Review: Dare to Love a Duke by Eva Leigh

Review: Dare to Love a Duke by Eva LeighDare to Love a Duke (The London Underground, #3) by Eva Leigh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: London Underground #3
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on December 24, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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For a dashing duke and the proprietress of a secret, sensual club in the London Underground, passion could lead to love… if they dare

Thomas Powell, the new Duke of Northfield, knows he should be proper and principled, like his father. No more dueling, or carousing, or frequenting masked parties where Londoners indulge their wildest desires. But he’s not ready to give up his freedom just yet. The club is an escape, a place where he can forget about society and the weight of his title… and see her, the woman he’s wanted forever.

Lucia—known as Amina—manages the Orchid Club, a secret society where fantasies become reality. But for Lucia, it’s strictly business, profitable enough to finance her dream: a home for the lost girls of the streets. Surrounded by lovers, she only observes, unwilling risk her future for any man. No member has ever intrigued her...until him, the masked stranger whose heated looks sear her skin. After months of suppressed longing, they dare to give in to temptation…

But the late duke’s legacy comes with a shocking secret, and the scandal threatens to destroy everything Tom loves… his family, the Orchid Club, and even Lucia.

My Review:

This is the third book in the author’s London Underground series, and it makes a fine and fitting conclusion to that series. But it also works as a standalone. The story in this entry bears some resemblance to the circumstances in the first two (From Duke Till Dawn and Counting on a Countess) but the reader knowing where they are and who the characters are in Dare to Love a Duke is not dependent on having read the other books first.

Not that they are not a lot of fun in their own right!

As has been true in the previous books in the series, the romance here is between a newly minted nobleman and a woman of not merely lesser rank and status but also someone who has been operating on the shady side of the street in one way or another. The heroine of From Duke Till Dawn is a confidence trickster, while the heroine of Counting on a Countess is a smuggler. There weren’t a lot of legal, well-paying professions for women during the Regency, or let’s face it, for centuries before or after.

The heroine of Dare to Love a Duke is the manager of an unusual but not exclusive sex club. A club that admits anyone and everyone. All the participants are masked. Anything goes, and anyone can have sex with anyone else – or multiple anyone elses. The only requirement is that consent is king, queen and knave. People can, and do, do whatever they want – but only what they want. No force, no coercion, no “persuasion”. Only freely given consent.

The hero is the newly invested Duke of Northfield. His father has just died and Tom has inherited the title, along with a whole slew of expectations and a tonne of responsibility. On what he believed was his last night of relative freedom, he finally seduces, or is seduced by, or they both simply give in to the sexual chemistry that has always swirled between himself and Lucia, the manager of the Orchid Club.

Only to discover the following morning that his father can’t possibly have been the paragon of virtue that he claimed to be – because Lucia comes to the Duke of Northfield’s house to deliver the monthly profits from her club which he owns – only to discover that the new duke is the man she just spent a long and very pleasurable night with.

The situation is a mess. If it comes out, it will be a scandal that will affect his mother’s place in society and his sister’s prospects for marriage – not that those aren’t already threatened enough.

Tom’s father was a staunch Tory, a member of the conservative political faction that wants to preserve the status quo, keep power in the hands of the wealthy aristocrats, and oppress the poor, the nascent middle-class, and pretty much anyone else who isn’t one of them.

His father’s friends are pressuring him to remain in their faction, and are holding his sister’s marriage to the man she loves as hostage. Sparing her will force him to reject the stirrings of his own conscience.

When he can’t decide he turns to Lucia, spending a weekend in the house he owns while working incognito as one of the team. A few short days working himself to exhaustion, while spending blissful nights with Lucia, give him the space he needs to decide whose man he will be, and at what price.

The courage of his convictions nearly costs him everything – but it also gives him the greatest prize of all.

Escape Rating B+: Eva Leigh also writes action-adventure romances as Zoe Archer, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Zoe Archer also writes historical romances as Eva Leigh. In either case, one of the reasons that I love this author is that she does an excellent job of writing heroines who are able to kick ass, figuratively always and occasionally also literally, while still fitting into their time and place.

This is particularly important when it comes to historical romance. I’ve frequently talked about the tightrope walking involved in creating historical heroines with enough agency for 21st century readers to identify with while making sure that these standout women still feel like they fit into their setting. A book I reviewed last week failed to walk this tightrope, and when that happens it does break the willing suspension of disbelief At least for this reader.

Lucia has had a difficult life, and it’s a life that has left scars. She’s not a pampered princess in a gilded cage. She’s had to make her own way in the world since she was 12, and she’s done it any way she could. Including on her back. It’s brutal but it’s also realistic – there just weren’t that many options. Being forced to make her own way has given her very different attitudes from the kind of privileged ladies that have often been the heroines of historical romance. She knows how to take care of herself because she’s had to. And she’s all too aware that in the end she only has herself to rely upon. No one has ever rescued her, and until she meets Tom she has no reason to believe that anyone ever will.

She’s aware of what society thinks of her, but she’s also all too aware that pride and propriety will not fill an empty belly or keep a roof over one’s head. She tries not hurt anyone, but she does what she must and she lives with the consequences.

On the one hand, Tom has had an easy life. And on the other, he is suddenly weighed down by a huge responsibility – and it’s a responsibility he takes seriously. He knows that he’s privileged and he wants to use his position to make life better for others as much as he can. He’s between a rock and a hard place when his father’s old allies attempt to blackmail him into following their dictates instead of his conscience. His dilemma is made all too real by throwing his sister’s happiness under the carriage wheels rather than his own. He is caught between warring duties – his duty to protect his sister and his duty to help others.

It was a relief when he finally told his sister what his choices were and what the cost would be – and that she agreed with him all the way – as their mother initially does not. And when the feces hits the oscillating device his sister stands by him.

In the end, as with the other books in this series, the story is about the unconventional couple finding a way to defy convention, rise above it, and grab their happy ever after with all hands.

 

Review: Not the Duke’s Darling by Elizabeth Hoyt

Review: Not the Duke’s Darling by Elizabeth HoytNot the Duke’s Darling (Greycourt, #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Greycourt #1
Pages: 496
Published by Forever on December 18, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Hoyt brings us the first book in her sexy and sensual Greycourt Series!

Freya de Moray is many things: a member of the secret order of Wise Women, the daughter of disgraced nobility, and a chaperone living under an assumed name. What she is not is forgiving. So when the Duke of Harlowe, the man who destroyed her brother and led to the downfall of her family, appears at the country house party she's attending, she does what any Wise Woman would do: she starts planning her revenge.

Christopher Renshaw, the Duke of Harlowe, is being blackmailed. Intent on keeping his secrets safe, he agrees to attend a house party where he will put an end to this coercion once and for all. Until he recognizes Freya, masquerading amongst the party revelers, and realizes his troubles have just begun. Freya knows all about his sins—sins he'd much rather forget. But she's also fiery, bold, and sensuous—a temptation he can't resist. When it becomes clear Freya is in grave danger, he'll risk everything to keep her safe. But first, Harlowe will have to earn Freya's trust-by whatever means necessary.

Features a bonus novella from New York Times bestselling author Grace Burrowes!

My Review:

This is going to be a mixed feelings review. I’m all over the map about this one – and I didn’t expect to be. While I haven’t read ALL of the author’s Maiden Lane series, I’ve generally liked the ones I have read quite a bit.

But this one, well, yes and no.

On the one hand, it starts out with a bang, with Freya helping a desperate woman and her child escape from the man who wants to abuse them both. This particular escape isn’t about sex, it’s about money. The child is the rightful earl, her husband is dead, and his cousin plans to basically imprison the little boy and ransack the estate during his minority while keeping the boy’s mother away from him so she can’t support or protect him.

Women and young children were chattel, this chilling scenario was entirely possible – and legal. Freya has rescued both the mother and child, and is spiriting them away to a ship bound for America. But her pursuers are relentless, so she jumps into a nobleman’s carriage – only to discover that the nobleman in question is someone she knows – and loathes.

It should have been the start of a wild adventure, but the tension kind of fizzles out. Or at least it did for me.

While we do eventually find out why Freya hates the Duke of Harlowe so much (and those issues do reach resolution) what we really don’t get nearly enough information about is why Freya is participating in the rescue in the first place.

Not that the woman and her baby don’t need rescue, and not that someone shouldn’t do it. But how Freya got involved in the situation is murky. She’s a “Wise Woman”, a member of an order of independent women that has existed since the Roman occupation, if not before. She’s the “Macha” of the Wise Women, a title that seems to mean covert agent and spy as the situation requires.

But the Wise Women, while potentially interesting, never seem to get enough explanatory background, or at least not for this reader. What it felt like was simply a quick and dirty way of providing the 19th century heroine with the education, attitudes and perspectives that would appeal to 21st century readers. She’s so close to us that she feels anachronistic for her time.

That also seems to make her perfect for Christopher Renshaw, the aforementioned Duke of Harlowe, if they can get past the gigantic amount of baggage that stands between them.

Because the real backstory of this series seems to be the long-ago Greycourt scandal. Fifteen years ago, Harlowe, Freya’s brother Ranulf, and Julian Greycourt were the best of friends. Until one night when Julian’s sister tried to run off with Ranulf de Moray, and somehow she got herself killed and Ran got the blame. As well as a beating that cost him his dominant hand and his family’s place in society.

Freya has blamed Harlowe all these years, but as he eventually explains to her, he never believed that her brother was guilty of murder. And all three of the young men were, in fact, very, very young, only 18, and none of them had the position or the maturity to prevent the ensuing mess. Now he does, but the damage has already been done.

Personally, I believe that the overarching story in this series will be the eventual discovery of what happened that night, and that the individual books in the series are going to focus on all of the people who were affected by the scandal. Not just Harlowe and Freya, but eventually Julian Greycourt, the Greycourt sisters who were Freya’s friends once upon a time, Freya’s brother Ranulf, and whoever the hell the guilty party or parties turn out to be.

But we are not there yet. Much of this particular entry instead focuses on Freya’s activities with the Wise Women and their foes the Dunkelders, who believe that the Wise Women are witches who should be burned at the stake. They aren’t witches, but then, the great majority of those who were the victims of the witch hunts weren’t either.

Along with yet another rescue of another woman who desperately needs it.

The problems I have with the story all come back to the Wise Women. We don’t know enough for that piece of the story to really work. The Greycourt scandal grabbed my interest, as did the eventual romance between Harlowe and Freya, but it always felt like there was a hole in the back of the story – like a tooth cavity that you can’t stop sticking your tongue into – even though it hurts every time.

Escape Rating B-: I keep harping on the problem with the Wise Women, or rather the lack of enough information about the Wise Women. That’s because Freya’s participation in the group provides her with too many 21st century attitudes for too little data. One of the issues with historical romance is the difficulty of giving readers a heroine who has enough agency that we can identify with her while still having her fit into her time and place. And Freya doesn’t manage to walk that tightrope, at least not for this reader.

Your mileage may vary, or your version of the tightrope may be a bit wider than mine.

Review: A Duke Changes Everything by Christy Carlyle

Review: A Duke Changes Everything by Christy CarlyleA Duke Changes Everything (Duke's Den, #1) by Christy Carlyle
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Duke's Den #1
Pages: 371
Published by Avon on November 27, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the first novel in Christy Carlyle’s sizzling Duke’s Den series, three men, intent on making a fortune, discover irresistible opportunities . . .

Nicholas Lyon gambled his way into a fortune and ownership of the most opulent, notorious gentlemen’s club in England. But when Nick’s cruel brother dies, he inherits a title he never wanted. The sooner Nick is rid of the estate that has always haunted him, the sooner he can return to the life he’s built in London. But there’s one obstacle—the exquisite Thomasina Thorne.

When the new heir to the Tremayne dukedom suddenly appears in Mina Thorne’s life, she’s flustered. Not only is he breathtakingly handsome, but he’s also determined to take away her home and position as steward of the Enderley estate. If Mina learns what makes the enigmatic duke tick, perhaps she can change his mind—as long as she doesn’t get too close to him.

With each day Nick spends with Mina, his resolve weakens as their colliding wills lead to explosive desire. Could she be the one woman who can help him finally bury the ghosts of his past?

My Review:

There are multiple ways to interpret the title of this lovely historical romance, and all of them are equally applicable to the story.

It could be that BECOMING a duke changes everything, because it certainly does for Nick Lyon.

It could be that the ARRIVAL of a duke changes everything, because it definitely does that for both Thomasina (Mina) Thorne and the ducal estate at Enderley.

It could also be that the new duke himself, Nick Lyon, changes everything related to being a duke, to dealing with his own past and forging his own future.

And it’s a whole lot of fun every single step of the way.

There’s also just a bit of a “Beauty and the Beast” vibe to this story. Nick Lyon certainly thinks of himself as a beast. He isn’t but his late and unlamented father drummed the idea into him often enough – and left Nick with the physical as well as the emotional scars to make it seem all too inevitable.

Mina is every bit as practical a girl as Belle, and also very much in love with books, as the heroine of the Disney version of the story certainly was. There’s even Gaston-a-like in this tale if you squint a bit.

Mina and Nick begin on opposite sides. She has devoted her life to taking care of the estate, but most importantly its people. Nick’s plan is to strip the estate bare and rent it out to whoever will give him the most money. Not because he actually needs the money, but because he absolutely cannot stand the place. Every moment he is forced to spend there reminds him of the torment he and his mother suffered at the hands of his abusive father.

On the one hand, it’s hard to blame Nick for his feelings. And on the other, the old man is dead, as is Nick’s older brother. Any of the people who participated in or colluded with his abuse are dead and gone. He can’t make them suffer anymore. But abandoning his responsibilities will hurt the people of the estate and the nearby village.

Mina tries to make him see the place through her eyes of love and duty, while he tries to avoid letting her see the depth of his pain. When they manage to meet in the middle, the find a place where they can both belong – together.

Escape Rating A-: A Duke Changes Everything is an absolutely delightful historical romp – without being nearly as frothy as historical romances can sometimes be.

Just because no one talked about either child abuse or spousal abuse, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen in historical eras. It just wasn’t punished, at least not unless the spouse or the child had enough and either ran away and/or killed the perpetrator. Then the victims got punished.

Nick was beaten, starved, imprisoned and eventually escaped with the help of his mother and the butler. His mother died in exile in Paris and Nick lived by his wits, eventually returning to England and opening an extremely successful gambling den. He remakes himself completely, but never heals from the abuse.

Mina was a child on the estate when Nick left, younger than he. And the sons of the duke, even if the duke believed that Nick was a bastard, did not associate with the daughter of the steward. Mina grew up in the same place Nick was tortured under the loving care (and occasionally benign neglect) of her father. When he died, she slid into his place – and Nick’s brother either didn’t notice or didn’t care.

What makes this story work so well is the way that they change each other’s lives. Mina gets Nick to see that his responsibilities don’t have to be the painful burden that they have been, and he gets her to see that she can both take care of her responsibilities and also let go enough to enjoy the world she’s always longed to see.

Part of what made this story so lovely was the way that it ended, as Nick and his partners decide – with a bit of a push from Mina – to change the focus of their gambling den from betting on games of chance to betting on inventors. The next book in the series, Anything But a Duke, looks like it will be loads of fun!

Reviewer’s Note: I KNOW I’ve read a book with a similar premise (Lord inherits estate and arrives to discover his steward is a woman) sometime in the not too distant past. I’ve been trying to find it, but so far, no joy. If you recognize it, please let me know in the comments. I’m going bananas!

Review: Someone to Trust by Mary Balogh

Review: Someone to Trust by Mary BaloghSomeone to Trust (Westcott, #5) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, holiday romance
Series: Westcott #5
Pages: 400
Published by Berkley on November 27, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

During a rare white Christmas at Brambledean Court, the widow Elizabeth, Lady Overfield, defies convention by falling in love with a younger man in the latest novel in the Westcott series.

After her husband's passing, Elizabeth Overfield decides that she must enter into another suitable marriage. That, however, is the last thing on her mind when she meets Colin Handrich, Lord Hodges, at the Westcott Christmas house party. She simply enjoys his company as they listen to carolers on Christmas Eve, walk home from church together on Christmas morning, and engage in a spirited snowball fight in the afternoon. Both are surprised when their sled topples them into a snow bank and they end up sharing an unexpected kiss. They know there is no question of any relationship between them for she is nine years older than he.

They return to London the following season, both committed to finding other, more suitable matches. Still they agree to share one waltz at each ball they attend. This innocuous agreement proves to be one that will topple their worlds, as each dance steadily ensnares them in a romance that forces the two to question what they are willing to sacrifice for love...

My Review:

This is the latest volume in the marvelous historical romance Westcott series. The series as a whole deals with the consequences of the late Lord Humphrey Westcott’s bastardy. That bastardy was only in the metaphorical sense, but he certainly qualified. When it was discovered, upon his death, that his marriage to his still-living countess was bigamous – on his part – his family was forced to re-think their entire future. Not just his now illegitimate son and daughters whose futures were suddenly not what they thought they were, as they and his wife were ostracized by society, but also the lives of both his legitimate daughter, suddenly an heiress, and his cousin who has acquired a title that came with a neglected estate, a load of debt, and no money to deal with either.

What makes the series so marvelous is the way that each of the affected people deals with the sudden change in their circumstances. While it is not necessary to read them all to enjoy any one in particular, they are great stories. If you want the full tale of just how big a bastard Lord Humphrey is, start with Someone to Love, appropriately titled because the Westcott family, minus Lord Humphrey, is very lovable indeed.

Even though the overall story has not yet dealt with all of the late Lord Humphrey’s children (I suspect the story about his son Harry is going to be last) the family connections have expanded enough through marriage that we are able to get this delightful romance between two of those connections on the outer fringe of the group.

Elizabeth Overfield is still a relatively young widow at 35, and she has reached the conclusion that it is time for her to marry again and finally set up her own household now that her brother Alex has found the love of his life. (Alex and Wren’s story is in Someone to Wed)

But Alex and Wren’s marriage has brought Wren’s brother Colin into the Westcott fold. Because of the circumstances of Wren’s early life, as detailed in Someone to Wed, Wren is estranged from most of her family – and with good reason.

Colin would prefer not to have much to do with his mother and his other sisters himself, not after hearing Wren’s full story, but he doesn’t have much choice. Colin is Lord Hodges, the head of his family, and he needs to do something to keep his narcissistic mother both in line and out of his business. It’s going to be an uphill battle – especially as it’s a battle he’s avoided since he gained the title several years ago upon the death of his father. Colin is now 26 and it’s past time for him to take up all his responsibilities – including finding a wife and continuing the family.

Colin and Elizabeth meet at the Westcott family Christmas party, the first of what will clearly be an ongoing tradition at her brother Alex’s partially updated family pile. (He’s working on it, and it needs a LOT of work)

As people who are both a bit outside the central family circle, Colin and Elizabeth gravitate towards each other, and discover that they like each other’s company very much indeed. More than either of them is willing to admit to the other – or even to themselves.

Elizabeth is 9 years older than Colin, so any relationship between them other than friendship seems impossible. She can’t believe he would be interested in a woman so many years older, and he can’t believe she’d be interested in someone so callow and immature.

Except, of course, they’re both wrong. And so very right for each other.

Escape Rating A-: I love it when an older woman/younger man romance does it right, as Someone to Trust certainly does. I also hate it when it’s done wrong or for laughs, which never happens in this story.

While the time and place are different, the thoughts running through Colin’s and especially Elizabeth’s heads are very real and ring true to life. My life. I’m 20 years older than my husband, so when this trope works for me, it really works. When it doesn’t, it grates like sandpaper.

No sandpaper in this romance.

This series in general has been terrific. Each of the people affected by Lord Humphrey’s mess are affected differently, and their reactions, while different, have felt realistic. Harry joined the army. His older sister gets a job. His mother retreats. His cousin tries to find a woman he can love who also happens to have a fortune so he can handle the responsibilities he’s just been saddled with.

Colin and Elizabeth are less directly affected by Lord Humphrey’s shenanigans, but they have plenty of issues of their own. Elizabeth’s late and totally unlamented husband was an alcoholic who beat her during his drunken rages. She married him because she loved him, and doesn’t trust herself to fall in love again. Once burned, twice shy, and with good reason.

Colin’s family, with the exception of his sister Wren, is a piece of work. Especially his mother, who fits the classic definition of a narcissist, whether the term was known or not in the 19th century. Just because there’s no word for something doesn’t mean the phenomenon doesn’t exist. The scary thing about his mother is that she’s real. I’ve met people like that, even to that degree although it manifested differently. And they are every bit as frightening as his mother because they live in their own little world and do entirely too good a job of manipulating the rest of the world into conforming with their self-centered views – because they can’t hear or see anything else.

One of the issues with any age gap romance, whichever direction it goes, is to deal with closing the emotional/maturity/experience gap. This is all too often glossed over when the gap goes in the traditional direction, but it’s always there.

In this story, it’s handled well. Colin’s experience with his parents, particularly his mother, would result in him growing up early. When the parent is the child, the child becomes the parent. It works.

And so does the rest of this story, as Colin and Elizabeth meet in the middle, and realize that in spite of all of the outside voices that say they couldn’t possibly love each other or have a successful marriage, the still, small voices inside their own hearts are very, very sure that they can and they will.

Review: The Lady Traveler’s Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl by Victoria Alexander

Review: The Lady Traveler’s Guide to  Deception with an Unlikely Earl by Victoria AlexanderThe Lady Travelers Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl (The Lady Travelers Society, #3) by Victoria Alexander
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Lady Travelers Society #3
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on November 20, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Set sail for love in this sparkling new adventure in #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander’s Lady Travelers Society series.

Harry Armstrong has spent years in Egypt, recovering relics and disregarding rules. Now he’s back in England with a new title and a new purpose: penning his exploits. But his efforts are overshadowed by London’s favorite writer about Egypt—a woman they call The Queen of the Desert, of all things. Worse, her stories—serialized in newspapers and reprinted in books—are complete rubbish.

Miss Sidney Honeywell didn’t set out to deceive anyone. It’s not her fault readers assumed her Tales of a Lady Adventurer in Egypt were real! Admitting her inadvertent deception now would destroy her reputation and her livelihood. But when the Earl of Brenton challenges her to travel to Egypt to prove her expertise, accompanied by his dashing, arrogant nephew, what choice does she have but to pack her bags?

With the matchmaking founders of the Lady Travelers Society in tow, Harry is determined to expose Sidney’s secret. But the truth might not be as great a revelation as discovering that love can strike even the most stubborn of hearts.

My Review:

I kept expecting Amelia Peabody Emerson to walk through the lobby of Shepheard’s Hotel at any moment. Not that this is her story, but she and her entourage would have fit right into the adventures of Harry Armstrong, Sidney Honeywell and the gaggle of elderly ladies who are alternately chaperoning and matchmaking the couple – when they’re not aiding and abetting a criminal enterprise or two.

And there’s no dead body – not quite. Not even the one that Sidney and Harry expect to find.

But this is definitely a romp from beginning to end. It’s lighthearted, occasionally light-fingered, and frothy fun.

Sidney has been supplementing her meager income by writing. She has fictionalized the Egyptian adventures of her late grandmother in Cadwallender’s magazine, and the series has been a huge success.

But Sidney knew she was writing fiction, admittedly fiction with an underpinning of fact as well as a scholar’s knowledge of Egypt and her antiquities. However, her readers seem to believe that her stories are absolutely factual from beginning to end.

And the meddling founders of the Lady Travelers Society, not having gotten their members in enough trouble in the previous outings of the series (The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen and The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger) can’t seem to resist getting themselves a bit too involved when the Earl of Brenton takes offense at Sidney’s stories.

He claims they are complete bunk, and that Sidney, who writes as Mrs. Gordon, is deceiving her audience unconscionably. What he’s not admitting is that he is incensed that Sidney’s fluff pieces are celebrated while he can’t seem to find a publisher for his earnestly written, utterly factual – and deadly dull – accounts of his own travels in Egypt.

So they’re off on a jaunt to Egypt, paid for by the magazine, so that Sidney can prove her expertise, or Harry can prove she’s a fraud and get a guaranteed publishing contract. With the founding “Lady Travelers” along as chaperones and comic relief, managing to finally take the trip that they’ve always dreamed of.

Sidney claims to be Mrs. Gordon, Harry claims to be his own nephew, and the reporter sent by the magazine hovers over everything, hoping to get a story that will make his career, one way or another.

Then Harry’s somewhat disreputable past catches up with Sidney’s new-found spirit of adventure, and they find themselves in the midst of a classic farce of a treasure hunt.

With so much fun to be had, sun, sand, adventure and the trip of a lifetime, how could they not fall in love? With Egypt, and especially with each other?

Escape Rating B+: This is absolutely wonderful, marvelously tasty, complete and utter fluff. It’s delicious.

It would also make a great Shakespearean comedy. Sidney is deceiving Harry. Harry is deceiving Sidney. The reporter is deceiving everyone. Except that everyone seems to know that everyone is deceiving everyone else and no one is willing to admit it.

And that just adds to the sense of fun and adventure.

It’s also a lot of fun the way that Sidney’s real-life adventures in Egypt seem so much like her fictional adventures. Her friends think she’s been kidnapped by white slavers, when the truth is that an Egyptian princess is a fan of her work, so she gets to spend a night in the harem with the princess and her family.

She steals a priceless Egyptian antiquity from a nefarious smuggler, only to discover that it’s the key to a much greater treasure and a much bigger adventure.

She begins by revisiting the scenes of her grandmother’s greatest adventures – only to have a great adventure of her own. And to clear up her grandmother’s unfinished business.

Her contest with Harry brings out Sidney’s inner adventurer at every turn, and allows her to become the woman she was meant to be. Not because he sweeps her off her feet – although he eventually does – but because he treats her as an equal combatant in their rivalry.

That she also helps him solve the mystery that has been dogging him for two long and lonely years makes them earn their happy ever after – while providing just desserts for the true villain of the piece.

This series is simply loads of fun, and every trip with the Lady Travelers Society is always a lovely adventure. I’m looking forward to their next adventure in The Lady Travelers Guide to Happily Ever After when it comes out in June. It’s sure to be another marvelous lark!

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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.