Review: Highland Dragon Warrior by Isabel Cooper + Giveaway

Review: Highland Dragon Warrior by Isabel Cooper + GiveawayHighland Dragon Warrior (Dawn of the Highland Warrior, #1) 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 #1
Pages: 320
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Legend claims
When Scotland fell to English rule
The Highland dragons took a vow:
Freedom at any price.

The war may be over, but so long as English magic controls the Highlands, not even a dragon laird can keep his clan safe. What Cathal MacAlasdair needs is a warrior fierce enough to risk everything, yet gifted enough to outwit an enemy more monster than man.
What he needs is Sophia.
Alchemist Sophia Metzger traveled to Loch Arach in search of knowledge. She never dreamed she'd learn to do battle, ride through the stars on the back of a dragon, or catch the eye of a Highland laird. But as her quest turns to sizzling chemistry and inescapable danger, she'll soon discover the thrill of being caught in a dragon's claws.

My Review:

I picked this up thinking that it was a followup to the author’s earlier Highland Dragons series, the one that starts wonderfully with Legend of the Highland Dragon, continues marvelously in The Highland Dragon’s Lady and comes to its awesome conclusion in Night of the Highland Dragon.

But Highland Dragon Warrior isn’t a followup. Instead, it’s the beginning of a prequel series. Instead of the very tail end of the 19th century, this story is set at the very beginning of the 14th century. The world is a very different place. Thinking about it, this series might be the story of that “legend” that Legend of the Highland Dragon barely touches on.

This feels like a bit of an alternate 14th century. Dragons aren’t the only otherworldly creatures that walk (or fly, in this case) the earth we know from history. Magic works as well, and there are both good and evil practitioners of it. And, possibly because this is the 14th century and mysticism of all sorts existed in real history, alchemy works too.

Our heroine is an alchemist. She is also a world traveler in an era when travel was very difficult at the best of times and women seldom traveled at all. But Sophia Metzger is an exception in a number of ways. She’s a woman, she’s a practicing alchemist, and she’s Jewish at a time when Jews were systematically being expelled from every country in Europe.

It is dangerous for her to travel, particularly through England, where the Jews were expelled only a century before. (This is real history, not fabricated for this story) Sophia hides who she is at every turn, because exposure will mean censure at best, and death at worst. But she has heard a rumor that the MacAlasdairs are dragons, and she wants to see if their scales can provide powerful catalysts for her alchemical potions.

When Sophia and her friend and chaperone Alice arrive at Loch Arrach, she comes at just the right time for Cathal MacAlasdair. He’s had an unfortunate encounter with an evil wizard, who has taken the spirit of his best friend hostage. All the mage wants in return is Cathal’s service. The service of a powerful dragon. Cathal knows that he can’t give in, and doesn’t want to. He recognizes evil when he sees it. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to save his best friend if he can do it without submitting to the wizard.

And that’s where Sophia comes in. He’ll give her a few of his scales for her experiments, if she promises to do her best to save his friend. He’s not even half as unreasonable as he could be. Cathal knows the odds are stacked against them. He only asks that she try, and that she be honest about those trials.

Sophia can’t resist the challenge. And when the wizard starts coming for her, she meets that challenge as well, with every ounce of skill and intelligence at her disposal.

But when Cathal comes for her heart, she resists at every turn. She knows it’s not possible for a laird’s son to marry a Jew, and she is, above all, an honorable woman. But neither of them can resist what’s meant to be, no matter what stands in their way.

Escape Rating B: Highland Dragon Warrior, in spite of its hard-charging title, is a slow-burn, slow-build kind of story on every front. The plot takes a long time to develop, and so does the romance.

The pacing resembles that of Sophia’s alchemical potion-making. Everything has to happen at the right time, in the right place, under the right influences. This isn’t Harry Potter, where potions seem to brew in minutes or at most hours. All of Sophia’s potions take days and even weeks to come to fruition, and the story moves at that pace.

So as much as I liked Highland Dragon Warrior, I can’t claim that it’s a page-turner, at least not until the final 15% of the story, where Sophia confronts the evil wizard.

But I really did like this story. I think one of the big reasons for that is the character of Sophia. We don’t see many Jewish characters in mainstream fiction, and we particularly don’t see many Jewish heroines in romance, neither contemporary nor historical. So one of the reasons that I really liked being inside Sophia’s head was that I could see myself in her in ways that don’t happen often.

As difficult as it was for a woman to be an intellectual, or to travel in her time, for Sophia there is always an added layer of danger because of her faith. And she is always aware that some people will always be prejudiced against her, for her gender, for her intellect, for her profession and for her Judaism. She tries to keep her faith hidden, as much as she can, while not betraying it. Her fears are real, and particularly real for me, in ways that may not resonate with other readers, but do for this one, especially now.

Another thing that made this book so interesting for me is that it is Sophia’s journey. She’s the real warrior in this story, and not the dragon-shifter (and very male) Cathal. She’s the only person with the knowledge and skill to take the fight to the wizard, and the only one who has a chance to prevail. Cathal (and his family) provide much needed support, but Sophia is the skilled warrior on this battlefield, and there is not one moment of doubt that she is the right person to fight this foe.

Cathal wants to protect her, but it always feels like it is in the sense that we all want to protect those we love, and not in the strong man protecting weaker woman sense. He doesn’t see her as weak except in the strictly physical sense, but then, this battle will not be fought by strictly physical, or even mostly physical, means. And while his attitude feels out of his time, it is not outside the way his family functions. Female dragons are every bit as powerful, if not a bit more so, than the males.

And I liked that the difficulties between them were not swept under the carpet in a wave of romantic fluff. Or even obscured by a cloud of lust. There are real issues, and those have to be dealt with in order to arrive at a happy ever after. They successfully compromise, but not in a way where she gives up everything for him. They meet in a negotiated middle, and it works.

I’m looking forward to the next story in this series, Highland Dragon Rebel, to see where those dragons fly next.

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Review: A Most Unlikely Duke by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: A Most Unlikely Duke by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayA Most Unlikely Duke (Diamonds in the Rough, #1) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on June 27th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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He never thought he'd become a duke, or that the secrets of his past would cost him his greatest love...

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: A Touch of Frost by Jo Goodman

Review: A Touch of Frost by Jo GoodmanA Touch of Frost by Jo Goodman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, western romance
Pages: 416
Published by Berkley Books on June 6th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

USA Today bestselling author Jo Goodman presents a "sprawling, lusty recreation of life, love, and slowly uncovered secrets*" as a rancher rescues a mysterious young woman with trouble of her trail.
RESCUE ME
After his train is robbed at gunpoint, Remington Frost awakens from a blow to find the bandits gone...along with the woman he was shadowing for protection. No stranger to risk, Remington will do what it takes to bring Phoebe Apple to safety and her kidnappers to justice. But ransoming Phoebe is just the start of trouble...
Phoebe is shocked to learn that her mysterious rescuer is none other than Remington Frost, the son of her sister's new husband. Home at Twin Star Ranch, she falls happily into western life--and cautiously in love with Remington. But danger hides close to home, and their romance illuminates a web of secrets and betrayal that may put the rancher and his intended bride past the point of rescue.
*Publisher's Weekly

My Review:

A Touch of Frost turned out to be how I spent one day of my weekend. It was a good day.

I like Jo Goodman’s historical western romances quite a bit. If you haven’t indulged, This Gun for Hire is every bit as good as everyone said it was. Possibly even better.

What makes her romances so special, and so very interesting, are the characters. Both the hero and the heroine are unconventional in one way or another, and the way that they work together carries the story, usually on a wave of intelligent banter. As is true in A Touch of Frost.

The story begins with Phoebe Apple’s kidnapping. Just when she starts to think that all of the dime novel desperadoes that she’s been reading about are purely fictional, her train is stopped by a masked gang who rob the passengers and take her hostage.

At first it seems as if her kidnapping was just bad luck, but the more that the gang talks among themselves, the more it seems as if her kidnapping was the entire purpose of the expedition, and that any petty thievery that took place was mostly window-dressing. But Phoebe doesn’t believe that anyone would bother ransoming her. Her sister may be the new wife of a wealthy landowner, but Fiona Apple has no money of her own, and as far as Phoebe knows there’s no reason why Fiona’s husband would pay good money to ransom his sister-in-law.

It’s pretty clear that Phoebe knows nothing about the way that things really work out west. She has no idea that her new brother-in-law, Thaddeus Frost, set his son Remington on her trail, to guard her until she arrived safely at the Frost ranch. And it’s a good thing that he did.

While Remington is rather ignominiously laid low during the actual robbery, he’s pretty quick to recover after the fact and set out in search of Phoebe and her kidnappers. Phoebe, who may be a bit uninformed but is certainly smart as well as brave, has left a trail of discarded items to serve as breadcrumbs for any potential rescuer.

From their very first meeting, Remington and Phoebe strike sparks off of each other. In spite of the pretty awful circumstances, Remington finds Phoebe game to continue with any plan he hatches, and he gets them out of her current mess and safely home while others pursue the gang. A gang that successfully eludes pursuit and makes off with the $2,000 ransom that Thaddeus willingly paid. Back when $2,000 was very definitely real money.

Money that he doesn’t even want back, now that Phoebe is safe.

And that’s where the story really begins. Because Thaddeus is very much afraid that his new wife arranged the kidnapping – not because she wishes her sister any harm, but because she desperately wants enough money to leave him and go back to the bright lights and big city of New York, where she was a very successful actress.

He just wants to make Fiona want to stay, and has zero idea of how to go about it – which is why he sent for Phoebe. Phoebe, on that other hand, knows all of Fiona’s little tricks, because she’s been the victim of most of them. They may love each other, but Fiona’s many, many, many insecurities mean that she can’t resist scoring off of Phoebe at every single turn.

And Phoebe discovers that, unlike her sister, she loves life in the wilds of Colorado. She finds every single bit of life on the ranch absolutely fascinating. And in spite of every argument that Fiona makes against him, Phoebe discovers that she loves Remington Frost.

But her kidnappers are still out there, and now they’ve upped their game to murder. It becomes a question of whose luck will run out first, Phoebe’s or her kidnappers.

Escape Rating B: I had a lot of fun with this book because every scene between Phoebe and Remington absolutely sparkles with wit and humor. Their romance proceeds at a fast and fun clip from their shaky meeting until they fall into each other’s arms. There isn’t a lot of pretense between them, and that’s wonderful to see in a romance. They are each simply themselves, and their personalities just work together. Also, this is very definitely a romance of equals, something that is difficult to both successfully and reasonably pull off in a historical romance.

It was also great that whatever the conflicts are in the story, and there are plenty of them, not a one of those conflicts requires a misunderstandammit between the hero and heroine. There are a lot of times when Remington wishes that he didn’t have to tell Phoebe the gory details of what’s going on, but he knows that he has to for their relationship to work. So he does it, and with very little prevarication at that.

But there are plenty of secrets in the story just the same. There’s an entire herd of drama llamas camped on the field between Thaddeus and Fiona. They do love each other, but they are not talking to each other, at least not about anything that really matters. There’s a huge subplot between them that can be summed up as “assume makes an ass out of u and me”.

Starting with Fiona assuming that Thaddeus had a long-running affair with his housekeeper after the death of his wife, and that said affair was still going on up until he met Fiona, if not longer. That said housekeeper is in love with Thaddeus makes the whole thing believable, and that Thaddeus has been oblivious to the woman’s feelings for 20-something years just adds to the confusion.

But the big mystery in this story is all about the kidnapping, and the subsequent murders. As much as I enjoyed the interplay between Phoebe and Remington, the case felt like it took a bit too long to finally unravel. Although I knew Fiona wasn’t behind it, finding out who was, why, and how, seemed awfully slow to come together. I reached a point where I just wanted them to wrap it up already.

And as much as I loved Phoebe, Fiona is an extremely unlikable character from beginning to end. It’s a good thing that Phoebe loves her, because I certainly did not. I found her cruel and manipulative, and while I knew she wasn’t the mover and shaker behind events, I wouldn’t have minded a bit if she were.

But I was very glad at the end that I got to see Phoebe and Remington’s happy ending. They earned it!

Review: The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen by Victoria Alexander

Review: The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen by Victoria AlexanderThe Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen (The Lady Travelers Guide, #1) by Victoria Alexander
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Lady Travelers Guide #1
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on May 23rd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Embark on the breathtaking romantic adventures of The Lady Travelers Society in the brand-new series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander
Really, it's too much to expect any normal man to behave like a staid accountant in order to inherit the fortune he deserves to support the lifestyle of an earl. So when Derek Saunders's favorite elderly aunt and her ill-conceived—and possibly fraudulent—Lady Travelers Society loses one of their members, what's a man to do but step up to the challenge? Now he's escorting the world's most maddening woman to the world's most romantic city to find her missing relative.
While India Prendergast only suspects his organization defrauds gullible travelers, she's certain a man with as scandalous a reputation as Derek Saunders cannot be trusted any farther than the distance around his very broad shoulders. As she struggles not to be distracted by his wicked smile and the allure of Paris, instead of finding a lost lady traveler, India just may lose her head, her luggage and her heart.

My Review:

This is my second book in a row where one of the main characters begins the story desperately requiring the surgical removal of a seemingly permanent stick shoved up their fundament. As in today’s story that’s the heroine rather than the hero, I’m being a bit more delicate in my language referring to the deformity.

India Prendergast is more than a bit of a prig. I’d say that she is a “stick in the mud” but as has been previously established, the stick has already been firmly lodged elsewhere. In today’s terms, we’d say that she needs to lighten up more than a bit.

She is also both extremely judgmental and an unbearable know-it-all, and not in the useful way that Hermione Granger was a know-it-all. Miss Prendergast’s version of omniscience is that she has made rather firm decisions on exactly how the world works, according to her designs, and that she is always right in all of her judgements. Which are very exacting.

She’s great at managing things and people, but not very lovable. Or even likeable. And she’s certainly not terribly forgiving. Or much fun.

And she’s not quite 30.

In the case that begins the story, she is both right and wrong, but not, as she discovers at the end, in any of the ways she expects.

Her cousin Heloise, the woman who raised her after her parents death, has gone missing. Or so it seems. Heloise, a middle-aged spinster with a small but secure income, has become a member of The Lady Travelers Society, and after consulting with the Society, has planned a solo (well, solo with her lady’s maid) European tour of indeterminate length and rather sketchy itinerary.

As the story begins, India has not heard from Heloise in over six weeks, and her inquiries to the Lady Travelers Society, increasingly frantic and belligerent, have gone unanswered. As the police have been thoroughly dismissive and unhelpful, India is taking matters into her own hands.

She has investigated the Lady Travelers Society and has discovered that there is a fraud afoot. In her decided opinion, the three elderly ladies who appear to be running the Society, using the term “running” very, very loosely, are covering a scam. They seem much too dithery to be the masterminds of such a pernicious scheme to separate women of limited means from both their pounds sterling and their dreams of travel.

India is certain she has discovered that mastermind in Derek Saunders. Mr. Saunders, on the other hand, has just discovered that his great aunt and her two friends are, in fact, perpetuating a fraud in order to maintain their independence as widows. He’s there to put a stop to what India believes he is the mastermind of.

But they both need to find cousin Heloise, both for India’s peace of mind and for Derek to keep his great aunt and her cronies out of jail, or at least free from scandal.

India’s distrustful nature won’t allow her to let Derek search for her wayward cousin, as she believes Heloise’s waywardness is ultimately his fault. And he can’t let India go off investigating on her own in Paris, because if anything happens to her, society will certainly hold him responsible, even if he was not responsible for the original scheme that got them all into this mess.

And his great aunt and her cronies are very definitely matchmaking. Not that India and Derek don’t need their guiding, if slightly guilty, hands.

It’s up to them to not screw up their best chance at happiness. Their escapades prove that they both need all the help that they can get.

Escape Rating B: This story is solidly good fun, but the portrayal of the heroine in the first half of the story does make the reader want to shake her. India at the outset, while extremely effective, is also intensely annoying. Her self-righteousness sets the reader’s teeth on edge, as it does that of nearly every character she meets in the story.

On that other hand, one of the terrific things about this story is the heroine’s journey. The hero has already gotten most of the way to where he needs to be, courtesy of a swift kick to the posterior delivered by his uncle several months before the story begins. Derek, while he has not lost his sense of fun and adventure, has grown up after being threatened with being cut off from his inheritance. And it’s been the making of him.

Meanwhile, none of India’s acquaintances nor her (very) few friends have been willing to risk her judgemental nature long enough to tell her that she generally goes well beyond holding up standards into outright rudeness. She never gives anyone the benefit of the doubt, and makes no allowances for any human frailty on anyone’s part, including her own. Because of course she believes she has none.

And that’s where the story really lies. India doesn’t so much need to grow up as to just grow. Or the wooden puppet needs to become a real girl. Not necessarily in the sense of enjoying fashion or shopping or any of the things that women were supposed to enjoy in the late Victorian era, although she does come to that, but grow in the sense of accepting others. She can be kind without being judge-y, if she can finally admit that no one, including herself, is right all the damn time.

The setting of this story is marvelous. It is Paris in 1889, at the beginning of the 1889 World’s Fair. Some of the best and most evocative scenes in the story take place at the top of the newly opened and still quite controversial Eiffel Tower.

All in all, this is a lovely story of wheels within wheels, featuring an intelligent (if bull-headed) heroine and set in a marvelous place and time. And there will be more! The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger is coming in November.

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Review: From Duke Till Dawn by Eva Leigh + Giveaway

Review: From Duke Till Dawn by Eva Leigh + GiveawayFrom Duke Till Dawn (The London Underground, #1) by Eva Leigh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: London Underground #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on May 30th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Eva Leigh launches a seductive new series that sizzles with the dark secrets of London’s underworld...
Years ago, the Duke of Greyland gave his heart—and a princely sum of money—to a charming, destitute widow with unparalleled beauty. After one passionate night, she slipped from his bed and vanished without a trace. And just when he’s given up hope of ever seeing her again, Greyland finds her managing a gaming hell. He’s desperate to have her… until he discovers everything about his long-lost lover was a lie.
In truth, Cassandra Blake grew up on the streets, picking pockets to survive. Greyland was a mark—to be fleeced and forgotten—but her feelings for the duke became all too real. Once he learns of her deception, however, the heat in his eyes turns to ice. When her business partner absconds with the gaming hell proceeds—leaving unsavory investors out for blood—Cassandra must beg the man she betrayed for help.
Greyland wants compensation, too, and he’ll assist her under one condition: she doesn’t leave his sight until her debts are paid. But it’s not long before the real Cassandra—the smart, streetwise criminal—is stealing his heart all over again.

My Review:

Eva Leigh is also Zoe Archer, and I absolutely love Zoe Archer’s action/adventure/historical and occasionally paranormal and/or sci-fi romances, so I’m all in for her historicals. One of the things she does best is write unconventional and truly kick-ass (sometimes literally) heroines and fit them into the setting she has created.

And that is absolutely true in From Duke Till Dawn. While the Duke in the title, Alex Greyland, really, really truly needs to have the stick up his ass surgically removed, swindler Cassandra Blake is just the woman to do it. After all, she’s done it before. It’s just that the operation didn’t “stick”, because she couldn’t either.

The story here is a combination of opposites attract with a heaping helping of personal discovery. And once it gets out of the gate, it’s marvelous.

These are two people who never should have met. Or at least not met with any honesty at all between them. Cassandra is a high-class swindler. Or rather, she is now. She started out as a child in debtor’s prison, because that’s where her dad ended his days. Once he died, she lost even that dubious roof over her head, and has been making her way, mostly alone, ever since.

That’s how she met Alex Greyland. She conned him out of 500 pounds, rather a princely sum during the Regency. She pretended to be a proud but impoverished gentleman’s widow, cheated out of her portion by unscrupulous relatives. Alex fell for the story hook, line and sinker, while also falling for the proud and beautiful young widow.

From Cassandra’s perspective, Alex should have been just a mark, to fleece and forget the minute she scarpered away. Instead, she fell into his bed, and made the mistake of letting him into her heart. By the time she ran, it was too late for both of them.

When they meet again, Cassie is still playing the proud but impoverished widow, this time as the hostess of an exclusive gaming hell. But just as Alex discovers her secret, her whole world crashes around her. Her partner has left her high and dry, stealing all the money the hell has collection and leaving her to face all the employees and, even more dangerously, all of their underworld backers.

The only way for Cassie to escape with her life is to turn to Alex, the one man who knows who and what she really is, even if he hates her for it. He can protect her long enough for her to find her missing partner and get out from under the life-threatening situation he has left her in.

But Alex finds it impossible to hate the one woman who has ever made him feel, and Cassie can’t keep herself away from the only man who has ever known her as she truly is. It’s a dangerous game they are playing – with the underworld, and with each other.

And it can only end in heartbreak. After all, not even a duke can defy society and marry a criminal.

Escape Rating B+: It takes a while for this one to get going. When they meet again, Alex is still playing the lovelorn duke, and Cassie pretending to be the poor but proud widow. Alex, of course, truly is lovelorn, even if he can’t admit it, but Cassie is anything but who she is pretending to be.

What I wasn’t expecting, but should have, is just how much the book changes, and for the better, when Alex discovers Cassie’s secret. At that instant, he naturally feels betrayed, as well as incredibly angry, but for the first time in the story he stops listening to the voice of his father in his head telling him how a duke is supposed to behave and just lets himself feel what he actually feels, and not what he thinks he should.

And that’s what makes the book. Cassie is who she has always been, the difference is that she can finally let someone else see that person. But for Alex, the revelation is that he finally gets a handle on who he is and what he wants, rather than what he should do or what he should want. The longer he is with Cassie, the more out-of-his-element situations she throws him into, the more of himself he discovers.

The other thing that Cassie does for Alex is pull the blinders from his eyes. He’s never stepped outside his own extremely privileged world. He honestly does want to help people and make the world a better place than he found it, but he has no idea what will really help or how difficult the situation really is for those less privileged than himself.

As she always does, this author has created a very unconventional heroine who still manages to feel a part of her time and place, along with a hero who needs her to be exactly who she is. I can’t wait for the rest of this series.

While I wait, I’m going back to finish the author’s Wicked Quills of London series. I loved Forever Your Earl, but the rest got sucked into the “so many books, so little time” vortex. As much as I enjoyed From Duke Till Dawn, I’m happy to check out Scandal Takes the Stage while I wait for my next trip to the London Underground.

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

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Guest Review: Tender Wings of Desire by Harland Sanders

Guest Review: Tender Wings of Desire by Harland SandersTender Wings of Desire by Harland Sanders
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Pages: 96
Published by Amazon Digital Services on May 2, 2017
Amazon
Goodreads

When Lady Madeline Parker runs away from Parker Manor and a loveless betrothal, she finally feels like she is in control of her life. But what happens when she realizes she can’t control how she feels? When she finds herself swept into the arms of Harland, a handsome sailor with a mysterious past, Madeline realizes she must choose between a life of order and a man of passion. Can love overcome lies? What happens in the embrace of destiny, on the Tender Wings of Desire?

When this book was released last week, I was in a fowl, er, foul mood. I couldn’t pinpoint eggs-actly why that was so, I’d just been in a funk for a few weeks. This book brought up nuggets of inspiration that I really didn’t know I had waiting in the wings. So, let’s get right to it.

Guest Review by Amy:

To be fair to this work, we really need to spend some time on this cover image; like most historical romances, the cover art has little-to-nothing to do with the actual content of the book, and here we have an extreme case: Harland Sanders (1890-1980), in his later white-haired years, yet still obviously muscular, carrying a woman wearing “mom jeans” circa 1980s…on the cover of a Regency novel, circa 1811-1820. The art itself was so amusing when it popped up on my Kindle that I had to show my husband, who also laughed himself into a fit. The masterstroke, for both of us, was having her holding a piece of chicken (in her right hand). Let’s not forget the white linen suit with the sleeves cut off–showing off those breathtakingly muscular arms on the…er…handsome Colonel.

Fortunately, perhaps, for us all, the content of the book just doesn’t give us that image of Sanders. What it does deliver is a sharp lampooning of Every. Regency. Ever. Written. I was telling my best friend about this book the morning after reading it, and I likened it to The Rocky Horror Picture Show: campy on its own, but crammed full of inside jokes and jabs at the thing it is lampooning, just as RHPS is full of jabs at the classic cinema. If you don’t understand those jabs, it’s hilarious, but if you do, it’s even funnier.

Lady Madeline Parker is old enough to marry–though, as the book points out, we modern people would not think so. She considers herself a bit of an ugly duckling, of course, though she and her younger sister Victoria both have “the same pale, dewy skin, the same bright green eyes and heart-shaped faces.” Madeline’s hair is dark brown and in unruly curls, while Victoria has long, blonde hair. Madeline’s other problem is that she’s really not interested in marrying, certainly not merely for position, as her parents are working to arrange. If she’s to marry, she wants it to be for love, and only then after she’s had a while to roam about and see the world.

For her groom-to-be’s part, he’s quite a dashing gent: Reginald Lewis, the Duke of Sainsbury. He’s not terribly older than Madeline, which she’s grateful for, but he just doesn’t move her. Little sister Victoria claims he “looks like a fairy-tale prince,” of course, but Madeline isn’t impressed. He’s nice enough, and not ugly, but nothing about him grabs her attention or her interest. “He looks like a vanilla biscuit,” she asserts privately to her sister. Her older brother, Oxford student Winston, is the only person who really gets her, it seems.

Ugly Duckling Who Isn’t, Girl Wants To Break The Pattern, Arranged Marriage, Troublesome Younger Sibling, Wise Older Brother…the only Regency trope we’re missing is the dashing rake who actually does win her affections, at this point.

Madeline must, of course, run away. On the night before her wedding. So, she does. She and her horse, cleverly named Persephone, spend one uncomfortable night in a forest, then one night in a run-down inn, and end up by the sea. Please take note: when you live on an island, all directions will lead you to the sea sooner or later.

She finds a small fishing town. She rides into town, bold as brass, hitches her horse outside a tavern, and strolls in, asking for a job. The head barkeep is, as she surely must be, a non-local; a redheaded, dark-eyed Irish lass named “Caoimhe”. Please don’t ask me how to pronounce it, for I haven’t a clue. But ponder the worldly-wise Caoimhe a moment – how many Irish redheads do you know with dark eyes? Yeah, me either. When asked, she tells Madeline where she wound up: the village is named Mistle-Thrush-by-the-Sea. I kid you not.

The tavern itself, The Admiral’s Arms, is described two different ways in the course of about a page and a half. Madeline enters “a dim place, lit only by the occasional lantern or two, with wooden tables and a fireplace that was currently bare,” but a couple of hours later, as she is learning her job, she’s enjoying a spectacular view, which the tavern exploited “for all it was worth by installing giant windows that showed a view of the harbor and the sea beyond.” This and other glaring continuity errors are peppered throughout, and they just add to the fun.

On her first night there, Madeline must of course meet…Harland Sanders. The most handsome man she’d ever seen, naturally. He was “tall, dressed like a sailor,” with light and fair hair, “framing his head in airy curls, and the eyes that stared back and her were almost the exact color of the sea.” Oh, please! This younger avatar of the famously-curmudgeonish Sanders is, of course, Not Who He Appears To Be (yet another great trope). I won’t spoil it by giving you the ending, but serious readers of Regencies could write the rest of this tale easily. At only 96 pages, this tale moves fast, and the utterly-predictable denouement comes at you like a runaway locomotive.

I didn’t expect to enjoy this. YUM Brands, the owner of KFC, is releasing this novella as a marketing gimmick, not even as a serious work. There are a number of breathtaking flaws, like the continuity errors I pointed out, the needless wealth of outdated adjectives, and the tired old tropes–but were these errors deliberate? When I look at the piece as a whole, I can’t help but wonder. Will it win a “Pullet-zer” prize? Not a chance. But it was cheep…er, cheap – you’ll shell out at most a dollar for this ebook – and to me, it was a fun, silly read, and a mood-booster that I just didn’t see coming. Don’t take it too seriously; it’s way too campy for that. But if campy is your thing – Tender Wings of Desire might be a sleeper hit for you. Chick lit? Absolutely. But worth crossing the road for, in my opinion.

Escape Rating: Extra Crispy

Editor’s Note: When this book showed up on my Facebook feed I was too chicken to read it, so Amy graciously leapt into the breach. Or bucket. I’m very glad she did. I expected the hilarious yet thoughtful review, but had no idea it would also snap her out of a reading slump. And I’m so grateful that Amy was willing to go where no wings have flown before, so that the rest of us don’t have to. I am also grateful that the rating for this one was NOT spicy, because my mind still won’t go there.

For anyone dying of curiosity, this is a real book, and KFC, admittedly with tongue firmly in cheek, released it for a real reason – Mothers’ Day is one of their busiest days of the year. There seem to be nearly 400,000 families who think that the easiest way to give a hard working mother (and they are all hard-working) a night off is to pick up a bucket of chicken from KFC. And I bet there will be even more this year, as people who can’t believe this is a real thing go to KFC to discover if this is a real thing. Which it is, this weekend, free with every $20 Fill-Up Meal. Or for 99 cents at Amazon.

Me, I’m still back at OMG I’m too chicken to read this. Thanks Amy!

Review: The Girl Who Knew Too Much by Amanda Quick

Review: The Girl Who Knew Too Much by Amanda QuickThe Girl Who Knew Too Much by Amanda Quick
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, romantic suspense
Pages: 352
Published by Berkley Books on May 9th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Amanda Quick, the bestselling author of ’Til Death Do Us Part, transports readers to 1930s California, where glamour and seduction spawn a multitude of sins…
When Hollywood moguls and stars want privacy, they head to an idyllic small town on the coast, where the exclusive Burning Cove Hotel caters to their every need. It’s where reporter Irene Glasson finds herself staring down at a beautiful actress at the bottom of a pool…
The dead woman had a red-hot secret about up-and-coming leading man Nick Tremayne, a scoop that Irene couldn’t resist—especially since she’s just a rookie at a third-rate gossip rag. But now Irene’s investigation into the drowning threatens to tear down the wall of illusion that is so deftly built around the famous actor, and there are powerful men willing to do anything to protect their investment.
Seeking the truth, Irene finds herself drawn to a master of deception. Oliver Ward was once a world-famous magician—until he was mysteriously injured during his last performance. Now the owner of the Burning Cove Hotel, he can’t let scandal threaten his livelihood, even if it means trusting Irene, a woman who seems to have appeared in Los Angeles out of nowhere four months ago…
With Oliver’s help, Irene soon learns that the glamorous paradise of Burning Cove hides dark and dangerous secrets. And that the past—always just out of sight—could drag them both under…

My Review:

I wonder how close Burning Cove is to Scargill Cove?

Amanda Quick writes historical romantic suspense, Jayne Ann Krentz writes contemporary romantic suspense, and Jayne Castle writes futuristic romantic suspense. And they are all the same person. There is often a paranormal, or in the case of the historicals, gaslamp, element to this author’s fiction, which is often but not always tied into her long-running and century-spanning Arcane Society series.

But most of her historicals take place in the Victorian era, so the 1920s seemed just a bit out of period for the author. And it didn’t matter – the story and the suspense were the equal of any of her historicals, with or without the paranormal/gaslamp element.

The only magic in The Girl Who Knew Too Much is of the stage illusionist variety, but there’s every bit as much magic (including the romantic kind) as in any of this author’s marvelous books.

Irene Glasson, nee Anna Harris, arrives in Hollywood (and eventually Burning Cove) seemingly with no past and possibly with no future.

She fled New York City in a cloud of fear of suspicion, after discovering the murdered and mutilated corpse of her employer. Said employer had written the word “Run” out in her own blood just before she died, and Anna heeded the warning. On her way out the door she scooped up the item that had gotten her friend killed, a notebook filled with scientific formulas and no explanation whatsoever.

It’s ironic that Anna on the run becomes Irene the gossip reporter in Hollywood. Now the stars run from her and the scandal she can create. Except for up-and-coming movie star Nick Tremayne. Irene is gunning for Nick because he seems to be leaving a trail of drowned women in his wake, one of whom was Irene’s mentor at the tabloids.

Her relentless pursuit of the new star puts her squarely in the sights of the powerful Hollywood studios, who will go to any lengths to keep their stars scandal-free. It also puts her into the rather dashing clutches of the Amazing Oliver Ward, who owns the Burning Cove Hotel. Oliver used to be an up-and-coming stage magician, until a trick-gone-wrong nearly took his life.

Now he rules his hotel and Burning Cove, with a benevolent but implacable hand. He won’t countenance murder at his hotel, unless, of course, he’s the one who decides that someone needs killing.

So when Irene finds herself, fired, exposed and hunted on his watch, he takes it upon himself to protect her at all costs. She makes him feel alive, even as she nearly gets both of them killed. It’s a race to the finish for Irene and Oliver to figure out who is after whom, and why, before they both get caught in the trap. Because this time, a mistake will be fatal.

Escape Rating A-: I did mix up Burning Cove and Scargill Cove, so I went into this with hope that it would be part of the Arcane Society. And even though that hope was dashed, I did not come out of this book disappointed. Far from it, in fact. I had a ball with this one.

Irene/Anna is a terrific heroine. She’s smart, savvy and running for her life, yet she keeps making a life and making a living and striving for one more day. Her life has become a mystery, with herself as both the heroine and the victim. She doesn’t know what the notebook is, or why it got her friend and employer killed. All she knows is that she needs to hide it at all costs.

In spite of her need to hide, she puts herself out there, in plain sight, hunting for whoever killed one of her friends. She has quite a lot of pluck, and more than a little luck, but like so many of the great Hollywood mystery stories, she’s also fed a bunch of red herrings, some of which turn out to be very tempting.

She’s been so busy running, and surviving, that she hasn’t had a chance to quietly assess. And she doesn’t have anyone to do that assessing with. Two heads really are better than one, especially when the one is much too close to the situation. And that’s where Oliver comes in.

Neither of them are very good at trusting people, for obvious reasons. They’ve both been betrayed or abandoned by people they trusted. And yet, they are both in this mess together, whether they planned on it or not.

In the end, they need each other to survive. And they need each other to live.

The solution to all of the mysteries defied convention just a bit. Usually the long arm of coincidence doesn’t get too long. If there are two series of crime, as there are in this case, at the end we discover there’s a link that makes it one series of crimes. But in this case, solving the puzzle for multiple unknowns keep the reader guessing right along with the protagonists, until the very nearly bitter end.

Which is always marvelous.

Review: Someone to Hold by Mary Balogh

Review: Someone to Hold by Mary BaloghSomeone to Hold (Westcott, #2) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Westcott #2
Pages: 400
Published by Jove Books on February 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Humphrey Wescott, Earl of Riverdale, has died, leaving behind a fortune and a scandalous secret that will forever alter the lives of his family—sending one daughter on a journey of self-discovery...
With her parents’ marriage declared bigamous, Camille Westcott is now illegitimate and without a title. Looking to eschew the trappings of her old life, she leaves London to teach at the Bath orphanage where her newly discovered half-sister lived. But even as she settles in, she must sit for a portrait commissioned by her grandmother and endure an artist who riles her every nerve.
An art teacher at the orphanage that was once his home, Joel Cunningham has been hired to paint the portrait of the haughty new teacher. But as Camille poses for Joel, their mutual contempt soon turns to desire. And it is only the bond between them that will allow them to weather the rough storm that lies ahead...

My Review:

Someone to Hold is the “flip side” of the marvelous Someone to Love. The story in the first Westcott book was the story of Anna Snow, a teacher at the orphanage where she herself grew up. In Love, Anna discovers that she is the only legitimate child of the late and less-lamented-every-day Earl of Riverdale. She is suddenly and unexpectedly the sole heir to his fortune, while the title goes to a cousin.

But Anna’s unexpected rise encompasses the equally unexpected fall of the family that for 20-plus years has believed that they were the legitimate ones. The woman who has always believed herself to be the Countess of Riverdale discovers that she was never married at all. Her husband was a bigamist. And that makes her son and her two daughters all bastards, in the legal sense if not the behavioral sense.

That particular bit of opprobrium is saved for others.

So Anna is up, and Viola, Camille, Abigail and Henry are down. And out. Out of society and out of money and seemingly out of friends.

Someone to Hold is Camille’s story. Her response to her sudden change in fortune does not at first make her a likable protagonist. She was a high-stickler when she thought she was a lady, settling for nothing less than perfection in all things. Now she herself is considered imperfect, and the perfect life she expect is now far beyond her reach.

During the first book she was particularly waspish and ill-tempered. Her family does love her, but no one seems to like her much, and it is easy for the reader to see why.

By the time that this book opens, she has gotten past some of the early stages of grief. Her life has irrevocably changed, and she comes to the realization that she can’t remain hidden in her grandmother’s house and under her grandmother’s protection, cozy and comfortable as it is.

She has to strike out on her own, and make something of the life she must now live. But what she does is what makes this story so good. Instead of wallowing, or instead of marrying the first man who promises to protect her, Camille determines to find out who she is now, and what she can make of herself.

She does it by marching up to the orphanage where Anna taught and asking for a position as a teacher, just as Anna was. It’s the surprise of Camille’s life when she gets the job. And even though she feels herself gasping and floundering every single day, it turns out to be a job that she is good at, even if in completely unconventional ways.

Along with the job, Joel Cunningham comes into her life. Joel is also a graduate of the orphanage, and is also a teacher. Specifically, he’s the art teacher. He was also Anna’s best friend and fancied himself in love with her.

He is not best pleased with Camille taking over Anna’s classroom. Or Anna’s students. Or even Anna’s room. But as they get to know each other, they come to realize that the way that they upset each other’s apple-carts is the best thing that ever happened to either of them.

If they can just manage to get out of their own way.

Escape Rating A-: Those who have read Someone to Love will be unable to resist Someone to Hold. And anyone who loves historical romance and has not read Someone to Love needs to get thee hence to a library or bookstore and read it!

But there’s a reason why Anna’s story was someone to love and not Camille’s. Camille was not at all lovable in Someone to Love, and she begins her own story still not being all that lovable. Or even, at the beginning, all that likable. It makes her difficult to warm up to as a protagonist.

(I started this book three times before I got past that point. Once I did, it was terrific. But definitely a hard start.)

Camille’s world has crumbled. The society that she had been trained to be perfectly suited for has rejected her, and for an issue where she is completely blameless. Nevertheless, she understands why this is so. But her plans have turned to dust and her prospects are non-existent. She is too proud to claw her way onto the lowest rung of society’s ladder and be content with that, and she doesn’t know what to do instead.

One of Camille’s issues is that Anna Snow is so very likable. Camille wants to hate her and maintain a distance from her, and Anna makes that very, very difficult. It also feels to Camille as if her close family are attempting to pretend that nothing material has changed, when everything has.

She is not who she thought she was, and the world is no longer her oyster.

Taking Anna’s old position and Anna’s old rooms makes an interesting twist, both for Camille’s story and her life. Camille makes it seem logical in her own head, but it is far from logical to anyone else. However, her determination to make a new life for herself is admirable. And fascinating to watch.

Although the relationship that develops between Joel and Camille has a bit more heat to it than the one between Anna and Avery, it is still a relationship that develops first into friendship before becoming love. Falling in love with your best friend IS still a good foundation for a marriage.

Even if in this case it does seem a bit like Camille begins by trying to take over or erase Anna’s life, what happens in the end is that Camille stands in Anna’s shoes and finds her own life. And it’s a lovely story.

Review: Lord of the Privateers by Stephanie Laurens + Giveaway

Review: Lord of the Privateers by Stephanie Laurens + GiveawayLord of the Privateers (The Adventurers Quartet, #4) by Stephanie Laurens
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Adventurers Quartet #4
Pages: 384
Published by Mira on December 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Revel in the action, drama, intrigue and passion as the Frobishers— with help from Wolverstone, the Cynsters and many familiar others— steer the adventure to a glorious end.
Unstoppable determination
Widely known as the lord of the privateers, Royd Frobisher expects to execute the final stage of the rescue mission his brothers have begun. What he does not expect is to be pressured into taking Isobel Carmichael—his childhood sweetheart, former handfasted bride and current business partner—with him. A force of nature, Isobel has a mission of her own: to find and bring a young cousin safely home. And along the way, she hopes to rid herself of the dreams of a life with Royd that still haunt her.
Unfinished business
Neither expects the shock that awaits them as they set sail, much less the new horizons that open before them as they embark on a full-scale rescue-assault on the compound deep in the jungle. Yet despite the support of his brothers and their ladies, Royd and Isobel discover that freeing the captives is only half the battle. To identify and convict the conspirators behind the illicit enterprise—and save England from political disaster—they must return to the ballrooms of the haut ton and hunt the villains on their home ground.
Unforgettable love
But having found each other again, having glimpsed the heaven that could yet be theirs, how much are Royd and Isobel willing to risk in the name of duty?
#1 New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Laurens delivers the thrilling conclusion to her acclaimed series THE ADVENTURERS QUARTET, a passionate Regency-era drama where intrigue and danger play out on the high seas and in exotic tropical jungles, ultimately reaching a dazzling climax in the glittering ballrooms of London.

My Review:

ladys command by stephanie laurensLord of the Privateers is an adventure romp with a romance attached – or a romance with an adventure attached. There be two plot threads here, and they are both compelling, if not equally so.

This book is the culmination of The Adventurers Quartet, and as such wraps up all of the many plot threads that were started all the way back in The Lady’s Command, and built up and added to in A Buccaneer at Heart and The Daredevil Snared.

The story would not be a pretty one if it weren’t for the inevitable happy ending. Far from England, in the English colony of Freeport in South Africa, someone is operating an illicit diamond mine. Not only is the mine unlicensed, and therefore not under government scrutiny of any kind, but the backers of the mine decided to maximize their profit by using slave labor.

They think they are so far above the law that they can kidnap colonists from Freeport, and that no one will care. And even if they are eventually caught, they will be able to walk away.

But the people they take are missed. Not just the children, but also the adults. Especially when they do stupid things like kidnap the military men who are sent to investigate, one after another. The government contracts with the Frobisher shipping clan to find out where everyone has gone, and that’s where the fun of this series begin.

Each one of the Frobisher children (sons AND daughter) is captain of his or her own ship. One by one, the oldest four sons go down to Freeport, put their share of the pieces together, and come back with a bride who is not willing to stay at home and wait while their men sail into danger.

It’s all been leading up to this book, Lord of the Privateers. That “lord” is Royd, the oldest brother and captain of their fleet. It’s up to him to lead the military operation to rescue the prisoners and gather as much evidence as possible on those mysterious and nefarious backers. In that order.

But Royd’s mission is compromised. Not by betrayal, but by his own unfinished business coming back to haunt him. Isobel Carmody, his childhood best friend and the love of his life, turned him away eight years ago. One of the captives is Isobel’s cousin, and she insists on accompanying him to Freeport. They have unfinished business between them to work out on this journey. They need to decide once and for all whether to try again, or to finally move on.

Royd thinks he has all the time in the world to woo Isobel again. Isobel thinks the voyage will be long enough for her to figure out whether she can trust Royd with her heart again, after he broke it eight years ago.

And they have a colony to save. And in the process, all their secrets will come out, and all the truths will finally come to light.

Escape Rating B: There are two plots here, the second chance at love story, and more importantly, the military operation to rescue the enslaved workers at the mine.

Unlike most second-chance love stories, this one feels resolved fairly early on. They are back together almost instantly, so most of the rest of the romance angle seems a bit anti-climactic. Also, their inevitable marriage is a foregone conclusion from the outset. Eight years ago, Royd and Isobel were handfasted, an old Scottish form of trial marriage. But if a child is born of the handfasting, the couple must automatically marry, or the child must be given up to the father. (Yes, I know it’s terribly misogynistic, etc., but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the law of the time).

Isobel gave birth to Royd’s son eight years ago, while he was away on a secret mission that he chose not to tell her about. She’s kept the boy a secret ever since, at least until he stows away aboard their ship to Freeport. Once that “cat” is out of its bag, an eventual wedding is the only possible conclusion.

But the military operation and the subsequent clean up of the gentleman backers is a romp from beginning to end. And if it weren’t for the fact that this is historical romance and therefore must lead to a happy ending, the clean-up operation feels like it might teeter towards disaster at any moment. That was the part of the story that had me on the edge of my seat.

It was wonderful not just to see all the dirty bastards finally get their just desserts, but to have those desserts handed to them by a combined delegation of the Frobishers, the Cynsters and the Bastion Club was a special treat for those who have read any of the author’s previous series.

But speaking of series, The Adventurers’ Quartet is one where you probably need to have read at least some of the previous entries. I read books 1, 3 and 4, and didn’t feel as if I missed anything except a good story by accidentally skipping Buccaneer. Because Lord is the payoff for all the previous books, I think it looses its punch if you start with it.

Because the romantic side of the plot was resolved early on, those scenes that “furthered” the romance were furthering something that already felt completely developed. To say they became anticlimactic makes for a very bad pun that nevertheless was true for this reader. Your mileage (measured in knots in this case) may vary. But the rescue operation makes for a cracking good yarn.

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

Stephanie and Harlequin are giving away a $25 Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour!

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Review: Someone to Love by Mary Balogh

Review: Someone to Love by Mary BaloghSomeone to Love (Westcott, #1) by Mary Balogh
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: paperback, ebook, large print, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Westcott #1
Pages: 400
Published by Signet on November 8th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Humphrey Westcott, Earl of Riverdale, has died, leaving behind a fortune that will forever alter the lives of everyone in his family—including the daughter no one knew he had...
Anna Snow grew up in an orphanage in Bath knowing nothing of the family she came from. Now she discovers that the late Earl of Riverdale was her father and that she has inherited his fortune. She is also overjoyed to learn she has siblings. However, they want nothing to do with her or her attempts to share her new wealth. But the new earl’s guardian is interested in Anna…
Avery Archer, Duke of Netherby, keeps others at a distance. Yet something prompts him to aid Anna in her transition from orphan to lady. As London society and her newfound relatives threaten to overwhelm Anna, Avery steps in to rescue her and finds himself vulnerable to feelings and desires he has hidden so well and for so long.

My Review:

When a book appears on seemingly everyone’s best of the year list, there’s a natural curiosity about whether the book lives up to its hype. Someone to Love is one of those books that landed on everyone’s “Best Romance” or “Best Historical Romance” list, so I wanted to see whether it was “all that”.

And in the end, it definitely is.

Someone to Love is part Pygmalion, but also part journey of discovery for both the hero and heroine, as well as everyone whose life is turned upside down by the death of the not-at-all lamented Humphrey Westcott. He died and left his mess for everyone else to clean up.

And what a mess he made. The late Earl of Riverdale was a bigamist. While it’s not clear why he married his first wife, he certainly married the second one for her money. He just neglected to tell her, or anyone else, about the first wife.

Ironically, he could have. His first wife, although she indisputably died after his second marriage, shuffled off this mortal coil before the first of his bastard children was born. He could have married her again in secret and made all his subsequent children legitimate.

Instead, his son and his daughters all believe that Anna Snow is the bastard, and that they are high-and-mighty little lordling and ladies. While their initial treatment of Anna is fairly abominable, their comeuppance is also painful. Dad was obviously a bounder, and no one seems to have a kind word for him now that he’s dead.

Even before the mess he’s left behind has been fully excavated.

Avery Archer, the Duke of Netherby and a somewhat distant connection of the late Earl, is the only person to see Anna as she really is. She is not a fortune hunter. The rich and proscribed life of Anastasia Westcott is not the life she hoped for or planned on. The only thing she wants out of this mess is family, and while some embrace her, others reject her utterly. She has discovered the truth of the old adage about being careful what you wish for because you might get it.

And everyone wants to make of her something that she is not, and has no desire to be, whether that is the villainess of the piece or merely a pawn to be molded to their will.

Only Avery sees Anna Snow exactly as herself, no matter how much wealth is draped around her. What disconcerts Avery immensely is that Anna is the first person to see him as he truly is. To see the brave and scared little boy who has made himself into one of the most feared and respected men in England.

They are made for each other.

Escape Rating A: Someone to Love is terrific historical romance. While it plays with the trope of Pygmalion (My Fair Lady) quite a bit, it also turns it sideways in some really delicious ways.

Anastasia Westcott, formerly known as Anna Snow, is not prepared to enter the rarefied society of the ton. But while she is willing to learn what the rules of that society are, she is not willing to stop being herself. Anna is already 25, which in ton terms means she is very nearly on the shelf. But in her own terms it means that she knows who she is and what she wants, and most importantly, what things up with which she will not put. She bends, but only so far. Her sense of self is very strong, and she is willing to push against both the tide and the managing natures of all of her new relations.

Until her unexpected elevation, Anna was a teacher, and a damn good one. She knows how to manage herself, and she knows how to manage others. And unlike the popular version of Pygmalion in My Fair Lady, Anna, while not raised as nobility, was definitely given a good education as well as lessons in deportment and manners. She finds the ton absurd, and has the intelligence and knowledge to recognize and articulate those absurdities.

Avery Archer’s character also plays with tropes and stereotypes, in this case the figure of the affected, bored society darling who appears to be eternally bored and doesn’t let anyone get close to either his heart or his mind. He delights in pretending that nothing affects him at all. But like the Scarlet Pimpernel, or Lord Peter Wimsey whom he somewhat resembles, there are dangerous depths under that bored, affected surface. He is a dangerous man, and people both respect him and give him a wide berth, unconsciously aware that he is a predator and that all of them are prey. He doesn’t need to display his power to have it acknowledged.

Avery’s interest in Anna surprises them both. She is never boring, and he does enjoy watching her navigate her family and the ton. But it much more than that. She is never affected. Her honesty captivates him. She on the other hand, can’t resist discovering just what is below the face he shows to the world.

That they fall for each other seems inevitable, and yet it isn’t. There is no secret yearning. Instead it’s more of a secret discomfiture. They reach beneath each other’s surfaces and bother each other. A lot, and in more ways than just emotional or sexual. They fall in like before they realize that they are in love.

If you are looking for a historical romance that provides a hero and heroine who manage to be a part of their time while still transcending it, Someone to Love is a winner.

Reviewer’s note: This book has given me a terrible earworm. I can’t get Queen’s Somebody to Love out of my head. And it fits.