Review: Lowcountry Boughs of Holly by Susan M. Boyer

Review: Lowcountry Boughs of Holly by Susan M. BoyerLowcountry Boughs of Holly (A Liz Talbot Mystery, #10) by Susan M. Boyer
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Liz Talbot #10
Pages: 258
Published by Henery Press on November 17, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but Private Investigator Liz Talbot is struggling to feel festive. She hasn’t seen her best friend, Colleen, in weeks and fears she may never see her again in this life. Meanwhile Nate, Liz’s husband and partner, is spending money like he prints it in the attic on a mysterious family Christmas celebration. Liz’s nerves are shot, and she hasn’t even decked a single hall. But there’s simply no time to fret.
On a morning beach run, Liz spots a wooden rowboat run aground with Santa inside. Did Old Saint Nick have too much eggnog at the boat parade? No indeedy—Santa’s been shot. And he’s none other than C.C. Bounetheau, patriarch of one of Charleston’s wealthiest families.
Liz and Nate already unwrapped quite a few family secrets while searching for the Bounetheau’s missing granddaughter last year—enough to make them swear to steer forever clear of the entire clan. But as Mr. Bounetheau’s body is found in Stella Maris, and Liz and Nate are the police chief’s on-call detectives, they’re on the case.
With no shortage of suspects, Liz and Nate dash to find a killer who may be working his or her way down a naughty list.
Spend Christmas in the Lowcountry with the Talbot family and their friends in Susan M. Boyer’s latest Southern charmer, Lowcountry Boughs of Holly. Tis the season for merry mayhem!

My Review:

As the saying goes, “the love of money is the root of all evil.” But there’s a kind of codicil to that saying that goes, “Every woman needs roots.” And in several peculiar, holly covered and sometimes holly strangled ways, that combination of contradictions is the essence of this story.

Along with that always-applicable thing about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely.

Not that anyone in Stella Maris actually has absolute power, not even Colleen the ghost with her mission from, let’s call it, “on high” to preserve the character, ecology and population balance of beautiful Stella Maris island.

(Please consider all of the above as a tease, because if I explain ANY of it I’ll give away the entire thing.)

There are always some people who think they have that power – and certainly act like they do. And one of them has just turned up dead on the Stella Maris shoreline, the morning after the island’s annual Christmas boat parade. Whatever the circumstances surrounding C.C. Bounetheau’s death, one thing that Private Investigator Liz Talbot is certain of is that he didn’t die of drowning, despite his corpse’s location.

Someone shot C.C. straight through the heart. While he was wearing a Santa suit.

The question is not only whodunnit but why they did it. C.C.’s wife has a well-deserved reputation for “eliminating” people that get in her way, but Abigail Bounetheau has always hired out her dirty work.

The family certainly has plenty of money to make that possible. Even after the ill-gotten gains of her drug-kingpin twin sons were removed from the equation – along with the two men, the apples of their mother’s eye, who are now serving a lot of time in prison.

But money makes for plenty of motives, and the Bounetheaus certainly have plenty of it.

The question before Liz and her partner/husband Nate is whether that money is the reason for C.C.’s murder – and if so in what way? Did someone need C.C. to die earlier than nature intended – even though the man was 80 – so that they could inherit whatever they believed was coming to them?

Did someone want revenge for either the twins’ actions or C.C.’s own – even if that action was in the long past? Or did one of the twins’ former partners fear that C.C. knew of their involvement – and would talk?

Liz and Nate, contracted to the Stella Maris Police Department for any cases that required more investigative skills that the tiny SMPD has on tap, find themselves in the thick of the case and under the gun – literally and figuratively – and without the assistant of Liz’ ghostly friend Colleen.

But this case is so twisted that it may take Colleen’s “special gifts” to get it solved in time for Christmas!

Escape Rating B+: I didn’t realize until I started this entry in the series that I missed a couple of the preceding books. While I didn’t absolutely NEED to have read Lowcountry Boomerang and Lowcountry Boondoggle to get into this one, I’m kinda sorry that I hadn’t read them first, as they introduce the Bounetheau family and explain why Colleen seems to have abandoned Liz at the beginning of this story.

Howsomever, there’s plenty of explication about the Bounetheaus to make the situation perfectly clear to anyone who hasn’t read those two books. But the whole thing, particularly Abigail’s apparently well-known but never proven murderous ways, sounds absolutely fascinating and I’ll have to go back and pick up what I missed.

That being said, this is not the place to get started with this series if you haven’t read any of them at all. The background on Colleen’s part in the whole series as the genius loci of Stella Maris needs more explanation than one gets 10 books into this series.

Besides, the whole thing is tremendously fun and highly recommended pretty much anytime there’s a Goodreads or Facebook query about terrific cozy mystery series. So if you haven’t had the pleasure, and it definitely is a great deal of pleasure, start with Lowcountry Boil.

But I decided to read this now instead of backtracking because, this is a holiday story and well, ‘tis the season and all that. And I’m very happy that I did!

There’s something about this series that reminds me of both of Miranda James’ cozy mystery series, Cat in the Stacks and Southern Ladies Mysteries. Part of that is the setting, as James’ series are set in a small college town in Mississippi, while Stella Maris is a small town on a small island in the South Carolina Lowcountry. The towns do have a similar feel to them, as well as a similarly unrealistic number of murders.

I think I just compared Diesel, the intelligent and empathetic Maine Coon cat from the Cat in the Stacks to Colleen the ghost, and it sorta/kinda works. Abigail Bounetheau certainly reads like the Ducote Sisters’ evil twin. But they wield the same kind of economic and social power in their respective communities, even though the Ducote Sisters only use their powers for good.

And I’ll confess that I like the idea of an 80something woman as an evil villain. It gives me something to aspire towards. Not the villainy, but certainly the vitality!

If you like Liz Talbot and Stella Maris, you’ll like Charlie Harris and Diesel, and very much vice versa. Which is a great thing as the publication date for Liz’ next adventure is still a mystery!

Review: The Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick

Review: The Forgotten Sister by Nicola CornickThe Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Graydon House on November 10, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the tradition of the spellbinding historical novels of Philippa Gregory and Kate Morton comes a stunning story based on a real-life Tudor mystery, and of a curse that echoes through the centuries and shapes two women’s destinies…
1560: Amy Robsart is trapped in a loveless marriage to Robert Dudley, a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Surrounded by enemies and with nowhere left to turn, Amy hatches a desperate scheme to escape—one with devastating consequences that will echo through the centuries…
Present Day: When Lizzie Kingdom is forced to withdraw from the public eye in a blaze of scandal, it seems her life is over. But she’s about to encounter a young man, Johnny Robsart, whose fate will interlace with hers in the most unexpected of ways. For Johnny is certain that Lizzie is linked to a terrible secret dating back to Tudor times. If Lizzie is brave enough to go in search of the truth, then what she discovers will change the course of their lives forever.

My Review:

The fate of Amy Robsart has been one of those long-standing historical questions, to the point where the mystery of whether it was accident, suicide or murder was one of the historical mysteries presented to Inspector Alan Grant at the beginning of The Daughter of Time. While he decided to investigate the “Princes in the Tower”, the question of Amy Robsart is still an interesting one, because of the way that it ties back to a towering figure of English history, Queen Elizabeth I.

Whether the “Virgin Queen” really wanted to marry her Master of Horse, Robert Dudley, or not, the questions that surrounded his wife’s death pushed that possibility forever out of reach. But it’s easy to get caught up in the alternate paths of history. If Dudley and Elizabeth had married, would she still have managed to become the legendary Gloriana? Would they have had children? How much different would history be if Elizabeth had a child of her own to follow her on the throne, instead of the endless plots of Mary, Queen of Scots and the English throne passing to HER son, James VI of Scotland who became James I of England.

There might have been no King James’ Bible. The Stuarts would never have come to the throne, which means that the Hanovers would never have followed them. If there was no George III, there would have been no American Revolution.

Now there’s a fascinating idea, and just the kind of rabbit hole that alternate history stories love to go down. But that’s not what happens in this story.

The story of The Forgotten Sister is kind of a time slip story that provides illumination on that long-ago mystery but doesn’t change the outcome.

In the 21st century, Lizzie Kingdom and Dudley Lester have been friends since childhood. They are also A-List celebrities. What they aren’t is married to each other. Nor do they seem to have any desire to be. Rather, Dudley is married to Amelia Robsart, while he spends a great deal of time palling around London and partying with his best friend Lizzie.

To the point where Amelia Lester feels neglected, only because she is – gets depressed, only because her life is depressing – and falls down a flight of marble stairs. At her home, Oakhanger, which was constructed using the stones from Cunmor, where, guess what? Amy Robsart fell down a marble staircase and died in 1560, neglected and depressed because everyone knew her husband was off cavorting with Elizabeth Tudor while she was forced to rusticate in the country.

The parallels between Amelia Robsart’s fate in the 21st century and Amy Robsart’s fate in the 16th are filled with similarities and congruences to the point where we think we know what happened both times around – and that the same things happened both times around. And we kind of do.

But we kind of don’t.

Because the 16th century part of this story may be told from Amy Robsart’s point of view, but the 21st century perspective is not Amelia’s. Instead, we see the events in the 21st century through the eyes of Lizzie Kingdom. A woman who, like her 16th century avatar, is determined to finally seize the reins of her own life, but someone who has an entirely different set of options.

If she can just get out from under the accessory to murder charge she’s currently saddled with – along with the fleet of managers and assistants and toadies who are determined to keep her under glass and under their control – so they can continue to drain her dry.

Escape Rating B+: One of the things I wondered about as I read this was whether it worked better if you knew the history – or if it worked better if you didn’t and everything was a revelation. This was history I knew and knew well, so the parallels were easy to spot – although the way the author twisted Amy/Amelia’s story was fascinating. Historically perhaps not plausible, but not completely implausible either.

The one problem with knowing the history was that while the name parallels mostly worked pretty well, the idea that anyone had named their child Letty Knollys in the late 20th century was almost a bridge too far. The congruences didn’t need to be THAT on the nose to work.

That being said, what makes this story work is that the 21st century protagonist isn’t Amelia but rather Lizzie. And that the similarities between Lizzie’s life – and especially Lizzie’s choices – and those of OMG Elizabeth I are less direct equivalences and more of a looser connection. Although it was inspired to think that the closest match to the life of a royal in the 16th century was that of an A-Lister in the 21st. And it so works.

But the story works because as much as the Amy/Amelia Robsart deaths turn out to be history repeating itself, what we see in Lizzie is her breaking out of the bubble she’s been living in, breaking away from the sycophants who are actually controlling her, and finally making a life of her own and making her own choices and taking her own chances. She’s in her late 20s, money seems to be no object, she can afford to take a chance – at least once the murder is solved – and search for a life that has meaning for her rather than a life that makes money for everybody else.

The bits of paranormal woo-woo that serve as kind of the glue between the two time streams are done once-over-lightly in a way that makes them part of Lizzie’s taking charge of her own life as well as part of the ultimate resolution to the timestream. It was just right and just enough and made the ending just lovely.

Review: Masquerade in Lodi by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review: Masquerade in Lodi by Lois McMaster BujoldMasquerade in Lodi (Penric and Desdemona #4) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Penric and Desdemona #4
Pages: 103
Published by Spectrum Literary Agency on October 14th 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Bastard’s Eve is a night of celebration for most residents in the canal city of Lodi -- but not for sorcerer Learned Penric and his Temple demon Desdemona, who find themselves caught up in the affairs of a shiplost madman, a dangerous ascendant demon, and a very unexpected saint of the fifth god.
This novella falls between “Penric’s Fox” and “Penric’s Mission” in the internal chronology of the Penric & Desdemona tales.

My Review:

Penric, whose adventures have featured in this novella series since its beginning in Penric’s Demon, is a fascinating character. Or perhaps that should be characters. And that is part of the fascination.

Because Penric was knocked sideways out of the life he planned to lead by the advent of Desdemona in his life, and there his adventures definitely began.

That sounds like a romance, doesn’t it? But that’s not what this is. Not at all. Not that Penric doesn’t have his own romantic adventures, and not that Desdemona didn’t have hers. Two centuries worth of them.

In the World of the Five Gods, those five gods are not just worshipped. They are real, can appear before their followers, and can act directly upon the world. But mostly they act indirectly, through their priests, their learned divines, of which Penric is one, and their god- or goddess- touched Saints, one of whom is featured in this entry in the series.

Those gods are the Mother, the Father, the Sister, the Brother and the fifth god whom Penric serves, the “master of all disasters out of season”.

Penric is a Learned Divine of the White God, the Lord Bastard. Desdemona is the demon who shares Penric’s head. They are partners. He provides the physical body which allows her to move in the world, and she gives him magic. And the benefit of her two centuries of experience – sometimes whether he wants it or not. From Penric’s perspective it’s often like have a dozen older sisters and aunts giving him advice whether he’s asked for it or not. Generally not.

The series began when Desdemona jumped from her previous host, the dying Learned Divine Ruschia, to young Penric, knocking his life into another channel from the one he was expected to have as the younger son of a prosperous landowner.

He also expected to be bored out of his skull, but life with Desdemona inside his skull has been anything but boring. Often dangerous, occasionally life-threatening, but never, ever dull.

In Masquerade in Lodi, Penric is definitely not bored. Tired, footsore, terrified and manipulated, occasionally all at the same time, but never, ever bored.

Even if the story begins by his thwarted attempt to take a half-day off in preparation for the local festival in honor of his god. But then, the Lord Bastard is the god of misfortune and bad luck, along with prostitutes, executioners and vermin.

And Penric runs into pretty much all of the above as he attempts to squire a very young Saint of his order along on a mission to find a demon-touched man who may or may not be either a murderer or a potential victim. Or both.

Whether he is saint or villain, the young man’s mother is still expecting him to come home. It’s up to Penric, with the help and sometimes hindrance of the saint, to make it happen.

Escape Rating B+: The beginning of Masquerade in Lodi may be a bit confusing for faithful readers of this series. The book published immediately before this one, The Physicians of Vilnoc, takes place several years and a whole lot of life and adventures after Masquerade in Lodi. Some fairly dangerous and rather significant adventures, including Penric’s marriage.

Those events are still in Penric’s future in Lodi, and it takes a bit of a reset to get one’s reading self back on track. A worthwhile mental adjustment, but definitely an adjustment. The book whose events immediately precede this one is Penric’s Fox, and that was several books ago.

On my oft-cited other hand, one of the things that this entry in the series does very well, is to not just tell its adventure but also to show and not tell a whole lot more about how the system works.

By that I mean the system of gods, temples, demons, saints and worship. Because this religion functions for the actual good of its people, which is rare in fantasy. Usually the “church” is a source of evil or oppression or corruption or villainy or all of the above. Not in the World of the Five Gods.

So when Penric is called to the dockside mission to investigate the case of a man who might be demon-touched or might merely be out of his own head, it’s normal and accepted and expected. When Penric discovers that the poor man is harboring an untamed demon, there are no torches and pitchforks. No signs of the “evil eye”.

Instead, there’s a process in place for Penric to take the poor man to a Saint of the White God to have the demon taken by the Lord Bastard. A process which the victim will survive.

Except, it’s not nearly that simple. Otherwise there wouldn’t be an adventure. But in the discussion between Penric, his demon Desdemona, all of the Temple officials who become part of the merry chase of the escaped victim, the young Saint who is occasionally god-touched but always way more observant and intelligent than anyone expects, we learn a wondrous amount of stuff about this world, how it works, and both Penric’s and his god’s place in it.

And we get a tour of friends and enemies in low places, because nothing about the victim, the demon, or the reason they met in the first place is remotely as it seems.

Discovering how everyone got to be in this pickle in the first place is all the fun.

Review: The Troubleshooter by Anna Hackett

Review: The Troubleshooter by Anna HackettThe Troubleshooter (Norcross #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance
Series: Norcross #2
Pages: 258
Published by Anna Hackett on October 18, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Never, ever fall for your brother’s annoying, infuriating, gorgeous best friend.

Gia Norcross’ life is exactly how she likes it. She has a successful PR firm in San Francisco, a beautiful apartment, a loving family of overprotective brothers, and her fabulous designer shoe collection. Perfection. Sure, occasionally she has to deal with her aggravating nemesis who happens to be her brother’s best friend. Saxon Buchanan: tall, rich, handsome, bossy, and knows how to work her last nerve.

She’ll never, ever admit to anyone that most days, she isn’t sure if she wants to punch the arrogant, tattooed, suit-wearing know-it-all…or kiss him.

After a military career spent in a covert special ops team doing hard, dirty, and very classified missions, Saxon Buchanan is happy working at Norcross Security as the company’s top troubleshooter. He also enjoys the perks of civilian life. That includes sparring with smart, sexy Gia of the wide brown eyes, luscious curves, and sharp tongue. He’s spent half his life fighting the pull of his best friend’s little sister.

But seeing a man aim a gun at Gia changes everything.

When Gia’s troubled childhood best friend drags her into a really, really bad situation, soon bullets are flying, precious gemstones are missing, and Gia’s in danger. Saxon’s done pushing away the one woman he’s ever wanted. He’ll do everything to protect her, and he’s not letting anything get in his way: not the bad guys, not his best friend, and especially not Gia.

My Review:

This is the story I was expecting after the hints at the end of the first book in the Norcross series, The Investigator. And it was exactly the kind of terrific doozy of an action adventure romance that I expect from this author!

Gia Norcross has entirely too many brothers – or at least that’s how she sees it at least some of the time.

Not that she doesn’t love every single over-protective one of them. But they do have a testosterone-fueled tendency to try to protect her even when she doesn’t need protecting. And especially when she does.

As she does fairly often in this entry in the series.

Not, as happened a bit too often in the first book in the series, because the heroine couldn’t seem to recognize the obvious risks that she kept walking right into. But rather because Gia’s heart is very big and extremely loyal, and she’s unwilling to cut off one of her childhood friends. Even if that friend has become a liar, a thief, and a user of both pharmaceuticals and people.

And Gia is most often her target. Or her sucker. She’s someone who seriously needs some tough love, but Gia keeps on bailing her out of the trouble that she’s gotten herself into.

In this particular case, seriously big time trouble that follows her friend right to Gia’s doorstep. In search of the stolen jewels that said “friend” is letting Gia hide for her. Gems that are way more valuable – and chased by people way more deadly, than her friend is willing to admit.

Unlike her lying, using, so-called friend, Gia has some real badasses fighting in her corner. Because they’re her brothers, sometimes she’s fighting them more than the bad guys who are after her.

But one of those badasses is not one of her brothers, and in spite of the number of years they’ve been pissing each other off on a regular basis, she definitely doesn’t have any sisterly feelings towards Saxon Buchanan.

Occasionally murderous feelings, but even those are just a cover for how much she wants him and how long it’s been going on. But Saxon has been parading a seemingly endless stream of long leggy blondes through his bed, and Gia’s not remotely interested in being a notch on anyone’s bedpost. Especially not someone who seems to prefer women who are her exact opposite.

But, this isn’t the story of a rake reformed. Instead, it’s the classic story of the older brother’s best friend falling for his friend’s underage sister – who has grown up into the woman he wants but shouldn’t have.

Something about that damn ‘bro code getting in the way.

With at first one, then two and eventually three different sets of villains chasing after Gia for those stolen jewels that she doesn’t even have, Saxon Buchanan finally makes keeping Gia safe and making her his not just his top priority, but his only priority.

No matter what her brothers or any of those villains have to say in the matter. His real challenge is to get Gia to admit that she’s been on that train all along.

Escape Rating B+: I liked The Troubleshooter considerably more than I did The Investigator, so I’m really happy to say that the books stand more than enough alone that you don’t have to read the first to get into the second.

The reason I liked this one better is that Gia was a much more active character than Haven. Haven kept falling into trouble, and seemed to always be reacting to the crap that happened TO her.

Gia, on the other hand, felt proactive. Some of her actions didn’t turn out for the best, or didn’t turn out quite the way she planned, and occasionally the bad guys planned better, but it always felt like Gia was pushing her own action forward. She was never passive. She was not a passive person in any way, and she was always the prime mover of her own story no matter how much Saxon and her brothers tried to wrap her in cotton and keep her safe. Not always successfully. And that lack of success wasn’t remotely always Gia’s fault.

Instead, Gia’s fault isn’t a fault. Well, her temper is definitely a fault, but it isn’t what got her into this mess. Gia’s loyal, and always tries to see the best in people. As faults go, it’s a pretty good one. And it is one that gets her in trouble, but her actions, even when they turn out wrong, still keep the story moving and make her the prime agent of her own story.

I liked Gia a lot. She’d be a loyal friend and a whole lot of fun. But she’s also a serious businesswoman who has made her own way. There’s just a lot to admire about her character and I did.

I did enjoy the way that Saxon and Gia’s relationship exploded. Developed is not the right word, because it’s been there all along. Definitely exploded. They have explosive chemistry AND explosive tempers and they caught serious fire. Saxon is every bit as troubled as most of this author’s heroes, but the chemistry between them burned up the page and just plain worked.

One tiny thing niggled at me. In the previous story there was an evil old man who collected women to be his sex slaves. In this one there’s an evil old man who buys women to be sold as sex slaves. In neither case was the evil old lech the main villain. He felt over the top both times and I’m tired of reading about him. That’s my 2 cents and I’m sticking to it.

Howsomever, I’m definitely NOT tired of reading about the Norcross family. Especially as the hints at the end of this book promise that the next romance in the series will follow one of my favorite tropes, the falling for the boss trope. This time with the added bonus that the assistant is in no way intimidated by her boss’ power, or his money, or pretty much anything or anyone at all.

This is going to be so much fun!

Review: A Duke for Miss Townsbridge by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: A Duke for Miss Townsbridge by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayA Duke for Miss Townsbridge by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Townsbridges #4
Pages: 100
Published by Sophie Barnes on October 20, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

She threatens to conquer his heart…
When Matthew Donovan, Duke of Brunswick, proposes to Sarah Townsbridge, she’s shocked. After all, she’s never met him before. One thing is clear though – he obviously needs help. So after turning him down, she decides to get to know him better, and finds out she’s right. But fixing a broken man is not the same as adopting a puppy. Least of all when the man in question has no desire to be saved.
Matthew has his mind set on Sarah. Kind and energetic, she’ll make an excellent mother. Best of all, her reclusiveness is sure to make her accept the sort of marriage he has in mind – one where they live apart. The only problem is, to convince her, they must spend time together. And the more they do, the more he risks falling prey to the one emotion he knows he must avoid at all cost: love.

My Review:

Life may or may not be like a box of chocolates, but A Duke for Miss Townsbridge is a deliciously light confection of froth and fluff with a tasty but chewy center to give it just the right amount of bite.

I’ve just realized that this analogy makes Sophie Barnes’ work the equivalent of that box of chocolates, and that definitely works. They are always delicious!

Initially, the duke in question is not for Miss Townsbridge. At all. Oh, he thinks he is, but she’s having none of him after he invades an afternoon party being held in her honor, gets down on one knee and doesn’t so much propose marriage as command it.

The Duke of Brunswick’s literal first words to his intended bride are “Marry me,” as though he has the right to order it and she has no choice but to go along.

In spite of being near the end of her sixth season, 22 years old and in danger of being considered permanently on the shelf, Sarah Townsbridge does have a choice in the matter, and her choice is to decline the honor.

But that “no” is only the beginning of a romance that Brunwsick had intended to forgo altogether. He needed a wife and a mother for his eventual heir. He wanted someone capable of presenting herself as his duchess while maintaining her own household and keeping herself occupied for the rest of their lives.

He had no intention of loving, or frankly even liking his would-be Duchess. His entire family had been killed in a carriage accident when he was a child. An experience that he has NEVER gotten over. Or past. Or even let the tiniest bit go of.

That’s what makes Sarah decide to give him another chance. She’s made a hobby of taking in wounded animals and “fixing” them. And Matthew Donovan, the high-in-the-instep Duke of Brunswick, is definitely a wounded animal that needs just Sarah’s kind of care. He needs to heal, and she wants to “fix” him.

It should be an even worse beginning for a relationship than his initial commanding proposal. And it very nearly is. Until it finally isn’t.

Escape Rating B+: All of the stories in the Townsbridges series of historical romantic novellas have been utterly delicious, and A Duke for Miss Townsbridge is certainly no exception.

They have also all been romances with just a little bit of bite. Romances where there’s something unconventional in the way that the hero and heroine begin their romantic adventure. Even better, it’s never the same something.

It’s also generally something that shouldn’t work, from When Love Leads to Scandal, where the heroine begins the story engaged to the hero’s best friend, to Lady Abigail’s Perfect Match, where the hero initially makes the heroine literally sick to her stomach, to the previous story, Falling for Mr. Townsbridge, when a son of the household falls for his mother’s new cook – and chooses to ignore convention and marry her.

It’s not necessary to have read the previous books in the series to enjoy this one, but they are all lovely, short, eventually sweet and utterly delicious.

In this outing, Sarah falls for the Duke because she wants to fix him. In real life, this is downright dangerous, and relationships like this one nearly always end in disaster AND heartbreak. Plenty of people have issues that need fixing, but no one can BE fixed. They have to want to fix themselves and then carry through – something that doesn’t happen nearly enough except in Romancelandia.

And it nearly doesn’t happen here, either. It’s not that Matthew is a terrible person, it’s that he’s lived his entire life up to this point clinging to his pain – and he doesn’t know how to stop. Sarah, at least doesn’t think it will be easy, but she does see that it’s necessary. Her mistake is thinking that Matthew is all in on doing the work, when he really isn’t.

So there’s a romance here, where these people fall in love but only one of them is willing to admit it. And they marry anyway. It’s only after Matthew breaks Sarah’s heart that the healing can begin.

That the author didn’t gloss over just how much hard work is going to be involved made this unworkable premise work. In the end, their happy ending was definitely earned!

But speaking of earning a happy ending, the jilted fiance from the very first book in this series, will finally have the chance to earn his in the next book, An Unexpected Temptation, when he gets stranded in a winter storm with his nemesis, just in time for the holidays.

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Happily this Christmas by Susan Mallery

Review: Happily this Christmas by Susan MalleryHappily This Christmas by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance, women's fiction
Series: Happily Inc #6
Pages: 336
Published by Hqn on September 29, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Susan Mallery, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fool’s Gold romances, proves there’s no place like Happily Inc for the holidays…

There’s no place like Happily Inc for the holidays…

Wynn Beauchene has a thriving business, a great kid and a mildly embarrassing crush on the guy next door—local cop Garrick McCabe. She’s a strong, independent woman who can’t help dreaming what-if about a man she barely knows. Until he needs her help…
Garrick’s pregnant daughter will be home for Christmas, and his house needs a woman’s touch. Garrick and his little girl were tight once and he’s hoping a small-town Christmas will bring her back to him. But thawing his daughter’s frosty attitude will take more than a few twinkle lights. Maybe sharing the holiday with Wynn and her son will remind her of the joy of family.
As the season works its magic on these wounded souls, Wynn realizes it’s time to stop punishing herself for a painful secret, while Garrick remains haunted by the ghosts of past mistakes. Will he allow Wynn to open the only gift she truly wants—his heart?
Read more in the reader-favorite Happily Inc series:Book 1: You Say It FirstBook 2: Second Chance GirlBook 3: Why Not TonightBook 4: Not Quite Over YouBook 5: Meant to Be YoursBook 6: Happily This Christmas

My Review:

I decided I wanted a happier book in the middle of this week, and it doesn’t get much happier than a trip to Happily, Inc., the little town that makes big wedding dreams come true.

But the situation that opens Happily this Christmas isn’t all that happy. And as much as Garrick McCabe wants it to change, he’s far from sure that it can. Not that he isn’t going to try his level best to make it happen.

His 21-year-old, 8-months pregnant daughter is coming to stay with him in Happily for a few weeks before Christmas, when her baby is due to be born and her husband is scheduled to return from his military deployment in Afghanistan.

Hopefully not in that order.

Garrick’s daughter Joylyn used to be his best girl, his buddy, his partner in crime and the light of his life. And those feelings used to be mutual. But somewhere in the middle of her teenage years Joylyn withdrew from him. Completely, utterly and extremely bitchily into the bargain.

He’s sure he must have done something wrong – but he doesn’t know what that something was. Joylyn refuses to tell him. She also refuses to act like a decent human being in his presence.

This visit is a chance to make things right. Of course, it could also cement the estrangement in stone.

But Garrick has a secret weapon. He enlists the help of his next door neighbor, the single-mother, business-owner and generally put-together Wynn Beauchene to help him welcome Joylyn to Happily and get her visit off to the best start possible.

Only to find himself charmed by Wynn – a feeling that is definitely mutual.

It’s a good thing that Garrick has Wynn and her teenaged son Hunter in his corner, giving Joylyn people to meet, things to do and something to think about besides missing her husband, brooding over her mistakes and continuing to treat her completely confused Dad like he’s the scum of the earth.

Which he definitely isn’t.

Joylyn has a chance to make things right, if only she’s willing to take it. Garrick and Wynn have a chance at the happy ending neither of them ever managed to have – if they’re willing to take a chance on each other – and give themselves a second chance at not just love, but life itself.

Escape Rating B+: I was definitely in the mood for a happy book this week. I’ve read nearly all of the Happily series and really enjoyed them. The portrait of the wedding destination town, all the people who are part of the town’s primary industry, and everything that goes into pulling off those dream weddings has always been good for a smile or ten, along with the HEAs of the individual characters in each book.

So I fell into Happily this Christmas pretty quickly, even if I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around holiday romances this early in the year. On my other hand, perhaps wishing the rest of this year away is the best idea in the universe. 2020 has been pretty epic on the awful scale.

But this one wasn’t quite as happy as I was expecting. It was fascinating, but not happy. Because for the first half of the story, Joylyn feels like the main character and she is frankly a bitch. And it feels like that’s all on her.

As the story evolves, it turns out it isn’t ALL on her, but a lot of it is. Her reasons for cutting her dad out of her life are only partly her fault. And her current levels of extreme bitchiness are, while not excused, at least understandable as she’s extremely pregnant, her husband is deployed and quite honestly she’s scared about being a new mother.

But she’s also a spoiled, privileged little princess taking all of her problems out on everyone around her. When Wynn contrasts her own young motherhood, single, completely alone and utterly broke but still gamely trying to keep it together, that privilege becomes pretty clear and Joylyn starts to get over herself a bit.

Then the town, through Wynn and all of her friends, starts to take Joylyn to their hearts and her attitude finally gets better. She starts to grow up – and did she ever need to!

For a lot of the story, Joylyn and her issues overshadow the budding romance between Garrick and Wynn. But that’s also part of the story, as between Joylyn, Wynn’s son Hunter, all the holiday preparations and planning for both Thanksgiving AND Xmas, and the circle of friends and family-of-choice that Wynn gets Joylyn involved in, there are a lot of people around ALL of the time, and a lot of busy that needs to be worked through and handled.

While that handling is something that Wynn is very good at, the whole thing turns into the kind of three-ring circus that keeps its central participants, in this case Garrick and Wynn, so busy that they have enough time to acknowledge their attraction to each other, plenty of need to spend time together dealing with stuff, but not a lot of time just being together without at least part of the crowd to see if they have what it takes to turn that attraction into a real relationship.

Of course they do, but it nearly takes a village to help them figure it out.

So this entry in the series was bigger on the family and friendship aspects of living in Happily than it was the romance, but it was still – as always – a lovely read.

Review: Remember Me by Mario Escobar

Review: Remember Me by Mario EscobarRemember Me: A Spanish Civil War Novel by Mario Escobar
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 384
Published by Thomas Nelson on September 15, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From international bestseller Mario Escobar comes a 20th-century historical novel of tragedy and resilience inspired by Spain’s famed Children of Morelia and the true events that shaped their lives.
Historians refer to the Spanish Civil War as one of the bloodiest wars of the twentieth century. In 1937, at Mexico’s request and offer, nearly 500 children from Spain—remembered as Los Niños de Morelia—were relocated via ship to Mexico to escape the war’s violence. These children traveled across the sea without their families and were expected to return at the war’s end. No one could have foreseen another world war was on the way—or that that Franco’s regime would prevent the children from coming home. These enduring conflicts trapped the children in a country far from their homeland, and many never made it back.
Remember Me is Mario Escobar’s novelization of these events, as told by a fictional survivor—one of the children of Morelia—who looks back upon his life after making the long and devastating journey across the Atlantic. This story explores the endurance of the human spirit as well as the quandary of a parent’s impossible decision, asking: At what cost do you protect your child in the face of uncertainty?

My Review:

I picked this book up because I was moved by Children of the Stars and was hoping for something similar. And it is that, a fictionalized account of real history, and real history of roughly the same period.

In other words, I was expecting a story where fiction is the lie that tells the truth – in this case the truth about the very real children of Morelia, the nearly 500 children who were sent out of the Spanish Civil War to Mexico in the hopes that they would be safe.

There are all kinds of versions of safe, however. They were safe from the direct effects of the war – and its immediate aftermath. Many of the children were the sons and daughters of the left-leaning Popular Front government. Which was defeated by Franco and his right-leaning Nazi supported Nationalists. Who brutally suppressed the left after their victory. Which meant that their parents weren’t safe either during or after the war. The children weren’t exactly safe either – but neither were they being shelled.

The Spanish Civil War is often referred to as a dress rehearsal for World War II, as the countries who became the Allies supported the Republican government of the Popular Front, while the Axis supported the Nationalists.

And just as happened elsewhere before and even during that war, parents tried their best to keep their children safe – or at least as safe as possible. That meant that parents faced a terrible choice – to keep their children with them, to do their own best to keep them safe in a country that was the front for war, or to send them away in the hopes that they would be safer far from the battlefield.

The story in Remember Me is the story of those children sent to Mexico under the sponsorship of the Mexican government. And while the experiences of the children of Morelia were not as brutal as the Stein brothers endured in Children of the Stars as young Jewish orphans trekking across a Nazi-dominated Europe that hunted them in order to exterminate them, it was far indeed from the safety and security that their parents had hoped for.

Escape Rating B+: This is a hard book. It’s hard because what happens to the children of Morelia is both all too horrible and all too familiar. On the one hand, this was a history that I wasn’t familiar with in its particulars, although the outline of it is part of many stories that happened during the war, from the children of London shipped to the countryside to escape the Blitz to the Kindertransport that rescued 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi Germany and other countries in the months prior to World War II to the Danish resistance movement’s evacuation of over 90% of the country’s Jewish population to Sweden.

But the rescue itself is only part of this particular story, which is wrapped in the particular circumstances in Spain during and after the Civil War, and of the conditions that the children faced in Mexico.

And quite probably elsewhere, because the story of what the children went through reads like a combination of Lord of the Flies with all the old sayings about power corrupting. Much of what happened read like it could be attributed to people who had power over the children while they were in Mexico either being venal or neglectful or having their own axe to grind. Or multiple axes, as Spanish colonial oppression was not that far in Mexico’s past that there weren’t people who wanted to punish the children for the sins of their figurative grandparents. There was also conflict with the Catholic Church that just added to the issues. Many of the children were secular, having been raised in left-leaning revolutionary families. The Catholic Church in Mexico was very powerful, and there was a fair amount of pious skullduggery involved, with children who still had parents being assigned as orphans to the Church.

The money that was intended to support the children was siphoned into multiple pockets, the people put in charge of the children had no idea how to take care of them, and the facility ended up being run by the bullies. Parts of that story, awful as they are – and they are awful – felt both sad and predictable.

Human beings often suck. While wartime may make some rise to the occasion, it also makes the sucky even suckier.

This is reading like a downer, and that feels appropriate. While it ends on a hopeful note, that didn’t feel like the tone for much of the story. And I’ll admit that I am not in a hopeful mood this week, and this was probably not the right book at the right time, as compellingly readable as it is. And it certainly is.

In the end, the book this reminded me of more than any other was not the author’s Children of the Stars but rather The Brothers of Auschwitz. While a bit of that is the period setting, it is mostly due to the way that both stories are unflinching in their look at a terrible history, and in their emphasis on the ongoing cost of that history to its surviving victims.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Cat Me if You Can by Miranda James

Review: Cat Me if You Can by Miranda JamesCat Me If You Can (Cat in the Stacks Mystery #13) by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #13
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on August 25, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Charlie Harris and his feline companion Diesel take a bookish vacation but discover that murder never takes a holiday, in this all-new installment of the New York Times bestselling series. Charlie and Diesel along with Charlie's fiance, Helen Louise Brady, are heading to Asheville, North Carolina to spend a week at a boutique hotel and participate in a gathering of a mystery reader's club composed of patrons of the Athena Public Library. In addition to seeing the local sights, the members will take turns giving talks on their favorite authors.
The always spry Ducote sisters, friends of the hotel's owners, are helping underwrite the expenses, and they've insisted that Charlie, Helen, and Diesel join them. Anxious to get Helen Louise away from her bistro for a vacation, Charlie readily agrees. While Charlie is looking forward to relaxing with Helen Louise and Diesel, other members of the group have ulterior motives including a long-standing score to settle.
When an intrusive, uninvited guest turns up dead, only one mystery club member with a connection to the deceased appears to have a motive to kill. But could the answer really be that simple? Charlie and Diesel, along with the detecting Ducote sisters, know that every murder plot has an unexpected twist.

My Review:

This is my second cozy mystery this month where a significant part of the plot wraps itself around a literary genre and runs away with it. Earlier this month, Peachy Scream was set at a Shakespeare festival, involved a troupe of actors, and used Shakespearean plot devices in both the crime and especially its solution.

Cat Me If You Can is set at an extra-special meeting of the Athena Mystery Book Club, one where the Ducote sisters, Miss An’gel and Miss Dickce, take the entire club on a trip from Athena Mississippi to Asheville North Carolina, to a historic Bed and Breakfast near the famous Biltmore Estate, to get to know each other better, discuss their favorite Golden Age mystery writers, and get an insider tour of Biltmore.

But in the middle of this private little mystery convention, murder breaks out. When the ex-lover of not one but two members of the mystery club is murdered in the B&B, followed by the murder of one of the B&B’s staff, the mystery lovers are confined to the city by the local police.

It feels like they have found themselves in the middle of one of those Golden Age mysteries, and they’re all a bit worried that it might turn out to be Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Not a comfortable prospect for any mystery fan – or possibly any guest of the inn.

But Charlie Harris, professional librarian and very amateur sleuth, is in the midst of the action – as usual. And on the case, also as usual. But in this city far away from his usual haunts, it takes the assistance of both the formidable Miss An’gel and the surprise appearance of Chief Deputy Kanesha Berry straight from the Athens PD to keep Charlie out of the official soup and on the track of the killer.

Escape Rating B+: This series is a comfort read for me, and I was VERY comfortable reading this book. The cat on my lap was even apropos to the story!

But seriously, this is a series to read because you want to find out what’s up with the cast of characters – especially Diesel – and want to see what they’re up to since last you met. That was certainly true for me with Cat Me If You Can as it brought me up to date with all of the recent goings on in Athena. (If the sound of the series appeals, start with Murder Past Due. You don’t have to read them all to get into this one, but you do need to have read some in order to care enough about the characters for this latest entry to truly appeal.)

It also, at least temporarily, dealt with one of the major issues in ongoing, small town cozy mystery series. No one in their right mind would move to Athena, as the homicide rate must be well above the national average. In a small town like this one, that would have to be noticed.

I loved the shout-out to Cabot Cove and another series of small town mysteries that stretched this particular point of credulity. Charlie Harris and Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote would have a lot to talk about – including any possible stratagems for keeping their fellow townsfolk alive!

It was good to see Charlie – and the Ducote sisters, who also solve mysteries in the author’s Southern Ladies series – get away from their usual haunts while still bringing murder along for the ride.

It was also great fun to see the way that the group’s increasing confinement to their hotel began to resemble one of those cozy, small town Golden Age mysteries that they had come to discuss. A case of art imitating life imitating art – or something like that.

And while it was lovely to see Charlie and Helen Louise finally talking about getting married – I was a bit surprised that they didn’t just elope while in Asheville – it did strain credulity a bit that Charlie brought Diesel to Asheville.

Admittedly, I love the series FOR Diesel, but the logistics of dealing with a cat, even one as well-behaved as Diesel, often seemed intrusive. Although it was even more of a stretch when Athena’s Chief Deputy Kanesha Berry showed up. The point of getting the protagonist detective, whether amateur or professional, away from home in most stories is to take them out of their setting and away from their usual support group.

That the small, understaffed Athena Police Department was willing to second their only homicide detective to Asheville – a bigger city with more resources – was either a testament to the power of Miss An’gel Ducote, a bit too much of a stretch for the long arm of coincidence, or more than a bit of both.

The best part of this one wasn’t the mystery or its solution, but the book discussions that managed to take place between bodies, interviews, gossip and speculation. That part of the story was both a mystery reader’s and a librarian’s dream. I was particularly gratified to see a shout-out to two of my old favorites, Josephine Tey’s marvelous The Daughter of Time and it’s slightly more recent (1974 vs 1951) counterpoint, Elizabeth Peters’ The Murders of Richard III.

This is a book where I came for the comfort read. Conversely, I found the story even cozier than usual because they were able to travel where real life is still in the situation where it is just not advisable. I’m always happy to see how Diesel is doing, even if he was uncomfortable during a lot of this story and probably shouldn’t have been along for this ride. I wish there had been more of the book discussions, but that might not be most readers’ cup of tea.

And I’ll be looking forward, as always, to my next visit with Diesel and his human, in What the Cat Dragged In, just in time for my 10th Blogoversary next April!

Review: Better than People by Roan Parrish

Review: Better than People by Roan ParrishBetter Than People by Roan Parrish
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, M/M romance
Pages: 336
Published by Carina Adores on August 25, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It’s not long before their pet-centric arrangement sparks a person-centric desire…
Simon Burke has always preferred animals to people. When the countdown to adopting his own dog is unexpectedly put on hold, Simon turns to the PetShare app to find the fluffy TLC he’s been missing. Meeting a grumpy children’s book illustrator who needs a dog walker isn’t easy for the man whose persistent anxiety has colored his whole life, but Jack Matheson’s menagerie is just what Simon needs.
Four dogs, three cats and counting. Jack’s pack of rescue pets is the only company he needs. But when a bad fall leaves him with a broken leg, Jack is forced to admit he needs help. That the help comes in the form of the most beautiful man he’s ever seen is a complicated, glorious surprise.
Being with Jack—talking, waking, making out—is a game changer for Simon. And Simon’s company certainly…eases the pain of recovery for Jack. But making a real relationship work once Jack’s cast comes off will mean compromise, understanding and lots of love.

My Review:

It seems fair to say that most people who have companion animals have at least occasionally had the thought that animals are better than people. Or at least that most animals are better than most people. Or something along those lines.

It’s partly that when they love us, they love us unconditionally. And it’s especially that animals don’t judge and can’t talk back. Well, they can’t talk back in any language we understand. Also, cats, at least, certainly do judge, ALL THE TIME. But they mostly judge us for how we treat them and not for any of the frankly stupid shit that humans judge us for. Cats don’t care whether we are fashionable or not, whether we are tidy or not, whether we are neuroatypical or not. Or who we love – as long as we love them and treat them right. Treat the cats right, I mean. How we treat other humans in our lives isn’t their concern unless it leads to them getting more of what they want or less.

Both Jack Matheson and Simon Burke are of the opinion that animals are better than most people most of the time. They get to that point from different directions, but they are still both in that same kind of headspace when they meet, fittingly enough, literally over the heads of Jack’s mixed menagerie of cats and dogs. I put the cats first because there may be fewer of them but the cats clearly rule this house. Especially Pirate.

Obviously, I got into this book for the animals. But there is a story about the humans as well, both their human and the human who becomes theirs in the end. After all, the only reason the humans meet is because of them. It’s the dogs’ fault, after all.

Jack lives in a fairly remote cabin, and he’s fine with that. So is the menagerie. But when he falls while chasing after Puddles – the dog who is afraid of puddles – and breaks his leg, Jack has a major problem on his hands. Mostly his crutches. And the four dogs – plus Pirate the Cat – who need to be walked multiple times a day. In the admittedly slightly tamed wilderness that surrounds Jack’s cabin.

That’s where Simon comes in. Simon needs regular contact with animals to help manage his paralyzing anxiety – at least as much as it can be managed. He doesn’t have a menagerie of his own because he lives with his recently widowed and extremely allergic grandmother. So he volunteers for an organization that matches people who need animals with animals whose people need a bit of help.

The overwhelming nature of Simon’s social anxiety causes him an intense amount of difficulty when dealing with new people and/or stressful situations. Jack has been a bit of hermit after the person he thought was his friend and business partner stole Jack’s ideas for his own. So he’s not much thrilled with the human race at the moment. None too thrilled with himself either. He’s depressed and now miserable at feeling helpless to take care of the animals that are both his friends and his solace.

On a temporary basis, at least, Jack and Simon are made for each other. But neither are good at letting many people get close. And Simon fully expects that their relationship will only last as long as Jack needs help with the animals. Simon’s experience is that people get tired of dealing with his mental health challenges and that Jack will give up on him the way that most of his family has. Jack, initially afraid to trust himself, knows that it won’t be easy. But he’s in it for the long haul.

He just has to convince Simon that it really is possible for them to create their own version of normal – and be happy with it. Together.

Escape Rating B+: I really did pick this up because the animals, caring for them and being managed by them was such a big part of the story. And that felt real, the differences in their personalities and how their humans cope with them. (I have four cats and variations in personality and mannerism are very real – as is the amount that they are each individually indulged in their preferences!)

But of course it’s the humans and the relationship they build together who hold the story.

The story is told in alternating perspectives, one chapter from Jack’s side of the story and the other from Simon’s. Jack’s is the easier to identify with, while Simon’s is more painful. It’s also painfully clear that Simon is more articulate – as well as even more down on himself – inside his own head than he is able to voice or even text.

It’s also lovely that they both have people in their lives who call them on their respective shit when it needs doing. In Jack’s case his older brother, and for Simon his grandmother. Those relationships also help round out both characters. I wish we had a scene between the two of them comparing notes because that would have been a hoot!

While Jack isn’t exactly an extrovert, he does have more need for social interaction than Simon does. Jack’s the kind of introvert who is open in a limited circle – but he needs that circle. Except that as the story opens he’s withdrawn from his circle out of betrayal. If one person he believed was a friend could betray him that badly, so could others. However, it was good that the author did not fall down the oh-so-common rabbit hole of having that betrayer be not just a friend and a business partner but also an ex-lover. That would have been over-the-top in a way that this story just doesn’t need.

Simon’s severe social anxiety is a hard enough issue to deal with. And a big part of the way that their relationship develops revolves around Jack learning how to be with Simon. A part of me wants to use words like manage or cope with or assist or ameliorate and none of them work and all of them feel insulting and ableist. But a big part of the story is Jack finding his way through all those words so that they can have a relationship that works for both of them.

It’s not easy for either of them because they both have those trust issues. That they manage it, together, to become part of their animals’ pack forms the heart of the story.

Review: Would I Lie to the Duke by Eva Leigh

Review: Would I Lie to the Duke by Eva LeighWould I Lie to the Duke (Union of the Rakes, #2) by Eva Leigh
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance
Series: Union of the Rakes #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on July 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


When an ambitious entrepreneur pretends to be a lady of means, she catches the eye—and heart—of a duke...

Jessica McGale's family business desperately needs investors, and she's determined to succeed at any cost. But she knows London's elite will never look twice at a humble farm girl like herself. Posing as “Lady Whitfield,” however, places her in the orbit of wealthy, powerful people—most notably the Duke of Rotherby. His influence and support could save her company, but Jess never expected the effect he'd have on her.
Society thinks Noel is a notorious, carefree duke who dabbles in investments, but there's a side to him that only his closest friends see. When he crosses paths with Lady Whitfield at a business bazaar, his world tilts on its axis. She's brilliant and compelling, and brings him to his knees like no woman has before. Trust is difficult for Noel, but Jess makes him believe anything is possible...
As time ticks down on her Cinderella scheme, the thought of achieving her goal at Noel's expense breaks Jess' heart. He doesn't just want her now, he wants her forever. But will her secret end their future before it begins?

My Review:

If the title is a question, then the answer is definitely “yes” for Jess McGale, as is her answer to the question “would I lie with the duke?”. The problem is that Jess is still lying TO him while she’s lying WITH him, and that’s very nearly too much for anyone to forgive. Particularly a duke.

Jess is doing her best to save her family’s business and her family’s home. After a disastrous fire wiped out most of McGale and McGale’s soap making and packaging equipment, that business, a manufacturer of very-high quality honey-based soaps, is in dire straits. Jess and her two siblings don’t have enough money to replace the equipment, and with replacing the equipment the business can’t make enough soap to stay afloat.

As the eldest, Jess feels like the whole mess was dumped on her shoulders when their parents died not long before the fire. Even though, as both her brother and sister remind her frequently, neither of them are exactly in leading strings. One gets the impression that they are all somewhere in their 30s, making them all well into adulthood.

But Jess, having taken all the responsibility – whether rightly or not – also takes on all the desperation of figuring out one last chance to get them back on their feet. Her initial idea is to bring in money by serving as a paid-companion to an eccentric but well-heeled widow.

While preparing said widow’s London house for her imminent arrival, Jess decides to wager everything on one grand throw of the dice. She uses her own business acumen as well as her employer’s extensive wardrobe to inveigle herself into entrance to the exclusive investment club known as the Bazaar. She captures the attention – and the sexual interest – of the Duke of Rotherby, the enabling “Pygmalion” figure of the previous book in this series, My Fake Rake.

Noel may play the rake and the debauched aristocrat, but there’s a shrewd mind and a compassionate heart behind that air of lazy insouciance. Noel participates in the Bazaar to find ethical companies in which to invest his vast holdings. In “Lady Whitfield”, the part that Jess is playing to the hilt, he finds a woman whose mind is every bit as penetrating as his own, attached to a body that seems made for sin. A sin that Jess is more than willing to explore with him.

But she knows that the lie she is living can come between them at any moment, considering that she entered the Bazaar with the intent of surreptitiously acquiring one or more investors for her family’s business.

She just didn’t count on losing her heart in the process.

Escape Rating B+: I liked the first book in this series, My Fake Rake, I enjoyed Would I Lie to the Duke quite a bit more. I think because this story doesn’t fall into the kind of romantic misunderstandammit that the first book did.

Not that Noel and Jess don’t have an epic falling out before they reach their happy ever after, but the reason behind that falling out is one that is worth all the problems it causes. Jess has, after all, been lying to Noel for the entire story by that point. And while she should have told him the truth at least before they fell into bed together – or on any other flat surface that happened to be around – it’s understandable why she didn’t. She is, after all, protecting her family.

Another refreshing thing about this story is a trend that we’re seeing more and more of, and it’s one I really like. Jess isn’t herself part of the aristocracy. She’s not a titled lady. Jess is someone who works for her living, and works hard and professionally at that living.

Part of the reason I picked this book up this week was to see if it was in dialog with this week’s other historical romance, The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows. And it is, a bit, in that both Agatha and Jess are women who have always worked, and are business owners or co-owners who make their own decisions and don’t conform to the aristocratic expectations of women not involving themselves in either the business or the politics of the day. And who have to grit their teeth and bear it every time a man talks over them or acts like they can’t possibly make the best decisions for themselves or understand the oh-so-terribly-complicated world in which they live and work.

At the same time, this is also a much more traditional romance, not just because Jess’ paramour is a man but also because he’s a duke, the traditional hero of historic romance.

And yet, Noel is not traditional at all in his probing interest in investments and in his search for ethical companies in which to invest. While this isn’t the first historical romance to feature lords who use their minds as well as their capital to nurture new companies (Christy Carlyle’s Duke’s Den in the marvelous A Duke Changes Everything also features an investment club) this one is still a bit different in that the Bazaar and its denizens, while fascinating in themselves, are not the same people as the hero’s group of childhood friends who form the backbone of the series.

All in all, this was a delightful historical romance that had a lot of fun with its disguised heroine in plain sight as well as a bit of deliciously naughty romantic role-reversal.

And speaking of the members of the Bazaar in conjunction with Noel’s childhood friends, there’s certainly going to be an explosive meeting of members of those two groups in the next book in the series, Waiting for a Scot Like You, which is scheduled to warm up a winter’s night or two this coming February.