Review: The Alchemist of Lost Souls by Mary Lawrence + Giveaway

Review: The Alchemist of Lost Souls by Mary Lawrence + GiveawayThe Alchemist of Lost Souls (Bianca Goddard Mysteries, #4) by Mary Lawrence
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Bianca Goddard #4
Pages: 320
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation on April 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A dangerous element discovered by Bianca Goddard's father falls into the wrong hands . . . leading to a chain of murders. Spring 1544 Now that she is with child, Bianca is more determined than ever to distance herself from her unstable father. Desperate to win back the favor of King Henry VIII, disgraced alchemist Albern Goddard plans to reveal a powerful new element he's discovered--one with deadly potential. But when the substance is stolen, he implores his daughter to help.

Soon after, a woman's body is found behind the Dim Dragon Inn, an eerie green vapor rising from her mouth. Bianca has reason to suspect her own mother may be involved in the theft and the murder. When her husband John is conscripted into King Henry's army to subdue Scottish resistance, finding the stone becomes a matter of life and death. Bianca must unravel the interests of alchemists, apothecaries, chandlers, and scoundrels--to find out who among them is willing to kill to possess the element known as lapis mortem, the stone of death . . .

Praise for The Alchemist of Lost Souls "Atmospheric...Fans of Tudor historicals will eagerly await the next installment."--Publishers Weekly

Praise for Death at St. Vedast "Full of period details, Lawrence's latest series outing captures Tudor London in all its colorful splendor. A solid choice for devotees of Elizabethan mysteries."--Library Journal

Praise for Death of an Alchemist "A must read!" --RT Reviews

"Colorful alchemical lore and vividly imagined..." --Publishers Weekly

Praise for The Alchemist's Daughter A Night Owls Reviews Top Pick Suspense Magazine Best Historical Mystery 2015

"A complex plot and likeable cast of characters" --Historical Novel Society

My Review:

This is the fourth book in the Bianca Goddard series, and I picked it up because I read and enjoyed the recreation of Tudor England in the first two books in the series, The Alchemist’s Daughter and Death of an Alchemist. How and why I managed to miss the third book, Death at St. Vedast, I have no idea, but it’s an omission I certainly plan to rectify!

Although this series takes place among people who are living at the bottom of the economic pile, the actions of those at the top still affect the lives of Bianca, her husband John, and her father Albern in ways that never work to their benefit.

Once upon a time Albern Goddard was a respected alchemist in the employ of the king. The respectability of alchemy, while not laughable as it is today, was more than a bit dubious even in the mid 16th century when this story is set.

Albern’s fame and fortunes have considerably dwindled – not that his attitudes towards his wife, his daughter, or the people he lives among have come down even in the slightest. He thinks he’s better and smarter than everyone else looking down his nose at everyone around him, including his family.

And certainly his fellow practitioners of the so-called noble art.

His daughter Bianca, on the other hand, is both a decent brewer of medicinals and a decent judge of human beings. Including her parents. That she lives in an unsavory part of London and practices among those even poorer than herself provides further fuel for her father’s contempt. And that’s in spite of the fact that Bianca has pulled his nuts, literally and figuratively, out of the fire more than once.

Which doesn’t stop either Albern Goddard nor the local sheriff from enlisting her aid. Albern when a precious compound is stolen, and the sheriff when the woman who ended up with it in her possession is murdered.

But the parallel investigations into the theft from her father and the murder that seems to have been its result are not the only problems plaguing Bianca.

Because it is 1544 and Henry VIII plans on one final campaign against England’s perennial enemy, the French. He intends it to be a glorious victory. All that Bianca knows is that her husband has been caught up in the conscription for a war that seems more foolhardy than glorious. Whether he will return in time to see the child she carries – even whether he will return at all – is in the hands, or whims, of a capricious fate.

Escape Rating B+: This is a historical series where the reader kicks the offal, smells the smells, and feels more than a hint of the brutality of life on society’s lowest rungs of the ladder. In that, it resembles the Crispin Guest series by Jeri Westerson, the Thieftaker Chronicles by D.B. Jackson and the Kate Clifford series by Candace Robb.

This is not a pretty view of Tudor England, but one that is biting and raw. Bianca’s circumstances force her to make her living in an area known for its poverty, crime and lawlessness. It’s a world where her father has not only the right but the duty to beat her, in spite of her being an adult living away from his household, and where she is grateful that her husband does not do his duty to beat her as well.

And it is also a period where what we would now label superstition is accepted as fact, and where the worlds of magic and spiritualism lie much closer to everyday life. Which explains the common beliefs in alchemy, as well as nearly everything about the title character of this story, the being known as the Rat Man, who has spent centuries plying the waterways of the Thames and looking for the alchemical element he once created in an attempt to grant eternal life. An element that seems to have only granted him eternal damnation.

He is watching Bianca, in the hopes that she can somehow lead him to the final end that he longs for. And that she will not pay for his death with her own.

But the Rat Man is a shadowy figure, existing mostly on the fringes of this story. It is Bianca that we focus on, and it is her search for the truth, even the truths that she does not want to face, that moves us. While her circumstances may be removed in place and time, the intelligence, deductive reasoning and sheer stubbornness that she uses to achieve her aims are traits that 21st century readers can certainly empathize with – and follow.

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

The author is giving away signed paperback copies of The Alchemist of Lost Souls to two lucky participants in this tour!

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Review: The Rogue of Fifth Avenue by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

Review: The Rogue of Fifth Avenue by Joanna Shupe + GiveawayThe Rogue of Fifth Avenue (Uptown Girls, #1) by Joanna Shupe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, eboook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Uptown Girls #1
Pages: 400
Published by Avon on June 4, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Silver-tongued lawyer.Keeper of secrets.Breaker of hearts.

He can solve any problem…

In serving the wealthy power brokers of New York society, Frank Tripp has finally gained the respectability and security his own upbringing lacked. There’s no issue he cannot fix…except for one: the beautiful and reckless daughter of an important client who doesn’t seem to understand the word danger.

She’s not looking for a hero…

Excitement lay just below Forty-Second Street and Mamie Greene is determined to explore all of it—while playing a modern-day Robin Hood along the way. What she doesn’t need is her father’s lawyer dogging her every step and threatening her efforts to help struggling families in the tenements.

However, she doesn’t count on Frank’s persistence…or the sparks that fly between them. When fate upends all her plans, Mamie must decide if she’s willing to risk it all on a rogue…

My Review:

The Rogue of Fifth Avenue is the first book in the Uptown Girls series, a followup to the author’s Four Hundred series. Both take place among the elite “Knickerbocker” society of New York City in the Gilded Age.

I have to admit, though, that the possibility that this series is named for the Billy Joel song Uptown Girl just makes me smile. It also gives me a rather pleasant earworm. And the lyrics actually work, come to think of it.

The romance in this one is between Mamie Greene, who’s a bit of a “poor little rich girl” and Frank Tripp, who is very definitely a rich little poor boy. Frank is a rich and successful uptown attorney who counts Mamie’s rich and influential father, Duncan Greene as one of his biggest clients.

(There are a LOT of rich people in this story – but in the end the story is surprisingly NOT about their wealth.)

Frank has been following Mamie and her sisters to rather an alarming number of dives and gambling dens. He thinks he’s keeping her out of trouble. Of course, he has no idea what he’s actually gotten himself into.

He thinks he’s saving Mamie. What really happening is that they get along like kerosene and matches – combustible at every encounter. Neither of them can afford to acknowledge the attraction between them. Mamie’s father will never allow her to marry his lawyer, no matter how successful Frank might be. And Mamie is promised to another man.

Frank thinks he’s saving Mamie FROM herself. He’s not willing to acknowledge that he’s really saving her FOR himself. Or that he’s the one who really needs saving.

Escape Rating B-: Although the Uptown Girls series is a spinoff from the Four Hundred series, it is not necessary to read the Four Hundred to get right into the thick of things in The Rogue of Fifth Avenue. There are occasional mentions and appearances by a few of the characters from the previous series, but nothing to interrupt the flow of this story for those who have not read those.

That being said, I really, really liked all three books in the Four Hundred series, and liked them more than I did The Rogue of Fifth Avenue. Or rather, I liked the actual “Rogue”, Frank Tripp, just fine, but I didn’t enjoy Mamie’s character nearly as much as I did the heroines of the previous series.

On my other hand, this one really is the story of Frank’s journey and Frank’s redemption. Mamie feels more like the instrument of said redemption. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Both Frank and Mamie have secrets. Mamie’s secret is that she is literally robbing the rich, picking the pockets of the swells who frequent the elite gambling halls, to provide funds for poor women and their children who quite seriously need the help. And that she is keeping her thievery and her visits to Five Points from her parents.

I found myself applauding her desire to help people while decrying her methods. Not just in the “two wrongs don’t make a right” sense, but in the sense that Mamie has money and could pay out of her pocket as well as fund raise among her rich friends. If her parents had forbidden her activities the secrecy would make more sense, but she hasn’t asked, she’s just assumed. Possibly a correct assumption, but still…considering her parent’s personalities, it would have had a fair chance of working.

Frank, on the other hand, is hiding that he began as a poor boy in Five Points, the child of a drunken wife beater and the poor wife he beat. He got lucky and received a hand up from a local business owner who helped into law school. Everything Frank got from there was on his own merits and hard work, as well as a silver tongue that convinced the upper crust swells that he was one of them.

The story here is that Frank’s old life collides with Mamie’s hidden life, as one of the women she has been helping is arrested for killing her husband. Which she, in fact, did. Not in self-defense, but in defense of their five-year-old daughter. The deck is stacked high against the woman, and Mamie wants Frank to use that silver tongue of his to get the woman off – no matter how much the corrupt police department wants to sweep the case under the rug.

In the process of defending the case, Frank finds himself confronting the family he left behind, and the facade he has created in order to maintain his life cracks under the strain. Whether Mamie is able to forgive him for his necessary deception provides the romantic tension at the end of the story, but this is one of the few times where I really wanted the heroine to forgive the erring hero a lot quicker and more easily than she did.

That being said, the way that this one works out, both in the romantic sense and especially in the courtroom, made for one heck of a slam-bang (also a wham-bam!) ending.

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

To celebrate the release of THE ROGUE OF FIFTH AVENUE by Joanna Shupe, we’re giving away one paperback set of the entire Four Hundred series!

Link: http://bit.ly/2WQzECI

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Giveaway open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the Four Hundred series by Joanna Shupe. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books. Giveaway ends 6/10/2019 @ 1159pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copy out to the winner directly.

Review: Rebel by Beverly Jenkins + Giveaway

Review: Rebel by Beverly Jenkins + GiveawayRebel (Women Who Dare, #1) by Beverly Jenkins
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Women Who Dare #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on May 28, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The first novel in USA Today Bestselling Author Beverly Jenkins' compelling new series follows a Northern woman south in the chaotic aftermath of the Civil War...

Valinda Lacey's mission in the steamy heart of New Orleans is to help the newly emancipated community survive and flourish. But soon she discovers that here, freedom can also mean danger. When thugs destroy the school she has set up and then target her, Valinda runs for her life—and straight into the arms of Captain Drake LeVeq.

As an architect from an old New Orleans family, Drake has a deeply personal interest in rebuilding the city. Raised by strong women, he recognizes Valinda's determination. And he can't stop admiring—or wanting—her. But when Valinda's father demands she return home to marry a man she doesn't love, her daring rebellion draws Drake into an irresistible intrigue.

My Review:

Considering that a big part of the romance in this book is all about Drake LeVeq persuading Valinda Lacey to let her inner hellion out of the straight-jacket her father has tried to wrap it in, this book would have been better titled Hellion than Rebel.

And that’s about the only quibble I have with this book. It is simply marvelous from beginning to end. Sometimes heartbreaking, but marvelous every step of the way.

(Don’t let that bit about heartbreaking worry you, there is an HEA for our hero and heroine. But some of what they have to go through to get there, and what the Black community of post-Civil War New Orleans – and in the rest of the country –  had to experience both before and after Freedom, that is frequently heartbreaking, all the more so because it doesn’t feel over.)

Rebel is a story on two levels, and it works excellently on both of them.

On one level, it’s a romance. On the other, complementary level, its historical fiction about the Black experience in Reconstruction era New Orleans in specific, and in U.S. in general during that period.

In the end, figuring out that they love each other is the easy part of their story. Working their way through and/or around the forces arrayed against them is the hard part. The combination of the two is what makes Rebel terrific – and terrifically readable – all the way around.

Escape Rating A+: Yes, I know I’m squeeing. This was a book that I just loved, even though I often have difficulties with historical romance these days. Those difficulties occur because historical romance heroines have a high tightrope to walk, in that they both have to be women who have enough agency for me to identify with and be women who can at least plausibly fit into the time and place where their story is set.

Valinda succeeds because she has a tremendous amount of agency that springs directly out of her time, place and circumstances. While her disgusting father does his best/worst to clip the wings of her spirit, that he expects her to be meek and submissive is plausible for the time period.

That, as a Black woman in the late 19th century she feels both duty-bound and able to support herself and make her own living and give of her best for the betterment of her people feels equally plausible and downright likely. The world is not going to be handed to her, and she’s seen the results of submitting meekly to her father’s will in the lives of her mother and older sister. It’s all too easy for 21st century women to see themselves in her pride in her work and her ambitions.

That growing up in her family circumstances has left her with no belief in love makes perfect sense and fits her right into the company of many romantic heroines who learned early that their marriages would be business deals and not love matches. That the marriage her father wants for her is more vile than that puts him in the bad company of many fathers of romantic heroines. Valinda spends the book rightfully dreading his appearance in New Orleans, and he lives down to all of her fears.

But her hopes by that point have been placed in Drake LaVeg, a man who has grown up in a family filled with love, led by his strong, determined and successful mother. It’s Drake and his family who coax the real Valinda out from the restrictions her father placed around her.

At the same time, this book does its best to portray the circumstances under which Drake’s and Valinda’s community was forced to endure. The freedom granted by the Union victory in the Civil War was precious – and it was under attack by all sides at all times. Those attacks were often legal, governmental and bureaucratic. Even the illegal attacks were sanctioned by the government and the powers-that-be.

So much of the circumstances that surround and intrude upon the romance feel viscerally wrong and historically accurate at the same time. And should make readers reflect that not nearly as much has changed as we like to believe.

In the end, Rebel is a romance that provides a historically accurate setting that we don’t read about often enough, featuring a dashing hero, a heroine with intense agency, and a promise of more to come.

I can’t wait to meet the rest of the Women Who Dare!

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

To celebrate the release of REBEL by Beverly Jenkins, we’re giving away a paperback copy of Tempest by Beverly Jenkins to one lucky winner!

LINK: http://bit.ly/2Hr1RLq

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of Tempest by Beverly Jenkins. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books.  Giveaway ends 6/10/2019 @ 11:59pm EST.

Fantastic Father Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Fantastic Father Giveaway Hop, hosted by The Review Wire and Chatty Patty’s Place!

Today’s hop celebrates dads everywhere, and is scheduled to end just before Father’s Day is celebrated in the U.S. So just in time for the winners to either give their prizes to dad or use the gift cards they win to get a gift for dad. (Or to keep for yourownself if you are the dad!)

And for those of us who have lost their dads, a time to remember them – not that we don’t on plenty of other days.

But this hop is for all those great dads out there, whether their children are human or feline or canine or feathered or scaled or any or all of the above!

The question in the rafflecopter is “If money (and reality) were ignored, what gift would you most want to give your dad?” I think I’d give mine flying lessons. My dad joined the U.S. Army Air Corps just after WW2 because he wanted to learn to fly. He was honorably discharged after six months because he could fly just fine, but he couldn’t land the plane on visual. Dad had no depth perception, so he just couldn’t find the ground reliably – at least not until gravity slammed the plane, and himself, and the poor instructor, into the ground. When my dad passed away, my mother discovered that he had been taking flying lessons – again – and just hadn’t told her. I can’t say that I was surprised about either part of that, that he was trying again, or that he hadn’t mentioned it.

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Review: No Saving Throw by Kristin McFarland

Review: No Saving Throw by Kristin McFarlandNo Saving Throw by Kristin McFarland
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Ten Again #1
Pages: 272
Published by Diversion Books on May 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A supremely geeky murder mystery perfect for Whovians, gamers, and Muggles alike.

Autumn has everything she could possibly want: Loving friends, a successful business, and a gaggle of nerds in her store every day.

Welcome to Ten Again, a tabletop gaming store that attracts nerds of every kind and fosters a community Autumn’s pretty proud of—a community that also keeps business afloat. And now that Autumn's in the running for a grant, Ten Again’s future is looking bright.

That is, until one of Autumn’s gamers is mysteriously murdered. With everyone in the mall as a suspect and accusations flying, Autumn is going to have to do some sleuthing of her own to save her shop. And to save her gamers from what seems to be an increasingly more dangerous fate

My Review:

You may be wondering exactly what a “saving throw” is, why Autumn Sinclair doesn’t have one – and why she needs one so very badly.

If you are familiar with role-playing-games like Dungeons and Dragons, you are already familiar with the concept of a saving throw. In those games, characters often stroll, walk, skulk or stride into danger – all of it controlled by rolls of multi-sided dice.

(All dice have multiple sides, the standard die you’re probably thinking of is a d6 – a six sided die.)

But if the person controlling the game so decides, the player may have the opportunity to roll a separate die to see whether or not their game-character, well, dies. That’s a saving throw.

Come to think of it, real life might be a bit easier if we all had a few chances to make a saving throw. Although loving this book is probably a bit easier if you didn’t need the above explanation.

Autumn is a business owner in her small community. The business she owns is Ten Again, an actually fairly successful gaming store. She’s just opened her doors this evening for what is supposed to be a multi-day, popular and profitable tournament for her store

Instead, tragedy strikes. One of her gamers, one of the members of her community, is killed in her building while the gaming event is going on. Pretty quickly, it looks like two of the other gamers are responsible for his death. And that a whole deck of really bad publicity is going to fall on the gaming community in general and Autumn in particular.

She’s completely right about the terrible publicity, the threats to her store, her community and herself. And while a bit far off about who really done it, she’s on the money about who didn’t, even if she has no clue about the whys and wherefores – at least not yet.

It’s up to Autumn and her friends to level-up their skills in detection and investigation before their game is over. Permanently.

Escape Rating B: No Saving Throw, the book, doesn’t need a difficult saving throw of its own. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a very twisty-turny little small town mystery. While it is extra special fun for those of us who have spent a lot of time on the geeky-nerdy side of the force, at its heart it’s basically a cozy mystery where everybody knows everybody else and where the long-standing relationships in the community provide a lot of the heart as well as a lot of misdirection on the path to solving the murder.

More than a bit of that misdirection is provided by the enmity between Autumn and Meghan. Autumn and Meghan are long-standing rivals, and have been since high school. Now in their early 30s, that rivalry has just added more depth as the years have gone by, moving from fighting over a cheating boyfriend to fighting over a potential renovation grant for the struggling mall that both of their retail shops occupy – at opposite ends, of course.

In the end, they’ll have to get over each other, and everything that has happened between them, to figure out who is using their feud to threaten both of them.

Part of the fun of this one was that I thought I knew whodunnit – only to discover that I was completely off base. And that successful misdirection makes the a-bit-too-neat typing up of all the little mysteries definitely worth playing – or reading – toward.

Follow the tour HERE
for exclusive content and a giveaway!

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Life is a Beach Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the fourth annual Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop, hosted by The Kids Did It and The Mommy Island.

It’s time to ask that perennial summer question: What is a beach read anyway? Followed immediately by “Which ones should I read THIS summer?”

Pro tip: A good book is a good book forever. Just because something came out last year, last decade or even last century doesn’t mean it can’t be a good beach read this summer of 2019. It also doesn’t mean you can’t take a beloved book down off the shelf to re-read. As the saying goes, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” and a great book can be, too!

So for you chance at either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 book from the Book Depository to help you stock up on YOUR summer beach reads, answer the question in the rafflecopter. May your summer be full to the brim with relaxing days, good friends and wonderful books!

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For more fabulous prizes be sure to visit the other stops on the hop!

You May Win Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the You May Win Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

“You May Win” is the opening line to many a giveaway. (Also many a scam, but this is not a scam, this is a bloghop. You really might win.)

Sometimes the prize is something you really, really would love to have. Sometimes its a castle in the air, a dream come true. Sometimes it’s something small but nice that you wouldn’t get for yourself. Usually it’s somewhere in the middle. Of course, there’s always one of the Disney giveaways that feature a night or two in Cinderella’s castle. That really IS a castle in the air.

Whenever I enter a big giveaway, I NEVER expect to win. Even if the game isn’t rigged – like the old McDonald’s Monopoly thing – the odds are really, really, REALLY long. Still it would be nice if it happened once.

The odds here are not really THAT long. You really might win. As per usual, here at Reading Reality you may win your choice of either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository. Just answer the question in the rafflecopter for your very own chance!

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And for more fabulous prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

Love In Bloom Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Love in Bloom Giveaway Hop, hosted by BookHounds.

It’s more or less the end of Spring here in the Atlanta area. Planting season (according to friends who plant stuff – I have the black thumb of death) is just about over as it will soon be too hot for new plants to survive. But there are plenty of flowers in bloom right now. And the trees are all fully leafed out, turning the view from our kitchen table back into the treehouse perspective that we bought this house for.

What about where you live? Is everything in bloom, or are there flowers you are still waiting to see this late-Spring? Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance at either a $10 Gift Card from Amazon (more seeds or other gardening stuff) or a $10 Book from the Book Depository (more gardening books, perhaps?)

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May Flowers Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the May Flowers Giveaway Hop, hosted by The Review Wire!

First, and oldie but a goodie:

If April showers bring May flowers, then what do Mayflowers bring?

The answer, and it’s a groaner of a pun, is PILGRIMS!

But speaking of May flowers – the kind you plant and not the kind that sail, how are the May flowers doing where you live? Not that I have a green thumb, because I certainly don’t! But one of the things that was and presumably still is marvelous about May in the Chicago area where I used to live was the proliferation of peonies. They are one of my favorite flowers! But I don’t see them much down here in the Atlanta area – it’s probably too warm for them – or not cold enough in the winter (which I don’t mind AT ALL!) or something like that.

What’s your favorite springtime flower? Answer in the rafflecopter below for your chance at either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a book, up to $10 in value, from the Book Depository. (This giveaway is open to anyone who lives in a location where either of those prizes is available.)

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For more fabulous prizes be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!


Review: Anything but a Duke by Christy Carlyle + Giveaway

Review: Anything but a Duke by Christy Carlyle + GiveawayAnything But a Duke (The Duke's Den, #2) by Christy Carlyle
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Duke's Den #2
Pages: 368
Published by Avon on April 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Self-made man Aidan Iverson has seen more closed doors in his thirty years than he’s ever cared to count. As a member of the elite Duke’s Den, he has all the money he could possibly need, but the one thing he can’t purchase is true power. If roguish Aidan can’t buy his way into society’s hallowed halls, he’ll resort to a more extreme measure: marriage.

Brought up to be a proper lady, the only thing Diana Ashby desires is to be left alone to the creation of her own devices. But when her dreams are crushed, she must find another way to secure the future of her invention. Knowing his desire to enter her world, Diana strikes a deal to arrange Aidan’s marriage to the perfect lady—as long as that lady isn’t her. She doesn’t need any distractions from her work, particularly of the sinfully handsome variety.

As Diana and Aidan set out to find him an aristocratic match, neither are prepared for the passion that ignites between them or the love they can’t ignore.

In the Duke’s Den, can happiness ever be a winning prospect?

My Review:

I picked up Anything But a Duke because I absolutely adored the first book in the Duke’s Den series, A Duke Changes Everything. So naturally I wanted to see what happened next to the Duke’s Den gambling den and investors’ club.

While the two things that go on in the Duke’s Den may seem like opposites, they also aren’t. Because the three owners of the Duke’s Den, Nicholas Lyon (hero of A Duke Changes Everything), Aiden Iverson (the hero of our current tale) and Rhys Forrester (presumably the hero of the next book) invest in inventions. Often very large inventions on a grand scale, but not always. But whether those inventions will succeed or fail is really just gambling under a different name – and a slightly more respectable one at that.

Think of the Duke’s Den as a historical version of Shark Tank. The rules seem to be very similar – but without the posturing for TV cameras. (And OMG the original international version of Shark Tank is called Dragons’ Den!)

Diana Ashby has come to the Duke’s Den, just as inventors come to Shark Tank, to convince them to invest in her household, housewide, vacuuming system. It’s ingenious in its way, a system that once installed in an establishment, will vacuum every room with merely the priming of a suction pump.

While Diana is unable to immediately convince the members to invest in her device, she IS able to get a stay of execution on their refusal – because Aiden Iverson clumsily broke her model. And because once upon a time, not so very long ago, she saved his life.

There’s a spark that runs hot between them, so in a bit of self-deception they decide to use each other – as an excuse to remain in each other’s company just a bit longer.

Diana needs funding for her inventions. She’s under a deadline from her mother to either get funding within a month or finally throw herself into the “marriage mart”. Fully aware that marriage will probably make her miserable. Not that she might not want to get married and have a household and family of her own, but that under the current laws any husband can and probably will force her to stop inventing – and she needs to invent rather as much as she needs to breathe – possibly more.

Iverson needs to marry into the aristocracy. He has plenty of money, but his origins, both that they are common and that they are secret, keep him from the highest strata of society. And it’s that strata that controls memberships and inclusion into the areas that he needs to be in to bring the inventions he funds to their fullest potential.

They make a bargain. Diana will find Iverson an aristocratic wife, and he will fund her vacuum invention and help her find a buyer.

But no woman can live up to the fire in Diana, and no invention – no matter how successful – can make Diana feel as alive as Iverson does.

The question is whether they can step back from what they both said they wanted to what they truly need – each other.

Escape Rating B+: Anything But a Duke is a whole lot of fun. I’ll confess it’s not quite as much fun as A Duke Changes Everything (which was pretty amazeballs), but it is a terrific historical romance and I enjoyed every minute of it!

One of the things that I really liked about Anything But a Duke is that the characters, while part of the upper classes (that’s a whole ‘nother topic we won’t get into here) were neither of them actually titled members of the aristocracy.

Rather they were both upper-middle class, and both had mixed feelings and reactions about that situation. Diana feels stuck because she really wants to work on her inventions, but is being forced to submit to being “a lady” with all of the restrictions that are involved.

Meanwhile her brother is out drinking and gambling and wasting money that the family cannot publicly admit they don’t have. Diana’s mother needs her to make an “good” marriage to save the family from penury. (I have thoughts about her brother – and they are not complimentary thoughts in the slightest – but this isn’t his story.)

Iverson, on the other hand, is a self-made man. His mother abandoned both him and his sister to the workhouse. He’s not even sure that “Iverson” is his true name and has absolutely no idea who his father was. His lack of pedigree keeps him from getting into places that he needs to get into to further the inventions he invests in. He’s willing to make an arranged marriage, offering his money to save some aristocratic family’s position in order to get the entree into society he requires.

Diana and Iverson really do belong together. It’s obvious to the reader – in a very good way – and seems to be obvious to everyone except the two of them for the longest time. The way that the tension builds between them is delicious – even more so because it isn’t fake in any way but is inherent in the situation in which they have placed themselves.

And Diana is a wonderful character for 21st Century readers to identify with! I’m not sure her position is historically accurate, but it feels plausible enough to work – and work well.

One final note, there have been a rash of historical romances where the hero unexpectedly becomes a duke, with mixed results. Based on the title, I expected that to happen here, and I was so happy when it didn’t. Part of what makes Iverson so interesting is that he isn’t part of the nobility. I really liked seeing a hero and heroine who are not, were not and do not become aristocrats. It’s a refreshing change and I hope to see more of it!

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

To celebrate the release of ANYTHING BUT A DUKE by Christy Carlyle, we’re giving away one paperback set of A Duke Changes Everything and Anything But a Duke!

LINK:  http://bit.ly/2WmtcTY

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of A Duke Changes Everything and Anything But a Duke by Christy Carlyle. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 5/16/2019 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly.