she is and where she came from, she’s always felt just a bit inadequate. Her family back home consisted of a bunch of hard-charging, aggressive, ambitious, over-achievers. Mia always felt like she didn’t fit. With Vek she’s finally part of a whole that loves her, needs her and wants her exactly as she is.

She feels the same about him. It’s not his exotic nature that draws her, it’s his essential sweetness and protective nature, hidden under a dangerous persona. They work together, even though on the surface they shouldn’t.

In addition to the basic story, where one romance arrives at its HEA and one more human woman is rescued from something terrible, one final element of each story in this series is that the newly rescued human and one of her rescuers strike some serious sparks from each other in one way or another.

I think that by the end of Beast we saw the opening moves of not one but possibly three future romances. And I can’t wait!

Review: Lilac Lane by Sherryl Woods

Review: Lilac Lane by Sherryl WoodsLilac Lane (Chesapeake Shores #14) by Sherryl Woods
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance, women's fiction
Series: Chesapeake Shores #14
Pages: 352
Published by Mira Books on October 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

No one writes about friends, family and home better than Sherryl Woods. Told with warmth and humor, Lilac Lane is a brand-new story in her beloved Chesapeake Shores series, one readers all over the world have waited two years to read!

At the heart of Lilac Lane is Keira Malone, who raised her three children alone after her first marriage broke apart, and who, after years of guarding her heart, finally finds love again. But that love is short-lived when her fiancé suffers a fatal heart attack. Grieving and unsure of what’s next, Keira agrees to move from Dublin to Chesapeake Shores, Maryland, to spend time with her daughter, Moira, and her new granddaughter, Kate, as well as to help her son-in-law, Luke, with his Irish pub, O’Briens

Not wanting to live underfoot, she rents a charming cottage on Lilac Lane, replete with views of the ocean and her neighbor’s thriving garden—not to mention views of the neighbor himself. The neighbor is none other than Bryan Laramie, the brusque and moody chef at the pub, with whom Keira is constantly butting heads. But things get real when Bryan’s long-lost daughter, whom he hasn’t seen since she was a baby, shows up out of the blue. As Bryan and Keira each delve into their pasts, reopening wounds, the rest of the town is gearing up for the Fall Festival Irish Stew cook-off, and making no bones about whose side they’re on. It’s Kitchen Wars meets This is Your Life—a recipe for disaster…or a new take on love?

You won’t want to miss this epic return to Chesapeake Shores, a place we’re betting you’ll want to stay forever.

My Review:

Chesapeake Shores sounds like an absolutely magical little town, at least if you don’t mind a whole town full of nosy and interfering neighbors. Not that the collective O’Brien clan doesn’t mean terribly well, and not that they don’t seem to generally do well in their meddling, but Keira Malone is used to being the boss of her own life, thankyouverymuch.

Which doesn’t mean that her life doesn’t get a much needed makeover when she arrives from Dublin to visit her father, her daughter, and her new grandbaby. The ostensible reason for her visit is to help take care of her new (and only) grandchild, and to “consult” for her son-in-law about the authentic “Irishness” of the traditional Irish pub he’s opened in Chesapeake Shores.

Keira has spent her entire adult life working in and managing Irish pubs in Ireland, so she certainly has the right experience for the job. But it’s a made-up job. Her daughter and her father, both now living in Chesapeake Shores, fear that Keira will turn in on herself after the death of her fiance.

After all, that’s exactly what Keira did after the breakup of her marriage. She turned inward and pretty much stayed inward – and exhausted, raising three children on her own with zero help from her drunken ex-husband. And just when she finally let herself open up – boom, another disaster.

So the family, not just Keira’s daughter Moira and Keira’s father Dillon, but the entire O’Brien clan that they have both married into, plots and schemes to get Keira to Chesapeake Shores. And once she’s there, and they all observe the sparks that fly between Keira and the pub’s resident chef Bryan Laramie, they all keep right on scheming, with an eye towards matchmaking between the chef and the “consultant” who seems to question his every move. Or at least he feels that way.

Bryan is just as alone as Keira, and the whole town seems to be more than willing to conspire to get these two together – from manipulating Keira into renting the cottage next door to Bryan’s house to cooking up a cooking contest to finish off the local Fall Festival – a cooking contest that pits Keira’s authentic Irish Stew recipe against Bryan’s hand-me-down version.

The winner of their contest will take all, not just the prize, but also the other’s heart. If they can both figure out what it really, truly means to “win”.

Escape Rating B+: Lilac Lane is a sweet and savory mix of contemporary romance, women’s fiction and small town magic.

Not magic as in Harry Potter, but just the magic that seems to permeate so many small town romances. Chesapeake Shores is just a lovely little town where good things happen to good people – and where there don’t seem to be any bad people – if maybe a few misguided ones – who do not appear in this story. Chesapeake Shores is just a great place to live.

Keira Malone and Bryan Laramie are an interesting and slightly different protagonists for a romance. Both are a bit older – while it’s not specified precisely, both have adult children and seem to be on either side of 50 – with Keira a few years older than Bryan.

They are both people who have been seriously wounded by life and love, and in ways that are similar underneath some rather startling surface similarities. Keira left her husband because he was an alcoholic, Bryan’s wife left him because he was ambitious, self-absorbed and absent. But Keira kept in touch with her ex – not directly, but enough that he could have visited his children anytime he wished – if he wished. Bryan’s wife, on the other hand, just disappeared with their daughter. She vanished. He’s spent years, and countless thousands of dollars, trying to locate them both. It’s not that he wants the marriage back – and who would, but he wants to regain contact with the daughter he still loves.

Neither of them is good at letting people in. Keira because her two attempts at romance have ended in disaster, and Bryan because he’s never bothered to divorce his missing ex.

Both of them need resolution in their lives – and there’s something about the way that they spark each other that makes them both reach for it.

The romance is of the squeaky-clean variety (the hero and heroine have only a few kisses between them when he proposes) but it works for this story and setting. Both Keira and Bryan are tentative about love, and that hesitation is expressed wee in their non-courtship, two-steps-forward-one-step-back relationship.

Although, speaking of two-steps-forward-one-step-back relationships, Keira’s relationship with her daughter Moira, and Moira’s relationship with her husband in specific and with the universe in general feels just a bit “off”. As a reader, I couldn’t figure out why Moira acted the way she did, and in real life I’d feel more than a bit sorry for her husband and her mentor.

Chesapeake Shores does seem like an absolutely marvelous place. The large O’Brien clan is deeply interwoven into the fabric of the town, which seems to have been created by one of them as a tourist destination – and it has flourished.

O’Briens seem to be everywhere. Keira’s father has remarried into the family, as has her daughter. The other women of the O’Brien family both meddle in Keira’s life with abandon and become the circle of sisterhood that she never had – and dearly appreciates now.

Lilac Lane is the 14th book in the Chesapeake Shores series. I’ve not read the earlier books, but was able to get into the story easily. Enough of the family’s previous connections and romances were explained in a way that meant I didn’t feel left out. It probably helped that Keira herself comes in as an outsider, so things have to be explained a bit to her – and we get the benefit of that.

But I certainly enjoyed Lilac Lane more than enough that I’ll be happy to visit Chesapeake Shores again soon!

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Review: Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

Review: Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny ColganChristmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: holiday fiction, women's fiction
Series: Little Beach Street Bakery #3
Pages: 320
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on October 10th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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New York Times-bestselling author Jenny Colgan dishes up another delightful holiday story about the residents in an idyllic Cornish village who must join forces to save Christmas.

In the Cornish coastal village of Mount Polbearne, the Christmas season has arrived. It’s a joyous time for family, friends, and feasting as decorations sparkle along the town’s winding streets and shop windows feature buoyant, festive displays. And in Polly’s Little Beach Street bakery, the aromas of gingerbread cookies and other treats tempt people in from the cold.

Though Polly is busy keeping up with the demands of the season, she still makes time for her beekeeper boyfriend, Huckle. She’s especially happy to be celebrating the holiday this year with him, and can’t wait to cuddle up in front of the fireplace with a cup of eggnog on Christmas Eve.

But holiday bliss soon gives way to panic when a storm cuts the village off from the mainland. Now it will take all of the villagers to work together in order to ensure everyone has a Merry Christmas.

My Review:

I got so wrapped up in this one that I shivered right along with the heroine. It’s COLD on the coast of Cornwall at Christmas!

This is a story about friendship and families and relationships and finding your bliss and not letting the baggage of the past drag you down.

It’s also about a miracle at Christmas. Not that one. But the tiny little miracle that saves both a family and a friendship, even if it’s not exactly deserved. But miracles so seldom are.

Polly and Kerenza are best friends, and have been since they bonded like glue as scholarship students at a posh private school. But their friendship is severely tested when Kerenza confesses to Polly that the baby in her eight months’ pregnant belly might not be her husband’s.

Polly is caught on the horns of multiple dilemmas, So she does what she usually does – she buries herself in her work as the owner of the Little Beach Street Bakery, and tries to push it all away.

She’s pushing a lot.

Part of the problem is that Kerenza’s husband Reuben and Polly’s fiance Huckle are also best friends. Kerenza fears that if Polly tells Huckle her big secret, then Huckle will feel duty-bound to reveal all to Reuben, ending their marriage in a gigantic mess.

Polly and Kerenza were scholarship students way back when because they were both raised by single mothers who did not do well financially – or in Polly’s case, emotionally. Kerenza’s dad is dead, but Polly’s sperm donor is just a missing piece in her life. A missing piece she can’t fill in, because he’s a subject her mother refuses to talk about. And neither Kerenza nor Polly is willing to risk putting Kerenza’s baby into the same life that they both only managed to get through because they had each other. Not if there’s any way on Earth to avoid it – at any cost.

But Polly fears, and rightly so, that keeping a huge secret from Huckle will damage their seemingly perfect relationship. A relationship that is only perfect because they both avoid the subjects that neither of them wants to deal with. Most particularly Polly’s complete unwillingness to talk about their future. They love each other, they believe they are each other’s soul mates – but whenever Huck raises the subject of taking their engagement to its next logical step, Polly freezes, and freezes him out.

It’s more than cold enough in Mount Polbearne without that.

As guilty as Kerenza feels, this is one of those times when confession is not the answer. There’s a very strong possibility that the baby is her husband’s. There’s also a strong possibility that she was so drunk that when she thinks she fell on some random guy’s dick that nothing actually happened. She was too drunk to remember. All Kerenza can do it wait and see.

But Polly is the one who is really stuck. When her sperm donor’s wife contacts her to tell her that her biological father is dying and wants to see her, it’s up to Polly to decide what she needs to do. Not just whether to see him or not, but whether to finally pry open her mother’s memory box of “things we do not discuss”. And then to decide how the revelations of the secrets of her own life will affect her and her future.

So it’s Kerenza’s crisis, but it’s Polly’s journey. With her pet puffin Neil riding along with her, every step of the way. And it’s lovely. (Especially Neil!)

Escape Rating B+: The first quarter of the book I remember thinking that it was interesting and cute but not all that compelling. The mess of Kerenza’s life, and the complete narcissistic selfishness of her husband Reuben did not thrill me as a reader. It did rather seem as if her mess was very much self-inflicted.

But I settled in to read after dinner, and just got hooked. I came up for air after an hour and realized not just how much time had passed, but also just how much story I had absorbed. Once the focus shifted fully into Polly essentially in not-dealing-with-multiple-crises mode, I got sucked in and couldn’t tear myself away until the last page.

One of the interesting themes that plays out over the course of the story is about the damage that secrets can do to a relationship. Kerenza spends much of the story punishing herself for her unremembered indiscretion, holding the secret so tightly (and so necessarily) that she becomes a shadow of herself. And yet, she knows that it is vital for her baby’s future that she keep the secret no matter what.

But requiring Polly to also keep the secret damages her relationship with Huckle, almost irrevocably, even though it is not her secret and, as she tries to convince Huckle, not her secret to tell, either. And that it’s really none of their business. Or at least not enough of their business to risk the consequences to Kerenza and to the baby.

The more damaging secrets are the secrets that Polly’s mother Doreen has kept from her about her biological father and their relationship. Because it seems obvious that whatever happened back then, it has kept Doreen from living her own life and helping Polly to both grow her own wings and fly free. That Polly managed anyway, at least to some extent, is a testament to her own strength. But those buried secrets still hold her back and weigh her down, and she needs to know the truth in order to live her dreams. She can’t let her life be ruled by her fears – especially by proxy. Watching her set herself free is one of the highlights of the story.

That Polly has been adopted by a puffin, or more specifically that Neil has Polly wrapped around his bright little beak, is utterly adorable. And adds a marvelous touch of whimsy at just the right moments. I haven’t read the rest of the Little Beach Street Bakery series, and now I want to, if only to find out how Neil and Polly adopted each other. It must be adorable.

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Review: Wild Justice by M.L. Buchman

Review: Wild Justice by M.L. BuchmanWild Justice (Delta Force #3) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military romance
Series: Delta Force #3
Pages: 313
Published by Buchman Bookworks, Inc. on October 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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DELTA FORCE
The best counter-terrorism force on the planet.

SERGEANT DUANE JENKINS
• Elite Delta operator—explosives just make him grin •

AGENT SOFIA FORTEZA
• Top Intel Analyst for The Activity—thinks data is sexy•

The team must face their toughest mission yet: take down a massive human-trafficking ring and a corrupt Venezuelan spy agency—without leaving a trace.

Sofia and Duane.
In common: black sheep of extremely wealthy families, renegades against the status quo.
Differences: tactician vs. explosives expert, thinker vs. pure warrior.

Together: fight to keep their team alive, and their love.

My Review:

Wild Justice is a story with layers, like an onion. And also like an onion, some of those layers will make the reader at least sniffle a bit.

Like all of the Delta Force series, this is a story of a crack military team ghosting into someplace where angels fear to tread and governments fear to leave official footprints. Members of “the Unit” go in, they get the job done, and they were never there.

The series, which began with Target Engaged, is about one particular team of Delta operators. Not that they call themselves that. To its members, Delta is just “the Unit”, and they are the best of the best.

As this case begins, they are joined by an intelligence analyst from an equally elite but completely different U.S. Black Ops agency, one known only as “the Activity”.

Sofia Forteza has called in an operational unit to help her take down a Venezuelan military officer who is a local kingpin in the human trafficking cesspool. She’s found her dirtbag, she just needs help with the extraction as well as the rescue of the women and children he is currently holding.

What she gets is Duane Jenkins, nicknamed, of course, The Rock. He may not quite match up to the actor, but he gets damn close. Even more important, when he brings in the rest of his team, he trusts Sofia to have his back, and gives her just enough pointers to help her help him without ever insulting her capabilities or her intelligence.

And he helps her come down from her first field kill without thinking or acting as if she’s weak for any reason whatsoever.

Duane gives her respect, and Sofia is forced to admit that he’s the first man she hasn’t had to prove herself to, over and over and over, even within the top ranks of the elite units – or within her own family.

There’s something between them from the moment they meet, and it’s something that neither of them has ever experienced before. They are fortunate that their coinciding missions give them the chance to explore what it might be.

Even if neither of them believes that love is remotely possible. Not for who they are now, and not for what they came from. But just because neither Sofia nor Duane believes in love, that does not mean that it does not believe in them.

Escape Rating B+: Any reader who loves military romance should pick up the first book in M.L. Buchman’s series of interconnected books, The Night is Mine, and just binge. He starts with an elite SOAR unit, branches some of them off into an elite civilian wildfire fighting operation, and then links others to Delta Force. You don’t have to read all of them to get the sense of any individual book in the series, including this one, but they are all tremendously fun.

And Buchman has a gift for making sure that his female protagonists are every single bit the kick-ass warriors that his male protagonists are. And as they should be under the circumstances. But it’s not something that we see nearly enough.

Wild Justice operates on multiple layers. A big part of the story is the operations that the team takes on to help dent the human trafficking trade in South America. This part of the story is based on very real and very harrowing events. The civilian team they partner with is based on a real organization that works similarly to the way their fictional counterparts are portrayed.

In the middle of the operation, there’s also a romance. Of course there is. Unusual for this series, though, Sofia and Duane are both from similar backgrounds, both, in their own ways “poor little rich kids” who grew up with all the monetary advantages in the world but not much in the way of nurturing or moral support. Sofia had one person who had her back, her grandmother, the powerful owner of a premier wine-making company. However, she also had not merely a narcissistic and nasty mother, but also an abusive older brother.

Duane’s dad is a Coca-Cola executive, his mother is a high-powered attorney, and Duane is a disappointment to both of them. He chose to join the military to try to fix at least a few of the things that can’t be fixed with “a Coke and a smile.” They’ve never forgiven him, not that they ever gave much of a damn about him in the first place.

That both of them grew up as part of the 1% and chose a career in service to make a difference gives them something in common. It also means that Duane is not over-awed by the wealth of Sofia’s family’s winemaking empire – an empire that Sofia will someday inherit.

Although the course of true love never does run smooth, these are two people who plausibly have a chance, and also plausibly have a rocky road ahead of them. It works.

One final note. In the midst of the current #MeToo campaign, one scene early in the book had a tremendous amount of resonance. As part of a training mission, Duane and his Delta team, along with Sofia, take down a cruise ship being “held” by a Black Ops team from another agency. After the operation is over, Duane and Sofia overhear the “losing” team indulging in what is often dismissed as “locker room talk”. They are evaluating the women on the Delta team, including Sofia, by their physical attributes and discussing just how much they want to “punish” the women for beating them. It’s not just disgusting, it’s actual rape talk. Sofia wants to dismiss it. She’s fought this battle all of her life, and it never ends well for her. Her response is one that so many of us often make, that it’s only talk. That it doesn’t really matter. Or most tellingly, that it can’t be fixed.

What makes the scene stand out is the way that the Delta team does indeed “fix” it. As a unit. This is not something they will tolerate, not the men in the unit, and not the women. It’s a joint effort to make these assholes pay.

The physical payback meted out is relatively minor, but the response from the higher ups is stellar. Instead of dismissing the complaint, as we so often fear will happen, because it so often does happen, the perpetrators are punished severely with loss of jobs, loss of promotions, loss of assignments, retraining, black marks in their files. The authorities do what they are supposed to do, and what we always hope they do but frequently don’t. At the same time, there’s the very real world acknowledgement that the worst offenders will go out and offend somewhere else. The powers that be in both agencies can drum these bastards out, and get the word out to all their reputable contacts not to hire them. Which means that, unfortunately but all too likely, the less reputable outfits will hire them. But they have done everything they can reasonably do to pull the rotten apples out of their own barrel.

And that’s still a big win.

Review: Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt + Giveaway

Review: Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt + GiveawayDuke of Desire (Maiden Lane, #12) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Maiden Lane #12
Pages: 364
Published by Grand Central Publishing on October 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A LADY OF LIGHT

Refined, kind, and intelligent, Lady Iris Jordan finds herself the unlikely target of a diabolical kidnapping. Her captors are the notoriously evil Lords of Chaos. When one of the masked-and nude!-Lords spirits her away to his carriage, she shoots him . . . only to find she may have been a trifle hasty.

A DUKE IN DEEPEST DARKNESS

Cynical, scarred, and brooding, Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has made it his personal mission to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and destroy them. Rescuing Lady Jordan was never in his plans. But now with the Lords out to kill them both, he has but one choice: marry the lady in order to keep her safe.

CAUGHT IN A WEB OF DANGER . . . AND DESIRE

Much to Raphael's irritation, Iris insists on being the sort of duchess who involves herself in his life-and bed. Soon he's drawn both to her quick wit and her fiery passion. But when Iris discovers that Raphael's past may be even more dangerous than the present, she falters. Is their love strong enough to withstand not only the Lords of Chaos but also Raphael's own demons?

My Review:

On the surface, Duke of Desire seems like a much more traditional historical romance than yesterday’s Someone to Wed. In this latest entry in Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series the hero and heroine fall into the standard pattern. He rescues her from grave physical danger. And she, in turn, saves him from the Stygian darkness he believes is inside his own soul.

But the terror that hides in the shadows of those Stygian depths is one that was not spoken of in traditional historical romances. The scarred Duke of Dyemore was the victim of child sexual abuse, at the hands, and other body parts, of his own father. It’s the kind of horror that never truly goes away, even after the death of its perpetrator.

Raphael’s father was the leader of one of the Hellfire Clubs that sometimes appear in historical romance and historical fiction. The Lords of Chaos are demons in human form, and Raphael is determined to bring them down.

But when the Lords kidnap Lady Iris Jordan in the mistaken belief that she is the new wife of their enemy the Duke of Kyle. (His story is told in last year’s Duke of Pleasure), Raphael risks his mission to save her. Iris is not the new Duchess, however she is a friend of Kyle’s. But she’s not the Lords intended victim, and Raphael makes use of the confusion to claim her for himself, right out from the Lords’ disgusting clutches.

Then Raphael’s spur-of-the-moment rescue goes completely awry when Iris shoots him, believing, and understandably so under the circumstances, that he is whisking her away to rape her in private before murdering her.

It is not an auspicious beginning for any relationship. They manage to straight out the mess before he succumbs to his wound. He recovers just enough to bully the local priest into marrying them. She will need the protection of his name to survive the storm that is coming, even if he doesn’t manage to live through her amateur attempt at surgery and the infection that follows.

What he’s not admitting is that he has been thinking of Iris for months, after they danced together once at a ball, and that as much as he believes that she is not for him, he can’t resist the opportunity to keep her for himself now that it has been tossed into his lap.

Iris, the widow of a cold man many years her senior, was hoping for a real marriage on her second time around, one with the possibility of children and even, at least, respect between herself and her husband.

What she has is Raphael, a devastating sexy man, in spite of the horrific scar that mars his face, who is determined to get himself killed in his vendetta against the Lords of Chaos. And who is equally determined not to sire any children before he meets the end he feels he deserves.

It’s up to Iris to probe the darkness that surrounds him, and give him a reason to survive his very necessary fight. Her battle often seems much more difficult than his.

But the rewards should be worth the pain. As long as they both survive.

Escape Rating B+: This was another book that I simply swallowed whole and very quickly. I really enjoyed its riff on the “Beauty and the Beast” tale, including the lovely alternate version of the fairy tale that is included in the chapter headers.

One of the themes underlying the story is about making one’s own choices about the course of one’s life, even if the beginning is in hell. Both the hero and the villain are sons of the previous generation of the Lords of Chaos. As a boy, Raphael chose escape by any means necessary, no matter how terrible. As an adult, he’s chosen to fight back. Instead, his enemy broke, and ended up wallowing in the evil that had broken him. Raphael certainly feels a bit of “there but for the (very questionable in this case), grace of G-d go I.”

It may be a bit of Stockholm Syndrome, but Iris does fall in love with Raphael a tad conveniently. They are effectively trapped together by the Lords’ enmity, and their marriage does make a certain amount of sense, but Iris is all in from very early on – more than just making the best of the situation. And she puts up with some unconscionable behavior on Raphael’s part.

Because he believes he isn’t worthy of love, and that he should never have children for fear that he might become like his father, the early parts of their relationship often feature Raphael at war with himself. He plays a vast game of “come here go away” because he needs Iris and wants her and doesn’t believe he should let himself care for her. So he regularly exhibits the care he believes he shouldn’t feel, and then pushes her away.

She fights back at every turn, as she needs to. But it would be exhausting in real life.

The danger to Iris is very real. The Lords of Chaos are all around them, planning to kill both Iris and Raphael (after raping Iris first, of course) so that they can maintain their secret den of vice, debauchery and murder with no one the wiser of their real identities. Raphael is a threat to their existence, and he must be stamped out.

As the jackals circle closer, Raphael must finally put some of his trust in someone else, and must admit that whether he is worthy of love or not, it has found him anyway, and it is worth preserving at all costs.

It is a difficult but ultimately satisfying lesson, for Raphael, for Iris, and for the reader.

Reviewer’s note: While we all enjoy seeing handsome heroes on the covers of romance novels, the inaccuracy of this particular cover is a bit jarring. Raphael has a terrible scar from above his eyebrow to the side of his mouth. That scar and the reasons for it are part of his story, his pain, his courage, and his redemption. A judicious use of Photoshop would have gone a long way on this cover.

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