Review: A Notorious Vow by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

Review: A Notorious Vow by Joanna Shupe + GiveawayA Notorious Vow (The Four Hundred, #3) by Joanna Shupe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Four Hundred #3
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on September 25, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Joanna Shupe returns to New York City’s Gilded Age, where fortunes and reputations are gained and lost with ease—and love can blossom from the most unlikely charade

With the fate of her disgraced family resting on her shoulders, Lady Christina Barclay has arrived in New York City from London to quickly secure a wealthy husband. But when her parents settle on an intolerable suitor, Christina turns to her reclusive neighbor, a darkly handsome and utterly compelling inventor, for help.

Oliver Hawkes reluctantly agrees to a platonic marriage . . . with his own condition: The marriage must end after one year. Not only does Oliver face challenges that are certain to make life as his wife difficult, but more importantly, he refuses to be distracted from his life’s work—the development of a revolutionary device that could transform thousands of lives, including his own.

Much to his surprise, his bride is more beguiling than he imagined. When temptation burns hot between them, they realize they must overcome their own secrets and doubts, and every effort to undermine their marriage, because one year can never be enough.

My Review:

While A Notorious Vow is the third book in the Four Hundred series, it is absolutely not necessary to have read the first two in order to get into this one – but for an unusual reason.

Although the stories all take place within the same place and time, and even though our protagonists do meet the Hatchers (the h/h of the first book, A Daring Arrangement) the previous couples and previous stories don’t really impinge on this one.

Because for very different reasons, both Oliver and Christina are pretty much recluses. Neither of them moves in society at all, because neither of them wants to. A decision that comes back to bite both of them during the course of this story.

And, in the best romantic tradition, neither of them initially believes it about the other.

Oliver Hawkes, a young, wealthy and brilliant inventor as well as reclusive investor, is deaf, and has been since a bout of scarlet fever in his early teens. He remembers being able to hear, but no longer can. Equally, he can no longer stand the terrible treatment he suffered at the hands of so-called “society” as everyone mocked not just the voice he could no longer hear, but also his ability to “speak” with his hands and his need to write down complex thoughts – and receive their replies, in a small notebook.

He is more than wealthy enough not to need a “day job” and quite capable of living mostly on his own. Within his own house, the staff have all learned enough sign language to communicate, and he lives quite well and is reasonably content. Until Christina quite literally falls into his lap.

Actually she falls in his garden, with the enthusiastic “help” of his dog Apollo, who knocks her down in his enthusiasm to greet a new person.

Christina’s desire to retreat from society is due to an extreme lack of confidence – a lack that has been instilled in her, and is constantly reinforced, by her greedy, grasping mother. Christina is always and forever a disappointment, and her lack of confidence allows the crueler elements of society to make fun of her at every turn.

The truth is that all of them are jealous of her in one way or another, including, most especially, her mother. But Christina has been programmed practically from birth not to be able to see it.

Christina and her parents are in New York out of the necessity of repairing the family fortunes. Christina’s father-the-earl is an inveterate gambler – and not a winner. Both of her parents have always lived well outside their means, even before he gambled away all the means.

They have fled England just barely ahead of their creditors – and those whom they outright swindled – in order to sponge off their New York relations and auction Christina off to the highest bidder.

That said highest bidder is the most disgusting and despicable person imaginable is also a standard of the romantic tradition – although this bastard manages to exceed expectations on all counts – as does the behavior of Christina’s parents. It is up to Oliver, who has no desire to be involved with society at all, to save Christina from not merely her parents but also a fate that is guaranteed to be worse than death – until it turns into actual death.

While at first it seems as if they will have their work cut out for them just trying to make a workable marriage out of what is still a rather nascent friendship, the situation becomes even more dire.

Just how corrupt is Tammany Hall, anyway?

Escape Rating B+: There were several elements that made A Notorious Vow interesting in unusual ways as well as a lot of fun to read. I got sucked right in and didn’t get out until I finished – more or less in one go.

We’ve seen plenty of wallflower heroines in historical romances, but very seldom a “wallflower” hero. Oliver’s exile from society seems mostly self-imposed. He has the money and the social standing to ignore the whispers that he can lip read quite well – but he chooses not to do so. His reasons for withdrawing are certainly valid, and not merely from his own perspective. But he could just as easily have gone the other way, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, and the doubters be damned. And as events later prove, it probably would have resulted in a better outcome after some initial discomfort.

Which is not to say that his discomfort isn’t very real. Like so many other handicaps, deafness was not much written about, talked about, or studied in the late 19th century. Oliver could not hear, but that did not mean that any of his other faculties were affected at all – which did not stop popular imagination from assuming that they had. A problem which is nearly his undoing.

But the crux of the romantic conflict between Oliver and Christina has little to do with his deafness, although that does make it more difficult – but far from impossible – for them to discuss the problem.

Oliver exhibits that unfortunate tendency of very intelligent people to assume that because they are so often the smartest person in any room that they inhabit, they are therefore always the most knowledgeable and always know best for everyone else. And the problem lies in that “always”. Few things are ever “always” true or “always” right. Because it seldom happens to him, Oliver is unable to recognize that it does occasionally happen even to him, and especially when it comes to his dealings with Christina. He doesn’t know what she wants or needs or thinks because he doesn’t ask her – he assumes he already knows. And of course he doesn’t.

This is a problem that would exist whether Oliver could hear a pin drop or can’t hear a thing – because it is an innate part of his personality. (And one that affects plenty of contemporary men as well!)

In addition to having an interesting and unusual hero and heroine, A Notorious Vow also has what can best be described as a surfeit of villains – especially when considering that the three villains are not working together. They are all separately and individually villainous, For the purposes of villainy, I’m counting Christina’s parents as a single villain. For all we see of the earl, they might as well be.

Her parents attempt to sell her to the highest bidder in order to get themselves out from under their debts and swindles. Her mother, in particular, is particularly vile. The highest bidder they attempt to sell her to is a disgusting old man who has probably murdered his three previous wives. When Oliver rescues Christina from their clutches, mommy dearest continues to clutch in the hopes of getting a better deal – even though her continued contact with Christina endangers the deal currently on the table. That there is a deal at all says everything that needs to be said about Christina’s parents.

When Oliver’s equally venal cousin bribes a judge and conspires to get him committed to an insane asylum, the disgusting old man bribes Tammany Hall to KEEP him imprisoned. Yet these individuals do not seem to be working together. I found the continued presence of Christina’s parents at this juncture to be one villain too many.

That does not take anything away from the horrific nature of Oliver’s imprisonment or the appalling stink of corruption that surrounds the entire case – and that unfortunately bears all too close a resemblance to real circumstances at the time.

Taken all together, A Notorious Vow turns out to be an engaging romance of surprised (and surprising) equals who have to overcome more difficulties than expected. And who discover at the end that their hard-won happy ever after is well worth the changes that they both have to make in their lives.

If this is the final book in the Four Hundred series, it is a fitting end. But I’ve enjoyed the whole series very much and would love to see it continue!

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


To celebrate the release of A NOTORIOUS VOW by Joanna Shupe, we’re giving away one paperback set of the entire Four Hundred series!

Link: http://bit.ly/2P4dd94

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Giveaway open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the Four Hundred series by Joanna Shupe. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 9/25/2018 @ 1159pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copy out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: The Illegitimate Duke by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Illegitimate Duke by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Illegitimate Duke (Diamonds in the Rough, #3) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #3
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on August 28, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


United in a common cause...

Juliette Matthews longs to be much more than just another pretty ornament in society. But using her recently acquired fortune to do some good is more complicated than she anticipated. Young ladies are not expected to risk their safety in helping the less fortunate. And the one gentleman who could help in her mission is stubborn, infernally handsome--and far too honorable to act on their mutual attraction.


And in a desire impossible to deny...

Florian Lowell has suddenly been made heir to the Duke of Redding--a far cry from his status as a dedicated physician. Yet even with his new role as the country's most eligible bachelor, the beautiful, fearless Juliette is utterly beyond his reach. The scandalous circumstances of his birth would destroy both their reputations if they became known. But when a more urgent danger threatens Juliette's life, Florian must gamble everything...including the heart only one woman can tame.

My Review:

This is a fish out of water story. In fact, it’s part of a whole school of fish out of water stories. The fish currently uncertain about its welcome in the pond is Juliette, sister of the first two fishes.

Ok, I’ve probably baited that metaphor as far as it can go. In the first book in the Diamonds in the Rough series, St. Giles resident and bare-knuckle boxing champ Raphe Matthews learns that by a strange quirk of fate he has become the Duke of Huntley. And while he might not be willing on his own to return to the social classes that ejected himself and his sisters years ago – he desperately wants to do what’s best for them. It’s not even the wealth of being Huntley that attracts him, but the opportunities that it provides for comfortable and healthy living. His sisters will have much better chances once he takes the title. So he does, and the story of just how that works out for him is told in the first book in the series, A Most Unlikely Duke.

Next in line came his sister Amelia’s story in The Duke of Her Desire, which turned out to be a delightful romp from beginning to end.

The Illegitimate Duke is, of course, the third sister Juliette’s journey to her happily ever after.

(BTW, the whole series is pretty delightful. The Matthews’ make for slightly different historical romance protagonists in ways that really work and are fun to read. You don’t have to start at the beginning of this series, but if you like historical romance, these are a lot of fun!)

Back to Juliette. Like her sister Amelia, Juliette is not content to wrest on her laurels or just sit back and spend her new-found fortune shopping. While living in St. Giles had many, many difficulties, the one thing it did have was that women had to live lives of purpose – even if that purpose mostly consisted of helping to keep the wolf from the door.

In comparison, the life of a society miss feels dreadfully empty. Juliette has a mind that she wants to be able to use, along with access to a fortune that gives her the opportunity to assist her former neighbors in tangible ways – if she is willing to take the bull by the horns and stand up for herself.

It’s not just the figurative bull of what society expects of women of her new class, or even what the gossips expect of a woman with her origins. There’s also a literal bull, Dr. Florian Lowell, soon to become the Duke of Redding. Florian is the physician in charge of the charity hospital that serves St. Giles, and Juliet wants to not merely donate money to that hospital but also have a say in how that money is spent.

And that puts her squarely in Florian’s orbit – and very much vice versa.

They fascinate each other, and it is not just a matter of looks.

Juliette needs to be of use and not merely the ornament that society now expects her to be. She hates the falsity of the marriage mart but would be very happy to find a man who is willing to be her partner and accept her as she is – just as her brother and sister have found with their respective spouses.

Florian, although born to the upper crust, devotes his life to being a physician. While he will inherit a dukedom, he still plans to maintain his medical practice. I would say that he’s looking for a woman who will not merely accept, but actually understand his devotion to his practice and his interest in furthering medical science.

But he has no plans to marry and populate a nursery as his new position will require, because he carries a secret that he feels makes him unfit to court any woman who would be either worthy of his title, or more importantly, willing to be both friend and lover as well as wife.

That secret has come back to London to make all of his hopes, dreams and plans turn to smoke. If the incipient typhus epidemic doesn’t kill them first.

Escape Rating B: One of the terrific things about this series is the way that all of the women have been just a little something extra in ways that make them easier for 21st century readers to identify with while at the same time not stretching the bounds of plausibility too far. Or at least too far too far.

Juliette’s need to oversee the expenditure of her donation, and her willingness to serve on the hospital board, do seem possible, and even the acceptance of her presence by the titled men who are also on that board does not stretch things too far. Women did such things under the heading of doing good for the less fortunate – Juliette is perhaps a bit more active in that regard than most.

The horror of the potential typhus epidemic that hangs over the story, Florian’s attempts to contain it and the tragic results of his one failure in that regard were harrowing and all too real.

But as much as I enjoyed this fish out of water story, and as much as I certainly liked both Juliette and Florian, the difficulty that keeps them apart is all too similar to the secret that kept Amelia and Thomas apart in The Duke of Her Desire.

Like Thomas, Florian has a terrible secret, and it truly is terrible. He fears that society will not merely judge him harshly, but actually ostracize him if it comes out. And his fears are well founded. But what keeps Florian and Juliette apart is not the secret itself, but Florian’s belief that something that is manifestly not his fault is his responsibility and his punishment, when neither is the case, just as Thomas felt in the previous book.

The similarities between the two situations meant that The Illegitimate Duke did not sparkle as much for me as The Duke of Her Desire. The gravity of the external situation – that typhus epidemic – may also have had something to do with that lesser sparkle, because there was less to sparkle about.

But I did like the protagonists a great deal, and it was also lovely to see how Juliette’s sister and brother are getting on with their happily ever afters. The hints about the next book in the series, now that we have run out of Matthews siblings, looks intriguing.

I’ll certainly be back to discover what The Infamous Duchess is up to next spring!

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

To celebrate the release of THE ILLEGITIMATE DUKE by Sophie Barnes, we’re giving away a paperback bundle of The Most Unlikely Duke & The Duke of Her Desire!

CLICK HERE TO ENTER!

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback bundle of A Most Unlikely Duke and The Duke of Her Desire by Sophie Barnes.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 9/7/2018 @ 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.  CLICK HERE TO ENTER!

Review: Born to Be Wilde by Eloisa James + Giveaway

Review: Born to Be Wilde by Eloisa James + GiveawayBorn to Be Wilde (The Wildes of Lindow Castle, #3) by Eloisa James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Wildes of Lindow Castle #3
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on July 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The richest bachelor in England plays matchmaker…for an heiress he wants for himself!

For beautiful, witty Lavinia Gray, there's only one thing worse than having to ask the appalling Parth Sterling to marry her: being turned down by him.

Now the richest bachelor in England, Parth is not about to marry a woman as reckless and fashion-obsessed as Lavinia; he's chosen a far more suitable bride.

But when he learns of Lavinia's desperate circumstances, he offers to find her a husband. Even better, he'll find her a prince.

As usual, there's no problem Parth can't fix. But the more time he spends with the beguiling Lavinia, the more he finds himself wondering…

Why does the woman who's completely wrong feel so right in his arms?

My Review:

While Born to be Wilde certainly has elements of the Shakespearean farce referred to be one of the characters, there are also some interesting and surprisingly serious notes in this glorious romp of a historical romance.

At first this seems like a frenemies into lovers story. We’ve met both Lavinia Gray and Parth Sterling in the previous books in this series. Lavinia, Willa (the heroine of Wilde in Love) and Diana (heroine of Too Wilde to Wed), are best friends. Willa and Lavinia were raised together. In fact, Lavinia had set her cap for the Wilde that Willa eventually married. Lavinia’s mother tried to set Lavinia’s cap for the Wilde that Diana finally married.

Parth Sterling was raised with the Wilde brothers from the age of five. Parth is Anglo-Indian, and his parents sent him from India to be raised by his father’s friend, the Duke of Lindow. When his parents died, Parth became part of the Wilde family – and was every bit as wild a boy as any of his adopted brothers.

But Parth has a serious side. He’s become the richest bachelor in England by profitably owning and operating several factories and even his own bank. He’s a man who works hard and gets things done.

He seems to see Lavinia as merely a fribble. A lighthearted and light-minded woman who fritters away her time and her fortune on gowns, bonnets and gloves. That upper-class women are all supposed to be fribbles doesn’t keep him from seeming to look down upon her at every turn.

And she, in turn, seems to look down upon him. In her presence he always seems to be prim and proper and gloomy and doomy. In his presence she acts almost like a halfwit.

Of course, nothing is as it seems – except that they drive each other completely crazy. It’s exactly what kind of crazy that’s hiding underneath all of their cutting remarks towards each other.

It’s only when Lavinia finds herself in desperate needs of Parth’s undeniable ability to get things done that they discover that there’s more hiding behind both of their surface personas than either of them ever imagined.

But neither of them imagines how difficult it will be to let go of years of preconceived notions about each other – or about themselves. Or how much damage all those accumulated cutting remarks have already caused.

Escape Rating B+: For a story that certainly has its serious side, it is also a tremendous amount of fun, livened up by oodles of witty banter. That the heroine is far, far deeper than the shallow puddle that the hero initially claims her to be just makes the story that much more delicious.

At the same time, the story deals with some fairly serious topics. A big part of the story, introduced very early on, is that Lavinia’s mother is addicted to laudanum, otherwise known as tincture of opium. While laudanum was dispensed quite legally in many forms until the 1860s, the effects of addiction were also known – if usually swept under the rug and secreted within the family.

Lavinia begins this story where Too Wilde to Wed ends. She has discovered that her mother has squandered not just their own money but also all of Willa’s as well. And she’s sold all of her own jewelry, Lavinia’s, and Willa’s and replaced them with copies. And stolen Diana’s jewelry as well, causing the rift between Diana and her family and forcing her into the circumstances she finds herself in at the start of Too Wilde to Wed.

Lavinia needs to marry a rich man, not just to make good on everything that her mother stole, but also because she needs a husband with enough power and influence to keep her mother out of jail and to make sure the scandal doesn’t erupt.

While marrying Parth or one of the wealthy men he introduces her to would solve her problems, Lavinia also has a tremendous amount of pride, as well as one marketable talent. She hasn’t been buying all those bonnets because she’s frivolous – well, at least not just because she’s frivolous.

She’s been studying them. Lavinia has the talent, the taste and the style to become a fashion designer, or what her world calls a modiste. Diana’s upcoming wedding provides her with the opportunity to not merely arrange but actually create Diana’s incredible trousseau – and to receive commissions from all of her suppliers for the materials that are purchased for the wedding party. And from there to build a business that can pay back what her mother stole, fund her mother’s long-term care, replace her own dowry and even live independently.

In other words, more than enough commission to make a serious dent in the financial hole her mother has left them in. And that would be just the start.

But the misunderstandammit in the story is that Lavinia doesn’t want Parth to know that she’s working to pay off that debt. So the more she accomplishes, the more he sees her as still frittering away her time playing with expensive fashion. Even as they finally admit that all of their name calling and backbiting has been hiding their true feelings for each other – they aren’t quite able to let go of the hurt on both sides it has caused.

In the end, Parth has to give really good grovel, not just in begging for forgiveness, but in demonstrating that he finally understands just what a gem and an artist Lavinia truly is, for them to win through.

Lavinia, in some ways, has the harder task. She has to let go, not just of those old hurts, but the even older ones – that still small voice inside her head that sounds remarkably like her mother, that says she’s frivolous and stupid and shallow and insipid and that no one will ever pay any attention to anything she says or does.

Accepting that the voice is wrong is the hardest lesson of all.

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

To celebrate the release of BORN TO BE WILDE by Eloisa James, we’re giving away one hardcover set of THE WILDES OF LINDOW CASTLE series!

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

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a hardcover set of The Wildes of Lindow Castle series by Eloisa James. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 8/10/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean + Giveaway

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

When Wicked Comes Calling...

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

The Wallflower Makes a Dangerous Bargain...

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

For the Promise of Passion...

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Review: Too Wilde to Wed by Eloisa James + Giveaway

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

And did it ever need to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINK: https://goo.gl/gceRD3

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

Review: The Other Lady Vanishes by Amanda Quick

Review: The Other Lady Vanishes by Amanda QuickThe Other Lady Vanishes by Amanda Quick, Jayne Ann Krentz
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, romantic suspense
Series: Burning Cove #2
Pages: 368
Published by Berkley on May 8, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Knew Too Much sweeps readers back to 1930s California--where the most dazzling of illusions can't hide the darkest secrets...

After escaping from a private sanitarium, Adelaide Blake arrives in Burning Cove, California, desperate to start over.

Working at an herbal tea shop puts her on the radar of those who frequent the seaside resort town: Hollywood movers and shakers always in need of hangover cures and tonics. One such customer is Jake Truett, a recently widowed businessman in town for a therapeutic rest. But unbeknownst to Adelaide, his exhaustion is just a cover.

In Burning Cove, no one is who they seem. Behind facades of glamour and power hide drug dealers, gangsters, and grifters. Into this make-believe world comes psychic to the stars Madame Zolanda. Adelaide and Jake know better than to fall for her kind of con. But when the medium becomes a victim of her own dire prediction and is killed, they'll be drawn into a murky world of duplicity and misdirection.

Neither Adelaide or Jake can predict that in the shadowy underground they'll find connections to the woman Adelaide used to be--and uncover the specter of a killer who's been real all along...

My Review:

Now that I’ve finished the second book in the Burning Cove series, after last year’s terrific The Girl Who Knew Too Much, I still want to know if Burning Cove is just down the road from Scargill Cove.

While this series does not have the same paranormal elements that the author’s Arcane Society series(s) do, it still has a lot of the same feel. In the case of The Other Lady Vanishes, that feeling includes a surprising touch of the Gothic, particularly for a book set in the 1920s and not the Victorian Era.

The Gothic influence is provided by remote Rushbrook Sanitarium, designed as a creepy Gothic Victorian castle, but situated in a small town in California. And the awful things that happen there are enough to give anyone nightmares.

We meet Adelaide Blake on the night of her desperate escape from Rushbrook. Adelaide is pretty sure she knows exactly why she’s in Rushbrook, and it’s not because she’s crazy. And not in the way that people in asylums say they’re not crazy when they really are.

She is a bit paranoid. But then again, they really are out to get her.

Her parents, a botanist and a chemist, created a hallucinogenic drug that they called “Daydream”, even though its effects turn out to be more of a nightmare. And anyone it is administered too certainly sees nightmares. But while under the influence of Daydream people not only experience terrible hallucinations, but are also highly suggestible – and incapable of lying.

Adelaide was kidnapped and locked up in Rushbrook so that someone could get hold of the fortune she inherited, and so that no one would look too carefully at her parents’ deaths in a lab accident. And so that the unscrupulous people who stole their research would have a guinea pig on whom to test the drug and who would not be missed.

Her escape screws up everything – at least for everyone involved except Adelaide. She may be on the run, nervous and rightfully afraid, but she’s also free. At least as long as she avoids detection by her pursuers. And her paranoia is certainly justified, because she is being pursued.

She’s made a good life for herself, and made friends, in the small town of Burning Cove, where Hollywood stars come to play at the resort and casino. Adelaide has even become a minor local celebrity, developing medicinal tea blends not just for the stars but also for the residents.

And businessman Jake Truett, supposedly in Burning Cove to calm his shattered nerves, comes to her tea room every day for a cup of calming green tea and the opportunity to watch the beautiful waitress with the shadows in her eyes.

When their first date results in the two of them being lured to the scene of a grisly murder, they discover that there’s something rotten in Burning Cove – and that whoever is behind it wants to add both of them to the list of victims.

Escape Rating B+: The Other Lady Vanishes has a much darker tone than The Girl Who Knew Too Much – even though they both begin with fairly grisly death scenes and feature heroines on the run for their lives.

Rushbrook is a very dark place. It sounds like it would make a marvelous setting for a horror movie, one that I personally would not want to watch. Everything that happens there, and not just to Adelaide, is terrible beyond description – even at the beginning where we don’t know the half of it.

The circumstances that placed Adelaide in Rushbrook have left her with a great many doubts about herself and her own judgment. At the beginning of the story, she constantly second guesses herself about her own sanity. And she rightfully fears that if she attempts to contact anyone to investigate her claims, or worse, if she is located by her pursuers, that no one will believe her because she was a patient in a mental institution. And she’s right to worry.

But it makes for a bit of rough reading at the beginning.

It’s only when Jake enters the picture that Adelaide really starts reclaiming her authentic self. But in order for them to have any kind of relationship, even the partnership necessary to investigate all the deadly chaos that surrounds them, they will have to accept each other’s truths.

For Adelaide to reveal her true story feels fraught with as much peril as her pursuers are attempting to drive her into. And it turns out that Jake is in Burning Cove under multiple false pretenses, not just about who he is, but also about why he’s there and what he’s after.

He’s pursuing a blackmailer – she’s running from a conman who locked her up to control her fortune. Those two cases do not seem to be connected – until they are. And while I didn’t totally buy the romance in this one, I certainly enjoyed the way that they worked together to wrap up everything that had gone wrong – for both of them.

At every turn, Adelaide and Jake are confronted by one twist after another. Just when they think they’ve figured everything out, they discover that they haven’t. Just when they, and the reader, think it’s over – it isn’t.

Those twists and turns will keep you turning pages until the very last word.

Review: A Scandalous Deal by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

Review: A Scandalous Deal by Joanna Shupe + GiveawayA Scandalous Deal (The Four Hundred, #2) by Joanna Shupe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Four Hundred #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on April 24, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Joanna Shupe returns with another unforgettable novel set in the glittering world of New York City’s Gilded Age…

They call her Lady Unlucky…

With three dead fiancés, Lady Eva Hyde has positively no luck when it comes to love. She sets sail for New York City, determined that nothing will deter her dream of becoming an architect, certainly not an unexpected passionate shipboard encounter with a mysterious stranger. But Eva’s misfortune strikes once more when she discovers the stranger who swept her off her feet is none other than her new employer.

Or is it Lady Irresistible?

Phillip Mansfield reluctantly agrees to let the fiery Lady Eva oversee his luxury hotel project while vowing to keep their relationship strictly professional. Yet Eva is more capable—and more alluring—than Phillip first thought, and he cannot keep from drawing up a plan of his own to seduce her.

When a series of onsite “accidents” makes it clear someone wants Lady Unlucky to earn her nickname, Phillip discovers he’s willing to do anything to protect her—even if it requires A SCANDALOUS DEAL.

My Review:

The business deal between Eva Hyde and Phillip Mansfield may be scandalous, but the story about it is delightful.

And the reason that it is so delightful is that the hero and heroine, especially the heroine, are so different from what is expected, particularly what is expected for their time and place, New York City in 1890.

Phillip Mansfield is a scion of the “Four Hundred”, the extreme upper-crust of New York society. But he’s also a hard man who exorcises the demons in his soul by boxing. He’s serious about the sport, but not a professional. Not that he isn’t good at taking on all comers. He’s very serious about it – also seriously ripped.

And that’s what Lady Eva Hyde notices under his bespoke suit and pristine white shirt – that the body underneath is deliciously well-muscled. Not that she has much experience in that regard. She’s been betrothed three times, but never married. All of her erstwhile fiances have died – and not only not at her hand but far from wherever she happened to be at the moment. But even though she’s completely blameless, three dead fiances does give a girl a nickname, and in her case it’s Lady Unlucky.

Eva doesn’t really care about the name, and she didn’t care a whole lot about the men, either. Not that she wished them dead. But her father arranged her betrothals for business purposes of his own, and she wasn’t sorry to see any of the betrothals end, even if she felt any grief at the reason for the endings.

But her father is now well past arranging anything. Lady Eva’s father, the celebrated architect E.M. Hyde, has gone senile. Today we’d recognize his condition as Alzheimer’s Disease, but in Eva’s day all that is understood is that her father is incapable of working, no longer recognizes her, and is sliding downhill fast.

And that while he may have been an absolute genius of an architect, he was consistently an idiot when it came to his personal finances. He should be wealthy, but instead he is nearly penniless.

To keep them financially afloat, Eva has been pretending to be her father, at least as far as architecture and design is concerned. She has taken commissions in his name, done all the design and drawings herself, and supervised the work, multiple times, pretending that her father is merely ill and will get better.

He won’t, but she will. While the lies gall her, Eva is every bit as great an architect as her father ever was, if not more so. But no one will recognize it, not just because she is forced into this masquerade, but purely because in 1890 no one believed that a woman could be an architect at all, great or otherwise.

One night aboard ship on her way from England to New York to take up the commission that she and her father both need to pay their bills and finance his medial care, Eva lets herself be herself for just one night with a perfect stranger.

Only to discover that her “perfect stranger” is the man she needs to convince that she can oversee his legacy hotel in place of her ailing father. He’s already seen her at her least polished and most vulnerable, and now she has to convince him that she is not merely capable, but twice as capable as any man he might hire in her place.

It’s much easier to sell Phillip Mansfield on her architectural talents than it is to pretend that what happened on board ship can never happen again. And as much as she eventually succeeds at the first, she completely fails at the second.

And it’s the best thing that ever happened to either of them – even if neither of them is willing to recognize it.

Escape Rating A-: The first book in the Four Hundred series, A Daring Arrangement, was certainly a treat, and A Scandalous Deal is even better. It’s also a bit less predictable, which for this reader is always a good thing.

What makes A Scandalous Deal so delicious is the character of Lady Eva Hyde, because she is nothing like the expected heroine for this time or place, nor is she anything like the hero or anyone she deals with thinks she ought to be. But her differences are what make her such a wonderful heroine for 21st century readers.

Lady Eva is an architect. While this seems anachronistic, it turns out that it’s only by a hair. The architect of Hearst Castle in California, begun in 1919, was also a woman. It’s easy to imagine Eva as a role model for Julia Morgan.

But the difficulties that Eva faces feel very real. No one believes she can possibly be an architect, not even once the truth is revealed and it becomes obvious that she IS an architect. She is also very career minded, and is unwilling to marry because marriage in the 1890s (and considerably thereafter) subsumed the woman’s identity under her husband’s. She needed her work to be HER work, and to receive commissions based on her efforts and not who her husband might be – and she didn’t want to put anyone in a position where they could force her to stop.

While the sexual tension between Eva and Phillip is palpable, the dramatic tension in the story revolves around Eva’s insistence on being treated as an equal, and Phillip’s inability to understand that even his protectiveness is ultimately condescending – no matter how right and proper he thinks it is.

So while the romance is the central core of this story, it is Eva, her work and her need to do that work at any price that give it both its heart and its stand up and cheer resolution. Especially when Phillip performs a very good and very, very necessary grovel.

After this terrific story, which I read in a single day because I just couldn’t put it down, I’m really looking forward to the next book in this series, A Notorious Vow.

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

 

Link: https://goo.gl/5V8ncm

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Giveaway open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of A DARING ARRANGEMENT by Joanna Shupe. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 11/14/2017 @ 1159pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copy out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: Someone to Care by Mary Balogh

Review: Someone to Care by Mary BaloghSomeone to Care (Westcott, #4) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Westcott #4
Pages: 384
Published by Berkley on May 1, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Once the Countess of Riverdale, Viola Kingsley throws all caution to the wind when adventure calls in the form of a handsome aristocrat. . . .

Two years after the death of the Earl of Riverdale, his family has overcome the shame of being stripped of their titles and fortune--except for his onetime countess, Viola. With her children grown and herself no longer part of the social whirl of the ton, she is uncertain where to look for happiness--until quite by accident her path crosses once again with that of the Marquess of Dorchester, Marcel Lamarr.

Marcel Lamarr has been a notorious womanizer since the death of his wife nearly twenty years earlier. Viola caught his eye when she herself was a young mother, but she evaded his seduction at the time. A prize that eluded him before, she is all the more irresistible to him now although he is surprised to discover that she is as eager now for the excitement he offers as he is himself.

When the two defy convention and run away together, they discover that the ties of respectability are not so easily severed, and pleasure can ensnare you when you least expect it.

My Review:

Who are we when we are no longer who we thought we were?

That’s the question that is initially before Viola Kingsley, who spent over 20 years believing that she was the Countess of Riverdale, only to discover that her marriage, an unhappy union that had produced three children who are the light of her life, was never valid.

The man she thought was her husband was already married. While the discovery of this fact after his death made her children bastards-in-law, her not-quite-husband was certainly a bastard-in-deed. His sisters still want to dig him up just so they can kill him again.

The previous books in this series, Someone to Love, Someone to Hold and Someone to Wed, have told the stories of the other people affected by the late Humphrey Westcott’s assholishness. At least three stories were left to tell. One is that of the youngest of the disinherited children, a story that I hope we get to see. Another is that of the young man who believed he was the son-and-heir of Riverdale, only to find out that he wasn’t.

The third story is Viola’s. She believed she was Countess of Riverdale. She discovered that she was not, and never had been. If she is not who she thought she was, then who is she?

Polite society immediately cut her and her children. They are none of them to blame, but they are the ones who will suffer the consequences. But Camille, Harry and Abigail are just barely, or in Abigail’s case, not quite, into adulthood. While their lives have been irrevocably changed, they still have those lives before them, and can make of them, if not what they originally expected, at least whatever they will.

Viola is 42 at the time of Someone to Care, and the scandal is two years behind her. Well, the scandal feels ever present, but the breaking of it is in the past. Her children are grown or nearly so. While she is financially secure, she is no longer part of society and happy not to be so. But what does she do with the rest of her life?

Her family wants her to be happy. And they keep smothering her in their care, in the hopes that they can make her happy, or see her happy. But even smothering with love is still smothering, and Viola has finally had enough. She needs time to herself, to figure out who she is and where she goes next.

And into that question steps Marcel Lamarr. Marc has a well-earned reputation as a rake and a libertine, but once upon a time, when they were both a bit younger, the “fearsomely” handsome Lamarr and the beautiful young mother Viola embarked on a flirtation. Merely a flirtation, because Viola remained faithful to her vows and Marc did not dally with married women.

Which does not mean that they were not sorely tempted to break all the rules. But they did not, and when Viola felt her heart to be in too much danger, she told him to go. And because he felt his own heart to be equally at risk, he went.

In the middle of a journey that neither of them planned to take, they meet again. But the rules are different now. Viola is no longer married, not that she ever was. And they discover that their unresolved feelings for each other are still there. And they believe that no one will miss them if they take a little time for themselves, outside of their regular lives, with each other.

They are both wrong. And so very, very right.

Escape Rating B: I absolutely loved the first half of this book. And I was so very disappointed with the second half.

The first half was so much fun at least partially because we seldom see romance that feature women “of a certain age”. Viola is 42, she’s been married (well at least she thought she was married) she’s been widowed (sorta/kinda), she’s the mother of grown children who love her but no longer need her, and she’s suffered a tremendous reversal of fortune through no fault of her own and is doing her best to soldier on.

But she has no idea who she is now that she is no longer any of the things she thought she was. While it’s a problem that was thrust upon her, it is one that we can all sympathize with. Anyone who has ever taken their identity from their career faces this loss if they get laid off or when they retire. And many parents go through “empty nest” syndrome when their children grow up and move away.

Viola, after a chance meeting with an old flame, decides to take a little time to live just for herself. She’s going to be selfish, and it’s something that she’s never done in her life. They are both adults, they are neither of them married or otherwise encumbered, who is to care if they choose to spend some time together? Who should it matter to if they have an affair, as long as they both understand that the entire situation is temporary?

When they are discovered, the story moves from its delightfully unpredictable path to a predictable one, and one that I personally always find annoying in the extreme. Because once they are discovered, the entire story descends into a giant misunderstandammit, a misunderstandammit that seems obvious to everyone except the protagonists, and that takes half the book to finally resolve.

He believes that she was through with him, because he didn’t listen to what she actually said or give her a chance to explain. Then he compounds that error by declaring to both of their families that they are betrothed, when in fact he was about to let her go, however reluctantly.

And, of course, they have fallen in love with one another, even though they are both way too stubborn to admit it. Meanwhile, Viola, and rightfully so, is unwilling to enter into another loveless marriage, but is equally unwilling, because of the way that women have been trained, to make either a scandal or a fuss, or to hurt all of the people who suddenly want them to marry by declaring that it was never so.

The mess goes on, and on, and unfortunately on. They do finally talk to each other again, at least enough to resolve the tangle and reach their happily ever after, but it was torture getting to it.

I would have loved this book if they had continued being as unconventional as they were in the first half. That would have been different – and oodles of fun.

Review: Counting on a Countess by Eva Leigh + Giveaway

Review: Counting on a Countess by Eva Leigh + GiveawayCounting on a Countess (The London Underground, #2) by Eva Leigh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: London Underground #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on March 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For a shameless libertine and a wily smuggler in the London Underground, marriage is more than convenience—it’s strategy...

Christopher “Kit” Ellingsworth, war veteran and newly minted Earl of Blakemere, buries his demons under every sort of pleasure and vice. His scandalous ways have all but emptied his coffers . . . until a wealthy mentor leaves him a sizeable fortune. The only stipulation? He must marry within one month to inherit the money. Kit needs a bride and the bold, mysterious Miss Tamsyn Pearce seems perfect.

Husband hunting isn’t Tamsyn’s top priority—she’s in London to sell her new shipment of illicit goods—but she’s desperate for funds to keep her smuggling operation afloat. When a handsome earl offers to wed her and send her back to Cornwall with a hefty allowance, Tamsyn agrees. After all, her secrets could land her in prison and an attentive, love-struck spouse could destroy everything.

But when an unexpected proviso in the will grants Tamsyn control of the inheritance, their arrangement becomes anything but convenient. Now, Kit’s counting on his countess to make his wildest dreams a reality and he plans to convince her, one pleasurable seduction at a time.

My Review:

This is a marriage of convenience story that lives up to the old saw that goes “marry in haste, repent at leisure” because that’s definitely what happens to Kit and Tamsyn. Not that the repentance turns out to be leisurely per se, as they are both awfully, awfully busy while they are repenting.

Kit needs a wife, and Tamsyn needs a husband, and not for any of the usual reasons. Kit can claim a fortune if he marries within 30 days. He may be an earl, but the estate is broke. And Kit wants the money for a completely different reason – he plans to open a pleasure garden to rival Vauxhall as a way of laying his own wartime demons to rest.

If Kit’s reasons weren’t unusual enough, there’s Tamsyn. She needs a husband to give her enough money to buy her uncle’s rundown country house in Cornwall, so that she can continue to lead the smuggling operation that is keeping her village almost literally afloat.

The fishing is down, the taxes are up, and without the money from bringing in brandy and lace from France and far away from the Customs and Excise, the folks of tiny Newcombe would be starving. As they were before then 16-year-old Tamsyn became their de facto leader.

Both Kit and Tamsyn go into their marriage of convenience with what they believe are eyes wide open. Kit plans to purchase the land for his pleasure garden as soon as the ink on their marriage lines is dry. He also plans to continue his life as one of London’s most celebrated rakehells – and has no plans to be faithful to his wife, nor cares if she is faithful to him once she has presented him with the requisite heir – a spare is not even required.

Tamsyn plans to beg her husband to buy the neglected pile in Cornwall so she can continue the smuggling operation.

Neither plans to tell each other anything of much significance, or even spend more than the minimum amount of time necessary together.

But the best laid plans often go astray. The will that gives Kit his fortune has an unusual clause in it – in order to inherit the money Kit has to give control of it to Tamsyn. So instead of her begging him for the funds to buy the estate in Cornwall, he has to beg her for the funds to start his pleasure garden.

There’s only enough money for one – or the other.

Kit isn’t honest about his reasons for seducing Tamsyn, but neither is she honest about why she married Kit. They are caught in a web of lies, and bound together not just by the bonds of matrimony, but by a sexual chemistry that gives neither of them any peace.

It might even be love. But not even the strongest love can survive as much dishonesty as exists between Kit and Tamsyn. Or can it?

Escape Rating B: I picked up Counting on a Countess because I really enjoyed the first book in this series, From Duke Till Dawn, and because I love the action/adventure romances that this author writes under her other name, Zoe Archer.

One of the things that this author does well are her unconventional heroines, and Tamsyn is certainly no exception. She’s a smuggler. She’s even good at it. At the same time, the illegal operation is not romanticized, she’s not a pirate heroine – although she could be. Tamsyn turns to smuggling as the best way to play out a truly awful hand. Her parents are dead, her aunt and uncle are despicable, and the village desperately needs a way to keep the roof over its head and food in its bellies. In a choice between smuggling and starving, most people would pick smuggling every time.

But part of that repenting in leisure is that Tamsyn and KIt barely know each other for less than a week when they marry. Kit isn’t aware that Tamsyn’s frugality is ingrained in her by hard choices – she is used to squeezing every shilling until it screams in agony because those shillings are hard to come by, while Kit has been spending the years after he returned from Waterloo spending money he doesn’t have and not worrying about when the bills will come due.

Tamsyn, for her part, while she is aware that Kit is a former soldier, is not aware that his service has made him a principled defender of his country and its laws. To his mind, smuggling French goods into England without paying taxes is flouting the law he fought to uphold and robbing his country at the expense of its enemies.

She doesn’t see the value in a pleasure garden, and she can’t reveal her part in the smuggling. They are at an impasse.

This story had all the earmarks of a potential misunderstandammit, but it doesn’t feel that way. They are keeping secrets from each other, but those secrets feel necessary and not gratuitous or ridiculous.

However, a big chunk of the story revolves around Kit and Tamsyn moving tentatively and hesitantly towards a relationship, in spite of the vast gulf of lies between them. The one-step-forward, two-steps-back nature of their physical relationship takes up a lot of pages, to the point where it slows down the narrative. While I appreciated the celebration of consent, particularly in a marital relationship, I did find myself wishing they’d just get on with it already.

But the way that they finally manage to come together, not just in the sexual sense but as a working partnership, was marvelous. They find a compromise that allows both of them to get what they need from the relationship, and it works beautifully.

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

LINK: https://goo.gl/kSHsTN

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. Three winners will each receive a paperback copy of From Duke Till Dawn by Eva Leigh.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 4/6/2018 @ 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: Highland Dragon Master by Isabel Cooper + Giveaway

Review: Highland Dragon Master by Isabel Cooper + GiveawayHighland Dragon Master (Dawn of the Highland Dragon, #3) by Isabel Cooper
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, paranormal romance
Series: Dawn of the Highland Dragon #3
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on March 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Legend claimsWhen Scotland fell to English ruleThe Highland dragons took a vow:Freedom at any price.

The war for Scottish independence rages on, but it's only a matter of time before England is victorious. Exhausted and battle-weary, Highland dragon Erik MacAlasdair will face unknown seas to seek the Templar stronghold and claim a power so great it could free his beloved homeland forever.

If only that kind of power didn't come with such a terrible price.

Daughter of a mortal woman and an ancient dragon, Toinette has never forgotten the proud Scot who once stole her young heart—she'll gladly fight at his side. But when dark forces leave them stranded on a cursed island, it will take everything they have to defy their fate...and trust the passion that burns within the heart of every dragon.

My Review:

Every book in this series is different. The first book, Highland Dragon Warrior, was a slow-build, slow-burn, both on the romance front and on the action front. The heroine was an alchemist, and the story moved along at the pace of her experiments.

The second book, Highland Dragon Rebel, is a road story. The romance, the danger, the action, all move along as the protagonists travel from place to place.

The third book in the series, Highland Dragon Master, is pretty damn creepy at points. I don’t mean creepy as in pace, I mean creepy as in, let’s call it horror-adjacent. For a story that takes place centuries before the Gothic genre came into being, it has that Gothic atmosphere of creeping evil.

Also Templars and the Ark of the Covenant. Well, not exactly THAT ark, but an ark that wants to make a covenant, and turns out to be every bit as destructive as that famous scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The books in this series are not like each other, and they don’t depend on each other to build the story. There are minor references to the heroine in the first book, and lots of call backs to the place that all the dragons call home, but nothing in Highland Dragon Master that can’t be picked up from context.

The title, like all the titles of the series, is kind of a twist. Both Erik and Toinette are Highland Dragons, but neither of them is the master in this particular scenario, unless the reference is to Toinette as her ship’s master. Instead, they have run into something that wants to master both of them – and that’s what they must prevent at all costs.

The story begins as a sea voyage, and ends as a second chance at love. But the middle is just about as scary as any horror fan might desire. The story begins as a search for treasure, but turns into something that will keep readers biting their nails hoping for good to triumph over evil.

This is a story where nothing turns out to be quite as it seems. Except the love that Erik and Toinette rekindle in each other – a love that they may be forced to end in the ultimate sacrifice.

Escape Rating B+: Highland Dragon Master was a lot faster paced than Highland Dragon Warrior, but not nearly as much fun as Highland Dragon Rebel. If you are thinking of picking up this series, particularly if you loved the author’s earlier dragon series which begins with Legend of the Highland Dragon but is set centuries later than this series, you might want to start with Highland Dragon Rebel.

I’ll also admit that I’m not a horror fan, so the strong sense of creeping evil that permeates this book from the moment they wreck on the mysterious island had me on the edge of my seat. It was also more than creepy enough that I waited until morning to finish the book because I didn’t want to read this one in just the flickering light of my iPad.

One of the things that makes this series so enjoyable are the characters. Toinette is one of the best. Even in the 14th century, she has found a way to live the life she wants to live in spite of her gender. Toinette is a ship’s captain. Not the sexy caricature of female captains we so often see, but a woman who has found her authentic self and lives that self. She commands her men and their loyalty not through sex appeal, but by being a good and fair commander. They give her their loyalty and if necessary their lives because she gives hers in return.

It is a soul-searching moment for her when she and Erik must reveal that they are dragon-shifters if there is to be any hope of saving the ship and her crew. That she agonizes over the change in her relationship with her men, especially her second-in-command, is heartfelt and very, very human.

And it is utterly marvelous that her second-in-command, who respected her as his captain before he knew she was a dragon, is able to shift their relationship without breaking that respect. At the same time, it is terrific to see that their relationship has always been that of partners without any element of sexual attraction between them, even though Marcus seems to be as heterosexual as Toinette. That they can be friends and colleagues and both be content with that relationship is something that needs to happen more often, and not just in romance.

This is also a story where the ends don’t justify the means, and where Erik has to go through a certain amount of soul-searching to come to that conclusion. He came on this quest in search of treasure to add Scotland in their perpetual war with England. And he finds it. But, as has been discovered before in other times and other lands and even among the stars, some gifts come at just too high a price.

I have enjoyed both the Highland Dragons series and now this prequel series, Dawn of the Highland Dragon, very much indeed. This looks like it might be the end of this trilogy, but I sincerely hope that the author is not done with the Highland Dragons.

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway