Review: All Fired Up by Lori Foster

Review: All Fired Up by Lori FosterAll Fired Up by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Road to Love #3
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on November 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He’s tantalizing trouble she can’t resist…

Charlotte Parrish has always wanted a certain kind of man: someone responsible, settled, boring. Bad boys need not apply. But when her car leaves her stranded and a mysterious stranger with brooding eyes and a protective streak comes to her rescue, she can’t deny how drawn she is to him. In town searching for family he’s never met, Mitch is everything she never thought she wanted—and suddenly everything she craves.

Finding his half brothers after all these years is more than Mitch Crews has allowed himself to wish for. Finding love never even crossed his mind…until he meets Charlotte. She’s sweet, warmhearted, sexier than she knows—and too damn good for an ex-con like him. But when his past comes back to haunt him, putting Charlotte—and the family he’s come to care for—in danger, Mitch isn’t playing by the rules. He’s already surrendered his heart, but now he’ll risk his life.

My Review:

Once upon a time I used to read ALL of Lori Foster’s books, but it’s been a while. Actually, I just looked and it’s been over a year and a half, so quite a while, and I wasn’t exactly thrilled the last time.

So I took a little break.

All Fired Up reminded me of just why I read so many of her books. So it looks like I’ll be back for the first two books in this series, Driven to Distraction and Slow Ride. Which I have not read, yet, and the lack of which did not detract from my enjoyment of All Fired Up one little bit.

In other words, feel free to start the series here, because it works as a standalone – not that it doesn’t tease interesting things about the previous two.

There are three story threads in All Fired Up. The first two threads are immediately tied together as the story opens, while the third does its level best – and absolute worst – to cut those first two threads into ribbons.

Mitch Crews comes to town because he wants to go home, even if it’s a home he’s never had with people he’s never met – people who don’t even know he exists. But he’s heard stories about Elliott Crews’ perfect family life with his wife and sons so many times that when he needs to put down roots after five years in prison, he goes to find them.

At least to find his two half-brothers. He can’t imagine that the woman his dad was cheating on will possibly want anything to do with him, a living reminder that her husband cheated on her at pretty much every turn.

But Elliott’s descriptions of his “real” family sounded so much better than Mitch’s childhood in a crime-riddled and poverty-stricken area, left in the neglectful care of his addict mother and her psychopathic dealer/boyfriend.

He wants to be close to his family, even if he’s not sure they are exactly his, or that they will want to have anything to do with him. Nothing surprises him more than their instant acceptance, not just on the part of his two older brothers, but especially the instant love and acceptance from their mother Ros. A woman who should hate him for where he came from but instead loves him as just another one of her boys.

There is one other thing that knocks him for six. His instant attraction to Charlotte Parrish, the Crews brothers’ office manager, assistant, and adopted sister. Brodie and Jack Crews may treat Charlotte like a little sister, but Mitch’s feelings for her are far from brotherly.

Mitch tries to ease his way cautiously into the kind of family that he’s never dreamed of, only to see those dreams come crashing down when the trouble that has trailed him all his life tails him back to his new-found family.

He’s ready to run, sure that they will want to cut their losses and cut him loose – only to discover that he’s theirs and they are his, through thick or thin or any trouble that might come their way.

Escape Rating B: There are, as I said, three threads to this story. One I loved, one I liked, and one didn’t quite work for me. Hence the B rating.

The part of the story that I really enjoyed was the relationship between Mitch and the family that turns out to be his after all. There’s a bit of a fairy tale element to his instant acceptance, but it adds to the joy of the story. The Crews family, with the exception of dear-old-philandering-dad, are all absolute gems. Even dad manages to grow up, at least a bit, by the end of the story – surprising the heck out of absolutely everyone.

But the best parts of this book are the interactions between Mitch and his brothers, and the way that the family accepts him, and the way that he learns to let them – in spite of his own issues and complete lack of experience in the way that a reasonably functional family should function.

That part of the story was particularly strong and it just plain worked.

Mitch’s budding romance with Charlotte had its ups and downs in a number of ways. Charlotte at 25 does seem rather innocent when it comes to men. (Charlotte’s actual awesomeness seems to have been a big part of the previous stories – this may be the one thing I missed by not having read the other books.) The men in their small town don’t seem to be worth the gas it would take for one of her brothers’ Mustangs to drive over them – and Brodie and Jack have done an entirely too excellent job of making sure that no one unworthy touches their little sister.

They think that Mitch “might” be worthy, if he decides to stay, so they don’t so much warn him off as warn him to take it slow and be damn sure of his intentions first. So the romance in this one consists of mostly heated thoughts and longing looks for a good bit of the story. Once they do get there, though, they do burn up the sheets – but it takes longer than normal for them to reach that point.

The psychopath following Mitch, the arsehole who was his mother’s drug dealer and her boyfriend, well, he drove me a bit batty. He’s disgusting slime and when the story switched to his perspective and his actions, let’s just say that it was not a head I wanted to spend any time in whatsoever. Also he seemed to be a cliched villain and, in the end, a bit of a paper tiger. The fear of him turned out to be greater than the reality – or he was just too damn good at picking his victims.

But I loved the way that Mitch, his family and friends took care of that disgusting piece of baggage from his past so that he and Charlotte and their extended family could have a much brighter future!

Review: The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott

Review: The Poppy Wife by Caroline ScottThe Poppy Wife: A Novel of the Great War by Caroline Scott
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War I
Pages: 448
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on November 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the tradition of Jennifer Robson and Hazel Gaynor, this unforgettable debut novel is a sweeping tale of forbidden love, profound loss, and the startling truth of the broken families left behind in the wake of World War I.1921. Survivors of the Great War are desperately trying to piece together the fragments of their broken lives. While many have been reunited with their loved ones, Edie’s husband Francis is still missing. Francis is presumed to have been killed in action, but Edie knows he is alive.

Harry, Francis’s brother, was there the day Francis went missing in Ypres. And like Edie, he’s hopeful Francis is living somewhere in France, lost and confused. Hired by grieving families in need of closure, Harry returns to the Western Front to photograph soldiers’ graves. As he travels through France gathering news for British wives and mothers, he searches for evidence his own brother is still alive.

When Edie receives a mysterious photograph that she believes was taken by Francis, she is more certain than ever he isn’t dead. Edie embarks on her own journey in the hope of finding some trace of her husband. Is he truly gone, or could he still be alive? And if he is, why hasn’t he come home?

As Harry and Edie’s paths converge, they get closer to the truth about Francis and, as they do, are soon faced with the life-changing impact of the answers they discover.

An incredibly moving account of an often-forgotten moment in history—those years after the war that were filled with the unknown—The Poppy Wife tells the story of the thousands of soldiers who were lost amid the chaos and ruins in battle-scarred France; and the even greater number of men and women hoping to find them again.

My Review:

I read this book on November 11, the day that was originally created as Remembrance Day. A day to commemorate those who served in the war that is over but not done for the protagonists of this marvelous story.

They always say that funerals are for the living, not the dead. They provide closure, and as humans, we all need that. Or, to put it another way, we need to get through those famous “seven stages of grief“ to move on with our lives after a loss.

This story is not merely about the two protagonists, but about thousands of people – possibly whole nations of people – who are stuck in that first stage of grief, shock and denial. Because there’s no body, no definitive answer. Only a gaping wound where a loved one used to be and no certainty that they are really gone. Only that they are lost – and so are their survivors.

Edie and Harry are linked by one such loss. Her beloved husband Francis was Harry’s oldest brother. Or at least by 1921 the past tense in reference to Francis is presumed but not absolutely certain. Francis is one of the thousands of soldiers who has been labeled “missing, presumed dead.”

Harry saw him wounded, shot in the chest at Ypres. Harry saw him sent back to an aid station, and was certain that his brother’s wound was fatal. But Francis’ body was never processed. If he is truly dead, no one seems to know where or when.

But four years after the war, someone sends Edie a photograph of Francis in the mail. It’s a Francis she never knew, a man who had been ravaged by war. But a man still alive – at least at the time the photograph was taken. There’s no note with the photograph and nothing to say where or when it was either taken or mailed.

So Edie asks Harry to look, again, for Francis. Not that Harry hasn’t looked plenty of times before – and not just for Francis. After all, it’s Harry’s job to go to the battlefields and graveyards and photograph the graves, the artifacts, and the ruins. He is the photographer of the lost. (This book was originally published in the U.K. under that title, The Photographer of the Lost.)

But sending Harry doesn’t stop Edie from also going herself. To look, one more time, for evidence that her husband is dead – or to find him if he is alive. She is not alone on her journey – and neither is Harry.

Their dead travel with them – and with every single person they meet along the way, all hoping against hope that this time they will find what they are looking for. Even if it’s just that much needed but so far elusive sense of closure.

Escape Rating A: The word most commonly used in reviews of The Poppy Wife (under both of its titles) is haunting. Because it is. All of Europe is haunted by the ravages and losses of the Great War, and so are all those left behind, as Edie, Harry and the people they meet along the way certainly are.

I will also add here that while this book is beautiful, it is not one to read if you are already down. This is a story about finding closure, not about finding a happy ever after. Unless you are prone to schadenfreude while watching other people grieve, this is a hard book to read. Beautiful and deeply felt, but if you’re in the doldrums it’s likely to make them worse, not better.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Or so goes the famous quote by William Faulkner. The Poppy Wife is the story of two people, and an entire generation, who are doing their best to put the dead into their own past. One step, one relic, one graveyard at a time. And we grieve with them.

I leave you, The Poppy Wife and The Photographer of the Lost with this final note. The painful and painstaking journey that Edie and Harry and the many characters of this story are trapped in the middle of continues to the present day. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, there are, on average, 50 discoveries of World War I remains every year, but few are ever identified. The remains of Lance Corporal Frederick Thomas Perkins were discovered in 2018, giving his granddaughter the closure that his family still needed more than a century after he was declared “missing, presumed dead.”

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Review: Death in Focus by Anne Perry

Review: Death in Focus by Anne PerryDeath in Focus (Elena Standish #1) by Anne Perry
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, World War I, World War II
Series: Elena Standish #1
Pages: 320
Published by Ballantine Books on September 17, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the start of an all-new mystery series set in pre-World War II Europe, an intrepid young photographer carries her dead lover's final, world-shattering message into the heart of Berlin as Hitler ascends to power.

On vacation from London on the beautiful Italian coast, twenty-eight-year-old Elena Standish and her older sister, Margot, have finally been able to move on from the lasting trauma of the Great War, in which the newly married Margot lost her husband and the sisters their beloved brother. Touring with her camera in hand, Elena has found new inspiration in the striking Italian landscape, and she's met an equally striking man named Ian. When Ian has to leave unexpectedly, Elena--usually the more practical of the sisters--finds she's not ready to part from him, and the two share a spontaneous train trip home to England. But a shocking sequence of events disrupts their itinerary, forcing Elena to personally deliver a message to Berlin on Ian's behalf, one that could change the fate of Europe.

Back home, Elena's diplomat father and her secretive grandfather--once head of MI6, unbeknownst to his family--are involved in their own international machinations. Worried when Elena still hasn't returned from Italy, her grandfather starts to connect the dots between her change in plans and an incident in Berlin, where Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich are on the rise. It seems the message Elena delivered has forced her into a dangerous predicament, and her grandfather's old contacts from MI6 may be the only people who can get her out alive--if Elena can tell the difference between her allies and her enemies.

New York Times bestselling author Anne Perry merges family secrets with suspense on the world stage, as darkness bubbles under the surface of a Europe on the brink of change. In these complicated times, Elena emerges as a strong new heroine who learns quickly that when nothing is certain, she can rely only on herself.

My Review:

Today is Veterans Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in the U.K. and other Commonwealth countries. On this day in 1919, “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month”, the guns of World War I finally went silent.

I don’t usually post a review on this day, but this marvelous book dropped into my lap, and it seemed so perversely relevant to the day that I couldn’t help myself.

Death in Focus does not take place during the Great War, but the war and its aftermath directly influences everything that happens within it. Both because all of the characters are still scarred by the war well over a decade later, but also because the seeds of World War II were sown in the treaty that ended World War I.

But that’s something that is taken as a given now. One of the things that underpins this story is that those seeds were sown on both sides of that first conflict. The punishing reparations inflicted upon Germany as the losing side set up the desperate economic conditions that fueled Hitler’s rise to power.

The brutal death toll on the winning side, particularly in Great Britain, led to the tragic appeasement tactics of the interwar years. Britain had lost an entire generation of young men, and few of the survivors were willing to entertain the possibility that all of those sacrifices might be in vain. Many, including those in government, were willing to tolerate anything, no matter how heinous, in order to preserve the fragile peace.

Not that there weren’t plenty of people in Britain, including Duke of Windsor (the former King Edward VIII) who sympathized with entirely too many of Hitler’s goals, including the concept of the Aryans as the so-called “master race” along with the willingness to eliminate any people who were not part of that “race”. A belief that led to the concentration camps and the gas chambers.

While Death in Focus doesn’t deal directly with the factions in Britain who believed that the concentration camp opened at Dachau in 1933 when this story takes place) were just a good start, it does give insight into those, both in government and out, who simply could not face the idea of another war because they lost so much in the last war and couldn’t even bear the idea of doing it again.

So, the story of Death in Focus operates on two fronts. One is the story that follows Elena Standish as she finds herself in the midst of Nazi Germany on the run from both the Gestapo and the British Foreign Service, betrayed by her own country and framed for a crime that she did not commit.

Meanwhile, back on the home front, her father and grandfather are at loggerheads, and not just about Elena’s current plight.

Her father is a senior official in the diplomatic service who is certain that his father, a paper pusher during the first war, can’t possibly know what the current situation in Germany – or anywhere else – is really like. That the old man can’t possibly understand why so many, including himself, will do anything to prevent another war. And that both Hitler and Mussolini are actually doing good things for their countries that shouldn’t be interfered with from the outside.

But granddad is actually the retired head of MI6. He knows perfectly well what happened during the first war, and still has his finger on the pulse of current events around the world. He is certain that another war is coming and is beyond worried that his beloved granddaughter seems to have been unwittingly caught up in it.

Escape Rating A: As much as I got completely wrapped up in this story, I have to admit that what grabbed me wasn’t Elena, even though this is the first book in a projected series that will follow her exploits.

Exploits that remind me more than a bit of those of Maisie Dobbs, particularly in Journey to Munich, where Maisie was undercover in Nazi Germany in 1938. Although Maisie’s official cover doesn’t fail quite as badly as the way that Elena gets dumped in the soup.

Instead, the fascination for me with Death in Focus was on the home front, with her grandfather’s internal conflict. He has kept his secrets for so long, to the point where he and his son have become estranged, because he knows the war is coming and his son, in grief over his own wartime losses, needs desperately to stick his head in the sand and believe that the peace will last. Their characters and their dilemma resonated more for me, perhaps because they felt more fully developed as characters. Elena, like Maisie Dobbs in the first book in her series, has a lot of development yet to come.

In spite of his diplomatic service, her father doesn’t see what is going on because he doesn’t want to see. And in his willful blindness we see the same in plenty of others, including the government of Neville Chamberlain. Hindsight is not only 20/20, but it is downright painful.

At the same time, this is a murder mystery. Elena seems to be trailing dead bodies behind her, and she doesn’t know why. She only knows that she herself is not the killer. So there is a traditional mystery to solve, albeit in very nontraditional circumstances.

In the end, many characters discover that things are not quite as they seem. Including everything that Elena believed about her trip to Berlin and what she discovered. And that while revenge is still a dish best served cold, sometimes the chef for that dish misjudges their enemies and finds themselves served instead.

Review; Someone to Remember by Mary Balogh

Review; Someone to Remember by Mary BaloghSomeone to Remember (Westcott, #7) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Westcott #7
Pages: 272
Published by Berkley Books on November 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It's never too late to fall in love in this enchanting new story, a novella in the Westcott series from New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh.

Matilda Westcott has spent her life tending to the needs of her mother, the Dowager Countess of Riverdale, never questioning the web of solitude she has spun herself. To Matilda, who considers herself an aging spinster daughter, marriage is laughable--love is a game for the young, after all. But her quiet, ordered life unravels when a dashing gentleman from her past reappears, threatening to charm his way into her heart yet again.

Charles Sawyer, Viscount Dirkson, does not expect to face Matilda Westcott thirty-six years after their failed romance. Moreover, he does not expect decades-old feelings to emerge at the very sight of her. When encountering Matilda at a dinner hosted by the Earl of Riverdale, he finds himself as fascinated by her as he was the first day they met, and wonders whether, after all these years, they have a chance at happiness together. Charles is determined to crack the hard exterior Matilda has built up for more than three decades, or he will risk losing her once again....

*Includes bonus excerpts from the Westcott novels*

My Review:

There’s always something that links all the books in an ongoing series. It’s often family – or at least found family. Sometimes it’s place – even if occasionally that’s work place rather than home place.

At first, in the terrific, long-running Westcott series (start with Someone to Love and settle in for a fantastic binge-read), it seemed like it was family. And it sort of is. The late, unlamented Humphrey Westcott is a presence throughout the series, even in his absence.

Very much in his absence, as the series only kicks off because he’s kicked off.

But now I’m starting to think that the link between all the entries in the series is that all these people, at least one in each story, had lives that were blighted in some way by the late unlamented, and their story is their chance at a Happy Ever After that he denied them, or delayed for them, or did or would have derailed in one way or another.

While it’s fairly obvious exactly how Humphrey blighted the lives of the children who thought they were legitimate – only to discover they were not (Camille in Someone to Hold, Abigail in Someone to Honor), or the wife who discovered that she wasn’t (Viola in Someone to Care) it’s a bit less obvious here.

But still relevant. It’s not that Humphrey had the direct ability to prevent his older sister’s marriage – because he didn’t. But his misbehavior did. His sister Matilda and his parents wanted to believe that Humphrey’s terrible behavior were the result of him being led astray by his scandalous friend Charles Sawyer. Sawyer’s behavior after Matilda rejected his suit certainly lent credence to that belief.

Sawyer became such a figure of scandal, even after his ascension to his father’s title, that it made him a byword as a rake and a rogue. And Matilda comforted herself with that, even as she continued into spinsterhood, at the beck and call of her rather waspish mother.

Or so it all seemed. For years. Decades even. Until Matilda inserted herself back into Charles’ life, however briefly, in order to wrest some happiness for one of those blighted nieces at the end of Someone to Honor.

Only to discover that very few of the things that either Matilda – or her mother – assumed long ago were quite the way they appeared to be. Humphrey’s long-ago scandalous behavior was certainly not due to the malign influence of Charles – more likely the other way around.

And that even 36 long years is not enough to erase a love that was meant to be. After all, it’s never too late to become the person you might have been.

Escape Rating A-:With one half of an exception, I’ve loved every single book in this series, and Someone to Remember is definitely not an exception to that!

But Someone to Remember is different from the other books in this series. First, this is a novella, so it’s rather delightfully short. (It’s even shorter than it appears to be from the description as a fair bit of that page count is devoted to teaser chapters for ALL of the previous books in the series).

Second, while one could start the series in any number of places – Humphrey casts such a long shadow that his disgraceful actions are explained at least a bit in every story – there’s no way to start the series here. Someone to Remember works because we have read what has come before and are already rather deeply involved with the Westcott family. And some of what makes this story so lovely is the way that the assumptions that we – and Matilda – have come to during previous events get so delightfully turned on their heads in this one.

Third, this is a story that has more internal life than external. It’s a story where more – much more – is thought and felt than occurs on the surface. Matilda, and Charles spend a lot of this book thinking about the past and their missed chances – the many roads not taken – and those events in the past are more dramatic than what happens in the present.

It’s not so much that this is a second chance at love story as it is that it exemplifies a quote from John Greenleaf Whittier that goes, “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been’.” Charles and Matilda spend much of this story contemplating those ‘might have beens’, looking back at all that they did, and just how different the present might be if they had done things just a bit differently. And yet, the problem with wanting to change things is that things change. Just because things might have been different, doesn’t mean they would have been better.

They’ll never know what that different past might have looked like, even though neither of them can stop thinking about it. All they can do is move forward into a new and brighter present – and future. And it’s lovely to read a romance between two 50somethings that, while different, is every bit as romantic as any story in this lovely and charming series.

And this series is blissfully not over. After all, Humphrey Westcott blighted a LOT of lives. The next book in the series will be Someone to Romance, this time next year.

Review: Angel in a Devil’s Arms by Julie Anne Long + Giveaway

Review: Angel in a Devil’s Arms by Julie Anne Long + GiveawayAngel in a Devil's Arms (The Palace of Rogues, #2) by Julie Anne Long
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Palace of Rogues #2
Pages: 368
Published by Avon on October 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From USA Today bestselling author Julie Anne Long comes the second book in an exciting new historical romance series, the first since her beloved Pennyroyal Green series.

He has devil's blood in his veins. At least, that's always been the legend. How else could the Duke of Brexford's notorious bastard son return from the dead? The brutal decade since Lucien Durand, Lord Bolt, allegedly drowned in the Thames forged him into a man who always gets what—and who—he wants. And what he wants is vengeance for his stolen birthright...and one wild night in Angelique Breedlove's bed.

Angelique recognizes heartbreak when the enigmatic Lord Bolt walks into The Grand Palace on the Thames, and not even his devastating charm can tempt her to risk her own ever again. One scorching kiss drives home the danger.

But in the space between them springs a trust that feels anything but safe. And the passion—explosive, consuming—drives Lucien to his knees. Now his whole life depends on proving his love to a woman who doesn't believe in it...because his true birthright, he now knows, is guardian of Angelique Breedlove's heart.

My Review:

I picked up Angel in a Devil’s Arms because I absolutely adored the first book in the Palace of Rogues series, Lady Derring Takes a Lover. That first book was just an absolutely terrific time. It sparkled with wit and humor and romance to the point where I smile just thinking about it.

But the marvelousness of Lady Derring makes it a very difficult act to follow for this second book in the series.

These are two very different romances, in part because the home-like inn and business venture grandly named The Grand Palace on the Thames is in a much better – and more successful position than it was during the first book.

But especially because Lady Delilah Derring (the Lady Derring of the first title) and Mrs. Angelique Breedlove (the Angel of the second) are, in spite of being the best of friends – or possibly because – very different people.

Including the way that they ended up in this business together. Lady Derring spent her life attempting to stay on the straight and narrow all of her life, while Angelique Breedlove got shoved off the path early in hers. There’s an irony in them both ending up in the same place – and at the dead hands of the same man – but that’s the story of the first book.

At this point, Delilah has found her happy ever after in the arms of the law-and-order bent Captain Hardy. Angelique begins this story happy for her friend and content with the safe and ordered life she has made for herself.

A life that is disturbed by Lucien Durand’s advent into their haven and into the midst of their found family.

Because Lucien, in spite of his title, was shoved off that straight and narrow path just as forcibly as Angelique – and just as early. He’s a bastard, both in the literal and figurative sense, but the literal sense definitely came first. The circumstances of his birth only form one part of what has made him the man he is. That his noble father’s wife attempted to have him murdered is certainly an even bigger part of how he came to be quite as scandalous as he is.

Also the reason that the ton has believed he was dead for the past decade – because he very nearly was.

Lucien is back in London, whether to exact revenge or simply rub everyone’s nose in his success – as well as his successfully continuing to breathe – is anyone’s guess. That he would find peace and contentment among Delilah and Angelique’s little found family – because of and not in spite of the rather unusual rules they insist that ALL their guests adhere to – no matter how rich or noble – is as much of a surprise to him as it is to anyone else.

That Lucien and Angelique, with their different perspectives on their surprisingly similar emotional wounds, would be drawn to each other like iron filings to magnets astonishes them both.

She’s been hurt by men who wanted her too many times to give in easily. And he’s been abandoned too often by people he thought loved him to believe that he’s capable of that emotion.

But they are. They both, most definitely, are.

Escape Rating B: I liked reading Angelique and Lucien’s story, and I adore Angelique as a character. But this is a very different book from Lady Derring Takes a Lover, and it suffers in the comparison.

Angel in a Devil’s Arms is a much quieter book than the first one. There was just so much going on in that first book. Not only do Delilah and Angelique go into business together, they create the inn of their dreams, begin putting together their found family AND help Captain Hardy uncover the smuggling ring.

That’s a LOT. And the dialog between Delilah and Captain Hardy zips and zings all along the way.

Angelique and Lucien’s romance is very different. They both been battered a lot more by the school of hard knocks – and taken more than their share of those knocks – then Delilah and Tristan, even though their road was far from easy.

Angelique and Lucien are both wounded souls, and both wounded in the same way. Angelique was seduced and betrayed and ended her “career” as the late unlamented Lord Derring’s mistress because she had no other choices. Lucien’s mother was the mistress of an Earl who abandoned both her and Lucien when Lucien was 15, at the behest of his new wife. The one who tried to have Lucien killed. Those acts embittered Lucien and killed his mother – even before the attempted murder.

But they are both coming from rather dark places and are having difficult times making peace with themselves. That they manage to find peace with each other is a surprise and not initially a welcome one. They both have to change who they thought they were to make it work – and they very nearly don’t.

Angel in a Devil’s Arms misses the dramatic ups and downs of the first book. But the happy ever after is still very much earned.

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

To celebrate the release of ANGEL IN A DEVIL’S ARMS by Julie Anne Long, we’re giving away a paperback copy of Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne Long!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne Long. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR. Giveaway ends 11/12/2019 @ 11:59pm EST.

Review: Gold Digger by Rebecca Rosenberg + Giveaway

Review: Gold Digger by Rebecca Rosenberg + GiveawayGold Digger, The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor by Rebecca Rosenberg
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 318
Published by LION HEART PUBLISHING on May 28, 2019
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GOLD DIGGER, The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor!

One look at Baby Doe and you know she was meant to be a legend! She was just twenty years old when she came to Colorado to work a gold mine with her new husband. Little did she expect that she’d be abandoned and pregnant and left to manage the gold mine alone. But that didn’t stop her!

She moved to Leadville and fell in love with a married prospector, twice her age. Horace Tabor struck the biggest silver vein in history, divorced his wife and married Baby Doe. Though his new wife was known for her beauty, her fashion, and even her philanthropy, she was never welcomed in polite society.

Discover how the Tabors navigated the worlds of wealth, power, politics, and scandal in the wild days of western mining.

“Rosenberg’s rollicking Western adventure strikes gold with a gutsy, good-hearted spitfire of a heroine and action aplenty.”—THELMA ADAMS, bestselling author of The Last Woman Standing

Gold Digger tells the true story of Lizzie “Baby Doe” Tabor, a beautiful young woman who in 1878 marries the son of a wealthy miner in order to save her family from penury. Shrewd and stubborn, Lizzie fights back-biting Victorian society, wins and loses vast fortunes, and bests conniving politicians in her larger-than-life story. A twisting tale worthy of Mark Twain, with a big-hearted heroine at the center. —MARTHA CONWAY, author of The Underground River

My Review:

Mark Twain once said that “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities;Truth isn’t.” There are plenty of variations on this quote, but the one by Twain is particularly apropos to this story as it was written in 1897, during the time period covered by this chapter of Baby Doe’s life.

Baby Doe Tabor ca 1883

Her real life. Because even though Gold Digger is a novel, it is based on the life of a real person, Lizzie “Baby Doe” Tabor. A person who became a legend, even in her own lifetime.

Baby Doe’s life was a rags to riches story, in the best Western tradition. But, and it turned out to be a very big but, her life turned back into rags, as so many did when their fortunes rose and fell with the price of gold, or in her case silver, and on the vicissitudes of governments and the claiming and production of always chancy mines.

Because Baby Doe was not just a woman but a beautiful, intelligent and ambitious woman at a time when women who were the first were supposed to hide the second and third, and in a place where women of any kind were rare and as hardened as the men, the life she led and the legends that followed her are heavily influenced by those attitudes.

That she used her beauty and ambition to seduce or ensnare – at least as her contemporaries saw it – a married man who possessed both wealth and political ambition did not endear her to those contemporaries.

That at least according to this book she sincerely loved him, and that she certainly stuck with him through thick and thin – and there was plenty of both – may lend credence to the romantic parts of this story. She certainly stood by him when plenty of others didn’t.

But this is her life – or at least the biggest part of it. And it’s a life well worth learning about – and remembering.

Escape Rating B: I have some mixed feelings about this re-telling of Baby Doe Tabor’s story. On the one hand, her life was absolutely legendary. It makes for the sort of story that would be labeled highly implausible if it were purely fiction. As the fictionalization of a true story, it’s a marvel. The treatment of her life story, both contemporaneously and after her death, is a reflection on the way that the lives of exceptional women are so often dealt with. She was vilified as a homewrecker – and worse – during her lifetime and erased after the fact.

Baby Doe Tabor, photo taken 1885-1895

Her story is well-known in Colorado where she lived, but not outside her old stomping – and mining – grounds.

So on the one hand her story is one very much worth telling.

But this telling of it gave me a bit of pause. Attempting to get inside the head of a historical figure, even in fiction, doesn’t always work. (One of the things that worked well for me in yesterday’s book was that the author did not attempt to get inside Princess Margaret’s head. We saw what she did, and other people’s reactions to it, but we didn’t hear her thoughts and that felt right.)

We spend a lot of time in Baby Doe’s head, and her thoughts as presented owed more to historical romance than history – or so it felt to me. And her internal dialog felt a bit overblown – although that matches with writing of her time period. Leaving this reader a bit torn.

In the end, Baby Doe’s life is one that should be better known, and I would be interested in knowing more about. But this particular treatment didn’t quite work for me.

Your reading mileage, whether by car or mining cart, may definitely vary.

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

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Review: The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie Blalock

Review: The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie BlalockThe Other Windsor Girl: A Novel of Princess Margaret, Royal Rebel by Georgie Blalock
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 400
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on November 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In a historical debut evoking the style of The Crown, the daughter of an impoverished noble is swept into the fame and notoriety of the royal family and Princess Margaret's fast-living friends when she is appointed as Margaret's second Lady-in-Waiting.

Diana, Catherine, Meghan…glamorous Princess Margaret outdid them all. Springing into post-World War II society, and quite naughty and haughty, she lived in a whirlwind of fame and notoriety. Georgie Blalock captures the fascinating, fast-living princess and her “set” as seen through the eyes of one of her ladies-in-waiting.

In dreary, post-war Britain, Princess Margaret captivates everyone with her cutting edge fashion sense and biting quips. The royal socialite, cigarette holder in one hand, cocktail in the other, sparkles in the company of her glittering entourage of wealthy young aristocrats known as the Margaret Set, but her outrageous lifestyle conflicts with her place as Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister. Can she be a dutiful princess while still dazzling the world on her own terms?

Post-war Britain isn’t glamorous for The Honorable Vera Strathmore. While writing scandalous novels, she dreams of living and working in New York, and regaining the happiness she enjoyed before her fiancé was killed in the war. A chance meeting with the Princess changes her life forever. Vera amuses the princess, and what—or who—Margaret wants, Margaret gets. Soon, Vera gains Margaret’s confidence and the privileged position of second lady-in-waiting to the Princess. Thrust into the center of Margaret’s social and royal life, Vera watches the princess’s love affair with dashing Captain Peter Townsend unfurl.

But while Margaret, as a member of the Royal Family, is not free to act on her desires, Vera soon wants the freedom to pursue her own dreams. As time and Princess Margaret’s scandalous behavior progress, both women will be forced to choose between status, duty, and love…

My Review:

Vera Strathmore may be telling this story, but it’s Princess Margaret who dominates every single page, just as she does Vera for ten of the best/worst/most notorious years of both of their lives.

This isn’t a complete biography of Margaret, nor is it intended as nonfiction. Not that the reader doesn’t wonder, every single step of the way, how much fact underlies the fiction.

After all, this was a storied life, conducted all too frequently in public, and most of the facts are known. Whether the author has captured the feelings behind those facts? Well, that’s something that the reader will have to decide for themselves.

But what we have feels like a peek behind the scenes of Buckingham Palace – or Buck Place as it is referred to in the book – into the life of Princess Margaret, the younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, during Margaret’s glory years. The years when Margaret was to the post-war Press what Princess Diana became in the late-20th century – a source for endless photographs and reams of scandalous speculation and gossip, as well as a tear-jerker of a story of tragic romance.

The difference is that Margaret outlived her legend, while Diana never did.

But the times were very different. In 1949, when Vera meets the Princess, Britain is still languishing in the doldrums of post-war austerity. Unlike the US, rationing was still in force – and enforced. The old, privileged aristocratic way of life, so lovingly portrayed in Downton Abbey, was breathing its last – and Vera felt like her life was expiring with it.

Princess Margaret in 1951

Into the gloom of Vera’s life, as well as the gloom of post-war Britain, Princess Margaret, her outrageous bon mots and the larger-than-life antics of her “Set” blew through like a strong wind – a harbinger of change.

In the story, Vera served the Princess from 1949 to 1959. During that decade, Margaret went from the spoiled and self-indulgent but favorite daughter of the King to the disregarded and scandal-prone sister of the Queen. It’s no surprise that the years when Margaret is at her most sparkling are the years before her beloved father’s death.

And that she never manages to recapture that sparkle again.

Instead, we watch through Vera’s eyes as the Princess’ “set” breaks up and Margaret is increasingly alone. While the author never attempts to portray Margaret’s inner life, we see her actions, and their consequences, through Vera as she makes the Princess’ world her own – to her own detriment.

Because the Princess lives in a bubble of her own making. And when Vera, out of love and friendship, pricks that bubble even a little, she finds herself on the outside, alone and adrift, as everyone around her warned she would.

It’s only at that point that Vera finally takes her life in her own hands and forges her own path. A feat that Margaret, for all her privilege, never manages to achieve.

Escape Rating A-: I stayed up half the night reading this. It was like the best kind of gossip – compelling and absolutely fascinating from beginning to end, a peek into a world that I’ll never see in real life. At the same time, it also has the compulsion of driving by a wreck and being unable not to look. Knowing anything of Princess Margaret’s history we already know it’s a train wreck – but we can’t turn our eyes away as the vehicle – in this case Margaret’s life – crashes and burns.

I will also say that it is weird to see events that I remember contemporaneously being treated as historical fiction. Very weird. The whole idea that the 1960s have now become “historical” feels very odd indeed.

What everyone remembers of Margaret’s life is the irony factor in her tragic romance with Peter Townsend. In 1936, her uncle King Edward VIII was forced to abdicate the throne to her father, King George VI, because he wasn’t permitted to marry divorcee Wallis Warfield Simpson. The head of the Church of England could not marry a divorced person. By 1953, Margaret had dropped from being heir presumptive to the throne on her sister’s ascension to being fourth in line after Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. But she was still high enough in that line, and divorce was still so deeply frowned upon that her desire to marry the divorced Peter Townsend – was forbidden by both her sister the Queen and the Church of England.

I always found it ironic that Margaret’s eventual marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones ended in divorce. In 1953 it was anathema for her to marry a divorcé, but by 1978 she had become one herself. In all likelihood, Margaret’s marital failure paved the way for the acceptance of the same by several of her royal nephews and nieces, including the Prince of Wales.

Princess Margaret in 1958

But Margaret in the 1950s is a compelling character who stands firmly at the center of this story – to the point where Vera and her own needs, wants and desires fade into the background – even for herself. We also see Margaret change from glittering to brittle as the spotlight moves away from her to her sister, the “perfect” Queen.

While Margaret had always been capricious and frequently cutting, the more she is pushed into the background the more she tried to escape that background by being as outrageous as possible – and the more those around her suffered for her whims and moods. Margaret is never a villain, but she is also never someone that Vera could or should rely on. Her whims could be cruel, and Vera and the other members of Margaret’s household were her closest and most frequent targets.

In the end, this is the portrayal of two women locked together in a crisis of their own making. The one who seemingly holds all the cards having less freedom than the one who initially feels like the dependent partner of a codependent relationship.

Margaret’s life was a train wreck, not all of it of her own making. And we can’t turn our eyes away.

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Review: Tell Me No Lies by Shelley Noble + Giveaway

Review: Tell Me No Lies by Shelley Noble + GiveawayTell Me No Lies (Lady Dunbridge) by Shelley Noble
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Lady Dunbridge #2
Pages: 368
Published by Forge Books on November 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Miss Fisher meets Downton Abbey in Tell Me No Lies, part of the critically acclaimed Lady Dunbridge Mystery series from New York Times bestselling author Shelley Noble.

Rise and shine, Countess, you're about to have a visitor.

Lady Dunbridge was not about to let a little thing like the death of her husband ruin her social life. She's come to New York City, ready to take the dazzling world of Gilded Age Manhattan by storm. The social events of the summer have been amusing but Lady Phil is searching for more excitement---and she finds it, when an early morning visitor arrives, begging for her help. After all, Lady Phil has been known to be useful in a crisis. Especially when the crisis involves the untimely death of a handsome young business tycoon.

His death could send another financial panic through Wall Street and beyond.

With the elegant Plaza Hotel, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the opulent mansions of Long Island's Gold Coast as the backdrop, romance, murder, and scandals abound. Someone simply must do something. And Lady Dunbridge is happy to oblige.

My Review:

I picked up Tell Me No Lies because I really enjoyed the first book of Lady Dunbridge’s adventures, Ask Me No Questions. And yes, I sense a theme in those titles and I’m wondering where it goes from here. The (presumably) original Oliver Goldsmith quote, from his play She Stoops to Conquer, just say “Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no fibs.” Close enough.

So, here we have the delicious fun of Tell Me No Lies. And it is definitely delicious – and that’s no fib at all. And fun. Also deadly. But Lady Philomena Dunbridge, Phil to her friends and readers, is there to save the day.

Where in Ask Me No Questions Phil literally walked into the murder, and is caught in the middle of the investigation because she needs to get her friend Reggie and herself out of the frame that they have definitely been placed in, she has spent the several months since those events researching the proper procedures for conducting investigations, with the able assistance of her supposed servants, Preswick and Lily.

All in order to be of future assistance to the charming, mysterious Mr. X who is paying Phil’s rent in exchange for future investigative services – and possibly more.

Phil’s involvement with this new case is a direct result of the previous. High society in Gilded Age Manhattan is rather a tight circle, and Phil has developed a reputation for saving reputations where such is warranted. The morning after Phil’s attendance at the sparkling debut ball for debutante Agnes Pratt, Mr. Luther Pratt, the debutante’s father, appears at Phil’s door to request her immediate return to the scene of the festivities.

The corpse of one of the other guests has been found in the laundry. It’s up to Phil to figure out just how the man ended up dead, and whether the deed was done by one of the well-heeled guests or one of their respectable servants. But better a servant than a guest – especially since the guests were all important titans of banking and industry, and a scandal amongst them could precipitate a further destabilization of the volatile stock market.

Little do they know that it’s already too late for most of them to save themselves from either the investigation, the fallout, or the impending crash.

All Phil can do is make sure that only the guilty are punished for the crime. As soon as she can figure out the who, the how and most especially the why of it all. No matter how important the man who stands in her way.

Escape Rating A-: I enjoyed Tell Me No Lies every single bit as much as I did Ask Me No Questions. I absolutely adore the character of Phil, her perspective is witty and trenchant and just the right amount of cynical. That she reminds me very much of Phryne Fisher is certainly a plus.

Howsomever, I do have just a couple of quibbles. The blurbs describe this series as Miss Fisher (presumably of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) meets Downton Abbey. Those same blurbs also set the series in Gilded Age New York City. There’s truth in those descriptions, as well as more than a bit of hyperbole.

Also more than a hint of misdirection. This entry in the series in particular is set in late October, 1929. As the story opens, the talk of the town is that J.P. Morgan and his business associates have just attempted to stop the fall of the banks by injecting millions of dollars of their own money into the system. (This really happened.) But their efforts were doomed to fail, a fact that is fairly obvious in the background of the story.

In other words, this story takes place in the days, the very last days, before Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the day the stock markets fell in a crash that had been anticipated for over a month – and was certainly both feared and foreseen by the many financiers in this story.

So not actually the Gilded Age, but the glorious excess of that Gilded Age probably sounds more lively than the Great Depression. Not that this book isn’t plenty lively in spite of the shadows of doom. Phil is guaranteed to put plenty of life into any party.

Also there’s not so much of Downton Abbey here. Not just because the story is set in New York, and service in the U.S. was never nearly as entrenched as it was in Britain, but also because Phil exists between the classes. By birth she is upper class, but she is also living by her wits. She knows how the upper class thinks and functions – at least back home – but she isn’t exactly a part of it the way the Crawleys are. And certainly her two loyal retainers, the butler Preswick and the lady’s maid Lily, are much more partners-in-solving-crime than they are servants in any traditional sense.

But the strong resemblance to Miss Fisher, Miss Phryne Fisher, is definitely present. Phil and Phryne would either get along like the proverbial house on fire, or would fight like two cats over the same territory – and possibly the same men. They are very much alike in perspective and attitude.

And Phil’s handsome cop with somewhat of a stick up his ass, Detective Sergeant John Atkins, is a dead ringer for Detective Inspector John “Jack” Robinson, at least as portrayed by Nathan Page in the TV series. With zero resemblance (by either) to the same character in the book series. The flirtation between Atkins and Phil certainly furthers the likeness.

At the beginning I referred to the Oliver Goldsmith quote as the source – so far – of the titles for this series. But there’s a Lynyrd Skynard song has a few more lines that might be relevant later.

So, don’t ask me no questions
And I won’t tell you no lies
So, don’t ask me about my business
And I won’t tell you goodbye

We’ll see. Hopefully. Soon.

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

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Review: Those who Came Before by J.H. Moncrieff

Review: Those who Came Before by J.H. MoncrieffThose Who Came Before by J.H. Moncrieff
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: horror
Pages: 256
Published by Flame Tree Press on October 10, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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People are dying at Strong Lake, and the worst is yet to come.

An idyllic weekend camping trip is cut short when Reese Wallace’s friends are brutally murdered. As the group’s only survivor, Reese is the prime suspect, and his story doesn’t make much sense. A disembodied voice warning him to leave the campground the night before? A strange, blackened tree that gave him an electric shock when he cut it down for firewood?

Detective Greyeyes isn’t having any of it―until she hears the voice herself and finds an arrowhead at the crime scene―an arrowhead she can’t get rid of. Troubling visions of a doomed Native American tribe who once called the campground home, and rumors of cursed land and a mythical beast plague the strangest murder case she’s ever been a part of.

My Review:

Today is Halloween, which marks my annual foray into horror – or at least horror-adjacency. But this time, it’s horror. Real, honest-to-goodness, not to be read with the lights off or right before bedtime, horror.

And it’s creepy and compelling and compellingly creepy. And I’m still creeped out.

There’s that whole thing about “mystery wrapped in an enigma”. Those Who Came Before, is horror wrapped in a police procedural interwoven with true crime historic horror and coated with blood and gore and stink and plenty more horror. The creepy kind that keeps you – or at least me – up at night. And the historic kind that makes you sick to your stomach as well at humanity’s past and present inhumanity to anyone of its kind that it can pretend isn’t – even though it most definitely is.

There’s horror and then there’s horror. The horror of the series of inexplicable deaths, and the historic horror of the smallpox epidemic among the Native tribes that was deliberately inflicted by the white settlers.

All in a tiny campground that absolutely no one wants. A place that should either be labeled “Here Be Monsters”, “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here” or both. Definitely both.

Reese Wallace begins the story, and the night, as a dorky, jerky kid, a college graduate who hasn’t grown up yet. In the morning he wakes up in that campground, covered in blood, surrounded by the bodies of the three friends he went camping with.

He didn’t hear a thing while they were tormented and dismembered. But he didn’t do it.

The question that Detective Maria Greyeyes has to solve is not so much whodunnit as what dunnit? And does she need to believe in it in order to stop it before it kills again? It certainly believes in her.

Escape Rating A-: Reese is way too much of an entitled jerk in the beginning, and the bullying, abusive cop (who does get what’s coming to him) is a bit too much of a cliche to make this a full A – but it was definitely close. But OMG this thing is compelling, especially the parts where Maria Greyeyes is trying to follow standard police procedure to investigate a crime that is so far from standard that it follows her home at night – literally.

At the same time, the terrible history that is explored, through dreams as well as research, is chilling because that part of the story is real. White settlers really did deliberately infect Native tribes by handing out blankets infected with smallpox. And plenty worse. This part of the story reminded me of the excellent, totally chilling true crime story Killers of the Flower Moon.

What happens in Those Who Came Before is creepier because it veers from that historic horror to contemporary horror, as the bodies pile up. And as the spirit of whatever has gone so very wrong manages to invade both Reese’s and Maria’s daily lives.

As a story, that felt like the most horror invested – or infested – part. In their attempt to find out what went wrong and fix it, they become unable to trust themselves and their own actions and reactions. They are both afraid that they have become the horror they are trying to prevent.

The ending of this one is terrifying in the wide openness of its possibilities – and the horror that might return.

Review: This Earl of Mine by Kate Bateman + Giveaway

Review: This Earl of Mine by Kate Bateman + GiveawayThis Earl of Mine (Bow Street Bachelors, #1) by Kate Bateman, K.C. Bateman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Bow Street Bachelors #1
Pages: 336
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on October 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The first book in a new Regency romance series, an heiress and a rogue accidentally end up in a secret marriage of convenience.

In a desperate bid to keep her fortune out of her cousin's hands, shipping heiress Georgiana Caversteed marries a condemned criminal in Newgate prison. The scoundrel's first kiss is shockingly heated, but Georgie never expects to see her husband again. Until she spots him across a crowded ballroom. Notorious rogue Benedict Wylde never expected a wife. He was in Newgate undercover, working for Bow Street. To keep their marriage of convenience a secret, Wylde courts Georgie in public, but the more time they spend together, the more their attraction sparks. Could an heiress with the world at her feet find happiness with a penniless rake? Kate Bateman's This Earl of Mine is a delightful start to the Bow Street Bachelors series, with witty banter, dynamic characters, and swoon-worthy romance.

My Review:

The way that this story opens reminded me of something I’ve always wondered about. Considering the incredible lengths that Regency heroines seem to have had to go to in order to protect themselves from predatory family members and their machinations, just how vanishingly small was the percentage of even slightly functional families among the upper classes?

I understand completely why Georgie goes to the lengths she does to keep her (OMG) cousin Josiah from compromising her so that she is forced to marry him, so that he can drain her extensive fortune to the dregs. He’s a complete wastrel, addicted to gambling, alcohol and opium – and he’s also complete slime. I can totally empathize with her desire not to marry him under any circumstances and don’t blame her a bit for the ruse she intends to enact.

I only question why there doesn’t seem to be anyone getting this bastard off her back – before he puts her on hers against her will. I’ve read this trope before, and it is infuriating. We empathize with her immediately, but as level-headed as Georgie is I can’t help but think there should be someone effective on her side.

Rant ends.

But I love Georgie as a protagonist. She is smart, she’s a successful businesswoman, she knows her own mind and skills and is both willing and able to act on her own behalf. She is not waiting for anyone to rescue her – and I’m happy that she isn’t. She neither needs nor wants someone to stand in front of her and fight her battles for her. She needs someone to stand beside her, support her in her own struggles and assist her when she decides she needs assistance.

That she finds that person in Newgate Prison is a surprise to everyone involved. Herself – and himself – included.

She goes into Newgate intending to marry a condemned prisoner who will be conveniently (for Georgie, anyway) hung the next morning. She ends up married to Ben Wylde, a covert agent of the crown masquerading as a convicted smuggler and working for Bow Street (hence the title of the series).

Ben is the brother of the impoverished Earl of Morcott. He’s also a veteran of the recently and hopefully finally completed Napoleonic Wars. Most important for the story, he’s a known rake on the fringes of the ton, those sticklers of high society. A high society that Georgie’s ambitious mother wants to ascend to, by way of Georgie’s beautiful but clumsy younger sister.

Which means that Georgie and Ben are fated to meet as soon as he bribes his way out of Newgate – not that he was in there as his real self in any case. It was all part of his current case for Bow Street. But their marriage is valid, which leaves Georgie and Ben on the horns of a rather dicey dilemma. (Horns is also punnily appropriate for Ben’s condition every time they are within sight of each other!)

Georgie needs to be married to fend off Cousin Josiah. Ben has neither the need nor the desire for a wife – whatever he feels for, or in the presence of, Georgie. Particularly as it is well known that Ben and his brother John (the Earl) are in dire need of a rather large fortune to redeem their late father’s many, many (many) gambling debts. While Georgie, who possess that large fortune from the successful shipping business that she inherited and has expanded (all by her ownsome, thankyouverymuch), is naturally wary of men who want to marry her for access to her fortune.

But they are stuck with each other. Or are they? Georgie very nearly gamed the system before in order to protect what she holds dear. Can she do it again – with Ben’s able assistance?

And can they manage to do it for keeps?

Escape Rating B+: I certainly enjoyed This Earl is Mine, and that’s because of the characters. Georgie is an absolute gem. Her independence of thought, and her willingness to act on that thought, make her a character that 21st century readers can easily identify with – and root for.

At the same time, the strictures wrapped around her life also firmly ground her in her time and place – or at least do so enough to not make her attitudes anachronistic. She knows what she’s good at, and she knows what she’s worth – and not just in the financial sense. At the same time her life is hemmed in by the restrictions placed on women of her time. She colors outside the lines but not too much and is always aware that there are lines and that she – and her family – will pay a price if she steps too far outside those lines and is caught.

She also knows what she wants in a man and a husband, and isn’t willing to settle for less. She just doesn’t believe that she can have what she wants – a man who will stand beside her and not in front of her. The way that she and Ben find out just how good they are together, while filled with plenty of heat, isn’t based solely on their explosive sexual chemistry. They become friends first – in spite of how difficult that seems. And what they share that matters the most is their love of adventure in a way that bonds them so closely that when they finally realize they love each other they are both shocked, because neither of them expected it – or the other – at all.

That Ben’s pride almost gets in the way of their happiness feels real – and that they overcome it due to her good sense and forthright nature seems right.

On my other hand, Cousin Josiah reads like a bit of a paper tiger. He’s terrible and awful but as soon as Georgie has someone effective in her corner his fate is inevitable. And that whole situation felt a bit contrived from beginning to sticky end.

I will say that this book drove me a bit crazy, because I kept having the feeling that I’d read something a lot like it before. And I’ve been looking for what that was for days now.

In the end, This Earl of Mine feels like a combination of The Duke’s Den series by Christy Carlyle, the Bareknuckle Bastards by Sarah MacLean and the Bastion Club by Stephanie Laurens – all the best parts of each, of course. It also bears a strong but slightly twisted resemblance to the Sebastian St. Cyr series by C.S. Harris. I say twisted in that last instance because the author took a character who should have been the hero of a romance and turned him into a tormented solver of mysteries for Bow Street. Ben Wylde and his friends feel like the other side of that coin, a war veteran like St. Cyr who solve crimes for Bow Street while staying on the romantic hero side of the equation.

If you like any of those series, you will also love This Earl of Mine, and vice-versa. But the Bow Street Bachelors are far from finished. The series will return with To Catch an Earl next summer, when the focus moves from Ben and Georgie to Ben’s friend and fellow agent, Alex. And I’m looking forward to the season AND definitely the book!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Thanks to the publisher, I am giving away a paperback copy of This Earl of Mine to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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