Review: Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean + Giveaway

Review: Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean + GiveawayWicked and the Wallflower (The Bareknuckle Bastards, #1) by Sarah MacLean
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Bareknuckle Bastards #1
Pages: 396
Published by Avon on June 19, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When Wicked Comes Calling...

When a mysterious stranger finds his way into her bedchamber and offers his help in landing a duke, Lady Felicity Faircloth agrees—on one condition. She's seen enough of the world to believe in passion, and won't accept a marriage without it.

The Wallflower Makes a Dangerous Bargain...

Bastard son of a duke and king of London's dark streets, Devil has spent a lifetime wielding power and seizing opportunity, and the spinster wallflower is everything he needs to exact a revenge years in the making. All he must do is turn the plain little mouse into an irresistible temptress, set his trap, and destroy his enemy.

For the Promise of Passion...

But there's nothing plain about Felicity Faircloth, who quickly decides she'd rather have Devil than another. Soon, Devil's carefully laid plans are in chaos, and he must choose between everything he's ever wanted...and the only thing he's ever desired.

My Review:

Anyone who likes the Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt or the Diamonds in the Rough series by Sophie Barnes is going to love the Bareknuckle Bastards and Wicked and the Wallflower.

I could stop there, but of course I won’t.

I could, however, also throw in the Cynster series by Stephanie Laurens, and not just because the hero of the first book in that series was also named Devil.

All of those series in some way involve scandalous deeds hidden under a veneer of society polish. Sometimes that veneer is very, very thin indeed.

That’s the case in Wicked and the Wallflower. Once upon a time there was a dastardly duke, who is now a very, very dead duke. His wife and his mistresses all provided him with children, and all on the same day. All those children were boys – except the legitimate one. After the birth of her daughter, the duchess ensured that the duke would not be siring any more bastards – or any more legitimate children either. Not that he seems to have been the actual father of hers.

This book is the first in a series revolving around those four children – who are now all adults. One son won, or stole, the dukedom from the others. His two brothers and his sister plan to make sure that he never enjoys the title he has so ill-gotten.

And thereby hangs a tale. The fraudulent duke has come to town to find a wife. His brothers and his sister plan to prevent him from carrying out his plans at all costs.

Poor forgotten Felicity Faircloth finds herself caught in the middle, between four men who want to use her for their own ends.

Her father and her brother want her to marry the duke in order to restore the fortunes that they lost. The duke wants to use her to bring his brothers and his sister, especially his sister, out into the open where he can trap them. And his brother Devil plans to use her to set the duke up for the ruination of all his plans. Or at least, the ruination of all of somebody’s plans.

But no matter how strong the cage they all try to place her in, every cage has a door, and every door has a lock. And Felicity Faircloth will not be used. She will, however, make expert use of a set of lockpicks.

Escape Rating B+: Wicked and the Wallflower become partners in a very entertaining dance of opposites and equals, and it’s all because of the character of Felicity Faircloth, the wallflower of the title.

While the story is not in the first person, we do see this world mostly from Felicity’s perspective. And in spite of the differences of time and place and station, hers is a point-of-view that it is easy to empathize with.

She wants more than she is supposed to have. She wants more than the world expects her to settle for. She wants to be somebody. She wants to be loved and accepted for who she really is, and not for the mask she wears or how adept she is at squashing herself into the small places that women are permitted to occupy.

When we, and Devil, first meet Felicity, she is on the outside of the ton looking in. She’s 27 and relatively plain and seems to have been put permanently on the shelf. Once upon a time, she was at the center of it all, and she misses being included. She hates being on the outside, and wants back in.

Devil offers her a way to get what she believes she wants – and we understand why she accepts the deal – even though we know that he’s not going to honor it. And it’s clear that in her own heart of hearts, Felicity has some doubts as well. But she’s sure things can’t get any worse than the mess she’s already made. Thoughts like that are always wrong.

That she falls for Devil seems inevitable. Not because of the deal, and not because he intends to seduce her, although he certainly does. But because he sees her as she really is. And not merely accepts her, but actually celebrates the person she is. He doesn’t expect her to conform to a role, and he doesn’t need her to save his fortune – even though he does need her to save his soul.

But Devil is used to seeing women as capable if not exactly equal, and she is match for any woman he knows – even if he is incapable of acknowledging that fact. They make each other better, and that’s what makes the story works.

Even if Devil does do the idiot thing and attempt to give her up because he believes that she’s too good for him. He does, however, grovel quite nicely.

In the beginning, I compared Wicked and the Wallflower to both Maiden Lane and Diamonds in the Rough. I used those two examples because they both contain elements of the Bareknuckle Bastards. Maiden Lane because that series, like this one, explores life in 19th century London outside of the glittering facade of the ton – and finds love and purpose in the lives lived there. Diamonds in the Rough features a family that found itself in similar circumstances to Devil, his brother Whit and their sister Grace. Children who should have been raised in the lap of luxury but were forced into life on the streets – and who made those streets their own. Their ability to look at the ton and see the ridiculousness and hypocrisy that underlie the glitter are part of the charm of both series.

I can’t wait to read Whit’s story in Brazen and the Beast later this year.

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

LINK: https://www.subscribepage.com/WickedAndTheWallflower

PRIZE:  To celebrate the release of WICKED AND THE WALLFLOWER by Sarah MacLean, we’re giving away two $10 Amazon gift cards!

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open internationally. Two winners will each receive a $10 Amazon gift card.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 6/29/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Pure Textuality PR is responsible for the prize and will send the prizes out to the winners directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.

 

Review: Boardwalk Summer by Meredith Jaeger

Review: Boardwalk Summer by Meredith JaegerBoardwalk Summer by Meredith Jaeger
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on June 19, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this new novel from the author of The Dressmaker’s Dowry, two young women two generations apart discover the joy and heartbreak of following their dreams. Aspiring Hollywood actress Violet makes a shocking choice in 1940, and seventy years later, Mari sets out to discover what happened on that long ago summer.

Santa Cruz, Summer 1940: When auburn-haired Violet Harcourt is crowned Miss California on the boardwalk of her hometown, she knows she is one step closer to her cherished dream: a Hollywood screen test. But Violet’s victory comes with a price—discord in her seemingly perfect marriage—and she grapples with how much more she is willing to pay.

Summer 2007: Single mother Marisol Cruz lives with her parents in the charming beach cottage that belonged to her grandfather, Ricardo, once a famed performer on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Drawn to the town’s local history and the quaint gazebo where her grandparents danced beneath the stars, Mari sells raffle tickets at the Beach Boardwalk Centennial Celebration, and meets Jason, a California transplant from Chicago.

When Mari discovers the obituary of Violet Harcourt, a beauty queen who died too young, she and Jason are sent on a journey together that will uncover her grandfather’s lifelong secret—his connection to Violet—a story of tragedy and courage that will forever transform them.

My Review:

At times, Boardwalk Summer is as wild and rollicking a ride as the old wooden roller coaster that stands proudly on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

And at other times, it is the quietly beautiful story of two women who are connected across the years by their relationships with two extremely different men – but not in the way that the reader at first thinks.

And it’s about apples that both do and don’t fall far from one very twisted tree.

In 1940 Violet Harcourt is a 20-year-old woman married to an abusive husband. Her dreams may be dying but are not quite dead. In 2007, Marisol Cruz is a 25-year-old single mother who had to put her own dreams to sleep when she discovered she was pregnant after a drunken one-night stand.

Violet’s story seems like a tragedy. It is impossible not to feel for her plight, while at the same time her situation makes for hard reading. Her husband is an abuser, and she’s finally figured out that he’s only going to get worse. So she escapes, only to discover that her dreams of Hollywood glory are even more out of reach than her dreams of a happy marriage.

When her husband finds her and takes her back to Santa Cruz, we know that she’s done for – and so does she.

Marisol, on the other hand, is doing the best she can in a situation that she fully recognizes is of her own making. She had dreams of graduate school, only to bury those dreams completely when her celebratory one-night stand after her college graduation resulted in pregnancy. Little Lily is the light of Mari’s life. With the help of her parents, they are getting by. But as much as she loves her daughter, she misses the life of the mind she’d planned on having.

A new guy in town helps her see that her dreams don’t have to wait forever. While they tentatively explore a relationship, Mari jumps with both feet into the process to secure a small local history grant and hopefully save a local landmark from the wrecking ball.

Her quest to thwart the developers and uncover the mystery behind Violet Harcourt’s death uncovers a whole host of family secrets – and puts Mari squarely in opposition to the father of her little girl.

But the more she digs, the less she discovers that she truly knows. And that what everybody believes ain’t necessarily so.

Escape Rating A-: At first, I had a difficult time with this story. Violet’s marriage is so obviously a tragedy, and one that we’ve seen all too often in both fiction and real life. Her husband is an abuser who has systematically stripped her of her dreams and her friends. He wants her dependent and broken, and she’s on the way there – until she breaks out. It’s hard to read her story as her situation goes from bad to worse to desperately worse. The twist at the end is a surprise, a redemption and a delight.

Mari’s story is a lot more straightforward, and it’s fortunate that we follow Mari’s story more than Violet. The sperm donor of Mari’s baby is a douchecanoe, but he’s not, thank dog, actually her douchecanoe. They never had a relationship and Mari doesn’t want one. Her only real regret at the whole mess is that he refused to have any relationship with Lily.

Mari and Lily, with the help of her parents, are doing just fine. But Mari is ready to do more than just get by when Jacob comes to Santa Cruz and enters her life.

The heart of the story turns out to be Mari’s quest to save the historic but neglected gazebo at the end of the Boardward from the developer’s wrecking ball. That gazebo has history, and it’s Mari’s history. Not just that her beloved grandfather and grandmother were married under the gazebo, but that it was a center of cultural life and entertainment for the Latinx citizens of Santa Cruz back in the day when Mari’s people were not welcome at many venues in the community controlled by the wealthy white families.

Families like that of Violet Harcourt’s violent husband. And Mari’s little girl’s sperm donor. That Trevor Harcourt is behind the developers planning to tear down the gazebo and build expensive condos to block the waterfront is no surprise. That apple did not fall far from his grandfather’s twisted tree.

But it’s Mari’s research into the history of the gazebo and the way that her family’s own history is intertwined with it that brings the story full circle, solves the old mystery and gives the story its heart and soul.

And finally earns her that happy ending – and not just her own.

TLC
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Review: Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King

Review: Island of the Mad by Laurie R. KingIsland of the Mad by Laurie R. King
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #15
Pages: 306
Published by Bantam on June 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are back in the New York Times bestselling series that Lee Child called "the most sustained feat of imagination in mystery fiction today."

A June summer's evening, on the Sussex Downs, in 1925. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are strolling across their orchard when the telephone rings: an old friend's beloved aunt has failed to return following a supervised outing from Bedlam. After the previous few weeks--with a bloody murder, a terrible loss, and startling revelations about Holmes--Russell is feeling a bit unbalanced herself. The last thing she wants is to deal with the mad, and yet, she can't say no.

The Lady Vivian Beaconsfield has spent most of her adult life in one asylum after another, yet he seemed to be improving--or at least, finding a point of balance in her madness. So why did she disappear? Did she take the family's jewels with her, or did someone else? The Bedlam nurse, perhaps?

The trail leads Russell and Holmes through Bedlam's stony halls to the warm Venice lagoon, where ethereal beauty is jarred by Mussolini's Blackshirts, where the gilded Lido set may be tempting a madwoman, and where Cole Porter sits at a piano, playing with ideas...

My Review:

I have followed Mary Russell’s adventures from her very first outing in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, almost 25 years ago. And how that time has flown!

The story we have in Island of the Mad reminds me of the best of the Russell/Holmes kanon (yes, that spelling is deliberate) combining the farcical aspects of the case in Pirate King with the more serious undertones, as well as a few of the characters, from the second book in the series, A Monstrous Regiment of Women. And the result is glorious – as well as a bit star-studded.

And if you’ve ever wondered about the origin of the name “Lido”, which seems to be a deck on every cruise ship as well as appearing in multiple songs and all sorts of other places, our journey also takes us to what feels like the original of the name, the Lido di Venezia in the beautiful La Serenissima – Venice.

The case before our intrepid heroine is to determine whether her best friend’s aunt disappeared of her own free will, was the victim of some foul deeds, or succumbed to the madness that has plagued her for the past dozen years or so.

Or perhaps all of the above.

When Mary’s search for Vivian Beaconsfield leads her from Bedlam to Venice, a separate case miraculously (or perhaps nefariously) appears before her husband Sherlock Holmes. Mycroft desperately wants his brother to poke his inquisitive nose into the rise of the Fascisti in Italy. While too many people in England think that a strong man like Il Duce Mussolini is just what Italy needs, Mycroft is certain that there is something sinister about the rise of the fascists in Italy, Germany and possibly even Britain.

History proved he was right, but in 1925 all that Mycroft had was his finely honed intuition. He can’t send an agent because even he can’t describe what an agent should be looking for. But if there is something to find, Mycroft is certain that Sherlock will find it. Or that it will find him, whether he wants it to or not.

While their separate missions lead them to the same city, the things that need investigation pull them in entirely different directions. While Mary hunts for evidence of Vivian’s presence among the more outre denizens of Venice’s celebrating ex-pat nightlife, Sherlock inveigles himself into the household of American composer Cole Porter, where anyone who is anyone in the city is entertained in lavish style while the rich Americans drop millions of lira into the local economy.

When their respective cases dovetail into one another, the conclusion of both trails ends in a bang, a whimper, and an explosion of sound and light. Lots and lots of bright, white, revealing light. Flashbulbs!

Escape Rating A: As much as I love this entire series, naturally some of the stories work better than others. Island of the Mad worked really, really well, because it went back to the elements that make this series so special.

The premise of this series, established all the way back in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, was that after Sherlock Holmes retired to the Sussex Downs at the end of his adventures, he literally stumbled over a 15-year-old girl – or rather she stumbled over him while her nose was buried in a book. After that fortuitous meeting, he took her on as an apprentice, and in the course of her apprenticeship, they eventually, after the events in A Monstrous Regiment of Women, married.

If you can swallow that premise, and admittedly some people can’t, the entire series is marvelous from beginning to the present. I don’t say beginning to end, because I sincerely hope the end never comes. If you can swallow the premise and have not read the rest of the series, well, you could start with this one. It does stand a fair bit on its own. But it would lose some of its resonance. If you are interested, but just not up to plowing through all 14 previous books in one go, read at least the first two so that you know how these two fit together into their singular relationship.

The series began in 1915, and this story takes place in 1925. Holmes and Russell have been married for several years, and are quite happily married. Also, it is a real marriage and not in any way a marriage of convenience – as many of their acquaintances occasionally assume. Their marriage is a true partnership, and much of the fun of the series is watching them work together, even if, as happens here, they are sometimes apart in their togetherness.

The stories are always told from Russell’s perspective, with her parts being in the first person, and Holmes’ separate investigations in the third person. We operate from inside her head, but with extremely rare exceptions, never inside his. Holmes is as inscrutable as ever, including at times to his wife.

There’s a difficult balance to strike between having Russell operate on her own and making sure that Holmes participates enough to keep things interesting for both them and the reader. The books do not always strike that balance well, but this particular outing does. They have separate tasks to perform and separate ways to go about them, but they check in with each other on enough of a regular basis for the reader to feel invested in both cases, and for the dovetailing at the end to work well.

One of the things that makes this series different from other Holmes pastiches and continuations is not just Russell’s voice but the way that she takes Holmes’ training and moves it into a new century with the different sensibilities of both her generation and her gender.

There are two dark themes underlying the froth in this particular outing. One is, of course, the rise of fascism in between-the-wars Europe and just how quickly and easily the fascists have taken over Italy. That is a darkness and a threat that Holmes would both recognize and fight against whether Russell was present or not. And any resonance between the situation they investigate and current xenophobic and tyrannical regimes rising today is probably intentional.

But just as the way that the fascists has come to power leads the reader to compare that situation to the present, so does the initial case that takes Russell to Venice in the first place. Her best friend’s aunt has been committed to Bedlam, the psychiatric asylum in London, for years. She has escaped. As Russell investigates, it turns out that the question isn’t why she escaped, but why she was committed in the first place. And if you don’t see the #MeToo movement peeking out from behind the historical curtain, you’re not looking.

There’s a lot of substance under the froth of the “Young Things” partying between the wars and the glitter of the ex-pat night life – if you want to look for it. But even if you don’t, it’s a fascinating story from the very first page.

I look forward, as always, to Mary Russell’s next investigation.

Review: The Privilege of Peace by Tanya Huff

Review: The Privilege of Peace by Tanya HuffThe Privilege of Peace (Peacekeepers, #3) by Tanya Huff
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction, space opera
Series: Peacekeeper #3, Confederation #8
Pages: 336
Published by DAW Books on June 19, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Former space marine Torin Kerr returns for one final adventure to save the Confederation in the last book in the military science fiction Peacekeeper trilogy.

Warden Torin Kerr has put her past behind her and built a life away from the war and everything that meant. From the good, from the bad. From the heroics, from the betrayal. She's created a place and purpose for others like her, a way to use their training for the good of the Confederation. She has friends, family, purpose.

Unfortunately, her past refuses to grant her the same absolution. Big Yellow, the ship form of the plastic aliens responsible for the war, returns. The Silsviss test the strength of the Confederation. Torin has to be Gunnery Sergeant Kerr once again and find a way to keep the peace.

My Review:

If this is truly the end of ex-Gunnery Sergeant now Warden Torin Kerr’s story, I’m going to be very, very sad to see it end. Torin’s story, from its beginning all the way back in Valor’s Choice (nearly 20 years ago, OMG) has been absolutely marvelous.

I began the Valor/Confederation series and the Vatta’s War series at about the same time, so they are both inextricably linked in my memory. They also both finished at the same time, and then revived at about the same time. Wonderful synchronicity.

And they both feature kick-ass, strong, idiosyncratic heroines in vast interstellar space operas. The biggest difference is that Vatta’s War and its sequel series Vatta’s Peace are mercantile space opera, while Confederation/Peacekeeper is strictly military SF.

Torin Kerr begins the series as a Sergeant in the Confederation Marines, and even though at the end of the Confederation series she does manage to retire the sergeant from the Marine Corps, as we, she and her crew discover in An Ancient Peace, the first book in the Peacekeeper sequel series, it is impossible to take the Marine out of the sergeant.

Even in what passes for peacetime, she’s still the Gunny. Mostly. When it counts.

The Privilege of Peace picks up almost immediately after A Peace Divided leaves off. Which means that this is not the place to start. And as much as I loved An Ancient Peace, the first book in the Peacekeeper series, I don’t think that’s the place to start, either. Because this peace, and the characters’ reactions to it, all depend on who and what they were during the late war, and what their relationships to Torin Kerr were during that war. If you enjoy military SF with great characters, terrific world-building and absolutely fantastic heroines, start at the beginning with Valor’s Choice.

And I envy anyone who does a binge-read to “earn” The Privilege of Peace. I’ve read the entire series, but as it was published. Which means that the details of Torin’s history happened even longer ago for me than they do for her. It took awhile for me to get back up to speed on all the names, faces, races, and reasons behind each character’s inclusion in this conclusion.

Because of that “ramp-up” time, the story seemed a bit choppy at points. Lots of characters have similar names, the reader is expected to remember all of their backstory, and the action jumps around a bit. It takes a while to set up the big showdown with “Big Yellow” and the Humans First pukes.

And that’s a hint that there are effectively two different enemies in this book, at least for certain definitions of enemy. Possibly also for certain definitions of factions.

“Big Yellow” turned out to be the enemy of the entire Confederation series. And while the threat of them returning has hung over all of the Peacekeeper series, in Privilege they really are back, and no one is happy about it. But at least now everyone knows that Big Yellow is the big enemy, even if they can’t always recognize its “minions” when they appear. Or disappear. Or hide in plain sight.

That second enemy is the home-grown variety. Humans First will sound familiar in entirely too many contemporary 21st Century ways. They believe that Humans are better than every other race in the galaxy and that the Confederation is holding them back from their greatness. They also believe that violence – along with infiltration and blackmail and other nastinesses – are the way to take their rightful place in the galaxy.

The idea that humans will carry their xenophobia into the stars is more than a bit depressing, but feels all too possible.

Torin and her friends are, as usual, stuck in the middle, caught between the manipulations of Big Yellow, the violence of Humans First, the mind-numbing insanity of Confederation bureaucracy and the secret dreams of the Confederation military.

Peace is a privilege that has to be earned. And as usual, Torin Kerr and her companions are paying for that privilege with their own blood, sweat and hopefully not too many tears.

Escape Rating B: I loved traveling with Torin and Company one more time. Not having just finished a binge of the entire series, it did take a while for me to catch back up, and the longer it has been since the beginning and the more that has happened since that beginning, the longer it seems to take with each book.

The multiple perspectives in The Privilege of Peace made the story seem a bit disjointed at times, but I still liked the journey and felt that the ending was earned. Which means I can only recommend this book to fans of the series. And I still think it is well worth reading the entire series.

The blurbs claim that this is the conclusion of Torin’s journey. If so, I’m sorry to see her go and I’ll miss traveling with her, but she has certainly earned her happy ending. And it is a happy ending – or at least as happy as Torin can manage.

At the same time, there are enough loose, or at least loose-ish, ends that it would be possible for the adventures to continue. And if that occurs, I’ll be glad to watch the Gunny kick more ass and take more names. Anytime. Anyplace. Any galaxy.

Review: Unidentified by Anna Hackett

Review: Unidentified by Anna HackettUnidentified (Treasure Hunter Security, #7) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #7
Pages: 172
Published by Anna Hackett on June 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Finding undiscovered treasures is always daring, dangerous, and deadly. Unidentified contains two action-packed novellas starring sexy archeologists, feisty treasure hunters, and tough former Navy SEALs on the hunt for two priceless Incan emeralds.

The Emerald Tear: ambitious archeologist Oliver Ward leads a dig in the wild jungles of Ecuador and collides with feisty, independent treasure hunter Persephone.

Oliver Ward loves getting his boots dirty on fascinating digs, and investigating strange ruins in Ecuador is no exception. When bandits threaten his team, a small, tough treasure hunter bursts into his world to save the day. He finds himself captivated by the bright, vibrant woman and sucked into a wild and dangerous treasure hunt for a lost Incan emerald.

Daughter of a con artist, Persephone Blake trusts no one and has a plan—find and sell artifacts until she can retire on a white-sand beach. But her plans are derailed when a handsome, smart, and stubborn archeologist pushes his way onto her hunt. She finds herself irresistibly tempted by Oliver, and as they trek deeper into the jungle, danger follows. And Persephone isn’t sure what is in more danger—her body or her heart.

The Emerald Butterfly: former Navy SEAL Diego Torres finds himself helping the one woman who drives him crazy—the DEA agent who boarded his ship and handcuffed him.

Injured and tortured on a mission, Diego Torres was ready to leave the SEALs and loves being captain of his salvage ship, the Storm Nymph. As he begins his vacation, he planned for solitude, late mornings, and drinking beers while watching the Florida sunsets, what he didn’t plan for was the gorgeous DEA agent who boarded his ship several months before. And he really didn’t plan for an underwater expedition in search of a shipwreck and a priceless Incan emerald.

Sloan McBride’s grandfather dreamed of finding the Emerald Butterfly his entire life. Now he’s dying and she vows to find it for him…even if she has to work with the hard-bodied ex-SEAL she got off to a very wrong start with. But as Sloan and Diego work side by side, dogged by dangerous black-market thieves Silk Road, they uncover a scorching hot passion. They will do anything to protect each other, including calling in their friends from Treasure Hunter Security, and they’ll risk everything to beat Silk Road to the emerald.

My Review:

The stories in the Unidentified duology are wrapped around a pair of matched emeralds that were discovered or rumored to be discovered in the jungles of Ecuador. These two beautiful stones sat on matched statues at the entrance to a lost Inca Temple.

Naturally, such priceless treasures draw the eyes of the infamous Silk Road gang. But, as always, the men and women of Treasure Hunter Security are there to stop them – even before there actually is a Treasure Hunter Security.

The first story takes place in the 1970s, and it’s all about the 20th century discovery of the temple and the Emerald Tear. It is also the story of how archeologist Oliver Ward and treasure hunter Persephone Blake, the parents of the THS team, found each other.

The Emerald Tear is a story where Indiana Jones is both Romancing the Stone and discovering The Lost City of the Monkey God. What’s even more fun is that the Lost City book is actually non-fiction, but the description still fits.

(For casting purposes, think of Oliver Ward as Indy, and Percy as a female version of the mercenary Jack Colton in Stone – not that Oliver is in the least bit as mousy as Joan Wilder – far from it!)

It feels like The Emerald Tear is the meatier of the two stories. We get Oliver and Percy meeting and falling in insta-lust if not insta-love. But they are just made for each other. Percy is scouting Oliver’s village dig and Silk Road – or its predecessor – is following her. She has clues to the location of the temple, and her clue (and Silk Road’s) is smack in the middle of Oliver’s dig.

Once they get together, the story, and their romance, are off to the races. Or at least off to the middle of the jungle on a dangerous and deadly quest to find the temple, the emerald, and the key to each other’s hearts.

Oliver and Percy’s story is a fast-paced adventure in a steamy jungle with just the right amount of equally steamy sex.

Escape Rating for The Emerald Tear: A-

On my other hand, the story when it picks up in The Emerald Butterfly isn’t nearly as compelling. In comparison to The Emerald Tear, The Emerald Butterfly is pretty but not nearly as riveting.

It’s not that the romance between THS operative Diego Torres and DEA agent Sloan McBride isn’t steamy and sexy, it’s the action that isn’t between the sheets feels a bit formulaic. Or at least obvious and predictable.

We know Silk Road are following, we know they’re going to do their level worst to take the Emerald Butterfly from our heroes, and we know that THS is going to swoop in and save the day, the stone and our heroes.

So this was fun but nearly as interesting or exciting as the first story. I wanted a bit more of The Emerald Tear but was more than content to finish The Emerald Butterfly.

Escape Rating for The Emerald Butterfly: B

Review: The Cottages on Silver Beach by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: The Cottages on Silver Beach by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawayThe Cottages on Silver Beach by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Haven Point #8
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on June 19, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Years after betraying her, he’s back in Haven Point…and ready to learn the truth.

Megan Hamilton never really liked Elliot Bailey. He turned his back on her family when they needed him the most and it almost tore them all apart. So she’s shocked when Elliot arrives at her family’s inn, needing a place to stay and asking questions that dredge up the past. Megan will rent him a cottage, but that’s where it ends—no matter how gorgeous Elliot has become.

Coming back home to Haven Point was the last thing bestselling writer Elliot Bailey thought he’d ever do. But the book he’s writing now is his most personal one yet and it’s drawn him back to the woman he can’t get out of his mind. Seeing Megan again is harder than he expected and it brings up feelings he’d thought were long buried. Could this be his chance to win over his first love?

My Review:

First of all, the story bears almost no resemblance to the blurb. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a good story or a lovely romance, because it’s both. But the story as written is only tangentially similar to the blurb.

The romance is between Megan Hamilton and Elliot Bailey. And he does come to stay at her family’s inn. But does the story ever diverge from those points!

Once upon a time, Megan Hamilton was dating Elliot’s younger brother Wayne. We’ve met the rest of the Bailey family in the course of the Haven Point series. But Megan and Wayne’s romance never went anywhere because Wayne was killed while helping a stranded motorist during a blizzard.

So she never officially became part of the Bailey family, but in tiny Haven Point, where everyone’s lives are intertwined, the Hamiltons and the Baileys have remained close. Then again, pretty much everyone in Haven Point is close.

Megan and Elliot also remember each other from growing up in Haven Point. Megan and her friends called Elliot, Mr. Roboto. The name was not intended to flatter. Elliot was a bit older, very, very serious, and did everything by the book.

Those tendencies have made him an absolutely stellar FBI agent. But are a bit ironic for the other side of Elliot’s life, because he is also a best-selling true-crime author. And he seems to invest all of his caring and understanding into his books.

Megan is even a fan of his writing – in spite of the fact that she never believed that Elliot thought she was good enough for his brother. And particularly in spite of the fact that when her brother’s wife disappeared 7 years ago, leaving him to raise their two children, Elliot was one of many people in Haven Point who believed that Luke Hamilton had murdered his wife and hidden her body.

When Elliot returns to Haven Point, he’s on leave from the FBI. He disobeyed orders, got himself shot, killed an informant, messed up a DEA case and is now on suspension while he heals from the bullet wound.

He’s also working on his next book. And he’s booked himself into Megan’s inn to work on it. He’s not quite willing to admit to himself that he’s staying at the inn in the hopes of running into Megan – and he’s surprised to discover that she’s living in the cabin next to his.

And that the undercurrents between them are as strong as ever – in spite of all the skeletons in their respective closets.. The question is whether they can lay those bones to rest, or whether the past will continue to stand between them and the future they might have – together.

Escape Rating B+: The Cottages on Silver Beach feels like its about two things. One is trust, and the other is about just how much the baggage of the past holds you back from your brightest future.

The baggage that both Megan and Elliot carry from their birth families is pretty heavy. Megan’s father was both physically and emotionally abusive. While he reserved his physical abuse for his wife, he doled out the emotional abuse to everyone in the house. All Megan ever heard from her dad was that she was plain, dumb and useless. The bastard is long dead, and good riddance to bad rubbish, but she still hears his voice in her head whenever she steps outside her comfort zone.

And it’s that disparaging voice that has kept her from realizing her dream of being an art photographer. She has the skill, but lacks the confidence to put her work out there.

Elliot, on the other hand, is hyper-responsible. In a big family of drama kings and queens, Elliot was expected to take care of everyone and everything – and he’s internalized that message to the point where he suppresses his own emotions and personality.

They can help each other get past their fears, but only if they can get rid of the elephant-sized baggage that’s always in the room with them. Seven years ago Megan’s sister-in-law disappeared after a fight with her husband, Megan’s brother Luke. Neither she nor her body were ever found, and there are many in town who believe that Luke got away with murder.

As a law enforcement officer, Elliot feels duty-bound to admit that it is entirely possible that Luke killed his wife. He may not want to believe it, but it is possible as far as the evidence shows. Megan believes in her brother unconditionally, and as long as they are on opposite sides of this fence, they have no future. Even though they can’t seem to trust themselves when they’re together, as long as Elliot has even a glimmer of an idea that Luke might be guilty, Megan can’t trust him with her heart.

But resolving the issue may reveal Luke’s guilt. Or it may reveal that the previous police chief, Elliot’s late father, mishandled his last big case. That’s a lot of real, painful stuff to get in the way of a romance.

It’s up to Elliot to find a way for all of them to move forward, not just his romance with Megan, but his former friendship with Luke, closure for Luke’s kids, and finally removing the dark cloud over the town. If he can. If he should.

In the end, it’s that dilemma that drives the story much more than the romance. And it felt right.

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

I am giving away a copy of The Cottages on Silver Beach to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: A Study in Treason by Leonard Goldberg

Review: A Study in Treason by Leonard GoldbergA Study in Treason (The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mystery #2) by Leonard Goldberg
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Daughter of Sherlock Holmes #2
Pages: 320
Published by Minotaur Books on June 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A continuation of USA TODAY bestselling author Leonard Goldberg's The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Treason is a new intriguing locked room mystery for Joanna and the Watsons to solve.

The following case has not previously been disclosed to the public due to the sensitive information on foreign affairs. All those involved were previously bound by the Official Secrets Act. With the passage of time and the onset of the Great War, these impediments have been removed and the story can now be safely told.

When an executed original of a secret treaty between England and France, known as the French Treaty, is stolen from the country estate of Lord Halifax, Scotland Yard asks Joanna, Dr. John Watson, Jr., and Dr. John Watson, Sr. to use their keen detective skills to participate in the hunt for the missing treaty. As the government becomes more restless to find the missing document and traditional investigative means fail to turn up the culprit, Joanna is forced to devise a clever plan to trap the thief and recover the missing treaty.

Told from the point of view of Dr. John Watson, Jr. in a style similar to the original Sherlock Holmes stories, A Study in Treason is based partly on facts in our world and partly on the facts left to us by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Full of excitement and intrigue, this mystery is sure to be enjoyed by fans of Sherlock Holmes as well as the works of Laurie R. King and Charles Finch.

My Review:

A Study in Treason is the followup to last year’s The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes. I’m a sucker for Holmes’ pastiches, and I absolutely loved that first book. Not only was it the right book at the right time for me, but it seemed to hit all the right notes, with Holmes’ daughter taking her father’s place and solving crimes with Dr. Watson Sr. as well as his son, Dr. Watson Jr. In keeping with the spirit of the original stories, Watson Jr. is the chronicles of these new events.

But after having read A Study in Treason, I’m starting to wonder if this is something that can only be done well once. Part of what makes the first book so much fun is the nostalgia factor; that it echoes the originals while being just a touch new and just slightly different.

Nostalgia can only carry a person, a book, or a story so far. And I think that shows in this second book. While Watson Sr. is an older version of himself in the canon, very much as he should be, the new characters need to go in at least a few new directions.

Instead, Joanna Blalock Watson feels more like a carbon copy of her famous father. It is ironic in a case that proves that nurture is more important than nature, that Joanna seems to have each and every one of Holmes’ talents and habits, in spite of not having been raised by him. While Joanna certainly knows who her father was, I’m not certain that she actually met the man.

Yet somehow, not only his talents but his every habit seems to have passed down to her, as if by osmosis, barely changed from the original. And while the talents could indeed pass through the blood, that the habits would too seems a bit unlikely.

The story in A Study in Treason, recalls The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, while its title calls back to the first published Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet. But in spite of the veritable school of red herrings thrown in the reader’s, and Lestrade’s, way, the case itself seems fairly obvious from the early stages. And obvious in a way that has been overused.

Escape Rating C+: I wanted to like this a lot more than I did, especially after the promising start in the first book. Instead, the story feels a bit thin and stretched, as though the author has taken a good idea and pushed it past its limits.

In order for this series to work, the characters need to change and grow. It makes no sense for Joanna to be such an exact replica of her father, particularly having grown up outside his influence. There should be some marked differences, and those differences would make her an interesting character in her own right.

She also seems to face or have faced little of the difficulties that a woman in a man’s profession would have faced in the 1910s. Or she has completely brushed all of them aside. Even if she chooses to ignore those differences, anyone she deals with on a professional basis would not. And that constant fight should have had some influence on her character.

There’s not enough there there, and I’m sorry to have to say that. I had high hopes for this series. But for a more believable female Holmes, I’m going back to Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series.

Review: Echo Moon by Laura Spinella + Giveaway

Review: Echo Moon by Laura Spinella + GiveawayEcho Moon by Laura Spinella
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, romantic suspense
Series: Ghost Gifts #3
Pages: 428
Published by Montlake Romance on May 22, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
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A past life, a past war, and a past love. Peter St John can’t foresee a future until he confronts his past sins.

When photojournalist Peter St John returns home after a two-year absence, the life he’s been running from catches up. For years his mother’s presence, coupled with Pete’s own psychic gift, has triggered visits to 1917. There, he relives battles of the Great War, captures the heyday of Coney Island on canvas, and falls in love with an enchanting and enigmatic songstress named Esme. Present-day Pete still pines for Esme, and his love endures…but so does his vivid memory of killing her.

When he discovers family heirlooms that serve as proof of his crimes, Pete will have to finally confront his former life. He also meets a young woman—who is more than what she seems—with a curious connection to his family. As century-old secrets unravel, can Pete reconcile a murder from his past before it destroys his future?

My Review:

Echo Moon is a haunting story about the way that the past can quite literally haunt the present. Or at least Peter St. John’s present. And fair warning, I’m going to use the word “haunting” a lot in this review, because it’s the only one that really fits.

Pete has a gift, or a curse depending on one’s perspective, of being able to speak to the dead. He receives messages, and his receipt is beyond his control. As this story opens, Pete himself is running out the edges of his control.

While his mother Aubrey receives what they call “ghost gifts” from the past, Pete remembers his entire previous life – or at least his previous life up to the point where he murdered the woman he loved.

He can’t escape his visions of that past, and he can’t manage to escape his love for the beautiful, talented and ultimately doomed Esme Moon. Esme was a singer and medium in World War I era New York City, and Pete vividly remembers both loving her and killing her.

When his mother inherits a New Jersey beach shack from his grandmother, who worked the traveling carnivals in her own youth, Pete’s past and his present collide. In the uncertainty of whether he’s losing control or losing his mind, Pete finally lets himself explore the history that he has refused to acknowledge, no matter where it leads.

They say the truth will set you free. Pete needs the truth to make him whole – in one century or another.

Escape Rating B+: Although this is not strictly a time-travel story, the atmosphere in Echo Moon reminds me an awful lot of that classic, lyrical work of time travel, Time and Again by Jack Finney. It’s not the time period, but both stories have that strong bittersweet sense of the past haunting and looming over the present. Richard Matheson’s equally classic Bid Time Return (filmed as Somewhere in Time) also has that same bittersweet romantic feel.

But more than the time travel, Echo Moon reminds me of Robin D. Owens’ Ghost Seer series, which begins (naturally enough) with Ghost Seer. Clare Cermak’s gifts are very similar to Pete St. John’s, without the overwhelming sense of guilt that haunts Pete. After all, while Clare can lay the ghosts of her assigned era to rest, she isn’t responsible for turning them into ghosts in the first place.

Echo Moon is the third book in the Ghost Gifts series, although those first two books (Ghost Gifts and Foretold) feature Pete’s mother Aubrey and not Pete himself. Not having read those first two books, it took me a while to get into this one. It’s not that the action doesn’t pick up easily, or that what happens to Pete is truly reliant on what happened to his mother – or at least not exactly and certainly not at the beginning.

But not having already been immersed in the family’s history, the events here didn’t have quite the resonance they otherwise might have. We know that Pete is running from himself, but the reasons why aren’t as deep as they eventually become once the reader becomes invested in Pete’s story and especially Pete’s trauma.

Having PTSD because of events one experienced in a previous life is not the way that textbook definitions of PTSD usually go – and that makes it all the more difficult to treat or resolve.

In the end, the story does suck even the newbie reader into its web of romance, intrigue and mysticism. Once that happens, the story moves fast, as neither Pete nor the reader are ever quite sure whether the past is merely influencing the present or actively impinging on it or whether Pete has just finally lost it altogether.

When he finds it, and himself, it makes for a lovely ending.

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

I am giving away a signed copy of Echo Moon to one lucky US/Canadian commenter on this tour!

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Review: The Girl Who Stepped Into the Past by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Girl Who Stepped Into the Past by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Girl Who Stepped Into The Past by Sophie Barnes
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: time travel romance
Pages: 256
Published by Sophie Barnes on June 5, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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She was looking for inspiration…

When historical romance author Jane Edwards goes to England on a research trip, she doesn’t expect to travel two hundred years into the past. She also doesn’t expect to be accused of murdering the Earl of Camden’s sister. Presented with few choices, Jane decides the best course of action is to help Camden find the real killer. But the more time she spends in his company, the more she falls for the dashing earl, and the more she hopes for a life with him by her side.

And found love in the most impossible place.

James Sullivan, Earl of Camden, is convinced Jane had something to do with his sister’s murder. Until he learns she lacked the ability to accomplish the feat. Still, her explanation about stopping by his home in the middle of a rainstorm to seek employment, doesn’t add up. And yet, when he offers her the position she supposedly seeks, he discovers the smart resourceful woman she is. Which makes him wonder if marrying his new maid, might be worth the risk of scandal.

My Review:

It’s a tale as old as time – or at least as old as the concept of time travel. The premise will sound familiar to anyone who has read any time travel romances. The details change a bit. In this particular version of this old tale, a woman who is looking for a fresh start after the end of a relationship falls in love with a man in a portrait. When the thunder booms and the lightning cracks, she finds herself back at the period of that portrait, face to face with the man of her dreams.

When the trope is as tried and true as this one, whether a particular variation of it stands out from the crowd lies with the execution – because we know how it’s going to end. Somehow there’s going to be an HEA, whether in the past or the present. Or it’s going to be a tragedy, but romance writers generally don’t go there. Readers love their HEAs after all.

Although the beginning of this one reminded me particularly of Timeless Desire by Gwyn Cready, in the end it mostly recalled The Geek Girl and the Scandalous Earl by Gina Lamm. Both of those stories were a lot of fun, and The Girl Who Stepped Into the Past is as well.

Jane Edwards doesn’t merely find herself in the Regency period that she has studied long and hard as part of her research for her own series of historical romance novels, she finds herself standing over a dead body in the middle of a unsolved murder. A murder that was never solved, so she does not have any future knowledge about who done it.

In an era where circumstantial evidence ruled, her position is rather damning. The Earl of Camden, the man that Jane has fallen for via his portrait, is certain that Jane must have just killed his sister. Jane has her work cut out for her, not only proving her innocence but also explaining her sudden presence in the middle of the English countryside.

Jane turns out to be more than up to the task. But involving herself in the life and household of James Sullivan, Earl of Camden, causes her no end of problems, as one might expect. The two bond over their investigation into his sister’s death, in spite of Jane’s rather unconventional appearance and manners.

Jane begins to realize that James is the man she has been looking for all of her life. But falling in love has its own risks. Will he believe her strange story? Is he willing to be shunned by society to marry a woman who at best seems to be an American adventuress? And is Jane willing to give up the safety, convenience, freedom and loneliness of the 21st century for life with the man she loves in a world that will otherwise never accept her?

And will solving the murder change history too much to make any of their wishes even remotely possible?

Escape Rating B: This is a fun little story. I enjoyed reading it but it doesn’t rise above some of the truly great time travel stories like Outlander and The Jane Austen Project. And there are plenty of nods to Jane Austen herself in this story.

Jane Edwards, our heroine, is a lucky woman. By the time she tells him, James manages to believe her story, as outlandish as it seems. He believes, perhaps, just a bit too easily. I considered it all part of the handwavium of time travel and didn’t let it bother me too much.

Jane does have an awfully easy time figuring out who killed James’ sister. To the point where the reader may be surprised that she was a Regency romance author and not a mystery author! But it is all in good fun, at least fun for anyone not the victim or the perpetrator.

The heart of the story is the romance between Jane and James. While they fall in love rather quickly, the dilemma they face is the one that tears at the heart. She might be able to go back. It will be difficult for a 21st century woman to live with the restrictions imposed on women in the 19th century. If she stays so they can marry, James will be shunned by his peers for the rest of his life, and that shunning may also fall on any children they have. They have to be willing to give up a great deal in order to be together. What we feel for, in the end, is the internal conflict they each have to resolve and their ultimate willingness to be all to each other, and to hell with what the rest of the world thinks.

And that’s a hard thing to do under any circumstances, time travel or no time travel. By the time they reach that ultimate decision, we are right there with them.

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

Sophie is giving away a signed print copy of The Girl Who Stepped Into The Past + a $10 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner on this tour.

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Review: Too Wilde to Wed by Eloisa James + Giveaway

Review: Too Wilde to Wed by Eloisa James + GiveawayToo Wilde to Wed (The Wildes of Lindow Castle, #2) by Eloisa James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Wildes of Lindow Castle #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on May 29, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The handsome, rakish heir to a dukedom, Lord Roland Northbridge Wilde—known to his friends as North—left England two years ago, after being jilted by Miss Diana Belgrave. He returns from war to find that he's notorious: polite society has ruled him "too wild to wed."

Diana never meant to tarnish North's reputation, or his heart, but in her rush to save a helpless child, there was no time to consider the consequences of working as a governess in Lindow Castle. Now everyone has drawn the worst conclusions about the child's father, and Diana is left with bittersweet regret.

When North makes it clear that he still wants her for his own, scandal or no, Diana has to fight to keep from losing her heart to the man whom she still has no intention of marrying.

Yet North is returning a hardened warrior—and this is one battle he's determined to win.

He wants Diana, and he'll risk everything to call her his own.

My Review:

Too Wilde to Wed is an absolutely delightful romp of historical romance, and definitely a fitting sequel to the equally fun and utterly frothy Wilde in Love. The Wildes are indeed very, very wild. And the wilder they are the better things seem to turn out for them.

So it proves with North, the oldest surviving son of the Duke of Lindow. We met North in Wilde in Love, as that story, while it features his brother Alaric’s romance with Willa Ffynche, begins at North’s betrothal party and ends with that betrothal going smash.

And did it ever need to.

Too Wilde to Wed begins two years after that stunner of an ending. North has just returned from two years commanding a regiment in the Colonies, during the events that on this side of the pond are referred to as the American Revolution.

He leaves the Colonies disgusted with his superiors and their idiocy. He knows that England is losing the Colonies and believes that they should let them go. He feels that he’s lost too many good men by following bad orders and he’s had enough.

But he discovers that leaving the field of battle does not mean that the war has left him. And when he comes home he discovers that he has a new battle to face. His erstwhile fiancee, Miss Diana Belgrave, a woman he once believed fit to become the next Duchess of Lindow, is in residence at his country home, serving as governess to his youngest sister, along with a little boy that everyone seems to believe is his.

A boy that he is certain was fathered by someone else before he ever met Diana. We’ll he’s half right.

Neither Diana nor North are who they were two years ago. Not that either of them was the person that the other thought they were, even at the time. The Diana he saw was an illusion created by her mother, and the North that asked for her hand was an illusion created by his valet in order to win her hand if not her heart.

Now that their circumstances have drastically changed, they are forced to start over, getting to know the people they actually are, and discovering that they like each other a whole lot more when they are being their true selves.

And therein lies the rub. Because North’s true self is the future Duke of Lindow. And Diana’s true self wants to be anything, even a governess, even a barmaid, rather than being a future Duchess.

No matter how much she’s like to be North’s wife.

Escape Rating B+: This was just plain fun. As in, read in one day fun.

One of the great things about this story is the way that it took two people that we had already been introduced to and showed that we really didn’t know them at all. And that no matter what either of them thought, they didn’t know each other the tiniest little bit either.

In Wilde in Love, Diana was almost a cipher. There was a person filling her gowns, but she seemed to have almost no personality. Now we know why, and we hope there’s a hotter place in hell for her mother. The Diana that North saw had almost no relationship to the person she actually was. When keeping up the pretense became too much for her, she fled. And while she was foolish in many practical ways, all of her reasons were quite sound.

North acted like he had the proverbial stick shoved very, very far up his fundament. He was an entitled, overdressed prig. He deserved Diana’s jilting. But as was true with Diana, the person he pretended to be only had a passing relationship with who he really was. Part of that was due to his own self-deception, and part of it was a result of his trying to please the woman he thought Diana was. Their original relationship, if you can call it that, was doomed to failure. It’s lucky for both of them that it failed before the grand wedding instead of after.

The real people underneath both of their carefully constructed facades are much nicer, and much, much more interesting. Also much more real. And have more in common than either of their fake personas might have guessed.

North makes a worthwhile hero for a couple of reasons. He is doing the British stiff-upper-lip thing and doing his duty the best he can. He’s the oldest surviving son, he was not originally the heir. And he doesn’t want it, but doesn’t feel as if he can just give it up. He’s coping, but he certainly isn’t happy. He also went to war, and the experience left him with almost as many scars as his older brother’s death. He certainly has PTSD. It was also fascinating to see someone on the English side of the Revolution realize that any attempt to hold the Colonies was doomed to failure and deserved to be.

Unlike the fake version in Wilde in Love, this version of North is difficult not to like.

Diana as the heroine was a mass of contradictions. On the one hand, she was proud of her ability to earn her own living, and unlike so many Regency heroines, felt much more at home as the governess than she ever did as a potential duchess. On the other hand, so few of her decisions seem to have been backed up by any practicality or sense. She does the right thing for the right reasons, but goes about the practicalities the wrong way pretty much every time, and often, as the saying goes, bites off her nose to spite her face. She’s tenderhearted when she can’t afford to be, and all too often proud when she really can’t afford to be.

At the same time, she’s right about not being a good candidate to be the next duchess. She does eventually discover that she wants to be North’s wife, but thinks too little of herself to take the bad of being duchess as the necessary evil required to be with the man she loves.

They also both have a bad cases of thinking that they are not worthy of the other, but they are also surprisingly honest about it with each other. In spite of the description in the book blurb, North does figure out that this is not a battle, and that he can’t really win in the traditional sense. He can overwhelm Diana’s objections and defenses, but that will only result in both of them being completely miserable.

They both need a way out. When it comes from the most surprising source, everyone is astonished at just how long it took them both to see it. But it makes for a lovely ending. And sets readers up for more to come in the third book in the series, Born to be Wilde.

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

LINK: https://goo.gl/gceRD3

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a hardcover copy of WILDE IN LOVE by Eloisa James and a peacock keychain. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 6/10/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.