Review: The Duke of Her Desire by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Duke of Her Desire by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Duke of Her Desire (Diamonds in the Rough #2) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on December 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

He was only supposed to keep an eye on his friend’s sister . . . now he’s about to lose his heart . . .

When Thomas Heathmore, Duke of Coventry, agrees to steer his friend’s inexperienced younger sister through society, he doesn’t expect the lady in question to be so infernally stubborn. Amelia Matthews seems to have little interest in balls or suitors at all. Instead, she intends to open a school, and against his better instincts, Thomas offers to help. Yet somewhere along the line, Amelia ceases to be a simple responsibility . . . and becomes an undeniable temptation.

Since her brother inherited a dukedom, Amelia’s prospects have transformed. But though she’s long been secretly infatuated with Thomas, she refuses to heed the arrogant aristocrat’s advice. If only it were as easy to ignore his heated touch. And as Amelia soon learns, the ton is a minefield, where one moment’s indiscretion can unleash a scandal—or entice her to surrender everything to the duke of her desire . . .

My Review:

In the past couple of months I have read a lot of Sophie Barnes, and they’ve all been a lot of fun, particularly A Most Unlikely Duke, the first book in her Diamonds in the Rough series. This second book in the series is every bit as much of a romp as the first.

The series features the family of the newly elevated Duke of Huntley, who was discovered to be living in the slums of St. Giles when he inherited his title, along with his two sisters Amelia and Juliette. Once upon a time they were gentry – until their father committed suicide and their mother abandoned them.

Now, after a lot of unexpected deaths between Raphe and the title, he is now a Duke. The story of his semi-adjustment to his new status, as well as his finding his happily ever after, is the story that is told in A Most Unlikely Duke.

But now that Raphe is settled (or as settled as he’ll ever be), it is his sister Amelia’s turn. Their new society friends believe that Amelia’s turn needs to be fairly urgent – she is over 20 and if she does not marry this Season she will be labeled as permanently on-the-shelf and doomed to eternal spinsterhood.

There are at least two problems with seemingly everyone’s plan to find Amelia a suitable husband and marry her off posthaste.

While some of the high-sticklers in the ton think that Amelia’s background in St. Giles will prevent her from ever being “one of them”, her background per se is not the problem. What is a problem is that her sudden elevation from poverty to riches, combined with her own gifts in mathematics and other subjects that women of the ton never even get near to, has left her with a desire that borders on compulsion to find a way to give back to society in the broader sense and St. Giles in particular. She wants to found a school for the children of the area so that they can have a chance to escape the grinding poverty and make something of themselves.

She is more than willing to put herself and her reputation at risk to achieve her goal, and is unwilling to accept much aid or any restriction in its pursuit.

The other stumbling block to everyone’s plans for Amelia to marry someone “suitable” is that Amelia has already fallen in love with someone that she believes is well above her touch. As a Duke the equal of her brother, Thomas, Duke of Coventry is more than suitable for her, but she is certain that with her background she is far from suitable for him. And his treatment of her, correcting her at every turn, reinforces that view.

But the real problem between them is that Coventry doesn’t believe he is in a position to marry anyone. He is raising his late sister’s bastard child as his own, and keeping that secret is worth sacrificing his own happiness for. But Coventry’s plan to hold Amelia at a figurative rather than a literal arm’s length is doomed when Raphe asks him to watch over Amelia and Jessica while he is away on his honeymoon, and Coventry discovers that the only way to protect Amelia in her mad plan to open a school is to help her with it.

The more time they spend together, the less they are able to resist each other. But when their marriage seems as if it is forced, they both try to turn away from their best hope of happiness.

Escape Rating B+:The Duke of Her Desire is every bit as delightful as A Most Unlikely Duke. I think that this one might have been just a bit more fun as the story is mostly told from Amelia’s perspective – and she is anything but a typical society heroine.

So often in historical romances the woman has had a very sheltered upbringing and needs time to learn her own mind before she can insist on having it. This is definitely not the case with Amelia. Like her brother Raphe, she is old enough when the family is ennobled to be all too aware of the contradictions and the injustices that are part of life among the upper crust. While she feels disheartened by the people who won’t accept her, she is also fairly sure of who she herself is and what her values are – and what she needs to do to live out those values. She also chafes at the loss of freedom that comes from being part of society. Her life was freer, and had more purpose, in St. Giles.

Coventry is an interesting choice for a hero. He is trying so hard to do the right thing by both Amelia and his son/nephew Jeremy. In the conflict that he perceives between those two desires he is often priggish and in a foul mood with all and sundry, including his adored mother – who is eventually forced to give him a well-deserved dressing down over the hash he is making of his life. But his conflict between his best intentions and his basest desires is constant, and only resolved when he finally gets his head out of his gorgeous ass about the situation.

If you like historical romances with unconventional heroines, and especially if you enjoy historical fiction that takes a good hard look at both sides of the way things were (and were not), the Diamonds in the Rough series is marvelous fun.

I’m now looking forward to the next book in the series, The Illegitimate Duke, where Juliette goes after the man she’s loved all along. In spite of everything that says he doesn’t deserve her. Because of course he does.



GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. Three winners will receive a paperback copy of A Most Unlikely Duke by Sophie Barnes.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 1/5/2018 @ 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.

Review: Christmas at Thorncliff Manor by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: Christmas at Thorncliff Manor by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayChristmas at Thorncliff Manor (Secrets at Thorncliff Manor, #4) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, holiday romance
Pages: 244
Published by Sophie Barnes on December 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

More than love is in the air …Join the Heartly family as they return to Thorncliff Manor for the holiday season where four sisters and four very handsome, very eligible bachelors, are about to enjoy a lively Christmastime filled with laughter and love. But aside from the covert matchmaking undertaken by the eccentric hostess, Lady Duncaster, the thrill of adventure is sweeping through the estate. Soon, all the guests will be entangled in a treasure hunt for a lost heirloom and secrets hidden for decades will rise to the surface as matters of the heart are finally revealed.

Will Fiona ever see the Earl of Chadwick as more than a friend? Will Emily find an unlikely love in the Marquess of Montsmouth? Can Laura recognize the man of her dreams in the Duke of Lamont? And is Viscount Belgrave able to open Rachel’s eyes to romance? The magic of Thorncliff is about to offer the last unmarried Heartly sisters a chance at their own happily-ever-afters. So sit back with a warm mug of cocoa and lose yourself in a Regency Christmas Romance…

My Review:

Christmas at Thorncliff Manor is a delightful little sugarplum of a holiday romance.

It is also the final book in the Secrets at Thorncliff Manor series, and as such, it does its level best to both resolve the outstanding mysteries left from the first three books in the series and get the remaining Heartly daughters happily married before the final page.

I have not read the previous books in the series, and it looks like some absolutely fascinating things occurred during those books. Thorncliffe Manor is hiding a secret stash of valuables smuggled out of France during the Terror. And while those who betrayed the nobles who left that stash have been revealed and received their just desserts, the treasure trove itself has never discovered.

Not that several of the Heartly siblings, among others, have not spent a significant amount of time hunting for it.

Fiona is hoping to find her great-aunts jewel box. The Marquess of Montsmouth, an avid art collector, wants to find the paintings that are supposed to be included. They do not end up with each other.

But the remaining Heartly sisters, fun-loving Fiona, author Laura, artist Emily and scientist Rachel, do find their happily ever afters where they at least least expect them, among the wealthy, titled, and eligible men that their hostess Lady Duncaster has invited to spend the holidays at Thorncliff Manor.

The fun in this story is watching each of these singular sisters find someone who is just perfect for them. Even the scientific and mathematically inclined Rachel, who can prove with statistical certain that it is statistically impossible for her to ever meet the right man for her.

Instead, one after another the sisters find their matches, men who appreciate them as they are, and have no desire to attempt to mold them into what society expects them to be.

The sweetest story of all is Fiona’s. She is finally mature enough to see that the man who has been her playmate and protector is the only man she could ever possibly love. Even though trying for more has the potential to ruin the foundational friendship of both of their lives, it is too great a prize for them not to risk it all.

Finding the missing treasure is the icing on a very delicious cake of a holiday romance.

Escape Rating B+: If you’re looking for a sweet historical holiday romance, Christmas at Thorncliff Manor is an excellent choice. And I say that even though I have not read the rest of the series. It seems clear that there is more depth to the backstory if you’ve read them all, but this entry is surprisingly complete in itself, especially considering that the Heartly siblings have been hunting for that treasure from the very first book.

The holiday party setting also adds to the fun, and it provides the “glue” that makes these four separate romances stick together. It’s obvious to the reader, and to at least some of the participants, that someone is matchmaking in the background, and that everyone is more than willing to go along for the ride.

I did find Fiona and Chadwick’s romance to have the most depth. It does feel as if they are the primary couple in the story, and we see Fiona’s point of view more than her sisters. Their romance is in a classic trope. They have known each other forever, but Chadwick was her older brother’s friend. He has treated her like a little sister, but now she is 19 and he has finally realized that she is the woman he wants to marry. He has to figure out how to make her see him as something other than an older brother without scaring her off. And there’s a bit of a bittersweet touch because he knows this marks an ending no matter what happens. If she can’t see him as a romantic partner, he’ll need to step away from a family that has become a second home to him.

As I said at the very beginning, this one is a sugarplum, a sweet holiday treat, indeed.


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Review: The Duke Who Came to Town by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Duke Who Came to Town by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Duke Who Came To Town (The Honorable Scoundrels #3) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Honorable Scoundrels #3
Pages: 84
Published by Sophie Barnes on November 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

She doesn’t want to be a kept woman...

Josephine Potter knows she must retain her employment to provide for her younger sisters and to maintain the house. While a young woman working as an accountant—at a hotel no less—could be frowned upon by some, it’s still a respectable way to earn a living. No matter what a certain duke might think. Besides, Josephine has a few rules she lives by: Don’t rely on others, don’t accept money from someone you don’t know, and never allow a man to control your life. But when she is fired from her job, Josephine may have to bend a few rules...

Devon, the Duke of Snowdon, has never met a more bull-headed woman than Josephine Potter! The Potter sisters are granddaughters of a Viscount and should not have to work for a living. So despite Josephine’s arguments, Devon insists she end her employee status immediately and accept a stipend for her and her sisters. When she is then fired, she accuses him of meddling in her life...and things are about to heat up despite the cold winter weather. As they work together to figure out why Devon’s hotel is losing money, a mutual attraction that won’t be denied, grows between them.

But when rumors of impropriety abound, can Josephine’s reputation be saved...or will her life be destroyed by scandal?

My Review:

This is the third, and presumably final, novella/novelette in the Honorable Scoundrels series. I say final because the series has been the story of the three Potter sisters finally finding their happily ever afters, after having been left destitute by their late and not much lamented father.

There are only three sisters, so unless cousins start popping up, only three stories in the series.

Each of the stories in the series has been a delectable little treat, and this final story in the series is no exception.

Josephine Potter is left at home in London while her next sister Louise goes to the north of England to take up a position as a governess in The Governess who Captured His Heart, and their youngest sister Eve travels southwest to spend the holidays with a married friend who can help her make connections, if not in the haut ton, at least connections that will lead to a respectable marriage in The Earl Who Loved Her. (All three stories take place at the same time, but none of them know what really happens to the others. At least not until afterwards.)

Josephine stays home in London because she has a job. A rather surprising position as an accountant for a middle-class hotel

But her job isn’t half as surprising as the man who unexpectedly pays her a visit. Since her family’s fall in fortunes, a duke, any duke, is the last sort of person she expects to see in their slightly down-at-heel townhouse. Even more surprisingly, Devon, the Duke of Snowdon, claims to be a representative of the Potter sisters’ guardian – a man who has never cared a fig for their state or status or even if they were managing to keep body and soul together.

Which they learned to do without his nonexistent help, thankyouverymuch.

But their old guardian is dead, and the new holder of his title and obligations feels obligated to take care of the Potter sisters, not just by a meager stipend, but actually in the style they should be entitled to as great-granddaughters of a Viscount.

Which means that the Duke of Snowdon arrives at Josephine’s threadbare house and insists that she quit her job and rely on the charity of a man she has never met, and whose father couldn’t be bothered to spare her and her sisters the merest thought.

Josephine is having none of it, and can’t be bothered to be polite about it. Nor should she be. But when her job suddenly disappears, she’s absolutely certain that the Duke of Snowdon must be behind her sudden reversal of fortunes.

And he is, but not in the way that she believes. Now Devon needs Josephine’s help to find out why his investment in a respectable middle-class hotel is losing money instead of making it.

Working together, they find not just the true source of Devon’s problem, but also that their best true match is with each other.

Escape Rating B: This series is fun, brief, and meant to be read all together. Three lunch breaks might just about do it – these stories are quite lovely and equally short.

One of the things that worked well in the first two books is the way that the unlikely romances occurred in equally brief circumstances. Events had to proceed quickly because there was a naturally limited amount of time for the couple to fall irrevocably in love in spite of occupying rather different social strata and economic circumstances.

The duke’s coming to town is not similarly constrained. Devon could spend as much time in London as he needed or wanted, in spite of his visit not occurring during the Season or when Parliament was in session. That the element of time constraint was missing meant that this story could have been longer, and I wish it had been. In the vastness of London there was plenty of opportunity for more background and an equal amount of time for the romance to develop.

So while I enjoyed The Duke Who Came to Town, I think I would have liked this one a bit better if it had been a longer story. Which is, in its own way, a different kind of compliment to the author. I liked these people so much that I wanted to spend more time with them.

But if you are looking for a series of sweet little treats to sweep you away for short breaks during the busy holiday season, you can’t go wrong with these Honorable Scoundrels.


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

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

A chance meeting...

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

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

-Please note that this is a novella-

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Temptations or Priorities...?

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Review: A Most Unlikely Duke by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: A Most Unlikely Duke by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayA Most Unlikely Duke (Diamonds in the Rough, #1) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on June 27th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

He never thought he'd become a duke, or that the secrets of his past would cost him his greatest love...

Raphe Matthews hasn’t stepped foot in polite circles since a tragedy left his once-noble family impoverished and in debt. The bare-knuckle boxer has spent the last fifteen years eking out an existence for himself and his two sisters. But when a stunning reversal of fortune lands Raphe the title of Duke of Huntley, he’s determined to make a go of becoming a proper lord, but he’ll need a little help, and his captivating neighbor might be just the woman for the job…
After her sister’s scandalous match, Lady Gabriella knows the ton’s eyes are on her. Agreeing to tutor the brutish new duke can only lead to ruin. Although she tries to control her irresistible attraction to Raphe, every day she spends with him only deepens her realization that this may be the one man she cannot do without. And as scandal threatens to envelop them both, she must decide if she can risk everything for love with a most unlikely duke.

My Review:

A Most Unlikely Duke is a surprisingly likely source of fun. It takes one of the standard tropes and turns it on its head, then beats it to a satisfying pulp – just as its hero does with any contenders for his bare-knuckle boxing crown.

That is part of what makes this particular duke so very, very unlikely. Raphe Matthews and his two sisters have survived in one of London’s worst neighborhoods, St. Giles. (If that name sounds familiar, St. Giles is also the setting of Elizabeth Hoyt’s marvelous Maiden Lane series. And that’s also a read-alike suggestion – anyone who enjoys the Maiden Lane series will also like Diamonds in the Rough.)

Raphe and his sisters Amelia and Juliette used to be gentry, once upon a time. But when their father died in debt and their mother abandoned them, Raphe and his sisters were forced into poverty. Raphe eventually grew into his work at the dockyards and his career as a bare-knuckle brawler, and now they have a measure of comfort. They’ve adapted to their surroundings, and most people forget that where they are isn’t where they came from.

Until Raphe receives a letter informing him that, due to a quirk of the law and a series of unfortunate events, he is now the Duke of Huntley. It’s a shock. It’s a surprise. It’s not even something that Raphe wants for himself. He hates the gentry and has no desire to become one. But he loves his sisters, and the wealth and power that comes with being a Duke will make their lives much, much easier. And considerably a whole lot safer. And they can all stop wondering where their next meal is coming from – an all too frequent occurrence during their early days in St. Giles.

All they have to do is learn to play the parts that they were born for, but have outgrown and discarded along the way.

That’s where Gabriella Warwick comes in. Lady Gabriella remembers all too well what it was like to be condemned by society, not for something she did, but for something that she is. She has a fascination with insects, and studies entomology in her spare time. Time that she used to have much more of, before her older sister made a scandalous marriage and nearly ruined the family’s social standing. Gabriella’s parents are determined to mold her into the proper young woman she was never quite meant to be, and seem perfectly willing to crush her into submission. She is dutiful but miserable.

When Raphe and his sisters arrive on the scene, she finds Raphe compelling, but it is his sisters to whom her heart reaches out. After the past year she has spent having social lessons drummed into her nearly 24/7, she is capable of teaching them what they need to know to have half a chance in society. And she wants to keep them from suffering the stings of social opprobrium as much as possible.

But spending time with the Matthews sisters necessitates spending time with Raphe Matthews as well. And she likes his unaffected manners as much as he likes the enthusiastic woman who occasionally peeks out from behind the socially polite mask she has been forced to wear.

They discover that they belong together – but only if they can weather the storms that threaten to drive them apart at every turn.

Escape Rating B: The “lessons” trope is one that I’ve always liked. As I read A Most Unlikely Duke I had the feeling that I had read a similar story before – it’s a pretty common trope. Likewise, the device where an unlikely hero is suddenly elevated to the peerage has also been done before. I think what made A Most Unlikely Duke so much fun was the way that those lessons in deportment took place between Gabriella and Raphe’s sisters, rather than Raphe himself. Not that Raphe didn’t need the help, because he most certainly did, but because Gabriella’s fellow feeling was for the young women. Raphe got his lessons elsewhere.

Part of what worked for me in this story was the way that Raphe merely takes on protective coloration, and only but so much of it. He changes his manners, but he never loses sight of the fact that all of the social rules and meticulous etiquette are just so much bunk. He does what he has to, but he never loses himself, and he makes friends because of that authentic self.

And it’s that authentic self that Gabriella comes to love. Not just because Raphe is way more real than the fop her parents want her to marry, but because Raphe loves the person she really is as she is, and not the person that her parents and society expect her to be. Loving Raphe sets her free, where the man her parents chose for her wanted to break her spirit. He’d probably treat his horses better – because he valued them more.

There were any number of times during the course of this story where it kept toeing up to some of the expected traps, but didn’t fall in. There were a few too many occasions where it looked like Gabriella was going to cave in and do what her parents wanted. And when she dithered about it, the story dragged a bit. Her forced engagement to the pompous ass was one of the very low points. While her desire to get out of it without risking further social ruin felt real, it kept things on tenterhooks a bit longer than I would have liked.

But all in all, A Most Unlikely Duke was a fun read for a long day of waiting in airports. I liked the cast of characters, and I’m looking forward to Amelia’s story in The Duke of Her Desire, coming just in time for a cozy Xmas read.

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