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

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A chance meeting...

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

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

-Please note that this is a novella-

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Temptations or Priorities...?

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: A Daring Arrangement by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

Review: A Daring Arrangement by Joanna Shupe + GiveawayA Daring Arrangement (The Four Hundred, #1) by Joanna Shupe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Four Hundred #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on October 31st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Set in New York City’s Gilded Age, Joanna Shupe’s Avon debut introduces an English beauty with a wicked scheme to win the man she loves—and the American scoundrel who ruins her best laid plans…

Lady Honora Parker must get engaged as soon as possible, and only a particular type of man will do. Nora seeks a mate so abhorrent, so completely unacceptable, that her father will reject the match—leaving her free to marry the artist she desires. Who then is the most appalling man in Manhattan? The wealthy, devilishly handsome financier, Julius Hatcher, of course….

Julius is intrigued by Nora’s ruse and decides to play along. But to Nora’s horror, Julius transforms himself into the perfect fiancé, charming the very people she hoped he would offend. It seems Julius has a secret plan all his own—one that will solve a dark mystery from his past, and perhaps turn him into the kind of man Nora could truly love.

My Review:

There’s a reason that the “fake engagement” is such a well-beloved (and well-used) trope, and books like A Daring Arrangement are that reason. The story sparkles with wit and sizzles with scandalous heat from the moment that the hero and heroine first strike sparks from each other – when he’s three – or possibly four or five sheets to the wind – celebrating his birthday on horseback inside one of New York City’s best restaurants. She stands on a chair to make sure they are eye-to-eye, and neither they, nor the reader, ever look back.

Lady Nora Parker wants to start a scandal, so that her father-the-Earl will whisk her home to England, and back to the arms of the very unsuitable artist she has fallen in love with. Julius Hatcher wants an entree into the upper echelons of so-called polite society, so that he can discover the identities of the men who ruined his father and drove the man to suicide.

Neither of them expects to fall anywhere near love. Nora is in love with somebody else, and Julius has vowed never to marry. The manner of his father’s death left him with the indelible impression that love and family only leads to obligations and dependencies that can drag a man even further down than he has already fallen.

So Julius is determined not to fall. But he still needs revenge on the men who broke his father and got away unscathed. He sees Nora as a means to that end, just as Nora sees Julius as the means to her end.

But Julius is unwilling to cause the scandal that Nora desperately wants. Now that he’s found his way into the upper crust, he needs to stay there until he’s found what he wants.

Neither of them expects that what they will want most is each other. But the longer their fake engagement goes on, the more they discover that they belong together. Just as someone else tries to tear them apart.

Escape Rating B+: For the most part, this story is an absolute lark. With a raven casting a bit of a shadow near the end. Let me explain.

The best part of this story is the relationship between Nora and Julius. They are both smart people who like breaking the rules. They are absolutely perfect for each other. In a world where most men see Nora as a breakable ornament, and most women see Julius as a handsome devil with an open (and bulging) wallet, in each other they find an equal. They draw sparks from each other both sexually and intellectually, and most importantly, they challenge each other. And they keep up with each other.

And in the best “fake engagement” tradition, they are the last people to realize that their relationship is real, no matter how it got its start.

However, I did find it just a bit obvious that Nora’s lover back in England was bound to show up in New York and do something to break up her relationship with Julius long before he finally appeared. On the one hand, his attempt at breaking them up was even further over the top than I expected, and on the other hand, while I figured out that he was behind some of the nastiness behind the scenes, he went way further, and in a different direction, than I expected.

Nora is a character that I really grew to love over the course of the story. She starts out seeming just a bit selfish, but also very brave. And in the end, it’s her bravery that shines through.

And the bubble and sparkle of A Daring Arrangement has me looking forward with delighted anticipation to the next book in this series, A Scandalous Deal, coming next spring.

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

Giveaway Link: https://goo.gl/qPk2oY

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

Review: Wilde in Love by Eloisa James + Giveaway

Review: Wilde in Love by Eloisa James + GiveawayWilde in Love (Wildes of Lindow Castle, #1) by Eloisa James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Wildes of Lindow Castle #1
Pages: 416
Published by Avon on October 31st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Lord Alaric Wilde, son of the Duke of Lindow, is the most celebrated man in England, revered for his dangerous adventures and rakish good looks. Arriving home from years abroad, he has no idea of his own celebrity until his boat is met by mobs of screaming ladies. Alaric escapes to his father’s castle, but just as he grasps that he’s not only famous but notorious, he encounters the very private, very witty, Miss Willa Ffynche.

Willa presents the façade of a serene young lady to the world. Her love of books and bawdy jokes is purely for the delight of her intimate friends. She wants nothing to do with a man whose private life is splashed over every newspaper.

Alaric has never met a woman he wanted for his own . . . until he meets Willa. He’s never lost a battle.

But a spirited woman like Willa isn’t going to make it easy. . . .

The first book in Eloisa James’s dazzling new series set in the Georgian period glows with her trademark wit and sexy charm—and introduces a large, eccentric family. Readers will love the Wildes of Lindow Castle!

My Review:

Wilde in Love is the first book in what looks to be a fun new series. So no worries about whether or not to read the previous books, because this is a chance to get in on a treat of a series from the very first page.

It is also a “banter into romance” type of story. And that banter is center stage not merely from the very first page, but actually from the title. Wilde in Love is the title of a ridiculous play, that is frequently discussed, derided and ultimately just about lampooned within the pages of the book Wilde in Love.

It’s also a pun in the sense that while the play of the title is an over-the-top melodrama that fictionalized Alaric Wilde’s adventures into a romance that never existed, the story of the book is all about Alaric Wilde falling head over heels in love with the one woman who has no interest in his fame or fortune.

Not that Alaric himself has much interest in his fame. His fortune is another matter entirely. But Alaric Wilde has finally returned home to his rather eccentric family after years of traveling around the world, and penning best-selling books about his travels.

His return to England is almost a farce of its own, as crowds of admiring and swooning women greet his ship. While his books have become widely read, the play based on his supposed romantic exploits has turned him into the 18th century equivalent of a superstar – complete with the 18th century equivalent of groupies.

And he wants none of it. What he does want is to discover the anonymous author of that ridiculous play, so that he can sue them and have it closed down. Or just closed down. And all the copies burned. And the ashes covered with something permanently destructive, like quicklime. Or acid. Just in case.

Alaric’s homecoming coincides with the celebration of his brother’s betrothal. The month-long(!) house party is the perfect place for hordes of Alaric’s “admirers” to try their best to get his attention, with an eye towards romance, marriage or a notch on their bedposts. Or all of the above.

In the midst of all the chaos, Alaric finds himself attracted to the one woman who doesn’t give a fig about his fame or his fortune. She has plenty of money of her own, and if there is one thing that Willa Ffynche values above all, it’s her privacy.

So even though Willa and her best friend Lavinia have been the toast of the season, the perfectly demure young debutantes who have collected admirers and engagement offers with abandon bears no resemblance whatsoever to the real and rather earthy young women who are their true selves.

And the real Willa is the perfect woman for the rather untamed Alaric – if he can convince her that, in spite of his current notoriety, his adventurous nature is exactly what she needs to match her own.

Escape Rating B+: Wilde in Love is a romp from beginning to end. This is historical romance at the height of its over-the-top-ness. And it reaches those heights because both Willa and Alaric, in their completely separate ways, are more than willing to expose just how ridiculous all of the rules of society really are when taken to extremes.

I liked Willa (and her bestie Lavinia) very much indeed. What makes them so interesting is the way that they both acknowledge that society’s rules must be outwardly obeyed, while dealing honestly with each other. They have a pact to keep up the appearance of being “perfect” debutantes, while always admitting to each other that it is completely an act. Their attitude is quite refreshing, and it exposes a good bit of the seedy underbelly of their society.

Something that Alaric also does, but in a completely different way. He’s been out of England long enough that the extremes of social behavior and society dress are simply things he will not do. There’s a scene early in the book, where he thinks about the whole “stiff upper lip” thing that his brother North is forced to live by, and the degree to which they are both grieving the death of their oldest brother, and admits to himself that the rest of the world does not share this concept of keeping all one’s emotions tightly wrapped no matter what – so that in the end he reaches out and hugs his brother – who for a few brief but necessary moments – hugs him back. It’s a scene that says so much about Alaric, where his true heart lies, and just how high the cost for that stiff upper lip, all at the same time.

The core of Wilde in Love is the developing romance between Willa and Alaric. This is a wooing with words long before it becomes a wooing by deeds. They essentially talk each other into love, into bed, and into marriage with a whole lot of sparkling wit and a shared understanding that the conventions are not quite at the be-all-and-end-all level that society thinks they are.

This is not a romance that develops quickly, so it is good that the surrounding cast of characters is equally interesting – particularly the increasingly contentious sparring match between Willa’s friend Lavinia and Alaric’s best friend Parth. I hope that we’ll be seeing them finally figure out that the sparks they strike from each other have way more to do with love than with the detestation they are both protesting much too much in a future book in this series.

But speaking of future books in the series, Wilde in Love ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Not that Willa’s and Alaric’s relationship doesn’t come to a marvelous and slightly unusual HEA, because of course it does. But his brother North’s betrothal, the one that was being celebrated at the beginning of the story goes completely sideways. It’s going to take another whole book for that puzzle to finally get itself worked out.

And I can’t wait to read that story in Too Wilde to Wed!

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

Giveaway Link:  https://goo.gl/iEZbPM 
Giveaway Terms & Conditions:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of Wilde In Love by Eloisa James.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 11/14/2017 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: Highland Dragon Rebel by Isabel Cooper + Giveaway

Review: Highland Dragon Rebel by Isabel Cooper + GiveawayHighland Dragon Rebel (Dawn of the Highland Dragon, #2) 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 #2
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on November 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Madoc of Avandos is on a journey to cement alliances. Targeted by an assassin, he needs a companion who can fight. When dragon shifter Moiread MacAlasdair returns from war, he knows she's the best woman for the job. Duty and political strength compel Moiread to agree, but when they cross into the otherworld and Madoc's life is threatened, Moiread jumps into protection mode-and will do whatever it takes to keep the man of her dreams alive.

Dawn of the Highland Dragon Series: Highland Dragon Warrior (Book 1)Highland Dragon Rebel (Book 2)Highland Dragon Unleashed (Book3)

My Review:

I have a t-shirt that says, “I’m done adulting, let’s be Dragons!”

Moiread MacAlasdair has been an adult for three centuries, but she still gets to be a dragon. Putting it another way, Moiread has lived three centuries because she’s a dragon. A dragon shifter, at least. And that’s a pretty awesome thing to be.

But being a dragon, and a member of the MacAlasdair clan of dragon-shifters, means that Moiread, along with the rest of her family, spends a lot of time away from home, fighting to keep her home, her clan, and her country safe from predators, both human and not-so-human.

In the early 14th century, when the Dawn of the Highland Dragon series takes place, those enemies, as was true so often in Scottish history, were the English. As this story opens, peace has just broken out between Scotland and England with the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton at the close of the First War of Scottish Independence.

It’s a peace that no one expects to last. And it doesn’t. But the resumption of hostilities just a few short years after this story ends is not part of the action in this book – not that I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in a later entry in this series.

At the moment, Moiread is not technically a rebel. However, the man she is set to guard certainly is.

Diplomacy has been labeled as “war conducted by other means”. But Madoc of Avandos hasn’t traveled from his native Wales all the way to the remote MacAlasdair stronghold just to conduct a bit of peacetime diplomacy.

Instead, Madoc plans to conduct his bit of war through much more arcane means. Madoc is a sorcerer, and he has come to the MacAlasdairs to invoke the ancient alliance between their families. He has devised a rite that he needs to conduct in places of power, including one such place on the MacAlasdair lands. And he requires a bodyguard to protect him on his quest to raise the ancient powers of the lands, and equally ancient alliances with other magical families, in order to safeguard dangerous treasures of the Welsh people that he dares not let fall into English hands.

The Welsh subjugation by the conquering English is already inevitable. Wales as a separate kingdom ceased to exist two generations ago, and Madoc knows that his homeland may never be independent again – and that it will certain not happen within his lifetime. But, as a powerful sorcerer, there are things he can do and rites he can perform that will make the hand of the conquerors fall less heavily on his people.

His quest is to do what he can. Moiread’s charge is to keep him alive while he does so. While they are increasingly aware that they have a sorcerous enemy dogging their every step, the greatest threat to their mission turns out to be the secrets of their own hearts.

Escape Rating A-: Highland Dragon Rebel reminded me of just how much I loved the author’s first Highland Dragons series. Highland Dragon Rebel really re-captured the magic.

I also have to say that Highland Dragon Rebel, in spite of being the second book in this series, has a completely different pace and feel from the first book, Highland Dragon Warrior. Because the members of the MacAlasdair clan seldom spend a great deal of time together, there is very little crossover between Warrior and Rebel, to the point where it doesn’t feel as if it matters if you’ve read one before reading the other.

They are also very different kinds of books. Warrior is paced rather slowly, and that pace matches the way that the heroine’s alchemical experiments come together. Everything takes time.

Rebel, on the other hand, is a road story. Moread and Madoc’s relationship occurs completely within the context of his quest to visit all the sites of power across Scotland, England and Wales, perform the necessary rituals, dodge the persistent assassins, and then move on down the road.

Lots of stuff happens, it happens relatively quickly, and then they move on. While Madoc’s quest doesn’t have a time limit per se, he does need to move at a quick pace. Even being guarded by a very capable dragon shifter, he can’t dodge endless waves of assassins indefinitely. He has to succeed before they eventually do.

One of the things that I loved about Highland Dragon Rebel was the character of Moiread. She is just so imminently practical. She’s lived three centuries, she’s seen a lot of change, and she knows that she’s going to live long enough to see a lot more. She’s also very grounded in who she is and what she believes, and there’s a certain amount of emotional drama that she is just impervious to.

She’s also very, very aware that Madoc’s quest comes first and always, and whatever she feels for him, and whatever he feels for her, she firmly believes that duty comes before personal happiness. And she is also very cognizant of the fact that whatever they might have together, happily ever after is not an option. Not that they might not want it, and not that his magic does not give him a much longer lifespan than average, but, barring a epically catastrophic mishap, she will outlive him by centuries.

But even within those constraints, it is still clear that they love each other and want to try for whatever future they can manage, assuming they survive the present danger.

There are older and more fell things in Moiread and Madoc’s world than dragons, and there are dragons older and more powerful than the MacAlasdairs. It would not be a true quest, after all, if there wasn’t a real possibility that our hero and heroine had bitten off just a bit more than they can chew – even with dragon-sized jaws.

The third book in this series, Highland Dragon Master, is coming out next spring. I can’t wait to see where the Highland Dragons fly next.

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

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Review: Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt + Giveaway

Review: Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt + GiveawayDuke of Desire (Maiden Lane, #12) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Maiden Lane #12
Pages: 364
Published by Grand Central Publishing on October 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A LADY OF LIGHT

Refined, kind, and intelligent, Lady Iris Jordan finds herself the unlikely target of a diabolical kidnapping. Her captors are the notoriously evil Lords of Chaos. When one of the masked-and nude!-Lords spirits her away to his carriage, she shoots him . . . only to find she may have been a trifle hasty.

A DUKE IN DEEPEST DARKNESS

Cynical, scarred, and brooding, Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has made it his personal mission to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and destroy them. Rescuing Lady Jordan was never in his plans. But now with the Lords out to kill them both, he has but one choice: marry the lady in order to keep her safe.

CAUGHT IN A WEB OF DANGER . . . AND DESIRE

Much to Raphael's irritation, Iris insists on being the sort of duchess who involves herself in his life-and bed. Soon he's drawn both to her quick wit and her fiery passion. But when Iris discovers that Raphael's past may be even more dangerous than the present, she falters. Is their love strong enough to withstand not only the Lords of Chaos but also Raphael's own demons?

My Review:

On the surface, Duke of Desire seems like a much more traditional historical romance than yesterday’s Someone to Wed. In this latest entry in Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series the hero and heroine fall into the standard pattern. He rescues her from grave physical danger. And she, in turn, saves him from the Stygian darkness he believes is inside his own soul.

But the terror that hides in the shadows of those Stygian depths is one that was not spoken of in traditional historical romances. The scarred Duke of Dyemore was the victim of child sexual abuse, at the hands, and other body parts, of his own father. It’s the kind of horror that never truly goes away, even after the death of its perpetrator.

Raphael’s father was the leader of one of the Hellfire Clubs that sometimes appear in historical romance and historical fiction. The Lords of Chaos are demons in human form, and Raphael is determined to bring them down.

But when the Lords kidnap Lady Iris Jordan in the mistaken belief that she is the new wife of their enemy the Duke of Kyle. (His story is told in last year’s Duke of Pleasure), Raphael risks his mission to save her. Iris is not the new Duchess, however she is a friend of Kyle’s. But she’s not the Lords intended victim, and Raphael makes use of the confusion to claim her for himself, right out from the Lords’ disgusting clutches.

Then Raphael’s spur-of-the-moment rescue goes completely awry when Iris shoots him, believing, and understandably so under the circumstances, that he is whisking her away to rape her in private before murdering her.

It is not an auspicious beginning for any relationship. They manage to straight out the mess before he succumbs to his wound. He recovers just enough to bully the local priest into marrying them. She will need the protection of his name to survive the storm that is coming, even if he doesn’t manage to live through her amateur attempt at surgery and the infection that follows.

What he’s not admitting is that he has been thinking of Iris for months, after they danced together once at a ball, and that as much as he believes that she is not for him, he can’t resist the opportunity to keep her for himself now that it has been tossed into his lap.

Iris, the widow of a cold man many years her senior, was hoping for a real marriage on her second time around, one with the possibility of children and even, at least, respect between herself and her husband.

What she has is Raphael, a devastating sexy man, in spite of the horrific scar that mars his face, who is determined to get himself killed in his vendetta against the Lords of Chaos. And who is equally determined not to sire any children before he meets the end he feels he deserves.

It’s up to Iris to probe the darkness that surrounds him, and give him a reason to survive his very necessary fight. Her battle often seems much more difficult than his.

But the rewards should be worth the pain. As long as they both survive.

Escape Rating B+: This was another book that I simply swallowed whole and very quickly. I really enjoyed its riff on the “Beauty and the Beast” tale, including the lovely alternate version of the fairy tale that is included in the chapter headers.

One of the themes underlying the story is about making one’s own choices about the course of one’s life, even if the beginning is in hell. Both the hero and the villain are sons of the previous generation of the Lords of Chaos. As a boy, Raphael chose escape by any means necessary, no matter how terrible. As an adult, he’s chosen to fight back. Instead, his enemy broke, and ended up wallowing in the evil that had broken him. Raphael certainly feels a bit of “there but for the (very questionable in this case), grace of G-d go I.”

It may be a bit of Stockholm Syndrome, but Iris does fall in love with Raphael a tad conveniently. They are effectively trapped together by the Lords’ enmity, and their marriage does make a certain amount of sense, but Iris is all in from very early on – more than just making the best of the situation. And she puts up with some unconscionable behavior on Raphael’s part.

Because he believes he isn’t worthy of love, and that he should never have children for fear that he might become like his father, the early parts of their relationship often feature Raphael at war with himself. He plays a vast game of “come here go away” because he needs Iris and wants her and doesn’t believe he should let himself care for her. So he regularly exhibits the care he believes he shouldn’t feel, and then pushes her away.

She fights back at every turn, as she needs to. But it would be exhausting in real life.

The danger to Iris is very real. The Lords of Chaos are all around them, planning to kill both Iris and Raphael (after raping Iris first, of course) so that they can maintain their secret den of vice, debauchery and murder with no one the wiser of their real identities. Raphael is a threat to their existence, and he must be stamped out.

As the jackals circle closer, Raphael must finally put some of his trust in someone else, and must admit that whether he is worthy of love or not, it has found him anyway, and it is worth preserving at all costs.

It is a difficult but ultimately satisfying lesson, for Raphael, for Iris, and for the reader.

Reviewer’s note: While we all enjoy seeing handsome heroes on the covers of romance novels, the inaccuracy of this particular cover is a bit jarring. Raphael has a terrible scar from above his eyebrow to the side of his mouth. That scar and the reasons for it are part of his story, his pain, his courage, and his redemption. A judicious use of Photoshop would have gone a long way on this cover.

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

Review: Someone to Wed by Mary Balogh

Review: Someone to Wed by Mary BaloghSomeone to Wed (Westcott #3) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Westcott #3
Pages: 384
Published by Berkley on November 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A very practical marriage makes Alexander Westcott question his heart in the latest Regency romance from the New York Times bestselling author of Someone to Hold.

When Alexander Westcott becomes the new Earl of Riverdale, he inherits a title he never wanted and a failing country estate he can’t afford. But he fully intends to do everything in his power to undo years of neglect and give the people who depend on him a better life. . . .

A recluse for more than twenty years, Wren Heyden wants one thing out of life: marriage. With her vast fortune, she sets her sights on buying a husband. But when she makes the desperate—and oh-so-dashing—earl a startlingly unexpected proposal, Alex will only agree to a proper courtship, hoping for at least friendship and respect to develop between them. He is totally unprepared for the desire that overwhelms him when Wren finally lifts the veils that hide the secrets of her past. . . .

My Review:

I’m a little early with this review, but this was the book that was calling my name. So I decided to listen to that little voice and just read it now anyway. And I’m so very glad I did.

Someone to Wed is the third book in Balogh’s historical romance Westcott series, and just like the first two books, Someone to Love and Someone to Hold, it is an absolute treat from beginning to end.

The stories are all tied together, loosely enough that you don’t HAVE to read them in order, but I think it adds a bit more depth if you do. In the beginning, Humphrey Westcott, Earl of Riverdale, was an ass. Just how big an ass was only revealed after his death, when it was discovered that his countess wasn’t really his countess, his heir wasn’t really his heir, and that his only legitimate child had been raised in an orphanage with no knowledge of her heritage whatsoever.

He left a big, huge, stinking mess. But he didn’t have to deal with any of it, because he was dead. This is probably a good thing, as most of the participants in the drama he left behind, and many readers, would cheerfully wring his neck if it wasn’t already six feet under.

Each story in this series deals with the human fallout from the late Humphrey’s assholishness. This time around it’s his cousin Alexander Westcott turn. Alex, as now the next legitimate male heir, has become the very unwilling Earl of Riverdale.

While one might think that anyone would love to inherit a title, this is definitely not true in Alex’s case. Because Alex has inherited the title and the quite frankly failing entailed estates, but none of the money that should go with them. Alex has inherited a title and a money pit. Money that he does not have.

Just plain Alexander Westcott had just managed to restore his own inherited patrimony to profitability after decades of neglect on his late father’s part and years of hard work on his own. Becoming the Earl of Riverdale means that he has the same work to do all over again, with the same resources he had before spread over much, much larger (and more seriously neglected) lands.

Plain Alexander Westcott could have afforded to marry for love. The new Earl of Riverdale must marry money. And that’s where Wren Heyden comes in. Wren has inherited a fortune and a very successful glassworks from her late and much beloved uncle. Nearing 30, her year of mourning for her uncle’s (and aunt’s) deaths over with, she wants to marry.

But Wren believes that her fortune is all she has to recommend her. Why? Because Wren has a large port-wine stain, in other words a big purple birthmark, covering much of the left side of her face. Long ago, someone convinced her that she was so ugly that no one could ever possibly love her – or even manage to look at her without running screaming from the room. Years of her aunt and uncle’s unstinting love and unwavering support never managed to convince her otherwise.

Wren attempts to buy Alex’s hand in marriage. He needs a rich wife, and she needs a man who will give her children. She begins by believing that she can maintain her life as a hermit, while giving Alex the money he needs to restore Riverdale.

While Alex feels that marrying for love is a now a dream out of his reach, he is still offended by the crassness at the base of Wren’s proposal. He does not want to be bought. But he recognizes the injustices of his feelings – after all, he was planning to present himself in the marriage mart with the hope of contracting just such an alliance.

Even more, Alex wonders if they will suit. He may not be able to marry for love, but mutual respect and eventual affection are surely not out of reach.

But can there be anything else between two people after such an inauspicious beginning? Can there be anything at all?

Escape Rating A: I swallowed this book in a day. Someone to Wed is marvelous because it throws so many of the standard historical romance tropes over within its first pages.

Of course, the thing that makes Someone to Wed so different is that Wren is the mover and shaker of the story. In the beginning, she acts, and Alex is the one who reacts – not always terribly well. What makes it work is the way that he thinks about his reactions, and reminds himself just how unfair so many of them are.

What makes the romance work is the way that both Wren and Alex bend over the course of the story. As unexpected as her proposal is, and as much as all of Alex’s instincts urge him to reject it and her, he does his best to be fair. She is both right and reasonable in her actions – he’s just not used to seeing a woman exhibit that much cold-blooded logic.

That Alex discovers that he actually enjoys talking with a woman who is his intellectual equal and is not afraid to show it – or who is completely incapable of hiding it – comes as a revelation.

Another thing that made this story work for this reader is the way that Wren’s birthmark was handled. It, and her mother’s reaction to it, scarred her, seemingly for life, much more than the birthmark itself does. She feels ugly and unlovable because that’s how she was made to feel as a child – not because either of those things are true. Her journey towards acceptance of herself is marvelously hard won.

Alex’ reaction to her birthmark reminds me of a quote from science fiction writer Robert Heinlein’s Notebooks of Lazarus Long, “A man does not insist on physical beauty in a woman who builds up his morale. After a while he realizes that she is beautiful–he just hadn’t noticed it at first.” While there is definitely some sexism in there, the point is still valid. Think of it as a more pleasant version of the old saw about beauty being skin deep, but ugly going clean through to the bone. Beauty is as beauty does. And beauty shines from within.

Wren is beautiful. And it takes Alex much less time to realize that fact than it does Wren herself. But when she finally does, it’s even more beautiful than their romance.

Reviewer’s Note: I don’t always envision the hero or heroine as any person in particular, but Alex is described as incredibly, perfectly handsome so many times that I kept seeing him as Yannick Bisson from the Murdoch Mysteries TV series. Particularly in the early years of the series, Bisson seemed too beautiful to be real. Your imaginary mileage may vary.

Review: Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Review: Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather WebbLast Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I by Heather Webb, Hazel Gaynor
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance
Pages: 400
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on October 3rd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Hazel Gaynor has joined with Heather Webb to create this unforgettably romantic novel of the Great War.

August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.

But as history tells us, it all happened so differently…

Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?

Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris—a cherished packet of letters in hand—determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him…

My Review:

Last Christmas in Paris is a bittersweet tale of World War I. Much of that bittersweet flavor is in the title. It’s not so much last Christmas in Paris, as in we spent last Christmas in Paris, although the protagonists certainly did, as it is, this is our last and final Christmas in Paris, because we shall not pass this way again.

The heart of the story is correspondence. Most of the story is told through letters, and occasionally telegrams, between Tom Harding and Evie Elliott, with occasional letters between Evie and her best friend Alice, Evie and her brother Will, and Tom and his father, and eventually between Tom and his father’s business manager.

What we see through their four years of letters is that life changes people, and that life in war changes people all that much more.

At the beginning, in those glorious and naive first months of World War I, Tom and Will volunteer to go off to war. Everyone thinks it will be over by Christmas. Christmas of 1914, not Christmas of 1918 as it nearly turned out to be.

Evie, Will’s younger sister, is stuck at home in the gilded cage that was wrapped around all young women of the upper classes prior to the war. She wants to volunteer, to do something for the war effort, and she is old enough to do so. But her parents won’t LET her, and at the beginning, that means everything.

So she stays home, badly knits gloves and socks, and begins her correspondence with her brother and with Tom, who has been a friend to them since childhood.

Will is an indifferent correspondent at best, but Tom certainly is not. Evie has plans of becoming a writer, and Tom had begun studying English literature at Oxford, with plans of becoming an Oxford don. His father wants him to buckle down and take over the family newspaper, the London Daily News.

But all hopes and dreams and plans are set cock-eyed by the war as it drags on, and on, and on. And eventually drags Will Elliott into its maw, spitting out his bullet-riddled corpse.

Tom and Evie go on. Their letters become each other’s lights in very dark places, as they pour out their minds, hearts and souls to each other over the months and the miles. They tell each other everything, except that somewhere amid the ink and the paper, they have fallen in love with each other – if not long before.

But as peace finally begins to fill the horizon, all the decisions that have been delayed by the war must finally be reckoned with. And all the secrets that have been hidden come to light.

Escape Rating A: Last Christmas in Paris is a beautiful story from beginning to end. It is also ultimately a sad story, but appropriately so.

Epistolary novels such as this one are difficult to write. There is no omniscient third person who sees all and has the ability to tell all. Even if they don’t always do so. In a novel that consists nearly entirely of letters, we see events as they happen, but only what the writer chooses to tell the intended recipient. If they don’t put their thoughts on paper, we don’t know what they are – unless they put them on paper to someone else.

So we know how Evie feels, not because she tells Tom, but because she tells her best friend Alice. And we can only guess about Tom’s feelings, because he is so very careful not to tell Evie what is in his heart. But what he does tell her is heartbreaking, because Tom tells Evie as much as the censors will allow about the true state of his war. And it’s hell.

So much hell that he is eventually hospitalized for what was termed “shell shock”. Amazingly, he recovers, as much as anyone could, and returns to the front. We now know “shell shock” as PTSD, but that in his time it was considered a “weakness of moral fiber” is enough to make the reader weep.

We also see what many considered the breakdown of the social order from Evie’s perspective. At the beginning, her life is completely restricted by her parents. But as the war goes on, Evie escapes from those restrictions, first by volunteering as a postal worker, then by writing a controversial newspaper column on women’s perspectives of the war, and finally by volunteering for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and going to France herself to serve as a telephone operator and secret war correspondent.

Between Tom at the Front and Evie on the Home Front, we see the horrors of war in all their destruction. And it’s brutal in one way or another no matter where they are.

But as I said in the beginning, this story is bittersweet. Not from the contents of the correspondence itself, but from the perspective of when the letters are being re-read. Bracketing each year of correspondence, we have a framing story. It is 1968, 50 years after the end of the war. Tom Harding has set himself the final task of re-reading the correspondence, and returning to Paris for Christmas, one last time. He is dying of cancer, and Evie is already gone.

We find out what happened to Evie as the letters progress. The reader experiences some of those letters with a certain amount of bated breath, as it is more than possible that they didn’t manage to have their happy ever after before it ended. There are so many points along the way where things nearly go smash, and we don’t discover until nearly the end what really happened.

The story is beautiful and quite absorbing. It’s a great book to read if you don’t think you have lots of time at a time, as one can read just a few letters and feel like one has absorbed so much. But I would sit down to read just a few letters and find myself coming up for air at the end of an entire year’s worth of correspondence. I could never resist reading “just one more”.

As much as I loved this book, I kept having the niggling feeling that I had read some of it before. It certainly reminds me Fall of Poppies, last year’s wonderful collection of World War I romances, two of which were written by the co-authors of Last Christmas in Paris. It also reminds me of bits of Jennifer Robson’s lovely World War I stories, as well as a bit of the side plot of one of the later Maisie Dobbs books.

If you love World War I stories, miss Downton Abbey, or just want to read something to commemorate the upcoming 99th anniversary of the end of the war, celebrated as Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, and as Veterans Day in the United States, Last Christmas in Paris is a gem of a book.

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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
Goodreads

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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