Review: The Roguish Baron by Sophie Barnes

Review: The Roguish Baron by Sophie BarnesThe Roguish Baron by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, holiday romance, regency romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #9
Pages: 180
Published by Sophie Barnes on May 24, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

When a rakish scoundrel decides to pursue the woman he loves in this friends to lovers Regency romance, he risks his father's disapproval...and the consequence this will have on his future.

He had to risk losing her so he would realize how much he loved her...

Jack Lancaster, Baron Hawthorne, hasn't been home in four years. He's been too busy running from his emotions. So when he finally does return and discovers his childhood friend, Sophia Fenmore, has gotten engaged, he's not only shocked, but determined to change her mind and make her his.

Sophia has always known Jack was out of her league. But she valued his friendship, until he broke her heart. Now he's back, as eager to charm her as she is to thwart him.For as much as she'd like to believe Jack has changed, she cannot risk taking a chance on a rogue. Unless of course, he proves himself worthy.

A daring forbidden love romance from a USA Today bestselling author

*Previously published as part of The Rogue Who Stole Christmas anthology*

My Review:

The way that the romances are intertwined and misdirected in this latest book in the Diamonds in the Rough series reads like the kind of convoluted plot that Shakespeare would have loved.

The Lancaster children, Jack, Felicity, and Kaitlin, and the Fenmore siblings, Edward and Sophia, grew up together as one romping tangle of friends. But the Lancasters are the offspring of the Earl of Turner, while the Fenmores are the children of the local vicar. There’s an even larger gap in station between Sophia Fenmore and the others, as Sophia is an orphan who was found wrapped in a blanket in the church that the Fenmores’ father is the vicar of. They raised her as their own, but with her origins obscure at best, she’s not quite the social equal of the others.

A difference that makes no difference when they are all children, but drives a wedge in the close friendship between Jack and Sophia when they reach the cusp of adulthood. Not that either of them cares one whit, they are the best of friends even if Sophia is just beginning to understand that she wants more.

But to Jack’s father the Earl, it matters a great deal. To the point where the Earl threatens to cut off Jack’s inheritance if he marries Sophia. Something that Jack hadn’t even thought of up to that point. (The title and the estate are entailed, Jack will inherit those whatever his father wants. But the money is his father’s own to dispose of as he pleases. Inheriting the estate without the money for the upkeep of the stately pile is a recipe for bankruptcy.)

Jack runs away to London for four years, earning enough money to no longer need anything his father doesn’t want to give. He ALSO earns a well-deserved reputation as a rake as he cuts a wide and smiling swath through the female population of London in an attempt to deny his father’s accusation – that he’s in love with Sophia. Even though he is.

Jack returns home to a mess. Sophia is more beautiful than he remembered, and even more captivating. But she’s also engaged to, of all people, her adopted brother Edward. Who is in love with Jack’s sister Felicity. But Edward and Felicity both believe that their love is doomed, that Felicity’s father would never consent to a match between them.

In other words, everyone is being self-sacrificing – except Jack’s father who is still being an ass.

And just when it seems like they’ve all gotten past all of the roadblocks they’ve put in their own way, the truth about Sophia’s origins finally comes to light. And those roadblocks just get higher.

Escape Rating B: The Diamonds in the Rough series has been charming romantic fluff from the very first book, A Most Unlikely Duke (still my favorite in the series) to this 9th book in the series. And this one feels like the last. Not that it doesn’t stand alone, because it most certainly does, but because all of those Diamonds and their equally happy spouses are guests at the wedding that ends this entry in the series. It felt like closure, although I’ll be happy if I’m proven wrong!

The best part of The Roguish Baron isn’t the Baron. It’s Sophia. What made her interesting was that, in spite of some of her over-the-top descriptions of her feelings, her thoughts and actions were very, very pragmatic. And she wasn’t shy about letting Jack know when he’d stepped in it and on them. She doesn’t cry and expect to be patted and soothed, she speaks up and uses her words very clearly and forthrightly.

Her situation in this story is very much “one down”. She’s female in a time and place where she has no rights and her only hope of a comfortable future is to marry and hope that her husband isn’t a brute or a gambler or a spendthrift. And she may not have a say in who she marries, and then she’ll basically be property in the marriage.

Under those circumstances, her acceptance of Edward’s proposal may not be the best of all possible worlds, but it is far, far, far from the worst. With her origins obscured, it may be the only offer she’ll get, and she knows it. Whatever dreams she might have of marrying Jack, she’s not wrong to think that society will look down upon them both and that his father will not be forgiving. She’s doomed before she starts.

Jack loves her and wants her but takes, not so much convincing as beating about with a clue-by-four to get that if they’re going to untangle the mess their in that there are no half-measures. And that if he can’t commit to this course he needs to leave her alone. Which he has a hard time even imagining, let alone actually doing.

The thing that made this work was the way that Jack was forced to grovel, publicly, for the mess he’d made of his life, and the mess he’d very nearly made of both their lives. Sophia may have forgiven him, but he still had to earn back the respect he’d squandered when he was punishing both himself and his father – who honestly didn’t grovel enough.

That Sophia does learn who she came from was lovely, even though it did seem like a bit of deus ex machina. And I have some mixed feelings about whether that was the right way to solve things.

But this was still a lovely, frothy bit of holiday Regency romance. If this is the end of the series, it provides a charming bit of closure to five years of romantic reads. If it turns out there are still more to come, I’d be happy to watch more of these unconventional couples find their HEAs..

Review: When She Dreams by Amanda Quick

Review: When She Dreams by Amanda QuickWhen She Dreams (Burning Cove, #6) by Amanda Quick
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, paranormal, romantic suspense
Series: Burning Cove #6
Pages: 320
Published by Berkley Books on May 3, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Return to 1930s Burning Cove, California, the glamorous seaside playground for Hollywood stars, mobsters, spies, and a host of others who find more than they bargain for in this mysterious town.
Maggie Lodge, assistant to the reclusive advice columnist known only as Dear Aunt Cornelia to her readers, hires down-but-not-quite-out private eye Sam Sage to help track down the person who is blackmailing her employer. Maggie and Sam are a mismatched pair. As far as Sam is concerned, Maggie is reckless and in over her head. She is not what he had in mind for a client but he can't afford to be choosy. Maggie, on the other hand, is convinced that Sam is badly in need of guidance and good advice. She does not hesitate to give him both.
In spite of the verbal fireworks between them, they are fiercely attracted to each other, but each is convinced it would be a mistake to let passion take over. They are, after all, keeping secrets from each other. Sam is haunted by his past, which includes a marriage shattered by betrayal and violence. Maggie is troubled by intense and vivid dreams--dreams that she can sometimes control. There are those who want to run experiments on her and use her for their own purposes, while others think she should be committed to an asylum.
When the pair discovers someone is impersonating Aunt Cornelia at a conference on psychic dreaming and a woman dies at the conference, the door is opened to a dangerous web of blackmail and murder. Secrets from the past are revealed, leaving Maggie and Sam in the path of a ruthless killer who will stop at nothing to exact vengeance.

My Review:

When I first visited Burning Cove, back in The Girl Who Knew Too Much, I wasn’t expecting it to become a series – but I’m very glad that it did!

Burning Cove is kind of a liminal place, and the 1930s were a liminal time. Burning Cove is in California, a place where dreams are made and lost and found. It is an offshoot of Los Angeles and Hollywood, the heart of all that dream making machinery at a time when movies and their magic were blossoming into their heyday.

While the 1930s were a time when the world was holding its breath. WW1 was in the rearview mirror, but its avatars are men and women in their 30s – in the prime of their powers and their adulthood – no matter what shadows darken their pasts or their futures. But the world is also on the brink of war, at least for those with eyes to see, while the world’s economy is still in shambles, feeding the causes and hatreds of the war about to be born.

Among all those dreams, visions and nightmares, it seems fitting that Burning Cove has become a center of dream powers, dream research and possibly dream control. Or, in this particular entry in the series, fulfilling a couple of con artists’ dreams of avarice.

And onto that stage, in this 6th entry in the series, step Maggie Lodge and Sam Sage. Maggie is a lucid dreamer with a realistically cynical view of the pros and cons of her talent. In control, she can wield it like a weapon, out of control it can be used as a weapon against her. As too many in her past have already attempted.

Sam is a private detective, still reeling from the hard knocks of divorce from a woman he never should have married, and being fired from his job as an LA police detective for being too good and too incorruptible at his job. He also happens to be the only private detective in Maggie’s tiny California town who is sober at 9 in the morning. He’s sure the job, whatever it is, will be better than divorce work.

Maggie hires Sam to investigate the blackmail attempt directed at her employer, the advice columnist known as “Dear Aunt Cornelia” in newspapers all around the country. Cornelia is out of the country on an around the world cruise, leaving Maggie with her house, her column and her checkbook to take care of any business while Aunt Cornelia, AKA Lillian Dewherst, is away from home.

Sam, Maggie and the erstwhile blackmailer converge on Burning Cove, where a dream research conference – or con game – is being held under the auspices of the suspiciously glitzy Guilfoyle Institute.

Maggie’s suspicions are already heightened, as the scientific legitimacy of what is obviously a con game or even a pyramid scheme is being shored up by the participation of a real dream scientist who once attempted to drug Maggie and experiment on her talents under the guise of “therapy”.

Sam is just as suspicious, because the Guilfoyles are so obvious about their intentions to fleece the attendees – at least according to a hunch that is so strong that it might well be a talent on its own.

And because the would-be blackmailer is found dead of a drug injection on opening night.

Escape Rating B+: Burning Cove straddles a whole bunch of genre lines. In a nutshell it’s historical paranormal romantic suspense, with pretty much the entire kitchen sink encompassed by those genres in evidence.

When She Dreams is the 6th book in this series, but I don’t think you need to have read the previous books to get into this one. While a couple of main characters from previous entries in the series turn up as side characters in this book, they are far from the focus and are not an intimate part of any of the events. The true continuing element of this series is the location, and since it neither has any dialog nor participates in any romance, not having visited before isn’t a problem for first time visitors.

The paranormal element to this series, as it is to much of the Jayneverse as the author (Amanda Quick/Jayne Castle/Jayne Ann Krentz) calls it, revolves around Maggie’s dream talent. She’s not the first character in these interconnected worlds to manifest a psychic power related to dreams and nightmares, and I’d be willing to bet she won’t be the last, either.

It’s not like that particular talent isn’t hotly debated in real life, after all.

What makes Maggie, and the other women in Burning Cove so fascinating is her realistic grasp on what it means to be a woman in a man’s world at a time when it’s all too easy for a woman to be overlooked, ignored, or in Maggie’s case, locked up for “her own good” by people who claim to love her and have her best interests at heart.

Maggie is a fighter who comes by her distrust of the world in general and men in particular unflinchingly honestly. She has carved out an independent life for herself against the odds, and she’s determined to maintain that independence, and the reader likes her all the better for it.

Sam is not as interesting a character as Maggie is. Maggie sparkles, and it’s easy to see why Sam is attracted to her, even if we don’t see a whole lot of evidence of that attraction until fairly far into the book. But he is a worthy partner for her in the investigation, and not just because he’s able to reluctantly admit that they are partners whether that’s what he planned on or not.

What does sparkle is the way that Sam and Maggie close in on this case that did not originally look like a whole, entire case. It goes from blackmail to murder to fraud to murder to obsession and then reaches back into the past to yet more murder. Following in Maggie’s footsteps as she and Sam unravel the clues one dark and dangerous step at a time makes for a terrific, page-turning thriller, clinging to the edge of one nightmare after another.

Review: The Bachelor Betrayal by Maddison Michaels

Review: The Bachelor Betrayal by Maddison MichaelsThe Bachelor Betrayal by Maddison Michaels
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance, romantic suspense
Series: Secrets, Scandals, and Spies #2
Pages: 457
Published by Entangled: Amara on February 14, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He wants justice
Underestimating Marcus Black is the last thing his enemies ever do. After all, the respected Earl of Westwood is a deadly threat… when her Majesty needs him to be. And his only goal is to avenge his brother’s murder. Which would be much easier if the viciously-skilled Lady Kaitlyn Montrose wouldn’t swoop in, knee him in the bollocks, and then run off with his only lead…
She wants revenge
Kat is determined to avenge her beloved uncle’s murder and nothing will stop her. Especially not the devastatingly handsome, and equally lethal Marcus Black. The fact that he’s after the same target is a complication she hadn’t planned on. And as much as she enjoys taunting him, she has a job to do—one that doesn’t include sparring with the infuriating man at every turn. Except Kat has a new plan… one that Marcus will just hate.
Now they’ll have to work together… if they don’t kill each other first
Individually, Marcus and Kat are deadly. If they worked together, they could be unstoppable. But when attraction gets in the way of vengeance, it’s more than hearts on the line. And only one person can win...

My Review:

There are three threads to this story. The part of that braid that we are introduced to first is the revenge story, as Kat Montrose watches her guardian and beloved uncle die on the street after an attack by a foreign agent known only as “The Chameleon”. The second strand of that braid is the instant attraction between Kat and Marcus Black – an attraction that is as inconvenient and inappropriate as it is irresistible.

Last but not least, the central thing that ties those two pieces together is the “Great Game” of power, politics and general one-upmanship that was conducted between the British Empire and the Russian Empire in places and with proxies all around the world, but most especially in Central and South Asia.

It’s the playing of this game of lives, fortunes and futures that eventually resulted in World War I. But at the point of this story in 1884-85, it’s mostly a spy game. A spy game in which Kat, Marcus, Kat’s late uncle AND the Chameleon have all played their parts.

Kat, formally Lady Kaitlyn Montrose, is a spy, a member of Her Majesty’s War Office. So is Marcus Black, the Earl of Westwood. Both were trained by her late uncle in the work. When he was killed, Kat began her search for the Chameleon, intending on taking “an eye for an eye”, the Chameleon’s life for her uncle’s.

But the Chameleon has been avoiding people like Kat for years, all too successfully. No one has ever been able to discover the identity of the elusive assassin. Kat needs a bit of assistance in tracking the Chameleon down. Assistance that she expects to garner in the form of the Earl of Westwood, who should want to avenge her uncle – his mentor – as much as she does.

Westwood has been hunting the Chameleon for far longer than Kat has been looking, and Victor’s death only adds to the reasons for his pursuit. He doesn’t want Kat getting in his way – or honestly working the case at all. Nor does he have any hope of stopping her.

Which doesn’t keep him from trying for entirely too long.

But the Chameleon is working through a hit list of the highest echelons of the War Office. Kat and Marcus will have to work together to stop the decimation of Britain’s intelligence services while war looms on the horizon.

Too bad they’re spending so much time fighting a war with each other to find the source of the threat before it’s nearly too late.

Escape Rating B: I loved the opening of this. The whole idea of a female spy in Victorian England had the potential to be so much fun! And the first scenes, with Kat burgling some papers then decimating the thugs who try to stop her  – was fantastic. That Kat has a burning line of snark for such circumstances was icing on the cake.

But the cake turned out to be more of a cupcake.

Kat is still an utterly fascinating character, and she does continue to kick ass and take names throughout this story. I especially loved her friendship with Livie (heroine of the first book in the series, The Bachelor Bargain) and Etta, and their joint publishing venture to take down the unrepentant asshole noblemen who abused women and didn’t think they’d have to pay for their perfidy. That was excellent. (I haven’t read the first book – yet – but didn’t feel like I’d missed anything essential. Just that I might have missed a good reading time!)

And I can’t say that I didn’t like her budding relationship with Westwood, because that certainly had oodles of passionate potential, which it mostly fulfilled. What fulfilled less, at least for me, was the degree to which he just plain refused to accept that Kat was NEVER going to submit to his protection and was not under any circumstances going to hold herself back from the investigation. Marcus wants Kat to be safe, and takes much too long to acknowledge that safety was about the last thing that Kat was built for.

If he hadn’t been aware of how she was raised and trained – and intimately aware at that because he was trained by the same person – it would have made more sense. His behavior would have been the expected thing for that time and place. But he went into this mess knowing that Kat was absolutely NOT the expected thing so treating her as if she was was going to get him nowhere but an argument. The repetition went on too long, and Kat in particular was a bit too angsty about her developing feelings. She was portrayed as a person of action at every turn and the moody angst just didn’t “feel right”.

On the other hand, the case was a cracking good one – and the solution was nothing like I expected at all. The Chameleon was both clever and totally unexpected, adding a frisson of danger and temptation to the scenario that made the whole thing that much more diabolical and entertaining.

In other words, mixed feelings. The way the romance worked didn’t quite fit the characters of Kat and Marcus as they were drawn, but I was certainly sold on them being meant for each other. I certainly liked this more than enough to consider picking up the previous book in the series, The Bachelor Bargain, the next time I’m in the mood for a romantic spy story.

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Review: Ten Rules for Marrying a Duke by Michelle McLean

Review: Ten Rules for Marrying a Duke by Michelle McLeanTen Rules for Marrying a Duke by Michelle McLean
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Pages: 289
Published by Entangled: Scandalous on February 14, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Bookish Arabella Bromley never gave a fig for society’s rules—until her sister ran off with a man below her station. Now Arabella is desperate to restore her family’s ruined reputation to favor amongst the ton. She’ll have to marry quickly and well. But in order to carry off her plan, Arabella needs a duke… and she has just the rakish fellow in mind.
The Duke of Whittsley has an ungentlemanly tendency to disregard the rules. Unfortunately, a sense of mischief doesn’t excuse a high-ranking noble from family duty—especially where it concerns producing a son. And that’s where he can’t quite resist Arabella’s distinctly outrageous plan: if he saves her family, she’ll give him an heir.
Now the deal’s been struck. They have one year to achieve their goals and ten iron-clad rules to keep them on track. Like long, scorching kisses and ensuring they’re both exquisitely satisfied. And the only thing that could ruin their plan is the one thing they never planned on: love.

My Review:

If you are easily seduced by witty banter you will surely fall in love with Ten Rules for Marrying a Duke just as thoroughly as Arabella Bromley and Silas, Duke of Whittsley fall in love with each other.

Not that that’s what either of them expects when the story begins. In fact, they outright plan against such a thing. That’s what those rules are for, after all. Creating a partnership rather than a relationship so that they can help each other out of the pickles they have both landed in – and then go their separate ways.

Silas needs an heir, but he doesn’t really want a wife. A wife who will become a permanent part of his life and might very well make demands on him. He’s been turning both a deaf ear and a blind eye to his grandfather’s nearly constant harangues about taking his responsibilities seriously, ceasing his frivolous pursuits, doing his duty by his title, and especially marrying and siring an heir.

Silas does take his responsibilities to his estate seriously. Well, more like semi-seriously, which is how he treats pretty much everything. He recognizes that he will have to marry and have an heir someday but he’s only 30 and not ready to settle down in any form or fashion whatsoever.

Arabella Bromley, on the other hand, thought she was settled. Her father was content for her to settle into the happily bookish spinsterhood she intended to revel in. He’s an introvert just as she is, so he understands her as no one else in the family does. She can’t inherit his title, and neither can her sisters, he has plenty of money to ensure that she will be comfortable even if she never so her bluestocking nature is not a problem.

At least not until her older sister Alice marries their groom, bringing scandal down on all their heads. The invitations to events dry up in the hot wind of gossip blowing through the ton. It’s find for her father, it’s fine for Arabella, and Alice certainly doesn’t care. But their younger sister Anna cares very much. Her Season was cut short due to illness and she expected to have another Season to find a husband and get herself settled.

The entire family is now social poison and Anna won’t be able to make a good match. It’s up to Arabella to concoct a scheme that will allow their family to weather the storm of scandal. All she has to do is convince the Duke of Whittsley to marry her and sponsor her sister back into society.

And that’s where those pesky rules come in. The ten rules they write together in a bit of hilariously embarrassing but utterly necessary one-up-person-ship, in order to hammer out just how they will convince the ton that they are madly in love, rescue her sister AND detail how to handle their lives once they part company after all the deeds are done.

They should have put in a rule about what to do when they both broke the unstated rule of the whole affair – that neither of them was supposed to fall in love with the other.

Escape Rating B: The first half of this book is an absolute delight. The second half was a bit overshadowed by the giant misunderstandammit that takes over the story, but still had plenty of verve left from that first half to carry this reader through to the end.

Arabella’s scheme to marry Silas is a bit contrived. Both in the sense that she has contrived it on a wing and a prayer, and that the entire situation tries so hard to be a meet cute – although it mostly manages to get there.

What carries that day – and the entire first half of the book – is the way that they both approach the possibility of turning this half-baked scheme into a fully-baked reality. On the one hand, they are opposites. Arabella takes pretty much everything seriously, while Silas takes almost nothing seriously.

He enters into the entire scheme because he’s having fun tweaking Arabella into a reluctant smile at every opportunity. It’s the most “real” fun he’s had in a long time.

It all works because in spite of coming at the situation from opposite directions they are both witty and intelligent people and determined to give as good as they get in every encounter. Arabella wants to stick to the rules they create while Silas pushes the boundaries of all the rules all the time.

And both of them are having a great time doing it – just as the reader does watching them talk and tease each other into friendship and ultimately marriage. Which is where that misunderstandammit rears its ugly little head.

Because they do the one thing neither ever expected. They fall in love with each other. But all their rules were predicated on that NEVER happening. They want to stay together but each is quite reasonably afraid that if they change the rules and the other isn’t on the same page then they’ll lose the happiness they’ve found. It IS a conundrum.

One that they wallow in just a bit too long. It makes sense that the conversation they need to have is hard to have but…the wallowing turned both of them into just the kind of angst-ridden lovesick fools – emphasis on fool – that they so successfully and entertainingly avoided in the first half.

Howsomever, that second half also brings to light some things that I really liked but don’t see nearly often enough in Regencies in the treatment of that scandalous older sister. Because she hasn’t disappeared from her family’s lives and she isn’t treated like a dirty secret. She’s happy in her marriage, her husband is wonderful, and they’re living in a family house out in the country. Because they’re both happier there not because her family has disowned them.

And when Arabella is having the inevitable crisis, it’s her big sister she turns to for solace, for advice, and for safe harbor from her self-created storm. One gets the definite impression that if it hadn’t been for the youngest sister still wanting to find a husband the entire family would have told the ton to go fly a kite – or whatever the appropriate Regency phrase would have been. And wouldn’t that have made for a delicious story?

I very much liked that the family didn’t do any of the terrible things that happen so often to scandal-prone daughters in Regency romance.

So I adored the first half, had mixed but mostly positive feelings about the second half, and ended the book remembering their witty banter very fondly. If you like romances where the protagonists talk each other into love, watching Arabella and Silas make – and break – those ten rules is a lot of fun.

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Review: Mr. Donahue’s Total Surrender by Sophie Barnes

Review: Mr. Donahue’s Total Surrender by Sophie BarnesMr. Donahue's Total Surrender (Enterprising Scoundrels #1) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Enterprising Scoundrels #1
Pages: 230
Published by Sophie Barnes on January 25, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Calista Faulkner had a plan: go to England, get married, and save her father from ruin. Instead, she’s now stuck in London, penniless and without the husband she’d pinned her hopes on. Desperate to return home, she seeks employment at a hotel – as a scullery maid – a far cry from the social status she has otherwise been accustomed to. But when a chance encounter with the hotel’s owner, Mr. Donahue, leads to a change in fortune and her acquaintance with him deepens, a new problem arises. For Calista knows she must return home and marry a man she hates in order to save her family’s reputation. But how can she leave behind the man she's falling in love with? How can she marry anyone else?

My Review:

There’s plenty of surrendering to go around in this charming Victorian-era historical romance. Mr. Steven Donahue AND Miss Callista Faulkner both eventually surrender to their happily ever after. But they certainly don’t start there. Or anywhere close.

As the story begins, Donahue is the owner and operator of what would today be called a boutique hotel that is desirably close to the newly built halls of Parliament. Considering that this is a romance, there’s a very apropos joke that applies here. “What do kissing and real estate have in common? The three most important things in both instances are, ‘Location, location, location.”

It’s been a ton of work to rehabilitate what was a dilapidated building, and Donahue has invested a significant amount of money in the endeavor, but the Imperial is a success that he’s rightfully proud of. As the third son of an Earl, it’s up to him to make his own way in life – even if he was born with a bit of the silver spoon in his mouth. He’s turned that silver into something that provides him with an excellent livelihood and a purpose.

Because Donahue isn’t just interested in making money for himself – although he certainly is interested in that. He also prides himself on the well-compensated jobs in excellent working conditions that his hotel – and the others he plans to build around the country – will provide for all the people necessary to make his hotels shine in every way.

That’s where Miss Callista Faulkner steps into the story – very much to her own surprise. She came from her native New York City to marry a gentleman who died while she was en route. She was fleeing a forced marriage to a despicable villain who just might possibly have gotten her father in debt for that very purpose. But her late, would-be bridegroom seems to have been marrying Callista in order to get out from under the unwelcome marriage that his own family was trying to arrange for him. So they didn’t know Callista was coming and wouldn’t have agreed or approved if they had.

Callista has run through or been relieved of the money she came to London with – and she needs to get home. Broke and desperate, she’s applied for jobs all over London only to be rejected at every turn. The Imperial offers her one last chance, but there’s a catch.

There are several catches. The manager is about to turn her down when Donahue intervenes and forces the man to offer her any job that he believes she will suit. Said manager takes his comeuppance out on Callista by offering her a position as a scullery maid, absolutely no training or introduction to the work at all, and refuses to give her a room in the hotel’s generously provided and reasonably appointed staff quarters. She has a cot in the pantry, no lock on the door and is the butt of every joke and blamed for every spilled drink and broken plate that occurs – even when she’s not near the incident. She consoles herself with the money she’s saving for her passage home.

But her mistreatment at the hands of the staff forces Donahue to intervene. He becomes her knight in well-tailored armor, giving her room, board and spending money while thoroughly cleaning out the staff who were much too willing to harass and abuse one of their colleagues. He also pays for her passage back home and even provides her with chaperons for the journey.

While they are both waiting for that journey to take place, however, they have time. Perhaps a little too much of it. More than enough time to discover that they LIKE each other. Not just that they are attracted to each other, but that they are developing a friendship along with possibly more.

Which they don’t have quite enough time to be sure of – at least not if they’re being sensible. And then there’s that odious toad waiting back in New York to claim Callista as payment of her father’s debts.

Donahue has always been sober and sensible – but this is looking like the one time in his life when he’ll be much better served if he throws caution to the winds.

Escape Rating B: Mr. Donahue’s Total Surrender is a light and frothy historical romance with just enough dark undertones to keep the reader – and the characters – on their toes.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this story is that it is a romance of thoughts and feelings and not body parts. Some of that is the period in which it is set, but I loved the way that the protagonists fall in love through spending time together, talking with each other, and just enjoying each other’s company. I did feel the romance, and we did see them fall for each other, but they’re not using sex to cement the relationship and that worked well.

I also liked that Donahue is someone who works for a living. Not that he isn’t rich, and not that his family didn’t give him a damn good start with education and money, but he’s not among the idle rich. We’re seeing more of that in historical romance and I like the trend very much.

The thing that kept this book from being a grade A read instead of a B has to do with comeuppances. There weren’t nearly enough of them. There are several circumstances in the story with villains. Not just the staff of the hotel who harass and abuse Callista, but also a titled brother and sister who are just awful and, top of the ugly pile, the odious schemer who hatched the plan to force Callista to marry him. He’s slime. The hotel staff do get their just desserts, but that was too easy. I would want to see the sour expressions on the part of those awful siblings at the wedding, and I especially wanted to know that Mr. Odious New York got at least a sliver of what should be coming to him. That we don’t discover what happened to him or even just his reaction at getting thwarted felt like a missed opportunity for a bit of catharsis.

But I had a ball – even if there is no actual ball – with Mr. Donahue, Miss Faulkner, and their total surrender to each other.

Review: Garden of Lies by Amanda Quick

Review: Garden of Lies by Amanda QuickGarden of Lies by Amanda Quick, Jayne Ann Krentz
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, romantic suspense
Pages: 359
Published by Berkley on April 21, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Kern Secretarial Agency provides reliable professional services to its wealthy clientele, and Anne Clifton was one of the finest women in Ursula Kern’s employ. But Miss Clifton has met an untimely end—and Ursula is convinced it was not due to natural causes.   Archaeologist and adventurer Slater Roxton thinks Mrs. Kern is off her head to meddle in such dangerous business. Nevertheless, he seems sensible enough to Ursula, though she does find herself unnerved by his self-possession and unreadable green-gold eyes…   If this mysterious widowed beauty insists on stirring the pot, Slater intends to remain close by as they venture into the dark side of polite society. Together they must reveal the identity of a killer—and to achieve their goal they may need to reveal their deepest secrets to each other as well…

My Review:

The popular perception of heroines in historical romance is that their lives were restricted and that they were supposed to be innocent even into adulthood and as a consequence were naïve and/or ripe to become damsels in distress who needed to be rescued by the hero.

An image that probably wasn’t true even among the aristocracy, and certainly couldn’t have been outside it. Which doesn’t prevent it from still being a popular perception. But readers aren’t looking for innocent damsels in distress nearly as much as they used to. We’re looking for women we can manage to identify with.

In that sense, Ursula Kern is a fascinating choice as a heroine. She’s a widow. She’s permitted to no longer be innocent or naïve. She’s on her own, and she owns her own business – not as a member of the demimonde – but a respectable business employing respectable women who are able to earn respectable incomes.

Whatever hopes and dreams she may have, she is expected to present herself as a responsible, respectable, professional adult person. She’s been through enough to know that the only person who will take care of her is her. As a woman with neither a husband nor living parents nor male siblings, there is no one to gainsay her determination to make a living for herself and to provide good livings for as many women as possible in her employ.

Ursula may not have family, but she does have friends as well as colleagues and employees. The late Anne Clifton was all of the above; an employee who became a colleague and friend. Ursula Kern is certain that Anne Clifton was murdered. Finding her killer is the last thing that Ursula can do for her friend – and she’s determined to do it.

She just needs a bit of help. Or at least she hopes for it. And that’s where Slater Roxton comes in. Slater, a man with a mysterious incident in his past that has fueled the gossip rags and gutter press for years, is an expert on finding lost artifacts and tombs – where he once got trapped.

(Come to think of it, he’d probably be a contemporary of Dr. Henry Walton Jones, Sr., the father of archeologist, treasure hunter and troubleshooter Indiana Jones. If there turned out to be some influence there I wouldn’t be at all surprised.)

Slater, for reasons of his own, some more obvious than others, can’t let Ursula go off on her investigation all alone. It’s not that he doesn’t believe she quite capable as an adult and as a businesswoman, but ferreting out the truth about dastardly murderers who have so far been successful at making their crimes look like accidents is a dangerous business.

A business with many more dangerous tentacles – or should I say twisted roots and entangling vines – than either Slater or Ursula ever imagined.

Escape Rating A-: I read this for fun. I was bouncing hard off of everything and went looking for a story that I knew would be instantly absorbing. I was highly tempted to read this author’s Lightning in a Mirror which is out next week, but then I remembered that Garden of Lies was STILL on my “Highly Anticipating” Shelf on Edelweiss. In fact, it was the oldest book on that shelf. So here we are.

Garden of Lies was every bit as instantly absorbing and fun as I hoped, even if I didn’t completely buy the inevitable romance between Slater and Ursula. The rest of the story, especially the uncovering of the full scope of the criminal plotting AND the nefarious dealings on both sides of the pond, was absolutely riveting.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was the way that all the women in the story, including the secondary characters, dealt with their world in a way that seemed realistically sensible. Not just that Ursula and the women she employs have made their own way independently, but the way that Slater’s mother, the actress who was the lifelong paramour of a titled noble, knew exactly what she was letting herself in for and moved through the world as she found it and not as anyone dreamed or hoped it would be. That his late father was sanguine enough to not merely acknowledge Slater was his but to trust his illegitimate son to protect his legal widow and legitimate heirs from her abusive father.

Their approaches to their world make sense in a way that isn’t always true in historical romance.

The mystery plot was marvelously convoluted and the reveal of it was appropriately painstaking. Ursula starts with the death of her friend, finds evidence that her death was murder, and then begins to dig. The solution is revealed in layers, as each new bit of information leads to a place that no one had foreseen from the opening. The web was woven very tightly, and it takes and appropriate amount of time and effort to unravel it fully.

As Ursula and Slater eventually manage to do. I liked them as partners, I just didn’t see enough of them “falling” in love to buy that they really were in love. But I’m still glad they found their slightly unconventional HEA.

There was no paranormal woo-woo in this standalone book, as there so often is in the author’s Arcane Society series, yet it still had some of the same feel with its nefarious plot, double-dealing, wheels within wheels criminal organization, and the investigation into dirty deeds done in very dark places for both evil and mercenary ends.

But the author has two books with some of that paranormal vibe coming soon, Lightning in a Mirror next week and When She Dreams in April. My reading appetite for both has certainly been whetted!

Review: Someone Perfect by Mary Balogh

Review: Someone Perfect by Mary BaloghSomeone Perfect (Westcott, #9) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance
Series: Westcott #9
Pages: 400
Published by Berkley on November 30, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sometimes, just one person can pull a whole family apart. And sometimes, it just takes one person to pull it back together. For fans of Bridgerton, New York Times bestselling Regency Romance author Mary Balogh shows how love truly conquers all in this new Friends of the Westcotts novel.
As a young man, Justin Wiley was banished by his father for mysterious reasons, but now, his father is dead, and Justin has been Earl of Brandon for six years. A dark, dour man, he, nonetheless, takes it as his responsibility to care for his half-sister, Maria, when her mother dies. He travels to her home to fetch her back to the family seat at Everleigh Park.
Although she adored him, once, Maria now loathes Justin, and her friend, Lady Estelle Lamarr, can see, immediately, how his very name upsets her. When Justin arrives and invites Estelle and her brother to accompany Maria to Everleigh Park to help with her distress, she begrudgingly agrees, for Maria's sake.
As family secrets unravel in Maria's homecoming, Justin, too, uncovers his desire for a countess. And, while he may believe he's found an obvious candidate in the beautiful 25-year-old Lady Estelle, she is most certain that they could never make a match...

My Review:

Is there such a thing as historical relationship fiction? Or is that just what used to be called a family saga?

The reason I’m asking is that as the Westcott series has continued it has begun to feel more like relationship fiction (or women’s fiction to use the more popular but also more cringe-worthy name) and less like a romance. Not that romances don’t occur during each book including this one, but rather that the romance doesn’t feel like the central point of the story.

Particularly in this book, Someone Perfect, which feels like it’s more about the family relationships between and around Justin Wiley, the Earl of Brandon, and his estranged sister Maria. Who just so happens to be best friends with Lady Estelle Lamarr, who, through several twists and turns, is tangentially related to the Westcott family this series has followed through nine books now and hopefully counting.

But it feels like Estelle and her twin brother Bertrand are part of this story in order to provide that connection to the Westcotts. Even though Estelle eventually becomes the romantic heroine of this story. Which turned out to be lovely but just didn’t seem to stand at the center of it all.

Instead, that romance occurs in the midst of a story about collateral damage, which has been the central theme of the whole, overarching Westcott saga.

The Westcott series began back in Someone to Love when Humphrey Westcott, the Earl of Riverdale, shuffled off this mortal coil. While going through his papers in the wake of his death, his pernicious bastardy came to light.

Not that Humphrey’s parents weren’t married, but rather that Humphrey’s marriage to the woman who believed she was his countess lo these many years was bigamous – making their four children bastards and his not-exactly-countess a scarlet woman. (She eventually marries Estelle and Bertrand’s father in Someone to Care but that’s another story.)

Humphrey never suffered for his actions – unless he’s occupying a very hot place in hell. But the series as a whole has focused on his collateral damage – all the people whose lives were overturned when his perfidy was discovered.

Justin and Maria are also suffering from being collateral damage as a result of a parent’s unforgivable actions. In their case, the parent at the heart of the mess was Maria’s mother, Justin’s stepmother. Justin and Maria have been estranged for over a decade because of her mother’s actions. Maria has been cut off from her entire family on both sides, all her aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., because of her mother’s actions.

And it’s Maria’s and Justin’s journey that feels like the centerpiece of this book. Not just that Justin has to put his very real hurts and grievances into the past – because all the perpetrators are beyond Earthly justice.

Maria loves her mother, and accepted everything her mother said without question. But her mother is dead, and her entire gathered family is presenting her with an entirely different perspective on the life she thought she knew. If she can accept the love and support they offer – there are questions she needs to ask herself in order to be part of a family that has always loved her even though she never knew it.

Escape Rating B+: I hesitated a bit before starting this, because I was still getting over last week’s foray into historical romance. But I’m glad I picked this one up after all.

At the same time, I still have mixed feelings about this book. In this case, those mixed feelings are the result of being of two minds about what kind of book it is. If this is supposed to be a historical romance, it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. I enjoyed the story, and liked the characters, but if this is a romance then the romance needed to be the center of the story, and it just wasn’t. I didn’t really buy the romance between Justin and Estelle even though I liked them both. His first proposal to Estelle was rather lackluster and she rightfully rejected it. But it did sum up their relationship perhaps a little too well.

Maria’s and Justin’s journey towards being a family again and being welcomed into the rest of their family felt like it was a much bigger and better story. I felt their heartache and heartbreak and just how much they wanted to find their way back to each other even though on Maria’s part, at least, there was absolutely no trust to be found. The big family gathering that Justin arranged – that could absolutely have been a complete disaster on every level – turned out to be heartwarming and utterly lovely.

So the romance occurred and the family story won the day in this one. At the end, neither Justin’s sister Maria nor Estelle’s brother Bertrand had found even a hint of a future romantic partner, and there was nothing to indicate that they were looking at each other at all – which is probably a good thing. Both because it would be a bit TOO neat and tidy, and because it means that there will hopefully be at least two more books to look forward to in the Westcott series!

Review: Mr. Dale and the Divorcee by Sophie Barnes

Review: Mr. Dale and the Divorcee by Sophie BarnesMr. Dale and The Divorcée (The Brazen Beauties #1) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Brazen Beauties #1
Pages: 342
Published by Sophie Barnes on November 23rd 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He's a respectable barrister...
She's the most scandalous woman in England...

Wilhelmina Hewitt knows she's in for a rough ride when she agrees to help her husband get a divorce. Nothing, however, prepares her for the regret of meeting Mr. Dale on the eve of her downfall. No other man has ever sent her heart racing as he does. Unfortunately, while she’ll soon be free to engage in a new relationship, no respectable man will have her.

James Dale would never pursue another man’s wife. Or a woman reputed to be a deceitful adulteress. Furious with himself for letting the lovely Mrs. Hewitt charm him, he strives to keep his distance. But when her daughter elopes with his son, they're forced into a partnership where passion ignites. And James soon wonders if there might be more to the divorcée than meets the eye.

My Review:

As I’m posting this review the day after Thanksgiving, I want to start out by saying this book made me really, really thankful that I was born in the latter half of the 20th century and not any damn earlier at all. But I’m also feeling kind of sorry that I plan to read a book I would have liked better for the holiday – or at least felt less conflicted about.

The story feels historically accurate, at least as far as the amount of control and agency that women had over their own lives during the Regency period. Whether it actually is or not, the situation that the heroine is in matches the way we believed things were during that time, or the image that has taken hold in the popular imagination.

Which, quite frankly, is that she has no agency or control at all.

This is a story about a woman who only has as much control over her life as the men in her life and society in general allow her, which is not much. The only control she has is over how much of herself she is willing to sacrifice, knowing that she will always be the one to pay the price for that sacrifice no matter who might truly be to blame.

The first half of this one left me on the horns of a giant dilemma. Because the heroine’s actions and society’s reactions felt true to what we expect of the time. She’s put herself in a terrible situation for reasons that were never in her control, and society punishes her for it exactly as one expected they would.

Which means that both she – and the reader – get repeatedly slapped in the face with just how terrible conditions for women could be.

I very nearly DNF’d at that halfway point, because I was getting really tired of the smell and the taste of that wet fish of horribleness. Not that it’s written horribly, as the author writes well and I generally like her books, but that the situation the heroine is IN is horrible and at that halfway point seems as though it’s only going to get worse as it goes.

That was the point where the son of the man who raped her 20 years ago makes it clear that he has the exact same plan as his vile old man and isn’t planning to let anyone or anything stand in his way, either.

You could call that a low point in the story. It was certainly a low point in my reading of it and I stopped for a while and picked up something else.

But I picked it back up because I thought the worst had to be behind me. And the heroine. And it was.

Escape Rating C: For a story that actually does have a happy ending, this is kind of a sad story for a lot of its length. Mina’s entire life seems to have been about being stuck between a rock and a hard place and letting herself be ground between them in one way or another.

Letting herself be divorced at a time when the only way for her husband to be allowed to remarry afterwards was to accept all the blame, all the calumny, all the social opprobrium and for both of them to commit perjury that she had numerous affairs when she never had any seems harsh and is harsh and society deals with her harshly as a result.

Her ex-husband leaves the country, marries his pregnant lover, and society forgets him except as her victim. She has to suck it all up and move on, which she honestly does. At least until her widowed daughter falls in love with a man whose father will not allow the marriage because of Mina’s reputation as a scarlet woman.

(Whether any of the scenario around Mina’s divorce was legal or possible at the time this story takes place seems to be a matter of some debate.)

The young couple elopes to Gretna Green, the older couple chase after in hot pursuit, and truth gets revealed all around – after more than one misunderstandammit.

This is a story where the happy ending is earned through a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears and a very literal change of heart on the part of the hero. Who was in serious need of getting the stick out of his ass.

I ended this with mixed feelings, which was a definite improvement after my near-DNF at the midpoint.

I liked both that the main romance of this story is between two people who are on either side of 40 instead of barely over 20. It made the situation much more complex and the characters more interesting because they had more depth as well as more emotional baggage.

I also liked that the member of the nobility who featured prominently in the story was the villain. The hero is part of the upper middle class. His family has land but no title, and he is a practicing lawyer. He works for a living, something we still don’t see often enough in Regency romance but does seem to be on the uptick.

So I want to say that this story did gel for me after all. Except it jelled kind of like the two-layer Jell-O cups where the top flavor is one I hated and the bottom flavor was one I almost liked. But a lot of reviewers absolutely adored this book so reading mileage obvious varies on this one.

Review: The Wedding Wager by Eva Devon

Review: The Wedding Wager by Eva DevonThe Wedding Wager by Eva Devon
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Pages: 317
Published by Entangled: Amara on October 25, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

All Lady Victoria Kirby wants is to dig in the dirt, take notations, and record history, thank you very much. Bumbling through ballrooms and getting disdained by the ton for her less than ideal looks, on the other hand, is the last thing she wants. But her reckless father has a different idea for her future when he puts up the ultimate ante—her hand in marriage—and loses. Over her dead body.
The Duke of Chase cannot bear to see a woman misused. After all, he saw that often enough as a child. So when he’s witness to a marquess gambling away his daughter to a lecher of a man, he has no choice but to step in and rescue her. Lady Victoria has a reputation for being as tart as a lemon and as bitter as one, too. So, he may have just found the perfect wife to keep a promise he made to himself long ago--to never have an heir. With her, surely, he'll never be tempted to take her to bed and break that promise.
But when he meets the wild, witty intelligent young lady he’s bound to marry, he knows trouble is headed his way... And everything he ever swore to uphold may very well come undone, especially his heart.

My Review:

Once we get to know the Duke of Chase, it seems as if he’s a bit too good to be true. Even if at the beginning he seems a bit too bad to be trustworthy.

However, I loved Victoria from her very first appearance – as did Chase although he was much less willing to admit that even to himself.

But Chase is absolutely right about Victoria’s father. He is utterly irredeemable. There are no such thing as best intentions when one is wagering one’s daughter’s hand in marriage on a roll of the dice – even if it’s best two out of three and the dice are rigged.

That’s where we meet our hero, and our villain. Not that Victoria’s father turns out to be all that effective – or energetic – in that particular endeavor. The Marquess of Halford is determined to find his bluestocking daughter a husband before she’s permanently on the shelf – even though that’s exactly where his older daughter wants to be.

Victoria is a dedicated archaeologist, who has served as her father’s lead assistant ever since she was a child. She enjoys her work, and indeed pretty much any intellectual pursuits. She also hates the ton and the feeling is very, very mutual. She thought her father understood that, and he certainly encouraged her work.

Until the night he wagers her future, allowing her hand to be won by the scandalous rakehell otherwise known as Derek Kent, the Duke of Chase. A man whose reputation is hard-earned, hard-won, and utterly false.

Chase seems to have more than a bit of “white knight” syndrome, and Victoria is the latest in a long line of damsels he has rescued – generally by helping the world to think that they are not damsels at all.

Victoria doesn’t want the usual lot of high born women, marriage, motherhood and never allowed a thought in her head about anything serious, important or intellectual. Chase is caught on the horns of a dilemma, he needs a wife to keep the predatory mamas of the ton at bay, but he gave his word that he would never father an heir to the dukedom. Marrying Victoria, with her reputation as a plain-faced shrew should solve all of both their problems. He’ll give her the respectability of being his duchess, and the freedom to do whatever she likes. He’ll never desire her enough to bed her, so there will be no danger of an heir.

All’s fair in love and war, and the best laid plans of mice and men often go very far astray. While it’s true that Victoria’s caustic wit and sharp tongue are quite capable of disemboweling a man with a single phrase, she is beautiful. The ton’s narrow definition of beauty simply can’t encompass a woman who is meant to stride through the world like a goddess.

But by the time they’re each past admitting, at least to themselves if not each other, that they both want a marriage in full and not merely a platonic friendship, they’re both so deep in lies and misconceptions that they may not be able to wade across the chasm that they’ve dug between them.

Escape Rating B: The Wedding Wager is deliciously frothy and a quick and utterly lovely read. I liked Victoria so very much as a character, and I loved Chase’s response to her. He does think she’s beautiful, but the attraction between them is as much about her intellect as it is about her appearance. Nor does the story dwell on every detail of her appearance, and I really liked that. It felt like we got way more of the female gaze, Victoria’s appreciation of Chase’s charms, than we did the other way around.

And yet we still got that sense that she is beautiful and that the ton’s rules have become so narrow that they just can’t see it. Victoria doesn’t have to change anything about her physicality to become a “success” with the ton, she just has to own her authentic self.

One of the parts of this story that really sings is Victoria’s forthright nature and her unabashed cultivation and use of her own intellect. She’s smart, she’s thoughtful, she finds the restrictions of the ton unbearably frustrating, finds the entire thing a stupid but stupidly painful farce and does her best to ignore it as much as possible. I particularly enjoyed the scene at the theater where the older woman, Lady Gannet, enjoys Victoria and matches her in intelligence and agreed that the girls of the ton were generally forced to be stupid. Yes, Lady Gannet believed that Victoria’s prime duties as duchess were to take care of her husband and provide him with children, but she also used her brain and missed a time when other women did as well and wasn’t in the least bit shy about saying so.

I loved Victoria and Chase’s intelligent banter, although he seemed a bit too good to be true in his appreciation and support of her goals and ambitions. I wanted him to be, it makes the romance work, but at the same time it felt a bit too easy.

Speaking of easy, Chase’s secrets were too easy to figure out, so I’m glad that he revealed them to Victoria relatively early on. In the end, the conflict between them wasn’t about the secrets, it was about his clinging to the past that created those secrets.

And he gives very good grovel when he finally figures it out.

One final note. Something about the way the story was set up gave me the niggling feeling that this was part of a series. I think it was in the depth of Chase’s friendship with Brookhaven. It felt like there was prior history that was known but not present in this book. That might be true, but this is not – at least so far – part of a series. Howsomever, if it turned out to be, particularly if the next book were about Brookhaven himself, I’d be EXTREMELY interested!

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Review: The Dishonored Viscount by Sophie Barnes

Review: The Dishonored Viscount by Sophie BarnesThe Dishonored Viscount (Diamonds in the Rough, #8) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #8
Pages: 416
Published by Sophie Barnes on September 21, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He knows he doesn’t deserve her, yet he can’t get her out of his mind...
Stripped of his title because of a crime his father committed, Marcus Berkly has struggled to find a new place for himself in the world. Now, as London’s most skilled eye-surgeon, he dedicates his time to his patients while steering clear of Society. Until a chance encounter with a determined young woman upends his life.
When Lady Louise discovers that Mr. Berkly’s surgical method could save her from permanent blindness, she decides to enlist his help. Against her father’s direct orders, she takes charge of her fate, and falls desperately in love in the process. But can a proper lady and an ill-reputed scoundrel have a future together? Or are the odds against them simply too great?

My Review:

I picked this up because I thought I’d read the entire Diamonds in the Rough series so far, and I always look forward to the latest installment. Although it turns out I managed to miss one (The Forgotten Duke), and obviously I’ll have to go back.

While I haven’t loved any of the series quite as much as I did the very first book, A Most Unlikely Duke, I’ve certainly enjoyed them more than well enough to keep coming back for more. So I’m actually kind of glad I missed one because it will give me an opportunity to catch up between now and the next. Especially as it looks like the story in that book leads directly to this one – not that plenty of other things haven’t as well.

All of the stories in this series start with the premise that either the hero or the heroine – and usually it’s the hero – is not worthy of the love of the heroine, nor her hand in marriage. At least unworthy according to the strict – and strictly hypocritical – rules of Regency high society.

Marcus Berkly used to be the heir of the Earl of Hedgewick. From a certain perspective, he still is. But where he was once the heir to the Earldom, now he’s heir to nothing but the scandal and opprobrium rightfully attached to his father’s name. The title, the estate, and everything Marcus expected to inherit were forfeit to the Crown when his father’s crimes were revealed.

Society can no longer sneer at his dead father, but they can certainly administer the cut direct to Marcus at every opportunity. So he does his best to give them as few opportunities as possible. After all, with the loss of his estate, Marcus has been forced to work for his living. And he does. After long years of training, Marcus Berkly has become an inventive, esteemed and highly-respected eye surgeon.

Which is where the rest of the story comes in. Lady Louise, the daughter of the Earl of Grasmere, has cataracts, and has since she was a girl. The usual treatment for her condition is to “couch” her eyes, inserting a needle into the eye and moving the occluded lens aside. It works, at least for a little while, and is just as painful as you might expect.

Berkly is pioneering a new and permanent treatment for the condition, and has a high success rate for the operation. Which is to remove the occluded lens completely through a tiny cut. It’s even more painful than couching, the recovery time is longer, and without a lens in the eye the patient will have to wear eyeglasses for the rest of their life. But it’s permanent.

Louise wants the treatment. Desperately. Every time the couching fails, as it inevitably does, she’s blind until the next painful treatment. Once and done – no matter the pain – seems like an extremely worthwhile trade to her.

But not to her father. Who is stubborn, a stick in the mud, a dictator in Louise’s life and a stickler for the rules. He refuses to consider the new treatment, because he’s hidebound, because her current eye doctor is a long-term friend, and especially and mostly because of the scandal attached to Marcus’ name.

Louise is not supposed to have any agency in this situation. Her father certainly believes that she does not. So she takes it – and herself – out of his clutches and concocts a plan to get the treatment she needs and should be entitled to.

That she and Marcus will have to stay in the country – properly chaperoned of course – for an entire month has no bearing on her plans when the scheme takes flight. But by the time her father finds her and returns her to London, her view of the world and her future in it has changed.

And not just because she can finally see.

Escape Rating B: One of the things that is glaringly obvious in Regency romances written today is the way that the hypocrisy of the ton is set out in such sharp relief. Marcus Berkly has done absolutely nothing wrong. Not by any standards whatsoever. He has not committed any crimes, he hasn’t cheated at cards, he’s just a reasonably decent man who is suffering from a huge case of guilt by association. As one of the characters in the story put it, how was he supposed to disassociate himself from his own father? Not that he didn’t want to, but seriously, how does one do that?

The story also exposes the way that everything in high society functions is all about the appearance of obeying the rules, which seems to be the biggest rule of all. So it’s not that all of the offers for Lady Louise’s hand are from fortune hunters, it’s that the obviousness of that issue is not exposed to society in a way that can’t be ignored.

On the one hand, the sheer, intended and intentional helplessness of Louise’s situation grates like rough sandpaper. And on the other, that she grasps the nettle by the thorns and gets herself the treatment she needs in spite of her father’s threats is very well done. She wants more from her life than a miserable existence as some man’s decorative object and broodmare, and she’s willing to be exiled from society to get it.

Her father is such a jackass about the whole thing that he becomes a caricature. There were plenty of legitimate reasons for not approving the new treatment but he went the high-handed dictator route instead. He actually did have reasonably good intentions for his daughter, even if he went about them in the worst and most tyrannical way. Maybe he does make sense, but I found him even more of a trial than Louise did.

Marcus also falls prey to the “I’m not worthy” syndrome because society has forced it upon him, along with a heaping helping of “she doesn’t know her own mind” which made me want to strangle him at points. At the same time, it’s so clear that he’s a very good man and might possibly be good enough for Louise. Maybe. If he works very, very hard.

She’s the one I wanted to see get her HEA. After all, she’s blackmailing her father, which takes some serious gonads. She earned every good thing that finally comes to her, because she’s the one who gets tried the most, and she’s not found wanting.

The men in her life, not so much.

Still, I had a good time reading this latest book in the series, which, according to the author, is the last full-length novel in it. But I still have The Forgotten Duke to go back to when I want to take a quick trip to the Regency, and a new novella in the series, The Roguish Baron, to look forward to this holiday season, when it will be included in The Rogue Who Stole Christmas anthology.